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Editorials from around Pennsylvania

July 11, 2018

Editorials from around Pennsylvania:

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LITTER LAW’S PUNISHMENT FITS THE CRIME, July 11

We don’t know how effectively Pennsylvania’s new anti-littering law can be enforced. But there certainly is some fitting justice in its intent and method.

We’ve never understood the thought process of people who, upon finishing a meal of fast food, simply throw the wrappers out the car window. Or the smoker who flicks a still-smoldering butt onto a street or sidewalk.

And yet the sight of their slovenly selfishness is commonplace. The cumulative effect too often leaves Erie and environs looking, well, trashy.

Sometimes the effect is especially depressing, like when you come across a pile of garbage discarded on a beach at Presque Isle State Park. Or that point in a big snowmelt that reveals just how much trash had been dumped under winter’s cover.

A newly approved state law, passed with broad bipartisan support, aims to crack down on the slobs among us and punish them in appropriate fashion. The law will take effect late this year or early in 2019.

It increases fines for littering. Repeat offenders could be relieved of up to $1,000. But even better is that the fines will be accompanied by a requirement that the litterbugs perform community service in the form of picking up trash.

A first offender could be required to pick up litter or illegally dumped trash for five to 30 hours over a six-month period. Repeat offenders can be sentenced to clean up for up to 100 hours over the course of a year.

“When you look at all of the trash along our roads, it’s clear that fines alone are not enough to deter this crime,” said Sen. Mario Scavello, a Monroe County Republican who was the law’s prime sponsor. “Littering is like graffiti and other acts of vandalism. When people engage in it without fear of punishment, it sends the message that no one cares and leads to more litter.

Again, we don’t know how effectively the law can be enforced. It might be like laws prohibiting cellphone use by drivers in that way.

But we sure won’t feel a bit sorry for anyone nabbed, fined and made to pick up after other people. Perhaps some element of public shaming can be added to the punitive chores. A scarlet “L″ perhaps?

All you need is clear vision to see how widespread the problem is. In addition to making our city and region look unkempt, litter is harmful to the environment and can endanger wildlife.

But even if you don’t believe your eyes, consider this: Volunteers at the annual Lake Erie International Coastal Cleanup pick up 4,000 to 6,000 pounds of trash each year.

If you’re part of that problem, stop it. Have some pride.

__Erie Times

Online: https://bit.ly/2JdMX8X

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RELEASE REPORT ON CATHOLIC PRIEST ABUSE ALLEGATIONS, July 10

For decades, the Roman Catholic Church has gone to extremes to ignore, cover up and downplay the widespread sexual abuse and rape of boys and some girls across the world. So it comes as no surprise that nearly two dozen current and former priests are seeking to block the release of a grand jury report detailing serial sexual abuse in Catholic dioceses across Pennsylvania.

Fight, deny, and delay have been the Catholic Church’s playbook when it comes to clergy sexual abuse. When all else fails, the church quietly pays confidential settlements to sweep cases under the rug.

But the truth must come out if the church and its victims can ever move past this sordid scandal. That is why the Pennsylvania Supreme Court must allow the release of the more than 800-page grand jury report that shines a light on alleged clergy abuse in all of the state’s Catholic dioceses except for Philadelphia and Altoona-Johnstown, which were the subject of earlier investigations.

The report is the culmination of a two-year investigation by Attorney General Josh Shapiro’s office, which included grand jury testimony by dozens of sexual abuse victims.

Church officials in the six dioceses that were the focus of the investigation said they would not try to stop the report’s release. But attorneys for nearly two dozen current and former clergy went to court to block the report’s release, claiming it was full of inaccuracies that tarnish the clergymen’s reputations.

It would be good to know who is paying the legal fees for the clergy, who are represented by the high-powered firm of Saul Ewing Arnstein & Lehr LLP.

In the meantime, the Supreme Court should consider the due process claims by the clergy and order any proven inaccuracies corrected. There is also a simple solution to this dispute.

The Attorney General’s Office shared relevant portions of the report with the named clergy and gave them an opportunity to write a response. That response should be included in the report when it is released without redactions. That way all the facts will come out and everyone will have had ample opportunity to respond.

