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Bill would force secret settlements into the open

Plus, privatizing sewer systems has led to price increase for residents across Pa.

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

Wednesday, November 15, 2023
In today's edition: Harassment bills, abortion protections, Biden bro, 911 increase, Medicaid restoration, and a key Thanksgiving turkey tip.

High-profile allegations of sexual harassment have inspired a new package of bills that aim to overhaul the investigation process and make it easier to learn about settlements. 

A group of female Pennsylvania senators plan to introduce legislation that would require outside investigations of sexual harassment complaints against state government employees, The Inquirer (paywall) reports.

Another bill would force the state to disclose all taxpayer-funded settlements for sexual harassment and misconduct, rather than require the public to file an open-records request for that information.

THE CONTEXT: The bills follow the resignations of a state House representative and a top aide to Democratic Gov. Josh Shapiro; both were accused of sexual harassment.

In the latter case, Shapiro's office quietly arranged to pay $295,000 to settle the claims against Mike Vereb.

Vereb abruptly resigned from his job as Shapiro’s liaison to the state legislature in late September. In a news release, Shapiro's office said nothing about the allegations and instead wished Vereb "all the best."

"When somebody is rehabilitated and they are willing to contribute to our community again, they should have the ability to come back out into the community. It shouldn’t require a unanimous vote in order to do that."

—State Rep. Emily Kinkead (D., Allegheny) on why she supports a proposed constitutional amendment that would lower the bar to send a pardon request to the governor
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Soup art on a tree stump in Pittsburgh, via Marty M. Send us photos by email, use #PAGems on IG, or tag us @spotlightpennsylvania.
two red and white cans stacked on each other on a brown tree stump
Today's top news story in Pennsylvania.SEWER SERVICE: Pushes to privatize sewer systems in Pennsylvania have led to sharp price increases for residents across the state, Stateline reports. Local governments began selling off the systems to avoid costly infrastructure maintenance, but the short-term savings are now being called into question by ratepayers and community groups.

Today's second top news story in Pennsylvania.OUT-OF-STATE PROTECTIONS: A bill advanced by a state House committee would prohibit Pennsylvania courts from helping enforce anti-abortion laws when people from places with bans seek care in the commonwealth, CNHI reports. Republicans on the panel expressed concerns about the constitutionality of the measure, which has little chance of passing the GOP-controlled state Senate. 

Today's third top news story in Pennsylvania.BIDEN BROTHER: In 2019, Americore Health Services closed its hospital in rural Ellwood City after filing for bankruptcy and amid a federal investigation into fraud allegations. The AP reports on the company's ties to President Joe Biden's brother Jim and how the relationship is being used by Republicans in Washington looking for impeachment fuel

Today's fourth top news story in Pennsylvania.INCREASE NIXED: A state Senate committee has stripped a funding increase for 911 call centers from a bill over the objections of Democrats and counties that say a bump is needed, PennLive reports. Residents currently pay a $1.65 surcharge on their monthly landline and cell phone bills to help fund these centers. The bill, passed by the Democratic-controlled state House, proposed to raise the surcharge to $1.97. 

Today's fifth top news story in Pennsylvania.RESTORATION PROCESS: The Pennsylvania Department of Human Services says it has restored Medicaid coverage to 20,000 people and will restore coverage to tens of thousands more by the end of the month, The Inquirer (paywall) reports. As Spotlight PA previously reported, Pennsylvania has experienced issues with ex parte renewal of benefits, and wrongly caused more than 100,000 people to lose coverage
REPORT CARD: In its latest report, the American Lung Association ranked Pennsylvania eighth in the nation for lung cancer screening, though just 7% of people at high risk get annual CT scans.

FLAG DISPUTE: Springfield Township's resolution barring the display of an American flag with a thin blue line is unconstitutional, a federal court has ruled. WHYY reported on the dispute in 2022.

TURKEY TIP: Want to make a better Thanksgiving turkey this year? Conshohocken chef Zack Wannawong tells HuffPost an herb butter rub is key

READING LIST: From Book Riot comes this list of the top 10 Appalachian books released this year, including one set in Pennsylvania's Allegheny Mountains.

TAILOR-MADE: Paris Williams, 35, is one of a dwindling number of tailors in Pennsylvania and also the owner of a Harrisburg shop that showcases clothing by Black designers. 
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