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Altoona Mirror Newspaper Archive: March 8, 2001 - Page 1

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   Altoona Mirror (Newspaper) - March 8, 2001, Altoona, Pennsylvania                                Nation: Congress OKs workplace injury bill repeal Life: Doowop sounds to fill Mishler Theatre Dl Altmma iHtrror Copyright 2001 THURSDAY, MARCH 8, 2001 newsstand [ACCESS] SBSHiiJSSBBHiffi WHAT WEIL DO In keeping with the spirit of this series.'the Mirror will continue its efforts to create an atmosphere of open government in the region in several ways: As a matter of course, we will begin identifying in stories when we are denied access to a public document. On an ongoing basis, we will make occasional visits to area government agencies, request public records and print the results. Right to Know overhaul proposed A senator will propose legislation this month to overhaul Pennsylvania's Right to Know Law and unlock the government vault that holds many documents in secret. Sen. Stewart Greenleaf, R- Montgomery, is putting the final touches on another bill to update the aging access law. The cry for greater access to government has been loud enough that Gov. Tom Ridge is expected to announce his suggestion for an updated law this month. Since his attempt to pass a new Right to Know law died in committee last year, Greenleaf and several organizations have negoti- ated with a variety of groups to iron out concerns FIFTH OF FIVE PARTS Stories by Jay Young raised by law enforcement and other government agencies. The new law is expected to give citizens more power when asking for public information. Issues such as turn-around time on a request and an avenue to avoid unnecessary lawsuits will be addressed in the new bill. "At least with the legislation, you would know what is the public's business and what isn't. Now you don't have that Greenleaf said. "I think that the more people know what is going on in state government, the more confi- dence that they have in it." It's been 44 years since state lawmakers updated the Right to Know law, and the legislation they passed is viewed as one of the weakest access laws in the country. In addition, the aging law doesn't address more modern ways of storing data. Even those documents made available under the current Right to Know law can be difficult to obtain, a Mirror investigation found. During the six-month probe, Altoona residents entered 47 area government agencies and requested to view public documents. Only 20 agencies, or 42 percent, complied with the law. Those lobbying for open government hope a new law will clarify what records are open and empower citizens to obtain any document unless the government can prove it should be secret. Please see AS INSIDE The state's public access laws are considered by many to be among the worst in the nation. How you can make a request for a public document. PAGE AS HEALTH CARE Veterans facing a wait for benefits From Mirror staff and wire reports Thousands of central Pennsyl- vania veterans are being told they must wait up to seven months for doctors' appointments they need before they can join the Veterans Affairs health system and collect benefits. The problem is particularly bad in the 13 counties surrounding the Veterans Affairs Medical Center in Lebanon, where veterans are waiting for the required physi- cian visit. Those at the end of that list could wait until September or October for an appointment, spokesman Steve Gallerizzo said. The problem isn't nearly that bad in Blair County, where the standard wait is about 60 days, still above the VA's national standard of a 45-day wait. Betsy Helsel, organizational sup- port manager for Van Zandt VA Medical Center in Altoona, which partners with the VA in Pittsburgh, said a number of ini- tiatives aimed at surpassing that 45-day standard are in place. Since 1996, the number of veter- ans seeking treatment has more than doubled, and the Altoona cen- ter expects to handle more than veterans this year. "The main cause for these delays is a huge increase in Helsel said. "But we are trying a number of initiatives to try to bring that waiting time down." Veterans in the VA healthcare system are eligible to receive inpa- tient and outpatient care, includ- ing preventive and primary care. Services include X-rays and other diagnostic exams, medical treatment, rehabilitation, mental health and substance abuse coun- seling, home health care, hospice care and a drug plan that requires a co-payment per month. Please see A10 PRIMARY FOCUS Mirror