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Pivotal Pa. political map in high court’s hands

Plus, how to use Spotlight PA’s constitutional amendment tracker.

A weekly newsletter by Spotlight PA

February 3, 2022 | spotlightpa.org

Dear reader,

Dozens of amendments to our state constitution are pending in the legislature that would forever reshape Pennsylvania. That's why we've launched a new, nonpartisan public-service initiative to raise awareness and education about what might be coming to your ballot.

Our 📜 Amendment Tracker allows you to see and search all proposed amendments in one place. And we want to make improvements to the design and add other features, such as email alerts as amendments progress and events in support of public awareness.

To do all of that and more, we need your help. If you value this kind of public-service journalism, please support the Amendment Tracker by making a gift now. We're seeking to raise $10,000 in support of this effort by the end of January. Contribute now.


Christopher Baxter, Spotlight PA editor
Redistricting roadmap, struck down, tight-lipped, constitution changes, employee debt, elevated risks, voter data, in exile, and bridge checks.
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Pennsylvania's Democrat-led Supreme Court has taken control of the state's pivotal congressional redistricting process in a move with seismic implications and lots of scrutiny sure to follow, Spotlight PA and Votebeat report.

The high court preempted a GOP-led lower court ruling and is stepping in with the May 17 primary election fast approaching and no final map in place. Gov. Tom Wolf vetoed a map passed by the Republican-led legislature last month.

The next few weeks will be critical: The state Supreme Court will now receive a report from the lower court by Monday and hold a hearing Feb. 18. Changes to the election calendar and schedule are on the table. 

Also this week, Angela Couloumbis reports the Republican-led Commonwealth Court struck down as unconstitutional Pennsylvania's expanded mail voting law following a challenge by GOP lawmakers, many of whom voted for the same law in 2019. 

The law played a pivotal role in 2020's election and the litany of Trump-fueled challenges that followed, and it remains in effect with the Wolf administration appealing to the state Supreme Court. Arguments are set for March 8.

And finally, the long-awaited findings of an internal probe into Pennsylvania's embattled public school employee pension fund found its former top official was told profit figures might be too high but withheld that information from others.

According to Spotlight PA and The Inquirer, investigators hired by the $73 billion, taxpayer-backed Public School Employees' Retirement System, or PSERS, say Glen Grell's omission set the stage for the board to vote to certify an incorrect and exaggerated sum for its investment performance

That vote proved a costly mistake for teachers and triggered an ongoing investigation by the FBI, federal prosecutors, and financial regulators.

Colin Deppen, Spotlight PA
"I disagree with the Majority's faulty premise that the no-excuse mail-in ballot method of voting is merely a subspecies of voting by absentee ballot."

—Commonwealth Court Judge Michael Wojcik, a Democrat, in a dissent against the GOP-led court's decision to toss Pa.'s expanded mail voting law

» Law enforcement officials are investigating a Palmyra pizza shop for allegedly using its Facebook page to push unproven COVID-19 cures.

» All Philly employees, including police, will need to be vaccinated against COVID-19 or request exemptions by Feb. 11, per WHYY.

» Officials say COVID-19 cases are dropping at York County Prison, but the people imprisoned there say testing is in short supply.

» Overflow units will open at four nursing homes to make room for COVID-19 patients at still-struggling Pennsylvania hospitals, per the AP.

» While the omicron wave appears to be subsiding across Pennsylvania, one health official says "It is much too early to let down our guard."

» Keep up with our coronavirus tracker, or find where to get a vaccine.
» A court just struck down Pennsylvania’s mail voting law. Here’s what you need to know.
How to track all of the proposed changes to Pennsylvania's Constitution 

Democratic and Republican legislators have proposed more than 70 changes to the state constitution since January 2021 — some with the potential to reshape elections, firearm laws, abortion access, appellate courts, and more.

The amendment process gives voters the final say on potential changes, and — when amendments are successful — provides veto-proof constitutional cover to lawmakers pursuing contested policy initiatives.

