- Associated Press - Wednesday, July 29, 2015

Editorials from around Pennsylvania:



Still smarting over the rejection of his state police commissioner selection, Pennsylvania Gov. Tom Wolf has kicked another political hornet’s nest with his choice to replace outgoing chief of staff Katie McGinty.

Wolf on Thursday announced his legislative liaison, Mary Isenhour, will be his next chief of staff, succeeding McGinty who resigned to prepare a run for the U.S. Senate.

Isenhour, a leading adviser to Wolf’s successful gubernatorial campaign, is also a board member of Planned Parenthood of Pennsylvania - an association the governor neglected to mention Thursday. Neither was the fact of her involvement disclosed in official news releases from the governor’s office.

But a biography posted on the website for Mack Sumner Communications, a left-leaning communications consultant, states that Isenhour - “a strategic partner with Mack-Sumner Communications” - serves on the board of Planned Parenthood of Pennsylvania.

What makes this controversial is the recent release of videos purportedly showing Planned Parenthood officials speaking about the sale of aborted fetal body parts for profit.

The fallout thus far includes two federal investigations into whether the allegations are true, that Planned Parenthood is profiting from the sale of fetal tissue and even changing the abortion technique to harvest intact organs.

Both of these practices are illegal and, to be frank about it, disgusting.

On Friday - the day after Isenhour’s appointment - Wolf said his administration is taking steps to make sure that human fetal tissue isn’t being sold commercially in our state. He told a Pittsburgh radio station that he’s ordered a review in response to the undercover videos.

The anti-abortion group that made the video says it proves Planned Parenthood is breaking federal law against selling human fetal tissue. Planned Parenthood says it legally helps women who want to donate fetal tissue for scientific research, not sell it commercially.

Wolf says he doesn’t think that’s happening in Pennsylvania. The Department of Health says it hasn’t received any complaints.

Even so, here’s where we encounter a big glitch: Wolf normally would hand off this duty to his new chief of staff, Isenhour. Can she be trusted to investigate wrongdoing by a nonprofit agency on whose board she sits, when the allegations of wrongdoing involve for-profit ventures - and grisly, ethically abhorrent for-profit ventures at that?

It is difficult for newspapers to editorialize about topics like abortion. Opposing sides are galvanized in their positions. It’s an ideological battle nobody’s likely to win.

But the sale of body parts goes beyond abortion. It’s criminal. It’s repugnant.

Wolf is still smarting from the rejection of his state police commissioner candidate, Marcus Brown, simply because Brown put on the state trooper uniform without having attended the state police academy.

Brown looks like a saint when compared to the breaking Planned Parenthood scandal. Wolf should have appointed someone other than Isenberg.

- The Butler Eagle



Something is missing in the quest by immigrant groups to make Pennsylvania the 13th state to allow undocumented immigrants to get drivers licenses: a compelling rationale.

Before we elaborate, it’s important to state a couple of premises: No one should be denied vital health care due to immigration status; no child should be made to suffer due to his/her parents’ status; no child should be denied an education. Doing so would be inhumane and immoral.

But we just can’t get our minds around the rationales put forward again last week for conferring drivers licenses on the state’s estimated 200,000 undocumented residents. Immigrant groups and lawmakers held a joint press conference praising the introduction of House Bill 1450, which would do that.

The bill’s sponsor, Rep. Mark Cohen, D-Philadelphia, noted: “This is another step forward to bring undocumented people onto a path to citizenship…”

But it’s hard to see how waiving an inconvenient rule gets people on a path to follow further rules. Where is the encouragement to work within the system and meet its legal requirements?

An important argument of advocates is that not having a drivers license, which serves as a valid ID, makes it difficult for undocumented people to get jobs, services and also drive to work.

Nonetheless it seems that plenty of folks are managing that, with the help of employers who don’t look too hard at their paperwork, and with carpooling.

Besides creating a lower ID standard than “law-abiding’ citizens have to meet, wouldn’t providing drivers licenses to the undocumented encourage more employers to skirt hiring laws, and perpetuate the system profiting on and exploiting immigrant labor and competing unfairly with businesses that follow the rules - a system that everyone agrees is untenable?

Do we want to assist unscrupulous businesses and encourage the trafficking and hiring of yet more undocumented immigrants?

At the Harrisburg press conference local resident Esvin Maldonado was quoted as making another point: “I live in Franklin County where there is no public transportation, and my work day starts at 2 a.m. I need a drivers license for basic things, like working, going grocery shopping and identifying myself.”

Probably there are tradeoffs for lack of public transportation that make the county attractive to immigrants, including Maldonado, or they would go elsewhere.

