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WESA Daily Briefing: June 29, 2020

Erin Keane Scott
90.5 WESA

News on the coronavirus pandemic, protests, 2020 election and more from around Pittsburgh, Allegheny County and southwestern Pennsylvania. 

Find all of the WESA Daily Briefing posts here

Editor's note: This post will be frequently updated with the latest news.


5:07 p.m. - Lawmakers move bill related to election reform

State lawmakers moved a bill last week that’s intended to make reforms in time for the general election on November 3rd.

Major changes are anticipated before it gets to a final vote, but the initial version includes one change election directors have been lobbying for since the spring.

House Bill 26-26 would let counties start processing mailed ballots three weeks before Election Day.

Currently, state law requires election workers to wait until polls open at 7 a.m., so that’s when they began during the primary June 2. And they didn’t finish counting until more than two weeks later in some places including Philadelphia.

Democrat Jared Solomon represents part of the city.

“In Philadelphia, it was just, it was impossible, with the deluge of ballots coming in, and not having some time before to not only pre-canvas, but canvas,” Solomon said.

By canvas, Solomon means scanning and by pre-canvas, he means remove ballots from their envelopes and flatten them.

“ You must open the envelope, reach in, pull out the inside envelope, open that envelope, pull out a trifold and ballot and then reverse fold it and try to get it nice and flat so the machine won't kick it out,” said Adams County Republican Dan Moul. “Kind of like a wrinkled dollar bill or something. That’s the time consuming part.”

While the bill allows processing ahead of time, counting wouldn't begin until Election Day.

House State Government Committee Democrats voted against the measure Wednesday, citing technical errors and a provision that would prevent voters from changing their registration online.

They expect to resume work on this issue within the next two weeks.

4:09 p.m. - Department of City Planning gets new director

Mayor Bill Peduto has appointed Andrew Dash to direct Pittsburgh’s Department of City Planning. Dash has been the acting director since last June, when the former chief left for a position with Carnegie Mellon University.

Dash joined City Planning in 2008, and worked as the assistant director for five years before moving into the department’s top role. His appointment goes before city council Tuesday. City planning oversees zoning, permitting, neighborhood and parks planning.

3:12 p.m. - City sued over East Liberty protest 

Pittsburgh Mayor Bill Peduto and top public-safety officials have been sued over a June 1 protest of police brutality in East Liberty. Seven plaintiffs say police violated their civil rights when they  "escalated a peaceful protest into a scene of pandemonium and bloodshed."
Officials say rocks were thrown at police, who used crowd-control munitions to disrupt the protest. Demonstrators say they were gassed and arrested for no cause, and officials lied about it later. A city spokesman declined comment.
2:58 p.m. - Trump campaign sues PA over mail-in ballots

President Donald Trump’s re-election campaign and Republican allies are suing to force changes to how Pennsylvania collects and counts mail-in ballots under revamped rules. The federal lawsuit filed Monday in Pittsburgh claims that as voters jumped to make use of the greatly broadened eligibility for mail-in ballots during the June 2 primary, practices and procedures by elections officials ran afoul of state law and the state and federal constitutions. The defendants include Secretary of State Kathy Boockvar, a Democrat. She is declining to comment. The lawsuit addresses drop-off sites for mail-in ballots as well as poll watcher rules.  

12:31 p.m. – Allegheny County continues to see high number of COVID cases

Allegheny County reported 83 new positive cases of COVID-19 Monday, following a record-breaking weekend for local cases. The total number of cases now stands at 2,651. Health officials reported no new deaths, meaning the total number remains at 186.

Statewide, the number of cases increased by 492 to 85,988. The number of deaths across Pennsylvania increased by eight to 6,614.

7:50 a.m. - Man killed in fireworks accident over the weekend

Authorities say a man was killed in a fireworks accident in northeastern Pennsylvania over the weekend. The Lackawanna County coroner said 31-year-old Corey Buckley died in an explosion shortly before 2 p.m. Saturday in Scranton. Coroner Tim Rowland said he was killed instantly when the commercial-grade firework he was attempting to deploy exploded. Scranton police are investigating. The death occurred a day after officials cited fireworks as a growing problem after state law in 2017 made more fireworks legal.   

7:24 a.m. - What you missed over the weekend