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Did Shapiro's Super Bowl trip violate gift ban?

Plus, the latest from East Palestine.

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Your Postmaster: Colin Deppen
Thursday, February 23, 2023
Guv gift?, RGGI rollback, East Palestine updates, death penalty directions, and Pennsylvania's first after-school Satan club wins reluctant approval.  

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Gov. Josh Shapiro's office is defending his trip to Super Bowl LVII and insists it did not violate his administration's own ethics-minded gift ban. 

The Democrat and top staff went to Arizona on the dime of a nonprofit that has received millions of state dollars while counting energy companies like Shell as "investors" and undertaking studies that promote their interests. 

A Shapiro spokesperson told Spotlight PA that the tickets did not violate the gift ban because the organization — Team Pennsylvania — has a "decades-long history of collaborating with the state" and is "completely incomparable to a private actor." One expert questioned that reading and said "none of the exceptions to the gift ban appear to apply."

Read the full report: Shapiro admin contends taking Super Bowl tickets from group that gets state money didn't violate gift ban.

THE CONTEXT: Under the administration's gift ban, Shapiro and staff are not allowed to accept tickets to events such as football games from any "person or entity" that "has financial relations with the Commonwealth."

Team Pennsylvania — a public-private partnership that works to improve the state's "competitiveness and economic prosperity" — paid for Shapiro and his staff's flights, lodging, and tickets to the game. The group has received $17.2 million in state contracts for things like economic studies since 2007.

In January, the Shapiro administration awarded Team Pennsylvania a new contract worth $100,000 to conduct a study on how to incorporate hydrogen technology into Pennsylvania's energy system.

"If the Pennsylvania government is paying them to do studies, I think that counts as a financial relationship," said Claire Finkelstein, a government ethics professor at UPenn's Carey School of Law. "Whatever the practices are at that organization, that doesn't change the fact that it is truly a gift to the governor and none of the exceptions to the gift ban appear to apply."

Read more: Shapiro loosens Wolf's notoriously strict gift ban.


"I raised my kids and grandkids there, now I have nothing to show for it."

—Bernard Wilson was given weeks to leave his condemned Bethlehem home, where he'd lived for 20 years, and is now saddled with debt

A LOST NEIGHBORHOOD: Join us today at 6 p.m. EST on Zoom for a free panel on the history of Harrisburg's 8th Ward, the residents who once called it home, and the groups making sure it's remembered. Register for the event here and submit your questions to events@spotlightpa.org.
Support Spotlight PA's vital journalism and for a limited time, all new monthly gifts will be matched 12X!
Steller's sea eagle Kodiak, who made a run for it in 2021, back in his National Aviary enclosure in Pittsburgh, via Dan S. Send us your photos by email, use #PAGems on Instagram, or tag us @spotlightpennsylvania.
A large eagle perched on a log inside an enclosure.
Today's top news story in Pennsylvania.RGGI EXIT: Two GOP state reps. — Jim Struzzi (Indiana) and Dallas Kephart (Clearfield) — are floating a bill that would "eliminate the [Regional Greenhouse Gas Initiative] regulation" and require legislative buy-in for similar proposals in the future. The carbon-capping rule was a cornerstone of ex-Gov. Tom Wolf's climate agenda. His Democratic successor, Josh Shapiro, has been slow to embrace it.

Today's second top news story in Pennsylvania.TRAIN BLAME: Former president and current presidential candidate Donald Trump visited East Palestine, Ohio on Wednesday to seize on growing frustration with the Biden administration's response to the toxic train crash there earlier this month. The White House is blaming the Trump administration and Republicans in Congress for undoing Obama-era rail safety measures designed to avert such disasters.

Today's third top news story in Pennsylvania.OFFICIAL VISIT: Transportation Secretary Pete Buttigieg will be in East Palestine today, his visit coinciding with the release of an initial federal report on the cause of the derailment there. Buttigieg has said the government will try to revive a proposed rule dropped by Trump's administration that would require upgraded brake controls on "high-hazardous flammable trains." The Ohio train would not have qualified.

Today's fourth top news story in Pennsylvania.STATE IMPACT: TribLIVE looked into what the Norfolk Southern train derailment could mean for air and water in nearby Pennsylvania amid a rash of misinformation. State Sen. Doug Mastriano (R., Franklin), chair of the chamber's Veterans Affairs and Emergency Prepardeness Committee, will host a hearing in the area today following a fact-check on his Norfolk Southern campaign contribution claim.

Today's fifth top news story in Pennsylvania.PENALTY PUSH: Democrats in the state House and state Senate are introducing bills that would repeal the death penalty after Gov. Shapiro called for its abolition here. Capital-Star reports the prospect likely faces challenges in the now-divided legislature, where one Senate Republican — Mike Regan of York — is simultaneously pushing a bill that would make the death penalty mandatory if an adult murders a cop.

STATE HOLIDAY: Two state senators — Greg Rothman (R., Cumberland) and Nikil Saval (D., Philadelphia) — have introduced legislation that would make Diwali Pennsylvania's next official state holiday, ABC27 reports.

HOUSE OF MOUSE: Workers are returning to the Rachel Carson State Office Building in Harrisburg to find mice have been very busy while they were gone, per PennLive (paywall). Workers say the traps aren't cutting it.

SATAN CLUB: After a Northampton County school district gave the green light to the state's first after-school Satan club, saying its hands were legally tied, classes were canceled due to a related threat.

BIGGER BOAT: Pittsburgh-based Heinz is looking for the Dominican man who survived nearly a month at sea by eating ketchup. The company wants to buy Elvis Francois a new boat, but first it needs to find him. 

WATCH THIS: Meet Steven Leslie, the best teen bowler in Philadelphia. He told The Inquirer's video team he's been at it since the age of three. 

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: Anticlimactic

Congrats to our daily winners: Craig W., Becky C., Elaine C., Don H., Susan N.-Z., Barbara F., Joel S., Susan D., Richard A., Rebecca M., Jon W., Nancy S., Bruce B., Benjamin M., Beth T., Keith F., John F., Ada M., Jerry G., Jessica T., Jane R., James B., Connie K., Elayne B., Vicki U., Stanley J., Myles M., Justin C., Kimberly B., David I., Dennis M., Kathee M., Bill S., Frederick H., Eddy Z., David W., Janet T., Dianne K., Kim C., John P., William Z., Karen W., Keith W., Starr B., John H., and Rachel F.
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