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How Pa. traffic stops become 'fishing expeditions'


A daily newsletter by Spotlight PA
Your Postmaster: Colin Deppen
April 28, 2021
Police stops, legal prep, mask update, school closures, following Fetterman, off the books, and rewriting history with Rick Santorum. It's Wednesday. 
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Law enforcement officers have long used minor traffic violations as a gateway for searching vehicles and compiling incriminating evidence, but scrutiny of the practice has only grown.

This is especially true in the wake of last month's police killing of 20-year-old Daunte Wright in Minnesota, a fatal encounter initiated over expired plates.

In Pennsylvania, Spotlight PA details the justifications State Police use to enter and search vehicles, noting they are sometimes built on shaky legal grounds and employed with little oversight

In Allegheny County, activists are calling for an end to "routine" traffic stops and outlined 14 moving violations that police should bypass on patrol. Statewide proposals on this front are few and far between. 

But the broader push for police reforms in Harrisburg continues at an urgent pace — just with slower-moving results than many advocates had hoped for.

THE CONTEXT: Weeks after George Floyd's murder by Minneapolis police in 2020, Black state House Democrats in Pennsylvania took control of the chamber's dais to demand action on long-languishing police reforms.

Now, one week after a former officer was convicted in Floyd's death, WHYY examines the status of the bills, measures, and priorities the case inspired here. Of 19 total, just two became actual law

"There’s still a lot of work that has to be done," state Rep. Jordan Harris (D., Philadelphia) told the outlet. 

The short-list of Democratic priorities includes changes to Act 111, which governs collective bargaining rights for police officers and, in turn, unions’ ability to reinstate officers who are fired for infractions like excessive force. The notion even won support from some Republicans last year. But the legislature ultimately didn’t take action — and it's unclear if it will now.

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"I’ll veto this discriminatory bill if it gets to my desk."

—Gov. Tom Wolf on Twitter reaffirming his opposition to a proposed ban on Pa.’s transgender student athletes playing women's sports
VACCINE UPDATE: The Biden administration plans to share millions of vaccine doses with other countries amid criticism it isn't doing enough to aid the global fight against COVID-19. Biden has faced sustained criticism for coming out against a temporary patent waiver for COVID-19 vaccines to help poor countries contain the pandemic. For vaccine providers, check Spotlight PA's map and county-by-county listing.
» A LIVE GUIDE TO THE MAY PRIMARY: On Tuesday, May 4 at 5 p.m., join Spotlight PA as we break down the judicial candidates and four questions you’ll see on the primary ballot. RSVP FOR FREE
» BE PREPARED: Everyone — regardless of political affiliation — can vote May 18 on four ballot questions. Here's a breakdown of each one. Plus, WHYY has a great primer on the appellate court judge candidates. We'll have more resources in the days and weeks ahead.
A beautiful sky view of Bucks County. Is it too late to say Happy Earth Day? Thanks, @youbetkevSend us your hidden gems, use the hashtag #PAGems on Instagram, or tag us at @spotlightpennsylvania.
PRE-EMPTIVE STRIKE: A group of Democrats, assisted by a well-known election lawyer, is urging the state judiciary to be prepared to get involved in a nascent and already contentious redistricting process here. Spotlight PA and Votebeat explain what's different this time around and why some think a partisan stalemate is a foregone conclusion.

MASK RULES: Fully vaccinated Pennsylvanians can now go without masks outdoors, except in crowded settings. The change follows updated CDC guidance issued Tuesday and a modest decrease in Pennsylvania's daily new case average. In Philadelphia, NBC10 reports rules around catered events and indoor dining will be loosened May 7.

CANCELED SCHOOLS: Two Black-led Philadelphia charter schools will not be renewed by the board of education, prompting an outcry from parents, Chalkbeat reports. The board says the schools performed poorly and failed to follow laws around child abuse clearances and background checks. But parents say their kids are flourishing.

BIG REPUTATION: John Fetterman has a complicated relationship with Braddock, the depressed, majority Black borough where he served as mayor for more than a decade. WHYY took a look a closer look at the dynamic, through the lens of Fetterman's ongoing bid for U.S. Senate, and found plenty of polarities and strong feelings remain.

DEEP FREEZE: Pennsylvania policymakers are starting to ask if some of the hundreds of state government regulations put on ice during the pandemic should be permanently axed, the AP reports. The rules in question cover curbside medical marijuana pickups, corpse processing at funeral homes, boiler inspections, and much more.
SANTORUM SAYS: Indigenous groups are calling on CNN to drop former Pennsylvania Sen. Rick Santorum as a commentator after he said "there isn't much Native American culture in American culture" and that "we birthed a nation from nothing." Nick Estes, a citizen of the Lower Brule Sioux Tribe, responds: "His 'we' doesn’t include Indigenous people who were already here or African people who were brought in chains."

ON THE RECORD: 2020 was a banner year for records requests in Pennsylvania, with the Pennsylvania Office of Open Records logging its second-highest number of appeals ever with 2,764 total, the Capital-Star reports. 

PHILLY EATS: Bourdain-ish in his off-the-beaten-path choices, JL Jupiter turned "his passion for food into a six-figure following that can change the fortunes of small, independent eateries," per Philly Mag. 

LIQUID LOTTO: Enter now for a chance to win ... a chance to buy a rare bottle of whiskey from the state liquor control board. Then watch your friends pass it up for a $1 can of hard seltzer. PhillyVoice has more.

PRO POT: A new Muhlenberg College poll has found record levels of support for recreational, adult-use cannabis in Pennsylvania, with nearly 60% of respondents backing the idea. Spotlight PA has more on the legislative holdup
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: Renovation 

Congrats to our daily winners: Craig W., Becky C., Elaine C., Bill C., Mark O., David I., Susan D., Janet C., Neal W., Dixie S., Robert K., David S., Christine M., Kevin H., Heidi B., Meg M., Elizabeth W., Sue B., Christine M., Al M., Irene R., Beth T., Dennis M., Joel S., Michelle T., George S., Mary Kay M., Myles M., Jeffrey S., Mike B., Suzanne S., Carol D., Chris R., Bob R., Karen W., James B., David W., Kim C., and George W.
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