photo by Jason Sipes Janice Blair director of elections for Blair County, combines candidates' petitions with a pile that Helen Schmitt had collected. Slim pickin's for Democrats in Blair for May 15 election WHATSNEXT Important dates on the election calendar: March 21: Last day for withdrawal by candidates who filed nomination petitions April 16: Last day to register to vote before the primary May 8: Last day to apply for a civilian absentee ballot May 11: Last day for county boards of elections to receive voted absentee ballots May 15: Municipal primary BY ROBERT IGOE Staff Writer HOLLTOAYSBURG Blair County voters will go to the polls May 15 to help choose a new representative to Congress from the 9th District. After that, their choices are rather limited when it comes to the primary election. Especially if they're Democrats. 9th District candidates offered chance to debate PAGE A7 When the Blair County election office released the unofficial slate of candidates Wednesday for the May election, there were only 13 names on the Democratic side of the ledger, excluding election board and school board races in Please see A7 Girl, 14, shoots her rival The eighth-grader was arrested after hitting her classmate in the shoulder at Catholic high school. BY DAN LEWERENZ The Associated Press W1LLIAMSPORT An eighth-grade girl shot a female classmate in the shoulder in a crowded cafe- teria at a Roman Catholic school Wednesday before another student talked her into putting down the gun, authorities said, California school shooter charged with murder; Santana students return to PAOE C1 Witnesses said the alleged 14-year-old shooter fired at the floor and the bullet ricocheted into the victim, a classmate whom police said she had feud- ed with in the past. "This is a situation of a student who was upset" with another Willianisport police Officer David Ritter said. "This is not a random act of vio- lence, and as far as I understand there are no other targets for this violence." The alleged shooter, identified by police as Elizabeth Catherine Bush, had been subjected to "a lot of name-calling, derogatory comments and innu- endoes" at school, her attorney said. Please see A12 The Associated Press Students gather outside Bishop Neumann Junior-Senior High School in Williamsport Wednesday after a shooting at the school. 15th arrest lands Altoona man in prison on stabbing charges BY PHIL RAY StoffWriter HOLLIDAYSBURG A man who has been arrested 15 times since 1996 ran out of chances Wednesday in a Blair County courtroom. Mark Huggins, 34, Altoona, who stabbed his neighbor after a dispute in July, is facing a 3- to 11-year state prison sentence. Blair County assistant district attor- ney Jackie Bernard said Huggins deserved a 5- to 10-year sentence because of all his arrests. Huggins has been placed on parole or probation 12 times, and on six occa- sions, the parole or probation has been revoked because he failed to comply with provisions of the program. "How long does Blair County keep giving him opportunities? When do we start protecting society from Bernard said. Please see A10 A SPORTS FAN'S DREAM It's a big local sports weekend, and we've got you covered: PIAA WRESTLING: John Hartsock is in Hershey tracking 14 area wrestlers hoping to mine PIAA gold. ElflA BASKETBALL; There are 13 teams still left seven boys, six girls with hopes to negotiate the road to Hershey eventually, and the Mirror, led by staffers Phil Cmor, Neil Rudel, Cory Giger and ace correspondent Jon Fleck, will be at every site. BIG TEN HOOPS: Correspondent Mark Brennan is planning to stay in Chicago as long as the Penn State Nittany Lions do. What you'll find inside sports today: PIAA WRESTLING: Philipsburg is the area's lone representative in AAA at state finals PAGE B1 PIAA BASKETBALL: Altoona boys peaK at right time; Central girls play good defense; playoff capsules PAGES B1.B4 Subscription or home delivery questions: 946-7480 or (800) 287-4480 0801 Lottery numbers, A2 Afternoon snow likely, A2 Altnona Mirror HOT-ADS.Ooin We're white-hot! I THE GREATCOMB8NAT80N I Call us today...Make money today. Ask for THE GREAT COMBINATION of MIRROR CLASSIFIEDS and HOT-ADS Phone (814) 946-7422 or fax us at (814) 946-7547_____ 13 Bushiess Hospitals Obituaries Opinion A9 I Classifieds C6-12 All I Comics C4 Ail j High schools Scoreboard i Movies Night life B4 i Planner B5 I Television t D3 D4 D2 D5 INSTATE Marketing agencies, retailers and even the Roman Catholic church eagerly await the results of the 2000 count. PAGEC3   

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