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Stalled bills are good-government Groundhog Day

Plus, SCOTUS puts Pa.'s undated mail ballot ruling on hold.

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Your Postmaster: Colin Deppen
June 1, 2022
Into the void, ballot counts, election consequences, rental wars, town shrink, state spellers, and 🌷 challenge extended until Sunday. It's Wednesday.
It's been six years since Rabbi Michael Pollack's MarchOnHarrisburg group started lobbying for a ban on gifts to state lawmakers. 

And despite a majority of legislators promising to vote yes on one, no such bill has made it that far — and it's not just the gift ban either. 

Many of the changes that good-government advocates have called for — tightening Pennsylvania's lax laws around lobbying, campaign finance, revolving door policies, and more — have gone nowhere.

No matter how many calls are made, how many bills are introduced, or how many legislators pledge to vote for them, the proposals have historically failed to reach either the state House or Senate floor for a vote.

Spotlight PA has a look at where some of the sought-after changes currently stand and why supporters say they're needed.

THE CONTEXT: Warning of a corrosive influence, advocates are calling for a tightening of Pennsylvania's exceptionally lax campaign finance laws, its rules around gifts to lawmakers, and lawmaker per diems, too. 

There's also a push underway to limit the power of committee chairs and legislative leaders who decide whether legislation gets a full vote. It's a chokepoint where many bills, including a number addressing the topics above, have been known to stall and subsequently languish. 

Pollack argued that the legislature, swayed by donors and leadership, lacks the political will to rid itself of the perks of being in elected office.

"There are a handful [of lawmakers] that will make the case for why corruption is OK," Pollack said. "But most of them will vote for it."

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"This could have been a hundred-and-ten-percent preventable. New York State, they dropped the ball."

Jamie Deninis, owner of Pennsylvania Guns & Ammo in Susquehanna County, where the alleged Buffalo, NY, mass shooter purchased a shotgun; Deninis blamed New York's gun laws for failing to prevent the killings
A summery-looking Susquehanna River in Harrisburg, via Robert N. Send us your gems, use #PAGems on Instagram, or tag us @spotlightpennsylvania.
BALLOT BID: The U.S. Supreme Court has paused a lower court ruling that could impact the outcome of Pennsylvania's neck-and-neck GOP U.S. Senate primary, the AP reports. The lower court ruling opened the door to undated mail ballots being counted in the race, something trailing candidate David McCormick supports. An automatic recount is already underway. McCormick wants hand recounts in 12 counties

GOP FALLOUT: State Rep. Dave Zimmerman (R., Lancaster) is the latest GOP state lawmaker to see his committee assignments ended after backing a farther-to-the-right primary challenger over a GOP incumbent. LNP reports it's unclear if Zimmerman resigned his committee seats or was kicked off, but state Rep. Mike Jones (R., York) says he was booted from his committee posts by party leaders for the same offense. 

BIDDING WARS: It's not just homebuyers: Renters are also battling for available stock, especially those looking at the lower end of the market, The Inquirer reports. According to the paper, bidding wars for rental properties are happening, and while the practice isn't necessarily widespread yet, it is emblematic of the unusual forces confronting prospective tenants in a high-demand, pandemic-era real estate market. 

DOWN SHIFT: More than 60% of Pennsylvania municipalities shrank between 2010 and 2020, continuing a long-term trend for many. Pittsburgh-based economist Chris Briem writes in an op-ed that it's time for the state to encourage more distressed towns to reorganize and reject the status quo, adding, "inertia has ruled up to now because the state provides little incentive to pursue any of these changes."

RELIGIOUS RIGHT: Republican gubernatorial nominee Doug Mastriano is an example of the rising tide of Christian nationalism in some Republican campaigns, the AP reports — a groundswell with mixed results so far. From his election night victory speech to his claims that the separation of church and state is a "myth," observers consider Mastriano's win the highest-profile victory for the movement by far.

SPELL CHECKS: The Scripps National Spelling Bee got underway in Washington, D.C., on Tuesday with 10 bright young minds representing the commonwealth of Pennsylvania. The finals, hosted by LeVar Burton, will be broadcast at 7 p.m. on Thursday on the network ION Television.

DATA PRIVACY: Proposed legislation would let Pennsylvanians stop some collections of their personal data by large, online data collection firms, CNHI reports. The proposal is from state Rep. Robert Mercuri (R., Allegheny County). Groups on all sides of the issue have thoughts about the details.

HOT BUTTON: If you missed the National Button Accordion Festival in Sharon over the weekend, the Herald has photos and a dispatch, while the event's organizer has a Spotify playlist from 2020 with the best of the best.

GLOBE RIDER: Lancastrian Alessandro Pagliai began his 30,000-mile unicycle odyssey around the world over the weekend, but an injury reported via Facebook on Monday could put the endeavor on hold.

ROLL SCENE: I didn't know Allegheny County is a "marbles hotbed" with a decades-old program for kids, but thanks to City Paper, now I do.

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: Amusement parks
Yesterday's answer: Animatronics

Congrats to our daily winners: Bonnie R., Susan N.-Z., Suzanne S., Karen W., Daniel M., Don H., Heidi B., Susan D., Elaine C., Nancy S., Michelle T., George S., Craig W., Bill S., Kimberly D., and Vicki U.
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