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Bill to unveil lucrative lawmaker perks advances

Plus, how an Ivy League Pa. school turned on a star student.


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Your Postmaster: Colin Deppen
March 30, 2022
Open tabs, crash course, trans athletes, chronic backlog, and how a Philly brand of news fed fear and racism in America. It's Wednesday.
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A key state House panel has given unanimous approval to a long-awaited bill that would make lawmaker spending easier to monitor.

The bill, introduced by state Rep. Keith Gillespie (R., York), would require legislators and staff in both the state House and Senate to post their taxpayer-funded expenses online on a quarterly basis. This includes reimbursements for meals, travel, office furniture, and overnight stays in Harrisburg.

As it stands now, the public can request information on legislative expenses through the state's public records law, but getting those documents can take weeks or longer if there is a dispute over access.

Following Tuesday's green light by the House State Government Committee, the full House could vote on the bill as soon as next month. If approved there and in the state Senate, it would take effect in January 2023.

THE CONTEXT: The legislative push to post expenses online followed an investigative series by The Caucus and Spotlight PA documenting how Pennsylvania's exceptionally large and expensive legislature spent hundreds of millions in taxpayer dollars with little or no transparency. 

In September 2021,the state Senate began posting its expenses online on a monthly basis. State House leaders at the time said they were looking into how to best do the same but they have yet to follow through. 

And while Gillespie’s bill would make it easier for the public to access the information, it isn't airtight. Both chambers, The Caucus and Spotlight PA found, often redact key information about expenses, and even unredacted records often include exceedingly vague details.

"Citizens have a right to know how their elected representatives are spending their tax dollars," Gillespie said on Tuesday. "In the information age, that access should be simple, straightforward, and unencumbered."

"Vladimir Putin can't ... fund his war machine without high gas prices, he doesn't have high gas prices without bad energy policy."

—State Rep. Joshua Kail (R., Beaver) on bills proposing more gas drilling in Pennsylvania's state forests, in the Delaware River Basin, and elsewhere
A dreamy pic of Pidcock Creek in Bucks County in autumn, photographed with a Lensbaby Velvet 56 by PA Poster @noraodendahlSend us your gems, use #PAGems on Instagram, or tag us @spotlightpennsylvania.
IVY LEAGUE: Mackenzie Fierceton's world came crashing down at the University of Pennsylvania. After investigations into abuse by her parents and time in the child welfare system, she landed at the Ivy League school and was showcased as a rising star. But the New Yorker reports questions about her background surfaced and the school turned on her — some suspect with a degree of retaliation.

VETO-BOUND: A bill that would ban trans women from playing on women's high school and collegiate sports teams in Pennsylvania has passed the state House Education Committee in a 15-9, party-line vote. The bill, part of a wave of similar legislation that has taken root nationwide, is now headed to the full House for a floor vote. Gov. Tom Wolf has said he'll veto the measure if it reaches his desk.

OPEN CLAIMS: Pennsylvania's unemployment backlog is down from its pandemic peak, but tens of thousands of claims remain unresolved. Advocates and officials say part of the problem is a chronic shortage of staff, per WESA. Department of Labor and Industry Secretary Jennifer Berrier says the agency has less than half the people it needs to "fully operate and provide excellent customer service."

SIGNED, DELIVERED: Signature-gathering by candidates looking to get on a May primary ballot is done, and Capital-Star's list of retirement and incumbent matchups under new political maps is updated. This year's petition-gathering period was abbreviated by court order. WHYY reports Democrats' belief that they have their first chance at state House control since 2010 only added to the frenzy.

'CORRECTIONS CRISIS': Northumberland County Jail is in a "state of emergency," with 39 of 78 guard positions filled. Local leaders are preparing to seek help from the state, which is facing a similar problem of its own, corrections officials recently testified. Shortages of prison staff have grown nationwide during the pandemic, causing more lockdowns, more tension, and more health care barriers.
CHAIN REACTION: Five people have been declared dead after Monday's pileup on I-81 in Schuylkill County. On Tuesday, State Police said the cleanup continued and the number of people killed could rise. Motorists told WNEP of whiteout conditions "that seemed to come out of nowhere."

TAKEN DOWN: YouTube took down a video of last week's PA Family Institute-hosted debate with seven Republicans running for governor, citing misinformation around the 2020 election. PA Politics reports the candidates are calling it censorship. The recording remains very findable online.

ACTION NEWS: The latest installment of The Inquirer's A More Perfect Union series delves into the rise of "Action" and "Eyewitness" news formats that changed television and deepened racial tensions and stereotypes.

NAME GAME: Pittsburgh's Heinz Field — home of the Steelers — could get a new name with the ketchup company's 20-year naming-rights deal coming to an end and big money hanging in the balance, TribLIVE explains.

HIGH ART: A closely watched copyright lawsuit involving pop artist and Pittsburgh native Andy Warhol, photographer Lynn Goldsmith, and a photo of musician Prince will be heard by the U.S. Supreme Court, CNN reports.
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*This week's theme: Grammar
Yesterday's answer: Apposition

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