Members of the Pennsylvania House applaud newly elected Speaker Bryan Cutler on June 22, 2020. (Capital-Star photo by Stephen Caruso)
Good Friday Morning, Fellow Seekers.
Local control and self-determination have long been hallmarks of Republican political ideology — and that rhetoric got supercharged during the pandemic as GOP lawmakers pushed back against business shutdowns and mask mandates.
But that dedication to local control has its limits.
Take, for instance, the GOP-authored bill that Gov. Tom Wolf vetoed on Thursday that would have barred municipal governments from enacting local gun ordinances that are stronger than existing state law.
The bill, authored by Rep. Matthew Dowling, R-Fayette, also would have required local taxpayers to pick up the check for any successful court challenge to such an ordinance, the Capital-Star’s Marley Parish reported.
It wasn’t the first time Republicans had made such a power-play. A similar bill got tossed by the state Supreme Court in 2016 over a fatal procedural flaw. Last October, the state’s highest court refined its jurisprudence, finding that someone does not have to be directly aggrieved to have the standing to challenge a local firearms ordinance, the Capital-Star’s Stephen Caruso reported.
But if you think these events are happening in a political vacuum, they’re not. In fact, such local preemption efforts are only gathering steam, according to newly released research.
Last year, 2021, was a record-breaking year for preemption measures, and this year promises to be no different, according to the Local Solutions Support Center, a national group that tracks such efforts.
The number of preemption bills doubled to more than 475 last year, the group’s research found, with 70 of the bills filed by lawmakers in Texas and Florida alone.
Those bills ranged from efforts to limit local authority over budgets, climate measures and public health authority, according to the research.
In Pennsylvania, lawmakers pushed a bill that would have punished teachers who taught critical race theory. They also granted the state attorney general concurrent jurisdiction to prosecute crimes — but only in Philadelphia, where progressive prosecutor Larry Krasner currently serves as district attorney.
Looking to 2022, the Local Solutions Support Center says it’s tracking more of such efforts in state capitols across the country. As was the case last year, those bills target local public health authority — such as the ongoing battles over mask requirements, and curriculum decisions such as a Florida bill banning anti-racism training for state and public school employees.
But as the mid-term elections close in, and with open seats for governor and U.S. Senate in Pennsylvania — the ultimate preemption fight will be the battle over voting rights, the group said.
Last year, 19 states passed 34 laws imposing new restrictions on voting, and at least 152 restrictive voting bills in 18 states will carry over into the 2022 legislative sessions, according to the analysis obtained by the Capital-Star.
“The abuse of preemption to undermine voting rights is expected to continue and is already visible in newly introduced bills,” such as one in Florida that would, in part, overrule local laws on ranked-choice voting, the analysis found.
A sprawling rewrite of Pennsylvania’s election law, pushed by Republicans, aims to revise mail-in balloting rules and impose a voter identification requirement. Last week, a state court declared the commonwealth’s no-excuse balloting law unconstitutional. But the matter ultimately will be decided by the state Supreme Court.
In a veto message issued Thursday on the gun bill, Wolf declared the measure “an attack on local governments who take action to find common sense solutions to gun violence and is yet another bill that shows indifference to the safety of Pennsylvanians.”
It’s easy to imagine, however, similar language being deployed against other attacks by pro-local control Republicans against municipal regulatory efforts they find distasteful.
From Staff Reporter Marley Parish, here’s the full story on Gov. Tom Wolf’s veto of that local gun preemption bill.
With the state facing a blood shortage, state health officials are putting out the call for donations, Cassie Miller reports.
Free at-home COVID tests will be handed out to Medicare beneficiaries this spring, Capital-Star Washington Reporter Jennifer Shutt writes.
The FBI has opened a probe of those Black History Month bomb threats sent to Historically Black Colleges and Universities nationwide, Laura Cassels, of our sibling site, The Florida Phoenix, reports.
Has the fizz already gone out of the latest effort to repeal Philadelphia’s soda tax? Our partners at the Philadelphia Tribune took a look.
Capitol Hill lawmakers, including U.S. Rep. Glenn ‘GT’ Thompson, R-15th District, have clashed over climate provisions in early talks over the new federal Farm Bill, Jared Strong, of our sibling site, the Iowa Capital-Dispatch reports, with an assist from me.
Adrian Shanker, the founding director of the Bradbury-Sullivan LGBT Community Center in Allentown, will step down, our partners at the Philadelphia Gay News report.
On our Commentary Page this morning: Safe, reliable, and affordable transit is the fastest route to an equitable society, two senior leaders of the Pennsylvania AFL-CIO, joined by a transit activist, write. And with U.S. forces bound for Europe, a Dickinson College expert explains why it’s time to worry, but not panic, about Russia.
Ex-Philadelphia City Councilmember Bobby Henon got help from his former council office as he sought a lighter sentence for his federal bribery conviction, the Inquirer reports.
Newly released photos show first responders in action at last week’s bridge collapse in Pittsburgh. The Post-Gazette has the story.
The Pennsylvania Attorney General’s Office is looking into complaints that a central Pennsylvania restaurant was a ‘conduit’ for unproven COVID-19 treatments, PennLive reports.
Lancaster County is expected to appoint its new commissioner today after culling a field of 13 applicants, LancasterOnline reports.
Schools in Allentown’s Catholic diocese will shift from a mask mandate to a mask recommendation next week, the Morning Call reports.
The Keystone Jobs Corps facility in Drums, Luzerne County, will accept Afghan refugees, the Citizens’ Voice reports.
A public library in West Philadelphia is home to the first Narcan vending machine, WHYY-FM reports.
The Wolf administration filed suit in state court on Thursday to try to force through the final implemntation of its carbon-pricing regulation, the Associated Press reports (via WITF-FM).
A wave of retirements is cutting into the ranks of front-line workers, Stateline.org reports.
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What Goes On
At 11 a.m., House Majority Leader Kerry Benninghoff, R-Centre, will roll out his proposed legislative map in an event in the Ryan Building. It comes two hours ahead of the Legislative Reapportionment Commission scheduled 1 p.m. session in Hearing Room 1 of the North Office Building. You can follow along at home here. Benninghoff sits on the panel.
Gov. Tom Wolf heads to Philadelphia this morning for an 11 a.m. event where he’s expected to announce a ‘multi-million dollar investment’ in the PhilaPort.
You Say It’s Your Birthday Dept.
Best wishes go out to Morgan Roddy, of the Pennsylvania Chamber of Business & Industry, who celebrates today. Congratulations and enjoy the day.
We’ll go out this week with a new track from Disclosure and Zedd. Here’s ‘You’ve Got to Let Go If You Want to be Free.’ And it’s exactly the kind of banger you’d expect from this teaming of EDM royalty.
Friday’s Gratuitous Hockey Link
The NHL has announced the list of participants in Friday’s skills competition at this year’s All-Star Game festivities in Las Vegas. As you might expect, league-leading scorer Jonathan Huberdeau, of the Florida Panthers, is among the marquee participants.
And now you’re up to date.
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