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WESA Daily Briefing: September 25, 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.


5:58 p.m. - Pa. farmers say the pandemic has exacerbated some of the stress they’ve been facing

Members of one of the commonwealth’s largest industries are raising awareness on the importance of mental health – amid the coronavirus.

Dairy farmer Jessica Peters says she’s used to waking up early to milk the cows on her birthday or Christmas.

But, years of narrowing profit margins have made things tough.

Now with the weight of the coronavirus pandemic falling largely on farmers’ shoulders, she says her community needs help coping with the psychological toll.

“You’ll talk about your high blood pressure or even cancer treatment, but they don’t talk about feeling anxious or depressed,” Peters said.

Speaking at an informational meeting with state senators, Peters called for farmers to have access to counselors who understand their job and can talk them through the unique issues they face..

State Agriculture Secretary Russell Redding says CARES Act funding is available for dairy farmers who have had to discard milk during the pandemic .

3:52 p.m. - Wolf disagrees with GOP legislature over COVID-19 restrictions

Gov. Tom Wolf is accusing some state lawmakers of grandstanding over proposed legislation to supersede his coronavirus-related executive orders.

On Wednesday, the state House failed to overturn Wolf's veto of a bill giving school districts the power to make decisions on student athletics.

Lawmakers separately approved another measure loosening some pandemic restrictions on restaurants.

The governor says he's planning to veto it too — noting the GOP-led legislature should be focusing on other matters.

"Pennsylvania needs leaders who are going to approach crises like COVID-19 with the solemnity and the care they require,” Wolf said, “because all of the progress we have made could go out the window in an instant if the mitigation measures we put in place are allowed to just vanish."

Republicans in both the House and Senate call the governor "out of touch" with Pennsylvanians.

They say Wolf has not directly contacted them in order to work on issues like CARES Act spending and how to approach the next state budget, which is expected to be several billion dollars short due to the pandemic.

Wolf says an entire executive department has been dedicated to tackling that task.

2:35 p.m. - Group of state lawmakers say you shouldn't be discriminated against because of your hairstyle

The legislators say Black and brown people naturally wear their hair in all sorts of styles.

But in some cases schools and workplaces banned those hairstyles or pressured people to change them.

Just last year, a student named Andrew Johnson in New Jersey was forced to cut his dreadlocks before he could participate in a wrestling match.

Democratic State Representative Summer Lee of Allegheny County says lawmakers have to stop that from happening in Pennsylvania.

"It's so important that we address the right and the dignity behind our natural appearance, and being able to show up as we naturally are," Lee said.

Lee and others have legislation that would give Pennsylvanians the ability to sue for hair discrimination. Right now, that kind of discrimination isn't specifically against the law.

Seven other states have banned the practice.

12:59 p.m. – Latest COVID numbers

The Allegheny County Department of Health reported 68 new COVID-19 cases Friday, the result of 1,035 tests taken Sept. 16-24. Those infected range in age from 3 to 88 years old. The county also reported four new deaths Friday. Those who died were in their 60s, 80s and 90s. Two of the deaths were associated with long-term care facilities.

Statewide, the number of cases rose by 806, bringing the total to 154,203. The state reported two new deaths Friday. The state and county data do not always align, due to delays and different reporting methods.  

11:22 a.m. - Republicans lose a round in Pennsylvania mail voting dispute

The Pennsylvania Supreme Court has dealt a blow to Republicans in the legal fight over the deadline for mailed ballots in the presidential battleground state. The court rejected without comment Thursday a request by Republicans to put on hold its decision to extend the deadline for receiving and counting mail-in ballots. Republicans are now likely to ask the U.S. Supreme Court to block the ruling. The divided Pennsylvania high court last week granted the Democratic Party’s request to order an extension of Pennsylvania’s Election Day deadline to count mailed ballots. The court has a 5-2 Democratic majority.  

10:22 a.m.  - Truck drivers sue Giant Eagle over racial discrimination

Four Black truck drivers for Giant Eagle, who were all terminated between 2018 and this year, have sued the company for racial discrimination. The Pittsburgh Post Gazette reports that plaintiffs say racial slurs have been directed at Black drivers, without discipline. The suit also says a disproportionate number of Black drivers have been fired. About 25 of the distribution center's 200 drivers are Black, and five have been fired, while in the same time frame, less than five of the 175 white drivers have been fired.

8:01 a.m. - Allegheny County sending out first election day ballots 

The first mail-in ballots are being sent out to voters in Allegheny County. WESA’s Chris Potter reports voters will soon have several options to avoid the Election Day rush. 

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 more than 314,000 applications for mail-in ballots. And more applications are coming every day. 

There are other options if you’re worried about your vote getting lost in the mail. You can drop off your completed ballot 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. You can request a ballot and vote in person there too, although that process may take time.

In any case, officials urge you to apply for, and complete, your ballot soon to reduce everyone’s election day stress.