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HAZLETON, Pa. - It's been in the spotlight in recent weeks, as first responders and their advocates testified on Capitol Hill to extend the 9/11 Victims Compensation Fund.

The United States House of Representatives passed the legislation Friday. It's now up to the Senate to vote on the bill before it can be signed into law.

For one area responder, the plight of the main first responders hits close to home.

"You get emotional thinking about it. Because, when we got there - the smoke, the smell, you saw the towers leaning - it's a sight that you'll never forget," said Tony Colombo of Hazleton.

Tony Colombo of Hazleton has been a first responder for nearly 40 years. On 9/11, Colombo was a paramedic with Tamaqua's volunteer department, and he volunteered to go to Ground Zero to help.

"They told us to pack up for three to four weeks and to just head down. And then they called us and said there's probably not going to be a lot of survivors. They figured the local EMS could handle it. But then I thought to myself, 'That's not good enough,'" explained Colombo.

Over the next few days, Colombo and his colleagues gathered supplies to take with them for those searching through the rubble of Ground Zero. "We packed up three trucks and we headed to New York three days after 9/11, and we took supplies up there. Bottled water, soap, clothing, anything you could imagine," Colombo said.

The Never Forget the Heroes Act will help ease the financial burden of first responders who have come down with illnesses as a direct result of their time at Ground zero. Colombo said this act is an important reminder of the sacrifices made on that day.

"They're heroes, those guys and ladies, that fought that day. They should never, never be forgotten."

Despite breathing in those same chemicals in the days after the attack, Colombo says he doesn't think too much about becoming sick himself. He's more focused on the job at hand - the same mentality he says his fellow first responders had that day.

"You don't think about that because you're thinking about saving somebody, you know. We put somebody else first before us," explained Colombo.

If signed into law, the bill, known as the Never Forget the Heroes Act, would extend the Victims Compensation Fund through 2092. Senate Majority Leader Mitch McConnell said in a statement after the House vote that the Senate would take up the legislation soon, but that date has not been set.

July 9, 2019

WILKES-BARRE, Pa. -- It's hard to miss the bee-hive in Public Square in Wilkes-Barre, but three weeks ago, a plaque on the statue was installed that had gone unnoticed.

Now, it's causing quite a stir.

"I feel like they are just trying to get a rise out of African Americans, and they're not going to," said Belinda Vosburgh, of Wilkes-Barre.

 

The plaque reads "East Coast Knights of the True Invisible Empire," which is a group that is associated with the Ku Klux Klan. The group's website's main page shares the ideology of the Klan.

"I'm biracial, so it's like weird to know it's on the square or something that we literally pass every day - just to kill time, hang out with friends, and then knowing that it's there, I don't want to be on Public Square no more," said Patty Dapis.

 

According to city officials, the plaque was bought in September 2016 by an individual from Venus, Texas. That person later provided an address in Nanticoke for the application. The plaque was installed three weeks ago along with other memorial plaques.

 

While many we spoke with say they don't appreciate the plaque being here on Public Square, it looks like it may be here to stay.

 

Wilkes-Barre City Administrator Rick Gazenski told Newswatch 16 in a statement that "as much as we don't like what's there, we cannot take it down. It would be unconstitutional."

 

"That's glorifying something that was such a horrific time for people just because it was based on their race. And that's just wrong," said Dawn Krumpfer of New Jersey. Krumpfer is visiting Wilkes-Barre with her daughter, who will be attending Wilkes University in the fall. She says it's disappointing to see something like this on prominent display.

"If we're going to go as a nation and go forward from here, we have to stop the hate. And we're not going to stop the hate if we do things like that," said Krumpfer.

We attempted to reach the person whose name is on the city receipt for the plaque, but our calls have not been returned.

June 21, 2019

FELL TOWNSHIP, Pa. -- A quarry in Lackawanna County is testing a new way to dispose of construction material, but township officials say they did not approve the project, and they want it stopped.

