Editorial Roundup: Pennsylvania

Pittsburgh Post-Gazette. Oct. 2, 2021.

Editorial: Voter information must be protected

Republicans are supposed to oppose government overreach. Instead, GOP leadership in Harrisburg is taking overreach to a whole new level with an overly broad subpoena for records related to the 2020 and 2021 elections.

Fortunately, state Attorney General Josh Shapiro has filed a lawsuit to try and stop the effort.

The subpoena is part of a Republican effort ostensibly to determine whether any errors or anomalies took place during the 2020 general and 2021 primary elections. Party leaders in Pennsylvania insist their investigation has nothing to do with Mr. Trump’s calls for investigations into voter fraud nor an attempt to overturn Joe Biden’s win last year.

Still, Pennsylvania’s “forensic audit” — let’s call it a fraudit — is similar to the one recently concluded in Arizona that not only affirmed President Joe Biden’s victory over former President Donald Trump, it added to Mr. Biden’s tally.

The effort in Pennsylvania may prove pointless in that regard as well, but it nonetheless could create real problems for Pennsylvania voters.

In addition to seeking all communications from the Department of State to county officials regarding details on guidance, procedures and training materials used for the elections, the subpoena wants to pry deeply into the personal information of every voter.

That’s right. The subpoena asks for the name, address, driver’s license number and last four Social Security digits of nearly 7 million voters who cast ballots. If having all that data in the hands of the Senate Intergovernmental Operations Committee isn’t frightening enough, there’s more.

The committee at some point would turn that treasure trove of information over to an as-yet unidentified private contractor. Even if the committee and the company it selects don’t misuse the data, it won’t be long before unscrupulous hackers swoop in.

During a hearing on the measure last month, Democrat after Democrat tried to get answers as to why the GOP thinks the information is necessary and relevant. The replies were vague at best.

Mr. Shapiro wasted no time in filing a lawsuit to stop this information power grab. On Sept. 23, he announced that he filed the lawsuit in Commonwealth Court on behalf of the state against the Senate Intergovernmental Operations Committee, its chairman, Cris Dush of Jefferson County, and Senate President Pro Tempore Jake Corman of Centre County.

“Giving this data away would compromise the privacy of every Pennsylvania voter — that violates Pennsylvanians’ constitutional rights. By trying to pry into everyone’s driver’s license numbers and Social Security numbers they have gone too far. Today we say enough is enough. What they are doing is against the law and we intend to win.”

All Pennsylvania voters should hope so. That or they should probably kiss their identities goodbye and get ready to start the hassle of disputing unauthorized credit card transactions and bank account withdrawals.

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Scranton Times-Tribune. Oct. 5, 2021.

Editorial: Reclassify fracking waste as hazardous

One of the many ways in which Pennsylvania lawmakers have coddled the natural gas industry is by exempting it from some aspects of environmental regulation that apply to every other polluting heavy industry.

All industrial processes produce waste that must be disposed. Almost all of the companies involved must test the waste. Results determine whether the material is classified as residual waste, meaning that it can be deposited in most landfills, or hazardous waste, meaning that its safe disposal requires special handling by specialized facilities.

The Solid Waste Management Act, adopted three decades ago and about 15 years before the industry began developing the Marcellus Shale gas field, exempts drilling waste from testing.

Over the past 15 years, the industry has drilled more than 12,000 deep Marcellus Shale wells. Fracking, the process to dislodge the gas from the shale, involves the use of a wide array of proprietary chemicals. And the process also brings to the surface naturally occurring radioactive material.

But because the material automatically is classified as residual waste in Pennsylvania, millions of tons of it end up in landfills that have Department of Environmental Protection permits to accept residual waste, including the Keystone Sanitary Landfill in Dunmore and Throop.

That landfill already tests for some organic compounds. And Gov. Tom Wolf announced in July that the DEP would require testing for radium in fracking waste later this year.

But testing should be comprehensive and required by law.

In August 2020, New York state passed a law requiring testing for all fracking waste, about 640,000 tons of which has been deposited in landfills there.

The state Senate Democratic Policy Committee recently conducted a hearing on eliminating the testing exemption in Pennsylvania law. Bills to that effect have been introduced in both houses but likely will not get out of committees because the legislative majority long has demonstrated that it represents the industry more so than the public.

