- Associated Press - Wednesday, July 9, 2014

Editorials from around Pennsylvania:



Drones are coming: PNC Park’s aerial visitor is a warning for the future

On the night of June 26, Pirates fans saw in the fifth inning their rising star, Gregory Polanco, hit his first home run in PNC Park. In the eighth inning, they saw something else flying above the field and it wasn’t a baseball. It was a drone.

Other drones reportedly have flown near the ballpark, but the flight of this one was very public and very much noticed, so much so that the Federal Aviation Administration launched an investigation.

The FAA was right to take it seriously. At the time, the episode appeared to be innocent and it probably was. Pirates officials noticed the drone and asked police to find the operator and ask him to stop. The operator turned out to be a man on the ballpark’s Riverwalk and he quickly complied.

But the greater concern is not so much what happened that night when no harm was done, but what might happen in the future. The temptation is to dismiss this incident as just some hobbyist having fun with the modern-day equivalent of a model airplane. To be sure, the small drone that flew over PNC Park isn’t the sort that roams over Iraq and Afghanistan.

That doesn’t mean that the potential for something bad doesn’t fly with this sort of domestic drone. It takes little imagination to figure out how a small drone could be used to cause great harm. There’s also the chance that such a remote-controlled vehicle could accidentally plunge into the crowd.

That night featured fireworks after the game and the stadium was nearly full, with more than 36,000 fans in attendance. They all had been checked by security upon entry, but it took just one drone to mock all those precautions. What can be done?

As Post-Gazette reporters found, the FAA - after 9/11 - established airspace restrictions for most aircraft (including drones, the FAA says) within 3,000 feet or 3 nautical miles of major sporting stadiums. Drones might be covered by trespassing laws, but when they invade airspace and not property the issue is not clear.

What this episode shows is that the law has not kept pace with technology. New laws addressing drones are needed and, in drafting them, lawmakers at all levels should be mindful that aircraft also have legitimate uses - for recreational purposes, for gauging security, for news gathering, for inspecting infrastructure and so on.

That PNC Park drone was like the first swallow of summer. The drones are coming. The only question is whether we are prepared.

- Pittsburgh Post-Gazette.



Gov. Tom Corbett and Attorney General Kathleen Kane don’t agree on much, but they both deserve credit for working out a deal in western Pennsylvania that could hold off a loss of access to crucial health care for hundreds of thousands of Pennsylvanians who have insurance.

The pair brokered an agreement between the sprawling University of Pittsburgh Medical System and Highmark, the state’s largest health insurer and one of the largest in the nation. (Highmark and Blue Cross of Northeastern Pennsylvania are in the process of merging.)

The dispute between the companies had its deepest implications in the western Pennsylvania health care market, but raised broader policy concerns that still should be resolved in favor of consumers statewide.

Highmark acquired the West Penn Allegheny Health System early in 2013. UPMC responded by declaring that, since Highmark had become a competitor for health care delivery, UPMC no longer would be part of the Highmark insurance network. That decision would have left about 1.2 million Highmark subscribers out of network for UPMC’s world-class health care.

The agreement provides for continuity of care for current Highmark subscribers under UPMC care, when the contract expires Jan. 1. It also provides for in-network rates for emergency care and unique care, along with access at some unique locations.

The crisis points to a broader problem. Many Pennsylvanians have health insurance but no guarantee that it provides access to the treatment they need, or the best treatment.

State lawmakers have failed to move a bill that would require all providers to ensure access to all insured consumers. Patients can’t wait for the governor and attorney general to intervene in competitive disputes among insurers and providers. Access should be guaranteed by law.

- The (Wilkes-Barre) Citizens’ Voice



The National Nuclear Security Administration (NNSA) has mismanaged its mission to secure U.S. nuclear stockpiles and classified research sites so badly that renaming it the National Nuclear Insecurity Administration hardly would be an exaggeration.

A new Government Accountability Office report traces the agency’s woes to its 2009 attempt “to reform its security measures in a bid to cut costs of about $53 million,” according to The Washington Free Beacon. Allowing independent security contractors “greater authority,” the agency actually “increased security risks and reduced security performance,” the GAO says.

Cuts in “critical protective force posts and patrols” likely contributed to “three trespassers (gaining) access to the protected area directly adjacent to one of the nation’s most critically important nuclear weapon-related facilities” in Tennessee in 2012. And since then, NNSA officials admit, its security policy has been “chaotic” and “dysfunctional,” with false starts toward developing a clear security plan and implementation strategy, procedures varying among facilities, inspections being scaled back and reliance on contractors increasing.

The premise that no savings can justify inadequate U.S. nuclear-weapons security should have been self-evident to the NNSA but apparently wasn’t. Thus, all necessary steps now must be taken to reverse the agency’s bungling - so that America won’t shoot itself in the foot this way again.

- Pittsburgh Tribune-Review.



As West Chester University considers moving from state-owned to state-related status, its students - present and future - ought to take a hard look at the U.S. Department of Education’s College Affordability and Transparency list.

