- Associated Press - Wednesday, September 6, 2017

Editorials from around Pennsylvania



If we’re going to complain about young people spending too much time texting on their cellphones, watching TV or playing indoor video games, we need to make sure they have plenty of outdoor recreation spaces.

That means parks, playgrounds, courts and ballfields, of course.

It’s time to consider adding skate parks to that list, too.

Skateboarding represents a $4.8 billion market in the U.S., according to publicskateparkguide.org. The first real skateboarding boom was in the early 1960s, and then the sport’s popularity declined until 1972 with the introduction of urethane wheels, which were softer and provided more traction than clay or steel wheels.

By the 1970s, skate parks were being built across the country. Two decades later, skateboarding contests had achieved coverage on mainstream TV, and today, famous skateboarders like Tony Hawk are household names.

Skateboarding also is being used locally to empower kids with autism.

In June 2015, LNP’s Jenelle Janci profiled Get on Board, a program started by former professional skateboarder Ray Young that teaches children with autism and special needs how to skate.

“Suddenly, a kid who never looked up is looking up,” Nathan DeMuro, Get on Board’s master instructor, told Janci. “A kid that never talked is talking. A kid that never expressed himself physically is now expressing himself physically.

“Skateboarding might not stick, something else might come, but the skateboarding broke the ice.”

In the past year, Rob Reed, a co-founder of the Lancaster County Skatepark Association, which boasts about 50 members, has met with officials in several municipalities, including Lancaster city, to discuss skateboarding and to push for more skate parks.

Earlier this month, LNP’s Tim Stuhldreher reported, the 35-year-old Reed gave a presentation to the parks and public realm committee of Lancaster’s SoWe neighborhood group about the possibility of a skate park as part of the planned Farnum Park renovation.

The city’s public works director, Charlotte Katzenmoyer, said the idea of a skate park at Farnum is just beginning to be explored, and there will be plenty of opportunities for public input before any decisions are made.

Reed, who presented some design possibilities at the meeting, told the committee that the proposed 5,000-square-foot skate park would be about the size of a basketball court.

Members of the audience asked Reed about fences and storm water management. And some were concerned about potential negative impact on green space and parking - questions that deserve to be raised when projects such as a skate park are being debated.

“We’re totally respectful of that,” Reed said of neighbors’ protectiveness of Farnum Park’s green space.

“We’re just trying to get as much neighborhood feedback as possible,” said Rachel Eck, chair of the SoWe committee that hosted the meeting.

Reed said his goal is to see skate parks in several Lancaster city locations, totaling 40,000 square feet or so. Right now, there is one - in Lancaster County Central Park.

The Lancaster County Skatepark Association is raising money to help underwrite and advocate for skate park construction, with the gold standard being a poured-in-place concrete park built by a company that specializes in them, Reed said. They cost $30 to $35 per square foot, he said, so a 5,000-square-foot park could end up being $150,000 or more.

The advantage of a properly built, poured-in-place park is that it should last for decades with minimal maintenance, Reed said at the meeting, making it a smart investment.

He also said cities can limit their liability by making skate parks “skate at your own risk.”

The deliberative process being followed with Farnum Park - including proper consideration given to design, cost, green space preservation and community feedback - is a good template to follow for the construction of municipal skate parks throughout the county.

We applaud the Lancaster County Skatepark Association, the SoWe neighborhood and Lancaster city for going about this the right way.

And we urge other municipalities to consider following their lead. Want to get kids away from their screens? Give them places outside to play.


Online: https://bit.ly/2f0cg1S



Congress has two make-or-break items on its September calendar.

It has to raise the nation’s debt ceiling so it can pay for the things it has already bought, and then it needs to pass an appropriations bill to keep the government running after the fiscal year ends Sept. 30.

Those tasks shouldn’t be difficult, considering failure could result in a first-ever default by the U.S. on its debts and a government shutdown, respectively.

But Congress has struggled in recent years with these basic orders of business.

In 2011, a debt ceiling standoff between House Republicans and President Barack Obama dragged on until the last minute. Although the borrowing limit was finally raised, the uncertainty prompted the first downgrade to the nation’s once-sterling credit rating.

And in 2013, a small cadre of right-wing House members - our own Rep. Scott Perry among them - managed to hold the appropriations bill hostage while demanding Congress defund the Affordable Care Act.

The health care law remained, but the doomed tactic led to a 16-day partial government shutdown that disrupted the lives of millions of Americans and cost the economy $24 billion.

Of course, back then the Republican-majority House had to deal with the Democrats in control of the White House and Senate.

Now, the GOP has a firm grip on all of the levers of government in Washington. Averting default and a government shutdown should be as easy for Republican as, say, repealing their hated “Obamacare” .

Oh boy.

