- Associated Press - Wednesday, June 17, 2015

Editorials from around Pennsylvania:

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LET’S MOVE THE PRIMARY, June 11

Although the first presidential primary election is still about six months away, interest in the races is starting to build.

On the Republican ticket, it seems like new candidates are announcing their bids for the presidency on a daily basis. So far, 23 candidates have entered the race for the GOP nomination, including such well-known names as former Florida Gov. Jeb Bush, former Texas Gov. Rick Perry, New Jersey Gov. Chris Christie, former U.S. Sen. Rick Santorum, and current senators Ted Cruz of Texas, Lindsey Graham of South Carolina, Rand Paul of Kentucky and Marco Rubio of Florida.

On the Democratic side, former U.S. Sen. and Secretary of State Hillary Clinton looked invincible just a couple of months ago. But since then, her popularity has been dropping at the polls, and three Democrats, including U.S. Sen. Bernie Sanders, former Maryland Gov. Martin O’Malley and former governor and U.S. Sen. Lincoln Chafee have announced their intentions to battle her for the Democratic presidential nomination.

So, it all looks like it should be a very interesting couple of months next winter and early spring as the candidates battle it out for the nominations of their respective parties.

The only problem is that as things stand right now, Pennsylvania voters won’t share in any of that excitement or interest. The commonwealth’s primary election for 2016 is scheduled for April 26, by which time the candidates for both parties should have their nominations locked up. It’s been that way since the 1950s when primaries became the dominant force in the nomination of presidential candidates.

There is a chance the election could be moved up to give Pennsylvania voters a say-so in who gets the nominations. State Rep. Keith Greiner, a Republican from Leola, is proposing a measure moving Pennsylvania’s presidential primary to March 15, the same date as other primaries in Florida, Illinois, and Missouri. Such a lineup would potentially make that Tuesday a pivotal point in the GOP presidential primary.

However, the move has been criticized by the chairs of both the Democratic and Republican parties. GOP chair Rob Gleason and his Democratic counterpart Jim Burns contend that such a change would force candidates to move up the dates for the circulation of their petitions to the holidays.

That’s true, but the concern would be more understandable if the election involved local candidates, many of whom haven’t gone through the complex petition process before. The only candidates running next year will be those seeking office for the U.S. Senate and House of Representatives and the Pennsylvania Legislature. The vast majority of candidates for those offices are familiar with the petition process, so it seems obvious that Pennsylvania lawmakers don’t want anything about the election changed for fear that it could affect the outcome of their elections. No one’s going to come out and admit that, but is there any other real reason for lawmakers not backing Greiner’s bill?

Of course, the only recourse is for voters to contact their legislators and let them know they’d like to see the primary moved up next spring. You never know. If enough voters contact their lawmakers and enough pressure is brought to bear, your vote in one of the most interesting and exciting presidential primaries in years just might count after all.

- Beaver County Times

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INCREASED GAMBLING SHOULD NOT BE PART OF ANY STATE BUDGET DEAL, June 15

With the June 30 state budget deadline approaching, the General Assembly and Gov. Tom Wolf are scrambling to fill a $2.3 billion shortfall between Wolf’s proposed budget and expected revenues. The budget pressures could make horse-trading deals possible, if not likely.

Wolf wants to raise taxes on the Marcellus gas industry and boost funding for education. Republicans want to avoid tax increases and are again proposing to privatize liquor sales and sell the State Store system, putting Pennsylvania more in line with other states, which dropped Prohibition-era laws decades ago. Republicans are also pressing for action on the $49 billion gap in the public employee pension funds where current pension obligations cannot be met with current assets.

The pressure of the budget gap and approaching deadline has brought up another idea - more gambling. Proposals to expand gambling gained little support a few years ago but are getting a warmer reception as the budget crunch intensifies. Most lawmakers are desperate to avoid increasing taxes.

But relying on a big expansion of gambling would be a mistake. The proposal in the Senate would license Internet gambling, let existing casinos set up slot machines at satellite locations and at off-track betting locations. The casinos also want to serve alcohol 24 hours a day. A House bill would put slot machines at larger airports in the state.

