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'Big Lie' backers behind Pa. school mask lawsuit

Plus, how Pennsylvania will commemorate the 20th anniversary of 9/11.


A daily newsletter by Spotlight PA
Your Postmaster: Colin Deppen
September 10, 2021
Bedfellows, new disaster, audit 2.0, ethics watch, fresh review, proposed reforms, serious injuries, and the 20th anniversary of 9/11. It's Friday. 
A lawsuit filed by Pennsylvania lawmakers and parents looking to overturn the Wolf administration's days-old school mask order has the backing of a group that sought to overturn 2020's election results.

The plaintiffs in the case are being represented by Thomas King, a partner at a small Western Pennsylvania law firm and general counsel for the Pennsylvania Republican Party.

But Spotlight PA reports his legal expenses are being paid for by the Amistad Project, an initiative of the Thomas More Society that former Trump lawyer Rudy Giuliani once described as a “partner” in the campaign’s legal efforts to overturn the 2020 election.

THE CONTEXT: The Amistad Project has been involved in several election-related lawsuits in Pennsylvania since last fall, but little is known about who funds it or how it chooses its cases. 

"To the extent that these organizations are engaged in an activity on the public’s behalf … I believe they should be disclosing more," said Philip Hackney, a former IRS lawyer and associate law professor at the University of Pittsburgh.

Senate President Pro Tempore Jake Corman (R., Centre), who's helping to lead the mask rule challenge, did not respond to an interview request. A spokesperson said taxpayer dollars are not being used to pay his legal fees.

Meanwhile, a medical exemption clause in the Wolf administration's school mask rule is making it easier for some students to go to class without covering their faces, the AP reports, calling it an "apparent loophole."

"I am requesting a federal disaster declaration because Pennsylvanians and our communities need and deserve critical support as they recover from significant damages to their homes and public infrastructure."

—Gov. Tom Wolf calling on President Joe Biden to declare a disaster in Pennsylvania after last week's severe storms cause widespread damage
COVID-19 UPDATE: New cases are slowing in Philadelphia, but the city's mask mandate won't be lifted yet; President Biden wants OSHA to mandate vaccines at businesses with 100 or more workers; and Dr. Anthony Fauci says the U.S. infection rate is 10 times higher than it should be. To find the vaccine, use the federal government's online tool, call 1-800-232-0233, or text your ZIP code to 438829 (GETVAX).
A hidden talent shared with us! Thanks, Juliet Z., for this mesmerizing sketch of McConnells Mills State Park in Portersville. Send us your gems, use the hashtag #PAGems on Instagram, or tag us @spotlightpennsylvania.
IT BEGINS: The first hearing in a relaunched effort to conduct a "forensic investigation" of the 2020 election answered few questions about what the review will actually entail. The Inquirer reports the senator leading the probe did not refer to it as an "audit" Thursday, nor did he explain what his committee will be doing. 

ETHICS LOOK: The U.S. House Committee on Ethics has extended an investigation into Rep. Mike Kelly (R., Butler) that started after Kelly's wife bought stock in a local steel company days before the launch of Kelly-ushered probe into foreign steel imports, per Erie Times-News. The committee says an extension "does not itself indicate a violation."

NEW REVIEW: In the face of fresh accusations from Republicans in the state House as well as a leading U.S. Senate contender, the University of Pittsburgh has hired a law firm to review its fetal tissue research practices, the Post-Gazette reports. Pitt is partially funded with public dollars, which GOP lawmakers have threatened to cut in the past.

MOVING AHEAD: In the wake of the rape and murder of foster child Grace Packer, two state lawmakers have introduced a package of bills intended to strengthen Pennsylvania's child protection system. A state inspector general review of the Department of Human Services' handling of Packer's case remains incomplete two years after it was launched.

RECOVERING: State Sen. Pat Browne, chair of the powerful Appropriations Committee, was injured in a motorcycle crash, WFMZ-TV reports. He suffered a concussion, fractured his neck, and broke an orbital bone but is expected to make a full recovery. 
PRESIDENTIAL VISIT: Tomorrow marks 20 years since the terror attacks of Sept. 11, 2001. President Joe Biden will mark the occasion with visits to all three crash sites, including the Flight 93 Memorial in Shanksville, per CNN.

BROKEN GROUND: WITF's Tim Lambert was one of several landowners with property at the crash site in Somerset County, where the Flight 93 Memorial now stands, and chronicled his return two decades later.

TOUCHPOINTS: Everyday objects evoke powerful 9/11 memories for readers of The Inquirer who shared the tangible tokens — a kerchief, shoes, a knife — that remind them of where they were and what has changed.

RIDGE ADDRESS: In his first public appearance since suffering a stroke earlier this year, Tom Ridge, who was Pennsylvania governor on 9/11 and later named director of homeland security, shared his memories of the day.

MONUMENTAL MISSION: Before 9/11, two local arborists climbed trees near Shanksville to trim branches. When the woods there became a massive crime scene, they were given a task that transformed their lives, Reuters reports.
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