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Agriculture Secretary Tours Veteran-Owned Farms, Encourages Supporting Farmer Veterans this Holiday Season

Moon Township, PA – Today, Agriculture Secretary Russell Redding and Brigadier General Mark Goodwill joined veterans and partners during visits to veteran-owned farms in Allegheny and Fayette counties. During the tours, Redding thanked farmer veterans for continuing to serve their communities through agriculture after returning from military service. “More than 7,000 Pennsylvanians are veterans who continue to serve through agriculture by feeding local families every day,” said Redding. “We appreciate these heroes and their choice to join our strong and diverse agricultural workforce, and I encourage Pennsylvanians to connect with farmer veterans in their area and shop at local, veteran-owned businesses for the holidays.” The first visit was to Forever Heart Farm, LLC,  a veteran-owned, local diversified farm in Moon Township, Allegheny County, employing sustainable agricultural practices and organic growing methods to bring their customers eggs, produce, and pastured meats. The farm has offered Beekeeping Basics for Veterans classes and other courses that bring veterans together.  The second visit was to Heritage Farms, a combat veteran-owned farm that specializes in raising heritage breed cattle and hogs. After being medically retired from the Army, the owner’s dream of farming became a reality, also providing structure and a form of therapy. “We are grateful that the Department of Agriculture always recognizes veterans and the contributions they make to Pennsylvania’s agricultural industry,” said Brig. Gen. Mark Goodwill, assistant adjutant general – Pennsylvania Air National Guard. “Veterans spend their military career serving others, and when returning to civilian life, you bring critical skillsets and a commitment to service – extremely desirable, employable skills that set veterans apart, which is evident here today.” The Wolf Administration supports veterans engaged in farming through grant programs, marketing initiatives, and other efforts.  As part of a new grant program made possible by the Wolf Administration’s PA Farm Bill, the Department of Agriculture awarded $200,000 to two veterans’ service organizations that are offering farmer veteran grants. Grants of up to $10,000 will be awarded for various agricultural business needs ranging from food safety and biosecurity planning to equipment, marketing, or working capital. The department has actively supported veterans engaged in farming through the Homegrown by Heroes program, in collaboration with the Farmer Veteran Coalition, and managed through the PA Preferred program. The program currently has more than 60 members, and the department is encouraging more farmer veterans to join to take advantage of marketing and other opportunities, which provide a tangible way for consumers to support and connect with Pennsylvania veterans. Since 2015, the Wolf Administration has invested more than $15 million to grow PA Preferred brand recognition, helping consumers identify agricultural products grown, produced, and processed in Pennsylvania, including products carrying the Homegrown by Heroes labeling and resources to support farmer veterans. To support the increased demand for direct connection between farmers, including farmer veterans, and consumers, the department recently launched a new website for the PA Preferred brand at papreferred.com. Pennsylvanians can search for Pennsylvania products and connect with Pennsylvania farmers. The new website offers: Information about connecting with veteran farmers through the Homegrown by Heroes program, An opportunity for Pennsylvanians to search for PA Preferred members and their products based on location, An accessible way for PA Preferred members to connect with customers and partner with other PA Preferred businesses, and A streamlined system for the department to manage membership and data. In addition to serving consumers, the website provides an opportunity for PA Preferred members to expand their reach and grow their businesses. To learn more about veterans in agriculture and the department’s programs, visit the Department of Agriculture’s website. MEDIA CONTACT: Shannon Powers – 717.603.2056, shpowers@pa.gov  

As Pennsylvania certifies and audits election, lawsuits and a deadlock may slow it down

As Pennsylvania counties submit certified election results to the Department of State, state officials are conducting audits to ensure no mistakes occurred.  Counties were to submit their certified results on Monday, and the department will conduct risk-limiting audits to check counties for any errors.  Lawsuits and a split county board could slow down certification, however. “The department is aware of several recount petitions filed in multiple counties across the Commonwealth. Counties have a statutory duty to certify returns,” said Ellen Lyon, a Department of State spokeswoman. “Only in the event of a legally valid and properly filed recount petition may a county withhold certification of the election returns for an office that is the subject of the recount. Counties should certify races that are not subject to such a properly filed recount petition. This partial certification process has been done before and allows the secretary to certify those races not impacted by legitimate recount petitions.” When all counties submit their results, the department reviews the results before acting Secretary of State Leigh M. Chapman certifies them, Lyon said. Luzerne County failed to certify its election results after a deadlocked Board of Elections voted 2-2 on certification, with one member abstaining. “The department has reached out to its officials to inquire about the board’s decision and their intended next steps,” Lyon said. “This is the first step in the scientifically designed audit procedure that counties will be following to confirm the outcome of the governor’s race using statistical methods,” Chapman said in a release. “RLAs are considered the gold standard of robust election audits.” County Boards of Elections conduct two audits: a 2% statistical sample mandated by state law and a risk-limiting audit. The statistical sample is a recount of a random sample of ballots, either 2% of the ballots cast or 2,000 ballots, whichever is fewer. RLAs, which were done in some elections in 2019 and 2020 as a pilot test, “use statistical methods to confirm election outcomes and to detect possible interference,” the department says. A random sample of ballots is taken and confirmed counted correctly. Auditors must comprise a bipartisan team and can be an election official or a member of the public, with at least two auditors checking every ballot, though the department recommends teams of three. Counties must submit the results of their audit to the Department of State when they certify the official election results, and inform state officials of any errors or anomalies they found. For RLAs, counties were required to submit their results by Friday. “Each county’s certified voting system provides a voter-verifiable paper record of each vote cast, meets the latest standards of security and accessibility, and can be thoroughly audited,” the department says.  The audit reviews all ballots, whether submitted in person or by mail. The addition of risk-limiting audits comes on the heels of other voting changes since 2020, such as expanded mail-in voting and limitations on third-party funding to run elections, as The Center Square previously reported. Counties and the state received about $47 million in expanded funding for elections, the vast majority of it on the county level. “Implementing best practice changes, such as RLAs, to our election process and procedures, is one way the department works to combat the misinformation and disinformation Pennsylvania voters can encounter about election administration in the commonwealth,” Chapman said in September. Other changes to election law may be on the horizon as well. A working group in the Joint State Government Commission has been meeting to recommend election changes to the General Assembly, as The Center Square previously reported. Much of it has focused on a lack of clarity around how to submit a mail-in ballot.

Nonpartisan journalism is vital to the future of Pa. Here’s how you can keep it going.

Christopher Baxter of Spotlight PA Spotlight PA is an independent, nonpartisan newsroom powered by The Philadelphia Inquirer in partnership with PennLive/The Patriot-News, TribLIVE/Pittsburgh Tribune-Review, and WITF Public Media. Sign up for our free newsletters. Huge stories will shape Pennsylvania’s future next year. With a new administration in the governor’s office and a shift in power in the state legislature, major policy decisions that affect all of our lives could lie ahead. But no matter the issue or party or politician in office, Spotlight PA will never stop demanding the truth and accountability. So as you consider the causes and organizations to support this year, I ask you to invest in quality journalism that demands the truth, holds leaders accountable, and gets results. And there’s no better time to do it than today, Giving Tuesday, or as we call it, Giving News Day. If you’re not yet familiar with our work, Spotlight PA is an independent, nonpartisan newsroom covering the state Capitol in Harrisburg and urgent statewide issues. We are the largest statewide newsroom in Pennsylvania, and we are also the most unique. We don’t endorse candidates, take policy positions, identify with any political party or ideology, or publish any opinion or editorial pieces. But we do stand for certain universal values: We believe the more people who know how our government works and how to participate, including the more people who vote, the stronger our state will be. We believe we, the taxpayers, have a right to know how our government spends our money. We believe our government should be open and transparent with records and information about what it’s doing in our name, and how well it’s going. We believe those given the privilege to represent Pennsylvania in whatever political forum should act honestly, ethically, and legally. And we believe free and unfettered investigative and public-service journalism is a fundamental pillar of a strong state, country, and democracy. At Spotlight PA, we don’t make our decisions about which stories to write based on how many clicks they might get or how sensational they might be. We put the good of Pennsylvania first, and deliver deep, contextual stories that you won’t find anywhere else. That’s also why we make all of our journalism available at no cost as a public service. Not only do we publish our articles on our website, spotlightpa.org, but we also share our work with 90+ community news outlets across the state, including this one that you’re reading right now. How do we have the time and resources to do such important work? That’s thanks to you. Our journalism and the future of Spotlight PA depend on your support. Make a tax-deductible gift of any amount at spotlightpa.org/donate, and as a special bonus, all contributions will be TRIPLED thanks to a matching gift from a generous donor. At Spotlight PA, we’re bringing journalism back to its roots — a public service fighting for you in the halls of power, tracking your tax dollars, and driving positive change. This is journalism worth supporting, and I hope I can count on you to ensure Spotlight PA can continue to thrive in 2023. Please consider making an end-of-year gift now at spotlightpa.org/donate. If you’d like to donate by check, please send it to: Spotlight PA, 228 Walnut St., #11728, Harrisburg, PA 17108-1728. Christopher Baxter is the executive director and editor-in-chief of Spotlight PA, an independent, nonpartisan newsroom based in Harrisburg. Email him at cbaxter@spotlightpa.org. Spotlight PA is funded by foundationsand readers like you who are committed to accountability journalism that gets results.

Mass shootings prompt new calls for assault weapons ban. Will it happen?

by John L. Micek, Pennsylvania Capital-StarNovember 28, 2022 There was no mistaking the anger in President Joe Biden’s voice on Thanksgiving Day as he once again decried America’s fatal love affair with guns. “The idea we still allow semi-automatic weapons to be purchased is sick. Just sick,” Biden said, according to the Associated Press. In the wake of deadly shootings in Colorado, Virginia, Philadelphia, and North Carolina in the days leading up to, and just after, Thanksgiving, Biden and other pols spoke anew of cracking down on the semiautomatic weapons that can fire up to 30 rounds without reloading (By comparison, most New York City Police officers carry semi-automatic handguns that can fire up to 15 rounds without reloading, according to the AP). “Four Pennsylvania students were just shot on their way home for Thanksgiving break,” Wolf tweeted in the wake of a drive-by shooting outside a Philadelphia high school last week. Four students were wounded shortly after being dismissed early for the holiday, NBC News and other outlets reported. “We live in a country where our children can’t walk home from school. Our neighbors can’t go to the grocery store. Our friends can’t gather without bloodshed,” the Democratic governor, who will leave office in January, continued. “Recent shootings across the U.S. have left empty seats at the Thanksgiving dinner table. We need more commonsense gun laws,” Wolf concluded, noting that gun safety legislation passed by Congress, and signed by Biden earlier this year, was a good start. But, he added, “we need Pennsylvania’s General Assembly to act now.” Given the opportunity to act on commonsense gun laws, including an assault weapons ban and a ‘red flag’ law statute aimed at preventing violence before it happens, Republicans in the General Assembly buried the bills in committee earlier this year. Lawmakers did approve, and Wolf signed, money in this year’s state budget for a raft of gun violence prevention initiatives, but none move to reduce the ease of access to weapons. This year’s legislative session ends on Wednesday. The bills buried in committee will die and will need to be reintroduced anew when the new legislative session begins in January. The math remains just as daunting. Colorado state Rep. Leslie Herod speaks at a Nov. 21, 2022, vigil honoring the victims of the Club Q shooting (Sara Wilson / Colorado Newsline). Democrats are expected to take control of the state House in January. But their narrow majority, complicated by vacancies prompted by resignations and one death, will make it difficult — but not impossible — to pass bills without cooperation from the chamber’s Republicans. That means it is theoretically possible for Democrats to pass gun violence reduction bills on a party-line vote. But they will run into a brick wall in the state Senate, which remains squarely in Republican hands. One variable: Democratic Gov.-elect Josh Shapiro, a deal-maker who remains fluent in legislativese from his tenure in the state House, could bridge the gap between the two chambers. But the odds remain long. On the campaign trail, Shapiro spoke of increased mental health services for students, strengthening background checks, and enacting a red flag statute, according to NBC-10 in Philadelphia. “I refuse to accept a reality where our children have to fear for their lives every time they go into the classroom. Every Pennsylvanian deserves to feel safe at home, at school, and in their community – and I know we can achieve that while upholding Pennsylvanians’ rights and traditions,” Shapiro said, leaving just enough wiggle room for the possibility (however slender) for bipartisan agreement. An average of 1,628 people die every year by guns in Pennsylvania, according to a report by Everytown For Gun Safety, a nonprofit working to raise awareness about gun violence across the country. This was a 15 percent increase from 2010 to 2019 and ranks Pennsylvania number 27 for the highest rate of gun violence in the country. CHESAPEAKE, VA – NOVEMBER 23: Members of the FBI and other law enforcement investigate the site of a fatal shooting in a Walmart on November 23, 2022 in Chesapeake, Virginia. Following the Tuesday night shooting, six people were killed, including the suspected gunman. (Photo by Nathan Howard/Getty Images) While Republicans at the state and national level have resisted tougher gun laws, some law enforcement officials have called for such reforms, arguing that they only make sense. “This isn’t a one-and-done,” Los Angeles Police Chief Mike Moore told the AP, referring to this month’s shooting Colorado. “These things are evolving all the time; in other cities, at any moment, another incident happens. It’s crying out for the federal government, for our legislators, to go out and make this change,” he said. The odds of additional congressional action on guns, especially after the gun safety bill signed into law earlier this year, also seem daunting — but not impossible. Republicans will go into the New Year with a narrow majority. Democrats only would have to nab the votes of five Republicans to send a bill to the U.S. Senate, which will have a strengthened Democratic majority. Such was the case in June when the House approved a gun violence reduction bill that would have, among other things, prohibit the sale or transfer of semiautomatic firearms to anyone aged 21 and younger, according to the Bucks County Courier-Times. Democrats would still, however, have to overcome the chamber’s 60-vote threshold, which would require the votes of some Republicans, who remain opposed, the AP noted. “I’d rather not try to define a whole group of guns as being no longer available to the American public,” U.S. Sen. Mike Rounds, R-S.D, a gun owner and hunter, told the AP. “For those of us who have grown up with guns as part of our culture, and we use them as tools — there’s millions of us, there’s hundreds of millions of us — that use them lawfully.” While it has softened some, public opinion remains on the side of stricter guns laws. According to Gallup data released earlier this month, 57 percent of Americans want stricter U.S. gun laws, down from 66 percent in June. Support remains strongest among Democrats (86 percent) followed by independents (60 percent) and Republicans (27 percent). A stable 46 percent of U.S. adults say there is a gun in their household, according to Gallup. Gun safety advocates, meanwhile, remain undaunted, and are committed to keeping the pressure on lawmakers, especially in the wake of electoral wins that sent some of their number to Washington. “With some votes still being counted, the tally of [our] volunteers who won election for office up and down the ballot across the US this week stands at 125, highlighting the political power of our volunteers as candidates for office,” Shannon Watts, the founder of the advocacy group, Moms Demand Action, tweeted on Nov. 12. Pennsylvania Capital-Star is part of States Newsroom, a network of news bureaus supported by grants and a coalition of donors as a 501c(3) public charity. Pennsylvania Capital-Star maintains editorial independence. Contact Editor John Micek for questions: info@penncapital-star.com. Follow Pennsylvania Capital-Star on Facebook and Twitter.

The Democratic takeover of the Pa. House will be a little messy to start. Here’s why.

Stephen Caruso of Spotlight PA Spotlight PA is an independent, nonpartisan newsroom powered by The Philadelphia Inquirer in partnership with PennLive/The Patriot-News, TribLIVE/Pittsburgh Tribune-Review, and WITF Public Media. Sign up for our free newsletters. HARRISBURG — The Democrats have won control of the Pennsylvania House, but the party will need to rely on Republican support in the early months of 2023 to secure the top spot in the chamber. The party won 102 seats during the Nov. 8 midterm election, giving them control of the 203-member chamber for the first time in more than a decade. But when the new session begins on Jan. 3, at least one Democratic seat will be vacant. State Rep. Tony DeLuca (D., Allegheny), the longest-serving member of the chamber, died in late October — too late to take his name off the ballot — but still won reelection. State Rep. Summer Lee (D., Allegheny), meanwhile, won a seat in Congress and will be sworn in on Jan. 3. Both of those seats, as well as a third that will be vacated in mid-January by state Rep. Austin Davis (D., Allegheny), will be filled in special elections, which could take place between February and May. All three seats are considered safe for Democrats to win. In the meantime, the state House will need a speaker to preside over the chamber. The position is an important one. The speaker represents the entire chamber, calling up bills for a vote and moderating floor debate. They also pick the state House’s powerful committee chairs, who often decide whether a bill advances or withers. But a lawmaker must win a majority to be elected to that position, meaning Democrats will need support from at least one legislator from outside of their party. Democrats will nominate state Rep. Joanna McClinton (D., Philadelphia) for speaker. McClinton, a 40-year-old former public defender first elected in 2015, became Democrats’ floor leader two years ago. If McClinton wins, she’ll be the first woman and second Black person to hold the position (former state Rep. K. Leroy Irvis of Allegheny County was the first). Davis will be available to vote for McClinton because he won’t be sworn in as lieutenant governor until Jan. 17. It’s less clear whether Lee will be available for both the opening session in Harrisburg on Jan. 3 and the U.S. House’s opening session the same day in Washington, D.C., which is a two hour drive away A spokesperson for Lee said she was still evaluating her options. Even if Lee is able to attend the Jan. 3 session in Harrisburg, Democrats will still need one Republican to back McClinton. Capitol sources said it’s possible McClinton could win the support of at least one suburban Republican who lives in a Democratic-heavy district and narrowly survived the Nov. 8 election. The party may also try to offer concessions to a group of GOP lawmakers in exchange for their support. Yet another option: selecting a Republican lawmaker to serve as speaker for the entire session or until the special elections restore the Democrats’ majority. In the event of a tie on Jan. 3, it’s unclear what would happen next. One state House source called that “an unprecedented situation.” Meanwhile, state House Republicans face their own uncertainty. Without the speakership, the GOP leadership team will have one less position to fill, meaning one lawmaker will lose a coveted spot in the caucus. This will kickstart a high-stakes game of musical chairs, and potentially line up current Speaker Bryan Cutler (R., Lancaster) and House Majority Leader Kerry Benninghoff (R., Centre) to fight over who will lead the caucus in the next term. Should Republicans come to the chamber on Jan. 3 with a one-vote advantage, some GOP rank-and-file members indicated to Spotlight PA they would be in favor of electing a speaker from their own party — even though the party’s majority would be wiped away by special elections. With so much at stake for both parties, “everyone is walking on eggshells to see how scorched earth they want to go,” said one Republican consultant, who asked for anonymity to describe the delicate situation. What’s next? Most Capitol insiders agreed that the two-year session coming to an end was unproductive, as outgoing Democratic Gov. Tom Wolf and the legislature sparred over the legacy of his COVID-19 response and whiffed on meaningful changes to election law, instead falling back on naming bridges. A closely divided General Assembly could yield another session of gridlock. A single-vote majority, many longtime Capitol hands noted, gives leverage to any one lawmaker to change the outcome of a vote in return for a pet priority. In particular, multiple people said they were on the lookout for a Democratic lawmaker who would emulate U.S. Sen. Joe Manchin (D., W.V.), who has often cast the deciding vote in an evenly split U.S. Senate. But “as long as we achieve the bottom line — which is for the betterment of 203 districts and collectively, the whole state — there’s nothing wrong with that,” said retiring state Rep. David Millard (R., Columbia), who has been in office since 2004. Others agreed. One lobbyist joked that the close margin will require state House Democrats and Republicans to “look each other deeply in the eyes” and find a reason to like each other in order to get anything done. Going forward, state Rep. Tom Mehaffie (R., Dauphin), a moderate from suburban Harrisburg, said it was time for lawmakers to go back to basics and focus on using committees to workshop bills. While he declined to name specific proposals, the last few years resulted in “a lot of bad products in the House,” he said. By instead getting input from both parties and from impacted groups, he said, the chamber could produce bills that address significant and bipartisan issues such as recruiting more people to become nurses, cops, and teachers. “We have very conservative Republicans, we have very moderate Republicans. We have very liberal Democrats and very moderate Democrats,” Mehaffie said. “Both sides have the same things. If we don’t work together and come up with bills that are good for Pennsylvanians as a whole, they are not going to pass.” This story was updated to correct the year Joanna McClinton first won election. WHILE YOU’RE HERE… If you learned something from this story, pay it forward and become a member of Spotlight PA so someone else can in the future at spotlightpa.org/donate. Spotlight PA is funded by foundationsand readers like you who are committed to accountability journalism that gets results.

Democrats win control of Pennsylvania state House after picking up 12 seats

Stephen Caruso of Spotlight PA and Katie Meyer of Spotlight PA Spotlight PA is an independent, nonpartisan newsroom powered by The Philadelphia Inquirer in partnership with PennLive/The Patriot-News, TribLIVE/Pittsburgh Tribune-Review, and WITF Public Media. Sign up for our free newsletters. HARRISBURG — Democrats have won control of the Pennsylvania state House for the first time in more than a decade. State Rep. Todd Stephens (R., Montgomery) conceded his race in the 151st District on Thursday, more than a week after Election Day, Democrat Melissa Cerrato’s campaign told Spotlight PA. The Associated Press had already called 101 races for Democrats and 100 for Republicans in the 203-member chamber. The AP calls races when it can find no mathematical path for losing candidates to win based on outstanding votes. The fate of the last disputed state House race, for Bucks County’s 142nd District, is still unsettled and could be decided in court. Democrats’ pickup of a dozen seats has come as a shock to many in Harrisburg — including the party now slated to be in power. Population shifts over the past 10 years from rural areas to suburban and urban parts of Pennsylvania — and the subsequent redrawing of political lines earlier this year to account for those changes — allowed the party to make many of these gains. Democratic candidates won seats in safe blue areas such as Harrisburg, Lancaster, Reading, and Allentown, while also flipping redrawn suburban districts outside of Pittsburgh and Philadelphia. The party defeated a handful of GOP incumbents in these areas, including Stephens. With Gov.-elect Josh Shapiro controlling the executive branch, Democrats will have a much larger say in Harrisburg’s day-to-day agenda. Lawmakers from the party will be able to advance policy priorities such as raising the minimum wage or instituting LGBTQ non-discrimination protections, and block constitutional amendments from reaching voters. Still, there will be a need for negotiations. The Democrats’ majority is so small they must be wary of defections, and Republicans will retain control of the state Senate. “We’re gonna stop things that we think are bad for Pennsylvanians,” newly elected Senate President Pro Tempore Kim Ward (R., Westmoreland) said this week, “but we can get things done.” Democrats are expected to nominate their floor leader Joanna McClinton (D., Philadelphia) for speaker of the state House. She’d be the first woman and second Black legislator to hold the gavel. But to win the position, she must have the support of a majority of lawmakers — and Democrats could technically be in the minority on Jan. 3, the first day of session That’s because of the death of one Democratic lawmaker, and the impending resignations of two more. Rep. Tony DeLuca of Allegheny County died shortly before the Nov. 8 election but still appeared on the ballot and won. Allegheny County state Reps. Austin Davis and Summer Lee won races for lieutenant governor and Congress, respectively, and must resign their seats in January. The speaker (whoever they are) will then call special elections for the open seats. Featured Image: The Pennsylvania Capitol in Harrisburg will have a new party in charge of the state House come January [Amanda Berg] WHILE YOU’RE HERE… If you learned something from this story, pay it forward and become a member of Spotlight PA so someone else can in the future at spotlightpa.org/donate. Spotlight PA is funded by foundationsand readers like you who are committed to accountability journalism that gets results.

Have Democrats flipped the Pa. House? The latest on the deciding races.

Katie Meyer of Spotlight PA Spotlight PA is an independent, nonpartisan newsroom powered by The Philadelphia Inquirer in partnership with PennLive/The Patriot-News, TribLIVE/Pittsburgh Tribune-Review, and WITF Public Media. Sign up for our free newsletters. HARRISBURG — With control of the Pennsylvania state House on the line, attorneys for Democratic and Republican candidates in two close, still-uncalled races are haggling over whether to count several dozen provisional ballots. The arguments mostly come down to relatively minor issues with the ballots — like a voter signing in one place instead of two, or writing an incorrect date. The outcomes in Bucks County’s 142nd and Montgomery County’s 151st state House Districts will either leave Republicans with a slim majority in the chamber, or give Democrats control for the first time since 2010. Democrats need just one more seat to win the chamber, while Republicans would need to win both. Adam Bonin, who represents the Democratic candidates in both races, said Republicans are leading these efforts to disqualify ballots, and described them as “really ticky-tack challenges that are being filed opportunistically to try to disenfranchise Democratic voters.” Democrats, he said, are filing similar challenges to throw out GOP votes. He characterized those challenges as an effort to maintain parity. Shohin Vance, an attorney representing the Republican candidate in the undecided race in Bucks County, acknowledged that GOP attorneys did initially challenge a group of ballots that had been cast solely by non-Republican voters, but added, “I strenuously disagree with the characterization that our challenges are along partisan lines.” He said GOP attorneys had previously objected to certain groups of mail ballots regardless of party, and that he willingly agreed with Democratic attorneys when they insisted on also challenging GOP ballots. These few dozen ballots matter because both undecided races are extremely close. As of Friday, when Montgomery County officials last updated their vote tally, six-term state Rep. Todd Stephens led Democratic candidate Melissa Cerrato by 12 votes in the 151st District. There are just a few hundred votes still to be counted in that district. County spokesperson Kelly Cofrancisco confirmed that as of Tuesday afternoon, the district had 36 uncounted military and overseas ballots but could still accept more until 5 p.m.; 49 mail ballots submitted by people who hadn’t initially verified their identities; and 249 provisional ballots. County officials plan to consider provisional ballots Friday, making that likely the soonest day when results will be available in that race. Despite the fluctuating count, Democratic operatives told Spotlight PA they still stand behind their assessment that there aren’t enough remaining GOP ballots to keep the 151st House seat from flipping to their party — the only win they would need to take control of the chamber. “We’re feeling confident in where we are and that Todd Stephens’ attempts [to] throw out ballots will be unsuccessful,” said one Democrat, Jason Salus, who heads the Montgomery County Democratic Committee. In the open 142nd race in Bucks County, Republican Joseph Hogan led Democrat Mark Moffa by 114 votes as of Tuesday. But as in Montgomery, that total doesn’t include provisional, overseas, and military ballots. It also doesn’t include a few dozen ballots submitted to drop boxes that had been temporarily set aside because they’d been tied up in investigations of people dropping off multiple ballots. James O’Malley, a spokesperson for Bucks County, said Tuesday that the county still has about 275 provisional ballots left to be counted, but some of those will likely be invalidated based on challenges from candidates, or because they are deemed invalid for another reason. In meetings Monday and Tuesday, attorneys for candidates and county parties in Bucks and Montgomery Counties filed challenges to several categories of provisional ballots. Documents shared with Spotlight PA show that in Montgomery County, Republicans filed 45 such challenges and Democrats filed 12. According to Bonin, both parties are only filing challenges to ballots not submitted by members of their own party. Three arguments recur most often in the Montgomery County challenges. One argument, echoing a challenge filed by the Republican National Committee, asserts that provisional ballots should be tossed if voters cast them due to a flaw in their already-submitted regular mail ballot. In other words, the argument is that a provisional ballot cannot be used to cure a mail ballot. Another argument is that provisional ballots that voters signed in just one place, instead of two, should be excluded. The third is that provisional ballots on which voters put an incorrect date also shouldn’t count. Provisional ballots could also be excluded for other reasons — for instance, if county officials find that the voter already cast a valid ballot by mail, or if they weren’t eligible to vote in the first place. The challenges in Bucks have been similar — people with knowledge of the litigation said both parties had challenged between 20 and 30 ballots that county officials deemed eligible based on relatively minor flaws, like voters signing them only once by mistake. In both races, county officials have set aside some number of regular mail ballots because they have a missing or incorrect date or signature, or are missing their inner secrecy envelope. Pennsylvania’s Department of State has instructed counties not to tabulate these ballots, but legal precedent on the issue remains unsettled. Democrats could sue to have these ballots counted, using the argument that refusing to count them violates federal civil rights law. Democrats have long seen Pennsylvania’s 151st State House District as key to them retaking the chamber, but have been repeatedly stymied by Stephens’ ability to keep appealing to an increasingly liberal electorate. In this latest contest, Cerrato sought to make abortion — and particularly, Stephens’ party’s willingness to restrict it — a centerpiece of her campaign, while Stephens campaigned on his commitment to gun control and his endorsements from unions and environmental groups — all unusual for a Republican. Cerrato is a former legislative staffer to another Montgomery County House Democrat, Liz Hanbidge. In the 142nd state House District, moderate GOP Rep. Frank Farry, who was elected in 2009, left an opening in his purple seat when he departed for the state Senate this year. Moffa, a journalist and borough council member, also highlighted his opposition to abortion restrictions in his race against Hogan, an economic planner. WHILE YOU’RE HERE… If you learned something from this story, pay it forward and become a member of Spotlight PA so someone else can in the future at spotlightpa.org/donate. Spotlight PA is funded by foundationsand readers like you who are committed to accountability journalism that gets results.

Why these Pa. teams got left out of the minor league baseball union

Colin Deppen of Spotlight PA This story was produced by Spotlight PA in collaboration with Defector, an independent sports blog and media company. HARRISBURG — Professional baseball will become a fairer sport next year — at least in terms of compensation. After a successful unionization push by minor league players, the workforce — historically paid poverty-level wages, a stark contrast to the massive earnings in the majors — is set to hash out its first-ever collective bargaining agreement with Major League Baseball. Now, with the postseason wrapped up, the Major League Baseball Players Association (MLBPA), which added thousands of active minor leaguers to its ranks over the summer, is preparing to negotiate around long-time minor-league pain points, including salaries and travel conditions. But while this organizing push was recognized by MLB, and touted by advocates as a step toward righting historic wrongs, the sport of baseball remains far from unionized overall. As the MLBPA and the league hammer out their deal, hundreds of professional players on dozens of teams that are unaffiliated with MLB will not be represented at the bargaining table. These players likely will not see improvements in their working conditions, which insiders say can oftentimes be even worse than those at MLB-affiliated teams. Here’s a look at what could be the next frontier in baseball’s labor reckoning — in Pennsylvania and cities nationwide — and why baseball experts say it probably won’t be. How the minors got a union It took just two weeks for thousands of active minor league players to sign authorization cards with the MLBPA, skyrocketing the union’s membership from just 1,200 major leaguers to roughly 6,500 professionals overnight. But that breakneck effort followed years of delicate groundwork and scathing media attention on the haves-and-have-nots dynamic between the major league owners of minor league teams and the minor league players themselves.The unionization effort overcame staggering structural odds — including a century-old antitrust exemption that grants MLB a legal monopoly over the sport, and federal legislation that frees the league from paying minimum wage or overtime at the minor league level. For decades, such barriers, and the promise of meritocracy built into the minor league system, kept wages low and conditions static. In recent years, a perfect storm of factors broke that inertia: a $185 million settlement between MLB and minor leaguers in a class-action lawsuit over minimum wage and overtime violations, government scrutiny of MLB’s antitrust exemption in the form of a U.S. Senate inquiry, mounting political support for a minor league union in state capitals and Washington, D.C, and the tailwinds of surging public support for labor unions. “Minor league players make near poverty wages while serving as some of MLB’s best ambassadors in communities across America,” U.S. Sen. Dick Durbin (D., Ill.) said in August. “Unionization would finally allow minor leaguers to negotiate for better pay and working conditions. I welcome this step by MLBPA.” Why did minor leaguers need a union? For decades, players in the now-unionized minors complained of poor working conditions and paltry pay. Citing minor leaguers’ advocacy groups, NPR reported in September that most players earned less than $13,590 a season — the federal annual poverty line for a single person — all while being paid and rostered by MLB clubs worth millions and millions of dollars. Shabby training facilities, substandard equipment and nutrition, and chronic debt also plagued the lower leagues. “We just weren’t getting enough nutrition,” an unnamed player told Defector in 2021 about the dinners his team provided after games, strength training, team workouts, and pregame prep. “We got one scoop of pasta, one piece of chicken, and a little bit of whatever veggie.” The player said his teammates were able to work out a deal for discounted chicken fingers and burgers with a local restaurant owner who was “a sympathetic fan of the team.” In the same Defector report, a Triple-A player with a National League club said, “Some guys get retail jobs; some guys do lessons” to make ends meet. In a significant 2021 victory for minor league players, MLB began requiring that the major league teams that control affiliated minor league clubs provide those players with housing. Previously, players found themselves bunking up together in team-provided lodging, sleeping in cars, and staying with host families. As The New York Times noted in a 2019 piece about players for the Scranton/Wilkes-Barre RailRiders (the New York Yankees’ Triple-A affiliate) living in an Old Forge funeral home, “less-than-desirable living situations aren’t uncommon for the many minor leaguers living on painfully tight budgets.” Less than a year after adding the housing requirement in 2021, the MLB voluntarily recognized the minors’ historic union push this past summer. Everything from salaries and benefits to grievance procedures will be on the table when collective bargaining between the MLB and the MLBPA gets underway. Which minor-league teams are unionized now? The MLBPA now covers players at all four affiliated levels — including Triple-A, Double-A, High-A, and Low-A, per ESPN. In Pennsylvania, that includes these teams: the Altoona Curve (Double-A), Erie SeaWolves (Double-A), Harrisburg Senators (Double-A), Lehigh Valley IronPigs (Triple-A), Reading Fightin Phils (Double-A), and Scranton/Wilkes-Barre RailRiders (Triple-A). Who’s not covered, and why? Pennsylvania teams such as the State College Spikes (MLB Draft League), Williamsport Crosscutters (MLB Draft League), Lancaster Barnstormers (Atlantic League), Washington Wild Things (Frontier League), York Revolution (Atlantic League), and the Johnstown Mill Rats (Prospect League) were not a part of the MLBPA union drive. The Atlantic and Frontier Leagues are independent, meaning they aren’t direct MLB affiliates — though both are MLB partners — and weren’t included in the unionization effort. What’s the difference between affiliates and partners? Affiliate teams, like those listed in the section above, are controlled and funded by major league clubs. Teams in partner leagues, meanwhile, control their own rosters and payrolls. While “partner” may sound like a closer relationship than “affiliate,” in this case it’s not. MLB reorganized the minors in 2021, controversially cutting dozens of teams to reduce costs. The league also designated four independent leagues — the Atlantic and Frontier among them — as partners. Through the partner leagues, MLB experiments with new rules, equipment initiatives, and more, while agreeing to provide initial funding for operating expenses and scouting efforts. The MLB Draft and Prospect leagues are collegiate summer leagues whose players are unpaid and treated as amateurs. Housing is provided to players in the Draft League, which is a collection of six former minor league teams cut from the MLB system amid 2021′s restructuring. (The Draft League, in particular, was an attempt to keep baseball in select cities while also drumming up interest in the MLB’s draft, which draws little interest compared with those of its peers in professional football and basketball.) Independent league players and coaches declined to speak on the record with Spotlight PA and Defector about union interest due to the sensitive nature of the subject. Who owns these independent teams? Your local, unaffiliated team is probably owned by a local businessperson or an ownership group made up of area investors. In Pennsylvania, for example, Bill Shipley, former CEO of the York-based Shipley Energy company, is among the owners of the York Revolution, while the Washington Wild Things are owned by area attorneys Stu and Francine Williams, former Steelers center Dermontti Dawson, and Pittsburgh business executive Jeff Coury. Will independent league players unionize, too? It’s possible, but there are significant obstacles to overcome in organizing a union on the outskirts of professional baseball, baseball experts say. Among them: less job security, which makes it riskier for players leading an organizing effort; a more transient workforce; shorter careers; smaller checks to cover union dues; and less-monied owners. J.J. Cooper, an editor for Baseball America who has covered professional baseball for decades, said union hurdles in the indy leagues are “much, much more significant than they are for the minors.” For one, the cash flow situation is very different, he noted. “There are plenty of examples of independent league teams that basically shut down because they ran out of money. So it’s a very different economic structure.” The David-and-Goliath backdrop for unionizing was more obvious for affiliate teams owned and controlled by MLB clubs worth vast sums of money, he said. At the same time, Cooper noted that conditions for players are almost always worse in the independent leagues. “As a general rule you’re going to make less money, have less job security — you are probably going to work in the offseason to support your baseball habit, is the way people have put it.” What’s next for organized and unorganized pro players? Simon Rosenblum-Larson of More Than Baseball, a nonprofit that advocates for minor leaguers, said he’s unaware of any labor organizing in the independent leagues but is sure they’re watching their counterparts in the affiliates. “Those players are oftentime former [affiliate] league players, the ties are very close there, and so now that [affiliate] league players are organized, it’s one of the logical next steps,” he said. Rosenblum-Larson, a former minor leaguer, noted pay typically gets lower the farther you get from the major league orbit. “People have called it the wild west of baseball,” he said. For instance, the Atlantic League is an independent operator and MLB partner (not affiliate) on the highest rung of the indy leagues. It says it “pays players to win baseball games, not apprentice.” Pay is a maximum of $3,000 per month across the league, said John Gibson, general manager and vice president of operations with the York Revolution. Most players make far less than that. College summer leagues like the Prospect League of Johnstown, Pennsylvania, don’t pay players at all, Rosenblum-Larson noted, and in some cases are exceptionally popular and profitable thanks to the minimal overhead. He pointed to the midwest’s Northwoods League, where even broadcasters are unpaid. Asked to make the case for more unions in baseball, Rosenblum-Larson was unequivocal. “Baseball players are a perfect example of a group of people who have immense and unique talent. And people are making money off that talent, and the players themselves are not seeing any of that money,” he said. “They deserve to be compensated fairly, and they haven’t since the beginning of minor league baseball.” If you or someone you know has insight on working conditions in independent league baseball — the Atlantic League, Frontier League, or elsewhere — we want to hear from you. Reach out to reporter Colin Deppen here. WHILE YOU’RE HERE… If you learned something from this story, pay it forward and become a member of Spotlight PA so someone else can in the future at spotlightpa.org/donate. Spotlight PA is funded by foundationsand readers like you who are committed to accountability journalism that gets results.

Control of PA House comes down to three races in the Philly suburbs

by Peter Hall, Pennsylvania Capital-StarNovember 10, 2022 Control of the Pennsylvania House will come down to three narrow races for legislative districts in the Philadelphia suburbs. In Bucks County, Democrat Mark Moffa held a two-vote lead over Republican Joe Hogan in the 142nd House  District and Democrat Brian Munroe had a 406-vote lead over Republican Todd Polinchock in the 144th District, according to unofficial results Thursday. In Montgomery County, incumbent Republican Todd Stephens held a 26-vote lead over Democratic challenger Melissa Cerrato, according to unofficial results. House Democrats said Wednesday that they were confident they would take control of the lower chamber for the first time since 2010. House Democratic Whip Jordan Harris said the prediction was based on analysis of the votes counted up to that point and the trend of mail-in ballot votes favoring Democrats. A long-running dispute over whether to count mail-in ballots that are returned without a handwritten date or incorrect date could be an issue in deciding the races.  A federal appeals court ruled earlier this year that not counting undated ballots would be an impermissible restriction on voters’ rights. The U.S. Supreme Court, however, threw out the ruling last month because the underlying election had been settled. The state Supreme Court, which has had only six members since the death of Chief Justice Max Baer in September, deadlocked on the question. It ordered election officials to set aside and not count any ballots with missing or incorrect dates. Voting rights organizations and U.S. Senator-elect John Fetterman’s campaign argue in a pair of federal lawsuits that not counting undated or incorrectly dated ballots is a violation of the Civil Rights Act’s bar against disenfranchising voters over immaterial paperwork errors. Bucks County spokesperson Jim O’Malley said Thursday the elections office has completed counting in-person votes and mail-in ballots that were correctly submitted. The Bucks County Board of Elections will meet next week to evaluate provisional ballots to determine whether they should be counted. Election results are due to Secretary of State Leigh Chapman by Nov. 15. O’Malley said there are about 5,500 provisional and undated or incorrectly dated mail-in ballots. An additional 653 overseas civilian, federal and military ballots remain to be counted. In Montgomery County, there are more than 4,300 mail-in and absentee ballots that have not been counted and await evaluation, according to the county’s election website. Pennsylvania Capital-Star is part of States Newsroom, a network of news bureaus supported by grants and a coalition of donors as a 501c(3) public charity. Pennsylvania Capital-Star maintains editorial independence. Contact Editor John Micek for questions: info@penncapital-star.com. Follow Pennsylvania Capital-Star on Facebook and Twitter. Featured Image Caption: The ceiling of the main Rotunda inside Pennsylvania’s Capitol building. May 24, 2022. Harrisburg, Pa. (Photo by Amanda Berg, for the Capital-Star).

