Source: PLS Reporter Date: 7/20/2018
As pipelines spur outrage, House Republicans seek solutions
Author: Stephen Caruso
Surrounded by the suburban homes of Delaware County and the occasional path of freshly torn earth, the House Republican Policy Committee met earlier this week to discuss pipeline safety. The meeting was sparked by a drum beat of opposition from southeastern state residents who worry that natural gas pipelines being built near their homes, schools and businesses are unsafe. Meeting at Penn State University’s Brandywine campus, the committee heard from local and statewide environmental advocates and government officials who addressed the nearly complete Sunoco’s Mariner East 2 pipeline. Construction itself has been delayed by multiple state orders to temporarily halt construction for safety and environmental reasons. Meant to carry natural gas products produced in Western Pennsylvania produced natural gas Eastern Pennsylvania for processing and then foreign export, Sunoco estimates a total economic impact of $9.1 billion dollars. That impact will come from the operation of Mariner East 2, as well as the converted, parallel, 1930s vintage Mariner East 1 pipeline that is currently active. Additionally, building the pipelines is expected to create thousands of temporary construction jobs, and with the pipelines’ operations to add 360 to 530 permanent jobs. Construction concerns were touched on at the hearing, but the testifiers focused on what happens when, upon completion, millions of cubic feet of pressurized and flammable propane, ethane and butane flow through the line. Ginny Marcille-Kerslake, a local resident who heads a concerned citizens group of pipeline safety advocates , and Eve Miari, an advocacy director with the statewide Clean Air Council, cited safety when they opposed the pipeline ever becoming operational Marcille-Kerslake painted a fearful picture, citing the damage that a leak of combustible gas could bring to lives and property which motivated her to organize. “We live, work, shop and play in the blast zone, and for what?” she asked rhetorically of the assembled members, questioning the need to export the gas. According to federal data , in the last twenty years, 5,714 pipeline accidents have led to 306 deaths, 1,260 injuries and $8.1 billion in damages. Miari meanwhile described that the pipeline’s path through Delaware County, which is populated with nearly 3,000 people per square mile, with no changes from federal or state regulators. “This was a pipeline built through regulatory holes,” she said. The state regulators there, Public Utility Commissioner Andrew Place and Department of Environmental Protection chief Patrick McDonnell, and Republican lawmakers pushed back slightly on a few points from the advocates. McDonnell was also forced to demur on some permitting questions as environmentalists sue the department , claiming Sunoco’s application was incomplete. However, when both agencies finished describing their separate regulatory responsibilities, a hole was clear. While DEP can reroute a pipeline to protect an environmentally sensitive area, they have no authority to order a change for public safety reasons. Meanwhile, the PUC can shut down active pipelines. That happened earlier this year when sinkholes opened up near the Mariner East 1 route. But, like DEP, they have no ability to shift a line’s path. Such authority only rests with the Federal Energy Regulatory Commission. But it can only change interstate routes like Mariner East 2, not intrastate ones like Mariner East 1. Still, the PUC’s Place, also a former executive for natural gas producer EQT, cited his own homestead in
Southwestern Pennsylvania, which includes pipelines, in considering the residents’ concerns. “If you’re living next to a piece of infrastructure with risks associated with it, that’s your world, I get it,” Place said. As such, both and McDonnell suggested that Pennsylvania, as other states have, could look into expanding regulations to let a state agency redraw a pipeline route for safety reasons. Lawmakers and testifiers also concluded that the state could do a better job of tracking private water wells, simplify claims of contamination. Testifiers also expressed concerns about how prepared both Sunoco and local authorities would be for a potential incident, with residents pushing for more public information. Notably absent from the meeting, however, was a representative from Sunoco — the company behind the pipeline that prompted the meeting in the first place. Rep. Chris Quinn (R-Delaware), whose district includes the campus as well as pipeline construction, noted the company’s absence but said an invite was extended. Energy Transfer Partners, the parent company of Sunoco, did not reply to a request for comment. After the meeting, Quinn took a broad view of possible solutions. “I can’t say I had one specific brainchild that came out of this meeting,” Quinn said. He expressed interest in expanding pipeline routing oversight, as well as in his own idea of establishing a landowner’s bill of rights. Quinn said it would help educate citizens approached by pipeline builders as to their rights and recourse if something goes awry. To provide transparency, he also backed releasing