- Associated Press - Wednesday, August 6, 2014

Editorials from around Pennsylvania



In May a 34-year-old Haverford man was arrested for the fourth time for drunken driving after he allegedly struck another vehicle with his pickup truck in Upper Darby then fled.

When a police officer managed to stop the truck, the driver exited and was barely able to stand up, according to Upper Darby Police Superintendent Michael Chitwood. The driver failed field sobriety tests.

“This guy is dangerous. Here’s a guy who is drunk and has a several-thousand-pound vehicle behind him,” said Chitwood.

According to court records, the driver has had three previous drunken-driving convictions dating back to 1998. However, he is by no means the first repeat DUI offender in Delaware County.

A 50-year-old Upper Darby man was facing his 9th and 10th DUI arrests and a 39-year-old Ridley man was arrested for the ninth time for driving under the influence of alcohol in 2003, the year that Pennsylvania legislators lowered the legal limit of alcohol from 0.10 to 0.08 for drivers.

Since Sept. 30, 2003, drivers who have received a second or subsequent DUI violation are required to install ignition interlocks and keep them in place for a year.

Like a breathalyzer, the ignition interlock device, installed on the vehicle dashboard, measures alcohol concentration when the driver breathes into it. If the measurement exceeds the programmed blood alcohol concentration, the device prevents the engine from starting.

In order to stop someone other than the driver from providing a breath sample, the device requires breath samples randomly after the engine has started. If the sample is not provided or fails, an alarm is triggered and the ignition is turned off.

In 2006, Mothers Against Drunk Driving, also known as MADD, launched its Campaign to Eliminate Drunk Driving and the number of states requiring all-offender ignition interlocks has grown from one to 25.

“As we continue to sound the drumbeat that high-visibility enforcement and ignition interlocks for all convicted drunk drivers are the best ways to stop drunk driving, it is important to recognize that this issue continues to be a problem across the nation,” said Jan Withers, national president of MADD.

According to officials at DrinkingAndDriving.org, 39 people per 10,000 are arrested for DUI and 2 people per 10,000 are killed by drunken drivers each year in Delaware County, based on 2005 statistics.

Statewide, alcohol-related crashes increased in 2012 to 11,956 from 11,805 in 2011, and deaths due to drunken driving decreased from 428 in 2011 to 404 in 2012 according to the Pennsylvania DUI Association.

More than two million drunken drivers with three or more prior convictions are on U.S. roads and three out of four with suspended licenses continue to drive, according to MADD. Nearly 10,000 Americans are killed and 350,000 are injured each year because of drunken driving. Many of those injuries, one of which occurs every 90 seconds in the U.S., are life-altering.

Officials from MADD claim drunken-driving deaths have decreased 24 percent in the last eight years due to improved DUI laws including all-offender interlock requirements. They say drunken-driving deaths in Oregon, Arizona, Louisiana and New Mexico have dropped by more than 30 percent due to the passage of all-offender interlock laws.

Officials at the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention credit ignition interlocks with reducing repeat offenses by drunken drivers by two-thirds. Four states have passed all-offender interlock legislation, eight states have improved legislation by closing loopholes and four states are still considering the passage of stricter DUI laws just in the last seven months.

In the neighboring state of Delaware, legislation passed on June 30 requiring all convicted drunken drivers to obtain ignition interlocks.

In Pennsylvania, state Sen. John Rafferty Jr., R-44th of Collegeville, has proposed Senate Bill 1036 which would require all repeat and first-time offenders with blood alcohol concentrations of 0.10 or greater to install ignition interlocks. We urge state legislators to seriously consider this bill in the fall.

While the ideal would be for anyone who has had a drink not to get behind the wheel, having a device to prevent a drunken driver from starting the car could prevent the injuries or deaths of hundreds of Pennsylvanians each year.

-Daily Local News of West Chester.



Do the courts have to settle every issue?