This is an important matter of public interest. For one thing, it involves tax dollars spent on a major investigation. The public has a right to know the findings. More important, the victims have a right to tell their stories and attempt to hold the abusers accountable. Indeed, until the church stops taking half steps and truthfully and forcefully comes clean regarding its clergy abuse scandal, the institution will have a hard time regaining its moral authority.

In a court filing arguing for the report’s release, attorneys for abuse victim Todd Frey used Pope Francis’ own words, spoken during a 2015 visit to Philadelphia, to support their case. “The crimes and sins of sexual abuse of minors may no longer be kept secret,” the pope said.

Charles L. Becker of Kline & Specter in Philadelphia added: “Like the pope, Mr. Frey asks that the crimes committed against him and against other victims across the commonwealth no longer be shrouded in secrecy.”

Amen.

__Philadelphia Inquirer

Online: https://bit.ly/2L5xqtl

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PA TURNPIKE TOLL HIKES ARE HIGHWAY ROBBERY, July 9

There’s gotta be a better way.

There’s gotta be a better way to fund maintenance and repairs on the Pennsylvania Turnpike than annual toll hikes that double the rate of inflation.

The state’s Turnpike Commission announced the most recent hike last week: A 6 percent increase at tollbooths that will take place in January.

But didn’t the commission just increase tolls this year? And last year?

Yup. And the year before that. And the year before that. In fact, January’s hike will mark the 11th consecutive year rates will go up along Pennsylvania’s main transportation artery.

The commission blames the endless increases on funding obligations, maintenance and improvements and a 2007 state law that now requires it to funnel $450 million a year to the Pennsylvania Department of Transportation.

During the first three years, the agency forked over a total of $2.5 billion to PennDOT. In fact, according to PA Turnpike CEO Mark Compton, “under that law, the commission has delivered $6.1 billion in toll-backed funding to PennDOT in the last 11 years.”

Requiring the Turnpike Commission to do part of its dirty work is no doubt a convenience for state lawmakers, who like to claim they hold the line on taxes. But, frankly, it doesn’t much matter to motorists whose hand is in their pocket; year after year, they pay more at the tollbooths while their annual income remains flat.

Toll hikes change so often, the Turnpike Commission has created an online calculator to help drivers determine how much they’ll pay from exit to exit, or in the case of those driving across the state, how big a loan they’ll need to take out.

Here’s an easier way to help motorists calculate those costs: Keep them in place for more than 12 months!

Pennsylvania Auditor General Eugene DePasquale put his finger on the problem years ago — not that it was all that difficult to identify.

“As my previous audit and my 2013 special report requested by House Speaker Mike Turzai predicted, until legislators in Harrisburg address the $450 million payment the Turnpike must make to PennDOT annually, tolls are going to continue to rise,” he said in a prepared statement following the announcement of the toll hike.

“Continue” is right. The commission has previously projected rate increases might be needed through at least 2044.

“If they keep raising tolls,” DePasquale maintained, “middle-class families are going to be forced off the roadway.”

Ya think? Not to mention the increased cost to trucking companies and other businesses that use the 550-mile turnpike network to transport goods.

Clearly, the system is not sustainable. With this year’s budget already in place (amazing how an upcoming election focuses lawmakers) and next year’s toll hikes likewise a done deal, the damage appears to be done for the immediate future. But what about long term?

DePasquale says his office is auditing both PennDOT and the Turnpike Commission, and he holds out hope the results could provide some relief for Pennsylvania’s overtaxed drivers. That would be nice.

Nicer still would be for state lawmakers to commit to revisiting the 2007 law that all agree is a major cause for the annual rate hikes.

Let the Turnpike Commission take care of the Turnpike. Let PennDOT’s appropriation come from the state budget. And let state lawmakers and PennDOT justify the spending they say is needed for nonturnpike highway repairs and maintenance.

__York Dispatch

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

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LOVE WAS DRIVING FORCE BEHIND COURAGEOUS CAVE RESCUE, July 11

Human beings really do have an amazing capacity to rise to the occasion, don’t they?

