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Doyle praises Sesame Street's autism efforts

Published by Tracie Mauriello on .

Julia and Elmo (Sesame Street)Julia and Elmo (Sesame Street)

Super Grover might be Sesame Street's most famous superhero, but to U.S. Rep. Mike Doyle, no Muppet is more heroic than Julia.

Julia, friend of Oscar and Big Bird, is Sesame Street's first autistic character and a welcome addition to the neighborhood.

Last week, Mr. Doyle, D-Forest Hills, and Rep. Chris Smith, R-NJ, invited Julia's creators to address congressional staffers whose bosses are being asked to support increased federal support for autism.

Mr. Doyle and Mr. Smith, co-chairmen of the House Autism Conference, want the federal government to ensure better training on autism awareness for teachers, healthcare professionals and parents . Their aim is to ensure earlier diagnosis of autism, which researchers say is strongly linked to better outcomes.

The introduction of Julia on Sesame Street, which is watched by children and parents alike, is one step in the right direction, Mr. Doyle said.

"It's great that autistic children will be able to see someone like them on screen. Not only will Sesame Street be telling autistic kids that they are a valuable part of our coummunity; it will also be bringing that message to other kids and teaching them the best ways to be more inclusive," Mr. Doyle said during the briefing.

Jeanette Betancourt, Sesame Workshop's senior vice president for U.S. social impact, said Julia helps demonstrate commonalities between all children while addressing misconceptions about autism.

"We can change the world ... through greater understanding," she said. "To truly have inclusion we need to have inclusion and understanding from the earliest stages."

Autism expert Jennifer Stapel-Wax also addressed aides at the briefing. Ms. Stapel-Wax is associate professor at Emory University School of Medicine and director of infant and clinical research operations at the Marcus Autism Center in Atlanta.

"We need to coach parents about the importance of interaction during everyday activities" such as grocery shopping, she said. "Children with autism especially need this kind of encouragement."

For more information about Sesame Street's Julia, visit www.sesamestreet.org/autism.

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Election fun elsewhere

Published by Mike Pound on .

A blanket disclaimer: All references here are to unofficial vote totals.

• Welcome back, to incumbent Beaver County Commissioner Tony Amadio, a Democrat who narrowly held on to his seat Tuesday. Fellow incumbent Democrat Joe Spanik wasn't as lucky; he was defeated by Republican challengers Sandie Egley and Daniel Camp.

• Farewell, to Beaver County Sheriff George David. David, accused -- and later acquitted -- of threatening reporters and fellow courthouse workers, was soundly defeated in last spring's primary election; he'll be replaced by Republican Tony Guy, who beat Democratic challenger Wayne Kress on Tuesday. 

• Say Hello, to Republicans Leslie Osche and Kimberly Geyer; they're brand new Butler County commissioners-elect, after beating Democrats Jerry Johnston and Kevin Boozel.

 Happy returns, to Democrat Larry Maggi and Republican Diana Irey Vaughan; the incumbent Washington County commissioners were both returned to that board by voters. The third vacancy likely will be decided by a count of absentee ballots, as the race between Republican Mike McCormick and Democrat Harlan Shober, was too close to call.

 

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Trying to make sense of Ohio's marijuana referendum

Published by Mike Pound on .

That's Buddie, the mascot for legalizing marijuana in Ohio.That's Buddie, the mascot for legalizing marijuana in Ohio.

We can say that opponents of a push to legalize medical and recreational marijuana use in Ohio won the day definitively.

Figuring out what that means, however, is another matter.

Ohioans voted on a measure that would have legalized marijuana across the board. But that freedom came with some strings attached: growing operations in the state would have been limited to 10 licensees, with more being added only if the original, pre-determined growers couldn't meet demand. And, strangely, there was this provision: the structure of the measure would have been written into Ohio's constitution, making it difficult to change later.

And that's where the problems began. Pro-pot groups found themselves aligned with law enforcement factions against the referendum. And, last spring, a second ballot measure appeared, one that would outlaw profiteering to be enshrined in the state's constitution.

The measure had some pretty hefty backers -- namely, the folks who would have owned the farms. Had it passed tonight, it would have made for a number of firsts: First Midwestern state to legalize, first state to legalize recreational marijuana without already having a medical marijuana system in place ... and certainly the first state that didn't take a free-market approach to the whole thing.

The biggest question about the Ohio ballot initiative -- besides the outcome, obviously -- as we headed into Election Day was whether the structure proposed there could be a model elsewhere. Regardless of what's happening -- or, rather, what's not happening -- with proposals to legalize medical marijuana in Pennsylvania, it looks like the Ohio model may not be the way to, uh, grow.

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Dems win state Supreme Court race

Published by Mike Pound on .

Our friends at the Associated Press are calling the state Supreme Court race for the three Democratic candidates.

With about 75 percent of the statewide vote counted, the three Democratic candidates for the state Supreme Court continue to hold leads against three Republican candidates and one independent.

Judges David Wecht, Christine Donohue and Kevin Dougherty have each taken roughly 18 to 19 percent of the unofficial votes so far. Judge Judith Olsen is having the best night of the three Republican candidates, at roughly 15 percent, while Judges Anne Covey and Michael George have each taken about 14 percent of the vote. Indepdendent Paul Panepinto has earned about 2 percent of the votes tallied thus far. 

In Allegheny County, the margin was wider. With 99 percent of the votes tallied, unofficial results for the county show the Dems all at least doubled up the vote totals of the Republicans.

This race has drawn attention for several reasons, starting with justices being convicted of felonies (Joan Orie Melvin) and an ongoing scandal over pornographic emails that -- so far -- has cost one justice (Seamus McCaffery) his job. It also attracted a whole bunch of negative campaign ads with shadowy financial backing.

The wave that swept the Democrats to wins in the state's highest court also helps Democratic candidates in other state judicial races. Alice Beck Dubow won her race for a seat on the state Superior Court and Michael Wojcik won a seat on the state Commonwealth Court.

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Republican Reschenthaler takes 37th Senate seat

Published by Mike Pound on .

(Rebecca Droke/Post-Gazette)(Rebecca Droke/Post-Gazette)

Republican Guy Reschenthaler is the apparent successor of Matt Smith in the state Senate.

In unofficial results, Mr. Reschenthaler, of Jefferson Hills, beat Democrat Heather Arnet in the race to replace Mr. Smith in the 37th Senate District. In Allegheny County, Mr. Reschenthaler held a 54 percent to 46 percent lead over Ms. Arnet, with 98 percent of the county's votes in. In Washington County, where the 37th district includes Peters, Mr. Reschenthaler led 73 percent to 27 percent.

With a steep divide between the parties in the state's protracted budget issues -- the GOP-led legislature on one side, Democratic Gov. Tom Wolf on the other -- it is interesting to note that Mr. Reschenthaler's win came in a district where Democrats hold a slight lead in voter registration. Previous Senator Smith was a Democrat as well.

The election of Mr. Reschenthaler has already drawn positive comments from GOP leadership in the Senate.

"Pennsylvanians are facing important issues such as the lack of a budget, pension and liquor reform," said Majority Leader Jake Corman, of Centre County. "We have a lot of work to do and I look forward to working with Guy on these pressing issues."

Mr. Smith resigned from the Senate in June to lead the Greater Pittsburgh Chamber of Commerce.

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