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Property code voids feed rural Pa. poverty, study finds

Plus, Pa. expands its anti-discrimination laws.

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Your Postmaster: Colin Deppen
Friday, December 9, 2022
State protections, property codes, take two, the unreleased, DOJ delays, recount request, gas station maps, and money in high school sports. 
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A state panel approved a regulatory change to formalize nondiscrimination protections for LGBTQ people in Pennsylvania on Thursday, making discrimination based on sexual orientation and gender identity covered under Pennsylvania's 1955 nondiscrimination law.

The Independent Regulatory Review Commission voted 3-2 to approve the regulatory changes, which had outgoing Gov. Tom Wolf's support and circumvented the legislature in his final weeks in office. 

Republican critics of this approach call it an end-run around lawmakers. Wolf has for years called on the GOP-led General Assembly to put LGBTQ discrimination protections on the books, to no avail. 

Read Spotlight PA's full report: Wolf backs regulatory change that would formalize discrimination protections for LGBTQ Pennsylvanians.

THE CONTEXT: The Pennsylvania Human Relations Act bans discrimination in hiring, firing, housing, and schooling on the basis of sex, though it does not define the term. Thursday's rule change defines sex based on federal court rulings to encompass sexual orientation and gender identity.

The update also includes an expanded definition of racial discrimination to cover natural Black hairstyles like dreadlocks and braids.

Joel Bolstein, chair of the Pennsylvania Human Relations Commission, told Spotlight PA's Stephen Caruso on Thursday that discrimination complaints will still be directed to the commission for investigation. 

Staffing levels are less than half of what they were in 1999, but Bolstein hopes the rules will have a deterrent, front-end effect.
Also on Thursday: The Respect for Marriage Act passed the U.S. House (258-169) and is headed to President Joe Biden. The bill would protect same-sex and interracial marriage at the federal level, USA Today explains.

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"I was happy to see that people handled themselves with more decorum than in the past."

—Hollidaysburg student Madeline Shanafelt, who was heckled during a discussion on anti-LGBTQ policy changes that were voted down by the district's board, revised, and approved on first reading this week
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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

A still life from the winter flower show at Phipps Conservatory and Botanical Gardens in Pittsburgh, via Kimberly D. Send us your photos by email, use #PAGems on Instagram, or tag us @spotlightpennsylvania

A close-up photo of red and green plants and flowers.
Today's top news story in Pennsylvania.MISSING CODE: A new state study found an extensive lack of property maintenance codes in rural Pennsylvania has worsened living conditions and stalled investment in those communities. Spotlight PA reports that the Center for Rural Pennsylvania study revealed almost 90% of rural Pennsylvania municipalities lack property upkeep rules. One of the study’s authors says that's contributing to the poverty cycle.

Today's second top news story in Pennsylvania.SENATE STRIVER: Former hedge fund CEO and Republican David McCormick is eyeing another run for U.S. Senator from Pennsylvania. McCormick was the GOP establishment's preferred option in May's primary but lost to former President Donald Trump's chosen candidate. With a recent string of losses for Trump-backed nominees, including here, the AP says McCormick is in prime position for another try.

Today's third top news story in Pennsylvania.PRISONER SWAP: WNBA star Brittney Griner was freed by Russia on Thursday in a U.S. prisoner swap. Like Griner, Pennsylvania teacher Marc Fogel was imprisoned by Russia on a cannabis conviction. Unlike Griner, Fogel has yet to be released, drawing criticism from state politicians. The Biden administration says it will pursue Fogel's release on humanitarian grounds. It has not labeled him wrongfully detained.

Today's fourth top news story in Pennsylvania.SAFE SITE: The U.S. Department of Justice wants more time to pinpoint the federal government's position on a proposed safe injection site in Philadelphia that former President Donald Trump's administration sued to stop. President Joe Biden's administration has signaled an openness to the plan while delaying its response. Advocates say that safe injection sites reduce overdose deaths and that lives are on the line.

Today's fifth top news story in Pennsylvania.HEARING DATE: A supporter of losing GOP gubernatorial candidate Doug Mastriano is leading a recount push in Lebanon County that's set for a court hearing next Thursday. Similar requests have delayed certifications by several counties and the state. With judges batting down similar pushes for a lack of evidence, state officials say they plan to have all results certified by the "end of next week."
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NEW RULE: Pennsylvania high school athletes can now profit on their name, image, and likeness. WGAL reports a new policy was approved by the Pennsylvania Interscholastic Athletic Association on Wednesday.

FRACK WATER: More than 13 million people in states like Pennsylvania drink from the Delaware River basin. A commission that oversees the quality of that water approved new limits on fracking activity this week.

POLICE ID: Philly Police have identified "the boy in the box" — a child victim whose name remained a mystery for 65 years — as Joseph Augustus Zarelli. Columnist Helen Ubiñas took issue with the spectacle created.

SAUDI SHOW: Pittsburgh’s Andy Warhol Museum will curate a showcase of the queer artist in Saudi Arabia, a country where homosexuality is punishable by death, the Pittsburgh Independent reports.

STORE WAR: With Sheetz headed west to Michigan, Wawa says it's moving into Indiana, Kentucky, and Ohio. PennLive reported in June that a central Pennsylvania showdown between the chains could also be looming.

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: Infatuated

Congrats to our daily winners: Craig W., Chuck M., Bruce B., Michelle T., Don H., Barbara F., Becky C., Susan D., Susan N.-Z., Jane R., Kim C., Wendy A., Jon W., Daniel S., James B., George S., Nancy S., Elaine C., Bill S., Starr B., Joel S., and Beth T.
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