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Revealing lawmakers' secret harassment settlements

Plus, Pa. mail ballots get a 2024 makeover.

We're almost halfway there. With just one day left in November, we're 47% of the way to our end-of-year goal of raising $125,000 in support of Spotlight PA's unrivaled investigative and public-service reporting.

Help us finish November strong and cross this big milestone by making a gift now and getting it matched as part of our #GivingTuesday match. 

Give generously today and your tax-deductible contribution will be DOUBLED. Still not convinced? Check out this column from Spotlight PA's CEO about how our nonpartisan journalism is getting results.

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—Colin Deppen, Newsletter Editor

The logo of PA Post, a free daily newsletter delivering the top news from across Pennsylvania every day.

A daily newsletter by The logo of Spotlight PA, an independent, nonpartisan newsroom producing investigative journalism for Pennsylvania.
Your Postmaster: Colin Deppen

Thursday, November 30, 2023
In today's edition: Misconduct pay, ballot redesign, coroner raided, dangerous neighbor, official obstruction, mask ban, and the legendary Larry Fink.
Newly obtained records reveal the Pennsylvania legislature has quietly paid out hundreds of thousands of dollars over the past five years to settle sexual harassment and other claims against lawmakers and staffers.

The state House and Senate paid out $279,361 between 2017 and September of this year to settle 11 disputes, which ranged from a disagreement over office lease payments to racial discrimination and sexual harassment complaints. Seven of those settlements included strict confidentiality promises or non-disparagement clauses, keeping details hidden.

Read Spotlight PA's full report: Legislature paid $280K to settle harassment, other claims while requiring secrecy in many cases.

THE CONTEXT: Spotlight PA requested the documents amid lawmaker criticism of a $295,000 settlement involving allegations of harassment against a former top advisor to Democratic Gov. Josh Shapiro. 

Calls for reform continue, with lawmakers proposing a broader definition of sexual harassment in House rules and a policy that would allow government agencies to publicly seek reimbursement from an offender if a settlement is paid out. Currently, settlement costs are most often shouldered by the government agency where the offender is employed, or covered through the state-funded Employee Liability Self-Insurance Program.

“POTUS seems very happy with your response. I read it just as you dictated.”

U.S. Rep. Scott Perry (R., Pa.) in a Dec. 30, 2020 text message to pro-Trump DOJ official Jeff Clark, one of many recently unsealed Perry communications casting new light on efforts to overturn that year's election
Support Spotlight PA's investigative journalism and for a limited time, all gifts will be DOUBLED.
It's #GivingTuesday Week, one of the most important of the entire year to ensure our unique investigative and public-service journalism for Pennsylvania can continue. That's why all gifts to Spotlight PA this week will be DOUBLED.

Support Spotlight PA on Giving Tuesday this Tuesday, November 28.Do your part and lock in your matching dollars now »

Thank you to the 841 people who have given so far during our year-end drive, including Dan A., who said, "You pull no punches and you don't play politics."

Join Dan & make a tax-deductible gift now »

You can also give via PayPal or Venmo, or send a check to: Spotlight PA, PO Box 11728, Harrisburg, PA 17108-1728.

A wheel of mums at Edward's Garden Center in Forty Fort, via @lora_explores. Send us your Pennsylvania photos by email, use #PAGems on Instagram, or tag us @spotlightpennsylvania.

A small, Ferris wheel-shaped structure covered in flowers and surrounded by greenery and trees.
Today's top news story in Pennsylvania.BALLOT MAKEOVER: Pennsylvania mail ballots will look different in 2024. The commonwealth is rolling out redesigned envelopes and revised instruction sheets in all 67 counties to cut down on confusion that sometimes leads to ballot errors and rejections. Secretary of State Al Schmidt said several elections under Pennsylvania's no-excuse mail voting law have imparted lessons officials are keen to reflect.
  • RELATED: Group wants to knock on 500,000 doors to convince Pa. Republicans to vote by mail in 2024, via PennLive.
Today's second top news story in Pennsylvania.OFFICE RAID: The Washington County Coroner's office was raided this week by the county's district attorney, the move coming weeks after the coroner publicly challenged the DA's decision to rule a fatal police shooting justified. TribLIVE reports agents from the office of recently reelected DA Jason Walsh and state troopers sought evidence used in the coroner’s inquest into the April death of Eduardo L. Hoover Jr.

Today's third top news story in Pennsylvania.
PA WASTELAND: Industrial waste has been stored in Yukon, a town of around 500 in rural Westmoreland County, for decades. PublicSource reports that locals have questioned the safety and health implications for just as long, and a March report by the U.S. Environmental Protection Agency confirms their suspicions were not misplaced. Now, the operator of the landfills involved is looking to expand its operations.
Today's fourth top news story in Pennsylvania.CASE DISMISSED: Criminal charges have been dismissed against three emergency management supervisors accused of obstructing the investigation into a 911 dispatcher who refused to send an ambulance to a dying woman, via the Observer-Reporter. The judge said there wasn't "a scintilla of evidence" to support the case. Charges have not been dropped against the dispatcher, Leon Price.

Today's fifth top news story in Pennsylvania.BALACLAVA BAN : Philadelphia City Council is poised to ban the wearing of ski masks — the garment popularized by rapper Pooh Shiesty — in certain public spaces. The Inquirer (paywall) reports the public safety-focused bill allows the city to fine people $250 for wearing ski masks in parks, schools, and on public transit, with carveouts for religious activities and protests. The ACLU is waving the caution flag.
Support Spotlight PA's vital investigative journalism and for a limited time, your gift will be DOUBLED.

TO THE MAX: Center City Philadelphia's only IMAX screen is closing for good at the Franklin Institute, The Inquirer (paywall) reports. Meanwhile, in Pittsburgh, City Paper says the whole city is being IMAX "gaslit."

CUBAN 2024? Pittsburgh native Mark Cuban's exit from Shark Tank and sale of his Dallas Mavericks stake this week prompted plenty of political speculation. So far, Cuban insists he's not running for president.

IN MEMORIAM: Legendary photographer Larry Fink, whose work famously contrasted wealthy Manhattanites with working-class Pennsylvanians, died last week at home in Northampton County. He was 82 years old.

SEPTA SWAG: The unexpected hit of the holiday shopping season thus far? SEPTA's e-commerce store, which quickly sold out of the transit system's branded merch following a viral tweet from Tokyo.

DRINK DISPUTE: Beverage company Liquid Death has changed the name of its Armless Palmer drink — a not-so-subtle nod to the deceased golf legend from Latrobe — to Dead Billionaire after a legal threat.

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: Berserk

Congrats to our daily winners: Barbara F., Ted W., Marty M., Jill M., Becky C., Eddy Z., Karthik B., Stacy S., Kevin M., Sandi H., Richard A., Sharon Y., Kim C., Daniel M., Sharon M., Karyl S., Benjamin M., Beth T., David T., Lynne E., Christina M., Ted B., Carol G., Ed K., Jon W., Bob C., Ada M., Vanessa J., Judith D., Carol S., Don H., Randolph J., Jane R., Sarah S., Adrien M., Virginia M., Vicki U., William Z., Mike B., John P., Tish M., Stanley J., Nancy S., Jeffrey F., Lex M., Susan N.-Z., Marie B., Johnny C., Karla T., Janet S., Bruce B., Wendy A., Kathy B., Geoff M., Leslie B., Michael K., Karen W., Susan R., Joel S., Dan A., Tom M., Kimberly D., Paul R., and David M.
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