Editorials from around Pennsylvania
Editorials from around Pennsylvania:
CENSORING A STUDENT NEWSPAPER MAY BE LEGAL BUT IT’S NOT RIGHT, Feb. 27
School board member Menno Riggleman criticized the inclusion of Darwin’s theory of evolution — which he believes is “outdated” — in the Elizabethtown school curriculum. And said homosexuality, on “a conservative end, on an ethical end,” is “still sin.” He added, “Is it any different than a couple living together that aren’t married? No, it’s not any different.”
To any journalist — not just a student journalist — those quotes, from an elected official, would be interesting and newsworthy. And the normal journalistic protocol would be to get another view to provide balance.
This is what the student journalists at Elizabethtown Area High School wanted to do, when they sought a comment from school board member Michael Martin. They were simply reporting a story.
But Elizabethtown Area High School Principal Maura Hobson saw it differently. She told the student journalists to remove Martin’s response to Riggleman’s quotes from their article.
According to Expression co-editor-in-chief Nathaniel McCloud, Hobson said the student journalists were trying to “stir the pot” by inciting conflict between board members.
The principal later said she could eliminate the student newspaper club of 28 members and their publication altogether if she chose to, McCloud told LNP.
The sad reality is that a principal asking students to remove material from a student publication is legal.
As Geli reported, the 1988 U.S. Supreme Court decision in Hazelwood School District v. Kuhlmeier determined that a school may limit what a student publication publishes. (In that case, student journalists said the administration at Hazelwood East High School in suburban St. Louis, Missouri, censored articles on teen pregnancy and divorce.)
“Students can say whatever they want. They just can’t say it in the school’s paper,” Mary Catherine Roper, deputy legal director for the American Civil Liberties Union of Pennsylvania, told Geli.
School resources are employed to publish the newspaper, and the newspaper is affiliated with the school, so whatever is published is perceived as the school’s speech, Roper said.
But as Daniel Robrish, editor of the Elizabethtown Advocate, said, “Although the high school principal appears to be within her legal rights, that doesn’t mean it was the right thing to do.”
He’s right. It wasn’t.
And if it’s true that Hobson threatened the student newspaper with elimination, that’s particularly awful. (Neither Hobson nor Elizabethtown Superintendent Michele Balliet would comment for Geli’s story.)
We admire the student journalists at Elizabethtown Area High School for taking a stand for journalistic independence. McCloud told LNP that the Elizabethtown Expression is “a longstanding part” of the school district that has done, and is doing, “important work.”
Student newspapers that make it a stated goal to do “important work” generally do. We read the Expression’s interviews of the school board members and were impressed by the questions — about property tax reform, curriculum, the school board members’ goals — the student journalists asked. They clearly had done their homework.
We were particularly impressed by the editor’s note that explained why the student newspaper had conducted the interviews: “School board elections are a crucial aspect of education and politics in the country, but they receive little attention.”
That is absolutely right. And because the Expression is printed monthly by the Elizabethtown Advocate, these interviews illuminated for the wider community the role the school board members would play.
It didn’t strike us as an effort to stir the pot or incite conflict. It seemed like responsible journalism “by the students, for the students, concerning the students,” as the Expression’s credo puts it.
A good student newspaper can serve the same important watchdog role that a community newspaper can. The student journalists at Elizabethtown Area High School seem to be on the right track. They ought to be given the freedom to follow it — wherever it leads.
WATCH OUT, OFFSHORE DRILLERS; JERSEY’S NO LONGER A PUSHOVER, Feb. 26
New Jersey’s new governor is reviving the state’s environmental mojo by reversing the mistakes of the Christie administration. Following Gov. Murphy’s lead, the state Assembly has passed a tough offshore oil and gas drilling ban that will make it hard for drillers to operate off the Jersey Shore.
Passed by a 72-1 vote in the Legislature’s lower house on Feb. 15, the bill smartly goes further than any prior offshore drilling bans. It prohibits drillers from any activities in state territorial waters, defined as three miles into the Atlantic Ocean from the shore. That means drillers can’t lay pipes to pump crude back to the beach, or install anything else that helps the industry drill, prospect, or build.