One-party rule has not worked out the way Republicans probably had hoped, as evidenced by the debacle that was their repeal and replace (or repeal and wait, or repeal and pray - it was never clear) effort earlier this summer.

Already there are reports of different factions in the Republican Party drawing battle lines over the debt ceiling - with the far right demanding concessions for raising the limit and others, President Donald Trump among them, demanding a “clean” bill that simply gets this basic job done.

Congress isn’t the only place where one-party rule is failing to show results.

Pennsylvania’s General Assembly, where Republicans hold comfortable majorities in both the House and Senate, still has not produced a spending plan that will bridge the $2.2 billion gap in the 2017-18 fiscal budget approved two months ago.

A bipartisan bill to close the deficit by borrowing money and raising new taxes passed the Senate last month, but the House has not acted.

The state has used short-term loans in the meantime to pay its bills, including money for public schools, but Gov. Tom Wolf said in a letter this week to House Republicans that the state treasurer won’t allow more borrowing without a balanced budget.

Treasurer Joe Torsella said the loans will keep the state’s general fund from going into the red until Sept. 15, when it will “fall as much as $900 million in the negative.”

“Once the general fund gets to zero, we don’t have - I can’t constitutionally write checks because we don’t have the money to pay for them,” he told Pittsburgh-area radio state KDKA this week.

At that point, The Associated Press reports, Pennsylvania risks another downgrade to its battered credit rating, meaning it will cost taxpayers more when the state borrows, and Wolf might have to freeze funding for state programs or postpone payments to vendors.

The bottom line is Pennsylvania residents will suffer.

This is a mess, and it can’t be what Republican voters had in mind when they elected solid majorities in Congress and the state Legislature.

Can it?

__York Dispatch

Online: https://bit.ly/2eI07BZ



Republicans who suggest that President Donald Trump had no choice but to stop protecting from deportation immigrants illegally brought into this country as children are trying to cover their backsides for a despicable act that could have been avoided.

Trump supposedly acted to avoid a threatened lawsuit by xenophobic groups that have wanted to kill the Deferred Action for Childhood Arrivals program ever since President Barack Obama created it by executive order in 2012. They argue that Obama overstepped the constitutional authority of the presidency.

The threat of a lawsuit shouldn’t mean capitulation before the case is even heard. Trump bad-mouthed DACA while running for president, but later said he didn’t want to harm the “Dreamers,” many of whom know only the United States as their home and have never violated any other law.

Trump suggested support for legislation that achieves the same goal. “Congress, get ready to do your job - DACA!” he tweeted Tuesday. Later in the day, Attorney General Jeff Sessions said DACA was dead, but that the Department of Homeland Security wouldn’t target the program’s participants for immediate deportation.

Having a sword dangled over your head by someone who promises not to drop it right away isn’t reassuring. Rather than seeking to avoid litigation, Trump could have let any lawsuit run its course while Congress tried to replace DACA before any Dreamers were deported.

That’s a heavy lift, but not an impossible one. Several Republicans urged Trump to leave DACA alone before he killed it, including White House Chief of Staff John F. Kelly, who as secretary of the Department of Homeland Security warned that ending the program would cause unnecessary chaos for immigrant families.

After Sessions’ announcement, House Speaker Paul Ryan said he hoped Congress can find “a permanent legislative solution that includes ensuring that those who have done nothing wrong can still contribute as a valued part of this great country.” Those words are empty unless Ryan and other Republicans resist political expedience.

Trump recently explained why he reversed a campaign position not to send more troops to Afghanistan. “Decisions are much different when you sit behind the desk in the Oval Office,” he said.

That’s true when you put politics aside to do what’s right. But Trump didn’t do that with DACA. Politics is the only reason Trump went after the Dreamers. Letting DACA live would have put him at odds with a part of his base that he does not want to offend. Don’t count on him to lead the effort to pass legislation that again protects the Dreamers.

Because Sessions said that immigration enforcement agents would not immediately come after the Dreamers, their fate is in the hands of a highly partisan Congress that has consistently proved incapable of working together.

Unless the rallies and protests across America in support of the Dreamers become the catalyst for a bipartisan answer, their fates will remain uncertain. That shouldn’t happen in a country built on the dreams of immigrants and others who proved their worth to America when given a chance.

__Philadelphia Inquirer

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



Leaks in the 9-mile labyrinth of piping hidden under the JMC Ice Arena delayed its opening by three months in the fall of 2016. The rink’s closure sent those in local hockey and skating programs searching far afield for ice time.

An innovative fix discovered with the help of a local GE Transportation engineer permitted the rink to open in January. The Erie Zoological Society, which owns and operates the rink, and GE staff used special equipment to track down freon leaks. The holes were then plugged by injecting the pipes with industrial sealant. The repair held and the badly needed facility enjoyed a three-month season.

