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Bill would force Pa. to post lawmaker expenses


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Your Postmaster: Colin Deppen
June 3, 2021
Open secrets, Arizona audit, veto pen, vindictive DA, teargas trap, and all the bug news that's fit to print. It's Thursday, but with a Wednesday feel.
An effort is underway to make it easier to track millions of dollars in taxpayer-funded expenses incurred by Pennsylvania lawmakers each year, a notoriously difficult task currently, as detailed in a yearlong and ongoing Spotlight PA and The Caucus investigation.

Championed by state Sens. Lindsey Williams (D., Allegheny) and Kristin Phillips-Hill (R., York), the new measure would require the House and Senate chief clerks to post spending information online for the public to see. 

Per diems, state vehicle usage, and expense reimbursements would all be included.

The memo seeking co-sponsors for a bill is the first public document outlining a plan to require this level of transparency, Spotlight PA and The Caucus report, though leaders of both chambers say they plan to do something similar but separate.

"We are taking our own steps to help improve transparency and try to ensure more expenses are available to the public," a spokesperson for Senate President Pro Tempore Jake Corman (R., Centre) explained.

THE CONTEXT: When Spotlight PA and The Caucus published their initial stories in May, only 18 lawmakers in the state House and 11 in the Senate voluntarily posted some level of expense information on their own official websites.

But almost all of them were still under-reporting expenses or were offering incomplete or outdated information — Corman included

While Williams went further than any other legislator to make her expenses accessible by providing a searchable Google spreadsheet, it was still missing more than $100,000 in real estate and staffing costs not technically authorized by Williams but attributed to her or her office. 

Williams said the kind of centralized and streamlined expense reporting process she's advocating for, combined with mandatory reporting rules, would make a major difference.

Spotlight PA and The Caucus will continue to publish findings from their lawmaker spending investigation in the weeks and months ahead.

Here are five takeaways from the work published thus far, including the biggest spenders, the emptiest transparency pledges, and the most pervasive blind spots

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"We hope that the confessions announced today will help bring some semblance of closure to the victims' loved ones."

—Pennsylvania State Police announcing a convicted Florida serial killer has confessed to six previously unsolved commonwealth murders
VACCINE UPDATE: State Sen. Amanda Cappelletti (D., Montgomery) is writing a bill that would allow anyone 14 or older to get the COVID-19 vaccine if their doctors recommend it — even if their parents don’t. For vaccine providers, use the federal government's online tool, call 1-800-232-0233, or text your ZIP code to 438829 (GETVAX).
A smooth reflection of a charming Harrisburg mural as captured by photog @yatsko. Send us your hidden gems, use the hashtag #PAGems on Instagram, or tag us at @spotlightpennsylvania.
PRAISING ARIZONA: A secretive, chaotic, and highly partisan audit of Arizona's 2020 election results drew three Pennsylvania lawmakers to the Copper State on Wednesday — not to join the chorus of bipartisan critics but rather to tout it as exemplary. The Capital-Star says the trio included state Sen. Doug Mastriano, a booster of unfounded election fraud claims who helped launch the Arizona audit and another in rural Pennsylvania.

'THE FIREWALL': Gov. Tom Wolf has vetoed around 50 pieces of GOP legislation since taking office in 2014 — more than a third in the past year alone, USA Today's Capital Bureau reports. Now, the term-limited governor is nearing the end of his tenure and both parties are wondering what might happen when he and his veto pen are gone.

WITH SPITE: Advocates want an investigation and an Allegheny County judge has paused plea agreements after TribLIVE reported District Attorney Stephen A. Zappala Jr. banned his prosecutors from offering deals to clients of a Black attorney who called the DA's office "systematically racist." Zappala declined to comment for the story.

TRAUMA TRAP: One year after Philadelphia police corralled and tear-gassed a group of George Floyd protesters, some of the hundreds there that day say the experience left them energized and even more committed to the cause. The Inquirer reports others are left coping with trauma and guilt while waiting for accountability.

POLICE PLEA: West Hazleton Police Chief Brian Bulgio will plead guilty to violating a private citizen's civil rights after threatening to bring false felony charges in retaliation for critical social media posts about him. "You like to post fake things and fake stories about me, so I could make up a fake arrest and put you in jail," Bulgio threatened, per WNEP. 
PICTURE SHOW: Pandemic-era cellphone photos form the basis of a new art exhibit by West Philadelphia High School students. WHYY reports the project started as a way to teach art to kids virtually and with no supplies and blossomed into a powerful remedy for loss and isolation.

CHOICES, CHOICES: As many as 15 new round-trip train routes could be coming to Pennsylvania under Amtrak's ambitious — and maybe far-fetched — 2035 Vision plan. City Paper says Scranton > New York City, Reading > Philadelphia, Pittsburgh > New York City, and more are on the table.

BUG SPRAY: Spotted lanternfly spraying is underway in Pennsylvania, with crews targeting the invasive and destructive species that has 34 counties now under quarantine. The pesticide being used is also toxic for fish and bees and shouldn't be sprayed near water or flowering plants, per the AP.

BIGGER BUGS: Pennsylvania's other bug du jour, the cicada, is having a moment, too, emerging from the ground after 17 years to screech, mate, and crash cable news spots. Just ask CNN congressional reporter Manu Raju who had one crawl across his suit and neck inside the U.S. Capitol last week.

BIGGEST BUGS: A bird-sized bug spotted and photographed in Lancaster County was described by one eyewitness as looking like "someone attached wings to a tarantula." The winged arachnid is actually a harmless polyphemus moth, WGAL reports, and a rare daytime find. 
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: Questionnaire

Congrats to our daily winners: Mary Ellen T., Becky C., Mike B., Patricia M., Susan D., Jill M., Irene R., Wendy A., Barbara F., Ken S., Kim C., Bill M., Diane P., Bruce B., Art W., Carol D., Kevin H., Al M., Christine M., Dixie S., Adrien M., Dianne K., Bill C., Brandie K., Elizabeth W., Elaine C., Michelle T., Beth T., Jackie S., Meg M., Jill A., Eddy Z., David I., James B., Paul H., Bob R., Alice B., Dennis M., George S., Geoff M., Craig W., Laura B., Daniel M., Jeff M., Kevin M., Christine M., Suzanne S., David W., Don H., Karen W., Catherine J., Cynthia P., Tish M.,  Skip B., John H., Myles M., Helen G., Doris B., Mary Kay M., Ann and John P., Darlene B., and Patricia R.
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