Editorial Roundup: Pennsylvania

Lancaster Lancaster Online/LNP. June 12, 2022.

Editorial: Pa. Supreme Court should allow cities to impose gun regulations aimed at improving safety

Everyone knows that Philadelphia has a gun violence problem. The city has been experiencing a horrific number of gun homicides in recent months — as Lancaster County parents who send their kids to Philly colleges are sharply aware.

A mass shooting on the city’s popular South Street last weekend left three people dead and 11 others injured.

According to the Philadelphia Office of City Controller, there were, as of Wednesday, 805 nonfatal victims of gun violence and 198 fatal shooting victims so far this year. The Philadelphia Inquirer has reported that more than 500 people were killed by guns in that city last year.

We’ll leave it to others to assess the culpability of progressive Philadelphia District Attorney Larry Krasner. What we know is that any county or city district attorney or police department in Pennsylvania is hamstrung by a state Legislature that refuses to act on commonsense gun regulation, and prohibits municipalities from passing their own gun ordinances. This has been a source of frustration for Lancaster city Mayor Danene Sorace and city law enforcement officials.

As we wrote in July 2020, after a man with a rifle slung across his body walked around Lancaster Central Market, we understand the need for uniformity of gun laws. But we’ve come to believe that cities ought to be able to regulate how guns are carried in their often-crowded public spaces.

Unfortunately, some state lawmakers preach “local control” about other issues but never, it seems, in the face of pressure from guns-rights organizations.

Gift to gun lobby

Which is why we hope the Pennsylvania Supreme Court hears the gun cases brought by Philadelphia and Pittsburgh.

As Spotlight PA reported, one case centers around a Philadelphia ordinance involving reporting lost and stolen firearms. If that sounds familiar, that’s because in 2015, the National Rifle Association sued the City of Lancaster over the city’s own — very sensible — ordinance, which required gun owners to report lost or stolen guns to the police.

This is how deep in the pocket of the gun lobby state lawmakers are: In January 2015, a state law (Act 192) went into affect that enabled anyone or any organization “adversely affected” by a local gun ordinance to sue the municipality; legal standing was granted even if the plaintiff didn’t reside in the municipality.

Anyone or any organization. And not only that, but under Act 192’s provisions, if the plaintiff won in court, the municipality had to pay the plaintiff’s legal costs. But it was a one-way deal: There was no provision in the law that required the plaintiff to pay the municipality’s legal costs if the municipality prevailed.

State lawmakers and then-Gov. Tom Corbett placed all the risk on taxpayers. As we wrote in 2015, this was “patently unfair” and only strengthened “the perception that Act 192 was the state lawmakers’ offering to gun rights activists who wanted to punish local municipalities that had the audacity to enact gun ordinances.”

Fortunately, in June 2016, the Pennsylvania Supreme Court affirmed a Pennsylvania Commonwealth Court ruling that found Act 192 of 2014 to be unconstitutional.

Common sense prevailed in the courts. Sadly, common sense remains absent in the state Legislature.

As Spotlight PA reported, Philadelphia officials hope the Pennsylvania Supreme Court now will “strike down as unconstitutional a 1995 law that preempts local jurisdictions from enacting stricter gun regulations — which could in turn force the Legislature to rewrite it.”

The city — which brought the suit with the nonprofit CeaseFirePA and city residents who lost loved ones to firearms — contends that gun violence disproportionately impacts low-income communities and communities of color. The petitioners assert that the state’s preemption law has endangered their lives in violation of the state constitution.

Do we have any hope of the Legislature writing a better law? We do not. But at least striking down this law would force a discussion.

In late May, Commonwealth Court dismissed the Philadelphia lawsuit in a 3-2 decision. As Spotlight PA reported, “It cited, among other factors, precedent from previous cases — including a key state Supreme Court ruling affirming the Legislature’s exclusive right to write gun laws — that unsuccessfully sought to give local governments more say in regulating firearms. ... But in an unusual move, the court amended its decision shortly after it was issued to include a nod to the need for more public discourse on guns.”

And Judge Renee Cohn Jubelirer, a Republican, suggested it might be time for the state’s highest court to reconsider precedent. According to Spotlight PA, Jubelirer “highlighted the toll that gun violence takes on certain communities, which she said could justify stricter restrictions than those that exist in state law. She said the ‘novel’ constitutional arguments raised by the city could provide a basis for the state Supreme Court to reexamine the preemption question.”

