- Associated Press - Wednesday, July 25, 2018

Editorials from around Pennsylvania:



We’re anti-smoking - not anti-smokers - because we think smoking harms health, and cancer doesn’t need any help in destroying lives.

But this editorial isn’t going to exhort you to quit smoking. We’d hope your physician is already on the case.

Our aim here is simple: We’d like to urge smokers to stop leaving cigarette butts everywhere. They are gross. And they are litter, though it seems some people seem to think cigarette butts are in some special category that makes it acceptable to drop them on city streets, suburban sidewalks, parks, beaches, anywhere people stroll.

It’s not acceptable. And yet people who never would hurl a plastic cup or fast food wrapper out of a car window feel perfectly fine about flinging their cigarette butts onto the street.

That’s why we are pleased that smoking will be prohibited on New Jersey beaches. It’s true that some of those beaches are littered with more than cigarette butts. But if this reduces the volume of cigarette waste, that will be a good thing.

We’re with Brian Wilson (presumably not the Beach Boy), of Elizabethtown, whose March 1, 2017, letter to the editor consisted of a one-line plea: “Please stop using the world as your cigarette-butt can.”

For one thing, cigarette butts are harmful to marine life.

According to the National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration’s Office of Response and Restoration - yes, that is a mouthful - most cigarette filters “are made of a type of plastic, cellulose acetate, which doesn’t biodegrade and can persist in the environment for a long time. Fish, birds, and other animals can mistake small pieces of plastic, like cigarette butts, for food. Eating them could cause the animal to choke or starve to death because the plastic isn’t digested, filling up their stomachs.”

Moreover, the NOAA said, cigarette butts “contain toxins (such as heavy metals and the organic compounds nicotine and ethylphenol).” And while “not a lot is known about how those toxins impact the environment, wildlife and humans,” studies show “they have a negative health impact on fish.”

Over the past 25 years, volunteers taking part in the International Coastal Cleanup, an annual event held by the Ocean Conservancy, have collected 52.9 million cigarette butts.

Again, to use the word that springs to mind, this is gross. Not least because cigarette butts pose a potential health hazard.

A 2011 article in BMJ, a peer-reviewed medical journal in Britain, noted that human infants “as well as many sea creatures, birds and pets are indiscriminate eaters, and ingested plastic trash, including cigarette butts, can choke an animal or poison it with toxins.”

Ingesting cigarettes has been found to cause vomiting, diarrhea, low blood pressure and cardiac arrhythmia in children, that article noted. And cigarette butts can sicken - and even kill - pet dogs and cats as well as wildlife, including birds. (Those of us who walk our dogs know well the panic of watching our beloved pets sniff at cigarette butts on the street and urgently pulling them away from the toxic, tempting bit of trash.)

“It is clear that smokers must treat cigarette butts as toxic waste products and take more care in discarding them,” that article’s authors concluded.

We adamantly agree.

In 2015, LNP staff writer Ad Crable noted that before the plastic in cigarettes breaks down - which takes an interminable amount of time - the butt ends, or filters, can be carried into streams. “Some 32 percent of litter that clogs storm drains is tobacco products,” he reported.

Crable cited a study by Keep America Beautiful that found that 65 percent of all cigarette butts are disposed of improperly.

Frankly, given the ubiquity of cigarette butts littering our public spaces, we’re surprised the percentage isn’t higher.

Crable was reporting on an experimental effort involving Turkey Hill Minit Markets, Santa Fe Natural Tobacco Co. and national recycling company TerraCycle to turn cigarette butts into plastic pallets and compost. As part of that effort, cigarette butt recycling receptacles were placed outside most of Turkey Hill’s Pennsylvania stores. In some of the stores, sealable cigarette butt pouches were placed at the cash registers for customers to take home and fill up before returning them to the recycling receptacle outside the store. Turkey Hill Minit Markets provided post-paid recycling waste pouches to send the butts through the mail directly to TerraCycle, the company doing the recycling.

It was a noble effort, but it didn’t go far. Still, these are the kinds of initiatives - and we need plenty of them - needed to make a dent in the problem of cigarette waste.

In the meantime, we have a simple request to make of those of you who smoke: Please don’t toss cigarette butts just everywhere. To echo Brian Wilson’s succinct message: Please stop using the world as your cigarette-butt can.


Online: https://bit.ly/2AaL7X1



With good reason, defendants in murder and manslaughter cases have a limited number of defenses to excuse their deadly actions. They include self-defense, and, in some cases, the claim that they were legally insane when they committed the crime.

But in Pennsylvania, with one glaring exception, you don’t get a pass for killing someone simply because of their race, ethnicity, religion or some other fundamental component of their character or genetic make-up.

