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Pa. lawmakers wooed in Wyoming, undecideds skew polling, and rage against the voting machines

Plus, Pa. waives skills tests for teachers amid staffing crisis.


A daily newsletter by Spotlight PA

Your Postmaster: Colin Deppen
September 19, 2022
Field trip, flawed evidence, test waivers, voter counts, rage against the machines, and the lengths some people will go to for longer legs. It's Monday.
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— Colin D., PA Post editor
A trip to Wyoming by a group of Pennsylvania lawmakers is the latest example of an ongoing war of influence over this state's gambling rules.

Spotlight PA reports five legislators, including House Majority Leader Kerry Benninghoff (R., Centre), got to experience Cheyenne Frontier Days, the "world's largest outdoor rodeo," courtesy of Pace-O-Matic — a skill games manufacturer jockeying for legal recognition of its machines here. 

Skill games operate in a legal gray area now, and companies like Pace-O-Matic want the state legislature to regulate the option. 

But the state's powerful casino lobby, which views skill games as a direct threat to revenues, wants to keep that from happening.

As the fight rages on, state lawmakers with the power to play kingmaker are benefitting handsomely, especially given Pennsylvania's lax rules around gifts to lawmakers from lobbyists and monied special interests.

Read Spotlight PA's full report: Skill games company woos Pennsylvania lawmakers with trips to wild Wyoming rodeo

THE CONTEXT: The Wyoming trip, all expenses paid for some of the lawmakers involved, comes amid the legislature's continued refusal to pass a gift ban to blunt the influence of lobbyists and special interests here.

Benninghoff and Rep. Greg Rothman (R., Cumberland) attended but reimbursed Pace-O-Matic for their costs — upwards of $1,700 per guest.

State Rep. Sue Helm (R., Dauphin) — who chairs the state House Gaming Oversight Committee, the first stop for bills in the lower chamber that deal with gambling — attended at Pace-O-Matic's expense but insisted "it wasn't a lavish trip," noting that she was flown there in economy class. 

State Reps. Marci Mustello (R., Butler) and Jeffrey Wheeland (R., Lycoming) also joined, the stated purpose of the travel being to speak with their Wyoming counterparts to learn about how that state regulated the skill game industry, another Pace-O-Matic spokesperson, Mike Barley, explained. 

Both casinos and skill game companies have landed allies in the legislature who have introduced competing bills on the issue. In April, Spotlight PA reported that state Sen. Tommy Tomlinson (R., Bucks) introduced a ban on skill games that was drafted by lobbyists for a casino in his district.



"We will work with our federal partners to closely monitor conditions on the island and provide whatever support we can to the people there."

—Gov. Tom Wolf announcing the deployment of Pennsylvania Task Force 1 members to aid response operations in hurricane-battered Puerto Rico
Thank you to the 223 people who have given so far, including Walter M., who said, "I believe in local journalism." Join Walter and contribute now »

We need to reach 500 gifts by Sept. 24, and as a special bonus, all donations will be DOUBLED. Help us reach this goal by making a gift now.
» THE STATE OF PA ELECTIONS: Join us Thursday, Sept. 29 at 6 p.m. ET via Zoom for a free Q&A with Acting Secretary of State Leigh M. Chapman, who oversees elections in Pennsylvania. Chapman will discuss how her agency secures and runs elections, explain the state's voting policies, and answer all of your pressing questions ahead of Nov. 8. Register for the event here and submit your questions to events@spotlightpa.org
A quick guide to all of Spotlight PA's 2022 election coverage:

»  How Spotlight PA will cover Pennsylvania's 2022 election
»  Your complete guide to the candidates for governor
»  Where Mastriano, Shapiro stand on LGBTQ rights

