Editorials from around Pennsylvania:
IT’S BACK TO BUSINESS FOR EVERYONE BUT PA STATE LAWMAKERS, Sept. 11
September is back to business for school children and workers who have burned off their vacation time. Why isn’t it the case for state lawmakers?
The House had originally been scheduled to return to Harrisburg for two voting sessions this week, but Speaker Mike Turzai (R., Allegheny) canceled them - with no public explanation given - effectively extending their summer recess by another two weeks, for a grand total of 86 days off. The Senate didn’t even bother to schedule voting sessions for this week.
Pennsylvania has the nation’s largest full-time legislature, and its average base pay of $87,000 a year is second only to California’s. That’s not even counting the free cars, including gas and maintenance, as well as excellent health and retirement benefits that lawmakers give themselves.
As legislators continue to cash their paychecks, they are ignoring important state business. Here are some key issues that demand action.
School funding is always going to be a pressing issue, but this year, it has taken on more urgency for a number of reasons. First, a Commonwealth Court upheld a lawsuit challenging the state’s funding formula and its failure to correct inequities in funding between high income and poorer communities - a gap that’s worse in Pennsylvania than in any other state. Figuring out how to balance these inequities will require time and thoughtful debate. Ignoring it won’t make it go away. In addition, the dismissal of Philadelphia schools during extreme heat last week was yet another reminder that the aging infrastructure of schools throughout the state must be addressed as a key safety issue.
On guns, the Senate in March passed a bill to tighten the 60-day window for violent domestic abusers and those who pose a threat to self and others to give up their guns to 24 hours. The House just couldn’t muster the courage to concur, despite the fact that last year, the number of victims of domestic violence killed with a gun in Pennsylvania increased. Of the 117 domestic violence deaths, 78 were caused by a gun. How many of those 78 deaths might have been prevented if lawmakers were paying attention?
This summer’s explosive grand jury report that 301 priests abused more than 1,000 victims was a five-alarm reminder of the need to adjust the criminal and civil statutes of limitations so that victims of abuse could pursue justice. Right now, criminal charges can’t be brought if the victim is over 50 and civil cases can’t be filed if the victim is over 30.
The legislature has also failed to address the need to restructure state taxes - especially giving communities much-needed property tax relief. And an unprecedented grassroots movement calling for an end to gerrymandering, the process through which legislators stack the deck in their favor with voters of their own party, also fell on deaf ears.
The legislature’s failure to attack our problems is putting the progress and health of the state at risk.
Those legislators who are hiding from voters should use the upcoming Nov. 6 election as a time for thoughtful reflection on whether they even belong in government.
-The Philadelphia Inquirer
REAL ID IS REAL OVERDUE, Sept. 10
It’s only taken 13 years, but Pennsylvania is finally starting to pre-qualify people for a new enhanced identification card.
Congress adopted the Real ID Act in 2005, a post-9/11 measure meant to make the kind of work-arounds used by terrorist hijackers obsolete through increased precaution and security.
But in Pennsylvania, Harrisburg bristled and blustered. No, they wouldn’t do it. Nope, nope, nope. Seven years into the new law, the state Legislature responded with a document of its own, when the Real ID Nonparticipation Act gave the feds a resounding “nuh-uh.”
That came in 2012, a year after the 10th anniversary of the day seven crew members and 33 passengers, along with four hijackers, died in a Pennsylvania field.
Gov. Tom Wolf finally signed the law that allowed the state to participate in 2017.
As each deadline in the Real ID process has come up, Pennsylvania has lagged behind like a whiny kid who forgot his homework. There isn’t enough time, the state has cried.
That’s still the mantra now. While the standards are supposed to go into effect in the Keystone State in a month, once again, an extension has been requested. The $30 optional IDs won’t actually be available until March.
Without the IDs, Pennsylvanians will eventually not be able to access spaces under federal protection, like U.S. courthouses or airplanes.
Pennsylvania is not alone. While 33 states and areas are listed by the Department of Homeland Security as compliant, there are 18 states and five territories that aren’t. All are listed as having extensions. Many of those joined Pennsylvania in opposition.
But of those 55 states and places, Pennsylvania has the distinction of being the home to a graveyard-shrine that speaks to why the law exists. Only two other states can say that. New York is compliant. So is the District of Columbia.
New Jersey, where fateful Flight 93 took off on Sept. 11, 2001, is also still amid extensions following a restraining order and legal challenge from the ACLU. Massachusetts, too, has extensions. The planes that hit the World Trade Center took off from Boston’s Logan International Airport.
The Real ID Act has not been without controversy and criticism, which has come from Republicans, Democrats, liberals and libertarians alike, for a spectrum of reasons from privacy to constitutionality.
But Pennsylvania’s years of foot-dragging, at the same time it was legislating voter identification requirements, seems oddly discordant.
What seems fitting, however, is that the pre-qualifying process begins as the Tower of Voices is set to be dedicated at the Flight 93 National Memorial.
Maybe some voices were finally heard.
-The Pittsburgh Tribune-Review
‘GOOD SAMARITAN’ LAW NEEDED FOR ALCOHOL OVERDOSES TOO, Sept. 9
Immunity from prosecution for those reporting a drug overdose is the law in 40 states, including Pennsylvania and New Jersey. Simply stated, if you act in good faith in calling 911 to help someone in danger, you won’t face criminal charges for simple possession of drugs or paraphernalia.
