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Pa. legislature must explain legal bill redactions, court rules

Plus, counties brace for Pa. budget fallout.

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Monday, July 24, 2023
Secret information, missed payments, in defiance, PSU tuition, juvenile jails, strike watch, and Pa.'s accidental quadrillionaire. Welcome to the week.

New appellate court rulings could finally shake loose secret information on why state legislators use taxpayer funds to hire private lawyers.

Details of the legal matters involved have often been kept from the public by lawmakers who claim divulging them would jeopardize legal strategy. 

Commonwealth Court Judge Patricia A. McCullough said lawmakers cannot use that potential, or attorney-client privilege, to justify blanket redactions and must instead justify withholdings on a case-by-case basis.

Read Spotlight PA's full report: Pennsylvania legislature must show proof before redacting legal bills, court finds.

THE CONTEXT: The rulings stem from court challenges by Spotlight PA and The Caucus to redactions the legislature made to legal bills and other documents turned over via a public records request in 2021.

In many cases, the most important details were blacked out.

Advocates for public access cheered McCullough's decision, which the state Senate can still appeal to the Pennsylvania Supreme Court. (McCullough ruled the state House has been doing the redactions properly.)

Terry Mutchler, a former head of the Office of Open Records, said the case shows why the state's Right-to-Know Law should be amended to require the legislature, like the executive branch, to answer to the independent Office of Open Records when similar records disputes arise. Both chambers currently designate appeals officers from within their own ranks.

“They should be the fact finders,” she said of the OOR. “Because otherwise, you have the public thinking that the fox is watching the henhouse.”

Read more, via Spotlight PA's archives: Taxpayers foot huge bill to run Pa.’s full-time legislature, but are blocked from many details.


"Like, what do you mean we have to leave, we’ve done nothing wrong."

Natalee Pfeifer, one of dozens being evicted from a Cumberland County campground, where they live, amid a Dickinson Township crackdown
Support vital journalism for Pennsylvania: The future of local news is in your hands. Donate now to Spotlight PA.
» Calls for wage hike as Pa. food stamp claims set record, via Capital-Star

» False autism claim aired before Pa. Senate panel, via FactCheck.org

» Pa. senator wants election audits formalized, via @ByCarterWalker 

» Kenyatta-Rozzi fued through the lens of a new bill, via Inky (paywall)

» The obstacles to more school vouchers in Pa., via Forbes

» Expanding Pa.'s addiction treatment database, via The Center Square

» Pa. Medicaid now reimburses street medicine providers, via WESA

» Disability providers say Pa.'s care system in free fall, via Inky (paywall)

A closeup of a lily, via @dtwphotoart in Hershey. Send us your photos by email, use #PAGems on Instagram, or tag us @spotlightpennsylvania.

A closeup of a brightly colored (yellow and orange) flower with a diffused green background in the frame.
Today's top news story in Pennsylvania.SIX MONTHS IN: Democratic Gov. Josh Shapiro's first six months in office ended last week with his first state budget still delayed by a row over private school vouchers. With both chambers recessed until September and Republican leaders differing on their timetables for a finalized deal, the AP reports counties are preparing to get by without a quarterly state payment for some vital social services.

Today's second top news story in Pennsylvania.2020 FALLOUT: The Inquirer's Jonathan Lai reports via Twitter that a new lawsuit accuses Fulton County officials of allowing another third-party inspection of 2020 voting machines in defiance of an order from Pennsylvania's highest court. The suit says the inspection — which also uncovered no irregularities — was funded by a Lehigh Valley business owner and pro-Trump fake elector named Bill Bachenberg.

Today's third top news story in Pennsylvania.TUITION HIKE: Penn State trustees have approved a 2% tuition hike for in-state undergraduates at the school's main campus in State College for each of the next two years, and a freeze on tuition at satellite campuses elsewhere in the state, TribLIVE reports. The recommendation follows hand-wringing over a university budget deficit and steep enrollment declines at branch campuses statewide.Today's fourth top news story in Pennsylvania.OVER CAPACITY: An overcrowding crisis in Philadelphia's juvenile detention center has prompted court orders forcing the state to get involved. The Inquirer (paywall) reports a Commonwealth Court judge told the Pennsylvania Department of Human Services to move 26 children out of the city detention center within the next month. But DHS says its Youth Development Centers are over capacity too.

Today's fifth top news story in Pennsylvania.STRIKE WAVE: UPS workers nationwide are preparing to strike on Aug. 1, and Teamsters and Pennsylvania House Democrats organized a practice picket in Philadelphia last week. The potential labor action is one of several economy-rocking strikes being considered as Politico reports Joe Biden, the self-professed “most pro-labor union president” in U.S. history, is urged to "stay out of it and not intervene."
Investigative journalism that gets results: Spotlight PA's vital work depends on you. Donate now.

RECOVERY MISSION: A body found Friday in the Delaware River is believed to be that of two-year-old Matilda Sheils, who was swept away by flood waters about 30 miles away in Bucks County days earlier, the AP reports. The search continues for her nine-year-old brother. Four others were killed.

ON OPPENHEIMERA retired nuclear physicist from Montgomery County named Kenneth Ford worked on the H-bomb and knows several people depicted in the Oppenheimer film, The Inquirer (paywall) reports. Allentown native Russell Gackenbach recorded the bomb's first devastating use.

DISCRIMINATION SUIT: A U.S. Marine says he was discriminated against and mocked for his military service while working at Hershey Entertainment Company & Resorts, PennLive reports. A federal lawsuit filed by the Marine, Eleazar Oliva, says his treatment violated state and federal law.

FOUL BALL: The York Revolution minor league baseball team says its home field was vandalized earlier this month with an unknown substance that killed large swaths of infield and outfield grass — here are photos, via @WGAL. The team's groundskeeper has ruled out a natural cause

TODAY I LEARNED: For a brief moment in 2013, Chris Reynolds of Media, Pennsylvania was the richest man in the world — nay, human history — when a PayPal mistake saw $92 quadrillion deposited into his account.

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.
Friday's answer: Loquacious

Congrats to our weekly winner: Marla C.

Congrats to our daily winners: Becky C., Eddy Z., Anthony W., John P., Elaine C., Marty M., Ted W., Mike B., Julie K., John A., Nola D., Kevin M., Don H., Judith D., Kim C., Joe C., Beth T., Barbara F., Ronnee G., Eric F., Jane R., John F., Joel S., Jon W., Karen B., Doug W., Starr B., Susan N.-Z., Lynne E., Bruce B., William Z., Mark C., Susan D., Stacy S., Craig W., Stanley J., Rick A., Ben P., Dennis M., Tish M., Mary S., Jill K., Vicki U., Tom M., Frederick H., Dan E., Tracy S., Richard A., Dan A., Wendy A., Bob C., Janet T., Jodine M., and Craig E.
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