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Will critics sink celebrated harm reduction bill?

Plus, a rural lens on Shapiro's budget.

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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

Tuesday, February 20, 2024
Today: Syringe stops, rural breakdown, private equity, 'monopoly' tactics, Ukraine holdouts, listening devices, and Pennsylvania's birthday.

A bill to legalize syringe services in Pennsylvania has passed a "historic" test, advancing out of a state House committee in what may have been a first-of-its-kind vote. But while harm reductionists celebrate, critics remain.

The bill's movement comes amid tension between Pennsylvania's drug paraphernalia law, which criminalizes syringe services, and plans for big-dollar opioid settlements to expand the option.

While syringe services have been linked to lower rates of disease and higher rates of addiction treatment referrals, state Rep. Paul Schemel (R., Franklin) said "we as policymakers would be enabling an evil to achieve that good, that’s a slippery slope, which I cannot go down.”

Only one Republican on the state House's Judiciary Committee voted in favor of the bill when it came up for a vote on Feb. 14, and that could foreshadow further challenges to getting it through the legislature.

Read Spotlight PA’s full report: A bill to legalize syringe services in Pa. just passed a historic hurdle, but GOP opposition remains.


"Mail-in voting is totally corrupt. Get that through your head."
—Former President Donald Trump making false claims about mail voting as GOP leaders in states like Pennsylvania promote the option; here's how state officials are preparing for 2024 election lawsuits and fraud claims
Shop the Spotlight PA store for exclusive Pennsylvania gear and apparel.

ON SALE: Our Exclusive PA Tote Bag

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Plus, get exclusive Spotlight PA apparel and accessories. SHOP NOW >

HOME IMPROVEMENTS: Join Spotlight PA Thursday, Feb. 22, from 6-7 p.m. ET on Zoom for a free panel discussion on the status and history of the Whole-Home Repairs program, and how advocates want to see it improved. Register here and submit your questions to events@spotlightpa.org


Old Glory in the snow, via Ron W. Have a photo to share? Send it to us by email, use #PAGems on Instagram, or tag us @spotlightpennsylvania.

An American flag hangs on a residential street covered in snow.
Today's top news story in Pennsylvania.RURAL BUDGET: As the populations of Pennsylvania’s rural counties shrink, officials hope future state spending can help slow projected losses by making investments that attract new residents and support local economies. Spotlight PA breaks down how Democratic Gov. Josh Shapiro's budget proposal could help rural communities.

Today's second top news story in Pennsylvania.COAL CUTS: Pennsylvania's largest coal-fired power plant went offline in Indiana County last year under a private equity owner that "squeezed whatever profit they could out of the aging facility," Capital & Main reports. Some see it as yet another "cautionary tale" about the growing role of private equity in seemingly everything.
Today's third top news story in Pennsylvania.UKRAINE AID: Where do Pennsylvania congressional delegates stand on stalled foreign aid for Ukraine? WESA reports some are resistant and others wavering as Ukrainian urgency grows. Billions of aid dollars have come to Pennsylvania via the in-state defense contractors and weapon-makers feeding the Ukrainian war effort

Today's fourth top news story in Pennsylvania.
PORT POWER: Allegations of anti-competitive behavior are swirling around the Port of Philadelphia, the recipient of more than half a billion state investment dollars since 2016, The Inquirer (paywall) reports. The claims now have the attention of federal regulators.
Today's fifth top news story in Pennsylvania.SHOT SPOTS: Pittsburgh is expanding its use of the controversial gunshot detection system known as ShotSpotter, per KDKA-TV, even as Chicago prepares to abandon it. Pittsburgh City Council members said they were unaware of Chicago's planned pivot.
VEEP VISIT: Vice President Kamala Harris will be in Pittsburgh today to tout clean water investments amid what CNN terms her own "quiet effort to break through the Biden campaign’s information bubble."

THON MILLIONS: Penn State's THON event raised nearly $17 million for children with cancer over the weekend. Last year, Spotlight PA followed the money and found most goes to research and related endowments.

LIBRARY LEASE: Opponents are taking issue with a deal between Gannon University and Erie County that allows the Catholic diocese-run school to open an education and research center in a public library.

RX RIPPLE EFFECTS: Independent pharmacy chain Mainline is closing nine Pennsylvania locations and blaming third-party pharmacy benefit managers that the Biden administration tried to rein in

PA BIRTHDAY GIFTS: Pennsylvania turns 343 in less than a month. Berks Weekly has a list of freebies to help you celebrate the occasion.
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: Regional

Congrats to our daily winners: Bob C., Sandra G., Becky C., Daniel M., Jody A., Bruce B., Don H., Kevin M., Kimberly D., Richard A., Kim C., Connie A. O., Dan A., Fran C., Jon W., Susan N.-Z., Bill M., Daniel S., Connie K., Ted W., Elaine C., Craig E., Stacy S., Vicki U., Stanley J., Joel S., Mike H., Joe D., Patricia S., Jane R., Judith D., Pam M., Pat E., Ellen G., Mary S., Eddy Z., Tom M., Michael H., Karen W., Beth H., David W., Jodine M., Tish M., Helen N., David T., Lynne E., William Z., Wendy A., John H., and Marty M.
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