Sen. Ferlo Reminds Motorists that Statewide Texting While Driving Ban Begins Thursday

State Sen. Jim Ferlo reminded motorists today that Pennsylvania’s new law that bans texting while driving goes into effect Thursday. Ferlo was one of the original co-sponsors of a bill to ban texting and phone calling while driving.

“This new law will deter dangerous and distracted driving practices and save lives,” Ferlo (D-Allegheny) said. “Apart from the potential legal penalties, I hope more people heed how dangerous and irresponsible it is to text while driving. That being said, I’m going to continue to work toward getting all mobile phone use, excluding hands free technology, off of the roads.”

Starting Thursday, Ferlo said Pennsylvania drivers will no longer be allowed to text, instant message or email while behind the wheel. Emphasizing the danger, Ferlo successfully amended the legislation to make the state’s anti-texting law a primary offense, which means a motorist can be stopped and cited specifically for committing that offense.

He said the new law applies to anyone using interactive wireless communication devices to send or receive text communications while driving. Violators are subject to a $50 fine. While the penalties that will be imposed will certainly be a deterrent, he emphasized that a lengthy period of education and advocacy will be necessary to encourage people to change their behaviour.

“Talking on a cell phone or texting while driving is dangerous, distracting and irresponsible no matter who is driving,” Senator Ferlo added.  “Similar to when the seat belt law was first imposed, it will take a great deal of time and effort on the part of PennDot and local and state police to get drivers to put away their cell phones and focus on the road first. I hope that the mass media will join us in educating the public.”

Because text messaging requires visual, manual, and cognitive attention from the driver, it is by far the most alarming type of distracted driving. In 2009, 5,474 people were killed in crashes involving driver distraction, and an estimated 448,000 were injured.

More information can be found on Pennsylvania’s texting while driving ban at

Looking at Bigelow Boulevard flooding, other issues

(Above:  Councilman Patrick Dowd, Senator Jim Ferlo, PHCA president Terry Doloughty, and Polish Hill homeowner Evan Clark.)

On Friday October 28, the PHCA met with Senator Jim Ferlo, Councilman Patrick Dowd, and representatives from PennDot to look at a section of Bigelow Boulevard.  During heavy rains or snow runoff, water pours over the retaining wall near the public stairs leading from Harding up to the bus stop on Bigelow.  Flooding at this spot has damaged a home on Harding Street below, owned by Evan Clark.

The flooding occurs because the road, in being repaved again and again over the years, is now higher than the small drain at this site.  There isn’t a gutter on the road to direct the water, so the excess floods the sidewalk and washes over the wall onto the home below. The City has already installed a section of solid metal fence above the home (seen just to the right of the stairs in the photo below), which has helped somewhat.

Another issue that was discussed during the meeting is that building owners along this stretch recently received letters telling them that they are responsible for maintaining the sidewalks on Bigelow.  These sidewalks are about 20 feet above their properties, on the other side of a wall owned by the City.  The consensus seemed to be that the City may actually be responsible for the sidewalks, since they abut City property (the wall), not private.

I’s rare to get so many public officials together for an on-site meeting such as this.  After the tragic flooding deaths in Highland Park in August, there is more awareness about the issues relating to storm water control.  And Bigelow Boulevard, which is a state road, has already been identified as one that will need to be overhauled at some point in the future.

Many people are not aware that Bigelow runs through Polish Hill from the Bloomfield Bridge to Frank Curto Park. (the border of Polish Hill is two blocks above the boulevard, on Ridgeway Street).  The Polish Hill Strategic Plan, which is nearly completed, includes Bigelow Boulevard as an area to be addressed.  Issues such as speeding, road conditions, sidewalks overgrown with weeds and brush, and the ever-increasing number of billboards are all concerns.  Traffic turning down into Polish Hill tends to stay at a higher speed through our narrow streets.  Solving these problems is complicated by the fact that this is a state road, and that Lamar owns a lot of the property on which they have billboards.

