Editorial Roundup: Pennsylvania

Philadelphia Inquirer. Dec. 2, 2021.

Editorial: How Pa. can protect abortion rights no matter what the Supreme Court decides

The future of abortion in Pennsylvania is going to be decided in 2022 — not only by nine U.S. Supreme Court justices but by millions of voters across the commonwealth.

For years, there have been concerns that the conservative majority on the highest court in the land would eventually lead to the erosion of abortion rights. This week, those fears seemed to have proven prescient.

On Wednesday, the Supreme Court heard oral arguments in Dobbs v. Jackson Women’s Health Organization — a case that challenges the core tenets of abortion jurisprudence in the United States. For nearly half a century, since the landmark decision in Roe v. Wade in 1973, pregnant people have had a right to terminate a pregnancy. States can’t ban the medical procedure before 24 weeks of pregnancy.

Things changed in 2016. The death of Justice Antonin Scalia left a vacancy on the court that a Republican-controlled Senate refused to allow President Barack Obama to fill. Also that year, Republican presidential nominee Donald Trump promised voters that if he gets to put “two or perhaps three justices on” the Supreme Court, overturning Roe “will happen automatically.”

Trump got his three justices — conservatives, none older than 53, and all freshly minted by the Federalist Society. Now it was just a matter of the right case coming before the court.

So when Mississippi enacted an abortion ban after 15 weeks of pregnancy, the state’s Republican lawmakers knew exactly what they were doing: They crafted a direct challenge to Roe, giving the newly 6-3 conservative court the opportunity to abolish it.

The conservative justices didn’t hide their contempt for abortion during the hearing. Justice Clarence Thomas asked “what constitutional right protects the right to abortion,” a question that seemed to disregard nearly 50 years of precedent. Justice Samuel Alito compared reversing Roe to reversing Plessy v. Ferguson — the case that allowed for legal racial segregation. Justice Amy Coney Barrett argued that laws that facilitate adoption “take care of” the harm that abortion intends to address.

Precedent be damned — supporters of the conservative majority got the case they wished for, and America is left waiting until the court’s ruling is issued next summer to see the extent to which pregnant people will still be able to control their own bodies.

Reversing Roe leaves abortion rights in the hands of state lawmakers. It all but guarantees a ban will be pushed in Pennsylvania. Republicans have tried that already. In 2017, Gov. Tom Wolf vetoed a ban that would have restricted procedures after 20 weeks of pregnancy. Every legislative session, Republicans introduce a six-week ban. Last month, in response to a lawsuit challenging Pennsylvania’s prohibition on Medicaid coverage of abortion, Republicans proposed an amendment to the state constitution “clarifying that there is no right to an abortion or abortion funding.”

Despite all this, there are ways to defend the crucial right to an abortion in the commonwealth — a right that has saved lives, promoted gender and economic equity, and advances liberty.

Congress can enact a law enshrining a right to an abortion. A law doing exactly that, the Women’s Health Protection Act, passed the House of Representatives this fall. Pennsylvania Sen. Bob Casey is one of two Democrats who didn’t express support for the bill. Without filibuster reform, the abortion-rights bill won’t pass the Senate, but that doesn’t mean that Casey should be let off the hook.

“Senator Casey will be reviewing the briefs and the arguments in Dobbs v. Jackson as he continues to consider the Women’s Health Protection Act,” his office told this board Thursday, adding that a Senate vote hasn’t been scheduled yet.

In 2022, Pennsylvania will elect a senator to replace retiring Republican Pat Toomey. Ensuring that the seat gets filled by a supporter of abortion rights would be critical in a post-Roe America.

Also in 2022, Pennsylvania will elect a governor to replace Wolf, who is finishing his second term. The governor’s pen has kept Pennsylvania from enacting abortion bans more than once, and it’s essential that his successor is also willing to safeguard the rights of pregnant people.

Nine justices in black robes don’t get to have the final say on abortion rights in Pennsylvania. A reversal of Roe would be a calamity for the nation. In Pennsylvania, it wouldn’t be the end of the fight.

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Harrisburg Patriot News. Dec. 5, 2021.

Editorial: Harrisburg residents can be sure their drinking water is safe, even if the Susquehanna River is polluted

Capital Region Water wants to make one thing perfectly clear: the people of Harrisburg don’t have to worry about their drinking water. It’s clean. It’s safe. It’s even pristine. And it tastes darn good.

