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Hopes for May abuse amendment vote rapidly dwindle

Plus, why tax caps pose a problem for Pa. towns.

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The logo of PA Post, a free daily newsletter delivering the top news from across Pennsylvania every day.

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

Your Postmaster: Colin Deppen
Thursday, January 26, 2023
House pause, relief guide, revenue reins, go-between, money move, going broke, debt buys, Sheryl's Super Bowl, and literary history.

The chances of Pennsylvania voters seeing a ballot question in May on legal relief for survivors of childhood sexual abuse are next to nil.

The state House is adjourned until late February amid a stalemate over operating rules and ahead of three consequential special elections.

That timeline far exceeds the Jan. 27 deadline that former Gov. Tom Wolf set for a constitutional amendment — one that would let voters decide on a temporary rollback of the statute of limitations for lawsuits against perpetrators of childhood sex abuse — to appear on May primary ballots.

"At some point in time, there is enough blame to go around," survivor Cathleen Palm said. "... The dysfunction is bipartisan and bicameral."

Read Spotlight PA's full report: Hopes of bipartisan cooperation give way to complete deadlock in Pennsylvania's state House.

THE CONTEXT: The amendment could still be passed and put on any subsequent ballot until 2024, but survivors, who have weathered chronic and unexpected delays, say they've waited long enough.

Both parties are doing their best to assign blame for the stalemate. 

Republicans say House Speaker Mark Rozzi (D., Berks) should agree to take up a legislative package that combines an abuse amendment with others on voter ID and executive power, and which passed the state Senate earlier this month with GOP support and only one Democrat on board.

Democrats say the public deserves a clean vote on the measure, and the abuse amendment's Republican author agrees. Democrats also say Republicans have not answered their calls to negotiate.

Pausing House business until Feb. 27, as Rozzi did Tuesday, will also give Democrats time to swear in any new members they get in special elections set for Feb. 7 in three Democrat-friendly Allegheny County districts, likely giving the party a functional majority without requiring compromise.


"The NewsGuild-CWA urges the Department of Justice to investigate the competitive impact of this attempted consolidation of local news."

—Jon Schleuss, president of the NewsGuild of the Communications Workers of America, calling on the DOJ's antitrust division to probe the purchase of Pittsburgh's alt-weekly by the embattled owners of the Post-Gazette
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» BROKEN BOROUGHS: Join us today at 6 p.m. EST on Zoom for a free panel on Pennsylvania's local governments and how their oversight — or lack thereof — impacts residents and governance. Register for the event here and submit your questions to events@spotlightpa.org

Billowy clouds, as seen by Lynne E. Send us your photos by email, use #PAGems on Instagram, or tag us @spotlightpennsylvania.

Billowy gray clouds in the sky.
Today's top news story in Pennsylvania.PA HELP DESK: Earlier this week, Spotlight PA reported on the long waits and poor communication dogging applicants for the Pennsylvania Homeowner Assistance Fund (PAHAF), a pandemic-era relief program aimed at helping people with mortgage, utility, and other household debt. Today, we've got a guide to the program, applying, what to expect once you do, and how to handle delays.

Today's second top news story in Pennsylvania.TAX CAPS: Pennsylvania towns that lack home rule charters are unable to increase a variety of taxes beyond limits set by the state in the 1960s. That includes earned income taxes and a per capita tax on residents. Without that flexibility, more towns have come to rely heavily on property taxes. In Bradford, where property taxes are already high, it's meant city layoffs and project delays, per Spotlight PA.

Today's third top news story in Pennsylvania.CHIEF CHARGED: Federal authorities say Greensburg's police chief, Shawn Denning, served as a go-between for interstate drug deals, even providing menus and prices of available drugs, TribLIVE reports. The one-time NYPD officer is charged with six counts related to the distribution of cocaine and methamphetamine. He is free on $250,000 unsecured bond and no longer employed by the city.

Today's fourth top news story in Pennsylvania.'RISKY' BUSINESS: Democratic Gov. Josh Shapiro wants state pension funds to ditch outside money managers, citing "risky investments" associated with Wall Street firms. Shapiro has advocated for low-cost index funds before and has some leverage as governor, The Inquirer (paywall) reports, particularly at the State Employees' Retirement System, where he appoints six of 11 trustees.

Today's fifth top news story in Pennsylvania.BANKRUPTCY CASE: A lot went wrong on Chester's path to bankruptcy: The city amassed $750,000 in IRS penalties, fell victim to a $400,000 phishing scam, and developed a mountain of unfunded pension liabilities — most involving city police. But Route Fifty reports the city's accounting practices mean "no one really knows" how bad it is, or what Chester's true unfunded liabilities look like.
Support Spotlight PA's vital investigative and public service journalism.

DEBT RELIEF: Pittsburgh City Council has passed a bill that would use $1 million in relief funds to buy and forgive health care debt from hospitals, TribLIVE reports. The bill could clear up to $115 million owed by roughly 24,000 city residents, Democratic Councilor Bobby Wilson said.

NOT SO FAST: Good Will Fire Company No. 1 of Trexlertown has called off its Lehigh Valley-famous fastnacht sale for a third straight year. This time it's citing high egg prices and a lack of volunteers.

SHERYL SHOW: Sheryl Lee Ralph will sing the "Black national anthem," "Lift Every Voice and Sing," at Super Bowl LVII. Ralph stars in ABC's Abbott Elementary and is wed to state Sen. Vincent Hughes (D., Philadelphia).

PIE SALE: Lancaster County's Dutch Haven bakery sold 45,000 shoo-fly pies last year before closing for good. It's now up for sale for $2.4 million, per PennLive. Whether the pies return depends on who buys it.

FOUND ART: Phillis Wheatley Peters is considered the first Black person, enslaved person, and the second woman to publish a book of poetry in America. A recent find in Pennsylvania has scholars buzzing.

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: Fuselage

Congrats to our daily winners: Craig W., Michelle T., Susan D., Don H., Barbara F., Michael P., Kimberly B., Lynne E., Jon W., Jane R., Susan N.-Z., Elaine C., Rick L., John F., Vicki U., Tish M., Ronnee G., James B., Patricia R., Dennis M., Bonnie M., Dan A., Chris M., Adrien M., Sandy S., Bruce B., Dianne K., David W., William Z., Marty M., Bill S., Mary E., Daniel M., Elizabeth W., Wendy A., John A., Catherine J., John P., Starr B., Kim C., Ralphy R., Gary G., Joel S., and Kimberly D.
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