- Associated Press - Wednesday, June 15, 2016

Editorials from around Pennsylvania:

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MASS SHOOTINGS LEAVE AMERICA IN DEEP DISTRESS, June 15

IN THIS image-driven world of ours, it’s harder and harder to find any image that has the power to arrest the viewer. But this one - an upside-down American flag, signaling a nation in distress - had that impact on us when we first saw it on Facebook, and we reproduce it here in the hopes that has the same effect on others.

Because we are a nation in deep distress.

In 2012, Newtown ushered in a new age of public grief. At the time, we thought the shooting of schoolchildren was an extraordinary, once-in-an-era event that might finally put a screeching halt to our all-you-can-shoot gun culture and lead to sane laws. Surely, if the murder of babies didn’t stop us from accepting a perverted view of the Second Amendment, nothing would.

But since Newtown, 19 more mass shootings have occurred, including Sunday’s Orlando massacre of 49 people. That’s according to research by Mother Jones, which defines mass shootings as seemingly indiscriminate rampages in public places resulting in four or more victims killed. This doesn’t include shootings involving conventional crimes such as armed robbery or gang violence. Also since then, Congress has done nothing. Here’s what it must do:

1. Expand background checks. Originally co- sponsored by Pennsylvania’s own Sen. Pat Toomey in 2013 in a promising non-partisan move, the measure failed, and failed again following last year’s mass shooting in San Bernadino, Calif. Expanded checks would close the “gun-show” loophole that allows private sales of guns without background checks.

2. Ban gun sales to those on terror lists. Those on a “no-fly” list who have been identified as potential terrorists should be prohibited from buying a gun. This is a no-brainer. Once again, Congress failed to pass this no-brainer, with some complaining that innocent people end up on the no-fly list by mistake and shouldn’t be victimized. Really? But we’re OK with innocent people losing their lives?

3. Ban assault weapons. Between 1994 and 2004, when the (admittedly flawed) assault weapons ban expired, 106 people died in mass shootings. In the 10 years following the expiration of the ban, 302 people were killed in mass shootings. Not every death was due to an assault weapon, but semi-automatic weapons designed for the military - like the SIG Sauer used by the Orlando shooter and the popular AR-15 - allow killers to mow down far more people in far less time. Why do we allow this?

4. Ban high-capacity magazines. Magazines that hold more than 10 rounds and allow shooters to rack up the carnage without having to pause to reload - like the Orlando shooter, whose gun had a 30-round magazine- is also a no-brainer. Eight states have imposed such bans. Congress has failed to.

The code governing display of the United States flag says, “The flag should never be displayed with the union down, except as a signal of dire distress in instances of extreme danger to life or property.”

We have reached that point.

- Philadelphia Daily News

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EXPAND PRE-K FOR MORE KIDS, June 14

For politicians, early childhood education is a case of a narrow window and a far horizon. In Pennsylvania, state legislators are too focused on that horizon.

Abundant research on education and brain development shows that there is a relatively narrow window, between ages 3 and 5, in which to best establish a solid educational foundation in most kids - especially regarding language.

Yet in Pennsylvania, only one in six of Pennsylvania’s 300,000 3- and 4-year-olds are enrolled in pre-kindergarten programs

According to the National Institute for Early Education Research, in 2015 Pennsylvania ranked 15th nationally in pre-K access for 3-year-olds, down from 11th in 2010, and 30th in access for 4-year-olds, down from 24th five years earlier.

Over the period, the state has fallen behind all of the other states in the region in making early education accessible. The institute said 26 percent of Pennsylvania 4-year-olds had access in 2015, compared with New York, 54 percent; New Jersey, 35 percent; Maryland, 42 percent, and West Virginia, 94 percent.

A big part of the problem is that far horizon. Politicians often are reluctant to dedicate state funds to early childhood education because the results are not instantaneous. Unlike a rebuilt highway or bridge, the results are not immediately marketable and, therefore, not politically marketable. Results of increasing pre-K access don’t show up until the kids’ academic performance is assessed much later in their school careers.

Those lawmakers should depend on existing research, though, showing that kids who have the benefit of high-quality pre-K programs are less likely to drop out of school and far more likely to graduate and attend college. They also have been shown to have fewer behavioral problems later in their school years, further improving their chances of success.

According to the early-education advocacy group Pre-K for PA, 176,000 of the 300,000 3- and 4-year-olds statewide live in families with incomes below 300 percent of the poverty line - gross income of $72,750 for a family of four. Of those children, 121,000 do not have access to publicly funded, high-quality pre-K programs. Of 4,775 children of that age group in Lackawanna County, 75 percent live in families earning less than 300 percent of the poverty line, and 1,775 don’t have access to pre-K programs. Elsewhere in the region: Luzerne County, 3,517; Wayne County, 163; Susquehanna County, 223; and Wyoming County, 341.

