Editorial Roundup: Pennsylvania

Pittsburgh Post-Gazette. June 8, 2021.

Editorial: Fetterman should stop flouting flag law and obey it

Pennsylvania Lt. Gov. John Fetterman continues a juvenile campaign to fly flags from his Capitol office in defiance of state law. He should stop his foot-stomping and start behaving like a grown-up — and a responsible elected official.

To mark the month of June as Pride Month, Mr. Fetterman chose to display a Pride flag from his office balcony directly over the main entrance to the Capitol. Representatives from the state Department of General Services removed the flag while his office staff was at lunch. It was a repeat performance.

Indeed, Mr. Fetterman has previously disregarded a law passed last year that prohibits the display of any flag on the exterior of the Capitol other than the American, Pennsylvania or POW/​MIA flags. In fact, the law was passed in part because of Mr. Fetterman’s penchant for flying flags from his office balcony in support of causes he champions, such as LGBTQIA+ rights and the legalization of recreational marijuana.

So this is how it goes: Mr. Fetterman hangs a flag or banner, General Services workers take it down. Repeat. A spokeswoman for the lieutenant governor said initially the workers would leave the flags folded in his office but they have since opted to confiscate them. To date, more than 10 flags have been removed.

This is a waste of everyone’s time, and Mr. Fetterman needs to put an end to it. He has made the issue more about political grandstanding than a show of support for a movement, and it cheapens the causes he hopes to highlight.

This is not about limiting Mr. Fetterman’s right to express his opinion. He can, and should, display the flags at his home or on his property. He can make them available to other supporters. He can help garner support for legislation that benefits the LGBTQIA+ community. He can whip up support for legalized pot. But this childish game with the General Services Department borders on the absurd.

The law limiting flag displays, which was signed by Mr. Fetterman’s boss, Gov. Tom Wolf, makes some sense. Mr. Fetterman may consider his causes worthy endeavors, but what’s to stop a future lieutenant governor from hanging a Confederate flag from that balcony, or another banner that is offensive to most?

More important, does the lieutenant governor get to pick and choose which laws he respects and which ones he can simply ignore without serious repercussion? If the flag display law is so offensive to him, he should spearhead a campaign to amend it.

Otherwise, Mr. Fetterman should adhere to the oath of office he took and uphold the laws of the commonwealth.

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Wilkes-Barre Citizen's Voice. June 8, 2021.

Editorial: Expense bill is a no-brainer

State legislative leaders contend that a law to require lawmakers to post their expenses isn’t necessary because they plan to require the same thing as a matter of policy. In other words, “trust us.”

If those same leaders truly were committed to transparency, though, taxpayers already would be able to find comprehensive disclosures on the legislative leaders’ own websites.

But when the news organizations Spotlight PA and The Caucus set out to document lawmakers’ expenses, they ran into a wall of obfuscation rather than disclosure.

Senate Pro Tempore Jake Corman’s website, the investigation found, included a page titled “It’s Your Money,” which included only his salary and district office rents and had not been updated for six years.

Journalists did uncover millions of dollars of lawmakers unreported or partially reported expenses. With the help of data experts from Temple University, the journalists compiled a database showing that some lawmakers had not reported or only partially reported expenses ranging from hundreds of dollars to tens of thousands of dollars.

There is no reason to believe that lawmakers will reveal how they spend the public’s money on themselves on the basis of in-house policy.

Two state senators — Democrat Lindsey Williams of Allegheny County and Republican Kristin Phillips-Hill of York County, plan to introduce a bill requiring comprehensive reporting of all legislative expenses as a matter of law. The chief clerks of the House and Senate would be required to post that spending data online as the money is spent. That data would include all expense spending from all accounts, including vehicle usage, lodging, travel, food, district office rents, and on and on.

All local legislators should support it, especially newly minted state Sen. Marty Flynn of Lackawanna County, who has a long record as a state representative of mishandling routine financial disclosures for his campaigns and accepting undocumented expense payments — which he claims to have used for charitable contributions rather than for the intended purpose of expense reimbursements.

Taxpayers should not have to be Sherlock Holmes to figure out how elected officials use their money. This bill is a no-brainer.

