- Associated Press - Wednesday, July 5, 2017

Editorials from around Pennsylvania:

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GOVERNOR SEES TRUE FRAUD, July 5

Gov. Tom Wolf and a growing list of his colleagues around the country know fraud when they see it. They have rejected the Trump administration’s search for ways to further restrict ballot access.

The Presidential Advisory Commission on Electoral Integrity sent letters to all 50 states asking officials to turn over comprehensive lists of registered voters, including partial Social Security numbers, birth dates, and driver license numbers for every voter in the state.

In his pointed response, Wolf correctly concluded that the objective of the commission is not to improve electoral integrity but to disenfranchise more voters under the guise of battling voter fraud.

That’s not simply based on a Democratic governor’s view of a Republican administration. It’s based on the comments and record of the commission vice chairman himself, Kansas Secretary of State Kris Kobach. In multiple interviews with conservative media, Kobach has said that a major objective of the exercise is to lay a foundation for purging voter rolls.

And Democrats aren’t alone in recognizing the subterfuge. Among those refusing to turn over the requested information are the Republican secretaries of state of Alabama, Iowa, Ohio and Indiana, the home state of Vice President Mike Pence, the commission chairman.

In Pennsylvania, the issue has special resonance. When he campaigned in the state last year, candidate Donald Trump complained loudly, repeatedly and falsely about voter fraud in Pennsylvania without providing any evidence of it for the best possible reason - there wasn’t any evidence.

Now the administration is using federal resources to try to put meat on the bones of Trump’s bogus claim that he would have won the popular vote but for voter fraud to the tune of 3 million to 5 million votes. That claim has been debunked by election officials from states red and blue.

Elections are state business. Wolf and the other governors are entirely on the mark in keeping it that way. They have informed the commission that it, just like any other citizen or entity, is entitled to publicly available voter information and subject to the same rules for its use.

Given the thinly disguised purpose of the commission, the states’ responses are the best way to ensure electoral integrity.

-The (Scranton) Times-Tribune

Online: https://bit.ly/2tpu78e

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PENNSYLVANIA THEN, INDIANA NOW: BOGUS REGISTRATIONS CONTINUE, July 4

An old saying about computers being only as good as their programming - “garbage in, garbage out” - has relevancy for electoral integrity, as seen eight years ago in Pittsburgh and now in the state of Indiana.

Twelve employees of the Indiana Voter Registration Project, a group focused on black voters and overseen by Patriot Majority USA - which has links to the Democratic Party and denies wrongdoing - face charges for submitting an unknown number of fake or fraudulent voter-registration applications for last November’s election, according to The Associated Press. Thankfully, state police in Indiana found no evidence of actual voter fraud.

But that “garbage in” could have led to “garbage out” - if not for one county clerk, who flagged about a dozen suspicious applications, prompting an investigation that spread to 56 counties. Some of those charged told investigators that fear of losing their temporary canvassing jobs if they didn’t meet a registration quota of 10 new voters daily led them to submit bogus applications.

It’s reminiscent of a 2009 case in Allegheny County, where seven canvassers for the now-defunct, notoriously corrupt, Democrat-friendly group ACORN were charged with submitting similarly suspicious voter-registration applications for 2008’s general election. That should give elections officials a clue or two about what and whom to watch out for, lest the “garbage in” of bogus voter registrations results in the “garbage out” of fraudulently cast ballots.

-The Pittsburgh Tribune-Review

Online: https://bit.ly/2uptSdL

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EPA’S NEW LEADER CONFIRMS FEARS BY ABANDONING WATER QUALITY RULE, July 4

Environmental Protection Agency Administrator Scott Pruitt seems to think businesses have guaranteed rights to pollute our air and water.

As Oklahoma’s attorney general, Pruitt let chicken processors dump 300,000 tons of waste into an estuary of the Illinois River. Now, President Trump’s choice to head the EPA is attacking rules that would reduce carbon and methane, two greenhouse gases that contribute to global warming.

He’s set his sights on a clean water rule imposed in 2015 to clarify which waterways are federally protected to safeguard people from toxic water.

Pruitt is pandering to polluters who wrongly argue that the rule usurps state authority and violates property rights by insisting polluters keep their poisons out of waterways that flow into drinking water supplies. Those specious arguments are distractions aimed at muddying the real issue: which waterways are federally protected.

The rule merely requires permits from any enterprise planning to dump sewage or other waste into streams that flow into drinking water. That process allows the government to assess the toxicity of the waste. That’s not unreasonable. The government should protect people, animals, and farmland from health-threatening pollutants in the water supply.

For example, the rule bans industries from dumping “any radiological, chemical, or biological warfare agent, any high-level radioactive waste or medical waste” into waters covered by the regulation unless a permit has been obtained. The EPA rule also clearly defines covered waters as streams that flow into the drinking water supply as well as headwaters and wetlands.

States are involved in the process. The EPA asks them to identify protected waters within their boundaries and make plans to ensure they meet state water quality standards. If states are applying their own rules and clean water standards, how is their authority being overlooked?

The EPA under former President Barack Obama issued the rule after months of hearings, testimony, scientific and legal research. The rule cleared up a pair of Supreme Court decisions that left fuzzy whether the federal government had jurisdiction over feeder streams.

In contrast to that process, Science Magazine reports the Trump administration bypassed scientific judgment and is instead making the legal argument that it has the authority to change an EPA rule without having to prove whether that action would make things better or worse.

Clean water in states like Pennsylvania is further threatened by years of budget cuts that reduced the number of water quality inspectors. State Department of Environmental Protection Secretary Patrick McDonnell says that’s unacceptable, but without adequate funding what can he do? And Trump’s proposed 32 percent cut in EPA’s budget will make matters worse.

