- Associated Press - Wednesday, October 5, 2016

Editorials from around Pennsylvania:

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EDUCATION PAINTING A BAD PICTURE, Oct. 4

What a damning picture of basic education that paints.

Meanwhile, it’s interesting that among the Pennsylvania lawmakers promoting the testing idea are some who have strongly criticized the Pennsylvania System of School Assessment testing, as well as the Keystone Exams, calling them unnecessary or counterproductive.

The online news and information service Capitolwire made note of that in a report emanating from a lawmakers’ committee session Monday in which the proposed civics testing was front and center.

Regarding that session, Capitolwire quoted Rep. Karen Boback, R-Luzerne, who along with Rep. William Kortz, D-Allegheny, is a prime sponsor of a measure - House Bill 1858 - that would make passing a civics exam mandatory.

Boback reminded her colleagues of troubling findings of the Annenberg Foundation, whose major areas of focus include education and youth development, and the National Assessment of Educational Progress. The two have found one-third of Americans can’t name even one of the three branches of the federal government and that only 24 percent of U.S. high school students are proficient in civics.

House Bill 1858 would require all Pennsylvania high school students to pass the 100-question naturalization test given to immigrants seeking U.S. citizenship. One of the “daunting” questions included on that exam requires the test-taker to name the president of the United States.

People who watched “The Tonight Show” when Jay Leno was the host often laughed about answers he received during his on-the-street-questions segment. Some of the questions dealt with government.

But while many of the answers were funny, because the person responding was so out of touch with the basic knowledge he or she should have had, the responses were sobering.

They indicated that either the person didn’t apply himself or herself while in school, or that the person’s school was failing its mission.

Rather than mandating another test, lawmakers need to ascertain the causes of the lack of basic civics knowledge and implement more effective strategies and resources to attack it.

- The (Altoona) Mirror

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ISLAMIC STATE TERRORISTS DESERVE PUNISHMENT, NOT FEEBLE EXCUSES, Oct. 3

Islamic State terrorists have been guilty of atrocities truly worthy of the history books.

They need not be detailed here, other than to note their viciousness has been broad as well as deep.

IS torturers and murderers often focus on certain groups, however. Christians are among them. So are ethnic groups such as the Kurds and Yazidis of northern Iraq. Clearly, IS leaders have a genocidal policy toward some people.

But as The Associated Press has reported, President Barack Obama’s administration has been reluctant to bring those guilty of crimes against humanity to justice.

That was confirmed to the AP by those investigating IS atrocities and even by some in the administration’s State Department.

As usual, the administration’s excuse for not doing its job is feeble. Prosecuting IS members for war crimes could detract from the military campaign against the group, the White House has contended.

Nonsense. How does it hamper a military campaign to bring someone guilty of, for example, beheading children to justice?

Refusal to recognize the evil of Muslim terrorists by prosecuting and punishing those captured is one more failure that should be rectified speedily by the next president.

- The (Williamsport) Sun-Gazette

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WOLF SHOULD VETO ANY BILL THAT DOES NOT REFORM CIVIL FORFEITURE, Oct. 5

Civil forfeiture is an idea that began as a way to deter drug dealing but evolved into a cash cow for law enforcement agencies at the expense of individual civil rights.

Now, a state Senate committee has watered down what began as a legitimate reform effort so that the government will continue to seize property amid woefully inadequate due process.

Under civil forfeiture, authorities can seize property they suspect of being used to facilitate drug crimes, even if the owner is not involved in the crime. Proceeds go directly to the agencies, giving them a powerful incentive to use the device to enhance their budgets.

As introduced by state Sen. Mike Folmer, a Lebanon County Republican, the bill would have produced genuine reform by making property forfeiture an aspect of the criminal justice process. Authorities would be able to seize a person’s property only upon conviction, as part of a sentence. That means that a poor person facing forfeiture would have been guaranteed the right to counsel and all of the other aspects of due process that attend criminal proceedings.

Instead, the Senate Judiciary Committee diluted the bill by amendment. The new version would maintain the ability of prosecutors to continue seizing the property of people who are not charged with crimes. Rather than guaranteeing counsel for indigent people who protest such seizures, the new version of the bill would leave it to the discretion of a local judge.

Folmer’s bill also directed the proceeds of property confiscations to county general budgets rather than directly to police agencies and prosecutors’ offices. It also required specific inventories and audits of seized property and subsequent uses of the proceeds.

The amended Senate bill eliminates those provisions.

Gov. Tom Wolf should veto any bill that does not affect true civil forfeiture reform.

