Editorials from around Pennsylvania

May 17, 2017 GMT

Editorials from around Pennsylvania



Beginning in August, as the result of a law passed last year, Pennsylvania will begin requiring first-time drunken drivers to get ignition interlock systems installed on their vehicles.

What that means is that, before the person’s car will start, the driver will, in effect, be required to pass a sobriety test.

That law is a significant step toward attacking the DUI problem.


However, people who understand the importance of sobriety when operating a motor vehicle should welcome the more aggressive assault on that problem being proposed by Lancaster County Republican state Sen. Scott Martin.

Martin has introduced a bill that would create a mandatory “world of hurt” for any individual convicted of more than two DUIs in a 10-year period.

There would be two aspects to that “world.”

Martin said more than two DUI convictions within 10 years would mean at least two years of jail time; a habitual drunk driver who causes the death of another person could be charged with a first-degree felony mandating decades behind bars.

Acknowledging that some measures, such as interlock, have been — and are — being implemented, Martin said, “It is my hope that we can take another step toward making our communities safer by keeping some of the most dangerous offenders off the road for a very long time.”

Unfortunately, there still are people driving with multiple DUI convictions. If Martin’s bill is passed, they’d be wise not to risk another arrest.

In one sense, it’s ironic that Martin’s legislative proposal comes at a time when the state Department of Transportation has reported a record-low number of traffic fatalities for 2016. But Malcolm Friend, program director for Mothers Against Drunk Driving in Pennsylvania, pointed out that the fatal numbers — there were 263 reported DUI-related deaths recorded last year compared with 306 in 2015 — tell only part of the story.

Friend told the Community Newspaper Holdings Inc. news service that, while the number of people killed by drunken drivers dropped, the number of people injured seriously by them increased.

From the national perspective, Pennsylvania’s DUI laws are regarded as among the weakest in the United States. The personal finance website WalletHub, which has branched into producing research reports and surveys, released a ranking last August showing that only two states — North Dakota and South Dakota — have weaker DUI laws than the Keystone State.


Why Pennsylvania has been so reluctant for so long to truly crack down on drunken driving is puzzling.

Even when the federal government mandated that states lower the blood-alcohol-content threshold for a DUI conviction to .08 from .10, it took this state’s lawmakers until virtually the last minute to meet the deadline that Washington imposed for compliance or risk losing some funds.

In the press release announcing his proposed legislation, Martin said, “We need to make sure repeat offenders face a punishment that matches the dangerous nature of the crime.”

The Pennsylvania Senate and House are scheduled to reconvene on May 22. Despite the extensive work that remains regarding preparation of a 2017-18 state budget, lawmakers should put Martin’s proposal high up on the Legislature’s agenda.

In the meantime, the measure deserves strong backing from police, other organizations and the public in general. A mandatory “world of hurt” for drunken drivers is the right kind of deterrence — the right kind of medicine — for this serious problem.

—Altoona Mirror





If you voted Tuesday, the odds are overwhelming that you were not attracted to the polls by state appellate judicial races.

And if you’re like most voters, the first time you encountered the names of the people seeking those extremely important offices was when you saw them on the ballot.

You couldn’t start a ballot, take a timeout and go home to study the candidates, then come back later to vote. So you went with what the ballot gave you — the candidates’ names, party affiliation and home counties.

So it is that hundreds of thousands of votes statewide, in every appellate judicial race, are based largely on on-the-spot guesswork. Some voters cast their ballot based on geographic affinity, selecting a judicial candidate from a nearby county — the main reason that appellate court seats go disproportionately to candidates from Philadelphia and Pittsburgh. Other voters might choose based on party affiliation, ethnic camaraderie or even ballot position, which itself is random.

Winners of Tuesday’s primaries for a Supreme Court seat, for Superior Court seats and two Commonwealth Court seats will conduct campaigns until the November election. They will raise money to fund advertising, mostly from narrow special interests with specific business in the courts — lawyers, union and business representatives, policy advocacy groups and so on. Following those highly political campaigns, the newly elected judges will assume offices that, by the judiciary’s own rules, are supposed to be apolitical.

This judicial election, like every statewide judicial election, is a reminder that there is a better way for Pennsylvania to select judges — a merit selection process and gubernatorial appointment with Senate consent.

There is no perfect method, no way to remove all politics from judicial selection. But an appointive system with strict rules for qualifications would be a substantial improvement.

