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Pa. House Dems move on long-stalled priorities

Plus, legalizing recreational cannabis by default.

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Monday, April 24, 2023
🏆  TEST YOUR PA IQ: Know your news? PA Posters definitely do, so let's prove it. Put your knowledge to the test with this week's installment of The Great PA News Quiz: "Snow-starved" winter, a mail ballot blunder, and clashes over opioid settlement cash.
Open agenda, nagging doubts, high tuition, discrimination case, on hold, drug problem, and (more) legal pot next door. Welcome to the week. 

In the first full week of session as their chamber’s unquestioned majority party, House Democrats are advancing a slew of long-stalled priorities.

Chief among them are a bill that would enshrine LGBTQ civil liberties in state law; a bill that would give counties seven days to open, process, and tally mail-in ballots before an election; and a measure that would create a new oversight board to monitor public sector workers’ safety.

These are only the first votes in a long series before any of the proposals could make it to the desk of Democratic Gov. Josh Shapiro, who still has yet to sign a bill into law. Most of the measures will likely be held up amid budget talks; some could potentially advance in June as part of a spending deal, or as standalone legislation.

But the slate of committee votes is a significant step, as it represents the first real action on a Democratic legislative agenda in the House after more than a decade of GOP control.

You can find video feeds for all of the week’s committee hearings here. Here are a few key votes to keep an eye on.


  • On Monday at 9:30 a.m. the House Judiciary Committee will vote on a bill that would ban discrimination on the basis of sexual orientation or gender identity in employment, housing, or any other public accommodation. Such a ban has been long sought by advocates, but has been blocked in the GOP-run General Assembly for the past decade.

  • Monday at 10 a.m. the House Labor and Industry Committee will vote on a bill that would create a state board to oversee workforce safety for public sector workers. Pennsylvania is one of 23 states where no authority oversees government working conditions, and changing that has been top priority for organized labor.

  • Monday at 11 a.m. the House State Government Committee will vote on a bill that would give counties seven days to open, process and tally mail ballots before Election Day, allow voters to fix an unsigned or undated mail ballot, and tighten the deadline to apply online for a mail-in ballot from a week to two weeks before the election (though voters could still request a mail-in ballot up until a week before the election by going in person to their county election office). Pre-canvassing of ballots and the longer mail ballot turnaround time have been top county requests since 2020.

  • Tuesday at 10 a.m. the House Environmental Resources and Energy Committee will vote on a bill that would give school districts $500 million to install solar panels on their properties and buildings. The bill has the backing of both environmental groups and the state building trades, which have often been at odds over environmental policy in recent years — particularly over Pennsylvania’s entrance into the Regional Greenhouse Gas Initiative.

Stephen Caruso, Spotlight PA

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—Editors Jessica McAllister of the Centre Daily Times and Sarah Rafacz of Spotlight PA's State College bureau on Penn State President Neeli Bendapudi using a Trumpism to criticize coverage of university layoff plans
» How Spotlight PA will cover Pa.'s 2023 primary election

» How to request, fill out, and return your mail ballot

» How to vote, find your polling place, understand mail ballots

» A guide to vetting candidates for school board, judge, and more

» A guide to the Commonwealth, Superior Court candidates

» A guide to the Pa. Supreme Court candidates

» High court candidates with party backing show fundraising edge

» Register to vote in the May 16 primary here; deadline May 1

» Request your mail ballot for the May 16 primary; deadline May 9

Support Spotlight PA's public-service election and voting coverage now.
» Los candidatos a la Corte de la Commonwealth y Cortes Superiores

» Guía completa de los candidatos a la Corte Suprema del Estado

» Una guía completa para el día de las elecciones primarias de Pa.

Apoye ahora la cobertura electoral de servicio público de Spotlight PA.

» LEGISLATIVE AGENDA: Join us Thursday, April 27 from 6-7 p.m. on Zoom for a free panel on what issues and policies are on the state legislature's 2023 docket. Register here and submit questions to events@spotlightpa.org

Lakeside at Pine Grove Furnace State Park, via Don H. Send us your photos by email, use #PAGems on Instagram, or tag us @spotlightpennsylvania.
A green lake below a crystal blue sky.
Today's top news story in Pennsylvania.CONSOLIDATION QUESTIONS: The arrest of DuBois City Manager Herm Suplizio for the alleged theft of over $600,000 in public funds has officials in neighboring Sandy Township doubting the ongoing consolidation of the towns, Spotlight PA reports.

Today's second top news story in Pennsylvania.TUITION WATCH: State-related universities want more money from the legislature this year, but they won't commit to freezing tuition if they get it. Here’s what the governor proposed, what university leaders want, and what it means for students, via Spotlight PA.

Today's third top news story in Pennsylvania.CASE DISMISSED: The U.S. Justice Department sued Pennsylvania's court system last year, alleging discriminatory restrictions on lifesaving addiction aids. Spotlight PA's Ed Mahon reports a judge dismissed the complaint Friday. Read the full backstory.

Today's fourth top news story in Pennsylvania.RULING STAYED: The U.S. Supreme Court stayed a lower court decision striking FDA approval of a drug used in medication abortions while a lawsuit continues. Gov. Shapiro called the decision a "relief," adding, "we have a long road ahead."

Today's fifth top news story in Pennsylvania.BROKEN FIX: Pennsylvania's attempt to cut down on drugs in state prisons by monitoring incoming mail isn't working, PennLive reports. By some accounts, the drug problem has actually worsened in the years since the mail rules were put in place.

TRIAL DATE: The trial of the man accused of carrying out the deadliest antisemitic attack in U.S. history at Pittsburgh's Tree of Life synagogue in 2018 starts with jury selection in Pittsburgh today. Capital-Star reports advocates are still pushing for changes to state gun and hate crime laws.

LOCAL LAW: WHYY reports that Lower Merion Township in Montgomery County has passed a historic ordinance that limits where guns can be sold and thinks it can survive a likely state preemption law challenge.

LEGAL STATE: Recreational pot became legal in Delaware by default over the weekend. Is neighboring Pennsylvania any closer to legalizing adult-use cannabis here? City & State says the short answer is no

SPREAD THE NEWS: Everyone knows cream cheese brand Philadelphia isn't actually from Philadelphia. Or is it? This lengthy Reddit rant — or "cream cheese lecture" — makes a compelling case to the contrary.

WAYBACK PA: Apropos of very little, here's WHTM's reminder of what Pennsylvania government websites looked like in the 1990s. It was a simpler time, especially when it came to JavaScript.

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 6 p.m. on issue date will be counted.

Friday's answer: Mercantile

Congrats to our weekly winner: Bob C.

Congrats to our daily winners: Barbara F., Susan N.-Z., Don H., Tracy S., Jon W., Susan D., Craig W., Dianne K., Kim C., Dennis M., Bill S., Wendy A., Jim A., and David W.
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