more risk assessment and emergency planning documents to the public, which both Place and a fellow Rep. Brian Ellis (R-Butler) have opposed for national security reasons, and sending impact fee money to counties with pipelines to help pay for emergency services. Still, expanding regulatory authority, whether to private wells or pipeline routes, might be a tough, even if somewhat needed, sell, according to Rep. Rick Saccone (R-Allegheny). “Right now, DEP doesn’t have a lot of trust among the people, people are complaining about DEP. Will the people support that? We need to work on that — it’s a public relations problem,” Saccone said. As for the advocates, local resident Marcille-Kerslake, reached after the meeting, wasn’t sure how well she’d been heard during the meeting. Her main plea, that Mariner East 2 never come online in the first place, didn’t gain much traction from skeptical members like Saccone. Saccone and other representatives had pointed to a seeming lack of incidents in their districts to defend the safety of pipelines. A map created by West Virginia Public Broadcasting from federal data shows that from 2010 to 2016, 16 pipeline incidents occurred in Pennsylvania. Collectively, they injured one person and caused almost $30 million in property damage. But what worried Marcile-Kerslake was that the next incident that would make lawmakers take notice could involve her community. “That’s a common dismissal we hear, ‘we’ve had these forever and nothing has happened,’” she said. “We just have not had something catastrophic happen before.” Stephen Caruso is the Harrisburg bureau chief at The PLS Reporter. Have a question, comment or tip? Email him at firstname.lastname@example.org.
Bill Tracker: Using technology to reduce DUIs
Each legislative session thousands of bills and amendments are introduced in the Pennsylvania Legislature. Only a fraction become law, and an even smaller portion receive wide media coverage.
These bills impact the lives of people living in Pennsylvania every day.
Each week The Sentinel will highlight one bill that has not received widespread attention.
About the bill
While the number has been nearly cut in half since 2000, more than 270 people died last year in Pennsylvania as a result of a DUI crash.
DUI remains one of the most persistent problems in criminal justice systems across the state, accounting for more than 30 percent of all new criminal cases in Cumberland County last year, according to court records.
Most drivers who get arrested for a DUI never get a second, but there is a small but persistent problem of repeat DUI offenders.
Rep. Todd Stephens, R-Montgomery County, has introduced a bill aimed at dealing with that problem.
House Bill 2538 would require all people arrested for a DUI, who were convicted of DUI within the previous 10 years, to wear a continuous alcohol monitor device as a condition of bail.
The devices are generally worn around the ankle, similar to GPS monitors worn by some people under community supervision, and monitor whether the person wearing it has consumed alcohol.
Stephens modeled the bill after program known as Target 25 in York County.
The Sentinel reviewed the Target 25 program in January as part of a package of stories looking at the role alcohol plays in crime.
The Sentinel found that only 18 people were charged with more than one DUI offense in York County in 2016, compared to more than 40 in 2011, the year before Target 25 was implemented.
No defendant who had a history of DUI was arrested more than once in 2016, compared to seven defendants in 2011, The Sentinel found.
A study of a similar program in a different state conducted by the National Highway Traffic Safety Administration found 98 percent of defendants in the alcohol monitoring program did not reoffend while in the program, and the program extended the time before reoffending once out, but the program also did not reduce the long-term re-offense rate.
While the program has shown benefits, it can increase costs to the defendant significantly.
Participants in the Target 25 program pay $12 per day to be equipped with the monitor. That equates to $84 per week, roughly $360 per month or more than $4,000 per year.
Email Joshua Vaughn at email@example.com . Follow him on Twitter at @Sentinel_Vaughn.
A proposal to apply the fair funding formula to both new and existing state funding could leave the Titusville Area School District in a tough spot.
Concern the governor may push for changes in the formula that determines state funding for schools has Titusville’s representative in the state House warning of a multi-million-dollar shortfall.
Titusville Area School District would lose about $4.4 million in state funding a year if the state’s “fair funding” formula were applied to both existing and new state funding, 65th District Republican Rep. Kathy Rapp said in a press release Thursday. The formula has been applied to funding starting with the 2015-16 budget.
Gov. Tom Wolf, a Democrat, did tell a reporter June 29 that the formula should be applied to all education funding. But by early July a spokesman said that the governor’s stance was that there would be no sudden change, the shift would take time and it would involve input from state legislators and school leaders.