But undocumented people are in fact getting along here without drivers licenses, though it would be easier for them if they didn’t have to.

Is making it easier to live as an undocumented immigrant a sensible goal? What actually needs improving is our immigration system, with its rigid bureaucracy and multitude of outdated and harsh rules twisted by politics, which makes it difficult for many to come here legally.

Providing drivers licenses to undocumented immigrants is a poor patch on a failing system.

We should be able to have a rational discussion about that, with open minds and without politics, prejudice, invective or sense of entitlement.

But we haven’t had one yet.

- The (Chambersburg) Public Opinion



Most of the candidates in the large field of Republicans running for president seem content to act as if Donald Trump will fade from the limelight if they simply ignore him. They may be right. Then again, Trump could be beating them in the polls because he’s talking about what many aren’t: immigration.

Trump is wrong about how the issue should be addressed, of course, but if he can get the other Republicans to discuss what may be their party’s most vulnerable issue in a presidential election, he will have done a good deed. Now is the time to find out who has an immigration position that can win a general election.

Instead of tsk-tsking Trump every time he makes some asinine remark about Mexicans, the other Republican candidates could counter his bloviating by suggesting a reasonable process to stem illegal immigration and permit residency for the millions who entered this country without papers years ago but now live upstanding lives.

If they need a model, they can find one in the defeated compromise bill forged by Sens. John McCain and Ted Kennedy 10 years ago. Among other things, the legislation would have created a new status allowing temporary residency for undocumented immigrants holding low-skill jobs; after six years, they could apply for permanent residency.

Unfortunately, partisan politics kept the McCain-Kennedy bill from being enacted. In his 2008 run for president, McCain did what most Republicans running for president do: He talked more about border security than he did about the immigrants already here illegally. Trump is doing that too, while his competitors wait for him to fall into the ditch he’s digging.

They’re hoping Trump will fall as fast as he rose once the media turns its attention elsewhere. It will be better for voters and the Republican candidates if they talk about immigration now.

- The Philadelphia Inquirer



Supporters of lifting Pennsylvania’s ban on most hunting on Sundays failed last year to overturn it in court. A judge, not surprisingly, didn’t buy their argument that the ban unconstitutionally promotes Christianity while violating their Second Amendment rights.

Now, their arguments in the Legislature to repeal the ban aren’t any better. State Rep. Frank Farina, a Lackawanna County Democrat and sponsor of a bill to vastly expand Sunday hunting, argues that it’s necessary because hunters are busy during the other six days of the week with work and family.

Apparently, the nine out of 10 Pennsylvanians who don’t hunt aren’t busy with work and family Monday through Saturday and don’t need that time on Sunday to enjoy Penn’s Woods.

Sunday hunting advocates also invoke the economic impact of hunting and argue that Sunday hunting will increase that impact. But all outdoor activities have an economic impact. And the Legislature’s job is to ensure that all Pennsylvanians have unfettered access to the state’s abundant natural wonders - a cause well-served by the Sunday hunting ban.

Hunters already are free to hunt coyotes and some other species on Sunday, and other species, according to the appropriate seasons, during the other six days of the week.

Lawmakers should keep the woods mostly hunter-free one day a week to ensure access by everyone.

- The Scranton Times



One of a president’s most important jobs is setting the nation’s agenda. This month, in becoming the first sitting president to visit a federal prison, President Barack Obama finally made America’s failed criminal justice policies a priority.

In truth, he is late to the game. Many activists and politicians have called for fundamental criminal justice reforms for more than a decade. But better late than never.

This month, the president commuted the federal sentences of 46 nonviolent drug offenders, most of whom were convicted under draconian, discriminatory and outdated sentencing laws. Mr. Obama also called for sentencing alternatives for nonviolent offenders.

Politically, the time for sweeping changes is right. An unprecedented bipartisan consensus is emerging to change what this country has done over the past four decades. Conservative Republicans such as Sen. Rand Paul of Kentucky are working with liberal Democrats such as Sen. Patrick Leahy of Vermont to reform mandatory minimum sentencing schemes.

The statistics are grim: 1 million fathers behind bars; one in nine black children with a parent in prison; a prison population that grew from 500,000 in 1980 to 2.2 million today at an estimated annual cost of $80 billion. With 5 percent of the world’s population, the United States holds 25 percent of the planet’s prisoners. Lowering the nation’s prison population to a rational, cost-effective level will take time.

Mass incarceration remains arguably the country’s biggest economic, social and moral problem. By visiting a prison and putting further reforms at the top of the nation’s agenda, Mr. Obama has sped the drive to a more sane, rational and cost-effective system.

- The Pittsburgh Post-Gazette


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