This is an important point, because the Lower Susquehanna Riverkeeper Association has raised alarms about raw sewage flowing into the Susquehanna River. It’s an alarm we’ve taken seriously. We raised our voices with those demanding something be done about a public health crisis that has gone on for too long.

We are compelled to see the parallels to Flint, Michigan, where officials looked the other way for years, letting a serious water problem go unchecked and risking the health and safety of thousands of people.

But CRW officials say no one’s looking the other way here. They acknowledge there’s a problem. They just don’t have the money to fix it. And they are adamant in asserting that — unlike in Flint — there’s no issue with the safety of the drinking water. No issue whatsoever.

CRW President Charlotte Katzenmoyer says the Susquehanna River is not the main source of drinking water for residents of the City of Harrisburg – the DeHart Reservoir is. The Susquehanna River serves as a backup supply and is a source of drinking water for only 12 days each year in an exercise designed to make sure it’s ready, if needed.

Even then, she assures residents, the water is thoroughly treated, utterly safe and combined with waters from DeHart.

We thank CRW profoundly for reassuring Harrisburg residents who have every right to be concerned about the pollution of the Susquehanna River. And we duly note CRW’s point that the Susquehanna is not the main source of the capital city’s drinking water.

But the river does provide drinking water for millions of people living in other areas along its banks. So, we should not be lulled into complacency about the risks of a polluted river that feeds into the Chesapeake Bay.

We know Harrisburg isn’t the only source of the pollution, but that’s little comfort to those who live in the capital city. They deserve better. We all do.

We call on local, state, and federal officials to act in the best interest of the people of Harrisburg and beyond. They all must work together to stop raw sewage from routinely entering the Susquehanna River. And, since money is the root of this evil, we urge CRW and the residents of Harrisburg to demand some of the millions coming to Pennsylvania from the American Rescue Act to address the problem.

Let’s not gloss over the issue. The polluted Susquehanna is a threat to the health and safety of thousands of people in the region and anyone who ventures into its waters. We insist officials at all levels treat this crisis with the urgency it deserves.

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York Dispatch. Dec. 7, 2021.

Editorial: Michigan tragedy should serve as a warning to parents, school officials in York County

Today, we have a simple plea.

We are asking every parent and every school official in York County to pay close attention to what has transpired over the last week in Oxford Township, Michigan.

There are vital lessons to be learned from the tragedy there and we must not miss the opportunity to take heed.

Maybe, just maybe, if folks in these parts do some serious self-examination, we can avoid a similar senseless act of violence here.

The news from Michigan seems to indicate that there’s plenty of blame to go around for the shooting allegedly by a troubled 15-year-old boy that left four students dead and six more wounded.

The parents in the case are rightly being prosecuted for their alleged actions in giving their troubled teen the gun he allegedly used to commit the murders. School officials may also get charged for their reported lack of action, despite some alarming warning signs.

Still, we’re not all that interested in the blame game. The prosecutors in Michigan will take care of that.

What we are interested in, however, is what we can do to make sure something similar doesn’t happen in York County.

Gun safety: No. 1, if you are a parent, and a gun owner, make absolutely sure that the gun, or guns, in your home is/are secure at all times.

Young children should never have access to the weapons, nor should older children who have any kind of criminal or mental-health history.

Older children who do have access to guns, such as hunters, must be educated on the proper way to handle a weapon and be informed of the dire consequences that can come from the cavalier operation of a gun.

Look for warning signs: No. 2, every parent and school official should look out for the warning signs that the children in their charge may be contemplating violent acts, either to themselves or to others.

In Michigan, those signs seem to have been overlooked, with tragic consequences.

If a child gives any indication of violent tendencies, parents and school officials need to react swiftly and diligently.

Don’t just assume that a kid is simply acting out, with no real intention of following through on the threat. Every threat must be taken seriously.

Proper protocols: No. 3, school officials need to review their protocols for handling such situations.

Is everyone in every school building educated on the warning signs? Do they know how to act and who to contact if they see troubling behavior? Do they know what to do if the unthinkable occurs and shots are fired within a school building?

The answer to each of those questions must be an emphatic yes.

It’s happened here: We can’t turn a blind eye and say it could never happen here, because it has happened here.

In 2003, Red Lion Area Junior High School principal Eugene Segro was shot by a 14-year-old student, who then turned the gun on himself.