If the fair funding formula was applied immediately to all school funding, “it would quite honestly be devastating to school districts in northwest Pennsylvania,” Titusville Area School District Business Manager Shawn Sampson said in an interview Thursday.
He declined to speculate what changes the district would consider should such a shift take place.
If the fair funding formula was applied to all school funding from the state, Rapp said basic education funding decreases for local school districts, based on the 2018-19 state budget, would be as follows:
n Titusville Area School District – 31 percent reduction, or just under $4.4 million.
n Corry Area School District – 47 percent reduction, or just over $6.1 million.
n Penncrest School District – 60 percent reduction, or just over $11.4 million.
n Union City Area School District – 58 percent reduction, or just over $5.4 million.
n Warren County School District – 41 percent reduction, or just under $10.6 million.
In general, urban school districts could expect to see increases.
“Without question, I will oppose any future legislation that is created based on Wolf’s ludicrous education funding formula proposal,” Rapp said in the press release.
The fair funding formula was put in place starting with school funding in 2015-16 in an effort to close per pupil spending differences of as much as 30 percent between poorer and more affluent districts.
Sampson is concerned that a number of factors may make it unfair to apply the fair funding formula to all school funding. For example, he said many school districts in northwest Pennsylvania have relatively small tax bases to shoulder the cost of school funding and relatively high transportation costs.
Source: Bucks Local News Date: 7/20/2018
State Representative Helen Tai announces $2M grant for Council Rock school project
NORTHAMPTON TOWNSHIP >> The Council Rock School District has been awarded a $2 million state grant for energy-saving renovations and additions to Rolling Hills Elementary School, according to State Rep. Helen Tai.
The district was awarded the Alternative and Clean Energy Program grant for the project in Northampton Township, which is expected to reduce energy and water consumption and earn gold certification from the U.S. Green Building Council’s Leadership in Energy and Environmental Design (LEED) program.
Energy-saving features planned for the building include geothermal heating and cooling, energy efficient lighting, automated energy control systems, low-flow water-saving fixtures, occupancy based temperature and lighting, a solar array and more. The total project cost is $22 million.
“We all need to find ways to reduce our energy consumption, and I’m happy to see Council Rock School District leading the way with this project,” said Tai (D-178). “I’m pleased that the district was awarded this grant and look forward to the state continuing to encourage others to adopt energy-efficient practices.”
The school district’s grant was approved July 17 by the Commonwealth Financing Authority. The Alternative and Clean Energy Program provides grant and loan funds to be used for clean energy projects, infrastructure associated with compressed natural gas and liquefied natural gas fueling stations, plus energy efficiency and energy conservation projects in the state.
A longtime supporter of renewable energy, Tai recently co-sponsored House Bill 2132, which would provide for Pennsylvania’s transition to 100 percent renewable energy by 2050.
“Moving to 100 percent renewable energy will help preserve our environment while also creating new clean energy jobs,” Tai said. “I’ll continue to advocate for Pennsylvania to take the lead on this issue for a cleaner, healthier environment.”
By Chris Ullery
As part of National Park and Recreation Month, state DCNR Secretary Cindy Adams Dunn was joined by local and state officials in a tour of three Upper Bucks County parks Thursday.
State and local officials toured three parks in Richland and Quakertown on Thursday afternoon to highlight the different environmental, recreational and community benefits they offer.
Pennsylvania Department of Conservation and Natural Resources Secretary Cindy Adams Dunn was joined by state Rep. Craig Staats, R-145, and township and borough officials as part of the event marking National Parks and Recreation Month.
Dunn and other officials stopped first at the new Great Blue Heron Park in Richland before heading to Quakertown’s Action Park on South Main Street and the borough’s Park at 4th, at the intersection of Mill and 4th streets.
“The set of three parks we’re visiting today are very special, they show the values of local parks across Pennsylvania,” Dunn said Thursday at Action Park, which recently reached its $1 million funding goal to install new skateboarding and other facilities.
Revamping the skate park has been a nearly 10-year project for Free Fall Action Sports, a faith-based youth organization, and borough officials.
The existing skate park was installed in 2001, but the park fell into disrepair and became a target for vandalism over several years, borough councilman Doug Propst said Thursday.
Pastor David Kratz, executive director of Free Fall and chair of the Quakertown Action Park Committee, began working with the borough a decade ago to revitalize the park.