These “Good Samaritan” laws vary somewhat by state, but they were prompted by a common need - to address the rising death toll from an opioid epidemic. One side-effect of a ready supply of heroin, fentanyl and pharmaceutical painkillers is the reluctance of people to pick up the phone and call 911 in a suspected overdose, for fear of arrest and prosecution.
Coupled with the use of naloxone by first responders, immunity has saved thousands of lives - even as the epidemic continues to surge in Pennsylvania and other hot spots around the nation.
The success of this approach has raised another question: If it’s effective against opioids, why not extend it to America’s drug of choice, alcohol? Especially on college campuses, where binge drinking is prevalent?
In Northampton County, that immunity is now being offered to students at four colleges and universities, under a program initiated by District Attorney John Morganelli and the Center for Humanistic Change Inc.
In a news conference this week, Morganelli said students will not face criminal charges if they call 911 seeking help for someone who is dangerously drunk. It applies to those acting in good faith, even if they are under 21 and have been drinking.
Immunity in such cases is up to a prosecutor. Morganelli says he’s extending it to college students to save lives, recalling the alcohol-related death of a Lafayette College freshman last year. The need to educate students about getting help for impaired or injured colleagues was amplified, too, by the 2017 death of Timothy Piazza, a Penn State student from Hunterdon County.
This policy borrows some of the thinking that went into the now-abandoned Amethyst Initiative - a national discussion of laws governing underage and binge drinking on college campuses back in 2008. Presidents of three Lehigh Valley institutions - Lafayette, Moravian and Muhlenberg - endorsed the initiative then, which advocated lowering the drinking age from 21 to 18. That proposal failed, predictably.
Doing nothing hasn’t exactly worked, either.
Education, awareness and cracking down on fraternities that violate alcohol and hazing policies is having an effect - but it’s not going to eradicate dangerous drinking and the culture that encourages it.
In addition to reaching out to college students, Morganelli and the Center for Humanistic Change are trying to get alcohol retailers involved, to raise awareness at the point of purchase. Sonia Oliveria, the center’s prevention program specialist, brought up the education campaign idea to Morganelli during a college alcohol summit two months ago.
We hope Morganelli’s offer of immunity doubles down on the success rate in opioid cases, and that other prosecutors embrace it as well.
And don’t forget, it’s not just college students who drink to excess. Immunity should be extended to anyone seeking to save a life from potential overdose - regardless of age, level of education or the drug involved.
-The Easton Express-Times
THE PA HOUSE NEEDS TO GET IT DONE ON BILL KEEPING GUNS OUT OF THE HANDS OF ABUSERS, Sept. 10
The state House and Senate return to the state Capitol this month for a pre-election voting sessions that’s so short it would be funny, were it not such a ridiculous waste of the taxpayers’ time and money.
The majority-GOP House reconvenes Wednesday for a mere 13 session days - four of which are non-voting. The Republican-controlled Senate makes its even more leisurely return on Sept. 24, holding just 10 session days. Both chambers will pack it in for the year in mid-November.
While some readers may reasonably point out that the government that governs best is that which governs least, Pennsylvania’s 253 elected legislators, among the best paid in the country, have no shortage of pressing issues facing them upon their return.
We’ve already called for lawmakers to enact fixes to Pennsylvania’s civil and criminal statute of limitations for the victims of childhood sexual abuse. The need for the long overdue fix has been made all the more pressing by last month’s blockbuster release of a grand jury report detailing decades of abuse within Pennsylvania’s Roman Catholic dioceses.
So we’d like to direct your attention - and that of the General Assembly’s - to one more, hugely important piece of legislation that’s begging for their attention this fall:
A commonsense measure that will keep guns out of the hands of domestic abusers.
The House left town in June without voting on a unanimously approved Senate bill, sponsored by Sen. Tom Killion, R-Delaware, requiring people with protection from abuse orders to surrender their firearms within 24 hours. Those convicted of misdemeanor domestic violence offenses would have 48 hours instead of the current 60 days.
Killion’s bill, which was part of a larger, seven-bill domestic violence package, further bans domestic abusers from storing their weapons with friends and families. Gov. Tom Wolf has said he will sign the bill when it reaches his desk.
This one should be an easy lift for the House. And it should have been approved before the chamber went on an extended summer recess in June.
Now that the House is back in session, we have a simple request: Get it done.
THANKS TO WORKING AMERICANS, Sept. 10
We hear a lot about unemployment rates, the gross domestic product, business inventories and a variety of other economic indicators.
But among the most interesting are productivity reports from the Bureau of Labor Statistics (BLS).
In essence, productivity data compares the value of goods and services to the amount of labor needed to produce them.
During the second quarter of this year, productivity in the nonfarm sector of the economy increased by 2.9 percent. Even more illuminating was the BLS conclusion that the value of goods and services produced during the quarter went up 4.8 percent - while hours worked increased only 1.9 percent.
Americans are producing more during every hour we are at work. Many factors contribute to that.
Technology makes many workers able to produce more while working fewer hours.
But someone has to devise new methods and machines. Someone has to learn how to use them. And someone has to find ways, even without better technology and an already full workload, to do more with less. Our economy is growing, THANKS to working Americans.
-The Lock Haven Express
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