- Associated Press - Tuesday, April 1, 2014

Editorials from around Pennsylvania:

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TOUGH TALK ON ETHICS REFORM NOT ENOUGH FROM PENNSYLVANIA LAWMAKERS

Out in Harrisburg, Pennsylvania lawmakers are scrambling to climb on the bandwagon.

“This is outrageous,” they say. “We shouldn’t be allowed to accept cash gifts from lobbyists or others. There oughta be a law.”

Yes, there oughta be a law. In fact, there should have been strong ethics reform that included a ban on these types of cash gifts decades ago. It speaks volumes that it took a recent scandal - involving Pennsylvania Attorney General Kathleen Kane squashing a sting operation in which four Philadelphia state legislators took money from an informant posing as a lobbyist - for any kind of organized outrage from our elected officials to surface.

Republican and Democratic leaders from the House State Government Committee announced last week they would be drafting legislation banning cash gifts to lawmakers from lobbyists, the principals they represent and others. Similar promises came from senators on both sides of the aisle last week, as well.

It’s mind-boggling that it’s legal for a Pennsylvania lawmaker to accept cash gifts from lobbyists as long as he or she reports individual gifts of more than $250 and total gifts of more than $650 in a given year, and as long as he or she does not allow the gift to influence any decision-making. Actually, it’s legal for legislators and the governor to accept gifts, dinners, trips, event tickets or just about anything else if there are no strings attached.

It’s even more mind-boggling that such gift giving is allowed given the number of corruption scandals that have rocked Harrisburg over the years.

Ethics laws for Pennsylvania lawmakers and others in power are pathetically weak. The power brokers in Harrisburg should spare us the moral indignation and fix what is so terribly broken.

Banning cash gifts won’t solve all of the corruption problems in Harrisburg and it won’t stop some lawmakers from allowing themselves to be bought and sold. But it’s a start.

Climbing on the bandwagon isn’t enough. Anything short of the toughest ethics laws in the land is unacceptable.

- The (Easton) Express-Times

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SAMARITAN LAW NEEDS MORE STUDY

Pennsylvania lawmakers shouldn’t procrastinate about considering a measure that would provide immunity from arrest and prosecution for a drug user seeking medical assistance for an overdose victim.

At the same time, those same lawmakers shouldn’t be overzealous in passing the measure; there are serious questions to resolve.

Some lawmakers already were reflecting on obvious plusses and minuses tied to the proposed legislation - House Bill 2090 - as the bill exited the Human Services Committee for consideration by the full House.

An obvious, legitimate fear is that if done incorrectly, this good Samaritan law could be more damaging than if the law wasn’t passed.

Similar thinking encompasses many other measures. However, about something as serious and life-threatening as illegal drugs, as well as the potential impact on communities, the General Assembly must be right in what it decides.

The biggest issue surrounding the proposed law is how far the measure should go toward shielding a good Samaritan from prosecution.

In an article in the March 23 Mirror, Blair County Assistant District Attorney Pete Weeks, although saying he was unfamiliar with the bill as written, voiced concerns many prosecutors are likely to have about a measure like the one on the legislative table.

Pointing out that it often takes a run-in with the criminal justice system for an illegal-drug user to seek treatment, Weeks said removing the threat of prosecution would, for many opiate addicts, translate into less urgency to seek the help they need.

Good deed aside, the question becomes: Should law enforcement and society in general take upon the obligation to look the other way on behalf of individuals who tomorrow might rob or steal or endanger others’ lives to continue feeding their habits?

Courts of law should take into consideration a good deed after a person has acted selflessly to save the life of another. However, before approving automatic immunity, lawmakers should seek input from police on all levels, as well as from judges, prosecutors, defense attorneys and the general public.

In the March 23 Mirror article, state Rep. Jerry Stern, R-Martinsburg, was quoted as saying if someone is responsible enough to call 911 or otherwise try to get help for an overdose victim, the good Samaritan deserves consideration.

The key word is “consideration.” In addition to the good Samaritan provision, HB 2090, which is co-sponsored by Rep. Mike Fleck, R-Huntingdon, provides a mechanism to provide drugs like naloxone - which can quickly reverse a drug overdose - to nonmedical professionals and family members of opiate users. But concerns expressed by Rep. John McGinnis, R-Altoona, are valid.

McGinnis said police shouldn’t have to worry about possible legal implications or other burdens tied to administering such drugs.

What the fate of “2090,” as currently written, should be is unclear. Necessary now is for thorough fact-finding and opinion-gathering to begin, including from families who’ve lost a loved one because a potential good Samaritan was afraid to summon help.

Regarding this measure, procrastination and overzealousness would be irresponsible. A reasonable timetable for hearing from all sides and voting on the measure is what’s needed.

