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Pa. borough hires officer who killed Tamir Rice

Plus, what a fringe legal theory could mean for Pa.

A weekly newsletter by Spotlight PA

July 7, 2022 | spotlightpa.org
Police problem, late budget, law event, fringe theory, baseless claim, progressive probe, political money, broken system, and toll block. 
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The small borough of Tioga recently hired Timothy Loehmann, the police officer who killed 12-year-old Tamir Rice in Cleveland, to be its sole law enforcement official.

Facing major backlash — even from the borough's mayor, who claimed not to know who the officer was despite swearing him in — Loehmann withdrew his application, Tioga's council president said on Facebook early Thursday. 

In 2020, Pennsylvania approved the creation of a database aimed at preventing the hiring of officers with a record of misconduct. But as Spotlight PA recently reported, the database is riddled with loopholes that weaken its efficacy.

For example, while departments are required to consult the database before making a hire, there is no oversight or penalties for not doing so. 

Justice system reporter Danielle Ohl and a panel of experts will discuss the database during a free virtual event tonight at 6 p.m. Sign up to attend

Also this week, Pennsylvania still does not have a completed budget. Due June 30, the plan has been held up by disagreements between Democratic Gov. Tom Wolf and Republican leaders on how much more to spend on key issues like education. Check spotlightpa.org for the latest.

"As far as I know, there are no former presidents in the negotiating room."

—State Rep. Jesse Topper (R., Fulton) on whether demands made by former President Donald Trump could derail this year's budget.

» LAW & LOOPHOLE: Join us tonight at 6 p.m. ET via Zoom for a free Q&A on the limitations of the state's police misconduct database and a discussion on other police accountability efforts. Register for the event here and submit your questions to events@spotlightpa.org

» Conflicting reports, gaps in data obscure true number of Pa. law enforcement agencies

» How Pennsylvania keeps its voter rolls clean and updated

What is the independent state legislature doctrine, and why does it matter for Pa.?

The U.S. Supreme Court has agreed to consider a case that could reshape election policy across the country, including in Pennsylvania.

At issue is an extreme legal doctrine that would give state legislatures unchecked power over elections and political maps — an idea at least four justices have signaled support for. Here’s what you need to know about the case and what a favorable ruling would mean for the state. Ethan Edward Coston, Spotlight PA

What is the theory? 

The “independent state legislature doctrine” is a legal theory that claims state courts do not have oversight power over election policy set by state legislatures.

People who subscribe to this theory assert that courts should not be allowed to intervene in how legislatures draw political lines — even in instances where they are unfairly drawn for partisan benefit, a practice known as gerrymandering — or weigh in regarding the constitutionality of election laws.

Which case will the court consider?

The U.S. Supreme Court agreed to take a case from North Carolina during its next session, which begins in October.

In early 2022, a group of voters sued to have the state’s new congressional and legislative maps thrown out for unfairly favoring Republicans. The North Carolina Supreme Court did just that and ordered a lower court to oversee the redrawing of the maps.

The lower court upheld new state House and Senate maps approved by the legislature, but rejected the congressional map and put into place one drawn by a panel of experts it hired

Legislative Republicans appealed that decision and invoked the independent state legislature doctrine, claiming the state courts didn’t have the authority to interfere.

The U.S. Supreme Court rejected an emergency injunction request in March, but recently decided to grant oral arguments for an appeal.

What would a favorable ruling mean for Pennsylvania?

A formal endorsement of the doctrine by the U.S. Supreme Court could reshape the way elections function across the country, giving state legislatures the ability to set voting rules and draw political maps with impunity.

Legal scholars predict a favorable ruling in the North Carolina case would also give state legislatures the power to reject presidential electors determined by voters and appoint their own slates. 

After the 2020 presidential election, many Republican state lawmakers in Pennsylvania attempted to prevent certification of President Joe Biden’s win, citing unsubstantiated claims of widespread fraud.

The Republican nominee for governor, state Sen. Doug Mastriano of Franklin County, introduced a resolution at the time to allow the state legislature to choose its own presidential electors. The measure would have given former President Donald Trump the state’s 20 electoral votes, but the effort died in committee. 

If elected, Mastriano has said he would appoint a secretary of state who would force every voter in Pennsylvania to re-register to vote — something that’s illegal under federal law.

BASELESS CLAIM: Doug Mastriano, the Republican nominee for governor, is pushing a baseless claim about the Wolf administration and COVID-19 deaths in nursing homes. The Associated Press digs into Mastriano's messaging and what the truth is.

PROGRESSIVE PROBE: After the Allegheny County DA's office announced it was investigating a progressive magistrate for unspecified "issues," local law enforcement officials privately expressed support for the probe. Emails obtained by PublicSource have some legal observers concerned about the separation of powers.

POLITICAL MONEY: After dropping out of the race for governor and endorsing Bill McSwain, the campaign of Jason Richey received $250,000 from a PAC backing McSwain. According to the Post-Gazette, Richey then reimbursed himself for a $150,000 campaign loan — a move raising questions about the timing. 

BROKEN SYSTEM: The case of a Philadelphia man who testified in six murder cases — then recanted — exemplifies a broken system without "clear rules or oversight," The Inquirer reports. It's a system that relies on vulnerable people who may give unreliable testimony. 

TOLL BLOCK: Commonwealth Court has permanently blocked Gov. Wolf's contested plan to toll as many as nine bridges on interstates in Pennsylvania, the AP reports. The tolls were meant to raise money for upkeep of the bridges as the Wolf administration looks for new and more reliable sources of such funding. It's unclear if PennDOT will appeal. Neither of the candidates running to replace Wolf support the tolls. 

» BILLY PENN: Violent crime is exceedingly rare on South Street 

» CITY PAPER: Allegheny Co. judge accused of bias against Black men

» HERALD-STANDARD: State rep. charged with DUI in June 4 crash

» WESA: Allegheny County Council votes to ban fracking in county parks

» WPSU: Rural farmers say cryptocurrency mine brought noise pollution

Send your answers to riddler@spotlightpa.org.

AN UNUSUAL ANIMAL (Case No. 154): What is 3/7 chicken, 2/3 cat, and 2/4 goat?
Feeling smart? Challenge a friend.
Last week's answer: Canning is a way to preserve food that won't be consumed immediately. (Find last week's clue here)
Congrats to Suzie M., who will receive Spotlight PA swag. Others who answered correctly: Lynda G., Seth Z., John C., Dennis F., Steve N., Robert K., Beth T., Mary B., John H., Joe S., Annette I., Lois P., Elizabeth W., Lindsey S., Michelle T., Alberta V., Tish M., Michael H., Ed M., Fred O., Fred H., K. J., Joyce O., Peter S., and Jonathan N.
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