It’s too late for this election cycle. But lawmakers have two years to pass a constitutional amendment making the change so that voters can approve it by referendum before the next round of appellate elections in 2019

— The (Scranton) Times-Tribune





Bad habits are hard to break. And one of the bad habits folks who serve in state government develop is overspending, especially when it comes to compensation — their own!

Take former Gov. Ed Rendell. He was a prolific spender during his time in Harrisburg. He returned to Philadelphia after his term ended. What didn’t end were his spending habits.

Rendell last year chaired the Philadelphia 2016 Host Committee, which oversaw the city’s handling of the Democratic National Convention. Among the committee’s tasks was raising money to stage what turned out to be a very successful event that not only did the city proud but brought revenue into city coffers thanks to convention goers’ eating, drinking and making merry.

To enable the festivities, the committee raised $86 million, including a $10 million grant from the state. The state’s involvement stems from its interest in supporting large events that provide economic benefits to Pennsylvania. At least that’s how Gov. Tom Wolf, a Democrat, explained the state’s generous contribution of taxpayer money to help fund what clearly was a political event. Regardless, Wolf is now miffed over what the committee did with nearly $3 million in leftover funds.

Instead of returning that money to taxpayers, as Wolf argues it should have, the committee packaged some $1.2 million as grants to local nonprofits. More than $500,000 in municipal services refunds went to the city. And — this is the one that really annoyed Wolf — almost a million dollars in bonuses were handed out to host committee members and staff, including $310,000 for committee executive director Kevin Washo.

The Philadelphia Inquirer and Daily News reported the bonuses after it was finally disclosed at the federally mandated deadline. So the committee clearly wasn’t eager to publicize what happened to its surprise surplus.

Forced to explain the decision to dole out bonuses, Rendell said the state money was kept separate from general host committee funds and that it wasn’t used to pay salaries or bonuses. He also said the $310,000 that Washo received wasn’t all bonus money but included back pay for earlier work, and that the bonuses made up for staff and committee members’ low pay and long hours. An audit backed Rendell’s story that all the state money was used for the venue license and construction costs.

There is some skepticism regarding that audit, which is all of 10 pages. And so Wolf has called on state Auditor General Eugene DePasquale to conduct another audit. Republican leaders in the Legislature have piled on. So far, DePasquale hasn’t yielded to the pressure. He should.

In our view, whether state money was kept separate or mixed in with other funds doesn’t matter. There wouldn’t have been a surplus without taxpayers’ generous contribution, and so taxpayers should have gotten the leftover money.

But as is the habit of Harrisburg, taxpayers were given no consideration, let alone a bonus.

—(Levittown) Bucks County Courier Times





Admitting you were wrong is hard for anyone.

It’s hard for Republican leaders, who five months into the Trump administration have grown weary of the almost daily messes he creates.

It’s becoming harder for the 90 percent of Trump supporters who are trying to stand by their man come hail or high water. Many are starting to ask, is he worth it?

The questioners’ ranks increase with each new pratfall by President Donald Trump, the latest being his admission that he shared secret information with Russian envoys because as president he had the “absolute right” to do it.

If you think that sounds petulant, you would be right. And petulance is not a good trait in any adult, especially a president expected to provide intellectually guided leadership in even the most stressful situations.

The Washington Post first reported Trump’s blabbing to Russian foreign minister Sergei Lavrov and ambassador Sergey Kislyak about information reportedly obtained by Israeli intelligence concerning Islamic State’s ability to evade security to place sophisticated explosives aboard aircraft.

Trump’s national security adviser, Lt. Gen. H.R. McMaster, was put in the awkward position of trying to explain the president’s behavior, insisting Tuesday that Trump “in no way compromised any sources or methods” during last week’s meeting with the Russians.

Asked why White House officials felt compelled to immediately alert the CIA and National Security Agency to Trump’s disclosure, McMaster suggested that was an overreaction. He said, “the president wasn’t even aware of where this information came from.”

Trump defended his behavior in tweets, his favorite form of communication. “As President I wanted to share with Russia (at an openly scheduled White House meeting) which I have the absolute right to do, facts pertaining to terrorism and flight safety,” he said.

The president further explained that he decided to share the intelligence because, “I want Russia to greatly step up their fight against ISIS and terrorism.”

Trump keeps singing that song, but the Russians, accompanied by Syrian President Bashar al-Assad and the Iranian ayatollahs, are playing a much different tune, one that begs the president to take more care in choosing his friends.

The latest sign of Trump’s infatuation with all things Russian has pushed Senate Republican Leader Mitch McConnell to the edge. “I think we could do with a little less drama from the White House on a lot of things so that we can focus on our agenda,” he said.