Democrats believe they will take control of the Pennsylvania House for the first time in more than a decade

Stephen Caruso of Spotlight PA and Kate Huangpu of Spotlight PA Spotlight PA is an independent, nonpartisan newsroom powered by The Philadelphia Inquirer in partnership with PennLive/The Patriot-News, TribLIVE/Pittsburgh Tribune-Review, and WITF Public Media. Sign up for our free newsletters. HARRISBURG — Pennsylvania Democrats believe they will win enough state House seats after Tuesday’s midterm election to secure a majority when the legislature’s new session begins in January. The party was expected to pick up several seats in the chamber after a redistricting cycle that produced new political lines that account for population shifts from GOP-leaning rural areas to suburban and urban areas populated by Democrats. But unofficial results show that Democrats could flip or win a number of competitive, Republican-controlled seats in the suburbs of Pittsburgh, Philadelphia, and State College. The Associated Press had yet to call many of the competitive races as of Wednesday afternoon, and litigation over certain ballots appeared likely, especially in very close races. Still, at a celebratory press conference in Philadelphia the day after the election, leaders of the party — which hasn’t controlled the state House since 2010 — claimed victory. “We’ve had an agenda to defend democracy for a long time, and we finally will get ready to enact it as we go into 2023,” said state House Democratic Leader Joanna McClinton of Philadelphia. Where the balance stands The Pennsylvania House has 203 members: 113 Republicans and 90 Democrats currently. On Tuesday, Republicans appeared to have flipped four seats, including one held by a longtime incumbent and others by retiring Blue Dog (or moderate) Democrats. Democrats, meanwhile, anticipate they will pick up at least 15 seats currently held by GOP lawmakers, according to social media posts by the party’s state House campaign arm and Democratic sources. Such victories would give Democrats 101 lawmakers — one shy of a majority. https://datawrapper.dwcdn.net/bLHTz/11/ In order to secure the majority, Democratic candidates seemingly need to win in the 142nd and 151st Districts, where the margins are currently razor-thin. The 142nd District in Bucks County was formerly held by Republican state Rep. Frank Farry, who successfully ran for a state Senate seat on Tuesday, according to unofficial results. As of Wednesday afternoon, Republican Joseph Hogan had a 3-vote lead over Democrat Mark Moffa there, according to unofficial results. In the 151st District in Montgomery County, Republican state Rep. Todd Stephens had a 26-vote lead over Democrat Melissa Cerrato as of Wednesday afternoon, according to unofficial results. Both counties had processed all in-person votes and mail ballots Wednesday, leaving only overseas ballots that arrive through next Tuesday and provisional ballots — those cast by a voter whose eligibility was in question on Election Day. But there’s another variable that could affect the outcome of these races: whether a federal judge reverses a state ruling that directed officials to set aside undated or incorrectly dated mail ballots. It’s unclear whether and how many of those ballots were cast in these races. Bucks County could not provide a number, and Montgomery County reported about 4,300 mail ballots needed further evaluation. In the wake of the state Supreme Court ruling against the counting of undated ballots, some counties began proactively reaching out to voters about the issues and allowing them to fix their ballots. Other counties did not. The Pennsylvania Department of State, as well as groups including Turn PA Blue, a grassroots Democratic political organization, advised voters who believed they had made a mistake on their mail ballot to cast a provisional ballot as a safeguard. Those provisional ballots would be counted only if a mail ballot were deemed invalid. Jamie Perrapato, executive director of Turn PA Blue, said she expects many provisional ballots to favor Democrats because members of the party vote by mail in greater numbers than Republicans. The Inquirer reported Wednesday that the Republican National Committee plans to challenge the legality of provisional ballots cast in person by individuals who realized they had previously submitted a mail ballot that had a disqualifying defect, like a lack of a signature or date. A legal decision agreeing with the RNC could hurt Democrats’ odds in close races, Perrapto said. “When you’re talking about three votes and 26 votes, everything comes into play.” New legislative maps in action Every 10 years, states redraw their political lines to account for population changes. Tuesday was the first general election in Pennsylvania with new state House and Senate maps, which political scientist and Republican consultant Sam Chen said were key in shifting the balance of power. He added that Democratic candidates for statewide office, in particular gubernatorial winner Josh Shapiro, might have brought out more voters. “Top of the ticket matters,” said Chen. “This is a year where Republicans did not put strong candidates on the top of the ticket in Doug Mastriano and Mehmet Oz.” Earlier this year, a five-member panel of four legislative leaders and one nonpartisan chair voted to approve the new state House and Senate maps. Ahead of the election, advocates for a more transparent redistricting process said they expected the maps, especially the lower chamber’s, would better reflect the partisan makeup of the state. That appears to have played out Tuesday. Take Chester County outside of Philadelphia. Six of the eight state House races that include the area were separated by roughly 1,000 votes as of Wednesday morning. Those close races properly reflect the changing suburban population of the area, said Justin Villere of Draw the Lines PA, a project of the good-government group the Committee of Seventy. “Chester County has been trending Democratic but is still a hotly contested county,” said Villere. “So you’ve got multiple races that are really, really close and that wouldn’t have happened before these new maps.” The new maps decreased the overall number of competitive districts, which are areas where neither major party has an overwhelming majority. Many of the newly drawn districts have either a strong Democratic or Republican lean, strengthening one party’s hold on the seat over the other. One lawmaker who lost Tuesday said he fears this will further polarize the legislature and encourage partisanship. “Outcome-based maps — the worst kind of gerrymandering — decided this race,” state Rep. Chris Quinn (R., Delaware) said in a text message. “I fear that the end result will be increased partisanship and gridlock in the legislature for years to come.” What comes next The state House has three session days scheduled for next week. Lawmakers in both parties will choose their leaders for the next term in a closed-door vote at that time. The state House will swear in its new members Jan. 3 and elect a new speaker — the highest position and one meant to represent all lawmakers, not just fellow party members. Democrats will likely nominate McClinton for the position. She’d be the first woman to run the chamber and the highest-ranking woman in the history of the Pennsylvania General Assembly. Securing a majority would give Democrats the power to set the chamber’s agenda in 2023, an increasingly likely outcome that has come as a surprise to many inside and outside the party. They would have more leverage than they’ve had in a decade to advance policy goals. (The state Senate will remain under Republican control.) The party would also be able to block controversial constitutional amendments from reaching voters, such as a Republican-proposed omnibus package that would amend the state’s founding document to say it does not protect abortion rights. Should they take the majority, Democrats have a number of long-simmering priorities to juggle, including marijuana legalization, raising the minimum wage, and enshrining LGBTQ nondiscrimination in state law. “Our leadership team will be presiding over a center-left majority, and not a left-left majority,” state Rep. Peter Schweyer (D., Lehigh) told Spotlight PA. “And so we’re going to be pushing progressive values, but at the same time be mindful that this is, in fact, a purple state.” WHILE YOU’RE HERE… If you learned something from this story, pay it forward and become a member of Spotlight PA so someone else can in the future at spotlightpa.org/donate. Spotlight PA is funded by foundationsand readers like you who are committed to accountability journalism that gets results. Featured image caption: “We’ve had an agenda to defend democracy for a long time, and we finally will get ready to enact it as we go into 2023,” state House Democratic Leader Joanna McClinton of Philadelphia said Wednesday [Alejandro A. Alvarez / Philadelphia Inquirer]

Democrat Josh Shapiro elected governor of Pennsylvania, defeating Republican Doug Mastriano

Katie Meyer of Spotlight PA Spotlight PA is an independent, nonpartisan newsroom powered by The Philadelphia Inquirer in partnership with PennLive/The Patriot-News, TribLIVE/Pittsburgh Tribune-Review, and WITF Public Media. Sign up for our free newsletters. HARRISBURG — Democrat Josh Shapiro has won the election to be Pennsylvania’s 48th governor, cruising to a decisive victory over far-right Republican Doug Mastriano. The Associated Press called the race for Shapiro around 12:15 a.m. Wednesday, with 82% of the votes in. At that time, the Democrat had captured 54.6% of the vote, according to unofficial results. “While my name was on the ballot, it was always your rights, it was always your futures that were on the line right here in the commonwealth,” Shapiro said at a victory party in Montgomery County. “It was a test of whether or not we valued our rights and freedoms and whether we believed in opportunity for all Pennsylvanians. And tonight, I humbly stand before you as your governor-elect knowing that you met this moment.” The AP’s election analysts call races when a “trailing candidate no longer has a path to victory” — an assessment the outlet makes by studying vote totals county by county and comparing returns with ballots left to count. Mastriano, a state senator from Franklin County, spoke to supporters at a campaign party in Camp Hill shortly before midnight and did not concede. Earlier in the evening, around 10 p.m. — after a prayer asked God to prevent fraud and a band played “Don’t Stop Believin’” — Mastriano exhorted hundreds of supporters to keep the faith in his electoral odds. “We’re going to take this fight all the way to Harrisburg,” Mastriano said. “This movement is unstoppable.” He later told the crowd his campaign would “wait patiently to see what the people of Pennsylvania said. And what the people of Pennsylvania said, we will of course respect that.” Mastriano has been one of Pennsylvania’s most prominent proponents of baseless election fraud theories, and had wrongly claimed before Election Day that the slower pace for results because of mail ballots was an “attempt to have the fix in.” Shapiro, of Montgomery County, has served since 2016 as the commonwealth’s attorney general. He has spent decades in Pennsylvania politics and is broadly seen as a moderate with a knack for building consensus and tricky backroom dealmaking. In his race for governor, he sought to cast himself as the reasonable choice compared with Mastriano. In one ad, he called his opponent’s stated opposition to abortion in all cases “way too extreme.” Shapiro, who says he supports Pennsylvania’s current abortion laws, which allow the procedure until 24 weeks and later in medical emergencies, leaned into the issue after the U.S. Supreme Court overturned Roe v. Wade, anticipating that voters would be galvanized by the ruling. In other ads, Shapiro highlighted a 2001 thesis Mastriano wrote, calling it a “bizarre manifesto,” noted his opponent’s connection to QAnon conspiracy theorists, and flagged a donation Mastriano received from the founder of right-wing site Gab, which often features anti-semitic and white supremacist speech. For his part, Mastriano has tried to argue throughout the race that his views, not Shapiro’s, are actually the mainstream ones. Most frequently, he bases that case on Shapiro’s defense of the state’s COVID-19 precautions as attorney general, and also blames Shapiro for crime rates and asserts without specific examples that Shapiro supports “woke gender ideology” and the “sexualization of minors.” Shapiro has tried to stake out a middle ground on some of Pennsylvania’s most contentious issues — in some cases, by avoiding taking firm stances. On the campaign trail, he avoided saying whether he will keep Pennsylvania in the Regional Greenhouse Gas Initiative — a plan in which energy producers purchase allowances to emit carbon dioxide, the profits from which go into renewable energy investments. He has been a proponent of putting more money into public schools and routing that money through a funding formula designed to more fairly allocate resources. At the same time, he took a position some fellow Democrats see as contradictory — arguing that Pennsylvania should fund scholarships that allow students to leave public schools for private ones, if they want. As attorney general, Shapiro’s office frequently went to court to defend Democratic Gov. Tom Wolf’s COVID-19 policies, which included school and business closures and mask mandates. But during his gubernatorial run, Shapiro broke with Wolf and much of the rest of his party, saying he thinks “folks got it wrong” on school and business shutdowns, and that he opposes mask and vaccine mandates. After coasting through a primary in which he managed to emerge as the sole mainstream Democratic candidate, Shapiro entered the general election with a formidable financial advantage over Mastriano’s shoestring campaign. That difference only compounded as Mastriano failed to win support from major Republican donors, and Shapiro racked up a historically deep campaign chest. His supporters included some Republicans who opposed Mastriano as their party’s candidate, as well as state and national Democratic groups and labor unions. After a stint working for Democrats in Washington, D.C., Shapiro began his elected career as a state representative in 2005, flipping a Montgomery County seat Republicans had held for 20 years. Six years later, he was elected to Montgomery County’s board of commissioners and became its chair, again ushering in a significant political shift — the first time in history that Democrats had been the majority in Montgomery County government. It was in those roles that Shapiro began building his reputation as a pragmatist. As a state representative, he helped broker a novel scheme that allowed Democrats to elect a hand-picked, cooperative Republican as state House speaker in order to maintain power in the chamber during a period of closely divided control. As a commissioner, his fellow county officials recognized him for helping to broker a period of unanimity on a board that had often been publicly acrimonious. In 2016, with then-state Attorney General Kathleen Kane under indictment and her law license suspended, Shapiro was elected to his first statewide position. He promised to restore stability to an attorney general’s office plagued by scandal. In the years since, he has become perhaps best known for the office’s 2018 release of a landmark grand jury report on longstanding sexual abuse of children in Pennsylvania’s Catholic dioceses. Other high-profile efforts during his time in office included criminally charging the energy company responsible for a controversial natural gas pipeline project, adding Pennsylvania to dozens of national lawsuits against the Trump administration for things like family separation at the southern border and reducing access to contraception, and defending Pennsylvania’s election laws against the Trump campaign and other Republicans’ efforts to invalidate ballots. Shapiro will be taking over the governorship from Wolf, who was elected to two terms and constitutionally prohibited from seeking a third. His election marks the first time since 1967 that Pennsylvania has elected two consecutive governors from the same party. The state’s next lieutenant governor will be state Rep. Austin Davis (D., Allegheny), the first Black person to hold that position. Davis said in a speech Tuesday that this “is a moment that defines us as a commonwealth, that says to extremists … that we won’t go back and we’ll never back down.” After Shapiro declared victory Tuesday, supporters Liza Takiya and Raj Sharma, a married couple from Montgomery County, said they were relieved Mastriano hadn’t won. “Ecstatic,” Sharma said. “We’re so thrilled,” Takiya added. For Lee Geisler, who was standing in the crowd waiting to meet Shapiro while wearing a large Shapiro sign and holding one for Democratic U.S. Senate candidate John Fetterman, the win felt personal. “I’m gay and I’m married,” he said. “I really believe Doug Mastriano is talking about taking us back to the 1940s, 50s.” But Geisler, who is 65 and lives in Philadelphia, said he wasn’t just supporting Shapiro because he dislikes Mastriano. “He’s not afraid of a battle,” Geisler said. “And I think we need more Democrats who are a little less timid.” Spotlight PA’s Angela Couloumbis and Stephen Caruso contributed reporting. WHILE YOU’RE HERE… If you learned something from this story, pay it forward and become a member of Spotlight PA so someone else can in the future at spotlightpa.org/donate. Spotlight PA is funded by foundationsand readers like you who are committed to accountability journalism that gets results.

Why are undated mail ballots such a big deal in Pennsylvania?

Katie Meyer of Spotlight PA Spotlight PA is an independent, nonpartisan newsroom powered by The Philadelphia Inquirer in partnership with PennLive/The Patriot-News, TribLIVE/Pittsburgh Tribune-Review, and WITF Public Media. Sign up for our free newsletters. HARRISBURG — Pennsylvania’s Supreme Court is expected to soon rule on a case that could decide whether undated mail ballots can be counted in the quickly approaching Nov. 8 election. The case comes after years of highly partisan litigation that yielded no firm legal consensus on how counties should treat the ballots. Under state law, a person who casts a mail ballot must sign and date a declaration on the outer envelope. Undated ballots have missing or incorrect dates, but are otherwise turned in on time to county election offices and are eligible to be counted. While the issue doesn’t appear to be widespread, there have been enough of these ballots cast in recent elections to decide close races. This new case on undated ballots splits down fault lines that have become common in Pennsylvania election litigation. The attorneys who filed the lawsuit represent state and national Republican groups, as well as individual GOP voters, who argue undated ballots should be thrown out. They’re suing all 67 of Pennsylvania’s counties and the commonwealth’s Democratic administration, led by Gov. Tom Wolf and Acting Secretary of State Leigh M. Chapman. The Democrats and many counties argue the undated ballots should be tabulated. Attorneys for both sides agree this case may not end litigation over undated ballots once and for all. Pennsylvania’s Supreme Court has split on this issue before and it’s now missing a justice following the death of Chief Justice Max Baer in September. That makes a tie possible. Even if the court hands down a decisive ruling, there’s a good chance that Republicans will appeal that decision to federal courts. Ahead of the court’s decision, here’s the legal background on undated mail ballots and the arguments the Supreme Court justices are considering. What are Republicans arguing? This new case stems from the Republican National Committee, National Republican Congressional Committee, Pennsylvania GOP, and some individual Republican voters filing what’s known as a King’s Bench Petition to the Pennsylvania Supreme Court. This kind of petition asks the state’s high court to use its unique power to bypass the lower courts and directly take up matters of particular importance. The court granted the Republicans’ request on Oct. 21. The GOP groups asked the justices to rule that ballots submitted without a date should not be counted — even if they are turned in on time. Their request goes a step further than some prior cases by claiming that ballots with an incorrect date should also be thrown out. Counties have typically accepted these ballots in the past. In their brief to the state Supreme Court, the Republican attorneys said that they would settle for counties being ordered to segregate these undated or misdated ballots, presumably in case future litigation finds the votes shouldn’t be accepted. One of the GOP groups’ biggest claims is that the General Assembly’s meaning “could not have been clearer” when it passed a state law saying voters “shall…fill out, date and sign the declaration” printed on their ballot’s outer envelope, and that there’s no good reason for the court to rule differently. They also seek to rebut an argument with which Democrats and voting rights groups have had some success: that date requirements are virtually useless for detecting fraud. Matt Haverstick, an attorney who frequently works for Republicans in election cases but isn’t involved with this one, said a date requirement alone won’t always help counties identify a ballot submitted by an ineligible voter, but that doesn’t mean the requirement is useless. He sees measures like these as fail-safes and redundancies. “It’s not a panacea. It’s not a magic bullet,” he said. “But in aggregate, all these anti-fraud measures are really helpful. You could maybe pick apart any one of those, but that’s not the point.” Another core part of the GOP argument is more controversial. It centers on the “independent state legislature” doctrine, which is increasingly popular in right-wing legal circles. Long considered a fringe theory, it posits that state legislatures are the ultimate authority on election matters and that Pennsylvania’s executive and judicial branches don’t have any power to check a legislature’s decisions. “Accordingly,” the GOP attorneys wrote, “state courts and executive branch officers wield no authority to regulate federal elections and may not deploy broad and amorphous state constitutional provisions to rewrite state laws governing those elections.” Effectively, they claim that even if the court doesn’t agree with their other arguments, it doesn’t matter because the governor’s administration and the court itself have no power to interpret state law that way. The Pennsylvania Supreme Court has not indicated it’s willing to entertain that argument, but members of the U.S. Supreme Court might be open to it. What is the Democratic administration arguing? The Wolf administration has consistently sought to count undated and misdated mail ballots since the issue first became prominent in 2020. In its response to Republicans’ latest litigation, it supported that position with a few key arguments. The central premise of the administration’s argument is the belief that Pennsylvania’s election law should be interpreted to enfranchise more people — and that decades of court rulings have done so. “Where there is a choice, the Court should prefer that construction of the law that ‘favors the fundamental right to vote and enfranchises, rather than disenfranchises, the electorate,’” the administration’s attorneys wrote in their brief to the state Supreme Court, quoting a 2020 Pa. Supreme Court decision on elections. Attorneys for the state also wrote that although state law says voters “shall” date their mail ballots, that doesn’t necessarily mean undated ballots must be discarded. A separate part of the state Election Code, they said, states that county election officials should not discard ballots if the voter declaration on the ballot’s outer envelope is “sufficient.” They argue that a ballot with a missing date is “sufficient” because under today’s election law, the date doesn’t provide county election officials with significant useful information. They dismissed Republicans’ argument to the contrary, writing that they “can barely muster an argument as to why the date matters in any respect, devoting just three paragraphs to the issue.” The Wolf administration also argues that the requirement that ballots “shall” be dated is a relic of a previous version of Pennsylvania’s election law. Under that old code, deadlines for casting a mail ballot and returning that mail ballot were different, and the law explicitly directed counties to set aside ballots with wrong or missing dates. When those differing deadlines were merged into one in 1968, lawmakers removed the additional date-related direction but kept the language saying ballots “shall” be dated. That language remains in the Election Code today. “Thus,” attorneys for the Department of State argued, “the only instruction that remains in the Code relating to the voter declaration is a longstanding requirement that the board must satisfy itself that the declaration is ‘sufficient.’” And even if the court decides that Pennsylvania’s Election Code requires undated or misdated ballots to be set aside, the state’s attorneys argued that such a decision would violate the federal Civil Rights Act of 1964. That act, they wrote, “prohibits denying the right to vote based on certain errors or omissions if the error or omission is immaterial to determining a voter’s qualifications.” Put differently, the state argues that a ballot date has nothing to do with a voter’s eligibility, and doesn’t communicate useful information to county election officials. Though the Pennsylvania Department of State is the primary respondent in this case, it is not alone. The GOP groups are also suing all 67 counties, many of which filed their own responses. Though the department has instructed the counties to tabulate undated mail ballots, the decision is technically up to each county since the legal landscape is unsettled. Most of the counties that submitted responses to the Republican lawsuit said they currently plan to count undated mail ballots. Many took no position on the lawsuit, saying they’ll comply with whatever the court decides. Others filed responses opposing the GOP lawsuit to some extent — 14 counties, for instance, entered a joint response saying that the Republicans filing suit so close to an election is “questionable, if not suspect.” One outlier is Butler County. Though it did not file its own response — or at least, the court hasn’t yet publicized that response — the Republican attorneys noted in their argument that Butler “and perhaps some [other] county boards of elections” intend to throw out all undated or misdated ballots, “absent an order of the Pennsylvania Supreme Court to the contrary.” Butler County’s Republican Committee — which is not the same as its board of commissioners or election officials — also filed a joint brief with GOP committees in Lawrence and Cambria Counties and several individual voters supporting the Republican lawsuit. What do we know about the justices’ thoughts? Though the question of what to do with undated ballots has never been fully resolved in state or federal court, lots of judges have weighed in on it over the years — including most of the six Supreme Court justices who will now be deciding the case. They handed down their biggest decision on undated ballots just weeks after the 2020 general election, when Pennsylvania was inundated with litigation from Republicans contesting various groups of ballots. The 2020 case was complicated. It involved two Western Pennsylvania counties — one that had counted undated mail ballots, and one that hadn’t. The discrepancy had put the outcome of a state Senate race in question. The state’s high court ultimately issued a split decision. Three Democratic justices signed an opinion saying undated mail ballots should be counted. The two Republicans and a fourth Democrat issued one saying they shouldn’t be counted. And the seventh justice, Democrat David Wecht, issued a mixed opinion of his own, saying undated ballots should be counted in the 2020 election, but not in the future. The court’s current composition slightly differs from the previous one. Former Republican Chief Justice Thomas Saylor has since retired and been replaced by fellow Republican Justice Kevin Brobson. The subsequent chief justice, Democrat Max Baer, died in September, leaving the court short a member. If the justices return to the same arguments they used in 2020, they could vote four to two in favor of discarding undated mail ballots. But attorneys for both Republicans and Democrats agree these cases are different enough, and enough litigation has since happened, that the judges could easily change their thinking without contradicting themselves. A split three-to-three decision is possible, but that would leave the issue in legal limbo. It also wouldn’t clarify how counties should handle undated mail ballots, and wouldn’t give the parties anything to appeal to federal court if they disagree with the decision. If the justices rule that undated mail ballots should be counted, Republicans will likely appeal the decision — particularly if it hinges on the argument that discarding those ballots violates federal law. The U.S. Supreme Court already vacated a Third Circuit decision that relied on that rationale earlier this month, though that move was procedural and didn’t address the substance of the case. However, three of that court’s conservative justices have separately indicated that they disagree with the Third Circuit’s take that the date requirements violate federal law. Election attorneys contacted by Spotlight PA tended to agree that the Wolf administration and allied groups are less likely to appeal the issue to the U.S. Supreme Court if they lose. There’s no schedule for the court’s decision, and they aren’t hearing oral arguments in the case. But election attorneys expect a ruling soon — likely before Election Day. WHILE YOU’RE HERE… If you learned something from this story, pay it forward and become a member of Spotlight PA so someone else can in the future at spotlightpa.org/donate. Spotlight PA is funded by foundationsand readers like you who are committed to accountability journalism that gets results.

Pa. election 2022: Where governor candidates Mastriano and Shapiro stand on mail ballots, election security, and voting rights

Katie Meyer of Spotlight PA Spotlight PA is an independent, nonpartisan newsroom powered by The Philadelphia Inquirer in partnership with PennLive/The Patriot-News, TribLIVE/Pittsburgh Tribune-Review, and WITF Public Media. Sign up for our free newsletters. HARRISBURG — Pennsylvania’s next governor will have a lot of power over the way elections are run, and the two major party candidates plan to wield that authority in wildly different ways. Election administration is especially important in this race because the commonwealth is a swing state that could determine the outcome of the 2024 presidential contest, and the governor shapes election law and policy. One of the candidates asserts, wrongly, that President Joe Biden won the 2020 election because of widespread fraud. That candidate, Republican state Sen. Republican Doug Mastriano of Franklin County, has called Biden’s victory “statistically impossible,” and spearheaded an unsuccessful attempt to uncover evidence of voter fraud. His planned policies for election administration revolve around those beliefs. Democrat Josh Shapiro, who currently serves as state attorney general, notes frequently that in his current role he has defended Pennsylvania’s election laws against GOP lawsuits aimed at throwing out ballots. He has centered his campaign on the arguments that Mastriano is too fringe to be governor and that the GOP senator cannot be trusted to administer elections. Here’s how the two candidates plan to administer Pennsylvania elections. Mastriano, who does not typically engage with mainstream media, did not respond to requests for comment for this story. Appointing the secretary of state Many states elect a secretary of state. In Pennsylvania, the governor appoints one, and the state Senate confirms them. Among other duties, this powerful state official certifies election results, oversees voting processes — including verifying that voting machines are safe and secure — and issues guidance that, while not legally binding, guides county-level election policy. During the primary election, Mastriano gave one of his most direct statements about appointing a secretary of state to a Mercer County radio host. He claimed that “we have a fraud problem in Pennsylvania,” but that votes still matter and that if people elect him, he’ll have broad power to change how elections are administered. Mastriano could, he said, “decertify every machine in the state with the stroke of a pen via the secretary of state.” He has also said he could make every Pennsylvania voter re-register, an action that might technically fall under a secretary of state’s ability to maintain voter rolls, but that election experts say clearly violates federal law. Mastriano hasn’t publicly said who that secretary of state pick is, but several news outlets have guessed that it’s likely Toni Shuppe, a co-founder of group Audit the Vote Pa. The group has conducted flawed surveys of 2020 voters in a futile search for widespread fraud. Shapiro has said he doesn’t have a secretary of state in mind yet, but that the position will be his first cabinet appointment and that whoever he picks as secretary of state will “run elections fairly and uphold democracy.” In his official policy statement on election security, Shapiro’s campaign wrote that his Department of State will be on guard for “unpatriotic extremists [who] are taking over election administration,” and linked to an Associated Press report on a rise in state and local politicians and administrators who don’t believe former President Donald Trump lost the 2020 election. In addition, Shapiro’s campaign said he will “direct his Secretary of State to make more resources available in different languages so that every eligible voter can make their voices heard.” Election certification There are a couple of levels to formally approving — or certifying — election results in Pennsylvania. First, counties assert that their results are accurate, then the secretary of state reviews those results and certifies them to the appropriate authority. In a state Senate race, for instance, that authority is the secretary of the U.S. Senate. As of this year, those certifications come after two types of state-mandated audits. One of Shapiro’s big promises is to use his first state budget to bulk up resources for post-election audits — particularly risk-limiting audits, an increasingly popular check of election count accuracy that involves manually reviewing random samples of ballots. The commonwealth already conducted a simpler audit as a matter of course, but piloted risk-limiting audits in 2020 and will conduct one in every county for the first time this November. Shapiro has also criticized an ongoing “forensic audit” Republicans initiated following the 2020 election. Mastriano initiated that audit, which is premised on baseless election fraud theories. Shapiro’s campaign noted that his office went to court to oppose Senate GOP attempts to subpoena voters’ personal data, calling the moves “illegitimate efforts to seize Pennsylvanians’ private information for partisan purposes.” The case is still awaiting consideration by Commonwealth Court. Along with pushing for a 2020 election review that would have involved collecting voters’ Social Security and driver’s license numbers, Mastriano has said he believes the legislature has the power to appoint an alternate slate of presidential electors if lawmakers doubt the outcome of an election. He told former Trump strategist Steve Bannon in a 2020 podcast interview that he believes the U.S. Constitution allows the legislature “to reassert our privileges as General Assembly and oversee the electors that they go to the right person.” Mastriano was referring to the “independent state legislature” theory, which argues state legislatures have nearly unlimited power over election matters — including the choosing of electors — that supersedes state courts. Many legal experts think the fringe and controversial theory is far-fetched, but several U.S. Supreme Court justices have indicated they’re open to the argument. Throughout his time in the legislature, Mastriano has sought to take election certification power away from the governor and secretary of state and vest more authority in the legislature. He sponsored a bill that would give election oversight power to a commission with members appointed by the governor and state House and Senate, instead of the administration. Mastriano’s party leaders never took it up, and it remains in committee. It’s unclear exactly what a Governor Mastriano and his secretary of state would do if they disagreed with counties’ certified election results, as Mastriano did as a state Senator. One election security expert told the Washington Post last year that it would create “chaos.” Changing election laws Many of Mastriano’s promised changes to Pennsylvania’s voting rules would give people fewer options for casting ballots. Most significantly, Mastriano has pledged to fully repeal Act 77, the law that legalized no-excuse mail voting in the commonwealth. Mastriano voted for Act 77 when it first passed in 2019, but now says that “unconstitutional meddling from Democratic Gov. Tom Wolf’s administration poisoned Act 77 and made it unethical for Pennsylvania to continue to allow no-excuse mail-in voting.” The statement refers to things like mail ballot drop boxes, which weren’t included in the law but also aren’t explicitly prohibited. Earlier this year, he circulated a memo for a proposed bill that would create an “Office of Election Crimes and Security,” would make it a felony instead of a misdemeanor to turn in multiple mail ballots, and would require more elaborate election audits. That proposal would additionally require legislative approval for any election procedure changes that might result from a court decision, and ban the Department of State from entering into a consent decree with a court without legislative approval. Both changes would hamstring the executive branch and judiciary’s power over election matters. Shapiro’s plans for changing the way Pennsylvania elections work tend to have the goal of making voting easier. He has said he would veto any bill that restricts mail voting, and push for automatic voter registration — in which eligible adults are automatically registered to vote as soon as they turn 18 or establish Pennsylvania residency, unless they opt out. He also supports same-day voter registration, pre-registration for people younger than 18, early in-person voting, and a ban on firearms at polling places. He also has said he wants to allow counties to begin processing ballots before Election Day. Prohibitions on early processing are one of the major reasons why Pennsylvania’s election results have been delayed in recent years. Pre-canvassing, as it’s commonly known, has broad bipartisan support, but state lawmakers have been unable to pass an election package that includes it. In 2021, Mastriano voted for a bill that would have allowed pre-canvassing while also requiring stricter voter ID rules, imposing tighter deadlines to register to vote and request mail ballots, and introducing in-person early voting. Shapiro has pitched creating a new, centralized website that would report granular election results from every county. Expanding voter ID requirements People who register to vote in Pennsylvania have to swear that they’re American citizens. They also must provide a birth date and address, and are asked to provide either their driver’s license or state ID number or the last four digits of their Social Security number. A person who doesn’t provide those numbers can still register to vote, but they have to bring some form of ID to their polling place the first time they vote in person, as is the case for any person voting at a new location for the first time. If they vote by mail, they are required to provide their driver’s license number or non-driver state ID number. If they don’t have a state ID, the person can provide their Social Security number plus a copy of their signature. If a voter doesn’t provide proof of ID when they apply for a ballot, the Department of State sends that voter a notice saying they must provide ID in order for their ballot to be counted. The voter then has six days after the election to do so, and if they don’t, their ballot is not counted. Though Democrats have often broadly opposed requiring voters to provide identification in order to cast ballots in all cases, Shapiro is somewhat open to the idea. He told the Philadelphia Inquirer that he is “willing to sit down with folks who are operating in good faith to discuss voter ID,” but that he won’t support “any restrictive measure” that disenfranchises people. He elaborated on that view in an interview with the Pennsylvania Capital-Star, saying he considers a “good faith” effort to be one “that is focused on expanding voting rights not restricting voting rights. He also indicated he might support some form of expanded voter ID in concert with other measures that make it easier to vote, like same-day voter registration. Pennsylvania politicians have run afoul of state law in past efforts to require voter ID in all cases. In 2012, then-governor Tom Corbett, a Republican, signed a bill that would have required photo ID in order to vote. It was controversial, and Commonwealth Court blocked the law two years later, ruling that getting a photo ID in Pennsylvania was burdensome enough that requiring one in order to vote constituted disenfranchisement. Corbett declined to appeal the decision. The Republicans who control the General Assembly have in recent years proposed voter ID laws that were less strict than Corbett’s and allowed more forms of ID to be accepted. A prominent one, from a failed omnibus election overhaul, would have defined ID as including: a driver’s license or state ID; a signed voter registration card; military documents; photo ID documents issued by a federal, state, or municipal government; or a signed affidavit where a voter could affirm their ID under penalty of law, and include their signature and the last four digits of their Social Security number. Wolf vetoed that bill, citing the voter ID requirement as well as tighter deadlines for absentee ballot applications. Like Shapiro, Wolf also has since indicated that he might be open to voter ID. Mastriano’s official campaign website says he supports “universal voter ID,” though there are many ways to actually carry out that policy, and he hasn’t been clear on exactly what he wants the requirements to be. He has characterized Pennsylvania’s voter vetting process as disordered, saying “you just show up and sign a piece of paper or mail in something with a signature, [and] we don’t even know if it matches anything,” which is a simplification of the process. Read our complete coverage, plus key dates, campaign finance data, sample ballots & more at our Election Center 2022 website. Spotlight on the Issues: Where Mastriano and Shapiro stand on: » College Funding & Student Debt » Energy & Environment » Crime & Justice » LGTBQ Rights » Abortion, Medicaid, & Opioids » Rural Health Care & Broadband » Taxes & Business Regulations A complete listing of Spotlight PA voter guides: » Your complete guide to voting in the Nov. 8 election » Everything you need to know about mail ballots » Your complete guide to the candidates for governor » How to vet the candidates on your midterm ballot » No constitutional amendments on the ballot, but big ones loom » How to serve as a poll worker on Nov. 8 » These Pa. voters haven’t missed a Nov. election in 50+ years » How Spotlight PA will cover Pennsylvania’s 2022 election En Español: » Una guía básica para investigar a los candidatos » Cómo trabajar como trabajador electoral el 8 de noviembre » Todo lo que necesita saber para votar por correo » Su guía completa de los candidatos a gobernador » Una guía completa para las elecciones del 8 de noviembre WHILE YOU’RE HERE… If you learned something from this story, pay it forward and become a member of Spotlight PA so someone else can in the future at spotlightpa.org/donate. Spotlight PA is funded by foundationsand readers like you who are committed to accountability journalism that gets results.

Pa. election 2022: How redistricting could alter control of the legislature and other changes to watch Nov. 8

Kate Huangpu of Spotlight PA and Stephen Caruso of Spotlight PA Spotlight PA is an independent, nonpartisan newsroom powered by The Philadelphia Inquirer in partnership with PennLive/The Patriot-News, TribLIVE/Pittsburgh Tribune-Review, and WITF Public Media. Sign up for our free newsletters. HARRISBURG — It’s showtime for Pennsylvania’s brand-new legislative districts. The revamped state House and Senate lines were approved by a commission made up of legislative leaders and an independent chair, and unanimously upheld by Pennsylvania’s highest court as part of the latest decennial redistricting process. The maps helped spawn a wave of retirements that have already reshaped the 253-member Pennsylvania General Assembly, a preview of changes the Nov. 8 election may bring. These untested new district lines could give Democrats a long elusive majority in the House, potentially shifting the balance of power in the legislature. Or the new maps could maintain the status quo of Republican control. Below, Spotlight PA breaks down three things to watch for Nov. 8: Fewer competitive districts (but those that remain are more competitive) Following this year’s redistricting cycle, both the state House and Senate ended up with fewer competitive seats. Experts score political maps for competitiveness by predicting future results based on past election cycles. According to Dave’s Redistricting App, a nonprofit map analysis website, just under 40 seats in both chambers could be classified as competitive — meaning neither major party has an overwhelming majority in a district — compared to nearly 60 in the previous maps. This is in part due to the population shifts over the past decade. More people left rural areas and moved into urban and suburban regions, which traditionally lean Democratic. Creating competitive districts isn’t required under the Pennsylvania Constitution, but it’s a top priority for the many citizens and advocates who have lobbied lawmakers to make the process more inclusive and transparent. Over 6,000 voters identified competitive elections as a top priority in a survey conducted by Draw the Lines, a redistricting project of the Committee of Seventy, a good-government advocacy group. While both maps saw an overall decrease in the number of competitive districts, they are now more representative of the partisan composition of the state, according to Dave’s Redistricting App. Increasing the number of competitive districts would have required manipulation of Pennsylvania’s political geography — or the way that voters are concentrated or dispersed across the state — and would have affected districts’ compactness, contiguity, and equal populations, which are all requirements under the state constitution. The artificial creation of more competitive districts also would have influenced the partisan fairness of the map. “You want competitive districts, but in some districts, you can’t have that,” said Justin Villere, the executive director of Draw the Lines. He used Philadelphia as an example, where more than three-quarters of voters are registered as Democrats. The competitive districts in the new legislative maps are concentrated in the Pittsburgh and Philadelphia suburbs, with a sprinkle of other competitive races in the Lehigh Valley and around Harrisburg, Erie, and State College. They contain a slightly higher percentage of independent voters on average compared to the 2020 maps, according to Dave’s Redistricting App, indicating a larger number of voters who are willing to vote for either major party come election time. The new legislative maps also have a higher level of responsiveness — meaning that these maps are more likely to create a General Assembly that reflects the vote share in each election cycle. “Responsiveness is essentially the opposite of partisan advantage,” said Villere. Democrats have a better chance in the state House Operatives in both major parties agree that Democrats are likely to shrink Republicans’ 111-92 advantage in the state House because of the new lines. Under the old map, 80 seats leaned Republican and 78 leaned Democratic, according to Dave’s Redistricting App. The rest were classified as competitive, with the electoral margin between the parties typically being less than 10 percentage points. Under the new map, 81 seats favor Republicans and 95 favor Democrats. While Republicans nearly built a supermajority in the lower chamber in recent years, the new lines indicate Democrats will likely secure a larger share of the seats due (barring a major shift in voting patterns among the electorate.) Why this dramatic shift occurred depends on who you ask. All will agree this is in part because of population shifts from the more rural west to the more suburban and urban east. Democrats — backed by independent analysts — add that the previous maps were drawn to aid Republicans. While Democrats regularly win statewide races, they haven’t had control of a legislative chamber since 2010. Republicans counter that comparing statewide results and 253 individual races is like comparing apples and oranges, and argue that the old map was designed to protect western Pennsylvania Democrats who simply couldn’t survive the post-Trump political realignment. The GOP has acknowledged that the new lines will likely cut into their margin, but it’s still an open question whether Democrats can flip the chamber. “There’s not a doubt that the redistricting process was favoring Democrats,” state Rep. Josh Kail (R., Beaver), who leads House Republicans’ campaign efforts, said. “With that being said, we have a better message, we have better candidates, and we’re going to win races, period.” Pittsburgh’s northern suburbs, which include a mix of affluent neighborhoods and old industrial river towns, are some of the best bellwethers of which party will procure a majority. Redistricting created two open, competitive House districts — the 33rd and the 30th — in the area, which boasts strip malls tucked into hollows and homes built into hillsides. The latter will be represented by either Democrat Arvind Venkat, an emergency room doctor, or Republican Cindy Kirk, a former Allegheny County council member. The area’s previous districts reliably elected Republican legislators, including former House Speaker Mike Turzai, a stalwart conservative. However, some municipal seats have begun to flip from red to blue, and Democrats hope they can finally break through on the state level. At a community festival in McCandless last month — the heart of Turzai’s old district — Venkat greeted voters and pitched himself as a candidate who would protect abortion access, pass stricter gun laws, and invest in public services stretched thin by the pandemic. “There’s a real hunger for new leadership that will make sure that the state government is working for everyone in our community,” Venkat said. Kirk did not agree to talk to a reporter at the same event and did not respond to further requests for comment. Her website emphasizes her health care background, noting that she worked as a UPMC nurse administrator. Her site also trumpets her opposition to new taxes and support for police, and says that Kirk will “push back on the progressive agenda and defend our constitutional rights.” Other key races are taking place outside Philadelphia, where some of the last suburban Republican moderates are up for reelection in redrawn districts that are now slightly bluer. That includes state Reps. Todd Stephens (R., Montgomery) and Chris Quinn (R., Delaware), both of whom have regularly won even when their districts voted for Democratic presidential candidates by double-digit margins. “I have always represented a swing district,” Quinn said in an email. He argued he’s done so by working across the aisle and bucking his own party when “I have felt that their direction is not in the best interest of my district.” In order to win, Democrats must convince Pennsylvania voters not to split their tickets. In 2020, voters in key suburban districts backed President Joe Biden while also voting for numerous down-ballot Republicans like Auditor General Tim DeFoor as well as their local Republican legislators. “If folks are looking at their choices and they don’t like the extreme policies of Doug Mastriano, they need to vote straight Democrat, because we’ve seen those same policies passed by the Republican majority in Harrisburg,” said state Rep. Leanne Krueger (D., Delaware), who leads House Democrats’ campaign efforts. Opportunity districts don’t look so opportune Lawmakers charged with drawing the new state House and Senate maps have emphasized a desire to increase minority representation in the General Assembly, citing the sharp increase in the Hispanic population according to the 2020 census. Lawmakers saw opportunity districts as the vehicle to achieve that representation. Opportunity districts have a minority voting age population that is sizable enough to sway an election (a threshold that is typically around 30% of a given electorate) — and are typically drawn without an incumbent. There were 11 new opportunity districts without incumbents drawn in the redistricting process. The Lehigh Valley, which has a high Hispanic population, notably contained one of those districts. In a previous analysis of five races in opportunity districts, Spotlight PA found that candidates of color were motivated by open seats that lacked an incumbent rather than the racial makeup of the district in which they planned to run. The demographic composition of these districts generally did not overcome a more deep-rooted disadvantage. Three of the five candidates lost their primaries, typically to candidates who had more or prior experience in politics and all of whom were white. Two candidates moved forward to the general election: Democrats Justin Fleming of Dauphin County and Yesenia Rodriguez of Luzerne County, who ran unopposed during her primary. Fleming, who’s running in a majority-Democrat district, has worked in state government as a press secretary and commissioner in Susquehanna Township. Rodriguez, meanwhile, primarily runs a bakery and has little political experience outside of an unsuccessful run for a local school board in 2019. She’s also running as a Democrat in a majority-Republican district with little funding. Campaign finance records from the Pennsylvania Department of State show that Rodriguez has raised just over $1,000 this year. Her opponent, Dane Watro, has been endorsed by several big-name establishment Republicans, including Pennsylvania’s former U.S. Reps. Lou Barletta and Dan Meuser, and state Sen. Dave Argall of Schuylkill County. Watro, who did not respond to requests for comment, had nearly $30,000 in available funds as of June and raised more than double that over the course of his campaign. Despite the voter registration and financial disadvantage, Rodriguez said that her connection to the residents in Hazleton, where she has lived for the past two decades, will help her win. The city is the second largest in Luzerne County and one-third of its population is Hispanic. She also emphasized her effort to directly talk to each resident in her district, including in more rural areas. “Money doesn’t buy votes,” said Rodriguez. “Even though we don’t have the money and we didn’t get the support from major companies or institutions … we have done the job ourselves.” WHILE YOU’RE HERE… If you learned something from this story, pay it forward and become a member of Spotlight PA so someone else can in the future at spotlightpa.org/donate. Spotlight PA is funded by foundationsand readers like you who are committed to accountability journalism that gets results.

