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Power vs. privacy central to Pa. voter data battle

Plus, shifting political lines and policing the police.

A weekly newsletter by Spotlight PA

December 16, 2021 | spotlightpa.org

Draft maps, official conflict, opening arguments, telehealth holes, our wordsmith, fraud fail, massive attacks, and Philly Proud Boys charged.
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—Christopher Baxter, Editor in Chief

A key House panel on Wednesday approved an amended version of its pitch for Pennsylvania's new U.S. congressional map — but it did so without first letting the public analyze the updated version, a move that quickly earned criticism from Democrats and at least one Republican.

Spotlight PA and Votebeat report state Rep. Seth Grove (R., York), who chairs the panel in question, said the new draft was very similar to the original. But it wasn't immediately clear if or how the changes alter what would likely be the earlier version's primary sticking point: That it clearly favors the GOP.

Meanwhile, the commission tasked with separately redrawing maps for Pennsylvania's state Senate and state House districts is set to meet at 1 p.m. today to vote on their preliminary proposals

Also this week, Gary Harki reports policing experts are "disturbed" by the involvement of Beaver County's district attorney in a State Police shooting that occured during a tense, hours-long standoff there in 2016.

DA David Lozier consulted with State Police at the scene about whether troopers could kill the suspect involved. The man was later shot three times by a sniper, a shooting Lozier himself ultimately ruled justified.

On Friday, a state oversight panel — with the Lozier case in mind — called for shootings by State Police to be reviewed by independent prosecutors instead of local ones who often work closely with the officers they oversee.

And finally, Danielle Ohl reports an appellate court leveled sharp questions in Wednesday's opening round of a closely watched court case over an ongoing partisan inquiry into Pennsylvania's 2020 election.

A coalition of Democrats is looking to block an attempt by state Senate Republicans leading the probe to obtain names, addresses, and partial Social Security numbers for nearly 9 million registered voters — information they then plan to turn over to a third-party vendor for vetting

Wednesday's hearing largely focused on lingering questions around voter privacy and legislative authority. The judges will now weigh whether to issue a fast-tracked decision or call another hearing.

Colin Deppen, Spotlight PA

"That's not the concern of the court. And frankly, I don't think it's the concern of other members of the General Assembly."

—Commonwealth Court Judge Anne Covey on criticism of the state Senate GOP's choice of vendor for an ongoing partisan election review
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» LAWFUL VS. AWFUL: Join us today at 7 p.m. EST via Zoom for a free panel discussion on why killings by police often are ruled justified and who oversees the process. Register here and submit questions to events@spotlightpa.org


» Pennsylvania is urging the federal government to send health care workers to help overwhelmed hospitals here, per the AP.

» All but two York County school districts have made masks optional in the days since Pennsylvania's school mask rule was overturned, YDR reports.

» Gov. Tom Wolf is focused on vaccinations and has no plans to reissue mask mandates for schools or public places, USA Today reports.

» A bill barring Pennsylvania schools from requiring COVID-19 vaccinations for students does not have the governor's support, City & State reports.

» "Vaccine exemption assistance" is being offered by one Westmoreland County state lawmaker even as new infections surge, per TribLIVE.

» Keep up with our coronavirus tracker, or find where to get a vaccine.


» Lack of telehealth law in Pennsylvania a major headache for patients who need it most

» How to weigh in on Pennsylvania’s next congressional map

» Updated: Pennsylvania’s 2022 race for governor: What we know so far

Meet Stephen Kearse, Spotlight PA's newest editor and first anthropologist

I’m Stephen Kearse, Spotlight PA’s new assistant editor. I edit stories, newsletters, and event listings; I also coach the staff as they shape their reporting into meaningful stories about Pennsylvania’s government and urgent statewide issues. My role is very operational, so you shouldn’t expect to see my byline, but in essence my job is to always be thinking about how our processes — from the quality of our writing to the framing of our reporting to the skills of our staff —  impact you, the reader. 

I’m a Georgian, so I have no roots in Pennsylvania beyond an intense devotion to the Eagles during the Donavan McNabb era and a Pirates hat that I bought because it is perfectly goldenrod, so I’m excited to learn more about the state.

My journalism career is a bit peculiar. My first published writing was an effusive review of a pizza shop in Macon, Georgia, for my college newspaper. Somehow that ode to calzones became … a music column. 

Years and many embarrassingly thoughtless album reviews later, I landed an internship at a rap magazine in New York City. That gig became a staff position, which I held while completing a graduate program in anthropology. At the magazine, whose name I’m omitting just to spare you secondhand embarrassment, I wrote slightly better reviews, and began honing my reporting and editing skills between classes and Trader Joe’s trips.

