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Misconduct gaps, election power, and Pitt maneuver

Plus, COVID-19 'shots for tots' rollout to begin.

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Your Postmaster: Colin Deppen
June 21, 2022
Database gaps, SCOTUS watch, money tussle, vaccine eligible, media-averse, policy problem, and remembering Agnes. It's Tuesday. Welcome. 

Following the murder of George Floyd by a Minneapolis police officer with a history of misconduct, lawmakers in Harrisburg created a database that was meant to make it easier for Pennsylvania police departments to track misconduct claims against potential new hires.

Two years later, a Spotlight PA analysis found the database — lauded as a national model — is riddled with loopholes that raise serious questions about its ability to flag officers with histories of misconduct.

Among the loopholes identified: 

  • Records must be uploaded when an officer leaves their job, but not if an officer receives a warning or suspension and keeps their job
  • Consulting the database before hiring is required, but there are no penalties for non-compliance, according to the State Police
  • Departments are only required to publicize hires of candidates who received "final and binding" discipline in a prior role

"Most transgressions do not get resolved, and so they are very rarely final and binding," state Rep. Chris Rabb (D., Philadelphia) explained. 

Rabb originally proposed the database but says the final version that emerged from legislative negotiations was "radically diluted."

THE CONTEXT: As protests over Floyd's death swept the country in 2020, the Pennsylvania Legislative Black Caucus blocked then-state Speaker of the House Mike Turzai (R., Allegheny) from ascending the rostrum.

For more than an hour, the Democratic legislators demanded meaningful action from the Republicans who control the chamber and committees where bills — including Rabb's database proposal — sat unheard.

Attorney General Josh Shapiro, now the Democratic nominee for governor, began rallying support for the database from the law enforcement leaders he said wanted to make it easier to identify "bad police" pre-hire.

Negotiations to get the bill passed with near-unanimous approval led to its scope being narrowed and, critics say, its impact being blunted. 

David Harris, a law professor at the University of Pittsburgh, said the lack of transparency and the unclear language in the law leave "a giant hole through which a lot of misconduct can escape."

In an interview with Spotlight PA, Shapiro said he's open to strengthening enforcement provisions but defended not including every complaint against an officer in the database because some wind up being unfounded.

"That's not fair to the police officer," Shapiro added.


"These officeholders are so important. They are going to be the ones on whose backs our democracy survives or doesn't."

Joanna Lydgate of the States United Democracy Center on GOP primary winners in states like Pennsylvania who back Trump's false fraud claims

A closeup color scheme at the Stroud Preserve in Chester County, via @mar_sees_life. Have a photo you'd like the entire state to see? Send us your pics, use #PAGems on Instagram, or tag us @spotlightpennsylvania.
SCOTUS REVIEW: The U.S. Supreme Court is set to decide whether it will take up a case that could vastly expand the election powers of partisan lawmakers in states like Pennsylvania, the AP reports. There is enough support on the high court for doing so, with Republicans in North Carolina and Pennsylvania appealing to the justices to rein in the role of state courts in the political mapmaking that guides elections.

PITT PAY: The state Senate on Monday approved funding for four state-related universities, including $151 million for Pitt that has come under fire amid a conservative backlash over fetal tissue research and an ex-chancellor's role in Pennsylvania's latest round of redistricting. The appropriation helps bankroll in-state tuition discounts and faces greater opposition in the state House, per the Post-Gazette.

VAX ELIGIBLE: Federal agencies have green-lit COVID-19 vaccine options for children as young as six months, and Pennsylvania's Department of Health says providers here are ready to begin offering the shots as soon as today, via Fox43. Parents unsure of which vaccine to seek out for their child or children — the three-dose Pfizer regimen or the two-dose Moderna — should consult their pediatrician.

RARE APPROACH: The Republican nominee for Pennsylvania governor, state Sen. Doug Mastriano (R., Franklin), is the first such candidate to largely shun the mainstream press, LNP reports. Experts explain the risks in his reliance on social media and niche conservative outlets, a strategy that delivered him a victory in a crowded GOP primary but might not translate in November against a well-funded opponent

CARE CONCERNS: Pennsylvanians living with disabilities are worried about a proposal that the state's Department of Human Services says will offer recipients of home-care services more autonomy and options, PennLive reports. Opponents of the move fear it will create a de facto "preferred provider" option that could limit the range of available services and
siphon local caregivers away with better pay and benefits.

STORM STORIES: This week marks 50 years since Hurricane Agnes hit Pennsylvania, submerging towns and leaving 50 people dead in its wake. In Sunbury, a flood wall kept the storm surge out and inspired an act of vandalism that became a "rallying cry of the city," per The Daily Item.

PRICE CHECKS: State lawmakers looking to lower Pennsylvania's higher-than-average gas prices are eyeing new corporate controls and gas tax holidays, via Ogden Newspapers. In related news: Gov. Tom Wolf has paused the state's biodiesel requirement to ease rolling shortages here.

NEW CHAIR: Philadelphia state Sen. Sharif Street has been elected the next chair of Pennsylvania's Democratic Party despite the fact that party luminaries like Attorney General Josh Shapiro, Gov. Tom Wolf, and U.S. Sen. Bob Casey all backed his opponent, The Inquirer reports.

NEW VOTES: The state House on Monday unanimously passed a bill to legalize possession of fentanyl test strips, via ABC27, while the Senate Agriculture and Rural Affairs Committee said yes to a bill that could rein in fireworks, per Capital-Star. Both bills are headed to the full Senate.

CHICKEN RUN: A chicken's dramatic escape from an interested cat on Pittsburgh's North Side — shared by @csnyderj on Twitter — was aided by quick-thinking humans with a step ladder and a broom. 

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: Geology
Friday's answer: Arabica

Congrats to our weekly winner: Patricia M.

Congrats to our daily winners: Michelle T., Ted W., Bruce B., Irene R., Charles W., Becky C., Art W., Kimberly D., Barbara F., Don H., Mike B., Wendy A., Bruce T., Carol D., Kim C., Elaine C., Al M., Chris K., Gina L., Judith D., Susan N.-Z., Virginia G., Cynthia R., Daniel M., Moon M., Mark O., Elizabeth W., Susan D., Kimberly S., Ana S., Lynne E., Nancy S., John A., Dan W., Jude M., Ronnee G., Tish M., John W., Fred O., Doris T., James B., Rosa E., Joel S., Mary M., Deborah S., Barbara O., Vicki U., Sharon P., Karen W., Bill S., Myles M., Michael B., Ed M., Beth B., Starr B., Tim S., David W., Jim A., Carl K., Bob G., John H., Ronald L., Mary Jo J., George S., Johnny C., and Francine C.
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