HIGHWAY CREWS DESERVE BETTER PROTECTION, July 29
Typical of Pennsylvania state lawmakers' lack of urgency on many — if not most — issues, both houses of the Legislature scurried from the state Capitol for their summer recess without completing work on important legislation that should have been passed and signed into law this spring, rather than in the fall or later.
By the time lawmakers return to Harrisburg in September, a big chunk of the highway construction season will have come and gone without the potential protection for highway workers that the proposed measure could have provided.
The measure is Senate Bill 172, whose main goal is to authorize speed cameras in active work zones, initially under a five-year pilot program.
The bill isn't some new concept. Neighboring Maryland is one of the states already using cameras to slow traffic in those areas, thus providing an additional source of protection — beyond signs and temporary barriers — for the workers involved in pavement repairs, resurfacing, guardrail replacement and other projects.
Knowing that their license plate numbers are being captured by cameras is oftentimes more of a deterrent to drivers' work-zone speeding than signs instructing them to slow down.
But another road-construction-and-repair season is rapidly passing without Pennsylvania getting into the proverbial fast lane on highway worker protection. Most lawmakers presumably are enjoying their summer recess with little thought about the nagging statistics that have been recorded regarding work-zone accidents in recent years.
According to the state Department of Transportation, there were 2,075 work-zone crashes in 2016 and 1,935 in 2015, apparently the two most recent years for which statistics have been finalized. Sixteen deaths stemmed from the 2016 crashes and 23 from those in 2015.
Most of those accidents and deaths could have been prevented with beefed-up enforcement tools, such as the one that lawmakers have been so slow in putting into operation.
As an article in last Monday's Mirror noted, lawmakers have spent valuable time pondering how much revenue from fines might be forthcoming and to what uses that money could be directed, rather than focusing their full attention on surmounting whatever roadblocks there might be to getting "172" to Gov. Tom Wolf's desk for his signature.
Again, the proposed measure isn't one that no other state has implemented. Pennsylvania has been able to obtain much valuable information on other states' experiences as a means for expediting passage here, but whether enough of such information and guidance have been sought is open to question.
Meanwhile, as is so common in Harrisburg on so many issues, the Legislature has found ways to muddy what should have been — and still should be — a relatively easy exercise.
As last Monday's Mirror article reported, quick passage by both legislative houses became bogged down by a proposed pilot program in Philadelphia that would be tied to the Senate bill. However, one of the most outlandish issues that has surfaced is some lawmakers' reluctance to approve the bill because of its potential impact on constituents' wallets and pocketbooks.
Beyond the cost of the cameras, which would be recouped over time, there would in fact be no financial impact on constituents — as long as they obeyed work-zone speed limits.
Highway workers' safety is more important than a speeder's opinion about a fine that he or she deserves.
Senate Bill 172 has languished too long, and lawmakers shouldn't delay finishing work on it once the Legislature returns to session.
—The Altoona Mirror
DOWNLOADABLE GUN ACCESS COURTS DISASTER, August 1
Even though Pennsylvania officials fought off a company that distributes plans for downloading 3D-manufactured guns, thousands of people already have the capability.
Texas-based Defense Distributed agreed temporarily to deny internet access to the information to Pennsylvania users after a federal court hearing in Philadelphia on Sunday, Attorney General Josh Shapiro said. But the company began distributing 3D gun files online over the weekend, ahead of today's planned widespread release. Thousands of people in other states already have downloaded plans for AR-15 semiautomatic assault rifles.
The Justice Department last month withdrew longstanding opposition to Defense Distributed's desire to post internet blueprints for 3D-printable guns. The technology, which allows users to follow digital models to create usable objects, opens the door for widespread mass production of untraceable plastic firearms. A multistate lawsuit filed by attorney generals from eight states sought to halt the information's release on grounds that it would provide sweeping, unregulated access to dangerous weapons.
Without controls, online gunmaking instruction could lead to production of untold numbers of firearms that would circumvent state and national controls. In addition to providing possible access to legions of criminals and mentally unstable people who are barred by law from firearm possession, plastic guns have the potential to evade metal detectors in courthouses, government buildings, airports and other public locations.
There has been no widespread call for this step among reasonable gun-rights supporters. Illegal guns already pose considerable danger to public safety without the addition of unregistered, indiscernible firearms to the deadly mix. This is a formula for mayhem.
