Editorials from around Pennsylvania
Recent editorials of statewide and national interest from Pennsylvania’s newspapers:
Fireworks confounding Legislature
The Altoona Mirror
Pennsylvania lawmakers still are trying to think of ways to undo the Legislature’s shortsightedness and narrow-mindedness when they passed a law in October 2017 to abandon what was then the commonwealth’s archaic, overly restrictive fireworks rules.
The effort to bring rules governing explosive and related colorful products such as Roman candles used primarily during national, state and community Independence Day celebrations wasn’t wrong in intent.
The problem was — and remains — that legislators and the governor failed to anticipate the law’s windows for problems and failed to implement certain needed restrictions while keeping the basic framework of the new law intact.
Long prior to Pennsylvania’s fireworks action, numerous other states already had abandoned their unnecessarily restrictive fireworks laws and addressed quickly the need for changes after their initial experiences with those measures. Not Pennsylvania.
Now, nearly two years after passing Pennsylvania’s law, lawmakers still are grappling with the issues that were capable of being resolved within weeks or months after the 2018 July 4 celebration.
But instead, new proposals still are being put forth on how to deal with ongoing concerns, now that the second Independence Day the current law has been in effect is past. A Mirror article last Sunday focused on three proposals:
— To prohibit consumer fireworks use between 10 p.m. and 8 a.m., unless it is a holiday or use during some or all of those restricted hours is allowed by a municipal permit.
— To give municipalities authority to regulate and limit the use of fireworks.
— To increase criminal penalties for fireworks violations and provide beefed-up guidance to municipalities regarding reasonable fireworks controls.
Obviously, many state residents aren’t looking kindly on the newest efforts to update the 2017 law, fearing that the commonwealth is trying to return to long-outdated restrictions. However, those opponents to proposals in the works need to acknowledge the reason why lawmakers have found it necessary to revisit the issue.
The reason is that there has been too much irresponsible conduct since state residents were given the OK to use the full line of fireworks that comply with federal requirements tied to consumers.
Certain items remain illegal — such as M-80s, M-100s, cherry bombs and quarter- and half-sticks — but anyone is naive to think that such items have not reached consumers since the Legislature’s 2017 action.
People need to recall descriptions of Altoona’s 2018 Independence Day, such as the one in a Mirror report on April 11, describing some people’s conduct as having a “pyrotechnical fusillade.”
Even without the state’s tweaking of the 2017 law, some municipalities already have acted — commendably — to better control fireworks, including Altoona and Logan Township.
Without any certainty that the state will act in time for July 4, 2020, other communities that have experienced problems since the new law went into effect need to move forward with their intent to avoid a repeat of problems.
It must be acknowledged that the goal of expanding fireworks sales two years ago was not so much more fun for fireworks buyers but, instead, to generate tax revenue for state coffers and for fire companies and other emergency responders.
Those intents were OK but, unfortunately, many people have responded irresponsibly to the new rights granted them. Lawmakers must not still be talking about fireworks and associated safety-rules revisions a year from now.
A year later, Pa. Senate still dodging grand jury findings on clergy abuse
The Easton Express-Times
One year after an investigating grand jury gave Pennsylvania legislators all the evidence they needed to update laws on child sexual abuse — in fact, Pennsylvania’s groundbreaking work led to reforms in other states, including New Jersey — the response in Harrisburg has been little more than “we’ll get to it.”
The grand jury report identified more than 300 priests as sexual predators and thousands of victims. It spawned investigations by other states’ attorneys general and a probe by the U.S. Department of Justice.
Instead of acting to extend the legal redress of survivors who suffered at the hands of Catholic Church clergy throughout the state, as painstakingly detailed by the Pennsylvania grand jury, state Senate Republican leaders have balked at proposals to set up retroactive “windows,” which would allow long-ago victims to file civil claims in court.
One rationale is that exemptions to create limited windows of liability are unconstitutional — and will require a multi-year effort to amend the state constitution.
The state House didn’t seem to have the same problem when it passed a reform package and sent it to the Senate, where it has lingered. Under the existing law, victims must file criminal cases by age 50 and civil cases by age 30.
Another rationale cited by GOP leaders, including Senate President Pro Tempore Joe Scaranti, is that Catholic dioceses in Pennsylvania are reviewing claims by abuse victims and making payouts, a process that is private and unpublicized. While that avenue may be working for some victims, including those who’d rather not go to court, it doesn’t allow for the disinfecting effect and documentation of open court action. More critically, it denies due process — or what should be a latent due process, in a civilized world — to people whose innocence was stolen at a tender age and have endured decades of suffering and wondering. Some of them are in their 70s and 80s.