Wolf administration insists undated mail ballots will be valid this November as counties proceed with caution

Katie Meyer of Spotlight PA Spotlight PA is an independent, nonpartisan newsroom powered by The Philadelphia Inquirer in partnership with PennLive/The Patriot-News, TribLIVE/Pittsburgh Tribune-Review, and WITF Public Media. Sign up for our free newsletters. HARRISBURG — Pennsylvania’s top election official is doubling down on guidance that directs county officials to count undated mail ballots during this November’s highly consequential midterm election. Earlier this week, the U.S. Supreme Court vacated a key federal precedent that had held that undated mail ballots — that is, ballots on which a voter failed to date the outer envelope, as required by the letter of state law — should be counted. That means the ruling is now moot, a development that leaves the legal status of those ballots less clear. Election attorneys are divided, mostly along partisan lines, over how they should now be handled. In a Friday interview with Spotlight PA, which the Pennsylvania Department of State requested, Acting Secretary of State Leigh Chapman said her agency has gotten “violent threats” over the phone and on social media since the decision. Chapman said she wants to make the department’s position as clear as possible: It thinks undated ballots should be counted. “Counties need clarity on how to administer the election, and it’s critical that every voter’s vote is counted in this election,” she said. “With all the misinformation that has been spread since this week’s United States Supreme Court ruling, it was important for us to reiterate to counties that it’s the status quo, nothing has changed.” But Chapman also concedes that courts could totally upend the rules on undated ballots and render her guidance outdated, possibly during this year’s midterm. “There’s always a possibility of litigation,” she said. “If that occurs, the Department of State will definitely evaluate what guidance that we need to issue to instruct counties on what to do with the undated ballots.” An unsettled legal landscape Even without new lawsuits, not everyone has accepted Chapman’s guidance on undated ballots. These ballots have been subject to years of litigation in Pennsylvania — much of it highly partisan. Republicans officials and politicians have generally argued that undated mail ballots do not comply with state law and should be thrown out. Democrats have countered that a minor technical violation should not disenfranchise a voter, and pushed for the ballots to be counted. Democratic voters have been more likely to vote by mail in recent years. Joshua Voss, an attorney who frequently argues election cases on Republicans’ behalf, said he thinks Chapman’s new guidance is legally shaky. Chapman’s guidance is based on May Commonwealth Court decisions made by a Republican judge. But the rulings are unpublished, meaning they are considered “persuasive” but not binding. This means that while courts can refer to these decisions in future mail ballot cases, they don’t have to. The Wolf administration basing guidance on an “unpublished single-judge opinion,” Voss said, is “a remarkable position.” Voss and Republican plaintiffs often look to a 2020 state Supreme Court ruling in which a divided court ruled undated ballots should not be counted — though there are also questions about whether that case is precedential. Adam Bonin, an attorney who does similar work for Democrats, said he thinks the Commonwealth Court’s two decisions that held undated ballots should be counted show that the practice should continue. In these cases — as in the now-vacated federal case — the rulings from Judge Renée Cohn Jubelirer hinge on the idea that so long as ballots arrive at election offices on time, envelope dates don’t have anything to do with their validity. Discarding those ballots for such an “immaterial” reason, the rulings held, could actually violate both federal and state voting rights laws. Though the federal ruling on which Jubelirer partially based her decision is now moot, the decisions were “really grounded in state law and the state constitution first,” Bonin said. “Basically it starts from the initial question of, the Election Code is supposed to be read to enfranchise voters and not disqualify ballots unless necessary,” he said. But attorneys for both parties largely agree that the issue remains legally unsettled and a new precedent, in either direction, is possible. Bonin noted that a relatively small number of undated mail ballots could end up mattering a lot given the competitive races happening in November. “The bottom line is that if there is any close race anywhere in the commonwealth, this issue will get back to the state Supreme Court and I would expect them to resolve it conclusively,” he said. Counties try to figure it out on their own Some county officials already have expressed doubts that DOS’s undated ballot guidance will remain relevant, and have said they plan to sequester undated mail ballots while they await litigation that may arise during November’s election. Undated ballots have been an issue for counties before. After the May primary election, the department successfully took three recalcitrant counties — Berks, Fayette, and Lancaster — to court to compel them to count undated mail ballots, per DOS guidance, so that the state could certify the vote. That’s one of the cases the department now points to as proof the practice should continue. As federal precedents were shaken up this week, and those counties and others took note of the department’s position, some county election officials were skeptical. In a meeting Wednesday, Lancaster County officials said they don’t trust that the guidance is legal. “I think what we should do is … regardless of your position on this, to fairly state what the current state of the law is,” GOP County Commissioner Josh Parsons said. “And in my view, the Department of State is not doing an accurate job of that. The current state of the law really is unclear, but the best guidance is still a statute which says there shall be a date on the ballot.” Lancaster officials don’t plan to defy the state at this point. But they do intend to segregate undated mail ballots so they can pull them from the count if legal precedents change again — even though DOS guidance doesn’t require that. Other counties planning to sequester the ballots include Bucks, Dauphin, Delaware, and Montgomery. WHILE YOU’RE HERE… If you learned something from this story, pay it forward and become a member of Spotlight PA so someone else can in the future at spotlightpa.org/donate. Spotlight PA is funded by foundationsand readers like you who are committed to accountability journalism that gets results.

How well a death in Pennsylvania will be investigated depends largely on where someone dies

Ashad Hajela of Spotlight PA State College This story was produced by the State College regional bureau of Spotlight PA, an independent, nonpartisan newsroom dedicated to investigative and public-service journalism for Pennsylvania. Sign up for our regional newsletter, Talk of the Town. STATE COLLEGE — In one Pennsylvania county, the coroner’s office relies on an autopsy facility with rusted equipment that does not meet federal workplace standards. The contracted forensic pathologists there perform more than 325 autopsies a year. A coroner in another county claimed his part-time deputies don’t really investigate deaths. Instead, “they just pick up the body and use this as an opportunity to steer business to their funeral home.” And only five of Pennsylvania’s 67 counties have accredited coroner or medical examiner offices, which the state doesn’t require but “is perceived as validation of best medicolegal death investigation practices,” according to a new Center for Rural Pennsylvania study. The August report by the state agency determined that Pennsylvania’s county coroners and medical examiners — the people who investigate suspicious deaths and suss out foul play — lack adequate funding, transparency, and training. In Pennsylvania, most coroners are elected, and subject to only two requirements: be at least 18 years old and reside in a county for at least a year. Coroners investigate and rule on deaths, initiate autopsies, complete death certificates, and report information vital to legal, public health, and public safety issues. Their work assists law enforcement investigations and helps families get closure when a loved one dies. The decentralized system allows each coroner to run their office differently, the report found. In practice that causes the accessibility of death data, accreditation, and training — as well as policies and procedures — to vary drastically between municipalities. In short, where you die determines the quality of how your death gets investigated. In rural counties, challenges are exacerbated because many coroners don’t have access to the labs and specialists who help investigate deaths, researchers said. Meanwhile, they bear the burden of additional costs of transportation and lack of personnel because of their location. They are also less likely to have the accreditation and training that coroners in urban areas do, the study states. Coroners’ offices act independently from other county entities, but county commissioners determine a large portion of their funding. Plus, the state legislature has limited the funding coroners’ offices receive from cremation authorization permits and death certificates. Rising costs and fees for death certificates have decreased statewide orders of them, further affecting funding for coroners. A dollar from each death certificate order — which cost $20, plus $10 for online purchases — goes to coroners’ offices, but the remaining $19 gets split between the state’s health department and general fund. The researchers argue that the legislature should increase the amount coroners’ offices receive per death certificate from $1 to $5, and raise the cap on cremation authorization permits from $50 to $100. The study also recommends that lawmakers standardize coroner salaries. When a person dies of natural causes, a doctor can certify their death. But if any other cause of death is suspected, the death gets investigated. In Pennsylvania, elected coroners investigate deaths in all counties but Allegheny, Delaware, and Philadelphia, which appoint medical examiners, and Luzerne and Northampton, which appoint coroners. Public health experts have long debated whether coroners should be elected. Elected coroners work independently from counties, so they don’t have to fall in line with what a district attorney or county commissioners want them to say, said Christina VandePol, a former elected coroner in Chester County and one of the study’s authors. This autonomy can be important for investigating deaths like those in county jails. VandePol explained that because of her office’s independence, she was able to release the names of nursing homes that had more COVID-19 deaths while she was under pressure not to. Public health experts who oppose elected corners note that voters might choose unqualified candidates. Hired coroners and medical examiners, they point out, do not have to meet the residence requirements, which allows counties to attract applicants beyond the county’s boundaries. The study also found the death investigation system lacks transparency and may not be providing county-level death data to the public in a timely or reliable way. On top of that, a state law passed in 2008 requires autopsy records be kept confidential to protect the privacy of the deceased. This prevents residents and journalists from accessing information that could be used to hold coroners’ offices accountable. As part of the study, coroners’ offices in 67 counties were asked to complete surveys and participate in an interview. The researchers received full participation from 11 offices, and partial responses from 26. In north-central Pennsylvania, only the coroners’ offices in Mifflin and Lycoming counties fully participated. The coroners’ office in Blair County filled out the survey, while the coroners’ office in Clinton County allowed an interview. Harry Holt, an associate professor in the Department of Health at West Chester University and another author of the study, said the researchers called and emailed each of the state’s coroners’ offices multiple times. Centre County Coroner Scott Sayers, who serves on the executive board of the Pennsylvania State Coroners Association, said he didn’t participate in the study because he was busy. “Nobody comes to our office to die,” Sayers said. “We have to go to them. Our work is out in the field — be it at a hospital, a residence, a roadway.” Death investigations conducted by coroners can range from a review of medical records to a full autopsy and report. Autopsies, which involve surgically examining a corpse, require more qualifications than most coroners possess. They are usually outsourced to forensic pathologists, who are physicians with additional licensure and training to perform the procedure. Medical examiners also have the qualifications to perform them. Coroners, particularly in rural communities, don’t have easy access to forensic pathologists, according to the study. Coroners have to rely on services for autopsies at labs that are sometimes hours away. Autopsies, VandePol said, are the gold standard for death investigations, but a lack of funding and personnel in some rural coroners’ offices disadvantage them relative to their urban counterparts. That resource gap can prevent important details about a death from being determined. The National Association of Medical Examiners says autopsies should be performed for 13 categories, including deaths of children, deaths involving police, deaths that occur in the care of a local, state, or federal institution, and opioid overdoses. Sayers said he works with a pathologist at Mount Nittany Medical Center, the local hospital, for autopsies. But when the pathologist there is away, his office works with pathologists in Johnstown or the Lehigh Valley. Sayers said his office performs autopsies for all overdose deaths, in case the district attorney wants to prosecute the person who distributed the drugs that caused the death. Sullivan County Coroner Wendy Hastings, who also serves on the executive board of the state coroners association and participated in the study, said she is more selective about which autopsies her office performs. “Sometimes things are cut and dry,” Hastings said, in the case of overdose deaths. If the county’s district attorney’s office is considering bringing charges against the person who distributed the drugs, it justifies an autopsy, she said. Hastings said she supports the standardization of death investigations, but feels coroners’ offices should have the flexibility to investigate deaths based on the resources available to them. The researchers conclude that more standardization and regulation are needed. They recommend that all coroners’ or medical examiners’ offices have written operating procedures; stricter coroner qualification, certification, and training requirements; and that the state study how effective a more centralized medical examiner system would be. They also advocate for incentives for people studying forensic pathology. The researchers suggest autopsy facility inspections, a set minimum number of morgue spaces, and more investment in forensic pathology facilities. Hastings and Sayers agree that education would be more frequent and better if coroners were able to organize the training. Hastings said they would be able to do that if the Pennsylvania State Coroners’ Education Board that educates coroners — which is currently run by the attorney general’s office — were to operate under the Pennsylvania Commission on Crime and Delinquency. That shift would allow the crime commission to manage the coroners’ association’s money, Hastings said. Legislation that would place the education board operate under the Commission on Crime and Delinquency has passed the Senate and is pending in the House. Right now, the attorney general’s office receives the funding to facilitate the education of coroners through the Pennsylvania State Coroners’ Education Board. One of the major barriers to additional training, VandePol said, is that many of the deputy coroners work part-time and have second jobs. Better funding would make full-time jobs at coroners’ offices more viable. The Pennsylvania State Coroners Association is trying to increase the minimum yearly continuing education requirements from eight hours to 12 hours, or possibly even 16 hours, Sayers said. But like so many things, it’s up to the state legislature to make changes. Ashad Hajela is a Report for America corps member and writes about rural affairs for Spotlight PA’s State College regional bureau. SUPPORT THIS JOURNALISM and help us reinvigorate local news in north-central Pennsylvania at spotlightpa.org/statecollege. Spotlight PA is funded by foundationsand readers like you who are committed to accountability and public-service journalism that gets results.

Pa. election 2022: Where governor candidates Mastriano, Shapiro stand on rural health care, broadband, and agriculture

Ashad Hajela and Min Xian of Spotlight PA State College Spotlight PA is an independent, nonpartisan newsroom powered by The Philadelphia Inquirer in partnership with PennLive/The Patriot-News, TribLIVE/Pittsburgh Tribune-Review, and WITF Public Media. Sign up for our free newsletters. HARRISBURG — People who live in rural Pennsylvania face unique barriers to health care, broadband, and economic opportunities. About 3.4 million people, or roughly 26% of Pennsylvania’s residents, live in the commonwealth’s 48 rural counties, according to the Center for Rural Pennsylvania, a state agency. Pennsylvania’s governor has the authority to address a wide range of rural issues. On Nov. 8, voters here will choose from among five candidates for governor including frontrunners Democratic Attorney General Josh Shapiro and Republican state Sen. Doug Mastriano of Franklin County. Both major candidates offer different approaches to revitalizing rural Pennsylvania. Spotlight PA breaks down where they stand on several major issues: Health care In Pennsylvania, access to health care in rural regions is narrowing as some hospitals like the Bradford Regional Medical Center drastically reduce services, and others shut down. There is limited access to other health services like mental health and addiction treatment, studies from the Center for Rural Pennsylvania show. Emergency services are also struggling to get people the care they need in time. Maintaining the health care workforce also remains a challenge, as hospitals struggle with staffing shortages. Both candidates support promoting access to telemedicine. Mastriano has supported a bill that would do so, and Shapiro voices support for expanding access to telemedicine on his campaign website. Mastriano also supported and voted for Peyton’s Law, which helps inform student-athletes and their parents about the importance of testing to identify heart conditions that can lead to sudden cardiac arrest, which is crucial in rural communities due to limited access to emergency services. Mastriano is also one of the lead sponsors of a bill that would cap insulin pricing, which pertains to people in rural areas because they face higher risk factors for diabetes and have access to fewer services. Shapiro has advocated for affordable health care in rural communities and said he would “strengthen the pipeline for healthcare providers in under-served areas” on his campaign website. In 2007, when Shapiro was a state representative, he proposed a bill that would forgive doctors’ medical school loans if they stayed in Pennsylvania for at least 10 years. Shapiro’s campaign told Spotlight PA that he will expand the Student Loan Relief for Nurses Program for every qualifying nursing student. The plan would double the amount of relief provided by up to $15,000 in loan relief, and provide full loan forgiveness to nursing students who choose to practice in a state-identified underserved community for five years. Shapiro said he also supports initiatives like the Pennsylvania Rural Health Model, which is an alternative payment structure funded by the Centers for Medicare & Medicaid Services that tests whether hospitals can improve their finances and services on fixed budgets. Currently, 18 Pennsylvania hospitals participate in the model. In addition, Shapiro has promised to restore Pennsylvania’s Emergency Medical Services Operating Fund, which partially funds EMS across the commonwealth, and has said he will work with legislators to rein in drug prices. As attorney general, his office sued the University of Pittsburgh Medical Center health system  to push them to reach a deal with Highmark health insurance. The dispute between the health care companies could have cut off thousands of patients from 11 UPMC hospitals, many of which are in rural regions of the state. Broadband At least 13% of rural Pennsylvanians don’t have broadband access, according to the Federal Communications Commission, but federal funds provide the state with an opportunity to build the infrastructure needed to support access. In September, Gov. Tom Wolf, a Democrat, announced that $500 million from the American Rescue Plan Act will go to local governments to invest in infrastructure, including broadband. Up to $1 billion of federal funding can potentially be spent on broadband expansion. However, a 2004 law restricts local governments from building their own broadband networks, limiting how much of that infrastructure money will actually go toward expanding access. Shapiro’s campaign told Spotlight PA that he will prioritize expanding quality and affordable access to broadband in rural regions of the state by supporting the newly created Pennsylvania Broadband Development Authority, and establishing comprehensive subsidies for low-income households with high internet prices. Shapiro was also part of a bipartisan coalition of attorneys general who in 2017 opposed a petition from the broadband industry to stop states from enforcing false advertising laws on internet speeds. Mastriano did not respond to questions about his position on broadband, but in a March press release, he reported grant funding of more than $800,000 that would go toward expanding high-speed broadband internet in Franklin County. Workforce development Pennsylvania’s population is projected to become more urban and less rural by 2040, according to a 2014 study by the Center for Rural Pennsylvania. Outward migration from rural areas and the contraction of traditional industries such as manufacturing, present ongoing challenges for rural Pennsylvania’s workforce. The Center for Rural Pennsylvania surveyed 9th- and 11th-grade students in rural school districts in 2021 and found that “few students reported being satisfied with current job opportunities or chances to get ahead in their local communities.” Pennsylvania’s state government has workforce development initiatives and programs in many departments, including Wolf’s Manufacturing PA Training-to-Career Grant Program, which works with “local manufacturers to identify and teach missing essential skills for entry level applicants,” according to the administration. “Pennsylvania commits less money to apprenticeship programs today than we did under Governor Casey,” Shapiro’s campaign told Spotlight PA. “As Governor, I will direct the State Board of Education to prioritize vocational education … I will also create an independent Office of Economic and Workforce Development that will collaborate directly with businesses to help them recruit the next generation of talented young workers and triple the total number of apprenticeships statewide.” In 2021, Mastriano voted for SB 486, which would amend state law to establish a unified workforce investment system and provide grants on job training as well as industry partnerships. The bill awaits consideration in the state House. Agriculture Pennsylvania’s $81.5 billion agriculture sector supported 301,900 jobs and $14.5 billion in labor income in 2019, according to the state Department of Agriculture. Rising prices for equipment and fertilizers have become financial burdens for farmers, forcing smaller farms — often owned and operated by families — to close in recent years. A member of the state Senate Agriculture & Rural Affairs Committee, Mastriano voted for the 2019 Pennsylvania farm bill both in committee and on the state Senate floor. The legislation, the first state-based farm bill in the nation, passed with bipartisan support. The Wolf administration touted the bill for creating the Pennsylvania Agricultural Business Development Center, funding programs to expand the state’s processing capabilities, and providing the agricultural industry with incentives to invest in farming. Mastriano is one of the lead sponsors of a bill that would amend the Agricultural Area Security Law to increase funding for the Agriculture Conservation Easement Purchase Program and ease eligibility requirements so more farms can participate. He called the proposal “crucial to maintaining food security and protecting against supply chain instability for the commonwealth and our nation.” Mastriano published a “Plan to Put PA Farmers First” on Twitter, where he said he will end school property taxes to help lower farmers’ tax burden, preserve farmland, slash state regulations in the agricultural sector, and support the state’s dairy industry. While eliminating property taxes is a popular proposal, to replace the lost revenue for schools under his plan — a nearly $13 billion cut, according to the Pennsylvania State Education Association — Mastriano told WRTA in March that Pennsylvanians will face “a modest increase in sales tax and income tax.” Both candidates say they will increase dairy processing capacity in Pennsylvania, although through different means. Mastriano wants to do so by reducing red tape, while Shapiro wants to provide tax incentives to businesses. Shapiro told Spotlight PA that he will help lower the cost of farming production by updating Pennsylvania’s low-interest loan and grant programs and helping farmers more easily receive direct support. Shapiro also said he will provide tax incentives to attract new dairy processing facilities to Pennsylvania. WHILE YOU’RE HERE… If you learned something from this story, pay it forward and become a member of Spotlight PA so someone else can in the future at spotlightpa.org/donate. Spotlight PA is funded by foundationsand readers like you who are committed to accountability journalism that gets results.

Pa. Election Day 2022: A complete guide to the Nov. 8 election, including how to vote, find your polling place, understand mail ballots, and more

Kate Huangpu of Spotlight PA Spotlight PA is an independent, nonpartisan newsroom powered by The Philadelphia Inquirer in partnership with PennLive/The Patriot-News, TribLIVE/Pittsburgh Tribune-Review, and WITF Public Media. Sign up for our free newsletters. HARRISBURG — On Nov. 8, Pennsylvanians will make their way to polling places to decide the governor’s race and U.S. Senate race as part of Election Day 2022. Voters will also have the equally important opportunity to elect representatives and senators to the state’s General Assembly after a monumental redistricting cycle that redrew the district lines; the change could alter the balance of power in the state House. To help you prepare for Election Day 2022 in Pennsylvania, we’ve answered some of your most frequently asked questions below: When is the 2022 Election Day in Pennsylvania? Tuesday, Nov. 8, 2022. Mark your calendar! When do polls open for Pennsylvania’s 2022 election? Polls open at 7 a.m and close at 8 p.m. As long as you are in line to vote by 8 p.m., you are entitled to cast a ballot. When is the last day to register to vote? The last day to register is Oct. 24. You can register online here, or submit a registration form in person or through the mail to your county election office by the same date. Online voter registration applications must be submitted by 11:59 p.m that day. Mail and in-person applications must be received by the county board of elections by 5 p.m. How can I check my registration? You can check your registration here. You can search using your name, county, zip code, and birthday, or by entering your driver’s license or PennDOT identification card number. How do I change parties? To change your party affiliation, fill out the same voter registration form that you used to register the first time. When filling out the form, select the box that says “change of party.” If you register less than 15 days before the election, the change will not take place until the next election cycle. I’m a registered independent. Can I still vote on Nov. 8? Absolutely! Unlike during Pennsylvania’s primaries, all registered voters can vote for any candidate during the general election. How do I find my polling place? You can find your polling place here by entering your address. What else do I need to know to vote in person? If this is your first time voting or your first time voting since changing address, you’ll need to bring proof of identification. This can include any government-issued ID such as a driver’s license or U.S. passport, a utility bill or bank statement that includes your name and address, or a military or student ID. See the full list of options. Can I still request a mail ballot? You can apply for a mail ballot until 5 p.m. Nov. 1, either online or through the mail. Here’s the application. You’ll need to provide your name, date of birth, proof of identification, and signature. How do I vote absentee? The process to request an absentee ballot is similar to that for requesting a mail ballot. You can apply online or download the form and send it to your county election office. However, the application requires you to list a reason for your absence, unlike a mail ballot. You can find the application here. The deadline to apply is 5 p.m. Nov. 1. If you miss the Nov. 1 deadline, you can still request an emergency absentee ballot from your county election office if you experience an unexpected illness, disability, or last-minute absence. You can request one here. I applied but still haven’t gotten my absentee or mail ballot. What should I do? You can check the status of your absentee or mail ballot here. If you’re worried your ballot won’t arrive with enough time to return it, you can call your county election office for advice on how to proceed. You can also go to your county election office to request a ballot and fill it out on the spot or go to your polling place and vote in person on Election Day. I’ve received my absentee or mail ballot. How do I return it? First, make sure you’ve filled it out completely and followed all instructions. Otherwise, your ballot may be thrown out. Everyone can return their ballot through the mail or by dropping it off at their county election office. Some counties also have drop boxes available. Find county contact information here. Your county election office must receive your ballot by 5 p.m. on Election Day. If you have a disability that prevents you from returning your own ballot, you may fill out a form to designate someone else to return it for you. You must turn in the form with your mail ballot application, and the designee must have a copy on hand when they return your ballot. Otherwise, you must return your own ballot. Which races will I be voting on? Pennsylvania hosts two of the highest-profile races this year — one for an open U.S. Senate seat and the other for the governor’s office. Democratic Gov. Tom Wolf is term-limited and cannot seek reelection next year. He has often served as the foil to the Republican legislature during his tenure. With the governor’s office up for grabs, the Republican party has a chance to control two branches of government and enact legislation that was blocked by Wolf. The two major gubernatorial candidates in the general election offer starkly different views for the future of Pennsylvania. State Sen. Doug Mastriano of Franklin County, the Republican nominee for governor, was elected to the General Assembly in 2019. As a freshman senator, he rapidly rose to prominence in the months after the first cases of COVID-19 were reported in Pennsylvania. He became one of the most vocal critics of Wolf’s use of executive powers to impose mitigation measures such as statewide masking orders and business shutdowns. Mastriano also sharply criticized a waiver program for businesses to remain open — a program that was later found by the state’s top auditor to be inconsistent and unfair. Mastriano also became the legislature’s lead defender of former President Donald Trump’s unfounded claims of widespread election fraud. The Democratic candidate, Attorney General Josh Shapiro, was previously a state representative and Montgomery County commissioner. He has touted his record as attorney general, highlighting his investigation of the role of pharmaceutical manufacturers and distributors in the nation’s opioid crisis, and his office’s prosecution of some natural gas companies. Shapiro’s office made international headlines for a scathing grand jury report on child sexual abuse and its coverup in nearly every Roman Catholic diocese in Pennsylvania. Read more about the candidates and their positions. The other high-profile race, for one of Pennsylvania’s U.S. Senate seats, also does not have an incumbent, as Republican Pat Toomey is retiring at the end of his term. The Democratic nominee, Lt. Gov. John Fetterman, previously served as the mayor of Braddock, a small town near Pittsburgh. Fetterman is a longtime supporter of legalizing recreational cannabis, universal health care, and clean energy. He suffered a stroke shortly before the primary. Mehmet Oz, the Republican nominee, has no traditional political experience but is famous for hosting a TV program about medicine and health as well as promoting dubious alternative medicines. Oz has called himself a “conservative outsider.” He has said he would oppose gun control policies such as red-flag laws and universal background checks, and wants to focus on Pennsylvania’s “energy independence” by deregulating the fossil fuel industry to increase domestic energy production. What else will be on my ballot? Some voters will choose their state senator, and all voters will select their U.S. and Pennsylvania House representatives. These district lines were redrawn during this year’s redistricting process. Compare your old and new districts using Spotlight PA’s comparison tool. There are no statewide constitutional amendments on this year’s ballot, but a few major amendments loom — such as one that would declare there is no legal right to abortion in the state constitution and another that would create judicial districts for the state’s courts system. Some voters may see local ballot questions, including residents of Allegheny County and Philadelphia. Check with your county election office to be sure. WHILE YOU’RE HERE… If you learned something from this story, pay it forward and become a member of Spotlight PA so someone else can in the future at spotlightpa.org/donate. Spotlight PA is funded by foundationsand readers like you who are committed to accountability journalism that gets results.

Pa. election 2022: Where governor candidates Mastriano, Shapiro stand on the opioid epidemic, medical marijuana, and other health issues

By Ed Mahon of Spotlight PA Spotlight PA is an independent, nonpartisan newsroom powered by The Philadelphia Inquirer in partnership with PennLive/The Patriot-News, TribLIVE/Pittsburgh Tribune-Review, and WITF Public Media. Sign up for our free newsletters. HARRISBURG — As a freshman state senator, Doug Mastriano (R., Franklin) rose to prominence by vocally opposing the Wolf administration’s COVID-19 shutdown orders, mask mandates, and other efforts to slow the spread of the disease. Now a candidate for governor, Mastriano continues to tout that record and criticize his Democratic opponent Josh Shapiro for defending the restrictions as the state’s attorney general. Shapiro recently told The Associated Press that his office is required to defend the state in court, and personally criticized shutdowns and mandates. Shapiro, in turn, has tried to put Mastriano on the defense for his opposition to abortion; Mastriano has sponsored legislation that would ban abortions at roughly six weeks of pregnancy. Shapiro does not support additional restrictions on abortion, and he’s promised to protect the state from an extreme ban through his veto power. Those two issues — the coronavirus pandemic and abortion rights — have in many ways dominated the conversation surrounding the race for governor. But the next person who holds that office will have influence or direct control over many other issues affecting health care in Pennsylvania — from who qualifies for an insurance program serving millions of low-income residents to how the state responds to an opioid crisis killing thousands of people each year. Below we explain the major party candidates’ positions on a number of health issues ahead of the Nov. 8 election: Medicaid The number of people enrolled in Pennsylvania’s Medicaid program skyrocketed during the pandemic, and enrollment now exceeds 3.5 million, recent figures show. The health insurance program is massive — it cost over $38 billion in state and federal money in a recent fiscal year. It provides coverage to eligible low-income adults, children, pregnant women, older adults, and people with disabilities. The next governor could exercise power over the Medicaid program in many ways — sometimes by signing or blocking legislation, and other times by controlling how the program works on a day-to-day basis or who qualifies for it. One example: Earlier this year, Democratic Gov. Tom Wolf’s administration extended the period of time mothers are eligible for Medicaid after giving birth. He increased that postpartum coverage period from 60 days to one year, and he didn’t need legislative approval to do so. An even bigger example: Wolf’s 2015 decision to expand Medicaid under the Affordable Care Act. The federal health care law widened Medicaid coverage eligibility for low-income adults and provided states with related increased funding. A later U.S. Supreme Court decision made expansion optional for states. Shortly after taking office in 2015, Wolf opted into a traditional Medicaid expansion plan, discarding an alternative plan put in place by former Republican Gov. Tom Corbett. There are over 1 million people in Pennsylvania who now have health care coverage through Medicaid because of the expansion, according to Wolf administration figures from early September. Governors and lawmakers in several other states — including Texas and Florida — have resisted expansion despite incentives from the federal government. Several health policy experts told Spotlight PA that states have the power to undo Medicaid expansion. Some suggested a governor might encounter significant obstacles from the Biden administration or in court if they attempted to do so, but that scenario hasn’t been tested yet. So far, none of the 38 states that expanded Medicaid has asked to roll back the expansion, according to a spokesperson for the Centers for Medicare & Medicaid Services, a federal agency that approves changes to state Medicaid programs. The agency would not say whether it would approve such a change. Mastriano’s campaign website doesn’t mention Medicaid expansion or specific changes to the program, and his campaign didn’t respond to questions from Spotlight PA about the issue. Mastriano co-sponsored a 2019 state Senate bill that would create a path to add work, education, or job search requirements for many adults in the program. (Wolf vetoed a similar measure in 2017, and the 2019 legislation went nowhere.) Shapiro’s campaign praised Medicaid expansion in response to questions from Spotlight PA, saying that the move “greatly improved accessibility to health care” and that Shapiro “will fight to keep this vital safety net in place.” The next governor will also have great power over a major Medicaid change. As part of the federal government’s coronavirus public health emergency, states have received extra federal money in exchange for not removing people from Medicaid coverage unless they died, moved out of state, or asked to be disenrolled. Participants do not lose coverage, for instance, if their incomes exceed the usual limits. When the public health emergency ends — which could occur in early 2023 — states must begin removing participants from the program if they are no longer eligible. That means hundreds of thousands of people in Pennsylvania are at risk of losing Medicaid coverage. But the federal government urges states to take about a year to determine who is still eligible for the program and who needs to be removed. The Wolf administration says it has identified about 525,000 people who have remained enrolled in the program despite not meeting the normal eligibility criteria. Plus, there are about 314,000 cases in which people have not completed the mandatory, annual renewal process, so it’s not clear if they will remain eligible. “There has never been a test on the system like this before,” said Becky Ludwick, vice president of public policy for Pennsylvania Partnerships for Children, an advocacy group. “It’s really imperative that Pennsylvania get it right.” Mastriano’s campaign didn’t provide any responses to Spotlight PA’s Medicaid questions, and Shapiro’s campaign didn’t comment on the end of the public health emergency. Medical marijuana Mastriano wasn’t in office when lawmakers legalized medical marijuana in 2016, his campaign website doesn’t mention the issue, and he didn’t respond to questions from Spotlight PA. As a lawmaker, he voted against or has not backed several cannabis bills that received bipartisan support, as an analysis from Marijuana Moment notes. For instance, several Republican state senators sponsored a bill that would create legal protections for medical marijuana patients when they drive. The legislation would require proof of actual impairment in order to convict them of driving under the influence. Mastriano isn’t one of the sponsors, and the bill hasn’t come to him for a vote. Mastriano was one of three senators who in 2021 voted against legislation that updated the medical marijuana law. The bill allowed patients to purchase a three-month supply, instead of a one-month supply, and permitted physicians to certify patients through telemedicine appointments rather than only in-person. The legislation, which Wolf signed into law, also made a number of industry-friendly changes. Earlier this year, Mastriano was again one of a handful of senators to vote against another bipartisan cannabis bill — this one was designed to give marijuana businesses easier access to banking and insurance services. That measure was also signed into law. Mastriano opposes legalizing recreational marijuana. In an interview in which he called legalizing recreational marijuana “a stupid idea,” Mastriano said medical use was already allowed. “So what else do we need?” he said. Shapiro has supported both legalized medical marijuana and recreational marijuana. As attorney general, Shapiro in 2018 promised to protect Pennsylvania’s medical marijuana program and patients from any interference from the Trump administration. Last year, when Wolf signed into law changes to the medical marijuana program, Shapiro praised the decision but urged lawmakers to go further. “Making it easier for folks to access medical marijuana is good,” Shapiro wrote on Twitter. “Legalizing recreational marijuana, expunging the criminal records of those charged for possession, and righting the wrongs our Black and brown communities have experienced is even better.” The next administration will oversee the medical marijuana program. Among other responsibilities, the secretary of health has the power to add new medical conditions that qualify patients for the program if they are recommended by the state’s Medical Marijuana Advisory Board. There are currently 23 qualifying conditions, and more than 400,000 active patients in the program. Pennsylvania has stricter marijuana laws than many states. Nineteen other states have legalized recreational cannabis use for adults, and several others have decriminalized small amounts of marijuana, according to a recent analysis from the National Conference of State Legislatures. Opioid epidemic For several years, Pennsylvania has had one of the highest drug overdose death rates in the country. An estimated 5,272 people died from a drug overdose here in the 12-month period ending in May, according to federal data. The increased availability of illicit fentanyl, a synthetic opioid, has led to more deaths in recent years. The candidates for governor have offered different plans for responding to the epidemic. Shapiro’s campaign has highlighted his experience as attorney general. Campaign materials note his office has prosecuted drug cases, seized fentanyl and heroin, and taken legal action against pharmaceutical companies. In January, Shapiro’s office announced that all 67 Pennsylvania counties signed onto an opioid settlement expected to bring $1 billion to Pennsylvania. His campaign has pointed to a mix of responses he supports. Some proposals focus on law enforcement, while others deal with addiction treatment and harm reduction, such as legalizing fentanyl testing strips. One harm reduction effort that he has opposed is the creation of overdose prevention sites. These are places where people can consume previously obtained drugs in a hygienic and monitored environment without having to fear being arrested, according to the American Society of Addiction Medicine. As attorney general, Shapiro criticized efforts to add an overdose prevention site in Philadelphia. “I think they’re illegal,” he said in 2018, according to The Inquirer. “There’s no safe way to inject yourself with this type of poison.” In the state Senate, Mastriano proposed creating a mandatory-minimum sentence of 25 years in prison for anyone convicted of selling fentanyl that leads to someone’s death. The bill would offer immunity protections to people who attempt to get help for an overdose victim. Mastriano has also sponsored legislation that he says would help local officials respond to a spike in overdoses by using a mapping system. The bill would require first responders to report overdose incidents within 72 hours. Mastriano has called for other changes. At a Capitol rally in June, Mastriano handed the microphone over to speakers who called for more support of faith-based recovery programs, PennLive reported. Mastriano’s campaign website also promises that “he’ll hold Pennsylvania’s elected officials accountable for cracking down on the fentanyl being snuck across our southern border.” Abortion Pennsylvania law currently allows abortion through the first 23 weeks of pregnancy. After that, abortions are allowed only if the pregnant person’s life or health is endangered. In the state Senate, Mastriano has pushed for a ban on abortion at about six weeks of pregnancy, and he told WITF in 2019 that a pregnant woman who violated the proposed restriction should be charged with murder. He voted in favor of amending the state constitution to say that the “constitution does not grant the right to taxpayer-funded abortion or any other right relating to abortion” — a move that would clear a path for future abortion bans. His bills to ban abortions at roughly six weeks did not include exceptions in cases of rape or incest, and he said during an April debate that he doesn’t support any exceptions. “I’m at conception. We’re going to have to work our way towards that,” Mastriano said. Shapiro has pledged to veto any legislation that would further restrict access to abortion, Spotlight PA previously reported. He has a long history of supporting abortion rights as a state lawmaker and attorney general, as The Inquirer described in a deep look at his and Mastriano’s records on the issue. The Inquirer also reported that, during a recent campaign stop, Shapiro would not say what he would do if lawmakers pushed legislation to broaden access to abortion beyond Pennsylvania’s current law. As attorney general, Shapiro said he would “fight any attempt to erode women’s rights in our Commonwealth.” He also promised to fight to protect patients from other states who travel to Pennsylvania seeking an abortion. Read our complete coverage, plus key dates, campaign finance data, sample ballots & more at our Election Center 2022 website. Spotlight on the Issues: Where Mastriano and Shapiro stand on: » College Funding & Student Debt » Energy & Environment » Crime & Justice » LGTBQ Rights More issue analyses will be published in the coming weeks. A complete listing of Spotlight PA voter guides: » Everything you need to know about mail ballots » Your complete guide to the candidates for governor » How to vet the candidates on your midterm ballot » No constitutional amendments on the ballot, but big ones loom » How to serve as a poll worker on Nov. 8 » These Pa. voters haven’t missed a Nov. election for 50+ years » How Spotlight PA will cover Pennsylvania’s 2022 election En Español: » Una guía básica para investigar a los candidates » Cómo trabajar como trabajador electoral el 8 de Noviembre » Todo lo que necesita saber para votar por correo » Su guía completa de los candidatos a gobernador WHILE YOU’RE HERE… If you learned something from this story, pay it forward and become a member of Spotlight PA so someone else can in the future at spotlightpa.org/donate. Spotlight PA is funded by foundationsand readers like you who are committed to accountability journalism that gets results. Featured Image Caption: People gather on the steps of the Pennsylvania State Capitol in Harrisburg to honor lives lost to addiction during 2021’s Overdose Awareness & Memorial Day.

