- Associated Press - Wednesday, April 20, 2016

Editorials from around Pennsylvania:

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TURNPIKE’S STORM REPORT IS A SNOW JOB, April 14

The snows of January have long since given way to the rains (and occasional snows) of April, but Pennsylvania’s slow thaw hasn’t eased the peculiar form of brain freeze afflicting turnpike officials. Despite having taken a very long look at the latest snowbound stranding of hundreds of motorists on the toll road they ostensibly run, they remain incapable of acknowledging their failure. In fact, an untrained reader of the turnpike agency’s “after-action report” could be forgiven for thinking officials were basking in the afterglow of a stunning success - a word that appears therein more than once.

The report, released earlier this month, finds the Turnpike Commission and its consultants still determined to ascribe the debacle to acts of God, meteorological shortcomings, and scofflaw truckers. Given such obliviousness to their responsibility, it’s no wonder this was at least the second surprise turnpike tailgate party in as many years.

Perhaps the most infuriating aspect of the agency’s analysis is its persistent effort to blame the vagaries of the weather and the science of predicting it. In testimony before a state Senate committee in February, Turnpike Commission Chairman Sean Logan blamed a single AccuWeather forecast, issued on the afternoon the storm began, for his decision to send midday crews home instead of paying them overtime. Last week’s report further commits to this strategy, pointing out that the storm dropped unprecedented amounts of snow in some places - like, say, West Virginia - and did not conform to the precise timing, amounts, and locations of the single forecast in question.

Turnpike officials are thereby taking advantage of the well-known difficulties of pinpointing snow totals to obfuscate the fact that this storm was extraordinarily well predicted. Meteorologists were warning of a major Northeast snowstorm a week in advance and treating it as a certainty by the time it arrived. Airport, bus, and most rail service was suspended in the Philadelphia region. And the day before the storm, as the Inquirer’s Maria Panaritis reported, the state’s chief meteorologist warned turnpike chief executive Mark Compton and others that the highway would see up to a foot and a half of snow.

Besides promising to expand the turnpike’s “weather forecasting and situational awareness capabilities” - perhaps, one imagines, by equipping its executives with such cutting-edge technology as cellphones and televisions - the report takes umbrage at truckers who ignored lane restrictions and regrets that its 40-hour effort to remove stranded vehicles was “greatly hampered by the heavy snowfall.” It also defends officials’ decision to keep the highway open when the storm began as well as to close it the next morning, when it was too late for more than 500 vehicles stranded on a steep stretch east of Pittsburgh, in some cases for more than 24 hours.

While the agency does promise improvements in its emergency and other operations, it does so in the context of taking credit for preventing “a difficult and inconvenient situation from becoming a more serious event.” But turnpike officials shouldn’t need a weatherman to tell them this event was serious enough to merit acknowledgment and assurance that it won’t be repeated.

- The Philadelphia Inquirer

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BE TRUE TO YOUR SELFIE, April 18

The fine may be small, but the consequences can be life-altering. Distracted driving is a route drivers do not want to travel.

The Administrative Office of Pennsylvania Courts released a study earlier this month and highlighted the number of distracted driving citations issued over a four-year period. In Lawrence County, the numbers are low. Forty-seven citations were given out from 2012 through 2015 compared to 879 for state-leading Montgomery County, located outside of Philadelphia. Statistics for the City of Brotherly Love weren’t axvailable.

What’s alarming is the 40 percent jump in tickets issued from 2014 to 2015 - almost 2,000 to approximately 2,850.

“A distraction is anything that causes a driver to take their eyes off the road, their hands off the wheel, or their mind off their primary task of driving safely,” an Erie Insurance official said. “Our survey found drivers unfortunately are engaging in a wide range of distracting and potentially dangerous behaviors.”

So what diversions are at play?

When driving, unplug headphones and earphones. No good comes from writing, sending or reading texts. These activities have been illegal statewide since 2012.

But turning a driver’s gaze from the road can involve other activities, such as adjusting the stereo system, eating, talking on a cellphone or watching your GPS. Heck, primping your hair may lead to a weave and grieve.

Erie Insurance also found drivers taking selfies, playing guitar and scratching off lottery tickets.

Distracted driving accidents can be tragic encounters. The U.S. Department of Transportation recorded close to 3,200 killed in 2014 because of distracted drivers, while 431,000 were hurt. The Centers for Disease Control and Prevention projects that nationwide approximately 1,200 people are injured and eight killed daily.

Strangely, the assessed fines for violating the law are less than a monthly 6 GB data plan with unlimited talk and text.

