- Associated Press - Wednesday, October 26, 2016

Editorials from around Pennsylvania:

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A LEGISLATIVE TRIPLE THREAT THAT NEEDS TO BE REJECTED, Oct. 25

Pennsylvania’s General Assembly is on a reprehensible streak when it comes to advancing 11th-hour legislation that would roll back transparency in government and grievously restrict the public’s right to information.

First it was legislation that would allow law enforcement agencies to withhold the name of police officers involved in a firearm discharge or fatal shooting. That bill, HB 1538, seemed dead in the water until last week, when the state Senate’s Law and Justice Committee suddenly amended it and put it up for consideration.

Then it was legislation simultaneously authorizing police officers to wear body cameras inside homes and videotape people without notification, while also giving departments carte blanche to withhold police recordings from public records requests. Senate Bill 976 was tabled in early February before suddenly being taken up again last week, amended and passed on to the House’s Judiciary Committee for consideration.

Now it’s a bill - House Bill 297 - that would functionally eliminate the public’s access to basic information that is routinely released by coroners. The legislation initially prohibited releasing the information for 72 hours, but was amended last week to prohibit it from being disclosed at all. It already has passed a House vote and is being considered in the state Senate.

The cases against these destructive bills are obvious. Each would, in its own way, severely damage the public’s ability to gather information about what is going on in and around their lives each day. Taken together, their effects would be amplified considerably.

Police are paid with taxpayer dollars and given the authority to carry and use deadly weapons on a daily basis. They are a highly visible, powerful and vital part of most communities. Why shouldn’t those communities have reasonable access to information vital to forming informed conclusions on how effectively officers discharge their duties?

Similarly, coroners are public officials whose determinations on name, cause and manner of death - all of which are already specifically public under Pennsylvania’s 2008 Right to Know Law - go to the heart of people’s understanding of what is occurring in their communities every day. Whether that’s drug use, violent criminal activity, or risky behavior such as drunken driving, restricting such information would have a chilling effect on communities’ ability to identify, understand and respond to issues of public interest.

Legislators - and, if necessary, Gov. Tom Wolf - must stop these ill-conceived pieces of legislation before they cause substantial harm to citizens. Otherwise the closing weeks of this legislative session will go down as some of the most destructive and backward in recent memory.

- The Butler Eagle

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FEAR SHOULD NOT KEEP ANYONE FROM VOTING NOV. 8, Oct. 23

Donald Trump says the fix is in. The election is rigged. “Bigly.” Done. End of story.

Trump has asked his supporters to keep a watchful eye on Pennsylvania’s polling places because he believes something is rotten in the commonwealth.

“You got to watch your polling booth because I hear too many stories about Pennsylvania, certain areas,” he told supporters in Manheim a few weeks ago.

Trump shamefully doubled down during Wednesday night’s presidential debate when he said he will “keep you in suspense” about whether he will accept the results of the election.

In posing the question to Trump, debate moderator Chris Wallace of Fox News pointed out that “one of the prides of this country is the peaceful transition of power.” At the end of a hard-fought campaign, the loser graciously concedes.

Trump doesn’t seem to understand that, nor does he appreciate the damage he’s doing by continuing to question the integrity of the electoral process. Banana republics rig elections. Evil despots jail their opponents. Our process for transfer of power is one of the main reasons the republic has endured for 240 years.

Trump tripled down Thursday when he said he will accept the election results “if I win.” He attempted to clarify by saying he reserves the right to contest a “questionable result,” which is the right of any candidate.

Pennsylvania Department of State Secretary Pedro Cortes called Trump’s fraud claims “irresponsible and destructive to the democratic process.” They are also unrealistic. Rigging a national election to tip the balance in favor of a particular candidate, at least in this country, would be next to impossible.

Of course, there have been recent incidents of voter fraud in the United States, but not nearly of the scope to throw a presidential election.

For a Washington Post article in 2014, Justin Levitt, law professor at Loyola Law School in Los Angeles, studied voter identification fraud claims in general, primary, special and municipal elections from 2000 to 2014.

“Requirements to show ID at the polls are designed for pretty much one thing: people showing up at the polls pretending to be somebody else in order to each cast one incremental fake ballot,” he writes. “This is a slow, clunky way to steal an election. Which is why it rarely happens.”