Just last week, Pioneer Aggregates began mixing construction and demolition materials with cement and burying it on the grounds of its quarry in Fell Township near Simpson. Fell Township supervisors have concerns and say Pioneer Aggregates is not cooperating.

"They refuse to come to the board and have the case heard by the zoning board and make a decision, which is all we ask right now," said Andy Gorel, township supervisor.

Simpson Stone Quarry has been operating in Fell Township since the 1990s, but now the land is being used to test a new material called re-crete.

Pioneer Aggregates got a permit from the Pennsylvania Department of Environmental Protection to mix construction and demolition material with cement and bury it in a specified part of the quarry.

Officials with Fell Township say the company needs more than just that permit.

"The firm doing the work, Pioneer Aggregates, did get their DEP permit, but they are not in line with our zoning ordinance," Gorel said.

Township officials are concerned that with all the rain we've seen in recent days, that debris could be washing onto Route 171 and into Wilson Creek, which then flows into the Lackawanna River.

Gorel recorded video recently of the rain runoff flowing into the creek. He showed Newswatch 16 examples of debris he says come from the project at the quarry.

"It's something that's only allowed to be disposed in landfills anywhere in America right now, so this is an experiment, and honestly, I don't think it's a good idea to experiment in a conservation zone in our township," said Gorel.

Township officials say that the test project doesn't fall under the quarry's current zoning permit. They want the project to stop.

Newswatch 16 went to Simpson Stone Quarry and was told no one was there to speak with us. We spoke to Mark Popple, who runs the quarry with his family. He sent a statement to Newswatch 16, saying in part: "During the permit process with DEP, the township was notified and supplied the project submittal package. The project was publicly advertised in the local newspapers as required by law."

Fell Township tells Newswatch 16 that it sent Pioneer Aggregates a cease and desist letter last week, but the company is ignoring it.

Pioneer Aggregates says it plans to appeal.

May 1, 2019

CLARKS SUMMIT, Pa. -- E-cigarettes were intended to be a method for smokers to quit. But in recent years, kids have started using the devices without knowing the dangers that electronic cigarettes can pose to their health.

 

Sometimes they start using them without their parents knowing.

 

"Kids aren't smoking cigarettes anymore. They are going right to e-pens, Juuls, and trying to get their tobacco from that," said Kristin Rude, a physical education teacher at Abington Heights School District.

Some e-cigarettes are so small, you probably wouldn't even recognize them.

"It would be over-passed if you walked past their room and you saw one laying on their desk in their room," added Andrew Snyder, principal at Abington Heights High School.

So what exactly are these vapes, and why are they so dangerous for young people?

Dr. Jaya Sugunaraj of Geisinger specializes in pulmonary medicine and says it's what we don't know about these devices that has the medical community concerned.

"It's basically a battery-operated device which heats up the liquid to aerosolized form or mist form, which the user inhales," Dr. Sugunaraj explained.  "We don't want to wait until 30 years to find out that these are injurious to health. I'm a lung doctor. I see patients with COPD and lung cancer. Most of the patients come and tell me, 'I wish someone told me 30 years back that this is not good for me.'"

A report from the surgeon general in 2018 says that 3.6 million young people use e-cigarettes. That's one in five high school students, and one in 20 middle schoolers who are using vapes.

"The dangers of smoking cigarettes and tobacco use is clear. It's out there, and our kids are afraid. Vapes don't hurt their lungs. Vapes don't hurt their chest. They're not coughing. It's easy to use," explained Snyder.

Administrators in the Abington Heights School District saw a surge of students using e-cigarettes in their schools in recent years, but before they could punish students for using them, they had to catch them in the act.

"The smell is less detectable. The odor doesn't linger on the person, so it's harder to catch someone who is using a vape," said Snyder.

That led some students to get involved with the new TRU, or Tobacco Resistance Unit, club that launched this year. It's all about educating their peers on the dangers of smoking and vaping.

 

"It can affect your heart. It can affect your lungs. It can affect your athletic performance if you do sports. It can affect pretty much every aspect of your life," said Gavin Ross, a freshman member of the club.

