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Editor's Notes

The best Spotlight PA investigations of 2022 (so far)

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Leise Hook / For Spotlight PA

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HARRISBURG — In the first half of 2022, Spotlight PA reporters probed dangerous cannabis claims, exposed late-night emails between a lawmaker and lobbyists, and highlighted serious issues with a police hiring database.

Their work has been cited in editorials, discussed by powerful lawmakers, and praised by readers for revealing issues that otherwise would have remained hidden and untold.

Here are the best Spotlight PA stories and investigations of 2022, so far:

Some Pa. companies promote cannabis as an addiction treatment using misleading or dangerous tactics

In a February investigation, reporter Ed Mahon found that some Pennsylvania cannabis companies were using incomplete or misleading claims to promote marijuana as a treatment for opioid addiction, potentially putting patients’ lives at greater risk.

Mahon’s reporting was cited by High Times, highlighted in a TribLive editorial, and led one cannabis certification company to change its website.

Statewide Pennsylvania police hiring database hindered by loopholes, lack of enforcement

In her new role as Spotlight PA’s justice reporter, Danielle Ohl examined a database of police personnel records lauded as a national model. She found it was riddled with loopholes that raise serious questions about its ability to flag police officers with histories of misconduct.

Ohl’s story was published just a few weeks before a small town in the northern part of the state hired Timothy Loehmann, the officer who shot and killed 12-year-old Tamir Rice. Her reporting was cited in a York Dispatch story about the hiring of an officer accused of reenacting the murder of George Floyd at a party.

Broken ‘compassionate release’ rules strand Pa.’s sickest prisoners as costs to taxpayers soar

Ohl also reported on Pennsylvania’s “compassionate release” system for sick and dying state prisoners, which she found is so narrowly written that only 33 people have successfully petitioned for it in 13 years.

She later spoke to one of those successful petitioners and learned he had to make a bleak choice: get treatment for cancer to prolong his life and stay in prison, or come home for good and die.

Her reporting was cited in multiple editorials including in The Inquirer. Rep. Jordan Harris (D., Philadelphia) shared the article on Facebook and advocated for a better program.

Draft bills and late-night emails reveal cozy ties between Pa. state lawmaker, casino lobbyists

In April, Angela Couloumbis offered readers a rare glimpse at the cozy relationship between lawmakers and lobbyists when she reported on emails between state Sen. Tommy Tomlinson’s office and people representing Parx Casino, a top donor in his district.

The emails showed that Tomlinson’s office asked lobbyists for Parx Casino to write the language for a bill to ban skill games, slot-like machines that are unregulated in Pennsylvania. This fact was not disclosed to the public.

An obscure state law could blunt the impact of up to $1 billion in federal funding for Pennsylvania’s broadband expansion

The lack of broadband coverage in rural areas of Pennsylvania is a well-covered issue. Charlotte Keith went deeper and identified an obscure provision tucked into state law that could complicate a historic infusion of federal funding.

Keith’s reporting was cited in multiple editorials including in the Pittsburgh Post-Gazette. Sunbury Broadcasting asked state Sen. John Gordner (R., Columbia) about the law. He said it “just has to go away” and that legislation is being discussed on that point.

Public database significantly undercounts former drug labs in Pa. Here’s why home buyers, renters should care.

In May, Jamie Martines found that the only online federal database that allows people to see whether their home or property was contaminated with toxic chemicals used to make such drugs as methamphetamine significantly undercounts the number of sites in Pennsylvania.

Pennsylvania is one of several nationwide that do not have laws or guidelines outlining how contaminated properties should be cleaned or when they are safe to live in, according to the Environmental Protection Agency.

Spotlight PA’s 2022 redistricting coverage

Kate Huangpu continued covering Pennsylvania’s critical redistricting process in 2022, bringing readers in-depth looks at the proposed political maps, coverage of legal challenges to them, and analysis of what the new district lines meant for candidates of color during the primary.

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

When state Sen. Doug Mastriano won the Republican nomination for governor, Stephen Caruso and Ethan Edward Coston quickly produced a comprehensive analysis of how the candidate built a grassroots movement.

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 foundations and readers like you who are committed to accountability journalism that gets results.

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