|A weekly newsletter by |
|Opioid settlement, guardianship questions, election coverage, legislative agenda, Medicaid enrollment, in contempt, hospital stays, and open conflict.|
Democratic Gov. Josh Shapiro said $1 billion in opioid settlement money would be "earmarked" for "life-saving treatment options" in Pennsylvania, but some counties want to spend it on police.
Spotlight PA and WESA report clashes over how to spend the money exemplify the policing-versus-treatment divides that have influenced the response to an epidemic killing thousands of residents a year.
Also this week, Angela Couloumbis reports on a long-running guardianship lawsuit that alleges wrongdoing by lawyers involved in a system meant to protect older adults. The case spotlights Pennsylvania’s vexing system for safeguarding vulnerable older adults from potential fraud and other conflicts when they are declared legally incapacitated.
Finally, our primary election coverage continues with a guide to requesting, filling out, and returning a mail ballot. You can find all of our coverage at spotlightpa.org/elections.
"Granting a petition of guardianship should be taken with great caution and utmost respect for the person’s basic rights."
—State Sen. Judy Ward (R., Blair) at a hearing to discuss a bill aimed at making guardianship a choice of last resort.
LEGISLATIVE AGENDA: Join us Thursday, April 27 from 6-7 p.m. on Zoom for a free panel on what issues and priorities are on the state legislature’s docket in 2023. Register for the event here and submit your questions to email@example.com.
|» Why Pennsylvania courts won’t be a part of this year’s budget hearings|
» Pa. Medicaid reenrollment: What you need to know to keep your health insurance or find other options
Pa.’s switch to new corporate filing system caused long delays
Business owners trying to register new companies in Pennsylvania faced unusually long waits this winter, after the state switched to a new online filing system and created a backlog of thousands of applications that took months to resolve.
The delayed paperwork is vital for new businesses: Without it, companies can struggle to open a bank account, enter into contracts, or buy property, attorneys said.
The problems began in late October, when the Department of State changed the way it handles corporate filings. The new system will ultimately reduce wait times by streamlining the process and relying less on paper filings, said Amy Gulli, a spokesperson for the department.
But for two weeks, no new filings could be submitted while workers transferred documents to the new system, leading to a logjam of roughly 10,000 applications — on top of the usual workload of roughly 1,300 new filings arriving each day.
Sukari Fuller-Bey submitted the paperwork to register a new company in early November, hoping to have it done by the end of the year.
She didn’t realize how bad the timing was.
By early December, wait times had increased to about six weeks and employees were working mandatory overtime to catch up, according to a Department of State memo. The same month, an attorney for the department acknowledged in an email shared with Spotlight PA that processing times were “terrible” but the agency was “doing what it can to dig out.”
After a month of waiting, Fuller-Bey emailed the department to complain. “The dashboard doesn't work and there appears to be zero progress in the # of applications approved,” she wrote. “No one replies via Facebook or Twitter and the phone line is useless.” At one point, Fuller-Bey told Spotlight PA, she was so desperate for updates that she was checking the status of her application online every few hours.
The process ended up taking just under eight weeks, she said. “It was like putting it into a black hole and not knowing when you were gonna get it back.”
Business owners typically have the option to pay a $100 fee for an expedited, same-day filing. But by February, the backlog was so bad that the Department of State restricted these fast-tracked filings to two days a week.
The backlog has been “incredibly frustrating for my clients,” said Julie Lathia, who owns a law firm based in Chester County that specializes in representing small to mid-sized businesses, in an interview in February. In one case, Lathia said, she filed a client's paperwork on Nov. 17, but it wasn't approved until Jan. 18 — an almost nine-week wait.
“Depending on what kind of business you want to operate, you could be losing out on client contracts and vendor relationships,” she said.
Before the change, the wait time for filing to register a new company was typically between one and two weeks, Lathia said. More recently, wait times have dropped to less than four weeks, in line with the average over the past fiscal year.
Asked about the delays during a budget hearing in March, Acting Secretary of State Al Schmidt said increased wait times led to more business owners calling the department to ask for updates. This uptick in calls gave clerks less time to work on applications — a situation Schmidt described as “a performance death spiral.”
“It’s much easier in these sorts of circumstances to keep your head above water once you’ve reached that point than it is to clear a backlog,” he said.
Staffing shortages — a problem many state agencies are facing — also contributed to the delays. The bureau that handles corporate filings has a 20% vacancy rate, Gulli said. —Charlotte Keith, Spotlight PA
An expanded version of this piece will appear next week on spotlightpa.org.
|IN CONTEMPT: Pennsylvania's Supreme Court on Wednesday ruled that Fulton County officials and attorneys engaged in "vexatious conduct" by secretly allowing a third party to access the county's Dominion voting machines to help overturn the 2020 election. The court handed down contempt sanctions since the access violated a court order. The county has also been ordered to reimburse the state.|
HOSPITAL STAYS: A federal lawsuit filed by a disability rights group alleges Pennsylvania is violating the Americans with Disabilities Act by "needlessly segregating" hundreds of people with psychiatric disabilities in state hospitals instead of funding and providing care in community settings, WESA reports. Pennsylvania's Department of Human Services declined to comment on pending litigation.
OPEN CONFLICT: York's top financial watchdog, controller AliceAnne Frost, signed off on public funding for her own nonprofit, The Program. The York Dispatch reports resolutions that would’ve funneled $317,470 to The Program were pulled from consideration by Mayor Michael Helfrich’s administration last month. A week later Frost resigned from the nonprofit and now says she won't seek reelection.
CASE DISMISSED: Commonwealth Court judges dismissed a lawsuit against a constitutional amendment package pushed by Republicans that would, among other things, let voters decide if the state constitution guarantees any rights to an abortion or public funding of abortions. Former Democratic Gov. Tom Wolf sued, arguing the package itself is unconstitutional, but the judges declined to weigh in.
'EGREGIOUS WASTE': Residents of South Fayette Township in Allegheny County are calling a nearly $10,000 retreat by township commissioners a taxpayer-funded vacation. KDKA-TV reports four commissioners and their spouses took part in a planning retreat at Omni Bedford Springs Resort. Lisa Malosh, the only commissioner who didn't attend, called it an "egregious waste" of money.
» AP: Supreme Court case tests religious tolerance on Sunday work
» CAP-STAR: Shapiro admin moves to restrict sedative for animals
» LNP: Lancaster Co. announces mail-ballot printing error
» TRIBLIVE: Many Tree of Life families want death penalty for shooter
» WHYY: Districts' online monitoring of students questioned
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