None of these ideas are good for Pennsylvania. Turning every desktop computer, laptop and smartphone into a gambling device will dramatically increase public exposure to gambling. Serving alcohol around the clock can only be viewed as a way for casinos to keep gamblers entertained, lubricated and free-spending through the wee hours of the night, increasing casino profits - and gamblers’ losses.

The Senate bill would charge casinos million-dollar fees to allow these expansions. Questions remain over whether the fees are too low or too high and whether the casinos will pay them.

Lawmakers would doubtless count these fees as ways to close a budget gap - meaning more Harrisburg accounting tricks. The fees, even if they generate the millions backers of expanded gambling say they will, would be a one-time shot of income. As nonrecurring revenue, such fees should not be used to pay for ongoing budget expenses.

Most voters are skeptical of lawmakers’ claims, going back to the introduction of legalized gambling. Much of the original gambling legislation was put together behind closed doors, and there was little transparency about the lobbying involved. Most voters would say the significant property tax relief promised by the backers of legalized gambling never materialized.

Deal making to iron out a tough budget is not unexpected. Sometimes a little political horse-trading can get things done that without budget pressures might not happen. But sometimes some bad things can come when lawmakers will do anything to plug a budget gap. Increasing the availability of gambling is one of those bad things.

The public should pay attention to what lawmakers include in any budget deal.

Working out a compromise that imposes a gas severance tax while decreasing some tax rates would be good. So would a deal with real pension reform and privatization of the state liquor system. But making gambling more easily accessed by more people, getting more people to lose more money to make casinos more profits would be a mistake.

- Butler Eagle

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STALLING REFORM: ANTI-IMMIGRANT IDEOLOGY TRUMPS REALITY, June 17

President Barack Obama’s effort in 2014 to shield millions of undocumented immigrants from deportation was one of his top achievements on immigration. The program should have rolled out this year, but zealots who are determined to block any immigration reforms are fighting to ensure that his order will remain tied up in legal battles.

A federal court last month denied the administration’s request to allow the immigration order to move forward while courts consider its constitutionality. The decision doesn’t mean the reforms will never take effect, but it does mean they’ll be stalled.

Twenty-six states sued the government over the order, claiming it would pose an undue burden through the costs of processing driver’s licenses and other documents for the immigrants. The arguments ignore decades of precedent on immigration policy, which historically has been up to the White House, not the states. Congressional Republicans have proposed other challenges, including threats to defund the Department of Homeland Security.

Despite their fuss, this order ultimately doesn’t change much. Mr. Obama would shield from deportation, for just three years, 4 million undocumented immigrants - fewer than half the number in the country. They include parents of children who were born in the United States, but only if they’ve lived in the country for five years or more. Residents who were brought to the United States illegally as children before 2010 and highly skilled workers would also be allowed to apply for deferred deportation.

None of this matters to opponents of reform, even though the nation has nothing to gain from deporting millions of immigrants - Americans in all but name who live, work and pay taxes here.

As Hispanic-Americans become an increasingly important voting bloc, anti-immigrant politicians will be forced to recognize that, or risk losing legitimacy. For the sake of millions of immigrants and their families, that needs to happen sooner than later.

- Pittsburgh Post-Gazette

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NATIONAL LANDMARK STATUS SOUGHT FOR PAOLI BATTLEFIELD, June 17

There are currently 99 places in Pennsylvania that have attained National Historical Landmark status. We believe that number 100 should be the Paoli Battlefield, where the Battle of Paoli, also known as the Paoli Massacre, took place one rainy night in September of 1777.

After all, currently there are sites from the sublime - the first Carnegie Free Library in Allegheny County — to the semi-ridiculous - Leap-the-Dips, the first rollercoaster in the United States that is still standing. There are a number of battlefield sites already listed, including the Brandywine Battlefield in Chadds Ford to the south. Why not Paoli?

