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Public defenders turned away from opioid windfall

Plus, a $600M East Palestine settlement.

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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, April 10, 2024
Today: Turned away, Passover primary, toxic supply, sports ban, countywide reassessment, and what to do with your leftover eclipse glasses.

Public defenders are face to face with the impacts of Pennsylvania's opioid epidemic, but they're being turned away from shares of historic legal settlements with the companies that fueled it.

While a secretive state trust overseeing county-level disbursements warns against spending shares on public defenders, it has greenlit funding for prosecutors' offices and jailhouse contraband scanners.

Observers say this only reinforces funding inequities in Pennsylvania's legal landscape. It also speaks to ongoing debates about using opioid settlement money to boost the war on drugs over pathways to treatment. 

Read Spotlight PA's full report: Opioid settlement cash a boon to Pa. prosecutors but public defenders are being turned away.

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"It’s not nowhere near my needs let alone what the health effects are going to be 5 or 10 years down the road."
—Eric Cozza on a $600 million class-action settlement with Norfolk Southern over 2023's train derailment near the Pennsylvania-Ohio border


ROW RACES: Join us Thursday, April 11 from 6-7 p.m. ET on Zoom for a live guide to Pa.’s candidates for attorney general, auditor general, and treasurer and how their terms would impact you. Register here and submit your questions to events@spotlightpa.org.

BROKEN PRIMARIES: Join us Friday, April 19 from 6-7 p.m. ET on Zoom for a Spotlight PA members-only event with Nick Troiano, author of The Primary Solution, a new book on how our partisan primaries are fueling the political divide in America and what we can do about it. Sponsored by Ballot PA.

Become a Spotlight PA member here and you'll be automatically registered for the event.
Fresh flowers, as seen by Spotlight PA's Sarah Anne Hughes. Have a Pennsylvania photo of your own to share? Send it to us by email, use #PAGems on Instagram, or tag @spotlightpennsylvania
A white and orange flower in a garden.
Today's top news story in Pennsylvania.'UNIQUE CHALLENGE': Pennsylvania voters who will be observing Passover on primary day and unable to vote in person have until April 16 to request a mail ballot. Billy Penn reports on the not insignificant number of people who can’t vote on primary day in Philadelphia's collar counties after state lawmakers failed to change to date.
  • Everything you need to know about requesting, filling out, and returning your mail ballot, via Spotlight PA
Today's second top news story in Pennsylvania.
TRANS POLICY: A national intercollegiate athletics association with two member schools in Pennsylvania has announced a policy "that all but bans transgender athletes from competing in women’s sports at its 241 mostly small colleges across the country," the AP reports. The National Association of Intercollegiate Athletics website lists Penn State Schuylkill and Pittsburgh's Point Park University as members. Point Park was already working on an exit, via Pittsburgh Union Progress.
Today's third top news story in Pennsylvania.
'EMERGING THREAT': A class of synthetic opioids more powerful than fentanyl is now linked to several overdoses in Philadelphia, The Inquirer (paywall) reports. Nitazene analogs were present in at least five local overdose deaths in the past two years, though the actual number could be higher. The so-called overdose antidote naloxone will counteract the drug's effects, but more may be needed

Today's fourth top news story in Pennsylvania.
PROPERTY CHECKS: The Pittsburgh Public Schools district is suing to compel property tax reassessments across Allegheny County, TribLIVE reports. Solicitor Ira Weiss said the district faces a dire financial crisis caused by plummeting property values. Democratic County Executive Sara Innamorato campaigned on countywide reassessments but has since softened her stance, TribLIVE notes.
Today's fifth top news story in Pennsylvania.
FORMALLY FIRED: DuBois City Council formally fired former City Manager Herm Suplizio and suspended police chief Blaine Clark on Monday, per the Courier-Express. Suplizio's firing follows his arrest in a sweeping corruption case. Clark's termination follows unspecified allegations against him that council members referred to the district attorney and which they said they weren't at liberty to discuss publicly.
NEW NAME: As Pennsylvania Republicans balk at President Joe Biden's vow to fully fund the rebuilding of Baltimore's collapsed Francis Scott Key Bridge, a Maryland-based civil rights group says when the bridge does rise again, it should do so with a different name, via Baltimore Banner.

HEIST GANG: A Scranton-area gang that "preyed on America's small museums," amassing what police say was $4 million in stolen artifacts, began to come undone following a 2019 traffic stop in a small Lackawanna County township, via Axios. Four alleged members are now headed to trial.

SUNDAY HUNTS: Capital-Star reports a bill that would roll back a law restricting hunting on Sundays is once again pitting Pennsylvania "hunters against hikers, bikers, and horseback riders."

HANDS-FREE: A bill that would strengthen Pennsylvania's distracted driving law and allow police to pull over a motorist only for using their phone behind the wheel has passed the state House, @StephenJ_Caruso reports.

GLASS PASS: The eclipse may be over in Pennsylvania (for better or worse), but if you're still sitting on a pair of safety glasses, consider sending them here for kids watching the South American eclipse in October.
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: Washout or outwash

Congrats to our daily winners: Stacy S., Jane R., Jon W., Vicki U., David T., Mike B., Ted W., Marty M., Bob C., Elaine C., Barbara F., Lynne E., Daniel M., Kimberly D., Theresa T., Karen W., Judith D., Don H., Richard A., Beth H., Mike H., Jody A., Wes D., Kevin M., Beth T., Karyl S., Julie K., Stanley J., Tom M., Perry H., Tish M., Marie B., William Z., Jeff R., Wendy A., Jeffrey F., Elizabeth R., Frederick H., David M., Alan B., Jodine M., Ada M., Janet S., and Craig E.
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