Without the personnel needed to monitor state compliance with basic water standards, it will be very hard to ensure pollutants don’t reach dangerous levels. Clean water is a precious commodity. With the EPA under Trump seeming to turn its back on it, the states must find the means to protect their residents’ health.

-The Philadelphia Inquirer

Online: https://bit.ly/2uK2S81

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HOUSE SHOULD APPROVE BILL TO INCREASE FISHING LICENSES, July 5

Even though the state Fish and Boat Commission has filleted its staff from 432 to 376 over the last few years, it is on the verge of running a deficit for the first time in its history.

The Legislature’s failure to reform the state government’s runaway pension costs has consumed much of the savings from reduced staffing. Meanwhile, the commission has increased fees in 12 years as the costs of hatchery operations and infrastructure maintenance have continued to increase.

Earlier this year the state Senate passed a bill approving a 30 percent fishing license increase, the largest in the commission’s history. But it would raise the license fee from $21 to $27.30 for state residents, hardly breaking the bank for most anglers. The bill also includes a 3 percent per year increase after that until 2023, which would bring the fee to $31.65.

No one wants to pay more for state licenses and fees for any activity or service. But the costs of not raising the fee are evident around the state in the form of deteriorating access points.

And John Arway, the commission executive director, points out that the agency already has 15 vacancies in its law enforcement division with 23 more officers scheduled to retire. Without a fee increase, he said, the agency cannot hire and train replacements.

Without a fee increase, Arway said, the agency would have to cut between $2 million and $4 million from its budget, forcing closure of one to three trout hatcheries.

The House should approve the bill. Better yet, it should stop attempting to micromanage the agency and allow it to set fees as necessary.

-The (Wilkes-Barre) Citizens’ Voice

Online: https://bit.ly/2tIKOy0

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ENCRYPTING POLICE TRANSMISSIONS IS A BLOW TO TRANSPARENCY AND OPENNESS IN GOVERNMENT, July 5

By Thanksgiving, the public will no longer be able to listen in on police dispatches in Lancaster County. The Lancaster County commissioners on Tuesday directed Lancaster County-Wide Communications to encrypt police transmissions, blocking the public - and media - from hearing what’s going on in the county. West Hempfield Township police Chief Mark Pugliese, who heads the county police chiefs association, says the change will protect police from ambushes and secure personal information about crime victims and witnesses.

Police officers have a dangerous, difficult job - more difficult and dangerous than most of us can probably imagine.

And we wouldn’t support any measure that would make life more perilous for a police officer.

But some sort of balance between protecting officers and ensuring the public’s right to information must be struck.

We understand the other side of the argument.

“We live in a changed and changing world,” Commissioner Dennis Stuckey told LNP. “Gone are the days when you can talk to a 15- or 20-year veteran who says he’s only had to pull his gun out twice.”

Pugliese also said there have been “several incidents in the county where the public or the media interfered with investigations,” in some cases by getting to crime scenes more quickly than police.

But Pugliese couldn’t point to an instance when members of the media interfered at a crime scene.

What about an ambush?

As Commissioner Josh Parsons, who supports encryption, said, “The fake 911 ambush scenario could happen no matter what we do today.” However, he said, encryption “does provide some percentage of safety.”

Pugliese was off-base when he scolded the media for being “in such a rush to get the news out.” That’s the media’s job, especially when it comes to a public safety issue.

The fact of the matter is - and this is not a criticism - law enforcement relies on the media when it’s convenient.

When police are hunting a fugitive, they ask the media to post a photo of the suspect. When prosecutors announce a major conviction, they call a news conference.

When a house exploded outside Millersville on Sunday, people who heard and felt the blast were desperate for information about what had happened. Emergency responders were busy doing what they do best, and supervisors at Lancaster County-Wide Communications had no information. The only way LNP could inform the public about the situation in the moments after the explosion was by monitoring the police scanner.

Come November, when the media wants to hear what police are doing in the community - silence.

So, the message seems to be that the media and public are to be kept out of the loop until further notice. We will be informed strictly on a need-to-know basis.

There’s no evidence that radio transmissions have made policing more dangerous or more difficult.

Melissa Melewsky, media law counsel for the Pennsylvania NewsMedia Association, told LNP that media organizations “have used emergency radio transmissions for decades without incident to keep the public informed about emergency situations in the community.”

As Knapp reported, Commissioner Craig Lehman said he’s also concerned about police safety but said officers may become further isolated from their communities if they decrease transparency.

Lehman is correct. Encryption will limit transparency and serve as an obstacle to the media. And, as he pointed out, less transparency breeds mistrust and suspicion. That’s the last thing anyone - including police - needs.

Lehman suggested a compromise: Encrypt public transmissions, but give news outlets access.

The commissioners and the county police chiefs should give this serious consideration, though we don’t believe the public should be shut out either.

From the media’s standpoint, radio silence will only make a reporter’s job more difficult and very well could, in turn, limit the public’s access to information.

In an emergency situation, and you can imagine any number of them - natural disaster, active shooter, fire - the media needs to work with law enforcement to keep the public informed. In such situations, media outlets monitor radio transmissions for information and logistics. Encrypting such transmissions would not be in the best interest of the public.

And Lehman said blocking transmissions might actually make police less safe if public trust is lost.

The decision to encrypt was administrative and did not require a vote.

We urge the commissioners to reconsider this order and, at the very least, seek a compromise.

This is not about getting to the crime scene first.

We’re big fans of transparency here because when it begins to erode, we’re all in trouble.

-LNP

Online: https://bit.ly/2tLYEzj

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