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Time's up for redistricting reform, advocates say


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Your Postmaster: Colin Deppen
July 1, 2021
Fair maps, Wolf's veto, Cosby's conviction, secret secrets, delivery fees, fraud surge, and crowdsourced air conditioning. Welcome to Thursday, and July.
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The odds of getting redistricting reform in place before Pennsylvania lawmakers start redrawing the state's political maps just got exponentially longer, advocates say.

That's because lawmakers have recessed for the summer without adopting anti-gerrymandering policies experts say are necessary to avoid maps that unfairly benefit one political party over the other, Spotlight PA and Votebeat report.

"I would say that if they didn't do it by now, they're not going to do it," said Carol Kuniholm, chair of Fair Districts PA. "Now we really are at a dead end.” 

Lawmakers are set to return in September when the U.S. Census Bureau will finally deliver the population data needed to determine how the political districts are drawn. 

But they'll begin the process — one influencing policy and power in Pennsylvania for the next 10 years — without codified rules observers say are necessary to ensure balance. 

THE CONTEXT: A bill that would place stricter guardrails on redistricting while also bringing the process out from behind closed doors passed a key committee earlier this month, with significant amendments and exemptions. But that's as far as it got.

Without guarantees in state law, reform advocates are relying on the verbal promises from those in charge of the redistricting process, who say they're going to hold public hearings, allow citizens to submit their own maps, and explain how and why the districts were drawn. 

Pennsylvania’s congressional districts, which are shrinking from 18 to 17 due to slow population growth, will be drawn by the GOP-controlled legislature and must be approved by Democratic Gov. Tom Wolf. 

If Wolf or the Democratic-controlled state Supreme Court decide to toss the new maps, drawing them will fall to a third party. Kuniholm said that's something party leaders in Harrisburg want to avoid, which means there’s still a chance they’ll come to a bipartisan agreement.
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.

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"This is an important step in fulfilling our commitment to schools, to students, and educators."

—Gov. Tom Wolf signing a $40 billion state budget with $300 million more for basic education and no additional money for GOP-led election audits

VACCINE UPDATE: University of Pennsylvania researchers found people who received text messages about the annual flu vaccine were more likely to get the shot. Now, some states and cities are using the same strategy to boost COVID-19 vaccination rates. For vaccine providers, use the federal government's online tool, call 1-800-232-0233, or text your ZIP code to 438829 (GETVAX).
A white deer spotted in White Deer Township, Union County. Who could have predicted that? Thanks, Mark M., for the photo! Send us your hidden gems, use the hashtag #PAGems on Instagram, or tag us @spotlightpennsylvania.
VETO PLAN: Gov. Tom Wolf has vetoed a Republican rewrite of Pennsylvania's Election Code over stricter voter ID rules and other measures the GOP calls safeguards, but which Democrats call voter suppression in disguise. In response, Republicans are planning to "take it to the people" and bypass the executive branch with veto-proof ballot questions and a high likelihood of success, Spotlight PA reports. 

COSBY FREED: Bill Cosby was released from prison Wednesday, hours after Pennsylvania's Supreme Court threw out his 2018 sexual assault conviction. The court ruled Cosby's constitutional rights were violated when the prosecutor went against a predecessor's deal not to charge Cosby in exchange for potentially incriminating testimony in a related civil suit. The AP says there's no evidence the deal was put in writing.

SECRET CHOICES: One of three newly identified candidates passed over by Gov. Tom Wolf in 2019 for a seat on one of Pennsylvania's two highest appellate courts is calling the secretive process a "political deal" built on "fake merit," LNP and The Caucus report. The appointment went to a well-connected lawyer for the Republican caucus in Pennsylvania's state Senate, but the other applicants were never identified, until now. 

FEE FOOD: Fees charged to restaurants by delivery apps like GrubHub have prompted the rise of local alternatives, persistent industry complaints, and now a legislative attempt in Pennsylvania to rein them in, per City Paper. A new bill from House Democrats would cap delivery fees — sometimes as high as 30% — at 10% of a customer's total. It's being tried elsewhere. It's also not guaranteed to work, says Eater.
FRAUD FINDS: Pennsylvania's glitchy unemployment computer system update has seen filing outages, plenty of frustration, and, officials say, a surge in fraud and scams. WTAJ reports the rollout of a safeguard was delayed to avoid more confusion, but one official said the fraud spike means "we're going to have to do it sooner than later."
AMERICAN EXILE: The U.S. House has voted to remove Confederate statues from the U.S. Capitol despite no votes from 120 members, five of them Pennsylvania Republicans: John Joyce, Fred Keller, Dan Meuser, Scott Perry, and Glenn Thompson. A bust of U.S. Supreme Court justice and Dred Scott author Roger Taney is also coming down.

THE DIPLOMAT: University of Pennsylvania President Amy Gutmann has been named ambassador to Germany by U.S. President Joe Biden. She'll oversee relations between the countries and manage U.S. representatives and foreign services abroad. Gutmann's relationship with Biden fueled speculation that such a nod was coming, per Billy Penn. 

BOOM TIME: Fourth of July is this weekend, and it's about to get loud. While some in Harrisburg want to repeal the state's vastly expanded at-home pyrotechnics law, that hasn't happened yet. WTAE explains the who, what, where, when, and why of the current rules this holiday.

AIR SHARE: The predominantly Black and Latino neighborhood of Hunting Park in Philadelphia has fewer trees than other city communities, more exposed asphalt, and higher real-feel temperatures. So a local group is crowdsourcing air conditioners for those in need, WHYY explains.

ROAD SHOW: Scranton is taking City Hall on the road (sort of) with a tent full of staffers that will pop up in various neighborhoods. What started as a pandemic necessity is continuing with mobile services around tax information, Right-to-Know requests, and more, WNEP reports. 
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: Sweltering (also accepted: Westerling)

Congrats to our daily winners: Jessica K., John S., Craig W., Doris T., Dianne K., Neal W., Brandie K., Bob R., Irene R., Susan D., Myles M., Elaine C., Beth T., Karen W., Don H., Suzanne S., Craig E., Heidi B., Michelle T., Mary Kay M., Jacqueline H., Mary Ellen T., George S., Michele C., James B., Dennis M., Becky C., Joel S., Tracy K., David W., Carol D., Meg M., Tish M., Clayton L., Judy M., Elizabeth W., and Barbara A.
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