Editorial Roundup: Pennsylvania

Pittsburgh Post-Gazette. Nov. 22, 2021.

Editorial: With guns, safety always must come first

Pennsylvania is one of 14 states that do not, on a statewide basis, require a permit to carry a firearm openly, but do require a permit to carry a concealed weapon. Republican legislators are promoting a bill to end this distinction in favor of permitless carrying — so-called “constitutional carry.” If the bill were to pass and be signed into law, the commonwealth would become the 22nd state to adopt such a policy.

Let’s get one point out of the way: The bill will pass the Legislature, but it will not be signed into law, at least by Gov. Tom Wolf. In fact, the point of this bill is not to become law at all, but rather to force Democratic legislators in competitive districts to cast a vote that will either enrage their party’s base or enrage their home district’s voters.

Its introduction has been timed perfectly to allow ample time for the creation of mailers and television ads lambasting the incumbents either way.

But let’s pretend that this bill is a serious piece of legislation — because it will be if Republicans retake the governor’s mansion next year. Should there be one permitting standard for carrying a firearm, no matter how it is carried?

We think that there should be, and that the standard should be with a state-issued permit. Permits are a minor inconvenience for gun owners, but they pay dividends in safety and peace of mind.

Pennsylvania is a “shall-issue” state, which means that permits are to be issued without question to lawful gun owners who meet basic requirements.

The primary requirement that is of interest to us is passing a certified firearm safety course — many of which are offered by the National Rifle Association.

Responsible gun owners protest that this requirement is unnecessarily invasive in part because safety is the highest principle in firearm culture. In places where guns are commonplace, contrary to stereotypes indulged by some city slickers, gun safety is usually taught from a young age. Young people in these communities learn how to be safe with and around guns in the same way all young people learn to be safe with and around all dangerous objects.

But the truth is that firearm ownership is expanding, and many novices do not have the benefit — at least right away — of a knowledgeable community of experts. Requiring a gun safety course to receive a permit not only ensures that every gun owner has a baseline of competency; it also ensures that every gun owner comes into contact with, and hopefully joins a community of, enthusiasts who value safety above all else, as they should.

Indeed, requiring a permit to carry — either open or concealed — shouldn’t be billed (least of all by gun control advocates) as a vote of no-confidence in the firearm community, but as a expression of trust that their gun-safety expertise can and should be the norm for all gun owners.

The evidence on whether gun carry permits impact crime is mixed, but that isn’t really the point. Rather, the point is: What will respect the right to bear arms while maximizing the safety with which that right is exercised? “Constitutional carry” isn’t the answer; uniform “shall-issue” permitting is.

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Philadelphia Inquirer. Nov. 22, 2021.

Editorial: In Kyle Rittenhouse’s acquittal, a lesson about laws that allow more guns to be carried in public

The story of the night of Aug. 25, 2020, in Kenosha, Wis., is the story of an American dystopia — one that is induced by guns and one that Pennsylvania’s Republican lawmakers seemingly want to move the commonwealth closer toward by allowing permitless concealed carry of firearms.

It’s the story of a nation armed to the teeth.

It’s the story of, in the words of the Black sociologist W.E.B. Du Bois, a “double system of justice, which erred on the white side by undue leniency and the practical immunity of red-handed criminals.”

In the midst of a summer marked by Black Lives Matter protests following the murder of George Floyd at the hands of police in Minneapolis, Kenosha police shot and severely injured Jacob Blake, a 29-year-old Black man. The shooting sparked protests nationwide. Two days after the shooting, Kyle Rittenhouse, a 17-year-old white resident of Illinois, arrived in Kenosha armed with an AR-15-style automatic rifle. By night’s end, Rittenhouse had shot three people who’d participated in a protest, killing two.

In Pennsylvania, there are more than 1,000 people serving life without the possibility of parole despite never having killed anyone — about 70% of them are Black. This month, Delaware County District Attorney Jack Stollsteimer announced that two Black teens will face first-degree murder charges for the death of an 8-year-old girl whom neither of them shot; police did. A video released last week showed that, last December, Pennsylvania State Police shot and killed a Chinese American teenager who held a pellet gun while his hands were in the air.

Kyle Rittenhouse was acquitted on all counts.

Rittenhouse was able to walk around with an AR-15 because of Wisconsin’s open carry law, something that is currently illegal in Philadelphia. It is legal for a minor to carry an AR-15 in Wisconsin because of an exemption in state law for long-barreled rifles. The shooting itself was permissible, according to the jury, because Rittenhouse feared for his life at the moment he fired each shot.

Rittenhouse, in essence, was the victor of a state-sanctioned duel — when everyone is armed, whomever squeezes the trigger first gets to claim self-defense.

