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'Systemic failures' derailed child sex abuse measure


A daily newsletter by Spotlight PA
Your Postmaster: Colin Deppen
May 27, 2021
Election blunder, public hearing, inside testimony, legal pause, boom boxes, conflicting evidence, and a Sheetz vs. Wawa debate. It's Thursday. 
A much-anticipated report released Wednesday says "internal systemic failures" were behind the Wolf administration's bungling of a statewide referendum to provide more legal recourse for survivors of child sexual abuse. 

The Office of State Inspector General concluded that there was no evidence that the administration’s mistake, first reported in February, was deliberate or the result of "intentional malfeasance."

But the report did note a lack of "executive oversight, written policies and procedures, proper staff training, and consistent communication of the process," per Spotlight PA. 

THE CONTEXT: The inspector general's investigation was ordered by Gov. Tom Wolf after state election officials admitted they failed to advertise the ballot question as required, meaning it could not appear on the May ballot as planned. The state’s survivors, who spent decades lobbying for the opportunity, were devastated.

Immediately after the mistake came to light, the department’s secretary resigned her position. On Wednesday, state officials said the department’s head of legislative affairs, whose job includes tracking legislation, had also resigned — although they would not say whether it was related to the mistake.

Veronica Degraffenreid, the department’s acting secretary, apologized on Wednesday, saying: "It was so horrifying to me and everyone at the Department of State that a grave error — at the department — added to the pain of any victim of abuse."

Legislative workarounds for the stalled ballot question have not come to fruition, and 2023 is the soonest voters might get a chance to weigh in.

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"Here’s a doctor of 30 years who had not so much as a speeding ticket, and then his whole life is ruined for giving his wife medicine that’s now legal in Pennsylvania."

—Gov. Tom Wolf on pardoning Dr. Paul Ezell who served six months in jail and lost his ability to practice medicine over a felony drug charge
VACCINE UPDATE: Seventy percent of Pennsylvanians 18 and older have received their first dose of the COVID-19 vaccine, Gov. Tom Wolf says. Pennsylvania is set to lift its mask mandate when 70% of adults here are fully vaccinated. For vaccine providers, use the federal government's online tool, call 1-800-232-0233, or text your zip code to 438829 (GETVAX).
Spring has definitely sprung in western Derry Township. Thanks, Bob N., for sharing this shot. Send us your hidden gems, use the hashtag #PAGems on Instagram, or tag us at @spotlightpennsylvania.

STARTING LINE: Pennsylvania kicked off its once-in-a-decade congressional map-making process Wednesday with a public hearing that gathered testimony from mapping and population experts, as well as redistricting reform advocates, per the Capital-Star. A separate meeting of the Pennsylvania Legislative Reapportionment Commission touched on prison gerrymandering safeguards and more.

INSIDE WITNESS: A former Temple administrator will testify against her former boss in a federal case stemming from a school rankings scandal. The Inquirer reports Marjorie O’Neil, the Fox School of Business's one-time finance manager, admitted to aiding ex-dean Moshe Porat in falsifying records that propelled the school to the top of an influential national ranking. O’Neil has pleaded guilty to related conspiracy charges. 

CLOSED CASES: Pennsylvania's Department of Health has ended legal action against more than 40 restaurants it said defied COVID-19 rules at the height of the winter case surge. Department spokesperson Maggi Barton said the majority of those restaurants have since come into compliance, per the Associated Press, adding that all of the state’s remaining restrictions are set to lift on Memorial Day anyway. 

BIG BOX: A surge in Lehigh Valley warehouse development has the attention of The New York Times, which says the e-commerce-fueled building boom is sparking residential concerns about aesthetics and long-term economics. The paper says proximity to New York City is a key reason for the trend, while critics say the development is threatening historic graveyards and moving farther into the countryside.

ON CAMERA: New video contradicts state Sen. Doug Mastriano's claim that while at the U.S. Capitol on Jan. 6 he never went near the building and left before things turned violent. The video uncovered by amateur online sleuths shows Mastriano in the area of at least one teardown of police barricades and near the Capitol's main steps as the building was first breached, per PennLive. Mastriano says he followed shifting police lines.

ALTOONA PIZZA: To make a divisive Altoona-style pizza at home, all you'll need is a Sicilian crust, marinara sauce, salami, green peppers, and enough American cheese slices to cover a house. The Takeout shows you how it's done and warns: go easy on the oven or else.

CASE EXPLAINER: A four-year-old string of profanities uttered by a teenager outside a Mahanoy City convenience store is at the center of a consequential free-speech case currently before the U.S. Supreme Court. A new episode of The New York Times' podcast "The Daily" has a good breakdown

BAD LOOK: Philly Weekly is making light of the city's surge in gun violence by offering readers "sweet swag" to guess how many homicides will be recorded by Election Day. I'm not linking to the piece to avoid driving clicks, but Inquirer editor Erica Palan has a screenshot and some just criticism.

GUERILLA MARKETING: Bill's Beer Barn in Butler can add "As seen in GQ magazine" to its resume now. The New Castle Road suds seller found its way into a surprisingly poignant profile of actor and "Jackass" alumnus Johnny Knoxville, who sported a vintage Beer Barn shirt in the photo spread

WINNER TAKES ALL: A live Wawa vs. Sheetz debate will pit U.S. Rep. Brendan Boyle (Team Wawa) against Lt. Gov. John Fetterman (Team Sheetz) for City & State PA's 2021 Pennsylvania Power 100 event on June 17
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: Bureaucracy

Congrats to our daily winners: Barbara F., Becky C., Diane P., Bill C., Craig W., Kevin H., Susan D., Beth T., Elaine C., Irene R., Patricia M., Mike B., Al M., Christine M., Eileen B., Myles M., David I., Neal W., Bob R., Elizabeth W., Dennis M., Joan S., Jill A., Suzanne S., Don H., George S., Tish M., Heidi B., Carol D., James B., Eddy Z., Mary Ellen T., Theodore W., Meg M., Karen W., David W., Dianne K., Parker B., Alice B., Ted N., Rick D., Gwen B., Lynn K., Michelle T., Gail H., Craig E., Dixie S., Joel S., Bruce T., Lance L., Kim C., and Elayne B.
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