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Doomed congressional map now headed to Gov. Wolf

Plus, expert warns against Pa. self-driving car bill.


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January 25, 2022
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'Doomed' map, liquor laws, driverless cars, badges revoked, PrEP worry, school funding, and a zany Groundhog's Day guide. It's Tuesday.
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A rewrite of Pennsylvania's congressional map is headed to Gov. Tom Wolf's desk following a party-line state Senate vote on Monday. But with Wolf having already vowed to veto the proposal, the move is nearly guaranteed to put the courts in charge of determining the state's new district lines.

Monday's 29-20 vote in favor of the Republican-backed plan, which nonpartisan analysts say has a clear GOP advantage, followed what Senate Majority Leader Kim Ward (R., Westmoreland) described as a failed effort by senators to find a compromise, Spotlight PA and Votebeat report.

"We can't agree," she said, adding, "The governor is going to veto anything that is not what he produced, and the courts will wind up drawing maps."

State Sen. Sharif Street (D., Philadelphia) said the map was not the result of a bipartisan process and agreed that it "will most assuredly get vetoed."

THE CONTEXT: Anticipating the impasse, two groups of Pennsylvanians asked Commonwealth Court to intervene in December.

The court set a Jan. 30 deadline for Wolf and lawmakers to finish the map, while also asking the citizen petitioners, Wolf, Republican and Democratic lawmakers, and other approved parties to submit their own proposals.

The court will hold hearings on those maps this Thursday and Friday. It could pick one as soon as Sunday. A lawyer for one of the petitioner groups said it's likely the ruling will be appealed to the state Supreme Court. 

Meanwhile, a Wolf administration-set deadline came and went on Monday without the new political maps deemed necessary to keep the May primary on track, sowing confusion among voters, candidates, and administrators.


"I thought I was just doing the right thing by helping — I had no idea it would turn out this way."

—Michele Fallon who says she's taking medical precautions after a close encounter with monkeys at Friday's tractor-trailer crash site near Danville
» STRETCHED THIN: While omicron cases have likely peaked in Pennsylvania, hospitals are still strained, per LevittownNow.

» NO VISITORS: Pennsylvania state prisons will halt all in-person visits through February because of COVID-19, the AP reports.

» MASKS BACK: A federal appeals court has temporarily ordered the Upper St. Clair School District to continue requiring masks, TribLIVE reports.

» FREE STUFF: Federal shipments of free at-home COVID-19 tests are rolling out and free N95 masks are coming to a pharmacy near you.

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).
» BACK IN SESSION: On Thursday, Jan. 27 at 5 p.m. EST, join Spotlight PA and our panel of experts via Zoom as we look back on the 2021 legislative session and discuss what themes are likely to emerge — or persist — in 2022. RSVP for free here. Submit questions to events@spotlightpa.org.
A sharp-shinned hawk waiting for its next meal in North Cornwall Township, Lebanon County. Thanks for the photo, Guy GSend us your gems, use #PAGems on Instagram, or tag us @spotlightpennsylvania.
PRIVATE BUSINESS: Pennsylvania Republicans are proposing a constitutional amendment that would let voters decide whether the state should get out of the liquor business. The push to privatize liquor sales here isn't new and neither is the constitutional amendment approach, which the state's GOP lawmakers are looking to as a means of avoiding the governor's veto pen, per Spotlight PA.

ON AUTOPILOT: A bill that would allow self-driving cars to be tested on Pennsylvania roads without emergency drivers is opposed by the City of Pittsburgh, where autonomous vehicle testing has been happening for years, and a CMU professor who helped write related national safety standards. Among professor Philip Koopman's issues with the bill: a serious imbalance between risks and benefits.

VOTED OUT: Three police officers charged with manslaughter in the death of 8-year-old Fanta Bility have now been fired, WHYY reports. Sharon Hill Borough Council voted 6-to-1 to fire officers Sean Dolan, Devon Smith, and Brian Devaney, who shot at a car outside a high school football game in August, killing Bility and wounding three others nearby. The shooting may have also violated department policy.

RX COSTS: The maker of the HIV-prevention medication PrEP is changing its patient assistance program in ways that significantly reduce the reimbursements clinics receive for providing the medication to uninsured patients. PublicSource reports that while clinics in some states are facing financial peril as a result, Pennsylvania's Medicaid expansion means comparatively minimal impacts here

MONEY MATTERS: Plaintiffs in Pennsylvania's landmark school funding trial argue the current system is both rife with inequities and a violation of the state's constitutional guarantee to a "thorough and efficient" education for all. But while attorneys for the lawmakers named as defendants try to undermine the ties between school funding and student outcomes, economists say the links couldn't be clearer.
'DUNKING IN THE METAVERSE': Unsure what to make of the Philadelphia 76ers' short-lived partnership with a mysterious, Metaverse-involved Chinese company — the same helmed by an equally mysterious CEO? Defector Media's Dan McQuade explains the strange saga here.

NOW STREAMING: Director and screenwriter Sujata Day's new Greensburg-set Netflix film Definition Please "manages to un-whiten one of the whitest cities in Western Pennsylvania," CityLab reports. Day is the daughter of Indian immigrants and a Greensburg native herself. 

SAFE SKATE: Merza Mohammadi was perhaps the best known skateboarder in Afghanistan until the Taliban takeover sent him to South Philadelphia, The Inquirer reports. With his family still in Afghanistan, skateboarding remains an escape for Mohammadi and a refuge within a refuge.

TAX TIME: Tax season is here and the IRS is officially accepting 2021 returns. I'm not normally one to dampen the excitement, but USA Today reports this year's federal filings may be more complicated. Federal and state officials are also suggesting filing electronically if possible to speed things along.

HIGH ON THE HOG: Groundhog Day is officially eight days away and I couldn't wait any longer to remind all of you just how delightfully trippy this high hole-iday is. Exhibit A: Punxsutawney Phil is immortal/infallible, speaks a proprietary dialect known as Groundhogese, and is happily married.
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.

Yesterday's answer: Chiropractor

Congrats to our daily winners: Susan N.-Z., Becky C., Don H., Suzanne O., Barbara F., Bonnie R., Mike B., Irene R., Wendy A., Susan D., Bill M., Keith F., Alan V., Barbara O., Kimberly S., Karen W., Elaine C., George S., Cris F., Nancy S., Lex M., James B., David W., William S., Joel S., Bill S., Craig E., Vicki U., Al M., Craig W., Kim C., Daniel M., and John P.
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