—Wilkes-Barre Citizens' Voice
TRUMP SUCCESSES ECLIPSED BY CONTROVERSIES, July 30
First the good news: The Commerce Department reported Friday that the U.S. economy grew at a blistering 4.1 percent rate during the second quarter of this year. That's the largest gain in Gross Domestic Product since the third quarter of 2014.
The announcement came just hours after North Korea turned over what it said were the remains of 55 U.S. soldiers killed during the 1950s Korean War.
Both positive developments. And both to the credit of President Donald Trump and his administration.
But after a Friday South Lawn press conference at which Trump claimed victory for the strong economic showing, according to CNN, "he turned and retreated through the South Portico as reporters erupted into questions about the latest Russia development."
Trump has long complained that the press doesn't give him his due. He uses stock pejoratives to decry the media for continuing to focus on not only "the Russia developments" — the ongoing probe by Special Counsel Robert Mueller into Russian meddling in the 2016 presidential election and potential complicity by the Trump campaign — but questions about past affairs and allegations of hush-money payments.
Sorry, Mr. President, it's not the media, it's you.
Consider this: In the days leading up to and including the GDP and North Korea announcements:
—An audio recording made by Trump's former private lawyer, Michael Cohen, captured the pair discussing a six-figure payment to a former Playboy model who alleges a year-long affair with Trump in the mid-2000s. Trump has denied the affair and any knowledge of the payment.
—The White House banned a CNN reporter from an event after she asked questions about the Cohen recording at a press gathering. Even Trump-friendly Fox News criticized the seemingly retaliatory move.
—Sources reported that Cohen maintains he was present when Trump learned of plans for a highly controversial 2016 meeting between his son Donald Jr., son-in-law Jared Kushner, campaign manager Paul Manafort and Russian informants claiming to have dirt on then-Democratic presidential candidate Hillary Rodham Clinton. Again, Trump has long denied knowledge of the meeting.
—Within 24 hours of the Russia meeting story, it was disclosed that Russian President Vladimir Putin, who had not publicly responded to a recent invite to the White House, invited Trump to Moscow and says he is prepared to visit Washington. Suspicious timing, aside, Trump is reportedly considering the invitation.
No reporter worth their salt is going to ignore the fast-moving and quickly changing narrative that is the ongoing Russia investigation — not during a week when a U.S. senator's office was targeted by a Russian fishing expedition. And between his contradictory explanations, defiant tweets and attacks on his own intelligence agencies, Trump does little to quell curiosity.
And remember, these latest developments came in the wake of the president's suspiciously compliant performance at a press conference with Putin following the recent Helsinki summit. And the substance of that private, two-hour conversation has yet to be provided by the White House.
So there are plenty of legitimate questions and Trump, who hasn't held a formal press conference since the first month of his administration, shouldn't be surprised when reporters take any opportunity — photo ops, briefings on unrelated issues, press conferences with foreign officials — to pursue these complex, bedeviling and unprecedented issues.
If the president and his administration want to keep press and public attention on accomplishments like the steady economy, they need to stop making themselves and the questions they raise about Trump's ties to Russia and other past misdeeds the bigger story.
—The York Dispatch
PENNSYLVANIA SHOULD STOP SUSPENDING DRIVER'S LICENSES FOR NON-DRIVING OFFENSES, August 1
After Pennsylvania is finished punishing people for offenses ranging from underage drinking to drug crimes, it piles on by suspending their driver's licenses, robbing ex-offenders — including young people -- of their ability to get on with their lives.
While an outgrowth of the war on drugs, mandatory revocation of driver's licenses applies to serious offenses, like drug use and failure to pay child support, but it can also apply to those under 21 using a fake ID, drinking alcohol, or using tobacco. This is on top of the prison sentences, paycheck garnishment, fines, and community service the crimes initially engender.
The state suspends an offender's driver's license for six months for each count on which a person is convicted — even though the offenses didn't involve driving.
Losing a license can force young people to the sidelines of jobs and society and ex-offenders into poverty. Without access to a car, it's nearly impossible to hold down a job. Without a job, parents can't pay child support, drug users can't get to treatment, and other offenders have an added barrier to becoming self-sufficient.
