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Fake fraud, real costs: Pa.’s voter ID push, explained

Plus, ethics probe 'vindicates' victim advocate but finds technical violations, blurred lines.


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July 7, 2021
Storm watch, ID checks, balance payments, Senate race, fuel gauge, gun violence, and Heinz's push for hot dog reform. It's Wednesday ... already.
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Pennsylvania's former chief advocate for crime victims did not trade on her high-profile public position to benefit her personal business ventures, a more than yearlong state ethics investigation has found. 

But ex-Victim Advocate Jennifer Storm did agree to two technical violations of the state Ethics Act and a $3,000 fine for failing to disclose airfare, lodging, or income associated with two conferences she attended in 2017 and 2018, as well as rental income, Spotlight PA reports.

Storm's lawyer cast the outcome as vindication, noting the failure of the probe to substantiate the original, more serious allegations that Storm used her public position to promote memoirs and a documentary about her struggles with addiction.

Still, a 59-page ethics probe report is peppered with examples indicating officials believe Storm blurred the lines between her public and private endeavors.

THE CONTEXT: Storm long claimed the ethics inquiry was instigated by political enemies as payback for her outspoken advocacy in prominent cases.

Storm resigned from the $123,000 position earlier this year when the Republican-controlled state Senate blocked her from serving another six years in the role — one overseeing a network of county-level offices and services aiding crime victims.

She specifically blamed a personal vendetta by the chamber's former leader, Republican Joe Scarnati of Jefferson County, which he denies.

"I am human, I make mistakes," Storm said in an interview. "But I don’t want there to be a shred of doubt out there about my integrity … I am not guilty of what they accused me of — and what I lost my job over." 
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"This is a huge injustice for children through no fault of their own, who are going to have lifelong consequences, and we as a society are paying for it—and therefore we need to step up as a state."

—Bruce Clash, state director of Fight Crime: Invest in Kids, on lead paint poisoning thousands of Pennsylvania children annually

VACCINE UPDATE: Data from Israel and England indicate vaccines are less effective at preventing infections with the Delta variant of COVID-19 but still highly effective at preventing hospitalizations. For vaccine providers, use the federal government's online tool, call 1-800-232-0233, or text your ZIP code to 438829 (GETVAX).
This Gettysburg kousa dogwood is putting a lot of other trees to shame. Thanks for sharing, Lex M.! Send us your hidden gems, use the hashtag #PAGems on Instagram, or tag us @spotlightpennsylvania.
VOTER ID: Chances are the Pennsylvania GOP's stalled-by-veto push for tougher voter ID rules will be decided by voters like you in a future election. With that in mind, The Inquirer examines research, competing claims about security and suppression, impacts on voter turnout, and whether that's even the right metric for gauging voter ID's impact.

PA PAYROLL: Nearly one-fifth of Pennsylvania's taxpayer-funded payroll went to the Department of Corrections in 2020, PublicSource reports. That's more than $1 billion or 17% of the $6.2 billion total the state spent on salaries last year. The Department of Corrections is the state’s second-largest agency and spent $226 million more than the first largest.

RACE TRACK: Former President Donald Trump’s ambassador to Denmark will join the Republican race for Pennsylvania’s U.S. Senate seat, per the AP. Carla Sands, a Cumberland County native who spent most of her adult life in California, joins a growing primary field. CNN ranks the seat as one of the most likely in the U.S. to flip, in this case to Democrats.

HIGH MARK: Pennsylvania extracted a historic amount of natural gas during the pandemic, StateImpact reports, even as impact fee payments guided by gas prices and drilling activity reached historic lows. An annual industry report also counts 12,000 abandoned wells statewide, fewer than a third of which have been plugged

GUN PLEA: Gun violence marred the holiday weekend in Philadelphia, prompting renewed calls for reform from officials like state Sen. Sharif Street, whose 21-year-old nephew was murdered there on Sunday. WHYY notes the city is suing the state for the right to enact its own gun measures, something it can't do under Pennsylvania law currently.
LIVING HISTORY: The Philadelphia Inquirer's yearlong "A More Perfect Union" project will examine the city as the birthplace of democracy and codified inequality. "There are the facts of history that we are taught [...] and there are the myths that we learn about," the project's editor explains.

OPEN GRAVES: Unearthed remains at a historic Harrisburg cemetery are being blamed on groundhogs and the elements. Lincoln Cemetery caretakers say concrete vaults weren't required when the 19th-century burials took place, leaving gravesites vulnerable all these years later, per CBS21. 

TESLA TRAP: No one was hurt when one of Tesla's new high-end cars caught fire in Haverford, briefly trapping the driver inside. First responders had been trained for battery fires involving the electric vehicles, per The Verge. The owner's lawyer said the vehicle "spontaneously combusted."

IN CONTEXT: Warnings have been affixed to the life-sized, antique "Arab Courier Attacked by Lions" diorama at Pittsburgh's Carnegie Museum of Natural History, WESA reports. “This exhibit contains cultural stereotypes and shows a violent act against a person of color," reads one.

EVEN EATS: Tired of seeing hot dogs and buns sold in mismatched quantities of 10 and 8, Heinz has launched a campaign for packaging parity. Heinz says it's the perfect partner to "address this grave hot-dog-to-bun ratio issue" and "resolve this dilemma forever," TribLIVE 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: Electricity

Congrats to our daily winners: Irene R., Mary Ellen T., Craig W., David I., Barbara F., Michelle T., Elaine C., Doris T., Neal W., Theodore W., Susan D., Beth T., Kevin H., Al M., Barbara M., Bruce B., Carol D., Mark O., Daniel M., Elizabeth W., Karen W., Dianne K., Christine M., Don H., Patricia R., Meg M., Barbara A., Suzanne S., James B., Tish M., Joel S., Heidi B., George S., David W., Mike B., Jill A., Mary Kay M., Sherri A., Rick D., Bob R., Bill C., Paul H., Thomas S., Becky C., Kim C., Dennis M., Helen G., and John P.
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