- Associated Press - Wednesday, May 13, 2015

Editorials from around Pennsylvania:

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SIZE OF LEGISLATURE SHOULD BE REDUCED

California has nearly 39 million people, making it the nation’s most populous state by a fat 12 million. It has 120 members in its legislature.

Texas is No. 2 on the people meter, with nearly 27 million. Its House and Senate have a combined 181 lawmakers.

Florida, third in the 2014 census with roughly 20 million people, has 140 full-time legislators. No. 4 New York, also with nearly 20 million, has 213 representatives and senators in Albany.

Illinois, fifth on the census chart, has 177 state lawmakers.

And then there’s Pennsylvania.

Our state, which like Illinois has nearly 13 million people, breaks the country’s state-government scale with 253 full-timers in Harrisburg.

Mull that for a moment.

We have less than a third of California’s population, yet more than twice its legislators. We have less than half the people Texas has, yet we have 72 more elected officials drawing formidable salaries, health benefits and pensions.

We have 7 million fewer people than Florida, but 113 more lawmakers. We even have 40 more legislators than notoriously bureaucratic and much-bigger New York.

Pennsylvania’s is the largest full-time legislative body in the country and second largest overall. New Hampshire’s has 424 members, but they are part-timers.

“That statement alone should be enough to persuade you” that Pennsylvania’s Legislature is too large, said Rep. Rick Saccone, R-Allegheny. “Because that statement is ringing in the ears of our constituents back home.”

Which is why, despite some reasonable arguments against the measure, we support House Bills 153 and 384 to shrink the state House and Senate by 26 percent each.

The House would whittle 52 seats from its current 203, and the Senate would shave 13 from its current 50.

All Berks County representatives, except absent Republican Jim Cox of Spring Township, voted for the measures.

There are legitimate objections to the bills, which is why past measures such as these have failed to traverse the lengthy trail to law (they must pass both chambers, without revision, in two consecutive sessions, then be put to a referendum).

Trimming the House to 151 would add 22,500 constituents to each representative’s expanded districts. Foes say that will make it harder for lawmakers to lend attention to individuals, especially in rural areas.

“In my mind, it will empower the special interests and lobbyists,” said Rep. Russ Diamond, R-Lebanon.

Rep. Mike Sturla, D-Lancaster, said the measure is a red herring.

“Every poll that I’ve seen shows that more than this, they want a Marcellus shale tax more than they care about whether or not the size of the Legislature is 151,” Sturla said.

Perhaps. But that doesn’t mean this issue is meaningless.

It would save taxpayers an estimated $10 million to $15 million per year - a drop in the bucket of the latest $29 billion budget, but still plenty of cash.

But we’re behind the measures mainly because a decrease in lawmakers could mean an increase in the ease with which vital legislation travels through Harrisburg.

“This bill,” said Rep. Jerry Knowles, the bill’s prime sponsor, “is about making our state government run more efficiently by downsizing and streamlining.”

On balance, we agree.

-Reading Eagle

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FREEDOM OF SPEECH WITH NO ‘BUTS’ ATTACHED

I take my freedom of speech straight up - no mixers; no chasers; not shaken; not stirred.

We forget, in our world where everything is “the biggest,” ”the best,” ”the greatest ever” that not every strong statement is mere hyperbole to be ignored.

Patrick Henry did not say, “Give me liberty or give me another beer.” The motto of New Hampshire is not “Live Free or Just Pretend.” And Evelyn Beatrice Hall, writing a biography of Voltaire, did not summarize his views of freedom of speech by arguing, “I disapprove of what you say, but I will defend, whenever convenient, your right to say it.”

No. Henry demanded, “Give me liberty or give me death.” New Hampshire’s motto is “Live Free or Die.” And Voltaire’s biographer argued that he would defend, “to the death,” one’s right to say things with which he did not agree.

The possibility of death being the alternative to freedom has been very real. We tend to forget that in what is still, despite our problems, a relatively risk-free society.