We truly hope it does.

Senseless scourge

Pennsylvania — Lancaster County included — has not escaped the scourge of mass shootings. Nearly everyone can recall the tragedies of the West Nickel Mines School in Bart Township and the Tree of Life Congregation in Pittsburgh.

But as CeaseFirePA points out, there actually have been more than 100 mass shootings in Pennsylvania in the past five years. Most of them did not draw national attention, but gunfire injured or killed four or more people in each incident, meeting “the common definition of a mass shooting.”

Today’s Perspective section offers a variety of views on how we might address the issue of gun violence. It would be nice if Lancaster County lawmakers read them with open minds.

Last week, in the wake of the Uvalde, Texas, and Buffalo, New York, mass shootings, the Democratic-controlled U.S. House passed the Protecting Our Kids Act, a package of measures that includes raising the minimum age for buying semi-automatic rifles to 21.

U.S. Rep. Lloyd Smucker of Lancaster County sadly, but not surprisingly, voted against it, doing the bidding once again of the gun lobby, which has contributed generously to his campaign coffers.

Perhaps no one informed Smucker that the Uvalde and Buffalo shootings were carried out by 18-year-olds who legally purchased the semi-automatic rifles they used to inflict mass carnage.

Or that research shows that many mass shooters are young men, whose brains and impulse control function are not fully developed.

There are scientifically sound reasons for raising the minimum purchase age for semi-automatic rifles, which can pulverize the flesh of their targets, as happened to at least two children massacred inside Uvalde’s Robb Elementary School, according to a pediatrician’s testimony last week before a U.S. House committee.

That pediatrician, Dr. Roy Guerrero, said that innocent “children all over the country today are dead because laws and policy allow people to buy weapons before they’re legally even old enough to buy a pack of beer.”

He said he cannot figure out “whether our politicians are failing us out of stubbornness or passivity or both.”

We fear that in Harrisburg as well as Washington, D.C., it’s something worse: a combination of cowardice and craven ambition.

We would love to be proven wrong.

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Philadelphia Daily News/Inquirer. June 12, 2022.

Editorial: It’s up to Pa. voters to preserve democracy in November

Jan. 6 showed us that the American Experiment is fragile. There is no guarantee that it will prevail if a candidate who pledges to override election results take office.

Finally, the Pennsylvania primary is over, which means voters now have a clear sense of what’s at stake on Election Day.

Doug Mastriano, the Republican nominee for governor, is one of the leading deniers of the undeniable truth that Joe Biden defeated Donald Trump in the 2020 presidential election. The state senator launched his campaign by pushing bogus conspiracy theories that voting machines were hacked by the Chinese government. Mastriano later helped stage a pseudo hearing attended by Trump lawyer Rudy Giuliani that alleged voter fraud but produced no legitimate evidence.

Mastriano kept in contact with Trump before the former president left office about efforts to overturn the 2020 election. Mastriano was at the Capitol on Jan. 6, after saying in advance that he would be a speaker at the rally that produced a riot. Mastriano’s campaign spent thousands of dollars to charter busloads of protesters from Pennsylvania to what became a violent, deadly debacle.

Video from Jan. 6 appears to show Mastriano and his wife, Rebecca, in the crowd marching past breached barricades set up by Capitol Police to keep rioters away. While there is no footage showing Mastriano entering the Capitol, scores of his fellow protesters called for Vice President Mike Pence to be hanged, threatened to kill House Speaker Nancy Pelosi, and ransacked the halls of Congress, causing millions of dollars in damage.

The attempted coup, pushed by Trump and his cronies in a vain effort to deny the will of the majority of voters in the 2020 election, showed us that democracy is fragile and not guaranteed. Fortunately, the American system of checks and balances withstood this attack — but barely.

There is no guarantee that democracy will similarly prevail after the 2024 presidential election. But this year’s midterm results could determine whether the plotters would even need another coup attempt.

