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Philly's indoor mask mandate is coming back

Plus, 'slow start' for Pa.'s first recovery house rules.


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April 12, 2022
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Safe homes, preyed on, masking up, banned books, embattled mayor, energy promises, and George Romero's Bigfoot film. It's Tuesday.
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The Wolf administration is preparing to enforce its long-awaited licensing system for addiction recovery homes, which have operated with little oversight for years. But Spotlight PA found few recovery homes have applied for the licenses with a key deadline just two months away. 

No one knows exactly how many recovery homes there are in Pennsylvania, but they are believed to number in the thousands. Last year, the Wolf administration estimated about 600 houses would seek a license.

So far, only a few dozen have applied. Others can do so at any time.

The licenses are voluntary but required for those providers looking to receive funding from federal, state, or county agencies. Starting June 9, unlicensed homes receiving public funding could be fined up to $1,000 per day.

The relatively low number of enrollees is raising concerns that not enough operators will get on board with a reform meant to provide greater oversight and greater support for people struggling with addiction statewide.

THE CONTEXT: The Wolf administration's licensing system — meant to reduce the number of unregulated and substandard houses in operation — drew pushback from the industry over the costs of compliance

In response, the state eliminated a financial audit requirement, scaled back other rules, and began accepting recovery house applications in 2021.

Some operators have embraced the new system early, but slow sign-ups have observers concerned about the impacts on patients and oversight at a time of extraordinary demand for such services.  

"There's clearly a long way to go," said William Stauffer, executive director of the Pennsylvania Recovery Organizations Alliance, which advocates for people in recovery. "And I think the jury is out. Will we have enough that can afford to go through it? …And then we need to consider what happens to people who are unable to afford the more expensive licensed houses."

Read more Spotlight PA coverage about this issue here.

Investigations like our latest project looking at the cozy ties between a state lawmaker and casino industry lobbyists cost thousands of dollars to produce. And we can only keep digging with your support

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"In the years I was employed by the PA AFL-CIO, I witnessed Frank Snyder verbally abuse every female office worker in ways that he would have never dreamed of doing to a man. I used to tell the women to file a grievance but they were afraid and simply took jobs elsewhere."

Radio host Rick Smith on allegations against the Pennsylvania American Federation of Labor's president; an internal investigation is planned
» BROKEN RULES: Join us Wednesday, April 20 at 6 p.m. EST via Zoom for a free discussion on Pa.'s medical release law for state prisoners, who the law impacts, and the strain it places on people in prison, their families, and taxpayers. Register here and submit questions to events@spotlightpa.org.
Pittsburgh's Mosaic Staircase, via @lora_explores. The image consists of more than 7,500 individual mosaic tiles, assembled and installed over a period of three months, Pittsburgh Magazine reported in 2016. Send us your gems, use #PAGems on Instagram, or tag us @spotlightpennsylvania.
PSU PREDATOR: ESPN has published a lengthy investigation into former Penn State football player Todd Hodne, whose record of sexual assault and violence predated that of former assistant coach Jerry Sandusky. The article calls Hodne, who died of cancer in 2020 at the age of 61, "perhaps the most dangerous predator ever to play college football." It also details the team's response to his 1978 arrest.

RETURN RULE: Indoor masking will again be required in Philadelphia starting April 18 as the omicron subvariant known as BA.2 takes hold, WHYY reports. Philadelphia is the first major city in the country to reimpose a mask mandate this spring. New infections there have increased 50% over the past 10 days. And while city Health Commissioner Cheryl Bettigole is hopeful the new wave is smaller than the last, she said it would be foolish to ignore the warning signs. 

BOOK BANS: Research by the anti-censorship nonprofit PEN America found Pennsylvania has the second-highest number of book bans in the country, lagging only Texas. The study's authors counted 456 books banned across nine Pennsylvania school districts. At the Franklin Regional School District near Pittsburgh, TribLIVE found supporters of such bans comparing them to "Parental Advisory" stickers.

BID TO OUST: Eighteen voters, including several former elected officials, have filed a lawsuit that seeks to have York's mayor effectively removed from office. According to York Dispatch, the suit says Mayor Michael Helfrich is disqualified from holding the seat amid questions about his latest swearing-in. The suit claims the office is legally vacant as a result, but there are differing legal opinions on the ground rules. 

REALITY CHECK: Republicans running for Pennsylvania governor are making big promises to unleash energy production here if elected. But the AP reports their rhetoric doesn't match reality, with governors limited in their ability to deliver the pipelines and big processing plants the industry wants because other states and federal policy are involved. The outlet says two blocked Pennsylvania pipelines prove it.
LEGAL POT: Neighboring New Jersey has given the green light to start sales of recreational marijuana, two years after voters approved adult-use cannabis there. A handful of dispensaries could begin sales as soon as next month. Gov. Phil Murphy predicts $4 million in cannabis revenue by June 30.

FOSSIL FIT: A new species of dinosaur will be named for molecular biologist and IUP grad John J. Kopchick. The remains of the dinosaur, a distant cousin of the stegosaurus, were found in China in 2017 by IUP biology professor Shundong Bi. TribLIVE introduces the species, Yuxisaurus kopchicki.

FOUND FILM: A previously unseen short film about Bigfoot by Pittsburgh horror icon George Romero will be screened for the first time ever in a virtual webinar tonight. City Paper reports the university acquired Romero's archives in 2018 and has been sifting through them for lost gems.

UNION COVERED: The last Pennsylvania community college without a faculty union is about to get one. Faculty at Harrisburg Area Community College voted yes on the option last week, capping a years-long push, per CBS21.

EYE REMEMBER: It took me a while but I finally found Pennsylvania in this magic eye poster featuring a hidden image of the state. Good luck! 
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.

*This week's theme: Spring cleaning
Yesterday's answer: Decluttering

Congrats to our daily winners: Michelle T., Craig W., Wendy A., Myles M., Mike B., Don H., Judith D., Barbara F., Becky C., Chris M., Bette G., Vicki U., Janet C., Gina L., Jill M., Kimberly S., Susan D., Kim C., Susan N.-Z., Kate P., Steve D., Al M., Keith F., James B., Sherri A., Starr B., Karen W., Steve H., Dianne K., Dan W., Bill S., Elizabeth W., David W., Elaine C., Patricia R., Deb N., Kyle C., Irene R., John H., Pat B., John A., Catherine J., and John P.
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