- Associated Press - Wednesday, April 26, 2017

Editorials from around Pennsylvania

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CLEAN AIR NO ACCIDENT, April 22

Northeast Pennsylvania, where smoke from residential and industrial coal fires once was thick in the air, generally has scored well in the most recent air quality assessment by the nonprofit, nonpartisan American Lung Association.

Particularly striking is that Lackawanna County received the highest possible rating regarding particle pollution. According to the association, that means that the county had no dangerous particle pollution days last year.

That’s something to think about relative to President Donald Trump’s pledge to restore coal mining and to roll back environmental regulations that are partly responsible for the region’s sweeping air quality improvement.

Many factors, over decades, are behind the improvements. Coal has played out and the region has converted primarily to natural gas for home heating. Heavy industry has yielded to less-polluting enterprises. Vehicles are much more efficient and less polluting.

But there also is no doubt that much of the improvement is due to standards that were established under the Clean Air Act of 1970 and updated over the years. Those standards have played a role in driving the technology to produce cleaner air.

In today’s political environment, much of the talk is about the cost of regulation. But the consistently improving air quality ratings for Northeast Pennsylvania demonstrate that regulation produces positive environmental results.

Yet politicians like Lackawanna County Commissioner Laureen Cummings, a tea party devotee, complain about government involvement in innovation - down to the development of safe bicycle lanes to reduce dependence on cars and the pollution they produce.

Meanwhile, environmental departments in Virginia and Maryland reported last week that the female blue crab population in the Chesapeake Bay has reached a record high. That is due, in large part, to a regulatory regimen to save the bay that covers its massive watershed, including much of Northeast Pennsylvania.

Improvements such as those must be included in the cost-benefit analyses of environmental regulation. It’s not simply a question of cost, but of quality of life.

- The Times-Tribune, Scranton, Pennsylvania

Online:

https://bit.ly/2pApVDA

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A SMACK FOR STACK: THE LIEUTENANT GOVERNOR DESERVES THE REBUKE, April 25

With an opioid epidemic to confront, a huge budget hole to plug and other important issues on his desk, it’s a shame that Gov. Tom Wolf had to take time out of his schedule last week to spank his supposed partner, Lt. Gov. Mike Stack. However, it had to be done, and Mr. Wolf gets two thumbs up for doing it.

About two weeks ago came news that Mr. Wolf asked the state inspector general’s office to investigate reports that Mr. Stack had a record of verbally abusing his state police security detail and other state employees. On Friday, the governor evidently ran out of patience.

He took the extraordinary step of pulling the lieutenant governor’s security detail and putting restrictions on the staff working at Mr. Stack’s taxpayer-funded residence at Fort Indiantown Gap. From now on, housekeepers and maintenance employees will work at the lieutenant governor’s home only at arranged times and with supervision.

“I do not delight in this decision,” the governor said in a letter to Mr. Stack. The hardworking taxpayers of Pennsylvania, on the other hand, may delight in the prospect of Mr. Stack and his wife, Tonya, also described as having been verbally abusive to state employees, living more like average folk.

The taxpayers are sick and tired of their money being used to fund amenities for their spoiled representatives. Money not used to pamper Mr. Stack can be applied to enhance state police protection in a troubled municipality, fund programs and services needed by disadvantaged residents, or used to spur economic development.

At a news conference April 12, Mr. Stack admitted he and his wife (she didn’t attend the event) had been rude at times to state troopers and other employees. He blamed his misbehavior - the occasional “Stack moment,” he called it - to stress and a proclivity for speaking his mind in front of employees who are around so much they felt like part of the family. Asked about reports that he ordered the troopers driving him to use their sirens and lights in non-emergency situations - just to get him places more quickly - he said he was sorry if he gave his security detail the impression that he was telling them how to drive.

The apology fell flat, especially the part about not telling the troopers how to drive. Last year, it was Mr. Stack who tried to push through language in a budget bill that would have allowed security details to use their flashing lights at will. Mr. Wolf’s office had to step in then, too, to kill the legislation and put Mr. Stack in his place.

At the administration’s behest, Mr. Stack also repaid the taxpayers $1,800 of the $4,200 he billed for overnight stays in Philadelphia even though he owned a home there. Though he repaid the money, Mr. Stack maintains it was appropriate to have billed the taxpayers for those stays because his belongings were at the house in Fort Indiantown Gap and he considered that his residence at the time.

