Editorial Roundup: Pennsylvania

Philadelphia Daily News/Inquirer. September 28, 2022.

Editorial: The shooting at Roxborough High and the absurd state law that limits local gun safety measures

Because of Pennsylvania’s preemption laws, city officials are left with a set of meager tools to address gun safety.

It should come as no surprise that Mayor Jim Kenney’s executive order banning guns and other deadly weapons at city recreation centers and playgrounds did nothing to prevent a 14-year-old boy from getting murdered Tuesday after a football scrimmage outside Roxborough High School.

While Kenney’s executive order — which was announced hours before the shooting — was well intended, it underscores the meager gun safety tools public officials have in a country (and state) that has been hijacked by the gun lobby and a perverted interpretation of the Second Amendment. As a result, Philadelphians are left defenseless by Pennsylvania’s absurd preemption law that prevents local governments from implementing their own gun safety measures.

At the federal level, mostly Republican lawmakers have refused for decades to implement basic gun safety measures, while conservatives on the Supreme Court have placed gun rights above human life.

Kenney’s executive order was in response to a Department of Parks and Recreation worker who was killed by a stray bullet while sweeping outside of a center earlier this month. The ink was barely dry on the order when a spokesperson for the corrupt National Rifle Association called it “illegitimate.”

Hours later, a 14-year-old boy was killed and four other teens were shot as they were ambushed while walking off a football field to their school bus. It was the 23rd shooting death of a child and the 400th murder in Philadelphia this year, leaving the city on pace to match last year’s record of 562 homicides.

Children have been shot in barbershops, on porch stoops, and in their own bedrooms in Philadelphia this year.

Philadelphia has tried numerous times to pass gun safety measures, only to be stopped by the state. Most recently, the city filed a lawsuit challenging the state’s firearm preemption statutes, which say a local municipality cannot enact its own gun laws. The city argued the GOP-controlled General Assembly has violated the right to life and liberty enshrined in the state constitution by declining to pass gun safety measures.

But in May, a Pennsylvania appeals court rejected the lawsuit. The majority Republican court panel voted 3-2 along party lines. The court ruling — and the continued inaction by the General Assembly — came despite polls that show the majority of Pennsylvanians want stronger gun laws.

Despite the rise in gun violence, roadblocks are everywhere when it comes to gun safety. More than 40 other states have preemption laws similar to Pennsylvania.

In June, President Joe Biden signed a bipartisan gun safety bill that was hailed as the most significant measure passed in three decades. While the law will help save lives, it is hardly a game changer.

Meanwhile, the Supreme Court has paved the way for the return to frontier lawlessness when it comes to guns. In June, the court struck down a New York law that had been in place for more than 100 years that placed strict limits on carrying guns in public. The 6-3 ruling by the conservative majority was expected to spark legal challenges in other states and give Americans broad rights to carry guns virtually anywhere.

The ruling builds on the court’s 5-4 landmark 2008 decision in District of Columbia v. Heller that, for the first time, said the Second Amendment “protects an individual right to possess a firearm unconnected with service in a militia.” The idea that the Second Amendment extends to individuals is a concept that began in the 1980s during the Reagan administration and was aided and abetted by the political rise of the NRA.

Former Chief Justice Warren E. Burger, a conservative, called the concept of an individual right to bear arms a “fraud.” Former Justice John Paul Stevens, another conservative, said the Heller decision was the court’s “most clearly incorrect” ruling of his long tenure.

In 2018, Stevens said the Second Amendment should be repealed. That is not happening anytime soon, but gun safety should be treated as a public health crisis and regulated like cars, where owners are required to get licenses, training, and gun locks. But that won’t change until voters hold pro-gun lawmakers accountable.

Until then, there will be more and more senseless shooting deaths.

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Pittsburgh Post-Gazette. October 4, 2022.

Editorial: Mehmet Oz’s specious medical claims raise questions of financial integrity

U.S. Senate candidate Mehmet Oz has, rightfully, hammered his Democratic opponent, Lt. Gov. John Fetterman, for a lack of transparency about his health following a serious stroke. To his credit, Mr. Oz released his medical records, after a Post-Gazette editorial urged both candidates to do so. Mr. Fetterman has not.

