Pa. lawmakers hiding spending details

Five big Capitol stories

  • Ed Mahon/PA Post

Let’s give a big and heartfelt goodbye to Katie Meyer, who covered the state Capitol for WITF, PA Post and others. But don’t despair! Even though she is leaving Harrisburg, you can still read and hear her stories about Pennsylvania. She will cover politics for WHYY in Philadelphia (which is a partner of PA Post). I expect we’ll be sharing many of her stories in The Context. –Ed Mahon, PA Post reporter[\box]

Shown is the Pennsylvania Capitol in Harrisburg, Pa. on the Wednesday, April 10, 2019.

Matt Rourke / AP Photo

Pennsylvania State Capitol building in Harrisburg, Pa. (Matt Rourke / AP Photo)

Spotlight PA and The Caucus took a look at efforts by lawmakers to shield their spending from exposure. Below, we’ll look at that story and four other big ones related to the Capitol this week.

1. Hidden spending: Many records from the Pennsylvania General Assembly are exempt from the state’s open records law. (I once tried to get a list of all Right-to-Know requests people submitted to the House and Senate for a certain time period. Both chambers denied the request.) Financial records aren’t exempt, but Spotlight PA and The Caucus report that lawmakers are blacking out details of what they spend, primarily related to who they were meeting with and why. In one such instance involving House Speaker Mike Turzai (R-Allegheny), the people he met with were … Eagle Scouts.

2. Guilty plea for former lawmaker: Former Republican state Sen. Mike Folmer pleaded guilty to three counts of possession of child pornography and one count of criminal use of a communications device. PennLive’s Charlie Thompson covered the scene at the Lebanon County Courthouse. Sentencing is scheduled for May.

3. Really not a lot of people with REAL ID: An issue that Folmer was known for as a lawmaker happened to be in the news this week: “REAL ID.” In 2012, Folmer led efforts to resist the federal requirement from being implemented in Pennsylvania. But resistance turned out to be futile, and now Pennsylvania residents have until Oct. 1 to get updated IDs if they want to use their state identification to board planes or enter federal facilities and nuclear plants, WITF’s Katie Meyer reports. So far, according to PennDOT, only about 821,000 of the roughly 9.8 million people with state IDs and driver’s licenses have made the switch — which seems like a pretty small number. But, as Katie notes, people can use passports and military IDs as a REAL ID substitute.

4. Cash assistance reminder: Last year, Pennsylvania lawmakers ended a cash assistance program that provided about $200 per month for about 11,000 people statewide, Katie reports. Pennsylvania’s chapter of the Poor People’s Campaign wants lawmakers to reinstate the program and is pointing out that the Wolf administration estimates there is more than $340 million in the state’s rainy day fund. Pennsylvania Capital-Star’s Elizabeth Hardison spoke to activists who say they feel forgotten by Harrisburg. 

5. Lawsuit over “prison gerrymandering”: The NAACP filed the lawsuit on behalf of three formerly incarcerated people from Philadelphia, arguing that the U.S. Census should count inmates based on the counties they were living in when arrested — not the places where they serve their time. WHYY’s Aaron Moselle has the details.

Best of the rest

Lance Walker

Dani Fresh for Keystone Crossroads

Lance Walker laughs while giving customer Tom Buckus a haircut. (Dani Fresh for Keystone Crossroads)

  • WHYY’s Laura Benshoff spent time with a Franklin County barber who voted for Republican Donald Trump in 2016 but who says he has “buyer’s remorse.” Now, Lance Walker tries to push people out of online echo chambers. “As customers filtered in and out, Walker steered the discussion from mass incarceration, to military spending, to the treatment of Confederate civil war monuments,” Benshoff writes.

  • The first Muhlenberg College/Morning Call election poll of 2020 shows that U.S. Sen. Bernie Sanders of Vermont narrowly leads Republican President Donald Trump in a hypothetical head-to-head matchup. He was the only Democratic candidate to have a lead in the survey of 424 registered voters, conducted through telephone calls between February 12 and 20. The poll has a margin of error of 5.5 percentage points.

  • In other Bernie news: He could get a boost for Pennsylvania’s April 28 Democratic primary. The Philadelphia Inquirer’s Julia Terruso reports that he has “a ready-made infrastructure of activists across the state that sprung out of places like Lancaster.”

  • The Service Employees International Union says it is making its largest political investment ever as it plans to spend  $150 million to get Democrats to vote in November, The Washington Post reports. The spending will focus mostly on boosting turnout from infrequent voters from the African American and Latino communities in eight battleground states, including Pennsylvania.

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