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Pa. fails to protect marijuana patients on the job

Plus, a state lawmaker wants to legalize your license plate frame.

A weekly newsletter by Spotlight PA

September 15, 2022 |
Marijuana confusion, LGBTQ curriculum, guv guide, gift ban failure, license plate bill, 2020 subpoena, request denied, House rules, and King's Bench. 
AN URGENT CALL TO ACTION: This week, we're kicking off our 2022 election coverage and with it, a very important fundraising drive. We need to reach 500 gifts by Sept. 24 to power our vital public-service election reporting that's focused on empowering voters.

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The stakes this election are so high. As part of our new series — called “One Vote, Two Pennsylvanias” — we'll clearly articulate through policy proposals and issue-based reporting the vastly different visions the candidates for governor have for the future of our state.

For the first time, all of our election guides will be translated into Spanish and distributed through our Spanish-language partners. And all of our work — as always — will be free and available to all.

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— Colin D., Investigator editor

Vague legal safeguards for medical marijuana users in Pennsylvania are forcing patients to choose between their job and a drug they say has changed their life, and leaving skittish employers vulnerable to lawsuits, according to a three-month Spotlight PA investigation.

While state law protects workers from being fired or denied a job just for having a doctor’s permission to use marijuana, those protections become opaque when people actually take the drug.

Employers and workers alike have asked for greater clarity, reporter Ed Mahon found — but the legislature and governor have so far failed to explicitly outline the rights of scores of employers and workers.

Also this week, educators fear a Florida-like proposed ban on elementary school instruction about gender identity and sexual orientation will teach children that being part of the LGBTQ community is wrong. Proponents contend it’s about “parental rights.”

Should the legislation reach Gov. Tom Wolf’s desk, he has vowed to veto it because it is “discriminatory to the LGBTQ community." But next year, Pennsylvania will have a new governor: Republican state Sen. Doug Mastriano, who voted for the bill, or Democratic nominee Josh Shapiro, who opposes the legislation.

Want to learn more about Mastriano, Shapiro, and the three other candidates vying to be Pennsylvania's next governor? Spotlight PA has a comprehensive, nonpartisan guide to the race that provides brief biographies for the candidates as well as donor information. We also break down where the top two candidates stand on the issues.

Spotlight PA wants to empower voters to make an informed decision this November. Read more about how we're approaching this coverage.


"I felt betrayed."

—Robert Moyer, who was fired from a Lehigh County warehouse for using medical marijuana. He was initially denied unemployment benefits.

The upcoming fall election will be pivotal to the future of Pennsylvania, and Spotlight PA is delivering trusted, nonpartisan reporting, guides, events, and more to empower voters to make an informed choice at the polls. But this vital public-service journalism depends on your support.

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Thank you to the 112 people who have given so far, including Karen K., who said, "I want voters to be informed." Join Karen and give now »
» THE STATE OF PA ELECTIONS: Join us Thursday, Sept. 29 at 6 p.m. ET via Zoom for a free Q&A with Acting Secretary of State Leigh M. Chapman, who oversees elections in Pennsylvania. Chapman will discuss how her agency secures and runs elections, explain the state's voting policies, and answer all of your pressing questions ahead of Nov. 8. Register for the event here and submit your questions to
Read Spotlight PA's 2022 election coverage:

»  How Spotlight PA will cover Pennsylvania’s 2022 election
»  Your complete guide to the candidates for governor
»  Where Mastriano, Shapiro stand on LGBTQ rights
»  Tell us what election coverage matters to you

Support Spotlight PA's vital election coverage by making a gift now.
» BILLY PENN: Fact-checking viral claims that Oz abused animals
» POLITIFACT: Ad dissects Fetterman's armed chase of a Black man
» REUTERS: Some Dem officials worry about Fetterman's health
» TRIBLIVE: Fetterman commits to Oct. 25 debate against Oz 
» WESA: Oz, Fetterman on proposed 15-week federal abortion ban

» Clandestine plan to force a vote on Pa. legislative gift ban fails, lawmakers shrug

» The rules for Pa. lawmaker per diems, speaker v. leader, and other Q&As

» Why did Penn State create a new VP position during a hiring freeze?

