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Is Shapiro's $10M public defender plan enough?

Plus, gun safety bills are on the move in Pa.'s Dem-controlled House.

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Thursday, April 27, 2023
Legal aid, gun reform, Geisinger buy, landmark bill, on hold, derailment costs, and a literal house of mirrors. Welcome back, PA Posters.
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Pennsylvania is the only state that doesn't directly fund public defenders, and while Democratic Gov. Josh Shapiro wants to change that, the amount he's proposing would be a drop in the proverbial bucket, observers say.

In his first budget as governor, Shapiro has proposed $10 million of state money to support no-cost legal representation to “indigent” Pennsylvanians, those who have been accused of a crime but can't afford an attorney.

But that amount is far less than what most other states contribute to the cause, as counties across Pennsylvania continue to shoulder the costs.

Read Spotlight PA's full report: Pennsylvania doesn’t fund public defense. Gov. Josh Shapiro’s first budget proposal would change that.

THE CONTEXT: David Carroll, executive director of the Sixth Amendment Center, which advocates for expanding access to indigent defense, called Shapiro's $10 million proposal "an important first step."

But Carroll noted that most states take on at least 85% of all public defense costs, and that Pennsylvania counties are spending approximately $125.5 million on public defenders currently, meaning the commonwealth would remain an outlier even if the legislature approves Shapiro’s plan.

Pennsylvania has made short-term commitments to indigent defense, including county-level grants and public defender trainings, but the current system has led to wide disparities in the quality of legal representation.

In an opinion piece for The Inquirer, Keisha Hudson of the Defender Association of Philadelphia commended Shapiro's $10 million ask but added: "The disparity between what Pennsylvania’s defenders need and what we may receive — even with this investment — is cavernous."

"I would proudly sign this bill – and I am urging leaders in the House and the Senate to get it to my desk as fast as possible."

—Gov. Josh Shapiro on the anti-LGBTQ-discrimination bill that is now headed for a full vote in the Democrat-controlled state House
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» Los candidatos a la Corte de la Commonwealth y Cortes Superiores

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» Una guía completa para el día de las elecciones primarias de Pa.

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» LEGISLATIVE AGENDA: Join us TODAY from 6-7 p.m. on Zoom for a free panel on what issues and policies are on the state legislature's 2023 docket. Register here and submit questions to events@spotlightpa.org

Lakeside in Carroll Valley, via Joan S. Send us your photos by email, use #PAGems on Instagram, or tag us @spotlightpennsylvania.
A lake framed by two trees.
Today's top news story in Pennsylvania.YES VOTE: Bills expanding Pennsylvania gun laws to include universal background checks and a red-flag measure, among other changes, passed out of a state House committee Wednesday in party-line votes. Spotlight PA's Stephen Caruso says they could get full House votes as soon as next week, "kicking of the commonwealth's first serious legislative debate over its firearm policies since 2018."

Today's second top news story in Pennsylvania.GEISINGER AQUISITION: Kaiser Permanente is set to acquire Pennsylvania's Geisinger Health and launch a new nonprofit entity called Risant Health. Kaiser Permanente says other community hospital systems are set to enter the fold and that they, like Geisinger, would continue to operate as regional or community-based providers with the benefit of additional "expertise, resources, and support."

Today's third top news story in Pennsylvania.LANDMARK BILL: A bill that removes the out-of-pocket costs associated with diagnostic testing for people at heightened risk of breast cancer is headed to Gov. Josh Shapiro's desk after earning final and unanimous approval in the state House, PennLive reports. The bill requires insurers to pay the full cost of testing. Shapiro will sign the bill, making Pennsylvania the first state to put such a law on the books.

Today's fourth top news story in Pennsylvania.OPERATIONS PAUSED: Shell has paused operations at its petrochemical "cracker" plant in Beaver County, the announcement coming during a town hall this week on community concerns, WPXI reports. The company says it's working on flare and wastewater treatment systems at the plant, which has been hit with seven state violations, most for air quality, since November and is facing a related civil suit.

Today's fifth top news story in Pennsylvania.CALAMITY COSTS: Norfolk Southern estimates that February's train derailment near the Pennsylvania-Ohio border will cost the company at least $387 million, a figure that is likely to increase. How much of that will be covered by its insurer is unclear. TribLIVE reported earlier this week that Pennsylvania's Department of Environmental Protection says soil and water samples taken in the area remain safe.

NEWS FUSION: The family owners of Lancaster's LNP Media Group are gifting its various outlets to WITF, central Pennsylvania's public radio station, and forging "a new model for local news and civic engagement."

STATE HOLIDAY: The state House has passed a bill that would make Diwali a state holiday in Pennsylvania. State House Freedom Caucus member Stephanie Borowicz (R., Clinton) was the only no vote.

MIRROR HOUSE: O'Hara Township's "Mirror House" is up for sale and going viral. The Allegheny County abode includes one-and-a-half acres, three bedrooms, three baths, and a bajillion mirrors both inside and out.

POD RECORD: UPI reports: Pittsburgh-area podcaster Rob Oliver interviewed 137 people over the course of 37 hours, 44 minutes, and 17 seconds to break the Guinness World Record for longest interviewing marathon. 

POWER-LIFTER: Meet Linda "Kilo" Gram Arvey, a great-grandmother from Etters in York County who holds nearly 400 powerlifting records, including 40 world records. Arvey told WHTM it was love at first lift.

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: Orchestral

Congrats to our daily winners: Elaine C., Bob C., Stacy S., Jon W., Becky C., Ted W., Barbara F., Craig W., Don H., Susan N.-Z., Kim C., Craig E., Vicki U., Susan D., Dennis M., Dianne K., Kimberly D., Elizabeth W., David W., Wendy A.
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