- The (Wilkes-Barre) Citizens’ Voice

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BETTER REFUGEES SCREENING IS NEEDED, Oct. 4

“It is better for 10 guilty men to go free than for one innocent man to be imprisoned,” goes the adage. It refers to the standard of justice in the U.S. court system.

But it shouldn’t be applied to federal immigration policy, as some might suggest.

On the issue of Syrian refugees, the protection of the citizenry must be the highest priority. That means a serious overhaul of the vetting system for refugees, which has come into question.

Last year, FBI Assistant Director Michael Steinbach outlined the challenge, noting “the concern in Syria is that we don’t have the systems in places on the ground to collect the information. . All of the data sets, the police, the intel services that normally you would go and seek that information (from) don’t exist,” according to The Washington Times.

If ISIS is crushed, its members essentially will scatter to the four winds in a new “terrorist diaspora,” FBI Director James Comey recently told Congress. Many will try to make their way into the United States.

That’s a frightening scenario, given that Islamic militants already have killed 63 Americans on U.S. soil in the past year. Never mind reports that about 750 immigrants who were ordered deported instead were granted citizenship.

The federal government needs to slow down refugee immigration screening, not speed it up, as President Obama and Democrat presidential candidate Hillary Clinton have proposed. National security must be the foremost consideration.

- The Pittsburgh Tribune-Review

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COURT REMINDS WOLF OF HIS ROLE, Oct. 5

Gov. Tom Wolf got a rude reminder recently that he is not Barack Obama; just because something flies in Washington, there’s no guarantee it will get off the ground in Harrisburg.

The bucket of cold water was tossed by Commonwealth Court.

It soaked Wolf’s attempt to govern by executive order.

Bypassing Congress has been a hallmark of Obama’s reign. You may recall, for example, that right after he was rebuked by voters in the 2014 congressional election, the president didn’t sulk or pout. Instead, he sent a defiant message to resurgent Republicans by announcing that he would bypass Congress and act on his own to allow up to 4 million undocumented immigrants legal work status, and give an additional 1 million protection from deportation. It was one of the most wide-reaching executive actions in history.

Wolf, a Democrat, also finds himself saddled with a General Assembly dominated by Republicans.

So, taking a page from the Obama playbook, he tried issuing his own executive order. In a sop to Big Labor, he tried to force unionization on thousands of home care workers.

But Commonwealth Court, in a ruling handed down Sept. 22, said that the governor had exceeded his constitutional authority. Why? Because his executive order was tantamount to “de facto legislation.”

Younger readers, who have grown up in a political environment that focuses almost exclusively on the president, may not readily grasp what’s wrong with this. Isn’t Congress just something that interferes with the executive? And, likewise, isn’t the legislature just a building full of politicians who say “no” to the governor?

But, as those of us who were subjected to classes like “civics” or “POD” (Problems of Democracy) in high school were taught, our government is supposed to be made up of three co-equal branches: a legislature, an executive and a judiciary. In fact, that’s the order in which they’re listed in both the state and U.S. constitutions:

. the legislature makes the laws;

. the executive sees that the laws are implemented and enforced;

. the judiciary resolves questions and disputes arising from the laws.

Executive orders undo this delicate balance by enabling the president or governor to ignore the elected legislators.

President Franklin Delano Roosevelt, who served from 1933 until his death in 1945, holds the all-time record for executive orders: 290.

Since then, his Democratic successors have been more inclined to issue them than have Republican presidents, but leaders of both political stripes use them.

But Wolf’s Executive Order 2015-05, which tried to create a means for home health care workers to unionize, was erased by Commonwealth Court. The judges ruled that the Wolf order “invades the relationship between a direct care worker and the employer participant who receives personal services in his or her home.”

“According to our constitution, each branch of government has specific duties, and the executive’s job is to implement or enforce the law, not make law,” said Rep. Mauree Gingrich, a Lebanon County Republican who chairs the House Labor and Industry Committee. “This is what we have been saying all along: The governor may not legislate by executive order.”

Wolf issued that order just two months after taking office. It clearly was his way of sending a message to both friends and foes that he intended to use whatever means available to advance his progressive agenda.

Since then, Wolf has been schooled in political humility. It started with the budget last year when the Republican leadership held its troops in line for nine months while dickering with the governor.

The Commonwealth Court ruling is an important second lesson, reminding Wolf that he was elected governor of an American state, not the strongman dictator of a banana republic.

- The (Bloomsburg) Press Enterprise

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