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Pa. budget bills move, but key cash still stuck

Plus, court case could cost Pa. towns millions.

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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

Thursday, August 31, 2023
Code work, primary plans, municipal money, toxic taps, the overrepresented, suspected hate crime, and a beloved bus driver's child army.

Republicans in the state Senate on Wednesday passed legislation that would create a first-of-its-kind private school voucher program in Pennsylvania, the move coming weeks after Democratic Gov. Josh Shapiro line-item vetoed the proposal to ensure passage of a larger $45.5 billion state budget bill.
Shapiro's signature did not complete the budget process, with code bills still needing to be hashed out to direct $1.1 billion in funding to budget priorities on public defenders, hospitals, home repair grants, and more.

Progress was made Wednesday, but Spotlight PA reports the state House and Senate remain stubbornly at odds over education and other key costs.

Read the full report: Pennsylvania's 2023-2024 state budget inches forward, but lawmakers still split on stalled education funding.

THE CONTEXT: State senators started Wednesday with a bill focused on less-controversial provisions, though some Democrats argued it didn’t address the bulk of the stalled spending, including funding to continue the popular Whole-Home Repairs Program and a stipend for student teachers.

The bill, which would release funding for increased first responder reimbursements, regular allocations to hospitals, judicial fees, aid to public libraries, and universal free school breakfast, passed 29-18 with state Sen. Lisa Boscola (D., Lehigh) crossing party lines to vote with Republicans. 

A second bill passed by the state Senate on Wednesday included Republicans’ more partisan priorities, such as a reintroduction of the school voucher program that Shapiro already axed from the main budget — and which state House Democrats have summarily rejected.

The measures still have to pass the Democratic-controlled House, which isn't expected to do so without significant changes. The House is still scheduled to come back to order in late September, but a spokesperson for Majority Leader Matt Bradford (D., Montgomery) said they “are not foreclosing on the possibility that we may return sooner if an agreement is reached.”


"Let it burn."

—The crowd at a ceremony marking the erasure of more than $1.6 million in medical debt owed by Philadelphians; Pittsburgh has a similar plan
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» Third state employee union ratifies historic contract, via PennLive (paywall)
» Shapiro declares Pa. 'free of avian flu' after outbreak, via WHTM
» State funding for pregnancy care to change in 2024, via City & State
» Why Pa.'s paramedics say ‘EMS is dying,’ via The Inquirer (paywall)
» Regan bill requires armed school safety personnel, via PoliticsPA
» MISSED CONDUCT: Join us Thursday, Aug. 31 from 6-7 p.m. on Zoom for a free panel discussion on Penn State’s post-Sandusky misconduct policies, transparency in higher education, and how universities can keep students and employees safe. Register here. Submit questions to events@spotlightpa.org.

» CRIMINAL SOLUTION: Join Spotlight PA, the Pittsburgh Institute for Nonprofit Journalism, and experts on Thursday, Sept. 14, 6-7:30 p.m. ET at Point Park University for a live discussion on how a Pennsylvania law traps those with mental health issues in jail. RSVP now; seating is limited. 

» STORY FEST: Spotlight PA is participating in Philly Story Fest, a first-of-its-kind festival that brings together storytellers from across the city on one stage. Join us Thursday, Oct. 5 from 7-10 p.m. at the Bok building in South Philadelphia (1901 South 9th St.). Tickets are $25 and available here.
A 360-degree rainbow, or full circle moment, via Rosa E. in Philadelphia. Have a photo you want to share with the whole state? Send it to us by email, use #PAGems on Instagram, or tag us @spotlightpennsylvania.
A skyward photo showing a faint ring of colors overhead. Some kind of pole and a building are visible in the foreground and background, respectively.
Today's top news story in Pennsylvania.PRIMARY DATE: Pennsylvania lawmakers continue to mull moving Pennsylvania's 2024 presidential primary date up, partly to avoid overlapping with Passover. But Aaron Gorodzinsky of the Jewish Federation of the Lehigh Valley writes that it's not just that many observant Jews would not be able to vote in person: They also wouldn't be able to work the polls amid a national poll worker shortage.

