Editorial Roundup: Pennsylvania – Washington Times


Pittsburgh Post-Gazette. March 7, 2021.

Editorial: Honor Roberto Clemente

Legendary for his prowess on the baseball field as well as for his humanitarian work off the field, Roberto Enrique Clemente Walker of the Pittsburgh Pirates left a legacy rich with excellence and generosity. His time on earth was cut short by a plane crash on New Year’s Eve 1972, when he was on a flight delivering aid to earthquake victims in Nicaragua.

Problems with the plane caused it to crash into the Atlantic Ocean shortly after takeoff from an airfield in Loiza, Puerto Rico, killing the 38-year-old Puerto Rico native and four other people.

Now Pittsburgh Mayor Bill Peduto is seeking to honor the much decorated baseball Hall of Famer. Along with city Councilman Corey O’Connor, Mr. Peduto has petitioned the U.S. Department of the Interior to recognize Clemente’s death place in Loiza by adding it to the National Register of Historic Places.

Commemorating the beginning of things is important, but so too is reflecting on endings. Clemente’s life serves as a sterling example of what a man with good intentions can accomplish even in an all-too-short life. Assigning the area of his watery grave prestigious status will honor his memory and further add to the bridge between Puerto Rico and Pittsburgh, each of which were key locales in Clemente’s life.

The former Pirate’s presence still is felt throughout the city: on the Sixth Street Bridge connecting Downtown to PNC Park, his statue on the North Side, the museum dedicated to his memory in Lawrenceville. His community efforts and free youth clinics and humanitarian efforts led to the Commissioner’s Award, which recognizes players for sportsmanship and community involvement, being renamed as the Roberto Clemente Award.

Mr. Peduto and Mr. O’Connor are right to push for this sort of recognition, and the Department of the Interior should honor the petition forthwith.

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Philadelphia Inquirer. March 8, 2021.

Editorial: Pa.’s tragic and shameful failure to fix unemployment benefits system

Of all the systemic weaknesses that the pandemic has revealed – in the economy, education, and housing and health – the failure of government is a tragedy unto itself. For the past year, the focus has centered on the failures at the federal level to respond effectively to the pandemic – and more recently, to plan for equitable and rapid vaccinations. But the failures aren’t limited to federal government. States, including Pennsylvania, have also racked up failures – and possibly none are more galling than the chaos confronting Pennsylvanians trying to get unemployment benefits.

A House hearing last week with the state’s Labor and Industry Department focused on massive problems in unemployment benefits that have yet to be fixed – including infinite busy signals, inaccessible assistance, outdated technology, and delays in decision making that have left thousands of desperate people hanging out to dry. A year into the pandemic, this is shameful.

In the last two weeks of March 2020, 830,000 Pennsylvanians lost their jobs when the state shut down schools and all but “life-sustaining” businesses. Already hobbled by reduced staff, Labor and Industry buckled under the weight – and has barely recovered a year later. Acting Department Secretary Jennifer Berrier recently testified that Labor and Industry has under 500 full-time qualified people, but needs closer to 2,800.

That means lots of misery for people desperate to receive the unemployment compensation for which they are entitled – or to appeal decisions that the department has made denying benefits. Jammed phone lines make it impossible to get through; complicated documentation requirements and lack of communication stymie people even further.

Even more maddening, a recent Spotlight Pa report revealed that relaxed rules surrounding a separate Pandemic Unemployment Assistance program have saddled people with overpayments or tax liabilities that they are finding impossible to resolve.

The stress, hardship, and misery that these failures has imposed on human lives is unconscionable. Why is it so hard to find a solution after all this time? Privatizing these functions are not necessarily the answer – a private contractor was responsible for a recent glitch that sent out overpayments – but there must be a path that holds government more accountable for these tragic failures.

The House Labor and Industry Committee will conduct a hearing on Wednesday, March 10.

But government failure isn’t limited to unemployment. A recent Inquirer report shed light on another maddening glitch: low income mothers who receive WIC benefits, (Supplemental nutrition for Women, Infants and Children) are required by the Department of Health to travel in person to get their benefits cards reloaded, instead of allowing them to be reloaded virtually, like EBT cards issued for food stamps.

