- Associated Press - Wednesday, March 28, 2018

Editorials from around Pennsylvania:

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REDISTRICTING SHOULD BE DONE BY COMMISSION, March 28

Now that the federal courts have declined to intervene in Pennsylvania’s redistricting case, and this year’s congressional races will be conducted using the new map imposed by the Pennsylvania Supreme Court, attention appropriately turns to how to prevent a recurrence.

On Monday, Gov. Tom Wolf and Democratic allies in the state Senate proposed a series of statewide election reforms that include creating an independent commission to develop the state’s electoral maps. The goal would be to end naked gerrymandering of the sort that until the Supreme Court decision had split Erie County between two congressional districts.

Wolf and company’s proposals and their timing drew quick fire from Republicans. They came a day before the Senate State Government Committee was set to conduct a hearing on redistricting issues.

“This is a campaign stunt,” said Jennifer Kocher, spokeswoman for Senate Majority Leader Jake Corman.

That’s likely to be said about all manner of issues as Wolf gears up his re-election campaign and Republicans go about choosing a nominee to oppose him. And that’s hardly the only election in play. Half of the state Senate and all 203 seats in the state House are up this year as well.

The inevitable campaign sniping doesn’t change the fact that the issue is timely and the governor’s voice is relevant. And given what’s occurred in recent years - a greedy Republican gerrymander overturned by a Democratic majority on the elected Supreme Court - the attention redistricting is getting from both the executive and legislative branches is welcome and long overdue.

We’ll withhold judgment on some of Wolf’s proposals, including same-day voter registration and campaign finance limits. But the governor and legislative leaders should seek common ground on forming a commission to drain as much of the partisanship as possible out of the redistricting process.

It wouldn’t be perfect, no doubt. But it would be better, and that’s saying something in Pennsylvania.

As statewide experience and Erie County’s erstwhile congressional separation have demonstrated, it’s simply undemocratic to create political boundaries that discourage electoral competition and policy compromises and feed the toxic form of partisan division that has become the norm in Harrisburg and Washington.

It’s a bipartisan temptation. While GOP overreaching prompted the court challenge in Pennsylvania, the U.S. Supreme Court on Wednesday will hear a challenge of a gerrymander in Maryland that the state’s former Democratic governor has acknowledged was designed specifically to produce a partisan result.

While it will be difficult to separate policy from politics on this issue, like so many others, preventing as much as possible the de facto fixing of elections is fundamental to fair and productive politics, whether it’s done from the right or the left.

-Erie Times-News

Online: https://bit.ly/2ut8fgv

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PENN STATE TRAGEDY BEGETS PUSH FOR TOUGHER ANTI-HAZING LAWS, March 28

Timothy Piazza was a participant in an alleged hazing ritual called “the gauntlet” the night he died at Penn State’s Beta Theta Pi fraternity in State College.

Hazing has long been a tradition for those seeking membership in college fraternities and other such organizations.

But the Penn State case and others across the country have prompted a counter movement targeting hazing as a dangerous practice that must be eliminated.

We agree, and we support a proposal by state Sen. Jake Corman, R-Bellefonte, that would toughen penalties for those who engage in hazing that leads to injuries or death.

If adopted by the Legislature, “The Timothy J. Piazza Anti-hazing Law” would make such incidents third-degree felonies, with convictions bringing penalties up to seven years in prison and $15,000 in fines.

“I think when they understand you’re now talking felonies, that’s a significant charge to go against you for the rest of your life - not just in the short-term,” Corman told Penn State journalism student Alison Kuznitz, who covered the Senate majority leader’s press conference for The Tribune-Democrat.

“There are other ways to have rituals for people to join organizations without putting them in harm.”

Penn State President Eric Barron joined Corman and the Piazza family, calling for more transparent reporting of hazing incidents by universities. Barron said Penn State now has a zero-tolerance hazing policy.

Hazing - defined as a rite of passage that might involve pain, ridicule or humiliation - is not limited to fraternities and sororities. The practice is found among sports teams, military groups, marching bands - even in some work places.

Hank Nuwer, a faculty member at Franklin College in Indiana, has become a national expert on hazing, appearing on major news networks and writing on the topic for leading publications.

Nuwer reports that at least one hazing death has occurred on a North American college campus every year since 1959, with the vast majority at fraternities and most involving alcohol.

Time magazine lists four such deaths in 2017: Piazza in February; Maxwell Gruver, in September at Louisiana State (ritual called “Bible Study,” with pledges forced to drink if they incorrectly answered questions about Phi Delta Theta); Andrew Coffey, in November at Florida State (had a blood alcohol level of .447 following “big brother” ritual at Pi Kappa Phi); Matthew Ellis, in November at Texas State (found unresponsive following an initiation at Phi Kappa Psi).

All four were 20 or younger. And yes, they should have known better than to participate in such dangerous “games.”

But the culture of excessive drinking with physical and mental abuse seen at many fraternities and similar organizations must end.

The brothers at Beta Theta Pi have shown little remorse over the death of a pledge in their midst, and hazing continues on many college campuses despite rules against the practice and tragic evidence of the risks.

Evelyn Piazza’s son will never come home - his life cut short before he could marry, begin a career, become a father.

She hopes fewer moms suffer the same fate in the future.

State lawmakers should quickly adopt these tougher anti-hazing guidelines.

“It’s good to know it can be the toughest law and the biggest deterrent, and a model for other states to follow,” she said. “There’s the possibility of saving other people because potential perpetrators will know there are real consequences.”

