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When a majority isn't enough to pass a bill in Pa.

Plus, the Pa. city using 'birds' as gunfire alarms.

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

Friday, July 14, 2023
How Harrisburg works, penalty verdict, stalled statute, toxic find, bay fix, drought gauge, and gunshot-detecting robot birds.

Legislation to provide hundreds of millions of taxpayer dollars to several state-related universities has failed recently in the Pennsylvania House despite approval from a majority of lawmakers. The stall stems from the bills having to be approved by two-thirds of lawmakers in order to pass.

In the latest installment of the reader-driven How Harrisburg Works series, Spotlight PA’s Stephen Caruso details the colorful history that led to that requirement. He also explains why Pennsylvania's legislature is full-time — a rarity — and why some people carry guns in the state Capitol.

Read the full report: Higher bar, Capitol guns, and full-time lawmakers.

THE CONTEXT: The high bar for bill approval dates back to the 1873 constitutional convention. From Spotlight PA's reporting: 

Bills sometimes appeared on the floor without being voted on in committee, and amendments were adopted before language was available to the public. Legislation even passed the state House and state Senate by voice votes without recording who voted for what.

Providing a safeguard against corruption was at the top of convention delegates’ minds when discussing bill approval requirements, and a particular concern was so-called “special legislation,” or bills that provided an advantage to a single person, company, or local government.

“The two-thirds ought to remain to protect the treasury, and protect the people from these organizations that without merit in themselves always have received public appropriations and probably always will,” a delegate said. 


“It’s all about the face-to-face. We provided a theater for this important conversation.”

Judge Annette Rizzo on Philadelphia’s pandemic-era eviction diversion program that’s been called one of ‘the best designed in the country’

Support vital journalism for Pennsylvania: The future of local news is in your hands. Donate now to Spotlight PA.
» How Pa. partisanship has changed since 2000, via F&M College Poll

» Dem Pa. Rep. Innamorato not resigning yet, via @StephenJ_Caruso

» Bob Casey has ‘gayest’ Senate Democratic office staff, via @metzgov

» Pa. bill would limit candidates to one race per election, via WHTM

From a stream in Butler County, via Terry W. Send us your photos by email, use #PAGems on Instagram, or tag us @spotlightpennsylvania.

A large turtle sunning itself on a log above water.
Today's top news story in Pennsylvania.TREE OF LIFE: Convicted Tree of Life gunman Robert Bowers is eligible for the death penalty, the Pittsburgh jury in his federal hate crimes trial decided Thursday. The verdict followed more than a week of testimony around Bowers’ mental health and sets up a new trial phase in which the jury will decide his sentence: Death or life in prison.
  • RELATED: Mississippi man accused of making antisemitic calls to Pennsylvania businesses and synagogues, via AP
Today's second top news story in Pennsylvania.ABUSE CLAIMS: Five years after Pennsylvania’s grand jury report on widespread sexual abuse in the Catholic church, efforts to make it easier for victims to sue perpetrators here remain stalled as other states follow through. The Inquirer (paywall) reports survivors feel led on by state officials, including Democratic Gov. Josh Shapiro.

Today's third top news story in Pennsylvania.AIR QUALITY: Federal agents may have missed an airborne pollutant at the site of February's toxic train derailment near the Pennsylvania-Ohio border. Jalopnik reports researchers from CMU and Texas A&M found high levels of acrolein, a possible cancer agent, and said the finding calls for longer and more detailed monitoring of the area.

Today's fourth top news story in Pennsylvania.FINAL DEAL: Federal authorities will closely monitor Pennsylvania’s efforts to reduce stormwater pollution in the Chesapeake Bay under a legal settlement finalized this week. The agreement ends a Trump-era lawsuit filed in 2020 by a conservation group that noted Pennsylvania’s role as the primary polluter of the ecologically vital estuary. 
  • RELATED: Seagrass is taking over the Chesapeake Bay, for better and worse, via ScienceNews
Today's fifth top news story in Pennsylvania.DROUGHT WATCH? Yes, Pennsylvania is still under a drought watch despite places like Harrisburg, Philadelphia, and Reading seeing record rainfall in recent weeks. That’s because, as WHYY reports, soil moisture, public water supplies, and groundwater levels factor alongside precipitation when measuring drought conditions.
Investigative journalism that gets results: Spotlight PA's vital work depends on you. Donate now.

COACH FIRED: A soccer coach at Geneva College in Beaver Falls used Instagram to express her identity as a queer Christian. Then she was fired because the posts conflicted with the school’s beliefs

SLIM PICKINGS: The Burg reports an estimated 96.2% of apartments are occupied in Pennsylvania's seven-county, south-central region. Harrisburg is among the tightest rental markets in the country, per a new report.

BIRD BOTS: One Pennsylvania city is using a unique approach to detect gunshots⁠: robotic ravens. Hazleton started installing the birds in June, and police say so far, they haven't detected any gunfire.

SERVING RENAISSANCE: Beyoncé kicked off the U.S. leg of her Renaissance World Tour at The Linc in Philly this week, and the BeyHive did not disappoint with their concert fits. Someone even brought a horse.

GOOSE BUSTERS: Parker Dam State Park in Clearfield County says geese are moving in and fouling up its beach. It's looking for a few good "geese busters" to keep them away and prevent related health risks.

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 5:30 p.m. on issue date will be counted.
Yesterday's answer: Renaissance

Congrats to our daily winners: Craig W., Eddy Z., Eric F., Don H., Susan N.-Z., Susan D., Barbara F., Jon W., Lynne E., Elaine C., Craig E., William Z., John P., Wendy A., Dennis M., Stacy S., Joel S., and Kim C.
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