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Pa. trans athletes targeted by 'anti-evidence' ban

Plus, four things to watch for during Pa. budget talks.

A weekly newsletter by Spotlight PA

June 16, 2022 | spotlightpa.org
Trans bans, budget brokering, corporate consensus, gun punt, bad reads, house help, PILOT program, Perry pardon, and mail voting lawsuits.
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Pennsylvania is considering legislation that would ban transgender girls and women from playing on school and collegiate sports teams that correspond to their gender, restrictions that experts say are discriminatory and fly in the face of science.

Ethan Edward Coston reports on two GOP-led bills that echo language used to enact bans in other states. Democratic Gov. Tom Wolf has vowed to veto the measures if they reach his desk. One of the bills was advanced by the state Senate in a party-line vote earlier this month.

Meanwhile, PLCA intern Jaxon White reports Democrats and Republicans are in agreement on cutting Pennsylvania's corporate tax rate, which some lawmakers and analysts argue makes the state unfriendly to businesses. Despite the bipartisan consensus, lawmakers have yet to decide on specifics.

Elsewhere in the Capitol, Stephen Caruso details how a slate of gun bills introduced by Democrats was punted by a committee in the GOP-controlled state House, effectively stalling a push to advance the measures.

Democratic supporters of the legislation say they may still have some options to force a vote, although they did not immediately provide specifics.
"Fairness in athletics should be about expanding the opportunities for women’s athletic programs to increase the level of participation and create more opportunities."

—Kelsea Dague, a student-athlete from Hempfield, in a letter to the state House committee that approved a bill that would ban transgender girls and women from participating on teams that correspond to their gender
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» Spotlight PA wants your help flagging school health hazards
4 things to watch for during Pa. budget negotiations

Budget negotiations are in full swing as Pennsylvania marches a bit closer to the June 30 deadline to pass a spending plan.

While in past years Democratic Gov. Tom Wolf and the Republican General Assembly have clashed over limited revenue, this year lawmakers face the opposite issue: Due to higher-than-expected revenues and federal stimulus money, Pennsylvania’s coffers have at least $7 billion in excess dollars.

Here are four things to watch for. Stephen Caruso, Spotlight PA

Education funding

Wolf ran as a governor committed to education and has consistently asked for more funding for the state’s public schools.

He also wants to fundamentally change the way they are funded by moving away from a formula that benefits shrinking schools to one that benefits poorer, growing schools. 

To ensure that no district sees a decline in state funding, such a change would require about $1 billion, according to Wolf’s estimates. 

Republican leaders have signed off on expanding the public school budget in the past (and could be forced to do so again due to an ongoing lawsuit that claims current funding levels are unconstitutional). 

But usually, they only agree after receiving some things in return, such as a parallel expansion of a state tax credit for private school donations or a pledge from Wolf to back off certain regulatory actions.

Stimulus dollars

Democrats and Republicans are eyeing $2.2 billion in leftover federal stimulus dollars as the most likely source for any spending.

Wolf wants to use the money to send every Pennsylvania household making $80,000 or less a $2,000 check. In the legislature, spending ideas differ by party and chamber, but there has been broad interest in using the money on child care and infrastructure projects.

The money must be appropriated by 2024 and spent by 2026 or it will return to the federal government.

Pitt funding

Insiders are also closely watching the fate of funding for the University of Pittsburgh, which received $154 million in tax money last year, a sum mostly used to subsidize in-state tuition.

Citing fetal tissue research conducted by university staff, anti-abortion advocates have targeted the funding in recent years. 

House Appropriations Committee Chair Stan Saylor (R., York) acknowledged divisions on the issue in his caucus last week, but said other budget issues were taking precedence.

“The money goes to students,” Saylor said. “I'm not going to penalize students for what I believe is an issue that should be debated on its own merits.”

If Pitt’s funding is politically radioactive and can’t pass the GOP-controlled House, it could upset delicate budget negotiations, potentially drawing talks past June 30.

Late budgets stretch the resources of school districts and other social services, such as domestic violence shelters, that need state resources to stay open.

The code bills

Along with the budget, lawmakers must pass and Wolf must sign a handful of omnibus, budget-enabling bills. These code bills function like an instruction manual for the state’s spending.

They can also contain small policy changes that appease both sides of the aisle or quickly and quietly resolve a long-simmering issue. 

Last year, for instance, the code bills allowed college athletes to ink marketing deals and authorized electric scooters in Pittsburgh. In other years, they banned municipalities from passing local plastic bag bans.

LEGAL FRONTS: New lawsuits are echoing the election rule fights of 2020 and reviving questions about mail voting that many considered settled, The Inquirer reports. Republicans have worked to chip away at the state's expanded mail-voting law since Gov. Tom Wolf vetoed an election code overhaul last year. The usher of that bill, state Rep. Seth Grove (R., York), signaled this week that he's ready to try again.

HATE READS: A trio from Montgomery County with Penn State ties is behind the Antelope Hill publishing company specializing in white nationalist and Nazi publications, the SPLC uncovered, via Literary Hub. They are: Vincent Cucchiara, 24, Sarah Elizabeth Cucchiara (formerly Nahrgang), 25, of Green Lane, and Dmitri Anatolievich Loutsik, 25, of Harleysville. The company even has a children's imprint.

HOSPITAL BILLS: As Pittsburgh officials look for new ways to capitalize on the tax-exempt hospital giants that operate in the city, a dilemma that has long vexed local leaders there, PublicSource reports that Erie has seen tremendous success with a Payments in Lieu of Taxes (or PILOT) arrangement 100 miles to the north. But there are key differences between the cities and the power of the health systems involved.

LEAD ROLE: The Inquirer created a definitive timeline of Doug Mastriano's efforts to overturn Donald Trump's 2020 loss in Pennsylvania — both in the run-up to the U.S. Capitol attack and after it. Mastriano, the Republican nominee for governor, is said to be cooperating with the U.S. House panel investigating the attack. 

REVERSAL ROLE: U.S. Rep. Scott Perry (R., Pa.) sought a pardon from then-President Donald Trump in the aftermath of the Jan. 6 U.S. Capitol attack, congressional investigators revealed in a televised primetime hearing last Thursday, via Politico. A Perry spokesperson called the claim "a ludicrous and soulless lie." Perry was instrumental in efforts to overturn Trump's loss and has ignored a subpoena from the same investigators.

» ABC27: Early guv poll has Shapiro with slim lead over Mastriano

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» AP: Mastriano brings election denier onto Pa. governor campaign

» CAPITAL-STAR: Panel advances proposals responding to Ukraine

» POST-GAZETTE: Bill would provide home repair grants, loans

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