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Future of Pennsylvania’s mail-in voting law still hangs in the balance as 2022 election looms

Lucy Perkins
90.5 WESA

On today’s episode of The Confluence: Associated Press reporter Marc Levy explains that despite Commonwealth Court judges ruling the vote-by-mail law unconstitutional, an appeal by the Wolf administration to the state Supreme Court means it stands, for now; the state Department of Environmental Protection has found a third of Pennsylvania streams are ‘impaired,’ and is accepting public comments on a report about the quality and health of the state’s waterways; and Rhythm Sweet & Hot host Mike Plaskett shares his memories of long-time Pittsburgh record shop owner, Jerry Weber.

State Supreme Court will hear oral arguments on mail-in voting law
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Pennsylvania’s Supreme Court will hear arguments in the case on the constitutionality of the state’s mail-in voting law. Oral arguments are scheduled for March 8.

This announcement comes after Pennsylvania Commonwealth Court ruled last Friday that the state’s mail-in voting law is unconstitutional. Three judges, all Republican, on the five-member panel voted to throw out the law, and two Democratic judges dissented. Governor Tom Wolf’s administration quickly appealed the decision.

Act 77, which allows for no-excuse mail voting, was passed in 2019. Marc Levy, a state government and politics reporter with the Associated Press, says Wolf and Republican legislative leaders came to a compromise, eliminating straight-ticket voting, which had allowed people to vote for all the candidates in one party, versus individually voting for each candidate down-ballot.

“Wolf agreed to get rid of that to essentially ban counties from putting that on the ballot,” Levy says. “The idea being that it would allow voters to do more party switching down-ballot and protect Republican candidates down-ballot from a wave of Republicans and Democrats voting against Trump and just hitting the Democratic button. So it came together in a deal. It was an extremely timely law because it allowed people to vote remotely, essentially because several months later, we had the pandemic.”

Levy says the judges who voted to reject the law agreed with the plaintiffs who say no-excuse mail-in voting is prohibited under the constitution, and it must be amended to make such a change.

No-excuse mail-in voting is still allowed because the Commonwealth Court’s decision was put on hold pending the appeal.

“We are about three-and-a-half months away from the primary election in a big election year, with races for U.S. Senate and governor on the ballot in huge primary fields in those races,” says Levy. “So it's quite likely that we may not see anything from the [state] Supreme Court until summer on this.”

Registered voters can still apply for a mail-in ballot for the primary election until May 10th.

A third of PA streams are impaired, according to the state Department of Environment Protection report
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In Allegheny County, there are 915 miles of impaired streams, which is about 67 percent of streams assessed for the Draft 2022 Pennsylvania Integrated Water Quality Report.

“Streams is just a general term for a flowing water body,” says Dustin Shull, a manager in the Assessment Section of DEP’s Bureau of Clean Water. “That would also include things like the Allegheny River and the Ohio River.”

Shull says an impaired stream indicates that “the water quality is not meeting those criteria and standards.” Impairment can be caused by acid mine drainage, agriculture, and storm sewers, among other sources.

Waters are assessed for four use categories: drinking water, fish consumption, aquatic life, and recreational use.

“Aquatic life, so that generally means balanced in indigenous communities, ecological aspects, you know, fish, bugs, wildlife,” Shull says. “We also have potable water supply. So that's the protection of drinking water sources that are withdrawn from our surface waters. We have fish consumption and that's another human health aspect. And then we have recreation and that's generally esthetics of boating, fishing and water contact sports.”

The DEP is taking public commenton the report.

Jerry Weber shared his love of music across Pittsburgh

Jerry Weber might have done as much if not more to spread the love of music as anyone in the Pittsburgh area. In 1978, he started his first record shop, Record Graveyard in Oakland, which later became Garbage Records and eventually Jerry’s Records. For the last 28 years, Jerry’s Records has been in Squirrel Hill.

Jerry Weber passed away Friday, leaving behind many, many vinyl recordings but also customers who became his friends.

“Jerry had a knack for attracting other people's collections,” says Mike Plaskett, a longtime customer at Jerry’s and friend of the deceased. “He bought whole collections, and those things were just packed with interesting things chosen by interesting people. And there they were in all these bins in stacks for any customer to come in and discover and take them home and enjoy them. It's just an incredible experience.”

Plaskett co-hosts Rhythm Sweet & Hot, which airs Saturdays on WESA from 6-8 pm, with Dale Abraham.

This Saturday on Rhythm Sweet & Hot, Plaskett says they will play “String of Pearls” from a Glenn Miller album that Weber gave him.

“You can't really explain what a warm guy he was,” Plaskett recalls. “He was somebody that made you welcome in the store, whether you were young or old, old customer or new customer.”

He says Jerry’s Records wasn’t just a place for vinyl collectors to find gems. It was also affordable to help cultivate new music lovers.

“And this is what made it possible for younger people to go in and get a survey of music and try this and try that and enjoy the experience of owning vinyl,” he says.

The Confluence, where the news comes together, is 90.5 WESA’s daily news program. Tune in Monday to Thursday at 9 a.m. and 7:30 p.m. to hear newsmakers and innovators take an in-depth look at stories important to the Pittsburgh region. Find more episodes of The Confluence here or wherever you get your podcasts. 

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