Electric Supplier Shopping: Powering Choice in Your Home

(An informational guest post from the office of Senator Jim Ferlo)

Summer is coming, and with that, higher electricity prices for some of us as fans and air conditioners begin to hum.  You may have received pieces of mail from new companies on choosing an electricity supplier. I certainly have.  It may be a prudent time of year to look into your options on electricity choice.

Utility rates are governed by the Public Utility Commission.  Over the last few years, established rate caps expired, allowing utility companies to petition the PUC to raise their rates based on their costs.  Alternate suppliers were empowered to enter the market and give consumers more choices.  The PUC has created PA Power Switch as a guide for consumers to use in making informed choices.

There are three parts to your electric service: generation, transmission and distribution.  Generation is the production of electricity—the companies who produce it are called suppliers. Transmission is the movement of that electricity from where it is produced to a local distribution system. Distribution is the delivery of electricity to your home or business.

In most of my district in Pittsburgh city limits, Duquesne Light serves as your electric company.  Duquesne will continue to deliver your service, provide maintenance, and handle your billing, but you are now able to choose the electric supplier who generates the electricity that you use.  Once you enter your zip code, you can see all the available suppliers, their price to compare, and contractual terms.  You are welcome to stay with Duquesne Light as supplier or you may elect to switch.  A quick search for zip code 15201, home of my Lawrenceville district office, pulled up seven different options for residential properties.

I urge you to visit PA Power Switch online or to call the PUC at 1-800-692-7380 and research carefully. If I can be of any assistance in this or any other matter, please contact my district office at 412-621-3006 or visit my website.


Senate Democratic Policy Committee Hosts Marcellus Shale Town Hall Meeting on Thursday April 28

Senator Jim Ferlo will join the Senate Democratic Policy Committee to host and moderate a town hall meeting that will include a panel of public safety, public health, environmental, and industry experts in the natural gas extraction field, as well as a public comment period.

The meeting will take place Thursday, April 28 from 3 to 6 p.m. at the Holiday Inn, Pittsburgh University Center, at 100 Lytton Ave (between Fifth Ave. and Bigelow Blvd in Oakland).

Senator Ferlo points out that Governor Tom Corbett’s Department of Environmental Protection and Department of Community and Economic Development Secretaries have been invited to testify. However, both have turned down the opportunity, while at the same time making appearances at House Republican hearings on the subject last week.

The meeting will focus on the opportunities that drilling in the Marcellus Shale offers, as well as the environmental, public health, economic and social challenges it presents.

Public participation is encouraged.  Those wishing to speak during the public comment section are encouraged to register with Sen. Ferlo’s office at 412-621-3006.  A full agenda is available on Senator Ferlo’s website.

The event will   also stream live online here.

(photo from Citizens for the Preservation of Rural Murraysville.  This site has a lot of articles and information on gas drilling)

Federal tax forms available at the PHCA office

As reported in recent Post-Gazette and Tribune-Review articles, the IRS is no longer mailing out tax forms and booklets.  Tax forms are available at local libraries and post offices, or the offices of your local representatives.  The PHCA office also has a small supply of 1040 booklets and forms, and we can print out forms for you at no charge (although a small donation would certainly be appreciated).

We also have materials for the property tax/rent rebate.  The deadline to apply is March 1.  It’s been reported that many homeowners don’t know they’re eligible.  For more information, check the Pennsylvania Property Tax Relief page.