Mr. Wolf didn’t choose Mr. Stack as his running mate; the Democratic voters elected them independently with the expectation that they would work as partners. However, the partnership looks more and more like a parent-child relationship of which Mr. Wolf has tired. Who could blame him?

It’s time for Mr. Stack to exit state government. In the meantime, Mr. Wolf can’t fire Mr. Stack, just tighten the screws like he did Friday in what was a fine “Wolf moment.”

- Pittsburgh Post-Gazette

Online:

https://bit.ly/2pjMae1

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MORE GUNS WON’T FIX MYRIAD EDUCATION WOES, April 22

For the heck of it, let’s assume a state law allowing school staff to pack heat is a good idea. Good luck finding evidence that a plethora of concealed pistols would improve school safety, but let’s assume the proof exists.

It’s not a hypothetical. The Pennsylvania Senate education committee voted 9-3 to move a bill along, toward a full Senate vote. It would make it legal for school employees properly trained in the use of firearms to be armed on campus.

Even if it is a good idea - and there are potent arguments it is not - questions abound.

For starters, what’s the point? Gov. Tom Wolf has already said he’s unlikely to sign such a bill, making it almost certainly an exercise in symbolism without substance. It’s easy to vote for a bill you know faces a veto, just ask all the U.S. representatives who spent six years voting some 60 times to repeal, defund or otherwise derail the Affordable Care Act knowing full well it would be vetoed. When a Republican became president, they couldn’t muster the votes.

Funny how votes can change when they have real world consequences.

Then there’s the laziness of the bill, the notion that these senators feel something has to be done to make schools safer, but rather than find money to improve security features in buildings and maybe hire more School Resource Officers, let’s just let teachers carry guns. Looks like you did something without spending a dime.

And there are the conflicting messages to students: Bring a gun to school, you get expelled. See your teacher with a gun? Heck, feel safer.

But the biggest question about this bill is how it can get any traction in a legislature that refuses to honestly grapple with big issues in education that have been around for years?

- Harrisburg has blown a lot of hot air about pension reform, but taken scant action as school boards face skyrocketing pension payments into a system they do not control. It was the state legislature, after all, that quietly voted to increase pensions some 16 years ago and helped create this crisis.

- During former Gov. Tom Corbett’s one-term tenure, Harrisburg choked off funding for school construction and renovation projects, putting hundreds of millions of dollars in limbo and leaving districts wondering if they could afford to make needed upgrades - including for security. The mess has slowly begun to untangle under Gov. Tom Wolf, but a real fix to the construction reimbursement system known as PlanCon has yet to materialize.

- Even when the legislature did take substantive action by approving a new school funding formula, it applied the formula only to a small fraction of total state education spending, leaving intact what is widely regarded as one of the most inequitable state public education funding systems in the country. Per-pupil spending in Pennsylvania’s 500 districts ranges from less than $9,000 to more than $26,000.

But by all means, put more guns in schools. That’ll fix everything.

- Times Leader, Wilkes-Barre, Pennsylvania

Online:

https://bit.ly/2pAp8CC

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STATE SHOULD CUT VOTING AGE DOWN TO 17, April 23

The nearly 500 pieces of legislation that have been introduced around the country this year aimed at increasing voter participation include proposals to lower the voting age from 18 to 17.

Pennsylvania should adopt that change, and the U.S. Constitution should be amended to permit the lower voting age nationwide.

Young people 17 years old probably are more attuned to what’s happening in all levels of government than they’ve ever been. Thus, they should have the right to express their opinion about who should be elected, for municipal offices up to the Office of the President.

When the U.S. Constitution’s 26th Amendment was under consideration in 1970 - to lower the voting age to 18 from 21 - some people argued that 18-year-olds weren’t mature and responsible enough to be allowed to vote.

Those arguments proved to be unfounded, just like similar arguments would be regarding extending voting to 17-year-olds.

Actually, 17-year-olds already can vote in primary elections and caucuses in a number of states. The organization FairVote, formerly the Center for Voting and Democracy, which advocates electoral reform in this country, reminds Pennsylvania that the closest states that have taken that step are Maryland, Ohio, Delaware and West Virginia.