Currently, drivers cited in Pennsylvania for texting are assessed $50 plus court costs, which are generally more than the fine. You keep your wireless device. As for driving violations, your record is not even dented.

Locally, distracted driving citations are not a great - or even marginal - matter of concern. Yet, the reality for drivers is that every trip presents opportunities for distraction. Keep that in mind during National Distracted Driving Awareness Month. There is just no need to text it while on the road.

- New Castle News

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WORDS OF WISDOM FROM A PEACEMAKER, April 16

One presidential candidate has promised to “carpet bomb” the Islamic State and subject American neighborhoods with large Muslim populations to intense policing and surveillance. Another has vowed to ban all foreign Muslims from entering the country entirely. Their fellow travelers regularly spout blinkered rhetoric about America being in an “existential war” with Islam, conveniently sidestepping the fact that Muslims, in fact, serve in the U.S. military and are doctors, lawyers, engineers and inhabit all walks of life.

Aside from being brazenly discriminatory, subjecting adherents of one particular faith to special scrutiny, or barring them from entering the country, would likely not pass constitutional muster and would be in direct contradiction to this country’s ideals. But it would also be profoundly counterproductive, according to an expert in peacemaking who visited Washington & Jefferson College last week.

Mary Montague, an international mediator who has stepped in to try to quell conflicts in the Balkans, Afghanistan and her home turf of Northern Ireland, pointed out in a lecture at the college that a heavy-handed “security response” after terrorist incidents often does little more than encourage more alienation, more anger and more recruits for terrorism. This echoes the sentiments of other experts in the field who contend that it’s active, rigorous detective work and building relationships within communities that foil terrorist plots and not heedless displays of muscle or belligerence.

An essential example Montague cited in her talk was the action of British paratroopers in Londonderry, Northern Ireland, in January 1972. In an incident dubbed “Bloody Sunday,” the paratroopers opened fire on civil-rights marchers, killing 13 and wounding 13 more. Almost 40 years later, Britain’s prime minister, David Cameron, called the deaths “unjustified and unjustifiable.” It also served as a potent recruitment tool for the Irish Republican Army (IRA), and what came to be known as “the Troubles” continued for another quarter-century, with an estimated 3,600 people killed in the final tally.

“Many, many people joined the IRA as a result of Bloody Sunday,” Montague told an audience of students, faculty and members of the Washington community. Embarking on a heavy-handed response, whether by the military or police, “is counterproductive to what you’re trying to do, which is change behavior patterns.”

Montague’s thoughts about terrorists thriving in an “us versus them” scenario were seconded in The Washington Post the day after her lecture by columnist Arnold R. Issacs. He noted that “treating Muslim communities as a potential enemy population simply reinforces the extremist narrative. It says exactly what the terrorists want Muslims here and around the world to believe: that America is at war with Islam, and Muslims have to strike back.”

Montague was invited to visit W&J;, both in November and last week, by the college’s education department and its conflict and resolution studies program. She will be returning to campus in the fall as a scholar-in-residence. The W&J; community is fortunate to have this opportunity. We all would be better off to heed the wisdom she has to offer.

- (Washington) Observer-Reporter

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PASSAGE OF STATE’S ABLE ACT PROVES LAWMAKERS CAPABLE OF GOOD WORK; LET’S SEE MORE OF IT, April 16

Government can still work for you.

As evidence, look at the legislation advanced in Pennsylvania last week that will ease many financial and emotional burdens carried by parents of children with disabilities. The PA ABLE Act, which is expected to quickly gain the governor’s signature and become law, received no dissenting votes as it moved through the state Senate last year, then the House on Monday.

If only the same bipartisan spirit could surround budget bills, eh?

In short, the ABLE Act allows parents to sock away money early in a child’s life so that he or she can afford to pay for future expenses: housing, medical, transportation, even education. Promoters, in fact, compare the new ABLE tax-free savings accounts to those 529 programs that encourage families to save for kids’ college tuition.

The federal government - yes, the same Washington, D.C., troupe often accused of doing nothing - paved the way in 2014 for each state to adopt its own law establishing an ABLE program and, in turn, allowing families to better prepare for a loved one’s long-term care. ABLE, an acronym for the Achieving a Better Life Experience Act, authorized necessary changes in the tax code.

U.S. Sen. Bob Casey, D-Scranton, championed the federal law, advancing the cause put forward by disability advocates. He introduced the measure in the Senate, while a Florida Republican did the same in the House. (For those of you scoring at home, that’s one Democrat and one Republican collaborating on one good idea.)