Pre-K advocates seek an additional $90 million for pre-K this year, which would reduce to 107,000 the number of kids who don’t have access. Lawmakers and Gov. Tom Wolf, who has proposed that amount, should use increased pre-K funding as a catalyst for an overall budget agreement and for a better future.

- The (Scranton) Times-Tribune

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PA. STILL HASN’T GOTTEN BOOZE SALES RIGHT, June 13

An episode of Comedy Central’s “Drunk History” telling the tale of alcohol sales in Pennsylvania could be pretty amusing.

Start with the Whiskey Rebellion, in which President George Washington personally led a 13,000-man militia to collect booze taxes from a handful of Western Pennsylvania moonshiners.

Then focus on Prohibition and its aftermath, in which teetotaler Gov. Gifford Pinchot concocted the state store system specifically to make it hard to buy alcohol in Pennsylvania.

The most laughable part might be the nonsensical purchase rules we lived with for decades:

- Liquor and wine sold only in state stores, which are limited in selection and location (ONE store in all of Adams County).

- Beer sold only in cases and kegs at distributors.

- Six-packs and 12-packs sold at bars.

- And don’t even get us started on restaurant liquor licenses, which are limited in number by municipality and literally owned by holders - who buy and sell them for six digits.

In recent years, the pace of change has quickened.

A few years ago, the state decided to sell wine in grocery stores through vending machines the size of mainframe computers, complete with breathalyzers and ID checkers. They were scrapped after about a year.

Then the state decided to allow beer sales at grocery stores. But rather than simply allow people to purchase beer at the regular checkout, the stores had to build separate beer sections with separate checkouts - at which customers could only pay for beer, no food. Ridiculously inconvenient!

A few weeks ago, Gov. Tom Wolf decided to “free the sixpack” by allowing them to be sold at places that also sell gasoline. Woo-hoo! Except that those gas stations also needed separate beer sales areas.

Then, last week, the Legislature and governor threw a bipartisan surprise party.

Lawmakers passed a bill allowing wine sales in supermarkets!

Right off the shelf!

No vending machines!

The governor, who has been a defender of the state store system, signed the bill.

And leaders of both parties have been patting themselves on the back for this great leap forward. Pennsylvania is finally in the 21st century on alcohol sales, they crowed.

Well, sorry for the sobering cold shower, guys, but not really.

- We’ll still have Soviet-style state stores - which will still be the only places to buy liquor. Why not allow liquor sales in grocery stores, too? News flash: you can get just as dangerously drunk on Bordeaux and Budweiser as you can on bourbon.

- The grocery stores will still have to buy wine from the state store system.

- You can only buy four bottles of wine at a time in grocery stores.

- There are still too many restrictions on how much of what you can buy where.

It’s not exactly a customer-convenience-focused privatized system like those that work well in other states.

This is such a typical Pennsylvania move. Not so much a step forward as a lurch or a stumble - you know, like drunks do.

Immediately after the vote, many Republican lawmakers were already saying it was just the first step (lurch) toward full privatization.

Yeah, right. They couldn’t even get that done when they had a governor who actually wanted to do it.

Sure, this is progress. And maybe it signals some much-needed bipartisan conviviality between the governor and GOP lawmakers, who have been squabbling like barflies for the last year.

But it’s just laughable that our state can’t simply move past the drunk history of Pa. politics and get with the modern times.

- York Daily Record

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CARTER’S LAST MISSION: THE EX-PRESIDENT ATTACKS RACISM AND ITS CAUSES, June 13

Former President Jimmy Carter has made it his mission - probably his last great mission - to close the chasm between the races in his own beloved Baptist church. His endeavor is undertaken at the age of 91, his brain cancer in remission. It deserves widespread attention and support. If successful, it will be a model for our wider society.

In 2007, Mr. Carter organized the New Baptist Covenant, with support from black and white congregations, to address political and social issues, including mass incarceration of young black men, poorly performing schools, payday lending and poverty. The 39th president left the Southern Baptist Convention in 2000 because it opposed women serving as pastors.

Mr. Carter wants his Baptist peers to attack not only racism, but the social problems that stem from or are exacerbated by it.

Mr. Carter recently said that whether you blame Barack Obama for the resurgence of racism, as some do, or Donald Trump, as others do, there can be no doubt that overt and blatant racism has made a resurgence. The only good thing about this, he said, is that no one is saying that the problem of race in America is solved or that we live in a “post-racial society.”

So we need to talk about this problem. Jimmy Carter is the ideal person to open the conversation.

The 2002 Nobel Peace Prize winner seems to know that ending racism is an uphill battle. Moreover, Hannah McMahan, executive director of the New Baptist Covenant, said she has gained an understanding as to “how deep the divides are,” and “that (results of) this kind of work will not happen overnight.”

