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Guides to key judicial elections on Pa. ballots

Plus, Pa. removes email database of public employees.

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.

September 7, 2023 | spotlightpa.org
Judge candidates, primary logistics, deleted database, welfare wages, in-person events, loan lifeline, funding gaps, and Medicaid purge.


In two months, Pennsylvania voters will select the newest state Supreme Court justice and judges for Commonwealth Court and Superior Court.

Kate Huangpu and Stephen Caruso break down what voters need to know about the candidates for the highest court in the state — including who has endorsed or recommended them, their judicial philosophy and public statements, and where their campaign donations are coming from. They also detail the candidates for the lower courts.

Also this week, Carter Walker of Votebeat reports that a bill unanimously approved in the Senate State Government Committee would create a host of logistical problems. The legislation would move Pennsylvania's presidential primary from April 23 (the first day of Passover) to March 19.

“Counties will have to reschedule more than 9,000 polling places in about six months, when they are typically contracted a year or more in advance,” John Buffone, a spokesperson for the County Commissioners Association of Pennsylvania, told Votebeat. “With that also comes the responsibilities of notifying residents of any changes and rescheduling thousands of poll workers for the 2024 primary.”

Finally, Danielle Ohl reports that Pennsylvania officials removed a searchable, online database of state employee emails due to potential security risks. 

The move presents transparency concerns and highlights the challenges of balancing the public's right to information and cybersecurity.

“They make our kids safe. They feed our kids, and that’s what we have to do for them — give them the tools to make sure they can keep their kids safe and feed their families.”

—State Rep. Joe Hohenstein (D., Philadelphia) said of 634 Philly school workers who make “welfare wages”

» CRIMINAL SOLUTION: Join Spotlight PA, the Pittsburgh Institute for Nonprofit Journalism, and experts on Thursday, Sept. 14, 6-7:30 p.m. ET at Point Park University for a live discussion on how a Pennsylvania law traps those with mental health issues in jail. RSVP now; seating is limited. 

» STORY FEST: Spotlight PA is participating in Philly Story Fest, a first-of-its-kind festival that brings together storytellers from across the city on one stage. Join us Thursday, Oct. 5 from 7-10 p.m. at the Bok building in South Philadelphia (1901 South 9th St.). Tickets are $25 and available here.

» PATH TO EQUITY: Join Spotlight PA for its first in-person summit on Wednesday, Oct. 11, from 11:30 a.m. to 4:30 p.m. at the Whitaker Center in Harrisburg. Spotlight PA is co-presenting this event with Color & Culture, a Pennsylvania marketing firm. Tickets are now on sale at this link until sold out.

Meet Spotlight PA's new democracy editor

Hello there! I’m Elizabeth Estrada, Spotlight PA’s first-ever democracy editor. 

The daughter of two Cuban refugees, I’m originally from Queens, New York, and grew up in a large immigrant community. As my family members, neighbors, and friends became U.S. citizens or eligible to vote, I was always the person who would ask if they were registered, if they had a voting day plan, and if they knew who they were going to support. Even after moving to Philadelphia six years ago, I’ve kept my role as election intermediary for my community, pointing to trusted news sources and resources to guide peoples’ decision-making.Profile photo for Elizabeth Estrada

That’s exactly what I will be doing as democracy editor: Connecting Pennsylvanians with the information they need to confidently make electoral decisions and be civically engaged in their communities beyond the election cycle. I’ll be the point of contact for all your Pennsylvania election needs.

Before joining Spotlight PA, I worked as an engagement editor and reporter at WHYY, where I reported community stories in Philadelphia, launched the station’s first-ever bilingual project, and edited a popular opinion and essay section that featured commentary on everything from the proposed 76ers arena in Philly’s downtown to the way the word ‘jawn’ connects residents in the region. Prior to that, I worked at nonprofit film and media organizations. 