Pennsylvania, however, remains in the shameful company of states where criminal defendants can deploy what’s known as the “gay and trans-panic” defense when they stand accused of taking the life of another human being.

Sadly, the defense is legal in all but three states, as the online news site BillyPenn reports. Fortunately, state Sen. Larry Farnese, D-Philadelphia, is looking to change that.

Last week, Farnese began soliciting his Senate colleagues for their support of yet-to-be introduced legislation that would ban the defense, arguing that the LGBTQ community is “facing an unprecedented rise in hate crimes.”

Citing data compiled by the National Coalition of Anti-Violence Programs, a nationwide LGBTQ advocacy group, Farnese said hate- and violence-related homicides of LGBTQ and HIV-affected people increased by 29 percent between 2016 and 2017.

According to the Williams Institute at UCLA, the defense is usually employed in one of three ways:

that they were provoked by a victim’s sexual or gender orientation,

to support a theory of diminished capacity or insanity,


If you’re not convinced the defense actually works, consider the 2008 case of California teen Brandon McInerney, who shot and killed a 15-year-old classmate who occasionally wore makeup and high heels to class.

As Vice News reports, citing reports by the Los Angeles Times, McInerney allegedly teased his classmate for weeks and promised to “to get a gun and shoot him.”

McInerney invoked the defense at trial, arguing that he felt “threatened” by his classmate. Instead of potentially going to jail for life, he accepted a guilty plea that got him 21 years in jail, Vice reported.

Six years later, in 2014, California became the first state to ban the defense.

Lawmakers in Illinois and Rhode Island later followed suit by enacting their own bans. Other states, including New Jersey and Washington, are considering similar bans, Farnese wrote in his ‘Dear Colleague’ memo.

There’s a similar push to end the defense in the federal judicial system as well, with U.S. Rep. Joe Kennedy and U.S. Sen. Edward Markey, both Democrats, leading the push.

In 2015, Pennsylvania Rep. Mike Schlossberg, D-Lehigh, introduced his own version of the bill. But it died in committee without ever coming to a vote.

The push to end the gay panic defense comes even as state lawmakers again try to ban workplace, housing and public accommodation discrimination for LGBTQ Pennsylvanians.

That bill remains before the Republican-controlled Senate and has yet to receive a vote, even though its sponsor is GOP Sen. Pat Browne, of Lehigh County, the chairman of the powerful Senate Appropriations Committee.

In 2018, when LGBTQ Americans work, worship and play alongside us, and have won the right to marry as heterosexual Americans have, it’s unconscionable that they do not have the same rights and protections enshrined in law as the rest of us.

It’s an offense against decency that an accused murderer could try to excuse away their appalling acts merely because they felt threatened by someone’s sexual orientation or gender identity.

Lawmakers will have only a handful of voting days available to them when they return to session in the fall.

They should give Farnese’s and Browne’s proposals every consideration and send them to Gov. Tom Wolf for his signature.

__Penn Live

Online: https://bit.ly/2Ll04La



Alcohol abuse is on the rise, and is contributing to a huge jump in liver disease. That is news that should sober us, quite literally.

It should lead to stronger measures from the federal and state levels against the pervasiveness of alcohol consumption as a daily activity for too many of us.

The study by the University of Michigan reported that deaths from liver disease, including cirrhosis, jumped by 65 percent in the United States from 1999 to 2016.

The study, published in BMJ, formerly called the British Medical Journal, squarely blames alcohol consumption.

The doctors who authored the study say it confirms that more young people are drinking themselves to death. It says adults 25 to 34 experienced the highest average annual increase in cirrhosis deaths - about 10.5 percent each year.

Cirrhosis caused a total of 460,760 deaths during the seven-year study period; about one-third were attributed to hepatocellular carcinoma, a common type of liver cancer that is often caused by cirrhosis, researchers found.

In 2016 alone, 11,073 lives were lost to liver cancer, which was doubled the number of deaths in 1999.

According to the Institute on Alcohol Abuse and Alcoholism, an estimated 88,000 people die from alcohol-related causes annually, making alcohol the third leading preventable cause of death in the United States, after tobacco and the combination of poor diet and physical inactivity.

The research team discovered cirrhosis and liver cancer deaths rose fastest in Western and Southern states, from Kentucky to New Mexico. Only Maryland saw a significant decrease in cirrhosis deaths, of about 1 percent.

Medical experts say the study should be a wake-up call to medical providers and to lawmakers to focus on disease prevention and risk-factor modification, while at the same time shifting resources to address the already growing burden of cirrhosis and liver cancer.

__Pittsburgh Post-Gazette

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



Reporter Tim Hahn’s feature on the opening of the Erie Police Athletic League’s summer camp captures the promise of that outreach effort and of the elementary school students it serves.