There’s another problem with Supplemental Nutrition Assistance Program (SNAP) benefits. Last year, Congress approved pandemic-related increases in food stamp benefits. Unfortunately, a technicality prevented the neediest families getting the maximum benefits to receive the increase. That was successfully challenged in a suit brought by Community Legal Services, but millions of dollars are still in limbo, unused and unallocated. Meanwhile, people continue to struggle to survive and feed their families.

There must be a reckoning for state government’s contribution to this massive humanitarian failure.

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Erie Times News. March 4, 2021.

Editorial: Applauding the DRBC’s fracking ban

Environmentalists lauded the Delaware River Basin Commission’s vote last week to ban fracking on 13,539 square miles of land surrounding the Delaware River in Pennsylvania, New Jersey, Delaware and New York.

The Delaware River Basin encompasses much of eastern Pennsylvania and includes all or parts of 17 counties, including Wayne, Monroe, Bucks, Montgomery and Lebanon. Of those, Monroe and Wayne sit on top of the Marcellus Shale, one of the nation’s largest shale formations. Geologists at Penn State University say the Marcellus could hold up to a staggering 500 trillion cubic feet of natural gas.

The basin provides drinking water to more than 13 million people, and the Delaware River generates recreational opportunities for boaters and anglers, and cash for local economies.

For those reasons, we have a vested interest in protecting both the river and its basin, so our editorial board voiced support for this fracking ban two years ago. We welcomed last Thursday’s vote by the commission – governors of the four states plus a federal representative.

The commission created a de facto ban on fracking in the basin a decade ago pending study and, ultimately, a vote on regulations. That vote makes that ban permanent and official.

We applaud that vote knowing full well that our stance will likely generate a frustrated response from the Marcellus Shale Coalition. Its members will tell us that fracking, the process of pumping water, mixed with chemicals, into the earth to release natural gas, is well-regulated in Pennsylvania and done responsibly. They’ll probably mention that shale development is a job creator and an economic driver in its own right, while banning fracking gives rise to various constitutional and property rights pitfalls.

Finally, they’ll say the science is on their side. There is a report they commonly point to by the Susquehanna River Basin Commission as evidence that fracking doesn’t threaten groundwater resources.

The report, they’ll quote, says “the Commission’s remote water quality monitoring network has not detected discernible impacts on the quality of the Basin’s water resources as a result of natural gas development.”

And while the Susquehanna River Basin Commission stood by that assessment this week, it offered the caveat that its approach focuses broadly on water quality changes due to natural gas production, not on well or site-specific scrutiny.

The Delaware River Basin Commission took that caveat a step further in its own report, issued late last month. It said “the SRBC’s 2016 and 2019 monitoring reports have been largely misreported as demonstrating no impact on surface water quality as a result of hydraulic fracturing” and called the SRBC’s results “inconclusive.”

The DRBC went on to cite the potential for spills – accidental, unintended or unlawful – of fracturing fluid chemicals as being “an important factor underlying the Commission’s decision.”

That decision, the DRBC added, was driven by the need to effectuate its comprehensive plan “for the immediate and long range development and uses of the water resources of the basin” as they relate to both water quality and quantity.

If banning fracking helps the DRBC execute on a plan the secures the waterway’s future for our children and grandchildren, that’s a mission we want to get behind.

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Wilkes-Barre Times Leader. March 5, 2021.

Editorial: Urban should take his argument to court or shut up

Like so many blowhard politicians before him (and sadly, sure to come after him), Luzerne County Councilman Stephen J. Urban has been wasting the time of his fellow council members and anyone either sitting in on their meetings or spending time dutifully covering council developments.

How? By using the wrong setting to make legal claims about his removal from the county election board.

The right setting, at this point, is clearly and only a court of law.

County council removed Urban the Usurper from the county election board for a simple reason, giving a simple legal argument that has been unequivocally supported by two attorneys paid to advise council on such matters: The county charter bars any council member from being on the election board. Full stop.

Urban, to recap, was appointed chairman by the two (now former) Republican election board members – Keith Gould and Joyce Dombroski-Gebhardt – sitting on a five-member board that had been depleted to three thanks to resignations. County Chief Solicitor Romilda Crocamo advised the pair – in real time and in no uncertain terms – before they voted that the appointment violated the county charter, but they did it anyway, and Urban accepted the appointment.