That is the big question in Heffner v. Murphy, a lawsuit filed in federal court seeking to strike down a 1952 Pennsylvania law that forbids funeral homes from serving food.

“The consumers are the ones that have come forward and asked us to do this,” says Chip Snyder, of Charles F. Snyder Funeral Home. “They are baffled. … They tell us, ‘That’s a stupid law.’ “

Federal District Judge John E. Jones III agreed, striking down the law because its reason for being - that funeral homes are incapable of safely providing food - is no longer true.

The law had a “rational basis” in 1952, but no longer does, the judge concluded.

A three-judge panel of the Third Circuit Court of Appeals reversed Jones’ ruling, saying the law made sense when passed, and that’s good enough to keep it on the books.

The funeral home directors make a good case for opposing the law.

Chad Snyder, a director at the Snyder funeral home, said his locations in Lancaster, Lititz and Millersville offered food at 40 to 50 funeral services during the 10-month span in 2013 that it was legal to do so.

“It’s basically about extending our level of accommodation,” he adds. “We look at our facilities as family gathering places for loved ones. … It was very successful while we did it - we had a lot of positive experiences.”

What’s most strange about the lawsuit is that it had to be filed, at all.

Few states have such laws and, as noted above, the case for them - that funeral home food is somehow bad for you - is pretty thin.

But rather than going to court, opponents of the law should be looking to the Pennsylvania Legislature.

Lawmakers, it seems to us, could repeal the law and simply add funeral homes to the establishments covered by state health standards applied to restaurants.

And the State Board of Funeral Directors should be lobbying for this legislative solution.

Whether the 1952 law makes any sense in 2014 is a fair question. The answer is emphatically no.

Relying on the courts for a fix, however, is a failure of leadership from the Legislature, the entity in the best position to provide one.

It apparently will be up to the U.S. Supreme Court to review the Third Circuit ruling, and it is arguable that the nation’s highest court has better things to do than review outdated laws regarding prepared food.

Our lawmakers, who seem to be busying themselves these days mostly with avoiding big issues, such as public employee pension reform, ought to do grieving families a favor and bring this law up to date.

-Lancaster New Era.



When it comes to open government, being ranked in the middle of the pack is never good enough.

But that’s where Pennsylvania stands even with sweeping improvements made to its open records law six years ago. The mediocre ranking shows just how pathetic Pennsylvania’s open records law was before 2009.

Under the old law, people seeking access to records had to prove the records should be public. And if their requests were denied, they had to sue.

Since 2009, records are presumed to be public unless a government entity can prove they fall under one of the law’s exceptions.

Don’t get us wrong. The new law is a vast improvement. In the past six years, the Office of Open Records has handled more than 11,000 appeals of denied Right-to-Know requests, answered more than 50,000 emails and phone calls, and held about 1,400 training sessions for public officials, journalists and ordinary folks. During that time, roughly 500 cases have gone to court.

Terry Mutchler, a former Associated Press reporter who has been in charge of the office since the new law’s inception, has been handling the job with fairness and integrity, according to lawmakers and others familiar with her work, and she deserves reappointment to a second six-year term. Why Gov. Tom Corbett is dragging his feet - Mutchler’s term expired more than three months ago - is a mystery.

She has proven herself to be a strong advocate for open government within the parameters of the existing law.

That law, however, still needs serious tweaking.

One of its more serious flaws became evident following the Jerry Sandusky scandal at Penn State University when the media sought, among other things, emails and details of a 1998 police investigation into allegations that Sandusky had sexually abused a young boy in the showers of a Penn State locker room.

The requests were denied because Penn State and three other “state-related” universities - Temple University, the University of Pittsburgh and Lincoln University - were exempted from the new right-to-know law. Former Penn State President Graham Spanier and others argued for the exemption, saying requiring the schools to make financial details, police reports and other information public would hamstring the universities when hiring faculty and courting major donors.