PHCA staff aren’t certified or qualified to help you fill out tax forms, but we do have information on places where you can go to get help.  The Allegheny County Volunteer Income Tax Assistance (VITA) sites are listed here. Some of the closest to Polish Hill are:

City-County Building, 414 Grant Street, 2nd floor, (Ross Street Entrance)
January 31 to April 15, Mon – Fri 9:00 am to 3:00 pm (no appointment needed)

Allegheny County Department of Human Services, One Smithfield Street, 412.350.6617
January 18 to April 15 (appointment required)

Action United Education Fund, 5907 Penn Ave #300, 412.567.7275
January 24 to Dec 24, Mon – Fri 11:oo am to 8:00 pm, Sat 10:00 am to 2:00 pm (no appointment required)

Assistance for those in need

A couple quick reminders to all of our readers —

The Pennsylvania Low-Income Home Energy Assistance Program (LIHEAP) helps low income people pay their heating bills through home heating energy assistance grants and crisis grants. You can receive this money without being in the Cash Assistance program — a family of four with an annual income of up to $35,280 can qualify for assistance.

The fastest way to apply is through COMPASS, the online resource for cash assistance, food stamps, help with child care, health care coverage, home heating assistance (LIHEAP), school meals, SelectPlan for Women and long-term living services.

For more information, please contact Allegheny County Department of Human Services,1-800-851-3838 or contact the LIHEAP hotline at 1-866-857-7095, Monday through Friday (individuals with hearing impairments may call the TDD number at 1-800-451-5886). You can also reference our previous post about this program.

On another timely note; the final deadline for the 2009 Property Tax and Rent Rebate application is December 31st. The Pennsylvania Property Tax and Rent Rebate Program provides property tax relief for senior citizens, widows and widowers over 50 years old, and disabled adults. The funds are available for households that make up to $35,000 per year. Applicants may also exempt half of their Social Security when calculating their total income. This vital program provides a maximum rebate of $975 to eligible applicants. A rebate of up to $650 is available for renters who make up to $15,000. More information about the program is available on the Pennsylvania State site.

Any resident looking for more information or to complete an application can also contact Senator Ferlo’s office at 412-621-3006.

State Senator Jim Ferlo
3519 Butler Street
Pittsburgh, PA 15201
Ph: 412-621-3006

Senator Ferlo on Marcellus Shale gas drilling

Over the past few years a new and seemingly endless resource has been revealed right below our feet, and now it has become a prominent topic in the media, in communities, and in homes throughout the state. I am of course referring to the natural gas reserves held in the Marcellus Shale formation that can be found in Pennsylvania, West Virginia, and New York State. These natural gas reserves are said to be able to power America for a century.

There is enormous potential for Pennsylvania to benefit from this resource; however, I believe there are many significant risks and questions that we must address NOW. While techniques like hydraulic fracturing/”fracking” are not brand new, the volumes and technologies employed have rapidly expanded and changed, making it all the more important that we examine the possible impacts to our environment and to our residents.

We all have a responsibility to educate ourselves on this issue and take the time to formulate a thoughtful approach that will generate revenue, bring jobs, and protect our environment and our health. To begin addressing this I have introduced Senate Bill 1447 calling for a one-year statewide moratorium on all new Marcellus Shale natural gas well drilling in Pennsylvania while a study commission is formed to analyze gas well drilling and make recommendations.

I also recently moderated a virtual tele-town hall event where a panel of individuals connected to the industry was on hand to answer questions, explain procedures, and address concerns.

This is only the beginning. It’s a complex issue with many sides, and it will continue to be debated at kitchen tables throughout the commonwealth and in chambers in Harrisburg. Please join with me in this education process, and I encourage you to visit my website
to link to information on Marcellus Shale issues and regulations from the Department of Environmental Protection, view the tele-town hall video, and ensure that we identify and implement policies that will allow this industry to grow and ensure benefits back to our residents.

Please take a moment to let me know your opinion on this issue. You can find more information and email me on my website at, or call my office at 412-621-3006 to learn more. I hope to hear from you.

Some additional links –
Penn State Marcellus Center for Outreach and Research
Officials seek gas extraction tax – The Times Leader

Tele-Town Hall Meeting on Marcellus Shale Drilling Sept 9

We already did a post about this, but this is an important issue that could affect communities around Pittsburgh for decades to come, so here’s a reminder.