What they will find is that while state-related status may be beneficial for administrators, it’s no bargain for students.

According to the U.S. Department of Education’s College Affordability and Transparency list, Pennsylvania’s state-related schools have the highest tuition in the land. The main campuses of the University of Pittsburgh and Penn State are the two most expensive public universities in the United States in terms of tuition and required fees.

The University of Pittsburgh ranks first with tuition and fees of $16,590 - $146 more than No. 2 Penn State. Temple University is sixth at $13,596. All three are state-related schools.

In fact, fully half of the costliest public school tuitions - 17 of the 34 public institutions listed (including 15 Penn State campuses) - are Pennsylvania schools.

Just how out-of-line are those numbers? The national average tuition for a public university is $7,407.

The high cost of tuition is attributable to a variety of factors. But one thing all administrators point to is the reduced level of state support.

A spokesman for the University of Pittsburgh told the Pittsburgh Post-Gazette that the high cost of tuition for the state-related schools “is related directly to the fact that Pennsylvania continues to provide substantially less support for public higher education that other states, passing more of the cost on to students and their families.”

And it’s not likely to get any better. The Republican-approved state budget includes no additional funds for the state-related universities.

Adjusted for inflation, state support for Pitt and Penn State is at its lowest level since the 1960s.

It is a familiar refrain.

Miami University, in Ohio, has the highest net price of four-year public institutions at $24,674. Penn State is second at $22,560, which is nearly double the national average.

A spokeswoman for Miami University said, “It’s a telling sign that the states that are not able to spend as much as others are the ones on this list.”

Pennsylvania also is well-represented on the list of most-expensive private non-profit universities. Seven of the top 65 private universities make the list including No. 7 Carnegie Mellon ($45,760 tuition and fees); No. 10 Bucknell ($45,378) and Franklin & Marshall College ($44,360).

There are a number of steps West Chest Chester - and perhaps other state-owned universities - would have to undertake before it could leave the State System of Higher Education, including repaying the state for buildings and equipment.

And school officials acknowledge that tuition and fees would likely increase. How much is unknown.

What is known is that cost of tuition and fees for full-time students at West Chester in the year just ended was $8,850 - nearly half the amount charged by Pitt and Penn State.

- Lancaster Newspapers.



There is zero tolerance. And then there’s zero tolerance.

On Wednesday at the Oxford Area High School there was some muscle-flexing going on by the administration; all over shoes.

It seems that nearly three dozen podiatric desperados were sent packing to the principal’s office after breaking the rules when it comes to fashion of the feet. In other words, no sandals, no slippers, no flip-flops.

And so it is and the crime landed them in the sin bin instead of the classroom where finals were taking place. After all, it was the final day of school - with finals to be taken.

A mom of one of the offenders - Teresa Rosa - said she received a text message from her daughter around 8 a.m. informing her that she was sent to the principal’s office because of her sandals and was no longer permitted to take her finals.

“She had sandals on, so it wasn’t like she had anything provocative,” Rosa told reporter Candice Monhollan. “You’re looking at probably 25 to 35 kids that were sent to the office today because they had the wrong shoes on, denied their final and told they could either take a zero on their final or they could come back Thursday or Friday to take (it). My daughter said at one point there were so many kids in there that they were sitting on each other’s laps and all over the floor.”

However, it should be noted that indeed, according to the high school’s dress code, the “entire foot must be covered at all times with practical footwear.” Flip-flops, sandals, slippers, clogs without backs and anything with a steel toe are not permitted for safety reasons.

“A couple of students decided that the dress code didn’t apply to them, which it did,” said Oxford Superintendent David Woods. “There were some kids, as there could be any day of the week, with some violations. They just followed their procedure on dress code violations. In no way is anyone denied a final.

“The closest thing to the truth there would be is some kids may have elected to reschedule their final.

“It’s not our practice, necessarily, depending on what the final may be, to have them take it outside of that environment. The numbers that are represented are a little skewed. It was a minor thing.”

Minor, perhaps, to Superintendent Woods. He isn’t the one who now has to arrange transportation to the school for anyone who violated the foot laws.

Teresa Rosa says she thinks the whole situation was an overreaction by the school.

“When they had to go to the bathroom, they were escorted by a security guard to the bathroom because they were told they were in violation of the dress code,” Rosa said. “They were basically treated like a criminal because they had sandals on.”

We agree. And let’s face it - if some of the teachers didn’t feel it was serious enough to send all of the offenders marching to the principal’s office, then was it really that big a deal on the last day of school?

Rosa’s daughter even asked if she would be able to take her final in the office, but was denied by Principal Christopher Dormer. Rosa said she is aware of the need for rules and dress codes in the school, but said she and her daughter feel rules should be equally enforced.

Actually we think on the last day of a long school year filled with snow days, snow delays, ice storms and the like, a little common sense over flip-flops and sandals would have gone a long way. Now the school year gets to end on a sour note.

Hey, if the shoe fits, right?

- Daily Local News.



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