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Pa. House sexual misconduct loophole could close

Plus, disputed ballots swing local Pa. judicial race.

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Your Postmaster: Colin Deppen
June 17, 2022
Lingering loophole, kratom checks, delayed results, crisis point, troubled institution, event uproar, and recommended reading. It's Friday. 

A deal to close a loophole in state House rules that works to protect lawmakers accused of sexual misconduct from facing institutional sanction is being quietly negotiated, leaders in the chamber confirm.

The resolution under discussion would expand rules adopted several years ago that bar representatives from engaging in "unwelcome sexual advances, requests for sexual favors, or other verbal or physical conduct of a sexual nature" against state House employees, per Spotlight PA.

Critics say those existing rules — adopted after a former state House lawmaker was accused of sexual misconduct, including against a colleague, and refused to leave the General Assembly — don't go far enough.

The rules still leave hundreds of people, from state Senate and administration officials to lobbyists and journalists, unprotected under state House policies. While an aggrieved person can seek legal action, the state House is unable to consider the complaint and handle it institutionally.

And by focusing on fellow employees, the current rule takes a restrictive view of the job of a lawmaker, which also includes on-duty ribbon cuttings, fundraisers, and constituent meetings, a 2019 report on the General Assembly's sexual harassment policies noted. 

THE CONTEXT: The bipartisan resolution currently under discussion would broaden the scope, specifically forbidding lawmakers from engaging in sexual harassment "while performing House-related services or duties or in or on any House owned or leased property or facilities."

In 2019, then-state Rep. Brian Ellis (R., Butler) was accused of sexually assaulting a woman at his Harrisburg residence. The person who brought the allegation was a state employee, but not a state House employee, and could not file an ethics complaint. Ellis denied the allegations.

The eight-member House Ethics Committee is charged with enforcing the chamber's rules and investigating potential violations. Consequences could range from censure to expulsion, depending on official findings.

Right now, victims who approach the committee but don't work for the state House would have to seek a remedy elsewhere, said state Rep. Todd Stephens (R., Montgomery), chair of the committee.

The changes being eyed by chamber leaders would also allow the committee to release information on its investigations if "information regarding a complaint or an investigation has entered into the public domain."


"Williams has blatantly violated her internet and electronic device restrictions, lied to pretrial services, and failed to comply with even the most basic terms of her conditions of release..."

Maria Fedor of the U.S. DOJ arguing in favor of restrictions on U.S. Capitol riot suspect Riley Williams of Harrisburg, who Fedor says lied about meeting with a man who wanted to shoot up a synagogue as she awaits trial
Wild dogwood at Oxford Park, courtesy of Nora OSend us your pics, use #PAGems on Instagram, or tag us @spotlightpennsylvania.
KRATOM BILL: A state House bill that was supposed to enhance consumer safety around kratom, an unregulated plant with narcotic-like effects, came out of a state House committee this week without new protections, Capital-Star reports. Instead, it emerged with a lowered minimum age for purchasing the herbal substance and the support of a kratom trade group that's dedicated to touting the drug's disputed benefits. The bill's future is uncertain. Amendments are possible.

NEW RESULTS: Zachary Cohen has officially won last year's disputed Lehigh County judicial race by five votes, the confirmation coming after the U.S. Supreme Court opened the door for 257 undated mail ballots to be included in the count, erasing David Ritter's narrow lead, per Armchair Lehigh Valley. An unrelated lawsuit involving mail ballots from last month's Democratic primary for Lehigh Valley's 14th District state Senate seat has been settled and Nick Miller is the confirmed winner.

URGENT NEED: Allegheny County says the number of people experiencing chronic homelessness there has reached a 12-year high, via the Post-Gazette. In the county seat of Pittsburgh, local shelters are struggling to meet needs amid a "perfect storm" of pandemic-era factors. And while a new state-of-the-art shelter is under construction, PublicSource asks: Will the help get there quickly enough?

UNSAFE HAVEN: Ex-employees of Prevention Point Philadelphia — a nonprofit serving people in addiction and the city's oldest needle exchange program — describe a workplace where sewage sometimes flooded the rooms, locks were missing on doors, and sexual harassment went unpunished. The Inquirer reports the problems have persisted, jeopardizing clients, employees, and the lifesaving mission.

BAR BACKLASH: The Tied House in Lititz, owned by St. Boniface Craft Brewing Co., is no longer set to host an event with Joel Saint, of the Mid-Atlantic Reformation Society, and Chris Hume, of The Lancaster Patriot, that planned to explore whether Pennsylvania should be an "explicitly Christian state." The establishment was bombarded with complaints about the Christian nationalist theme, per LNP.

READING RECS: Sunday is Juneteenth, a holiday marking the end of slavery in the U.S. The Philadelphia Inquirer's A More Perfect Union series offers a powerful look at the roots of systemic racism in the cradle of American democracy and the inequities that persist hundreds of years later.

DADDY ISSUE: Sunday is also Father's Day, and we dedicated a recent edition of our PA Local newsletter to the founding father of this commonwealth and the king-size debt that created Pennsylvania as we know it.

VOTE GEAR: A Doug Mastriano hat worn inside a Somerset County polling place on primary day rekindled a debate there about Election Day limits on political attire. The Tribune-Democrat lays out the legal precedents.

'DYNAMIC DUO': Here's a fun one from Pittsburgh City Paper about a pair of beagles that became a "hyper-local Nextdoor pet sensation." 

COFFEE KIND: Which Philly coffee shop are you? To find out, simply consult Philebrity's handy alignment chart (lawful, neutral, chaotic, etc.).

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: Coffee
Yesterday's answer: Extraction

Congrats to our daily winners: Craig W., Doris T., Barbara F., Vicki U., Starr B., Elaine C., Don H., Susan D., Judith D., Theresa T., Becky C., Irene R., Karen W., Ed M., Jodi R., Kimberly D., Kim C., George S., Ronnee G., Susan N.-Z., Lynne E., James B., Bill S., Suzanne S., Jude M., Dianne K., David W., Sharon P., Joel S., and Art W.
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