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Shapiro loosens Wolf's executive branch gift ban

Plus, House Speaker Mark Rozzi to launch a ‘listening tour.’


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Monday, January 23, 2023
Gift ban rollback, sky lights, conservative clues, monopoly report, crackdown city, and the Chicken Man chronicles. It's the Year of the Rabbit.

Democratic Gov. Josh Shapiro has loosened a gift ban for executive branch officials and staff that was put in place by his predecessor.

Former Democratic Gov. Tom Wolf's gift ban was famously strict and applied even to items like disposable water bottles. 

Shapiro's rules offer more exceptions, though he said there is still a "complete and total zero-tolerance policy" toward gifts from lobbyists.

Khalif Ali, of the good-government group Common Cause, said looser gift rules should be coupled with more stringent gift disclosures.

Read Spotlight PA's full report: Gov. Shapiro loosens his predecessor's notoriously strict gift ban for top officials.

THE CONTEXT: Employees can now accept plaques or certificates for awards; promotional mugs, pens, and T-shirts; and gifts of nominal value to mark a big life event such as marriage, illness, or retirement.

Shapiro's rules also allow employees "representing the Commonwealth in an official capacity" to accept food or refreshments worth as much or less than the federal government's per diem rate.

His policy keeps in place a ban on cash, event tickets, travel, and other larger gifts from anyone attempting to influence state action.

Shapiro, whose nascent administration is drawing criticism for a lack of transparency, is also requiring ethics training and an integrity pledge.

Read more: Shapiro's unusually opaque gubernatorial transition.


"I'm about two things, peace and love. And if you're 21 and older, smoke some weed!"

—Wiz Khalifa, a Pittsburgh native, urging people at Shapiro's inauguration party to smoke cannabis despite recreational use being illegal here
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» BROKEN BOROUGHS: Join us Thursday, Jan. 26 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

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Today's top news story in Pennsylvania.LIGHT SHOW: Light pollution is encroaching on the Pennsylvania Wilds, and environmental groups and residents are suggesting regulations that protect night sky views and the tourism dollars they bring. Barry Johnson with The Pennsylvania Outdoor Lighting Council told Spotlight PA that local ordinances often lack enforcement, while an attempt to regulate state-owned outdoor lights fell flat in Harrisburg in 2001.

Today's second top news story in Pennsylvania.LISTENING TOUR: Pennsylvania House Speaker Mark Rozzi (D., Berks) has announced a statewide listening tour. It's aimed at addressing partisan gridlock gripping the lower chamber and a push for legal relief for survivors of childhood sexual abuse that's caught in the middle. Rozzi told Spotlight PA's Stephen Caruso that he expects a meeting in Pittsburgh on Wednesday at 6 p.m. and Philly on Friday at 6 p.m.

Today's third top news story in Pennsylvania.GHOSTWRITER: A contested Central Bucks School District library policy, seen as a gateway to bans on LGBTQ-friendly books, has been reviewed and possibly edited by a statewide conservative group. Courier Times (paywall) reports that the metadata of a leaked copy of the rules made noteworthy changes to an earlier draft and appears to list a Pennsylvania Family Institute attorney as its author

Today's fourth top news story in Pennsylvania.RAPID EXPANSION: Health giant UPMC has grown from a system of 12 hospitals into a network of 40 in the past 10 years, and a new report by an antitrust advocacy group is raising red flags. UPMC questions the methodology used, per TribLIVE, while Democratic state Rep. Sara Innamorato, who's running for Allegheny County's highest elected position, is floating a related antitrust bill in Harrisburg.

Today's fifth top news story in Pennsylvania.TENT CITIES: December's clearing of a homeless encampment in Pittsburgh, which included the inadvertent raising of a tent with a person still inside, disregarded decades of protocols and prompted constitutional warnings, PublicSource reports. Two advocacy groups want policies for respectfully decommissioning such encampments with homelessness on the rise locally and shelters filling fast.
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RIOT CHARGES: Two people arrested during protests that turned violent in downtown Lancaster following a fatal police shooting there in 2020 have been convicted of riot and related offenses, LNP (paywall) reports.

GEATOR HEATER: "The Boss with the Hot Sauce is with the Big Boss Now," the family of legendary Philadelphia disc jockey Jerry Blavat said in a statement following his death on Friday at the age of 82.

PARENTAL CONCERN: Pittsburgh journalist Meg St-Esprit talks about her bariatric surgery in Romper and why the American Academy of Pediatrics' new adolescent obesity recommendations "will harm kids."

CHICKEN MAN: Alexander Tominsky, aka Philadelphia's "Chicken man," ate 40 rotisserie birds in 40 days and lived to write about it in The Guardian, recounting the point at which things started "tasting like leather."

QUICK SEARCH: Prohibition agent Izzy Einstein famously claimed he could find illicit booze in any U.S. city in under 30 minutes. It took him 21 minutes in Chicago, 17 in Atlanta, and a mere 11 minutes in Pittsburgh

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: Cacophony 

Congrats to our weekly winner: Rick A.

Congrats to our daily winners: Becky C., Eddy Z., Craig W., Elaine C., Susan D., John P., Eric F., Irene R., Starr B., Vicki U., Chuck M., Brandie K., Michelle T., Mike B., Chris M., Kimberly D., Jonathan S., Jane R., Joel S., Barbara F., Keith W., Jon W., Sherri A., Marty M., Don H., Al M., Bruce H., Wendy A., Susan N.-Z., Beth T., Ted B., Judith D., Kevin M., Elayne B., Bruce Bi., Steve D., Michael P., Bruce Ba., Georgann J., James B., Laura H., Jodi M., Kim C., Dennis M., Adrien M., Frederick H., Dianne K., Bill S., Janice H., Daniel M., David W., Trudy W., Tish M., Karen W., Nancy S., Ben P., David S., John H., Stanley J., and George B.
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