Mr. Carter also understands the Black Lives Matter movement is not saying others’ lives are less important. Not at all. As Mr. Carter said, “White people need to understand the special discrimination that still exists against our black neighbors.”

Mr. Carter is focused on Baptists at the moment. Eventually, he envisions Jews, Muslims and atheists joining the dialogue. The Prophet Micah provides some ground rules: “to do justice, to love mercy, and walk humbly with your God.” And your neighbor, as well.

- Pittsburgh Post-Gazette

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STATE-LEVEL RESTRICTIONS ARE ERASING LEGAL ACCESS TO ABORTION,’ June 10

When is a right no longer a right?

That’s a question pro-choice proponents are asking in the midst of a recent spike in never-ending efforts to dilute, undermine, chip away at and otherwise render hollow the right of women to access safe, legal abortions.

Locally, the question arose during a recent all-out - but, blessedly, abandoned - assault on abortion rights in Pennsylvania.

The Republican-led state House in April fast-tracked a bill that would have significantly shortened the window for abortions and banned the safe and common technique known as dilation and evacuation (D&E;).

Thankfully, plans for a floor debate and vote were dropped as quickly as they were proposed amid strident opposition. At least for the time being.

But that hasn’t been the case elsewhere.

Take Louisiana.

Lawmakers this month took a page from Pennsylvania’s book (actually, it’s a page from model legislation written by pro-life organizations) and banned the D&E; procedure.

That forces doctors to either utilize a less-safe technique or stop performing abortions altogether after 14 weeks. (Remember, Roe v. Wade legalizes abortions up to the time of viability, usually considered 22 to 24 weeks.)

And no, there is no provision to save the life of the mother.

The bill - swiftly signed by Louisiana Gov. John Bel Edwards - comes fast on the heels of a law passed last month that extends the mandatory period that a woman must wait between consultation and abortion from 24 to 72 hours.

The state also passed bills forbidding Medicaid dollars from being spent in clinics that provide abortions (undermining the ability of Planned Parenthood to perform the bulk of its services: pap smears, breast exams and the like) and outlawing abortions in cases where the fetus has an abnormality.

Louisiana is far from alone. Thirteen other states have passed laws restricting abortions this year. For example, South Carolina last month joined the growing ranks of states outlawing the procedure beyond the 20th week of pregnancy - an arbitrary deadline with no medical benefit to women. And there is no exception for victims of rape or incest.

This litany of new laws has had the intended effect of closing clinics and leaving women with unintended pregnancies often pursuing DIY pills or traveling across state lines to seek care.

And in many cases, especially in the South and Midwest, even crossing state lines doesn’t do much good.

In Texas, new laws requiring abortion doctors to have admitting privileges at a local hospital or mandating technology upgrades at facilities, have reduced the number of clinics from 41 to 19 over the past three years, according to the Los Angeles Times. Kansas now has just two such locations. Writes the Times: “In Louisiana there are four; in Arkansas three. Missouri and Mississippi have one clinic each.”

Think about that: One clinic to serve an entire state in providing what is ostensibly a legal procedure. Imagine a state with one liquor store, or one gun shop, or one department of motor vehicles.

Missouri, by the way, is one of six states that, like Louisiana, requires a 72-hour wait between abortion consultation and procedure. Women can either make a cross-state trip twice in a week or pony up for three nights of hotel and meals. Does the bar get any higher?

Why, yes. Nine states have recently debated bills to ban almost all abortions outright. Such a bill passed in only one, Oklahoma, which sought to make it a felony to perform an abortion unless the life of the mother was at risk (Gov. Mary Fallin had the good sense to veto it).

Lawmakers - Republican lawmakers, it seems almost unnecessary to note - are often quick to add hypocritical insult to injury, maintaining that requiring doctors to have admitting privileges at a local hospital, for example, is legislated out of concern for the mothers.

Please.

Concern for women wouldn’t result in unnecessary delays - which, in states like Louisiana, can mean the difference between a medical and surgical abortion, or the safe D&E; procedure (the same procedure that was briefly targeted this spring in Pennsylvania) and something less common.

Nor would real concern result in intrusions and additional expenses for tens of thousands of women.

The motive is quite clear: To impede, complicate, delay and discourage women from accessing safe and legal reproductive options.

The Supreme Court is expected to weigh in any day on the Texas provisions regarding admitting privileges and technical standards. But the debate won’t end there.

Several of other state laws are facing legal challenges, making it likely at least some of them, too, will eventually land before the high court. Keep that in mind when you cast your presidential ballot this fall.

And keep in mind the question: When is a right no longer a right?

Because when it comes to abortion, in many parts of the country, the correct answer would be “right now.”

- PennLive.com

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