Levitt found 31 separate incidents in which ID fraud could have been claimed in more than 1 billion ballots cast.

And, according to Levitt, there’s this.

“People who think elections are being stolen, and people who think they’re not, each hold on to that opinion no matter what the governing ID rules (are) in their area. The factor that really influences whether people think the elections are fair? Whether their preferred candidates win.”

There are those who insist on sniffing out a conspiracy regardless of the absence of evidence. For everyone else, the monitoring process, for the most part, works.

For example, in Lancaster County on Nov. 8, as LNP reported last week, each political party will be permitted three poll watchers, and each candidate is allowed two watchers per polling place. The parties and candidates must request a certificate from the county Board of Elections before Election Day.

Be aware of your rights as a voter. Poll watchers are not permitted to make baseless challenges and must stay at least 6 feet away from the voting area.

“Any behavior that is intended to, or has the effect of, interfering with an eligible voter’s right to vote, constitutes intimidation, should not be tolerated and should be reported,” Pennsylvania Department of State spokeswoman Wanda Murren said.

If a voter experiences this behavior, he or she can contact the district attorney’s office, the county Board of Elections or submit a complaint through votesPA.com.

More than 8,100 Lancaster County residents registered to vote in the last three weeks leading up to the deadline. Statewide, voters are signing up in record numbers. Pennsylvanians are interested and engaged, and they want a say in the direction of the state and country. This is an encouraging sign, especially in an election season of unprecedented polarization.

And we’re confident that election officials in Pennsylvania and Lancaster County are doing what is necessary to preserve the integrity of the voting process. If we have information to the contrary, we will provide it.

No one should let unsupported claims of potential voter harassment or intimidation keep him or her from voting. Nor should unfounded forecasts of election fraud keep anyone away from the polls.

The best response to fearmongering is to show up; the best way to protect our democracy is to participate in it.

- LNP

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MCGINTY CAN BE EFFECTIVE IN SENATE, Oct. 25

Deeply conservative U.S. Sen. Pat Toomey has walked a political high-wire since his election in 2010, when he defeated Democrat Joe Sestak by only two percentage points amid a Republican sweep. Now, in his re-election bid against Democrat Katie McGinty, he has lost his balance.

The Standard-Speaker editorial board, and those of the The Times-Tribune of Scranton and The Citizens’ Voice of Wilkes-Barre, endorse McGinty for Senate.

McGinty has not held elective office but has a solid record in appointive office as chairwoman of the White House Council on Environmental Quality during the Clinton administration, and later as state secretary of environmental protection. She also briefly served as Gov. Tom Wolf’s chief of staff.

That résumé is particularly important to Northeastern Pennsylvania, with its energy resources and environmental challenges. McGinty takes a nuanced approach, balancing regulation with the real need for a robust energy sector that embraces traditional as well alternative energy sources. Toomey takes a more doctrinaire stance, opposing both tougher clean-air standards for coal-burning plants and incentives to develop alternative sources such as wind and solar.

Toomey and McGinty are exact opposites on some issues. Broadly, he is ardently pro-business and she is more pro-union and pro-consumer. More specifically, his record in the Senate on those matters is contrary to the interests of most Pennsylvanians. A former investment banker, Toomey has opposed badly needed regulatory reforms to protect the economy from the predatory and irresponsible Wall Street practices that nearly crashed it in 2008. He has crusaded against the Consumer Financial Protection Bureau, which just recently has reined in predatory payday lenders and uncovered vast fraud against consumers by Wells Fargo Bank.

Toomey has voted to repeal the Affordable Care Act, which has produced a 28 percent reduction in the number of Pennsylvanians without health insurance. McGinty has vowed to support the ACA but to adjust it going forward, much the same course that has applied to the indispensable Medicare program. She would seek to fight health care cost inflation for consumers by outlawing drug-price profiteering and limiting copays and soaring deductibles that have transferred far higher percentages of costs from insurers to consumers.

McGinty would help working families, especially women, by advocating equal pay and increasing tax credits for child care. She wants to increase the minimum wage, but should consider a longer period than the four years over which she would bring it to $15.

For the most part, Toomey has been a reliable supporter of the policy of obstruction executed by Senate Majority Leader Mitch McConnell. One notable and commendable exception was his effort to extend gun-purchase background checks following the 2012 slaughter of first-graders and their teachers in Newtown, Connecticut. But that was a non-starter in his caucus, from which Toomey has not strayed on other issues.