A statement attached to the bill says New Jersey unequivocally will “prohibit the leasing of tidal or submerged lands in state waters for the purposes of oil or natural gas exploration, development, or production.” That’s pretty tough language, similar to what’s in a pending California bill that would exercise a state’s power over its territorial waters to discourage offshore drilling.
States are responding to President Trump’s decision in January to open the nation’s coasts to offshore drilling. Trump later exempted Florida, where his golf resort is located. He is ignoring the BP Deepwater Horizon explosion in the Gulf of Mexico, which in 2010 killed 11 workers and spewed 4.9 million gallons of oil into the gulf, killing marine plants and animals, including a million birds, and devastating the region’s fishing and tourism industries for months.
To make matters worse, Trump is killing post-Deepwater safety regulations.
The federal government is bowing to fossil-fuel interests when it should be promoting safer and healthier forms of energy. Former Gov. Chris Christie held New Jersey back from developing alternative sources of energy. But in just a few weeks in office, Murphy has ordered the state Board of Public Utilities to stop stonewalling offshore wind development. He also wants to encourage solar energy by allowing the owners of solar arrays to sell unused power to utility companies.
To keep up the momentum, the state Senate should follow the Assembly’s lead and pass the offshore drilling ban with its smart amendments to keep all aspects of the drilling industry out of the state’s waters. Then, Murphy should sign it.
New Jersey’s coastal towns and counties also should look for inspiration in California, where nine counties and 18 communities have banned construction of onshore oil terminals and pipelines unless there is a public vote. New Jersey towns can use their zoning codes and enlist the help of a reinvigorated state Department of Environmental Protection to help them protect public health and safety.
None of these acts will completely stop drilling, but they will make it inconvenient and more expensive. Drillers will be forced to look at their bottom lines, which they prize above our oceans, our coastline, and our air.
East Coast governors, already working together, should consider mirroring what’s being done in California to send a clear message to drillers that they will protect the Atlantic Ocean from their filthy, dangerous industry.
TOUGHER PA. LOBBYIST DISCLSURE LAW BOOSTS TRANSPARENCY, Feb. 27
Here’s something we wish we could say much more often: Score one for transparency and accountability in Harrisburg — thanks to a new measure that stiffens Pennsylvania’s lobbyist-disclosure law.
House Bill 1175 was passed in bipartisan fashion, with overwhelming House and Senate majorities, and signed into law by Gov. Tom Wolf. It immediately doubles the state Ethics Commission’s maximum penalty for lobbyists who violate the disclosure law, from $2,000 to $4,000. It also increases the flat $50-per-day maximum penalty lobbyists had been paying for late disclosure filings. They’ll now pay $50 a day for the first 10 days, $100 a day for days 11 through 20, then $200 for each additional day.
But what’s more important — and more valuable — for Pennsylvanians is that all lobbyists will now be required to file disclosures with the Department of State electronically, which State must post online within seven days of filing. This provision means the public soon will have online access to updated information on who’s registered to lobby, what causes they’re lobbying for, and their spending on those causes’ behalf.
There’s nothing wrong with lobbying per se, but when it’s done in the shadows, suspicions arise. This new law counters such suspicions by shedding light. After all, the more the people know about who’s seeking to influence legislation in Harrisburg, the better they can judge whose interests lawmakers actually represent.
PUERTO RICO SITUATION SHOWS FEMA IS STILL FALLING SHORT, Feb. 28
The nightmare that was Hurricane Maria continues. It should be over by now.
The Category 5 storm has been called the worst national disaster on record in Puerto Rico and Dominica and the 10th most powerful tropical hurricane. It struck Dominica on Sept. 18 and Puerto Rico two days later. The official death toll was 64, but The New York Times reported that as many as 1,052 may have perished.
The failures by the Federal Emergency Management Agency have been well-documented, but one that lingers with us was that a contractor that was supposed to have delivered 30 million meals came through with only 50,000.
Tribute Contracting LLC had experience working with the government and was given a $156 million contract for the job, according to published reports.
What strikes us about this failure is how eerily similar it seems to some of the problems 12 years ago, when Hurricane Katrina devastated the Gulf Coast, claimed 1,833 lives and cost $125 billion.
