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Secretive start for ‘transparent’ Pa. election probe

Plus, high court breathes new life into Harrisburg gun law fight.


A daily newsletter by Spotlight PA
Your Postmaster: Colin Deppen
October 21, 2021
Secret search, gun laws, re-charged, criminal conduct, prison abuse, big balance, and 'Hellmaxxed' to the max. It's Thursday, thanks for checking in.

Republican state senators leading a contested review of Pennsylvania's 2020 election promised a transparent and public-facing process.

But Capital-Star reports the search for a private vendor to vet millions of commonwealth voters is happening behind closed doors, with state law allowing plenty of room for secrecy.

That's because unlike executive branch offices, the General Assembly has no obligation to broadcast engagements with third parties when it seeks services and supplies.

A spokesperson for Senate President Pro Tempore Jake Corman (R., Centre) called it standard practice and did not say whether any Democrats were privy to the negotiations.

THE CONTEXT: Republicans in the state Senate have already subpoenaed personal information on millions of registered Pennsylvania voters — information they plan to hand over for a third-party, taxpayer-funded exam.

Spotlight PA and Votebeat reported the state has already spent hundreds of thousands of dollars on a more secure version of the same analysis, something those behind the GOP-led probe have yet to acknowledge.

While their search for a vendor is now underway, Republican leaders say they're holding off on hiring one until a court weighs in on legal challenges.

State Sen. Cris Dush (R., Jefferson), the inquiry's leader, has in the past refused to rule out a vendor with ties to former President Donald Trump.


"Pennsylvania law does not allow for the prosecution of a passenger who may have witnessed a crime."

—Delaware County DA Jack Stollsteimer saying officials have no plans to charge SEPTA passengers who witnessed a rape but failed to intervene
» A COMPLETE GUIDE to the Nov. 2 election in Pennsylvania, including how to find your polling place, mail ballot details, who's on the ballot, and more.

» A SPECIAL GUIDE to who's running in the state Supreme Court election and other significant appellate court races.

» A BASIC GUIDE to vetting your local candidates in Pennsylvania's 2021 school board elections, which are receiving renewed attention this year.

If you value these voter resources, please make a tax-deductible contribution to Spotlight PA so we can keep them free and available to all every election season.
» CHILD VACCINES: A final decision on vaccines for children age 5 to 11 could happen in the first days of November, the Associated Press reports.

» 'CLEAR CHOICE': As school mitigation rules are politicized and debated, educators at a Pa. middle school see only one real option, WITF reports.

» OPEN AND SHUT: Faced with a labor shortage, Pennsylvania employers are still turning down applicants with criminal records, via PublicSource.

To find a COVID-19 vaccine, use the federal government's online tool, call 1-800-232-0233, or text your zip code to 438829 (GETVAX).
» THE JUDICIAL VOTE: Join us today at noon EST via Zoom for a free breakdown and Q&A on who will be on the ballot this November and how voters will decide the future of Pennsylvania's courts. Register for the event here and submit your questions to events@spotlightpa.org
Some lovely lily pads floating in Highland Park in Pittsburgh. Thanks for the photo, Anna F. Send us your gems, use the hashtag #PAGems on Instagram, or tag us @spotlightpennsylvania.
GUN RULING: Pennsylvania's Supreme Court says a pro-gun group and others can sue over old Harrisburg gun ordinances on constitutional grounds, even if they haven't run afoul of the rules, the AP reports. People generally need to show they have been harmed by a law to challenge it, but the divided high court says the standard changed.

POLICE REPORTS: Charges have been reinstated against an ex-Philadelphia officer seen dousing George Floyd protesters with pepper spray during last year's debacle on I-676, CBS3 reports. Separately, Axios reports a court has rolled back the city's public hearing rule for police contracts, a reform adopted in the aftermath of Floyd's killing.

CASE UPDATE: A rape charge against Somerset County District Attorney Jeffrey Thomas has been withdrawn, while new charges of sexual assault and aggravated indecent assault were added, WTAE reports. The new charges carry the potential for more jail time if he's convicted. Thomas is accused of assaulting a woman in her Windber home.

NEW DEAL: York County officials have extended their deal with a private consultant accused of leading abuses inside the county's prison, York Daily Record reports. The two-year, $252,770 contract extension with C-SAU — a military-style training program for guards — comes as scandal continues to swirl around the outfit's leader.

TEN MILLION: Pennsylvania AG Josh Shapiro has entered the race for governor with $10 million on hand, a fifth from labor unions. The financial disclosure wasn't required yet, leading The Inquirer to deem it a show of force. Shapiro is the only Democrat currently declared.

MEAL MONEY: With some families still waiting for relief money meant to offset the meal costs they incurred during pandemic-related school closures, Pennsylvania is launching a helpline at 484-363-2137, WESA reports.

HOME OFFICE: Philadelphia is converting more old buildings into apartments than any other U.S. city as pandemic-driven commercial vacancies lead to property pivots, The New York Times reports.

'HELLMAXXED': Bensalem's police department, already Twitter famous for a real and widely mocked Halloween warning, has now been dragged into a joke-hoax about a devilish new TikTok trend, Business Insider reports.

HOPE SPRINGS: York County rescue gator Hope is recovering after being hit by a car, York Daily Record reports. Owner Joie Henney — well known for his emotional support gator gang — is suspicious about how it happened. 

LIFESAVERS: A City of Pittsburgh employee thanked the colleagues who rushed to his rescue when he collapsed at work in May. "I wake up grateful every day," Matthew Meisenhelter said, Per TribLIVE.

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.
Yesterday's answer: Professorial

Congrats to our daily winners: Ted W., Susan N., Jessica K., Michelle T., Beth T., Mike B., Irene R., Al M., Elaine C., Neal W., Becky C., Don H., Elizabeth W., Heidi B., Judith D., Maureen G., Doris T., Mary Kay M., Kimberly S., Susan D., Tim B., Joel S., Dianne K., George S., David W., Craig E., Bill S., Marty M., Wendy A., Grace M., Daniel M., Cris F., and Lynne E.
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