Emily Previti

Keystone Crossroads Reporter

Emily Previti is WITF's reporter for Keystone Crossroads, a statewide public media collaboration focused on issues facing Pennsylvania's cities.

Emily previously covered municipal dysfunction and state interventions as a city hall reporter in Harrisburg for the Patriot-News/PennLive, and in Atlantic City for The Press of Atlantic City.

She twice won the New Jersey Press Association's Art Weissman award for public service journalism for two watchdog projects. Before going to work for The Press, Emily covered suburban Chicago for Northwest Newsgroup.

She earned her bachelor's degree from the University of Pennsylvania. As an undergraduate, she worked for WXPN-FM's Morning Show and Kids Corner programs.

Her "off" hours are spent running, swimming, reading and seeking laughter and good music.

Keith Srakocic / AP Photo

 

State legislators are again discussing bills that would make it easier to sue municipalities over local firearms ordinances that conflict with Pennsylvania law.

The measures would require courts to award plaintiffs legal fees, even if they lose the case.

Predecessor legislation had the same provisions for court costs — for pretty much anyone, regardless of whether they own a gun or had even been to the town with the contested rules.

Ed Zurga / AP File Photo

 

The suit alleged the school’s practices violated the Equal Education Opportunity Act. A federal judge agreed, as did an appellate panel.

So what were the practices?

Charles Reed / AP

 

Immigration and Customs Enforcement officers have been increasingly present in multiple Central Pennsylvania cities in recent weeks.  The activity has been affecting entire communities, according to advocates and attorneys in the area.

"This is not just happening once per month, this is happening every single day," says Gloria Vázquez Merrick, director of the Latino Hispanic American Community Center in Harrisburg, where she says knows multiple families with one or both parents now detained.

 

Imad Ghajar and his wife Marwa Hilani were born in Aleppo, Syria, met there, and didn't have plans to leave.

Then the war happened.

"Even in the schools, there wasn't security," Marwa, 37, said recently, through a translator, at her family's new home in Lancaster. "In the middle of the day, there would be a bomb, and someone would die. The area was not safe ever."

The dust from the explosions also made their daughter's asthma worse, and it was increasingly difficult and dangerous to get her treatment.

Margaret Krauss / WESA

 

Marian Spotts and her husband, Phil, rode a bus with other Trump supporters 350 miles from Erie County, to Washington, D.C. for Inauguration Day earlier this year.

After Trump’s speech, we asked Marian for some feedback.

“Very plainspoken,” she said. “And spoken to the Americans that wanna hear some encouraging words. So, yeah, it’s an encouraging time.”

Marian says immigration is an important issue for her.

Matt Rourke / AP Photo

 

The Municipal Sanctuary and Federal Enforcement, or SAFE, Act would restrict state funding for communities where law enforcement agencies don't cooperate with Immigration and Customs Enforcement.

The bill would require municipalities to prove they're complying with the law  when submitting applications for certain state grants, loans and economic development and other programs.

More than$1.3 billion could be affected, according to estimates from legislation sponsors.

Gene J. Puskar / AP Photo

 

Communities patrolled full-time by Pennsylvania State Police,  instead of local officers, would pay $25 per resident under the budget proposed for next year by Gov. Tom Wolf.

Troopers are solely responsible for policing more than half the state's municipalities, home to 21 percent of Pennsylvania residents.

Jason Plotkin / York Daily Record

 

Pennsylvania communities that don’t cooperate with federal immigration officials would not only possibly lose some federal funding under President Trump’s latest executive order — they’d get cut off from state grants, too, under a bill that cleared a state Senate panel Wednesday.

Lindsay Lazarski / WHYY

 

More than 2,500 municipalities and 67 counties just released their budgets for the upcoming year. So what are the trends? What rises to the top?

It's tough to say in any kind of comprehensive, precise way because, well, Pa.'s governance is really fragmented.

Statewide data also tends to publish on a two-year lag and submissions are inconsistent in number, content and form.

That said, here’s what we found:

Gaming revenue impacts, explained

Marc Levy / AP Photo

 

Most challenges to gun-control ordinances in recent years in Pennsylvania have been dismissed outright — generally, because the plaintiffs lacked standing after the courts overturned a state law known as Act 192.

Lower Merion Township’s effort to ban the use of guns in its parks is different, however, because one plaintiff in the suit challenging that ordinance resides in the township.

While Montgomery County Court ultimately upheld Lower Merion's ordinance, an appeals court issued a 2-1 decision a couple weeks ago against the township.

Emily Previti / WITF

 

Some counties in Pennsylvania go without updating their property values for decades, far longer than the six-year maximum wait recommended by the International Association of Assessing Officers.

Almost everywhere else, revaluation is either handled at the state level or required at a set interval by state law, according to IAAO surveys.

Lindsay Lazarski and Jessica Kourkounis / WHYY

 

The Keystone Crossroads team reflected on our body of work over past year and picked these highlights.

Take a look. Feedback is welcome. So are suggestions for next year's coverage.

READ MORE Keystone Crossroads is a statewide public media initiative reporting on the challenges facing Pennsylvania's cities. WPSU is a participating station.

Matt Rourke / AP File Photo

 

The Federal Aviation Administration is due to release rules for drone operation over populated areas in a couple weeks. Interest is high in many sectors, including local government.

Jessica Kourkounis / Keystone Crossroads

 

It might seem like some cities only just stopped reeling from the last recession. Now many officials want to prepare for the next economic downturn.

