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Shapiro approves dozen-plus criminal justice bills

Plus, Pa. cancels $10.7M voter roll system upgrade

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A daily newsletter by The logo of Spotlight PA, an independent, nonpartisan newsroom producing investigative journalism for Pennsylvania.
Your Postmaster: Spotlight PA Staff

Monday, December 18, 2023
In today's edition: Criminal justice, voter rolls, Fetterman flip, mystery surveillance, money X-change, and leaving Mount Wolf. Thanks for checking in.

Multiple criminal justice bills became law last week as Pennsylvania lawmakers finalized the long-stalled budget.

The dozen-plus changes include updates to the state’s probation laws and an expansion of a record expungement program, and combine bipartisan provisions aimed at making the justice system more humane as well as some harsher penalties championed by more conservative lawmakers.

Read Spotlight PA’s full report: A mix of reform-minded and tough-on-crime justice bills are now law in Pa.

THE CONTEXT: Democratic Gov. Josh Shapiro, who signed all the changes into law, touted them as “common sense steps” that will “help Pennsylvanians who want to rebuild their lives and meaningfully contribute to their communities,” but the reception of the legislation varied.

The expungement changes were celebrated by civil rights and defense groups, while the probation changes — which received bypartisan support within the General Assembly and from a national advocacy group with ties to rapper Meek Mill — were opposed by groups including the American Civil Liberties Union of Pennsylvania.

Other legislation lowered the physical fitness standards for police training, mandated xylazine and fentanyl screening for diagnostic urine tests, and established certain rights for incarcerated women and pregnant people.

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Today's top news story in Pennsylvania.DATED TECH: Pennsylvania election administrators will continue to use a system they describe as outdated after the Shapiro administration canceled a $10.7 million upgrade to the state voter roll system, Spotlight PA and Votebeat report. The cancellation will not affect the coming presidential election, but election officials said they’re frustrated that they’ll have to continue to use the error-prone Statewide Uniform Registry of Electors, known as SURE, which has caused problems in the past.

Today's second top news story in Pennsylvania.PIRATE PENALTY:  Package thieves will face harsher punishments after Gov. Shapiro signed a bill last week that creates a “theft by mail” crime, PennLive reports. The severity of the penalties depends on the number of offenses and the value of the item stolen. The new law does not go into effect for 60 days, so it will not be active during the holidays. 

Today's third top news story in Pennsylvania.
DEMS AT ODDS? Pennsylvania's Democratic State Committee met in Harrisburg over the weekend but did not formally approve a resolution “in opposition to private school vouchers” — a formal rebuke of Gov. Shapiro's stance on the issue — as expected. The Inquirer (paywall) reports a rules committee tabled the matter after national Democrats expressed concern about the optics ahead of 2024
  • RELATED: Pa. Democrats make 2024 endorsements, but attorney general’s race remains open, via PennLive.
Today's fourth top news story in Pennsylvania.'I'M NOT A PROGRESSIVE': U.S. Sen. John Fetterman (D., Pa.) has called himself a progressive before, but no longer, it seems. Fetterman disavowed the label in an interview with NBC News, part of what the station calls his "break with the left." The staunchly pro-Israel Fetterman, whose wife lived undocumented in the U.S. for years, is also urging Democrats to entertain talk of tougher immigration laws.
Today's fifth top news story in Pennsylvania.NO INFO: York County's mysterious plan to use a slate of artificial intelligence software for "intelligence gathering" at the county's prison is piquing civil liberties concerns from the likes of the Pennsylvania Prison Society, York Dispatch (paywall) reports. The county contracted with Virginia-based ViaPath Technologies for the project last week but refused to explain anything further, citing security concerns.
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X APPROVAL: Pennsylvania last week became the 13th U.S. state to give the social media site X, formerly Twitter, a money-transmitter license, Reuters reports, boosting owner Elon Musk's plan to add Venmo-style mobile payments. Every state must sign on for nationwide adoption.

CMU LAWSUIT: Carnegie Mellon University in Pittsburgh is being sued by a student who says she was subjected to a “cruel campaign of antisemitic abuse" by a professor who criticized Israel and denied a homework extension the student had requested to attend a Tree of Life memorial in 2018.

WOLF IN PHILLY: Former Gov. Tom Wolf and his wife are moving to Philadelphia. York Daily Record (paywall) reports the Democrat and his wife, Frances, sold their home in Mount Wolf, York County, and will be moving into an apartment in Philadelphia to live closer to family.

NO YEAR'S EVE: Lancaster won't host the annual Red Rose Drop on New Year's Eve this year or any year for the foreseeable future, choosing to apply city resources to bigger events instead, FOX43 reports.

XL XMAS: It's been called maybe "the greatest Christmastime attraction in the Lehigh Valley." But this year Dave Rotondo's home display is drawing code officer scrutiny too, Lehigh Valley Live (paywall) reports.
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 5:30 p.m. on issue date will be counted.

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