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Oversight urged as Pa. addiction centers charged

Plus, five unanswered questions awaiting Pa. lawmakers’ post-summer return.


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Your Postmaster: Colin Deppen
July 6, 2021
Future look, providers charged, rearview audit, PSERS hike, nursing shortage, undetermined death, and a big bird mystery. It's Tuesday and good to be back.
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A very busy fall awaits Pennsylvania legislators who left some key issues unresolved before heading out on summer recess.

What's on tap when they return in September? Voting rules, to-go cocktails, recreational cannabis, lobbying reform, and $5 billion in federal aid. Spotlight PA has a rundown of what to watch for and what to expect.

Will it be contentious? Most definitely. Republicans are still fuming about Gov. Tom Wolf's recent veto of a contested GOP-led election law overhaul and plan to resurrect the issue and take it to voters in their quest for a veto-proof option.

Also looming:THE CONTEXT: When lawmakers return in September, the U.S. Census Bureau population data needed to redraw Pennsylvania's political maps will be close behind.

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

A bill placing 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.

With lawmakers now out of the office, anti-gerrymander advocates say their hopes for redistricting reform are low. 

If there's any chance of bipartisan compromise, Carol Kuniholm, chair of Fair Districts PA, says it's the possible involvement of the state Supreme Court in the event of a stalemate, something leadership desperately wants to avoid. 
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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"They started engaging with citizens of Philadelphia, who were none too happy about what they were saying."

—Philadelphia Police officer Michael Crum on the public response to a march through Philadelphia by the white supremacist group Patriot Front

VACCINE UPDATE: The U.S. fell just shy of the White House's goal of having at least 70% of American adults at least partially vaccinated by the Fourth of July. As of Sunday, 67% of adult Americans had gotten a first shot. For vaccine providers, use the federal government's online tool, call 1-800-232-0233, or text your ZIP code to 438829 (GETVAX).
A real moonshot, as captured by PA Poster Susan D. in Quarryville. Thanks for sharing, Susan! Send us your hidden gems, use the hashtag #PAGems on Instagram, or tag us @spotlightpennsylvania.
PROVIDERS CHARGED: Two addiction treatment providers face criminal charges for allegedly bribing recovery homes for referrals and forcing patients into substandard care, Spotlight PA reports. The allegations are prompting renewed calls from state lawmakers to strengthen the Department of Drug and Alcohol Programs' oversight.

ELECTION AUDIT: State Sen. Doug Mastriano (R., Franklin) briefed GOP senators last week on his plan for an Arizona-style audit of Pennsylvania's 2020 presidential election. Mastriano reportedly consulted a law firm about the legality of using private money to cover costs and was told it's feasible. KDKA-TV and the AP report the process could cost millions and involve subpoenas for select counties. 

RATE HIKE: Pension contribution rates have risen for tens of thousands of Pennsylvania public school employees hired in 2011 or after, all amid a federal investigation into the pension fund itself, the AP reports. The Public School Employees’ Retirement System board approved higher contribution rates after a data error inflated investment returns and touched off a legal saga. Spotlight PA explains it all here.

SHORT STAFFED: Experts say pandemic trauma and burnout are fueling nursing shortages nationwide. In Western Pennsylvania, "Help Wanted' signs are popping up at private home care agencies, personal care homes, assisted living and nursing homes, community hospitals, and more, TribLIVE reports. "We are turning away new clients by the drove," one home care agency manager explained.

FINAL SAY: The death of a Kennett Square Marine in Alabama was ruled a suicide. A year later, the coroner changed the cause of death to "undetermined." The Inquirer went south with a host of questions and found skeptics, shifting accounts, a thin investigation, a "spotless" weapon, and questionable characters in Marine Ryan Presutti's orbit
RIDE TIME: SEPTA regional rail service is still at 55% of pre-pandemic levels, and Philly Mag wanted to know why. For starters, the commuter base hasn't returned to the office and maybe won't. It's a similar story in Pittsburgh, which had one of the largest daytime population surges in the U.S. WESA reports ridership is expected to rebound there — but not completely.

CASTOR FOIL: Bill Cosby is free because of Bruce Castor, the former Montgomery County prosecutor Pennsylvania's high court says made a deal not to prosecute Cosby before a successor did just that. Billy Penn looks at Castor's career defined by scandal and, more recently, Donald Trump.

BIRD CALL: Something is killing Pennsylvania songbirds en masse. Officials aren't sure what it is but are asking people to stop using bird feeders until they find out. The Game Commission's working theory is that congregating birds could potentially transmit the disease to each other, per WNEP.

WEB POSTS: State government agencies, school districts, and local municipalities must post their meeting agendas on their websites and highlight planned points of deliberation under a new state law, TribLIVE reports. Why is this necessary? Upper Macungie Township can explain.

FIRE FEST: The author of the 2017 law that legalized recreational fireworks in Pennsylvania has a message for critics: "Get over it." State Sen. Gene Yaw (R., Lycoming) told PennLive "we’re not going to repeal it" as local officials ask for more control and one Democrat pushes a bill doing exactly that
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Friday's answer: Independence

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