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This may be the year Pa. raises its minimum wage

Plus, corruption arrest puts DuBois-Sandy Township merger in peril.

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A weekly newsletter by Spotlight PA, an independent, nonpartisan newsroom producing investigative journalism for Pennsylvania.

June 8, 2023 | spotlightpa.org
Consolidation pause, budget negotiations, funding lawsuit, minimum wage year, at risk, rent relief, flawed system, game stops, and Erie 'redlining.'
In an unusual legal filing, Sandy Township seeks to pause its voter-approved consolidation with the City of DuBois as a result of corruption allegations against the city’s suspended manager and alarming financial oversight issues.

Sandy Township officials argue in a new court filing that the sweeping fraud allegations against Herm Suplizio, one of DuBois’ most politically connected government officials, and mounting questions about city oversight and ongoing investigations necessitate an intervention.

Also this week, budget negotiations are continuing in Harrisburg ahead of the June 30 deadline. Capitol reporter Stephen Caruso explains what’s on the table, what comes next, and how to follow along.

"We’re hopeful that the city will agree that it’s sensible to pause the act of consolidation process until both the city and township know the results of these investigations."

—Scott Wyland, solicitor for Sandy Township, on his municipality's request to pause a consolidation with nearby DuBois because of corruption charges

» Pa. officials spent $12.6M on private lawyers to fight challenge to state’s education funding

Democrats think this may be the year Pa. raises its minimum wage 

After years of arguments and a near-deal in 2019, Democrats in the Pennsylvania legislature say it’s now just a matter of time before Republicans agree to vote in favor of raising the state’s minimum wage. 

At the moment, Pennsylvania’s wage floor is $7.25 an hour — the same as the federal minimum. The legislature last increased the state’s minimum wage in 2006, and every neighboring state currently has a higher wage floor.

“I think we're all tired of fighting on this,” said state Rep. Patty Kim (D., Dauphin), who for years has introduced legislation to raise Pennsylvania’s minimum wage.

Democrats’ newfound optimism is based on the fact that a Republican who is a member of the state Senate’s leadership team is the lead sponsor of a bill to increase the minimum wage to $15 an hour. Yearly increases tied to the rate of inflation would follow under the legislation.

“Due to the rising costs, workers are unable to pay for basic necessities and forced to rely on public assistance,” the bill’s sponsor, state Sen. Dan Laughlin (R., Erie), said in a statement in late May. “It is time we address the issue and I believe this bill is the most responsible way to approach it.”

The state House is under Democratic control, and there are likely enough votes in the chamber to approve a minimum wage increase. The state Senate, meanwhile, is strongly under GOP control.

Still, state Senate Minority Leader Jay Costa (D., Allegheny) is hopeful something will be done by the end of the year. 

“... It's just a function of figuring out the dynamics of what it's going to look like,” he said. 

Republican leadership in both chambers has been wary of raising the minimum wage. 

State Senate President Pro Tempore Kim Ward (R., Westmoreland) and Majority Leader Joe Pittman (R., Indiana) voted against raising the wage floor to $9.50 an hour in 2019. That year, the state Senate passed a compromise bill negotiated between Republicans and former Democratic Gov. Tom Wolf; it died in the state House. 

In an email earlier this spring, Kate Flessner, a state Senate GOP spokesperson, said the caucus is “focused on implementing policies that will create maximum wage jobs” rather than through “artificial minimum wage increases.”

Added Ward this week: “Everything is a negotiation.”

Even if the chambers reach a deal, it’s unlikely the bill will include language allowing Pennsylvania’s cities, such as Philadelphia, to set a higher, local minimum wage. The 2006 bill that last increased the minimum wage included a ban on local action.

Getting rid of that ban is a high priority for dozens of progressive community and advocacy groups.

Preemption “is often used as a tool for state governments to prevent big cities with majority Black and brown residents from governing as they see fit,” the coalition said in an open letter in May. “This model should be rejected by Pennsylvania’s General Assembly.”

State House Democrats have expressed support for local control, but they doubt it’s actually in the cards. 

"I don't believe that will happen," said state Rep. Jason Dawkins (D., Philadelphia), who chairs his chamber’s Labor and Industry Committee. Stephen Caruso, Spotlight PA

Support Spotlight PA's independent, nonpartisan journalism.
This week's top news story in PennsylvaniaAT RISK: Abandoned oil and gas wells could be exposing nearby Pennsylvania residents to high levels of cancer-causing chemicals, a new first-of-its-kind study found. As Spotlight PA previously reported, Pennsylvania is set to receive as much as $400 million in federal funding over the next decade to help plug wells, but some advocates question whether it’s enough as more wells are newly abandoned.

This week's second top news story in PennsylvaniaRENT RELIEF: Amid a housing crisis in the Lehigh Valley, Northampton County is no longer taking applications for a COVID-19-era program that provided direct payments to tenants who were at risk of eviction due to the pandemic, the Morning Call (paywall) reports. Some fear a repeat of the 8% jump in eviction filings seen in neighboring Lehigh County in 2022. Lehigh ended its rent relief program that August.

This week's third top news story in PennsylvaniaFLAWED SYSTEM: The Pennsylvania Senate's GOP-led Judiciary Committee advanced a bill on Tuesday that's meant to address some of the pitfalls with Pennsylvania's current guardianship system, as outlined in recent Spotlight PA reporting. The bipartisan bill, now headed for a full Senate vote, treats guardianship as a last resort and encourages judges, lawyers, and others to do the same.

GAME STOPS: Law360 (paywall) reports the local arm of skill-game-maker Pace-O-Matic wants Pennsylvania authorities to stop seizing its machines until a statewide ruling in a case that could settle the issue of their legality is handed down, the company's attorney told an appellate court Tuesday. The machines occupy a legal grey area now, and have inspired no shortage of controversy, per Spotlight PA.

ERIE 'REDLINING': Pennsylvania-based Erie Insurance engaged in insurance "redlining" of predominantly Black neighborhoods in Baltimore, a Maryland regulatory agency has found. The Daily Record reports the Maryland Insurance Administration ruled in favor of several Baltimore-area insurance brokers that filed a complaint against the company. A broader "market conduct examination" is ongoing.

» APPa. may require electronically filed campaign finance reports

» CITY & STATESex abuse survivors want Senate to pass civil window

» CAP-STARPa. moves to create a new fee for electric vehicle owners

» PENNLIVEPa. Senate approves new state agency name

» WTAJPa. DHS providing on-site support to Blair County CYS 

Send your answers to riddler@spotlightpa.org.

TV GUIDE (Case No. 203): Another one from Will Shortz's book Puzzlemaster Deck: 75 Mind Bogglers: The name of which classic TV show is a transposal of the Michigan city Muskegon? 
 Feeling smart? Challenge a friend.
Last week's answer: Wheat. (Find last week's clue here.) 
Congrats to Elizabeth B., who will receive Spotlight PA swag. Others who answered correctly: Jon N., Michael H., Annette I., Judy A., Roseanne D., Fred O., Phil C., Michelle T., Alberta V., Lynda G., Tish M., Trish B., Joe S., Mary B., Elizabeth W., and Seth Z.
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