Today's second top news story in Pennsylvania.TAXES IN DISGUISE? Stormwater fees charged to tax-exempt West Chester University are at the center of a case, now before Pennsylvania's highest court, that municipalities say "could drain them financially" by restricting their ability to collect such payments from tax-free entities and charge higher fees for larger properties. The university said the fees are taxes by another name. Municipalities fear losing millions.

Today's third top news story in Pennsylvania.
BAD WATER: Concerned about their discolored, sludgy tap water, residents of Industry in Beaver County pressured local officials to have it tested. The results revealed "a little-known, problematic metal in the water — manganese," that Public Health Watch reports is toxic in high concentrations. State law limits its presence in drinking water, but providers don't have to test for it and "it often goes undetected."
Today's fourth top news story in Pennsylvania.'THE BLACKLIST': WITF reports on a new U Penn study that found Black Pennsylvanians are twice as likely to be on the state’s child abuse registry, despite white people making up a much larger portion of the state's population and substantiated abuse cases here. People on the registry are also more likely to be younger. BuzzFeed published a report titled "The Blacklist" on the disparities and lasting consequences.

Today's fifth top news story in Pennsylvania.
SUSPECT MOTIVES: One day after a man gunned down three Black people in a racist Florida attack on Saturday, police say Jeffrey Harris, 38, threatened people with a shotgun and attempted to enter a predominantly Black church in Beaver County, Pennsylvania. U.S. Rep. Chris Deluzio (D., Pa.) is calling for a federal civil rights probe into the Ambridge incident amid dueling accounts on the motive.
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SUSAN'S LAW: Belt magazine recounts the death of Pittsburgh cyclist Susan Hicks in a piece called "the accident that changed a city." A protected-bike-lane bill named for Hicks was vetoed by Gov. Tom Wolf in 2022 over a provision targeting progressive Philadelphia DA Larry Krasner.

STEEL SALE: Pennsylvania-based US Steel is reviewing multiple buyout offers after rejecting one from rival Cleveland-Cliffs worth $7.3 billion. US Steel, the world's first billion-dollar corporation, gave no timeline for a decision.

CANDID CAMERA: A hub of wild elk activity in rural Elk County is livestreaming again. The Game Commission camera on State Game Lands 311 is broadcasting and just in time for peak viewing, per TribLIVE.

SOUND OFF: Pickleball is the it-sport of the summer and emergency rooms everywhere. But one Cranberry Township resident says the noise from a nearby pickleball court is harming his health, via WTAE.

BUS DAD: Reid Moon of Zelienople claims 200 children — the students who rode his school bus over a 27-year career. They've stayed in touch, Reid has officiated their weddings, and they recently held a "family" reunion.

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: Shenanigans

Congrats to our daily winners: Dan A., Mark O., Susan N.-Z., Eric F., John W., Jane R., Kimberly B., Jodi R., Ted W., Tracy S., Mike B., Jon W., Lori B., Judith D., Don H., Vanessa J., Starr B., John P., Benjamin M., Barbara F., John E., Bruce Bi., Connie K., Art Z., Alice B., Vicki U., Dana D., Bruce Ba., Jessica Z., Daniel M., Georgann J., Stacy S., Adrien M., Eddy Z., Kim C., Craig E., Jill M., James B., John F., Susan R., Keith L., Johnny C., Michelle T., Emily S., Beth T., Kevin M., Joan F., Stanley J., Carol S., Janice H., Dennis M., Ted B., Anthony W., Rick A., Michael K., Ben P., David W., Mark C., Judy M., Tish M., Patty R., Tom M., Daniel S., William Z., Doug W., Richard A., Geoff M., David W., Tyler K., and Nancy S.


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