The Red Lion school district was also the site of a machete attack on a kindergarten class that wounded 11 children, the principal, and two teachers at Winterstown Elementary School in February 2001.

Those acts are just part of a nationwide cycle of school violence that shows no signs of abating. Michigan was just the latest sad chapter.

Given our history, we must be prepared here in York County to take every step necessary to make sure it doesn’t happen again.

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Scranton Times-Tribune. Dec. 6, 2021.

Editorial: Trust in government? Don’t gerrymander

Ever since Joe Biden carried Pennsylvania in the 2020 presidential election, Republican leaders have attempted to discredit that fair and accurate vote. They are about to spend a minimum of $275,000 in public money on an “investigation” of that election because, they claim, people must have trust in the government.

If people don’t have trust in the government, of course, it’s because these very same politicians have told them not to trust it.

If state lawmakers truly wanted Pennsylvanians to trust their government, they would do away with practices that state residents repeatedly identify as leading to mistrust. At the top of that list is political gerrymandering, the practice of drawing congressional and state legislative districts for political advantage rather than fair representation.

In polling in Pennsylvania this fall by the bipartisan political advocacy group RepresentUS, 89% of respondents said they opposed a redistricting process that fashioned districts for the benefit of either political party or individual politicians.

Asked what would increase their confidence in elections, 57% of respondents cited the elimination of gerrymandering as their first response.

There is some hope this year that the process and the resulting districts will be cleaner than in the past. The state has divided government, with a Republican-majority Legislature and a Democratic governor. And the state Supreme Court, which eliminated heavily gerrymandered congressional districts in 2018 and commissioned a fair district map, already has demonstrated scant tolerance for gerrymandering.

Yet lawmakers have yet to reveal congressional or legislative maps, even though 19 other states already have completed their processes. The risk is a repeat of 2011, when the self-serving legislators sat on the maps until the last moment and rammed them through to passage with scant public review. Those maps were so rigged that the Supreme Court prevented their use for the 2012 elections.

If lawmakers want to increase trust in government, they will produce maps soon and conduct a highly transparent public vetting process.

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Pittsburgh Post-Gazette. Dec. 5, 2021.

Editorial: Bike trail leads to economic growth

It takes about two and a half hours to drive from Pittsburgh to Cumberland, Md. The scenic route takes a bit longer.

The Great Allegheny Passage, which connects the two cities, is about 150 miles and takes about two or three days, depending on one’s pedaling speed. About a million bikers from all over the country and more than 35 countries hit the trail each year and, according to a recently released study by the Pittsburgh consulting firm Fourth Economy, they generated an economic impact of $121 million in 2019.

This is a huge increase over the $40.7 million the then-unfinished trail helped produce in 2009 during the last economic impact study. Since its completion in 2013, the trail has seen businesses flourish, property values near the trail double over the rate of median values in Pennsylvania and Maryland, and helped produce $19 million in tax revenue.

The far-reaching Great Allegheny Passage has been a key factor in towns in both states’ progression from manufacturing economies to healthier, more diversified economies.

The increased tourism has boosted the hospitality and retail businesses by leaps and bounds in recent years, as bikers stop at restaurants and breweries, crash in local hotels or Airbnbs, and purchase replacement gear or parts. In 2019, GAP users put more than $74 million into local economies along the trail, causing about $22 million in indirect spending (purchases by businesses) and nearly $25 million in induced impacts, which the study explains as “household spending from income generated by direct and indirect impacts in the GAP region.”

Of the hundreds of trail riders and residents in the nearby towns surveyed, an overwhelming 93% said the GAP is a boon to the communities it passes through.

In addition to the economic figures, the trail is also a scenic introduction to the beauty and majesty of this part of the country, including some spectacular vistas at the Eastern Continental Divide in Meyersdale, Somerset County. Other towns impacted in Pennsylvania include Pittsburgh, Homestead, McKeesport, West Newton, Connellsville and others.

Ridership mirrored other outdoor trail usage in 2020, leaping into high gear during the pandemic and increasing by around 50%. Even this jump in usage wasn’t enough to offset revenue lost due to COVID, but the Post-Gazette’s Bob Batz Jr. reports that there are “many signs of hopeful activity along the trail,” as existing businesses continue to rebound and entrepreneurs launch new ventures.

Residents and trail riders should keep the trail’s scenic and economic value in mind when planning forays and do what they can to keep the corridor vibrant.

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