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Lawmakers exempt themselves from redistricting rules


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Your Postmaster: Colin Deppen
June 23, 2021
Redistricting redirect, election overhaul, juvenile justice, year in review, work stoppage, and one man's quixotic quest to buy the Pirates. It's Wednesday.
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A key state Senate committee agreed Tuesday to put guardrails on how Pennsylvania lawmakers draw congressional maps, while gutting provisions that would apply to their own districts, Spotlight PA and Votebeat report.

The bill, passed on a near party-line vote in the State Government Committee, requires proof that redesigns of Pennsylvania's U.S. congressional map follow redistricting guidelines, compare-and-contrast exercises to better illustrate changes, and at least four public hearings.

Those are all good things, experts say. 

But an amendment offered by the panel’s chair, Sen. David Argall (R., Schuylkill), removed language that prohibits lawmakers from unduly favoring one political party over another — the hallmark of gerrymandering.

It also removed all proposed reforms to the legislative redistricting process, including limits on how the Pennsylvania General Assembly’s own districts are drawn.

THE CONTEXT: Argall believes the bill has a better chance of passing if it only focuses on congressional redistricting, which he hoped would "reverse at least some of the hyperpartisan efforts of the past." It's certainly nothing new that Pa. lawmakers are hesitant to do anything to diminish their own power.

Experts say that while his amendment significantly rolls back and weakens transparency and accountability provisions from the original bill introduced by Sen. Lisa Boscola (D., Northampton), the proposed guardrails would still be an improvement over the way the state’s congressional maps are currently drawn.

One objection raised by Fair Districts PA, a nonprofit group advocating for redistricting reform, is that Argall’s amendment prioritizes population equality and avoiding municipality splits above all other standards, such as compactness and communities of interest. The group would rather see all standards weighted equally.

Of course, all of this is happening as Pennsylvania gets ready to lose a U.S. congressional seat and redraw its maps with a divided government for the first time in three decades.
Huge issues are being debated in Harrisburg, from voting changes to redistricting, that could have ramifications on our state for years to come. Now more than ever, we need unflinching investigative journalism in Pennsylvania.

And Spotlight PA is answering the call in a bold new way.

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"While this recent development is still unfolding, we understand the community’s need for a new vision of what LGBTQ+ Pride looks like here in Philadelphia." 

—Celena Morrison, of Philadelphia’s Office of LGBT Affairs, on a backlash that led the group behind Philadelphia’s largest Pride parade to dissolve

VACCINE UPDATE: Dozens of private Pennsylvania colleges and universities will require COVID-19 vaccines for returning students, and WESA has the full list. The 14 state-owned universities can’t mandate the shots without legislative approval. At least one may require masks instead. For vaccine providers, use the federal government's online tool, call 1-800-232-0233, or text your ZIP code to 438829 (GETVAX).
A Father's Day stroll through Saint Peters village in Chester County produced this photo shared by PA Poster Laurie S. Send us your hidden gems, use the hashtag #PAGems on Instagram, or tag us @spotlightpennsylvania.
TWO PATHS: The state House passed an election overhaul bill Tuesday that creates stricter voter ID law requirements, despite a promise from Gov. Tom Wolf to veto it. The state Senate is poised to take up the bill in the coming days, but Republican lawmakers in the chamber are charting a separate path.

CHILD CHARGES: "Serious racial disparities pervade Pennsylvania’s juvenile justice system" and change is urgently needed, according to a new report from a bipartisan state task force. The AP reports a 16-month review found Pennsylvania locks up far too many first-time and low-level youth offenders, despite research showing it doesn't work as intended.

20/20 HINDSIGHT: The end of Pennsylvania's pandemic-inspired rules is days away, with the last-remaining mitigation effort, a mask mandate for unvaccinated people, set to expire on June 28. WESA has a look back at 15 months of case data, overlaid with mitigation benchmarks to determine what worked, what didn't, and "where we're headed next."

STRIKE FORCE: Employees at 12 Pennsylvania nursing homes have authorized possible strikes against low pay and short staffing. The Capital-Star reports more than 1,000 nurses and caregivers from Lancaster to Oil City approved the option after watching contract talks between their union and the private nursing home owners drag on

MOTION DENIED: The white supremacist charged with killing 11 at a Pittsburgh synagogue has lost a bid that could have helped him build a death penalty defense. Robert Bowers hoped evidence authorities surveilled him before the shooting would prove beneficial to his case, but a judge said the information is irrelevant, per TribLIVE.
RADIO TIMES: Spotlight PA reporter Charlotte Keith and Philadelphia Inquirer reporter Bob Fernandez told WHYY about their recently published investigation into strings-attached college scholarships issued to students of the ultra-rich Milton Hershey School. The segment begins here at the 13:50-minute mark.

IMPROVED CONDITION: Tom Ridge's condition has been upgraded from critical to stable after the former Pennsylvania governor suffered a stroke at his Maryland home last week. Ridge's family says he has "a long road ahead" but has "come back strong from health challenges in the past."

HARD SELL: A frustrated Pittsburgh Pirates fan is making a longshot bid to buy the team in hopes of restoring its good name, per WESA. "We've given him 14 years to put a good product out there, and this isn't a good product," businessman Ty Ballou said of the team and its current owner.

NIGHT 'MARE': Police want fans of HBO's "Mare of Easttown" to stop trespassing at the Delco show's film sites, with one department writing: "It’s NOT cool to go to the homes they filmed at and harass the owners and their kids all hours of the day & night...It's a house. Get over it,” per PhillyVoice.

STATE SONG: In personal news, I'm currently being haunted by the new single "Pennsylvania Furnace" from avant-garde artist Kristin Hayter, aka Lingua Ignota, part of an LP Pitchfork says was inspired by the landscape of rural Pennsylvania, where Hayter lived while writing and recording

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: Nanosecond

Congrats to our daily winners: Craig W., Neal W., Mary Ellen T., Susan D., David I., Becky C., Michelle T., Dianne K., Craig E., Heidi B., Karen W., Elaine C., Ana G., Don H., Suzette M., Myles M., Dennis M., Carol D., Mike B., George S., Parker B., Barbara A., James B., Irene R., David W., Kevin H., Suzanne S., Elizabeth W., Beth T., and Johnny C. 
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