Lawmakers should never have bought that argument. Universities in other states with strong right-to-know laws, such as Florida, don’t seem to have trouble attracting quality staff, big-money donors and lucrative contracts with vendors.

It’s time to remove that loophole and others that keep Pennsylvania in the middle of the pack when it comes to open government.

-The (Easton) Express-Times.



Many suburbanites and the people who represent them in Harrisburg have ‘tsk-tsked’ nearby cities for their declines while steadfastly opposing local government reforms that would help to revive those urban centers.

Now, data show that many of those suburbs - none more so than in Northeast Pennsylvania - might need help themselves.

In an update to its 2011 study that detailed the spread of urban poverty, the Brookings Institution has found that the Scranton/Wilkes-Barre/Hazleton metro area has the nation’s ninth-highest rate of concentrated poverty growth in suburbs.

Nationally, Brookings found, concentrated poverty growth remains most prevalent in cities, especially big cities. But it also found that the rate of growth of concentrated poverty was much higher in suburbs than in core cities between 2000 and 2012. That rate was 139 percent, more than four times higher than the growth rate in cities.

Concentrated poverty refers to neighborhoods with high rates of poverty - “distressed” neighborhoods with poverty rates of 40 percent or higher, and poor neighborhoods with poverty rates between 20 percent and 40 percent. About 26 percent of those neighborhoods are now in suburbs, up from 18 percent in 2000.

In this region, suburbs now are home to 41.7 percent of neighborhoods with poverty rates higher than 20 percent, up from just 14 percent at the beginning of this century.

That is somewhat more pronounced than in other areas, but Brookings pointed out that poverty concentration increased in the suburbs of every metro area of the country.

There are many reasons for the development. The study period covers the Great Recession of 2008 and the painfully slow recovery from it. So the data reflect housing disruption and unemployment. And, in many areas, they also reflect immigration, which no longer is solely an urban phenomenon.

In Pennsylvania, they also reflect that obsolete public policy on local governance makes less sense than ever. Suburbs have profited by leaving to cities the costs of regional poverty and the public services that address it, but growing suburban poverty heralds the need to change that model.

It is clear from the data that as poverty ignores political boundaries, a much more coherent local governance effort is needed to deal with it. Pennsylvania has more units of local government than any other state, but poverty isn’t impressed. The spread of concentrated poverty requires a commitment from Harrisburg to start breaking down local political barriers to start building coherent responses to regionwide, rather than solely urban, problems.

- The (Scranton) Times-Tribune



The origin of the fist bump as a greeting is uncertain, although it has been around for a long time and seems to have evolved from sports. But it wasn’t until Barack Obama went on stage in St. Paul, Minnesota, in June 2008 to clinch his party’s presidential nomination and fist-bumped Michele Obama that the gesture entered the national consciousness.

The Washington Post called it “the fist bump heard ‘round the world.” It may have been heard ‘round the world, but polite society did more head shaking than fist bumping and went on shaking hands in the traditional way.

But maybe socially conservative people should loosen up and get with the times. Why? Because the fist bump - sometimes called a dap - is a more hygienic form of greeting than shaking hands, or so a new study suggests.

As The Associated Press reported, David Whitworth of Aberystwyth University in Wales and a student shook hands, fist-bumped and high-fived each other dozens of times and measured how much bacteria they transferred.

The results, published online recently in the American Journal of Infection Control, showed that the fist bump spreads one-twentieth the amount of bacteria as a handshake does. A high-five passes along less than half the amount as a handshake. The reason apparently is that the fist bump and the high-five involve a smaller surface area in contact between two hands.

The handshake has an ancient history and knights are said to have offered a hand in greeting as a sign they were not carrying a weapon - and it would be sad if that tradition died. On the other hand, medieval times were not the most sanitary.

If polite society decides to change, the question is: Will a man be judged on the firmness of his fist bump?

- Pittsburgh Post-Gazette

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