Editorials from around Pennsylvania
Editorials from around Pennsylvania:
FORFEITURE FOR GOOD REASON: DIMINISH PENSIONS FOR DISGRACED PUBLIC SERVANTS, April 3
While calls to strengthen the state’s pension forfeiture act often follow the downfall of high-ranking elected officials, the list of former public servants who deserve to be stripped of taxpayer-funded retirement benefits is much more extensive.
As the Post-Gazette’s Matt McKinney reported Monday, more than 200 former public school employees continue to receive publicly funded pensions despite criminal convictions or loss of professional certifications for various kinds of misconduct.
This is utterly outrageous.
The recipients include at least one former teacher who helped students cheat on a standardized test and former educators who committed sex crimes and murder. The narrow wording of the state’s pension forfeiture law is to blame.
For example, in cases of sex crimes, the law requires public school employees to forfeit their pensions only when their offenses are committed against students and in the course of their employment. Teachers convicted of preying on co-workers at school or a neighbor’s toddler in the local park, or retired educators who commit offenses while volunteering on school grounds, face no loss of retirement benefits.
The latter scenario arose in the Jerry Sandusky case. In 2015, Commonwealth Court ruled that the former Penn State football defensive coordinator could keep his pension because he’d already retired — though still collaborating with the school on a children’s charity — when he committed the child sex offenses that ultimately landed him a decades-long prison term.
Disgraced public servants should be able to retain whatever they contributed to their retirement accounts, but they should surely lose the taxpayer-funded portion in a more robust range of circumstances than is currently the case.
Public school employees and retirees should lose publicly funded retirement benefits for any misconduct that results in loss of professional certification; any criminal offense committed on school grounds; or any crime of violence or moral turpitude, regardless of where the illegal activity takes place.
“Public school employees must be held to high standards of behavior because they are entrusted with the safety of our students,” state Auditor General Eugene DePasquale noted in an audit of the Public School Employees’ Retirement System last year. “These school employees are expected to conduct themselves with ethical and moral integrity, as well as engage in lawful conduct at all times.”
High-profile cases, including Sandusky’s and former state Sen. Bob Mellow’s successful fight to keep his pension despite a federal corruption plea, just arouse the public’s anger about wayward officials who violate the public trust yet collect pensions more generous than the average Pennsylvanian’s. But big cases obscure the scope of the problem.
Most of those benefiting from the lax forfeiture law aren’t at the top but in the middle and lower levels of state government and the public schools. Mr. DePasquale is beating the drum for reform, and various bills for cracking down are awaiting action in the Legislature. There’s no better way to signal zero tolerance for misconduct than to hit offenders in the pocketbook.
—The Pittsburgh Post-Gazette
STOP TRUMP ATTEMPT TO MISUSE THE CENSUS, April 3
Pennsylvania voters would be well advised to enjoy their chance for relatively fair congressional elections this year — and, perhaps, in 2020 — under new, more representative electoral maps. Because after that, regardless of which party takes control of political map-making following the 2020 census, the Republican thumb goes back on the scale.
The Trump administration’s insistence on adding a question to the 2020 census asking whether respondents are U.S. citizens undercuts the main mission of the census: Gathering an accurate count of the number of people living in this country.
White House spokeswoman Sarah Huckabee Sanders claims the question is intended to protect voting rights. That assertion — like much else spouted from behind her podium — is laughable.
The real reasons for the question, which haven’t been deemed a census necessity since 1950, are the administration’s well-documented hostility to immigrants and a desire to boost GOP prospects at the polls come election time.
U.S. Immigration and Customs Enforcement agents have ratcheted up deportations aggressively since President Donald Trump took office — and not just among immigrants engaging in criminal activity, as under administrations past.
″(T)he U.S. government is arresting and deporting a number of individuals who have often lived in the country for decades, checked in regularly with immigration officials and posed no danger to their community,” reports CNN. “Many have family members who are American citizens, including school-aged children.”