But the celebrity doctor also has questions he needs to answer concerning the health claims he made to his millions of viewers. On his long-running television show, Mr. Oz enthusiastically promoted cures and remedies that either lacked scientific evidence, or had been proven ineffective.

Voters deserve to know whether a candidate unabashedly used his celebrity to enrich himself. They should know how — and to what extent — Mr. Oz profited from the claims he made.

Mr. Oz has said his enthusiasm for everything from green coffee bean extract for weight loss to the rare element selenium for cancer prevention — both debunked — came from a desire to give his viewers hope. But of what ultimate benefit are false promises and empty hopes to desperate people? And to what extent did Mr. Oz know he was making spurious claims?

Like any federal candidate, Mr. Oz submitted a financial disclosure when he entered the race. Last year, his primary income came from three sources, all associated with his television show and controlled all or in part by him and his wife, Lisa. From Zoco Productions, LLC, he received about $2.2 million for his roles as host and producer of the Dr. Oz Show. From Oz Works, LLC, another production company, he received $350,000 as a consultant. And from Oz Media, LLC, he received about $7 million through his ownership stake.

Those disclosures, however, don’t show where his companies got their money, or whether companies that produced the supplements and other products he hawked paid any of his companies for the privilege. Transparency about whether Mr. Oz personally profited from the hopes he engendered speaks to his integrity, just as transparency about Mr. Fetterman’s health does to his.

Financial transparency and integrity are especially important, given the ongoing scandal of congressional stock trading. There are ample opportunities for members of Congress to profit from their privileged knowledge — all of which should be restricted by a strengthening of the STOCK Act. We hope Mr. Oz and Mr. Fetterman plan to support it as a U.S. senator.

Meantime, Mr. Oz can raise the standards of trust and transparency by disclosing financial records that show to what extent, if any, he profited from his often controversial medical claims.

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Pittsburgh Tribune-Review. October 3, 2022.

Editorial: How many state parks is enough?

Pennsylvania is filled with natural beauty.

The rivers. The forests. The mountains. The state is teeming with wildlife from the valleys of the southwest to the Appalachian peaks of the north-central region and the slopes to the sea of the Chesapeake watershed. It’s a vital part of what makes the Keystone State what it is.

It also contributes heavily to what makes the state successful. A 2012 estimate from Penn State showed the state park system actually generates about $1 billion annually into the economy. That’s an impressive part of the overall economy.

There are 121 state parks in the 67 counties across Pennsylvania — an average of almost two parks per county. The Department of Conservation and Natural Resources’ Bureau of State Parks oversees more than 300,000 acres of public land. They charge no fees but offer equal access to all for the hiking, fishing, camping and other activities that not only benefit Pennsylvanians but also bring in tourist dollars.

But how many parks are enough parks?

It’s not a criticism. It’s a real question. When will we, as a state, feel like we have preserved enough of its natural wonder? Right now, from Ohiopyle to Point State Park, Black Moshannon to Washington Crossing, all that DCNR land makes up about 1% of the state’s total acreage. Is there a threshold of what should be kept in check?

The state is on the cusp of adding three more parks with a price tag of $45 million: 700 acres in Wyoming County, 1,700 acres in Chester County and 1,100 acres in York County.

We have already established that state parks are a good thing. But is more of them an exponentially better thing? Will more parks increase what is there to use for Pennsylvanians, or will it just redistribute the people who already avail themselves of the park across a greater area, increasing the expense but not the use? The same could be asked about out-of-state tourists.

It’s not that this is a bad thing or that anyone would object to adding more parkland to the roster.

The question is about timing.

Pennsylvania is staggering under the weight of real problems when it comes to money. PennDOT needs to figure out how to fund projects because bridges aren’t going to fix themselves. The Pennsylvania Turnpike Commission keeps raising tolls even though more people are driving through the unstaffed toll stations without paying. There isn’t one state agency that couldn’t use more money.

So, is this the right time to add another 3,500 acres of state park to the mix?