Mastriano’s election could be the domino that launches a chain reaction that affects the 2024 presidential election. He is on record endorsing an anti-democratic scheme that allows state legislators to override election results by handpicking their own electors. He also boasted in a radio interview that if elected governor he could appoint a secretary of state who could overturn an election if Mastriano didn’t like the outcome. “I could decertify every machine in the state with the stroke of a pen,” he said.

Scores of deniers of the 2020 presidential election results are running for governor, attorney general, and secretary of state in a number of key battleground states. If they win, they could overturn elections when their chosen candidates lose.

Control of Congress also hangs in the balance. If election-deniers take control of both the House and Senate, they could object to the slate of electors chosen by a state’s voters and subsequently invalidate a presidential election. This is not far-fetched: 147 House Republicans voted to invalidate Biden’s election in 2020.

With the Senate currently split 50-50, how Pennsylvania votes in November will play a pivotal role in determining the future of the democracy.

Celebrity TV doctor Mehmet Oz, the Republican Senate nominee, has refused to acknowledge that Biden won the 2020 election. Trump endorsed Oz, who in turn voiced support for the 2020 election fraud conspiracies.

The longtime New Jersey resident has no political experience. He has been widely criticized for touting medical quackery, including endorsing hydroxychloroquine, the malaria drug recklessly pushed by Trump, to treat COVID-19. But he could win.

Given all the other Republican candidates trafficking in lies and phony election fraud conspiracies, it’s up to voters to preserve our democracy.

Biden won Pennsylvania by 1.2%, or 80,555 votes. That may sound tight, but Trump won Michigan, Pennsylvania, and Wisconsin by only 0.2, 0.7, and 0.8 percentage points, respectively, in 2016. Essentially, 80,000 voters in those three states elected Trump president.

The difference between democracy and authoritarianism can depend on only a few thousand voters, which is what makes Pennsylvania so important.

Pennsylvania voters in 2020 saved the country from the clear and present dangers that likely would have prevailed had Trump remained in power. His past praise for Vladimir Putin suggests he would have turned a blind eye or even supported Russia’s invasion of Ukraine. His disdain for NATO made him incapable of coaxing that league of nations to depend less on Russian oil and gas.

A recent poll found that 64% of Americans believe U.S. democracy is “in crisis and at risk of failing.” The power to alter that perception, however, is in their hands.

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Pittsburgh Post-Gazette. June 10, 2022.

Editorial: What is Rep. Perry trying to hide from the public?

The first public hearing of the January 6 Select Committee revealed that Rep. Scott Perry, R-York, contacted the White House in the waning days of the Trump administration to request a presidential pardon. This flawed and desperate request makes us question Rep. Perry’s ethics and loyalty to his oath of office.

Legal experts agree that presidential pardons are intended for persons accused of or convicted of federal crimes. It is extremely rare for anyone to receive a preemptive pardon for an offense already committed but not charged. Rep. Perry had led an effort to turn back the results of the presidential election, but he had not been charged with a crime.

Even though many of President Trump’s pardons were distasteful, at least they followed the legal requirements of Article II, Section 2 of the U.S. Constitution. Those of three of his close associates and advisers, for example.

Steve Bannon was under federal indictment for misuse of funds collected in an online campaign called We Build the Wall when Mr. Trump pardoned him. Roger Stone was already convicted of obstruction, witness tampering and lying to Congress when the president commuted his prison sentence and later pardoned him. Even Paul Manafort, who had been convicted on eight counts of tax and bank fraud, received a pardon.

In contrast to these men, Mr. Perry had not even been accused of a federal crime when he requested a pardon. Was he, by the very act of asking, admitting to criminal or unethical behavior? Why else would he ask? It certainly raises suspicions.

Mr. Perry is one of the few people who has refused to comply with a subpoena from the Select Committee. His refusal to comply also raises the question of what he is trying to hide. Is he implicitly admitting that he could not tell the committee the truth, the whole truth and nothing but the truth?

As we await more details from the Committee, a growing cloud of doubt surrounds the actions of Rep. Perry. The House Freedom Caucus, which he chairs, declares that it supports the Constitution and the rule of law. His request for a preemptive pardon and his refusal to honor a legitimate demand for his testimony suggest other priorities.

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Scranton Times-Tribune. June 12, 2022.

Editorial: Easy to vote against PLCB, but for what?

