First: Philly has itself a reopening plan.

Then: Taxpayers paid a massive bill to run Pa.’s full-time legislature but are blocked from seeing many of the details of the expenses.

And: After months of eligibility, almost half the Philly Fire Department is still unvaccinated, according to the Philadelphia Firefighters Local 22 union. And questions remain about how many Philadelphia police have been vaccinated.

P.S. Which ballot questions are controversial? Which judicial races will be on the ballot? Spotlight PA answered some common questions about the May 18 primary.

— Ashley Hoffman (@_ashleyhoffman, morningnewsletter@inquirer.com)

Philly unveils reopening plans after 14 months of coronavirus shutdowns

It looks as if Philly’s about to get more lively. More than a year since our streets emptied as the whole city basically shut down, our return to some kind of new normal appears to be in sight.

Philly announced yesterday that it will ease more coronavirus restrictions later this month and move toward a full reopening June 11. Of course, plans could change if cases rise. This news follows Pennsylvania and New Jersey, which had already announced reopening plans. Expect lifts on restrictions affecting stores, museums, libraries, and catered events. Indoor and outdoor both. Some precautions are still in place.

Reporters Laura McCrystal, Anthony R. Wood, and Rob Tornoe have all the details on Philly’s plan for May 21 when restrictions will ease and June 11, a big day.

Taxpayers foot huge bill to run Pa.’s full-time legislature but are blocked from many details

Tucked away in a whole array of expense accounts lacking transparency was $203 million that the General Assembly spent from 2017 and 2020 on expenses for lawmakers and staff. That’s according to a database of nearly 400,000 transactions that The Caucus and Spotlight PA created.

The records that document these spending packages legally belong to the taxpayers, who ultimately bankroll it all. But citizens interested in seeing what lawmakers are buying with their money face barriers, delays, and even pushback from lawyers hired by the General Assembly with even more taxpayer money, Spotlight PA and the Caucus found.

”There’s a reason they make this information hard to get,” said Tim Potts, a retired top-level House staffer and now a citizen activist. “It’s not a good reason. It’s a reason that’s self-serving rather than serving the public.”

Reporters Angela Couloumbis of Spotlight PA and Mike Wereschagin, Brad Bumsted, and Sam Janesch of The Caucus teamed up to comb through the records for this story, the first in a series, about what the public is in the dark about.

Helpful COVID-19 Resources

What you need to know today

  • Philadelphia Firefighters Local 22, which represents about 2,800 public workers, reported that 51% of its members have been vaccinated. That union includes EMTs and paramedics, many of whom were among the first people eligible and got their COVID-19 vaccine doses. But uptake among the firefighters in their ranks has been less prevalent, and questions about vaccination rates for police officers remain.

  • Philly cops are going all out to defeat DA Larry Krasner. The longtime civil rights attorney has historically sued police and is running for reelection with a campaign pledge to hold cops accountable.

  • And former Pennsylvania Gov. Ed Rendell — who hired Carlos Vega when Rendell was the district attorney — is throwing his support behind Vega in the race for Philly DA.

  • A reminder that the coronavirus isn’t necessarily done with everyone who is done with it. Most hospitalized COVID-19 patients develop neurological symptoms, a recent Pitt-led global study found.

  • Sheriff sales are under scrutiny for an allegedly illegal contract with Bid4Assets that calls the sales that already happened into question.

  • With tens of thousands of Pennsylvania workers still waiting for unemployment benefits, advocates are demanding the state pay them now and figure out if they qualify later.

  • Francisville residents turned a vacant lot into a park bustling with activity. Now the city has plans to build affordable housing there.

Through your eyes | #OurPhilly

This view just looks like pure bliss.

Tag your Instagram posts or tweets with #OurPhilly and we’ll pick our favorite each day to feature in this newsletter and give you a shout-out!

That’s interesting

🥬 “My Mare,” can you hear me? We have a list of the best places for hoagies in the region to chomp down on.

🎉 For those with social anxiety, reopening can stir uneasy feelings. If the words summer get-together do not make you want to blast Diana Ross and paint the town red, this is how to readjust to socializing with baby steps.

🚗 Speeding violations on Roosevelt Boulevard have declined by 93% in just the first months since automated enforcement cameras were installed on the stretch known for being extraordinarily dangerous.

🎨 A popular mural in Manayunk got painted over with an ode to the Sixers, and no one bothered to tell the original artist.

💰 Philadelphia is deciding how to spend its billions. And we want to know what you think the priorities need to be. Share your thoughts here.

🏀 Raven Johnson made history at the Iverson Classic as the first girl to play in a boys’ basketball All-American game. Call it “the mamba mentality.”

Opinions

“A decade later, the environmental council’s vision for a greener Spring Garden is finally about to happen. The irony is that it is easier to fix a street than to maintain the buildings that make it a real and meaningful place,” architecture critic Inga Saffron writes that this infrastructure makeover puts the boulevard’s character-defining buildings in crisis.

  • “The community of St. Leo’s was always more than a physical structure. It was the people, the experiences, the memories. I will always cherish my fond memories of events at St. Leo’s. These cannot be taken away from us,” lifetime St. Leo’s parish member Ginny Kilty writes of the church ravaged by a weekend fire.

  • “Everyone wins when decisions are made with empathy and humanity, not only the bottom line,” writes Haley Dervinis, Point Breeze Community Development Coalition board member, in the name of equitable development so that all residents can enjoy the quality of life denied for so long by the South Philly refinery.

What we’re reading

Your Daily Dose of | Picnics

You don’t strike us as the type to park yourself in a park just anywhere for a picnic. That’s why we are happy to present the best picnic spots in Philly from reporter Nick Vadala. Our guide has you covered, whether you’re into views and relaxation, the thrill of the grill like the above picnic-goer, or hiking, and you know, activities. Have a favorite spot? Drop us a line, and let us know.