In Pennsylvania, state Sen. Lisa Baker carried the torch for the life-enhancing program that one supporter said will “bring people with disabilities out of poverty.” Baker, R-Lehman Township, was the state Senate bill’s prime sponsor. “I am so proud to be a part of this collaborative effort,” she said last week. “. We managed to reach common ground by using common sense to achieve a victory that is well earned and much needed.”

Participants will be able to deduct ABLE account contributions, up to $14,000 per year, from Pennsylvania taxable income. Among the program’s other benefits: Savings will grow tax-free; withdrawals will be exempt from federal and state income tax when used for qualified expenses; funds will be excluded from eligibility determinations for Supplemental Security Income benefits (savings up to $100,000), medical assistance and other means-tested federal programs; and accounts will be exempt from inheritance tax.

Disability advocates, including families who faced daunting financial hurdles, had long spoken up for some sort of solution. Government listened and ultimately responded with the federal ABLE Act and companion state laws. Isn’t that the purpose of public service - helping people?

Let’s hope lawmakers at all levels see and seize more opportunities to do the same. And soon.

- The (Wilkes-Barre) Times Leader

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PA. MEDICAL MARIJUANA: IT’S ABOUT TIME!, April 15

Well . finally.

State lawmakers have passed and Gov. Tom Wolf said he will sign legislation allowing usage of medical marijuana in Pennsylvania.

That only took . what, 20 years?

California became the first state to allow medical marijuana way back in 1996.

Sen Daylin Leach, D-Delaware County, has introduced medical marijuana legislation every session since 2009.

Sen. Mike Folmer, R-parts of northeastern York County, has pushed for this compassionate treatment - on behalf of his “Momma Bears,” parents of kids suffering from epilepsy and other ailments - for many years.

Gov. Wolf made it clear in his campaign that he would OK such legislation. More than a year into his term, he finally got the chance.

It cannot be said that Pennsylvania is a radical, early adopter of newfangled ideas. Our state is more like your 60-year-old dad who just joined Facebook this year.

But . finally.

We have a law that will allow sick people to get relief with marijuana . well, sometime in the semi-foreseeable future.

Pennsylvania’s new law is cautious and lumbering, calling for an extensive regulatory apparatus.

According to the AP: “The bill sets standards for tracking plants, certifying physicians and licensing growers, dispensaries and physicians.” Patients will have to get ID cards from the health department, a process that will include them in a statewide, computerized registry. That registry will contain intricate details of patients, caregivers, physicians and what types and amounts of medical marijuana they could be issued.

Some estimate this process could take two years to set up.

Optimistically.

Dad will probably be on Instagram before all that happens. At least lawmakers added a provision that allows parents to buy medical marijuana in states where it’s already legal for their suffering children - and adult patients might also be able to get some limited relief sooner.

Is all of this expensive bureaucracy really necessary?

We don’t even have a separate regulatory process for the highly addictive painkillers that have led so many to heroin.

Another question: Is our new law is too restrictive?

For now, medical marijuana will be available to treat cancer, HIV, AIDS, ALS, Parkinson’s disease, multiple sclerosis, damage to the nervous tissue of the spinal cord with objective neurological indication of intractable spasticity, epilepsy, inflammatory bowel disease, neuropathies, Huntington’s disease, Crohn’s disease, post-traumatic stress disorder, intractable seizures, glaucoma, sickle cell anemia, autism, neuropathic pain and severe chronic or intractable pain that is untreatable.

That seems like a pretty wide array, but our lawmakers must remain open to amending the list as time goes on.

In any case, this new law is cause for celebration.

It’s also an example of bipartisan cooperation.

The lead sponsors of the bill in the Senate couldn’t be much more different, politically. Daylin Leach is pretty darned liberal. Mike Folmer is equally conservative. They came together to ease the suffering of people in need.

Republican, Democrat - whatever. They put partisanship aside to work for the greater good.

If only our gridlocked elected Pennsylvania officials could find consensus on other issues such as the state budget.

When Gov. Wolf first entered office, we suggested he and Republican lawmakers look for an early, easy win to grease the wheels of cooperation: pass medical marijuana, which polls showed was overwhelmingly favored by Pennsylvanians.

Well, it took a lot longer than it should have, but it finally happened.

Cheers to Sen. Folmer’s Mama Bears - such Cara Salemme of North Codorus Township, whose son Jackson suffers from horrible seizures - for never letting up in their lobbying efforts to pass this compassionate legislation.

- York Daily Record

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