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License plate frames can get you pulled over in Pa., court rules

Plus, bonus property tax and rent rebate payments begin.


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Your Postmaster: Colin Deppen
August 25, 2022
PROPERTY TAX REBATE: Did you or someone you know get a property tax or rent rebate from the state in recent years and learn you no longer qualify? We want to hear from you. Your stories will fuel our reporting on the steady decline in the number of households getting help from a lottery-funded program that's meant to help older or disabled Pennsylvanians with housing costs. Reach out to Spotlight PA reporter Charlotte Keith at ckeith@spotlightpa.org.
Problem plates, debt forgiveness, walk-ins, gun box, student tracking, slow money, and a suspected alligator abduction. It's Thursday.
Your license plate frame is enough reason for police in Pennsylvania to pull you over and potentially fine you, a state appellate court ruled this week.

Spotlight PA reports the state Superior Court decision affirmed the right of police officers to stop drivers if any part of their plate is obscured.

That doesn't just include the unique combination of letters and numbers that make up a person’s license plate, but any lettering — including the visitpa.com URL or, for that matter, the paint around it.

Read Spotlight PA's full report on the ruling that could put thousands of Pennsylvania drivers at greater risk of being stopped by police.

THE CONTEXT: The ruling stems from a case involving an April 2021 traffic stop in Philadelphia during which a police officer pulled over a car because the strip at the bottom of the plate reading "visitpa.com" was obscured.

Some fear the court's decision will open the door to a wave of frivolous stops. But Philadelphia District Attorney Larry Krasner's office, which appealed the case to the Superior Court, called those assessments "unfair."

The court's three-judge panel, meanwhile, said the state's vehicle code, which includes language prohibiting plates that are "illegible" or "obscured in any manner," made the decision a straightforward one.

"It's been manipulated. What was originally recorded is not represented on the file we have today."

—Audio expert Jerry Hatchett disputing the validity of a recording at the center of a civil malpractice case involving a star UPMC surgeon and allegations of affairs, drug use, academic misconduct, and retaliation
The Garden Railway display chugs along at Philadelphia's Morris Arboretum in a photo by Don N. Have an image of your own to share? Send us your photos and art, use #PAGems on Instagram, or tag @spotlightpennsylvania.
LOAN RELIEF: President Joe Biden will cancel up to $20,000 in student loan debt for Pell Grant recipients and up to $10,000 for individual borrowers making $125,000 a year or less. A pause on payments for all borrowers has been extended until Dec. 31. While critics warn of inflation risks, borrowers in Pennsylvania — which has among the highest student debt rates in the U.S. — welcomed the news.

FREE PRESS: To journalists confronted with the unusual limits imposed on them at Doug Mastriano's campaign events, WHYY's Katie Meyer recommends "just walking in." Meyer did so at an event on Wednesday and found familiar culture war posturing and palpable fundraising concern. Other outlets have refused to cover the stops altogether. CJR says the fraught choices are the point.

GUN DELIVERY: A Delaware County High School was awaiting a shipment of textbooks but received a box of rifles instead. Police say the FedEx mixup was an "honest mistake. School district officials told NBC10 the shipment was stored inside a school building over the weekend. The Trace reported in 2018 on concerns around such shipments and the vulnerabilities in that end of the supply chain
CLASS PASS: Stroudsburg Area School District will start tracking the movements of students through high school hallways using a service called SmartPass, the Pocono Record (paywall) reports. Officials say the new digital pass system will limit classroom interruptions for bathroom breaks and the like. But some parents are concerned about student privacy and the amount of "passes" being offered each day.

SLOW START: Pittsburgh has spent only a fraction of its federal COVID-19 relief money, and what it has shelled out has gone almost exclusively toward shoring up the city's budget. Meanwhile, more than a year after the city adopted its plan to spend the $335 million pot, PublicSource found frustrated residents as sought-after community projects slated to receive millions of those dollars still haven't begun.

ADDED BONUS: The Pennsylvania Treasury has started sending one-time bonus rebate payments to eligible property tax and rent rebate applicants. Spotlight PA has a guide to the (temporary) boost in rebate payments and a new (permanent) child tax credit as well.

TOWER TOWN: Another 12-story high-rise is planned for downtown State College amid a building boom that has some local officials on edge. But StateCollege.com reports it might be the last due to a pending zoning code change that could be enacted as early as next month.

FACT CHECK: The AP reports an image of U.S. Senate candidate Mehmet Oz kissing a Hollywood Walk of Fame star bearing Donald Trump's name has been digitally altered. In reality, the plaque, which was unveiled in February, bears Oz's own name. The original photo belongs to the AP.

LOST PETS: A pair of alligators is missing in Lebanon County. The owner of Cleo and Georgia believes the three- and four-foot-long pets were stolen from an enclosure outside her North Cornwall Township home. WGAL reports police are involved and the search for the gators continues. 

FLAG SHOW: Pennsylvania's collection of Civil War battle flags — some bloodied and bullet-torn — will go on display in Harrisburg, per PennLive. The flags helped guide Union soldiers on noisy and chaotic battlefields.

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. Answers submitted by 6 p.m. on issue date will be counted.

*Bonus: Guess this week's theme on Friday for an extra chance at swag.
Yesterday's answer: Haggling

Congrats to our daily winners: Craig W., Irene R., Anita N., Theresa T., Susan N.-Z., Michelle T., Kimberly D., Doris T., Jim A., Patricia M., Kim C., Becky C., Bruce B., Don H., Ann E., Karen W., Mark O., Ed R., Kevin M., Warren D., Susan De., Judith D., Wendy A., Marty M., Brandie K., Joyce O., Bessie R., Susan Du., Stephen G., David S., Ted W., Carol D., Heidi B., Moon M., Catherine B., Marvin S., Art Z., Kathy F., Kendra P., Steve H., Anthony C., Tom O., George S., Adrian S., Dianne K., Deb N., Michael S., Mike B., Michael K., Al M., Daniel M., Kenneth J., David W., Nancy S., Doug W., Rick A., Jane R., Jodi R., Eddy Z., Stanley J., Tish M., Ana G., John P., Margaret Mary H., Gail H., Sue B.-W., Judy M., Chuck M., John A., Lex M., Jude M., Joel S., Maryann R., John H., Bill S., Starr B., Elaine C., Myles M., Sandy B., and Sharon P.
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