The rink’s return was an open question. So it surely came as a relief to many that JMC officials will again seek to reopen the rink for the 2017-2018 season using the methods that rescued the rink a year ago.

Scott Mitchell, the president and chief executive director of the zoo and JMC, told Erie Times-News reporter Victor Fernandes that officials planned to begin injecting new sealant and refrigerant to the system in early September. They are eyeing an opening day of Sept. 18. There is good reason to wish them luck. If the rink fails again, JMC would have to look toward shutting it down and installing an entirely new system, estimated to cost a daunting $1 million.

Hockey and other ice sports are a natural fit for this Great Lakes city. Erie hosts the outstanding Ontario Hockey League’s Erie Otters who call the Erie Insurance Arena home. Mercyhurst University fields NCAA Division I teams and clubs at the Mercyhurst Ice Center. Those facilities are often fully utilized, leaving less space for groups like the Westminster and Erie Youth Hockey Association, who have called JMC home.

The Greater Regional Erie Athletic Team Training, Inc., a nonprofit, is pursuing compelling plans to overhaul Family First Sports Park on Oliver Road in Summit Township and converting two soccer fields into two NHL-sized hockey rinks. They have obtained a $3.5 million and are working to raise funds to close a $700,000 funding gap. If they reach that goal, they could complete a deal to buy the 43-acre site and begin phase one of the project, which would include the new ice rinks. We have voiced our support for that project.

In the meantime, JMC’s survival will be critical for the many families who enjoy ice activities here. Participation will surely drop off if people are forced to travel far on cold winter nights in search of practice time. Mitchell and his board are to be thanked for striving to keep the facility operational.

JMC’s survival and the addition of new rinks in Summit Township would be a boon for the entire region.

__Erie Times News

Online: https://bit.ly/2wJtg4c



A Pennsylvania Office of Open Records decision last week forcing the state to disclose the identities of the secret panel that scored applications for medical marijuana permits is a victory, on one level, for government transparency.

At the same time, however, it highlighted potentially harmful vagaries and contradictions in the execution of an incredibly important statute that has the potential to improve the health of thousands of the state’s residents - many of them children.

Pennsylvania must disclose the members of a secret panel that scored applications for medical marijuana permits, the Office of Open Records concluded Thursday.

To review:

Earlier this summer, the state Health Department announced the winners of 12 grower/processor and 27 dispensary permits based on the scores of panel members from various disciplines.

The names of those who vetted the applicants were secret, with the Health Department arguing that keeping their names from the public safeguarded them from outside pressure as well as threats to their personal safety. That secrecy, however, also prevented them from being scrutinized for possible conflicts of interest.

The state’s argument was nonsensical on its face: Taxpayers are entitled to know the names and duties of those charged with carrying out important regulatory work in their name.

So far, 141 losing applicants have filed administrative appeals challenging the denial of permits.

In May, PennLive filed a Right-to-Know request seeking the names, job titles and departments of the individuals on the panel. The DOH’s initial denial then was appealed to the Office of Open Records.

In denying the request, the Health Department pointed to statutory language stipulating that a permit “applicant may not obtain the names or any other information relating to persons reviewing applications.”

The Open Records office sided with this news organization, with Chief Counsel Charles Rees Brown concluding that the department’s interpretation of the law, which extends that language beyond permit applicants to include news reporters and the general public, was faulty.

“It may be argued that such an interpretation would produce a result that is absurd and impossible to execute,” he wrote.

Elsewhere in the law, Brown observed, the makeup of the panel was not deemed confidential at all. One way to square that contradiction would be to know more about the panel and the way it operates.

Now the result:

That’s the good news - taxpayers deserve to be fully let into the regulatory process of a lucrative new industry that will have a huge impact on public health across the state.

The bad news is that the vagaries of the way the department interprets the statutory language will likely prompt even more litigation. That’s due, in no small part, to the fact that the agency leaves it up to applicants to decide what information to redact and what information to make public.

And unfortunately, the only way to pry loose that information is to go to court. The Health Department is also more than likely to appeal the OOR’s ruling.

In July, a Health Department spokeswoman said said 72 grower/processor and 69 dispensary hopefuls appealed their permit denial within 10 days of the agency’s notice. One additional grow facility applicant failed to meet that deadline.

As they work their way through the system, those appeals will tie up money that the state could better spend elsewhere as it works to get this industry off the ground or dedicate to other needed public health programs at a time of budgetary austerity.

PennLive is also seeking access to the un-redacted applications.

When they return to work this month, state lawmakers should go back to fix the language to avoid that litigation. And Gov. Tom Wolf, who campaigned on, and won election, on a platform of government transparency, should be in the vanguard of that effort.

It’s the right thing to do. Anything else - pardon the pun - is just blowing smoke.

__Harrisburg Patriot News

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


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