To put this daring rescue into perspective, consider what columnist Suzanne Moore wrote in the British newspaper The Guardian:

“To be trapped underground as dark water rises is the stuff of nightmares. To enter willingly into these cavities and squeeze through in order to take in food and medicine and finally to free these boys is courageous beyond belief. In the end, oxygen is what mattered, and in taking in oxygen for the boys, one man lost his life, not having left enough for himself. Saman Kunan died trying to save the lives of others. We must not forget him.”

Even the Thai navy SEALs who were involved in the operation were awed by what transpired.

“We are not sure if this is a miracle ... science or what,” they posted on their Facebook page.

In our book, miracles and science aren’t mutually exclusive, so we think both had a major hand in this incredible story — miracles, science and the compassion that compelled brave individuals from around the world to put their lives on the line for these children and their coach.

The vast operation included not just divers but rescue, cave and medical experts, and military members from other countries, including the United States.

Then there were the local rice farmers who agreed to let officials divert water from the cave to their fields, even though it meant the loss of their crops. “Rice can be grown again, but the lives of 13 people cannot be brought back,” the Bangkok Post quoted one farmer as saying.

The 12 boys from the Wild Boars soccer team, ages 11-16, and their 25-year-old coach hiked into the Tham Luang Nang Non cave system June 23 after practice. According to media reports, it wasn’t the first visit to that cave for several of the players.

But they became trapped when unexpected rains flooded the cave. Two British divers found them about a week ago beyond the flooded area, about half a mile below the surface in a chamber 2.5 miles or so from the cave’s mouth.

Thai authorities first feared the boys and coach would have to stay underground for several months until the end of monsoon season because of the dangers such a rescue would entail. But after days of exhaustive and detailed planning, the operation went forward.

The diving rescue team — comprising 13 foreign divers and five members of the Thai navy SEALs, according to Reuters — began its first attempt July 8, matching two divers per boy. The boys were equipped with full-face masks, and the divers who accompanied them carried their oxygen tanks.

“They are forced to do something that no kid has ever done before,” Ivan Karadzic, a diver on the rescue team, told the BBC. “They are diving in something considered an extremely hazardous environment in zero visibility. The only light that is in there is the (flashlight) we bring ourselves.”

The first part of the 2.5-mile journey required wading and diving through the flooded passages, according to ABC Australia. Then came a rope-aided 1-mile climb over slippery rock.

Some of these channels were so small, the boys had to remove their gear and pass it to the diver ahead of them in order to make it through.

Days before the rescue effort’s triumphant end, we learned of the notes the boys and coach had written to their families that were delivered by the divers. In those notes we saw glimpses of mercy, love and humor — and evidence that children around the world have so much in common.

After coach Ekapol Chantawong apologized in a note to families for leading the children into the cave system, the mother of 14-year-old Nattawut Takamsai graciously replied: “We want you to know that no parents are angry with you at all, so don’t you worry about that.”

She also said, to her son and the other boys, “We are not mad at you at all. Do take good care of yourself. Don’t forget to cover yourself with blankets as the weather is cold. We’re worried. You will come out soon.”

Chanin Wiboonrungrueng, 12, told his mother and father not to worry. “I’m fine,” he wrote. “Please tell Yod to take me out to a fried chicken shop.”

“I’m fine but it’s a little bit cold,” said a letter from Duangpetch Promthep, 13. “Don’t worry and don’t forget my birthday.”

Soccer fans to the core, the boys were reportedly asking about the World Cup while they were trapped in the cave. FIFA’s president, Gianni Infantino, sent an invitation to the team to attend the World Cup final Sunday in Russia, although they’ll probably be unable to go as they continue to recuperate.

The saga of the cave rescue reminds us that we are united by compassion and concern for children — whether they’re Thai soccer teammates trapped in a cave or immigrants in the United States separated from their parents.

It also reminds us of how hungry we all are for happy news, for proof that people are essentially caring — that they are good.