In response to this governmental posture, municipalities across the nation, including York, have declared themselves sanctuary or welcoming cities for immigrants.
Still, the administration remains far from welcoming, so there are strong and understandable misgivings — even among legal immigrants and green card holders, who are here legally — about the government’s motives. There follow, logically, strong and understandable concerns that the question will discourage this population from taking part in the census, artificially deflating the count.
Any guesses where these depressed census tallies would be most prevalent?
“Critics accused the administration of adding the question to reduce the population count in the predominantly Democratic areas where more immigrants reside, in advance of state and national redistricting in 2021,” writes the New York Times.
Anyone who thinks the Trump administration — with the willing compliance of Republican toadies in Congress — wouldn’t target “Democratic areas” need only review the recently passed tax-cut package, which kneecapped “blue states” like California and New York.
Eliminating vast numbers of citizens from Democratic congressional districts is seemingly the latest GOP scheme to tilt the electoral tables and protect their majorities in Congress:
—Stiff voter ID requirements, early voting cutbacks and other restrictions have mushroomed in Republican-controlled states since the Supreme Court in 2013 gutted the Voting Rights Act of 1965.
—Many states have stripped voting rights from convicted felons even after they’ve served time. Penalties are severe. A Texas woman is currently facing five years in prison for unknowingly voting illegally while on parole. (That’s longer than G. Gordon Liddy served for his role in the Watergate break-in!)
—Blatant partisan gerrymandering has allowed the Republican Party outsized representation in states like Pennsylvania, where the courts recently, albeit belatedly, struck down the visibly contorted congressional maps created following the 2010 census.
Now, having finally secured more representative political maps, Pennsylvania again sees its fair representation in Congress threatened. The state is home to an estimated 180,000 undocumented immigrants — nearly one-fourth of its immigrant population. If a large number of those residents duck the census, a substantial undercount — and imbalanced underrepresentation — could be the result. Not to mention the outright loss of a congressional seat.
A citizenship question is not only unnecessary but unconstitutional — recall, the Constitution requires a tally of all residents living in the country, whether or not they are citizens. And its resultant undercounts would affect not just political districts but federal grants and subsidies in Pennsylvania and elsewhere.
For all of these reasons, Pennsylvania has rightly decided to join a suit seeking to block the citizenship question. It is a necessary step.
The question is a craven political maneuver aimed at identifying deportation targets while diminishing the legitimate population in largely Democratic states and districts. It is unfair, unnecessary and unwelcome.
And like Pennsylvania’s equally indefensible partisan congressional districts, it should be dismissed.
TRUMP’S EPA ROLLBACKS TO DIRTIER CARS MEANS DIRTIER AIR TO BREATHE, April 3
President Trump’s ill-advised rollback of tailpipe emissions standards will choke progress toward cleaning the air and cutting the costs to drive a car or truck.
The Environmental Protection Agency under Trump, headed by the heavily conflicted Scott Pruitt, announced plans Monday to reduce air quality standards without saying by how much. That will come later. The standards were most recently upgraded by President Barack Obama to curtail air pollution’s harmful effects on human health and climate change, including rising sea levels, more frequent flooding, longer droughts, and an increase in wildfires.
Obama’s goal was to double the average fuel economy of new cars and trucks to 54.5 miles per gallon by 2025. Not only would the standards reduce our dependency on oil and cut pollution, they would save consumers money.
A former EPA official estimates that fuel savings to consumers under the Obama standards could be $1.7 trillion over the lives of their vehicles. In an opinion piece in the New York Times, Margo Ogre, former director of the EPA’s Office of Transportation and Air Quality, further argues that rolling back the standards would actually hurt the auto industry’s “long-term competitiveness and stability.”
She’s right. Who wants to buy an American car that costs more to operate than an equally good foreign car? But automakers complained that it costs them too much to clean up emissions, and Pruitt listened.