That’s the logical conclusion of laws that allow more people to be armed in public, and that’s exactly the kind of law that Republican legislators sent to the governor’s desk last week.

A bill to allow people over the age of 18 to carry a concealed loaded weapon in public throughout the state — and openly in Philadelphia — passed in both houses of the General Assembly this month. Allowing permitless concealed carry would make Pennsylvania less safe. Every tense interaction, every dispute, and every police encounter could be assumed to be an armed confrontation — and, inevitably, someone would shoot.

Thankfully, Gov. Tom Wolf promised to veto the bill.

For many people, particularly Black people living in gun violence hot spots, life in Pennsylvania is already one form of an American gun-induced dystopia. Allowing for more people to be armed in more situations does nothing except inch the commonwealth toward an even more dystopian version of itself — one that risks repeating the type of duels that occurred in Kenosha on that deadly night.

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Scranton Times-Tribune. Nov. 23, 2021.

Editorial: Scavo gets just sentence

Gadfly politician and erstwhile “patriot” Frank Scavo, of Old Forge, stood on the U.S. courthouse steps in Scranton in September and incongruously brandished a pocket copy of the Constitution after pleading guilty to his role in the Jan. 6 attack on the U.S. Congress. Monday, he received what the Constitution promises to criminals — a fair sentence.

Senior Judge Royce C. Lamberth of the U.S. District Court for the District of Columbia sentenced Scavo to 60 days in federal prison, imposed the maximum allowable $5,000 fine and ordered Scavo to pay $500 as his share of the restitution for more than $1 million in damages that the violent mob inflicted on the Capitol.

Lamberth saw more clearly through the cloud of obfuscation that Scavo created following the insurrection even than the federal prosecutors, who had proposed only a 14-day sentence.

Scavo, who organized a bus trip to the Capitol on Jan. 6 to protest Congress’ certification of the Electoral College results that made Joe Biden president, farcically claimed after the insurrection that he was swept into the Capitol by the surging crowd.

His own video, and those taken by other Capitol invaders, show Scavo freely moving about inside the building. In related audio recordings, he revels in the insurrectionist moment. And as prosecutors pointed out, Scavo blithely passed prone Capitol Police officers who had been injured by other members of the mob.

Scavo, when identified by the FBI, cooperated with the investigation and, while facing sentencing, called the insurrection a “dark day.” He did nothing between the insurrection and his first call from the FBI to condemn the attack, however.

Prosecutors dropped several charges against Scavo and allowed him to plead guilty to a misdemeanor, a significant break. But even though the crime is graded as a misdemeanor for sentencing purposes, the judge correctly recognized that its importance is well beyond that. The sentence is beyond a just result for Scavo that also serves the crucial cause of deterrence.

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Erie Times-News. Nov. 21, 2021.

Editorial: Compromise a lost art in Harrisburg

What happens when a confirmed shopaholic marries a notorious cheapskate?

For a hint, let’s turn to the unhappy union that is the Pennsylvania Legislature, where Democrats and Republicans can’t get on the same page concerning what to do with an estimated $7.3 billion in federal pandemic-related stimulus money.

Senate Democrats called it a “once-in-a-lifetime” infusion of cash and, in May, rolled out a proposed “New Deal for Pennsylvania” that’d spend more than $6 billion of it on water and stormwater infrastructure as well as roads and bridges, childcare improvements, business assistance, workforce development, utility assistance, job training, economic development and public health programs and expenditures.

Republicans argued that the commonwealth’s “Rainy Day Fund” — officially called a Budget Stabilization Reserve Fund — wouldn’t keep the commonwealth afloat during a true fiscal crisis. With looming budget deficits that could total up to about $8 billion over the coming years, the smarter play, they say, would be to bank it as a hedge against future tax increases.

As Republicans control the legislature, what they say goes. After dedicating a portion of the money to human services spending, some highway construction projects and aid for nursing homes and the state system of higher education, more than $5 billion of the total was held in reserve.

If you thought the furor over the money would die down with June’s final adoption of Pennsylvania’s $40.8 billion 2021-22 budget, consider that the 2022 election will see all House seats, all Senate seats from even-numbered districts, and the governorship up for grabs. Chances are good that candidates from both parties will make political hay of the disposition of federal stimulus funds next year.

Since the Democrats and Republicans in Harrisburg are stuck with each other, we’ll give them some free marital advice — learn to compromise. Your “kids” back home are tired of the constant bickering over money.

Here’s where the Republicans are right. In 2020, according to The Pew Charitable Trusts, Pennsylvania’s Rainy Day Fund was just $243 million — 2.7% of that year’s spending. At the time that was the second smallest state reserve account in the country, based on the number of days of state government spending the fund could cover.

In September, the legislature added $2.6 billion to the Rainy Day Fund, boosting the total to almost $2.9 billion — about 7% of the current $40.8-billion budget.

