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How Pa. abortion providers are prepping for Nov. 8

Plus, what we know about Shapiro’s Board of Pardons votes

A weekly newsletter by Spotlight PA

October 13, 2022 | spotlightpa.org
Abortion access, money maps, York settlement, guv event, James Franklin, pardon record, "lasting harm," ruling reversal, call volume, and radon risks.

In Pennsylvania, the thicket of restrictions on abortion providers shapes the number of facilities in the state and limits the services they can provide, effectively circumscribing access to the procedure.

Kate Huangpu reports that providers are closely watching the outcome of the November governor's race (Democrat Josh Shapiro wants to maintain access while Republican Doug Mastriano wants to effectively ban abortion). In the meantime, providers are working to expand access to telemedicine and to medication abortion because opening new surgical facilities is prohibitively expensive

Also this week, Huangpu and Stephen Caruso analyzed and mapped Mastriano and Shapiro's donations and found a vast disparity in out-of-state funding.

Shapiro, the state’s attorney general, has raised just under $51 million — roughly $25 million from out-of-state donors and PACs. Mastriano has raised just under $5 million in the same time period, the vast majority of which — just over $3 million — came from donors in Pennsylvania.

And finally, York County has agreed to improve public access to criminal court records to settle a First Amendment lawsuit brought by Spotlight PA and four other Pennsylvania newsrooms, Ed Mahon reports. 

The newsrooms argued that York County Clerk of Courts Daniel J. Byrnes improperly shut down free, easy access to criminal court records and instituted practices and policies that slowed the release of documents.


"It’s a little more lopsided than I would have predicted."

—Pete Quist, a research analyst with OpenSecrets, on Doug Mastriano’s small level of out-of-state support compared to Josh Shapiro


» GOVERNOR'S GUIDE LIVE: On Wednesday, Oct. 19 at 6 p.m. via Zoom, Spotlight PA is hosting a free panel on who the candidates for governor are and how their administrations would impact you. Register for the event here and submit your questions to events@spotlightpa.org

Read our complete coverage, plus key dates, campaign finance data, sample ballots & more at our Election Center 2022 website.

Spotlight on the Issues: Where Mastriano and Shapiro stand on:
»  Energy & Environment
»  College Funding & Student Debt
»  Crime & Justice
»  LGTBQ Rights

More issue analyses will be published in the coming weeks.

A complete listing of Spotlight PA voter guides:
»  Everything you need to know about mail ballots
»  Your complete guide to the candidates for governor
»  How to vet the candidates on your midterm ballot
»  No constitutional amendments on the ballot, but big ones loom
»  How to serve as a poll worker on Nov. 8
»  These Pa. voters haven't missed a Nov. election for 50+ years
»  How Spotlight PA will cover Pennsylvania's 2022 election

En Español: 
»  Una guía básica para investigar a los candidatos
»  Cómo trabajar como trabajador electoral el 8 de noviembre
»  Todo lo que necesita saber para votar por correo
»  Su guía completa de los candidatos a gobernador

Support Spotlight PA's vital election coverage by making a gift now.
» AP: NBC's Fetterman Q&A draws criticism from reporters, viewers
» CAPITAL-STAR: Pa. officials anticipate 'days' of ballot counting
» INQUIRER: Why undecided voters are still unconvinced (paywall)
» PENNLIVE: Mastriano's NJ hometown remembers him well (paywall)
» WGAL: Legislative races could impact constitutional amendment push
» Penn State wavers on funding for Center for Racial Justice, a key commitment following 2020 protests
» Why doesn’t James Franklin show up on Penn State’s list of highest-paid employees?
» How we tracked workplace lawsuits involving Pa.’s medical marijuana law

What we know about Shapiro’s Board of Pardons votes

While working on a guide to how the top candidates for governor view criminal justice issues, I decided to look deeper at how Democratic nominee and state Attorney General Josh Shapiro voted as a member of the Board of Pardons.

The five-person board meets several times per year to review and vote on applications from people who want their prison sentence shortened or their criminal record scrubbed.

Pardons are approved by a majority vote. Life sentence commutations, which allow a person to get out of prison, require unanimous approval. Both require final signoff from the governor after the board sends a recommendation.

The bureaucratic process has life-altering implications, but it typically chugs along with little public scrutiny.

That’s changed this year because two members of the Board of Pardons, Shapiro and fellow Democrat Lt. Gov. John Fetterman, are running for higher office. In Fetterman’s race for the U.S. Senate, his Republican opponent Mehmet Oz has run ads targeting his pardons board votes and depicting his work to expand pardons as lenient on crime. But Shapiro’s votes haven’t been scrutinized as harshly (except by Fetterman).

