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Our best investigations of 2022

Plus, meet some of the legislature's newest members. 


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—Colin Deppen, newsletter editor
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.

December 29, 2022 | spotlightpa.org
New lawmakers, legislature look back, team list, best investigations, boosters lag, officially certified, transcript trail, pay raise, and Chester's choice.

One of the biggest classes of first-time lawmakers in recent memory will be sworn in to the Pennsylvania legislature as leaders in the lower chamber grapple for power, complicating incoming legislators’ expressed desires to find common ground.

Nearly 50 new members will join the state House in January, making up a quarter of the chamber, Kate Huangpu reports. Six people will also be sworn in to the state Senate for the first time, four of who previously served as lawmakers in the lower chamber.

Among the fresh faces for the 2023-24 session are lawyers, community activists, and the first physician to join the legislature in nearly 60 years.

Also this week, Stephen Caruso looks back at the legislature's recent two-year session and finds a number of bipartisan accomplishments that were overshadowed by partisan fights over abortion, voting rights, and more

» Spotlight PA's vital investigative journalism keeps Harrisburg honest, but it can't continue without your support. Don't miss your chance to make a tax-deductible end-of-year gift now and get 3X the impact with our TRIPLE match.


"I think there is new life, there’s new imagination, there can be greater vision for the type of legislation and policy we pass."

—State Rep.-elect La’Tasha Mayes (D., Allegheny) on what the Democratic majority in the Pennsylvania House should do

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» Who is on Pa. Gov.-elect Josh Shapiro’s transition team? (Full list)

Spotlight PA's best investigations of 2022

>> Cannabis Card Game

In 2022, reporter Ed Mahon continued to cover Pennsylvania’s medical marijuana industry, conducting a first-of-its-kind review of more than 60 websites offering services in Pennsylvania. He found that some Pennsylvania cannabis companies used incomplete or misleading claims to promote marijuana as a treatment for opioid addiction.

He later investigated the contradiction in state law banning doctors from promoting their ability to recommend medical marijuana while allowing private companies to do so. Mahon also spoke to Pennsylvania workers who were punished for using medical marijuana

>> Lawmakers & Lobbyists

Because of exceptions to the state’s Right-to-Know law, it’s almost impossible to find out what’s said behind the scenes between lawmakers and lobbyists. Angela Couloumbis, however, obtained emails released as part of a lawsuit that showed the cozy relationship between a state senator and lobbyists for a major casino.  

Couloumbis was also the only reporter to learn that a skill games company had offered a select group of lawmakers an all-expenses-paid trip to a Wyoming rodeo. That story led to a tip about the Pittsburgh Symphony Orchestra paying $15,000 to send two lawmakers on a European tour.

>> Penn State Accountability

Spotlight PA this year welcomed Wyatt Massey to cover Penn State University and he dove right in. He broke the news that the university was considering canceling its planned Center for Racial Justice, and discovered that some of the most powerful members of the Board of Trustees had regularly met in private, possibly violating state law.

He also reported a comprehensive profile of the university’s President Neeli Bendapudi.

>> The Disconnect

Pennsylvania lawmakers often talk about the difficulty people in rural parts of the state face accessing high-speed internet. But an investigation by Charlotte Keith found that the legislature has yet to fix an obscure provision tucked into Pennsylvania law that could complicate the state’s access to a massive influx of federal funding to expand broadband. Keith also documented the unusual stakes of a public-records fight regarding a broadband authority.

>> Broken Borough

This summer, the small borough of Tioga hired Timothy Loehmann, the police officer who killed 12-year-old Tamir Rice in Cleveland, to be its sole law enforcement official. The move created a national backlash, quickly led to Loehmann withdrawing his application, then receded from the public's attention.

But Spotlight PA's Min Xian wanted to know how Loehmann was hired in the first place. Her five-month investigation found Tioga’s hiring of Loehmann and the ensuing fallout was only the latest episode in long-simmering infighting — fueled by hearsay, half-truths, and accusations — among the borough’s elected officials. The event almost completely imploded the borough’s small government.

Here are some of the year's other Spotlight PA highlights:

>> Broken ‘compassionate release’ rules strand Pa.’s sickest prisoners as costs to taxpayers soar

>> How well a death in Pennsylvania will be investigated depends largely on where someone dies

>> Efforts to ban, restrict LGBTQ curriculum in Pa. schools hinge on who becomes the next governor

>> Public database significantly undercounts former drug labs in Pa. Here’s why home buyers, renters should care.

>> Statewide Pennsylvania police hiring database hindered by loopholes, lack of enforcement

>> Fringe theory cited in Pa. redistricting case could give legislatures unchecked election power

>> How Doug Mastriano built a grassroots movement in Pa. on election denial, Christianity, and Facebook

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This week's top news story in PennsylvaniaBOOSTERS BEHIND: Thousands of people who live in Pennsylvania's nursing homes aren’t up to date with their COVID-19 booster shots, despite being particularly vulnerable to illness. The Inquirer reports that Pennsylvania's vaccination rate is behind 25 other states and territories.

This week's second top news story in PennsylvaniaOFFICIALLY CERTIFIED: Pennsylvania's top election official certified the 2022 November results late last week, according to the AP. As Votebeat and Spotlight PA previously reported, this year's certification was delayed by baseless petition recounts across the state

This week's third top news story in PennsylvaniaTRANSCRIPT TRAIL: Pennsylvania Republicans played a prominent role in former President Donald Trump's attempts to overturn the 2020 election, The Inquirer reports. Deposition transcripts detail plans to access voting machines, organize false electors, and sue the state of Pennsylvania over its election administration.

PAY RAISE: Nearly 1,000 government officials will receive a 7.8% pay raise on Jan. 1 under a 1995 state law that ties annual cost-of-living adjustments to a regional consumer price index. Raises for two officials not mentioned in that law — the executive directors of two major state retirement systems — are raising the eyebrows of some good-government advocates, PennLive reports.

CHESTER'S CHOICE: After filing for bankruptcy last month, Chester is considering selling its water authority to handle its debt, Bloomberg's City Lab reports. The choice would give the small city a much-needed cash infusion, but residents fear rate increases if the system gets privatized, and the Chester Water Authority itself opposes a sale.

» INQUIRER: Pa. lost 40K people in one year

» LNP: Feds 'could not corroborate' truck driver's stolen ballot claims 

» PENNLIVE: House leaders agree on date to fill 1 of 3 vacancies

» TAPUPMC drops more than 1,200 pharmacies from its health plan

» WILLIAMSPORT SUN-GAZETTE: 2020 recount may cost Lycoming $60K

Send your answers to riddler@spotlightpa.org.

MEALY MOUTHED (Case No. 181)What two things can you never eat for breakfast?
Feeling smart? Challenge a friend.
Last week's answer: The egg was dropped from higher than 3 feet and hasn't reached the ground yet. (Find last week's clue here.)
Congrats to Cliff A., who will receive Spotlight PA swag. Others who answered correctly: Jon N., James D., Lou R., Annette I., Joe S., Dennis F., Michael H., Jeffrey F., Susan N.-Z., Irene T., Steven S., PBH, and George S.
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