And, in a highly irresponsible act, Toomey has stood with his caucus in stonewalling President Obama’s nomination of highly qualified appellate Judge Merrick Garland to replace the late Justice Antonin Scalia on the Supreme Court of the United States. That violates the spirit, if not the letter of the Constitution, hamstrings another branch of the government and makes a mockery of the notion that the Senate is the world’s greatest deliberative body.

Consider the consequences if the highly volatile presidential election were to come down to resolving an electoral dispute in a particular state, as it did in 2000. Rightly or wrongly, the Supreme Court ruled in Bush v. Gore, resulting in the customary peaceful transition of power. What would happen if the court had a 4-4 tie? Voters should not reward Toomey’s refusal to insist on a timely confirmation process.

Now, Toomey can’t bring himself to denounce Donald J. Trump because he needs the GOP standard-bearer’s supporters to win. But he won’t say that Trump has his vote.

Toomey’s record does not warrant re-election whereas McGinty has the policy credentials to be an effective senator.

- The (Hazleton) Standard-Speaker

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EURO MARS ANGST: BUT THE LANDER’S FLUB WAS JUST A BUMP ON ITS MISSION, Oct. 24

Last week, the European Space Agency lost contact with the ExoMars Schiaparelli lander during its harrowing six-minute descent to the Martian surface. Fifty seconds before it was scheduled to make a soft, controlled landing on Mars with the assistance of nine thrusters, ExoMars stopped transmitting.

There were initial hopes that the Schiaparelli lander, a $320 million joint mission with Roscosmos, the Russian Space Agency, was only temporarily silent and would resume transmitting despite a rough landing on Mars.

Many days later, the Schiaparelli lander is still silent and its exact location still unknown, but its mission to gather valuable atmospheric data needed to ensure a successful landing for the Martian rover the ESA plans to send to Mars in 2020 was not a failure. Valuable information was gathered during the descent.

After separating from its orbiting mother ship, the Trace Gas Orbiter, the lander’s supersonic parachute deployed and heat shields worked properly as it streaked through the Martian sky at 13,000 mph.

While transmitting data during its descent, the lander’s thrusters turned on earlier than they were supposed to before abruptly turning off, leaving the lander to a fate that would be decided by gravity and whatever distance was left during its descent. The loss of the signal indicates that the Schiaparelli lander hit the Martian surface hard.

Still, much of its mission was accomplished. ESA has a lot of data to pore over to prep for the automated Mars rover mission that will aggressively seek out signs that life once existed on the planet. A soft landing last week would have been infinitely preferable to the hard landing, but even failures are instructive when it comes to space exploration. Don’t cry for the Europeans, they’re just getting started.

- The Pittsburgh Post-Gazette

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GENERAL ASSEMBLY SHOULD HAVE SOME SAY OVER LABOR PACTS, Oct. 21

Gov. Tom Wolf recently negotiated a new collective bargaining agreement with AFSCME labor force that includes nearly 32,000 state employees.

According to the state’s Independent Fiscal Office, the agreement will cost the state $390 million over the next three years.

Under the way state government now works, Gov Wolf negotiated the agreement unilaterally with the state’s largest union. And he has the right to do the same regarding other agreements the state has.

As for the Pennsylvania General Assembly, it has one responsibility find the money from taxpayers to pay for the agreement and no negotiating power.

State Rep. Garth Everett, a Muncy Republican, is pushing legislation that would give the General Assembly the power to override the governor’s negotiation decisions.

We sorely need some check and balance over this or any future governor.

It’s not the pay increases are exorbitant they are in the 2 to 3 percent range.

But the state is struggling to balance its budgets and facing future fiscal woes, starting with an underfunded pension system that threatens to overrun the rest of the state budget.

Under similar circumstances in the private sector, work force reductions and pay freezes would be the likely scenario.

But our state government has shown for years it is not in touch with the fiscal realities that everyone else lives by.

Leaders simply spend more to solve problems and taxpayers with no right of refusal or oversight are expected to pay for it.

There at least needs to be a mechanism in place to make labor negotiations with state workers a matter that the General Assembly has some oversight over.

- The (Williamsport) Sun-Gazette

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