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Pa. Medicaid purge confronts state worker shortage

Plus, how state House Democrats used new rules to secure their 'majority.'

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.

April 6, 2023 | spotlightpa.org
Medicaid fears, State Police, open primaries, election event, 'majority' definition, Trump charges, train lobby, GOP epiphany, and ballot blunder.

The offices that help Pennsylvanians keep their Medicaid benefits are facing persistent vacancies and a heavy workload at a critical time for the program, creating what one expert deems a "terrifying" staffing situation. 

Like every state, Pennsylvania is reassessing who qualifies for Medicaid following the sunsetting of a federal policy that ensured no one was kicked off the program during the COVID-19 public health emergency. 

The Shapiro administration estimates hundreds of thousands of Pennsylvanians will be disenrolled because they no longer meet eligibility requirements. Advocates for health care access fear shortages of state support staff mean thousands more could wrongly lose coverage, Katie Meyer reports.

Also this week, Stephen Caruso explains how Gov. Josh Shapiro wants to fund the State Police without taking money away from road and bridge repairs, and why that plan has raised some accountability concerns

Finally, Kate Huangpu has the latest on the push to open Pennsylvania's primary elections to independent voters and the big hurdle that stands in the way.


"It’s like having the Baltimore Ravens be involved with the draft of the Pittsburgh Steelers."

—State Sen. Cris Dush (R., Centre) on why he opposes allowing unaffiliated and third-party voters to participate in partisan primaries

PRIMARY PRIMER: Join us next Thursday, April 13 from 6-7 p.m ET via Zoom for a free panel on Pa.’s Supreme Court candidates and why the 2023 election matters. Register for the event here and submit your questions to events@spotlightpa.org.
» Campaign finance, lobbying reform still receiving little attention in Pa. legislature
» How much north-central Pennsylvania nonprofit hospital executives are paid

How state House Democrats used new rules to secure their ‘majority’

The election of Pennsylvania’s first female House speaker in late February resolved three months of uncertainty around chamber leadership. Still, Harrisburg remains a convoluted place.

As lawmakers begin considering bills and big funding questions, Spotlight PA’s Stephen Caruso wants to help you understand how the sausage really gets made, how your tax dollars are spent, and how Harrisburg works (or doesn’t).

Have a question of your own? Email scaruso@spotlightpa.org with the subject line “How Harrisburg Works.”

What will impending special elections mean for state House control?

To paraphrase Democratic political operative Ben Forstate, with a one-seat margin in the state House, every special election is also an existential crisis.

There are two state House special elections scheduled for primary day, May 16. One is in the Philadelphia suburbs to replace former state Rep. Mike Zabel (D., Delaware), who resigned after several people accused him of sexual harassment. The other is in the upper Susquehanna Valley to replace Lynda Schlegel Culver (R., Northumberland), who won a state Senate seat.

Both state House seats are likely safe holds for the respective parties (The Inquirer’s Gillian McGoldrick has an in-depth look at the Delaware County race). 

But May 16 likely won’t be the end of special elections. At least three state representatives are running for local office and will have to give up their seats if they win in November.

All are Democrats: Sara Innamorato is running for Allegheny County executive; Amen Brown is vying to become the next mayor of Philadelphia; and John Galloway is seeking a Bucks County judgeship. 

None of these seats are likely to flip parties if they become vacant. President Joe Biden won all three by at least 10 percentage points in 2020. 

Still, even a temporary vacancy or two could see the Democratic caucus dip below the mathematical definition of majority. But the math doesn’t matter. 

That’s due to a new definition of “majority party” in the state House rules Democrats introduced and passed last month without any Republican support.

While the term was undefined in past sessions’ rules, the state House’s operating rules now say that the majority party is the one that “won the greater number of elections for the 203 seats in the House of Representatives in the general election preceding the term of service that began on the first day of December next after the general election.”

Should a vacancy occur during the term, the definition continues, “the political party that won that seat at the last election shall remain the party that won that seat until any subsequent special election is held to fill that seat.”

Control would only be reshuffled if a seat flips, the definition concludes.

Holding the majority matters for a number of reasons. It allows Democrats to control both the committees and the chamber’s floor agenda.

The new definition of “majority,” said state House Republican spokesperson Jason Gottesman, is an admission by Democrats that “they might need to cling to power at some point in session through artificial means.”

In response, state House Democratic spokesperson Beth Rementer said the majority language was similar to a definition proposed by Republicans in earlier rules drafts, and was included to ensure “that House operations can continue without potential disruption.” Stephen Caruso, Spotlight PA

This week's top news story in PennsylvaniaLEGACY ISSUES: There's new leadership at Pennsylvania's largest pension fund, but some of the problems that dogged the last administration — culminating in several high-profile resignations — have carried over. The Inquirer (paywall) reports the Pennsylvania Public School Employees' Retirement System is still paying lawyers to deal with the fallout of a scandal touched off by an exaggerated profit report and scrutinized land deals.

This week's second top news story in PennsylvaniaTRUMP CHARGES: Former President Donald Trump pleaded not guilty in New York on Tuesday to 34 felony counts of falsifying business records. The response from Pennsylvania elected officials followed party lines. But The Inquirer (paywall) reports that while the allegations have turbo-charged Trump's 2024 fundraising, GOP insiders in pivotal Pennsylvania aren't convinced it will pay off here.

This week's third top news story in PennsylvaniaTRAIN LOBBY: Norfolk Southern has spent huge sums on lobbying and political donations, including more than $5.4 million spent in Harrisburg since 2007, City & State reports. The influence that affords is being freshly tested on the heels of February's toxic train derailment near the Pennsylvania-Ohio border, with state and federal lawmakers now looking to heighten safety rules and hold the company accountable. 

GOP EPIPHANY: PennLive (paywall) reports there's a new political action committee with a message for Pennsylvania Republicans: consider voting by mail. November's midterm losses prompted a reevaluation of the party's vilification of the option. The Win Again PAC said of the GOP's reliance on in-person votes: "Democrats are collecting ballots while Republicans are collecting promises."

BALLOT BLUNDER: A congressional hearing last week on the paper ballot shortage that marred Luzerne County's 2022 midterm election saw bipartisan agreement on the seriousness of the problem but little else. Votebeat reports lawmakers debated whether the failures actually constituted "voter suppression" and failed to glean new information about precisely how the paper shortages happened

» CAP-STAR: Lawmakers propose legislative reforms for Pa. dog law

» INDIANA GAZETTE: Pa.'s largest coal-fired power plant will shut down

» INQUIRERPa. House Democrats’ majority is on the line

» PUBLICSOURCEPittsburgh mishandles vouchers, repels landlords 

» TRIBLIVEJoan Gabel to become first female Pitt chancellor

Send your answers to riddler@spotlightpa.org.

ODD JOB (Case No. 195): How can you make six into an odd number.
Feeling smart? Challenge a friend.
Last week's answer: Promise, heart, etc. (Find last week's clue here.) 
Congrats to William H., who will receive Spotlight PA swag. Others who answered correctly: Annette I., Kirby D., Judy A., Donna D., Jon N., Lynda G., Peter S., Tish M., Alberta V., Rebecca D., Karen K., Karen W., Lois P., Don H., Irene F., Michelle T., Sheryl W., Myrna R., Ken S., Trish B., Beth T., Fran B., Linda A., Seth Z., Beth T., Jyotin S., Frederick H., Johnny C., Leann T., Dean S., and Robert K.
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