Even 17-year-olds in the District of Columbia are permitted to vote in primaries. The important question: Why not in Pennsylvania?

An article in Sunday’s Altoona Mirror included an important quote from Jonathan Brater, counsel with the nonpartisan Brennan Center for Justice Democracy Program.

“A lot of young people last year wanted to make their voices heard but were unable to do so because the rules prohibited them,” he said. “That has certainly renewed interest in making the system more accessible.”

But then there’s the other issue of having people registered to vote when they have no desire to do so.

In June 2015, then-Democratic presidential candidate Hillary Clinton proposed that Americans automatically be registered to vote when they turn 18, unless they chose to opt out, which many might not do, even though they have no intention of voting.

That proposal was welcomed by many of Clinton’s campaign audiences, but a closer look at automatic registration indicates some counterproductive consequences.

The most important is that voter registration rolls shouldn’t be burdened by those who choose not to exercise the important civic right and responsibility. At the same time, it’s appropriate to remind all registered voters that, at the time they registered, they accepted an obligation to go to the polls - not only for general elections, but for primary balloting as well.

But Clinton’s proposal isn’t the answer to guaranteeing high turnouts. Pennsylvania already makes it easy to register, even without an automatic system of registration.

Many high school seniors still are 17 when they graduate, and it’s at that time when those newly graduated individuals have to make important decisions about their lives, going forward. Most demonstrate maturity and responsibility in those decisions and harbor an understanding of voting’s importance.

Most of those former students already have had some experience with elections, whether through mock balloting in government classes during presidential or gubernatorial years, or through voting so limited as choosing class leaders.

With so many electronic communication devices available, young people have access to news and issues that their parents lacked.

Lower the voting age to 17, in Pennsylvania and nationally.

- Altoona Mirror

Online:

https://bit.ly/2pAVpcH

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‘TAPS,’ FACEBOOK & THE DEATH OF REASONABLENESS, April 25

It seems sadly appropriate that a controversy in Glen Rock raged around the tune taps, the mournful melody often played at military funerals.

It’s appropriate because what happened in Glen Rock seems to signal the death of … well, something. Actually, a lot of related things:

Reasonableness.

Compromise.

Neighborliness.

Civil conversation in the social media age.

Take your pick.

Here’s what happened: Glen Rock native Joshua Corney, a lieutenant commander in the Navy, recently moved his family to his hometown. He decided he wanted to do something to honor those who have served in the armed forces - especially those who have made the ultimate sacrifice for our nation.

So he plays a recording of taps on a PA system outside his house each evening around 8 p.m.

Nice!

But controversy has emerged over the practice.

Some neighbors think that while this is a good, patriotic effort, the music is played too loudly. It can be disruptive.

Some have questioned whether the broadcast violates the town’s noise ordinance. One neighbor who suffers from Parkinson’s disease, depression and early signs of dementia is distressed by the practice.

The issue was set to be addressed by the borough council.

But Lt. Cmdr. Corney, who is also a member of the council, did a Facebook post in an effort to rally support for his cause.

Boy, did it rally support! In fact, some of the public commentary was vitriolic - so much so that the neighbors who raised concerns were cowed, and the discussion was pulled from the council agenda.

Council member Victoria Ribeiro said, “They have lost hope of coming to a compromise or being heard at all because of the extraordinary outpouring. They want peace and quiet, including their online peace and quiet. They don’t want to be vilified any further.”

Lt. Cmdr. Corney has sent emails to neighbors apologizing for the backlash they received from his supporters on social media, but he said he doesn’t regret rallying support on Facebook.

Obviously, he and his supporters have First Amendment rights - which he has bravely fought to protect.

But doesn’t this seem like a situation where a little compromise could have prevented a lot of heartbreak and hard feelings?

Couldn’t neighbors have brokered a compromise in which the song is played loudly and proudly on certain evenings, but more quietly on others?

We know Lt. Cmdr. Corney is reasonable and well-meaning, so couldn’t he simply turn down the volume a bit?

Something?

Did this really have to turn into a Facebook feeding frenzy with folks savaging one another from behind the safety of their cell phones?

Whatever happened to reasonableness, compromise, neighborliness and civil conversation?

It seems like they’ve been buried.

With taps playing in the background.

- York Daily Record

Online:

https://bit.ly/2pAb4cs

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