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How GOP primary losses could spark a budget revolt

Plus, mass shootings spur Pa. Dem gun reform plans.

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Your Postmaster: Colin Deppen
May 31, 2022
Financial leverage, primary updates, gun rules, power limits, inspection force, unsolved mystery, and 🌷 a midnight deadline! It's Tuesday.
Capitol insiders believe the poor primary performances of Harrisburg's top budget negotiators could inspire a contingent of frustrated Republicans to revolt during budget season, Spotlight PA reports.

At least four GOP House incumbents lost reelection on May 17, including Stan Saylor (R., York), chair of the powerful House Appropriations Committee. Saylor's state Senate counterpart, Pat Browne (R., Lehigh), was losing by 19 votes as of Friday and is said to be considering a recount.

Saylor's opponent was endorsed by state Rep. Mike Jones (R., York) who has emerged as a vocal opponent of GOP leadership and an advocate for conservatives using more leverage in the budget process.

It's unclear how many votes Jones and his allies can sway, but it takes just 68 lawmakers in the 203-member lower chamber to block parts of the budget. Failure to pass an on-time budget can have far-reaching consequences for everything from domestic violence shelters to schools.

THE CONTEXT: In late April, state Rep. Aaron Bernstine (R., Lawrence) made a seldom-used procedural motion to bring a constitutional amendment that would restrict state spending up for a floor vote.

It failed 120-82, with a majority of Republicans in support, but lobbyists and lawmakers saw it as a sign of budget maneuvers to come, with the legislature trying to push through a spending plan before the June 30 deadline.

One likely target of such a maneuver: The University of Pittsburgh, which received $154 million in state support last year, most to keep in-state tuition low, and has come under increased scrutiny from Republicans and antiabortion activists for engaging in research using fetal tissue.

State funding for schools like Pitt requires a two-thirds majority, meaning 68 lawmakers can block it. Last year, due to antiabortion activists' concerns alone, 51 Republicans opposed Pitt's funding bill.

Pitt is engaging alumni in a PR campaign meant to save its appropriation from cuts. The school also commissioned an outside study that concluded its use of fetal tissue in research is "fully compliant with federal and state regulatory requirements," WESA reported in January. 

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"Ignoring ballots because the outer envelope was undated, even though the ballot was indisputably received before the deadline for voting serves no purpose other than disenfranchising otherwise qualified voters."

A legal opinion explaining why a three-judge federal appeals court panel ruled in favor of counting undated mail ballots in Pennsylvania
Photographer Neal W. writes of this snap: "For several years now we have monitored a robin's nest just outside our kitchen window. This year there were three chicks, all of whom fledged today. I managed to get this shot of the last one who doesn't seem at all impressed with my efforts." Send us your gems, use #PAGems on Instagram, or tag us @spotlightpennsylvania.
TOTAL RECOUNT: The legally mandated recount of Pennsylvania's too-close-to-call Republican U.S. Senate primary got underway on Friday with a handful of counties beginning the process. The rest must follow suit by Wednesday. Counties have until June 7 to finish and until June 8 to report their recount results to the state. There are barely 900 votes separating candidates David McCormick and Mehmet Oz.

PRIMARY RESULTS: Audit the Vote PA falsely claimed the 2020 election was fraudulent and is now making similar claims around GOP state Sen. Ryan Aument's landslide primary victory in Lancaster, LNP reports. In other primary news: Trailing Lehigh Valley state Senate candidate Tara Zrinski is vowing to "exhaust all legal options" in her Democratic primary contest with Nick Miller, who's claiming victory by 40 votes.

GUN REFORM: Spurred on by recent mass shootings in New York and Texas, Pennsylvania Democrats plan to introduce legislation that would: require an eligibility license for firearm purchases here, ban sales of certain semi-automatic weapons, and ban the purchase and possession of body armor, CNHI reports. Dozens of similar bills are already in the pipeline and stalled without support from the Republican majority.

LOCAL LIMITS: Commonwealth Court has dealt fresh setbacks to Pennsylvania's biggest cities as they try to counter gun violence with new local-level firearms rules. The court said attempts to ratchet up gun laws in Philadelphia and Pittsburgh violate the preemption law that prevents municipalities from enacting tougher gun regulations than those imposed by the state. Appeals are expected.

'MASS EXODUS': Philadelphia is seeing a "mass exodus" of building inspectors with potential public safety implications, a union official told The Inquirer. A third of city inspectors — roughly 50 people in all — have quit since 2019. Seven former staffers told the paper why they left. Reasons included a crushing workload, disputes over pay and promotions, mismanagement, and suspected political interference.
'POWER BROKER': CMU's Jonathan Cervas helped craft Pennsylvania's new legislative maps. His most recent redistricting project in New York State is outraging Democrats and touching off "vicious infighting and prospective primaries" there, per The New York Times.

GOLD HUNT: Documents obtained through a court order indicate scans found something underground before FBI agents went digging for a lost shipment of Civil War gold in Elk County in 2018, per the AP. The bureau says the dig was a bust. Local guides think they've been double-crossed.

MYSTERY BLAST: It's unclear what caused a house explosion that killed five people and wounded two others in Pottstown late last week. Neighbors recalled smelling gas near the home, but officials with natural gas utility PECO say the home wasn't attached to service lines, via WHYY.

FREDDY AWARDS: Bangor Area High School's production of Les Miserables won the top prize at this year's Freddy Awards — the annual, pro-caliber celebration of Lehigh Valley high school musical theater. WFMZ has video from the ceremony, which rocked Easton's State Theater once again.

ON APPEAL: An evangelical ex-postal carrier from Quarryville is eyeing an appeal to the U.S. Supreme Court after the dismissal of his lawsuit against the United States Postal Service was upheld on appeal. Gerald Groff alleged mandatory USPS Sunday shifts violated his constitutional rights.
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