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|In today's edition: Under questioning, end date, private eyes, Shell suit, canned cocktails, AG appeal, and misdemeanor fortune telling. Happy Friday. |
State Sen. Greg Rothman (R., Cumberland) questioned Acting Health Secretary Debra Bogen during a recent budget hearing on the state's oversight of doctors who approve patients for medical marijuana, a subject of scrutiny following Spotlight PA reporting on flaws in the system.
Rothman wanted to know if the Department of Health, which oversees Pennsylvania's medical marijuana program, is using data the agency is fighting to keep secret to internally vet doctors and "protect against doctors ... providing blanket approvals for medical marijuana use."
Bogen didn't directly say how the agency uses the data or clarify whether it routinely reviews the information for patterns or outliers. She said the department's actions on this front are complaint-driven.
Some medical professionals, including medical marijuana supporters, want proactive audits to ensure compliance amid questions about the thoroughness of patient screenings and the accuracy of resulting medical advice.
Read Spotlight PA's full report: Pa. health department faces lawmaker questioning over medical marijuana doctor data.
THE CONTEXT: The state’s Office of Open Records has ordered Pennsylvania's Department of Health to release the number of approvals by specific doctors, but the agency has sued to keep them hidden, citing a broad interpretation of the medical marijuana law’s confidentiality rules.
At least three cases that center on the issue are currently pending in Commonwealth Court. Spotlight PA is a defendant in two of them.
In response to questions from Spotlight PA, health department spokesperson Mark O’Neill said the agency reviews approval data in limited situations, and it “has only used the information as part of enforcement actions that resulted from a patient complaint or compliance investigation.”
Rothman’s questioning of Bogen follow a series of Spotlight PA investigative stories that uncovered serious flaws with the program, including questionable health claims, weak oversight, and unfair rules for doctors.
|NOTABLE / QUOTABLE|
"I heard the train whistle coming. It's normal here hearing the train go by, but it ended up being a loud commotion, a bang, and then the house shook."
—Vern Geminiani on Wednesday's Norfolk Southern derailment in New Castle; officials say there were no hazardous materials involved; a U.S. Senate panel advanced an East Palestine-inspired railroad safety bill that same day
POLICING VS. TREATMENT: Join us Thursday, May 25 at 6 p.m. ET for a free panel on how Pa. wants to spend a $1B opioid settlement, the policing versus treatment debate, and how Pennsylvania's spending plans compare to other states'. Register here and submit questions to firstname.lastname@example.org.
|A secret garden in Harrisburg, via Spotlight PA's Sarah Anne Hughes. Send us your photos by email, use #PAGems on IG, or tag @spotlightpennsylvania.|
|EMERGENCY ERA: Yesterday marked the end of the federal COVID-19 public health emergency. Among the changes being ushered in are no more free COVID-19 tests mailed to you by the government after this month, no more free vaccines for all — though most Americans will still qualify, per federal officials — and free Paxlovid while supplies last, The Inquirer (paywall) reports. Also underway: A related Medicaid purge that could upend coverage for thousands in Pennsylvania.|
WATER WOES: The Pottstown Mercury (paywall) reports a 2016 update to state law has sped the rate of public water and sewer system sales to private companies "from a slow drip into a torrent," often resulting in higher prices. Andrew Place, former vice chair of the Pennsylvania Public Utility Commission, said "captive ratepayers" have few options. More privatization-friendly legislation looms.
FEDERAL CASE: Environmentalists have made good on their promise to sue Shell for air pollution at the energy giant's plastics and petrochemical plant in Beaver County, per WTAE. Operations were paused at the heavily subsidized facility last month. Eyes on Shell said the plant has received seven notices of violation from state regulators and reported 13 malfunctions since November.
DRINK AISLE: The state Senate's GOP-led Law and Justice Committee advanced legislation this week that would let non-state-run stores sell canned cocktails, via Capital-Star. This includes grocery stores, convenience stores, and beer distributors. The bill was introduced by Sen. Mike Regan (R., York), whose brother-in-law is president of a Harrisburg-area beer distributor and would stand to benefit.
FATAL ENCOUNTER: The attorney for a man who died after being pushed by an off-duty police officer while trying to help a shooting victim outside a Beaver County Walmart is urging the state Attorney General to file criminal charges against the cop, calling it a murder, KDKA-TV reports. The AG's office has the case now. Kenneth Vinyard's estate was paid nearly $1 million to settle a related civil suit.
FIGHTER FLIGHT: State Sen. Cris Dush (R., Jefferson) has joined calls for a full environmental impact study of the Maryland Air National Guard's plan to conduct low-altitude fighter jet training over the Pennsylvania Wilds, telling the Bradford Era: "The fact that the Air National Guard has not been responsive is the prime driver behind my getting involved."
QUICK SURVEY: The Committee of Seventy says Allegheny County's crowded County Executive race is a perfect opportunity to explore ranked choice voting, so they made a survey to do just that. Here's where things stand in the homestretch of the pivotal Democratic primary.
CRIMINAL COUNT: A Lebanon County woman has been charged with misdemeanor "fortune telling" after a fraud investigation in Palmyra, WHTM reports. The law has been on the books since at least 1861.
STAR FLOWER: Taylor Swift's Eras Tour lands in Philly today and everyone's losing it, maybe most of all the 16-year-old ice cream shop owner in Adams County who got four-dozen roses and a note from the star.
GAME OFF: Play at Wednesday's Harrisburg Senators game was paused by a skunk on the field. WHTM sports anchor and reporter Jared Phillips captured the streaker on video, noting, "Don’t think I've ever seen this before…"
Unscramble and send your answer to email@example.com. We'll shout out winners here, and one each week will get some Spotlight PA swag. Answers submitted by 6 p.m. on issue date will be counted
Y O T P A M S C A I T M
Yesterday's answer: Tangential
Congrats to our daily winners: Wendy A., Craig W., Barbara F., Judith D., Elaine C., Don H., Jon W., Bob C., Starr B., Susan D., Kim C., Dan A., Susan N.-Z., Michelle T., Joel S., Dennis M., Jim A., Christine J., Dianne K., Elizabeth B., Keith W., Tom M., Mark C., Kimberly D., James B., Tish M., and William Z.