We were reminded last week that it is not just the Catholic Church and other religious institutions that have overlooked sexual crimes against children, putting up walls of denial or silence.
In a lawsuit filed in Philadelphia against the Boys Scouts of America, a 57-year-old former Scout claims he was sexually assaulted many times by an assistant scoutmaster in the 1970s. That suit might be the beginning of a wave of litigation, based on allegations raised by about 800 men in the United States.
It’s not exaggerating to say the sense of shame exposed by the Pennsylvania grand jury — and in allegations against Boy Scout leaders — is being revisited by a lack of courage and responsibility in the Legislature. And not to be redundant, but most Democrats and many Republicans in both houses have made it known they’re willing to make significant changes to the law.
GOP leadership in the Senate holds the key to making this change, when lawmakers return to session in September.
If other states can do it, why can’t Pennsylvania?
Priorities of young Pa. voters include issues that have little to do with the economy
Harrisburg Patriot News
It’s not the economy, stupid. But it is debt. College debt, to be precise.
That’s the pocketbook issue that’s propelling young voters to the polls in 2020, and it just might be at the top of the list, according to Pennsylvania students who attended the International Young Leaders Conference and Career Fair held recently at Harrisburg University of Science and Technology.
The conference, co-sponsored by PennLive, is an annual event organize by summer interns of the World Affairs Council of Harrisburg to engage high school and college students in civic and global issues. This year’s conference focused on “Youth and Politics: 2020.”
During tough economic times there are pocketbook issues that galvanize older voters: the economy, a volatile stock market, unemployment and jobs. That’s a group who has to worry about having roofs over their heads, utility bills and medical expenses. But the politically engaged young people who attended the young leaders conference seemed to have different priorities, and the economy wasn’t high among them.
College debt was. It’s one of the single biggest issues for high school and college students about to enter the voting booths for the first time. They wanted to talk about it and to hear who’s doing what about it. They are definitely interested in who wants to erase it.
But strange as it might seem to those over 40, climate change is just as important to many young voters.
That’s right. Young people in Pennsylvania are worried about whether they will have a planet to live on. Many of them don’t think global warming is a hoax. They believe their science teachers. They frown on Styrofoam and plastic straws. They’re going to vote with the scientists.
And there’s another issue high on their list: gun violence. They live with lockdowns and mass-shooter drills and the real threat of a gunman walking into their hallways. They’re impatient for solutions to a problem that has defined their childhoods.
Direct and without apology, some students asked the experts, ” What do you think is the best solution to limit access to gun ownership in the U.S.?”
Many were still reeling from the fresh news of the mass shootings in El Paso and Dayton, and they were thinking about what they faced when doors opened for a new school year only a few weeks away.
Several who had just turned 18 years old took the time to sign up to vote. And they seemed determined to do so in 2020.
Some of them contemplated taking it a step further and running for public office one day. The students heard from young people in both parties not much older than them who are candidates for public office. These young people weren’t just sitting around waiting for someone else to tackle the problems that seem to paralyze today’s lawmakers. They were ready to do something about them.
What’s their chief obstacle? Entrenched older folks who block their paths and think they’re too young to know anything, they said.
At least at the local level among the next generation of political leaders represented at the conference, there doesn’t seem to be the kind of political vitriol that separates Republicans and Democrats on the national stage.
The young Republicans and Democrats debating the issues at the conference seemed to like each other and to understand the difference between debate over ideas and respect for the person. They sure modeled dignity and decorum a whole lot better than many of their senior elected officials.
One other issue rose to the top of the list for the students at the Young Leaders Conference - immigration. Many of those at the conference were children of new immigrants, and some were born in other countries, themselves.
They felt lucky to be in the United States but apprehensive about what some perceive as growing anti-immigrant sentiment.
There was one young man from Quakertown who brought up the economy. But even his concerns were tied to college debt. His question: Will there will be a job waiting for him when he gets through high school and college? Will he get out of college with $40,000 in debt and an economy in the tank?
Many of these young leaders will be heading into the polls for the first time in 2020, focused on their own set of issues. But it won’t be long before the rest join them, setting a new agenda both nationally and in our region.
We’d better take notice now. It’s not just the economy, stupid. Today’s youth have a whole lot more on their minds than mere money.
Family engaged in noble battle to strengthen DUI law
The Reading Eagle
The wheels of justice are starting to slow down for Roseann and Richard DeRosa. The pain is not.
Justice is being delivered for their daughter, Deana Eckman, a vivacious 45-year-old who was killed in a senseless act, a clearly impaired driver who flouted the law and got behind the wheel, even though his driving privileges had been suspended from the latest in a string of drunken-driving charges.
