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Critics call bill back door to water privatization

Plus, Pa. budget includes millions for anti-abortion group.

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Your Postmaster: Colin Deppen
August 5, 2022
On tap, anti-abortion funding, election money, unexplained resignation, jail design, repeat violators, and a Vogue Philly fact-check. It's Friday.

Pennsylvania lawmakers are eyeing legislation that would make it easier for private water companies to target municipal authorities for acquisition, purchases that research shows can lead to higher bills for consumers.

Supporters say the proposal — sponsored by state Sen. Pat Stefano (R., Fayette) and backed by two large private utility companies — is a way to increase the reliability, quality, and security of local water supplies.

Critics call it a back door to privatization, Spotlight PA reports.

THE CONTEXT: Under the bill, public water systems with more than 750 customers would be required to develop and share with the state an asset management plan that includes a schedule for identifying and replacing infrastructure like old pipes and meters, as well as the estimated cost of such projects and the projected rate increases needed to afford them.

Municipal leaders and environmental groups opposed to the bill argue that provision amounts to ratepayer-funded market research for private businesses searching for their next deal under the guise of consumer protection.

Gov. Tom Wolf, a Democrat, opposes the legislation — officially dubbed the Water Quality Accountability Act — in its current form.

In March, a study by Cornell University professor Mildred Warner and Food and Water Watch — an environmental group that opposes water privatization — found customers of privately owned systems paid $144 more every year on average for water than customers of publicly owned systems.


"While I have acknowledged many times that no amount of money could ever compensate for the abuse these survivors have experienced, it is my prayer that this settlement will be the next step toward healing."

—Harrisburg Diocese Bishop Ronald W. Gainer announcing a $7.5 million settlement with survivors of clergy sexual abuse

» TALK OF THE TOWN: On Friday, August 12 at 6 p.m. ET, meet our new State College regional bureau team, get an inside look at what we're investigating, and tell us how we can better connect with you. RSVP here. Tell us what you want to know about the bureau at events@spotlightpa.org

The view on a hike in Canoe Creek State Park, courtesy of Don H. Send us your photos, use #PAGems on IG, or tag us @spotlightpennsylvania.
REAL ALTERNATIVES: Pennsylvania's new budget includes more than $7 million in funding for Real Alternatives, a Harrisburg-based "crisis pregnancy" organization that counsels women against abortion, The Inquirer reports. The funding isn't new, but it's drawing renewed scrutiny on the heels of Roe v. Wade being overturned. One group's attempt to learn more about how the money is spent has hit a wall.

WITH STRINGS: A major election is months away and some county officials still haven’t decided whether to take their share of $45 million that state lawmakers allocated to help counties statewide administer elections. The reason for their reluctance? Strings attached to the money that some local officials say might actually make the job of running elections harder as opposed to easier, WHYY reports.

JOB OPENING: Berks County is looking for a new elections director less than 100 days out from November's midterms. The county's now-former elections director resigned last week, with no explanation, after less than six months in the role. A county spokesperson told WITF that Paige Riegner's resignation was not prompted by the results of a probe into May primary mishaps or any request by other county officials.

JAIL OVERHAUL: Allegheny County has hired a consulting firm to plan an overhaul of its jail amid increased public scrutiny. PublicSource reports a $700,000 contract outlines plans for months of community engagement, as well as examinations of how to redesign the facility, reduce the jail's population, and improve care for people in the justice system. Critics of the jail are skeptical of the effort.

BAD ACTORS? The Post-Gazette reports some local officials are looking to violations data as a way of determining whether an oil and gas company seeking to do business in their community should be granted the relevant permits. A court case out of West Deer Township in Allegheny County could shed further light on the question: Can environmental violations define oil and gas companies as bad actors?

POLICE HORSE: The Quarryville Police Department's new community relations specialist is a 2.5 foot tall, 330-pound miniature horse named Officer McGillicuddy, TribLIVE reports.

WINTER WATCH: The latest edition of the Farmer's Almanac is due out later this month. The managing editor told Lehigh Valley Live that Pennsylvanians should expect "a cold, hard start to the winter."

VEHICLE CHECK: Pennsylvanians should check their cars for spotted lanternflies and their eggs before travel to avoid transporting the invasive bug to new locations, a PSU expert told Pittsburgh City Paper.

HOW TO HELP: At least 37 people have died in Kentucky's recent flooding. The Louisville Courier Journal compiled a list of ways to help.

HUMBLE MAG: Billy Penn is calling Vogue out for a recent "insider's guide to Philadelphia" that contained "at least five factual errors." 

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: Handwriting

Yesterday's answer: Uppercase

Congrats to our daily winners: Craig W., Vicki U., Michelle T., Don H., Mike B., Doris T., Beth T., Kathy O., Sherri A., Chuck M., Susan N.-Z., Eddy Z., John F., Jay H., Bill S., Susan D., George S., Judith D., Jude M., Bill M., Stanley J., Patricia M., Joel S., Dianne K., Stephen G., David W., Kim C., Lee S., James B., Margaret Mary H., John W., Jim A., Eugene M., Sharon P., and Kimberly D.
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