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Pa. regulators opposed casino competitor after meeting

Plus, what comes next for Shapiro's cabinet nominees. 

This is The Investigator, a free weekly newsletter with the top news from across Pennsylvania.
A weekly newsletter by Spotlight PA, an independent, nonpartisan newsroom producing investigative journalism for Pennsylvania.
 


February 16, 2023 | spotlightpa.org
Gambling meeting, cannabis laws, Shapiro tracker, lost neighborhood, Four Diamonds, election problems, cabinet nominees, care issues, and private hires.
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Support Spotlight PA's vital journalism and all monthly gifts will be matched 12X!
CASINO COMPETITOR 

In 2020, gambling regulators with the Pennsylvania Gaming Control Board met with lobbyists for the state's largest casino, Parx, in Harrisburg.

Within weeks, the board shed its neutral stance and aligned with Parx and others in a court fight against "skill games," a key casino competitor, Spotlight PA's Angela Couloumbis reports. 

The Gaming Control Board had previously taken no position on the legality of skill games despite casino opposition, but reversed course after the meeting with Parx Casino representatives at the control board's offices. 

Also this week, Ed Mahon runs down how Pennsylvania's cannabis laws could change in 2023. Mahon has been reporting on the state's medical marijuana program for more than a year and plans to continue doing so.

He recently sought data that would reveal how often individual physicians approve patients for the medical program, but the Department of Health has refused to turn it over and is suing Spotlight PA to keep it secret.

Finally, Kate Huangpu launched a new project tracking some of the biggest promises Gov. Josh Shapiro made on the campaign trail. These promises include having Pennsylvania generate 30% of its energy from renewable sources by 2030 and raising the minimum wage. 

QUOTED

"There’s been a high turnover rate and a loss of a lot of knowledge, and when you come in and you are new and the people above you are new, that is very, very challenging."

—Denise Williams, chair of the Luzerne Board of Elections, on the challenges the county has faced in running smooth elections

📅 UPCOMING EVENTS
A LOST NEIGHBORHOOD: Join us Thursday, Feb. 23 at 6 p.m. EST on Zoom for a free panel on the history of Harrisburg’s 8th Ward, the residents who once called it home, and the groups making sure it’s remembered. Register for the event here and submit your questions to events@spotlightpa.org.
 
Support Spotlight PA's vital journalism and all monthly gifts will be matched 12X!
VIA SPOTLIGHT PA
» What the public can and can’t know about Four Diamonds, beneficiary of Penn State THON’s fundraising
» Why election problems continue to plague this northeast Pa. county
» Court won’t force Pa. to release voter info for 2020 election inquiry. That doesn’t mean it’s over.
» Shapiro sat courtside at a Sixers game with a donor. His campaign called it a ‘political meeting.’
 

What comes next for Shapiro’s cabinet nominees 

Democratic Gov. Josh Shapiro’s 21 nominees for top cabinet posts are clocking in at departments across state government while awaiting confirmation from the GOP-controlled state Senate. 

All department heads in the commonwealth must be confirmed by the state Senate after the governor nominates them. As part of the vetting process, nominees file statements of financial interest that show things like their business interests, income sources, and debts. Nominees also submit professional documents such as academic transcripts and publications for lawmakers to review.

But unlike their federal counterparts, the nominees can still do their jobs in an acting capacity while they wait for lawmakers. So far, nominees have responded to a major chemical spill; prepared for federal rollbacks of pandemic-era entitlements; and been named as respondents in court opinions such as a newly issued school funding decision years in the making that could blow up the state budget

This also means that if any of the nominees aren’t confirmed, it could dramatically shake up department operations. 

Nominations don’t often fail, but it’s not unheard of. 

In 2015, state Senate Republicans rejected then-Gov. Tom Wolf’s pick for State Police commissioner, Marcus Brown, after a monthslong argument, saying they were responding to concerns from the union that represents troopers. 

The union said it opposed Brown — who was known for diversifying Maryland’s state police force — because he had been wearing the gray uniform of the Pennsylvania State Police even though he hadn’t graduated from the State Police academy. 

Wolf initially declined to withdraw Brown’s nomination. He eventually changed his mind, but the state Senate voted down his candidate anyway. Wolf kept Brown at the head of the department as acting police commissioner for another month, then appointed him director of the Governor's Office of Homeland Security, a role that does not require state Senate confirmation. 

It was the only disagreement between the governor and senators over a cabinet nominee in recent administrations that ended in a rejection. 