But before such amendments can make it onto ballots, they need to be passed by legislators in two consecutive legislative sessions. That requirement, along with the sheer volume of pending items, can make the process difficult for members of the public to track.

That’s why Spotlight PA created a comprehensive and easy-to-use database that we’ll be updating regularly as new proposals are introduced and existing ones progress. 

It’s a time-intensive but important resource you can support by making a recurring or one-time tax-deductible contribution here

Most of the 75 proposed amendments currently cataloged are still at the beginning of the process and haven’t even been considered by lawmakers yet. Of those actually moving through the General Assembly, two could be on the ballot this year:

Voters could decide on an even greater number of constitutional amendments next year. As Spotlight PA reported, House Republicans added four controversial revisions to a single and decidedly uncontroversial plan to change how Pennsylvania picks its lieutenant governor — an idea with wide bipartisan support.

Not only are constitutional amendments like these veto-proof, they’re also highly likely to succeed. 

Since 1968, the year Pennsylvania’s current constitution went into effect, voters rejected only six of 49 proposed amendments that reached them. Only 14 of those ballot questions appeared during presidential or gubernatorial election years, races that typically see higher turnouts.

In recent years, the option has become a go-to choice for Republican lawmakers looking to enact policy and avoid Gov. Tom Wolf’s veto pen, a strategy that saw primary voters back a GOP-led push to curtail Wolf’s pandemic powers last spring.

Of the 75 proposed amendments currently being tracked by Spotlight PA, 59 — or nearly 79% — were introduced by Republicans. 

Spotlight PA’s tracker includes each amendment’s primary sponsor, the party they belong to, a brief description of what the proposal would do, whether it’s been formally introduced, and where it stands on the road to earning legislative approval in two back-to-back sessions. 

Categories can be organized by political party or approval status, for example, by simply clicking the column title.

Colin Deppen, Spotlight PA

OFF DUTY: The number of Philadelphia police out on injury claims has more than doubled since 2017, and the percentage that cohort represents is vastly higher than in other cities. But The Inquirer found some of the "injured" officers working strenuous side jobs or playing softball — all as police officials complain of being short-staffed.

MEDICAL DEBT: UPMC is generating hundreds of millions in profits each year, but some employees say they've been saddled with thousands of dollars in debt after receiving medical care from the industry giant, the Post-Gazette reports. A union representing UPMC workers says the issue is far more pervasive there than at other large hospital systems.

HIGHER RISK: A Harvard study links fracking-related air pollution with early deaths of senior citizens, saying those who lived closest to wells had an early death risk 2.5% higher than people who did not. In Pennsylvania, gas well pollution has already been linked to deaths and has prompted calls for further exploration of the risks.

DATA CULL: With a legal battle still underway for information on millions of Pennsylvania voters, part of a partisan 2020 election review, the Courier Times analyzed "almost 30 million rows of registration data collected over the past two years" and found it isn't riddled with irregularities as the GOP champions of the disputed election probe have claimed.

STEP DOWN: Lancaster Township's Republican Committee chair resigned as fellow members prepared to oust him over an opinion piece that criticized the county GOP's plan to provide "election training" to a conservative group known for false and inflammatory statements about elections and COVID-19, LNP reports.

» POST-GAZETTE: PennDOT to inspect 'K-frame' bridges after collapse

» REUTERS: New criminal charges linked to 2018 Pa. pipeline blast

» TODAY: Viral TikTok video highlights Pa.'s lack of paid family leave law

» WAPO: Questions mount after Black man shot in rural Pa. cabin outing

» WBRE/WYOU: Gun used in shooting days after Pa. sen. reports it stolen
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.

APPLE STORE (Case No. 132)There are 12 apples in a barrel. If you take away 5 apples, how many do you have?

Feeling smart? Challenge a friend.

Last week's answer: 87 (Find last week's clue here.)

Congrats to Lou R., who will receive Spotlight PA swag. Others who answered correctly: Annette I., William D., Michael H., Joe S., George S., Robert K., Fred O., and Kevin H. 
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