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Scranton Times-Tribune. October 1, 2022.

Editorial: In crucial area, state honors visionary

Throughout its history, Pennsylvania uniquely has been endowed with visionaries, from religious freedom advocate William Penn, to Benjamin Franklin and his fellow Founders who launched the American democratic experiment in Philadelphia, to environmentalist Maurice K. Goddard.

Succeeding leaders not always have honored those visionaries’ dreams. Some, for example, try to restrict, rather than ensure, broad religious freedom and voting rights that undergird the republic.

The state has been far more consistent, however, in honoring Goddard’s legacy. Following World War II, as secretary of the Department of Forests and Waters, and later as secretary of the Department of Environmental Resources, he laid out an audacious proposal to vastly expand the state park system so that at least one would be within 25 miles of every Pennsylvania residence.

The state did not reach that goal during his lifetime. But it added 45 parks before he left office in 1979, and more by the time of his death, at 83, in 1995.

Today Pennsylvania has one of the nation’s largest state park systems, with 121 parks covering more than 300,000 acres, and more than 2.2 million acres of state forests.

Pennsylvania residents have embraced Goddard’s legacy. The parks hosted more than 41 million visitors in 2021, demonstrating the parks’ value as refuges from the COVID-19 pandemic.

Recognizing that public support, the Legislature and Gov. Tom Wolf have committed $695 million in federal pandemic recovery funds to improve state parks.

And now, the administration has announced the creation of three new state parks, including the first in Wyoming County. The state will acquire the 669-acre Howland Preserve, just west of Tunkhannock, from the North Branch Land Trust, to become Vosburg Neck State Park. It’s a tremendous development for Northeast Pennsylvania that ensures long-term preservation and public access to the land along the Susquehanna River.

The state also will acquire 1,700 acres in Chester County, and 1,100 acres in York County to create two more state parks, raising the state total to 124.

The acquisitions tie modern Pennsylvania to its Penn’s Woods legacy, honor the work of an environmental visionary, and ensure a Pennsylvania connected to nature far into the future.

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Wilkes-Barre Citizens' Voice. October 4, 2022.

Editorial: Momentum for state universities

This academic year, the first fully open one amid the COVID-19 pandemic and the first for a highly restructured system, is a major test for state universities operated by the Pennsylvania State System of Higher Education.

Enrollment at the 14 campuses has plummeted by about 25%, from 120,000 in 2010-2011 to 89,000 for the 2021-2022 school year. Official enrollment for this year is expected to show another overall decline of about 4.5%, to about 85,000.

That decline obscures a genuine cause for optimism, however. This year’s freshman class is between 5% and 7% larger than the 2021-2022 freshman class. Whether that signals a true reversal of the system’s fortunes remains to be seen. But as system Chancellor Daniel Greenstein put it, “If you’re going to bend your enrollment, you’ve got to start with your incoming class.”

The system must deal with the overall decline in college enrollment nationwide, about 9.4% since the pandemic began, but its problems are more acute for multiple reasons. It maintains campuses in areas that have been particularly hard hit by population declines, and the system is not as well-funded as many of its counterparts in other states.

This year, Bloomsburg, Lock Haven and Mansfield universities have been consolidated into the Commonwealth University of Pennsylvania. But that has not stopped the enrollment decline. Greenstein estimated that overall enrollment is down by about 3% on those campuses and that freshman enrollment declined by about 5%.

The system also consolidated Clarion, California and Edinboro universities into Pennsylvania Western University. Overall enrollment there declined by about 11% but freshman enrollment rose by about 1.5%, Greenstein said.

The other schools in the system are Cheyney, East Stroudsburg, Kutztown, Indiana, Slippery Rock, Shippensburg, Millersville and West Chester universities. East Stroudsburg experienced a 46% increase in the freshman class, including transfers, but that was largely due to the last class being tiny due to the pandemic.

It appears that some of the system’s initiatives, beyond the consolidations, have had a positive impact — especially holding tuition flat and providing more employment-specific programs.

The Legislature should help the system maintain momentum by providing enough funding and aid to hold down tuition.

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