Editorial Roundup: Pennsylvania

Philadelphia Daily News/Inquirer. September 25, 2022.

Editorial: At stake in Mastriano vs. Shapiro, the fate of abortion rights in Pennsylvania

At stake in Mastriano vs. Shapiro, the fate of abortion rights in Pennsylvania ' Editorial

Abortion is legal in the commonwealth within the first 23 weeks of pregnancy. Whether that remains the case depends on who is elected governor on Nov. 8.

Abortion is on the ballot this year.

Nowhere is the choice clearer than in Pennsylvania. The races for governor and U.S. Senate could determine whether people have access to reproductive rights in Pennsylvania and nationwide.

In June, the U.S. Supreme Court overturned Roe v. Wade, unraveling a nearly 50-year precedent guaranteeing a right to an abortion and opening the door for states to outlaw the procedure. So far, 14 states have banned most abortions, and some leading Republicans are pushing for a federal ban.

In Pennsylvania, abortion is legal within the first 23 weeks of pregnancy. Whether that remains the law of the commonwealth depends on who is elected governor on Nov. 8.

Republican gubernatorial candidate Doug Mastriano is all-in on outlawing abortion in Pennsylvania. In the spring, Mastriano said abortion was his “No. 1 issue.”

If elected, Mastriano promised to “move with alacrity” to ban abortion after about six weeks into a pregnancy. He made clear his ban would include victims of rape and incest. “I don’t give a way for exceptions,” Mastriano said.

Mastriano dismissed a pregnant person’s right to choose what to do with their own body, saying: “My body, my choice is ridiculous nonsense.” So much for privacy, freedom, and individual rights.

Given the state House and Senate in Pennsylvania are controlled by Republicans, if elected, Mastriano would have a clear path to outlaw abortion.

The current governor, Tom Wolf, a Democrat who is completing his second term and is barred from running for reelection, is the only thing keeping Harrisburg lawmakers from imposing Texas-style antiabortion measures. Since Wolf took office, the General Assembly has introduced six different antiabortion bills. Wolf vetoed three measures that made it to his desk and vowed to veto any others that came before him.

Mastriano’s opponent is Attorney General Josh Shapiro, a Democrat. Like Wolf, Shapiro supports a pregnant person’s right to an abortion in Pennsylvania. After the Supreme Court overturned Roe, Shapiro rallied in defense of abortion rights with hundreds of others at the National Constitution Center in Philadelphia.

Research shows that abortion bans do not stop people from seeking abortions. But the bans do increase the health risk to pregnant people and lead to more deaths.

That has not stopped some Republicans who are now pushing for a national abortion ban. U.S. Sen. Lindsey Graham (R., S.C.) introduced a bill recently to prohibit abortions nationwide after 15 weeks. More than 80 House Republicans support a ban at 15 weeks. Former Vice President Mike Pence said barring most abortions after 15 weeks was “profoundly more important that any short-term politics.”

Republican lawmakers in purple and blue states are not as eager to publicly embrace a national ban, fearing a backlash from voters. But that could change after the election. That means control of the evenly divided Senate could determine if abortion is banned nationwide.

Mehmet Oz, the Republican candidate for U.S. Senate in Pennsylvania, has been squirrelly when it comes to the abortion issue. He recently said he did not support a federal ban on abortion “unless there was broad bipartisan support.” But Oz also claims to be “pro-life.” At a town hall last spring, Oz said abortion is “murder” at any stage.

If elected, Oz would likely fall in line with his Republican colleagues if they had the votes to pass a national ban. Meanwhile, Senate Democrats are seeking to pass a bill that would legalize abortion nationwide. Oz’s opponent, John Fetterman, the Democratic nominee, supports abortion rights. Fetterman issued a statement that said: “abortion is a decision that should only be made by a woman and her doctor.”

Pennsylvanians deserve to have a fundamental right they had for nearly 50 years before three new Supreme Court justices decided to upend the legal precedent.

The stakes are high in Pennsylvania, and the choice on Election Day is clear.

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Pittsburgh Post-Gazette. September 22, 2022.

Editorial: City Council should cut the Downtown residential red tape

The possibility of Downtown as a truly mixed-income residential neighborhood, rather than merely a destination for office workers and concertgoers, is within reach. The city’s move to simplify the process of converting unused office space to residential units will bring that vision closer to reality.

As usual, over the years bureaucratic requirements that seemed reasonable at the time have built up into a labyrinth that slows development and cramps quality of life in Pittsburgh. From time to time, it’s important to take stock of the system and ask: Do these regulations actually help the city?

The Pittsburgh Planning Commission has identified two particular rules, both of which unnecessarily limit residential units without tedious extra permissions that are making it harder to transform Downtown.