Unresolved gray areas in Pa. mail voting law likely to spur fresh confusion, legal challenges

Stephen Caruso of Spotlight PA and Katie Meyer of Spotlight PA Spotlight PA is an independent, nonpartisan newsroom powered by The Philadelphia Inquirer in partnership with PennLive/The Patriot-News, TribLIVE/Pittsburgh Tribune-Review, and WITF Public Media. Sign up for our free newsletters. HARRISBURG — As millions of Pennsylvanians once again go to the polls this November, some key questions on mail ballots remain unsettled, opening the door for more legal action and public confusion after the upcoming gubernatorial and U.S. Senate races. In a recent live event with Spotlight PA, Acting Secretary of State Leigh Chapman stressed that these issues will not affect the accuracy of the vote. But rules on key voting mechanics such as drop boxes or a chance for voters to fix a ballot error could vary by county. As such, people who plan to vote by mail should brush up on local rules to ensure there aren’t any issues with their ballots, Chapman said. “I really want people to make a plan to vote,” she said. “Think about it. Do you want to vote by mail?” Elections in Pennsylvania have become highly political, and the state election law has some gray areas. The patchwork of mail voting rules largely stems from 2019, when the legislature and governor passed a bipartisan overhaul of the commonwealth’s election law and allowed no-excuse mail voting for the first time. That law, Act 77, doesn’t say, for instance, whether counties should be able to contact voters who have submitted mail ballots with errors and allow them to fix them — a process known as ballot curing. The law also doesn’t mention ballot drop boxes or how they should be regulated. They’re a common tool states use to make it quicker to submit ballots. Courts have ruled on some of these questions, and the Department of State has also tried to clear up some of the confusion by issuing guidance on still-unsettled areas. Last month, for instance, the department handed down legal guidance to the counties on how to count mail ballots, policies for drop boxes, and what to do about emails from outside groups asking for unlawful voter roll purges. That guidance is part of a Department of State effort to keep local officials on top of the evolving precedents and to try to keep rules consistent across the commonwealth. But it isn’t legally binding — and the approach has detractors, mostly in the GOP. “If there’s a perception that the guidances coming out of the secretary’s office are inconsistent, or not well thought out, or don’t necessarily have the force of law, I think some counties probably ignore them,” said Matt Haverstick, a Philadelphia-based attorney who often works for Republican clients. “And we need clarity right now, in the Election Code and election process.” But Haverstick also acknowledges these court battles aren’t just happening for want of clarity. They’ve become a political arena of their own. Both Democrats and Republicans, he said, believe that court is “just another place to go fight battles that maybe people don’t want to believe were settled successfully or conclusively at the ballot box.” With two major statewide contests on the ballot this November — for governor and U.S. Senate — litigation likely to follow, and little consensus on which practices are best, some county officials say they plan to proceed with caution. Dauphin County election director Jerry Feaser told Spotlight PA that “when it comes to things subject to litigation,” he said, “we’re going to review the guidance provided in consultation with our solicitor.” Ballot curing up to counties Mail ballots offer voters more flexibility and tend to increase turnout. But widespread mail voting also means lots of people are filling out ballots without supervision, and that can lead to eligible voters making minor mistakes that invalidate their ballot. Voters sometimes forget to sign their outer envelope. Sometimes they make a mark in a place they shouldn’t, or in Pennsylvania, they forget to include their ballot’s inner secrecy envelope. According to NPR, hundreds of thousands of mail ballots are typically tossed out during big elections due to errors. About half of states work to limit that number by systematically reaching out to voters who made mistakes and giving them a chance to correct their ballot. Pennsylvania law doesn’t require ballot curing, but it also doesn’t ban it, which has led to a scattershot approach. Some counties routinely contact voters who make mistakes and try to correct them. Some let political parties do that work. Others do nothing. This led to litigation in 2020. Ahead of that year’s election, Democrats tried unsuccessfully to get the state Supreme Court to mandate the curing of ballots. Lawyers for Republicans filed several, equally unsuccessful lawsuits after the 2020 election challenging the counting of cured ballots. The issue remains legally unsettled. Pennsylvania’s Commonwealth Court recently ruled that counties can contact voters to cure ballots, but that they don’t have to. National Republicans who oppose the practice have already appealed the ruling to the state Supreme Court, which hasn’t yet taken up the case. It’s unclear if the court will act ahead of the midterms, but for now, it’s likely that voters’ ability to fix mistakes on their ballots will depend on where they live. No guarantee to drop boxes Drop box availability varies widely among the counties. A 2020 state Supreme Court ruling OK’d them, and the Wolf administration has given counties a list of rules for the boxes, including making sure they can’t be moved or tampered with, and that they should be monitored by video surveillance “when feasible.” But drop boxes have also been a major point of contention for Republican lawmakers. Many believe they create opportunities for fraud, though there’s no evidence that drop boxes in Pennsylvania, or in other states, led to fraudulent votes in 2020. Across the country, about 16% of 2016 voters cast ballots using drop boxes, according to NPR. In some cases, counties have already removed drop boxes — as happened in Lancaster ahead of the primary election. Several ongoing lawsuits may still determine whether some counties use the boxes or change how they are monitored, including in Lehigh and Chester. In other cases county commissioners, who often sit on the boards of election, will simply make the decision. “Those decisions are actually happening right now,” Chapman said. “Local county boards of elections are meeting, they’re voting on where the drop boxes are going to be and if they’re going to have drop boxes at all.” “If you want them in your community,” she added, “go to those board of elections meetings and put that on the record.” To date or not to date The Department of State recently issued guidance telling counties to count undated mail ballots — those on which a voter has failed to put a date on the outer envelope — as long as they’re returned before 8 p.m. on Election Day. Such ballots have been litigated ad nauseam since 2020, the first year when Pennsylvania voters could request no-excuse mail ballots. State judges at first only allowed such ballots to be counted in the 2020 general election due to the pandemic’s extenuating circumstances, but declared them invalid in future elections. The Department of State backed that interpretation, until a federal court declared that the date did not help detect fraud, so enforcing the provision violated voters’ civil rights. A case asking the U.S Supreme Court to rule on the legality of undated ballots is pending and scheduled for a conference in early October. However, it’s unclear whether a final ruling will come down before the November election. Counties are preparing for the upcoming contest with that uncertainty in mind. Dauphin County, for instance, is segregating undated ballots in case a late court order once again means those ballots shouldn’t be counted, said Feaser, the local election director. How to vote by mail Given the looming threat of litigation and the possibility that legal precedents in some areas of Pennsylvania’s election law could change, a voter’s best bet is always to follow the letter of the law. If you’re 18 or older, live in Pennsylvania, and want to vote by mail, you must: Register to vote by Oct. 24. Request a mail ballot by Nov. 1, although you should do so much sooner if you can. Use the inner secrecy envelope. A ballot without it is known as a “naked ballot” and will be tossed out. Sign the voter declaration on the outer envelope. Date the outer envelope. Return the ballot by 8 p.m. on Election Day. If you aren’t sure what your particular county’s policy is, you can find contact information for your local county election officials here. Read Spotlight PA’s complete coverage, plus key dates, campaign finance data, sample ballots & more at our Election Center 2022 website. Spotlight on the Issues: Where Mastriano and Shapiro stand on… » Energy & Environment » Crime & Justice » LGTBQ Rights More issue analyses will be published in the coming weeks. A complete listing of Spotlight PA voter guides: » Everything you need to know about mail ballots » Your complete guide to the candidates for governor » How to vet the candidates on your midterm ballot » No constitutional amendments on the ballot, but big ones loom » How to serve as a poll worker on Nov. 8 » These Pa. voters haven’t missed a Nov. election for 50+ years » How Spotlight PA will cover Pennsylvania’s 2022 election En Español: » Cómo trabajar como trabajador electoral el 8 de Noviembre » Todo lo que necesita saber para votar por correo » Su guía completa de los candidatos a gobernador Correction: A previous version of this story incorrectly stated that a lawsuit was pending over drop boxes in Lancaster County. That case was resolved, and the county removed its only drop box earlier this year. WHILE YOU’RE HERE… If you learned something from this story, pay it forward and become a member of Spotlight PA so someone else can in the future at spotlightpa.org/donate. Spotlight PA is funded by foundationsand readers like you who are committed to accountability journalism that gets results.

Pa. election 2022: Where governor candidates Mastriano, Shapiro stand on energy and the environment

Kate Huangpu of Spotlight PA Spotlight PA is an independent, nonpartisan newsroom powered by The Philadelphia Inquirer in partnership with PennLive/The Patriot-News, TribLIVE/Pittsburgh Tribune-Review, and WITF Public Media. Sign up for our free newsletters. In Pennsylvania, it’s usually not a question of whether a statewide candidate is supportive of the oil and gas industry but to what extent. That’s the case for the leading candidates for Pennsylvania governor, Democratic Attorney General Josh Shapiro and Republican state Sen. Doug Mastriano of Franklin County, who will face off this November. Pennsylvania is one of the largest fossil fuel producers in the U.S., accounting for 9% of the country’s total natural gas production. It’s also the third-largest provider of energy to other states and the fourth-largest carbon dioxide emitter. However, polling shows that voters in the state are increasingly concerned about climate change driven by the burning of fossil fuels and the industry’s impacts on the environment. Ahead of the Nov. 8 election, Spotlight PA breaks down where the top candidates stand on major energy and environmental issues: Fossil fuels and renewable energy Mastriano has unabashedly and loudly called for deregulation of the state’s fossil fuel industries. In March, he introduced the PA Energy Independence Act, which would make it easier for oil, gas, and coal companies to dig for resources throughout the state. The bill would mandate that the state Department of Environmental Protection review natural gas and coal permits within 45 days, or the permits would automatically be approved as long as they meet certain conditions. It would also lift the Wolf administration’s ban on leases in state parks and forests, establish a cap on permitting fees for fracking wells, and exempt Pennsylvania’s coal industry from federal regulations. “We need to open more of our lands for fracking and drilling,” wrote Mastriano in an op-ed supporting expanding Pennsylvania’s energy production. “The blessing of Marcellus Shale in Pennsylvania is still underutilized with untapped deposits of natural gas.” Spotlight PA could not locate any public statements from Mastriano on renewable energy and his campaign did not respond to a request for comment. Shapiro has called for “responsible fracking” and energy production that causes minimal harm to the environment. He has pledged to adopt the recommendations of a grand jury report he commissioned as attorney general that suggested expanding “no-drill” zones, requiring disclosure of fracking chemicals before they are on-site, regulating smaller pipelines, and conducting “comprehensive health responses” to the effects of living near fracking sites. In a plan on his campaign website, Shapiro said he would invest in the research, development, and design of zero-carbon technologies such as nuclear, hydrogen, and carbon capture, efforts he says would support business and job creation. He similarly has said he would focus on growing clean energy. On his campaign website, Shapiro said he would raise the 2030 target for renewable or clean electricity production from the current goal of 8% to 30%, and reach net-zero emissions by 2050. Regional Greenhouse Gas Initiative Last April, Pennsylvania joined the Regional Greenhouse Gas Initiative (RGGI), a pledge undertaken by a dozen states to reduce emissions by requiring fossil fuel power plants to purchase allowances to emit carbon dioxide. The profits from allowances then go back into the state to reinvest in renewable energy, flood control measures, or other initiatives. The state’s participation in the program immediately drew the ire of Republican lawmakers and industry groups, who filed a case in Commonwealth Court to prevent the state from joining. Subsequently, Pennsylvania was not able to participate in the sale of allowances this September. Mastriano has vocally criticized Democratic Gov. Tom Wolf’s decision to join RGGI and pledged to pull out of the initiative as governor — a concept he introduced in his energy independence bill. He argues RGGI “will do far more harm than good,” as its regulations would drive companies looking to invest in the energy industry to neighboring states. The Department of Environmental Protection predicts the program will create over 30,000 jobs, and anticipates it will decrease coal generation. The coal industry employs over 10,000 workers, according to the DEP. One study of other states who participate in RGGI found increased economic activity and job growth. . Mastriano has also called the effects of RGGI on climate change “negligible.” However, carbon pricing has been shown to reduce emissions, and most environmental, economic, and public policy academics agree that the program will have at least a modest impact on slowing down climate change in the state. Shapiro has yet to commit to staying in RGGI. On the campaign trail, he’s said he’s not sure RGGI is the most effective way to reduce environmental impact while protecting jobs and affordable energy prices in the state. Shapiro said that he would have to consult with workers and experts before making any decisions. Climate change and conservation Mastriano has called global warming an academic fabrication and makes no mention of climate change on his campaign website. His campaign has rarely mentioned conservation of natural resources. When asked how he would protect Pennsylvania’s environment in a candidate survey, he wrote, “I’m an Eagle Scout and respect the environment — we are stewards of the land.” Shapiro has said he wants to combat climate change while also creating new jobs for Pennsylvanians, arguing it’s a ” false choice between protecting jobs or protecting our planet.” The Natural Resource Defense Council Action Fund and the Conservation Voters of PA Victory Fund have both come out in support of Shapiro, spending at least half a million dollars on ads criticizing Mastriano. As attorney general, Shapiro charged Energy Transfer, a pipeline-building company, with environmental crimes including causing damage to wetlands, waterways, and drinking water while constructing liquid natural gas pipelines. He also charged the company with negligence over its role in a 2018 explosion. which led to an explosion in 2018. Read Spotlight PA’s complete coverage, plus key dates, campaign finance data, sample ballots & more at our Election Center 2022 website. Spotlight on the Issues: Where Mastriano and Shapiro stand on… » Crime & Justice » LGTBQ Rights More issue analyses will be published in the coming weeks. A complete listing of Spotlight PA voter guides: » Your complete guide to the candidates for governor » How to vet the candidates on your midterm ballot » No constitutional amendments on the ballot, but big ones loom » How to serve as a poll worker on Nov. 8 » Everything you need to know about requesting, filling out, and returning your mail ballot » These Pa. voters haven’t missed a Nov. election for 50+ years » How Spotlight PA will cover Pennsylvania’s 2022 election En Español: » Su guía completa de los candidatos a gobernador WHILE YOU’RE HERE… If you learned something from this story, pay it forward and become a member of Spotlight PA so someone else can in the future at spotlightpa.org/donate. Spotlight PA is funded by foundationsand readers like you who are committed to accountability journalism that gets results.

Pa. election 2022: There will be no constitutional amendments on the Nov. 8 ballot, but big ones are looming

Angela Couloumbis of Spotlight PA Spotlight PA is an independent, nonpartisan newsroom powered by The Philadelphia Inquirer in partnership with PennLive/The Patriot-News, TribLIVE/Pittsburgh Tribune-Review, and WITF Public Media. Sign up for our free newsletters. HARRISBURG — Pennsylvania voters will not see any proposed constitutional amendments on this year’s November ballot, but that is almost certain to change when the state legislature opens its new two-year session in January. Once used rarely — if only because it is a lengthy and complex process — amending the state constitution has become the go-to tactic among legislative Republicans to advance policies that are deeply unpopular with their Democratic colleagues. This strategy was set into motion after Democratic Gov. Tom Wolf vetoed several attempts to lift pandemic restrictions in 2020. Republican lawmakers who control both chambers responded with proposals to amend the constitution to limit the governor’s emergency powers, measures approved by voters in the spring of 2021. Since then, election changes and restricting access to abortion have been at the center of an ideological showdown that has often ended with the governor vetoing bills advanced by the GOP. As early as next year, voters may become the deciding factor on whether those and more policies are enacted. The constitutional amendment process allows voters at the polls to have the final say on certain policy changes. In order for a proposed amendment to appear on the ballot, the measure has to pass the legislature in two consecutive two-year sessions. The wording of the measures must be exactly the same both times the legislature approves them. No proposed amendments have advanced far enough to reach voters this fall. But as early as the 2023 primary, voters may face at least six, according to state officials. The first would change the state constitution to open a two-year window for people who were sexually abused as children — and who are too old under Pennsylvania’s statute of limitations to bring civil litigation — to sue their abusers and any institutions that covered up the abuse. That proposed amendment first passed the legislature in its 2019-20 session and was poised to be approved a second time in the current one that began in January 2021. But an administrative error by the Wolf administration derailed that momentum, and the legislature was forced to start the process from scratch. After the mistake became public last year, lawmakers again approved the proposed two-year window for civil suits. Wolf announced last month that legislative leaders in both chambers had agreed to prioritize a second and final vote on the change when the General Assembly reconvenes next year, setting the stage for it to appear on the ballot in May. “I am grateful for this agreement so that survivors can seek a path forward toward justice,” Wolf said in a statement at the time. >> READ MORE: A complete guide and amendment tracker for proposed changes to Pennsylvania’s Constitution A second bill — one that contains five distinct proposals — is far more divisive. Its fate is also less clear. This past summer, as lawmakers wrapped up work on the state budget, the Republican-led chambers rammed through a bill containing five proposed changes, many of them controversial. Among them: declaring the state constitution does not grant any right relating to abortion, adding new identification requirements for voters, and scaling back the governor’s executive powers. Within weeks, Wolf sued GOP leaders over the bill, SB 106, arguing among other things that it unconstitutionally lumped together disparate measures that should have been voted on separately. Along with the new voter ID requirement and an abortion amendment that opponents fear could lead to a total ban, the omnibus bill also contains a proposal to change the way the lieutenant governor is chosen in Pennsylvania. Wolf petitioned Pennsylvania’s Supreme Court to take the case on an emergency basis, but its justices rejected his request for an expedited review. The administration just this weekend filed the suit in a lower appellate court. Before voters can have a say, that omnibus measure needs to be approved again in the legislature’s 2023-24 session, which begins in January. Whether lawmakers will take up the bill again remains unclear: Wolf’s term ends in January, and a new governor will be taking office — either Democratic Attorney General Josh Shapiro or Republican state Sen. Doug Mastriano of Franklin County. The legislature could decide to try and negotiate with the new governor on all those measures. At least one other proposed constitutional amendment could be put before voters next year, but the legislature would need to act fast. In its 2019-20 session, lawmakers approved a controversial proposal that would give them the authority to create judicial districts for candidates running for the state’s three appellate courts: Superior, Commonwealth, and Supreme. As it stands now, those judges run in statewide elections. Republican supporters of the measure say it will result in fairer and more geographically diverse benches that reflect the state’s varying legal philosophies. Critics of the change argue it amounts to a power grab by the GOP, which has been frustrated that justices on the state Supreme Court — where Democrats are in the majority — have frequently ruled against them in high-profile cases over the past few years. Lawmakers have not approved the judicial district proposal for a second time during the current session. To get it on the ballot, they would have to do so before the session ends on Nov. 30. WHILE YOU’RE HERE… If you learned something from this story, pay it forward and become a member of Spotlight PA so someone else can in the future at spotlightpa.org/donate. Spotlight PA is funded by foundationsand readers like you who are committed to accountability journalism that gets results.

Pa. election 2022: How to serve as a poll worker on Nov. 8

Kate Huangpu of Spotlight PA Spotlight PA is an independent, nonpartisan newsroom powered by The Philadelphia Inquirer in partnership with PennLive/The Patriot-News, TribLIVE/Pittsburgh Tribune-Review, and WITF Public Media. Sign up for our free newsletters. HARRISBURG — When Pennsylvania holds its 2022 general election in November, thousands of poll workers will ensure that voting runs smoothly. You could be one of them. Counties are currently recruiting people to work at the state’s more than 9,000 voting locations. For many years, the Pennsylvania Department of State has voiced concerns over the lack of poll workers, a problem that was exacerbated by the pandemic. Poll workers consider their work an opportunity to serve their state and community, meet new people, and learn about elections in Pennsylvania. The Department of State accepts applications to become a poll worker on a rolling basis, but interested people should apply no later than Nov. 2. Want to learn more? Here’s what you need to know: The requirements There are only a few requirements to become a poll worker. First, you must be a registered voter and you can serve only in the county in which you live. High school students who are 17 years old may be eligible to volunteer if they meet specific requirements outlined by their county’s election office. Second, poll workers cannot be current government employees or officials, except district judges, notary publics, or members of the Pennsylvania National Guard. Similarly, people whose names are on the ballot are not permitted to serve as poll workers, except for candidates for the local election board including judges of elections. The duties Poll workers must be available for the entirety of Election Day, before polling places open at 7 a.m. and after they close at 8 p.m. Poll workers assist with the setup, opening, and closing of a polling place. They record the names of voters, check them in, and assist with election equipment. There are a few specialized poll worker positions that are elected. Each polling place has a local election board comprised of a judge of elections, a majority inspector, and a minority inspector. All three positions help manage the polling place, keep track of the number of voters, and ensure that the results are received by the county election office. Other specialized positions — such as the machine operator— support the local election board and are filled by appointment. They oversee the voting devices used at the polls. Regular poll workers, or clerks, help check in voters, manage lines, and guide voters through each step of the process. Poll workers are not partisan poll watchers, who are appointed by candidates or political parties and can challenge the eligibility of a voter (though they cannot directly question or speak to them). The training People who want to be poll workers must attend a mandatory training session in-person or online before Election Day. Each county runs its own training, as voting systems vary. Some counties use optical scanners to process ballots, while others use different kinds of voting machines. Counties also handle training for safety threats differently. According to the Department of State, every county addresses what to do in the event of general threats and disruptive behavior in the polling place. Patti Hess, the director of elections in Fulton County, said there are constables at polling places in her county to ensure safety, and instructions for emergency situations are provided in a guidebook poll workers have on hand. “If somebody comes in, it’s all in their book,” she said. “The sheriff’s office number is right there.” Training materials for poll workers in Lancaster and York Counties direct poll workers to call local law enforcement for gun threats, bomb threats, and other emergency situations such as fires or loss of power. Supplementary training courses for poll workers can be found online. They include videos and guides on checking in voters, inspecting voter identification, and accepting provisional ballots — those filled out by people whose eligibility cannot be immediately verified. The pay According to the Election Code, the statutory minimum pay for poll workers is $75 a day, with a maximum payment of $200. Higher pay is typically reserved for elected positions. Poll workers who attend certain training events can be eligible for additional compensation. Overall, the allocation of pay is largely at the discretion of county commissioners. How to sign up If interested, you can apply by filling out a form on the Department of State’s website. Some counties have their own forms on their election websites. You can find your county’s website here. The form asks for basic contact information and place of residency, as well as any special skills that could aid you as a poll worker, such as fluency in a foreign language. That information is then sent to your county’s election office, which will reach out to you if it needs more workers. Jonathan Marks, Pennsylvania’s deputy secretary for elections and commissions, recommends reaching out to the county office if you haven’t heard back in 1-2 weeks. You can find the contact information for your county here. MORE ELECTION 2022 COVERAGE FROM SPOTLIGHT PA: How Spotlight PA will cover Pennsylvania’s 2022 election Your complete guide to the candidates for governor Where Mastriano, Shapiro stand on LGBTQ rights A basic guide to vetting the candidates WHILE YOU’RE HERE… If you learned something from this story, pay it forward and become a member of Spotlight PA so someone else can in the future at spotlightpa.org/donate. Spotlight PA is funded by foundationsand readers like you who are committed to accountability journalism that gets results.

Skill games company woos Pa. lawmakers with trips to wild Wyoming rodeo

Angela Couloumbis of Spotlight PA Spotlight PA is an independent, nonpartisan newsroom powered by The Philadelphia Inquirer in partnership with PennLive/The Patriot-News, TribLIVE/Pittsburgh Tribune-Review, and WITF Public Media. Sign up for our free newsletters. HARRISBURG — “It’s the sounds, the lights, the competition or the experience of a lifetime. Everyone comes for a different reason but leaves a modern cowboy.” So goes the motto for Cheyenne Frontier Days, the premier summer festival in Wyoming that bills itself as the world’s largest outdoor rodeo and Western celebration, complete with concerts, carnivals, parades, cook-offs, an air show, and even professional bull-riding contests. This past summer, a select group of Pennsylvania legislators, including House Majority Leader Kerry Benninghoff (R., Centre), got to experience the extravaganza for themselves courtesy of Pace-O-Matic. The Georgia-based company makes skill games, slot-like machines that currently generate millions in revenue and, in Pennsylvania, operate in a legal and regulatory gray area — one the legislature will play a key role in defining. For some of the lawmakers, it was an all-expenses-paid experience, information from the company indicates. The trip to Wyoming is the latest example of a largely behind-the-scenes war of cash and influence between skill game operators like Pace-O-Matic and casino owners and other powerful gambling interests in the state. On one side, skill game companies want their machines to be formally recognized as legal. On the other side stand the casinos and other gambling companies that have complained for years that the state’s gambling landscape is oversaturated — and that further competition will cannibalize the existing market. As the fight rages, state lawmakers with the power to play kingmaker are benefitting handsomely, as there are no limits on the campaign cash flowing from the gambling industry interests, and no limits on gifts they can take from them or their lobbyists. The disclosure of the Wyoming trip, first reported by Spotlight PA, comes against the backdrop of the legislature’s continued refusal to pass a gift ban to blunt the influence of deep-pocketed special interests on elected officials and their policy-making. State House leaders this past week again declined to bring up a gift ban bill for debate, diminishing its chances of getting a floor vote before the legislature’s two-year session ends in November — and leaving Pennsylvania with the distinction of being one of the few states in the nation without any limits. In a statement, a Pace-O-Matic spokesperson said the company, through its Wyoming subsidiary Cowboy Skill, was a sponsor of the Cheyenne Frontier Days this past July, and hosted nearly 600 guests at the event, including five Pennsylvania lawmakers. Company spokesperson Jeanette Krebs said Pace-O-Matic’s guests received airfare, tickets to two concerts and two rodeos, meals, and hotel rooms. The per-person cost was roughly $1,700, excluding airfare, which varied by guest. Benninghoff and Rep. Greg Rothman (R., Cumberland) both attended the event but reimbursed Pace-O-Matic for their expenses, including their hotel stay. While there, Pennsylvania’s legislators met with lawmakers from Wyoming to learn about how that state regulated the skill game industry, said Mike Barley, another Pace-O-Matic spokesperson. “We invited Pennsylvania lawmakers from the House and Senate gaming committees and leadership to the event for the opportunity to meet with Wyoming legislators to learn how they regulated the skill game industry and how the system now successfully works in the state,” Barley said. He said the company would report all expenditures related to lawmakers on its lobbying disclosure forms and expected legislators would also report the trip on their annual ethics statements. Though elected officials are allowed to receive gifts of any value, they have to disclose gifts worth more than $250, as well as any travel and hospitality over $650. The forms for 2022, however, won’t be made public until May of next year. In a statement, a spokesperson for Benninghoff said he “told the hosts of the event from the beginning that he would pay his own cost for the trip using personal funds, and he has paid for all airfare, lodging, and meals provided at the event. “Rep. Benninghoff went on this trip to inform himself of how another state has dealt with a complex issue in a growing industry,” spokesperson Jason Gottesman continued. “He has not, nor will he not, allow those who provide amenities or campaign support to get in the way of him standing up for the best interests of Pennsylvania.” Rothman, who Gottesman said also paid his own way, did not respond to a request for comment. State Rep. Sue Helm (R., Dauphin) — who chairs the state House Gaming Oversight Committee, the first stop for bills in the chamber that deal with gambling — also attended. In an interview, Helm, who is not running for reelection this year, said the company paid for her travel and accommodations but contended that “it wasn’t a lavish trip.” “They weren’t paying for first-class airfare,” she said, noting she flew economy. Pace-O-Matic had a hospitality suite, where Helm said she met some of the company’s employees and others with an interest in seeing skill games regulated and recognized as a legal and important revenue-producing industry. “I went more for the learning experience,” she said, although she also said she attended two rodeos, one dinner, and a concert. State Rep. Marci Mustello (R., Butler) also went to Wyoming to the festival as a guest of Pace-O-Matic, she told Spotlight PA. The company’s machines, she said, “could be a good revenue stream” for the state, taverns, and American Legions. Mustello said that she paid for the trip herself out of her personal funds and has not been reimbursed. She did not elaborate. The fifth lawmaker who attended, Rep. Jeffrey Wheeland (R., Lycoming), did not return a call seeking comment. In Pennsylvania, Pace-O-Matic and its skill games have been at the center of a fierce debate. The state legalized slot machine gambling in 2004, but since then, the legislature has voted to expand the types of games people can play — including table games, online gaming, fantasy sports, and sports betting — and where they can play them. Skill games, however, have for years operated in a regulatory and legal gray zone, even as they continued to pop up in new locations throughout the state. State officials estimate there are now more than 50,000 machines across Pennsylvania. The games are not authorized by the state’s gambling law and are not regulated by the Pennsylvania Gaming Control Board. As a result, they are not taxed like other gambling devices. (The state’s 16 casinos and mini-casinos, on the other hand, pay a 54% tax on revenues from slot machines.) That discrepancy has created bad blood, with casino owners and others calling skill games illegal and pushing for legislation to ban them. Manufacturers like Pace-O-Matic, on the other hand, argue that skill games do not amount to gambling because they rely on a level of cognitive and physical player ability, rather than on pure chance, to get a successful outcome. They want a law to formally legitimize, regulate, and tax their industry — although they have benefited financially from legislative inaction. Not surprisingly, both sides have hired top lobbyists and lawyers, and have landed allies in the legislature who have introduced competing bills in recent years. As Spotlight PA reported earlier this year, this sometimes leads to cozy relationships between lobbyists and lawmakers working on this issue at times. Emails obtained by the news organization showed lobbyists for a Pennsylvania casino were ghostwriting legislation for a key Republican senator, participating in strategic planning sessions with him, and drafting talking points and other documents for his office. Both sides have also donated hundreds of thousands of dollars to the campaigns of key legislators. Last summer, several top Republicans in the state Senate returned donations they had received from the skill game industry, citing the fact that it is unregulated. According to campaign finance reports, the political action committee associated with the skill games industry has contributed nearly $1.2 million to lawmakers and other elected officials since the start of 2019. In that same time frame, the skill games PAC gave $28,500 to Benninghoff, $8,350 to Helm, $2,000 to Mustello, $47,500 to Rothman, and $8,000 to Wheeland. Despite talk over the summer that the legislature might push through a gambling expansion bill this fall, it now appears unlikely, given the few voting days left before its two-year session ends in November. State Sen. John Yudichak, the chamber’s lone independent, has for several years attempted to negotiate a compromise on gambling expansion, and in an interview likened the gambling landscape to a “battlefield.” “It is very hard to build consensus,” said Yudichak, who represents Luzerne County and is not running for reelection. Despite his involvement in the issue — Yudichak chairs the state Senate committee that deals with gambling issues — he said he did not receive an invitation to travel to Wyoming this summer. Even if he had, he said, he likely would not have accepted. “It’s a little too close to the Dallas Cowboys for this Eagles fan,” he said. Stephen Caruso of Spotlight PA contributed to this story. WHILE YOU’RE HERE… If you learned something from this story, pay it forward and become a member of Spotlight PA so someone else can in the future at spotlightpa.org/donate. Spotlight PA is funded by foundationsand readers like you who are committed to accountability journalism that gets results.

Regular private meetings among top Penn State trustees may be violating Pa.’s transparency law

Wyatt Massey of Spotlight PA State College This story was produced by the State College regional bureau of Spotlight PA, an independent, nonpartisan newsroom dedicated to investigative and public-service journalism for Pennsylvania. Sign up for our regional newsletter, Talk of the Town. STATE COLLEGE — For more than a decade, some of the most powerful members of the Pennsylvania State University’s Board of Trustees have regularly met in private, actions that media law experts say may violate the state’s open meetings law. The board’s executive committee includes the chairs of other committees and university President Neeli Bendapudi, among others. Bendapudi is a non-voting member. The committee exists “to transact all necessary business” that could occur between regular meetings of the full board, according to board bylaws. The board’s governing documents require the committee’s meetings and agendas to be made public. Yet the committee’s last public meeting was more than a decade ago. Since then, the committee has used a provision of the Pennsylvania Sunshine Act — which determines public access to governing bodies — that allows officials to gather for “conferences” without public notice or other transparency measures. The law says conferences can only take place in limited circumstances, primarily as a “training program or seminar, or any session arranged by State or Federal agencies” and never to deliberate business. Pennsylvania’s three other state-related universities — Temple University, University of Pittsburgh, and Lincoln University — have trustee executive committees that post public meeting minutes. Pennsylvania’s state-related universities are independently governed but receive some state funding. The University of Pennsylvania, a private university, also makes available the minutes of its executive committee meetings. Shannon Harvey, the director of Penn State’s Office of the Board of Trustees, told Spotlight PA in an Aug. 17 email that the executive committee uses the conference provision to “review Board and committee agendas and for planning purposes.” The executive committee’s planning and discussions of agendas don’t rise to the level of deliberating “agency business,” Harvey wrote in an Aug. 26 email. Harvey wouldn’t provide information about which state or federal agencies hosted training programs for the executive committee during its conferences, nor would she explain how the board determined that reviewing agendas or planning is considered a “training program or seminar,” as defined by the law. “We believe that our conferences are structured to comply with the law and facilitate good governance,” Harvey wrote in a follow-up email. Melissa Melewsky — media law counsel with the Pennsylvania NewsMedia Association, of which Spotlight PA is a member — said Penn State’s explanation was “inconsistent with the law.” If a committee is authorized to render advice to the board of trustees, even if that committee is not voting, then it must comply with the law, Melewksy said. “The law recognizes that most of the deliberation, and most of the real work on a particular issue is farmed out to the committee,” she said. “And the committee does all the legwork and all the discussion, and all the changes happen there. So, if you cut the public out of that process, all you see and participate in as the public is the end result and you’ve lost your opportunity to help shape public policy.” Melewsky questioned why Penn State’s executive committee needs to have its gatherings in private, without public notice or input, if such gatherings are as nondescript as the board claims. Harvey declined to explain why the board chooses to make this committee’s gatherings private. She also would not discuss how the executive committee’s ability to set agendas might influence the business of the full board or its other committees. Because the gatherings are not open to the public and no official minutes are taken, it’s nearly impossible to know what is happening behind closed doors, or if the committee is following the law. “There’s no records kept of it, and as long as they don’t break ranks, you’ll never know exactly what they said,” said Craig Staudenmaier, an attorney with Nauman Smith Shissler & Hall and an expert in media law. “But it’s only human nature to start voicing an opinion or to start discussing it. The more discussion that goes, the closer and closer it gets to deliberation, in my opinion.” The committee’s last official meeting, a record of which is publicly available, occurred Dec. 2, 2011, while the university grappled with the fallout of the Sandusky child sex abuse scandal. During the seven-minute meeting, the committee approved a previous board decision to accept Graham Spanier’s resignation as university president and to end Joe Paterno’s tenure as head football coach. Since then, the executive committee has continued to gather in private, with the full board voting in new members. The committee has gathered five times in 2022, according to information Harvey provided to Spotlight PA. The effectiveness of the committee was called into question during the July 22 meeting of the board of trustees, when Barry Fenchak, a trustee elected by alumni, asked when it had last met to deliberate university business. Board of Trustees Chair Matthew Schuyler said the group had met a few weeks prior to the July meeting. Fenchak told trustees he doubted the executive committee’s ability to responsibly oversee the university. “In fact, it’s an opportunity to be incongruent with responsible governance, so I can’t support further additions to that committee,” said Fenchak, who was the lone vote that day against appointing a new member to the executive committee. The board’s seven other committees have all held public meetings in 2022, with agendas and minutes posted online. State courts have not provided a clear test to determine whether something is a meeting or a conference, Staudenmaier said. If a quorum of officials in a public body gathers, they have to demonstrate why the meeting should not be open, he said. Conferences are supposed to be educational and can involve fact-finding, Staudenmaier said. But once people start sharing opinions or talking about implementing changes to the organization, then the gathering becomes a meeting as defined under the law. The state’s Sunshine Act allows for fines ranging from $100 to $1,000, plus the cost of prosecution, for a first offense by any agency member who knowingly violates the law. The fine increases to $500 to $2,000 for subsequent offenses. SUPPORT THIS JOURNALISM and help us reinvigorate local news in north-central Pennsylvania at spotlightpa.org/statecollege. Spotlight PA is funded by foundationsand readers like you who are committed to accountability and public-service journalism that gets results.

Wolf announces $21.5 million plan to provide universal free school breakfasts

“It is completely unacceptable for a child to start the day hungry,” said PA Gov. Tom Wolf in a press release on Monday. “I’m taking hunger off the table for Pennsylvania kids by creating the Universal Free Breakfast Program. Regardless of whether or not they qualify for free or reduced meals normally, every student enrolled in public or private schools will have the opportunity to feed their belly before they feed their mind this school year.” The Universal Free Breakfast Program will go into effect on October 1, 2022 and run through the end of the 2022-23 school year. More than 1.7 million Pennsylvania children enrolled in public schools, intermediate units, charter schools, career and technology schools, and child care institutions that participate in the National School Lunch and School Breakfast Programs will benefit from this state-funded program. The $21.5 million program is funded with prior year funding from the School Food Services General Fund appropriation. Interested schools that do not currently participate in the National School Lunch and School Breakfast programs can find information for applying on the Department of Education’s website. “We commend Gov. Wolf and the Administration for their dedication to a hunger-free Pennsylvania. Universal free school breakfast across Pennsylvania helps to ensure every student will start their day with a healthy, nutritious meal,” said School Nutrition Association of Pennsylvania Communications Chair Melissa Froehlich. “Research supports that a well-nourished child who starts the day with breakfast is more likely to be at school, has improved concentration and is more willing to participate in the classroom. Universal free breakfast for all students in Pennsylvania will strengthen child nutrition programs and address equity and stigma around school breakfast so that more children will have access to nutritious meals and set our students up for success in the classroom.” From March 2020 through the 2021-22 school year, students were afforded free meals from school as a result of waivers approved by the U.S. Department of Agriculture. For two years, nearly 1 million students have eaten for free each year. Comparing the 2018-19 school year, when free breakfast was not universal, to 2021-22, when school was fully in-person and breakfast was universally free, breakfast consumption increased by nearly 16%. That is 16% of Pennsylvania children that would start their day hungry this year—and that is a number that Gov. Wolf would not accept. “As a parent and grandparent myself, I know that there is nothing more important than our kids,” added Gov. Wolf. “This investment in free school breakfast for all is an investment in a better, healthier, happier life for our kids now and in the years to come.” Senator Lindsey Williams, Senate Educate Committee Chair and advocate for childhood nutrition, commended Gov. Wolf’s Universal School Breakfast Program. “It takes a village to tackle an issue as important and impactful as food security for our children. Keeping students fed, nourished, and ready to learn is vital to their health and education,” said Sen. Williams. “These investments in school meals relieve the pressure on our families as grocery prices rise and ensure that all students can access nutritious food without shame or stigma. I’m grateful for all of the work being done to keep students from going hungry.”