About 120 children were on hand Monday for the camp’s opening, gathering at Pfeiffer-Burleigh Elementary School for breakfast and a T-shirt before boarding a bus for Gannon University. As many as 140 are expected to participate during the week, about double the number who attended the first camp last summer.

That growth is a very good sign because it means the Police Athletic League, resurrected in 2016, is reaching more kids through the after-school mentoring program law enforcement officers conduct during the school year. In fact, the camp is a reward for participating and a means to keep those lessons fresh during summer vacation.

“The reason that you are all here is you are the best kids at your school. You deserve it. You earned it,” said Sgt. Tom Lenox, a black officer who leads the Police Athletic League and works to increase minority recruitment on the Erie Bureau of Police.

The camp is staffed by officers from the Bureau of Police, the Erie County Sheriff’s Office, the Erie County District Attorney’s Office and the Gannon Police Department. It offers sports and other activities that provide fun and more enduring benefits to the children.

The camp, and the Police Athletic League itself, create positive interactions between officers and young children, some of whom come from neighborhoods and backgrounds in which relations with the police have been strained. Efforts to heal those rifts can never begin too young.

Through the camp’s partnership with Gannon, it exposes the kids also to college educators, athletes and coaches who help to broaden the sense of what’s possible in their lives. One possibility is that participants might in due course gravitate toward careers in law enforcement on the way to creating a police force that better reflects the diversity of the city it serves and protects.

At the core of the Police Athletic League, both at the camp and after-school activities during the school year, is a focus on mentoring and building character. And on children setting their sights high.

“They get to see that college is a possibility, a realistic possibility. They actually get to see that maybe being a police officer, being in the law enforcement profession, is a reality, it’s a possibility,” Lenox said Thursday during Mayor Joe Schember’s weekly news conference.

Though the Police Athletic League was revived under his predecessor, Schember has placed a strong emphasis on strengthening police-community relations. The Police Athletic League is a vital, and growing, part of that effort.

__Erie Times

Online: https://bit.ly/2Lm7Ch0



If the war on poverty has ended, as the Trump administration recently declared, there’s a huge swath of workers who haven’t heard the news.

They live in fear that a layoff or medical problem will push them into a financial crisis. They struggle with slow wage growth that barely keeps pace with the cost of living. Inflation hit 2.9 percent for the 12-month period ending in June as costs for gasoline, housing, and food kept growing. At the same time, wages grew by less than 3 percent, hardly making up for increased costs for those items.

The federal government has made it clear it won’t help, so state governments need to step up. Some already have. Attorneys general in 11 states, including Pennsylvania and New Jersey, announced this month that after an investigation, seven fast-food chains agreed to drop their “no-poaching” practices - arrangements where they agree not to hire workers from other franchises of the same company. That practice can, for example, keep employees from one McDonald’s restaurant from getting a job at another one to raise their pay, get a better schedule, or find employment closer to home. No-poaching effectively knocks workers off a career ladder. The seven companies are Arby’s, McDonald’s, Jimmy John’s, Buffalo Wild Wings, Carl’s Jr., Auntie Anne’s, and Cinnabon.

Those attorneys general should keep up the fight and go after the rest of the fast-food and retail chains with no-poaching policies so that workers can leverage their skills for better pay. Consumers can show their support for the seven fast-food chains that have dropped their no-poaching agreements, as well as companies which have voluntarily raised employee wages, by patronizing those businesses.

But there’s even more to do for workers, starting with raising the minimum wage. Although New Jersey has hitched its minimum wage to the consumer price index and it stands at $8.60 an hour, Pennsylvania won’t budge, leaving workers stuck with a $7.25 hourly rate. Gov. Wolf renewed his call for raising the wage this year, and the Republican-controlled legislature ignored him.

States can also change overtime rules to help salaried workers, most of whom aren’t eligible for overtime pay.

Toward the end of his administration, President Barack Obama changed overtime rules to let salaried workers who earn less than $47,476 a year collect overtime pay for hours worked over 40 a week. But President Trump let it die when he decided not to challenge a 2016 Texas court ruling which struck it down. That means only salaried workers making less than $23,660 a year can collect overtime. These workers are often misclassified as supervisors and work well over 40 hours a week without compensation.

California raised its overtime threshold to $47,760, and New York raised it to between $40,560 and $50,700 depending on where a worker lives. New Jersey and Pennsylvania should follow their good examples.

Voters can help by demanding that candidates for federal and state offices help raise wages. The government might like us to believe that the war on poverty is over, but low- and moderate-income Americans are sure to argue the opposite. Right now, the states are the best hope for helping.

__Philadelphia Inquirer

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


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