State Senator Jim Ferlo will host a Tele-Town Hall Meeting to discuss deepwell drilling of the Marcellus Shale on Thursday, September 9 from 6-7 p.m.  This innovative meeting format will include a panel of public health, environmental, regulatory, labor and industry experts in the natural gas extraction field.

The Marcellus Shale is a geological formation found under Pennsylvania, New York, and West Virginia between 5,000 and 8,000 feet below the surface.  The formation is estimated to hold 500 trillion cubic feet of natural gas, enough to power the United States for decades.  This fossil fuel resource possesses enormous opportunities, but perhaps even more environmental, public health, economic, and social challenges.

Please join Senator Jim Ferlo by phone on September 9th to learn more from a panel of experts on the “Good, the Bad, and the Ugly” of the Marcellus Shale natural gas deposits.  To participate, Dial 1-888-886-6603 Ext. 15390#.

This tele-town hall meeting is intended to allow maximum participation by the public by offering a toll-free number, so constituents can listen and ask questions from the comfort of their home.  Call 1-888-886-6603 Ext. 15390# between 5:55 p.m. and 7 p.m. to listen in on the important town hall meeting to learn more about the Marcellus Shale’s expected impacts on Pennsylvania residents.  The event will also be streaming live online at where the meeting may be seen continuing past the first hour.  For more information, call Senator Ferlo’s Pittsburgh office at 412-621-3006 and ask for Mikhail Pappas.

Marcellus Shale hearings

If you’re concerned about Marcellus Shale drilling in our area, there will be two upcoming hearings that are open to community participation.

On Thursday, September 9 from 6 – 7 pm, join State Senator Jim Ferlo for a Tele-Town Hall on the topic of Marcellus Shale natural gas drilling.  This innovative format will allow you to hear from a panel of speakers representing public health, environmental, regulatory, labor and industry sectors.  You can participate by calling 1-888-886-6603 Ext. 15390#, and watch live online.  For more information, contact Senator Ferlo’s Pittsburgh office at 412-621-3006 and ask for Mikhail Pappas.

And on Monday, September 13 from 7 – 9 pm, there will be a City Council sponsored Marcellus Shale Public Hearing in City Council Chambers. You can register to speak for 3 minutes by calling the City Clerk’s office at 412.255.2138 by 12 noon on September 13.

Here is some information from the Sierra Club about  how Marcellus Shale drilling threatens our water supply.  And here is more general information from Earthworks Oil and Gas Accountability Project.

State Sen. Jim Ferlo and citizens of Pittsburgh will join in a national celebration of the 45th Birthday of the Federal Medicare Act today by rallying to support an expanded Medicare for all.

The rally will be held today, Friday, July 30 at noon at the Allegheny County Court House Fountain Plaza.

Ferlo will join with the PA Coalition for Single Payer Healthcare, Steelworker Organization of Active Retirees, PA Alliance for Retired Americans, Just Harvest and other organizations at the event.

“The Federal Medicare Act is landmark legislation that represents a major national milestone, Ferlo said. “This year’s celebration is critical in light of the forthcoming battle to preserve and protect Medicare and Social Security.”

Ferlo added that Medicare provides medical coverage to 95 percent of all seniors 65 and older. By pooling benefits and risk universally, it advances the right of affordable health care equity through a practical economic model. In addition, Medicare beneficiaries are overwhelmingly satisfied with their coverage.

“Congress should reject any recommendation by the Commission on Fiscal Responsibility and Reform that might threaten the continued sustainability of Medicare and Social Security,” Ferlo said. “Medicare is a successful, publically financed, privately delivered single-payer approach to health care that should be expanded to cover every American.”

Additional Contacts:
* Sandy Fox – Western PA Coalition for Single Payer Healthcare, (412) 421-8233
* Jean Friday – PA Alliance for Retired Americans, (724) 930-9848
* Ken Regal – Just Harvest, (412) 363-5142
* Denise Edwards – Steelworker Organization of Active Retirees, (412) 401-6693