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Pa. GOP’s voter info grab sets up a legal showdown

Plus, the long wait for Pa.'s 'forever chemical' controls.


A daily newsletter by Spotlight PA
Your Postmaster: Colin Deppen
September 16, 2021
Subpoena showdown, power outage, toxic trouble, slow trains, pay day, and spotted lanternflies everywhere. Hello there, it's Thursday and Yom Kippur.

Republicans leading a contested review of Pennsylvania's 2020 presidential election have approved a subpoena for personal information on every registered voter in the state, prompting Democrats to vow legal action to stop not only the subpoena but the entire Trump-backed probe.

Spotlight PA reports the subpoena — approved in a party-line Senate committee vote Wednesday — seeks the name, address, driver's license, and partial social security number of every voter registered as of last November.

It also seeks communications between election officials, poll worker training materials, and more.

Republicans said the voter information will be handed over to a private company paid with taxpayer money and then used to verify voter identities.

Democrats, meanwhile, are promising a legal showdown meant to prevent any of this from actually happening. 

THE CONTEXT: Democrats, including those in Gov. Tom Wolf's administration, have blasted the GOP-led election inquiry as a partisan and baseless attack on the legitimate outcome of the 2020 election.

In a statement after Wednesday's vote, Wolf called the investigation a capitulation to former President Donald Trump's "conspiracy theories." 

Senate Republicans have said they do not have a specific budget for the inquiry, nor have they set a ceiling on how much they are willing to spend, but critics say it will unnecessarily cost taxpayers millions.

Republicans are also prepared to counter any litigation — adding to both the length of the process and the price tag.


"The President Commissioner is hiding a major personnel shift in the county from the public and not explaining the correlation between the Primary Election report and this decision." 

—Chad Baker, of York County's Democratic Party, on the "demotion" of an election official days after a report on the county's flawed May primary
COVID-19 UPDATE: Breakthrough cases are rising in Philadelphia, but vaccines remain highly effective in reducing serious illness; Rite Aid has digital vaccine cards; Allegheny County Council has nixed a new mask rule; and two GOP state lawmakers want anyone who loses or quits a job over a vaccine mandate to get unemployment benefits. To find the vaccine, use the federal government's online tool, call 1-800-232-0233, or text your ZIP code to 438829 (GETVAX).
Thanks, Don H., for this shot of Longfellow Trail in Clarion County, a place this PA Poster says everyone needs to visit at least once. Send us your gems, use the hashtag #PAGems on Instagram, or tag us @spotlightpennsylvania.
REINED IN: GOP legislators in more than half of U.S. states are curbing powers state and local officials use to protect the public against infectious diseases, the AP reports. In Pennsylvania, Capital-Star reports Republican lawmakers are turning to constitutional amendments and "arcane" committees to stop the Wolf administration's COVID-19 orders.

'FOREVER' WAIT: Pennsylvania officials say they're ready to clamp down on the toxic forever chemicals known as PFAS. Officials told PublicSource and Environmental Health News the process will take at least two more years, but advocates worry past delays will repeat, and they warn Pennsylvania residents are already exposed.

ON HOLD: Philadelphia's SEPTA transit agency has little to show for a $7 million consulting contract initiated in the early days of the pandemic, when the system was hemorrhaging $1 million a day with no idea when (or how much) relief funding would come. WHYY reports the initiative is in a holding pattern now, one year and thousands of work hours later.

CREDIT DUE: A sweeping outreach effort is underway to make sure Pennsylvania families most in need are accessing an expanded child tax credit — hailed as a historic anti-poverty measure — and the monthly payments it provides. WESA reports this means helping families overcome language, technology, and tax filing barriers.

BIG TECH: Computer giant IBM has paid Pennsylvania $33 million to settle a lawsuit brought by officials who claim the company bungled a $170 million upgrade of the state's unemployment computer system. The settlement caps a years-old legal case that cost the state $7.8 million, which PennLive confirmed through an open records request.
SIGN IN: "Who's responsible for the Joe Biden Taliban billboard over I-83 in York County?" reads the headline from ABC27. The answer? Former state Senator and failed gubernatorial candidate Scott Wagner.

WILDEST DREAMS: Black journalists at The Philadelphia Inquirer have launched a multimedia anthology called "Wildest Dreams," with articles, poetry, and visuals exploring "what being Black means to Black people." 
UNION MADE: After a lengthy — and often pointed — back-and-forth with management, media workers at Philadelphia public radio station WHYY have their first union contract. "It's an entirely new reality," one reporter said.

SPOTTED: By the looks of it — and by "it" we mean Pennsylvania's dedicated subreddit — humans have lost the Great Spotted Lanternfly War: ceding big-box stores, bridges, and homes to the invasive pest.

ROOMIES: Drew Olanoff moved to Philly's suburbs in August, taking on a very old house with what appeared to be a very comfortable raccoon eating king crab legs in the attic. Olanoff recalls the ensuing adventure for Billy Penn.
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.
Yesterday's answer: Derivative

Congrats to our daily winners: Craig W., David I., Barbara F., Doris T., Irene R., Susan D., Becky C., Joel S., Michelle T., Beth T., Elaine C., Damon D., Kevin H., Mike B., Lex M., Neal W., Brandie K., Susan F., James B., Heidi B., Don H., George S., Kim C., Tish M., Kimberly S., Mary Ann M., Alan V., Dennis M., Al M., Diane P., Carol D., Fred O., Bill S., Mary Kay M., Patricia M., Kyle C., Dianne K., John P., Elizabeth W., Eugene L., Connie K., Ann E., Wendy A., Craig E., Mary Ann M., Eddy Z., Skip B., and Ted W.
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