Funding had been difficult for several years, but Kratz and his group of teenage skateboarders, which he calls the “goodlums,” kept pushing for park upgrades until funding started to come in 2017.
Local businesses and organizations pooled together more than $400,000 for the park, which Kratz said Thursday gave the organization the ability to match and qualify for state grants.
The DCNR awarded a $250,000 Keystone Fund grant to the park earlier this year, but the park also received grants from the state Department of Community and Economic Development for $100,000, and a $10,000 grant from the Tony Hawk Foundation last August.
The skate park will include new concrete facilities replacing the wood-and-metal ramps and half-pipes on top of asphalt currently at the park. The skateboard facilities will partially cover one of two existing basketball courts. A new basketball court will be installed near the second existing court.
“What’s remarkable about the skate park is the local businesses, the local rotary club — everyone seemed to pitch in,” Dunn said. “It was a well-loved and well-supported local park.”
While Dunn said the skate park was chosen for Thursday’s tour because it represented the active recreation roles parks offer for communities, the Blue Heron Park was chosen for its access to local nature trails and the Park at 4th for its amphitheater, where the borough hosts its community concert series .
Funding for the amphitheater’s construction included a $250,000 Keystone grant from the DCNR.
“Just at these three parks in upper Bucks County, we can see the breadth of amenities that local parks and recreation provide for communities,” Dunn said Thursday.
Source: State College News Date: 7/20/2018
Update: The full Board of Trustees on Friday approved tuition rates and the budget recommended by the finance committee
The Penn State Board of Trustees finance and business committee on Thursday recommended a tuition freeze for Pennsylvania resident undergraduate students as part of a $6.5 billion overall budget for 2018-19.
Tuition rates and the budget were approved by the full board at its meeting on Friday at Penn State Berks.
University officials previously said that if the Commonwealth came through with an appropriation increase for the new fiscal year, the school would hold tuition flat, meaning for lower division (freshman and sophomore) resident undergraduates at University Park, tuition will remain at $8,708 per semester. Penn State last froze tuition in 2015-16 and had aggregate increases of 1.76 percent and 2.45 percent the last two years
In the new state budget, Penn State received a 3 percent increase, or $6.9 million, in its general appropriation, bringing it to $237.35 million.
Tuition and fees now make up about 80 percent of Penn State's general funds budget for education operations.
“With this additional state support, and through continued cost efficiencies, this proposed operating budget allows us to keep tuition flat for Pennsylvania students and their families, without compromising the quality of our academic programs," Penn State President Eric Barron said. "We appreciate the increased state support, and are thankful that champions of public higher education like Sen. [Jake] Corman and Gov. [Tom] Wolf continue to support investments in Penn State.”
Non-resident undergraduate students will see an aggregate increase of 3.54 percent. For lower division University Park undergrads, the increase will be 3.6 percent, or $588 per semester, bringing it to $16,910 per semester.
The technology fee will remain at $252 per semester for all full-time undergraduate students. The Student Initiated Fee -- a combination of the former activities and facilities fees -- will increase by $9 per semester to $267 at University Park and $4 per semester at other campuses, where it will range from $182 to $240 per semester.
In total, combined tuition and fees for the fall and spring semesters for a lower division Pennsylvania resident undergraduate at University Park will be $18,848. With an average room and board rate for 2018-19 of $5,530, the total cost of attendance would be $29,908.
The budget includes $31.4 million to fund contractual agreements with unionized employees, a 3 percent increase for graduate assistant stipends and a 2.5 percent pool for merit-based salary increases for faculty and staff.
It also features $24.9 million for facility and maintenance needs, as well as increases in utility and fuel costs.
“Even with zero tuition increase for resident students and with increased state support, we are continuing with our capital plan as we assumed we would,” Barron said. “This plan represents a critical investment in the University’s infrastructure, as it imperative that we provide current and future generations of students, faculty and staff with the world-class facilities necessary for continued success.”
The budget earmarks $12.8 million for projected increases to employee benefit costs, $12 million for strategic priorities and an increase of $4.5 million for student aid.
Penn State received a total of $327.4 million state appropriation for 2018-19. In addition to the general appropriation, Agricultural Research and Cooperative Extension received $53.9 million (3 percent increase), Pennsylvania College of Technology received $22.7 million (3 percent increase), and Penn State Hershey Medical Center funding remained flat at $13.4 million.