Because Spotlight PA is focused on the governor’s race, I wanted to know how Shapiro has voted during his more than five years on the board and whether those votes have changed as his gubernatorial campaign has progressed.

The Board of Pardons provided records of every vote that has taken place during Governor Tom Wolf’s administration. I’m still working on a fuller analysis, but I’ve been able to review how Shapiro voted when the full board was present and no one abstained. 

Here’s what I’ve found for those cases:

When Shapiro joined the board in 2017, there were fewer applications to review. The board that year voted on one life sentence commutation and 112 pardons.

Shapiro supported the life commutation along with the rest of the board and voted yes for roughly 34% of pardons. 

But as the number of pardon applications before the board increased, so did Shapiro’s support.

In 2018, Shapiro voted to approve 66% of the 158 pardon applications. The percentage of pardons he supported increased every year, reaching about 80% in 2021. So far this year, he’s approved 84% of applications when the full board voted.

Life sentence commutations are less frequent, so the data don’t show a clear trend.

In 2018, only two applications to commute a life sentence received full board votes. Both were unanimously denied. Over the next three years, Shapiro supported nearly 55% of the 50 applications. 

But this year, that number has jumped to 73%.

Shapiro has said his political aspirations have never affected his board votes. As Election Day approaches, I’ll keep digging into the data. Stay tuned! —Danielle Ohl, Spotlight PA

'LASTING HARM': Pennsylvania corrections officers routinely use physical force on people who may be unable to comply with orders due to a mental health condition, a WITF investigation found. The outlet reports almost one in three uses of force from 25 county jails during the last three months of 2021 involved a person who was having a mental health crisis or who had a diagnosed mental illness

RULING REVERSAL: A federal court ruling that allowed undated mail ballots to be counted in Pennsylvania has been vacated by the U.S. Supreme Court. Reuters reports the high court sided with David Ritter, who lost his 2021 bid for a Lehigh County judgeship to a Democratic rival by five votes after 257 absentee ballots without dates were counted. Pennsylvania's chief election official says counties should still count undated and misdated mail ballots. More legal action is likely.

CALL VOLUME: Allegheny County's Landlord-Tenant Hotline is in need of more volunteers as eviction filings return to pre-pandemic levels. Eviction controls and a rental assistance program put in place during the pandemic are over now. Antoinette Oliver of law firm Meyer, Unkovic & Scott told WESA: "We have seen an explosion in calls. Where we would get 10 or 15 calls a week, we have over 50 calls a week."

RADON RISKS: Pennsylvania's geology means people here are more likely to be exposed to radon than residents of other states. But TribLIVE reports few schools in southwestern Pennsylvania are testing for the gas, which is odorless, colorless, and radioactive, putting students and teachers at risk. Radon is the second-leading cause of lung cancer and often seeps into buildings through basement cracks.

PARDON ZONES: Gov. Tom Wolf's Marijuana Pardon Project received 3,539 applications from people with low-level, nonviolent cannabis convictions. Axios shows where most of the applications came from and explains what happens next. The highest number of requests came from Dauphin County, where state data showed Black people were disproportionately charged with such offenses in 2021.


» ALLEGHENY FRONT: Officials back out of forum on fracking studies

» BILLY PENN: Why Gun Owners of America keeps winning in Philly

» LNP: New docs show role of Carlisle Proud Boy in alleged plot (paywall)

» TRIBLIVE: Experts say Supreme Court vacancy should be filled quickly

» WESA: DeLuca, a fixture of Allegheny County politics, dies at 85

Send your answers to riddler@spotlightpa.org.

COVER LETTERS (Case No. 168)What word of five letters has only one left when two letters are removed?
Feeling smart? Challenge a friend.
Last week's answer: A deck of cards. (Find last week's clue here)
Congrats to Kathy M., who will receive Spotlight PA swag. Others who answered correctly: Jon N., Fred O., Robert K., Frederick H., Jeffrey F., Barbara M., Michelle T., Ira B., Michael H., Judy A., Cynthia R., Ed M., Lynda G., Tish M., Peter S., Annette I., Chris W., James D., Deborah L., Irene T., Susan N.-Z., John H., Dom A., Thomas S., Ken S., George S., Beth T., Joel S., Lucy B., Jay G., Margaret Mary H., Dennis F., Linda F., Lois P., Joseph P., Mary B., and Bruce B.
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