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Dems want to reform costly water privatization law

Plus, Pa.'s medical marijuana 'near-monopoly.'

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Monday, November 20, 2023
In today's edition: water wars, Shapiro picks, charter rankings, new laws, cannabis 'near-monopoly,' 2020 testimony, and a Philly food finder.
TROUBLED WATERS

Democrats want to reform a state law that opened privatization floodgates on local water and wastewater systems in Pennsylvania, saying the law has "run far afield" of its intent and that the resulting acquisitions have been poorly regulated, Spotlight PA's Stephen Caruso reports.

According to Fast Company, Act 12 of 2016 allows the price of Pennsylvania water and sewer systems to include market factors, not just assets like pipes and plants, driving up their value and providing short-term gains for cash-strapped municipalities and often higher consumer costs.

THE CONTEXT: Such "fair market value" legislation has been enacted in 15 states in the past decade. A 2022 study published in the journal Water Policy found that out of 500 of the nation’s biggest systems, private ownership was the most significant factor in driving up utility bills.

Activists are watching a case out of East Whiteland Township in Chester County, where the Commonwealth Court overturned a sewer sale that had already been approved by state regulators. If the ruling stands, Fast Company reports some activists think it "could help dismantle the privatization push by forcing regulators to acknowledge its toll on ratepayers."

Meanwhile, the Act 12 reform package floated by House Democrats "will still permit struggling systems to be acquired at the current levels" while also limiting acquisitions of healthy systems and providing regulators "with ample time to review these sales more thoroughly." Read the memo.

NOTABLE / QUOTABLE

“A lot of folks wanted to be there for the students — and for Black students specifically — to make sure that they felt supported and to make sure that they saw Black teachers during their time in Allegheny County schools.”

Siettah Parks, project director for Research for Action, on a study looking at why Black teachers are leaving Allegheny County schools
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Northern shovelers in Chester County, via Elliott C. Send us your photos by email, use #PAGems on Instagram, or tag us @spotlightpennsylvania.
two ducks in a big body of water
DAILY RUNDOWN
Today's top news story in Pennsylvania.CHARTER CHOICE: Pennsylvania's pro-"school choice" Democratic Gov. Josh Shapiro is appointing new members to the state board that reviews charter school appeals. The Inquirer (paywall) reports the picks, some of whom appear open to the industry, come months after Republicans told the paper they'd struck a budget season deal with Shapiro to change the makeup of the board long seen as industry-hostile.

Today's second top news story in Pennsylvania.CHARTER RANKING: Pennsylvania ranked low with its charter school performance in a nationwide study of students’ scores in reading and math, the Capital-Star reports. Pennsylvania ranked 31st and had the second-largest performance gap between white and Hispanic students’ scores. Education watchdog groups have been critical of Pennsylvania’s charter school law, which hasn’t been updated since 2002.

Today's third top news story in Pennsylvania.SIGNED, SEALED: Shapiro signed bills into law last week that send hundreds of millions of dollars in delayed state funding to four state-related universities with the funding flattened, a tuition freeze requirement stripped out, and new financial transparency requirements added in. Long exempt from many open records mandates, the schools must now disclose more financial information publicly.

Today's fourth top news story in Pennsylvania.POT POLICY: A bill is on the move in Harrisburg that would allow medical marijuana growers to sell their products directly to patients here, ending what the news outlet Marijuana Moment calls "a near-monopoly" that has given select out-of-state operators dominance over the industry. As for recreational cannabis: Axios reports Pennsylvania is nearly surrounded by legal states and no closer to joining them

Today's fifth top news story in Pennsylvania.ON THE STAND: A legal ethics case against Trump DOJ official and Georgia codefendant Jeffrey Clark will feature testimony from prominent Pennsylvania Republicans, among them former U.S. Attorney and gubernatorial candidate Bill McSwain, who's set to discuss post-2020 election investigations in Philly, and election deniers like state Sen. Doug Mastriano (R., Franklin) and U.S. Rep. Scott Perry (R., Pa.)
🏆 NEWS QUIZ: If you've been paying attention to the news, test your powers of cognition with the latest Great PA News Quiz: Legal pot next door, Biden family subpoenas, and Black Friday origins.
IN OTHER NEWS
ETHICS REPORT: U.S. Rep. George Santos (R., NY) could become the first member of Congress expelled since 2002 (and the first-ever House Republican to be ousted) following a damning ethics report that got former no-votes on expulsion, like U.S. Rep. Chris Deluzio (D., Pa.), on board.

HISPANIC-OWNED: Pennsylvania saw a nearly 50% increase in Hispanic-owned businesses between 2012 and 2019. That's higher than the non-Hispanic rate. WITF reports the reasons are numerous

GIVING OPTIONS: Finding dining options in the Philly area just got easier. The Inquirer rolled out a new mobile app feature that allows you to set the parameters — drinks, date night, Philly classics, and more.

LEGAL SETTLEMENT: Saucon Valley School District in Northampton County will pay $200,000 in legal fees to the group behind an After School Satan Club that the district tried to ban, WFMZ reports.

THEATER CLOSING: Lancaster County's historic The New Main movie theater is closing, PennLive reports. The owners said on Facebook that lackluster ticket sales left them unable to cover operating costs.
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THE SCRAMBLER
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.
 
A R F T N E C E O B

Friday's answer: Techniques

Congrats to our weekly winner: Mary K.

Congrats to our daily winners: Phyllis C., Susan D., June B., Tracy S., Bob C., Stacy S., Vicki U., Richard A., Jon W., Dan A., Kimberly D., Lynne E., Elaine C., Becky C., Susan N.-Z., Don H., Barbara F., Carol S., Alan B., David M., David W., Becca S., William Z., Karen W., Wendy A., Rena Z., Tom M., and Daniel M.
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