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Dems sweep specials, claim Pa. House majority

Plus, Pa. school funding unconstitutional, judge rules.


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Your Postmaster: Colin Deppen
Wednesday, February 8, 2023
Special results, unconstitutional funding, Scranton's war machine, church tensions, voting updates, and how to mute an entire city.

Democrats have swept three Allegheny County special elections, cementing their one-vote majority in the Pennsylvania state House and ending a two-month debate over which party controls the chamber.

With the wins, Democrats can now set the state House agenda for the first time since 2010 and will enjoy extra leverage in coming budget talks over how to spend more than $40 billion in projected state revenue. The party also will be able to push policy priorities like a minimum wage hike or LGBTQ nondiscrimination protections.

Once the winners are sworn in later this month, the trio will officially give the Democrats 102 votes in the 203-member state House.

Read Spotlight PA's full report: Democrats sweep special elections, affirming first Pa. House majority in 12 years

THE CONTEXT: Since early January, the state House has been unable to move forward with official business amid a partisan stalemate.

Democrats and Republicans had failed to agree on the operating rules to govern the chamber, leading Speaker Mark Rozzi (D., Berks) to cancel future session dates and embark on a listening tour

The state House is expected to reconvene later this month, with Democrats able to use their slim majority to pass their preferred rules.

Whether Rozzi will continue in his position is unclear. State House Democratic Leader Joanna McClinton was her caucus' first pick for speaker, but it remains to be seen if she has the votes to take the gavel. 


"This is a blueprint of what's going to come to a neighborhood near you in Pittsburgh."

—Glenn Olcerst of Rail Pollution Protection Pittsburgh on that city's risks for a volatile train derailment like the one seen in Ohio this week
» HOW SPECIAL ELECTIONS WORK: Join us tomorrow at 6 p.m. on Zoom for a free panel on the results of the Feb. 7 special elections, how they work, and why they matter. This event is the first in our "How Harrisburg Works" series. Register here and submit questions to 
Black soldiers at Camp Meade near Harrisburg in 1899, via Library of Congress archives. Photograph by J. M. Pattison. The camp was named for Civil War General George Meade and opened during the Spanish-American War. We'll have more historical photos here throughout Black History Month.
A sepia-toned photo of solders standing in formation.
Today's top news story in Pennsylvania.LANDMARK RULING: A judge has ruled Pennsylvania's education funding system unconstitutional after a years-long legal battle and ordered it fixed. Commonwealth Court President Judge Renée Cohn Jubelirer found students in poorer districts are disadvantaged under the current system, despite the state constitution's guarantee of equal educational opportunities for all. An appeal is possible.

Today's second top news story in Pennsylvania.WAR MACHINE: Grid explains how an army ammunition plant in Scranton has become a primary producer of the weapon that may prove most decisive in Ukraine's fight against Russia, the 155-mm artillery shell: "It's likely that many of the shells that are exploding and shattering into deadly shards of steel on the battlefields of Donetsk and Kherson were trucked off the factory floor in Scranton."

Today's third top news story in Pennsylvania.BIBLE BELT: Religion News Service reports that the heart of Pennsylvania's Bible Belt — Lancaster County — is changing. The outlet says that growing secularism is challenging the "relatively homogeneous, small-town cultures" clergy are used to, forcing them to navigate a landscape with new tensions that have only been heightened by the pandemic and America's widening political gulf.

Today's fourth top news story in Pennsylvania.SUGGESTED ITEMS: Optional mail-ballot secrecy envelopes, standardized drop boxes, and clarified mail-ballot instructions are among a state agency's recommendations for eliminating voter confusion and minimizing election lawsuits, WITF reports. The report by the Joint State Government Commission, a bipartisan legislative research agency, comes amid a GOP reckoning on mail voting itself

Today's fifth top news story in Pennsylvania.HALF-STAFF: Gov. Josh Shapiro has ordered flags at half-staff for McKeesport Police Officer Sean Sluganski, who was shot and killed on Monday during a domestic disturbance call. Johnathan Jermia Morris, 31, is charged with killing Sluganski and wounding another officer. Initial radio reports indicated Morris is a military veteran with PTSD, per TribLIVE. State records showed no criminal history for him.

RIVER ISLANDS: Pennsylvania has purchased two privately owned Susquehanna River islands and conservationists are elated, WITF reports. Independence and Bailey's Island, located near Harrisburg's Harvey Taylor Bridge, are now state forest lands. They sold for $160,000.

EMOJI 911: The Pennsylvania Emergency Management Agency has a map of the "top threats" — things like floods, droughts, and wildfires — in all 67 counties. I did not find the liberal use of emoji comforting.

BIG GAME: If you're an Eagles fan getting psyched for the Super Bowl, try The Inquirer's Eagles-themed Wordle spinoff, Birdle, here. If you're not an Eagles fan, here's how to mute an entire city before Sunday.

DAY OFF: Yes, there is an Emmy-winning, Kansas City Chiefs-themed bar in South Philly. It's called Big Charlie's Saloon and it canceled its Super Bowl watch party this year, but probably not for the reason you'd expect.

MADE FOR TV: The Philadelphia Inquirer's deep dive into the history of "if it bleeds, it leads" local TV news is being adapted for television. The project will adapt the story as a fictionalized scripted account, per Variety.

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.

Yesterday's answer: Ethereal

Congrats to our daily winners: Barbara F., Eric F., Craig W., Suzanne S., Susan D., Don H., Vicki U., Michelle T., Jon W., Babette W., Becky C., Kimberly D., Joel S., Starr B., Susan N.-Z., Bruce B., Jane R., Wendy A., John F., James G., Kim C., Daniel S., Elaine C., Patricia R., Lewis Z., Irene R., Stanley J., Deb W., Dennis M., Elizabeth W., Dianne K., Lynnette D.-M., Ada M., Anne B., Judith D., Keith W., Marty M., Trudy W., Kathee M., Cass N., Bill S., and William Z.
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