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Pa. House halts as abuse amendment deadline looms

Plus, what happened to Penn State's police data promise?


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Your Postmaster: Colin Deppen
Wednesday, January 11, 2023
House at a standstill, data gap, prison phones, early voting, board bids, Shapiro appointees, Rocky's relevance, and Farm Show fertilizer.

A legislative push focused on delivering legal relief for survivors of childhood sexual abuse in Pennsylvania has stalled in Harrisburg. 

Democratic Gov. Tom Wolf called a special session on the subject this week, urging lawmakers to pass a related constitutional amendment that leaders of both major parties have said has their support. 

But Democratic and Republican leaders in the state House failed to establish ground rules needed before legislation can advance there, and members were sent home Monday without taking a single vote.

Meanwhile, the state Senate, where ground rules are in place, did not take up the abuse amendment. Instead, GOP lawmakers in the majority advanced amendments that would expand voter ID rules, mandate election audits, and make it easier for lawmakers to override the governor's regulations.

Read Spotlight PA's full report: Pa. House at a standstill as deadline nears to get relief for child sex abuse survivors on May ballot.

THE CONTEXT: Proposed amendments to the state constitution must pass the legislature in two consecutive sessions before going to voters for consideration. This abuse amendment came close once before, but a Wolf administration blunder forced a reset.

If lawmakers don't pass the measure soon, it won’t appear on the May ballot and will have to wait until at least November. 

House Speaker Mark Rozzi (D., Berks), who was abused by a priest as a child, has stressed it as a top priority. But he finds himself at the center of a partisan struggle that has left the lower chamber at a standstill.

Wolf on Tuesday chided both chambers for "political games and partisanship" he says have taken "precedence over justice for survivors."


"I didn’t know what I was stepping into. There are some challenges."

—Braedon Reid, an 18-year-old who was hired to work in Snyder County's prison as officials look to teens to bolster staffing and fill vacancies

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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

Migrating snow geese at Lancaster County's Middle Creek Wildlife Management Area. Photo via Elliott C. Send us your Pennsylvania pictures by email, use #PAGems on Instagram, or tag us @spotlightpennsylvania.

Thousands of migrating snow geese are seen in the sky over Lancaster County.
Today's top news story in Pennsylvania.DATA DELAY: Penn State's University Police and Public Safety division promised more transparency on the heels of racial justice protests that swept college campuses and cities nationwide in 2020. But Spotlight PA reports that a pledge to annually publish data related to use of force, arrests, citizen complaints, and traffic stops quickly fell behind. Two years later, only one year worth of data has been released.

Today's second top news story in Pennsylvania.PHONE BILLS: Dauphin County collected $3.4 million in commissions from jailhouse phone calls administered by a for-profit company and spent most of the windfall on contractors and staff perks, including nearly $300,000 for gun range memberships, PennLive (paywall) reports. The money fed a fund that is supposed to benefit incarcerated people and support jail operations, the outlet adds. 

Today's third top news story in Pennsylvania.PRIMARY DATE: Pennsylvania's 2024 presidential primary would be held one month earlier than normal under a pending bill that's due to be reintroduced. PoliticsPA reports the bill would move presidential primaries up to March 19, 2024 here, placing Pennsylvania on the same primary date as Arizona, Florida, Illinois, and Ohio. Previous attempts to make Pennsylvania's primary earlier have failed.

Today's fourth top news story in Pennsylvania.2023 TRUSTEES: An Olympian and former National Women's Soccer League player is running for a seat on Penn State's influential board of trustees. The Daily Collegian reports Ali Krieger is one of several candidates backed by the progressive Penn State Forward group, which cites a university budget deficit and "failures to deliver on equity commitments and create fair workplaces." 

Today's fifth top news story in Pennsylvania.CABINET PICKS: Democratic Gov.-elect Josh Shapiro's latest cabinet picks include the first Latino to helm the state's Department of Environmental Protection, Al Día reports. Shapiro also announced that he would keep Cindy Adams Dunn as secretary of the Department of Conservation and Natural Resources, and Russell Redding as secretary of the commonwealth's Department of Agriculture.
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EQUALITY CAUCUS: State Reps. Malcolm Kenyatta (D., Philadelphia) and Jessica Benham (D., Allegheny) are the new leaders of the Pennsylvania Legislature’s LGBTQ+ Equality Caucus, Capital-Star reports.

ROAD MONEY: Bills are on the move that would end Pennsylvania's automatic annual gas tax hike and limit the amount of related revenue that goes to state police instead of roads and bridges, via CNHI.

TIL: There's a town in neighboring West Virginia, dubbed America's quietest by CNN, where cellphones and Wi-Fi are banned. It has everything to do with the astronomical observatory that's located there.

ROCK TALK: The premiere of WHYY's new podcast The Statue examines the power of monuments — in this case Philadelphia's Rocky statue, which draws more visitors every year than the Liberty Bell.

MANURE MATH: Where does all the animal poop from the Pennsylvania Farm Show go? The Inquirer (paywall) says it becomes field dressing or fertilizer for farms, and some helps grow mushrooms in Chester County.

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: Spacious

Congrats to our daily winners: Craig W., Mike B., Michelle T., Barbara F., Becky C., Don H., Wendy A., Ted W., Starr B., Phyllis K., Susan D., Kimberly D., Patty R., Jody A., Vicki U., Elaine C., Greg V., Marty M., George B., Jon W., Vanessa J., Kim C., Stanley J., Judith D., Karen W., Jane R., Tish M., Dianne K., Dennis M., James B., Patricia C., Bruce B., Chuck M., Susan N.-Z., Bill S., Joel S., John P., Kathy W., David W., Ronnie P., and Myles M.
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