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Lawmaker tests positive, delaying election bill, rent relief


A daily newsletter by Spotlight PA
Your Postmaster: Joseph Darius Jaafari
October 2, 2020
Coronavirus in the Capitol, 'highway robbery,' KKK flyers, gathering limits reimposed, the hunt for fat bears, and Halloween scares. It's freaky Friday!

State Rep. Paul Schemel (R., Franklin) tested positive for the coronavirus two days after attending a committee meeting in the Capitol, forcing the state House to cancel its voting session until Oct. 19.

That's bad news for thousands of people who have been threatened with eviction and hoping for relief from legislators. Lawmakers were scheduled to vote on an extension of the state's $150 million rent relief program, which has been riddled with problems since it launched in July and expired Thursday.

Schemel's diagnosis also delayed a vote on a controversial resolution put together by Republicans this week that seeks to create an "election integrity" panel that has subpoena power. Democrats contend the panel will be used as an attack on the state's voting outcome. 

The Context: Lawmakers have known about the problems with the rent relief program for months, with both landlord and tenant groups urging changes since the summer. But despite the urgent need, and the Sept. 30 deadline for people to apply, GOP leadership didn’t schedule a vote before October.

A federal eviction ban provides some relief to renters, but it only lasts until the end of the year. And without some way to catch up on back rent, advocates warn the ban will only postpone an inevitable wave of evictions.

The bill that was scheduled for a vote in the House yesterday would increase how much financial assistance each household can receive and extend the deadline to apply for funds to Oct. 31. But for now, the program is in limbo.

"The hair stood up on the back of my neck. I was so upset." 

–– Kris Kreuzer, a Western Pennsylvania resident, after someone left a flyer signed by the Ku Klux Klan in her mailbox telling people to "vote pro-white"
POST IT: Thanks Lynne E. for submitting this shot of Chestnut Grove Natural Area in Lancaster County. Send us your hidden gems, use the hashtag #PAGems, or tag us on Instagram at @spotlightpennsylvania.
'HIGHWAY ROBBERY': That's how critics describe the practice by state troopers of seizing hundreds of thousands of dollars from drivers, many of whom are never charged with a crime. In collaboration with The Appeal, Spotlight PA reviewed 32 cases in south-central Pennsylvania since 2017 and found troopers had and found the deck is stacked against people trying to get their money back, even when they are innocent.

KEEP IT SMALL: A federal appeals court has temporarily reinstated Gov. Tom Wolf's limits on indoor and outdoor gatherings, the AP reports. Wolf is appealing a previous federal ruling that found some of his COVID-19 orders were unconstitutional

GETTHEVOTEOUDDAHEAH: As New Yorkers escaped the city to their second homes, many ended up in Pike County. Now some are trying to register to vote in Pennsylvania and are allegedly being turned away by the county board of elections, Slate reports.

NOT FRAUD: Remember those nine apparently "discarded" ballots in Luzerne County, at least seven of which were cast for President Donald Trump? The U.S. attorney for the Middle District put out a lengthy press release about a week ago. But it turns appears there was no fraud, just a mistake by a county election worker, the state's election chief says. 
A MELTING POT: Latinos make up almost 7% of our state's population, a surge that is, in part, due to the devastation wrought by Hurricane Maria in 2017. Now, with an established presence in Lancaster, some explain the lessons they've learned in maintaining their culture in Amish country. 

MAILBAG: The Spotlight PA team recently had a lively discussion on Slack: How "rural" is Pennsylvania? And how do we stack up to other states? This was a humbling lesson for me, a city kid who grew up thinking strip malls were rural. Turns out, Pennsylvania isn't all that rural compared to states like Vermont and Maine, according to census data. Speaking of the census, it's not too late to fill yours out!

LOOKING FOR FAT BEARS: No, not the kind you find at your local gay bar. Rather, the kind you find in Alaska at Katmai National Park. This and next week, people from around the world get to vote on what bear they think will become the "fattest" before hibernation. In Pennsylvania, we don't have an official "fat bear week," but local police say bear complaints are currently up in Carbon County, where a cute, rogue fur ball was recently caught riding on top of a garbage truck

MASK UP: Since I was a kid, I've spent every Halloween going to a haunted house — sometimes even going to great lengths just to find the scariest haunts. Needless to say, this year is going to be difficult, especially because I *love* the haunted houses that are allowed to grab you. A few in Pennsylvania are staying open, enforcing social distancing and –– no surprise here –– requiring masks.

TAKE 5: Speaking of Halloween, wanna hear something cool? We're in a four-way tie with Massachusetts, Missouri, and New York on the Travel Channel's oh-so-very-scientific list of most haunted states in the nation. Wanna see where to visit with your Ouija board? Check out this video on some of the more creepy places

SOMETHING OLD: Happy Tails Rescue Retirement Home, a sanctuary for senior dogs in Bucks County, recently hosted a wedding for two special residents: Felix and Machu Picchu. Only read to the bottom of this article on the puptials (sorry) if you want to cry. 

Unscramble and send your answer to scrambler@spotlightpa.org. We'll shout out the winners here, and one each week will get some Spotlight PA swag.
L A I E S O N T N C T O L 

Yesterday's answer: Hayrides 

Congrats to our daily winners: 
George D., Kim N., Cory N., Jarrod B., John C., Tracey C., Theodore W., Heidi G., Brandie K., Craig W., Lynne E., Thomas B., Gail H., Craig S., Patricia R., Tish M., Irene R., Dianne K., Kirk W., Karen W., Beth T., John H., David W., Carol M., Ron P., Alex L., and Jeffrey S. 
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