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Loophole leaves whistleblowers unprotected

Plus, more money for competency system in Shapiro's proposed budget.

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 25, 2024 | spotlightpa.org

Employees of federal contractors are supposed to be protected against retaliation for reporting wrongdoing.

But as a complaint filed against a Lehigh Valley nonprofit by a Pennsylvania woman demonstrates, the law intended to protect these workers still leaves thousands without crucial safeguards against reprisal.

The gap in protections creates a “serious risk” that will likely discourage whistleblowers from coming forward and embolden employers to retaliate against those who do, Spotlight PA's Charlotte Keith reports.

Also this week, thousands of Pennsylvanians could soon be hit with higher internet bills when a federal program that gives a discount to low-income households starts to run out of money.

Finally, we have ongoing coverage of this week's primary election, including the results of races for attorney general, auditor general, treasurer, and some state House races. See all of the results here.


» Missing voting machine documents raise concern about Pa. county’s testing processes

» Some voters are failing to complete the year on Pa.’s newly redesigned mail ballot envelopes

More money for competency system in Shaprios’s proposed budget

Gov. Josh Shapiro is once again calling on the Pennsylvania legislature to improve the state’s competency system, which was the subject of a 2023 investigation by Spotlight PA and the Pittsburgh Institute for Nonprofit Journalism.

This latest proposal, included in his 2024 budget pitch, comes after the legislature approved $4 million last year to support competency restoration and other mental health services in three local jurisdictions. This year, Shapiro is pushing for an additional $5.8 million. 

In March 2023, Spotlight PA and the Pittsburgh Institute for Nonprofit Journalism published an investigation revealing that the competency process, which is intended to protect people with mental illness in the criminal justice system, often makes matters worse and traps them in jail.

When someone is accused of a crime and lacks the mental capacity to aid in their own defense, a judge may find them incompetent to stand trial. Many times, people who are found incompetent have a serious mental illness, and judicial proceedings can only resume when that person undergoes treatment to regain competency.

The problem: In Pennsylvania, only two places — Torrance and Norristown State Hospitals — provide competency restoration treatment.

For years, Pennsylvania has been under a settlement with the ACLU to improve the situation and ensure that the wait period for treatment — which people spend in jail — does not exceed the expected sentence of the alleged crime.

But the investigation found that since the pandemic, wait times for beds at the two hospitals have worsened.

At the end of the 2023 budget impasse, the legislature approved funding that now supports community competency restoration and mental health programs run by Philadelphia and Lawrence County, as well as a collaboration between Cumberland, Franklin, Fulton, and Perry Counties.

The $5.8 million proposed in the 2024 budget would expand the programs to additional counties that submitted proposals but have not yet received funding, according to Department of Human Services officials.

“By supporting these initiatives, the Commonwealth can reduce or prevent delays in admissions to state facilities for people requiring competency determinations or restorations,” the budget proposal reads. If approved and signed into law, the funding would help keep Pennsylvania in compliance with the state’s ACLU settlement agreements, according to the department. 

“In addition to preventing delays in intake for state facilities, supporting programs like these keep these individuals out of incarceration and provide the community-based care they need.” Danielle Ohl, Spotlight PA

🤔 NEXT QUESTION: Are you on top of the news? Prove it with the latest edition of the Great PA News Quiz: 2024 matchups, Senate screenshots, protest votes, and Roe remarks
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Spotlight PA's 'Now Brewing the Truth' coffee mug, now available at the Spotlight PA store.
Our brand new ‘Now Brewing the Truth’ coffee/latte mugs are here! Matte black with white inside, perfect for every day use or as a gift! Proceeds from the Spotlight PA store benefit our nonprofit, nonpartisan journalism. 

Please allow 1-2 weeks for shipping. Have an idea for a product you'd like to see? Send us a note at membership@spotlightpa.org.
Send your answers to riddler@spotlightpa.org.

HUNGRY AS A HORSE (Case No. 253): A horse attached to a 24-foot chain wants an apple that is 26 feet away. He reaches the apple and munches on it, no problem—how is that possible?
Feeling smart? Challenge a friend.

Last week's answer: The car door. Find last week's clue here

Congrats to Pat H., who will receive Spotlight PA swag. Others who answered correctly: Rebecca D., Ed M., Michael H., Jeffrey F., Michelle T., Frederick H., Suzie M., Jamie M., Susan N.-Z., Annette I., Johnny C., Judith A., Steve N., Lois P., Ted W., Alan B., Phil C., John H., Leann T., David M., Beth T., Alberta V., Mary B., Bruce B., Norman S., Trish B., Bill B., Fred O., Ed N., Lynda G., and Marisa B.
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