Energized by this year's deadly school shooting in Parkland, Fla., younger American are registering to vote this mid-term campaign year, and Pennsylvania is leading that surge, a new report finds.
Youth voter registration in the Keystone State has surged by 16 percentage points since the February shooting, with voters aged 18-29 comprising 61.4 percent of new registrants, an a nalysis by the Democratic data analytics group TargetSmart concludes .
Republican President Donald Trump carried Pennsylvania by 44,000 votes over Democrat Hillary Clinton in 2016. In 2018, the state plays host to critical races for the U.S. House and Senate, the Governor's Mansion and the General Assembly.
Other states with critical elections that may decide control of the U.S. Senate and House also showed large increases in youth registration, including Arizona (+8.2 point increase), Florida (+8), Virginia (+10.5), Indiana (+9.9), and New York (+10.7), the analysis found.
More from the analysis:
"This spike in voter registration activity comes on the heels of the grassroots movement to address gun violence issues.
A recent poll by Harvard University's Institute of Politics , conducted in the wake of the school shooting in Parkland, Fla., found that 64 percent of 18-29 year-olds favor common sense gun reforms.
TargetSmart's analysis reviewed voter registration data in 40 states across the country, where the official voter rolls have been updated since February 14. In each state we calculated the share of new registrants age 29 or younger in the period before the Parkland shooting to the share in the same time period after the shooting. Because states release voter file updates on varied schedules, the time period varies from state to state, but the period for analysis within each state included a symmetrical period before and after February 14."
In April, progressive billionaire Tom Steyer launched a $3.5 million effort to register young voters in Pennsylvania ahead of the 2018 mid-terms.
Steyer's super-PAC NextGen America said it planned to target 75 college campuses, which includes 15 community colleges, as it looks to flip a half-dozen Congressional seats into Democratic hands this year.
Those seats include the Bucks County-based 1st District, now held by Republican U.S. Rep. Brian Fitzpatrick; the vacant 5th and 6th District seats formerly held, respectively by Reps. Ryan Costello and Pat Meehan; the Lehigh Valley-based 7th District seat being vacated by U.S. Rep. Charlie Dent and the central Pennsylvania based 10th District, now held by U.S. Rep. Scott Perry.
"As the largest eligible voting bloc, young people have the power to make the difference in critical races across the country, and it is clear that they are energized like never before to make their voices heard," NextGen America Executive Director Heather Hargreaves said in a statement.
"NextGen America has seen this passion firsthand, and has already registered over 11,800 young people to vote in Pennsylvania this year alone. We are organizing everyday to ensure that young voters head to the polls in November and ultimately create long-lasting political power necessary for progressive change in our country," she said.
Laura Olson Call Washington Bureau
Are young voters tuning in for this year’s midterm elections? They appear to be in the Keystone State.
A new analysis of voter registration data found that Pennsylvania had the largest increase nationally in the share of new voter registrations that were from those between 18 and 29 years old.
TargetSmart, a D.C.-based political data firm, compared voter registration figures from before and after the Parkland, Fla., high school shooting in February.
In the 76 days before that shooting, 45 percent of new voter registrations were from applicants under the age of 30. Afterward, young voters accounted for 61 percent of new registrations, an increase of 16 percentage points.
The later period — which went through May 1, two weeks before the primary election — saw 32,310 registrations from young voters, compared to 18,450 during the period before the shooting.
Nationally, the share of the electorate younger than 30 years old grew by 2 percent, according to the analysis.
“It remains to be seen how many of these younger registrants will cast a ballot in November, but they are poised to have a louder voice than ever in these critical midterm elections,” TargetSmart CEO Tom Bonier.
With two statewide races and a competitive open congressional seat in the Lehigh Valley, the state has been a key target for groups like NextGen America that are seeking to register young voters .
Locally, the number of young people registering to vote in the Lehigh Valley has grown at a rate faster than the overall change in voter registrations, according to a Morning Call analysis published in May .
That analysis found 16.3 percent more people between 18 to 22 are registered to vote in Lehigh and Northampton counties compared to 2014. The overall number of registered voters in those counties only grew 4.5 percent over that time period.
There was an uptick in voter registrations among Lehigh Valley youth since the Parkland shooting compared to the last midterm election, with some students telling The Morning Call that gun control is a key issue for them.
