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Is Shapiro's new voter registration policy legal?

Plus, Pa. candymaker found responsible for deaths from factory explosion.

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Your Postmaster: Tanisha Thomas

Monday, October 9, 2023
In today's edition: Voter registration criticism, recreational use, death accountability, population loss, school choice, and funding inequities.

Conservatives are questioning the security and motives of Gov. Josh Shapiro's automatic voter registration policy, and his authority to set it.

Shapiro's change means Pennsylvanians will have to opt out of registering to vote at motor vehicle offices statewide, instead of opting in. 

But the shift, made without legislative approval, has prompted GOP threats of litigation, the legal basis for which remains unclear.

Read Votebeat and Spotlight PA's full report: Gov. Shapiro's automatic voter registration in Pa. draws GOP lawsuit threats, but little action.

THE CONTEXT: The legislature's Freedom Caucus said it would sue, but its chair, state Rep. Dawn Keefer (R., York), recently said the group was still speaking with its attorneys and “exploring a few different angles.”

State Sen. Cris Dush (R, Jefferson), who chairs the chamber’s State Government Committee, said Shapiro's policy amounted to “official oppression” because changing the system to opt out made registering compulsory and took away a citizen’s right to decline registration.

Spotlight PA and Votebeat report the new PennDOT system does not make registration mandatory. Slides provided to the outlets show the on-screen registration process, which requires motorists to hit the “enter” key to continue or the number 9 key to opt out, giving them agency.


 “If we don’t get this funding, we’re going to have really tough decisions to make.”

—SEPTA CEO Leslie S. Richards on the progress of a bill that would increase the share of state sales tax dedicated to public transit.
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» PATH TO EQUITY: Join Spotlight PA for its first in-person summit on Wednesday, Oct. 11, from 11:30 a.m. to 4:30 p.m. at the Whitaker Center in Harrisburg. Spotlight PA is co-presenting this event with Color & Culture, a Pennsylvania marketing firm. Tickets are on sale at this link until sold out.

» ELECTION 101: Join Spotlight PA’s government reporters Kate Huangpu and Stephen Caruso on Thursday, Oct. 12 from 6-7 p.m. ET on Zoom for a free panel on Pa.’s 2023 judicial candidates. Register for the event here and submit your questions to events@spotlightpa.org

The view of Nittany Mountain as seen from a Sky's The Limit Ballooning hot air balloon, via Ken H. Send it to us by email, use #PAGems on Instagram, or tag us @spotlightpennsylvania.

Today's top news story in Pennsylvania.FEDERAL PROBE: R.M. Palmer Co. is responsible for the deaths of seven people who died in an explosion at a West Reading chocolate plant, a Department of Labor investigation has found. The Reading Eagle reports that the probe found the company did not evacuate the facility even after learning of a suspected gas leak. The candymaker is pushing back on the claim as "inflammatory, callous, and irresponsible."

Today's second top news story in Pennsylvania.WAITING GAME: Despite polling that shows two out of every three registered voters in Pennsylvania support adult-use cannabis, there is still not enough support in the legislature to pass such a policy. The Inquirer (paywall) breaks down the next steps in bringing legal weed to the Keystone State.

Today's third top news story in Pennsylvania.PROJECTED DECLINE: Westmoreland County is projected to lose 16% of its population by 2050, the second-largest drop of any county in the state, TribLIVE reports. The predicted decline is a sign of the lack of work opportunities attracting people to the region, one expert said. The seven-county Pittsburgh region saw its labor force workforce go from 1.225 million in August 2019 to 1.177 million in August 2022.
Today's fourth top news story in Pennsylvania.DIFFERENT CHOICE: The national school choice movement has found an unusual ally in Democratic Gov. Josh Shapiro, who supports a taxpayer-funded private school voucher program. Observers told the AP they see both Shapiro's White House aspirations and the influence of Pennsylvania's richest man at play. 

Today's fifth top news story in Pennsylvania.FUNDING 'TRIAGE': A Western Pennsylvania school district has been forced to "triage" which services it can and can't offer its students because of low funding, its superintendent told state lawmakers, via WESA. A legislative commission has been tasked with recommending how Pennsylvania can fix funding inequities between poor and rich schools in the wake of a landmark court ruling. 
Join Spotlight PA for an exclusive event on equity and voting. Get your tickets now.
🏆 SEVEN QUESTIONS: Did you stay on top of Pennsylvania news this week? Prove it with the latest Great PA News Quiz: State park shortfall, McCarthy votes, and a megadonor’s money trail.

BEER BUBBLE: Is the craft beer bubble bursting in Philadelphia? The Inquirer (paywall) reports three artisanal ale-makers have called it quits there in three weeks. “This is going to be a bloodbath," one of them warned.

WEASEL WATCH: You have until Nov. 15 to let the state know what you think about its 10-year plan to reintroduce the adorable, elusive, and predatory American marten here. Could cougars be next? 

HILLBILLY MANGOES: It's pawpaw season in Pennsylvania, the time of year when the commonwealth's largest native tropical fruit is ripe for the picking. A pawpaw expert told us the do's and definite don'ts of eating them.

FIGHTER JETS: Military officials aren't saying much about a contested fighter jet training mission plan in the famously quiet Pennsylvania Wilds. The Bradford Era says lawmakers are being stonewalled too.

BASKETBALL WATCH: Can Pittsburgh become a basketball town? The Sports & Exhibition Authority is exploring investing in a study looking at the possibility of bringing an NBA and WNBA team to the city.

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Friday's answer: Aficionado 

Congrats to our weekly winner: Wes M.
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