My career has centered on building community power and knowledge and ensuring that everyday people have access to it — work that I’ll be continuing as democracy editor. I’m thrilled to provide voters of all backgrounds and ages across the state access to Spotlight PA’s fact-based, nonpartisan journalism. I’m especially excited that, in recognition of Pennsylvania’s increasing diversity, part of my mission in this role will be to better serve the state’s new Latino residents by offering our most critical election and news content in Spanish.

Outside of work, I serve as the board chair of PhillyCAM, Philadelphia’s public access television station. The rest of the time you can usually find me biking around Philadelphia, trying out new restaurants and breweries, as well as sewing my own clothes while I listen to Taylor Swift. 

If you’d like to get in touch about anything election- or government-related, whether it’s about how to find a sample ballot or how to contact a local lawmaker, please reach out to me at eestrada@spotlightpa.org. Looking forward to connecting. —Elizabeth Estrada, Spotlight PA

Support vital Pennsylvania journalism. Donate to Spotlight PA now.
🏆 STATE SCORE? Did you stay on top of Pennsylvania news this week? Prove it with the latest edition of The Great PA News Quiz: Medicaid cuts, new state agency, and very Philly jobs.
This week's top news story in PennsylvaniaLOAN LIFELINE: Millions of people have enrolled in President Joe Biden's Saving on A Valuable Education student loan repayment program, according to Department of Education figures. States Newsroom reports that 170,200 of those borrowers are Pennsylvanians.

This week's second top news story in PennsylvaniaFUNDING GAPS: The Inquirer (paywall) reports that "most school districts in Pennsylvania don't have enough money to meet state standards." This interactive story shows how much different school districts in the state receive in funding, and explains how funding is determined and why districts are falling short.

This week's third top news story in PennsylvaniaENVIRONMENTAL JUSTICE: An updated version of the Pennsylvania Department of Environmental Protection's environmental justice policy goes into effect this month, WHYY reports. "Officials hope the new version ... will help them better protect and communicate with communities disproportionately exposed to environmental hazards," WHYY writes. The policy can still be revised and also encourages "proactive" community engagement.

MEDICAID PURGE: More than 184,000 Pennsylvanians have now lost their Medicaid coverage after the end of a federal policy that kept people enrolled automatically during the COVID-19 pandemic. WESA reports: Health care advocates are especially concerned about the more than 80,000 people who could still be eligible for Medicaid; many of them are being disenrolled from the program for paperwork-related reasons.
CHILD LABOR: The Pennsylvania Capital-Star reports that the Shapiro administration is seeing an increase in child labor law violations. The Cap-Star reports that the Pennsylvania Department of Labor & Industry has opened 403 child labor investigations since January, compared to 107 during the same time period last year. That's a 276% increase, and Nancy Walker, secretary of labor and industry, called it a "concerning trend."

» CDT: Lawsuit alleges Penn State put sensitive information at risk

» ICN: Pa. bills aim to classify fracking water as hazardous

» KDKA: Lanternflies may not be as harmful as once thought

» NPR: Why small regional airports in states like Pa. are struggling

» PENNLIVE: After controversy, school board votes to keep tennis coach

Send your answers to riddler@spotlightpa.org.

TAKE-HOME (Case No. 216)She went to the wood and caught it. She sat herself down and sought it. Because she could not find it. Home with her she brought it. What is it?
Feeling smart? Challenge a friend.

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

Congrats to Randolph J., who will receive Spotlight PA swag. Others who answered correctly: Ted W., Michael H., Anthony W., Phil C.,  Jon N., Amy D. S., James D., Judith A., Norman S., Tish M., Terry P., Jeffrey F., Peter S., Harriet Z., Fred O., Kathy H., Carl K., Frederick H., Sonya M., Ken S., Annette I., Michelle T., Rick A., Pat S., Bill B., Mary B., Steve N., Arthur G., Rena Z., Lynda G., Seth Z., Bruce B., Beth T., and Johnny C.
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