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GOP takes Pa.'s new school mask mandate to court

Plus, thousands will be refunded $19 million after unemployment error.


A daily newsletter by Spotlight PA
Your Postmaster: Sarah Anne Hughes
September 7, 2021
Mask suit, interest refunds, controversial contractor, storm cleanup, future unions, and Pennsylvania's first female miner. Welcome back. It's Tuesday.
The Republican leader of the Pennsylvania Senate and a group of parents are suing the Wolf administration over its new school mask mandate. 

The suit claims the order issued by Health Secretary Alison Beam isn't valid because it did not go through a regulatory review process, the Associated Press reports. Senate President Pro Tempore Jake Corman (R., Centre) and the other plaintiffs also claim the administration is trying to circumvent two constitutional amendments approved in the spring that limit the governor's emergency powers.

The mask order went into effect today, and Commonwealth Court is set to hear the case on Sept. 16. 

THE CONTEXT: Legal experts told WITF any legal challenge against the order faces slim odds of success.

The two constitutional amendments approved by voters allow a simple majority of lawmakers to terminate a disaster declaration at any time and transfer power to extend an emergency order from the governor to the legislature. 

But the new order was issued by the secretary of health, not the governor, under the state's Disease Prevention and Control Law. "A court will give deference to the Department of Health to determine what constitutes an appropriate control measure," an expert told WITF.

"People were picketing in front of my restaurants, stopping the people from coming in. As if I was a traitor. As if I was part of 9/11."

—Elsayed Elmarzouky, a former restaurant owner in Reading, on the hatred he faced as a Muslim after the 9/11 terrorist attacks
COVID-19 UPDATE: Montgomery County is recommending masking outside, regardless of vaccination status; some businesses push the return to the office until 2022; and Penn State Health says its sickest patients are unvaccinated and younger. To find the vaccine, use the federal government's online tool, call 1-800-232-0233, or text your ZIP code to 438829 (GETVAX).
» FUNDAMENTAL FLAWS: Join us Thursday, Sept. 9 at noon ET via Zoom for a free Q&A on addiction treatment oversight issues in Pennsylvania and how the state can keep people safe as they pursue recovery. Register for the event here and submit your questions to events@spotlightpa.org
The last gasps of summer in Lancaster County, from yours truly. Send us your gems, use the hashtag #PAGems on Instagram, or tag us @spotlightpennsylvania.
REFUNDS COMING: The state Department of Labor and Industry will pay out more than $19 million in refunds after it overcharged nearly 110,000 people for unemployment interest payments over a decade. Officials first learned about the issue in late 2016 but did not reveal it publicly until Spotlight PA learned of the problem.

NO ANSWERS: A controversial jail contractor refused to answer questions about his military service or criminal history during an Allegheny County Jail Oversight Board meeting, TribLIVE reports. The York Daily Record previously revealed Joseph Garcia had been sentenced to serve time in a British prison while serving in the Air Force.

THE RECOVERY: Communities in eastern Pennsylvania are still assessing the damage wrought by the remnants of Ida, the Inquirer reports. The region was "already pumped full of water and primed by heat" before the deadly floods and tornadoes arrived. "So in short, yeah — this is climate change," one expert told the paper.

ETHICS REVIEW: The district attorney in Allegheny County is planning a “thorough review” of ethics violations by Pittsburgh Public Schools' superintendent, according to the Post-Gazette. A state commission found Anthony Hamlet improperly received travel reimbursements and payments for appearances related to his job.

MOVEMENT MOVES: The face of labor organizing in Pennsylvania has shifted from coal mines and steel mills to hospitals, libraries, cannabis dispensaries, and other workplaces, the Capital-Star reports. More than 1,800 workers in the state have become union members over the past two years after successful organizing drives.
PRESIDENTIAL VISIT: President Joe Biden will visit Shanksville next Saturday to mark the 20th anniversary of the 9/11 attacks. Preserving the Flight 93 memorial, StateImpacts finds, has been a challenge

PLACE IN HISTORY: The sons of Karen Tyler, believed to be the first female coal miner in Pennsylvania, want her story to be told. Tyler, who died in 2020, faced both sexism and racism as a Black woman in Washington County.

HONORED: Three Pennsylvania residents, including a 102-year-old man from Crawford County, recently received France's highest honor because of their service in WWII. The ceremony took place in Pittsburgh.

NEW LEAF: Via PennLive comes this interactive fall foliage map that predicts when the leaves will be at their autumn leafiest. Official state reports don't begin until later this month

BAD BUGS: Move over, spotted lanternfly, there's another bad bug causing devastation in some parts of Pennsylvania. The good news? Infestations of the fall armyworm, a sporadic occurrence, should end with freezing temps.
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.
Friday's answer: Antithetical 

Congrats to our weekly winner: Rebecca E.

Congrats to our daily winners: Michael T., Neal W., Tracey C., Beth T., Patricia M., Don H., Susan N-Z., Kim C., Susan D., George S., Elaine C., Susan F., Jessica K., James B., Dennis M., Kimberly S., Joel S., Mike B., Craig E., Suz, Bill S., David W., Carol D., Myles M., and Elizabeth W.
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