An expert panel offered some insight recently at the National League of Cities summit in Pittsburgh.

One way to prepare is through something called stress testing — basically, financial modeling to help governments budget resiliently.

Lindsay Lazarski / WHYY

 

There are requirements at polling places, but help doesn't reach everyone who needs it.

Elections have been hectic for Cesar Liriano for most of the nine years he's lived in the city of Lebanon. Presidential elections are craziest, but he's busy during the lower-turnout local and gubernatorials, too.

"Normally, I get up at 5 o'clock every day, doesn't matter elections or not," Liriano says. "I go down as soon to the polls as soon as they open, I go and vote with my wife, and then I get prepared to be running from one poll to the other."

Lindsay Lazarski / WHYY

 

A proposal for a $15 deed and mortgage recording fee awaits Gov. Tom Wolf's signature.

The fees collected would go to counties, which would have to use the money to demolish blighted structures.

 

About 17,000 school-aged refugees move to the U.S. in an average year, an estimate that's a few years old and likely growing along with overall resettlement activity.

But no one is tracking how young refugees fare in school here.

Georgetown University released a study earlier this year looking at education access by students with limited English proficiency.

It focused on undocumented immigrants.

Emily Previti / WITF

 

Lead-based paint remains in homes in cities nationwide, including many in Pennsylvania, despite long-standing awareness of health risks to young children.

So Hamilton Health Center, located in one of Harrisburg's most distressed neighborhoods, already does free lead-exposure screenings for children under six.

But a new partnership with the city will mean new equipment for the center to facilitate faster testing and response.

Lindsay Lazarski / WHYY

 

In a handful of Pennsylvania communities, it’s illegal for private landlords to rent to people convicted of a felony drug offense within the past seven years.

That could change if one woman’s lawsuit is successful.

Her name is Darcy Smith. She lives in Gallitzin, a 1,600-person borough in Cambria County.

Matt Rourke / AP Photo

 

Legislation dealing with pensions has, for decades, received a once-over by actuaries working for the Public Employee Retirement Commission, or PERC.

The point is to have PERC actuaries' objective analysis. That's  apart from information provided by bill sponsors and actuaries working for potentially-affected retirement systems.

Emily Previti / WITF

 

The first thing you see inside Sunbury City Hall is Mayor David Persing's name on an office window.

Today, Persing's got back-to-back appointments running past 5 p.m. He's taking them at a conference table that fits easily in his chambers, along with a large, sturdy desk and ample shelving.

Persing is the part-time mayor of a town with fewer than 10,000 people.

Flickr Creative Commons

 

Many of the commonwealth's roughly 2,000 authorities manage essential public assets like water and sewer systems.

Basically, local governments create the authorities, appoint their boards and delegate responsibility for assets (airports, stadiums, public parking facilities, water and sewer systems), effectively increasing City Hall's taxing power and the community's borrowing capacity.

Matt Rourke / AP File Photo

 

"Regardless of where you come down on that fight, the work needs to get done." 

That's state Auditor General Eugene DePasquale's take on Governor Wolf's push to dissolve the Public Employees' Retirement Commission.

David Goldman / AP Photo

 

Host Guy Raz talks with public officials, academics and an engineer about their ideas for building better cities, and why it matters.

The show aired last week. Listen to it, in full, here.

My takeaways:

Cities can tackle problems, “even when opaque, stubborn nations refuse to.”

Jessica Kourkounis

 

Accountability.

That, to me, is the most consistent theme among different plans and ideas for the upcoming year shared with me recently by my Keystone Crossroads colleagues.

That includes, in no particular order:

City Hall politics

It's not a mayoral election year. But 2016 will be significant for mayors' offices.

Diana Robinson / WITF

 

Many of Lancaster's 70,000 residents take pride in the fact that their city resettled more refugees than 20 individual states last year.

But this weekend, people came from elsewhere all over Pennsylvania to protest aiding some asylum seekers.

About 250 people demonstrated support for refugees outside resettlement agency Church World Service in Lancaster.

Resident Beth Kuttab was one of them.

Lindsay Lazarski / WHYY

 

Laundry in the bathroom corner, baseball cap collection in the living room and a poster of a young woman wearing close to nothing.

Zach Hassinger's apartment is pretty standard for a 23-year-old guy.

But he's here for reasons that are uncommon to most people, if not necessarily to him.

Matt Rourke / AP Photo

  The federal refugee resettlement program is concentrated in a handful of states — most with governors who say they don't want newly-arrived Syrians as residents. 

Keystone Crossroads talked about it with Melanie Nezer, Vice-President,  Policy & Advocacy for HIAS — one of the nation's nine resettlement agencies, and chair of Refugee Council USA.

Emily Previti / WITF

 

The exemption would apply to 98 percent of Pennsylvania's municipal retirement systems.

Susquehanna Township's figured out a way to save $40,000 a year, every year.

Without compromising anything for residents, or firing anyone. 

But to public officials in the 25,000 person community, getting there was almost not worth the trouble. 

Lindsay Lazarski / WHYY

 

More than 15,400 Pennsylvanians experienced homelessness this year. That's up slightly from 2014 - and up 6.2 percent from 2010, despite supportive housing and emergency shelter space increasing 2.5 percent statewide. Meanwhile, nationwide homelessness counts dropped as housing and shelter accommodations rose less than one percent, according to HUD data.

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