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Pa. House shift could usher in election changes

Plus, Pa.'s medical marijuana oversight draws scrutiny.

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A daily newsletter by The logo of Spotlight PA, an independent, nonpartisan newsroom producing investigative journalism for Pennsylvania.

Your Postmaster: Colin Deppen
Wednesday, December 14, 2022
Election wrangling, state advisory, in writing, empty docket, Senate special, ouster effort, Fetterman on Netflix, Taylor tickets, and casino rules.   

Pennsylvania lawmakers agree that the commonwealth needs to rewrite its election laws, but that's essentially where the consensus ends. 

Since the 2020 election exposed gaps in existing rules, Republican lawmakers in the state House and Senate have almost completely deadlocked with outgoing Democratic Gov. Tom Wolf over which changes to make.

But the dynamic could change in the coming months. 

Democrats have tenuously flipped the state House and will maintain control of the governor's mansion, giving the party more leverage to advance a policy agenda on this front — with plenty of interests watching.
Read Spotlight PA and Votebeat's full report: Advocates, lawmakers hope Pa. House power shift opens door for election law changes.

THE CONTEXT: Lawmakers, lobbyists, and voting advocates are lining up with their lists of related priorities ahead of the next session.

Legislators have introduced co-sponsorship memos — a call for colleagues to support upcoming bills — on everything from pre-canvassing, removing the date requirement on mail ballots, expanding voter ID requirements, and repealing mail-in voting, among other proposals.

Last session, House Democratic Leader Joanna McClinton (D., Philadelphia) proposed her own election code rewrite, and a spokesperson said it "may be introduced in a different format" in the upcoming session.

But Democrats like McClinton and Gov.-elect Josh Shapiro — who has expressed an openness to expanded voter ID requirements — won’t have total control of the agenda, as Republicans still hold the Senate. 


"To get down long hallways and to accurately take out the threat — if, God forbid, that ever happens — it's very difficult with pistols to reach that goal and to make sure that you're accurate with those shots."

—Bill Pfeffer, director of safety and security for the Altoona Area School District, on a proposal to arm district resource officers with AR-15s
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» THE EXIT: Join us Thursday, Dec. 15 from 3-3:30 p.m. ET via Zoom for a free Q&A with Pennsylvania’s 47th governor, Tom Wolf, on his two terms, his legacy, and what comes next for the state. Register for the event here and submit your questions to events@spotlightpa.org

Easton's Peace Candle, via @jan.schwartz3. Send us your photos by email, use #PAGems on Instagram, or tag us @spotlightpennsylvania

The glowing top of Easton's 106-foot tall Peace Candle is pictured surrounded by tree branches and holiday lights.
Today's top news story in Pennsylvania.CANNABIS QUESTIONS: Following Spotlight PA reporting on the largely unregulated third-party companies that operate in Pennsylvania's medical marijuana program, and lax oversight of authorizing doctors, members of the state's Medical Marijuana Advisory Board are publicly questioning the Wolf administration on the rigor of medical marijuana consultations and advertising rules.

Today's second top news story in Pennsylvania.GROUP TEXTS: A slew of text messages obtained by Talking Points Memo offers new insight into the role U.S. Rep. Scott Perry (R., Pa.) played in efforts to overturn former President Donald Trump's 2020 loss. The outlet says the messages between Perry and Trump's former chief of staff have Perry sharing an aggressive plan to seize voting machines nationwide and put them under "lock and key."

Today's third top news story in Pennsylvania.NO MEETINGS: Pittsburgh's Commission on Racial Equity formed in 2020 on the heels of a report highlighting stark racial disparities in the city. But two years later, the commission has never held a meeting. PublicSource says the panel's future is under consideration as the administration of Mayor Ed Gainey hones its approach to related issues. Gainey took office after the commission was formed. 

Today's fourth top news story in Pennsylvania.IN THE RUNNING: Three candidates will vie for the Columbia County state Senate seat vacated by John Gordner. State Rep. Lynda Schlegel Culver (R., Northumberland) will face Democrat Patricia Lawton and Libertarian Thomas Anderson in the Jan. 31 special election. If Culver wins, she would have to resign her state House seat and another special election would be called in the lower chamber.

Today's fifth top news story in Pennsylvania.CLERK CRITICS: An ongoing state House power struggle has produced competing claims of majority control in the lower chamber and led state Rep. Bryan Cutler (R., Lancaster) and other Republicans to call for the removal of the chamber's chief clerk over last week's preemptive swearing-in of state Rep. Joanna McClinton (D., Philadelphia). Cutler took his own early oath of office on Monday.
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IN THE PICTURES: Democratic U.S. Senator-elect John Fetterman has a cameo in an upcoming Netflix film starring Christian Bale, Axios reports. Fetterman shared this photo of himself in costume, circa 1830.

TAYLOR'S TOUR: Attorney General Josh Shapiro's office says Taylor Swift fans in Pennsylvania who were burned by last month's Ticketmaster debacle will have another chance at Eras Tour tickets after all.

FAMILY EFFORT: Teen Vogue profiles a 21-year-old University of Pittsburgh junior named Sophia Shapiro who helped turn out the youth vote for her father, Democratic Gov.-elect Josh Shapiro, on Election Day.

BOOK MONEY: After threatening to withhold Ephrata Public Library funding in the name of "conservative values," Akron Borough Council in Lancaster County this week stopped short of a total defunding.

AGE LIMIT: Mount Airy Casino Resort is banning visitors under the age of 21 at its hotel, restaurants, spa, and pool. It's being billed as a pivot to more adult-centric offerings, but also helps curb illegal gambling like this.

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.

Yesterday's answer: Authentic

Congrats to our daily winners: Craig W., Michelle T., Becky C., Diane B., Vicki U., Don H., Barbara F., Kimberly D., Jill M., Susan D., Kim C., Jon W., Susan N.-Z., Ronnee G., Jane R., Barbara O., Elaine C., Chuck M., Anne B., Bill S., Dianne K., Wendy A., Nancy S., Eddy Z., David S., Kimberly S., Myles M., Joel S., David W., Lee S., Stanley J., and Marty M.
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