“It appears that the Trump administration’s response to the hurricanes in Puerto Rico in 2017 suffered from the same flaws as the Bush administration’s response to Hurricane Katrina in 2005,” wrote Rep. Elijah E. Cummings of Maryland and Stacey E. Plaskett, the nonvoting delegate from the U.S Virgin Islands, both Democrats.
To its credit, the Bush administration posted online its lessons learned from self-admitted “key failures” responding to the storm, including this: “Often, government agencies failed to match relief needs with NGO (nongovernment organizations) and private sector capabilities. Even when agencies matched non-governmental aid with an identified need, there were problems moving goods, equipment and people into the disaster area. For example, the government relief effort was unprepared to meet the fundamental food, housing and operational needs of the surge volunteer force.”
This is what happened with the food delivery after Hurricane Maria. The lesson went unlearned.
We think Republicans in Congress should take this issue seriously. They should ensure that all 17 of the lessons learned and recommendations from the Bush administration’s failures during Hurricane Katrina are implemented immediately. Now is the time to do that. Not this summer, when a Category 5 storm is barreling down on yet another coastal town on the mainland or U.S. territories.
Meanwhile, misery continues for Puerto Rico. Thousands of families in dozens of states and on the island remain in hotels under FEMA’s temporary shelter program, federal officials said. More than 1,500 were in Florida, while many others were in Connecticut, Massachusetts and New York. More than 800 were in hotels in Puerto Rico, the Times reported. Many of the hungry have been fed and the displaced housed. But we believe the basic response resembled too closely the ineffective response to Katrina.
With a playbook already written, especially regarding the early identification of contractors to do the work everyone knows must be done, there’s no excuse for the ongoing embarrassment that is Hurricane Maria.
GIVE SUMMER RUN A FAIR SHAKE, Feb. 25
The York Fair claims the title as the oldest in the country — it even holds the trademark for “America’s First Fair.”
It began 253 years ago, when Thomas Penn gave the people of the “Town of York” a charter for a semi-annual fair, “as this Town lies extremely convenient for this purpose” of selling cows, chickens and the like.
It has been a source of pride for Yorkers, predating the founding of our country and even York County’s other claim to fame — the site of the nation’s first capital.
But the York Fair didn’t survive from colonial times to the internet age without adapting.
There was even a period of decades beginning in 1815 when there was no fair, which locals complained had been attracting “objectionable people,” according to records at the York County History Center.
Even after the fair returned in 1853, not everyone was happy with the way it was run.
Michael Froehlich, general manager of the fair, recently noted an old York Dispatch article that reported concerns from farmers in the 1890s and early 1900s that the fair was moving away from its roots.
And prior to 1942 the fair was held in October, but that year it was moved to the September run we know today.
People were probably up in arms about it when that change was made, saying, “the fair will never be the same,” Froehlich added.
It probably wasn’t the same — not the same as it was in 1941 or more than 150 years earlier when the main draw was selling livestock.
But it did survive.
And if the York Fair is to continue its long tradition, organizers are right to again consider changes.
The York Fair board is using a grant from York County Tourism committee to re-examine its mission and make sure it’s keeping up with the times.
In addition to upgrading and expanding facilities at the York Expo Center, which hosts the fair, one option on the table is moving the event from September to summer.
Though fair attendance has been down in recent years, Froehlich said that’s not the reason for the potential scheduling change.
But he does make a good case for it.
“In many ways, the fair has become more of an evening and weekend fair, and that’s because school’s in session,” Froehlich said.
School is in session by September, and the York Fair is competing with Friday night football and other weekend sporting events.
Plus, the 4-H clubs children who typically show their animals at the fair might have conflicts with school schedules, he said.
With a summer fair, those kids would be able to show more often, and their friends could stay later during longer daylight hours, which would help concession and ride sales, Froehlich said.
He added college students also would be home for the summer, providing opportunities for them to take advantage of internships or work at the fair.
“I think there’s a lot of positives for it,” Froehlich said, stating it would be the only way the fair could grow attendance.
Revenue from the Expo Center is split about 50-50 between other events and the York Fair — generating well over $200 million yearly, with more than 150 events throughout the year, he said.
As it is, the fair is generating about a $100 million boost for the local economy.
If organizers think they can improve on that, they should absolutely pursue it.
“America’s First Fair” didn’t earn that title by resting on its laurels.