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Policing vs. treatment for Pa.'s opioid windfall

Plus, Pa. county rushes to correct a mail ballot error.

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Tuesday, April 18, 2023
Epidemic decisions, challenge dismissed, ballot corrections, Roe repercussions, and it's Tax Day in the USA. Thanks for checking in.

Democratic Gov. Josh Shapiro said $1 billion in opioid settlement money would be "earmarked" for "life-saving treatment options" in Pennsylvania, but some counties want to spend it on police. 

Spotlight PA and WESA report clashes over how to spend the money exemplify the policing-versus-treatment divides that have influenced the response to an epidemic killing thousands of residents a year.

Read the full report: How will Pa. spend opioid settlement windfall?

THE CONTEXT: A working group in Lancaster County suggested spending $275,000 a year of the money on its drug task force.

A commissioner in Butler County received a request from police to use the county's cut to buy a $100,000 drug identification device.

Luzerne County District Attorney Sam Sanguedolce suggested spending funds on deputy coroners to respond to opioid overdose deaths and help build criminal cases against whoever provided the drugs.

A range of harm reduction and public health advocates said in interviews that they're concerned such spending could crowd out other priorities.

"They need to spend it on harm reduction, and they need to spend it on people not dying," said Pam Keefe, whose 22-year-old daughter Michalene Dougherty died from a drug overdose in 2018. 

In Pennsylvania, an oversight board is responsible for ensuring local governments spend the money appropriately, but questions about discretion and transparency remain with more big settlements looming. 


"We were blindsided. This has killed us. It hurt us big time."

—Renovo Mayor Gene Bruno blaming environmentalists for the cancellation of a $1 billion natural gas-fired power plant there
»  How Spotlight PA will cover Pa.'s 2023 primary election

»  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

»  Los candidatos a la Corte de la Commonwealth y Cortes Superiores

»  A guide to the Pa. Supreme Court candidates

»  High court candidates with party backing show fundraising edge

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

»  Court decision does little to clear up ballot curing confusion

»  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.
Sunset in Danville, courtesy of Sharon M. Send us your photos by email, use #PAGems on Instagram, or tag us @spotlightpennsylvania.
Sunset through a line of trees.
Today's top news story in Pennsylvania.CASE DISMISSED: Commonwealth Court judges dismissed a lawsuit against a constitutional amendment package pushed by Republicans that would, among other things, let voters decide if the state constitution guarantees any rights to an abortion or public funding of abortions. Former Democratic Gov. Tom Wolf sued, arguing the package itself is unconstitutional, but the judges declined to weigh in.

Today's second top news story in Pennsylvania.BALLOT ERROR: Nineteen thousand Lancaster County voters will receive new mail ballots for the May 16 primary, WHTM reports. Democrat and Republican mail-in ballots for the state Superior Court race told voters to select one candidate instead of two. Over 15,000 incorrect ballots were recovered by Monday, county officials said. All affected ballots will be "canceled and replaced."

Today's third top news story in Pennsylvania.POST-ROE VOTES: Focus groups of Pennsylvania voters who backed Trump in 2016 and Biden in 2020 suggest Republicans could be punished for how conservative judges and legislatures are restricting reproductive rights, Axios reports. A new F&M College poll found the share of Pennsylvania voters who say abortion should be illegal in all cases has dropped from 14% to 8% post-Roe.

Today's fourth top news story in Pennsylvania.'EGREGIOUS WASTE': Residents of South Fayette Township in Allegheny County are calling a nearly $10,000 retreat by township commissioners a taxpayer-funded vacation. KDKA-TV reports four commissioners and their spouses took part in a planning retreat at Omni Bedford Springs Resort. Lisa Malosh, the only commissioner who didn't attend, called it an "egregious waste" of money.

Today's fifth top news story in Pennsylvania.PENALTY PHASE: Surviving family of two brothers killed in the mass shooting at Pittsburgh's Tree of Life synagogue in 2018 say it is a “prevalent misconception” that many of the family members of the 11 people killed that day don't want the death penalty for the alleged gunman, whose trial begins next week. Josh Shapiro invoked the families in turning against the death penalty as governor.

PITT PIVOT: A contested appearance by conservative commentator Michael Knowles is happening tonight at Pitt. The Pitt News reports a connected debate on transgender issues is going forward too, only with a conservative columnist replacing the trans scholar who dropped out.

BIKE CRASH: Four motorcyclists were injured after departing the Blessing of the Bikes event at Murrysville Alliance Church on Sunday, per TribLIVE. "May the roads ahead be sunny with the wind at your back," Mayor Regis J. Synan told attendees. "Please be careful when you're leaving here today."

PSU VOTES: Voting is open for the next Penn State Board of Trustees alumni seats now through early May. About 750,000 alumni are eligible to vote, making it one of the largest elections in Pennsylvania. PennLive (paywall) breaks down the issues driving the balloting and campaigns.

LOW SNOW: WaPo (paywall) has graphics showing just how "snow-starved" Pennsylvania was last winter. For example, Philadelphia saw 0.3 inches of snow, compared to the seasonal average of 23.1 inches.

TAX DAY: It's Tax Day in the USA and public radio's WESA explains how Jordan Tax Service became the dominant, almost ubiquitous force in local tax collection for the Pittsburgh region. Not everyone's a fan.

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.

Yesterday's answer: Abstention

Congrats to our daily winners: Eric F., Beth T., Robert C., Dana B., Jo Ellen F., Julie K., Don H., John P., Starr B., Vicki U., John F., Ted W., Al M., Beth H., Lynne E., Craig W., Steve D., Kimberly D., Martin C., Michelle T., Chrysta S., Rebecca R.-M., Barbara F., Jane R., Marty M., Jon W., Bill S., Cindy I., Stanley J., William Z., Kim C., Michael K., Leann T., Daniel M., Cynthia P., Amy Z., Johnny C., Janet T., Becky C., Tracy S., Nola D., Robert K., Michael P., Dianne K., John H., Jodi R., Mark O., Brian P., James B., Susan N.-Z., Justin C., Adrien M., Ted B., Keith W., Martha D., Elaine C., Tom S., Glenda M., Rebecca S., Joel S., Mike B., Ada M., Carl K., Burnetta S., Dennis M., Susan D., Tish M., Fred O., Mike Z., Eddy Z., Mark C., Judy M., John A., Paul F., Nancy B., Karen W., and Chris K.
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