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Toxic homes, Corman's exit, and Barnette rising

Plus, state lawmaker sought 2020 election interference tips.


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Your Postmaster: Colin Deppen
May 12, 2022
Drug houses, reversal agents, Islamophobic tweets, symbolic vote, map-breakers, and Pa.'s largest solar field. It's Thursday. Welcome.
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A hot housing market has buyers and renters making quick decisions to compete for properties, but ensuring those homes haven't been contaminated by drug activity is especially difficult in Pennsylvania.

Pennsylvania State Police logged 923 drug lab busts and seizures statewide between 2017 and 2021, most involving methamphetamine.

But the only online federal database tracking impacted properties lists just 51 for Pennsylvania in that time — a significant undercount.

That's because there's no federal law requiring that state or local law enforcement agencies report drug lab locations to the Drug Enforcement Administration, the agency in charge of the federal database.

There also aren't rules in Pennsylvania requiring related cleanups or even disclosures once those cleanups have occurred.

The result is a transparency gap that has made headlines when health and financial problems followed new occupants, Spotlight PA found. 

THE CONTEXT: Pennsylvania lawmakers have repeatedly introduced bills in recent years that would establish guidelines for decontaminating properties and require sellers and landlords to disclose former meth labs.

All of the bills stalled in committee.

The Pennsylvania Association of Realtors opposes a drug-specific disclosure rule without clearly set standards for safety and cleanliness, believing it would make properties harder for sellers to destigmatize. 

Chronic exposure to meth-related residue in a home could trigger a range of symptoms. Jenn Friberg complained of headaches and breathing problems after moving into a 108-year-old, meth-tainted home in Bucks County with her boyfriend. The cleanup cost the couple $61,000.

According to the State Police, most drug lab and dump site activity over the past five years was concentrated in the northwest part of the state. Bedford, Columbia, Indiana, and Luzerne Counties were also hotspots. 

"We have a chance to elect a governor in November and the only way that can happen is if they elect someone who can win. Jake believes it's time for him and his fellow candidates to unite behind Lou."

A source telling PennLive that state Sen. Jake Corman (R., Centre) will drop out of the governor's race and endorse rival candidate Lou Barletta today
» A last-minute guide to everything you need to know to vote May 17

» How to make sure your mail ballot is counted in the primary

» A guide to the overlooked race for Pa. lieutenant governor

» Your guide to the Democratic and GOP candidates for governor

» Big donations to GOP guv hopefuls: Who gave and how much?

» See how much cash Josh Shapiro has raised in the governor's race

» More election coverage

Support Spotlight PA's public-service election and voting coverage now.

Getting squirrely at the Harmony Hill Nature Area with @mar_sees_lifeSend us your gems, use #PAGems on Instagram, or tag @spotlightpennsylvania.
THROW-AWAYS: State Rep. Russ Diamond (R., Lebanon) — a lieutenant governor hopeful — sought advice on overturning Pennsylvania's 2020 election results from the same GOP attorney who suggested then-Vice President Mike Pence block President Joe Biden's victory. In response, attorney John Eastman suggested legislators like Diamond retabulate Pennsylvania's popular vote and throw out tens of thousands of absentee ballots, via Politico.

NEW SCRUTINY: GOP U.S. Senate candidate Kathy Barnette is surging in the polls with days left before the election, prompting fresh scrutiny of the political commentator, her brand of politics, and her past public statements. On the latter front, Inside Elections found a string of anti-Muslim tweets from 2014 to 2017, including one suggesting the constitutional right to religious freedom should be restricted.

ROE VOTE: The Democrat-led push to codify Roe v. Wade protections into federal law fell short of the 60 votes it needed to advance in the U.S. Senate on Wednesday. The Women's Health Protection Act vote split Pennsylvania's U.S. senators, and while it wasn't expected to succeed in the face of Republican opposition, it did get incumbents on the record on a key issue in a key election year. The issue could be a motivating force at the national level and in states like Pennsylvania as well.

DIVIDING LINES: Advocates who hoped redistricting would lead to better representation in Harrisburg for Pennsylvania's growing Latino population say it's actually made it harder for them to earn and hold state political office. WLVR reports the splitting of Allentown — a Latino stronghold where more than half of residents identify as Hispanic or Latino — has effectively diluted the demo's voting power. Members of both parties are unhappy with the state's new "opportunity districts."

FORMULA FINDER: A nationwide shortage of baby formula is getting worse, with shelves bare and costs rising. The shortage worsened with a series of recalls that started in February. If you can't find the formula you need, The Inquirer suggests contacting your pediatrician’s office for samples or alternatives. If you're unable to afford it, The United Way of Pennsylvania has a finder tool that might be able to help.
STAR POWER: Paris Hilton met with U.S. Sen. Bob Casey (D., Pa.) this week to "discuss the disturbing lack of government oversight of youth residential care facilities." Hilton has been open about her experiences at a Utah boarding school as a teen. Now she's pushing for a legislative fix.

SOLAR POWER: Updated plans for Pennsylvania’s largest solar field will be presented to the Pocono Township commissioners on June 6, WFMZ reports. The $111 million project on a private 644-acre site will include about 200,000 solar panels and border Jimmy Buffett's Margaritaville resort.

'UNSAFE' LEVELS: UPMC denies that it's asking shorthanded Altoona nurses to take on an unsafe number of patients after a management newsletter saying exactly that was made public. The Altoona Mirror says the health-care giant insists the newsletter's claim was an employee's opinion.

FLY BLY: Nellie Bly has joined George Washington and Franco Harris in the statue gallery that greets travelers in the Pittsburgh International Airport, TribLIVE reports. The Armstrong County native and pioneering journalist once traveled around the world in 72 days, but this time Bly is staying put.

MUSIC MAN: Pittsburgh billionaire Thomas Tull is taking heat for building a music festival with big names like Jason Isbell and Elle King to promote his own band and new record label. The issue? He's competing with one of the year's biggest showcases for local bands, per Pittsburgh Independent.
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: We're talkin' baseball
Yesterday's answer: Postseason

Congrats to our daily winners: Michelle T., Suzanne O., Bonnie R., Craig W., Susan D., Jill M., Don H., Barbara F., Beth T., Susan N.-Z., Ted W., Elaine C., Kimberly S., Jim A., Pat B., Johnny C., Kim C., James B., George S., Marty M., Dianne K., David S., Mike M., Judith D., Bill S., Matt P., Karen W., David W., Ken S., Myles M., Al M., and Jill K.
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