The industry recycles some waste and says that it is safe, so it should not object to testing waste to prove the point.

Lawmakers should amend the law to make the gas industry fully accountable for its waste, just like every other industry.

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Harrisburg Patriot News. Oct. 3, 2021.

Editorial: Middletown residents need to find out what’s wrong with their police department

The headline on Christine Vendel’s story about overtime in the Middletown Police Department said it all: “Something is clearly wrong.”

Police officers in this quiet, little town raked up more overtime last year than any police department in Dauphin County, except Harrisburg. And despite the recent arrest of a man with explosives in his home, crime in Middletown is no where near what police have to deal with in Harrisburg.

The average police officer in Dauphin County made $4,000 in overtime. In Middletown, the average police officer netted $23,435.

Sgt. Scott Yoder logged in more than 1,000 hours of overtime last year, the second-highest amount on the force –increasing his salary from $93,910 to $169,107. Despite the long hours on his main job, Yoder had enough time and energy to work part-time at the Milton Hershey School. Incredible.

But Yoder’s hours take second place to what the acting police chief logged. Police chiefs are usually salaried employees without overtime, but Middletown Acting Chief Dennis Morris logged a total of 3,667 overtime hours last year.

If the numbers are right, Morris was able to accrue pay for 10-hour days every day of the week -- for the whole year.

Something is clearly wrong.

Let’s be honest, either these police officers aren’t working all of those hours, or they’re dogged tired -- all of the time. And no one wants a dogged tired police officer pulling him over in the middle of the night.

The Middletown Police Department is suffering from grave mismanagement, and it impacts many more people than just residents of Middletown, home to the region’s international airport. It affects every person who drives through the little borough, including students on the campus of Penn State Harrisburg.

As one expert noted, there are serious repercussions when a police officer repeatedly works excessive amounts of overtime. The short list includes:

— Heightened “implicit bias” among sleep-deprived officers– of particular concern to Black and Brown students on the Penn State Harrisburg campus.

— More complaints filed against police officers who work excessive overtime.

— More car crashes among officers who work long hours and an inconsistent schedule.

There’s also the issue of officers too burned out to do their jobs.

Vendel’s in-depth investigation into the extraordinary police overtime in Middletown should compel authorities to immediately audit the department’s records. First, we need to know if the unbelievable number of hours officers claim to work is true.

And if the records are accurate, it’s a dangerous situation with potentially tragic repercussions. Residents should demand officials better manage their tax dollars and reign in police overtime. If every other police department in the county can do it, what’s wrong with Middletown?

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York Dispatch. Oct. 1, 2021.

Editorial: Central York unifies behind banned books — but stay vigilant

The Central York school board obviously wasn’t expecting this.

For nine months, no one seemed to care that a long list of resources recommended by the district’s diversity committee had been banned from use in classrooms.

After all, the board had gotten away with indefinitely tabling the diversity curriculum by saying it was too divisive, didn’t show proper respect for police and taught white children that society doesn’t give people of color the same opportunities they enjoy.

Society doesn’t give people of color the same opportunities white people enjoy, but that’s beside the point. Some members of the board didn’t want that fact pointed out to while children, and the rest of the board went along with those mid-20th century views.

So last November, when the board unanimously banned such highly controversial content as the children’s picture books “Fry Bread,” “Hair Love” and “Like the Moon Loves the Sky,” along with works such as the Oscar-nominated PBS documentary “I Am Not Your Negro” about writer James Baldwin and a statement on racism from the Pennsylvania Association of School Administrators, they probably thought that was the end of the discussion.

And it was, for a while.

But then the four-page list of resources not to be used in classrooms was distributed to teachers by Central York High School Principal Ryan Caufman on Aug. 11...

Then the books hit the fan.

After a Sept. 1 article by Dispatch reporter Tina Lcurto, the protests began. Central York High School students stood outside the school with signs blasting the decision every day for more than a week.

Voices from the community joined them, and soon authors on the list also spoke out against the decision.

And along the way, some women decided to do something about it.

Central York residents JJ Sheffer and Hannah Shipley began to gather copies of the banned books. At first a few for the free libraries they host, and then a few more.