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Philadelphia Inquirer. June 7, 2021.

Editorial: Business as usual for PGW is bad for consumers, the climate, and even PGW

Philadelphia Gas Works is the nation’s largest municipal gas utility — and it needs some major updates.

In its current form, the 185-year-old-utility is challenged on multiple fronts. Philadelphians are some of the most “energy burdened” city dwellers in the country, with 25% of all low-income households paying 19% or more of annual income on their utility bills. Black and Latino households are more likely to be energy burdened than white households. Over time the burden will get only worse. Just last fall, Pennsylvania approved a 5.2% increase to PGW’s rate.

Despite the heavy burden on consumers, PGW has plateaued financially. As appliances became more efficient, summers warmer, and more buildings are fitted with electric lines instead of gas pipes, the demand for gas has decreased — and PGW retail gas sales have stayed flat. Since 2013, PGW has also been selling excess liquefied natural gas (LNG) to private buyers. In 2018, City Council approved a $60 million LNG plant in South Philadelphia for PGW to expand its LNG venture through a private-public partnership.

But continued reliance on fossil fuels for revenue goes against our city’s climate change imperatives. In January, Mayor Jim Kenney announced Philadelphia’s commitment to achieving carbon neutrality by 2050 in alignment with the Paris Agreement. The science is clear that achieving this goal is necessary, and big steps toward it must happen this decade. And major organizations like the International Energy Agency and the United Nations acknowledge that doing so requires phasing out reliance on fossil fuels, including natural gas.

That means PGW and the city need to begin transitioning away from business as usual now.

One promising start: The city’s Office of Sustainability is completing a study about what PGW could do with its 6,000 miles of gas mains if not transporting natural gas. There are no simple fixes and a lot of competing goals to balance: emissions, revenue, costs for customers, and job security for 1,600 city employees. Christine Knapp, the director of the city’s Sustainability Office, hopes that the study (for which draft materials have been made public) will be completed in the upcoming weeks. PGW has committed to at least one pilot.

These analyses are crucial first steps to lay out the costs and benefits of various alternatives to current gas usage such as renewable natural gas from landfills.

Meanwhile, at the state level, it’s critical that representatives oppose Harrisburg’s effort to tie Philadelphia’s hands. In February, State Sen. Gene Yaw introduced legislation to preempt municipalities from restricting the types of energy used in buildings. If passed, the bill would leave the future of PGW and Philadelphia’s climate change mitigation up to legislators like Yaw, who is currently chairman of the state Senate Environmental Resources and Energy Committee and who disclosed 2020 income from oil and gas companies including Halliburton.

Any transition will demand financial investment and political courage. But the reward of getting the future of PGW right is huge: reduce cost burdens on low-income families, secure good jobs, and help avert the existential threat of the climate crisis. The city’s study must be the beginning of a process, not the end — our communities, planet, and PGW itself depend on it.

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Harrisburg Patriot News. June 6, 2021.

Editorial: Pennsylvania needs more doulas to help more women survive childbirth

Dr. Sharee Livingston is trying to do what doctors do best – save lives. She’s particularly trying to save the lives of mothers, alarmed that too many women in the United States die in childbirth.

Dr. Livingston, an OB/GYN with UPMC, says there’s one surefire way to help women survive pregnancy, and it’s called doulas.

Doulas are generally women, but they could easily be men, who walk with a woman through pregnancy and childbirth, serving as a kind of health mentor to alert her to potential medical issues, get her the help she needs and keeps her calm at the key moment of bringing a baby onto this earth.

A doula is a non-medical birth assistant, and statistics show women who have doulas at their side have fewer complications in pregnancy and childbirth.

That’s why Dr. Livingston told PennLive’s Editorial Board she’s focused on increasing the number of doulas in our region from all races, cultures and classes.

Dr. Livingston grew up in the City of Harrisburg and now practices medicine in the City of Lancaster. And she’s convinced doulas save lives.

All women benefit from doula services, but statistic show Black and Brown mothers are 3-4 times more likely to have birth complications than white mothers. It’s another example of the very real impact of health disparities that can mean life or death – joy or tragedy -- for thousands of women in our region.