This is the latest attack on environmental standards. It comes after the EPA has downgraded emissions standards at coal plants, opened the coasts to offshore oil drilling, and weakened protections against toxic runoffs into estuaries. On top of that, Trump has made it harder for the agency to enforce surviving standards because he has targeted the EPA for funding cuts.
States have tried to stand up for their residents against the administration’s rollbacks.After the administration indicated in June that it would relax auto emissions standards, a dozen states, including Pennsylvania, said they’d fight it. But the EPA is ready for them. In this latest edict, the EPA singled out California with a plan to strip its ability to set higher auto emission standards, which are protected by a section of the Clean Air Act. The state is getting ready for a court battle. It should.
Scientists have long studied the health effects of air pollution, much of it literally driven by tailpipe emissions. Dirty air has been cited as a factor in asthma, heart and lung disease, and premature death. Children and the elderly are especially vulnerable to air pollutants.
The EPA has the administrative power to roll back some of these standards. Public and political pressure are the best antidotes to this latest reckless act.
Congress should put pressure on the administration to care for our environment. That may sound like a long shot, but consider that Republicans, who now control Congress, are worried that the House could flip to Democrats in the 2018 elections. They are vulnerable to public opinion, which has favored environmental protections — even over economic growth — with few exceptions, according to an analysis of Gallup polls dating back to 1987.
That means voters favoring the environment can exert real pressure in the upcoming elections — and they should.
—The Philadelphia Inquirer
HONORING MARTIN LUTHER KING JR. 50 YEARS AFTER HIS DEATH, April 4
Dr. King seemed to know he would be martyred for his fight for justice and equality. Yet he refused to give up that fight.
As someone who regularly received death threats, he certainly knew the risks. Buttressed by his faith, however, King continued to be the unmistakable face, heart and voice of the American civil rights movement — until assassin James Earl Ray took his life.
One of the world’s most eloquent preachers of racial, economic and social justice, King was felled by the very violence he condemned. But death was unable to vanquish his legacy. It remains vast and far-reaching.
And it lives, in part, in those who heard him speak and joined his struggle for civil rights.
Millersville University Professor Emeritus Leroy Hopkins, a historian with the African-American Historical Society of South Central Pennsylvania, told LNP’s Mary Ellen Wright that he heard King speak in the late 1950s.
“I was 17 at the time, and I was too bashful to go up and shake his hand. But I thought, ‘I am in the presence of a great man.’ ”
Paul Irion, a resident of Willow Valley Communities who was a member of the Lancaster Theological Seminary faculty in the 1960s, described the civil rights movement this way:
“People were more involved, and it went deeper inside of them, than you saw before or after.”
When King was shot, former Lancaster County Commissioner Ronald Ford told LNP, people were thinking, “Is it possible to have a nonviolence movement against a society that almost glorifies violence?”
Lancaster attorney Robert Pfannebecker, who represented those seeking to desegregate Lancaster swimming pools in the early 1960s, told Wright that King was becoming interested in other issues at the time of his assassination. “I think that’s where his legacy was cut short. He was becoming much more of a voice on general progressive issues — poverty, all kinds of other issues.”
RCA retiree Robert Neuhauser worked for civil rights as a member of Friends Meeting and learned of King’s death from his daughter.
“I was not surprised,” he told LNP. “But I thought a lot less of our country after it happened.”
What would Martin Luther King Jr. think of America today?
In 2008, 40 years after King’s death, the United States elected its first black president, Barack Obama.
And we have our own pioneers in Lancaster County. As Sunday LNP reported April 1 in a package of stories devoted King’s death and legacy, Louise Williams broke barriers by becoming the first African-American woman elected as a magisterial district judge in Pennsylvania, and the first black woman appointed to a position on the state Board of Pardons.
A man of optimism, King would likely laud the racial and other progress that’s been made in the last half-century.
But he would be alarmed at the persistence of poverty. As The Washington Post’s Michelle Singletary wrote in her April 1 column, “in 99 percent of neighborhoods in the U.S., black boys grow up to earn less than white boys who are raised in families with comparable income, according to a study from the Equality of Opportunity Project. Even black boys who come from wealthy families, living on the same block, still earn less as adults than white boys with similar upbringings.”
