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Your brief guide to the Pa. Capitol in 2020

The Investigator
Your exclusive guide to the best journalism in Pa.
January 9, 2020 | spotlightpa.org
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Buckle up, because 2020 is going to be a wild ride in Pennsylvania, and we've got everything you need to know in a brief guide from our Capitol veteran, Angela Couloumbis. Also, Gov. Wolf still doesn't want you to know who applies to fill judicial vacancies, despite concerns about secrecy and deal making.

Elsewhere, the Inquirer continues its relentless coverage of the probation system, and state regulators made a splash last week with a whopping $30 million fine against a pipeline operator. All that and more in this week's edition.

— Christopher Baxter, Spotlight PA


“... it’s a waste of taxpayer dollars for Speaker Turzai to call these elections in March rather than waiting just a few weeks and saving a lot of hassle for everyone."

— House Democratic Leader Frank Dermody on House Speaker Mike Turzai's decision to schedule costly special elections rather than hold them on primary day


A quick guide on what to expect from the Pa. legislature, governor and more in 2020

This is the year nearly everyone working in Pennsylvania government and politics has been waiting for: from the decennial census to control of the state legislature, Congress and the White House, 2020 promises to be breathtakingly busy. And Pennsylvania is widely expected to be at the center of the national news cycle.
Next week, the state legislature returns to the Capitol after a lengthy break for the holidays. On the policy front, few believe lawmakers will move substantive legislation. Traditionally, legislators have shied away from tackling particularly complicated or costly problems in election years, lest it hurt their reelection chances.
Still, Gov. Wolf, a Democrat, in early February is scheduled to deliver his budget address to a joint session of the Republican-controlled legislature, and budget negotiations will dominate the agenda. In his second and final term, the governor is expected to again make a push for some of his key priorities, including some that have repeatedly been rejected by GOP lawmakers.
Wolf, for instance, is again poised to push for a tax on the extraction of natural gas (he’s done so every year since taking office in 2015). He would then use the proceeds to bankroll infrastructure improvements. The proposed tax has been deeply unpopular with many Republicans, who believe it will drive away an industry that is integral to the state’s economy.
Wolf also is likely to argue for gun control reforms, which, for years, have gained no traction in the Capitol. He will also advocate for a minimum wage hike. (The Senate approved an increase late last year from the current $7.25 per hour to $9.50 per hour; it is unclear whether the House will act on it.)
But the more bruising fight is expected in the political arena.
There are several high-profile congressional races across the state that will be watched nationally. And in Harrisburg, Democrats believe they can take back control of the state House of Representatives, where Republicans currently hold 107 of 203 seats (there are four vacancies because of resignations).
In the Senate, Democrats say they still see a path to taking control of the chamber, despite the high-profile defection of longtime Sen. John Yudichak (D., Luzerne), who announced late last year that he was becoming an independent and now caucuses with Republicans. 
Control of the chambers is key. Once this year’s census is complete, the legislature will redraw maps for legislative and congressional districts, and the party that controls the statehouse will have an advantage in the process.

— Angela Couloumbis, Spotlight PA

Only the best


New sentencing guidelines for probation violators may backfire and result in harsher penalties

Some cheer more uniformity in the system, but others say it may lead to harsher sentences than in the past.


State issues whopping $30 million fine against pipeline company but allows construction to resume

An investigation found Energy Transfer violated several regulations while building a pipeline in western Pennsylvania.

» Wolf doesn't want you to know who applies to fill judicial vacancies
» Shuttered Three Mile Island wants to end siren tests, radiation monitoring
» Wolf tells legislature it's either a minimum wage hike or better overtime pay
» Former Pa. congressman Mike Fitzpatrick dies at age 56
» You shouldn't speed in work zones. And now there are cameras to catch you.
» Why does the House speaker keep spending taxpayer money on special elections?
» Muslim inmates pay more for religious texts inside Pa. prisons

Send your answers to newsletters@spotlightpa.org.
Thanks to Kenneth J. for this week's riddle. Want us to feature yours? Send it to us.

Headscratcher (Case No. 20): How many bricks does it take to finish a brick walkway?

Stumped? Get a hint.

Last week's answer: There were several correct weather-related answers: Snowfall covered the tracks, the sun came out and the snow melted, or it was a really windy day.

Congrats to Justin W. who will receive Spotlight PA swag. Others who correctly answered: Deborah D., Annette I., Lou R., Kenneth J., Ed L., and Jon N.
» This week's Riddler hint: Don't overthink it.
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