Former Govs. Mark Schweiker (R.), Ed Rendell (D.), and Tom Corbett (R.) each had a secretary pick challenged. In those cases, the governor recalled the nominee and the state Senate later confirmed him or her anyway. 

Several senators told Spotlight PA that this time around, while complaints have risen about multiple nominees, it’s too early in the process to say with confidence how they will affect confirmations. 

Concerns mainly reach senators through constituents and interest groups. The senators then decide whether to grill nominees about those issues during hearings. 

There’s no set time for these confirmation hearings to take place. 

The General Assembly has been out of session and officially inactive for nearly a month amid state House turmoil, but behind the scenes, senators have been busy holding meetings with nominees. Senators told Spotlight PA that the process is still well underway, and that nominees are reaching out to the individual 50 members of the chamber to offer one-on-one interviews — a custom that isn’t mandatory but is considered traditional. 

“I find the meetings very helpful,” said state Sen. Dave Argall (R., Schuylkill), who chairs the chamber’s Education Committee. “It’s a way to get to know people, and you can highlight issues in the district that otherwise get lost.”

Argall added that generally, candidates for department chair positions have already been extensively vetted and are “very noncontroversial.”

“But every once in a while,” he added, “something comes up.” —Katie Meyer, Spotlight PA

WEEKLY RUNDOWN
This week's top news story in PennsylvaniaCARE ISSUES: At least a dozen residents at a Luzerne County nursing home suffered various types of harm including broken bones and sexual assault in 2020 and 2021, the Citizens' Voice reports. One woman developed a flesh-eating disease because of infected bed sores, a level of negligence that a lawsuit argues led to her death.

This week's second top news story in PennsylvaniaNONCOMMITTAL: The head of the GOP-led state Senate committee that launched a probe of Pennsylvania's 2020 election is noncommittal about continuing the effort after a court ruling left that door open. WITF reports state Sen. Jarrett Coleman (R., Lehigh), new chair of the Senate's Intergovernmental Operations committee, hasn't ruled out continuing the probe but says his focus is elsewhere.

This week's third top news story in PennsylvaniaPRIVATE HIRES: Two transparency-minded hires at Dauphin County's troubled prison may have violated the state's transparency law. PennLive reports the public wasn't made aware that the hires were happening, despite Pennsylvania's Sunshine Act requiring such notice. Experts say the county's explanation of the omission is wrong, and the move has reinforced concerns about a culture of secrecy.

WAITING GAME: Pittsburgh officials waited months to address issues with three bridges that experts said needed immediate attention, TribLIVE reports. The Gainey admin commissioned a review of all city-maintained bridges after the Fern Hollow collapse. It found 13 bridges in need of repairs within seven days, though some of that work is still not done.

COUNTY CASH: Money is pouring into the busy race for Allegheny County executive, and PublicSource reports the torrent of high-dollar checks has some officials calling for limits on campaign contributions similar to those applied to Pittsburgh and federal elections. Democratic County Councilor Tom Duerr said: "The initial disclosures show a desperate need for campaign finance reform."
 

» ABC NEWS: Ohio mayor says he needs 'help' ahead of EPA visit

» APSplit Pennsylvania House set for raucous return next week

» LEVER: Meadville seniors may have to move after rent hike

» NBC NEWSCasey undergoes surgery for prostate cancer

» WESAShapiro rips train company after derailment

Support Spotlight PA's vital journalism and all new monthly gifts will be matched 12X!
THE RIDDLER
Send your answers to riddler@spotlightpa.org.

SAME RESULT (Case No. 188)What three numbers, none of them zero, give the same result whether they're added or multiplied?
 
Feeling smart? Challenge a friend.
 
Last week's answer: A reflection. (Find last week's clue here.) 
 
Congrats to Don L., who will receive Spotlight PA swag. Others who answered correctly: Rebecca D., Addison H., Ed N., Robert K., Jon N., Michael H., William G., Ted W., Kate P., Annette I., Jeff W., Fred O., Steven S., Judy M., Trudy W., Linda A., Karen K., Lois P., Tom and Nancy D., Kathy M., Mary B., Joseph P., Joshua V., Joe S., Peter S., Susan N.-Z., Terry S., Dom A., Cathy S., Terry E., Gerald F., Ken S., Michelle T., Thomas S., John H., Donna D., Jonni H., Jeanette G., Joe W., Ada M., Rick L., Johnny C., Robert K., Jay G., Dennis F., Cindy W., Tracey C., Geoff M., Trish B., Dean S., and Tish M.
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