Pa. election 2022: Your complete guide to the candidates for governor

Stephen Caruso of Spotlight PA, Ethan Edward Coston of Spotlight PA and Angela Couloumbis of Spotlight PA Spotlight PA is an independent, nonpartisan newsroom powered by The Philadelphia Inquirer in partnership with PennLive/The Patriot-News, TribLIVE/Pittsburgh Tribune-Review, and WITF Public Media. Sign up for our free newsletters. HARRISBURG — The 2022 election for Pennsylvania governor is coming soon, and Spotlight PA wants to make sure you are prepared to make your choice. The state’s governor wields a vast amount of power. They propose a yearly spending plan that sets the course for months of policy debates with the General Assembly on issues including education spending and taxes. The governor also has the ability to sign into law or veto bills impacting abortion, guns, the minimum wage, health care, and more; holds vast executive powers that allow them to advance their agenda and appoint cabinet secretaries including the state’s top election official; and are the boss to tens of thousands of state employees from police troopers to environmental inspectors. Five gubernatorial candidates will be on the Nov. 8 ballot, alongside their party’s candidate for lieutenant governor. Below, we provide brief biographies for the candidates as well as donor information from the beginning of 2021 through June 6, 2022. Then we break down where the top two candidates stand on the issues. Contents The candidates Doug Mastriano, Republican Josh Shapiro, Democrat Christina “PK” DiGiulio, Green Party Matt Hackenburg, Libertarian Joe Soloski, Keystone Party On the issues Abortion Economy and jobs Education Election administration 2020 election Environment Government reform Gun regulation LGBTQ rights Minimum wage Recreational marijuana legalization Taxes The candidates Doug Mastriano, Republican The retired Army colonel from Franklin County has spent the majority of his career in the military, becoming an elected official in 2019 when he joined the state Senate. Mastriano has rejected interview requests from most mainstream media outlets, and has consistently blocked reporters from gaining access to his campaign stops. On his official website for the state Senate, however, Mastriano features a long list of military accomplishments — although his campaign did not respond to a request for discharge papers that provide military service information, including a person’s last duty assignment and rank, military education and specialty, and decorations and medals. Candidates for public office routinely make that record public. On his official government website, Mastriano details a lengthy military career that includes extensive overseas service, including in Iraq and Afghanistan. He later taught at the U.S. Army War College in Carlisle. As a freshman senator, he rapidly rose to prominence in the months after the first cases of COVID-19 were reported in Pennsylvania. He became one of the most vocal critics of Democratic Gov. Tom Wolf’s use of executive powers to impose mitigation measures, including statewide masking orders and business shutdowns. Mastriano also sharply criticized a waiver program for businesses to remain open — a program that was later found by the state’s top auditor to be inconsistent and unfair. Mastriano also became the legislature’s lead defender of former President Donald Trump’s unfounded claims of widespread election fraud. He was at the U.S. Capitol during the insurrection on Jan. 6, 2021, and has been subpoenaed by the congressional committee investigating the deadly attack. He briefly appeared before the committee in August but cut the interview short. Among other things, his attorney is fighting the terms of Mastriano’s appearance there. On Sept. 1, Mastriano sued the committee, challenging its authority to conduct what he called “compelled depositions.” Mastriano’s running mate is state Rep. Carrie Lewis DelRosso (R., Allegheny), a former Oakmont borough council member who beat the top state House Democrat in 2020 to come to Harrisburg. Top donors, 2021-June 6, 2022: Mastriano’s campaign is largely built on smaller donations from within Pennsylvania. His top donor to date: James Martin, the executive chair and former head of Martin’s Famous Pastry Shoppe, best known for its potato rolls, who has donated a total of $110,000. (News of his contributions led to a call by consumers for a boycott of the famous buns.) Car dealership owners Clayton Black and Steven L. Latta each contributed $50,000, tying for second place. Adams County resident Peter Sneeringer has donated just under $29,000. Contributing $25,000 each were David Z. Abel, owner of a Palmyra-based company specializing in the design and distribution of truck and auto supplies and mobile electronics; and Ola R. Yoder, who owns and runs Kountry Lane Standardbreds LLC in Nappanee, Indiana, which raises and sells racehorses. Read more about his positions on the issues below. Josh Shapiro, Democrat Pennsylvania’s current attorney general, Shapiro has spent most of his professional career in government or public office. He got his start in the 1990s in Washington, D.C., where he worked for a member of Congress and two U.S. senators. In 2004, he was elected to Pennsylvania’s House of Representatives, where he served four terms — or eight years — representing parts of Montgomery County in the Philadelphia suburbs. In 2011, he was elected to Montgomery County’s Board of Commissioners, where he served until his successful 2016 run for attorney general. He is now in his second term as the state’s top prosecutor. Critics say he is fiercely ambitious, and that the governor’s job for him is merely a stepping stone to even higher office. Still, during his time in public office, Shapiro has shown a penchant for compromise and dealmaking. It is a trait that will be necessary for any Democratic governor to navigate the Capitol, where the legislature is now under Republican control. As attorney general, he has touted his record investigating the role of pharmaceutical manufacturers and distributors in the nation’s opioid crisis, and prosecuting some natural gas companies. However, the landmark national opioid settlement negotiated by Shapiro and other attorneys general across the country initially faced legal pushback from top Philadelphia leaders, including the city’s district attorney, Larry Krasner. Krasner sued the Attorney General’s office over the deal, saying it delivered only a fraction of the money the city deserved. That and a separate lawsuit by Pittsburgh’s district attorney were eventually dismissed by a state appellate court. Shapiro’s office made international headlines for a scathing grand jury report on child sexual abuse and its coverup in nearly every Roman Catholic diocese in Pennsylvania. But after weeks of intense negotiations, Shapiro and a bipartisan group of lawmakers and advocates were unable to secure a highly anticipated vote on legislation sought by survivors. His running mate is state Rep. Austin Davis (D., Allegheny), a former aide to Allegheny County Executive Rich Fitzgerald first elected to Harrisburg in 2018. Top donors, 2021-June 6, 2022: His top five donors hail from outside Pennsylvania. They include California physician Jennifer Duda, who has contributed $1.5 million; California philanthropist and major Democratic donor Karla Jurvetson, who has donated $1 million; and Bill Harris, the one-time head of PayPal and founder of a financial technology company near San Francisco, who also has given $1 million. Shapiro has received hundreds of thousands of dollars from public and private sector unions, and more than $500,000 from the Democratic Governors Association. Read more about his positions on the issues below. Christina “PK” DiGiulio, Green Party DiGiulio is a former analytical chemist for the U.S. Department of Defense and a vocal opponent of the Mariner East pipeline system. She co-founded Watchdogs of Southeastern Pennsylvania, a group that documents the harms of oil and gas infrastructure, and the Better Path Coalition, an alliance of pro-renewable energy organizations. Digiulio’s platform includes banning fracking, providing more tax incentives for renewable energy instead of fossil fuels, decriminalizing marijuana, implementing ranked-choice voting, and passing a constitutional amendment that would allow for a graduated income tax. Her running mate is Michael Badges-Canning, a Butler County environmental activist and perennial Green Party candidate. Top donors, 2021-June 6, 2022: A state Green Party official said the party’s PAC is fundraising for the candidate. The party had yet to file a campaign finance report this year as of Sept. 6. Matt Hackenburg, Libertarian Hackenburg is a computer engineer from Northampton County. A former member of the Army National Guard, he argues that states should have the ability to nullify federal laws they disagree with, including passing laws that prevent guard members from being deployed overseas without a declaration of war and encouraging the use of precious metals and cryptocurrency instead of the U.S. dollar. He also supports rolling back public education and opposes public health mandates, gun laws, and taxes. His running mate is York County resident Timothy McMaster. Top donors, 2021-June 6, 2022: Hackenburg has raised $357. Joe Soloski, Keystone Party Soloski is a public accountant and Centre County resident. He ran his own accounting firm for 30 years in the Pittsburgh area, and he’s worked as a comptroller and financial analyst for other companies. Soloski’s platform calls for limiting government spending, keeping the minimum wage as is, reducing corporate taxes, and decriminalizing recreational cannabis. He previously ran as a Libertarian for state office in 2018 and 2020. His running mate is York County resident Nicole Shultz, a business owner. Top donors, 2021-June 6, 2022: He has raised $2,686 from small donors. On the issues Spotlight PA focused on the positions of Mastriano and Shapiro, as they are leading other candidates by a high margin in current polls and fundraising. The following information was gathered from campaign websites, social media posts by the candidates, news releases about their campaign platforms, and news articles. Abortion Mastriano has called abortion his “No. 1 issue” and compared the effort to ban the procedure to the fight to end the slave trade during an April primary debate. He has twice introduced legislation that would ban abortion after six weeks of pregnancy, and does not support exceptions for rape, incest, or parental health. Shapiro has condemned the U.S. Supreme Court’s decision to overturn Roe vs. Wade, the landmark ruling that provided a constitutional guarantee to abortion, calling it “a shameful moment for our country and for the Court.” He has pledged to veto any legislation that would further limit access to abortion in Pennsylvania, where state law allows abortions to be performed up to about 24 weeks into a pregnancy or longer if the life of the pregnant person is in danger. Economy and jobs Mastriano has said he would establish a “strike force” within each state agency that would aim to slash at least 55,000 statewide regulations in his first year in office. He also wants to work with the legislature to eliminate two regulations for every new one created. He has said he would lift certain taxes and regulations on natural gas drillers, although his campaign has not specified which ones. As a state senator, he has sponsored legislation that would reverse the Wolf administration’s moratorium on new leases for natural gas exploration in state parks and forests. Shapiro has advocated for developing innovation hubs — including around manufacturing, life sciences, and national defense technologies — and connecting businesses in those industries with research institutions and research and development funding. He said he would also create a new office of economic growth and development to help businesses wanting to expand or relocate to Pennsylvania navigate the permitting and regulation process. Shapiro has said he would create jobs by plugging abandoned wells, modernizing homes and businesses through energy efficiency programs, investing in sewer and stormwater projects, and repairing structurally deficient bridges and roads. Education Mastriano said in a March radio interview that he wants to reduce state per-student public school funding from $19,000 to $10,000 a year, while creating education opportunity accounts,” or a restricted fund that parents can use to fund their child’s education at a public or private school. He wants to ban “critical race theory” curricula — an academic concept that has become a catchall term in right-wing spheres to describe anti-racism teachings — through an executive order within his first 100 days in office. This paragraph has been updated. Shapiro has campaigned as a strong supporter of public schools. In May, his office filed a court brief in support of six school districts and others who have sued the state over what they contend is an unfair funding system that has led to chronic disinvestment in some schools. He has advocated for less reliance on standardized tests, and for putting more vocational, technical, and computer training in classrooms. He has said that if elected, he would appoint at least two parents to the state Board of Education, the highest educational authority in the state that creates academic standards. Election administration Mastriano supports repealing Act 77, the 2019 law that allows any voter to cast a ballot by mail. He wants to enact “universal ID” for voting (Pennsylvania already requires people to show ID if they are first-time voters or voting for the first time at a polling place). He also wants every eligible voter in Pennsylvania to re-register, a proposal that critics say would violate federal law. He has decided who he would appoint to run the state office that oversees elections in Pennsylvania — a position that will have tremendous influence and power over setting policies and providing guidance during the next presidential election in 2024 — but has refused to publicly identify that person. Shapiro has said he would veto any effort to restrict mail voting. He has said he is open to discussing adding voter ID requirements with Republicans who control the General Assembly, but has stated he will not support any measure that disenfranchises voters. He supports expanding automatic voter registration, setting up early, pre-registration for 16- and 17-year-olds, and implementing same-day voter registration through the day of an election. 2020 election Mastriano has been perhaps the state’s most prominent purveyor of Trump’s efforts to discredit the results of the 2020 presidential election and cast doubt over the credibility of Pennsylvania’s voting systems. He spearheaded a controversial hearing in Gettysburg in the weeks after the November 2020 election that fueled Trump’s misinformation campaign that the election was rigged. He sponsored a resolution shortly after the 2020 election that proposed giving the GOP-controlled legislature the power to designate its own slate of presidential electors and was the driving force behind a push for a so-called “forensic audit” of the 2020 election. The congressional committee investigating the Jan. 6 insurrection subpoenaed Mastriano earlier this year seeking documents related to the Trump campaign’s efforts to name an alternate slate of electors in Pennsylvania. Shapiro’s Office of Attorney General played a key role in defending the state in the months after the November 2020 election, when former President Donald Trump and his allies filed an onslaught of lawsuits seeking to overturn Pennsylvania’s election results. He has said that “dangerous lies” about that election, coupled with conspiracy theories and “frivolous” litigation that led to the Jan. 6 insurrection at the U.S. Capitol, have fueled attacks on voting access. Environment Mastriano has promised to pull Pennsylvania out of RGGI — the Regional Greenhouse Gas Initiative, an interstate program aimed at cutting carbon emissions from power plants — on the first day of his administration. In a 2018 interview, he called climate change “fake science,” and has vowed as governor to encourage more energy production. As a senator he introduced legislation that would allow new drilling in state parks, reduce permitting fees, and exempt gas producers from the state’s corporate income tax. Shapiro has argued Pennsylvania can retain its position as a top energy-producing state while also setting aggressive climate action goals. Under his watch in 2020, the Office of Attorney General released a grand jury report that found government agencies had failed to properly oversee and regulate the fracking industry and recommended a series of regulatory and transparency changes. His office has prosecuted gas drillers and criminally charged pipeline developers with environmental crimes. Shapiro has not committed to keeping Pennsylvania in RGGI. On climate action, Shapiro has set a target of generating 30% of Pennsylvania’s energy from renewable sources by 2030 and reaching net-zero emissions by 2050. Government ethics and transparency Mastriano supports a ban on gifts to lawmakers. He has also floated a bill that would reduce lawmakers’ pay and benefits by axing an automatic annual pay raise for legislators and judges, and one that would ban state lawmakers from leasing state-owned vehicles. He also has proposed bills that would expand the state’s open records law and place term limits on school board members. Shapiro has said he would sign legislation that would ban elected officials and public employees from accepting gifts. He opposes term limits, arguing that restricting elected officials to a specific time in public service would empower lobbyists and special interest groups rather than voters. Shapiro also advocates for more frequent and thorough reporting of campaign donations and expenditures. Though he supports limits on donations to candidates, he argues that alone would be ineffective unless there are also stricter restrictions on so-called “dark money” — contributions from certain nonprofits, or “social welfare” organizations, that can accept unlimited amounts of money and do not have to disclose their donors. Gun regulation Mastriano in 2021 introduced a bill that would ban the enforcement of federal gun laws in Pennsylvania and voted in favor of legislation that would allow permitless concealed carry. He was endorsed during the primary by Gun Owners of America, a self-proclaimed “no compromise” gun rights group that has called the National Rifle Association too soft on the Second Amendment. Shapiro supports stricter gun safety measures, including enacting universal background checks and a “red flag” law, which would allow for the temporary confiscation of firearms from people deemed by a judge to be a risk to themselves or others. As attorney general, he has staunchly advocated for closing a loophole that allows people to buy so-called ghost guns — unserialized firearms often assembled at home from weapon parts or kits that can be purchased without a background check. LGBTQ rights Mastriano has a long history of opposing LGBTQ rights. In his war college thesis over 20 years ago, he condemned allowing gay people into the military. He opposes marriage rights and adoption rights for same-sex couples. As a state senator, he voted for a sports ban that targets transgender girls and women and a ban on teaching children about sexual orientation and gender identity. On Twitter, he likened teaching about LGBTQ people in schools to pedophilia, amplifying rhetoric that has led to increased violence against the community. Shapiro has said he will push for Pennsylvania to expand nondiscrimination protections to people based on sexual orientation and gender identity, a longheld priority for Democrats blocked by legislative Republicans. Shapiro supports expanding the state’s hate crimes law to cover LGBTQ communities and banning conversion therapy for minors. Minimum wage Mastriano was one of seven state senators in 2019 who voted against raising the state’s minimum wage to $9.50. Shapiro supports raising the minimum wage from $7.25 to $15 per hour. Recreational marijuana legalization Mastriano has called legalizing recreational marijuana “a stupid idea.” Shapiro formerly opposed legalizing recreational marijuana, but has said he would sign a legalization bill if elected governor. He would also support expunging the records of people with nonviolent offenses related to marijuana. Taxes Mastriano wants to eliminate property taxes, which help fund school districts, as well as lower the state’s corporate net income tax (which was just reduced as part of the 2022-23 budget) and the gas tax, which is among the highest in the country. Shapiro wants to send a $250 gas tax refund for every personal passenger car registered in Pennsylvania (for up to four per household). He is also calling to eliminate the state’s 11% sales tax on cell phone service. He has said he would expand Pennsylvania’s Property Tax and Rent Rebate program, which benefits older Pennsylvanians, widows and widowers, and residents with disabilities. His campaign said Shapiro would use surplus state dollars, among other revenue sources, to pay for the tax plan. Shapiro also supports further reducing the state’s corporate net income tax. READ MORE ELECTION 2022 COVERAGE: Ahead of pivotal 2022 Pa. election, Wolf administration expands access to voter registration forms Pa. Supreme Court upholds no-excuse mail voting ahead of midterms How Pennsylvania keeps its voter rolls clean and updated WHILE YOU’RE HERE… If you learned something from this story, pay it forward and become a member of Spotlight PA so someone else can in the future at spotlightpa.org/donate. Spotlight PA is funded by foundationsand readers like you who are committed to accountability journalism that gets results. Featured image caption: Five gubernatorial candidates will be on the Nov. 8 ballot, including Democrat Josh Shapiro (left) and Doug Mastriano (right).

How Harrisburg Works: The rules for Pa. lawmaker per diems, speaker v. leader, and other Q&As

Stephen Caruso of Spotlight PA Spotlight PA is an independent, nonpartisan newsroom powered by The Philadelphia Inquirer in partnership with PennLive/The Patriot-News, TribLIVE/Pittsburgh Tribune-Review, and WITF Public Media. Sign up for our free newsletters. HARRISBURG — The Pennsylvania Capitol is a convoluted place. Spotlight PA’s Stephen Caruso wants to help you understand how the sausage really gets made, how your tax dollars are spent, and how Harrisburg works (or doesn’t). Below, Caruso answers three reader questions. Have your own? Submit them to scaruso@spotlightpa.org. SUPPORT THIS WORK: Help Spotlight PA inform and empower Pennsylvanians to get involved, get out to vote, and demand accountability from our leaders. Make a tax-deductible gift or any amount now. “What are the rules for per diems?” There are few restrictions on per diems, as Spotlight PA has previously covered. When lawmakers travel more than 50 miles from their home on legislative business, they are eligible to receive compensation for their meal and lodging expenses, state House Comptroller Jennifer Benko said. They can do so through three methods: Requesting a flat per diem as set by the federal General Services Administration. The exact rates differ depending on location and timing, but the per-day rate in Harrisburg is $181 — $117 for housing and $64 for food. Requesting a flat per diem as set by the IRS, currently $202 in most of Pennsylvania. A lawmaker who stays in Hershey or Philadelphia during certain months may receive more due to a cost-of-living adjustment for those areas. Submitting receipts for their actual food and lodging expenses, with a cap of $181 per day, as set by the GSA. State House lawmakers who want to receive per diems must pick either the GSA or IRA rate and stick with it for an entire year, however they always retain the option of just submitting receipts. They must also attest that they were in the location on business. The state Senate operates under largely the same rules, but there is no cap on the total reimbursement if a lawmaker submits receipts. There are no specific lists of suggested hotels or restaurants for either chamber. Read more about lawmakers’ expenses here. “What is the difference between the speaker of the house and the majority leader?” The speaker of the state House is supposed to represent the whole institution, while the majority leader acts for their fellow party members. The powers that come with those different roles are distinct. State House rules charge the speaker, currently Bryan Cutler (R., Lancaster), with setting the session calendar, picking the chairs of each committee, referring bills to committees, and setting the date for special elections to replace members who’ve left office early. The speaker, who is elected by the 203 members of the chamber, is also tasked with preserving “order and decorum” during debates. They call up bills for a vote from a set calendar, give the floor to lawmakers who want to speak, and make sure that the arguments don’t get off track. The state House majority leader, currently Kerry Benninghoff (R., Centre), is at the head of a leadership team chosen by members of the party in power. That team is supposed to build the policy agenda, see it turned into legislation, pitch these proposals to the public and then convince the party’s lawmakers to vote for them, a process known as “whipping.” The majority leader has the final say on what legislation actually makes it onto the voting calendar, which the speaker needs to run the session. As chamber employees are paid by the caucus, not the state, the majority leader also has an important role in deciding patronage, said former House powerbroker Bill DeWeese, a Democrat who previously held both posts. The combined ability to control the agenda and jobs is “a big deal” and makes the majority leader powerful, he said. But “by sheer force of personality, speakers have been able to hold their own, in spite of the structural dynamics to the benefit of the majority leader,” he added. The speaker is also part of this leadership team, Capitol insiders note, and previous speakers — such as John Perzel (R., Philadelphia) and Mike Turzai (R., Allegheny)— were sometimes known to be a leading voice in internal decisions. But Mike Straub, Cutler’s spokesperson, said the current speaker tries not to weigh in on the political issues as much. “We don’t see the speaker’s office as giving the final approval on every single bill,” Straub said. “We call up the bills and play umpire from there.” “How do caucuses work? Can anyone set them up? Why are they secret?” A caucus is a group of lawmakers, but in the General Assembly it has two meanings. First, there are the partisan caucuses, the most important ones. The House and Senate are largely run along partisan lines, with the Democratic and Republican caucuses handling such responsibilities as overseeing IT, printing, bulk purchasing, human resources, and messenger services separately rather than as a whole. There are also so-called “affinity caucuses,” which unite like-minded lawmakers regardless of party to advance a shared goal. These informal groups may bring together lawmakers with similar policy stances, like opposing abortion access; unite lawmakers with similar backgrounds like the Legislative Black Caucus; or ones that are just for fun, like the Seersucker Caucus that gathers dozens of smiling lawmakers each June for a group photo in suits of the light blue fabric. Keeping tabs on the total number of caucuses is difficult. The Caucus/LNP reported in 2019 that there were more than 100 of the groups. A Senate Republican spokesperson shared a list of 60 caucuses with Spotlight PA this week, but acknowledged it was dated. As they are informal groups rather than official government bodies, caucuses do not have to follow the state’s Sunshine Act, which mandates public meetings for when a body takes official action. The state’s open records law also largely exempts the General Assembly’s records from public view, including “internal, predecisional deliberations” or documents that reveal the “strategy to be used to develop or achieve the successful adoption of a budget, legislative proposal or regulation.” But each caucus differs. The Pro-Life Caucus holds private meetings; members are informed via email. Other caucuses may seek publicity, like when 16 state House lawmakers announced in 2021 that they wanted to find more bipartisan compromise through the “PA One Caucus.” The Legislative Black Caucus has its own website with a member list and an executive director. House Republican spokesperson Jason Gottesman also noted that the caucuses often do not use state dollars for their activities. “While many serve an important role in informing members about various issues, they are outside the official legislative sphere,” he added in an email. Some lawmakers’ websites, particularly state House Democrats, may also list the affinity caucuses they are members of, though there is no way to check if a list is comprehensive. “Some of our members are very proud of the caucuses they serve on,” state House Democratic spokesperson Nicole Reigelman said. WHILE YOU’RE HERE… If you learned something from this story, pay it forward and become a member of Spotlight PA so someone else can in the future at spotlightpa.org/donate. Spotlight PA is funded by foundationsand readers like you who are committed to accountability journalism that gets results. Featured image caption: The Pennsylvania Capitol is a convoluted place. Spotlight PA wants to help make sense of it.

Pa. lawmakers spent at least $3 million on private lawyers, experts during redistricting battle, invoices show

Kate Huangpu of Spotlight PA Spotlight PA is an independent, nonpartisan newsroom powered by The Philadelphia Inquirer in partnership with PennLive/The Patriot-News, TribLIVE/Pittsburgh Tribune-Review, and WITF Public Media. Sign up for our free newsletters. HARRISBURG — Pennsylvania state lawmakers spent at least $3 million in taxpayer money on outside law firms and experts as they lobbied for their preferred political maps during the recent redistricting cycle, according to invoices obtained by Spotlight PA. The new districts have the potential to change the balance of power in both Harrisburg and Washington, with one Republican-held congressional seat eliminated and the updated state House map giving Democrats the potential to win back the chamber. Considering the high stakes, it’s not surprising that legal action played a major role during the process. The congressional map was picked by the state Supreme Court as part of a lawsuit brought by a group of citizens concerned that Democrat Gov. Tom Wolf and the GOP-controlled legislature would fail to agree on a plan by the May primary. The legislative maps, meanwhile, were the subject of five lawsuits, including one brought by state House Majority Leader Kerry Benninghoff (R., Centre) that is still ongoing. To understand how much money Democrats and Republicans spent to convince Pennsylvanians and the court system to support their maps, Spotlight PA asked the four caucuses for invoices from January 2021 to June 2022. They returned bills for work beginning in May 2021 and ending in April 2022. The invoices show leadership employed eight different law firms throughout the process. Some details — like descriptions of legal strategy and personal finance information — were redacted due to attorney-client privilege and limits in Pennsylvania’s Right-to-Know Law. According to the invoices, Democrats in the state House and Senate paid six private law firms $1.4 million over the last year beginning in June 2021. Most of that sum was spent by Democrats in the lower chamber in support of work on the legislature’s own maps, which are drawn by a five-member panel of top legislative leaders and an independent chair. Lawyers prepared the caucus’ legal strategies, attended Legislative Reapportionment Commission meetings, and met with a Democratic caucus team charged with redistricting matters. State House and Senate Republicans paid two private law firms over $1.6 million. Most of those costs were incurred by the state House GOP caucus, which spent just under $400,000 on lawyers for legislative redistricting. House Republicans spent another $450,000 on congressional redistricting matters. Pennsylvania’s congressional map is drafted and voted on by the General Assembly and must be approved by the state’s governor. Wolf in January vetoed a plan sent to him by Republicans, leading the state Supreme Court to take over. Each caucus proposed its own congressional map, as did several citizen groups. The high court ultimately chose a map submitted by the group that brought the original lawsuit. The high cost of expertise Redistricting lawyers for all four caucuses paid “professional experts” $527,980 for their testimony, according to invoices. They gave testimony at public hearings and in court, created “expert reports” to submit to courts, and in some cases drew maps. The hourly rates for the eight experts ranged from $195 to $350 an hour. Many also provided expertise in redistricting cases in New York, Ohio, and Maryland. The highest-paid expert, according to invoices — Brigham Young University political science professor Michael Barber — made nearly $90,000 from his work over the course of six months, consulting with Republicans in the General Assembly. House Republicans did not list an hourly rate for Barber, but court records show he was paid $500 an hour for his expert testimony in New York. Matt A. Barreto, professor of political science and Chicana/o andCentral American studies at the University of California, Los Angeles, was the highest paid expert hired by Democrats, receiving $65,000 for his work. On behalf of House Democrats, he testified at public hearings on legislative redistricting, wrote reports analyzing the effects of the legislative maps on communities of color, and reviewed the research of experts hired by House Republicans. While active during the public hearings that preceded the adoption of the new political maps, the experts were perhaps even more crucial during the court proceedings that followed. The Pennsylvania Constitution spells out four traditional redistricting criteria — including that districts be compact and made up of roughly equal population — but judges in recent years have also embraced new metrics to measure whether a map has been drawn to unfairly benefit one political party. Because of advancements in technology, the latter practice, known as gerrymandering, has become increasingly easy for academics to pull off while still meeting traditional redistricting criteria. Tools to measure partisan fairness are now standard practice, and experts for the four caucuses all presented their own analyses to the court. The state Supreme Court chose a congressional map drawn by Jonathan Rodden, a political science professor at Stanford University, who kept 90% of residents in the same district. In the majority opinion, Chief Justice Max Baer wrote that while there is no perfect map, Rodden’s “best abides” by traditional redistricting criteria while also being “superior or comparable to the other maps in regard to partisan fairness.” Justin Villere, executive director of Draw the Lines PA — a project of the good-government group Committee of Seventy that seeks to engage people in the redistricting process — said using expert witnesses in court was a useful tool, as the cases often became a “battle of the experts.” But Villere argued that experts used in the court cases — professors of political science, geography, and demography — often didn’t understand the intricacies of the state. His organization compiled input from over 7,200 residents that he says created a map that is richer and more representative of the nuances in Pennsylvania. Exactly what qualifies as a redistricting “expert” was also loosely defined during this year’s process. Carol Kuniholm, executive director of Fair Districts PA — a nonpartisan organization that advocates for an independent redistricting process — said some of the experts used by the GOP in this redistricting cycle didn’t have close connections to an academic study of redistricting. “There’s just a handful of experts who have spoken on behalf of what I would call Republican gerrymanders that are the same folks,” said Kuniholm. “It just doesn’t seem like there are many academics who are eager to put their name to supporting some of these plans and they’re being well compensated to do it.” Hundreds of thousands of dollars may seem like a lot of money to spend on experts, but Villere noted that it’s much cheaper for lawmakers to spend money trying to put in place maps that are favorable to their political party than to have candidates run in competitive elections. “Given what’s at stake in the redistricting process and the partisan interest, everyone wanted to throw everything into the breach,” he said. “If [experts] help persuade the court, then that’s a lot cheaper than an election.” WHILE YOU’RE HERE… If you learned something from this story, pay it forward and become a member of Spotlight PA so someone else can in the future at spotlightpa.org/donate. Spotlight PA is funded by foundationsand readers like you who are committed to accountability journalism that gets results. Featured image caption: To understand how much money Democrats and Republicans spent to convince Pennsylvanians and the court system to support their maps, Spotlight PA asked the four caucuses for invoices from January 2021 to June 2022

The business of volunteer fire companies has become harder to sustain. Can collaboration help?

Min Xian of Spotlight PA State College This story was produced by the State College regional bureau of Spotlight PA, an independent, nonpartisan newsroom dedicated to investigative and public-service journalism for Pennsylvania. Sign up for our regional newsletter, Talk of the Town. BENNER TOWNSHIP — Volunteer fire companies face many common stressors in funding and staffing. Is there strength in numbers if some choose to tackle the issues together? That’s a central question five fire companies in Centre County’s Nittany Valley Region are asking, as they plan on participating in an upcoming pro-bono study by the state Department of Community and Economic Development. The companies — Logan and Undine fire companies in Bellefonte, Pleasant Gap Fire Company, Howard Fire Company, and Walker Township Fire Company — are run entirely by volunteers, like 90 percent of fire departments in Pennsylvania. That means they are independent organizations operating on their own, even though many receive taxpayer funding, and mutual aid agreements among companies are commonplace. Over the past few decades, the business of volunteer fire companies has become harder to sustain. Volunteerism declined. Donations grew less reliable, and many traditional fundraising activities were paused during the first two years of the COVID-19 pandemic. More stringent requirements — like someone spending roughly 180 hours in training before being able to join fire and rescue missions — deterred recruitment and retention. To some, including Floyd Wise, who worked in fire and rescue services in Harrisburg and is now a consultant for the DCED’s Regional Fire Services Assistance Program, fire companies can solve those challenges through better collaboration among neighboring departments and getting more support from local governments. “Fire companies are one player in a big game,” Wise said in August, during a meeting with representatives from fire companies in the Nittany Valley Region. A new fire truck these days can cost upward of a million dollars, Wise said, meaning fire companies will need to budget years ahead to make such essential purchases. Costs are “only going to get higher,” he added. Wise said local governments will likely have to take on some of those financial responsibilities soon, which could mean tax increases. Fire companies must “deal with it collectively,” he said. With the proposed study, fire companies will gather and submit current operational information, including call volume, response time, staffing and qualification, finances, and conditions of equipment and facilities. Wise will identify inefficiencies among each company, inconsistencies in policies governing them, and make improvement recommendations. Fire companies will ultimately decide whether to adopt any recommendations out of the study. Some representatives at the August meeting expressed interest in cost-saving measures like grouping purchases for discounts. While representatives said the economy of scale is an appealing aspect of a collaborative relationship, fire companies are reluctant to consider the more drastic potentials of a “regionalization” plan, like mergers and consolidations, because of logistical issues and the threat to individual company identities. Previous studies the DCED program has produced mostly focused on one municipality, and this case — involving Benner, Spring, Marion, and Walker townships, as well as the Borough of Bellefonte — is unique, Wise said. “Relationships of sharing,” he said, are going to be crucial for many fire companies, but success can also come from better understanding of what it takes to run volunteer fire companies successfully within the communities they serve. SUPPORT THIS JOURNALISM and help us reinvigorate local news in north-central Pennsylvania at spotlightpa.org/statecollege. Spotlight PA is funded by foundationsand readers like you who are committed to accountability and public-service journalism that gets results. Featured image caption: Five volunteer fire companies in Centre County are participating in a state study to determine how better collaboration among them might alleviate some cost and staffing challenges.

Your license plate frame is enough for police in Pa. to pull you over, court rules

Angela Couloumbis of Spotlight PA Spotlight PA is an independent, nonpartisan newsroom powered by The Philadelphia Inquirer in partnership with PennLive/The Patriot-News, TribLIVE/Pittsburgh Tribune-Review, and WITF Public Media. Sign up for our free newsletters. HARRISBURG — Thousands of drivers in Pennsylvania could now be at greater risk of getting pulled over by police — all because of the frame around their license plate. A state appellate court ruling this week affirmed the right of police officers to stop drivers if any part of their license plate is obscured. That doesn’t just include the unique combination of letters and numbers that make up a person’s license plate — but any lettering — including the visitpa.com URL — or, for that matter, the paint around it. Critics argue the decision, by a three-judge Superior Court panel, raises concerns about racial bias and other potential abuses of power by law enforcement, and could give police another pretext to pull over a driver for a seemingly trivial reason, among other wide-reaching and unintended consequences. “At a point in time when we want to do away with pretextual stops, this decision specifically opens the door to every person being stopped at the will of police for investigation,” said Philadelphia lawyer S. Philip Steinberg, who argued against the court’s decision in the case. A spokesperson for Philadelphia District Attorney Larry Krasner’s office, which appealed the case to the state Superior Court, called that assessment “unfair.” The ruling, said Krasner spokesperson Dustin Slaughter, “simply confirms current case law,” and does not enable officers to employ new or different tactics when conducting traffic stops. But the ruling itself states that the decision answers a novel question before the court. At the heart of the decision is how to interpret the language in a section of Pennsylvania’s vehicle code that prohibits license plates from being obscured. The code states that it’s unlawful to display a license plate that is so dirty that its numbers and letters are illegible from a reasonable distance; or is obscured in such a way that a red light camera or toll collection system can’t read it; or “is otherwise illegible at a reasonable distance or is obscured in any manner.” In their ruling, the three judges seized on the phrase “or is obscured in any manner,” which they said was a catchall phrase meant to prohibit all obstructions of any part of the plate. If the legislature only wanted to prohibit just obstructions to the license plate number and issuing authority, it would have specifically done so, the panel said. “While we appreciate Appellee’s position that § 1332 [of the vehicle code] should be limited to the elements of a registration plate that are actually pertinent to the identification of a vehicle’s registration, that interpretation does not comport with a plain reading of the statute,” Judge Mary Jane Bowes wrote. The ruling stems from a case involving an April 2021 traffic stop in Philadelphia during which a police officer pulled over a car because of a partially obstructed plate. What was obstructed: the strip at the bottom of the plate that lists the website of the state’s official tourism office, visitpa.com, which standard-issue license plates in Pennsylvania include. During the stop, according to court documents, the officer noticed that the front seat passenger, Derrick Ruffin, was making “furtive movements,” as if to hide something, and conducted a “protective sweep” of the passenger seat. There he found a loaded revolver (which Ruffin was not licensed to carry), ammunition, and marijuana. The officer also found that the car was not registered, and that the driver did not have a license. Ruffin was charged with several crimes, including carrying an unlicensed firearm. But at a pretrial hearing last summer, a lower court suppressed the evidence the officer recovered. In its opinion, the court found that the Philadelphia police officer lacked probable cause to make the stop because the state’s vehicle code only prohibits the obstruction of a license plate number and the plate’s issuing authority. The state’s tourism website, it found, did not count toward such a violation. The Superior Court’s three-judge panel disagreed. Steinberg, the Philadelphia lawyer who represented Ruffin, said a quick check of any Pennsylvania parking lot will show that most vehicles have frames around the plate — some of them are placed there by dealerships when a car is bought. His own car, he said, has a frame that obscures the outer edges of his license plate. The court’s decision, he said, affirms that many Pennsylvanians are technically breaking the law and could be pulled over at any time. “How is that enforced — and against who is it enforced?” said Steinberg, a partner at Schatz, Steinberg & Klayman. “I don’t think the Superior Court had ill intent in this decision but … this really opens up the Pandora’s box.” Younger drivers, drivers of color, and drivers with older cars could find themselves in the crosshairs of more targeted stops, he said. Andy Hoover, director of communications for ACLU Pennsylvania, said the decision was “another flimsy excuse for police to pull people over, and we’ve seen repeatedly how routine traffic stops can escalate into tragic outcomes, especially for Black and brown people.” WHILE YOU’RE HERE… If you learned something from this story, pay it forward and become a member of Spotlight PA so someone else can in the future at spotlightpa.org/donate. Spotlight PA is funded by foundationsand readers like you who are committed to accountability journalism that gets results.

Pa. lawmakers weigh bill that would allow independents to vote on primary candidates

Spotlight PA is an independent, nonpartisan newsroom powered by The Philadelphia Inquirer in partnership with PennLive/The Patriot-News, TribLIVE/Pittsburgh Tribune-Review, and WITF Public Media. Sign up for our free newsletters. Kate Huangpu of Spotlight PA HARRISBURG — Former elected officials and government experts told a panel of state lawmakers that Pennsylvania’s primary system should be opened to voters who are not registered to a political party, arguing the status quo disenfranchises 1.3 million people. Pennsylvania is one of nine states that has closed primary elections, meaning only registered Democrats and Republicans can vote for candidates from those parties and choose who will advance to the general election. Two bills currently awaiting consideration in the General Assembly would change that by allowing independent voters to choose one major party’s primary to participate in. The bills Both bills have bipartisan support, as have similar efforts in the past. In 2019, the state Senate voted 42-8 to advance open primary legislation, but the bill failed to move in the state House. During a Tuesday hearing of the House State Government Committee, supporters of changing the system pointed to the increasing number of independent voters in the state. Between 2016 and 2020, unaffiliated voters increased nearly 10% — outpacing growth in both Democratic and Republican party registrations. People not registered with a major party aren’t completely shut out of primaries. They are able to vote on proposed constitutional amendments and other nonpartisan ballot questions during those elections. And all registered voters can pick any candidate on their ballots during the November elections. But advocates for open primaries argue that the current restrictions disenfranchise around one-third of the electorate and amount to a modern form of taxation without representation, as Pennsylvania’s primary elections are publicly funded. Closed primaries also effectively exclude independent voters in some parts of the state from choosing their elected officials. In 2020, more than one-third of the races for the Pennsylvania state House and Senate had uncontested general elections — meaning the races were effectively decided in the primary. “If you don’t cast a ballot in the primary, nobody’s going to campaign to you. No one’s going to try to get your vote,” said John Opdycke, president of Open Primaries, a national nonprofit that opposes closed primaries. “So allowing independents to vote in the primary at least creates an opportunity.” Advocates also contend that independents could serve as a moderating force in primary races, as candidates would need to appeal to a group outside of their base. Some Republican state House lawmakers voiced concerns Tuesday about whether the new system would allow “party raiding,” wherein unaffiliated voters strategically use their vote to pick an unelectable candidate or one who doesn’t represent a party’s values. However, academic research shows that the practice is not widespread, and high-profile attempts in the past to unfairly influence primary voting have not successfully swayed outcomes. State Rep. Paul Schemel (R., Franklin) said primaries are an internal party activity and should exclude anyone who isn’t registered with the party. Without evidence, he hypothesized that independents could somehow vote in both Democratic and Republican primaries during the same election cycle. David Thornburgh — chair of Ballot PA, a project of the good-government organization Committee of 70 — pushed back, saying that the underlying constitutional right to vote overshadows any justification to exclude independent voters. “To my mind,” he said, “the right to vote … is more important than party preferences.” WHILE YOU’RE HERE… If you learned something from this story, pay it forward and become a member of Spotlight PA so someone else can in the future at spotlightpa.org/donate. Spotlight PA is funded by foundationsand readers like you who are committed to accountability journalism that gets results.