So how exactly are these students buying these e-cigarettes? Charles MacAvoy is the co-owner of Vape Dragons in Wilkes-Barre, and he says kids aren't buying them in his store.

"At the vape shop, we are the gatekeepers. We are the people that card everybody so that only adults can use this product, just like the liquor stores in Pennsylvania," said MacAvoy.

 

So if they aren't buying them in stores, how are kids getting their hands on vapes?

"Everybody knows kids are more tech savvy. They can grab their phones, and in a couple of seconds, go onto an online store, and they can just buy the e-juice online. There's 'Are you 18? Check the box,' and I'm sure the computer is not looking at your ID," explained MacAvoy.

But could it really be that easy to buy a vape without proving your age? I decided to put it to the test.

I went on Amazon.com and was able to buy a vape without proving my age.  All I needed was an Amazon account, a valid form of payment, and I was able to add it to my cart and make the purchase.

"They're coming through the mail. They're even selling them to their peers, so it's a real problem," said Colleen Leonard, middle school principal at Abington Heights. She said she has been working to educate both parents and students on the dangers these e-cigarettes could pose to them.

"You don't think of your fifth or sixth grader to be starting there, but it does."

While schools are battling to keep these devices out of the classroom, professionals say the first line of defense is the parents.

"We really have to help our kids know that this is just as bad if not worse than smoking cigarettes," said Snyder.

"If your kid is in middle school, that might be the right age to start talking about these devices to them," added Dr. Sugunaraj.

In Pennsylvania, the law requires that you be at least 18 years old and show a photo ID in order to buy e-cigarettes or any tobacco product. Members of the TRU Club at Abington Heights plan to go to Harrisburg next week and lobby state lawmakers to raise the smoking age for tobacco and e-cigarettes from 18 to 21.

October 19, 2018

Temple students may be footing the bill after a state budget standoff has left Temple scrambling to make up for lost funds.

If lawmakers can’t pass a funding package that would provide appropriations for state related schools within the next few weeks, Pennsylvania residents who receive a $12,000 discount annually will see a hike in their bill come November.

“So, if we were to get defunded, and lose all 156 million, there’s really no other option then to get rid of that in-state discount, and really [start] equalizing the tuitions. So we would be bringing the in-state tuition to the [same] level as the out-of-state. We’d have to do that because by receiving no funding, there is no reason to provide a discount, and we simply couldn’t do it,” said Ken Kaiser, Chief Financial Officer of Temple University.

This isn’t the first time that Temple has had to face the prospect of losing state funding. Just two years ago, the state went eight months without appropriating money to its state associated institutions. But Kaiser said this time it’s different.

“That had a whole different look and feel to that situation. There was never talk of ‘well maybe we just won’t fund the state related universities,’ it was really about negotiating on getting the final pieces of the budget put together…this time is completely different,” Kaiser said. “I mean there’s talk right off the bat that you know is it important to fund these schools, so you know whole different approach if we went past spring without reacting to that, the university would be looking at a 156 million dollar, you know, budget/cash issue.”

And Temple officials aren’t the only ones who see the problem should these state institutions not be funded.

“If the tuition at these institutions gets any higher, higher educational opportunities for Pennsylvania’s working class families, which frequently look to these institutions for opportunities in higher ed will become out of reach,” Representative Thomas Murt (R – 152nd District) in Harrisburg on Wednesday. “I am a graduate of Penn State. I currently am a Doctoral student at Temple University. My wife is a full time professor at Temple and I have a son who’s a sophomore at Temple University. We are still in the throws of higher education. We see the tuition bills and we are very empathetic to what will happen if this funding is not forthcoming in the near future.”

Representatives across the aisle agree.

“This breaks a long standing generational commitment to Pennsylvania students and families that the legislature has had for many, many years to help with higher education so that we can better train our young people and make sure they are better taken care of, and become very productive tax-paying citizens of our commonwealth,” said Representative Joe Markosek (D – 25th District).

But with no end in sight, Temple is prepared to step in to make ends meet – even if it means students have to face a hike in tuition.