Support Spotlight PA's vital election coverage by making a gift now.
» BILLY PENN: The latest on Philly's scrutinized voting machines
» FOX43: No debate on the horizon for Shapiro, Mastriano
» NJ GLOBE: Mastriano was registered to vote in N.J. until 2021
» NYTIMES: Mastriano won't vow to accept '22 results (paywall)
» POLITICO: John Fetterman's new challenge: getting outspent
» P-G: Fear mongering vs. reality in U.S. Senate race (paywall)
The view from the Beam Rocks trail in Forbes State Forest, via Don H. Send us your photos, use #PAGems on Instagram, or tag @spotlightpennsylvania.
CASE HISTORY: Supporters of a contested legal theory at the center of a U.S. Supreme Court case that could see power over elections concentrated in the hands of partisan lawmakers have cited a fraudulent historical document in support of their case, Ethan Herenstein and Brian Palmer of the Brennan Center for Justice at NYU Law write in Politico Magazine. Spotlight PA explains the independent state legislature theory and what a ruling could mean for Pennsylvania

TEACHING TESTS: Pennsylvania lawmakers responding to a statewide teacher shortage have waived reading, math, and writing assessments for aspiring teachers here. The waiver will remain in effect for at least three years and comes as new teacher certifications remain a fraction of what they were a decade ago. The Inquirer (paywall) spoke with experts who said it's unclear the tests were leading to better teachers in the first place, while others questioned the wisdom of "lowering the bar."

POLL PROCESS: New polls of likely voters in Pennsylvania's November U.S. Senate race arrived at very different conclusions about the closeness of the contest — one poll separating Democrat John Fetterman and Republican Mehmet Oz by several percentage points and another by more than a dozen. WITF explains how pollsters are tallying undecided voters, or not, and how that can skew results. 

ANTI-MACHINE: A push to let Washington County voters decide whether to continue the use of electronic voting machines there has failed ahead of the Nov. 8 election, the news coming days after Lycoming County officials rescinded a similar ballot question on tabulation machines. Both are part of what the Post-Gazette (paywall) calls a targeting of election technology by election deniers.

911 VACANCIES: Twenty-three Pennsylvania counties are reporting unusually high numbers of 911 call center job openings, with three facing vacancy rates above 40% and one above 50%, a five-year state-commissioned audit found. CNHI reports costs and financial deficits are rising, even as call volumes drop, amid shifts to new technology and lagging collections of supporting state surcharge fees.

FAIRE-GOER: Riley Williams of Mechanicsburg, who's charged with stealing House Speaker Nancy Pelosi's laptop during the U.S. Capitol siege, was allowed off house arrest to attend the Pennsylvania Renaissance Faire for the second time in a month this past weekend, PennLive reports.

LEG MAN: John Lovedale, a 40-something network engineer from Harrisburg, gained several inches of height in a matter of months via a costly and painful "leg lengthening" procedure profiled by GQ (paywall).

DINNER MUSIC: Fast food chain Sonic is investigating after one of its New Jersey locations was taken over by Philly musicians who put on a hardcore/punk concert that hundreds of people attended, per Billy Penn.

CHEAT SEATS: If you're confident in your knowledge of Pennsylvania's 67 county seats, put it to the test with this Sporcle quiz (h/t @4st8).

TIL: This Easter egg-colored and highly invasive plant seen in southwestern Pennsylvania is called porcelain berry or amur perppervine.

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.

*Bonus: Guess this week's theme on Friday for an extra chance at winning a shipment of Spotlight PA swag. 

Friday's answer: Evermore

Congrats to our weekly winner: Judy M.

Congrats to our daily winners: Michelle T., Barbara F., Irene R., Rebecca M., Elaine C., Don H., Al M., Starr B., Mark O., James B., Becky C., Mike B., Susan N.-Z., Ted W., Steve D., Cynthia R., Greg V., Marty M., Kim C., George S., Rick A., Stanley J., Tish M., Beth B., Doris T., Judith D., Dianne K., Bill S., Patricia M., Karen W., Kathy F., John P., fitch387, Kimberly D., and Craig W.

Last week's theme: The pride of Berks County, Taylor Swift

Congrats to Judith D. for getting it right and winning Spotlight PA swag.
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