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$7.5M for public defense won't level the field

Plus, the latest 2024 polling.

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Your Postmaster: Colin Deppen

Thursday, January 11, 2024
Today: legal aid, party money, presidential polling, Philly shakeup, safe money, SNAP record, and ode to a Capitol escalator. Thanks for checking in. 

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Pennsylvania has long been a national outlier for failing to provide direct funding to public defenders, but that is finally changing.

This year's budget includes a first-ever infusion of $7.5 million for attorneys serving those who cannot afford a lawyer on their own — a constitutional right that counties statewide have paid for without state assistance.

A newly formed committee is set to decide exactly how the funding will be spent, and while the investment has been lauded by advocates, experts caution that it won't be enough to level the legal playing field.

Democratic Gov. Josh Shapiro proposed a $10 million line item in his budget, but negotiations with the legislature knocked the figure down.

Read Spotlight PA's full report: Pa. is providing state money for public defense for the first time ever. Here's what you need to know.


"[Trump] has made it clear, he's going to pardon us."

—Convicted U.S. Capitol rioter Rachel Powell of Mercer County in an interview with CNN as she prepares to serve a five-year prison sentence

A fleeting look at the infamous escalators in the state Capitol's East Wing Rotunda, courtesy of Spotlight PA's Ed Mahon. The frequently broken conveyors have launched a thousand sighs and memes, and they'll soon be removed. More details below. Have a Pennsylvania photo to share? Send it to us by email, use #PAGems on IG, or tag us @spotlightpennsylvania.

Facing an escalator surrounded by cafeteria-style tables.
Today's top news story in Pennsylvania.BIG SPENDERS: The Democratic Party is planning to spend more money than ever on legislative races in 2024, including on an attempt to flip Pennsylvania's GOP-led state Senate, a well-worn roadblock for key Democratic priorities, The Times (paywall) reports. 

Today's second top news story in Pennsylvania.NECK AND NECK: New Quinnipiac polling has President Joe Biden narrowly beating former President Donald Trump in a rematch in Pennsylvania — Biden's home state and frequent destination.
The poll has Biden up 49 percent to Trump's 46

Today's third top news story in Pennsylvania.
SHAKEUP 2024: A leadership shakeup on Philadelphia's election-overseeing board of commissioners made waves Wednesday ahead of a 2024 presidential race that's likely to bring fresh scrutiny to the city's election operations. The move followed internal tensions.
Today's fourth top news story in Pennsylvania.HOLD HARMLESS: The Inquirer (paywall) reports a policy that prevents schools with shrinking enrollments from losing state funding — a policy benefitting those in the western part of the state more than the east — is likely to survive a funding formula overhaul.

Today's fifth top news story in Pennsylvania.SNAP SURGE: Unemployment is down in Pennsylvania, but food stamp enrollment is breaking records, reaching more than two million people at the end of last year, WESA reports. Among the reasons for the incongruity: inflation and eligibility-expanding state rules.
Support vital journalism for Pennsylvania by donating to Spotlight PA today. The future of local news is in your hands.

UPS AND DOWNS: The finicky, problem-plagued Capitol escalator, pictured above, is being replaced with a grand staircase, the Shapiro administration says, via PennLive. A 20-person elevator is set to pick up the slack.

'TRAIN WRECK': A lawyer for Philly DA Larry Krasner is calling a new state law creating a SEPTA special prosecutor "a constitutional train wreck that cannot be lawfully implemented," @StephenJ_Caruso reports.

NO SCHOOL: America’s oldest museum and art school will soon be just a museum. Facing a steep deficit, NBC10 reports The Pennsylvania Academy of the Fine Arts is ending its degree program for good.

PA POWER: Pennsylvania now has enough solar energy capacity to power all the homes in a Pittsburgh-sized city, StateImpact reports. While some officials cheer the milestone, advocates want them to do more.

PILEZ ON: The main character on Pittsburgh's internet this week is the new and unfortunately named restaurant Pilez, near Pitt's campus. If you've seen the discourse, why not take a Twitter tour of the place.

Are you a Berks County resident? We're seeking community input! Join one of our upcoming Spotlight PA - Berks County listening sessions:

Jan 13: 10 a.m.-noon at Exeter Public Library | Register Here
Jan 23: 5:30-7:30 p.m. at Fleetwood Public Library | Register Here

A listening session is an informal, small-group discussion in which we are seeking your thoughts, opinions, and concerns on local news coverage, information access, community information needs, and news consumption habits. Visit spotlightpa.org/berks for more information.
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. Answers submitted by 5:30 p.m. on issue date will be counted.

Yesterday's answer: Punctuation

Congrats to our daily winners: Eric F., Vicki U., Jon W., Stacy S., Don H., Lynne E., Barbara F., Kimberly D., Susan N.-Z., Jane R., Wendy A., Craig E., Kim C., Alycee N. R., Starr B., Dennis M., Rick W., Daniel M., John A., Alan B., Tish M., Richard A., Dan A., John P., Bob C., Tom M., Christina M., Sharon B., William Z., David W., and Perry H.
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