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Top Democrats knew about Zabel allegation in 2019

Plus, why a key Pa. senator’s record has Democrats worried.

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Your Postmaster: Colin Deppen
Monday, March 13, 2023
CHALLENGE ALERT: Our March membership drive has just begun, and we've been challenged to raise $25,000 to prove how much Pennsylvanians want hard-hitting, nonpartisan investigative journalism.

As a special bonus to you, every contribution will be DOUBLED thanks to a generous matching gift from the Benter Foundation in Pittsburgh.

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Official acknowledgment, Senate chokepoint, competency crisis, forced discharge, naloxone stats, DA decision, and a tree house blockade. 

Pennsylvania House Democrats have acknowledged for the first time that the caucus knew about a sexual harassment allegation against state Rep. Mike Zabel (D., Delaware) several years before similar claims went public.

Sources told Spotlight PA that lawmakers — including then-state House Minority Leader Frank Dermody (D., Allegheny) and state Rep. Leanne Krueger (D., Delaware) of the influential Pennsylvania House Democratic Campaign Committee — were approached by a lobbyist who said Zabel inappropriately touched her as they discussed a bill outside the Capitol in 2019.

A spokesperson for House Democrats says Dermody directed Zabel to receive unspecified treatment through the State Employee Assistance Program (SEAP) and attend anti-harassment training. New allegations would follow. 

Read Spotlight PA's full report: Top Democrats knew about sexual harassment allegation against Pa. lawmaker in 2019.

THE CONTEXT: Several years after Dermody referred Zabel to treatment, state Rep. Abby Major (R., Armstrong) said Zabel put his arm around her, propositioned her, and followed her to her car at an event in 2022.

Major made the accusation public last week and Zabel announced his resignation — effective 9 a.m. on March 16 — in an email sent to state House Speaker Joanna McClinton (D., Philadelphia) hours later.

Democratic leaders, including McClinton, had previously called allegations against Zabel concerning but stopped short of urging his ouster.

McClinton told WITF that new state House rules adopted by Democrats in a party-line vote empower an ethics committee to investigate the claims by expanding who has standing to bring formal harassment complaints. 

Some Republicans doubt the rules will work as advertised.

"If this had been actually handled when [the lobbyist, Andi Perez] first reported it, then we wouldn't have had these incidents," Major told Spotlight PA. "It wouldn't be an ongoing problem four years later."


"It was shocking. Then I received a 'do not rehire' notice, and that to me was a big slap in the face."

—Dina Norris, a nurse who alleges she was fired by UPMC Altoona in retaliation for speaking publicly about hospital staffing shortages
Support Spotlight PA's investigative journalism for Pennsylvania and for a limited time, your gift will be DOUBLED.
Today we're kicking off our ☀️ Sunshine Week Member Drive and we've been issued a huge challenge. If we raise $25,000 in the next two weeks, every single gift will be DOUBLED by the Benter Foundation in Pittsburgh.

Sunshine Week is all about supporting efforts to advance government transparency and responsiveness on behalf of taxpayers. Help Spotlight PA continue its vital accountability and investigative reporting by making a tax-deductible gift and securing your dollar-for-dollar match now.

You can also give by PayPal here, or send a check to: Spotlight PA, 228 Walnut St., #11728, Harrisburg, PA 17108.

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VITAL DATA: Join us during Sunshine Week on Thursday, March 16 from 6-7 p.m. on Zoom for a free panel on health care reporting in Pennsylvania, how we fight for open records, and your rights under the Right-to-Know Law. Register here and submit your questions to events@spotlightpa.org

UNEQUAL ELECTIONS: Join us and a panel of election experts on Thursday, March 30 from 6-7 p.m. on Zoom for a free discussion on unequal voting policies in the state, how they impact voters, and possible solutions. Register for the event here and submit your questions to events@spotlightpa.org

Your postmaster at a neighbor's Holi celebration on Sunday. The annual Hindu festival of colors celebrates spring and the triumph of good over evil. Send us your pics by email, use #PAGems on IG, or tag @spotlightpennsylvania.
Brightly colored powders cover a man's face and clothing.
Today's top news story in Pennsylvania.KEY POSITION: Democratic lawmakers worry that a critical state Senate committee will be a bottleneck for election law improvements under its GOP chair, Spotlight PA and Votebeat report. State Sen. Cris Dush (R., Jefferson) is perhaps best known for helming a partisan probe of Pennsylvania's 2020 election and this session has already sponsored bills to eliminate mail voting and increase election audits.

Today's second top news story in Pennsylvania.BEHIND THE SCENES: A new investigation by Spotlight PA and the Pittsburgh Institute for Nonprofit Journalism reveals the very system intended to protect those with mental illness in the criminal justice system often makes matters worse, trapping them in jail. Here's a look at how the outlets conducted their six-month-long investigation into Pennsylvania's broken legal competency system.

Today's third top news story in Pennsylvania.DEPORTATION STOP: Activists citing "productive conversations" with the Lehigh Valley Health Network say they believe they've stopped an Allentown hospital from carrying out the forced "medical deportation" of an undocumented, comatose patient, the Inquirer (paywall) reports. The 46-year-old woman experienced complications from surgery after a brain aneurysm in December and has been in a coma since.

Today's fourth top news story in Pennsylvania.'OD ANTIDOTE': More than 22,815 opioid overdoses were reversed using state-supplied naloxone since 2017, new data show. Hundreds of thousands of naloxone kits have been distributed by a state-run program in that time, via Capital-Star. Now, with another harm reduction tool, fentanyl test strips, newly legal statewide, advocates hope to see a similar distribution network launched.

Today's fifth top news story in Pennsylvania.NO CHARGES: DA Larry Krasner's office says the FBI's top agent in Philly won't be charged for fatally shooting a pit bull in Center City last month. Officials said the agent, Jacqueline Maguire, was off-duty and walking her dog near 16th and Spruce Streets when a leashed pit bull attacked her pet, prompting Maguire to shoot the other animal. The FBI hasn't said if its investigation into the incident is also closed.
🏆 TEST TIME: If you’re confident you followed the news closely last week, there’s only one way to prove it: Put your knowledge to the test with the latest edition of The Great PA News Quiz.

SHELTER-IN-PLACE: An ammonia leak at a Kunzler Meat Company facility in downtown Lancaster prompted a shelter-in-place order for a half-mile swath of the city early Sunday. The order was lifted by Sunday afternoon.

GOING INN: The centuries-old Tannersville Inn has been serving people since 1825. WOLF-TV reports it's set to be razed to make way for a Wawa. Some locals aren't happy. One said they're "Jersey-ing" up the Poconos.

TREE PROTEST: With a natural gas pipeline set to run from just south of the Pennsylvania border through Appalachia, protesters mounted a 932-day blockade in tree houses along the route, per Teen Vogue.

OFFICE FAN: Actor Steve Carell told the Office Girls podcast that of all the places he's visited in the U.S., Pittsburgh is his favorite: "I’m not saying that ironically either. I've done a couple movies there. It's a cool city."

ALOHA, ERIE: "Erie Pa., Maui of the mainland," state Sen. Dan Laughlin tweeted alongside this impressive lakeside video.

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.

Friday's answer: Sanctimonious

Congrats to our weekly winner: Fran B.

Congrats to our daily winners: Becky C., Vicki U., Susan N.-Z., Barbara F., Keith W., Jon W., Don H., Susan D., Eric F., Kimberly D., Carol S., Lisa H., Dennis M., James B., Dianne K., Craig W., Bill S.,. Kim C., James L., Dan E., John P., and David W.
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