That’s why Dr. Livingston founded the “Diversifying Doulas” initiative in Lancaster that in just one year provided more than 40 women with doula services and trained 36 people to become doulas.

The program, supported by UPMC, has been a resounding success in Lancaster, but we think that’s not enough. Women and their babies in Harrisburg, Reading, York, and all places in between should have access to doulas.

But doulas aren’t cheap. Dr. Livingston estimates a doula costs between $700-$1000 per pregnancy, and you guessed it, women who most need a doula can’t afford one. Plus, there aren’t enough of them.

We need more people of all races and cultures trained as doulas, which, as it turns out, doesn’t require a medical degree. A few weeks of training is all that’s needed for a doula to be ready to get to work to help a mother-to-be.

There’s even more good news. Dr. Livingston says the state legislature is considering allowing Medicaid to pay for doula services, a move that would help thousands of women be able to hire doulas, better manage their pregnancies and help ensure safe childbirths.

We join Dr. Livingston and her colleagues at UPMC in urging legislators to waste no time in passing such legislation to help protect Pennsylvania’s most precious assets – mothers and babies. There’s no reason this couldn’t be a bi-partisan effort to unite us all in supporting a worthy imitative.

And we support Dr. Livingston’s mission to train more people as doulas as a proven way to make childbirth safe and joyous for all Pennsylvania women, regardless of their ability to pay.

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Altoona Mirror. June 5, 2021.

Editorial: Schools must remain wary of COVID threat

For Pennsylvania school administrators and boards of education, this summer will present a major challenge on the health front related to, but also different from, what they were forced to contemplate during the darkest months of the COVID-19 pandemic.

That formidable challenge will be the need to devise good strategies for trying to ensure their districts’ medical health from the perspective of “routine” infectious diseases such as the common cold, flu and gastrointestinal upsets.

While most of calendar year 2020, as well as the first months of 2021, were a nightmare as school officials sought the best means for navigating COVID-19’s threat, unfortunately the educational scene at the start of the 2021-22 school calendar will not be much simpler to navigate, because of the many virus uncertainties that will continue to exist.

Tied to that, a major unknown will continue to be whether any of the COVID-19 variants that have been identified around the world will show up in their communities and districts.

Even if that doesn’t happen here, the situation here likely will continue to be precarious, because of the rate of COVID-19 infections and deaths that this region has experienced since early 2020 and the fact that COVID-19 still is “out there.”

Still, there is some upbeat news now from what otherwise has been a horrific scenario of coronavirus illness and death, as well as unrelenting concern about the path that the future might take.

A headline in the June 2 Wall Street Journal — “Chickenpox, strep throat and other childhood ills drop in COVID-19 era” — has provided a hint about what school officials should be thinking about this summer.

One important center of thought ought to be whether — or to what degree — pandemic-related safety measures such as masks should be recommended or required for students during the traditional cold and flu months, going forward, and under what circumstances.

Also, how extensively and in what circumstances should social-distancing measures remain in place, if at all?

Parts of several paragraphs from the Journal article are relevant for discussion in every school system in Pennsylvania, as well as in every other state. They are:

“The virtual disappearance of the flu has been well-documented, with cases down 99%or more in the U.S., Europe and other parts of the Northern Hemisphere over the winter,” apparently due to coronavirus safety measures that have been in place.

“Chickenpox cases in the U.S. this year have fallen by more than two-thirds from pre-pandemic levels.”

“Data outside the U.S. show the decline is even steeper for another “bug,” the rotavirus, a common cause of diarrhea and vomiting in small children.”

“Doctors say that as countries with widespread COVID-19 vaccination, including the U.S., get back to normal, people would be well-advised to keep up some of the practices they have adopted — even if pandemic weariness makes them less eager to take that advice.”

According to the Journal’s report, doctors believe that disinfecting surfaces and cleaning hands with soap or alcohol sanitizers have contributed to the precipitous decline in common infectious diseases.

The nation’s schools are a logical place for such preventive steps to continue, and the benefits of that could spill over to home environments.

This summer, school leaders need to give serious thought to this important consideration, as they are preparing for students’ return in late August or early September.

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