After receiving my MA, I decamped to academic publishing, where I copyedited astrophysics articles by day and reviewed music, movies, and books by night. I mostly wrote for my blog, but over time genuine outlets such as Slate, Vice, and WAMU began to publish my work.

My time as a freelancer was transformative. As editors at outlets such as Pitchfork, The New York Times Magazine, and The Atlantic shaped me into a sharper critic and reporter, my writing grew more ambitious. I reported the fascinating history of the mobile game Words With Friends. I wrote a feature on the fans of the troubled rapper XXXtentacion. I traced the politicized etymology of the term “chain migration.” I profiled a curmudgeon movie critic. And because I wasn’t busy enough, I guess, I wrote a novel.

My criticism eventually landed me a role as a contributing writer for The Nation, where I still review pop culture. And my copyediting landed me a position at Stateline, where I helped fact-check reporting on state legislatures and state policy, and did some occasional reporting.

At Spotlight PA I hope to harness all these experiences in service of keeping you informed of what’s happening in your state. We’ve got a brilliant and dogged staff that works hard to find impactful stories and to tell these stories from fresh, informative angles. I’m their facilitator, as well as yours.

Email me at skearse@spotlightpa.org with tips, questions about our coverage, or concerns.

Stephen Kearse, Spotlight PA

Correction: Due to incorrect information supplied to Spotlight PA, last week's edition incorrectly said two historical markers about Confederate milestones in McConnellsburg, Fulton County had been revised and would be replaced in "the near future." The markers were already replaced in May of this year.

FRAUD CHECK: An Associated Press review of "every potential case of voter fraud" in the six battleground states disputed by former President Donald Trump found 475 cases total: a number that "would have made no difference" in the outcome of the 2020 presidential election. In Pennsylvania, election officials in 11 counties identified 26 possible cases of fraud, representing 0.03% of Biden's margin of victory.

RANSOM ATTACKS: FBI data had Pennsylvania leading all other states in ransomware losses in 2020, with roughly $5 million extorted from more than 116 victims — a likely undercount. But the Post-Gazette found that Pennsylvania has no law requiring victims to report such an attack to regulators, which means many are kept secret, which experts say ultimately makes them harder to stop

PHOTO EVIDENCE: Three more Philadelphia Proud Boys have been charged in the Jan. 6 attack at the U.S. Capitol after taking photos inside a senator's office during the siege, The Inquirer reports. The charges were unsealed on Tuesday, the same day Washington, D.C.'s attorney general announced a lawsuit against the organization for its role in the attack. Defendants include, Zach Rehl, president of the Philly Proud Boys chapter. 

FATAL HOLD: A federal lawsuit alleges Schuylkill County Prison and its for-profit medical services provider failed to give proper attention to an incarcerated 19-year-old with a heart condition who died while in custody. According to PennLive, Jonathan Merced's death bears similarities to another case seen earlier this year at the Dauphin County Prison, where the same for-profit medical provider is used.

CLASS ACTION: More than 45 people currently or formerly imprisoned by York County are suing over the local prison's use of a controversial contractor who's been accused of leading inmate abuses. York Daily Record reports the class action suit says the contractor, C-SAU Senior Team Leader Joseph Garcia, created "a toxic culture where excessive and unjustified terror and violence is perpetrated with impunity."

» AP: Gov. Wolf's carbon-tax plan hobbles toward the finish line

» CHALKBEAT: Backers call Pa. school funding case 'our Brown v. Board'

» FOX43: Sen. Jake Corman won't seek re-election, focusing on guv bid 

» THE INQUIRER: Philly took $5M in Social Security from foster kids

» WNEP: Ex-Pa. official sentenced for disappearing child abuse reports
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.

TURN, TURN, TURN (Case No. 125)A group of privates were standing in the blistering sun facing due west. Their sergeant shouted at them: Right turn! About turn! Left turn! In which direction are they now facing?

Feeling smart? Challenge a friend.

Last week's answer: Meat. (Find last week's clue here.)

Congrats to Dan H., who will receive Spotlight PA swag. Others who answered correctly: James D., Annette I., George S., Judy A., Alberta V., Donna D., Burnetta S., Philip C., Jon N., Michele M., Mercedes Y., George S., Jeff W., Kenneth J., Kevin H., William D., Elizabeth W., Al M., Hagan H., Ken S., Joseph M., Dennis F., Joe S., Connie K., Lindsey S., Karen K., Ira B., Bruce B., Joel S., Linda C., Geoff M., John H., Marcia R., Dom A., Jeff B., Beverly M., Roseanne D., Fred O., Michelle T., Jeffrey F., Norman S., Robert K., Beth T., Ed N., Michael H., Dennis P., Johnny C., Gerry W., Daniel D., Jyotin S., and Marisa B.
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