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Long odds for legal weed in this year's budget

Plus, new race data from State Police traffic stops to be available soon.

This is The Investigator, a free weekly newsletter with the top news from across Pennsylvania.
A weekly newsletter by Spotlight PA, an independent, nonpartisan newsroom producing investigative journalism for Pennsylvania.



June 20, 2024 | spotlightpa.org
TRANSPLANT CONCERNS

A top surgeon documented what he thought were serious problems with Penn State Health Milton S. Hershey Medical Center’s kidney and liver transplant programs and raised warnings about them within the hospital system.

The surgeon, Raymond Lynch, was later dismissed just weeks before a federal review and the system shut the programs down, according to a new Spotlight PA investigation.

Also this week, Gov. Josh Shapiro made legalizing recreational marijuana a centerpiece of his budget pitch this year, but cannabis advocates and Pennsylvania lawmakers say such a proposal is unlikely to be part of a final deal.

Finally, county officials across Pennsylvania are waiting to hear if a state oversight board will approve how they decided to spend tens of millions of dollars from opioid settlements.

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VIA SPOTLIGHT PA

» Pennsylvania public defense system is unconstitutional, underfunded by at least $100M, new ACLU suit says

» Adults with intellectual disabilities may wait years for services. Shapiro's budget would help.

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New race data from State Police traffic stops to be available soon

Later this summer, Pennsylvania State Police plan to release an analysis of traffic stops made in 2023, its second annual report in a partnership with researchers to study these data for racial and ethnic disparities.

State Police expect to publish the report in late June or early July, spokesperson Myles Snyder said.

Spotlight PA has been covering these efforts for years, after a 2019 investigation that found State Police quietly stopped collecting data about traffic stops in the early 2010s. State Police renewed data collection in 2021, but the researchers initially couldn’t publish an analysis because troopers in more than 85% of stations sometimes failed to collect information after a stop. 

Without properly collected information — which includes details such as the race or ethnicity of the driver and the cause of the stop — it’s impossible to know whether people of color are pulled over at a disproportionate rate.

This new report, which comes more than a year after the last one published in May 2023, will lend insight into whether State Police have improved disparate outcomes for Black and Hispanic drivers.

The 2023 analysis, conducted by criminologist Robin Engel and a team of researchers, showed no disparity among racial and ethnic groups for stop outcomes statewide, including warnings, citations, or arrests. 

Their research, however, did find State Police were slightly more likely to subject Black and Hispanic drivers to discretionary searches, which are initiated by a trooper due to reasonable suspicion, probable cause, or consent.

These types of searches were rare in 2022, constituting only 2.8% of more than 440,000 stops. But even as troopers searched nonwhite drivers more often, they were less likely to find contraband in their vehicles.

Officers around the state will soon be obligated to collect their own data. Democratic Gov. Josh Shapiro signed a bill this month mandating local police departments track information related to traffic stops and send it to State Police for analysis.

Lawmakers, particularly members of the Legislative Black Caucus, lobbied for the expanded data collection to counterbalance concerns that the law, which also bans holding a cellphone while driving, could create more opportunities to racially profile people of color.

Though the analysis will be made public, the underlying data will be exempt from requests under the Right-to-Know Law, an exception that drew criticism from transparency advocates and criminal justice researchers. Victoria Wrigley, chief data scientist at the Lehigh Valley Justice Institute, raised alarm about the secrecy in a column for the Morning Call.

“Without access to individual-level data, we will never know what is lost amongst the averages,” she wrote. —Danielle Ohl, Spotlight PA

🤔 NEXT QUESTION: Are you on top of the news? Prove it with the latest edition of the Great PA News Quiz: Otter: The heat is on, Act 40 ruling, and Norcross indicted
WEEKLY RUNDOWN

» AP: Bob Casey unlikely messenger for abortion rights

» CAP-STAR: High court will weigh benefits, costs of privatized water

» LNP: Cutler says taxpayers paid for Biden events at Capitol 

» LNP: United Sovereign Americans sues PA elections agencies

» INQUIRER: Gun violence in Philly declines dramatically 

» PENNLIVE: Whistleblower back in ‘hole’ at Dauphin County jail 

» TRIBLIVE: Rumble clashes with Pa. Dems over antisemitism allegations

» YORK DISPATCH: The place for secret school board meetings

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