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Political inaction endangers property tax rebates

Plus, schools like Penn State self-police student-athlete endorsement deals.

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A weekly newsletter by Spotlight PA

September 22, 2022 | spotlightpa.org
Tax rebate, skill games, candidate vetting, election coverage, complete guide, high-rises, student-athlete endorsements, and fears of a slow count. 

The number of people benefitting from a state program that helps older Pennsylvanians pay their rent and property taxes has shrunk by more than 25% over the past decade.

According to an analysis by Spotlight PA reporter Charlotte Keith, that works out to 160,000 fewer households getting help. 

The main issue? State lawmakers haven’t updated the income limits for homeowners to qualify in more than 15 years. For renters, it’s been more than 35 years. As incomes have gradually increased over time, buoyed mostly by inflation, it has become harder to qualify for a rebate.

Also this week, Angela Couloumbis reports that Pace-O-Matic, a Georgia-based company that makes skill games, offered select Pennsylvania lawmakers an all-expenses-paid trip to a rodeo festival in Wyoming. Manufacturers are currently seeking legal recognition for their slot-like machines in the face of fierce opposition from the state's casinos. 

Finally, learn how to research who will be on your ballot this November, their stances, and who is funding their campaigns using our new basic vetting guide


"They weren’t paying for first-class airfare."

—State Rep. Sue Helm (R., Dauphin) on a trip she took to a Wyoming rodeo paid for by Pace-O-Matic, a company that makes unregulated skill games

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» 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 events@spotlightpa.org
Read Spotlight PA's 2022 election coverage:

»  Your complete guide to the candidates for governor
»  A basic guide to vetting the candidates
»  Where Mastriano, Shapiro stand on LGBTQ rights

»  How Spotlight PA will cover Pennsylvania’s 2022 election
»  Tell us what election coverage matters to you

En Español:

»  Su guía completa de los candidatos a gobernador

Support Spotlight PA's vital election coverage by making a gift now.
» INQUIRER: ‘Prophet’ campaigns with Doug Mastriano 
» KDKA: Allegheny County state House seat a 'must-win for Democrats'
» PENNLIVE: Shapiro, school-choice fans align on 'lifeline scholarships'
» VOX: What election deniers want to do when they're running elections  
» WHYY: How Shapiro and Mastriano differ on addressing crime

» A complete guide to Spotlight PA’s investigations of Pennsylvania’s flawed medical marijuana program

» An attempt to deter more student high-rises in State College raises larger debate about the future of downtown

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

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


Schools like Penn State self-police student-athlete endorsement deals

A unanimous 2021 Supreme Court decision opened the door to student-athletes earning money for their “name, image, and likeness” — often called NIL — while participating in college sports.

At their most basic level, NIL deals allow a brand or company to pay a student-athlete to be featured in an advertisement, appear at an event, or promote a product on social media, for example.

The NCAA and federal government have left it up to lawmakers in each state to craft NIL guidelines for athletic programs — or choose to impose no guardrails at all.

Spotlight PA talked to several experts to explain how NIL works at Penn State. 

What rules are in place in Pennsylvania?

Pennsylvania’s NIL law bars student-athletes from making money on pornography, alcohol, gambling, tobacco or electronic smoking devices, prescription drugs, or other controlled substances. 

Under the 2021 law, student-athletes must disclose an NIL contract to their university seven days before it takes effect.

Schools can block a student-athlete’s NIL agreement if it conflicts with an existing sponsorship between the university and a company, or if the deal clashes with the school’s “institutional values.”

The law bans universities from arranging compensation for athletes and from tying compensation to a student attending a specific school.

Who holds schools and athletes accountable to those rules?

Schools and states police themselves. 

Christina Diaz, assistant athletics director for development and enrichment at Penn State, said the university does not report students’ NIL deals to any outside group, such as the Big Ten Conference or the NCAA. Penn State has not disciplined any students for NIL violations, she said.

“Our student-athletes have been incredible in disclosing,” Diaz said.

