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Pa. high court takes control of congressional map

Plus, Pa. pipeline explosion prompts criminal case.


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Your Postmaster: Colin Deppen
February 3, 2022
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Redistricting rush, relief money, bridge checks, pipeline charges, complicated history, 'absurd' call, and love locks down. It's Thursday. Welcome.
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Pennsylvania's Democrat-led Supreme Court will pick the commonwealth's next congressional map, preempting a lower court ruling at the last minute in a move that's sure to draw scrutiny from Republicans.

Spotlight PA and Votebeat report the intervention comes with the May 17 primary fast approaching and the lack of a final map sowing uncertainty.

That time crunch was cited by plaintiffs who urged the Supreme Court to get involved. It was also cited in the high court's decision to do just that. 

"The threat of any appeal period from the Commonwealth Court decision to this court reduces the scant days available for this court to obtain briefs, study this complex and important matter, and render a decision," Chief Justice Max Baer, a Democrat, wrote in a concurring statement issued on Wednesday.

Both Republicans on the Supreme Court dissented.

THE CONTEXT: A congressional map proposal was passed by the Republican-controlled legislature last month but vetoed by Gov. Tom Wolf. Nonpartisan analyses found it had a bias that favored Republicans.

Wolf's veto led to the GOP-majority Commonwealth Court, where Judge Patricia McCullough, a Republican, was set to choose from one of 13 competing map proposals as soon as this week. 

Instead, the high court will now receive a report from McCullough and hold a hearing Feb. 18, three days after the date primary candidates are supposed to begin circulating the nominating petitions needed to land on the ballot. 

McCullough's report to the Supreme Court will also include a "proposed revision to the 2022 election schedule/calendar."


"I recently met a woman who is widowed. We are considering being roommates because, like me, she cannot afford the current rents. This situation is a crime."

—Debbi Iannelli of Allentown on rising rents in the Lehigh Valley; local officials blame economic forces while tenants blame "greedy" landlords
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. 
Send 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.
» CLOSED UP: Two Chester County hospitals have closed their doors for good amid the omicron wave after sale agreements fell through, per 6ABC.

» NEW DEADLINE: All Philly employees, including police, will need to be vaccinated against COVID-19 or request exemptions by Feb. 11, per WHYY.

» CHILD VACCINES: The FDA's vaccine advisory committee will meet Feb. 15 to discuss Pfizer COVID-19 shots for children under 5.

» MILITARY DISCHARGE: Soldiers who refuse to get a COVID-19 vaccine will be "immediately" discharged by the U.S. Army without separation pay.

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).
A lavender sunset near Benezette. Thanks, Ed R.!  Send us your gems. Use #PAGems on Instagram, or tag us @spotlightpennsylvania.
SPENDING PLAN: Days before he's due to give his final budget address, Gov. Tom Wolf on Wednesday unveiled a $1.7 billion spending plan for federal relief money, which remains at the center of diametrically opposed fiduciary visions, Capital-Star reports. Republicans dismissed Wolf's pitch and another from Democratic lawmakers as fantasies. Democrats say the proposals reflect hard realities.

SAFETY REVIEWS: PennDOT has ordered reviews of five bridges across the state that resemble the one that collapsed in Pittsburgh last week, the Post-Gazette reports. Four of the "K-frame" bridges are located in Allegheny, Beaver, Northampton, and Washington Counties. A fifth is located in Philadelphia. In related news: PennDOT says it will foot the bill to replace Pittsburgh's fallen Fern Hollow Bridge.

CHARGES FILED: Pennsylvania AG Josh Shapiro's office has charged a natural gas pipeline builder with nine counts of environmental crimes related to a 2018 pipeline explosion in western Pennsylvania. The charges follow a nearly $2 million settlement against Energy Transfer for the same explosion, which Shapiro blames on a lack of erosion controls and which he argues could and should have been prevented.

FAITH BASED: Delve into Pittsburgh's complicated religious history with PublicSource's new "Faith, Race, Place" project, a look at the city's fragmented religious landscape long shaped by geography, industry, immigration, and class divides. Roughly 85% of people in the Pittsburgh metro area identified as people of faith in a  2014 study. That's higher than the national figure at the time of 78%.

MAYORAL BRIEFS: York City Council is exploring whether Mayor Michael Helfrich took his oath of office too late to be eligible to carry out his second term, CBS21 reports. Helfrich calls the premise "absurd." On the other side of the state, the Sharon Herald reports Mercer officials are struggling to put back in office a mayor who resigned soon after his eligibility was challenged.
MORE WINTER: Punxsutawney Phil emerged from his burrow Wednesday morning to officially declare six more weeks of winter. Phil has made the same prediction 105 times since 1887 and only called an early spring 20 times.

HOG WILD: We recently told you about pending legislation that would make the groundhog Pennsylvania's official state rodent. Exhibit A in the pro column: This video of a groundhog eating pizza in Brewerytown.

BLACK HISTORY: Crystal Bird Fauset was the first Black woman elected to the Pennsylvania House, served as a Civil Defense race relations adviser under FDR, and was left off a list of milestones in the state Capitol.

LOVE LOCKS: Pittsburgh's Roberto Clemente Bridge will close for repairs Feb. 14 and is expected to remain closed through 2023. The Valentine's Day shutdown will coincide with the removal of 11,000 love locks.

GRAMMAR CHECK: Yesterday I wrote that Wordle's creator made the game as a pandemic distraction "for his partner and he." Thanks to readers Jack L., Kathleen M., and Emily C., who correctly noted that it should have read "his partner and him," and apologies to my mother, an English teacher.
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: Words that start with the letter "B"

Yesterday's answer: Bourgeoisie

Congrats to our daily winners: Craig W., Michelle T., Barbara F., Briann M., Patricia M., Irene R., Doris T., Ted W., Don H., Susan D., Kimberly S., Deb N., Susan N.-Z., Stephen B., John F., Judith D., Sherri A., Elaine C., Craig E., Cindy G., George S., Kim C., Jill A., Brandie K., Scott R., James B., Rachel K., Suzanne S., Julie C., Mike B., Kevin M., Al M., Eddy Z., Dianne K., Lex M., Elizabeth W., John H., Bette B., David W., Vicki U., Bill S., Richard S., John A., Tish M., Daniel M., Eric E., Nancy S., Keith F., William S., and Pat B.
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