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Lawmakers seek tie-breaking vote on redistricting


A daily newsletter by Spotlight PA
Your Postmaster: Colin Deppen
April 6, 2021
Power chair, trans athletes, broken news, failing grades, 'clerical error,' crisis reforms, scrapple stans, and apple trees for Centralia. It's Tuesday.
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The once-in-a-decade redrawing of Pennsylvania's political maps is officially underway in Harrisburg, and you may qualify to cast the crucial swing vote on maps that can ultimately determine control of the legislature. No pressure. 

The General Assembly’s Democratic and Republican caucus leaders are accepting applications from members of the public to chair the powerful Legislative Reapportionment Commission. It’s only the second time in five decades that they've done so, Spotlight PA and Votebeat report. 

Past chairs of the Capitol’s redistricting commission have included Ivy League law professors and retired judges. But almost anyone can qualify, even those who are eyeing a run for public office, are related to politicians, or work as lobbyists or for campaigns. There is an attempt underway to change this. There's also precious time left to make it happen.

THE CONTEXT: Most of the commission’s members told Spotlight PA and Votebeat it’s too soon to elaborate on what they’re looking for in a chairperson. They have less than a month to name someone or cede that responsibility to the majority-Democrat state Supreme Court. 

There's a similarly short runway to take up a bill, passed unanimously out of a Senate committee in March, that would prohibit a person from holding the role if they or their spouse were lobbyists or political candidates, or worked for a political campaign or public official in the past five years. 

Through a spokesperson, House Majority Leader Kerry Benninghoff (R., Centre) said he was looking for someone who could be “a neutral arbiter who shares our commitment to a fair, open, and legal redistricting process.” He said the public application process would ensure — “assuming we can agree to a candidate” — that the person is “best qualified and not the outgrowth of political favoritism or nepotism.” 


"I’m having a stupid time trying to find help. It’s unbelievable."

—Marietta bar owner Bob Shank on finding staff as COVID-19 restrictions begin to lift
VACCINE UPDATE: Up to 1 million more Pennsylvanians are newly eligible for a COVID-19 vaccine now that the state has moved into Phase 1B of its vaccine rollout. They include postal workers, prison staff, incarcerated people, public transit workers, and more. Eligibility opens to Phase 1C next Monday and everyone age 16 and up the Monday after that. For vaccine providers, check Spotlight PA's map and county-by-county listing.
» FIGHTING MISINFORMATION: Join Spotlight PA at 5 p.m. April 20 for a conversation and reader Q&A about how partisan groups are masquerading as local news in Pennsylvania and undermining public trust. RSVP FOR FREE

POST IT: Thanks, @foxesundertheshed, for this slightly snowy shot of Monroe County's Indian Ladder Falls in February. Fortunately, there's much more green to see this time of year (thank you spring!). Send us your hidden gems, use the hashtag #PAGems on Instagram, or tag us at @spotlightpennsylvania.
SCHOOL SPORTS: Five female Republican state lawmakers have introduced a bill that would ban transgender students in Pennsylvania from playing women’s sports. The measure has little chance of going anywhere with Gov. Tom Wolf promising a veto, but it speaks to a trend sweeping state houses nationwide as advocates warn of compounding risks to trans children and adults, Spotlight PA reports. 

NEWS HOLE: What would a world without local news look like? NBC News says a bevy of Beaver County Facebook groups may provide an accurate glimpse. The pages, well-intentioned but misinformation-heavy amateur feeds, have vexed local police and revealed what happens when trusted news sources are gutted by commercial interests and DIY information networks step in to fill the void.

LEARNING LOSSES: About half the Lehigh Valley’s middle and high schools saw the percentage of students failing two or more classes double in the fall, illustrating the sharp impacts of a pandemic school year. Acting Education Secretary Noe Ortega recently told PublicSource that suggestions for addressing learning losses and gaps statewide include an "expanded school year" and supplementary summertime instruction.

VACCINE ERROR: State health officials are blaming a clerical error for the suspension of COVID-19 vaccine shipments to rural McKean County, where officials said they were left with zero first doses weeks ago. The Post-Gazette reports the Health Department says it's “actively working to get doses to [area] hospitals,” while McKean County Commissioner Thomas Kreiner said an emergency shipment could arrive as soon as Wednesday.

SLOW MOTION: Six months have passed since Philadelphia police fatally shot Walter Wallace Jr., sparking days of protests and official promises to enact mental health crisis reforms. But Billy Penn reports those efforts remain opaque and limited in scope, with departmental trainings drawing few actual officers and advocates urging people facing mental health crises to think before dialing 911.
SCRAPPLE-MANIA: German immigrants brought scrapple to Pennsylvania. The scrapple fan club has broadened significantly in the centuries since. Just take the Maryland-based "Scrapple Trail" Facebook page with 7,200 diehard fans, The News Journal reports.

POWER WASH: Pennsylvania’s first green hydrogen plant is planned for southern Lancaster County. StateImpact reports Plug Power plans to use Susquehanna River water and Holtwood Dam power to make enough liquid hydrogen each day to power 1,500 heavy duty trucks.

DERAILED: Amtrak's grand 2035 ambitions could mean a new golden age of train travel in Pennsylvania. But while President Joe Biden's $2 trillion infrastructure plan is fueling hope for expanded service here, the Capital-Star reports there are a lot of potential complications on the tracks ahead.

BUTTERFLY EFFECT: Centralia's underground coal mine fire may still be burning and growing, but efforts are being made to improve the town's above-ground ecosystem with butterflies and apple trees. PhillyVoice says an environmental group will plant 250 apple trees during an April 17 event.
PRIMARY SZN: Friendly reminder: You have less than a month left to register for May's primary election. Second friendly reminder: Even independents can vote on ballot questions in primaries and there are a few big ones on the ballot this year. But you have to be registered first. Get started here.
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: Abstract

Congrats to our daily winners: Becky C., Ben S., Mary Ellen T., Kerri G., Neal W., Susan D., Joel S., Irene R., Yvette R., Dennis M., Carole D., Bette G., Al M., Bill C., Carol D., Craig W., Craig E., Mary Kay M., Patricia M., Dianne K., James B., Suzanne S., Christine M., Elaine C., Jessica K., David I., Tish M., Beth T., Paul H., Debra K., Bob R., Karen W., Heidi B., David W., Elizabeth W., George S., Tom M., Patricia R., Marsha B., and Dixie S. 
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