If drug users can't get to treatment, they could fall back into addiction and resume the very behaviors that got them into trouble.
Joyce Douglass, a retired career parole officer in Pittsburgh, says the state's harsh driver's license suspensions put people in a "geographic prison." They're "pretty much under house arrest." She rightly asks: "People have to eat and pay rent. How do they do that without working?" They can't. In her 25 years of helping parolees, Douglass says she never saw the value in automatic license suspensions. Neither do we.
This added punishment for a non-driving-related offense is senseless overkill. It is a leftover from the "war on drugs" mind-set that stressed punishment over treatment and that led to mass incarcerations, particularly among minorities.
In 1982, just before the drug war's higher penalties were enacted, about 40,900 people were imprisoned on drug offenses across the country. By 2016, there were over 450,000 in prison on drug charges, according to the Sentencing Project.
States started piling driver's license suspensions onto the new, tougher punishments. But most states have since realized that's counterproductive and stopped penalizing their ex-offenders by scrapping the suspension laws. However, Pennsylvania and 11 others have not. Every year, according to the Prison Policy Initiative, the state suspends the licenses of about 19,000 people who have already paid for their offenses.
Douglass is among the activists lobbying for a reasonable bill to ban the suspensions of driver's licenses for non-driving offenses, as well as a resolution exempting the state from loss of federal highway funds for halting the suspensions.
The bill, sponsored by Rep. Rick Saccone (R., Allegheny), made it through the House by a vote of 192-3 in April but seems stuck in the Senate Transportation Committee headed by Sen. John Rafferty (R., Montgomery).
Rafferty should hear the bill and move it along for a vote in the full Senate when legislators come back from their summer break. Let people get on with their lives.
—The Philadelphia Inquirer
BE INSPIRED TO CAST YOUR VOTE IN THE UPCOMING ELECTIONS, July 30
Excited yet about the elections, both mid-term and beyond?
Seems like everyone ought to be.
It's been a political maelstrom at times, that's for sure.
Those who wanted to see what President Trump would do have certainly had much to chew on.
If you wanted a president who lowered your taxes, unhinged restrictive government regulations, targeted illegal immigration and put control of the Supreme Court into conservative hands, than you're a happy voter.
If you feared a president who may have worsened the deficit, damaged race relations, put profit ahead of regulatory caution, still wants to build a wall to keep out the huddled masses, and returned the high court to a strict adherence to the Constitution, than you're likely an unhappy voter.
The key word in both cases is "voter."
In the wake of the presidential election, Democrats scrambled to overcome their shock at Hilary Clinton's inability to inspire enough voters against a candidate they deemed a self-defeating lightweight, prompting much hand-wringing with vows and promises of rebuilding the party.
There was rah-rah talk about activism among the young Dems becoming a powerful political force that would rejuvenate that tired old donkey.
How much of that immediate post-presidential election enthusiasm has carried over to the Democratic grass-roots remains to be seen.
And the Democrats haven't finished enough construction of their platform — progressive? moderate? liberal? — to tip off the electorate.
Ultimately, who will be their standard-bearer against Trump? Will it be another tired, old candidate with more baggage than ideas?
If ever there was a period of elections that should invigorate the electorate, Democrat and Republican, this is it.
Local Democrats have already begun plotting strategy with a kitchen cabinet meeting of Westmoreland County labor leaders, more than a month from the normal start of political activism in the run-up to the November election.
Republicans should not take their incumbent advantages for granted, however. We expect they'll be doing their own campaign-building with the same level of enthusiasm as the Democrats.
What we really hope to see are riled-up voters, regardless of their party, inspired to participate in the process.
How you feel, for example, about Roe v. Wade is a singular example of the potential state impact of Trump's appointment of Brett Kavanaugh to the Supreme Court. He's presumed to bolster the conservative view on any possible challenge to Roe v. Wade, the case that grants women a federal right to access abortions.
Currently, Pennsylvania is considered to be among the states with strong restrictions on abortion access. On the other hand, Democratic Gov. Tom Wolf is a staunch supporter of a woman's right to an abortion.
If Roe is overturned, the battleground — where abortion could be outright banned — shifts to state legislatures.
And into the hands of the lawmakers you vote for . or don't vote for . if you register . and if you vote.
—The Pittsburgh Tribune-Review