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State parks get big boost, but need more

Plus, $3.3 million and counting for GOP-led Krasner impeachment

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Monday, October 2, 2023
In today's edition: Backlogged projects, greenhouse conflict, drug crackdown, fewer injuries, hefty costs, and increased interest. Happy October! 
Pennsylvania lawmakers put $112 million toward sustaining and improving state parks and forests in this year's budget, but the money is a fraction of a $1.4 billion repair backlog.

Parks and forests have received some funding for improvements in the past year, but rising maintenance costs have outpaced state spending. That made it difficult for Pennsylvania to adequately maintain and update facilities.

Read Spotlight PA’s full report: Pa. budget chips away at $1.4B backlog for parks, forests.

THE CONTEXT: The backlog figure comes from Pennsylvania’s Department of Conservation and Natural Resources, which uses information it gets from regular safety inspections to determine what park and forest maintenance to prioritize. Improvements can range from replacing lifeguard stations and visitor centers to installing new shower houses on campgrounds.

“It takes a little bit to get projects up to speed, whether that’s going through the bidding process, dealing with contractors, all those sorts of things,” said Wesley Robinson, a DCNR spokesperson. “The main thing is patience.”

Outside volunteers and private groups also contribute to maintaining state parks. But though outside fundraising efforts are helpful, advocate Marci Mowery told Spotlight PA, regular public investments and long-term planning from the state would better help keep up parks and forests. 

“It’s up to each of us to get involved, do what we can, to protect our freedom.”
Democratic Gov. Josh Shapiro discussing his time in office in his Saturday keynote speech to New Hampshire Democrats
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» 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.

» PATH TO EQUITY: Join Spotlight PA for its first in-person summit on Wednesday, Oct. 11, from 11:30 a.m. to 4:30 p.m. at the Whitaker Center in Harrisburg. Spotlight PA is co-presenting this event with Color & Culture, a Pennsylvania marketing firm. Tickets are on sale at this link until sold out.

» ELECTION 101: Join Spotlight PA’s government reporters Kate Huangpu and Stephen Caruso on Thursday, Oct. 12 from 6-7 p.m. ET on Zoom for a free panel on Pa.’s 2023 judicial candidates. Register for the event here and submit your questions to events@spotlightpa.org
Bison at the Trexler Nature Preserve in Lehigh County, via Don N. Have a Pennsylvania photo to share? Send it to us by email, use #PAGems on Instagram, or tag us @spotlightpennsylvania.
a group of four bison in the grass together
Today's top news story in Pennsylvania.GREENHOUSE POLICY: A secretive task force appointed by Democratic Gov. Josh Shapiro to review a contested greenhouse gas reduction strategy for the state didn’t reach a consensus, the AP reports. The Shapiro administration said it will review the group's recommendations as it awaits a pending court decision regarding the Regional Greenhouse Gas Initiative. 

Today's second top news story in Pennsylvania.DRUG WAR: A bill is on the move in the state House that would permanently criminalize possession of black-market xylazine here, per WHTM, after Shapiro’s temporary criminalization of the drug earlier this year. But The Appeal, in a piece published in May, writes that the race to crack down on xylazine forgets drug war lessons of the not-so-distant past and won’t stop related deaths as intended.
  • RELATED: Philadelphia’s City Council overrides mayoral veto of its supervised injection site ban, via NBC10.

Today's third top news story in Pennsylvania.BACK TO WORK: More Philadelphia police officers are returning to work after The Inquirer (paywall) reported widespread abuse of an “injured on duty” system. The outlet’s initial investigation found 11% of Philadelphia’s total police force — 652 people — was too hurt to work by the fall of 2021, all as officials warned of staffing shortages. Now, weekly injury lists include 300 fewer officers than before.

Today's fourth top news story in Pennsylvania.KRASNER COSTS: The taxpayer-funded tab for Pennsylvania’s stalled, GOP-led impeachment effort against progressive Philly DA Larry Krasner stands at $3.3 million, and two law firms — Harrisburg-based Saxton & Stump and Pittsburgh-based K&L Gates — have raked in the lion’s share, the Legal Intelligencer (paywall) reports. A court ruling stopped the impeachment in January. An appeal is in the works.

Today's fifth top news story in Pennsylvania.NEWLY ELIGIBLE: Pennsylvania State Police say Shapiro's removal of college as a requirement for new recruits is having an impact, WHTM reports. Of 1,217 new applicants seeking jobs with the agency in the month since Shapiro's directive, 524 were previously ineligible. In an op-ed published in May, two criminal justice experts make the case for more college in policing, citing better outcomes.
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🏆 SMART STUFF: Did you stay on top of Pennsylvania news last week? Prove it with the latest edition of the Great PA News Quiz: Amtrak addition, Taylor Swift-inspired legislation, 2024 bids, and toy riots.

J6 SENTENCE: A former state police cadet was sentenced to 8 years in federal prison for his role in Jan. 6, 2021 rioting at the U.S. Capitol. Craig Michael Bingert, 32, and a co-defendant were convicted for helping to overpower Capitol police, via the Morning Call (paywall).

CLIMATE EFFECTS: Climate change is changing Pennsylvania's poison ivy, a new study found. The Allegheny Front reports a comparison of leaves from 1838 through the 2010s determined more carbon dioxide could mean not only larger leaves on the plant but more toxins in them too.

CAPITOL BRIEFS: Spotlight PA's Stephen Caruso reports Taylor Swift-inspired concert ticket bills, another bill that would move up Pennsylvania's presidential primary date to April 2, and one on striking worker unemployment compensation are due for committee votes in the state House this week.

SCHOOL UNION: In an effort to address compensation and work-life balance, resident assistants at the University of Pennsylvania voted to form a union last week, via The Inquirer. It’s the first RA union in the Philadelphia area.

I-99 ROADWORK: Attention State College-area motorists: A big, monthslong construction project is set to begin on I-99 today between the Port Matilda and Grays Woods exits, StateCollege.com reports.

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