Heads Up: Morning headlines for March 21

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The big news yesterday, obviously, was Mayor Luke Ravenstahl's plan to challenge the tax-exempt status of UPMC. Plenty of coverage out there of course; a decent primer is here, with some discussion of the long-term political implications here. Stay tuned for plenty more. For now, I'll just observe that in the past week, the mayor has been grousing about police conduct and tilting at the UPMC windmill. People are going to speculate that he's pitching for a job at Highmark when he leaves office next year ... but looks to me like, if anything, he's angling for a column at City Paper.

A bill currently idling in a state House committee would make it a crime to photograph or document what goes on at a farm without the permission of the owner, report our friends at PublicSource. The most obvious motive for the legislation is PETA-style videos of mistreated chickens, but in the Age of Marcellus, could the measure also keep gas drilling under wraps?

In other ideas-you-wish-legislators-would-keep-to-themselves news, pro-choice groups are sounding the alarm about bills to prohibit coverage of abortion in insurance policies offered by state "insurance exchanges". The exchanges, set up by Barack Obama's healthcare overhaul, allow people to buy insurance if they can't get it from their employer ... so naturally this is an opportunity for Republicans to press an anti-choice agenda.

Contrariwise, most folks will be excited that a bill to advance the privatization of state liquor-store sales is poised to advance farther than it has at any time in living memory. The state House could take a vote as early as this afternoon ... though the Senate may be a harder sell. And this is Pennsylvania, so the real action is always out of sight. Apparently, part of the GOP calculus here is trying to ensure that Gov. Tom Corbett's first term isn't a complete embarrassment.

An unusual coalition of environmental groups and natural gas drillers unveiled a plan to minimize the impact of natural-gas drilling. It relies on drillers seeking a newly created environmental certification at drill sites around the state. We'll have more on this in a bit, but for now, it's worth noting that the program is strictly voluntary ... and Range Resources, one of the region's most active drillers, wasn't at the unveiling.

Political analyst Stu Rothenberg says Pennsylvania is key to Democrats (very slim) hopes of retaking the US House of Representatives next year. He cites two districts in particular as ripe for a Democratic coup ... but neither are around here. While Rothenberg acknowledges that Keith "Regular Guy" Rothfus isn't on the list, he notes that Rothfus' district was carried easily by Mitt Romney last year, and says the chance of a Democrat victory here "doesn't look promising."

Wait a minute ... did I actually get through one of these without mentioning the city's police department? JOB WELL DONE, GUYS.

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