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Pa. redistricting prompts fresh legal challenges

Plus, Pa.'s outsize Capitol riot role, one year later.

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January 6, 2022 | spotlightpa.org

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Siege state, open data, fraud failures, no trace, with leverage, murder rap, no change, viral video, retiring Rep., deadly fire, and Shapiro's LG choice.
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At 1 p.m. on Jan. 6, 2021, the first wave of pro-Trump protesters stormed the outer police barrier around the U.S. Capitol, beginning what would quickly become the largest attack on the citadel of U.S. democracy since 1814. 

Exactly one year later, Ethan Edward Coston examines Pennsylvania's prominent role in the riot. Pa. claims one of the highest numbers of Capitol siege defendants — 63 in total — of any state in the country

But Pennsylvania's contributions weren't limited to civilians, some of whom were charged with storming the halls of government, bent on stopping the confirmation of a duly elected president by any means.

The insurrection followed weeks of election disinformation centered on the state and propagated by some Republican lawmakers.

Two Pennsylvania Republicans — U.S. Rep. Scott Perry and state Sen. Doug Mastriano (Adams) — were boosters of false election fraud claims that fueled the violence, serving as key allies in former President Donald Trump's bid to undermine and overturn the election results, U.S. Senate Democrats report.

Perry has recently refused to cooperate with a Democrat-led Jan. 6 investigation, while Mastriano — seen outside the U.S. Capitol during the attack — ignored calls to resign and is instead expected to run for governor.

Dozens of Republican lawmakers in Harrisburg, including party leaders, also formally backed efforts to delay or reject Biden's electoral college votes, citing concerns about new state guidance and court rulings on mail ballots.

And a contested, 2020-focused election review helmed by some of those same legislators continues despite no evidence of widespread voter fraud.

Colin Deppen, Spotlight PA
"The insurrection was the culmination of a months-long process of insisting on the false claim that the 2020 election was stolen through massive voter fraud." 

—Lara Putnam, a history professor at the University of Pittsburgh, on the role that misinformation spread by officials played in the U.S. Capitol siege
» Pfizer booster shots are now available for children ages 12 to 15. The waiting period is five months after a second dose, CBS News reports.

» Cambria County's coroner says three adult siblings who were found dead inside a Conemaugh Township home all died of COVID-19, WTAJ reports.

» Masks and vaccines will not be mandated at the 2022 Pennsylvania Farm Show, per Fox43. The weeklong event opens on Saturday.

» A weeks-old state law aims to ease the school staffing crisis by temporarily expanding the pool of available substitutes, per PennLive.

» A FEMA-run testing sitethis one legitimate — is expected to open Friday in Southwest Philadelphia with capacity for at least 500 tests daily.

» Keep up with our coronavirus tracker, or find where to get a vaccine.
» See how the proposed Pennsylvania state Senate map scores in every key area

» Pa. redistricting maps: Search now to see your old and new legislative districts

» How you can weigh in on Pennsylvania's next legislative maps

» Everything you need to know to stay COVID-safe during a second pandemic winter

What you need to know about redistricting legal challenges in Pennsylvania

The clock is ticking for the Pennsylvania officials in charge of redistricting to finalize maps — and the lawsuits are starting to roll in. 

The state’s top election official has asked to receive final congressional and legislative maps by Jan. 24 in order to meet the first deadline associated with the spring primary. 

Anticipating that Democratic Gov. Tom Wolf and the Republican-controlled legislature won’t be able to come to an agreement on the congressional map in time, concerned citizens and redistricting advocates are lobbying the state Supreme Court to take over. 

Here’s what you need to know about where the legal challenges stand:

Congressional map

In December, a state House committee controlled by Republicans put forth a citizen-drawn congressional map as an initial proposal. That same panel advanced an altered version of that map a week later, before the public could review it

Wolf, who must approve the map, responded by saying it falls short in partisan fairness. At the moment, no votes are scheduled on the map. And a promised version from the Senate State Government Committee has yet to be released. 

Around the same time, two lawsuits targeting the map — one from a group of residents who live in population-dense areas, the other from mathematicians and scientists seeking a “data-driven” process — were filed in Commonwealth Court.

The suits — since merged into one — argue that the General Assembly will not have enough time to draw and approve the congressional map to meet current primary deadlines. Unlike the state House and Senate maps, the current congressional map is unusable because the state lost one of its 18 seats due to sluggish population growth. 

In late December, Commonwealth Court gave Wolf and the legislature until Jan. 30 to enact a plan. Should they fail, the court will begin considering submitted maps the following day.

There are a few caveats to note. Most notably, the parties who brought the suit are expected to ask the state Supreme Court to take over the case.  

A number of people — including Gov. Tom Wolf and the top legislative leaders — have asked to intervene in the case, as have fair redistricting advocacy groups represented by the Public Interest Law Center. The center handled the 2018 case that saw the Pennsylvania Supreme Court throw out a past congressional map and draw a new one.

Legislative maps

In mid-December, a five-person panel made up of the four top legislative leaders from both parties and a nonpartisan chair released initial state House and Senate maps

Those maps are currently under a 30-day public comment period. After that, the commission has another 30 days to make adjustments. Anyone who objects to one or both of the maps can file an appeal with the state Supreme Court within 30 days.

Kate Huangpu, Spotlight PA

LEGAL LIMIT: Dominion Voting Systems wants a Pennsylvania court to limit reviews of its equipment here to those conducted by federally accredited labs, the ask coming as state Republicans move to have an unaccredited firm inspect Dominion voting machines in Fulton County.

LIFE HACK: Officials say "sophisticated" schemes are being used to steal unemployment checks in Pennsylvania. But experts tell ABC27 the schemes aren't sophisticated at all: The state's new system just isn't secure. People still waiting for their money bear the brunt of related delays.

'NOT A TRACE': Investigating registered sex offenders who live under the radar in Pennsylvania nursing and care homes, sometimes with new charges made against them, TribLIVE found almost no state-level accounting and significant hurdles for inquiring members of the public.

FEE FIGHT: Facing a veto-proof block of his carbon fee plan for power plants, Gov. Tom Wolf used funding for local projects to get Democratic lawmakers in line and protect a cornerstone of his climate agenda. Observers told Capital-Star the move is uncharacteristically bold.

37 YEARS: A key witness at the trial that saw Willie Stokes convicted of murder 37 years ago has been trying to recant for just as long, saying cops offered sex and drugs for his testimony, The Inquirer reports. It took until last week for a judge to vacate Stokes' conviction.  

» CAPITAL-STAR: Senate unlikely to approve bill addressing clergy abuse

» CBS21: DePasquale seen helping in viral Peach Bowl brawl video 

» CITY & STATE: Rep. Metcalfe announces legislative retirement

» INQUIRER: Investigation underway after Philly fire kills 12 people

» TUBE CITY ALMANAC: Rep. Austin Davis launches bid for Lt. Gov.
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.

MAKES THREE (Case No. 128)Eva's mother had three children. The first was called April, the second was called May. What was the name of the third?

Feeling smart? Challenge a friend.

Last week's answer: They were grandfather, father, and son or, put another way, a man, his son, and his son's son. (Find last week's clue here.)

Congrats to Lindsey S., who will receive Spotlight PA swag. Others who answered correctly: Judy A., Elizabeth W., Fred O., Philip C., Irene T., Karen K., George S., Joe S., Edward F., Marisa B., James D., Don H., Beth T., Steve W., George S., John H., Ken S., Bill G., Bruce B., Mary B., Jonathan T., Robert K., Johnny C., Gary C., Lynda G., Dennis F., Tish M., Eileen D., and Joel S. 
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