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Pa.'s anti-abortion spending is headed to court

Plus, introducing the consolidated Commonwealth University of Pennsylvania.


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March 4, 2022
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Anti-abortion funding, hate state, police killings, new name, local liaisons, rent checks, and Pennsylvania polling. It's Friday. Thanks for checking in. 
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Oral arguments will begin Monday in a court case that marks the culmination of a years-long push to reveal how millions of Pennsylvania tax dollars are being spent by a prominent anti-abortion group, Capital-Star reports.

The plaintiff, reproductive rights group Equity Forward, argues the public has a right to know how tens of millions of state dollars are used by Real Alternatives, a state contractor that works with anti-abortion service providers and sites across 33 counties, as well as in at least one other state.

At issue is the Pennsylvania Department of Human Services' refusal to release agreements between Real Alternatives and subcontractors that Equity Forward says are "critical" to understanding how the taxpayer money is being used. 

Capital-Star reporter Cassie Miller told WESA the case could ultimately impact who is subject to the state's open records law.

THE CONTEXT: Pennsylvania was the first state to enact an official abortion-alternatives program in the mid-1990s under then-Gov. Robert P. Casey, an anti-abortion Democrat, ABC News reports. 

GOP majorities in the legislature have kept it going ever since, including for eight years under Democratic Gov. Tom Wolf, who supports abortion rights.

Real Alternatives was hired to oversee the program and distribute related money, including $7.2 million budgeted in the current fiscal year, per ABC.

But the group has faced allegations that it failed to meet goals and misspent funding, while former state Auditor General Eugene DePasquale said a lack of government oversight had allowed Real Alternatives to use Pennsylvania tax dollars to expand their work in other states for decades


"In the face of this grave crisis, instead of expressing concern for the Ukrainian people, or providing suggestions to aid their safety or wellbeing, your concern is for 'Pennsylvanians yearning to share our liquified natural gas and energy with those in need.' I find your politicization of this tragedy deplorable."

—Gov. Tom Wolf in a letter to state Rep. Daryl Metcalfe (R., Butler), who called on Wolf to ban Russian energy imports and expand natural gas drilling
Spring? Is that you? Thanks for sharing, @lora_exploresSend us your gems, use #PAGems on Instagram, or tag us @spotlightpennsylvania.
HATE SPEECH: Pennsylvania led the nation in reports of hate propaganda last year, according to the Anti-Defamation League. Some 473 instances of hateful propaganda — signs, stickers, graffiti — were posted here in 2021. That's nearly 100 more than in the next closest state, Virginia, LNP reports. The ADL linked most to a handful of groups, including the Keystone Nationalist Active Club.

OPEN CASE: Philadelphia police fatally shot a 12-year-old named Thomas Siderio in the back on Tuesday after officials say gunfire hit an unmarked police cruiser. Police said Thomas had a gun, and while officers said they believed he fired the shot, authorities haven't confirmed that yet, per The Inquirer. Elsewhere, the officers accused of fatally shooting 8-year-old Fanta Bility in Sharon Hill are now set to stand trial.

NAME CHANGE: Bloomsburg, Lock Haven, and Mansfield universities will soon be known as the consolidated Commonwealth University of Pennsylvania. The name change was approved this week in a move that allows the schools to formally merge while keeping their individual names on logos and diplomas. More mergers and name changes are coming to the struggling state-owned university system, the AP reports. 

RARE OPENING: Delaware County is the largest county without a health department in Pennsylvania, but that will soon be changing. WHYY reports the pandemic renewed discussions about the option and the state's Department of Health has now signed off. But as Spotlight PA reported, it's unlikely that other counties will follow suit, with money and politics remaining common roadblocks.

RENT CHECKS: Pittsburgh landlords will soon have to register their rental properties for inspections by the city, a move renter advocates call a win-win. If documented violations aren't fixed, landlords could face fines. The development is 14 years in the making for Pittsburgh, where PublicSource reported on the lengthy legal battles that held off the program, which is now set to take shape in May.

SOCIAL STUDY: Pennsylvania Attorney General and Democratic candidate for governor Josh Shapiro says his office will investigate social media app TikTok and its impact on the young people who overwhelmingly use it.

POLL NUMBERS: New polling finds one-in-three Pennsylvania voters say they're worse off economically than they were a year ago — the highest number in five years — and support for President Biden is taking a hit.

PAY GRADE: There are currently 90 open positions on Blair County's payroll, with employees urging officials to raise pay in hopes of lowering a turnover rate that is by no means new, the Altoona Mirror reports.

TAX LEANS: After decades of debate, Lackawanna County will reassess taxable properties countywide for the first time since 1968. The impacts will vary, but WNEP says any related changes are still a ways off.

AID MONEY: In solidarity with Ukraine, St. George's Ukrainian Catholic Church in Pittsburgh is sending money from its sales of pierogies to relief efforts there, WESA reports. Some have family on the front lines.

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: Movies that were set or filmed in Pennsylvania

Yesterday's answer: Unbreakable (was filmed in and around Philadelphia)

Congrats to our daily winners: Bonnie R., Vicki U., Becky C., Doris T., Suzanne O., John B., Mike B., Michelle T., Barbara F., Don H., Michael S., Judith D., Irene R., Susan N.-Z., John A., Elizabeth W., Kyle C., Craig W., Elaine C., George S., Daniel M., Jodi R., Lora S., Al M., Dianne K., Anne B., Sandy S., Pat B., Bill S., Rebecca L., Kim C., Fred O., Lex M., and Janet T.
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