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Pa. Senate leader's campaign loses public records suit

The Investigator

Your guide to the Capitol & stories holding the powerful to account

Oct. 8, 2020 | spotlightpa.org

Score one for press freedom.

A judge this week dismissed a suit brought by Sen. Joe Scarnati's campaign against a Spotlight PA journalist, as well as our partner The Caucus and its bureau chief, that sought thousands of dollars for public records the journalists used to document questionable campaign spending by lawmakers including Scarnati.

The investigation found that from 2016 through 2018, the campaigns of Scarnati and other lawmakers spent $3.5 million that could not be fully traced based on the information they disclosed on regular campaign finance reports. The records at issue showed Scarnati’s campaign used donors’ money to pay for, among other things, thousands of dollars in hotel rooms and dinners during a 2016 trip through Europe.

This week's victory likely isn't the end. The judge said Scarnati's campaign can refile its suit, which a lawyer indicated it probably will do. If you want to help us fight back in the name of truth and transparency, please consider becoming a monthly donor.

Also this week, Auditor General Eugene DePasquale detailed the initial findings of an audit of the Wolf administration’s coronavirus business waiver program, telling reporters it was inconsistent and confusing. A previous Spotlight PA investigation detailed how direct competitors received conflicting guidance, with one being allowed to reopen while another had to stay closed.

Finally this week, we have a must-read report on struggling child-care centers and fears that more could close this year should COVID-19 surge again

Sarah Anne Hughes of Spotlight PA


"I’m sick over that bill, I could cry."

Rep. Sue Helm (R., Dauphin) reacts to the cancelation of a vote on her bill to fix the state's troubled rental assistance program

Latest on COVID-19

Our coronavirus tracker shows rising case trends in more than 20 Pennsylvania counties, as well as an increase in hospitalizations. The Inquirer reports that case levels are still well below what they were this spring and that hospitals still have plenty of capacity

» Follow the latest state data with our coronavirus tracker, and sign up for weekly alerts with the latest data localized for your county

More from Spotlight PA

» Pa. House lawmaker's COVID-19 diagnosis delays legislation on rent relief

Want to make Pa.’s roads safer? Let undocumented people get licenses, coalition says

Before the early 2000s, any Pennsylvania resident — regardless of their immigration status — could obtain a driver’s license in the state.

That changed in the aftermath of the 9/11 attacks, when the legislature passed a bill that required all applicants to have an established legal presence in the U.S.

Now, the coalition Driving PA Forward is rallying behind a bill from Rep. Danilo Burgos (D., Philadelphia) that would roll back that change as well as institute strict privacy protections. 

Members of the Movement of Immigrant Leaders in Pennsylvania have been fasting and praying for weeks for the passage of the bill and will celebrate the 40-day mark Oct. 19 on the Capitol steps. 

Currently, a person does not need a social security number to get a license in Pennsylvania but they do need to obtain a waiver from the federal government showing they aren’t required to have one. 

The bill would get rid of that provision, which its supporters say would make Pennsylvania’s roads safer for everyone and help the economy by allowing more people to purchase vehicle insurance. Using data from Illinois, the progressive Pennsylvania Budget and Policy Center estimates that more than 81,000 undocumented people in the state would obtain a driver’s license — in turn, boosting state revenues. 

“Denying a driver's license is denying someone the right to have a name,” Luis Larin, of Driving PA Forward, told Spotlight PA, adding that the law currently harms people who pay taxes and are established members of communities. 

Burgos’ bill would also put strict limits on PennDOT’s ability to sell and share the information it collects from applicants, including lease agreements, utility bills, and photographs. In a report, the coalition said this practice allows U.S. Immigration and Customs Enforcement to track down noncitizens and deport them.

“It's frustrating,” Burgos said. “We know that this community … [has] worked diligently to help to provide not just for their families but for Pennsylvania, and yet we can't seem legislatively to get on the same page and help them.”

Cynthia Fernandez of Spotlight PA

» YOU'RE INVITED: Register now for our upcoming live interview with Secretary of the Commonwealth Kathy Boockvar on ensuring a fair and accurate election in Pennsylvania. You can also submit your questions.

From across the state

» Philadelphia is suing the state of Pennsylvania so it can enact stronger gun safety laws and curb the epidemic of gun violence in the city, Billy Penn reports. The city plans to argue that Commonwealth Court should invalidate a section of state law that prevents officials from implementing policies that “have repeatedly been shown to be effective in saving lives.”

» Secretary of the Commonwealth Kathy Boockvar is asking the state Supreme Court to weigh in on a new legal dispute with the Trump campaign, which in a separate federal suit has argued counties should not be permitted to count mail-in ballots when a voter’s signature does not precisely match the one on their registration. In her filing, Boockvar asked the court to make it clear that state law does not permit such rejections, according to the Associated Press.  

» Despite the pandemic, advocates for people who live in long-term care facilities say these residents need visitors, PennLive reports. Experts agree that isolating them from their loved ones and other people in the facilities may cause depression, weight loss, and other medical problems. 

More good reads

» AP: Wolf eases crowd limits with sliding scale tied to capacity

» CNN: Pennsylvania becomes the epicenter of 2020 election chaos

» ERIE NEWS NOW: Business owners worry funding isn’t coming soon enough

» INQUIRER: More allege they were sexually assaulted as children by Devereux staff

» INQUIRER: Pa.’s voter website crash stems from a data center that broke down in Va.

» MORNING CALL: Postal workers say efforts to sabotage mail are ongoing

» MORNING CALL: Lehigh Valley police, communities of color have to work together

» PENNLIVE: Lancaster-based political blog connected to Russian propaganda pushers

» TRIBLIVE: State rep. calls for impeachment of Pennsylvania Supreme Court justice

» WESA: How should Pa. boost student learning during the pandemic?

Yaasmeen Piper of Spotlight PA


Send your answers to riddler@spotlightpa.org.

DAY DOOZY (Case No. 59): Martín challenged his friend to name three consecutive days without using Sunday, Monday, Tuesday, Wednesday, Thursday, Friday, or Saturday. To his surprise, his friend was able to do it. How?
Feeling smart? Challenge a friend.

Last week's answer: The nail was at the same height, as trees grow from the top.
Congrats to Burnetta S., who will receive Spotlight PA swag. Others who answered correctly: Karen K., Philip C., Hagan H., Joseph S., Paul H., Bruce G., Lynda G., Annette I., Karen M., Michael H., John S., Jeff W., Jyotin S., Dennis P., Eileen D., George R., Jason C., Beverly M., Marvin S., Lou R., Jonathan N., Norman S.A., Joseph A., Dennis F., Joan C., and Allen S.

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