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Vetting the police, untreated addiction in jails, and 'Republicans4Shapiro'

Plus, historic Pa. school funding trial could be a bellwether.

A daily newsletter by Spotlight PA

Your Postmaster: Colin Deppen
July 12, 2022
Five takeaways, rate hike, party lines, bellwether watch, patchwork policies, crypto caches, and introducing Acrisure Stadium. It's Tuesday.

Attorney General Josh Shapiro says Tioga borough violated state law when it hired Timothy Loehmann, the police officer who killed Tamir Rice in 2014, without first consulting a state database meant to help hiring entities identify law enforcement applicants with checkered backgrounds. 

Loehmann ultimately withdrew his application, but his near-appointment renewed scrutiny of the 2020 Pennsylvania law that created the database — the subject of a panel hosted by Spotlight PA last week.

The limitations of the law have been tied to reporting loopholes and a lack of consequences for failures to comply. Shapiro previously told Spotlight PA that he would support stronger enforcement provisions.

Here are five takeaways from last week's virtual panel on the flaws and possible fixes, with a link to full video of the hour-long talk.

THE CONTEXT: Panelist Raff Donelson, a professor at Penn State Dickinson Law, said legislation should provide incentives for compliance as well as enforcement provisions. The current law leaves too much room for departmental discretion, Donelson added.

Another panelist, state Rep. Chris Rabb (D., Philadelphia), said action could also be taken at the local level with ordinances that address hiring practices in individual communities and on college campuses.

And because Pennsylvania doesn't have a standardized process for hiring and checking the backgrounds of officers, Northern Lancaster County Regional Police Chief David Steffen said accreditation through third-party groups could help ensure agencies are following best practices.

There are 142 accredited police agencies in Pennsylvania, a small slice of the more than 1,300 departments statewide, though the latter total is hard to confirm, a mathematical mystery explored by Spotlight PA.


"It's obviously being pushed forward by the GOP, but I hope that what happens is really what they said, to find solutions to issues of crime across the state, not just Philadelphia."

—State Rep. Danilo Burgos, one of two Democrats appointed to a five-person panel charged with investigating crime in Philadelphia under progressive District Attorney Larry Krasner, the focus of a GOP-led impeachment push
A flower delivery for your email inbox, courtesy of Robert N. Send us your pics, use #PAGems on Instagram, or tag us @spotlightpennsylvania.
RATE HIKE: Gov. Tom Wolf has signed legislation authorizing nearly $300 million a year in additional Medicaid reimbursements for nursing homes that have linked low reimbursements to staff shortages plaguing the industry, the AP reports. A related agreement provides a more modest increase in direct care hours than Wolf wanted but sets minimum shift ratios for nurses and nursing assistants to patients.

PAC RIVAL: A group of well-connected Pennsylvania Republicans has formed a PAC opposing the party's nominee for governor, Doug Mastriano, calling his politics too extreme and his candidacy an "unacceptable choice," PennLive reports. In related news: Nine prominent Pennsylvania Republicans have endorsed Democrat Josh Shapiro in the race. Mastriano dismissed the defectors as RINOs.

LEGAL TEST: Pennsylvania's historic school funding trial could be a bellwether that guides public school advocates nationwide as they consider whether to pursue similar cases in other states, Vox reports. At the heart of the case here is a claim that funding disparities violate the state constitution's promise of equal opportunity. The trial concluded in March, but oral arguments on the legal issues are set for July 26. 

TREATMENT GAPS: Inconsistent access to opioid addiction treatments in Pennsylvania's 62 county jails puts people at higher risk for overdose when they are released, the authors of a new study say. According to The Inquirer, researchers found nine county jails, most in the northern part of the state, that offer no opioid addiction medication at all, while 11 jails offered medication only to pregnant people.

CRYPTO CAUTION: An AP report on the crypto-plunge implications for public pension funds mentions the fluctuating digital currency investments of Pennsylvania's largest pension fund, The Public School Employees' Retirement System, which shed $2 million worth of holdings in the crypto exchange Coinbase Global last summer before adding about $398,000 worth of holdings in a bitcoin mining firm.
TRIAL DATE: The founder of a Pittsburgh-area dental franchise goes on trial for murder this week in Colorado. Prosecutors say Lawrence Rudolph killed his wife at the end of an African safari trip in 2016. Rudolph's attorneys say the death was accidental. Rolling Stone examines the unusual case.

RUNOFF RISKS: Gov. Tom Wolf on Monday signed into law new regulations that are meant to curb fertilizer use on home lawns, golf courses, parks, and other developed lands, setting the stage for drops in pollution to waterways and the pivotal Chesapeake Bay, the Bay Journal reports. 

NEW REVIVAL: The Pennsylvania Game Commission on Saturday commissioned a plan for the reintroduction and management of the American Marten, a weasel relative that was wiped out here in the 1900s. A newly released feasibility study says the effort is likely to work.

IT'S OFFICIAL: Pittsburgh's Heinz Field will soon be Acrisure Stadium, per multiple reports. Kraft-Heinz decided not to continue its naming rights deal, so the Michigan-based insurance brokerage company is taking over.

COLD TRAIL: Pennsylvania's Ice Cream Trail is back for a fifth summer with a slate of creameries, a way to track your progress online, and a branded ice cream scooper awarded to those who visit 10 participating shops.
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: Wedding season

Yesterday's answer: Processional

Congrats to our daily winners: Mike B., Craig W., Barbara F., Hugh M., Vicki U., Susan N.-Z., John A., Don H., Becky C., Elaine C., Susan D., Judith D., Al M., Starr B., George S., Melodye D., Mary Kay M., James B., Donna D., Dianne K., Steve H., Patricia M., Bill S., David W., Jude M., Doris T., and Sharon P.
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