First Read

First Read – Feb. 20, 2024

Commonwealth Supreme Court takes up automatic life sentences … Biden visits East Palestine … Syringe services come up again in the legislature … and more

WEATHER: Philadelphia: sunny, high of 43; Harrisburg: sunny, high of 43; Pittsburgh: sunny, high of 49. 


* Philadelphia Mayor Cherelle Parker joined U.S. Sen. Bob Casey and U.S. Rep. Mary Gay Scanlon at the Philadelphia International Airport Friday morning to announce $20.4 million in federal infrastructure funding coming to the upgrade terminal facilities. 


* Pennsylvania’s high court will consider whether some automatic life sentences for those convicted of murder violate constitutional protections for defendants, the justices said Friday, the Associated Press reports.

* President Joe Biden surveyed the federal cleanup in East Palestine, Ohio Friday, more than a year after a train carrying toxic materials derailed – vowing to hold the railroad company accountable and that the government is not going away, the AP reports.

* In what advocates are calling a historic move, a bill that would legalize syringe services throughout the state is making progress in the legislature, Spotlight PA reports.  

* Democrats want to flip the state Senate this November, and party backers are eyeing a handful of districts as key to taking control of the chamber for the first time in 30 years, Spotlight PA reports.

* Gov. Josh Shapiro announced a plan in his 2024-25 budget to set aside $4 million to purchase and pay off low-income Pennsylvanians’ medical debt, the Pennsylvania-Capital Star reports. 

* Inflation is slowing and job growth has surged, but many Americans still face expensive housing. Home prices across the U.S. rose 5.5% over the past year and are projected to increase 2.8% year over year by December, the Capital-Star reports.

* The national “Abandon Biden” movement launched yesterday in an effort to encourage Muslim voters and allies in Pennsylvania to ditch Biden in November as he fails to call for a cease-fire, The Philadelphia Inquirer reports.

* Philly Mayor Cherelle L. Parker spent nearly a million dollars in campaign funds on salaries and benefits for the staffers who helped her clinch the mayoral election last year. But, today, it’s not clear who received that pay, the Inquirer reports. 

* More than 100 environmental advocates, religious organizations and community groups say Shapiro’s new 10-year economic development plan does not move at the speed of climate change, WESA reports.

* The National Transportation Safety Board won’t officially determine until tomorrow why the Fern Hollow Bridge collapsed two years ago, but state, local and federal officials already have made a series of changes, the Pittsburgh Union-Progress reports.


* The Inquirer has an op-ed by Emily Seeburger and Shoshana Aronowitz, who write that the Parker administration, along with City Council, has made addressing the ongoing opioid crisis in Kensington a top priority. 

* The Capital-Star has an op-ed by Ray Landis, who writes that the legitimate issue of whether the United States should be led by a new generation is being obscured by obnoxious stereotypical descriptions of older people.


* The United States has circulated a rival UN Security Council resolution that would support a temporary cease-fire in Gaza after rejecting an Arab-backed resolution demanding an immediate humanitarian cease-fire, Politico reports. 

* Former President Donald Trump’s long-standing view that European allies should bear more of their own defense costs could come to a head if he is elected again, The Washington Post reports. 

HAPPY BIRTHDAY: To Philadelphia City Councilmember Rue Landau … and to Deborah Waxman, president and CEO, Reconstructionist Rabbinical College/Reconstructing Judaism … Want to wish someone a happy birthday in our newsletter? Email their name, job title and upcoming birthday to


9:30 a.m. – Senate Appropriations Committee meets, Hearing Room 1, North Office Building, state Capitol, Harrisburg. Watch here.

10 a.m. – House Appropriations Committee meets, Room 140, state Capitol, Harrisburg. Watch here.

10 a.m. – The Pittsburgh City Council meets, Council Chambers, City Council Building, Pittsburgh. Watch here. 

11 a.m. – House Democratic Policy Committee meets, Room G50, Irvis Office Building, Harrisburg. 

11:30 a.m. – Gov. Josh Shapiro, state Rep. Patty Kim and Lemoyne Borough Council President Gale Gallo will continue the statewide "Main Street Matters" tour, West Shore Farmers Market, Lemoyne. Watch here. 

1 p.m. – The Philadelphia City Council Committee on Public Safety meets, Room 400, City Hall, Philadelphia. Watch here. 

1 p.m. – House Appropriations Committee meets, Room 140, state Capitol, Harrisburg. Watch here.

1 p.m. – House Housing and Community Development Committee meets, Room 523, Irvis Office Building, Harrisburg. Watch here.

1 p.m. – Senate Appropriations Committee meets, Hearing Room 1, North Office Building, state Capitol, Harrisburg. Watch here.

5 p.m.  – County Council of Allegheny meets, 119 Courthouse, 436 Grant Street, Pittsburgh. Watch here. 

KICKER: “While we respect your efforts in this significant undertaking, the proposed plan will worsen Pennsylvania’s economic position by linking it to the fossil fuel-driven boom-and-bust economic cycles of the past.” – advocates to Gov. Shapiro, via WESA

NEXT STORY: First Read – Feb. 13, 2024