The first has to do with transferring permissions from one property to another. As an example, Victrix LLC was limited by regulations to 216 residential units at the GNC building at Sixth and Wood. In order to go beyond that, the company had to “transfer” development rights for about 38 units from other properties. And to do that, it needed the approval of the entire City Council.

It’s the kind of red tape that can set a project back months or years or stop it from happening at all. Simplifying the process of expanding residential unit permissions only makes sense.

The second change would allow developers to build more units on smaller lots. As it stands, there are limits on the number of residential units that can be built based on the size of the lot. This cashes out to minimum unit sizes, which basically assures that Downtown living is reserved for people of above average means.

The Pittsburgh Downtown Partnership estimates the population of Downtown at more than 7,000 residents, up from about 5,200 in 2018. That trajectory is projected to continue. Meanwhile, the partnership’s senior director of urban design, Bruce Chan, pointed out that 66% of Downtown property is dedicated office space, the fifth highest rate in the country, while the city’s overall office market has a vacancy rate of about 22%, according to Newmark, a commercial real estate firm.

That’s a lot of empty space. Turning into apartments would mean more people living Downtown, which in turn would means better support for retail and grocery stores, boosting convenience and quality of life for everyone.

Increasing the supply of residential space could also decrease prices, and the city is already working to use more than $2 million of American Rescue Plan funds specifically to convert some office space into affordable units. If Downtown is to thrive as a neighborhood, it needs to be a mixed-income neighborhood, not a redoubt of the wealthy.

A long-awaited, game-changing victory for Downtown occurred in July when Target finally opened in the old Kaufmann’s building, providing a range of food and clothing and household goods. City Council should continue this momentum and approve the zoning changes, making Downtown more welcoming and attractive for developers and residents alike.

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Pittsburgh Tribune-Review. September 27, 2022.

Editorial: Impact of gun violence transcends victims and must be addressed

“Three shot at Kennywood.” “Man shot in McKeesport.” “One man fatally shot, one wounded in Pittsburgh’s Hill District.” “Vehicles struck by gunfire in Pittsburgh’s South Side neighborhood.” “Two juveniles shot in Pittsburgh’s Sheraden. “

Those are the headlines from one weekend’s violence in the Pittsburgh area.

Just one weekend.

Why? What is prompting so much gun violence in the area?

It is not something that has just erupted as kids have gone back to school. Over the summer, crime on the South Side prompted outcry from businesses begging for laws to be enforced. At least one shop closed, with the Fudge Farm saying it couldn’t ask its young staff to risk their lives for a job selling candy.

It isn’t restricted to the Pittsburgh city limits, although as the densest population in the area, it does lead the way.

But what is most important to recognize is that one or two victims here and there — over and over again — is a simple but terrible math problem over time.

To date in 2022, there have been 76 homicides involving guns in Allegheny County, according to the latest reports from the county.

But that’s not quite true.

The last victim on the list was Dante Jones on Sept. 9, who was shot multiple times in his car at a Penn Hills gas station. It does not include anything in the more than two weeks since, including Warnell Boyd, 46, who was found Saturday in the doorway of a Bedford Avenue home in the Hill District.

But even beyond the time frame, the list is woefully incomplete because it measures only a specific kind of victim. There are more casualties than it can count.

It also doesn’t include the other victims — the ones who didn’t die but suffered gunshot wounds. It doesn’t include others noted in the reports of violent confrontations. Robert Dietrich, 78, of Kennedy is noted for his June 17 homicide but not his neighbor, Charles Collins, who shot and killed himself after killing Dietrich.

It doesn’t include the grieving and broken family members who might not have scars but are victims nonetheless.

It doesn’t include the property owners whose neighborhoods are ripped apart by bullets. It doesn’t include the other business owners — the ones still keeping their doors open and trying to attract customers when every weekend looks a lot like that list of horrible headlines.

It is in the aftermath of a shooting like the one that scattered bullets around a North Side Airbnb house party on Easter weekend or the Tree of Life mass shooting in Squirrel Hill that people talk about problems and solutions.

The real problem is that we don’t adequately address the pileup of bodies and victims over time in an epidemic of violence that cannot be prevented with vaccines or masks. It is not a daily, weekly, steady conversation that acknowledges how many people we lose to the tragedy of gun crimes that have become as endemic as the common cold.

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Scranton Times-Tribune. September 24, 2022.

Editorial: Extend free school meal programs

One of the lessons school administrators learned from the COVID-19 pandemic is that eligibility standards for free school breakfasts and lunches don’t quite meet the actual need.

