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Bills drafted by lobbyists: Emails show close relationship between lobbyists and a state lawmaker

In Pennsylvania, lobbying around gambling has been fierce since the state legalized slot machines in 2004.
James Blocker
Philadelphia Inquirer
In Pennsylvania, lobbying around gambling has been fierce since the state legalized slot machines in 2004.

On today’s episode of The Confluence:

A rare glimpse at lobbyist impact in Pennsylvania state senate
(0:00 - 6:18)

In 2019, State Senator Tommy Tomlinson, a Republican from Bucks County, introduced legislation to ban skill games devices, but a recent investigation from Spotlight PA found this legislation was drafted by lobbyists for Parx Casino, which operates in Tomlinson’s district. Skill games appear similar to slot-machines, often appearing in gas stations or restaurants, but they aren’t regulated like games found in a casino.

Angela Couloumbis, a reporter with Spotlight PA, says the final legislation and drafts from the lobbyists are nearly identical.

“Throughout the process of writing the bill, there was a lot of frequent back and forth and checking in with the casino lobbyists,” she says. “We've heard about that happening in the past. It's one thing to hear about it. It's quite another to actually see it play out through emails who usually writes legislation.”

Tomlinson’s office told Couloumbis they often consult with outside entities, but his office makes the final decision on what gets introduced.

State Police reach settlement in lawsuit alleging troopers unconstitutionally pulled over Latino drivers
(6:24 - 12:45)

The Pennsylvania State Police settled a lawsuit from the American Civil Liberties Union of Pennsylvania, which alleged the agency ethnically profiled 10 Latino drivers and passengers who were stopped and questioned about their immigration status.

Vanessa Stine is an immigrants' rights attorney with the ACLU of Pennsylvania worked on this case. She says troopers with the agency are not authorized to enforce federal immigration law. The plaintiffs will receive $865,000 and the State Police agreed to policy changes.

“First, there's a clear statement that enforcement of civil immigration law is not the responsibility of the state police, which is why they're generally prohibited from questioning people about their immigration status. That was not in the policy before,” she says. “Second, there's a prohibition on prolonging stops for the purposes of civil immigration enforcement because again, that's not lawful for them to do that. They're also ending immigration status checks, when they're checking a driver's or passenger's identification.”

The Pennsylvania State Police Commissioner Robert Evanchick said in a statement, “I am confident these changes to policy and training will ensure the department is in compliance with current case law. These positive changes will allow PSP personnel to continue to provide professional, dedicated service while staying up to date with changing case law and expectations."

Carnegie International exhibit returns to Pittsburgh, looks outside of displaying works in a traditional museum
(12:49 - 22:30)

The 58th Carnegie International exhibit is gearing up for its opening September 24, and this year, patrons will find commissions throughout the city, not just inside a museum.

Sohrab Mohebbi curated this year's exhibition. He is curator at large for the Sculpture Center in New York City, and he says the commissions this year will feature a variety of works.

Tony Cokes will create four billboards along Route 28. Berlin-based terra0 will install “an augmented tree that owns its land,” which was donated by the Community College of Allegheny County.

“We kept talking about decentralization. We wanted to get out of the museum in a way to also make sure there is an understanding of the city of Pittsburgh,” Mohebbi says. “Its different texture. It's a different neighborhood. I mean, as you know, some people will say, ‘Well, you know, I'm not going across the river.’ So, to understand that, it was said, well, we will.”

The exhibit will run through April 2, 2023.

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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