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WESA Daily Briefing: August 31, 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.



5:51 p.m. – What to expect from the state legislature this fall

State lawmakers are scheduled to reconvene at the Capitol next week with changes to Pennsylvania's election code top of mind for both parties this fall.

Gov. Tom Wolf has been asking the Republican-controlled legislature to make it easier for counties to administer the November election, and give mail-in voters more time to apply for and get their ballots.

A GOP proposal in the Senate shows the majority is on board with most changes.

But senators want the deadline to apply for a ballot moved up from a week before the election to 15 days ahead of in-person voting.

Republicans and Democrats also want to figure out how to spend Pa.'s one point three billion dollars in leftover CARES Act funding.

But while Democrats want to reissue a statewide eviction moratorium and change legislative ethics rules, Republicans have not signaled if they will address them.

The House is slated to convene next week, and the Senate is planning to hold a session the following week.

4:47 p.m. - Pittsburgh to become part of “Food Matters Regional Initiative”

The city said in a release today that it would be joining a nationwide collaboration to prevent food waste. The Food Matters Regional Initiative includes 10 cities across the country with a focus on food rescue and recycling food scraps.

A bill to finalize participation in the program will be introduced to City Council tomorrow. The National Resource Defense Council, who runs the initiative, said “two-thirds of food thrown out at the residential level could have been eaten, and there is a substantial amount of surplus food throughout city sectors.”

According to the Greater Pittsburgh Community Food Bank, nearly 11 percent of city residents reported being food insecure in 2017.

4:21 p.m. - One of several lawsuits over Pennsylvania’s election code is underway in Commonwealth Court today

The case seeks to extend the state’s mailed ballot return deadline -- relief sought when attorneys for the Pennsylvania alliance for Retired Americans first filed suit earlier this year, before significant mail service delays emerged amid the coronavirus pandemic.

Ronald Stroman, deputy postmaster general for nearly a decade until this past June, testified this morning that election leaders should allow three weeks between the deadlines for mailed ballot applications and return.

Pennsylvania allows five days.Today’s proceedings are meant to inform a report due Friday to the state Supreme Court.

2:51 p.m. – What it takes to provide Spanish translations of voting materials in Pa.

Federal law requires Berks, Lehigh and Philadelphia counties to translate all voting materials into Spanish and ensure all voters have access to interpreters.

Some county election leaders say finding interpreters to work at the polls during the coronavirus pandemic is a challenge.

Berks County Commissioner Kevin Barnhardt says for the last couple of years, it has been difficult to recruit people to work as interpreters at polling stations.

During the June 2nd primary, he says the county had “virtual” interpreters at some sites – basically, elections staff waiting at the county office in case voters needed translation.

Erika Sutherland is with the Lehigh County-based organization Grupo de Apoyo. She says she understands the difficulty of finding in-person interpreters, but is concerned about using technology as the solution.

“A virtual interpreter requires that someone request virtual assistance,” Sutherland said. “That’s very different from having someone physically there, clearly labeled as an interpreter, that actually serves as a bit of comfort.”

Surherland says she’s seen voter intimidation and the rejection of interpreters at some sites, where poll worker said they wouldn’t be needed.

To prevent something like that from happening, voting rights organizations are trying to help educate people about the Voting Rights Act, recruiting multilingual poll workers, and asking elections leaders to place those they find.

2:43 p.m. - Lastest COVID-19 numbers from the county, state

Allegheny County health officials said there were 37 new cases of the novel coronavirus on Monday. The median age of the cases is 34 years olds. No new deaths were reported in the county.

Statewide, there were 843 new cases reported.

1:43 p.m. - Watch live: Biden in Pittsburgh

Joe Biden is speaking in Pittsburgh to argue that President Trump is encouraging chaos and that as president Biden would make America safer. Watch his remarks live here.  

11:10 a.m. - Biden in Pittsburgh today, Trump coming Thursday to Latrobe

Joe Biden is mounting a more aggressive offense against President Donald Trump with a rare public appearance in Pittsburgh on Monday, where he’s expected to say Trump is contributing to the violence in the streets nationwide.

According to a campaign aide, the Democratic presidential nominee will accuse Trump of exacerbating unrest and will make the argument that the violent turn some of the recent protests is the Trump administration’s problem.  Read more here. 

President Trump also tweeted Monday that he would be coming to Pittsburgh. His administration also confirmed  that he would be visiting Latrobe on Thursday.

 7:43 a.m. - Suit by protester kicked by officer heading to federal court

A lawsuit filed by a protester seen on video being kicked by a police officer during civil unrest in the northwestern Pennsylvania city of Erie is likely on its way to federal court rather than county court, attorneys said.

The Erie Times-News reports that Erie attorneys said in a petition filed last week that the case belongs in federal court since it alleges violation of protester Hannah Silbaugh's constitutional rights regarding unreasonable seizure, substantive due process and excessive force.

Her attorney, Timothy McNair, said he has no plans to object to the petition and believes the judge is all but certain to allow the transfer. He said he initially sued in county court because he believed his client might have a better chance of getting a jury trial in the state system.

“If I had my druthers, it would stay in state court, but I don’t see that happening,” McNair said.

The May 30 altercation happened during nationwide demonstrations following the killing of George Floyd. Police said several hundred people descended on City Hall at night and began spray painting the building, breaking windows, pulling parking meters out of the ground, vandalizing shops and restaurants and throwing objects at police. Officers used tear gas and tried to disperse the crowd.

In the video, the officer is seen approaching Silbaugh as she is seated in the middle of the street and kicking her over. Silbaugh filed an internal affairs complaint alleging that the officer assaulted her by kicking her.

Prosecutors announced in July that the officer will not face any criminal charges, and neither will the protester. District Attorney Jack Daneri said the officer, who has not been identified by city officials, had the right to use that kind of force under the circumstances. He said police and a law enforcement vehicle needed to get past a line of protesters to address more serious violence in the area.