But the drama isn’t likely to end anytime soon, not with this president, who treats each day like another episode of a TV reality show.

McConnell and other Republicans in Congress, who obviously felt they could put up with Trump’s foibles if it meant adding the White House to their trophy case, have to be wondering if he will bring the whole thing crashing down.

Trump doesn’t listen to them, or anyone else, it seems. Ultimately it will be up to the American people to get Trump’s undivided attention, and let him know they need him to either be a real president or be gone.

—The Philadelphia Inquirer





Americans should not forget, amid all the attention to the evil doings of Iran, that Iran does have elections, presidential ones, every four years, with the next round scheduled for Friday.

That said, these are Iranian elections, conducted under the watchful, oppressive eyes of Supreme Leader Ali Khamenei and the other ayatollahs, not bearing much resemblance to elections in places like France, Britain or the United States, although each of those countries’ elections, too, have their own idiosyncrasies.

First of all, every candidate for president of Iran must be approved to run by the Guardian Council, a group of old, conservative ayatollahs for the most part. Six candidates made it past that wire this time, although one has since dropped out. Someone, perhaps the Guardian Council, suggested strongly to previous controversial president Mahmoud Ahmadinejad that he not run this time.

Coming into Friday there are still five candidates in the race, although two of these are expected to drop out before the polling, in an attempt to consolidate support behind the favorite candidate of the conservatives, Ebrahim Raisi.

The favorite in the race is President Hassan Rouhani. Iranian presidents normally win two terms, so Mr. Rouhani may receive a second term. From the point of view of the likely future well-being of the Iranian people, Mr. Rouhani is probably the best candidate. In his favor, in spite of some spiky positions taken by the Iranian government, is the fact that it was under his leadership that Iran arrived at the agreement with China, France, Germany, Russia, Britain and the United States to bridle Iran’s nuclear weapons program for a period in return for the removal of some economic and financial sanctions in place against it.

That accord has not brought Iranians the great improvement in their economic situation that they had hoped for, and that Mr. Rouhani had promised, but it has made a difference. The United States has dragged its feet for political reasons on taking advantage of the new open door to trade and investment in Iran that the agreement was billed to bring. One exception was two large orders to Boeing for some $23 billion for new commercial aircraft. Boeing estimates that the sale could result in as many as 18,000 new jobs for Americans.

There has been some grumbling in Washington about the Iran nuclear deal having been a bad bet for the United States, but it is also obvious that even if the United States pulled out of the agreement, the Europeans and other signatories would not, thus putting America in the position of shooting itself in the foot, not damaging Iran, by its action.

It is also the case that Saudi Arabia, the United Arab Emirates, some of America’s other Sunni Muslim allies in the Persian Gulf and Israel have sought, with some success, to pull America into the military and political competition in the Middle East with Shiite Iran, most notably in the war in Yemen. In Iraq, the United States finds itself on the same side as Iran, opposing the Islamic State and other Sunni elements in support of the Shiite government in Baghdad.

It remains important for Americans to bear in mind that there is no advantage for the United States in taking sides in this intra-Islamic scrap. America is, after all, selling aircraft to both sides.

—Pittsburgh Post-Gazette





By declining to hear an appeal regarding an overturned pernicious vote-suppression law in North Carolina, the Supreme Court of the United States has in effect offered cautionary guidance to the Trump administration.

The North Carolina voter identification law, passed in 2013 by Republican majorities in that state’s legislature, was designed to suppress minority votes — especially those of African-Americans. The 4th Circuit Court of Appeals, sitting in Richmond, Virginia, ruled in 2014 that the law had done so with “surgical precision.”

Monday, the Supreme Court said it would not hear North Carolina’s appeal, meaning that the 4th Circuit ruling stands.

Recently President Donald Trump, who falsely has claimed that there was widespread voter fraud in the 2016 presidential election, established a “Presidential Commission on Election Integrity.” The advertised purpose of the enterprise is to identify and prevent voter fraud. But he named Vice President Mike Pence its chairman and Kansas Secretary of State Kris Kobach its vice chairman.

As governor of Indiana, Pence championed and signed one of the nation’s most restrictive voter identification laws. Kobach is the architect of multiple voter-suppression laws that have been overturned by federal courts.

Republican state legislatures have been trying since President Barack Obama’s 2008 election to make it harder for minority citizens to vote, without producing any evidence of voter fraud.

The commission must not emulate that course. If it does, it deserves the same fate in the federal courts.

—The (Wilkes-Barre) Citizens’ Voice