The process of becoming a National Landmark is a lengthy one. Months of research are involved to gather detailed information to help prove the legacy and national impact the Battle of Paoli had across the country and the world. In 2014, the Paoli Battlefield Preservation Fund received a $59,000 grant from the National Park Service to continue the research process and develop further documentation on the battle’s significance.

“We thought it would be easy. As it turns out, it’s not,” said Bruce Knapp, president of the fund. “There is an incredible difference between being put on a National Register of Historical Places (as it currently is) and being considered for a National Historic Landmark. There are basic criteria; the difference is that to become a landmark, you have to prove that it is an excellent example of our national heritage. It’s not just an important thing that happened locally or even statewide. It has to be important, nationally.”

Knapp remarked the group is also faced with proving the Battle of Paoli was much more than just a skirmish, which has been a false notion held for decades. Along with establishing the nation’s first battle cry “Remember Paoli!” the battle was also significant in terms of military strategy. British forces may not have been able to secure the occupation of Philadelphia if not for their success at Paoli. George Washington had to completely modify his plan of attack and deal with their occupation, as well.

“The Battle of Paoli during the Revolutionary War was a touchstone. (It) involved over 4,000 of the very best combat troops in the army. It was significant and had effects far beyond just a skirmish,” Knapp said.

“It angered and galvanized both the American military and the American civilian population. It was an outrage. It was spread throughout our nation at that time and then over into Europe. It was espoused by the Spanish and the French who were on our side, and partly espoused by the parts of the British parliament that were against the war with the American colonies. It got into a big international affair. It was big news.”

The 43 acres of Paoli Battlefield Historical Park are directly adjacent to 22 acres of memorial grounds owned by the Paoli Memorial Association, known by locals as Monument Park. Several centuries-old historical monuments still stand there, including the mass grave containing the 52 soldiers who fell during the Paoli Massacre. The park grounds are also home to the longest running, annually held, military remembrance parades in the country, with parades dating back to the early 1800s.

We encourage the group to continue its effort, and hope to see the battlefield gain its position on the national landmark list in the coming months.

- (West Chester) Daily Local News

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DRONES ARE NOT JUST FUN AND GAMES, June 13

Retail chain Sam’s Club announced last week it is expanding its inventory of drones well ahead of the Christmas shopping season. Company officials anticipate strong sales, to everyone from children looking for a fun new toy to business owners seeking a new tool. As drones soar into the retail sector, safety, security and privacy issues remain unresolved.

In February the Federal Aviation Administration announced proposed new rules regarding the use of commercial drones that would allow them to be deployed up to 500 feet (currently it’s 400 feet) but always within the operator’s sight. Operators would have to be at least 17 and have a certificate to fly the devices.

Sam’s Club and other retailers are marketing to recreational users as well as business owners - for example real estate agents looking for aerial photos or farmers wishing to surveil their crops. Kids into the latest technology want the devices, too, and with drones selling for as little as $30, sales - and drone traffic - could explode.

Drones pose serious safety issues. Although they’re not allowed near airports, commercial pilots have reported seeing them, and at altitudes in the thousands of feet. Meanwhile, people have expressed concern about possible property damage should a drone crash, cause injury (singer Julio Iglesias cut his hand recently on a drone that was buzzing him during a performance in Mexico City) and invade privacy.

The FAA is promoting a “Know Before You Fly” campaign aimed at educating users about unmanned aircraft and outlining safety guidelines. But how workable are these essentially voluntary guidelines? One of them is “don’t fly near people or stadiums.” What’s to prevent a kid deploying his new toy from flying over a neighbor sunbathing by a backyard pool? Hovering near someone’s window?

Sam’s Club is hardly the only retailer selling drones. Consumers’ enthusiastic embrace of unmanned aircraft is outstripping regulators’ ability to control them. There’s much money to be made in drones, both by the aircraft manufacturers and the retailers. This genie won’t go back into the lamp.

But sensible rules, and consequences for violations, are essential to ensure safety and security, and most of all to protect ordinary Americans from intentional or unintentional intrusion from the skies.

- Pocono Record

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