Civil rights group sues Harrisburg over public gathering restrictions | Five for the Weekend

The ACLU of Pa. has called Harrisburg’s permitting process ‘burdensome and expensive’

By: - April 30, 2022 6:30 am

(Image AdobeStock via The Philadelphia Gay News)

Happy weekend, all. 

A national civil rights organization filed a federal lawsuit against Pennsylvania’s Capital City on Friday, alleging its “burdensome and expensive” permitting process is a violation of the First and Fourteenth Amendments.

The lawsuit, which was filed with the U.S. Court for the Eastern District of Pennsylvania on Friday by the American Civil Liberties Union of Pennsylvania, alleges that the City of Harrisburg has imposed “unconstitutional restrictions on public gatherings” and asks the court to block the city’s enforcement of its permitting system and the fees associated with it.

The basis for the lawsuit stems from the experiences of a statewide group of climate activists – known as the Better Path Coalition – who, while trying to plan three days of activities during the month of June in the city, found that three state and local government entities have jurisdiction over the venues, which include Riverfront Park and the state Capitol Building, and several city streets. 

While the group was able to reach an agreement with Capitol Police and the Pennsylvania Department of Transportation, the City of Harrisburg has requested that the group cover traffic control costs during the events, obtain insurance, and compensate the city for any damages, the ACLU said.

“Harrisburg’s permitting process is an inaccessible maze of unnecessary bureaucracy and a patchwork of unconstitutional costs, insurance fees, and other problematic requirements” Steve Loney, senior supervising attorney with the ACLU of Pennsylvania, said in a statement. “There are countless examples of municipalities that offer a streamlined permitting process that don’t include unconstitutional conditions. Harrisburg can and must do better.”

As always, the top five stories from this week are below.

District Attorney Larry Krasner (Jared Piper/Philadelphia City Council/City & State Pa.).

1. House passes bill limiting Philly DA to two terms

A Republican-authored bill limiting Philadelphia’s elected district attorneys to two four-year terms passed the House on Tuesday.

The measure, sponsored by state Rep. Martina White, R-Philadelphia, cleared the lower chamber by a vote of 115-88.

The bill, which now goes to the Senate for a vote, would limit the top prosecutor in Pennsylvania’s largest city – and only in Philadelphia – to two four-year terms. The proposal appears to take aim at Philadelphia District Attorney Larry Krasner, a Democrat, who has been a target for GOP lawmakers.

Keystone Generating Station, a coal-fired power plant in Armstrong County, about 50 miles northeast of Pittsburgh. (Capital-Star photo by Stephen Caruso)

2. Pennsylvania officially enacts carbon pricing for power plants

Regulations forcing Pennsylvania power plant owners to pay for every ton of carbon they release into the atmosphere were finally published Friday.

The rule’s publication comes two-and-a-half years after Gov. Tom Wolf set the regulatory gears in motion with an executive order. However, both supporters and opponents expect that further legal action could further delay enforcement of the rule.

The program, which also includes 11 other northeastern states, is known as the Regional Greenhouse Gas Initiative, or RGGI for short. Under the program, electricity producers purchase credits at quarterly auctions to cover their carbon emissions.

Sen. Doug Mastriano, R-Franklin, speaks during an event in Gettysburg to formally announce a run for governor on Jan. 8, 2022. (Screenshot)

3. Pa. GOP governor hopeful Mastriano campaigned at event promoting QAnon

A top-tier Republican candidate for Pennsylvania governor, among other GOP luminaries, put in an appearance at an event in Gettysburg last weekend that promoted QAnon and conspiracy theories about the Sept. 11, 2001 attacks, according to published reports.

The candidate, state Sen. Doug Mastriano, attended the conference called “Patriots Arise for God and Country,” according to Right Wing Watch, a website that monitors the far right.

Mastriano was joined by Republican lieutenant governor hopeful Teddy Daniels; Maryland gubernatorial candidate Dan Cox; Liz Harrington, a spokesperson for former President Donald Trump; and former Trump campaign attorney Jenna Ellis, according to Philadelphia Inquirer, which first reported the story.

Sen. Doug Mastriano, R-Franklin, speaks with attendees on the Capitol steps of a rally for gun rights on September 29, 2020. (Capital-Star photo by Stephen Caruso)

4. Now a defender of personal freedom, Mastriano wanted to lift privacy rules in pandemic’s early days

In March 2020, Doug Mastriano was a back-bench Republican state senator who was a year into his first term after winning a central Pennsylvania special election.

That month, COVID-19 lockdowns swept the nation. By late April, Mastriano, of Franklin County, arose as a powerful voice opposing Democratic Gov. Tom Wolf’s use of executive power.

In nightly live videos, he spoke to people’s sense of frustration and anger with business closures and mask orders, and the isolation of being locked up at home amid the turmoil.

U.S. Rep. Scott Perry, R-10th District, speaking at a Capitol news conference on Thursday, 7/29/21 (C-Span screen capture)

5. Pa. Rep. Perry ‘endorsed’ plan to send pro-Trump extremists to the Capitol | Monday Morning Coffee

U.S. Rep. Scott Perry, R-10th District, “endorsed” a plan, floated by Trump White House officials and its Republican loyalists on Capitol Hill, to send thousands of pro-Trump extremists to the U.S. Capitol on Jan. 6, 2021, as former President Donald Trump and his supporters sought to upend the 2020 election results.

Perry, a York County Republican who now heads the House’s ultra-conservative Freedom Caucus, was specifically identified as a supporter, the New York Times reported over the weekend, citing newly released testimony obtained by the U.S. House panel investigating the deadly attack.

Perry, who ultimately voted against certifying his home state’s election results and participated in a failed effort to invalidate millions of mail-in ballots cast by voters in his home state, has refused to speak to the House panel, the Capital-Star previously reported. He did not respond to the Times’ request for comment.

And that’s the week. We’ll see you back here next week.

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Cassie Miller
Cassie Miller

A native Pennsylvanian, Cassie Miller worked for various publications across the Midstate before joining the team at the Pennsylvania Capital-Star. In her previous roles, she has covered everything from local sports to the financial services industry.