And so we come to the issue of free speech as a drawing; particularly, a cartoon of Islam’s prophet Mohammed, and the violent response to it. The “Draw Mohammed” gathering in Garland, Texas, ended with two alleged ISIS-related terrorists dead at the hands of an armed security officer.

Full disclosure: The winner of the contest, Bosch Fawstin, has been a Facebook friend of mine for about two years; we also follow each other on Twitter. I am familiar with his work and the reasoning behind it. If you want to see his winning picture, visit my Twitter feed @rahnbforney. It’s there - twice, I think.

Free speech matters. Taking offense at that speech matters much less so. Despite those who would demand otherwise, there are no safe zones; there is no right not to be offended; there is nothing off-limits, except in narrowly defined circumstances.

Just from a quick perusal of my social media feeds one recent morning, I found, not only Fawstin’s work but two other examples of protected speech that will be found disagreeable by many.

Last weekend, Faithful Word Baptist Church Pastor Steven Anderson sermonized that God has ordered in the scriptures that gays should be killed, and that if humanity wants to have an “AIDS-free world by Christmas,” that’s what should be done.

In a video posted by Breitbart this week, a New Black Panther Leader - identified by The Blaze as possibly King Samir Shabazz - said that blacks will have to kill white babies “seconds” after they’re born, while suggesting bombing nurseries.

Objectionable? Certainly. Protected? Just as certainly.

But we don’t get to pick and choose as a matter of philosophical convenience. Virtually every utterance we make can be found offensive by someone, for some reason or for none whatsoever.

What our freedom of speech means is that we need not be concerned that government is going to punish us for hurting the feelings of others. It does not mean that others might not try to limit our rights by initiating force against us - up to and including killing us.

That’s why the First Amendment doesn’t exist in a vacuum. There is a Second Amendment, among others, that has something to say about the potential outcome of initiating force against another.

- The Lebanon Daily News

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EDUCATION FUNDING IS CRIME FIGHTING, TOO

Debate in Harrisburg will soon begin in earnest to adopt a state budget for fiscal year 2015-16, and education funding will be front and center.

Among the proposals being sought by Gov. Tom Wolf is increased funding for Pennsylvania Pre-K Counts, an initiative that recently attracted outspoken support from some unusual kindergarten bedfellows: The law enforcement community.

District Attorneys Risa Ferman, Montgomery County; Seth Williams, Philadelphia; Jack Whelan, Delaware County; and Tom Hogan, Chester County, held a press conference April 29 to introduce a report, “We’re the Guys You Pay Later,” by the Fight Crime: Invest in Kids coalition. The report makes the case that more money is spent on jailing adult defendants than on investing in education for children. That early investment can be shown, the report argues, to change the path for at-risk children from potential criminals to productive members of society.

Looking to early education to prevent crime is gaining traction nationwide. According to the report, children who participated in high-quality preschool and parent coaching programs through Chicago’s Child-Parent Centers were found to be 20 percent less likely to be arrested or incarcerated for a felony as young adults than those who did not attend.

The benefits are evident on families as well as the enrolled children, the report states. The Chicago CPC program cut child abuse and neglect in half for the children served, compared to similar children from families not being helped.

In place since 1989, state Pre-K Counts funding has made possible early education slots for 160 children in profit and non-profit childcare centers who have partnered with the district to ensure quality instruction, qualified teachers and a seamless integration with the district’s curriculum, PEAK Coordinator Mary Reick told Pennsylvania first lady Francis Wolf during a recent visit.

A recent grant from the Kellogg Foundation is also allowing PEAK to reach out to families as early as when children are born and to help with their needs as parents during Literacy Nights and other outreach efforts.

The study emphasizes the importance of getting to children early in life with learning opportunities. Studies have shown that in homes where parents are poor or uneducated, the vocabulary to which children are exposed differs by as much as 30 million words from the vocabulary in a home of educated, professional parents. Early education works to close some of that gap.

Gov. Wolf’s proposed budget calls for increasing funding for Pennsylvania Pre-K Counts by $100 million, which will nearly double the commonwealth’s current annual investment of $97.3 million.