Soon Amazon was making multiple deliveries a day at their homes. Books were piling up on piano benches and in the kitchen and in the garage. Soon there was little room to move, and family members were spending evenings sorting through all of the literature.

It kept coming. Deliveries from across the country and around the county arrived — nearly 7,000 copies of the books donated to make sure those voices that had been banned in classrooms were heard outside the schools.

An avalanche is not an overstatement.

The outpouring of attention was exactly what was needed — and just what the school board didn’t want. The same board that unanimously approved the ban last November tucked their tails between their legs in the face of the public’s obvious support for the banned resources and temporarily reinstated all of the resources on Sept. 20, while also proclaiming that they were never banned to begin with, just not allowed to be taught. Which sounds a lot like a ban.

And all those books?

They’re out in the community. Some were read aloud Sunday at Sheffer’s house before being given away. On Wednesday, more than 5,000 were snatched up in less than half an hour during a giveaway at Cousler Park in Manchester Township. Fitting events for national Banned Books Week.

With all of those banned books now in the hands of children, there’s one more step adults need to take.

Remember this.

We don’t know what will happen on Election Day, but the Central York school board race is one of the most combative in the county. And the district is bringing in a new superintendent in the next few weeks, as well.

The lifting of the ban was a temporary measure that the board could backtrack on at any point. It’s up to the community to keep this issue in the minds of the public both before and after the election to ensure that, no matter who is sitting at the board table, those previously banned books aren’t removed from classrooms again.

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Johnstown Tribune-Democrat. Oct. 1, 2021.

Editorial: Community rallies to court U.S. Steel

Johnstown may face steep odds in the quest to bring U.S. Steel back to town, but we applaud and support the collaborative effort being made to catch the company’s attention as it considers potential locations for a new mill.

U.S. Steel Corp. announced recently that it was exploring possible sites for a planned mini mill to be opened somewhere in the United States. The company said state and local support will be among the factors considered by the U.S. Steel Board of Directors – along with associated costs and workforce availability.

The company is looking to begin construction in the first half of 2022 – once environmental and operating permits are set – with production to begin in 2024.

Where?

Like those who formed a coalition to court the steel giant, we say: Why not Johnstown?

State Rep. Jim Rigby, R-Ferndale, helped bring together leaders from all levels of government and local economic development organizations. He is working closely with state Rep. Frank Burns, D-Jackson Township, and state Sen. Wayne Langerholc, R-Richland Township, to get backing from the governor that would include providing economic incentives and easing environ- mental red tape to help catch the eyes of U.S. Steel’s leaders.

Others working with the local coalition: representatives of U.S. Reps. Glenn “G.T.” Thompson and John Joyce; Cambria County officials; city of Johnstown elected leaders and economic-development staff; the Johnstown Redevelopment Authority; Cambria Regional Chamber – and others.

Rigby said U.S. Steel is aware of Johnstown’s high interest in hosting the mini mill – which would employ about 300 people.

He said the company “liked the direction we were going – bringing together all governmental bodies,” was honest that many communities will be under consideration for this project, and then “recommended we continue on the path we started.”

Johnstown’s relationship with U.S. Steel dates to the late 1800s – and forerunners such as Lorain Steel and Federal Steel, as our Russell O’Reilly reported.

The company had a presence in Johnstown until 1984, when its local operations were sold to a group of former employees.

U.S. Steel has found a new direction through the “mini mill” concept – much smaller than the operation that employed thousands in Johnstown during the heyday of the industry.

But Burns, who is co- chairman of the state House Steel Caucus, said regional leaders are hoping infrastructure such as rail lines and available industrial properties will give Johnstown a fighting chance.

Burns was scheduled to tour U.S. Steel’s Pittsburgh facility on Friday.

“We have the rail to ship steel across the country, and we have the water supply to make steel,” Burns said. “And we have a workforce here.

“They may be a little older, but we have a workforce here that has produced steel in the past.”

This is a “nothing ventured, nothing gained” moment for the Johnstown region.

Even if the local coalition is unsuccessful in luring U.S. Steel back to the area, we’re proud of the nonpartisan, collaborative effort we’re seeing.

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