About $4.9B in unemployment fraud unrecovered in Pennsylvania

By Tom Gantert | The Center Square (The Center Square) – There has been $6 billion in unemployment fraud in 2020 and 2021 in Pennsylvania from which about $1.1 billion of that money has been recouped by the Pennsylvania Treasury Department. The fraud is spread among the traditional unemployment program and the temporary federal aid that came during the pandemic from the quarter of 2020 through the third quarter of 2021, according to the state. The federal Pandemic Unemployment Assistance accounted for $4.3 billion of the unemployment fraud with the remaining portion coming from the regular unemployment program. Alex Peterson, press secretary for the Pennsylvania Department of Labor & Industry, wrote in an email to The Center Square, “It’s important to keep in mind that L&I utilizes numerous fraud-detection measures and works with the National Unemployment Insurance Fraud Task Force and other partners, including the FBI, Homeland Security and additional law enforcement agencies, the PA Treasury and state attorney general’s office, to identify and block new fraud methods and stop fraud attempts. L&I has been working with state and federal partners since the early days of the COVID-19 pandemic to monitor for fraud targeting unemployment compensation benefits and claimants.” The U.S. Office of the Inspector General reported that the federal government has funded about $872.5 billion in funding for unemployment in the U.S. since the pandemic started and estimated that “at least $163 billion” could have been paid improperly with fraud accounting for a “significant” portion of it. “As this plainly states, the issue of fraud and the amounts involved are not unique to Pennsylvania,” Peterson said. The unemployment rate in Pennsylvania shot up from 5.2% in March 2020 to 16.5% in the next month. The number of people unemployed in the state increased from 337,714 in March 2020 to 1.04 million in April 2020. As of June 2022, the state has still not returned to the prepandemic level of the number of people employed.

Pennsylvania veterans still struggle with mental health, homelessness

By Anthony Hennen | The Center Square (The Center Square) – Recent federal legislation has expanded health care benefits for veterans, but suicide and homelessness still remain issues of concern in Pennsylvania. The Promise to Address Comprehensive Toxics Act, as The Center Square previously reported, expands and extends eligibility for health care through Veterans Affairs health centers. Known as PACT, the legislation addressed problems that veterans had with proving their health issues were linked to their service, such as exposure to toxic materials in burn pits. “That was a big one,” said Joe Benacci, director of the Erie County Department of Veterans Affairs. “Being an Afghanistan veteran myself, the burn pits and toxic exposures, there was a lot of diseases and cancers that vets were getting and they were not able to service-connect them.” Service-connection is when a veteran demonstrates their health issue comes from their military service and qualifies them for various benefits through the VA.  “Also on the VA-side, too: it’s also helping the VA expand their services to pick these claims up. They’re estimating this is going to cause about a million claims, it’s going to affect about 3.5 million veterans,” Benacci said. “A lot of the past problems that you’ve heard a lot of the complaints about, they’re really trying to fix them,” Benacci said, referring to travel problems and the distances some veterans must travel for medical care. Veteran suicide and homelessness remain issues in Pennsylvania, however. The PACT Act does not address those problems aside from requiring a study “to assess possible relationships between toxic exposures experienced during service in the Armed Forces and mental health conditions.”  The latest report from the U.S. Department of Veterans Affairs on suicide noted a 7% decrease in veteran suicides nationally in 2019; 6,261 veterans died by suicide. In Pennsylvania, 270 veterans died by suicide in 2019, with the most being between ages 55 and 74. “There’s the concept that it’s all the young kids,” Benacci said. “But actually, it’s upper-age veterans, still heavily in the Vietnam era.”  Across all age groups, suicide rates for veterans are higher than for non-veterans. The stress that comes after transitioning from a combat zone to family life, and going from being part of a big machine can be a problem, Benacci noted. “That mental strain can really get to them,” he said. “And then the PTSD factors … and that goes all the way to the Vietnam veterans, that’s just across the board.” Homelessness is also “a constant issue,” Benacci said. He noted Erie County plans to do a “stand down” in November where the department finds homeless veterans and offers them resources to assist with their mental health, as well as getting housing and a job. The U.S. Department of Veterans Affairs also recently announced $431 million in grants to address veteran homelessness, with nonprofits in western Pennsylvania, the Harrisburg area, and Philadelphia area receiving funds. “Along with suicide prevention, mental illness, and homelessness are in the three ongoing things we can hopefully make a difference on,” Benacci said.

Broadband expansion in Pennsylvania could give rural economies a boost

(The Center Square) – The federal largesse that will fund broadband expansion in Pennsylvania has two major political concerns: the potential economic growth due to business and education using broadband more, and the threat of a missed opportunity from wasting federal funds. What’s key is connecting the unserved parts of Pennsylvania with the rest of the commonwealth, industry experts say. “At the end of the day, absolutely right that the need is to ensure there’s a laser focus … to go after those truly unserved areas first, and any funding should be prioritized toward that,” said Todd Eachus, president of the Broadband Communications Association of Pennsylvania. The BCAPA is a trade group that mainly represents the cable industry. The unserved areas, and where the challenge for expanding access lies, are mainly rural; the suburban and urban parts of Pennsylvania are already “served well,” Eachus said. In rural areas, access to broadband in the first place is the problem. In the suburbs and cities, adoption by individual households is the bigger issue. The scale of money flowing in is significant.  The federal Broadband Access, Equity, and Development program will send more than $42 billion to state governments. Another bucket of federal money from the Infrastructure Investment and Jobs Act will provide $65 billion to states, as The Center Square previously reported. Pennsylvania expects to get at least $1 billion for broadband expansion from federal dollars alone. While broadband access in rural areas is a challenge, it’s also an opportunity. The importance of the agricultural sector in rural Pennsylvania means that making technology easier to use outside population centers could boost the rural economy. “Technology applies in the agriculture sector and it’s important to get service even to those most rural areas,” Eachus said. “You have to be able to compete in this global economy, and that requires a broadband connection. The laser focus has to be on those rural areas.” Broadband would be a key part in a rural economic revival, along with lowering business taxes and attracting more people to settle in Pennsylvania. “Reducing the corporate net income tax, things like that, we’re beginning to reverse the trend, and perhaps the state will begin to grow in population and become more attractive for businesses to cite, and come to Pennsylvania from a tax-advantage perspective,” Eachus said. “We have a huge opportunity with the new tax structure to grow Pennsylvania and reverse the trend.” For that opportunity not to be squandered, it could come down to how efficient local and state government agencies can be. If localities and broadband developers aren’t working together, problems will arise and tensions flare. For example, if federal funding reaches a town to pave a road, and then broadband money comes in to install broadband, it could ruin the work that was just completed. The underground space is a tough space where both sides have merit, Eachus said. Localities don’t want streets to get cut up after they did asphalt work, and a moratorium on cutting the street can cause problems for expanding access. A failure of coordination would then lead to wasted taxpayer money. “Anytime there’s a lot of federal money floating around, there is inherent implementation risk,” Eachus said. There are administrative challenges to get broadband expansion right. “Like honey, lots of free federal money attracts flies.”

Tips on a new Pennsylvania law and rewarding your hospitality workers

By Joe Mueller | The Center Square (The Center Square) – If you tip your server in Pennsylvania on Friday, she or he might get to keep more of it and the cumulative amount might affect hourly wages. A new law taking effect increases the amount of money an employee will receive when they get a tip paid with a credit card. Employers pay fees to credit card companies for using the payment services. Previously, if a server received a $20 tip on a credit card, a typical fee paid to the card company would be 2% and the employer could legally deduct that amount – 40 cents – from the employee’s tip. The law now makes it illegal for employers to deduct credit card transaction fees from employee tips. The new law also changes the “tip credit” businesses are allowed. The credit allows businesses to pay employees a wage lower than the minimum wage if employees receive tips. In Pennsylvania, the minimum wage is the same as the federal minimum wage of $7.25 an hour. The maximum “tip credit” a Pennsylvania business can claim is $4.42 an hour, resulting in an employee wage of $2.83 an hour, plus tips. The new law increases the “tip credit” threshold for lowering the employees’ wage from $30 in tips per month to $135. To be considered a “tipped worker,” the employee isn’t allowed to perform more than 20% of their tasks not directly generating tips. If an employee doesn’t meet the definition of a “tipped worker” and doesn’t receive $135 per month in tips, the employer can’t pay less than the minimum wage of $7.25 an hour. The new law also will change how businesses bill customers for service charges. Businesses charging for administration of a banquet, special function or a package of services must notify customers of any service or administrative charges on a contract or a menu. The business must inform customers the service or administrative charges is not a tip to be distributed to employees. Bills must have a separate line item for tips. The law allows employers to distribute service or administrative charges to workers but not in the form of a tip. Pennsylvania Democratic Gov. Tom Wolf in January challenged legislators to raise the state’s minimum wage to $12 an hour and annually increase it 50 cents per hour until it reaches $15 an hour in 2028. Thirty states, including all states surrounding Pennsylvania, have minimum wages higher than $7.25 an hour.

Pa. Supreme Court upholds no-excuse mail voting ahead of midterms

Stephen Caruso of Spotlight PA and Angela Couloumbis of Spotlight PA Spotlight PA is an independent, nonpartisan newsroom powered by The Philadelphia Inquirer in partnership with PennLive/The Patriot-News, TribLIVE/Pittsburgh Tribune-Review, and WITF Public Media. Sign up for our free newsletters. HARRISBURG — The state Supreme Court has upheld Pennsylvania’s mail ballot law, preserving for the time being a popular voting method that passed the legislature with bipartisan support but was later challenged by Republican elected officials. In a 5-2 decision released Tuesday, the justices rejected the GOP argument that the legislature did not have the power under the state constitution to allow Pennsylvanians to vote by mail without an excuse. The 2019 law, known as Act 77 and employed for the first time during the contentious 2020 presidential election, ushered in the most sweeping expansion of voting access in Pennsylvania in decades. More challenges to the law are on the horizon. Republican elected officials who brought the suit said Tuesday that they plan to appeal to the U.S. Supreme Court. A handful of Republican state lawmakers are also pursuing another avenue to have the entire law thrown out. That separate challenge, working its way through the state court system, was sparked by a federal ruling that found mail ballots that a voter failed to date, as required by state law, must still be counted. The timeline to resolve the additional legal challenges is unclear, but supporters of the law said Tuesday’s ruling will preserve voters’ options ahead of the critical midterm election. “This ruling assures that mail-in voting remains in place and Pennsylvanians will be able to cast their ballot legally in person or by mail without any disruption or confusion,” Gov. Tom Wolf, a Democrat, said in a statement. A lower appellate court earlier this year struck down Act 77, saying that permitting no-excuse mail voting required amending the state constitution, a lengthy process in which voters decide the matter through a ballot question. But in Tuesday’s majority opinion for the state Supreme Court, Justice Christine Donohue wrote that the Pennsylvania General Assembly “is endowed with great legislative power, subject only to express restrictions in the Constitution.” While the expansion of voting rights is not guaranteed to be permanent, the legislature made a lawful policy decision, “based on the authority afforded it by our Charter, to afford all qualified voters the convenience of casting their votes by mail,” Donohue wrote. All five of the justices who upheld Act 77 were elected as Democrats. Both of the dissenting justices were elected as Republicans. Before the law’s passage, Pennsylvania had one of the most restrictive absentee ballot laws in the country. In late 2019, Wolf and the Republican General Assembly struck a deal to allow 50 days of no-excuse mail voting before each election in exchange for eliminating straight-ticket voting. All but two GOP lawmakers voted for the bill. Despite the early support, Republican sentiment on the law shifted throughout the 2020 election cycle as former President Donald Trump played up baseless fears of fraud via mail voting, claims which allies repeated in Pennsylvania. GOP lawmakers in the state House and Senate — such as state Sen. Doug Mastriano (R., Franklin), his party’s gubernatorial nominee — have introduced legislation to repeal the law, but so far none of the proposals have received a vote in the General Assembly. In fall 2021, a county commissioner and 14 state House Republicans — 11 of whom voted for the law in 2019 — filed separate suits claiming the law was unconstitutionally implemented as a statute when it should have been sent to the voters as a constitutional referendum. That argument was first used in a 2020 lawsuit brought by U.S. Rep. Mike Kelly (R., Pa.) that attempted to toss out 2.6 million votes cast by mail, likely handing the state’s 20 electoral votes to Trump. The high court rejected Kelly’s case on procedural grounds, arguing that it could not post-facto reject millions of ballots cast in good faith under what was at the time a legal method of voting. This is breaking news and will be updated. WHILE YOU’RE HERE… If you learned something from this story, pay it forward and become a member of Spotlight PA so someone else can in the future at spotlightpa.org/donate. Spotlight PA is funded by foundationsand readers like you who are committed to accountability journalism that gets results.

Drugmaker agrees to $2.37 billion opiate settlement

By Bruce Walker | The Center Square (The Center Square) – Allergan has agreed in principle to a proposed $2.37 billion settlement to participating states and local governments, including Iowa. Iowa Attorney General Tom Miller and a bipartisan group of attorneys general announced the settlement Friday. The news comes the same week as a $4.25 billion national settlement between more than 2,500 government entities and tribes with Teva Pharmaceuticals. “We’ve worked hard to get the best result for Americans harmed by the opioid crisis, and it’s rewarding to take another step in the right direction,” Miller said in a statement. “We continue to make it a priority to hold manufacturers responsible, while ensuring victims of this epidemic receive the help they need.” The coalition of states alleged that Allergan deceptively marketed opioids by downplaying the risk of addiction, overstating their benefits, and encouraging doctors to treat patients showing signs addiction by prescribing them more opioids; and failed to maintain effective controls to prevent diversion of opioids. The $2.37 billion figure includes money that Allergan has already agreed to pay under settlements with individual states. Details remain that need to be ironed out, including the settlement structure, but it’s anticipated states will follow established precedents with other multi-state drug company settlements. States participating in the settlement include Illinois, Maryland, Massachusetts, New York, North Carolina, Pennsylvania, Tennessee, Texas, Vermont, Virginia, and Wisconsin. New York settled separately with Allergan in December 2021.

Pennsylvania county, second-oldest and smallest, a ‘hidden gem’ weathering the pandemic

By Anthony Hennen | The Center Square (The Center Square) – Recent data from the Census Bureau shows that Pennsylvania’s median age, 40.9, is higher than the national average of 38.8.  A higher median age doesn’t mean a state will struggle to grow economically or in population – Florida and New Hampshire are older yet growing – but it can present some challenges. The oldest counties in Pennsylvania tend to be some of the smallest. The oldest, Sullivan County, has a median age of 55.2 and 5,868 people. Cameron County is second with a median age of 52.8 and 4,459 people. Forest County is third with a median age of 49.3 and 7,032 people. But a smaller, older population has its benefits, too. The counties weathered the pandemic, and arguably better than most. Cameron County had the fewest cases and deaths from COVID-19, County Commissioner Chair Lori Reed said. The county reported 880 cases and 21 deaths from COVID-19. “Most older people rushed to get vaccines,” Reed said. The rural nature of the county gave it another boost during the pandemic: the extra space attracted new residents. “House sales skyrocketed,” she said. “During COVID, we really were inundated with a lot of people.” That experience tracks with what researchers have found elsewhere. A study from Penn State University noted almost half of adults do some form of outdoor recreation on a monthly basis, and 20% of those were new to it during the pandemic.  Cameron and Sullivan counties, and Forest County to a lesser extent, have another commonality: significant payouts from natural gas and fracking.  Cameron County has received just under $1.5 million from the Act 13 impact fee since 2017, according to data from the Pennsylvania Public Utility Commission, and Sullivan County has received $5.6 million since 2011. While the natural gas fees have helped, the county has losses in manufacturing, Reed said. Population decline has also been steady; except for a 1% increase in the 2000 census, Cameron County has lost population since 1960, when it had almost 7,600 residents. The 2010 census noted a 15% decline and the 2020 census noted an 11% decline. It’s too early to tell whether the pandemic-induced spike will lead to growth in the next census. Unsurprisingly, health care access is more limited: residents must routinely travel 25 miles or more for treatment. Funding emergency medical services is also “a huge issue here,” Reed said. Despite those challenges, the effects of the pandemic have given some hope for growth. “We want to grow, but slowly,” Reed said. The county has also hired a new marketing director to work with the Office of Community and Economic Development to promote the area as a tourism destination. “We’re the safest county in the state but also the most beautiful,” Reed said. “It’s absolutely gorgeous here.”

Pennsylvania Legislature sends $1M to address hunger at higher education institutions

By Joe Mueller | The Center Square (The Center Square) – The Pennsylvania Legislature is sending $1 million to college campuses for the upcoming school year to address student food insecurity at institutions of higher learning. The Hunger-Free Campus Grant Program will help colleges and universities create or expand campus food pantries and increase awareness of the Supplemental Nutrition Assistance Program. Funding also will be used to help determine the nutritional needs of the student population. Research by the U.S. Government Accountability Office in 2016 found less than half of college students who were eligible for SNAP benefits participated in the program. In 2018, more than 650 colleges reported having a food pantry on campus that provided free food to college students in need. Penn State University tuition and fees for an academic year are approximately $36,000 for out-of-state students and about $19,000 for in-state. A study by the university discovered 35% of students across the commonwealth experience some level of food insecurity. Swipe Out Hunger, a nonprofit organization devoted to addressing hunger among college students, surveyed 86,000 students from 123 two- and four-year higher education institutions. It found 45% experienced food insecurity during the previous month. Frances Wolf, wife of Democratic Gov. Tom Wolf, emphasized the importance of the funding last week during an online panel discussion held by Nazun, a nonprofit organization devoted to ending campus hunger. After seeing the success of nutrition programs in elementary and secondary schools, she was shocked to learn programs didn’t exist in higher education. “I asked, ‘What happens when they go on?’ and it was crickets, silence,” Wolf said. “There wasn’t anything there and that’s what really caught me and took my breath away.” She quoted 2016 research stating the average age of college students is 25 and half of undergraduate students were financially independent. She said approximately 22% have dependent children and 14% are single parents. Wolf said food insecurity is problematic at both private and public institutions, but grassroots efforts are meeting the need. “I’ve met incredible people – administrators, deans and vice presidents – at institutions, but the ones who take my breath away are the students,” Wolf said. “They are the ones running the programs, the worker bees. They are setting up these pantries, sometimes in their dorm closets. They go to food pantries to stock their own pantry and become part of the campus.”

Only five governors less popular than Pennsylvania Democrat Tom Wolf

By Anthony Hennen | The Center Square (The Center Square) – Gov. Tom Wolf is term-limited and not running for reelection, and it may be for the best. Only five governors in the country are less popular. That’s according to the latest Morning Consult survey, which looked at governors’ popularity across the nation. Wolf isn’t underwater, however. He has a 47% approval rating and a 46% disapproval rating. Pennsylvanians are divided on Wolf, but that has been consistent since early 2021 when Morning Consult polls showed his rating moving between 46% and 48% approval. Wolf lags behind most other governors; 38 have an approval rating of 50% or higher. Yet, he and all governors are more popular than President Joe Biden, who has an approval rating of 39%. Neighboring state governors all have better ratings than Wolf: Kathy Hochul (New York, 49%), Phil Murphy (New Jersey, 52%), John Carney (Delaware, 56%), Mike DeWine (Ohio, 57%), Jim Justice (West Virginia, 66%), and Larry Hogan (Maryland, 70%). Of the 10 governors with the highest approval ratings, eight are Republicans and two are Democrats. Of the 10 governors with the lowest approval ratings, five are Republicans and five are Democrats. “The latest surveys, conducted April 1-June 30, 2022, show that – with only a few exceptions – most Democratic governors have been able to float above their party’s deteriorating political environment,” Eli Yokely wrote for Morning Consult. Biden’s low numbers might help governors of all political stripes. With voters more upset about federal politics, they pay less attention to state-level politics. “Virtually every measurement of public opinion shows that Americans are in a foul mood about their political leaders and institutions,” Louis Jacobson of Sabato’s Crystal Ball from the University of Virginia wrote. “But one group seems to have escaped this wrath: governors.” Voters have focused on issues that governors have less control over like inflation, the economy, and supply chain problems. Aside from crime, most of the attention has been on federal, not state, problems.  Whether the public’s view of Wolf will affect the gubernatorial race between Democrat Josh Shapiro and Republican Doug Mastriano is unclear. A recent AARP poll shows that Shapiro has a 49-46 lead over Mastriano, and a narrow 48-47 lead among voters aged 50+.

Police arrests dropped 60% in Pittsburgh, following nationwide trend

By Elyse Apel | The Center Square (The Center Square) – Pittsburgh has a 60% decrease in arrests over the past eight years, following similar trends in many major cities across the country.  From 2013 to 2021, the number of arrests made by the Pittsburgh Bureau of Police dropped from 18,541 to 7,405. The latest audited report from the city provides data back to 2013.  The drop in arrests in Pittsburgh, unlike other cities with significant drops in arrests, was most noticeable in 2020 and 2021 in the midst of the COVID-19 pandemic. However, city crime stats from 2015 to 2021 show that “violence trends” – shootings, murders and assaults – have been on par with pre-pandemic years. Traffic stops and calls for services have also dropped over that period. Traffic stops in 2013 were 28,894 and declined to 10,243 in 2021. That is a 65% decrease. Calls for services decreased from 230,497 in 2013 to 218,881 in 2021, a 5% decline.  Though arrests and traffic stops have declined, the number of full-time police officers in the city has remained flat. In 2013, there were 1,092 police officers, while in 2021 that number had only dropped 2.7%, to 1,062.  Expenses for public safety in the city, which includes police, fire, EMS, animal control, and administration, has significantly increased every year from 2013 to 2021. In 2013, $258 million was spent on public safety in Pittsburgh. By 2021, that rose 35.3%, to $349 million. Of that, police department expenses rose from $71 million in 2013 to $116 million in 2021 – a 63% rise. The Center Square reached out to the police department and the mayor’s office for a response about the drop in arrests and received no immediate response.

Pennsylvania’s sales tax: Lower than national average, but a narrow base

By Anthony Hennen | The Center Square (The Center Square) – Pennsylvania is well-known for its high gas tax and high corporate net income tax until a recent change, but residents get a break compared to other states in one area: sales tax. A new report from the Tax Foundation notes that Pennsylvania’s combined 6.34% sales tax rate is No. 34 in the nation. That’s lower than most of its border states, except for Maryland (6%) and Delaware’s non-existent sales tax. The state sales tax rate of 6% is the 17th-lowest rate in the nation, but the average local tax rate pushes it up to 34th, the report notes.  What’s crucial may not be how a state does compared to the national average, but to nearby states. People take notice and adjust their spending habits accordingly. “State and local governments should be cautious about raising rates too high relative to their neighbors because doing so will yield less revenue than expected or, in extreme cases, revenue losses despite the higher tax rate,” wrote Janelle Fritts, state policy analyst at the Tax Foundation. Businesses will shift from a city to a suburb, or from one side of a state border to another, to avoid a higher sales tax. What’s convenient about a sales tax is its clarity and transparency. Consumers know how much they’re paying. Though the below-average sales tax gives residents a break at the register compared to high-sales tax states like Louisiana, Tennessee and Arkansas, the exceptions and complexity involved in how Pennsylvania applies the sales tax creates an unnecessary burden. “Many economists feel the sales tax is the ‘least bad tax’ in terms of economic harms, thus some of the fastest growth states (Texas, Florida, Tennessee) have higher sales tax rates, but no income tax,” said Nathan Benefield, senior vice president of the Commonwealth Foundation. Benefield pointed out that Pennsylvania has a narrow tax base (40th in the nation) and 101 exclusionsfrom the sales tax, limiting its reach. He says “There is plenty of room to expand the base and lower the rate” and/or lower other taxes without increasing the burden on taxpayers. Businesses, too, face complexity in collecting the tax. A broader and simpler structure could make it easier for small businesses to deal with the sales tax, along with reforming local tax structures to clean up the “patchwork of local taxes,” Benefield said.

Pennsylvania gambling expected to hit $5B in revenues for 2022

By Anthony Hennen | The Center Square (The Center Square) – The Pennsylvania gaming industry has recovered from a pandemic dip as options for gambling have increased in recent years.  Not only is it a recovery, but strong growth. Total revenues for the industry hit $3.2 billion in 2018 and are projected to crack $5 billion in 2022 if trends continue, according to a new report from the Allegheny Institute for Public Policy. For tax revenues, the commonwealth is looking at an estimated $2 billion from the industry, said Frank Gamrat, executive director of the Allegheny Institute. His estimate extrapolates the revenue data from the Gaming Control Board, but cautioned that revenues and taxes could change based on the economy. If a recession hits, tax revenues could fall short. “Things seem to be moving along,” Gamrat said. “The economy’s not improving, but it’s not degrading either.” The gaming industry depends on economic growth in other sectors of the economy. “One thing to consider is that it’s the discretionary money that (people) are using to gamble with. As long as they have discretionary money they’ll keep gambling,” Gamrat said. For growth, the industry also relies on bringing something new to the table for the public to try. From traditional casinos with slots and table games to the state government approval of mini-casinos to the legalization of internet gaming and fantasy sports betting, gambling in Pennsylvania has been fueled by additions. When sports gambling became legal in 2019, revenues were about $4 million per month. By April 2022, that had jumped to $30 million. But the growth has its limits. “When I look at total revenues from prior to the pandemic, you hit a plateau,” Gamrat said. “From 2011 to 2019, which was primarily slots and tables only, it was about $3 billion a year in total revenue. So if we hit $5 billion in total revenue from all forms of gaming, my guess is it’ll probably be consistent for the next few handful of years unless there’s another expansion.” The legalization of gambling in nearby states also means more competition and less likelihood of residents from Ohio or New Jersey visiting Pennsylvania to gamble. “All that money comes from Pennsylvanians,” Gamrat said. Slot machines and internet gaming comprise about 70% of gaming revenue, followed by table games. Not all gambling is equal for tax purposes, however. Rates differ, and tax revenues go to different places. Slot machine taxes go primarily toward property tax relief (in-person or online), Gamrat noted, while table game taxes go into the general fund. The industry’s expansion may not be as fruitful behind casino doors or websites as some other economic sectors, however. “The gaming industry does not have the spinoff effects as does a factory, as does an office building,” Gamrat said. “Those casinos are designed for you to go there as a destination. You’re going there to spend your money in the casino, you’re not looking for restaurants around the casino.”

New Pa. budget injects $125M into private school tax credit program that lacks basic accountability

Spotlight PA is an independent, nonpartisan newsroom powered by The Philadelphia Inquirer in partnership with PennLive/The Patriot-News, TribLIVE/Pittsburgh Tribune-Review, and WITF Public Media. Sign up for our free newsletters. HARRISBURG — When Gov. Tom Wolf and the Republican-led legislature hammered out the $45.2 billion budget deal in early July, they delivered a historic windfall to a popular tax credit program that underwrites scholarships for Pennsylvania students to attend private schools. The additional $125 million in the state budget for Pennsylvania’s educational tax credits represented the largest one-time funding boost for the program since its inception nearly two decades ago, according to state data. And it was quickly hailed by GOP legislators who insisted on the increase, calling it a win for low- and middle-income students who attend low-performing schools. But the program as recently as this year was singled out for a fundamental lack of transparency and accountability that makes it impossible to determine whether it’s actually improving outcomes for students. At the same time, bills to remedy its secrecy, or to make it more efficient, have languished in the legislature. “We have zero quantitative data to see if it’s effective,” said state Sen. Lindsey Williams, a Democrat from Allegheny County who also spoke out against the program’s funding increase when lawmakers voted on the budget. “And we don’t even get additional accountability in exchange for the largest increase to the program.” Republicans who control both chambers said in statements to Spotlight PA that they supported the historic increase, not just for the educational tax credit, but for public education as well. But they sidestepped questions about whether they had reservations about supercharging funding for a program that is difficult to evaluate for effectiveness. Wolf has said that he believes the program needs to be more accountable. When asked why the governor signed off on its biggest funding increase ever, spokesperson Beth Rementer said: “Unfortunately, Republicans refuse to move legislation that would adequately address this [accountability] and they insisted on this increased funding in the budget.” In 2001, under Republican Gov. Tom Ridge, the legislature voted, without debate, to create the Educational Improvement Tax Credit, or EITC. At the time, some lawmakers and public education activists viewed it as a backdoor way for Ridge, an advocate of government-funded tuition vouchers, to get a school choice program in place in Pennsylvania. The EITC program, however, was structured differently. Instead of government-funded vouchers, it created a system for businesses to donate money to educational nonprofit organizations, which in turn would distribute those dollars to help offset tuition costs for students wanting to attend a different — often private — school. Participating businesses were rewarded with state tax breaks of up to 90 cents on every dollar they contributed. The EITC law also allowed for some money to go to public schools for innovative programming — including academic summer camps or author visits to classrooms — that wouldn’t otherwise be funded by a local district. That first year, the EITC program was capped at $30 million, but legislators have negotiated increases to it nearly every year since. With the additional $115 million in this year’s budget deal, the cap now stands at $340 million. The tax credit program has been expanded since 2001 to include so-called opportunity scholarship tax credits, or OSTC, which provide tuition assistance specifically to students who live within the boundaries of Pennsylvania’s worst-performing schools. OSTC also received a $10 million boost in this fiscal year’s budget. Nathan Benefield, senior vice president at the Commonwealth Foundation, a conservative think based in Harrisburg, said the funding increases directly reflect the popularity of the program, both in the business community and among parents. “The need is clearly there,” said Benefield, whose organization supports increases to the program. Indeed, the program is in demand. In the 2019-20 fiscal year, the latest data available, there were roughly 164,500 applications for tuition assistance, a 36% increase from the previous year, according to data collected by the state’s Independent Fiscal Office, which analyzes the state’s budgetary and economic landscapes. Despite the influx of applications, only about 68,400 scholarships — or roughly 42% — were awarded, although the IFO noted in a recent report that students weren’t turned away solely because the program didn’t have enough money to meet demand. That report, published in January of this year, concluded that a thorough review of the educational tax credit program was impossible, given the dearth of information about it. The educational tax credit law sharply limits the data the state can collect from the scholarship organizations that dole out tuition dollars and the schools that host those students. Instead, the state receives largely aggregate information, including the number of applications received, the number of scholarships awarded, and the average amount of tuition assistance. But officials from the state Department of Community and Economic Development, which oversees the educational tax credit program, told Spotlight PA that do not know how many scholarships went to students who already attended private schools, as opposed to students who switched from public schools. Nor is the department able to collect data on the income levels of families whose children benefit from the program. Students can apply for tuition assistance if their families have a maximum household income of about $96,600, plus $17,017 per dependent, according to the IFO report. The report noted that Pennsylvania has the highest income limitations among states that offer such educational tax credit programs. The IFO’s analysts recommended the legislature amend the law to permit the state to collect student performance and demographic data so that the program can be meaningfully evaluated. “Across states, Pennsylvania has one of the largest tax credits, but collects and publishes the least amount of outcome data,” the IFO report noted. Yet the legislature has not taken action on legislation seeking such changes. One bill, introduced by state Sen. Tim Kearney (D., Delaware) would, among other changes, require more information on the students and families that receive scholarships and their educational outcomes. Another measure, championed by state Rep. Chris Rabb (D., Philadelphia), would require similar information, but would also lower the income threshold to qualify for assistance. Neither has received a committee vote, the first step in moving a bill forward. WHILE YOU’RE HERE… If you learned something from this story, pay it forward and become a member of Spotlight PA so someone else can in the future at spotlightpa.org/donate. Spotlight PA is funded by foundationsand readers like you who are committed to accountability journalism that gets results.

Where’s the Pennsylvania worker? In retirement or living out-of-state

By Anthony Hennen | The Center Square (The Center Square) – Though pandemic restrictions have faded away, Pennsylvania’s economy is yet to bounce back. The commonwealth has lost 120,000 workers since 2019, according to a new report from the Independent Fiscal Office, and its 4.6% unemployment rate is higher than the national rate of 3.6%. The report, “Where Did the Workers Go?”, shows that “many workers left the labor force and no longer work or actively seek employment.” Even though the labor market is strong, with many job openings and employers offering higher wages, Pennsylvania has fewer people ready to work a job than before the pandemic.  The commonwealth has an “unmet demand of roughly 100,000 additional workers,” the IFO report noted. And​​ the problem isn’t only in Pennsylvania; the national trend reflects a labor force that’s smaller than it was a few years ago. The state lost 139,000 payroll jobs between May 2019 and May 2022, and the biggest losses came from two sectors: nursing home and residential care, and full-service restaurants. Together, they made up 40% of the losses, more than 56,000 jobs. Payroll jobs do not include the self-employed. Nonprofit groups lost 14,000 jobs, manufacturing businesses lost 13,000 jobs, and employment services lost 12,000 jobs. Only two sectors had notable increases in employment: warehouse and storage businesses gained 34,000 jobs, and couriers-messengers grew by 12,000. Pennsylvania’s shrinking labor force, the IFO noted, was tied to its disappearing and aging population, parents leaving jobs to care for children in online or home schools, and other factors. “From 2019 to 2022, the state population contracted by an estimated 48,000 residents and the median age increased,” the report noted.  The number of “prime working age Pennsylvanians,” those who are age 25-54, fell by 50,000. Residents age 55-64, who may work or choose an early retirement, fell by 78,000. But those aged 65 and up grew by 164,000 people. Pennsylvania isn’t attracting younger workers – as its current population ages out of the workforce. The need for child care has also presented a tradeoff. When school districts switched from in-person to online classes, parents left.  Since the pandemic, public schools lost almost 51,000 students, the IFO noted. Schools that stayed open or returned sooner to physical classes, such as in-person charter schools and non-public schools, each lost fewer than 3,000 students.  Meanwhile, the biggest enrollment gains went to online charter schools (almost 20,000 students) and homeschooling (16,000 students). With the shrinking labor force, the commonwealth’s problems have ripple effects. Fewer workers can make economic growth a pressing concern, as does a potential drop in tax revenues that fund government services.

Pennsylvania has a new child care tax credit. Here’s what you need to know.

By Kate Huangpu of Spotlight PA Spotlight PA is an independent, nonpartisan newsroom powered by The Philadelphia Inquirer in partnership with PennLive/The Patriot-News, TribLIVE/Pittsburgh Tribune-Review, and WITF Public Media. Sign up for our free newsletters. HARRISBURG — Gov. Tom Wolf has approved a new, permanent child care tax credit that will allow families to claim thousands of dollars in benefits. The new tax credit was created as part of Pennsylvania’s new $45.2 billion budget, which Wolf signed into law in early July. Wolf and lawmakers also allocated over $140 million to a one-time expansion of a property tax credit for low-income and older Pennsylvanians. Here’s what you need to know about these credits and how you can access them: The Pennsylvania child care tax credit What does it do? Modeled off of the federal Child Tax Credit, the Child and Dependent Care Enhancement Program will return up to 30% of child care-related expenses that filers claim on their federal return. This program is meant to support working families by lessening their tax liability. A total of $24.6 million went into the program, which is now a permanent fixture of the state’s tax code. Who is eligible? People who have one or more dependents and fall under a certain income level are eligible. For people who care for one dependent, expenses claimed cannot surpass $3,000. For those with two or more dependents, it cannot surpass $6,000. The percentage of expenses that can be credited will vary depending on income level, but that detail has yet to be determined. Per a state House budget committee representative, the rules will be similar to those for federal returns. Married couples with up to $150,000 in annual income or a single filer who made half that were eligible for the full amount of the federal tax credit in 2021. How is it claimed? This credit can be claimed when filing state taxes beginning in 2023. The rebate will be subtracted from the total amount of taxes owed to the state. If the amount credited is worth more than the amount of taxes owed to the state, the rebate will be refunded to the filer. The (temporary) boost for property tax relief What does it do? This one-time allocation temporarily boosts the state’s Property Tax/Rent Rebate Program. Under the current program, eligible Pennsylvanians receive rebates ranging from $650 to $975 depending on whether the filer is a renter or homeowner. The year’s budget uses $140 million in federal stimulus money to expand payments for one year by 70%. If a person already received $975 from the program last year, they will get an additional $682.50. Who is eligible? The program benefits Pennsylvanians 65 or older, widowed people older than 49, and people with disabilities age 18 and older. Homeowners with annual incomes under $35,000 are eligible, as are renters with annual incomes under $15,000 (certain types of income are excluded). How is it claimed? Anyone who received a property tax or rent rebate during the 2021 tax season is automatically eligible for the additional rebate. Pennsylvanians can still apply for the 2021 rebate program and obtain the 70% bonus rebate until the end of this year. However, the bonus rebate will not be available for those applying to next year’s rebate program. Correction: A sentence has been updated to note that the 2021 tax rebate program is still accepting applications. WHILE YOU’RE HERE… If you learned something from this story, pay it forward and become a member of Spotlight PA so someone else can in the future at spotlightpa.org/donate. Spotlight PA is funded by foundationsand readers like you who are committed to accountability journalism that gets results.

More oversight for Pennsylvania nursing home staffing agencies in the pipeline

By Anthony Hennen | The Center Square (The Center Square) – Health care service agencies, which supply nursing homes and others with temporary staff, could deal with more oversight and regulation if a bill continues to advance in the Pennsylvania General Assembly. Price ceilings that would have capped what staffing agencies could charge, however, were removed from the legislation. House Bill 2293 would apply a number of requirements for agencies to register with the Department of Human Services. Among them would be verification employees are properly credentialed; background checks; ownership disclosure; and pay a $500 annual registration fee. It would also require agencies to carry malpractice insurance and establish a complaint process. “State agencies do not have oversight of supplemental health care service agencies,” Rep. Tim Bonner, R-Grove City, wrote in a legislative memo. “Recognizing the increased role that these agencies play in the day-to-day operations of nearly 700 nursing homes and 1,200 assisted living residences and personal care homes, we must ensure they are operating in a manner that supports the long-term care sector and high-quality resident care.” The bill passed in the House, 198-2, on July 1 and awaits action in the Senate.  Pennsylvania has relied on agencies to recruit staff during the pandemic. In January 2020, 6% of certified nursing assistants, 8% of licensed practical nurses, and 5% of registered nurses came to nursing homes and assisted living facilities through staffing agencies, according to quarterly data from the Center for Medicare & Medicaid Services.  By October 2021, those numbers had jumped, respectively, to 14.6%, 17.4%, and 11.5%. That reliance on staffing agencies is relatively high, but in line with other states in the Northeast. Nursing homes have high staff turnover rates; one study found that “mean and median annual turnover rates for total nursing staff were roughly 128% and 94%, respectively.”  When nursing homes struggle to hire long-term care workers, they rely on staffing agencies to fill in the gaps. And rates for those short-term workers can be much higher. The bill has attracted the support of the Pennsylvania Health Care Association, an advocacy group for long-term care providers, which has been critical of health care service agencies. “It’s oversight and accountability, that’s the most important part of the bill,” said Zach Shamberg, president and CEO of the PHCA. “There’s no oversight and accountability in Pennsylvania over staffing agencies.” Shamberg framed it as a victory for bringing agencies in line with other organizations in health care. “This really puts guardrails around what they can do, how they can operate,” he said. “It really ensures that we’re all operating on a level playing field.” Shamberg noted that staffing problems grow from low Medicaid reimbursement rates. “Medicaid reimbursement rates in Pennsylvania have remained stagnant since 2014,” he said, while costs have gone up. “Everything is driven by Medicaid reimbursement,” Shamberg said. “Our stagnant Medicaid reimbursement rate hasn’t allowed providers to truly invest in their staff.” Transparency for staffing agencies isn’t totally missing. “Anyone can go look (at CMS data) and see how many hours any given nursing home in the country had contract staff, so this idea of having some sort of registration – I’m honestly not sure what the idea, what they’re even trying to pretend the idea is,” said Markus Brun Bjoerkheim, a postdoctoral fellow in the Open Health program of the Mercatus Center at George Mason University. One portion of the bill, removed when it was in committee, would have capped maximum rates charged by staffing agencies. Bjoerkheim warned against such policies. “If we’re going to cap these rates, then some patients aren’t going to be cared for,” he said. In April, Pennsylvania was down 30,000 workers in nursing homes since the start of the pandemic, as The Center Square previously reported. 