Only about one in six of Pennsylvania’s 3- and 4-year-olds is enrolled in publicly funded, high-quality pre-k, according to the Pre-K for Pennsylvania coalition. If the governor’s proposal is enacted, access would increase to about one in four of the commonwealth’s 3- and 4-year-olds.

That money, however, will save state taxpayers in the end, the Fight Crime report argues, preventing spending of more than $350 million in prosecution and prison costs for children whose lives are changed by early education. The investment does more than prevent crime, according to the report, it also pumps money into the economy through productive citizens.

Some will stick to the argument that it’s not up to taxpayers to provide “free babysitting” for parents. No one disagrees. The proven results emphasize the importance of investing in quality early educational programs focused on learning from cradle to classroom. Good Pre-K programs are not “babysitting,” and that’s why they require a committed investment.

We join with area district attorneys, educators and parents in urging a focused state commitment to funding Pre-K programs. Invest in children now, prevent crime and social problems later.

- Delaware County Daily Times

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APPEASEMENT IS A WEAKNESS THAT NEVER GOES OUT OF STYLE

British and French leaders in 1938 have been condemned rightly for caving in to German dictator Adolf Hitler’s demands. It was appeasement that strengthened Hitler’s hold over his own country and emboldened him to launch World War?II.

But at least the Munich agreement - “peace in our time,” according to then-British Prime Minister Neville Chamberlain - bought Europe a one-year delay before Nazi troops stormed into Poland.

President Barack Obama’s proposed deal with Iran could allow that aggressive enemy of both the United States and Israel to build nuclear bombs within three months.

Conservatives in the Senate want more in exchange for dropping economic sanctions against Iran. They are proposing various limits on Obama’s power to conclude a pact.

During a speech recently, Undersecretary of State Wendy Sherman warned against any interference with the White House. Without Obama’s proposed deal, Iran would be able to develop nuclear weapons within two to three months, she said.

Does anyone not wearing rose-colored glasses believe Tehran will give anything away in agreeing to the Obama plan? In other words, can there be any doubt that even if the agreement is finalized, Iran will retain the ability to go nuclear within that time frame?

Opponents of Chamberlain were decried as warmongers. The same thing is happening to senators worried about Iran. Appeasement, it seems, is a weakness that never goes out of style.

- Williamsport Sun-Gazette

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BROKEN SCALE: TWO CIA LEAKERS RECEIVE TWO KINS OF JUSTICE

Disproportionate penalties given to two CIA employees who leaked secrets raise a question about the fairness of American justice.

On April 23 a judge sentenced retired general and former CIA director David H. Petraeus to two years’ probation and a $100,000 fine for admitting he had provided highly classified notes of his official meetings, U.S. war strategy, intelligence capabilities and the names of covert CIA officers to his mistress, who was writing a biography of him. Petraeus also lied to the FBI. The fine was comparable to what Petraeus earns for one speech. He was permitted to plead guilty to a misdemeanor as part of a deal with the Justice Department.

On Monday, a judge sentenced former CIA employee Jeffrey A. Sterling to three and a half years in prison for espionage. He was convicted of nine violations of the Espionage Act by providing New York Times reporter and author James Risen information about a CIA program on Iran that the reporter had used in a 2006 book.

It’s unfair that Sterling will go to jail for years while Petraeus gets a symbolic fine and no time behind bars. The former CIA director also retains a position as adviser to President Barack Obama.

The crimes are not identical. If anything, the information that Petraeus handed out was much more sensitive and comprehensive than Sterling’s leak. Most Americans would agree that Petraeus also had much greater responsibility as CIA director to protect highly classified information.

In these two cases two kinds of consequences were handed out. A stiff sentence went to an ordinary American who broke the law; a relative slap on the wrist went to another lawbreaker who was rich and famous. The difference reinforces many citizens’ perceptions of Obama administration law enforcement and the current state of American justice.

- Pittsburgh Post-Gazette

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