- Associated Press - Wednesday, April 30, 2014

Editorials from around Pennsylvania:

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PASS POT BILL TO ALLEVIATE SUFFERING

The heroin epidemic ravaging the nation is tied closely to the availability of powerful, legal prescription painkillers classified as opioids. People become addicted to the painkillers but switch to heroin, which generally is cheaper and easier to obtain.

Such abuse of legal drugs is illegal and regrettable. But it should not, and does not, prevent medical professionals from prescribing the legal drugs for people who need them.

And then, there is marijuana. Pot is a curious case because its provenance in the culture is as a “recreational” drug. Yet marijuana has been shown to have therapeutic effects, including pain relief, nausea suppression and appetite stimulation. And now, an oil derived from marijuana has shown promise as a treatment for a seizure disorder that affects young children.

Two state senators, Democrat Daylin Leach of Montgomery County and Republican Mike Folmer of Lebanon County, have introduced a bill that would authorize use of the oil to treat children suffering from the seizures.

Gov. Tom Corbett and Republican leaders in both houses have said they won’t support the bill because they believe that such policy should be set at the federal level.

Ideally, this is just what should happen. In the meantime, 20 other states that have approved the prescription of medical marijuana by medical professionals aren’t waiting.

Pennsylvania should join them in approving not only the narrow bill, but in trusting medical professionals to prescribe marijuana-based medicines for patients who can benefit.

The Obama administration already has demonstrated that it won’t prosecute medicinal marijuana use where state legislatures, voters, or both have authorized it.

The state government foolishly has prevented several hundred thousand Pennsylvanians from obtaining health care coverage due to political differences with the Obama administration. It should not now defer to the federal government to deny Pennsylvanians access to medicine that could help treat their illnesses.

-The (Scranton) Times-Tribune

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LEVIES ON SHALE GAS WILL TAKE CENTER STAGE THIS YEAR

While the November general elections are a long way off, we expect proposals for a shale gas tax to become a big part of the political debate.

In some ways, it already is. Democrats running for governor are all calling for an extraction tax as a way to boost spending on education and the environment. And even a few Republicans in the state Legislature have come out in support of such a tax, in part because of a potential hole in the upcoming state budget.

But another reason these Republicans are backing the proposal is that they represent areas in the extreme eastern part of the state outside the Marcellus Shale region. Property owners there are not benefiting directly from the shale, and we presume there is greater support for such a tax in those areas.

Gov. Tom Corbett, of course, has steadfastly opposed any extraction tax for shale gas. It’s part of his expressed rejection of any tax hike in the commonwealth - although the current impact fee on shale gas and the new fees imposed on gasoline sure look like taxes to most Pennsylvanians.

Corbett’s main argument against an extraction tax involves the notion that it would discourage gas production in the Pennsylvania. Critics counter that such taxes in other states haven’t thwarted drillers.

Obviously, the rate of taxation is likely to be one of several factors when it comes to drilling decisions. Undoubtedly, the higher the taxes, the less benefit drillers would see from operations in the commonwealth. But at what rate does a tax actually turn away drillers?

And where is the dividing line between where the commonwealth has a legitimate reason to tax natural gas supplies for the greater good and where such a tax becomes a convenient means for government to grab more cash?

These are matters worthy of consideration and public discussion. And frankly, we’re not sure Pennsylvania has had that debate just yet.

But a gubernatorial election year creates that possibility. Both sides will be able to make their case.

In such a debate, some larger questions should not be lost. In particular, it’s important to recognize the shale gas boom is about more than energy extraction and who makes money.

Environmental and land use concerns come into play. But so does the potential for broader economic development.

The proposed Shell cracker plant in Beaver County is closely tied to gas production in the region. Such a facility would have a tremendous impact on the local jobs scene, not only in terms of employing people but also creating offshoot industries.

In this year’s debate over shale gas taxes, voters have many things to keep in mind.

-New Castle News

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MISSING THE BIG PICTURE

Come to think of it … no, Pennsylvania legislators convicted of abusing the public’s trust don’t deserve to have their portraits hanging in the Capitol building.

Someone probably should remove them one of these days, when time permits.

Still, we’re surprised that was our new - and, for now, temporary - state senator’s first order of business in Harrisburg.

State Sen. Scott Wagner, R-Spring Garden Township, this week introduced his inaugural legislation - a resolution calling for an end to the hanging of portraits in the Capitol that honor former legislative leaders who have been convicted of felonies related to abuse of their public offices.

Wagner - who rocked the mainstream GOP with a write-in special election win in March - campaigned as a government reformer, so, yes, this is consistent.

However, we kind of expected something with more texture and less symbolism.

After all, there isn’t much time for Wagner, who’s serving the few months remaining in retired state Sen. Mike Waugh’s term.

If he really wants to change the way things work in the Legislature, he should be swinging for the fences while he can.

Instead, it looks like Wagner’s taking a walk.

No one can argue with the portrait resolution, but even if it’s successful so what?

How does that change the way things are done in Harrisburg?

OK, realistically, it’s not likely Wagner will accomplish much of substance this year.

But if symbolic gestures are all he can muster - for now - why not go big?

Wagner does, after all, want the job for a full, four-year term, and he’ll be facing the voters in the May primary. Why not use this time to clearly stake the positions he’d champion if elected?

The senator could author or co-sponsor legislation to impose term limits on lawmakers; shrink the size of the Legislature; do away with automatic, no-vote cost-of-living increases; reform the school funding formula; or legalize medical marijuana.

The list of meaningful legislation goes on.

And that’s what makes up the big picture.

-York Dispatch

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