-The (Johnstown) Tribune-Democrat

Online: https://bit.ly/2E2FfvA

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LINDA BROWN’S DEATH A REMINDER THAT AMERICA’S SCHOOLS ARE STILL SEGREGATED, March 27

Linda Brown died Sunday. Her name won’t mean much to people until they associate it with the landmark 1954 Supreme Court case, Brown v. Board of Education, which ended legal school segregation not only in her hometown of Topeka, Kan., but across America.

Brown was only about 11 when the court ruled on several lawsuits filed by her father and other plaintiffs. The decision linked her name to the civil rights movement a decade before the Rev. Dr. Martin Luther King Jr. led children past snarling police dogs and fire hoses spewing water as they marched to integrate public accommodations in Birmingham, Ala.

Tragically, however, 64 years after the Brown decision, the dream of integrated schools seems just as elusive in many parts of this country as it was when Linda Brown was a little girl.

A study by the UCLA Civil Rights Project showed that while nearly 38 percent of black students attended a majority white school in 1998, by 2013 that figure had dropped to 18 percent. Meanwhile, the share of public schools with 10 percent or fewer white students has more than tripled to 18 percent.

Why the retreat from integration occurred isn’t a mystery. What the courts give, the courts can take away - and they did just that when it comes to school integration.

Unpopular court orders in the 1960s and 1970s, which required cross-district busing and mandatory school desegregation plans, were voided once more conservative jurists were appointed to the federal bench. With fewer sticks to force integration and not enough carrots to entice it, America’s schools again reflect their largely segregated surroundings.

Most black children today attend a so-called minority-majority school, where white students can be an anomaly. That is especially true in urban school districts in cities abandoned decades ago by white families during the great suburban exodus.

Linda Brown’s father, Oliver, went to court to get her into a white school because he knew it could offer her more academically. The same, unfortunately, remains true in many cases today.

Poor school districts in cities and towns with meager tax bases can’t give their students the same advantages that rich school districts can afford. Because blacks and Hispanics in America are disproportionately poor, so are their schools.

Most of these often-destitute schools do their best, but the results for black and brown students are glaring, including lower high school graduation rates, more young adults neither in school or working, and lower-paying jobs for those who do find work.

Those facts are why Linda Brown’s death, at age 75, needs to do more than register a blip in people’s memories of the little girl seen in faded black-and-white photographs, who in 1954 became a symbol of the right of every American child to a good education.

At a time when today’s youths marching for gun control are saying children must be heard, Brown’s death should spark a new movement to make her father’s dream come true. A dream where children’s ambitions are not limited by skin color or economic status, a dream where every child has value and every child can succeed.

-The Philadelphia Inquirer

Online: https://bit.ly/2Ib8P4v

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DATA MAKE CASE FOR PAYCHECK PROTECTION, March 27

The so-called line between government union dues and Big Labor politics comes into focus in an analysis of 10 years of union data in Pennsylvania.

Not entirely surprising, the Keystone State’s top government unions spent more than $114.8 million on politics between 2007 and 2017, according to the Commonwealth Foundation’s research. With that kind of union clout, it’s no wonder Pennsylvania is among a handful of states that doesn’t ban teacher strikes. Or why commonsense legislation like paycheck protection goes down to defeat.

What’s also illuminating from Commonwealth’s data is that $67 million comes from membership dues. And in Pennsylvania, annual union dues from public-sector workers are a condition of employment. If workers opt not to join a union, they still must pay the so-called “fair-share fees” supposedly for collective bargaining.

Nailing down the full extent of government unions’ political spending is made challenging by unions that mislabel spending, “fail to document their political spending, and/or delay reporting information,” writes Jessica Barnett for Commonwealth. Reportedly some public-worker unions still haven’t submitted reports for 2017.

Of course, government unions are free to express their political platforms and allegiance to the candidates they choose. But as the aforementioned figures show, they also have sufficient “resources” to collect their own political coin without relying on taxpayer-funded government payroll systems. That makes clear the case for paycheck protection.

-Pittsburgh Tribune-Review

Online: https://bit.ly/2E2CU3K

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SANTORUM’S SHAMEFUL RESPONSE TO GUN VIOLENCE, March 27

A day after more than 1 million people across the United States, led by high school students, demonstrated against gun violence, former U.S. Sen. Rick Santorum of Pennsylvania helpfully demonstrated what they’re up against.

“How about kids instead of looking to someone else to solve their problem, do something about maybe taking CPR classes or trying to deal with situations that when there is a violent shooter, that you can actually respond to that,” Santorum said.

Thus Santorum carries water with the gun lobby. The NRA, supported by the gun industry, wants to normalize ownership of even military-style semiautomatic weapons. The objective is not to stop the proliferation and use of such weapons, but to use gun violence as an incubator for even more gun ownership. Shooting at school? Arm the teacher. Wounded students? Learn combat-level triage.

And, according to the former lawmaker, “Phony gun laws don’t solve these problems.”

Perhaps so. But real gun laws work. Massachusetts, for example, has the nation’s toughest law for securing guns in homes. There, the suicide rate among young people is 38 percent below the national average. Those youth who commit suicide use guns in 9 percent of those tragedies. The national average is 42 percent.

And globally, no other advanced country has gun deaths and death rates anywhere near that of the United States, and they all have stricter controls. Apparently, their laws aren’t “phony.”

Santorum’s response was shameful but illustrative of the problem.

-The (Wilkes-Barre) Citizens’ Voice

Online: https://bit.ly/2J4rnoj


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