According to an analysis of states’ financial reserves that The Pew Charitable Trusts published last month, states’ reserves represented a median of 15% of operating costs. In Pennsylvania, 15% would equate to about $6 billion.

The median Rainy Day Fund is actually less than 15% since Pew’s analysis also included leftover general fund budget dollars. Still, we believe the Republicans are right to argue that Pennsylvania’s Rainy Day Fund isn’t where it needs to be.

Meanwhile, Senate Democratic Leader Jay Costa forecast that, with Pennsylvania’s economy emerging from the pandemic, the surplus could grow to nearly $7 billion by the end of the fiscal year.

“By no means do we need to be hoarding $7 billion by June 30,” Costa told the newspaper.

We agree, particularly when the federal stimulus money was intended to relieve the pandemic’s negative economic impacts by providing assistance to households, small businesses, nonprofits and heavily impacted industries such as the tourism and hospitality sectors. It is also suggested that it be used to provide additional pay to “essential” workers, invest in water, sewer and broadband infrastructure and replace lost tax revenue.

To us, socking the money away to prevent a possible future tax increase doesn’t align with any of those recommendations.

We believe that Senate Democrats’ “New Deal for Pennsylvania” doesn’t leave enough capital to adequately address the health of the Rainy Day Fund. But the Republicans’ plan largely wastes the opportunity to put the money to good use now, when so many Pennsylvanians need it.

So, in the spirit of compromise, we urge both to look at the House Democrats’ plan to use about $3.2 billion of the stimulus — half of what the Senate Democrats wanted — to train and pay direct care workers, create jobs in local communities, support businesses that are unable to stay open due to COVID, connect everyone to high-speed internet, repair or replace toxic school buildings, provide property tax and rent relief, promote affordable housing, give hazard pay to essential workers and create a Paid Sick and Family Leave program.

Those initiatives would make a real difference in the lives of Pennsylvanians. And there’d be billions left over to provide the Rainy Day Fund with a needed infusion of capital with storm clouds on the horizon.

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Altoona Mirror. Nov. 20, 2021.

Editorial: Pennsylvania infrastructure must improve

For months, but what to most Americans might seem like years, the word “infrastructure” has been running a close second to “COVID-19” and its horrible toll of sickness and death.

Now that President Joe Biden has signed into law the $1.2 trillion Infrastructure Investment and Jobs Act, much center-stage attention has begun giving way to the president’s roughly $2 trillion healthcare, education and climate-change package that remains some distance away from final resolution and a presidential signature.

But, like it or hate it, what has transpired on the infrastructure front, the topic demands important additional consideration from an aspect that did not receive much public discussion leading up to last Monday’s signing ceremony.

In its Tuesday edition, the Wall Street Journal discussed that aspect at length under the headline “U.S. Infrastructure struggles with new weather forecast; heat, rain overwhelm systems designed to withstand old climate patterns.”

“Across America, historically anomalous weather is overwhelming infrastructure and government systems designed to withstand the weather of the past, forcing cities and utilities to rethink resiliency plans,” the article said.

The article began with mention of the 22-foot-high floodwall that was supposed to protect a water treatment facility near the Schuylkill River from a storm categorized as a 100-year event. However, when the remnants of Hurricane Ida battered the area near Philadelphia in September, the 18-inch-thick wall proved to be no match for the record rains that inundated the area.

Meanwhile, according to the Journal, the city of Miami Beach is spending approximately $1 billion on a plan to raise roads, lift sea walls and install new pump stations to deal with the more-intense downpours that the city has been experiencing in recent years.

Also in the eastern part of the nation, specifically in New York City, climate-resiliency investments have been targeted in large part to addressing vulnerabilities to coastal storm surge highlighted by superstorm Sandy in 2012. And, in California, drought conditions have revealed the fragility of the state’s inter-related power and water systems.

The message stemming from the Journal’s detailed look into what the future might hold is that planners who will be deciding how exactly to allocate the money their states and communities will be receiving under the Infrastructure Investment and Jobs Act need to delve deeply beyond the structural basics of roads, bridges and water systems.

They will need to study carefully the potential negative impacts — weather and any other — on those new assets and ensure that those possible impacts are taken into full account in the construction and renovation plans that are forthcoming.

An article in Tuesday’s Mirror reported the new federal infrastructure bill will bring billions of dollars to Pennsylvania through formula allocations and that the state, a primary funding recipient, will be able to seek competitive grants for other programs.

“In a number of areas, the new federal money comes on top of existing federal aid,” the article says.

Ida exposed an unanticipated vulnerability; California, for one, also is experiencing new challenges.

Planners in the Southern Alleghenies region must capitalize on knowledge emanating from what others have done wrong.

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