» Regular private meetings among top Penn State trustees may be violating Pa.’s transparency law


Pa. lawmaker wants to legalize your license plate frame 

State Sen. Scott Martin was sitting in his parked car and scrolling through the news on his phone when one story grabbed his attention: A state appellate court had delivered a decision effectively criminalizing hundreds of thousands of unwitting drivers.

Pennsylvania Superior Court ruled that obstructions to any part of a license plate on a car — even to the paint around its edges — technically violated the state’s motor vehicle code and authorized a police officer to pull the driver over. 

As the Lancaster County Republican read on, he looked up and around the parking lot. Nearly every car there, he said, had a frame around the plate. Some had been installed by dealerships. Others displayed favored sports teams.

“I thought, ‘Holy cow … this could impact a lot of people,’” said Martin.

Sometime this month, Martin plans to introduce a bill that would clarify that only an obstruction to pertinent information on a license plate — such as the unique sequence of numbers and letters on it — would qualify as a violation.

“It’s not only fair for our vehicle owners, but for law enforcement too,” Martin said. 

The decision by the state Superior Court stems from a case in Philadelphia, during which a driver was pulled over because the URL of the state’s tourism website (which appears on the bottom of standard-issue plates in Pennsylvania) was blocked by a frame.

In making its decision, a three-judge panel looked to the Pennsylvania motor vehicle code, which states that it’s unlawful to have a plate that is illegible from a reasonable distance, either because it’s dirty or is obscured “in any manner.” 

The judges zeroed in on the “in any manner” language, which they interpreted as prohibiting obstructions to any part of the plate. The judges noted in their ruling that if the legislature wanted a more narrow definition of what constitutes a violation, they would have written the law to reflect that.

Martin said he is working on language for the bill now but acknowledges he is up against a tight deadline: As of Sept. 15, the legislature had less than a dozen scheduled voting days before its two-year session ends. Any measure that doesn’t pass by then would have to be reintroduced in the next session, which begins in January 2023. 

One option to speed up the process, said Martin, is to attach the language to a related transportation bill that is already before the state Senate.

He doesn’t anticipate pushback. Martin said he received bipartisan buy-in when he circulated a memo earlier this month to his colleagues seeking sponsors for the bill.

“It's just one of those common sense things,” he said. Angela Couloumbis, Spotlight PA

2020 SUBPOENA: Commonwealth Court judges heard oral arguments this week concerning a GOP-led state Senate committee's subpoena for information on millions of Pennsylvania voters as part of a contested 2020 election review. WITF reports at least one of the judges signaled support for the subpoena, while another questioned the need for such data. The partisan probe has been on ice for months.

REQUEST DENIED: Dauphin County is no longer granting PennLive's requests for reports filed by county jail staff that give insight into how employees treat incarcerated people there. The outlet says the policy shift follows reporting that used the reports to scrutinize and challenge official narratives around several deaths of imprisoned people, one that followed forcible restraints used by prison staff.

HOUSE RULES: The state House has voted to hold Philadelphia District Attorney Larry Krasner in contempt for failing to comply with subpoenas issued by a House committee that's looking for grounds to impeach the progressive DA. Spotlight PA's Stephen Caruso highlights the notable votes for and against finding Krasner in contempt. Here's what led up to the vote and what could come next, via City & State.

KING'S BENCH: Pennsylvania's high court has rejected a Wolf administration request to use its extraordinary King's Bench powers to fast-track a lawsuit involving a group of GOP-led constitutional amendments that Wolf wants kept off statewide ballots, per the AP. Wolf has slower options at his disposal. The amendments covering abortion, voter ID, and more could reach voters by next year. 

SCOTUS BRIEF: State Senate Republicans led by Majority Leader Kim Ward (R., Westmoreland) have filed a brief in support of a lawsuit before the U.S. Supreme Court that could sideline state judiciaries in election matters and concentrate power over elections in the hands of partisan lawmakers, per WITF. Spotlight PA explains the contested legal theory involved and what a favorable ruling could mean here.

» INQUIRER: Philly area officers held far-right Oath Keepers membership

» KDKA: Turnpike raising tolls to pay debt is 'unsustainable,' says auditor

» PG: 'Patriot’ groups trying to stop use of electronic voting machines

» STATEIMPACT: Seeking solutions to climate change-fueled flooding

» WITF: Counties receive first payments from prescription companies

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