Pennsylvania Senate bill would give voters say in abortion, voter ID

By Anthony Hennen | The Center Square (The Center Square) – A late-night Republican push for a constitutional amendment declaring no right to an abortion has caused controversy. The resolution would also change elections to require voter ID, raise the voting age to 21, and allow gubernatorial candidates to pick their running mate for lieutenant governor, rather than have two separate races. Senate Bill 106 would amend Article I of the Pennsylvania Constitution to read: “This Constitution does not grant the right to taxpayer-funded abortion or any other right relating to abortion.” The amendment would be a way to avoid a veto from Democratic Gov. Tom Wolf, who has promised to defend abortion as long as he serves as governor. During a session on Friday debating the bill, Senate Republicans argued that voters deserve a choice on abortion law. The amendment, which would need to be approved by voters, would allow “voters to decide whether taxpayers should be required to pay for abortions,” said Sen. David Argall, R-Berks/Schuylkill. “We have no choice but to turn to the constitutional process to give the voters a say.” Democrats strongly disagreed with the amendment popping up late Thursday night for a vote.  “This is a straight-up attempt to change the constitution of Pennsylvania to deny women the right to control what happens with their own bodies,” said Sen. Vincent Hughes, D-Montgomery/Philadelphia. The amendment would “make them second-class citizens,” he said. Some Democrats, however, embraced the idea of letting voters decide as a way to subvert politicking in the General Assembly. “I’m a yes on this bill because I’m tired of the demagoguing,” said Sen. Lisa Boscola, D-Bethlehem. “Let the voters reject this, let them deliver a message once and for all: a women’s right to choose deserves protection.” The voter ID amendment raises the voting age and requires valid proof of identification, but also provides an ID at no cost to the voter once their identity is confirmed. “Showing ID is not a controversial topic,” said Sen. Mike Regan, R-Cumberland/York. “This amendment is the first step to protecting our voting system … there is no justification not to do this.” The bill passed a Senate vote, 28-22, and heads to the House. Both chambers are majority Republican.

School districts get big boost in new PA budget

Stephen Caruso of Spotlight PA and Kate Huangpu of Spotlight PA Spotlight PA is an independent, nonpartisan newsroom powered by The Philadelphia Inquirer in partnership with PennLive/The Patriot-News, TribLIVE/Pittsburgh Tribune-Review, and WITF Public Media. Sign up for our free newsletters. HARRISBURG — Pennsylvania lawmakers have sent Democratic Gov. Tom Wolf a $45.2 billion spending plan that boosts education spending by more than $1 billion, creates a new child care tax credit, and squirrels away money for a rainy day. The wide-reaching budget, completed a week after the June 30 deadline, was made possible by higher-than-expected revenues that led to a multibillion dollar surplus. Democrats and Republicans also agreed on a plan to spend $2.2 billion in remaining federal stimulus funds, including $660 million on environmental projects and $375 million on housing. The state House approved the spending plan in a 180-20 vote Thursday afternoon. The state Senate followed, in a 47-3 vote, on Friday after a contentious debate on adding language to the state constitution declaring it does not grant any right relating to abortion and requiring voter ID to vote in all instances. Wolf signed the budget Friday. In a statement, he said the plan solidified “his commitment to education at all levels.” “Since I took office, Pennsylvania’s students and families have been my top priority,” Wolf said. “We have made long overdue investments in the people of Pennsylvania, including better education for all, safer communities, and a brighter future.” Overall, the deal represents a 2.9% increase in state spending compared to last year’s budget. Education saw a major investment, with $525 million more appropriated for K-12 schools, $225 million for some of the state’s poorest districts, and $100 million each for special education, school safety, and school mental health services. A tax credit for individuals or businesses who donate to parochial and private schools, so they can in turn offer scholarships to students, was also expanded by $125 million, a 45% increase. The plan includes a gradual decrease in corporate net income tax from 9.99% to 4.99% by 2031, the repeal of new regulations on charter schools, and a $2.1 billion deposit into the state’s rainy day fund, which Republican leaders pointed to as key wins. “This bill is exactly the medicine this commonwealth needs,” House Appropriations Chair Stan Saylor (R., York) said Thursday on the House floor. The General Assembly also agreed to spend $2.2 billion in remaining federal stimulus dollars on a number of one-off conservation, water infrastructure, housing, childcare, and public safety projects. A property tax rebate program for people 65 or older and those with disabilities, typically funded by the Pennsylvania Lottery, will get a one-time $140 million infusion, which represents a 70% expansion. Last year, the program provided checks to 430,000 renters who make under $15,000 and homeowners who make under $35,000. Someone who received the maximum refund of $650 will receive an additional $455 under the one-year expansion. The plan also funds a new $125 million home repair program, championed by state Sen. Nikil Saval (D., Philadelphia). The program targets homeowners whose annual income is less than 80% of the area’s median income and landlords who own less than 15 rental units. Democrats largely backed the budget and stimulus spending plan, seizing the opportunity to at last spend billions provided by the federal government during the pandemic on their priorities and expand state education funding by three-quarters of a billion dollars. “We are poised to enact the largest increase in education funding in the history of Pennsylvania,” state Sen. Vincent Hughes (D., Philadelphia), minority chair of the chamber’s Appropriations Committee, said Thursday. “To have this kind of increase for the children of Pennsylvania, teachers, those who work in schools, I think is significant.” Lawmakers also created a new tax credit aimed at supporting working families. People with one or more dependents can claim up to 30% of the childcare expenses they claimed on their federal taxes. The budget was delayed by a week as state House Republicans tried to withhold funding from four major universities unless the schools swore under oath that they do not “engage in research or experimentation using fetal tissue obtained from an elective abortion.” The ban specifically targeted the University of Pittsburgh. On Wednesday, the lower chamber took a different course, advancing a clean version of a bill to fund the universities and adding the research ban to unrelated broadband legislation. The clean bill is now on Wolf’s desk for his approval, and the latter is parked in a state Senate committee. While some Capitol observers feared the state House would be the one to derail the budget, it was in fact state Senate Republicans who signaled Thursday that all was not well, stating that budget talks were “deteriorating” and “reaching an impasse.” In the end, it wasn’t the budget package that led to hours of contentious debate but rather an omnibus bill containing five separate proposed constitutional amendments including one on abortion. WHILE YOU’RE HERE… If you learned something from this story, pay it forward and become a member of Spotlight PA so someone else can in the future at spotlightpa.org/donate. Spotlight PA is funded by foundationsand readers like you who are committed to accountability journalism that gets results.

Philadelphia’s Jim Kenney: ‘I’ll be happy when I’m not mayor’

By Anthony Hennen | The Center Square (The Center Square) – A moment of frustration for Philadelphia Mayor Jim Kenney has led to two city councilmen to call for his resignation. Kenney’s comments came after a shooting incident where two police officers were injured during the city’s Fourth of July celebration on the Benjamin Franklin Parkway. During a post-midnight press conference, he spoke about the stress and concern brought by large events in the city. “I’m concerned every single day. There’s not an event or a day where I don’t lay on my back at night and look at the ceiling, and worry about stuff,” Kenney said. “So everything we have in the city, over the last seven years, I worry about. I don’t enjoy (the) Fourth of July, I don’t enjoy the Democratic National Convention, I didn’t enjoy the NFL draft – I’m waiting for something bad to happen all the time. So it’s – I’ll be happy when I’m not mayor and I can enjoy some stuff.” “You’re looking forward to not being mayor?” a reporter asked. “Yeah, as a matter of fact,” Kenney said. The 63-year-old has been mayor – the 1.6 million population city’s 99th – since January 2016, and elected city representative since he was 32. In each of the general elections of 2015 and 2019, the Democrat captured 80% or more of the vote. He’s term-limited. Kenney has been criticized during his tenure for a lack of leadership or visibility in city affairs. The mayor’s comments angered other elected leaders who have disagreed with him in the past. “Philadelphia is in a crisis and needs a mayor who wants the job and all its responsibilities,” City Councilman Allan Domb wrote on Twitter. “It is beyond time for @PhillyMayor to resign for the good of the city and its residents.” Nor was Domb the only council member to call for Kenney’s resignation. “We are all exhausted by the level of gun violence in our City,” Councilman Derek Green tweeted. “However, our City needs someone now with the passion and vision to lead us forward. Resign.” Both Domb and Green are expected to run for mayor in 2023. After the press conference, Kenney focused on gun violence in the city. “We will continue to do everything we can to combat our city’s gun violence – including taking a record number of guns off the streets – but we are fighting an uphill battle. We are pleading with lawmakers to help us stop the flow of guns into our city,” he tweeted. “I love this city, and as Mayor, there’s nothing more I want than to help solve this problem and keep our residents and visitors safe.” Kenney isn’t the only city official to face calls for resignation. State Republicans have focused attention on District Attorney Larry Krasner, passing a resolution last week to form a committee to investigate and impeach Krasner over rising rates of crime in Philadelphia. The city has seen a significant increase in murder in recent years.

Pa. House Republicans want to block state funding for the University of Pittsburgh over fetal tissue research

By Stephen Caruso of Spotlight PA Spotlight PA is an independent, nonpartisan newsroom powered by The Philadelphia Inquirer in partnership with PennLive/The Patriot-News, TribLIVE/Pittsburgh Tribune-Review, and WITF Public Media. Sign up for our free newsletters. HARRISBURG — A proxy fight over abortion led by state House Republicans jeopardizes hundreds of millions of dollars in tuition assistance for Pennsylvania college students. At issue is public funding for Pennsylvania’s four state-related universities — Lincoln University, Penn State University, Temple University, and the University of Pittsburgh. Last year, the state allocated almost $600 million to these four institutions. Most of the money subsidizes in-state tuition for Pennsylvanians. On Monday, the state House voted 108-92 to approve an amendment that would require the schools to swear under oath they do not “engage in research or experimentation using fetal tissue obtained from an elective abortion” to receive state funding. The move is the culmination of years of pressure from opponents of abortion access, who have argued since at least 2019 that Pitt’s funding should be axed for research conducted using tissue obtained from aborted fetuses. The vote complicates budget negotiations as GOP lawmakers and Democratic Gov. Tom Wolf try to complete the process before the June 30 deadline. In recent years, the number of Republican representatives who support blocking Pitt’s funding has steadily increased. Legislative rules make blocking the funding fairly easy. Two-thirds of lawmakers must agree to fund educational institutions not under the complete control of the state, like Pitt and Penn State. That means the defection of 68 Republican representatives — just over half of the caucus — is enough to prevent Pitt from getting taxpayer dollars. In May 2021, one anti-abortion activist advised lawmakers at a public hearing to “exercise all of the oversight authority that is available to you” to ensure that “crimes … are not being perpetuated in Pennsylvania by an unaccountable taxpayer-funded abortion industry.” Under pressure from lawmakers, Pitt hired a law firm to conduct an independent review of its research practices. Released in December 2021, the review found that the 31 studies using fetal tissue since 2001 had all been “conducted in compliance with federal and state laws.” Those laws, for instance, ban financial compensation for fetal tissue and require researchers to be approved by an internal university board before they begin their research. Despite the findings, multiple Republican lawmakers, including top leaders, faced political attacks from anti-abortion groups for voting for Pitt’s funding. Some lost their primary this year. Insiders have noted that multiple factors could be contributing to the opposition to Pitt’s funding, including former university chancellor Mark Nordenberg’s stint as chair of the state’s redistricting commission, which produced a state House map that will likely reduce Republicans’ majority, and an overall distrust of higher education institutions. But on the floor Monday, state Rep. Jerry Knowles (R., Schuylkill) focused on the tissue research when he offered his rider to the funding bill for the four state-related universities. He described a 2020 study that involved the grafting of fetal skin onto lab rats to analyze hair growth, before telling lawmakers that a vote for the amendment would be supported by influential groups that oppose abortion access, including the Pennsylvania Family Council and the Pennsylvania Catholic Conference. “My goal is not to stop the funding,” Knowles said. “As a matter of fact, I want to help Pitt get themselves out of a problem they have created for themselves.” While the amendment may have won the backing of many state House Republicans, the research ban does not appear to have the same level of support elsewhere in the Capitol as lawmakers try to put the finishing touches on the state’s budget. In an email, a spokesperson for Senate Majority Leader Kim Ward (R., Westmoreland) said that the chamber needs to review anything that comes from the state House first. But generally, “the Senate does not believe that students and their in-state tuition status should be held hostage to research grants established by” the National Institutes of Health. “Any such issues can be addressed outside of the budget process,” spokesperson Erica Clayton Wright added. Wolf also signaled his opposition. His spokesperson, Elizabeth Rementer, said the ban would “jeopardize important funding that supports tuition assistance, education and research at a world-class university.” The spending plan, due under state law by June 30, has been delayed by conflicting priorities between Wolf and legislative Republicans, as well as differences among GOP lawmakers. The exact funding levels for the universities and dozens of other items, from basic education to human services, are still under negotiation. As of Wednesday, talks were ongoing. Despite pessimism among Capitol sources early Tuesday, Ward said in the afternoon that “we’re getting to a good spot.” More action is expected Wednesday. Still, the funding for the state-related universities remains a stumbling block. The bill to approve the universities’ funding — without the research ban — passed the state Senate 44-5 earlier this month, comfortably above the two-thirds margin needed. All the dissenters were Republicans, including GOP gubernatorial candidate and state Sen. Doug Mastriano (R., Franklin). This year, the state Senate combined funding for the state-related schools into a single bill, rather than the separate bills seen traditionally. That tactic is commonly used in the legislature to muscle through politically unpopular options — in this case, Pitt’s funding — with less controversial measures. The hope is that the good outweighs the bad, and swings some votes from no to yes. The state House voted to add the research ban amendment Monday, but the bill awaits a final vote by the chamber. While the amendment only needed a simple majority to be approved, the bill needs two-thirds of lawmakers to back it — meaning Democrats will have to get on board. At a Tuesday news conference, Democratic legislators from western Pennsylvania said they will not support the legislation. “I do believe that individuals are entitled to their own views and personal beliefs around abortion,” state Rep. Sara Innamorato (D., Allegheny) said. “What they are not entitled to do is to spread misinformation in the name of them and stop life-saving and life-sustaining research.” WHILE YOU’RE HERE… If you learned something from this story, pay it forward and become a member of Spotlight PA so someone else can in the future at spotlightpa.org/donate. Spotlight PA is funded by foundationsand readers like you who are committed to accountability journalism that gets results.

Across Pennsylvania, police funding and more health services unite parties

By Anthony Hennen | The Center Square (The Center Square) – As murders have risen in Philadelphia and Pittsburgh and public safety has garnered more political attention, Pennsylvania Democrats and Republicans have suggested different solutions, some big and some small. On public safety funding, however, both parties are aligned, at least for some level of increase. The most contentious areas have been gun control and related restrictions.  While action on the local and state levels has attracted Republicans and Democrats to fund police departments, grow anti-violence community efforts, and provide health care-related aid to those struggling with addiction, guns remain a contentious policy area. Philadelphia’s new budget, for example, includes $184 million for violence prevention measures and an extra $30 million for police above last year’s budget. The General Assembly may also increase spending for policing, given the public safety hearings held by the Senate Majority Policy Committee in the spring. Those hearings focused on staffing problems for police and drug-related crime, as The Center Square previously reported. Republicans have not shied away from an emphasis on funding police departments, but they have also proposed changes that are concerned with the well-being of prisoners. In addition to funding increases, Republican efforts have taken the opioid crisis more seriously. Republican gubernatorial nominee Doug Mastriano has proposed legislation to increase the penalty on drug dealers for overdose deaths and improve Pennsylvania’s reporting requirements for where overdoses happen. He has also proposed more funding for faith-based recovery programs. Other Republican proposals would increase penalties for evading arrest on foot and eliminate medical co-pays for prisoners. Democrats’ efforts have focused more on guns, though police funding has either held steady or increased on the local level. Pittsburgh’s police budget, while not increasing as much as in Philadelphia, is seeing aslight increase over 2021. Democratic legislation has prosed a reporting requirement for lost or stolen guns, regulation of 3D-printed firearms, and waiting periods on firearm transfers. Democrats have also proposed a “red flag” law that would temporarily suspend an individual’s access to firearms and allow municipalities to regulate guns, something state Republicans have opposed. Pittsburgh Mayor Ed Gainey has urged the General Assembly to take more action on gun control and released a “Plan for Peace” to create emergency services hubs, an overdose response unit, and expand violence intervention programs. In Philadelphia, Sen. Art Haywood, D-Montgomery/Philadelphia, has called upon Mayor Jim Kenney to provide more funding for community groups to reduce gun violence. The bipartisan efforts to provide health services to those struggling with addiction and mental health services, while less contentious than gun regulation or police funding, may come from a growing recognition of reality. As The Center Square previously reported, the Department of Corrections is “the largest provider of services in terms of institutional care in the commonwealth,” Secretary of Corrections George Little told the Senate Appropriations Committee in February. Providing more services before Pennsylvanians enter the criminal justice system at all may be politically wise and financially frugal. That can shape what local and state politicians prioritize in budgets.

Roe v. Wade: Pennsylvania law protects abortion; bipartisan effort to change looms

(The Center Square) – The future of abortion in Pennsylvania is an open question, as current state law protects it but both parties would like to change the law. The U.S. Supreme Court on Friday overturned Roe v. Wade, the 1973 decision that legalized abortion nationwide. The court ruled 6-3 in Dobbs v. Jackson Women’s Health Organization that no Constitutional right to abortion exists and the regulation of abortion “is returned to the people and their elected representatives,” as described in the ruling’s syllabus. The Supreme Court argued that Roe v. Wade decision was an error “without any grounding in the constitutional text, history, or precedent” that overstepped the court’s bounds at the expense of state legislatures. “Abortion presents a profound moral question,” the ruling said. “The Constitution does not prohibit the citizens of each State from regulating or prohibiting abortion. Roe and Casey arrogated that authority. The court overrules those decisions and returns that authority to the people and their elected representatives.” What that means for Pennsylvania remains to be seen. About 31,000 abortions were performed in Pennsylvania in 2017, according to the pro-abortion rights Guttmacher Institute. The commonwealth had 43 facilities providing abortions that same year. Current state law prohibits abortions after 24 weeks unless the mother’s life or health is endangered. Republicans praised the ruling for respecting state authority. “Today’s Supreme Court ruling reestablishes the authority of states to regulate abortion. The ruling once again makes clear it is the authority of individual states to establish laws that are in the best interest of their residents,” Speaker of the House Bryan Cutler, R-Lancaster, and House Majority Leader Kerry Benninghoff, R-Centre/Mifflin, said in a statement. The Abortion Control Act remains in effect, which “places firm restrictions on abortions … including a ban on all late-term abortion procedures,” Cutler and Benninghoff said. “This ruling presents a necessary opportunity to examine our existing abortion law, and discussions around possible changes are already underway.” Democratic Gov. Tom Wolf called the ruling a “dismantling.” “First and most importantly, it is critical that everyone understands that abortion services are available and unharmed in Pennsylvania by today’s Supreme Court action,” Wolf said in a press release. “Nonetheless, I am deeply disappointed in today’s Supreme Court opinion and the impact this decision will have nationwide. The right to bodily autonomy – and privacy as a whole – is under attack in this country. We must do more to protect the rights of women and pregnant people in every state across the country that doesn’t have a governor willing to wield their veto pen.”

Anti-abortion pregnancy centers will likely outlast the age of Roe – here’s how they’re funded and the services they provide

By Laura Antkowiak, University of Maryland, Baltimore County Experts predict increased economic hardship now that the U.S. Supreme Court has overturned Roe v. Wade in its Dobbs v. Jackson Women’s Health Organization decision. Three-quarters of abortion patients in the United States have incomes that place them below or just barely above the federal poverty line of US$26,500 for a family of four in 2021. The inability to afford a child ranks among the most common reasons women give when they explain why they are ending a pregnancy. The anti-abortion movement is often criticized as caring little about these matters. But as a political scientist who has studied the intersections of abortion and social welfare issues, I became intrigued by a large but little-known subset of anti-abortion activists who claimed to support women during pregnancy and after childbirth. My 2020 book on this “pregnancy help” work indicates that the anti-abortion movement does provide support to low-income families, even if not in the way its critics might prefer. The ‘pregnancy help’ movement This work mostly occurs within the anti-abortion movement’s own charitable organizations. Participants in this “pregnancy help movement,” according to Margaret Hartshorn, the former president of one such organization, strive to make abortion “unwanted now and unthinkable in future generations” by ensuring “that no woman ever feels forced to have an abortion because of lack of support or practical alternatives.” People in the movement run maternity homes, adoption and social service agencies, charitable medical practices, hotlines, support groups and aid networks. However, the core institutions of their movement are pregnancy centers. Pregnancy centers typically offer free pregnancy tests, sonograms, counseling and promises of material support in the hopes of persuading women to carry unintended pregnancies to term. The first ones began to open in the U.S. in the late 1960s. They outnumbered abortion providers at least as early as 2013. A July 2018 directory listed 2,740 U.S. pregnancy centers. Lehigh University sociologist Ziad Munson writes that such outreach involves more people, volunteer hours and organizations than any other type of anti-abortion activism. Based on my interviews of pregnancy center leaders and review of various movement communications, these organizations are mostly funded by individual donations, commonly raised through banquets, walks, races or church-based collections of money and goods. Some anti-abortion groups like Focus on the Family and the Knights of Columbus give them grants. Pregnancy centers typically aren’t affiliated with specific churches, though they often frame themselves as ministries modeled on Jesus Christ’s love for people who are hurting and marginalized. In 13 states as of 2021, pregnancy centers could apply for funding from state-run Alternatives to Abortion programs. As of March 2022, as many as 19 states may have directed a proportion of “Choose Life” license plate proceeds to pregnancy centers. An Associated Press investigation of fiscal 2022 state budgets found that 12 states funded pregnancy centers, providing US$89 million. Centers can also apply for select federal grants. According to a report on U.S. pregnancy center services by the Charlotte Lozier Institute, an anti-abortion think tank, 17% of U.S. centers received some public money in 2019. By comparison, the Planned Parenthood Federation of America, which provides abortions and other reproductive health care services, reported receiving about $618 million – or 38% of its revenue – in government grants and payments for services in the fiscal year ending June 30, 2020. U.S. pregnancy centers in 2019, also according to the Lozier Institute, performed more than 730,000 pregnancy tests and met with nearly 1 million new clients. For perspective, the U.S. recorded 3.75 million live births that year. In 2017, the most recent data available, just over 860,000 abortions were performed. A new peer-reviewed study of pregnant women who were searching online for an abortion provider – suggesting they may be more internet-savvy, older and more socioeconomically advantaged than U.S. abortion-seekers generally – found that at least 13% of them visited a pregnancy center. Pregnancy center aid Anti-abortion advocates paint pregnancy centers as the compassionate alternative to abortion. Abortion-rights activists describe them as threats to public health that advertise deceptively, offer few health care services and infuse their counseling with misinformation and emotional coercion. My research did not attempt to assess the quality of counseling provided by the centers. Rather, I focused on broadly understanding and describing the movement and measuring the extent of help they provide to needy families. Similar to data I collected in 2012, a 2019 report by the Lozier Institute claimed that 94% of centers provided material aid. The report credited U.S. pregnancy centers with distributing about 1.3 million packages of diapers, 690,000 packages of wipes, 2 million baby outfits, 30,000 new car seats and 20,000 strollers. They valued these goods at nearly $27 million. I also found pregnancy centers provided personalized help in navigating community resources for housing, health care, creditor mediation and domestic violence recovery. Activists told me that helping families meet their material needs was integral to their missions, greatly needed, and simply “Christian” or “pro-life.” Available data suggests that the women who use these centers tend to be under 30 and unmarried. My research also noted that pregnancy centers were increasingly tying material aid to participation in their parenting programs. Another trending service they offer is ultrasound imaging. Leaders I interviewed felt that offering a medical service could increase centers’ credibility and that viewing an image of their fetus would inspire clients to “choose life.” Trained nurses overseen by an often off-site physician “medical director” usually perform the scans, but otherwise, critics correctly assert that most pregnancy center staff lack medical training. Interviews of 21 pregnancy center clients over a period between 2015 and 2017 led medical sociologist Katrina Kimport of the University of California, San Francisco to conclude that “low-income women can find these centers to be meaningful and appreciated sources of free emotional support, pregnancy-related services and material goods,” even if the women ultimately needed more economic resources than centers could provide and sometimes struggled with program requirements. Kimport continued: “Although these centers have been rightly criticized for disseminating scientifically inaccurate materials and employing potentially deceptive practices, the policy debate about their legitimacy needs to be more nuanced.” Pregnancy help in a post-Roe America Pregnancy center volunteers and employees I surveyed in 2012 overwhelmingly agreed that pregnancy centers would remain needed if the federal right to abortion was overturned. Centers are already most numerous, my statistical analysis of location data found, where public opposition to abortion is highest, abortion rates are lowest and abortion providers are the most scarce. Some anti-abortion leaders are calling the movement to follow the fall of Roe with increased aid to low-income people, some of which would flow through pregnancy centers. The kind of aid pregnancy help groups offer won’t begin to cover all costs of childbearing, or solve larger socioeconomic problems. Many women inclined toward abortion likely don’t see anti-abortion pregnancy centers as desirable service providers. Still, they attract anti-abortion activists who appear to take seriously what one interviewee called the “consequences to a choice for life.” In my view, they could potentially participate constructively in a conversation about poverty and childbearing in a post-Roe America. Laura Antkowiak, Associate Professor of Political Science, University of Maryland, Baltimore County This article is republished from The Conversation under a Creative Commons license. Read the original article.

How Doug Mastriano built a grassroots movement in Pa. on election denial, Christianity, and Facebook

Stephen Caruso of Spotlight PA and Ethan Edward Coston of Spotlight PA Spotlight PA is an independent, nonpartisan newsroom powered by The Philadelphia Inquirer in partnership with PennLive/The Patriot-News, TribLIVE/Pittsburgh Tribune-Review, and WITF Public Media. Sign up for our free newsletters. HARRISBURG — Two years ago, one Republican operative responded to the thought of a Doug Mastriano gubernatorial run with: “Seriously?” Now, despite last-minute efforts by Republican insiders, he is Pennsylvania’s GOP nominee for governor. The 58-year-old, arch-conservative state senator and retired Army colonel won 44% of the vote Tuesday, according to unofficial results, defying the last-minute efforts of top consultants and party bigwigs to cast him as unelectable against Democratic nominee Josh Shapiro. On the issues, Mastriano gave full-throated endorsements of the conservative agenda, including the repeal of Pennsylvania’s no-excuse mail-in ballot law, an abortion ban, and former President Donald Trump’s baseless claims of voter fraud. These positions were echoed by many in the nine-person primary field. But what made him stand out was his unapologetic embrace of those positions’ extremes — such as allowing no exceptions for rape, incest, or the life of the parent on the former, or sharing patently false information on the number of mail-in ballots requested in 2020. GOP operatives, many of whom worked for rival candidates, had argued that such positions won’t fly with the moderates and independent voters needed to win the state come November. He also was a middling fundraiser, raising just $1.5 million, fifth-most in the GOP field, but almost all from individual, small-dollar donors. And he garnered just a handful of endorsements from state GOP officials, instead racking up endorsements from former Trump administration officials, such as former National Security Advisor Gen. Michael Flynn. So his win, insiders told Spotlight PA, cannot be attributed to prolific fundraising or institutional support, but to a grassroots movement slowly built through sharing those beliefs in earnest social media videos and during intimate gatherings, often in speeches riddled with sarcasm, historical allusions, and attacks on his perceived enemies in the media and across the political spectrum. The first sign of this power, sources said, was when Mastriano submitted 28,000 signatures to qualify for the statewide ballot in Pennsylvania. He needed only 2,000. Signatures are the first test for most candidates — and a grind at that. Usually, paid campaign staff can struggle to collect the bare minimum number required by law. Mastriano’s signatures are what convinced Jason Richey, a lawyer from Western Pennsylvania, to drop out of the gubernatorial race. Despite making the ballot and sinking $1 million of his own money into his candidacy, he opted to end his campaign and endorse ex-federal prosecutor Bill McSwain in March. He encouraged others to do the same. The suggestion didn’t go over well. “I may not be able to use some of the words that were said to me, but there was stiff resistance,” Richey said. Jeff Coleman, a former western Pennsylvania state representative and political operative who barnstormed the state this year in an unsuccessful run for lieutenant governor, said Mastriano’s campaign methods “fit the moment” for GOP voters. Coleman, who sparred with Mastriano’s preferred running mate Teddy Daniels over his tone and approach, said that rank-and-file Republicans had a “fireside chat” relationship with Mastriano. Over the past two years, Mastriano has done hundreds of Facebook Live videos to explain his thoughts and feelings about the state of the world, often repeating conspiracy theories or railing against mainstream Republicans in the process. “They know his voice. They know if he is angry. They know when he is calling them to action,” Coleman said, “and it’s a relationship.” One campaign, under God Mastriano built a broad coalition of supporters based on his work combating COVID-19 lockdowns early in the pandemic, combatting mask and vaccine mandates, and his work to overturn the results of the 2020 election. His religious appeals have also helped him get support from evangelicals. Mastriano was central in Trump’s attempts to overturn the results of the 2020 election. He hosted a taxpayer-funded meeting in Gettysburg to amplify the Trump campaign’s false claims of widespread voter fraud, and later called on the legislature to ignore the popular vote and appoint its own slate of electors. His statements that the state legislature can ignore the popular vote to appoint electors have raised concerns that he could overturn the results of the 2024 election if a Democrat wins, and he’d have the power to appoint the secretary of state, who leads the department responsible for conducting elections. Those positions played a key role in Mastriano’s appeal to some voters. Toni Shuppe is co-founder of Audit the Vote PA, an organization that has alleged widespread voter fraud in 2020 based on faulty data, according to LNP | Lancaster Online. “[Mastriano] was actually the only senator, first of all, that was willing to admit that the 2020 election was not completely free and fair,” she said in a video endorsement. A national Axios poll conducted in early 2022 found that close to 75% of Republican voters believe voter fraud happens in their state, and 53% believe President Biden did not legitimately win the 2020 election. At a March campaign event in Harrisburg hosted by the Republican National Hispanic Assembly of Pennsylvania, Mastriano emphasized his faith, condemned the “genocide” of abortion, and criticized COVID-19 lockdowns. “Under Gov. Mastriano, you’ll choose how to live your life,” Mastriano said. “You will walk as free men and women the way God intended it to be.” Mastriano gained support from evangelicals by harnessing Christian nationalism, a movement of people who believe the United States is a Christian nation and needs to be kept that way. And on the campaign trail, he’s spoken of how he believes God told him to run for governor, and used calls to action invoking biblical and historical references. This can even be seen on his campaign yard signs, which often include in the bottom right corner the reference point John 8:36, a Bible verse that states “so if the Son sets you free, you will be free indeed.” Leaders of the state Hispanic assembly said they supported Mastriano because he took the time to engage with the group when it was new and other lawmakers wouldn’t meet with them. “When we met him, he gave us the time of day when nobody else would,” said the group’s co-chair Sheila Perez-Smith. She told Spotlight PA that Mastriano embodies the Hispanic community’s values. “Mastriano is a person that we believe God is using to be a leader for this community,” she said. Perez-Smith claimed seven Democrats switched their voter registration to the Republican party after hearing Mastriano speak. Voter registration data from the PA Department of State show that Republicans have made gains in party registration, but Democrats still have a lead of a little over half a million. A coming pivot? On May 17, Mastriano’s name appeared alongside eight other Republicans including Senate President Pro Tempore Jake Corman (R., Centre) and former U.S. Rep. Lou Barletta (R., Pa.). Much of the field was recruited by big-name GOP consulting firms, not because they had an overarching vision for the state, but because they fit a checklist of electable traits, whether its name ID, personal wealth, or “a moldable public policy persona,” Coleman said. These candidates, he said, had a hard time gaining traction compared to Mastriano, while their attacks sounded hollow. “Campaigns that are reduced to 30-second ads or mailpieces don’t give you enough information when you are up against a voice that feels and sounds totally authentic,” Coleman said. Without any consolidation, the race remained open. It wasn’t until early May, with the primary less than two weeks away and polls showing a growing Mastriano lead, that Republican power players, such as Jeff Yass-funded operative Matt Brouillette, again tried to consolidate the field behind Barletta. Insiders argued in the press that Mastriano couldn’t win the general election against Shapiro. But by then, it was too little too late. Just two candidates polling in the single digits, Corman and ex-U.S. Rep. Melissa Hart (R., Pa.), agreed to endorse Barletta — though their names stayed on the ballot. Sources from the top candidates’ campaigns argued that the late efforts didn’t succeed because no one wanted to give up their chance to win after months of campaigning. State Sen. Dan Laughlin (R., Erie) is a colleague of Mastriano’s who dropped out of the gubernatorial race in December to endorse Delaware County business owner Dave White. In the lead-up to the primary, he called for others to do the same while arguing that Mastriano would be the weakest candidate in November. Now, post-primary, he believes Mastriano has a shot at winning. “Doug built a grassroots army, and he handily beat a field of some very well-funded candidates,” he said. “So I don’t think Josh Shapiro should take this race for granted.” Laughlin isn’t alone. In the days since Mastriano’s victory, other GOP officials and operatives have said publicly they see a clear, albeit slim, path for him to win in November. Mastriano noted the overnight change in tone in a Wednesday interview. “Some of the candidates really hit me hard with negative ads, but all the major candidates called me up yesterday and said, basically, we’re going to get behind you. And that’s exactly how we take our state back,” Mastriano said. “It’s time to come together and push back on these radical far-left Democrats that are trying to take over our state and our nation.” Laughlin, a vocal moderate who has supported paid family leave, recreational marijuana, and a minimum wage increase, cited internal polling he conducted during his run to argue that Mastriano can win if he softens his stances on specific issues, such as abortion. Following the leak of a draft U.S. Supreme Court opinion that would overturn Roe v. Wade, Mastriano committed again to signing a bill that would ban abortion around six weeks of pregnancy with no exceptions for rape, incest, or parental health, something he’s introduced as a state senator. A March 2022 Franklin & Marshall College poll found that 31% of Pennsylvania voters think abortion should be legal in all circumstances, 13% in none, and 53% under “certain circumstances.” What those circumstances are was not defined in the question. The shadow of January 6 Whether Mastriano will pivot to positions mainstream Republicans find more palatable is unclear. Former gubernatorial candidate Richey said he would support down-ballot Republicans, but was undecided on Mastriano. “If he wants to sit down and talk, I would certainly sit down with him,” Richey said. “But some of the background, I do have some hesitancy.” Along with promoting false claims of voter fraud, U.S. Senate Democrats have alleged Mastriano tried to pressure U.S. Department of Justice officials to overturn the 2020 election. Using his campaign account, he chartered buses to a rally that preceded the Jan. 6 insurrection. He marched to the U.S. Capitol but claimed he left when the mob became violent. Video later emerged showing Mastriano crossed breached barricades. In February, the U.S. House of Representatives Jan. 6 select committee subpoenaed Mastriano, telling him to turn over documents by March 1 and appear for a deposition on March 10. Committee spokespersons did not respond to Spotlight PA’s questions about whether he complied. In April, Mastriano said during a debate, “There are no legal issues.” A top national Republican group that pours millions into electing Republican governors also issued a tepid statement after Mastriano’s win. The Republican Governors Association did not, as it has in other races, play up Mastriano’s candidacy, simply stating that “the country, and Pennsylvania, is worse off under Democratic leadership” and that the group “remains committed to engaging in competitive gubernatorial contests.” Access to such a group’s money, insiders noted, will also be key for Mastriano to defeat Shapiro, a top-dollar fundraiser who has at least $15.8 million in the bank, with November still six months away. Highlighting all these stances will be a big part of Shapiro’s campaign. In a statement issued after his win, Shapiro, referencing Mastriano’s stances on voting and abortion, said that he “wants to dictate how Pennsylvanians live their lives – that’s not freedom.” Coleman said that Mastriano, and any other candidate who was at or near the U.S. Capitol on Jan. 6, should explain if they would go to D.C. again on that day, knowing what they know now. “I think that’s the question that you want any mature leader to be able to answer,” he said. But he warned that “just making people aware of a certain set of core negative facts about Mastriano” won’t be enough to sink his chances. At Coleman’s election night party, Bob Lauric, a 47-year-old teacher and Camp Hill resident, said he voted for Barletta in the primary because friends told him that Mastriano wouldn’t win a general election. He has “nothing against” Mastriano, and wants to do more research on him and Shapiro before the general election, but typically votes straight Republican. A Christian, he supports abortion restrictions, an issue that normally decides who he votes for. Lauric added that he “wasn’t a fan” of Mastriano’s efforts to overturn the 2020 election, and acknowledged that it is “damaging to our system of democracy.” But “to me personally, it’s not a huge deal,” he said. Either way, “it doesn’t excite me.” WHILE YOU’RE HERE… If you learned something from this story, pay it forward and become a member of Spotlight PA so someone else can in the future at spotlightpa.org/donate. Spotlight PA is funded by foundationsand readers like you who are committed to accountability journalism that gets results.

Rabbittransit introduces new service: Gettysburg-Hanover Connector

rabbittransit, in partnership with @Home in Adams County, announces a new pilot program geared towards workforce development. The Gettysburg-Hanover Connector will launch Monday, February 8. Ralph M. Serpe, President & CEO, Adams County Community Foundation said, “Transportation is one of three interdependent elements identified by the Adams County Community Foundation as essential to affordable living in our community. The Community Foundation’s three year @Home in Adams County initiative addresses affordable housing, economic development and transportation as equally crucial keys to family stability and economic sustainability. Our @Home partners support solutions that help residents find affordable transportation between home, work and school.”   The Gettysburg-Hanover Connector is an addition to fixed route service connecting Gettysburg to New Oxford and Hanover. This service will operate on weekdays from 6am to 6pm with round trips traveling to and from the Gettysburg Transfer Center to downtown Hanover via Lincoln Highway (U.S. 30) and Carlisle Pike (PA 94) with destinations along the way every two hours.  “Employers working in collaboration with transit is critical to the development of a model for a sustainable workforce solution. It is our mission to aid in the creation of such partnerships that advance mobility for our communities to thrive.  The Workforce Development Pilot Program is an example of such a partnership” said Richard Farr, Executive Director. Hanover’s fixed route is comprised of 4 routes which are the 20N, 20S, 22N and 16.  The Gettysburg system is made up of the Blue Line, Gray Line, Lincoln Line and, seasonally, Gold Line. For more information on the Gettysburg-Hanover Connector, visit www.rabbittransit.org.  rabbittransit, a regional public transportation provider, offers a variety of transportation services to the residents of Adams, Columbia, Cumberland, Franklin, Montour, Northumberland, Perry, Snyder, Union and York Counties. More than 8,000 people depend on rabbittransit each day to get to work, medical facilities, school and other life-sustaining activities. rabbittransit is dedicated to helping all residents in the region get to where they want to go. 

