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Pa. axes voting machines after Trump-backed audit

Plus, PSERS scandal prompts new push for pension reform.


A daily newsletter by Spotlight PA
Your Postmaster: Colin Deppen
July 22, 2021
Home rules, take two, audit consequences, pension reform, Amazon pay, pipeline problems, and a flawless emergency landing. It's Thursday.
JOIN US: We're hosting a free virtual Q&A on Wednesday, July 28 at 5 p.m. ET about the millions of taxpayer dollars lawmakers spend on personal accommodations — expenses largely hidden from public view. Register here and submit your questions to events@spotlightpa.org.
A long-awaited update to Pennsylvania's decades-old nursing home regulations has been released by the Wolf administration, which acknowledges the state must raise low quality-care requirements experts have called dangerous, Spotlight PA reports.

Pennsylvania only requires nursing homes to provide residents with 2.7 hours of direct care each day, despite federal recommendations that, at a minimum, facilities should provide 4.1 hours.

A 2020 investigation by Spotlight PA found just a quarter of the state's more than 670 licensed facilities met that higher benchmark, and that the lower standards were exacerbated by the pandemic, which has killed at least 13,374 people inside Pennsylvania's nursing and personal care homes.

Wednesday’s proposed regulations, the first in a series, are meant to bring Pennsylvania's quality care standards in line with those at the federal level.

THE CONTEXT: The announcement comes just days before nursing home workers at 21 Pennsylvania facilities were scheduled to walk off the job to protest staffing, among other issues.

It's also been met with opposition from groups like the Pennsylvania Health Care Association, which represents more than 400 long-term care facilities and called the proposal "out of touch."

The Harrisburg-based Pennsylvania Health Care Association said meeting the new standard would require nursing homes to "hire an additional 7,000 direct care workers –– who, at this moment, do not exist."

Wolf administration officials believe the new rules will benefit both staff and residents, and the proposed regulations will soon be published in the Pennsylvania Bulletin for a 30-day public comment period. 
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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"This is going to have a significant impact on the viability of those cases."

—Eric Anderson, a lawyer for the Roman Catholic Diocese of Altoona-Johnstown, on a Pa. Supreme Court ruling seen as yet another setback for child sex abuse victims seeking greater legal recourse
VACCINE UPDATE: Johnson & Johnson's vaccine produced fewer antibodies against COVID-19 variants than others in a new study that some experts say may not reflect the shot's actual performance. For vaccine providers, use the federal government's online tool, call 1-800-232-0233, or text your ZIP code to 438829 (GETVAX).
>> THE HIDDEN TAB: Join us Wednesday, July 28 at 5 p.m. ET via Zoom for a free Q&A about Pennsylvania lawmakers spending millions of taxpayer dollars on personal accommodations, and how these expenses are obscured from the public. Register here and submit your questions to events@spotlightpa.org.
A shot of Paxton Creek along the Capital Area Greenbelt. Thanks, Carol D.! Send us your hidden gems, use the hashtag #PAGems on Instagram, or tag us @spotlightpennsylvania.
TRY AGAIN: Republican state lawmakers will take another swing at a new voter ID rule, one day after Gov. Tom Wolf — who just vetoed a GOP-led election bill over its inclusion — said he was ready to compromise. State Rep. Seth Grove plans to reintroduce the same bill Wolf vetoed in June. Wolf's office told Spotlight PA and The Inquirer he's open to new ID rules but only with a broader bill that makes voting easier.

DECERTIFIED: Pennsylvania's top election official has decertified Fulton County's voting machines following a third-party audit of the 2020 election there, the kind state officials are warning other counties against amid an active, Trump-aligned push. Acting Secretary of State Veronica Degraffenreid said Fulton County will "almost certainly" have to buy or lease new machines, per the AP. The cost remains to be seen.

PENSION FIX: A scandal has Pennsylvania lawmakers ready to reform the state's largest pension fund, The Inquirer reports. Pending bills would increase transparency around money manager fees paid by the embattled Public School Employees' Retirement System fund, empower the auditor general to conduct fraud audits, and, most radically, combine PSERS' investment arm with that of its state employee counterpart.

PAY RULE: The state Supreme Court says Amazon must pay its Pennsylvania warehouse workers for time spent waiting for and undergoing security screenings, per the Morning Call. A lawsuit led by fulfillment center workers in Lehigh County prompted the ruling, part of a nationwide class-action suit on behalf of Amazon workers who must undergo checks to prevent theft after clocking out at the end of their shifts.

SINK HOLES: Chester County commissioners want Pennsylvania regulators to shut down a portion of the Mariner East pipeline, saying at least seven sinkholes have developed since January in one township, per WHYY. The push comes days after Pennsylvania's Public Utility Commission unveiled a raft of proposed pipeline safety regulations, some inspired by ongoing issues along the Mariner East route
SMOKE SCREEN: Smoke from wildfires in Canada and the western U.S. has reached Pennsylvania, making for hazy skies and air quality alerts. State environmental officials are urging people to skip the fireplaces and gas-powered lawnmowers in response, per City Paper.

TOUCH DOWN: When 18-year-old pilot Landon Lucas' banner plane ran into trouble over southern New Jersey recently, he landed it on a bridge without so much as a scratch. "It was either water or bridge," Lucas told The Inquirer. "There was a gap in traffic, and I went in."

NORTH COAST: Canada is opening up to fully vaccinated Americans next month and Erie boaters are setting sail across the city's namesake great lake. "I would expect we'll have a whole armada of boats going over there in August," boater Jim McBrier told Erie News Now.

ON TRACK: A Pullman railcar called the "Diplomat," believed to have carried government officials on political whistle-stop tours in the 1920s, is en route to Pennsylvania from its longtime home at a Virginia museum. Shore Daily News says it's headed to the Colebrookdale Railroad in Berks County

HERD THAT: Shoutout to Kristen and Russell Beals of Tioga County for rescuing this baby deer from rising floodwaters earlier this month. The fawn was taken back to the Beals' home, where the animal's family was conveniently waiting a few hundred yards away, per NorthcentralPa.com.

Correction: Wednesday's edition incorrectly referred to "Clerks" director and New Jersey native Kevin Smith as "King of Queens" star Kevin James. I remain very open to a "King of Clerks" crossover, but alas. Thanks to eagle-eyed reader Kathy B. for spotting the error.
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: Juggernaut

Congrats to our daily winners: Mary Ellen T., Craig W., David I., Jim L., Elaine C., Kim C., Irene R., Doris T., Barbara F., Kevin H., Al M., Jessica K., Myles M., Yvette R., Theodore W., Connie K., Susan N., Michelle T., Suzanne S., Sherri A., Patricia M., Elizabeth W., Bill C., Don H., Mary Kay M., Georgann J., Adrien M., Susan D., Steve D., Anne G., Diane P., Tish M., Mike B., James B., Barbara A., Joel S., Dennis M., George S., Sandy B., Bob R., Karen W., John A., Kevin M., Rick D., David W., Eddy Z., Beth T., Neal W., Wendy A., Barbara O., Cynthia P., Daniel M., Daniel B., Kathy C., and Lex M.
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