Kaiser said that if a tuition hike were to happen, it would start in the spring 2018 semester. Spring bills are set to be posted November 27th, and Kaiser estimates a final tuition decision will be made by November 20th depending on forthcoming appropriation news from Harrisburg.

There are just six days of scheduled House sessions before that November 20th deadline.

March 1, 2018

President Englert seemed confident Tuesday after his testimony before the Senate Appropriations committee.

He, along with his counterparts from Lincoln, Pitt, and Penn State Universities made the annual trip to the capitol to appeal for the continuation of financial support for state institutions. That state funding was in peril just a few months ago, when the state had yet to pass the funding for the state related schools.

 

Last year, Temple received 156 million dollars. Thats 11% of the university’s operating budget.

“There is no better investment for a commonwealth appropriation than to invest in higher education,” said Englert when asked how he thought the hearing went.

 

The hearing, which lasted over two and a half hours, included multiple questions from senators about campus safety, innovation and entrepreneurship, and the opioid crisis. President Englert told the committee that Temple University Police, which has the fourth largest police force in the entire Commonwealth of Pennsylvania, all carry Narcan, and have used it to save a life before.

Another notable moment from the hearing included President Englert highlighting Temple University’s first Rhodes Scholar, Hazim Hardeman. Hardeman is a first generation college graduate who grew up just blocks from main campus. Englert told the committee that success stories like Hardeman’s are all made possible due to the discounted tuition rates Temple is able to give to Pennsylvania residents as a direct result of state funding. “We provide to our full time in state undergrad students a $12,000 discount – it total $250,000,000 your 150 million appropriation leverages a significant saving for our students. without, we wouldn’t be able to give a discount to our in state students, which totals $48,000 over four years,” said Englert.

Committee Chair Senator Patrick Browne told President Englert and his colleagues from the other three institutions that although there is changing attitude in Harrisburg towards funding the state related schools, the universities should not expect to see an increase in their funding compared to the last fiscal year.

While state funding for the university is used towards education, members of the Stadium Stompers were in attendance Tuesday to ensure that their voices were heard by their representatives.

“We’re here to ensue that the elected officials of the commonwealth understand that we don’t want one dime of commonwealth dollars going towards the creation of a stadium in our community,” said Ruth Birchett, a lifelong resident of North Philadelphia. Birchett herself attended university, and still lives in the same home she grew up in. She told Temple Update she has been with the Stadium Stompers since early on in their campaign.

Another member of the organization, Jaqueline Wiggins, spoke briefly with President Englert after the hearing, and she asked if he would be attending their meeting on Thursday at George Washington Carver High School. She told us that President Englert did not plan on attending, but that she planned to attend the Temple town hall event planned for March 6 in Mitten Hall.

“We’re looking at the president of an institution who wants to build a 35,000 seat stadium in a highly residential high poverty area where the gentrification that is occurring is due in some part to Temple University students living off campus,” Wiggins said.

A Temple University spokesman told Temple Update Thursday morning that “The university is holding an informations session open to all on Tuesday. We will not be attending the protest against the university being held tonight.”

February 22, 2018

All eyes have been on Pennsylvania this week after the state supreme court released their own version of the new congressional district maps.

Back in 2011, a Republican majority drew the former map, which was considered one of the most gerrymandered in the entire country. Last month, the Pennsylvania Supreme Court ruled the map “clearly, plainly, and palpably” violated the state constitution.

The Republican majority redrew the Congressional map and sent an updated version to Governor Wolf’s desk last week, which he later rejected.

This week, the Pennsylvania Supreme Court released the new Pennsylvania Congressional map that is set to take effect for the May 2018 primaries. This map not only re-shapes the districts, but it also renumbers them as well. If you live in Philadelphia, you may be seeing a shake up in your district and represenation. The first district – currently held by Representative Bob Brady, no longer encompasses parts of Philadelphia. The first district is now in Bucks county, while the second, third, and fifth districts divide Philadelphia.

