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Grading the legislature’s COVID-19 response


A daily newsletter by Spotlight PA
Your Postmaster: Kamala Kelkar
February 3, 2021
Pandemic disconnect, pharmacy doses, budget time, most wanted mom, space on SpaceX, and shadowy weather predictions. It's Wednesday.

As the pandemic prevailed through the spring, summer, and fall of 2020, the nation’s largest full-time legislature — with some of the highest-paid lawmakers — spent much of its time challenging Democratic Gov. Tom Wolf's expanded powers, a Spotlight PA analysis has found. 

Of 140 bills passed and signed by Wolf last year, only 27 directly addressed problems brought on by the pandemic. That includes several major budget-related bills that made use of federal aid — an area that seemingly could inspire bipartisanship but still incited clashes between the two branches.

Wolf, meanwhile, vetoed a record 19 bills — 15 more than he did in 2019. Of those, all but two were sponsored by Republicans, and many were aimed at reopening sectors of the economy ahead of the administration's schedule. 

THE CONTEXT: Regardless of political belief, a large number of people had to turn to state government to get through enormously painful times, whether for their health, their business, or their family finances. 

As Spotlight PA has reported, the state struggled last year to process more than 5 million unemployment claims through an outdated system that has left hundreds of thousands stressed, confused, and desperate for help. It also failed to spend more than $108 million in rent and mortgage relief, leaving thousands of families vulnerable to eviction.

Legislative efforts to fix the programs were often sidelined by partisanship. So will 2021 be any better?

That remains to be seen. When the legislature reconvened last month to launch its new two-year session, it set the tone for a potentially rocky relationship with Wolf, who could be hamstrung by his lame-duck status as he navigates the last two years of his second and final term in the office.


"To be completely honest, we rarely speak of winning a title in the gym these days. We are hyper-focused on our mental game, health, confidence, and teamwork. When these things are done, a championship win is inevitable."

—Margzetta Frazier, a gymnast who represented the Parkettes club in Allentown before joining the U.S. National Team, on whether her UCLA hive will get a national title this year
VACCINE UPDATE: The White House next week will begin delivering vaccine doses directly to 6,500 pharmacies across the country. The state, meanwhile, has simplified its vaccine provider map and is urging people not to compare its rollout rate to other states. For providers, check Spotlight PA's vaccine map and county-by-county listing.
POST IT: An icy shot of Little Pine State Park in Lycoming County. Thanks, Mike GlassSend us your hidden gems (or snow pictures!), use the hashtag #PAGems, or tag us on Instagram at @spotlightpennsylvania.
BUDGET ADDRESS: Gov. Tom Wolf today will propose a sweeping new budget plan that boosts funding for public schools through an increase in the state’s personal income tax rate, according to the Associated Press. The proposal would also expand exemptions, meaning that two-thirds of income-tax payers would pay less or the same.

ON THE DECLINE: Coronavirus cases and deaths both here in Pennsylvania and across the country are declining, which experts attribute to the public's willingness to hunker down over the holidays. But, as the Post-Gazette reports, those gains could disappear if people change their behaviors and the variants outpace vaccinations

MOST WANTED: The New Yorker's Ronan Farrow talked to Rachel Powell, a mother of eight from western Pennsylvania, about how she went from criticizing former President Donald Trump to smashing a window and using a battering ram to support him at the U.S. Capitol. Meanwhile, two more Pennsylvanians were arrested in connection to the insurrection, according to PennLive.

JUNETEENTH: Cities across Pennsylvania are deciding whether to make Juneteenth an official holiday for government workers, like the state did in 2019. Pittsburgh Mayor Bill Peduto plans to do just that, according to Pittsburgh City Paper. And while Philadelphia Mayor Jim Kenney declared it a holiday last year, the city may be reconsidering, the Philadelphia Tribune reports.

BEAR TRACKS: Pennsylvania hunters killed 3,608 black bears during the 2020 hunting season, according to PennLive. That's about 20% lower than the record harvest of 4,653 bears in 2019, but still ranks as the state’s sixth best.
A SPACE ON SPACEX: Pennsylvania billionaire Jared Isaacman, whose fortune was made in tech and fighter jets, bought an entire flight for himself and three others on Elon Musk's SpaceX to circle the globe this year. Want to be his wingman? There's one seat left.  

MONOTONY ENDS, IRONY REMAINS: Punxsutawney Phil was introduced with a speech that echoed parallels people are making between the tradition and the pandemic. They said the groundhog's shadow (or lack of it) represents a signal that "monotony ends" and "cycles will be broken." Yet three men proceeded without masks to converse over the rodent and make their prediction

REPRESENTING AFRICA: Museums in America have long been run by white people, which presents a lot of tension in how people from Africa, their art, and other artifacts are represented. The American Museum of Natural History has an interactive, digital series called SciCafe, and today's 7 p.m. EST event will focus on art and its perpetuation or disruption of racial hierarchies

SNOW DONE (FOR NOW): Readers in central Pennsylvania should not see much snow today, but that's a promise that probably won't last through the week.

BACK AGAIN: One more thing on Punxsutawney: I'm here to defend my colleague, who may have misinterpreted what Phil's shadow means in a recent newsletter. For what it's worth, the groundhog itself doesn't have a reputable track record.
Unscramble and send your answer to scrambler@spotlightpa.org. We'll shout out winners here, and one each week will get some Spotlight PA swag.

Yesterday's answer: Cartography  

Congrats to our daily winners: Jill G., Craig W., John C., Susan D., Mary Ellen T., Bill C., George S., Irene R., Carol D., Patricia R., Neal W., Jessica K., Christopher R., Kim C., Monica Z., Heidi B., Suzanne S., Joel S., Christine M., David W., David I., Beth T., and Ron P. 
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