WESA Daily Briefing: September 24, 2020
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.
6:00 p.m. - First mail-in ballots sent out to voters in Allegheny County
The county’s elections division began putting ballots in the mail on Wednesday, and 70,000 were ready for delivery by Thursday afternoon. But there’s a long way to go: County officials have approved over 314,000 applications for mail-in ballots. And more applications are coming every day.
There are other options if voters worried about their ballot getting lost in the mail. They can drop off completed ballots by hand at the county’s election office, at 542 Forbes Avenue Downtown. It’s open weekdays from 8:30 a.m. to 4:30 p.m. Voters can request a ballot and vote in person there too, although that process may take time.
In any case, officials urge voters to apply for, and complete ballots soon.
4:30 p.m. - Allegheny County lifts COVID-19 restrictions, state mandates remain
Allegheny County has lifted all local restrictions pertaining to the coronavirus pandemic, citing relatively low case counts.
However, mandates put in place on the state level remain. This includes mask wearing, and the requirement that people must order food when drinking alcohol at a bar or restaurant.
The county’s move is an apparent about face from Wednesday, when Chief Executive Rich Fitzgerald said that Allegheny County’s limits on the size of gatherings were still going to be enforced. That’s despite a federal district court ruling declaring the state restrictions on crowd sizes unconstitutional.
Gov. Tom Wolf is appealing this ruling.
Continued enforcement of local mandates after similar state mandates were struck down would have exposed the county to lawsuits.
4:22 p.m. - Wolf vetoes bill that would keep Pennsylvania out of RGGI
Gov. Tom Wolf is rejecting a measure that would require the legislature’s OK to join a regional effort to cut carbon emissions.
The bill would have essentially stopped Pennsylvania’s entrance into the Regional Greenhouse Gas Initiative. The program makes power plants pay for their carbon dioxide emissions and states invest the money in efforts such as clean energy and energy efficiency.
In his veto message, Wolf says allowing the bill to become law would “effectively deny that climate change is an urgent problem that demands prudent solutions.”
Republican lawmakers who control the General Assembly did not immediately comment. They have said the program will be bad for the state’s economy.
They claimed the bill was really about who has the power to make the decision to join the program, not on whether Pennsylvania should.
It passed the House and Senate a few votes shy of a veto-proof majority.
Last week, an oversight board approved the draft regulation that will allow Pennsylvania to join RGGI.
3:45 p.m. - New survey finds a growing partisan divide among Pennsylvania voters over election concerns
This survey asked the state’s voters about election preparedness and security. It’s a repeat of one done six months earlier. In both, a majority think the state is either very prepared or generally prepared
“But when you start looking at specific concerns and threats, you see some changes over the course of the year,” said Christopher Borick, director Muhlenberg’s Institute of Public Opinion, who conducted the survey. “Democrats, increasingly are concerned about voter suppression efforts in the state, while Republicans have increasingly become concerned with the issue of voting fraud.”
In short, Borick says Pa. voters are picking up on the strong messages from their party leaders and the media. But whether they believe the President’s claims of massive voter fraud or the accusations and reporting of voter suppression, depends on their party affiliation.
3:31 p.m. - Allegheny County reports 60 new COVID-19 cases
The Allegheny County Health Department said the results were out of 1,140 tests. No new deaths were reported.
3:08 p.m. - Pennsylvania reports 853 new positive COVID-19 cases
The state Department of Health said the total in Pennsylvania is now 153,397. So far, 8,079 deaths have been attributed to COVID-19.
2:47 p.m. - Poll shows fewer than 1/3 of PA Republican voters will trust mail-in ballots
The most recent Franklin and Marshall College Poll shows fewer than a third of Pennsylvania Republican voters say they will trust the result of mail-in ballots cast in the November election.
WITF’s Brett Sholtis reports, the college’s lead pollster says that could be dangerous in an election where votes are expected to take days to count. Read more here.
10:37 a.m. - PA Dems scramble to limit number of 'naked ballots'
Democrats are scrambling in Pennsylvania to reduce the number of mail-in ballots that could be rejected because voters fail to put them in the required “secrecy envelope.” These mail ballots have been dubbed “naked ballots” and election officials fear that as many as 100,000 or more could be rejected in November. The Pennsylvania Supreme Court ruled last week that naked ballots could not be counted. On Thursday the Biden campaign and the Democratic National Committee launched a 30-second digital ad sent to their voters who have requested a mail ballot walking them through how to send it back correctly. Democrats promise other outreach, too.
8:30 a.m. - Wolf says he'll veto bill loosening restaurant and bar restrictions
A bill to loosen pandemic restrictions on bars and restaurants is on its way to the Pennsylvania governor, who has threatened to veto it. Lawmakers on Wednesday passed the measure, which would end a requirement that customers buy food when they purchase alcohol. It would allow people to be served drinks at bars. The bill would also permit taverns and restaurants to operate at 50% capacity, or more if they can meet state and federal social distancing standards or erect appropriate barriers. And it would make it easier for restaurants to adapt adjacent outside areas to serve customers.
8:01 a.m. - Pittsburghers protest in wake of grand jury decision over Breonna Taylor's death
Hundreds gathered Wednesday night at Freedom Corner, in Pittsburgh's Hill District, to protest a grand jury's decision to not charge Louisville police with the shooting death of Breonna Taylor. Taylor, 26, was killed in her apartment March 13 by officers conducting a drug raid. One of the three officers involved was indicted on felony charges Wednesday for firing into a neighboring apartment. The protest march in Pittsburgh wound through Uptown and Downtown.
WESA's Bill O'Driscoll followed the protest. Read more here.