That poses an interesting problem for those who were running for that first district seat. Some have decided they will challenge incumbents – such as Willie Singletary – who plans to challenge Representative Dwight Evans in the second district. Other, such as Nina Ahmad – have yet to declare whether or not they plan to run.

The deadline to file for the congressional ballot has been postponed until further notice amidst the controversy over the new mapping.

Pennsylvania Republicans filed a motion with the U.S. Supreme Court for a stay on the new map – a Hail Mary that seems unlikely to be successful. Republicans appealed to the U.S. Supreme Court to overturn the Pennsylvania Supreme Court’s ruling on the old map last month, but Justice Samuel A. Alito Jr. rejected the motion.

Dr. Robin Kolodny, the Chair of the Political Science Department at Temple University, believes all eyes will be turning to the Keystone State as the primaries, and midterms approach.

“This primary season and this general election is going to be intensely focused on by national influences there will be a lot more campaigning being done especially in the southeast corner of the state.”

No word as to how the Supreme Court will rule on this latest appeal by Pennsylvania Republicans. President Trump tweeted out Tuesday he supports the GOP’s challenging of the new congressional map.

 

This new map is set to go into effect for the May 2018, but will not effect the March special election for the 18th district. The seat was vacated by Representative Tim Murphy (R) back in October, after he resigned from office following a sex scandal. Rick Saccone (R) and Connor Lamb (D) are running a very close race, according to the latest Monmouth University poll. Saccone sits at 49% with Lamb at 46%, with a 5.5% margin of error.

February 1, 2018

President Trump stuck to the script for the most part on Tuesday night as he delivered his first State of the Union address.

The President spoke of his recent tax plan success, the economy, his new plan for immigration, national security, and the need for bipartisanship when it comes to infrastructure.

“Tonight, I call upon all of us to set aside our differences, to seek out common ground, and to summon the unity we need to deliver for the people we were elected to serve.”

The President spoke for about 80 minutes, and received multiple standing ovations from Republicans. But not all of the ovations were reserved for President Trump.

Republican Whip Steve Scalise rose triumphantly from his seat as the President called out his name. The representative was seriously injured after shooter James Hodgkinson opened fire on a congressional baseball practice back in June. After weeks in the ICU and rehabilitation, Scalise has learned how to walk again, and still uses canes for support.

Another standing ovation was given to the parents of Nisa Mickens and Kayla Cuevas, two young girls from Long Island who were killed by the MS-13 gang back in 2016.

But at times, the silence within the chamber was more noticeable than the applause.

Democrats remained in their seats during the President’s speech – but gave audible boos when the speech turned to immigration. Many of the Democratic women wore black in solidarity with the Me Too movement, and some donned pins with the name “Recy” on them. Recy Taylor was a young African American woman who was sexually assaulted by six white men back in 1944, and has become an icon for the movement to shed light on the horrors of sexual harassment and assault.

One powerful moment from the Democratic response came when Represenative Joe Kennedy III, spoke directly to the Dreamers who may have been watching.

“Let me be absolutely clear,” he said, “Ustedes son parte de nuestra historia. Vamos a luchar por ustedes y no nos vamos alejar.” (In English: You are part of our story. We will fight for you and we will not walk away.)

While mixed reactions from lawmakers have been floating around social media over the last 24 hours, the true success  of President Trump’s first State of the Union will be measured in time, as he hopes to pass immigration reform, infrastructure legislation, and other big ticketed policy that he campaigned on in the upcoming year.

January 18, 2017

Lew Klein will be honored by the National Association of Television Program Executives with the Lifetime Achievement Award this evening in Miami.

But today, he is honored by Temple’s School of Media and Communication.

Temple University announced today that the School of Media and Communication will be renamed the Lew Klein College of Media and Communication, honoring Klein’s generosity and years of service to Temple.

“Lew is the rare benefactor whose service to our school extends beyond his generous financial support to include decades of teaching and mentoring, both of Temple students and of working professionals. Naming the school to recognize all of his contributions is our honor,” said Dean David Boardman in a statement announcing the school’s new name.

