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Wolf's historic veto record looms over final year

Plus, courts likely to step in as redistricting enters final stretch.

A weekly newsletter by Spotlight PA

January 20, 2022 | spotlightpa.org

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Mighty pen, tight deadlines, police beat, crowd control, officers charged, fake electors, flight checks, ballot brakes, and refinery neighbors feel 'betrayed.' 
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Gov. Tom Wolf has vetoed 54 bills and resolutions during his seven years in office, the highest total for a Pennsylvania governor in nearly two decades, and one that highlights a lingering divide between the Democrat and the GOP-controlled legislature.

While state budget battles drove Wolf's early veto record, more than a third of his seven-year total occurred in 2020 as the state's COVID-19 pandemic response touched off a flurry of legislative conflicts, Ethan Edward Coston reports. 

Now in his last year in office, Wolf is expected to increase his vetoes as GOP leaders push items such as mandated voter ID and limits on the executive's power. Danielle Ohl reports the Republican strategy involves veto-proof state constitution changes that are put to Pennsylvania voters as ballot questions, which almost never fail.

Also this week, Spotlight PA and Votebeat report it's looking increasingly likely that Pennsylvania's new congressional map will be picked by the state courts, with key deadlines looming and disagreements remaining.

Commonwealth Court has given Wolf and lawmakers until Jan. 30 to reach a deal. Without one, the court will take over the process. 

Colin Deppen, Spotlight PA

"They're using the constitutional amendment to pass legislation they can't pass through the traditional and appropriate way."

—Khalif Ali, of the nonpartisan good-government organization Common Cause PA, on the GOP using constitutional amendments to avoid Wolf's veto pen

» Applications are now open to have up to four at-home COVID-19 tests mailed to you by the federal government for free. CNN reports tests are expected to ship within seven to 12 days of being ordered.

» If you can't wait for those tests to arrive, private insurers are now required to cover the costs of up to 8 at-home COVID-19 tests per month, if you can find them. Here's what you need to know, via CBS News.

» Sixteen-year-old Nicholas Montero of Bucks County told WHYY about his decision to travel to Philadelphia to get a COVID-19 vaccine against his parents' wishes. Philly doesn't always require parental consent.

» A temporary restraining order sought by pro-mask parents in North Allegheny School District has been granted by a federal judge, TribLIVE reports. Masks are no longer optional there as a lawsuit proceeds.

» Keep up with our coronavirus tracker, or find where to get a vaccine.
» BACK IN SESSION: On Thursday, Jan. 27 at 5 p.m. EST, join Spotlight PA and our panel of experts via Zoom as we look back on the 2021 legislative session and discuss what themes are likely to emerge — or persist — in 2022. RSVP for free here. Submit questions to events@spotlightpa.org.
» Pennsylvania redistricting panel enters final stretch to complete House, Senate maps

» Proposed congressional map advances in Pa. legislature as Wolf, top lawmakers prepare for court battle

» Pa. GOP answered Wolf’s pandemic vetoes with constitution changes. The strategy is here to stay.

» Voters could be flooded with proposed changes to the Pa. Constitution in 2023


Meet Gary Harki, Spotlight PA's new criminal justice reporter

I'm Gary Harki, Spotlight PA's criminal justice reporter. I search for stories that examine inequality and injustice within the criminal justice system.

I grew up outside of Morgantown, West Virginia, and studied journalism at West Virginia University. One of my first jobs was reporting for The Charleston Gazette, the state’s largest newspaper. I spent three years writing about rogue police, dangerous juvenile detention centers, and deadly coal mine disasters. 

After that, I then spent a year covering the nuclear industry for a trade publication in Washington, D.C. I wrote about the safety of nuclear reactors and the uranium markets, trying to answer questions like, “Is this reactor safe enough to keep running?”

Prior to joining Spotlight PA, I spent nine years as a reporter for The Virginian-Pilot, a newspaper that covers cities including Virginia Beach and Norfolk. In 2017, I was named the Virginia Press Association’s Journalist of the Year for my stories covering jail deaths in the state. Another project — a podcast called The Shot —  unraveled the unsolved murder of a well-known police officer in Virginia Beach.

While at the Pilot, I spent a year in Milwaukee, Wisconsin, through the O’Brien Fellowship in Public Service Journalism at Marquette University. The program allowed me to examine the intersection of mental health care and jails, reporting that was later recognized as some of the best criminal justice journalism in the country. 

One of my final stories in Virginia uncovered allegations that noted biographer Blake Bailey sexually assaulted and abused women while a professor at Old Dominion University.

I moved to Philadelphia last fall and have spent much of this second pandemic winter in my apartment with a feisty gray cat, Thelonious.

I love being a journalist for many reasons, but perhaps the most important one is that I can expose injustice while helping people. It’s a privilege to do this kind of work.

I’m committed to finding stories that will have a positive impact on the people of Pennsylvania. If you think there’s something I should write about, please contact me at gharki@spotlightpa.org.

Gary Harki, Spotlight PA

FAIRMOUNT FIRE: Philadelphia officials didn't relocate the victims of a catastrophic fire in a housing authority-owned rowhouse despite knowing for years of the overcrowding there, The Inquirer reports. The Housing Authority has offered shifting accounts about why it didn't do more. Funerals for the 12 victims were held this week.

FATAL SHOOTING: Three Delaware County police officers have been charged with manslaughter in the death of Fanta Bility, an 8-year-old who was killed when police opened fired outside a football game, NBC10 reports. Murder charges were dropped against two teens implicated in a gunfight that officials say drew the officers' fire. 

LEGAL BUFFER: Electors in five states signed documents wrongly declaring a Trump victory as they attempted to redirect electoral votes that actually belonged to Biden. LNP reports electors in Pennsylvania came close to doing the same but "hedged the language" to include a small distinction that might now save them from prosecution.

'GHOST FLIGHTS': Reports of planes carrying child migrants into a pair of Pennsylvania airports last month were quickly weaponized by Republicans running for governor and U.S. senator here. WHYY and WITF took a closer look at their "ghost flight" narratives and found a bevy of inflammatory statements with few provable facts

PROBE PAUSED: Pennsylvania's Supreme Court paused a third-party review of Fulton County's voting machines at the last minute on Friday amid warnings from state officials and the manufacturer, Capital-Star reports. A Wolf administration request to halt the contested review was granted on a temporary basis until the full court can consider it. 

» AP: State College among towns planning census data challenge

» CITY PAPER: ACLU says Pa. judges break law by overusing cash bail

» POST-GAZETTE: Churches urge AG probe of a police custody death 

» TRIBLIVE: Pittsburgh synagogue shooter wants trial moved from W. Pa.

» WHYY: Residents 'betrayed' by plans for shuttered Philly refinery site
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.

STIFF DRINKS (Case No. 130)Jane and Julia went out for drinks after work. They ordered the same drink. Jane finished multiple drinks by the time Julia finished one. The drinks were poisoned, but only Julia fell ill. Why?

Feeling smart? Challenge a friend.

Last week's answer: $12,000 (Find last week's clue here.)

Congrats to Beryl K., who will receive Spotlight PA swag. Others who answered correctly: Michelle T., George S., Michael H., Al M., Lindsey S., David T., Jeff P., Judy A., Lou R., Bruce B., Philip C., Mary B., Tish M., Ken S., William D., Edward F., James D., Jyo S., Steven A., Beth T., Tim H., Seth Z., Ira B., Amy R. and Inez, Johnny C., Lynda G., Maribel O., Joel S., Cris F., Roseanne D., and Dennis F.
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