“The boys have been freed by bravery, incredible expertise and a word that I am scrabbling for and can now, finally, use: love,” Moore wrote in The Guardian.

Love is exactly the right word. Love of others is why Saman Kunan died in the effort to rescue these boys, and why the other divers kept going despite his death.

In the end, love is what will save us all.

__LNP

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

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THESE INNOVATIVE SOLUTIONS TO THE PA OPIOID EPIDEMIC DESERVE A BROADER LOOK, July 10

Barry Rake is a guy who’s used to calling balls and strikes.

When he’s away from the diamond, Rake, a 47-year Little League umpire, offers kids in Lycoming County the same kind of straight talk, as he hands out plastic sport water bottles emblazoned with the slogan “Too Smart to Start.”

The goal?

To help parents keep their kids from falling prey to Pennsylvania’s all-consuming and all-encompassing opioid abuse epidemic.

The bottles, which include a bookmark filled with handy tips, have been distributed to hundreds of children and their parents across the north-central Pennsylvania county.

“I think this issue is so important,” Rake told PennLive’s John Beague.

That’s only scratching the surface of what’s at stake here.

Rake’s story was just one of the dozens that were told as a part of the recently concluded “State of Emergency: Searching for Solutions to Pennsylvania’s Opioids Crisis.”

The statewide project saw news organizations from every corner of Pennsylvania tell the stories of civic groups, public officials, and such everyday citizens as Barry Rake, who are trying to reverse an abuse epidemic that killed more than 2,200 Pennsylvanians in 2016 alone.

While every death is a tragedy, every funeral an indelible loss that leaves survivors permanently affected, what emerged from these stories was that most crucial of all things: The flicker of hope that someday, somehow, these needless deaths could be prevented from ever happening in the first place.

In Chester County, for instance, journalists at the Philadelphia Inquirer found that health officials have encouraged emergency room physicians to engage in so-called “warm handoffs,” which see overdose victims connected directly with treatment - instead of being sent out the door.

The Inquirer’s story makes clear that it’s too soon to tell whether this new program is making the kind of difference that officials hoped it would make.

But officials have “been encouraged by early reports about how quickly the on-call specialists are able to reach patients, and ready to tweak the program if necessary -- and, when possible, to expand it to the county’s other three hospitals,” the newspaper reported.

In Montour County, officials at Geisinger Health System are moving away from opioid prescriptions, even as they acknowledge that there is “no surgery that is pain-free,” The Daily Item of Sunbury reported.

Putting data to work, the hospital cut its monthly opioid prescriptions by roughly half, from an average of 60,000 to 31,000 since 2014, the newspaper reported

In Altoona, contractor Michael Fiore took matters into his own hands, convincing two-dozen of his fellow local business owners to kick in $10,000 a year for three years, giving life to the non-profit “Operation Our Town.”

The organization has since underwritten more than $3 million in grants to law enforcement and treatment and prevention programs across Blair County, The Altoona Mirror reported.

“You can either put your head in the sand and ignore it or pull your head out and do something about it,” Fiore told the newspaper, as he offered a blueprint for other entrepreneurs across Pennsylvania who, like him, might be looking to reclaim their hometowns.

There are other tales worth telling, other approaches worth emulating.

In Pottsville, a Schuylkill County judge uses prizes and essays, employing a carrot-and-stick approach to successfully steer people through drug court.

In Franklin County, local officials are fighting to erase the stigma of addiction itself. The effort is paying dividends, overdose deaths dropped between 2016 and 2017, The Public Opinion newspaper found.

And in Allentown, a unique “Blue Guardian” program looks to reduce overdose deaths by bringing cops and recovery specialists to those who need treatment, The Morning Call of Allentown reported.

And there are lessons for those of us who write about the epidemic as well. One such lesson was taught by Temple University journalism students who are looking for new ways to sensitively and intelligently portray the crisis.

Those closest to the epidemic have estimated that Pennsylvania is in a generational battle to end opioid abuse. And that can seem overwhelming.

But in the stories, it’s reassuring to know that some are doing all they can to turn the tide.

__Penn Live

Online: https://bit.ly/2zvJW4b

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