HARRISBURG — Sexual misconduct allegations have roiled the Pennsylvania Legislature this past year, including the revelation that two cases resulted in sizable payouts.
A sitting state senator gave up plans to run for Congress in late February, following accusations of inappropriate behavior.
And an investigation is underway into claims a House member was abusive toward two women, including a fellow state representative.
Over the past 15 months, dozens of state lawmakers around the country have been accused of sexual misconduct in a mounting backlash against misbehavior by those in power.
The Associated Press filed records requests with every state legislative chamber to document complaints brought over the past decade.
In Pennsylvania, the state House said it was not required to disclose the number of complaints, but did provide details about two settlements totaling $280,000.
The Senate said it had no records of any complaints.
Here’s how the issue has played out in the Capitol, based on disclosures by the two chambers, media accounts and the AP’s own reporting:
Rep. Nick Miccarelli, a Republican from the Philadelphia suburbs, announced last month he would not run for another term after it became public that a fellow Republican, Rep. Tarah Toohil, filed a complaint telling House GOP leaders he kicked her and pulled a gun on her. Another woman claimed that after she ended their relationship in 2014, Miccarelli forced her to have sex.
He has denied both sets of allegations. The district attorney in Dauphin County, where the Capitol is located, said Friday his office is still investigating and had no further comment. Miccarelli, who represents a Delaware County district, has not been charged with a crime.
Miccarelli issued a statement late last week that again asserted his innocence and said he planned to “continue doing the work he was elected to do.”
Miccarelli has attended House floor sessions this week and has been voting on legislation. His statement said he “wants nothing to do with Rep. Toohil, as has been the case for nearly six years.”
Toohil, with a House security officer standing next to her, watched a news conference in the Capitol Rotunda on Wednesday in which House Republicans outlined plans to pursue setting up a task force to examine workplace harassment and sexual misconduct.
House Democrats disclosed they paid about $250,000 in 2015 to settle a sexual harassment claim by a legislative assistant against longtime state Rep. Tom Caltagirone of Berks County. Caltagirone, who is 75, is running in the primary for another term and insists he did nothing wrong. He said the matter was settled over his objections.
“I didn’t have my day in court, there’s no due process,” he told the AP last week. “Can people be falsely accused? Yes. Does that happen? Yes. And how do you defend yourself unless you get into court?”
House Democrats also paid $30,000 to a legislative assistant to settle claims regarding then-Rep. Jewell Williams, a Democrat who is now Philadelphia’s sheriff. She said he subjected her to repeated acts of verbal and physical sexual harassment, including steering her into a corner of his office and attempting to kiss her, according to a filing she made with the state human relations commission. Williams declined comment, citing a nondisclosure agreement.
State Fire Commissioner Tim Solobay quit under protest on Dec. 31 after Pennlive.com said the news organization tried to contact him for a story about a 2011 complaint that he slapped a female Senate aide on her rear-end while he was a Democratic senator from a southwestern Pennsylvania district.
Solobay confirmed to the AP on Friday that those were the allegations and he denied them. “That was what she said and that did not happen,” Solobay said, adding he has retained lawyers in the matter.
“The truth, hopefully, should come out through the legal process.” He said there was no settlement. Solobay is helping run a drug-testing company he co-owns as well as working as a business consultant.
Democratic state Sen. Daylin Leach announced in February he would not run for Congress — as had been widely expected — after allegations surfaced that he behaved inappropriately toward female employees and campaign aides. The Philadelphia Inquirer reported that he had made sexual jokes and comments, as well as touching that some had considered inappropriate.
Leach has said he will cooperate with state Senate leaders to address the allegations and called it “heartbreaking” to think he made people feel uncomfortable or disrespected. He did not return a message seeking comment.
A different type of library that provides both information and the tools to learn skills opened its doors at 735 Factory St. April 2 in Carlisle.
“A tool library works like any other library, except with your membership you borrow tools instead of books,” said Jeff Adams, library president. “The library provides the tools, the knowledge, and the space to help you build and create. Empowerment and building a better community is what CTL is all about.”
In addition to an inventory of tools, Adams said the library will also host educational workshops presented by local professionals. He said the workshops will be “focused on different trades and skills.”
“We’re planning to have days when the public will be invited to learn how to (for example) do basic plumbing or basic electrical work, cabinetry or basic woodworking.”
The first workshop will be offered from noon to 3 p.m. April 14. Titled “Mending Circle Workshop,” it will be presented by Mary Olin “Mo” Geiger and focus on sewing and textiles.
“She’ll have a few sewing machines, and people can come in and learn how to fix projects they may have,” he said. “They can bring items from home that need fixing.”
Equipment will be provided, and there is no cost to attend, although donations will be accepted.
Adams learned about tool libraries while working as a volunteer in Utah and thought it was something that would benefit the Carlisle area. He later researched the idea and talked with people at other tool libraries in Baltimore and Philadelphia, where the concept has proven successful.
For the past six months, he and the four other library board members have been collecting hand and power tools, and renovating work space in preparation for last week’s grand opening.
“We’ve been collecting tools and doing maintenance on the space,” Adams said. “It needed a few repairs — (like) paint — and shelves for the tools … and also the library software system.”
Adams said the library’s website (Carlisletoollibrary.org) will soon feature a complete inventory list, so people will be able to see what tools are available.
“People can check out up to eight tools, two of which can be power tools, at a time,” Adams said. “They’re due back in a week.”
Late fees will be assessed for items not returned within a week.
