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Court rules on officials' personal social media use

Plus, Mastriano teases U.S. Senate announcement.

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The logo of PA Post, a free daily newsletter delivering the top news from across Pennsylvania every day.

A daily newsletter by The logo of Spotlight PA, an independent, nonpartisan newsroom producing investigative journalism for Pennsylvania.
Your Postmaster: Colin Deppen

Monday, May 22, 2023
Hidden media, hidden proposal, Mastriano news, college ploy, jobs conspiracy, 'wage suppression,' and a Lake Erie sanctuary. Welcome to the week.

Social media posts by public officials on personal accounts are public records only if they constitute an official action on behalf of an official agency, Pennsylvania's Commonwealth Court ruled in April.

The former head of Pennsylvania's Office of Open Records called it a significant case in an evolving area of open records law, while Spotlight PA reports the decision is likely to make accessing such information more burdensome and costly for Pennsylvanians.

Read the full report: How Local Government Works: Are government officials' personal social media posts public records?

THE CONTEXT: The case behind the 4-3 ruling involved an LGBTQ book display at Crawford County's Penncrest School District and a records request for board member Facebook posts "related to homosexuality."

Commonwealth Court judges established a three-factor test to judge when social media posts made on public officials' personal accounts should be accessible under the Right-to-Know Law. At the same time, open records advocates say agencies should still err on the side of access. 

Open records and municipal law attorney Josh Bonn said it used to be that any communications by public officials about public business were "presumed to be a public record," adding, "This is such a significant opinion because it is, in my opinion, a change of the law as it's been developing."

In other news: The U.S. Supreme Court has agreed to hear two cases this fall involving whether the First Amendment applies to public officials' social media accounts when they block constituents, Politico reports.

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🏆 PA IQ TEST: If you think you've been paying attention to the news, we're here to help you prove it. Put your knowledge to the test with the latest edition of The Great PA News Quiz: Big primary wins, election week cyberattack, and a pivotal House special.

"Reality is changing in front of our eyes, and we are still largely caught up in ways of thinking that were instilled in us 50 or more years ago."

Alan Mallach on his new book about the riddle of resurgence for towns like McKeesport; the book is called Smaller Cities in a Shrinking World
» 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 the way Pennsylvania's spending plans compare to other states'. Register here, send questions to events@spotlightpa.org

» ELDER LAW: Join us Thursday, June 1 at 6 p.m. ET via Zoom for a free Q&A on Pennsylvania's elder protection laws and how they could be improved. Register here and submit questions to events@spotlightpa.org
Have a seat, via @mar_sees_life at Natural Lands' Crow's Nest Preserve in Elverson. Have a photo you'd like to share? Send it to us by email, use #PAGems on Instagram, or tag @spotlightpennsylvania.
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Today's top news story in Pennsylvania.MYSTERY MEETING: In a February memo to university leaders, Penn State President Neeli Bendapudi wrote that last year university leaders "brought forward a $245 million deficit budget, which the Board of Trustees would not support." But there's no sign that the proposal was publicized, suggesting the latest in a pattern of potential Sunshine Act violations by Penn State trustees, Spotlight PA reports.
  • RELATED NEWS: Penn State's proposed 50% funding cut for its student newspaper, The Daily Collegian, has been deemed unavoidable and will drop the total to $200,000 next year, Onward State reports, citing the paper's monthly alumni newsletter.
Today's second top news story in Pennsylvania.DECISION 2024: State Sen. Doug Mastriano (R., Franklin) says he'll announce his decision on a 2024 U.S. Senate run this week, teasing it as "crazy good news" in Lebanon County over the weekend, The Inquirer (paywall) reports. Mastriano's loss in last year's statewide gubernatorial race has some Republicans, including 2024 presidential candidate Donald Trump, worried he could sink the ticket.

Today's third top news story in Pennsylvania.PAY-TO-PLOY: ProPublica reports that University of Pennsylvania admissions dean Whitney Soule boasted last year that nearly one-third of accepted UPenn students "engaged in academic research" in high school, including some who "co-authored publications included in leading journals." ProPublica calls it the newest college admissions ploy: paying to make your teen a "peer-reviewed" author.

Today's fourth top news story in Pennsylvania.INSIDE JOBS: A Beaver County school official and an Allegheny County school board member have been fined $750 for conspiring to trade jobs for their children, the BCT reports. The state ethics commission says Blackhawk School District Superintendent Robert Postupac's son and Moon Area board member Mark Scappe's daughter were given full-time jobs as a result — one of which didn't previously exist.

Today's fifth top news story in Pennsylvania.UPMC COMPLAINT: Two labor groups have filed a 55-page complaint with the U.S. Department of Justice alleging UPMC used its market dominance to suppress workers' wages. State Rep. Sara Innamorato (D., Allegheny) has made the same accusation and floated related anti-trust legislation in Harrisburg. Now, after a big primary win, she's poised to be the next top lawmaker in UPMC's home base.

MISSING FROM M4A: The March for Medicare for All advocacy group is "deeply disappointed" that U.S. Sen. John Fetterman (D, Pa.) was not among the cosponsors of a renewed Medicare for All push last week given prior statements like this one and his recent "gold-plated" psychiatric care. Here's what Fetterman said about M4A during a 2022 primary debate.

BIGGER BILLS: Your electricity bill is likely going up right before the high-use summer season. Pennsylvania's Public Utility Commission says most electric utility companies are adjusting — read: raising — their electric generation prices as of June 1. Here's how to shop around.

MARINE LIFE: President Joe Biden's administration has taken a first step toward designating the Pennsylvania section of Lake Erie as the state's first national marine sanctuary. A formal designation could take years.

ALL NATURAL: The bodies below ground at the Penn Forest Natural Burial Park in Verona, Allegheny County, are in shrouds and biodegradable coffins, per City Paper. Above ground, animals graze and wildflowers bloom.

CLOSE CALL: On Wednesday, cyclists rode through Philadelphia to raise awareness for biker safety on local roadways. On Saturday, Eagles wide-receiver A.J. Brown was nearly hit during a team charity ride.

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