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Ex-Pa. school director charged in Capitol riot

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A daily newsletter by Spotlight PA
Your Postmaster: Colin Deppen
March 26, 2021
Junk science, low rating, Capitol offense, run ragged, Shapiro's plan, gun laws, environmental damage, and yurt shopping. It's Friday, the weekend awaits.

A bill moving through the Pennsylvania legislature that would criminalize spitting on a police officer is partially predicated on junk science, and public health experts warn it could harshly punish people who are sick with a cold. 

Spotlight PA reports anyone who knowingly has a communicable disease and spits or throws feces, urine, or other bodily fluids on law enforcement could face up to seven years in prison under the measure introduced by Rep. Lou Schmitt (R., Blair). The penalty would be lower for people without an illness.

While it's already a crime to spit on someone, police included, Schmitt says the bill would offer greater protection for law enforcement by imposing tougher penalties when officers and an illness are involved. But experts warn it could end up being used to levy felony counts against people with common viruses, such as the flu or even a cold.

THE CONTEXT: The language in Schmitt’s bill is a carbon copy of a law that's been on the books in Pennsylvania since the 1990s. That law made it a felony for inmates to spit on another person if they are known to have a communicable disease. The statute names HIV and hepatitis B as two examples, even though those viruses can’t be transmitted through saliva.

Schmitt's bill, which would be applied to the public at large, is similarly open-ended, identifying "communicable diseases" warranting a tougher charge as "including, but not limited to" HIV and hepatitis B. That lack of specificity has experts concerned about how selectively it might be applied or, as the ACLU put it, how it might be "weaponized broadly against civilians."

“This bill is remarkably vague,” said Robert Field, a law professor who specializes in public health at Drexel University. “You’re essentially criminalizing being sick.”


"We’re telling you, I am telling you, Rep. [Mike] Zabel, Rep. [Margo] Davidson, Sen. [Timothy] Kearney — this law sucks."

—Damien Christopher Warsavage, founder of Upper Darby Pride, on a homophobic state law that mirrors one repealed by Upper Darby's council
VACCINE UPDATE: Pennsylvania’s online vaccine portal was in the bottom 25% of state websites rated on metrics like privacy and accessibility by nonprofit newsroom The Markup. Pennsylvania's site earned the second-lowest score nationwide on accessibility and ease of use. For vaccine providers, check Spotlight PA's map and county-by-county listing.
» The Fettermans: Join Spotlight PA at 5 p.m. April 6 for a conversation and reader Q&A with Lt. Gov. John Fetterman and Second Lady Gisele Fetterman on immigration, legal cannabis, racism, and more. RSVP FOR FREE

POST IT: A Harrisburg mural tour from a different vantage point. Thanks, @yatsko, for tagging us! Send us your hidden gems, use the hashtag #PAGems on Instagram, or tag us at @spotlightpennsylvania.
CAPITOL SIEGE: A former Lackawanna County school director has been charged in connection with the pro-Trump riot at the U.S. Capitol on Jan. 6. Former Old Forge School Director Frank Scavo is charged with four misdemeanors, including disorderly conduct and violent and unlawful entry into the Capitol, WNEP reports. The wife of a Pittsburgh FBI task force member was also charged in the Jan. 6 siege this week.

RACING REFORM: State officials have tallied more than 1,400 racehorse deaths in Pennsylvania since 2010 — half at a single track that's part of Pennsylvania’s largest casino. The doping of horses, dubbed "pharmaceutical warfare" by a former owner, is a key reason why. The Inquirer reports on how reforms have failed and what propping up the state's struggling horse-racing industry is costing taxpayers

HIGHER OFFICE: Yes, Pennsylvania Attorney General Josh Shapiro is almost certainly running for governor, telling Philly Mag, "I expect to be a candidate." The question then is who might join him — Cook Political Report counts 10 potential candidates on the GOP side alone. But while primary voters will get to choose one of those candidates as their party's nominee, they may never get to pick the running mate again.

GUN CONTROL: State leaders and activists are pushing for tighter gun-control laws in Pennsylvania after mass shootings in Boulder and Atlanta. This includes extreme risk protection orders and a ban on military-style rifle sales by unlicensed dealers, USA Today's Capitol Bureau reports. All face uphill climbs, and that's upping pressure on Washington's Democratic majority to end the filibuster and get it done at the national level.

DAMAGE CONTROL: A natural gas driller is facing a $1.9 million fine over construction work that damaged Pennsylvania waterways and wetlands, without proper permits. Chesapeake Energy of Oklahoma also recently agreed to pay millions to Pennsylvania landowners for flawed leases in a separate case, one that prompted a precedent-setting state Supreme Court ruling just yesterday, PennLive reports.

OH, CANADA: Pittsburgh/Chicago-based Heinz is branching out with a trio of new condiments. They've got Tarchup, an unfortunately named tartar sauce-ketchup hybrid; Wasabioli, a wasabi-spiced mayo; and Hanch, a hot sauce-ranch combo. Pittsburgh City Paper says Canadians will get to have all the fun, for now, at least.

OPEN HISTORY: State-owned historic sites and museums are set to reopen on April 30 with reduced hours of operation and limited capacity, per the Pennsylvania Historical & Museum Commission. They were closed last March to help slow the spread of the coronavirus. Mask and social distancing rules will still apply.

YES TO THE YURT: Consider staying in a yurt on your next trip to one of Pennsylvania's state parks. Philly Mag has a definitive guide to finding rustic and rentable yurts and cabins but warns the reservation process can be a little intense. Other warnings from the magazine: air conditioning, private bathrooms, and WiFi not included.

ZOOM BOOM: Zoom fatigue is real, just ask Pennsylvania college students. Some first-years have only ever known virtual higher education, but that's come with some insight into what works and what doesn't with learning online. “I know there’s definitely not a ‘right’ way to teach right now,” one Temple junior told Billy Penn, “but there’s definitely a wrong way.”

'PEPSI X PEEPS': Full disclosure: Our newsroom is divided over the deliciousness, or lack thereof, of Pennsylvania-made marshmallow Peeps. But I think we can all appreciate the feat of engineering Pepsi just managed in turning the edible pillow birds into a soda they're giving away to 3,000 lucky, or maybe unlucky, winners, USA Today reports.

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: Basketball

Congrats to our daily winners: Mary Ellen T., Kevin H., Tom M., Patricia M., Susan D., Myles M., Elaine C., Mark O., Neal W., Jill M., Dixie S., Anna H., Elizabeth F., Stephanie J., Becky C., Bob R., Bill C., Ron R., Elizabeth W., Theda R., Jessica K., Al M., Irene R., Craig W., Chris M., Adrien M., Kim C., Joel S., Anna T., Heidi B., Karen W., Patricia R., George S., Beth T., Jill A., Fred O., Debra K., Sue B., Helen D., Dennis M., Mary Kay M., Bette G., Shirley S., Janet C., James B., Karen K., Theodore W., Anne G., David W., Daniel M., John A., Christine M., Jeff M., Rick D., Craig E., David I., George L., Tish M., Carol D., Marilyn P., Suzanne S., Marsha B., Lance L., Jason H., and Brandie K. 
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