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Your guide to Pa.’s 2021 primary ballot questions

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The Investigator

April 15, 2021 | spotlightpa.org

Giving pause, 'massive' fraud, voter guide, police stops, legal fights, vile propaganda, gun reform, migrant children, jail attack, and Cutler's quarantine.  

Questions remain following this week's pausing of Johnson & Johnson vaccinations in Pennsylvania, namely how it might impact momentum at a pivotal moment for the state program. 

Pennsylvania officials have suspended the use of J&J shots until at least April 20 as federal health officials probe rare reports of blood clots in recipients.

The timing of the pause is significant. Pennsylvania opened vaccine eligibility to everyone 16 and older this week as officials look to boost lagging demand and ramp up efforts to convince remaining holdouts. 

Jamie Martines reports many providers quickly pivoted to other vaccine options, but the pause could slow efforts to vaccinate groups given priority access to the state's one-and-done J&J supply. This includes farm and food workers and people in state prisons. 

Thousands of Pennsylvania teachers and school staff already received J&J shots through a special allocation. A statement from the state’s largest teachers union said it was unaware of any reports of side effects but "will stay vigilant." 

If you received the J&J vaccine and experience severe headaches, abdominal pain, leg pain, or shortness of breath within three weeks, experts recommend contacting your doctor. If you're scheduled to receive a J&J shot, check with your provider to see if they're offering another brand.

For vaccine providers, check Spotlight PA's map and county-by-county listing.

And finally, Pennsylvania Attorney General Josh Shapiro has filed what he calls “the largest prevailing wage criminal case on record" against a State College contractor

Glenn O. Hawbaker, Inc., a construction and paving company that has been paid more than $1.7 billion for state projects, was charged with four counts of theft for allegedly siphoning millions of dollars in retirement and health benefits from its employees in violation of state and federal labor laws. 

Colin Deppen, Spotlight PA

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“Even though there are only six cases that have come to our attention, we have this pause so that we can evaluate closely what actions need to be taken.”

—Pennsylvania Acting Physical General Denise Johnson on the decision to pause Johnson & Johnson vaccinations over rare reports of blood clotting
» FIGHTING MISINFORMATION: Join Spotlight PA at 5 p.m. April 20 for a conversation and reader Q&A about how partisan groups are masquerading as local news in Pennsylvania and undermining public trust. RSVP FOR FREE

» COVID-19 UPDATE: Keep up with our coronavirus tracker, find where to get the COVID-19 vaccine, and sign up for alerts for your county

» Processed Pa. unemployment claims in the past year? Tell us about it.

Your guide to Pa.’s 2021 primary ballot questions

All Pennsylvania voters — yes, that includes independents and minor-party members — will be asked to consider four ballot questions on May 18. Two of them are about as non-controversial as possible. The other two? A different story. Below, we break down the basics of what they would do, who is in favor, and who is opposed. Sarah Anne Hughes, Spotlight PA

Question 1

What would it do? This is a statewide referendum (as opposed to a constitutional amendment) that would allow municipal fire departments or companies with paid personnel, as well as EMS companies, to apply for a loan through an existing state-run program. The money can be used to modernize or purchase equipment. 

Who is in favor? The measure passed the legislature with unanimous support from Democrats and Republicans.

Who is opposed? Spotlight PA could not identify any opponents. 

Question 2

What would it do? Currently, only Pennsylvania’s governor can end a disaster declaration, like the one the state is currently under to deal with the coronavirus pandemic. State law gives the General Assembly the option to pass a resolution to terminate the declaration, though the state Supreme Court ruled last year the governor still gets the final say. 

This proposed constitutional amendment would allow a majority of lawmakers to terminate the declaration at any time, without the governor’s consent. What happens after that is the matter of some debate

Who is in favor? This proposal, borne out of a contentious response to the Wolf administration’s approach to the pandemic, has been championed by the House and Senate Republican caucuses, with support from a few Democrats.  

The Pennsylvania chapter of the conservative political group Americans for Prosperity has also launched a campaign to urge a “yes” vote on the question

Who is opposed? Most Democrats including Gov. Tom Wolf are urging Pennsylvanians to vote “no,” as is the grassroots-Democratic group Turn PA Blue.

Question 3

What would it do? This question asks voters to amend the Pennsylvania Constitution to limit a disaster declaration to 21 days. It could then only be continued with the consent of the legislature.

At the moment, a disaster declaration lasts 90 days and can be renewed as many times as deemed necessary by the governor. The measure would also prevent the governor from issuing a new disaster declaration based on the same or similar facts. 

Who is in favor? Who is opposed? The same parties as question 2.

Question 4

What would it do? This proposal amends the Pennsylvania Constitution to enshrine discrimination protections to Pennsylvanians based on race. 

Who is in favor? This amendment, introduced by Sen. Vince Hughes (D., Philadelphia), is supported by Democratic and Republicans lawmakers. 

Who is opposed? Spotlight PA could not identify any opponents. 

HARD STOPS: Daunte Wright's fatal police encounter began with expired plates and an air freshener hung from his rearview mirror, a violation of Minnesota law. It's also against the law in Pennsylvania, where Spotlight PA and The Appeal found a pattern of stops with shaky legal standing.

LEGAL BILLS: Pennsylvania spent $3.4 million fighting lawsuits related to the 2020 election, including $1.9 million on claims brought by former President Donald Trump and his backers, WITF found. One suit filed by Pennsylvania's own U.S. Rep. Mike Kelly (R., Butler) cost the state $63,688.40. 

HATE MAIL: The Anti-Defamation League says U.S. reports of white supremacist propaganda reached a new peak in 2020, with Pennsylvania ranked eighth in the nation, WHYY reports. The ADL says Pennsylvania's numbers have increased every year since record-keeping started in 2016. 

GUN LAWS: Pittsburgh is backing Philadelphia's lawsuit against a state rule barring local governments from enforcing their own gun safety measures, telling the court: "Were it not for the General Assembly’s actions (and inaction), Pittsburgh’s residents … would be safer today," via TribLive. 

DETENTION CENTER: At least 150 children detained at the southern border are being held in Erie. The children are housed in a privately owned dormitory, which has been designated an emergency intake site and contracted out by federal officials, per the Associated Press.

» ABC NEWS: Alleged Pa. insurrectionist claims beating by jailers

» CAPITAL-STAR: Pa. House speaker tests positive for COVID-19

» KDKA-TV: State police settle gender bias suit for $2.2 million

» PENNLIVE: Two-week unemployment system outage coming in June

» WHYY: Rural Pa. hospitals go from bad to worse in pandemic

Send your answers to riddler@spotlightpa.org. Love the riddler? Chip in and become a member of Spotlight PA so we can keep the good times rolling.

MIDDLE AGE (Case No. 88)I am four times as old as my child. In 20 years, I'll be twice as old. How old are we now?
Feeling smart? Challenge a friend.

Last week's answer: Carrot (all other words make a new word when the first and last letters are removed)
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