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Embattled redistricting chair answers GOP attacks

Plus, Pa.'s firefighter shortage is an emergency of its own, official says.


A daily newsletter by Spotlight PA
Your Postmaster: Colin Deppen
December 28, 2021
The map-lash, trial brief, ban block, road signs, historical lens, firefighting crisis, and that time Pennsylvania went to war with Connecticut. It's Tuesday. 
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—Christopher Baxter, Editor in Chief

"And so you and I will be those who protest when nations spend obscene amounts on budgets of death and destruction ..." 

—Desmond Tutu, who died Sunday at the age of 90, in a 1986 Philadelphia speech that was part of a wider campaign to end South African apartheid
We're just $2,800 away from unlocking a generous matching gift from Spotlight PA members and local donors Jim Friedlich and Melissa Stern. That means they will match every dollar you give before Dec. 31. Help us end the year strong by making a tax-deductible gift now. 
» CLASS STRUGGLES: Reporting from Pennsylvania, The New York Times uses Bethlehem's Liberty High School as a case study in "the damaging effects" pandemic-era disruptions are still having on young learners.

» VACCINE VEXED: What would Pittsburgh polio vaccine pioneer Dr. Jonas Salk think of today's COVID-19 vaccine hesitancy? Salk's son told the Post-Gazette, "He would have been shocked."

» FLIGHT PLANS: Large-scale holiday flight cancellations continued on Monday, with the omicron wave sapping airline crews as carriers urged the CDC to adjust its quarantine guideline for vaccinated staff, per CNBC.

» TRAVEL RULES: Dr. Anthony Fauci, the nation's top infectious disease expert, says a vaccine mandate for domestic air travel should be "seriously" considered as an omicron variant response, via ABC News.

» BURIAL COSTS: Few people are taking advantage of a federal program that reimburses families up to $9,000 for COVID-19 funeral costs, the AP reports.

To find a COVID-19 vaccine, use the federal government's online tool, call 1-800-232-0233, or text your zip code to 438829 (GETVAX).
» MAPPING POWER: Join us Thursday, Jan. 6 at noon EST for a free panel on the proposed state House and Senate maps, how they could shift political power, and their potential impact on Pennsylvanians. Register for the event here and submit your questions to events@spotlightpa.org.
On the waterfront, Susquehanna edition, courtesy of @yatskoSend us your gems, use #PAGems on Instagram, or tag us @spotlightpennsylvania.
ON TRIAL: A landmark trial that could alter how Pennsylvania funds its public schools is on break until next year. The Inquirer gathered five takeaways from the first month of testimony: plaintiffs say scarce and unequal resources have created stark achievement gaps, while lawyers for the state lawmakers named as defendants question how districts use the money they already receive. The plaintiffs expect to finish presenting their case in late January.

GIFT BAN: Pennsylvania lawmakers and government employees can accept unlimited gifts from lobbyists, businesses, and other groups as long as gifts worth more than $250 are disclosed. Advocates say the rule fosters a pay-to-play culture. And while their efforts to change the law and ban gifts have gained traction, they say the highest-ranking Republican in the state House is emerging as the latest roadblock, Capital-Star reports.

TRAVEL MONEY: The Pennsylvania Department of Transportation is rallying lawmaker support for its plan to close an estimated $8.1 billion funding gap with new tolls on bridges, new fees on package deliveries, a phasing out of the nation's second-highest gas tax, and more. But the Post-Gazette reports there's "little indication that legislative leaders will move forward with the big-ticket items the agency says it needs."

HISTORY REVIEW: Beyond revisions and removals of Confederate-focused markers in Fulton County, Pennsylvania is updating or removing historical markers with phrases like "Indian fighter" and "Anglo-Saxon supremacy," the AP reports. Another marker noting President Woodrow Wilson once taught at Bryn Mawr College came down after the college's current president raised concerns about Wilson's record.

FIRE WALL: Pennsylvania is facing a volunteer firefighting crisis, with officials blaming rising costs and societal changes they say are leading fewer people to enlist. "We used to turn out 100 men for a fire, but now it might be down below 10 for a rural fire," Acting State Fire Commissioner Thomas Cook said, via The Daily Item. Cook added: "Those are the main issues. How do we get money and how do we get people."
IN MEMORIAM: Mary Jo Coll, a Pittsburgh concert promoter credited with shaping the city's live music scene for decades, died on Dec. 26 of stomach cancer. She was 64. Her death came two weeks after a local benefit concert and fundraiser in her honor. City Paper has an appreciation.

LAST MASS: A 221-year-old Centre County church held its final service on Christmas Eve and is scheduled to close for good at the end of the year, the AP reports. The First Presbyterian Church of Bellefonte cites declining membership and attendance, a trend made worse by the pandemic.

TIL: If you, like me, were unaware of the colonial-era land dispute between Pennsylvania and Connecticut, a 250-year-old map recently sold at auction offers a snapshot of the border beef, which kicked off the "first of several intermittent but intense outbreaks of violence" between the two sides.

ROCK OF AGES: For anyone who thinks rocks are, you know, boring, the Tribune-Democrat reports Pennsylvania limestone is a window into the very-distant past: a time when the Laurel Highlands hadn't yet been formed and Pennsylvania was south of the equator and partly underwater.

NO 'SAVESIES': A group of vigilante "cone rangers" is cracking down on illegal parking spot holders in Philly, prompting fears for their safety and related warnings from police. "It can be frustrating to just exist in the city sometimes," one "ranger" told PhillyVoice. "These small things add up."
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: Blandishment

Congrats to our daily winners: Susan F., Susan N., Elaine C., Neal W., Don H., Kimberly S., Craig E., Irene R., Judith D., David W., Kim C., Alan V., Judy M., Doris T., Beth T., James B., and Myles M.
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