For two years during the pandemic, the federal government expanded eligibility standards to provide free breakfasts and lunches to all students. In Pennsylvania, according to the Department of Education, the number of kids who ate meals at school rose by 16%, especially for breakfast.

The federal waivers that eliminated the financial eligibility guidelines expired at the end of June, raising the prospects that thousands of kids no longer would have access to nutritious meals during the day. That has implications for education because hungry students are distracted students, and for the kids’ health.

In August, Gov. Tom Wolf announced that the state would use $21.5 million in leftover federal pandemic funds to provide universal free breakfasts to any of Pennsylvania’s 1.7 million public and private school students who want them. The program will run from Oct. 1 through the end of the fiscal year, June 30.

Meanwhile, state Sen. Lindsey Williams and Rep. Emily Kinkead, both Allegheny County Democrats, advocate permanently providing free breakfasts and lunches for all Pennsylvania school students. Philadelphia schools already do so under federal authority because of the city’s high poverty rate.

The legislators want to establish a permanent, $275 million fund to cover universal access to meals at school, citing research showing that school-provided meals boost kids’ healthy food intake, decrease childhood obesity and support better learning outcomes. According to the School Nutrition Association of Pennsylvania, about 14% of the state’s school-aged children regularly experience food insecurity, which can be mitigated by ensured access to meals at school.

Lawmakers should ensure that as many Pennsylvania students as possible have unfettered access to the nutrition that they need to be healthy, to grow and to learn.

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York Dispatch. September 25, 2022.

Editorial: A real-life McGruff returns to school. But is that a good thing?

Most Americans of a certain age remember McGruff the Crime Dog, the anthropomorphic bloodhound who encouraged schoolchildren throughout the ’80s and ’90s to “take a bite out of crime.”

The messages, delivered by local patrol officers in sweaty dog costumes, seem quaint in retrospect: Lock your doors. Memorize your phone number. Never talk to strangers. McGruff is still used by some school districts but his efforts feel inadequate against the threats posed by child abusers, drug violence and, of course, school shootings.

York City School Police Officer Quinn Johnson recently spoke on a troubling phenomenon among some of the city’s students who arm themselves with guns for their walk to and from school, hiding them nearby before they attend class.

Some of these students believe it’s better to be caught with a gun than without one, Johnson said, noting that officers have discovered several of these guns stashed nearby.

Of course, there’ve also been a number of K-12 students gunned down in the city.

By Superintendent Andrea Berry’s count, there’ve been nine students killed since she joined the district in 2017.

Against this backdrop, York City school officials approved the purchase Wednesday of a real-life McGruff — a Belgian Malinois that can sniff out gun and bomb residue — to help patrol the areas surrounding the city’s schools, looking for these guns and assisting with investigations.

Berry stressed that this police dog will only enter the schools during emergency situations after staff clear the area of students. The dog, named Blaze, won’t be sniffing students. Indeed, she said, Blaze won’t be interacting with students or their possessions at all.

But it’s a sad testament to the dysfunctional gun culture in our country that a school is forced to spend money on a police dog — the district plans to recoup the cost via pending grant applications — that could be spent on virtually anything else.

Teenagers don’t simply wake up one morning with a gun.

And they don’t simply decide to bring it with them on their walk to school.

There is a well-documented supply chain for these illegal guns, one that we’ve known about for decades.

In Pennsylvania, there’s no background check requirement for guns purchased via a private seller. Likewise, the state doesn’t require gun owners to report their weapons lost or stolen. Nor is there a mandatory waiting period or requirements that guns be kept in lockboxes. Finally — and this is less relevant for much of York City’s gun violence — there’s no system for keeping guns out of the hands of people who are suicidal or who have exhibited a history of violence.

Of course, state gun laws are only part of the equation.

A 2017 study conducted by the Chicago Police Department found that 60% of traceable guns recovered during the course of criminal investigations were purchased outside Illinois. Of those, the vast majority came from states with comparatively lax gun laws: Indiana (21%), Mississippi (5%), Wisconsin (4%), Ohio (3%) and so on.

Pennsylvania sees a similar phenomenon, based on Bureau of Alcohol, Tobacco, Firearms and Explosives data that was last updated in 2019. Its top sources of traceable guns used in criminal activity include far-flung Florida (3%) as well as Georgia, Ohio and Virginia, each at about 2%. The percentages are lower, of course, because Pennsylvania itself has lax gun laws compared to Illinois.

More stringent local gun laws would certainly help but we also need a national solution to keep guns from crossing state lines. Instead of tackling these structural issues, the solution seems to be the increasing militarization of our schools via armed resource officers, metal detectors and, now, gun-sniffing dogs.

But wouldn’t it be easier to keep guns out of kids’s hands in the first place?

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