Pa. Election Day 2022: A complete guide to the May 17 primary, including how to vote, find your polling place, understand mail-in ballots, and more

By Kate Huangpu of Spotlight PA Spotlight PA is an independent, nonpartisan newsroom powered by The Philadelphia Inquirer in partnership with PennLive/The Patriot-News, TribLIVE/Pittsburgh Tribune-Review, and WITF Public Media. Sign up for our free newsletters. HARRISBURG — More than a few things have changed since Pennsylvanians last went to the polls. Your congressional and legislative districts might be different, some counties are supervising or reducing drop boxes, and the mail-in voting law has been ruled unconstitutional — but, for now, it remains in effect and a valid form of voting. Here’s what you need to know to be prepared for Pennsylvania’s 2022 primary election: When is the 2022 primary election day in Pennsylvania? Tuesday, May 17, 2022. Mark your calendar! When do polls open for Pa.’s 2022 primary election? Polls are open from 7 a.m. to 8 p.m. Can I still register to vote? The last day to register to vote is May 2. You can register here. You can check if you’ve already registered here using either your name and address or a form of state-issued identification. What if I want to change parties? To change your party affiliation, fill out the same voter registration form that you used to register the first time. When filling out the form, simply select the box that says “change of party.” If you register less than 15 days before the election, then the change will not take place until the next election cycle. If you are an unaffiliated/independent voter, you will not be allowed to vote for major party candidates in key races like governor or U.S. Senate. In order to do so, you must change your registration to one of the parties on or before May 2. Where do I vote? If you’re voting in person, you can look up your polling place here. Can I vote by mail? Yes! Although Commonwealth Court has found the way the state’s mail-in voting law was passed to be unconstitutional, the case was appealed to the state Supreme Court (the highest court in Pennsylvania). The Supreme Court allowed the law to remain in effect while the case is heard, so if you want to vote by mail, you can. How do I vote by mail? You can request a mail-in ballot here using either a state-issued form of identification or your Social Security number. What is the deadline to request a mail-in ballot? The deadline for the primary is May 10, 2022. How do I properly prepare my mail-in ballot so it’s not thrown out? After receiving your mail-in ballot, be sure to read the instructions and complete the front and back of each page. After filling it out, place the ballot in the inner secrecy envelope that came with it. The secrecy envelope will be labeled, “official election ballot.” Be sure not to make any marks on it. Finally, put the secrecy envelope in the return envelope that has been pre-addressed. Remember to sign and date the return envelope, otherwise your vote will not be counted! For more details you can check here. How do I drop off a mail-in ballot? Mail-in ballots must be received by your county’s board of elections by 8 p.m. on the day of the primary, Tuesday, May 17. You can return your mail-in ballot at a drop box, your county election board, or another designated location, or through the mail. You can locate a dropoff location here. Voters must return their own ballots unless otherwise permitted. Only voters with a disability may designate someone to deliver their ballot for them. To officially designate someone, fill out this form and send it with your mail-in ballot. If you’ve already sent in your mail-in ballot, you can contact your local county election office for information on where to turn in the form. How do I vote absentee? The process to request an absentee ballot is similar to that of requesting a mail-in ballot. You can apply online or download the form and send it to your county election office. However, the application requires you to list a reason for your absence, unlike a mail-in ballot. You can find the application here. What is the deadline to request an absentee ballot? The deadline for the primary is 5 p.m. May 10, 2022. Has my legislative or congressional district changed? Possibly. You can use our map comparison tool to see how new legislative and congressional district maps might affect you. What’s on the ballot? All Pennsylvanians will be voting for a new governor, lieutenant governor, U.S. senator, and U.S representative. Many will also be electing new state representatives based on their new legislative district lines. While the new Senate lines leave the balance of power relatively unchanged in that chamber, the new House districts have the potential to level the playing field for Democrats come the general election. Ballots will also differ depending on which municipality you reside in. Some voters might be selecting new city council members or ward representatives. Most counties provide a preview of what their ballot will look like. You can find your county election site here. The League of Women Voters, a nonpartisan national voter advocacy group, also offers a ballot preview tool. Are there any constitutional amendments or statewide referendums on the ballot? No. You can track the status of all current proposals using our Amendment Tracker. Why does the primary matter? Primaries often decide which candidate will win the general election. Legislative districts tend to be small and politically cohesive. In the new legislative maps, only 15% of the seats are considered competitive, according to nonpartisan analysis. That means most districts have one party with a strong majority. So whichever candidate wins the primary of the dominant party is all but guaranteed to win the general election in November. Full coverage of the Pennsylvania primary election 2022: Your guide to the Democratic and GOP candidates for governor A guide to the often-overlooked race for Pa. lieutenant governor Big donations to GOP guv candidates: Who gave and how much? Josh Shapiro is amassing a big war chest. Who gave and how much? WATCH: Spotlight PA GOP governor candidates debate 5 takeaways from Spotlight PA’s Republican gubernatorial debate WATCH: Spotlight PA GOP U.S. Senate candidates debate WATCH: Spotlight PA DEM U.S. Senate candidates debate What they’re saying about Spotlight PA’s Democratic and Republican U.S. Senate debates Pennsylvania’s 2022 U.S. Senate race: What we know so far Tell Spotlight PA what election coverage matters the most to you WHILE YOU’RE HERE… If you learned something from this story, pay it forward and become a member of Spotlight PA so someone else can in the future at spotlightpa.org/donate. Spotlight PA is funded by foundationsand readers like you who are committed to accountability journalism that gets results.

Election 2022: Policy summary of top GOP candidates for Pennsylvania governor

By Anthony Hennen Pennsylvania voters are less than a month away from the primaries on May 17, and some of the top Republican candidates for governor among a crowded field will appear in a televised debate on Wednesday. As it stands from polls aggregated by Real Clear Politics, the Republican field is led by five candidates: state Sen. Doug Mastriano, former U.S. Rep. Lou Barletta, former U.S. Attorney Bill McSwain, President Pro Tempore of the state Senate Jake Corman, and former Delaware County Councilman Dave White. All but Corman will appear in this week’s debate. Pennsylvania Gov. Tom Wolf, a Democrat, is term-limited and cannot run for reelection. Other Pennsylvania Republicans campaigning for governor are Joe Gale, who serves on the Montgomery County Board of Commissioners; Charlie Gerow, vice chairman of the American Conservative Union; Melissa Hart, a former U.S. representative; and Nche Zama, a cardiothoracic surgeon. The presumptive Democratic nominee will be Attorney General Josh Shapiro, who has no primary challengers. For a policy overview of the candidates, The Center Square took a look at the candidates’ websites. The candidates are generally aligned ideologically, though emphases differ. Lou Barletta Barletta wants to rebuild the economy by keeping taxes low and reducing regulations. He claims to be “a champion of the production of coal, oil, and natural gas” to boost the economy and protect well-paying union jobs. He pledges to combat illegal immigration, fully fund law enforcement’s needs, strengthen election security, and rebuild the state’s infrastructure. He is also pro-school choice, pro-life, and pro-2nd Amendment, and wants to eliminate waste in state government. Jake Corman Corman announced five priority areas for his campaign. He’s running to defend freedom and reform emergency laws to prevent their abuse, securing elections by reviewing the 2020 election through an audit and pass electoral reforms, create new job opportunities across the state, improve education by supporting public supports and offer parents school choice, and protect communities by putting more cops on the street and defend the 1st Amendment. Doug Mastriano Mastriano announced four priorities for his campaign: protecting life, protecting the 2nd Amendment, protecting families, and protecting taxpayers. On protecting families, he emphasized religious liberties, parental rights, and educational choice. For protecting taxpayers, Mastriano said he “will be a constant reminder that Harrisburg has a duty to be fiscally responsible with other peoples’ hard earned money.” Mastriano also released his goals for his first 100 days that includes leaving the Regional Greenhouse Gas Initiative, protecting freedoms by ending mandates related to COVID-19, and stimulating the state’s economy.  Bill McSwain McSwain focuses on criminal justice and economics. He wants to “bring back law and order” and put criminals in jail and combat the opioid crisis. He also wants to create jobs, lower taxes, improve the state’s business climate and unleash Pennsylvania’s energy, and lower gas prices. McSwain also talked about “putting a stop to out-of-control spending in Harrisburg.” He is also pro-life and pro-2nd Amendment.  Dave White White’s campaign platform centers on being pro-life and pro-2nd Amendment. He wants to keep school athletics programs divided by sex, not gender identity. White is a strong promoter of vocational training and wants to increase the percentage of high school students from 3% to 30% over the next decade. He’d like to expand school choice and ban Critical Race Theory in K-12 schools. White also wants to prioritize speeding up approval times for permits and reduce regulations, leave the RGGI and fund energy infrastructure projects like natural gas pipelines, fix road infrastructure, and reduce the gas tax.

Pa. primary election 2022: 5 takeaways from Spotlight PA’s Republican gubernatorial debate

By Ethan Edward Coston of Spotlight PA and Kate Huangpu of Spotlight PA Spotlight PA is an independent, nonpartisan newsroom powered by The Philadelphia Inquirer in partnership with PennLive/The Patriot-News, TribLIVE/Pittsburgh Tribune-Review, and WITF Public Media. Sign up for our free newsletters. HARRISBURG — Five of the nine Republican candidates running to be Pennsylvania’s next governor participated in a debate hosted by Spotlight PA and its founding members Tuesday, aiming to differentiate themselves in a crowded field and make an impression on a largely undecided electorate. Senate President Pro Tempore Jake Corman (R., Centre), Montgomery County Commissioner Joe Gale, political strategist Charlie Gerow, former U.S. Rep. Melissa Hart (R., Pa.), and surgeon Nche Zama answered questions on issues including no-excuse mail voting, infrastructure, education, energy, and abortion. The other four candidates — including poll frontrunners state Sen. Doug Mastriano (R., Franklin) and ex-U.S. Rep. Lou Barletta (R., Pa.) — did not participate. Three of them signed a letter demanding a partisan moderator. All nine will appear on the May 17 primary ballots, as will Pennsylvania Attorney General Josh Shapiro, who is the only Democrat running for his party’s nomination. Democratic Gov. Tom Wolf is prevented by statute from seeking another term. Here are the key takeaways from the debate, which can be viewed here: READ MORE: Your guide to the Democratic and GOP candidates for governor See how much money the GOP candidates for governor have raised A guide to the primary race few voters are paying attention to Pa. election 2022: Tell Spotlight PA what coverage matters to you Voting Act 77, a bill passed with bipartisan support in 2019 that instituted no-excuse mail voting, was unanimously condemned by the candidates at the debate. They said it enabled fraudulent voting, a debunked claim. They also cast aspersions about the use of ballot drop boxes, pointing out two instances in which ballots were dropped off by someone other than the voter. While that is illegal under current law except for voters with disabilities or in the case of an emergency absentee ballot, it does not mean the ballot itself was invalid or fraudulent. Corman, who voted for the bill in 2019, now says he would repeal it because Wolf and the courts interpreted it in ways with which he disagrees. Hart previously sidestepped the question, saying she would need to conduct more research before committing to a position, but confirmed during the debate that she would repeal the law. Better roads and bridges, but different paths All of the candidates stressed the importance of improving the conditions of Pennsylvania’s roads and bridges, but they disagreed on how to accomplish that task. Corman said Pennsylvania should use more general fund dollars for the State Police budget rather than take money from the Motor License Fund, which is intended for road and bridge repairs. Hart and Gale targeted unions and said they would get rid of prevailing wage rules, which require contractors to pay their employees based on minimum wages set by the state department of labor. Hart also said she would use COVID-19 relief money to improve infrastructure. Gerow said he would use COVID-19 relief money to lower the gas tax, while Zama claimed the problem lies in efficient management of funds. Public vs. private schools All five candidates said they support “school choice,” which allows parents to choose alternatives such as homeschooling or private schools through access to state-provided tax credits or vouchers. Critics say school choice depletes funding for the public school system over time. The state is currently in the midst of a lawsuit — filed on behalf of seven school districts, parents, and several educational organizations — that alleges Pennsylvania fails to fulfill its constitutional requirement of providing high-quality public education. If successful, the suit could force the state to significantly increase funding for public schools. However, most candidates said that Pennsylvania already spends enough. Zama said he would grow Pennsylvania’s economy, specifically citing the agriculture and energy industries, and use that revenue to offset any lack of education funding and relieve “the burden of property taxes,” the primary funder of the state’s public schools. Gerow said he wants to get rid of the property taxes that fund schools and introduce a “specific package” to the legislature to replace the system, though he did not specify what would be in it. Hart suggested funding schools with the sales tax rather than property taxes, but said enough money is spent on the public school system. Corman and Gale both contended that the problem with the education system is parents’ lack of choice rather than a funding gap. Gale argued that if parents were able to freely choose different schooling options, public school systems would be forced to “shape up and get it right” as they compete with alternative schooling. More drilling, natural gas production All candidates showed unfettered enthusiasm for the energy industry and said they want to reinvigorate and invest in Pennsylvania’s fossil fuel producers, arguing the state should expand natural gas drilling, loosen regulations, and bring more manufacturing to Pennsylvania. Corman criticized Wolf’s desire to join the Regional Greenhouse Gas Initiative — an interstate program to reduce carbon dioxide emissions — and said the state will rely on natural gas for “decades to come.” Gale advocated for additional natural gas drilling. Gerow echoed those sentiments, stating Pennsylvania needs to “drill baby, drill.” Hart and Zama felt similarly but said the state needs to make home energy bills more affordable and grow its clean energy industry. A vow to limit abortion access All five candidates oppose abortion and would sign legislation to curtail it, but they disagreed on the extent to which it should be banned. Corman, Gale, and Zama said they believe life begins at conception, but Corman was the only person to explicitly support exceptions for maternal health, rape, or incest. Gale and Zama argued there should be no exceptions to a ban on abortion. Hart emphasized her legislative experience with bills that protect mothers, but didn’t specify the extent of her views against abortion access. Gerow said he would sign a pending “heartbeat bill” — which would ban abortion at around six weeks of pregnancy when an embryo’s cardiac activity can first be detected — as well as legislation that would ban abortion if a fetus has Down syndrome. Wolf has either vetoed or vowed to veto such bills. Correction: Due to an editing error, this story incorrectly stated why state Sen. Doug Mastriano did not participate in the debate. WHILE YOU’RE HERE… If you learned something from this story, pay it forward and become a member of Spotlight PA so someone else can in the future at spotlightpa.org/donate. Spotlight PA is funded by foundationsand readers like you who are committed to accountability journalism that gets results.

Pennsylvania county demolition funds for blighted properties: a rural and urban divide

By Anthony Hennen Blighted properties are a problem in every county across Pennsylvania, and a proposed bill would make permanent a new fee counties can impose to raise funds for demolition. SB439, sponsored by Sen. David Argall, R-Berks/Schuylkill, would remove a 10-year sunset provision from Act 152 of 2016 that authorizes counties to create a demolition program to tear down blighted properties. The program would otherwise expire in 2027, at which point it could be evaluated for renewal. Twenty-four counties have established a demolition program fee, which adds a $15 charge to each deed and mortgage recorded by the county. The attempt to make the program permanent has raised some questions, however. “It seems to me that the point of passing some type of program that is supposed to achieve certain objectives, and one way to do it is to stop it, give it some time to evaluate it – why the rush to do away with the sunset now when it’s supposed to go away in 2027?” said Eric Montarti, research director at the Allegheny Institute for Public Policy. “There’s a lot of time left.” Montarti has tracked the effects of the demolition program in Allegheny County, trying to draw out what happens to properties after demolition and the effects on property values in neighborhoods. What’s needed, Montarti said, is “some evaluation to say, ‘this is a worthwhile undertaking here.’” The fee revenue varies greatly by county. More-urban counties tend to do better: Allegheny County generated more than $2 million in 2020 according to its annual report and Delaware County generated $774,000 in 2021. Rural places like Venango County or Somerset County, however, generated $31,000 and $75,000, respectively, in 2021 and 2020. For low-population counties, such a fund may not be enough to cover its need for combating blight. Indiana County, a rural county that’s lost population since the 1990s, hasn’t created a demolition fund. For dealing with blight, programs like a land bank might work in Pittsburgh but not Indiana, said LuAnn Zak, assistant director of the Indiana County Office of Planning. “You can’t just jump in and do these land banks,” Zak said. “You don’t want to go out and just buy up all the properties because then they’re in your repository,” Zak said. “If a land bank is going to get a hold of a property, take ownership, well then you pretty much need to know there’s a buyer on the other end once you clean that property up.” Rural counties also have an issue in staffing and funding programs. “What I find in all programs, not just in blight, in any of the programs that come from the federal or state governments is a lack of financial assistance to the county or the local people who are administering programs,” Zak said. “There’s no money to pay staff.” Fighting blight is multi-faceted, and rural counties may also struggle with funding action that stops a property from becoming blighted in the first place. “Code enforcement is huge, a key factor from my standpoint,” said Josh Krug, deputy director of planning for Indiana County.

Pa. primary election 2022: Your guide to the Democratic and GOP candidates for governor

By Kate Huangpu of Spotlight PA and Ethan Edward Coston of Spotlight PA Spotlight PA is an independent, nonpartisan newsroom powered by The Philadelphia Inquirer in partnership with PennLive/The Patriot-News, TribLIVE/Pittsburgh Tribune-Review, and WITF Public Media. Sign up for our free newsletters. HARRISBURG — When Democrats head to the polls on May 17 for Pennsylvania’s 2022 primary election for governor, there will be just one choice on the ballot. Republicans will face a much different situation, with nine candidates and still no clear frontrunner. Gov. Tom Wolf, a Democrat first elected in 2014, is unable to run for re-election due to term limit restrictions. In this vacuum, Republicans have an opportunity to win the executive branch, which would leave them in control of the governor’s office as well as the legislature. Wolf has often served as a foil to the GOP-majority General Assembly during his tenure, vetoing efforts to rewrite the state’s Election Code, roll back environmental policies, and further restrict abortion access. Many GOP candidates have vowed to sign such legislation. Democrats have a voter registration edge over Republicans in the state, though that 500,000-plus advantage has been shrinking. While Wolf easily won reelection in 2018, close gubernatorial races in New Jersey and Virginia last year have political watchers expecting a tight race here. Here’s what you need to know about the 2022 primary governor election before going to the polls: >> READ MORE: See how much money the GOP candidates for governor have raised Democrat Josh Shapiro |Website Elected attorney general in 2016, Shapiro has been involved in Pennsylvania politics since 2004 — first as a state representative, then as a county commissioner in Montgomery County. As Pennsylvania’s top prosecutor, Shapiro investigated sexual abuse perpetrated by members of the Catholic Church and pursued cases relating to the opioid epidemic. Shapiro has listed defending voting access, maintaining abortion rights, and rebuilding infrastructure as major tenets of his campaign. Supports repealing Pa.’s no-excuse mail voting law? No. Shapiro has said he would reject any effort to repeal the law known as Act 77. Endorsements: Pennsylvania Democratic Party, AFL-CIO Read more: Bloomberg: There’s Exactly One Democrat Running for Governor of Pennsylvania Capital-Star: Josh Shapiro on the death penalty, climate, and Harrisburg New York Times: In Pennsylvania Governor’s Race, Josh Shapiro Focuses on Voting Rights >> WATCH LIVE: Spotlight PA hosts GOP gubernatorial debate April 19 Republicans Lou Barletta | Website Barletta started his political career in Hazleton on the city council in 1998 and then as mayor in 2000. In 2010, Barletta was elected to the U.S. House of Representatives, where he served for eight years. He unsuccessfully ran for U.S. Senate in 2018. Without providing specifics, Barletta is running on a myriad of issues including strengthening the economy, school choice, and oil and natural gas production; limiting access to abortion; and addressing “illegal immigration.” Supports repealing Pa.’s no-excuse mail voting law? Yes. Barletta has called Act 77 “unconstitutional” and believes the state needs signature verification and stricter voter ID requirements. During Republican attempts to overturn the results of the 2020 election, Barletta was included on a list of alternate Republican electors for Trump. “The language of the Pennsylvania document clearly states that this was done in case it was later determined that different electors were needed,” a Barletta campaign spokesperson told The Citizens’ Voice. Endorsements: Oil & Gas Workers Association, state Rep. Barb Gleim, state Rep Aaron Kaufer Read more: Capital-Star: Capital-Star Q+A: Lou Barletta thinks second time’s the charm in GOP governor’s run City & State PA: Lou Barletta’s seeking a political comeback as Pennsylvania governor Jake Corman | Website Corman replaced his father as a state senator in 1999. He served as the state Senate majority leader from 2015 to 2020, and he’s been the Senate president pro tempore since 2020. His vague platform includes “improving education,” election security, jobs, policing, and “defending freedoms.” Supports repealing Pa.’s no-excuse mail voting law? Yes. Corman voted for Act 77, but following the 2020 election, he’s supported its repeal and called for stricter voter ID requirements and third-party audits. Corman directed his chamber to conduct a “full forensic investigation” of the 2020 election, an idea fueled by baseless claims of widespread voter fraud. Endorsements: Spotlight PA could not identify any endorsements. Read more: Inquirer: Jake Corman on his run for Pa. governor, Trump’s influence on the primary, and the 2020 election WGAL: One-on-one with Pennsylvania gubernatorial candidate Jake Corman WHYY: A Pa. state lawmaker hasn’t become governor in 70 years. Jake Corman hopes to be the exception Joe Gale | Website Gale became a Montgomery County commissioner after being elected in an upset in 2015 with virtually no political experience. Gale labels himself an outsider and considers the Pennsylvania Republican party insufficiently conservative. In particular, he has criticized the Republican establishment, including his opponents Lou Barletta and Doug Mastriano. Gale calls himself “staunchly pro-life,” and said one of his top priorities is ousting Republicans he considers insufficiently conservative. Supports repealing Pa.’s no-excuse mail voting law? Yes. He also wrote in the Times Herald, a Montgomery County paper, that any elected official who voted in favor of Act 77 “should be disqualified from holding office.” Endorsements: Spotlight PA could not identify any endorsements. Read more: Capital-Star: Capital-Star Q+A: RINO hunter Joe Gale wants to make sure conservatives are energized for 2022 Philly Voice: Suburban politician, who called BLM a hate group and COVID-19 lockdowns ‘un-American,’ will run for governor WHYY: Montco’s Joe Gale announces bid for governor, denounces Pa. Republicans as ‘lousy’ Charlie Gerow | Website Gerow, a prominent Republican political strategist, began his career working for Ronald Reagan. Since then, Gerow has worked as a lobbyist and consultant, opening his own public communications firm. He currently serves as the vice-chairman of the American Conservative Union, which hosts the annual Conservative Political Action Conference (CPAC). Gerow has called himself a “Ronald Reagan Republican,” saying that he is best positioned to bridge the gap between the traditional Republican party and the increasingly radical wing of his party. His election platform has focused on promoting economic growth through traditional conservative fiscal policies of reducing taxes and regulation and wants to promote the state’s energy industry. Supports repealing Pa.’s no-excuse mail voting law? Yes. When Commonwealth Court struck down Act 77 as unconstitutional (a ruling being appealed in the state Supreme Court), Gerow called it “great news for election integrity and the prevention of voter fraud and ballot harvesting.” Gerow’s name was also listed on a certificate to assign Pennsylvania’s Electoral College votes to Trump, should a court challenge have succeeded. Endorsements: U.S. Rep. Glenn Thompson; Michael Regan, son of President Ronald Regan; former Speaker of the U.S. House Newt Gingrich; Matt Schlapp, executive director of CPAC; former U.S. Rep. Bob Walker; state Rep. Jerry Knowles; former Maryland Gov. Bob Ehrlich Read more: Capital-Star: Capital-Star Q+A: Longtime GOP activist Charlie Gerow thinks he’s the man to beat in 2022 Inquirer: A GOP strategist who worked for Reagan will run for Pa. governor as a ‘conservative happy warrior’ Melissa Hart | Website Hart has served as both a member of Congress and as a state senator representing Allegheny County. She has said that her success in areas that had majority Democratic registration speaks to her electability. Hart has been working as a lawyer for the past 14 years and is currently an attorney at Hergenroeder Rega Ewing & Kennedy, a law firm based in Pittsburgh. Hart’s campaign has focused on deregulating corporations and lowering taxes, expanding the natural gas industries, and implementing more restrictive abortion laws. Supports repealing Pa.’s no-excuse mail voting law? Maybe. Hart told the Capital-Star she personally doesn’t like no-excuse mail voting, but would need to do more study before committing to a repeal. Endorsements: Spotlight PA could not identify any endorsements. Read more: Capital-Star: Capital-Star Q+A: Reentering public life for governor run, Melissa Hart talks regulations, abortion WGAL: One-on-one with Pennsylvania gubernatorial candidate Melissa Hart Doug Mastriano | Website A retired Army colonel, Mastriano began serving as a state senator in 2019 and has been called a Christian nationalist, a label he rejects. However, he has often shared Islamophobic posts on social media, the New Yorker reported. Mastriano has highlighted anti-abortion policy, fiscal conservatism, and Second Amendment rights as central tenets of his campaign. He led many anti-shutdown rallies during the early months of the pandemic. Supports repealing Pa.’s no-excuse mail voting law? Yes. Mastriano has propagated false claims of widespread election fraud. He has been subpoenaed by the Jan. 6 committee over his communication with the Trump White House during attempts to overturn the results of the 2020 presidential election. He was also seen near the Capitol on the day of the insurrection. Endorsements: Michael Flynn, former national security advisor to Trump; state Rep. Rob Kauffman; state Rep. Stephanie Borowicz; conservative commentator and U.S. Senate candidate Kathy Barnette; Gun Owners of America Read more: City & State PA: 5 takeaways from Doug Mastriano’s gubernatorial campaign launch Inquirer: What to know about Doug Mastriano and why he got subpoenaed in the Jan. 6 Capitol probe Bill McSwain | Website McSwain is a former Trump-appointed U.S. attorney in Philadelphia, where he had a contentious relationship with its elected officials. If elected governor, he has promised to focus on stimulating the economy and energy production, improving access to education, limiting access to abortion, dealing with the opioid epidemic, and “bringing back law and order.” Supports repealing Pa.’s no-excuse mail voting law? Yes. McSwain says no-excuse mail voting caused confusion and delayed the election results (something that can be blamed, in part, on the state’s lack of robust pre-canvassing time). Endorsements: Sean Parnell, a former candidate for U.S. Senate who dropped out after he lost custody of his children in a case that also revealed allegations of domestic abuse; state Rep. Kathy Rapp; Commonwealth Partners Chamber of Entrepreneurs; Republican State Committee of Chester County Read more: Erie News Now: Meet the Candidates: Bill McSwain for Governor Inquirer: Bill McSwain was ‘angling to run for something’ as U.S. attorney. Now his run for governor is all about his time as a prosecutor. Dave White | Website White is the owner of an HVAC company and a former Delaware County Council member. He’s campaigning as a political outsider and someone with “real world” experience. In a press release announcing his candidacy, he called for allocating more funding to police, lowering taxes, and railed against “critical race theory” — an academic framework to study race in society and law that has been co-opted by right-wing activists as indoctrination by progressives — and “kids failing in schools.” On his website, White listed protecting Second Amendment rights, limiting access to abortion, and preventing transgender women from competing in women’s sports as priorities. Supports repealing Pa.’s no-excuse mail voting law? Yes. White has said that no-excuse mail voting is a “disaster.” Endorsements: State Sen. Dan Laughlin, former Trump Director of National Intelligence Richard Grenell, Butler County GOP Read more: PoliticsPA: Who is Dave White and Why Is He Doing So Well? Zama is a cardiothoracic surgeon who lives in the Poconos and immigrated to the United States from Cameroon as a teenager on a student visa. With virtually no political experience, Zama believes his independence from the political establishment will distinguish him from the other candidates. Zama’s campaign has centered on education and health care, two things he says he has personally benefited from after immigrating to the United States. Supports repealing Pa.’s no-excuse mail voting law? Yes. Zama has said he supports its repeal and would want to set up a commission to look more deeply into the topic. Endorsements: Spotlight PA could not identify any endorsements. Read more: Capital-Star: Capital-Star Q+A: Pa. is sick and needs a doctor, says GOP Gov. candidate Nche Zama City & State PA: GOP gubernatorial hopeful Dr. Nche Zama promises to unite Pennsylvania Pocono Record: Renowned surgeon from the Poconos throws hat into ring for governor WHILE YOU’RE HERE… If you learned something from this story, pay it forward and become a member of Spotlight PA so someone else can in the future at spotlightpa.org/donate. Spotlight PA is funded by foundationsand readers like you who are committed to accountability journalism that gets results.

Oversight of Pa. addiction recovery homes will begin soon, but operators slow to opt-in

By Ed Mahon of Spotlight PA Spotlight PA is an independent, nonpartisan newsroom powered by The Philadelphia Inquirer in partnership with PennLive/The Patriot-News, TribLIVE/Pittsburgh Tribune-Review, and WITF Public Media. Sign up for our free newsletters. HARRISBURG — The Wolf administration is preparing to enforce its long-awaited licensing system for addiction recovery homes, which have operated with limited oversight for years. But with only two months before a major deadline, only a few dozen houses have submitted applications for a license, raising concerns that not enough operators will get on board with a reform meant to provide greater support for people struggling with addiction. Recovery homes are supposed to offer safe places to live, while enforcing rules to help people avoid drugs and alcohol. They vary in size, but eight to 12 residents is a typical range, advocates told Spotlight PA, and homes often are owned by nonprofits, small businesses, or people who have personal experiences with recovery. They provide an important service. But recovery advocates say some homes take advantage of vulnerable residents, crowd people into rooms, and condone illegal drug use. Without protections in place, the Wolf administration has argued, an unknown number of unregulated and substandard houses provide low-quality to no supportive services — potentially increasing the chance residents will relapse, overdose, and die. In 2017, lawmakers gave the Department of Drug and Alcohol Programs the power to license recovery homes. But Wolf administration officials missed a deadline to formally introduce the rules for the new licensing system. And when they did propose the rules, they received strong pushback from some recovery home operators, advocates, and county officials who warned that requirements like financial audits placed too much of a burden on homes. In response, the department eliminated the financial audit requirement, scaled back other rules, and began accepting recovery house applications in late 2021. While operators will be able to apply for a license at any time, requirements under state regulations take effect in early June. A big question is how many homes will sign up. No one knows exactly how many recovery homes there are in Pennsylvania, but they are believed to number in the thousands. Last year, the Wolf administration estimated about 600 houses would seek one of the state’s new licenses. But applications got off to a “slow start,” Jennifer Smith, secretary for the Department of Drug and Alcohol Programs, recently told lawmakers. “I think a lot of the hesitation is fear of not knowing what that process looks like and thinking that it might be more daunting than what it really is,” Smith said at a March 3 budget hearing. She suggested those concerns will fade as more homes undergo the licensing process. As of April 11, there were four licensed homes and 30 applications under review, according to a department spokesperson. About 100 more incomplete applications for recovery houses were in the state’s online application portal but hadn’t been submitted yet. “There’s clearly a long way to go,” said William Stauffer, executive director of the Pennsylvania Recovery Organizations Alliance, which advocates for people in recovery. “And I think the jury is out. Will we have enough that can afford to go through it? …And then we need to consider what happens to people who are unable to afford the more expensive licensed houses.” Licensed homes will have to pay an annual $250 fee to the Department of Drug and Alcohol Programs. To be licensed, the homes must comply with increased staff training requirements, follow other department policies, meet certain safety standards, and pass state inspections. The Wolf administration has acknowledged operators are likely to pass extra costs onto residents, but it said situations will vary, and licenses also bring benefits. Applying for a license is voluntary, but there are incentives. Only licensed homes, for instance, can receive referrals from state agencies or state-funded facilities — which includes addiction treatment facilities that receive state money. Any person whose treatment is funded with federal or state money can also only be referred to a licensed home. And only licensed homes can receive funding from federal, state, or county agencies. Beginning June 9, unlicensed homes receiving public funding could receive fines of up to $1,000 per day, the department recently warned. In late March, the state announced another incentive for licensed homes: more than $1 million in grant money earmarked to help 22 to 25 homes pay for health and safety upgrades. Despite those incentives, state Rep. Doyle Heffley (R., Carbon), who asked Smith about the number of licenses during the March budget hearing, worries there won’t be enough licensed recovery homes. That means many people will be pushed into homes that operate with no oversight. “That’s what we were trying to get away from,” Heffley told Spotlight PA. Operators of the state’s first two licensed recovery homes had kind words for the process, and are optimistic about the potential impact of the new system. “It’s going to make owners … step up their game,” the Rev. Michelle Simmons, founder and executive director of the Philadelphia nonprofit Why Not Prosper, told Spotlight PA. Her organization, which serves formerly incarcerated women, received a license for one of its recovery homes, and Simmons plans to seek licenses for its other facilities. Those licenses build credibility and open up new funding opportunities, she said. While the state’s licensing system is new, Simmons said she has previous experience working with voluntary certification rules. “For people that have got all their paperwork straightened out, it’s going to be kind of like a breeze,” Simmons said. But people starting from scratch, Simmons said, should find a mentor. In Monroe County’s Coolbaugh Township, Amanda Ramirez said the Department of Drug and Alcohol Programs was helpful during the application process and explained technical issues like what type of fire exit was acceptable. Ramirez, 34, has owned a recovery home with her husband and mother for several years. After her brother Justin Bacher died from a fentanyl overdose last year, they renamed the home to honor him. Ramirez said her family did a lot of outreach in the community to build a good reputation for their recovery home. She sees the licensing process as a way to stand apart. “We’re going to have protocols to follow. We’re going to have inspections. We have people to answer to,” Ramirez said. “That was something that was really important to us. …We really just want the best.” WHILE YOU’RE HERE… If you learned something from this story, pay it forward and become a member of Spotlight PA so someone else can in the future at spotlightpa.org/donate. Spotlight PA is funded by foundationsand readers like you who are committed to accountability journalism that gets results.

Gov. Wolf proposes $200 million for college scholarships

By Anthony Hennen A push from Gov. Tom Wolf could create a $200 million scholarship fund for students who attend public colleges in the state. “When it comes to pursuing a higher education, skyrocketing costs over the last decade have put that dream out of reach for too many families. Pennsylvanians are being priced out of a brighter future,” Wolf said at a visit to Millersville University. “When our brightest and best Pennsylvanians can’t pursue a higher education because it’s unaffordable, that means we’re doing something wrong.” To address that, Wolf has proposed the Nellie Bly Scholarship Program, funded by money from the American Rescue Plan Act and the Race Horse Development Trust Fund. Students could use the scholarship for tuition and attendance costs, and would be required to stay in Pennsylvania for as long as they receive the scholarship. They must be full-time students and enroll at a community college or a public college within the Pennsylvania State System of Higher Education. The scholarship would also focus on students in health care, education, and public service-related programs, where there’s a high need for workers. For community college students, they could receive up to $2,000 annually, and public university students could receive up to $4,000. Rep. Jordan Harris, D-Philadelphia, introduced legislation to establish the program, which would also submit a report to the General Assembly to detail how many students receive scholarships, as well as graduation rates. While the cost of college could fall for students receiving the scholarship, the rising cost of college will not be affected, only students’ ability to pay. While some blame a lack of state funding for higher education in driving up costs, others blame the availability of federal student loans for helping universities expand noneducation-related activity, such as administrative roles and athletics programs. “More federal aid to students enables colleges to raise tuition more. Salaries rise; bureaucracies expand; more courses – from “History and Analysis of Rock Music” to “Ultimate Frisbee” – are offered; dorms, dining halls, and recreational centers become more lavish,” wrote David Boaz, vice president of the Cato Institute. “Even with all this spending, employers don’t find that new grads are well prepared for the workplace.” As Pennsylvania’s college-aged population drops, its public college enrollment has fallen by almost 22% since 2010. The Department of Education has moved to combine six PASSHE colleges into three to cut costs and attract students recently.

Pa. election 2022: A guide to the primary race few voters are paying attention to

By Angela Couloumbis of Spotlight PA Spotlight PA is an independent, nonpartisan newsroom powered by The Philadelphia Inquirer in partnership with PennLive/The Patriot-News, TribLIVE/Pittsburgh Tribune-Review, and WITF Public Media. Sign up for our free newsletters. HARRISBURG — By now, most voters have likely heard about the congested, double-digit field of contenders jockeying in this year’s primary race for the chance to snag the state’s top job of governor. But there is another crowded primary contest unfolding with far less fanfare: that of lieutenant governor. In all, there are 12 people running to become Pennsylvania’s second-in-command — two more than in the governor’s race. That uneven math is the result of Pennsylvania’s quirky rules for electing top executives. The state is among a minority that elects its governors and lieutenant governors separately in the primary, but then as a single ticket in the general election. That election method has produced some odd pairings over the years, most recently in Gov. Tom Wolf’s first term, during which his icy relationship with then-Lt. Gov. Mike Stack, driven in part by how different they were in both style and personality, became one of the worst-kept secrets in the Capitol. On paper, as it stands now, candidates for governor and lieutenant governor run separately during the primary election. Off the books, however, candidates often align early on and campaign together even in the months before the primary. That has been the case for this year’s May 17 primary race with Attorney General Josh Shapiro and state Rep. Austin Davis of Allegheny County on the Democratic end; and Sen. Doug Mastriano of Franklin County and Teddy Daniels on the Republican side of the election ballot. But it’s all unofficial. One lawmaker has tried for years to change that. State Sen. Dave Argall (R., Schuylkill) introduced legislation back in 2017 to change the way voters select the lieutenant governor. His proposal would allow Pennsylvania’s gubernatorial nominees to choose a running mate, similar to how the president of the United States selects one. His measure, Argall said at the time, was inspired by the strained relationship between Wolf and Stack. Such a change would require a change to the state constitution, which takes time and effort. A proposed amendment must be approved by the legislature in two consecutive two-year sessions and the language must be identical both times. Then, voters have the final say, deciding via a ballot question. Argall’s bill passed for the first time in the 2019-2020 session. It appeared to be on track to be approved in the current two-year session — setting the stage for it to appear on the ballot this year — but the proposal has been laden with additional proposed election-related changes, clouding its future path. What remains constant for the moment are the duties of the office. The lieutenant governor’s job is often described as one of the best in the Capitol because it carries with it the clout of the executive — and pays $178,940 annually — without the work or pressures of being governor. The lieutenant governorship has some prescribed duties, including presiding over the 50-member state Senate and chairing the state Board of Pardons. But beyond that, lieutenant governors are only as powerful as governors choose to make them. A governor could delegate important research or advocacy work to their lieutenant. Wolf, for instance, tasked Lt. Gov. John Fetterman at the start of his second term with completing a report on attitudes toward legalizing adult-use recreational marijuana. Or they could ignore them completely. Here is who is running for the office: Democrats Austin Davis: A state representative from the Mon Valley near Pittsburgh, Davis worked for the Allegheny County government before becoming a lawmaker in 2018. Brian Sims: An attorney and advocate for the LGBTQ community and women’s rights, Sims, of Philadelphia, was elected in 2012 to the House of Representatives, becoming one of the legislature’s first openly gay members. Ray Sosa: A career banker and insurance agent from Montgomery County, Sosa also ran in 2018 for the job. He has been appointed by three governors to multiple state task forces, including ones on criminal justice and emergency management. Republicans John Brown: A former elected executive of Northampton County, Brown was the Republican party’s nominee for auditor general in 2016, but lost to Democrat Eugene DePasquale. Spotlight PA could not locate a campaign website for Brown. Jeff Coleman: A former legislator, the Central Pennsylvania resident is a longtime political consultant who has worked to elect conservatives and advance conservative causes. Teddy Daniels: A supporter of former President Donald Trump, Daniels is a retired police officer and Army combat veteran who founded a security/transport consulting firm. The Wayne County resident posted on social media that he was outside the Capitol on Jan. 6. Carrie DelRosso: The Allegheny County resident and first-term lawmaker made headlines in 2020 when she defeated the minority leader in the state House. Russ Diamond: A Lebanon County businessman who also became a well-known government reform advocate in the mid-2000s, Diamond was later elected to the state House, where he is serving his fourth term. Chris Frye: The mayor of New Castle in Lawrence County, Frye has worked in federal reentry and workforce development programs and was an adjunct professor at Slippery Rock University. James Jones: The Montgomery County resident founded and runs an oil and petroleum products trading business, and has twice run for Congress in the past two decades, both times unsuccessfully. Rick Saccone: A Western Pennsylvania resident, Saccone is a former state lawmaker who made an unsuccessful run for Congress in 2018. He was outside the U.S. Capitol during the Jan. 6 insurrection. Clarice Schillinger: A Bucks County resident, Schillinger founded and ran political action committees to help elect school board candidates supportive of pushing back on pandemic-era restrictions on in-person learning. WHILE YOU’RE HERE… If you learned something from this story, pay it forward and become a member of Spotlight PA so someone else can in the future at spotlightpa.org/donate. Spotlight PA is funded by foundationsand readers like you who are committed to accountability journalism that gets results.

Pennsylvania tax revenues stronger than anticipated, $580 million above estimates

By Anthony Hennen Pennsylvania’s tax receipts were strong for March 2022, with the Independent Fiscal Office revising its projections up by $580 million from its August estimate. Sales taxes, personal income taxes, and corporate net income taxes drove the rise, indicating that the economy is recovering from pandemic-related slowdowns. The labor force participation rate and unemployment rate still have not returned to prepandemic levels, however, according to the Bureau of Labor and Statistics. The Independent Fiscal Office’s estimate was closer than the Pennsylvania Department of Revenue’s figures. The Department of Revenue underestimated collections by $659 million. The General Fund collections have been strong through the fiscal year-to-date, totaling $34.1 billion, $2.7 billion more than the Department of Revenue anticipated. The windfall is even greater than the remaining federal funds the state received from the American Rescue Plan Act; Republicans and Democrats remain at odds on what to do with the $1.7 billion of remaining federal money. For comparison, Pennsylvania generates $4.5 billion from the state gas tax and motor license fees, and $2.7 billion of that covers roads and bridges. The stronger-than-anticipated tax revenues could shore up existing programs (as state Republicans have argued for federal ARPA funds) or be used for new spending programs (as state Democrats have argued). It’s unclear how long extra tax revenues will continue. Consumption taxes, such as sales taxes and other General Fund tax revenues, could contract from rising inflation and as pent-up demand from the pandemic levels off. As the Department of Revenue’s update notes, the lion’s share of the tax revenues came from sales tax, personal income tax, and corporate tax. Those increases of 8%, 6.5%, and 18.6%, respectively, are unlikely to be a long-term trend.