Republican state Rep. Natalie Mihalek’s proposed constitutional amendment to get Pennsylvania out of the booze business is simplicity itself: “The Commonwealth shall not manufacture or sell, at wholesale or retail, liquor.”

The state government’s only legitimate roles regarding alcoholic beverages should be regulation and enforcement — licensing wholesalers and retailers, establishing laws and regulations and enforcing them, setting taxation rates, and so on.

Yet the state government has a comprehensive monopoly over wholesale and retail sales of liquor, wholesale control and near total retail control of wine, and regulatory control of beer sales.

The system is a convoluted, anti-consumer mess. It features absurdities like requiring a separate checkout for beer and wine sales in supermarkets, which are allowed to sell wine and beer for takeout only if they establish an area to dine in.

Alcoholic beverages are consumer products that should be sold through the private sector. System defenders insist that the state must retain its monopoly for the sake of public safety, in that state employees won’t risk their jobs by selling to underaged people — a position that assumes a private-sector retailer would risk a multimillion-dollar license by doing so. And if safety is the issue, why doesn’t the state sell guns?

The other argument is the potential loss of state revenue from private-sector conversion. But the state still would continue to collect taxes on alcoholic beverage sales, and it would lose associated costs.

Statewide, the Pennsylvania Liquor Control Board has more than 600 retail stores and about 2,500 full-time employees. The size of the state market would ensure a robust private-sector industry and numerous job opportunities.

Due to their vast experience with the PLCB, a majority of state voters likely would vote against the monopoly. But they also should know what they would be voting for.

As a constitutional amendment, the proposal would have to pass two consecutive sessions of the Legislature before being sent to the voters. It passed the House Liquor Control Committee on Thursday, by a 14-10 party-line vote. That gives proponents plenty of time to provide a comprehensive picture of private-sector wholesale and retail operations.

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Uniontown Herald-Standard. June 12, 2022.

Editorial: School districts should make their own decisions about students and cellphones

Many news reports about the horrific school shooting in Uvalde, Texas, last month noted that many students called 911 from phones they carried with them. From this, a conclusion could be drawn that cellphones in classrooms are a good thing, at least when it comes to the safety of students and teachers.

The whole picture, however, is much, much more complicated. In fact, experts in protecting schools believe that having a surfeit of cellphones in use within a building could heighten the threat, due to switchboards being flooded with calls, phones making unintended noise during an incident or social media posts that could offer clues to shooters about where individuals are hiding.

School shootings are, thankfully, rare occurrences. But educators have faced a more enduring dilemma in whether to allow students to have their cellphones with them in the classroom. Some say they are a learning tool. Others argue that they are a distraction, can facilitate cheating and cyberbullying, and hinder the social growth of children who are not interacting with one another when they are glued to their devices.

France has prohibited cellphone use by students in the classroom, as has Ontario, Canada’s largest province. New York City had a ban on cellphone use that came to an end in 2015. No states in America have managed to put a sweeping ban against cellphones in classrooms on the books, although a few have considered it.

This has not deterred state Rep. Anthony DeLuca, a Democrat from Penn Hills, from introducing legislation that would bar their use in classrooms across the commonwealth. According to the Tribune-Review, DeLuca was encouraged to put the proposal forward as a result of a decision by the Penn Hills School District to have students stash their phones away during the school day.

According to DeLuca, “I think this is a good opportunity for everyone to do it because students would be able to communicate and learn better.”

DeLuca’s proposal is well-intended. To be sure, he and others who would like to see cellphones jettisoned from the classrooms for all but supervised learning experiences have some compelling arguments on their side. We all know many adults are held captive by their phones, even when they are engaged in activities that should demand their whole attention, like driving, crossing the street, watching a movie or play or attending a concert. A classroom would be an ideal place for young people to learn that there is value in separating themselves from their phones, even if only for a relatively short time, and giving their all to the tasks before them.

But we feel uncomfortable with a statewide, one-size-fits-all mandate barring cellphones from the classroom. This is a decision best left to school boards and administrators in individual districts. Let them decide how best to use cellphones, and whether, in their classrooms, they disrupt learning or enhance it.

Who knows? Perhaps since cellphones have been a part of their lives since day one, the generations in primary and secondary grades right now will learn to use their phones much more responsibly than many of their elders.

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