King also would be concerned about the escalating tensions between the black community and law enforcement in many areas of the country.
And he would be worried about the deep divisiveness that seems to have soaked into so much of our lives and discourse.
“There’s just so much more that has to be done. There’s just so much turmoil in America ... now,” the Rev. Alexander L. Stephans of Philadelphia, who was pastor of Bethel AME Church in Lancaster in the early 1960s, told LNP.
But King never gave up, and we shouldn’t either. As we remember King today, we need to ask what part each of us can play in continuing his fight for justice and equality. Let each of us — Republican or Democrat or independent, conservative or liberal, young or old or somewhere in between — heed King’s words in a speech he delivered to the Southern Christian Leadership Conference in 1967:
“Let us be dissatisfied until the tragic walls that separate the outer city of wealth and comfort from the inner city of poverty and despair shall be crushed by the battering rams of the forces of justice. Let us be dissatisfied until those who live on the outskirts of hope are brought into the metropolis of daily security. ... Let us be dissatisfied until men and women, however black they may be, will be judged on the basis of the content of their character, not on the basis of the color of their skin.”
“Let us realize that the arc of the moral universe is long, but it bends toward justice,” King said.
NO EASY ANSWERS IN FIGHT AGAINST DRUG ABUSE, April 2
Sunday’s front page presented two very different stories about families dealing with drug addiction here in Pennsylvania.
In one, Wilkes-Barre Pastor Vince O’Boyle talked about his journey from addiction to sobriety, and how members of his family, including his namesake son, have fought the same battle — not always successfully. The son’s first wife died of an overdose, as did O’Boyle’s 33-year-old nephew.
The son became homeless for a time when O’Boyle said he could not live with him if he continued to use drugs. He took his son to a rehab center, and the younger O’Boyle has been clean for the past few years.
In the second story, we heard from Harry Hamilton. The former Greater Nanticoke Area, Penn State and NFL star defensive back is accused of punching his son and throwing a second person to the ground when Hamilton went to his son’s State College home to check on the welfare of the teen, who is not in his custody, and the youth’s mother.
Inside, Hamilton says, he smelled marijuana coming from an upstairs room as his son was coming downstairs. He says he tried to lead the youth outside — gently at first, then with a tackling motion.
Hamilton denies striking anyone. Rather, Hamilton says he felt a hard blow to the head, and when he turned to look he was facing a 6-foot-6 individual who had his hands in his pants. In fear that the individual had a weapon, Hamilton admits pushing his son out of the residence.
“I grabbed him instantly — there was no way he was getting out of my grasp — and threw him outside,” Hamilton said.
Hamilton, an attorney, is facing felony counts of burglary and criminal trespassing, a misdemeanor count of simple assault and two summary offenses of harassment in connection with the March 3 incident.
“They should be thanking me for exposing a major drug operation,” he told the Times Leader.
We weren’t in that State College residence. Did Hamilton punch anyone? Did he break a locked door to enter, as police allege and he denies? We don’t know, and all that will be for the courts to determine.
These tales of two fathers, two cases of tough love, underscore how many families are touched by drug use, and how feelings of fear and helplessness can drive family members to take desperate action in order to save loved ones from addiction.
For O’Boyle, his personal battle involved multiple rehabilitation programs and a deepening of his faith. He looks to impart moral support to those who are dealing with substance abuse, including prayer, sharing his story and encouraging them to attend rehab.
There are no easy answers. Rehab is likely the best, although it can take multiple tours of duty, and O’Boyle is living proof.
If rehab and moral support don’t work, one very wrenching option remains: Call the police. We acknowledge that could have far-reaching consequences, but it may be the only way to save a life in some cases.
Punching someone — whether it be your relative or a drug dealer — is generally not the answer, as justified and satisfying as it might feel at the time.
—Wilkes-Barre Times Leader