The DeRosas were in court this month facing a reminder of what they lost when David Strowhouer jumped into a truck and traveled on a Delaware County road, putting him on a collision course with a car carrying Deana Eckman, driven by her husband.
Strowhouer veered into the left lane in an attempt to go by another vehicle, smashing head-on with the Eckmans’ vehicle. Deana was killed instantly. Her husband, Chris, suffered serious injuries and continues to recover.
Strowhouer pleaded guilty to charges of homicide by vehicle while driving under the influence, murder of the third degree, two counts of aggravated assault, accidents involving death or injury, DUI and driving with a suspended license.
He is to be sentenced in November. But justice will not bring back the DeRosas’ daughter.
True justice would involve measures that insure that this kind of horror — inflicted by a person with a history of driving under the influence — never happens again.
That is now the DeRosas’ mission.
Strowhouer had five previous DUI offenses. He was on probation for the fifth offense at the time of the latest incident.
Strowhouer pleaded guilty to his third and fourth DUI offenses in Chester County in October 2017 and was sentenced to 18 to 36 years in prison. Later that same month he entered a guilty plea to his fifth DUI offense in Delaware County. a judge allowed his sentence to run concurrently with the time he was doing in Chester County, as opposed to consecutively.
Strowhouer was granted parole despite five DUI offenses, a fact that continues to haunt the DeRosas.
And it is in their daughter’s name that they are vowing to spare another family from a similar ordeal.
Deana’s Law, which is being proposed by state Sen. Tom Killion, a Delaware County Republican, would substantially increase the penalties for drivers with multiple DUI convictions and those offenders found to have exceedingly high blood-alcohol content levels.
In the case of repeat drunk drivers, especially those involved in accidents and with high blood-alcohol levels, a new state law toughens the penalties for offenders, including a mandatory minimum sentence of seven years in prison for someone who gets behind the wheel while impaired and then kills someone.
Strowhouer, 30, is charged under the new statute.
Killion and the DeRosas have teamed to move to the next facet of the law, exploring what can be done to keep these ticking time bombs off the road, not just beefing up penalties after the kind of tragedy that now haunts the DeRosas.
If nothing else, the Strowhouer case reinforces something law enforcement knows all too well: If someone wants to get behind the wheel, currently there is little to stop them. Suspending driving privileges does not stop a person who wants to flout the law from driving a car.
Killion and the DeRosas want to explore technology that would immobilize a vehicle when it detects the driver is over the legal threshold of 0.08% blood-alcohol content that constitutes a DUI violation in Pennsylvania. DeRosa suggested Pennsylvania lead the way in requiring that every vehicle be equipped with such devices by the year 2025.
Another possibility is something called a SCRAM bracelet. The device is currently being used in York and Lancaster counties and can instantly alert law enforcement and probation and parole officers when the person wearing the device consumes alcohol.
“David Strowhouer destroyed our family and the criminal justice system failed us miserably,” Roseann DeRosa told a panel Killion hosted after the accident that killed Deana. “Our DUI laws must change. Deana wasn’t the first to lose her life and, unfortunately, she won’t be the last.”
David Strowhouer will be going to prison for a long time.
In a way, it is justice for the DeRosas and Deana Eckman.
But true justice would have prevented this tragedy from occurring in the first place.
And now, the DeRosas are trying to make that happen to spare other families the pain that they in fact endure every day.
Talk won’t stop recession
The Scranton Times-Tribune
The Trump administration has sought to reassure the country that the economy will remain strong, but many economists don’t buy it because of accumulating economic data that point to recession.
One of the foremost indicators is a slowdown in manufacturing, which is critical not only to the larger economy but to President Donald Trump’s political fortunes in 2020.
Trump won in 2016 by securing narrow victories in manufacturing-rich Pennsylvania, Michigan and Wisconsin, which he likely would have to do next year to be re-elected.
Manufacturing shrunk by 1.9% in the first quarter and 1.2% in the second quarter. The third quarter ends Sept. 30 but the federal government’s estimate for July is another contraction of 0.4%.
One way that Trump could give meaning to the White House’s reassurances would be to end his unproductive tariff war. The Federal Reserve Bank of New York recently reported that tariffs adversely had affected 79% of manufacturers in its region and that half of those companies had raised prices in response.
Tariffs aren’t the only issue. Several foreign markets for U.S. goods have slowed for an array of reasons.
To goose manufacturing and diminish the prospects or the impact of a recession, Trump should rescind a host of tariffs that hurt the manufacturing sector or Congress should reclaim tariff authority.