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Pa. GOP vows ‘most transparent’ redistricting ever

Plus, scandal-plagued PSERS looks to rein in lavish travel.


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Your Postmaster: Colin Deppen
July 13, 2021
Redistricting room, vaccine numbers, PSERS travel, PPP forgiveness, bill hold, and a Four Seasons Total Landscaping-palooza. It's Tuesday, welcome.
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This year's redrawing of Pennsylvania's congressional map will look different than the past, with the House GOP committed to making the process the "most transparent" ever and, advocates hope, less prone to extreme gerrymandering as a result.

State Rep. Seth Grove (R., York) said his committee will hold at least eight public meetings across Pennsylvania and accept suggestions for the map through a new website, Spotlight PA reports.

He's kicking off a series of regional meetings later this month as lawmakers wait for the U.S. Census Bureau population data needed to create new districts.

The transparency measures have the support of good-government groups, including the Committee of Seventy and Fair Districts PA, and lawmakers like state Rep. Wendi Thomas (R., Bucks), who spent years trying to get similar legislation off the ground.

"In these divisive political times, many people have lost faith in their political systems," Thomas said on Monday. "It's critical that we have an open system, as much as possible."

THE CONTEXT: For years, anti-gerrymandering advocates pushed Republicans who control the General Assembly to put stricter guardrails in place before the start of the mapmaking process, which helps determine the balance of power in Harrisburg and D.C. for the next 10 years.

State Rep. Thomas' legislation failed to advance in the House (again), and a companion bill in the Senate was gutted to exempt state lawmakers and their districts from reform rules

As lawmakers left Harrisburg for summer break, advocates declared redistricting reform dead and told Spotlight PA and Votebeat they would have to depend on leaders' verbal promises of transparency.

Grove said he hopes Gov. Tom Wolf "engages with this process early on," adding, "We are constitutionally mandated to get this done, so I think it's all in our best interest to work together."
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"This is very, very important that we tackle this behemoth. It's already out of control, but we have to help those workers out."

—Richard Hooker Jr., of Teamsters Local 623, on unusually high injury rates seen at Pennsylvania's Amazon warehouses
VACCINE UPDATE: The FDA is expected to announce a new warning on Johnson & Johnson's coronavirus vaccine related to a rare autoimmune disorder, the Washington Post first reported. About 100 early and rare reports of Guillain-Barré syndrome have been detected in the U.S. after vaccination with the J&J shot, mostly in men, many 50 or older. For vaccine providers, use the federal government's online tool, call 1-800-232-0233, or text your ZIP code to 438829 (GETVAX).
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VACCINE COUNT: Pennsylvania has administered fewer COVID-19 vaccine shots than previously thought, with state officials acknowledging duplicates inflated the figure by roughly 500,000. The AP reports the updated data reduced the overall number of shots but increased the number of people who are fully vaccinated by about 60,000.

TRAVEL COSTS: Pennsylvania's Public School Employees' Retirement System pension fund is trying to rein in travel costs detailed in eye-popping reporting by The Inquirer. Under scrutiny and investigation, the fund's board wants staff to skip pricey hotels where financiers host meetings for cheaper rooms within walking or driving distance.

PAYMENT DUE: Most of Pennsylvania's early Paycheck Protection Program recipients are approaching the deadline to request forgiveness of the federal pandemic-era business loans, per the Post-Gazette. Those familiar with the process say paperwork is required and getting started sooner than later is advisable.

ON HOLD: A bill pushing new mandatory minimum sentences for gun-related crimes is on hold after a backlash focused at its Democratic sponsor. WHYY reports Amen Brown, a freshman state representative, called the bill an attempt to confront Philadelphia's gun violence epidemic, but activists worried it would mostly impact Black people

WAGE HIKE: Gov. Tom Wolf and fellow Democrats renewed their call for raising Pennsylvania's minimum wage on Friday, the anniversary of the last independent state hike 15 years ago, WGAL reports. They want to increase the state minimum to $12 an hour and eventually $15 an hour. Spotlight PA breaks down the arguments for and against that.
FOUR SEASONS: A concert by Florida punk rocker Laura Jane Grace at Philadelphia's Four Seasons Total Landscaping — yes, that Four Seasons Total Landscaping — sold out in 17 minutes, per Billy Penn. Things kick off Aug. 21 near the adult bookstore and crematorium.

DIRT RUB: A mud found during low tide at the Jersey Shore is now the only tool major league pitchers can use to doctor baseballs, The Inquirer reports. A controversial league crackdown has banned all foreign substances, except Lena Blackburne Baseball Rubbing Mud

LIZARD KINGS: It takes a village to corral a loose five-foot iguana and nickname it "Godzilla," which is exactly what happened in Huntingdon County last week. Residents, a local fire company, and someone named "Marty the Reptile Man" helped remove the reptile from a tree it scaled, per WTAJ. 

DRY EYES: The first virtual reality waterslide in the U.S. will debut at Kalahari Resorts and Conventions in the Poconos on July 28. Philly Voice reports riders can choose one of three adventures: an African safari, an alien encounter in outer space, or a castle with fire-breathing dragons. The water is real.

SPEED TRACER: Pennsylvania is rushing to replace a COVID-19 contact tracing company it fired after a massive data breach jeopardized the personal information of thousands earlier this year. Spotlight PA's Jamie Martines told WESA (at the 8:10-mark) the pace has some worried history might repeat.
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: Evergreen 

Congrats to our daily winners: Becky C., Craig W., Michelle T., Mark O., Don H., Dianne K., Susan D., Irene R., Neal W., Jessica K., Doris T., Steve D., Mary Ellen T., David S., Al M., Christine M., David S., Patricia M., Bob R., Karen W., Beth T., Cynthia P., Mary Kay M., Bruce B., Kim C., Heidi B., Dennis M., Meg M., James B., Bruce B., John A., Myles M., George S., Daniel M., Diane P., Deb N., Wendy A., Kevin H., Elizabeth W., Barbara M., Ann and John P., Tish M., Suzanne S., Lance L., Joel S., Mike B., Catherine J., Patricia R., David W., Carol D., John H., and Kate P.
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