County Council then held a special meeting where 10 of the 11 members voted to remove all three from the election board. Since Urban is the only member fighting the vote, that means all other Republicans on the council supported his removal, making this the definition of bipartisan.

Yet Urban has blathered and bloviated ever since, accusing council of failing to provide due process, of not following proper procedures, and of taking actions that he claims should have gone through a judge. That last one, not incidentally, is deeply ironic considering it is Urban who is avoiding going to a judge.

Urban boasted that he had “immersed” himself in reviewing laws for the last few weeks. Oooooh, two weeks! Well, let’s throw out the opinions of two attorneys who spent years learning the law and more years actually practicing it. They couldn’t have possibly learned more than Stephen J. Urban, esquire pretender, did in a matter of days!

Council’s action is done, it’s over, and there is zero indication that even one of them will consider reversing the decision. They did it in a bipartisan vote, after both Crocamo and County Assistant Solicitor Vito DeLuca stated with no doubt that council’s actions were legal.

This means Urban has only one recourse: Mount a challenge in a court of law. If he truly believes council acted illegally, hire an attorney and prove the case to a judge. If he succeeds, we’ll gladly admit he was right and sincerely thank him for proving an injustice had occurred. We’ll endorse having the county pay his legal fees, and call for a re-evaluation of county legal representation.

Everything else is diversionary drivel, political posturing and a waste of time for council, county administration, taxpayers, voters and residents.

Urban is playing an old game that does great disservice to those he presumably represents: He wants to look tough by fighting a legal battle in the court of public opinion, when any evidence he claims to have belongs in a court of law.

Show the backbone of your convictions and go to court, Mr. Urban, or shut up about this.

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York Dispatch. March 4, 2021.

Editorial: Could they be watching?

It’s hard to get away from cameras these days. Doorbell cameras, traffic cameras, surveillance at businesses, we’re all walking and driving in and out of view constantly.

And now York City Police Commissioner Michael Muldrow wants to make that video network official.

Muldrow has been in touch with Better York on the possibility of setting up a surveillance similar to one in Lancaster City, which is run by the Lancaster Safety Coalition.

The nonprofit has set up more than 100 cameras in downtown Lancaster, and the cameras are monitored by paid camera operators, according to the coalition’s website. The operators report possible criminal activity to police, and the video is available for police and can be subpoenaed by defense attorneys.

“I think that it will quickly become an invaluable tool, that if we would be able to pull it off in York, would dramatically impact our communities quickly,” Muldrow said at a community meeting on Monday.

Better York has raised $30,000 to support a feasibility study of the program, in addition to $2,500 each from the city and York County District Attorney’s Office, said Eric Menzer, chairperson of Better York.

“We believe there is a great degree of interest in this endeavor,” he said.

Yes, we can see where there would be a great deal of interest. York City has its share of criminal activity. Six people have been shot in five incidents since Feb. 20, and while police have made arrests in gun crimes, none of those were connected to the actual shootings that have taken place.

Having video of the many streets and corners where criminal activity is known to occur would be a dream for a police department. Just ask Lancaster City Police.

”(The surveillance network has) been very successful,” said Lancaster City Police spokesperson Bill Hickey. “We’ve had cameras that have helped us solve homicides, where the footage that was captured led to the identification and arrest of homicide suspects.”

Millersville University did a study of the Lancaster set-up in 2015, about 12 years after the coalition put the cameras in place.

It found that the video was doing what it was supposed to by providing police with evidence that they use to identify criminals and in some cases piece together the actions leading up to the crime. Defense attorneys also used the videos, although there were complaints that videos for lesser crimes often weren’t available for the defense to use because the coalition only keeps the video for 14 days.

But that study didn’t examine the privacy aspect, and that’s an area we think is being overlooked.

Yes, in many cases there is already video. But that video is being created by private individuals or businesses and isn’t being networked and watched by an organization.

We recognize the need to cut crime in the city, and we also hear consistently that witnesses to crime will not speak to police. Having a video means police can learn what happened without needing any witnesses to step forward.

But how much of everyday life would be caught on video and watched through this network? How many innocent interactions might be mistaken for crimes? While Muldrow stressed that the videos would be monitored by civilians, not police, there remains a Big Brother feeling to constant camera surveillance, even on public streets.

We think the city needs to consider the privacy of its citizens as well as their safety before putting this proposal into action.

END

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