Dan Lust, who teaches sports law at New York Law School and works as a sports and entertainment attorney at ​​Geragos & Geragos, told Spotlight PA there is little incentive for schools or states to punish students who break the rules.

If a university or state were to crack down on student-athletes, that school — or state — would no longer be a top destination for recruits or transfers, he said.

The NCAA has asked universities for help investigating potential violations, but has not announced any penalties.

Who are the ‘collectives’ supporting Penn State?

In the initial months after the Supreme Court decision, contracts between individual companies and athletes received a lot of attention. Now groups called “collectives” dominate the conversation. Collectives pool money — often from alumni and other supporters — to arrange contracts for athletes at specific schools.

Penn State promotes the collectives We Are and Success With Honor on its webpage. 

We Are describes itself as a “football first collective” that works “by providing fan incentives and business relationships for student-athletes.” The collective did not respond to requests for comment.

Success With Honor told Spotlight PA it has worked with over 70 student-athletes to facilitate more than 50 NIL deals across 18 sports at Penn State.

In the first five months after its March launch, the group raised nearly $2 million to support Penn State student-athletes, said Jason Belzer, CEO of Student Athlete NIL, the company that manages Success With Honor. Wyatt Massey, Spotlight PA

SLOW COUNT: Pennsylvania officials are worried that a slow vote-counting process in November's midterm election will feed a 2020-style cycle of disinformation, the AP reports. Pennsylvania's no-excuse mail voting law still stands. But while election staff statewide have pressed legislators to pass a law allowing them to start processing mail ballots sooner, speeding up results, that hasn't happened

BIG BILL: A constitutional amendment package that would let voters decide, via ballot question, whether to revoke the right to an abortion in Pennsylvania also includes a less-publicized provision that could make it easier for lawmakers to block environmental rules and executive orders, Capital & Main reports. Gov. Tom Wolf is suing to stop the effort and the ballot questions — the likes of which rarely fail.

FOR SALE: PNC is set to sell a Pittsburgh-area, low-income housing complex that saw surges in health code violations and 911 calls while under the banking giant's half-a-trillion-dollar umbrella. PublicSource and WESA report residents of the McKeesport complex succeeded in drawing attention to festering issues and forcing improvements. Now they wonder if the hard-won progress will continue.

ANTI-MACHINE: A push to let Washington County voters decide whether to continue the use of electronic voting machines there has failed ahead of the Nov. 8 election, the news coming days after Lycoming County officials rescinded a similar ballot question on tabulation machines. Both are part of what the Post-Gazette (paywall) calls a targeting of election technology by election deniers.

CASE HISTORY: Supporters of a contested legal theory at the center of a U.S. Supreme Court case that could see power over elections concentrated in the hands of partisan lawmakers have cited a fraudulent historical document in support of their case, Ethan Herenstein and Brian Palmer of the Brennan Center for Justice at NYU Law write in Politico Magazine. Spotlight PA explains the independent state legislature theory and what a ruling could mean for Pennsylvania

» CNHI: Staffing, funding trouble Pa.’s 911 centers: legislative report

» INQUIRER: Krasner now providing some records to the state House

» PENNLIVE: Election offices challenged by voting record requests

» STATEIMPACT: Fracking ban survives GOP court challenge

» TRIBLIVE: Trial date set for Tree of Life accused shooter 

Send your answers to riddler@spotlightpa.org.

NAME-CALLING (Case No. 165): What breaks as soon as you say its name? 
Feeling smart? Challenge a friend.
Last week's answer: Three socks. (Find last week's clue here)
Congrats to John D., who will receive Spotlight PA swag. Others who answered correctly: Philip C., Jon N., Susan N.-Z., George S., Karen K., Irene T., Judy A., Fred H., James D., Fred O., Ed M., Tish M., Joe S., Donna D., Joseph P., George S., Lynda G., Annette I., Beth T., Mary B., Dennis F., Jay G., Jodiek K., Johnny C., Roseanne D., and Seth Z.
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