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Amid scrutiny, lawmakers move to disclose expenses

Plus, why are books disappearing from a Lancaster school library?


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Your Postmaster: Spotlight PA Staff
March 25, 2022
Expense reports, fussy weather, shadow book bans, plant fine, all-terrain task force, board pivot, in memory, and March hoagie madness. Phew. It's Friday. 
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The state House of Representatives is fast-tracking a bill that would require the chamber to post lawmakers' expenses online — a major step forward that follows months of reporting on the issue from Spotlight PA and The Caucus.

Under the bill — which already has support from one of the top legislative Republicans — all state House and Senate expenses would be posted online in a searchable format starting next year.

“Some of my colleagues or former colleagues have not necessarily been very transparent or in some cases abused the reimbursements, so this will hopefully put a safety net in place so those abuses will no longer happen,” the bill's main sponsor, Rep. Keith Gillespie (R., York), told The Caucus.

THE CONTEXT: From 2017 to 2020, the General Assembly spent $203 million just to feed, house, transport, and provide rental offices and other perks for lawmakers and their staff. 

About one in 10 of those dollars — $20 million in all over the four years — went into lawmakers’ pockets in the form of reimbursements for meals, mileage subsidies, per diems, and other expenses.

But as Spotlight PA and The Caucus found in the Hidden Tab series, citizens who want to see what lawmakers are buying face an array of barriers, delays, and even pushback from lawyers hired by the General Assembly with yet more taxpayer money.

Following the news organizations reporting, the state Senate began posting expenses online. The state House has yet to follow.

Among those co-sponsoring the new measure are House Majority Leader Kerry Benninghoff (R., Centre) and Rep. Seth Grove (R., York), who chairs a key committee. Grove told The Caucus the bill is expected to come up for a vote next week. 
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"I don’t know who needs to hear this but … PA invented both the cheesesteak AND fries on a sandwich."

—Lt. Gov. and U.S. Senate candidate John Fetterman celebrating National Cheesesteak Day
Remember the March snow? This Spotlight PA staffer does. Send us your gems, use #PAGems on Instagram, or tag us @spotlightpennsylvania.
UNSHELVED: In the midst of roiling debates over school curriculums and library offerings, a Pennsylvania librarian representative discovered books slipping out of a Lancaster school library without a formal challenge or complaint. The Washington Post reports schools nationwide are preemptively pulling books from shelves to avoid attracting controversy.

RE-FINED: A few weeks after fining U.S. Steel $1.8 million for excess emissions from the Clairton Coke Plant, the Allegheny County Health Department has hit the company with over twice that amount for how it unloaded coke from ovens from January 2020 to mid-March, Pittsburgh CBS reports. The $4.6 million stems from 831 violations at the Clairton plant, the agency said.

CBD REVERSAL: The Pennsylvania Liquor Control Board reversed 2021 decisions that allowed beer and wine licensees to sell edible products containing the marijuana extract CBD. AP reports the rescinded approval came from the Pennsylvania Department of Agriculture, which told the liquor board that selling consumable CBD products is illegal in Pennsylvania.

TASK FORCE: Allentown officials announced a regional task force dedicated to addressing dirt bike and all-terrain vehicle riders who have drawn the ire of some residents. The Morning Call reports advocates for the riders, who view their vehicles as a release valve, argue Lehigh County should designate spaces for safe riding.

SCHOOL AUDITS: The Pennsylvania Department of Education will begin handling school audits this April, the state auditor general office announced. The move eliminates about 40 positions at the state Department of the Auditor General and could extend the amount of time that passes between audits, PennLive reports.
NEW PAGE: Pittsburgh City Paper profiles historic ice cream shop Page's, which recently rebranded three years after the latest Page bought the 70-year-old family business from her parents. The story features fun flavors, 6-inch swirl towers, and the surprising factoid that the ice cream shop operates ovens and grills.

BOARD BUMP: The White House removed Mehmet Oz, a Pennsylvania candidate for U.S. Senate, from the President's Council in Sports, Nutrition and Fitness, citing rules barring candidates for federal office from serving on boards. In a video posted to Twitter, Oz called the move politically motivated.

CANCELED: Pittsburgh-filmed television show Archive 81 was not renewed for a second season, reports the Post-Gazette. Locally filmed drama American Rust met the same fate in January after only one season on Showtime.

FRENCH FRY: Former Dallastown resident Damien "French Fry" Jones was a beloved father and zealous Eagles fan when he died from an accidental overdose in 2021. As part of its effort to humanize the thousands of Pennsylvanians annually killed by opioids, York Daily Record tells the story of Jones' life, speaking with his mother, girlfriend, and mentor.

HOAGIE BRACKET: Just in time for the Sweet 16, The Inquirer launched a hoagie tourney that pits 16 Italian hoagies from all corners of Philly against each other. Fill out your bracket and read about the contenders here. May the best bite win.
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: Outer space
Yesterday's answer: Antimatter

Congrats to our daily winners: John P., John C., Vicki U., David W., Steve H., Bill S., Al M., George S., Kyle C., Dianne K., Doris T., Don H., Ronnee G., Elaine C., Deb N., Beth T., Pat B., Susan Z., Craig W., Marty M., Bonnie R., and Michelle T.
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