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Cuts eyed for Pa.'s bloated district court system

Plus, suit challenges high court's redistricting role.


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Your Postmaster: Colin Deppen
February 23, 2022

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Chopping block, stop order, coordinated convoy, anti-bias training, housing crisis, boomerang jobs, and Hershey's new coaster. It's Wednesday.
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A once-in-a-decade review recommends eliminating at least a dozen magisterial district judge offices across Pennsylvania, a move PennLive says would save commonwealth taxpayers more than $5 million each year. 

The courts recommended for closure are located in Allegheny, Clarion, Dauphin, Delaware, Franklin, Lehigh, McKean, and Montgomery Counties. 

Each office carries about $460,000 in annual costs that are split between the state and county, a fraction of the total spent on a sprawling system that's scrutinized for its lack of efficiency, large salaries, and light workloads. 

THE CONTEXT: A 2020 Spotlight PA and PennLive investigation found some elected magisterial district judges held court proceedings only a few days a week while collecting $93,000 annual salaries and other perks.

More than 40 district judges had at least 60 days without court appearances, above and beyond holidays, weekends, and training days.

After the 2010 census, the Pennsylvania Supreme Court asked counties to close 55 magisterial district judge offices, but only 33 were cut. 

See how often your local Pa. district judges are actually in the courtroom here.

For all of February, we at Spotlight PA are giving you the chance to share a message of love, gratitude, or appreciation with the entire state. 

Here's how it works: Make a donation of $25 or more to Spotlight PA using this special link, put your shoutout in the "I am contributing because..." box, and we’ll include it in a special section of our PA Post newsletter. 
Show some love to a Pennsylvania business, a person, an animal, an animal that reminds you of a person, or your favorite reporters (👋). Make someone feel good, brighten a day, and support Spotlight PA at the same time.

"This court can empanel an impartial jury by implementing reasonable measures that are much less disruptive than a venue change."

—Federal prosecutors arguing against a change of venue request from accused Pittsburgh synagogue shooter Robert Bowers
» LEGAL CHALLENGE: Port Authority of Allegheny County employees must show proof of vaccination by March 15 under a mandate that has now drawn a lawsuit alleging its adoption violated state labor law, per KDKA-TV.

» STAFF SHORTAGE: A substitute teacher shortage that pre-dates the pandemic has gotten worse during it, WPSU reports. In a district serving Potter and McKean Counties, the principal is covering four classes a day.

» PREGNANCY RISKS: Four major Pennsylvania health systems will share anonymized medical records with each other in an effort to find out why some pregnant women get sicker from COVID than others, per WITF.

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).
» THE FINAL STRETCH: Join us Thursday, March 3 at 5:00 p.m. ET via Zoom for a free Q&A on the court challenges to Pa.'s electoral maps and how they could affect your community. Register for the event here. Have questions for our panelists? Send them to events@spotlightpa.org.
In a recent poll, we asked Twitter to pick a name for this chipmunk (photographed by PA Poster Robert N. and published here last month). Well, the airtight results are in and ... Fuzzywig Snickers it is. Send us your gems, use #PAGems on Instagram, or tag us @spotlightpennsylvania.
NEW CHALLENGE: A federal lawsuit wants to stop Pennsylvania's Supreme Court from choosing Pennsylvania's next congressional map and for 17 "at-large" races to be run instead. The AP reports the lawsuit, filed by a group of Republicans, argues the state court would overstep its authority by picking the boundaries. The U.S. Supreme Court let the same state court redraw Pennsylvania's district lines in 2018. 

CAPITAL CONVOY: An unknown number of Pennsylvania truck drivers will set out today for a Canada-inspired, D.C.-bound protest organized, in part, by a Scranton business owner with a criminal record and a history of anti-immigrant, pro-Trump messaging. Bob Bolus told PennLive about a grab-bag of grievances that includes the naming of Scranton's Biden Expressway and the shooting of an insurrectionist.

POLICE TRAINING: A state commission set up after George Floyd's murder has recommended annual anti-bias training for Pennsylvania State Police. But the law enforcement agency, one of the largest in the country, says it needs time to determine if the recommendation is doable or necessary. Troopers receive some anti-bias training, but proponents can't imagine why more training isn't better, the Morning Call reports. 

COUNTY CRISIS: The COVID-19 pandemic and rising housing costs are feeding a "homelessness crisis" in Centre County, WPSU reports. Adult Services Director Faith Ryan says shelters there have been full for months, people in need are being housed in hotels, and hundreds of households are still waiting for assistance. If evictions tick up, national advocates say things could go from bad to worse. 
REBOUND RULE: As tourism picks back up in Philadelphia, a local law is in place to ensure laid-off service workers have first dibs when their jobs return. WHYY reports hotels that pay higher wages saw a greater number of workers come back, nearly 90% in some cases. But other jobs have changed, and not everyone wants to return to an industry that saw some of the harshest instability of the COVID-19 pandemic.

MAIL ORDER: Watch as Spotlight PA and a panel of experts explain the court decision that overturned Pennsylvania's mail voting law. They also outline what's next with the law still in effect as an appeal waits for court review.

'FLAVOR TUNNEL': Hersheypark's 15th roller coaster will be a Jolly Rancher-themed, "first-of-its-kind, reimagined coaster for the senses" with a "flavor tunnel" to boot, Fox43 reports. The ride debuts this summer.

STRENGTH TESTS: A group of CMU grads is digitally mapping all of Pittsburgh's 446 bridges in hopes of avoiding another catastrophic collapse, the Post-Gazette reports. They're using tools to see things humans can't.

SNOW TRACKER: The National Weather Service in State College has a cool time-lapse look at Pennsylvania snow cover from above (way above), showing the difference one year, one month, and one day make. 

MIGRATION PATTERN: The Great Migration brought 1,000 Black people to Erie from one town in Mississippi, largely thanks to two Erie pastors, inextricably linking the two communities, the Erie Times-News 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.

*This week's theme: Literary devices, terms

Yesterday's answer: Personification

Congrats to our daily winners: Michelle T., Irene R., Bonnie R., Craig W., Vicki U., Elaine C., Mikey B., Kimberly S., James B., Pat S., Jill A., Cris F., Susan D., Rebecca H., Steve D., Ann E., Heidi B., George S., Judith D., Dianne K., Don H., David W., Doris T., Bill S., Margaret D., Suzanne S., Kim C., Susan N.-Z., Pat B., Edward G., Matt P., Elizabeth W., Craig E., Nancy S., Becky C., and Parker B.
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