The renaming honors Klein’s magnificent career in television and his more than six decades of teaching service to Temple University, and recognizes a historic, multimillion-dollar gift to the school from Lew and Janet Klein, the university said in a statement. The Kleins’ gift is supported by two additional seven-figure contributions from Temple University trustee and school alumnus Steve Charles, ’80, and trustee H.F. “Gerry” Lenfest and his wife, Marguerite.

“Thinking about the thousands of communications scholars who will graduate in future years, I am optimistic about their success,” said Mr. Klein in a university statement. “They will be coming from one of the finest and most prestigious schools in the nation.”

“I have been blessed with other examples of appreciation and recognition at Temple, and this is the culmination go them all.”

Klein has been an adjunct professor at the school for over 60 years. In 2000, in celebration of Lew’s 50 years teaching at Temple University, the Lew Klein Excellence in the Media Award was established. The awards and scholarship program were established by H.F. “Gerry” and Marguerite Lenfest with Walter and Leonore Annenberg to celebrate outstanding members of the media and students pursuing internships or study abroad opportunities in their chosen media field. This past fall, Tina Fey received the Lew Klein Excellence in the Media Award.

Amongst other career endeavors, Mr. Klein owned 4 CBS affiliates in Pennsylvania, New York, and West Virginia, and was the executive producer of American Bandstand. He was also program director at WPVI in 1970, when Action News was launched, a format that continues to bring 6ABC success.

Klein is credited with helping to launch careers of comedian and actor Bob Saget (’78), CBS Evening News Executive Producer Steve Capus (’86), NBC news anchor Matt Lauer, and the late Dick Clark. After broadcasting the Phillies for 15 years, he even convinced players such as Richie Ashburn, Bill White, and Tim McCarver to trade the dugout for the press box.

“Over many decades, Lew Klein has left an indelible imprint on the lives of countless Temple students who have gone on to build successful careers in media, communication and related fields,” said President Richard M. Englert. “It’s only fitting that we recognize Lew in an equally indelible way: through the naming of the Klein College of Media and Communication in honor of the legacy he has built in Philadelphia and across the nation.”

A formal renaming ceremony will take place sometime in March, and will be one of many events held in celebration of the 50th anniversary of the college.

Temple Update would like to congratulate Mr. Klein on his Lifetime Achievement Award, and we are honored to call the Lew Klein College of Media and Communication our home.

October 17, 2017

Temple Update has learned that former Provost Hai-Lung Dai has filed a civil lawsuit against former president Neil Theobald.

A Philadelphia Common Pleas Court document, available to the public, was filed on September 21 by Dr. Dai’s lawyer, Patricia Pierce, lists Dai as the plaintiff in a civil law suit against Dr. Theobald on charges of libel, slander, and misrepresentation.

Temple Update spoke with First Amendment Attorney Gayle Sproles, who said US slander and libel suits can be hard for the plaintiff to prove. “The law is about proof, they have to demonstrate, again, the person who brings the lawsuit, plaintiff has to prove that they were damaged.”

Dr. Theobald announced the dismissal of Dr. Dai through a university-wide email on June 28. There was no reason given in the email as to why Dai was being removed from his post.

Following Dai’s removal, the Board of Trustees took a vote of “no confidence” in Dr. Theobald, and moved to terminate his position with the university. Theobald resigned as president on August 1.

Both remain on Temple University’s staff. Dr. Theobald is currently on a one-year sabbatical, and is a tenured professor in the College of Education. Dr. Dai is a tenured professor of chemistry in the College of Science and Technology.

Dai was replaced by Provost JoAnne Epps, while Theobald has been replaced by Chancellor Richard Englert.

Taggart spoke to Dai earlier this week. He says his attorney advised him not to comment on the suit at this time, but is “waiting for the truth to come out.” As for the board of trustees, they said the university was not named in the filing, and that it would be “inappropriate to comment further at this time.” Dr. Dai has not filed a complaint against the university and no Complaint has been filed yet.

Temple Update has reached out to Dr. Theobald and is awaiting comment.

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