- Altoona Mirror

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FORCED-POOLING HEARINGS SHOULD INCLUDE THOSE AFFECTED

It’s hard, after all we’ve seen, to imagine that the long-simmering debate about fracking for natural gas is as simple as either side says it is.

Like almost every other issue, it’s not a question of black and white. Do we need cheap energy and economic development? Yes. Do we want clean air and water? Yes. Do we know that every question in between won’t be as easy to answer? Yes we do.

Of course, the answers to those questions matter less and less as the wells are drilled and money is made and spent. The shale “boom” is going on now, here, and we’ll have to deal with the fallout, both good and bad.

That’s not to absolve the powers that be for the political and regulatory inaction that greeted unconventional drilling in Pennsylvania.

Whether the heel-dragging was deliberate or incompetent the end result is the same: Residents of the Keystone State are largely on their own when it comes to the shale boom.

But that’s OK. This is America, the home of the rugged individual. Forgetting entirely the anti-fracking arguments about environmental and health dangers and a healthy skepticism of corporate claims to the contrary, there’s always been an out for those landowners opposed to aggressive resource development: Don’t lease your land. Live and let live, right?

Well not exactly. In Pulaski, Hilcorp Energy Co. is asking the state Department of Environmental Protection to make holdout property owners submit to a 50-year-old state law that could force them to allow gas and oil drilling on their land. It’s essentially a case of private eminent domain, the process that governments use to force people to sell land when it blocks a public project.

Hilcorp wants the holdouts to sign leases so they can have a large, contiguous area for drilling, which in theory would mean fewer wells and a more efficient - read cheaper - operation. The law the company is invoking was written in the 1960s to apply to conventional drilling, not the environmentally and tectonically dicey hydraulic fracturing.

DEP was supposed to be conducting a series of public hearings on this case this week to hear the concerns of property owners, the company and leaseholders. Those hearings were called off late last week and the reason provides some fodder for those who look suspiciously at Hilcorp and DEP, which is supposed to be looking out for the best interests of the state and its residents.

It turns out DEP was relying on Hilcorp to tell it who ought to be notified about the hearings. Not surprisingly, that group didn’t include many, if any, of those property owners in Mercer and Lawrence counties who hadn’t signed a lease and logically might see some problem with forced pooling.

DEP acknowledged as much when it postponed the hearings. Deputy Secretary Scott Perry’s statement spoke to both the public interest in making sure “all potentially impacted residents” had time to be informed and prepared and the real authority his agency answers to when he noted that Hilcorp “agreed to request a delay so that we could provide notices that goes above and beyond what the law requires.”

Letting folks who may be forced by a private company to participate in an activity they find personally abhorrent know about their situation shouldn’t be “above and beyond what the law requires.”

Maintaining personal autonomy and property rights may be cold comfort, as one sees their neighbors cashing in and wells going up across the road, but at least it’s something. Until it’s nothing.

- Sharon Herald

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PHILADELPHIA BECKONS POPE

When Pope Francis did not give a private audience last week to Gov. Tom Corbett and Philadelphia Mayor Michael Nutter, it touched off a wave of darkly comic speculation.

One Philadelphia news site suggested that, given the prosecuted and unprosecuted corruption in Philadelphia and Pennsylvania politics, the pontiff was afraid that the governor and mayor might have been wearing wires for the meeting.

But, as a practical matter, there are many sound reasons for the pope to visit Philadelphia for the World Meeting of Families there from Sept. 22 through Sept. 27, 2015.

Pope Francis’ predecessors have visited five of the seven World Meetings of Families, which have been conducted every three years since the event was founded in 1994. This will be the first in the series to occur in the United States. The others were in Rome twice; Rio de Janeiro; Manila; Valencia, Spain; Mexico City and Milan.

Pope Francis has made family issues a high priority of his pontificate and, as Nutter said, the Philadelphia event would offer the pope an opportunity to address those matters directly to massive in-person and media audiences.

And the event is scheduled just ahead of a summit of the world’s Catholic bishops that the pope has called to discuss an array of church policies covering family matters.

Francis, the first Jesuit pope, also would find Philadelphia to be a bastion of his brother Jesuits. Old St. Joseph’s Church, two blocks from Independence Hall, has been operated by the order since its founding in 1733. The city also is home to St. Joseph’s University and St. Joseph’s Prep, Jesuit institutions, and the Gesu School, the only Jesuit elementary school in the nation.

Pope Francis has generated great excitement just about everywhere in the Catholic world, and his presence in Philadelphia undoubtedly would be a joyous occasion.

Some of the Gesu School students sent Pope Francis a letter asking him to visit the school to “witness Jesuit ideals reshaping a city.”

How could he resist?

- The (Scranton) Times-Tribune

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