Monthly and annual memberships are available. Fees are $15 per month, or $25 to $50 per year, based on income.
Lifetime memberships will also be available for a limited time for $250.
Adams said he is also looking for professionals in the community who would be willing to share their expertise at a workshop.
Library hours are 4 to 7 p.m. Monday to Thursday, and 9 a.m. to 3 p.m. Saturday.
Ask/Answered is a weekly feature for reader-submitted questions. Follow the blog online at www.cumberlink.com:
What is the status of the Orrs Bridge Road bridge project?
Replacement of Orrs Bridge Road bridge in Hampden Township has been in the works for several years and is likely a few years away from completion, according to court records.
The county-owned bridge carries Orrs Bridge Road over the Conodoguinet Creek between Stone Spring Lane and Prowell Drive.
The timetable has the project set to be completed in spring 2020, according to the county’s website.
Orrs Bridge Road bridge remains open but is weight restricted to 18 tons, according to the county’s website. This means drivers can use the bridge, but larger, heavier vehicles cannot.
Plans for the project include building a new bridge adjacent to the current structure, which was constructed in the late 1950s, that is more suitable for current traffic. The total replacement project is expected to cost roughly $5.8 million and will be funded through a mix of federal, state and local dollars.
The project has run into a few snags along the way, most notably in 2015 when the county was required to conduct a survey to see if endangered freshwater mussels resided near the bridge.
Replacement of Orrs Bridge Road bridge is part of the county’s bridge capital improvement plan, which aims to invest $15 million over six years in 17 of the county’s bridges that are considered to be structurally deficient through the capital improvement program.
The capital improvement plan is funded through a mix of state and local funds, including an estimated $1.1 million a year from the county-level $5 per vehicle registration fee that went into effect in 2015.
Orrs Bridge Road bridge is one of four bridges currently slated for replacement in the county, and the county has replaced or rehabilitated nine bridges so far as part of the capital improvement plan.
Wolf Bridge in Middlesex Township, Sample’s Bridge in Silver Spring Township and Kunkle Bridge in South Middleton Township are scheduled to be replaced and completed before the completion of the Orrs Bridge Road bridge project, according to the county’s website.
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HARRISBURG — Republicans on a Pennsylvania House committee voted on Wednesday to give more power over redistricting to the majority party in the Legislature, breathing life into efforts to substantially change how General Assembly and congressional districts are drawn.
The House State Government Committee split along party lines on a proposal to amend the state constitution to create a six-member commission to produce new boundaries for legislative and congressional districts every decade. The vote follows the state Supreme Court-ordered redrawing of the state’s 18 congressional districts, raising calls from some Republicans to impeach the Democratic justices who backed the decision.
The Republican and Democratic caucuses in the two chambers would each pick one member, and the fifth and sixth members would be voted on by the full House and Senate.
Five of six members would need to approve the maps. If they would be unable to agree, lawmakers would vote on the commission’s draft maps without amendment.
“There is no greater citizens’ commission than the General Assembly of this state,” said Rep. Daryl Metcalfe, R-Butler, the committee chairman.
The vote on Wednesday to approve the Republican-drawn amendment did not move it out of committee, and Metcalfe did not indicate when he plans to have the committee vote to send the proposal to the House floor.
Metcalfe said an objective was to remove “unaccountable judges” from the process, although there would be a role for the Commonwealth Court to hear legal challenges.
Republicans hold majorities of 121-82 in the state House and 34-16 in the Senate.
Gov. Tom Wolf, a Democrat, issued a statement calling the Republican move “partisan politics at its worst.”
“After the last few months, it should be clear that the solution to our broken redistricting system is not putting more power in the hands of partisan politicians,” Wolf said. “This is wrong, and it is an affront to our democracy.”
The vote eviscerated a proposal drafted by state Rep. Steve Samuelson, a Democrat from Northampton County, to create an 11-member commission to draw legislative and congressional districts.
Members of the anti-gerrymandering group Fair Districts PA, which supports Samuelson’s proposal, packed the meeting, chanting “Shame!” after the vote.
Under current law, legislative districts are produced by a five-person commission, with each caucus leader choosing one person. The four then pick a fifth member, but if they can’t agree — and they usually don’t — the state Supreme Court appoints the fifth member.
Congressional redistricting currently is done as regular legislation that must pass both chambers and get the governor’s approval.
Republicans have enjoyed several favorable congressional reapportionment cycles, thanks to majorities they held on the high court. But Democrats recently gained a 5-2 court majority, a foothold that could give their party much more say in changes to General Assembly districts after the 2020 census.
Republicans controlled congressional redistricting the last two decades. But this year the state Supreme Court threw out the GOP-crafted 2011 map in a gerrymandering case, saying it was improperly drawn to give Republicans a durable majority in the state’s congressional delegation.
Wolf is running this year for a second term, and if he wins he would have veto power over whatever congressional map lawmakers produce after the next census.
As a constitutional amendment, the bill that was debated Wednesday must be approved by both chambers in two consecutive two-year sessions before going to voters in a statewide referendum. The current session ends in November, so the earliest that such a referendum could be scheduled is for the 2019 primary election.
Rep. Matt Bradford, the ranking Democrat on the State Government Committee, argued lawmakers should take more time to consider changing the constitution.
“Hopefully we do not rush to amend the constitution before lunch,” said Bradford, of Montgomery County, arguing the process was “not worthy of an amendment to the state constitution.”
His proposal for a delay was voted down on party lines.