The increase, however, hasn’t topped the number of young voters who registered ahead of the contested presidential primary in 2016.
By Dave Davies
If a more conservative U.S. Supreme Court overturns the Roe v. Wade decision and returns the issue of abortion rights to the states, Pennsylvania’s next governor could find a bill banning abortion on his desk.
In an interview, Democratic Gov. Tom Wolf said his course would be clear. “I’ll veto it,” he said.
Republican challenger Scott Wagner was reluctant to address the question when I asked him after a town hall meeting in Montgomery County.
“You know, that’s a federal issue,” he said. “I’m not running for president right now. I’m more focused on the problems in Pennsylvania.”
I asked again, noting that if Roe falls, an abortion ban might reach his desk as governor.
“It may, and whatever happens, happens,” he said. “Right now, in this interview, I’m not committing to anything.”
The issue of abortion rights has long been part of Pennsylvania politics, but it’s likely to assume greater prominence this fall if President Donald Trump’s nominee, Judge Brett Kavanaugh, replaces Justice Anthony Kennedy on the U.S. Supreme Court.
In many states, abortion rights advocates are looking to Democratic governors as a last line of defense if legislatures pass strict abortion bans.
Sari Stevens, executive director of the advocacy arm of Planned Parenthood, said in an interview that’s just how she sees Wolf.
“The governor is currently a brick wall. He’s our backstop,” Stevens said in an interview. “But that could potentially get even more dramatic if the Supreme Court returns the right to legal abortion to the states, which is absolutely possible.”
Stevens said Wolf’s commitment to reproductive rights for women is longstanding — before he entered politics, he and his wife were volunteer escorts for patients visiting Planned Parenthood health centers in York County.
Wolf said in a telephone interview he knows where he stands.
“Whatever happens to Roe v. Wade, the state Legislature will have to weigh in on women’s health care rights,” he said. “They have already presented me with bills that restrict women’s rights to choose, and I have vetoed them, and I will continue to do that.”
Last year, Wolf vetoed a bill banning abortions after 20 weeks. Another bill banning abortions after six weeks has been introduced in Harrisburg.
Stevens says Planned Parenthood’s advocacy arm, Pennsylvania Votes, is committing at least $1.5 million in an independent effort to help re-elect Wolf. The money will go toward door-to-door canvassing, direct mail and digital advertising, especially in the Philadelphia area.
Wagner, who voted for abortion restrictions in the State Senate, said he is “proudly pro-life.”
His reluctance to commit to signing an abortion ban as governor in our interview is understandable, given the politics of the race.
He probably already has the votes of most social conservatives. To win, he needs to reach out to moderates and independents.
Franklin & Marshall College pollster Terry Madonna said that, for nearly 20 years, his surveys have shown more than 70 percent of Pennsylvanians believe abortion should be permitted at least in some circumstances. He said Wagner will feel pressure to clarify his position.
“He’s not going to be able to avoid it,” Madonna said. “It’s going to make a big difference if Scott Wagner says that he supports a ban on abortion — no abortion at all. That view is held by about one in five Pennsylvanians.”
Will Wagner’s reluctance to commit to an abortion ban hurt him with committed opponents of abortion rights?
I spoke to Matthew Wagner (no relation to the candidate), education director of the Pennsylvania Pro Life Federation. He said he isn’t troubled that Wagner won’t answer a hypothetical question from a reporter.
The election presents a clear choice for those who believe abortion is wrong, he said.
“Gov. Wolf has made it abundantly clear that he is indebted to and tied to radical pro-abortion insiders like Planned Parenthood,” Matthew Wagner said. “Whereas Mr. Wagner is committed to protecting the most vulnerable among us.”
So for now, Wolf promises to veto an abortion ban, and Wagner prefers not to say.
The issue is certain to come up in debates as the election approaches.
Gov. Tom Wolf's re-election campaign pounced Friday on remarks by Republican rival Scott Wagner that seemingly cast him as indifferent the fate of tens of thousands of women if the U.S. Supreme Court eventually overturn Roe. v. Wade, leading to abortion bans in the states, saying "whatever happens, happens."
In an interview with WHYY-FM , conducted after a town hall meeting in Montgomery County this week, Wagner, of York County, said a high court decision overturning Roe v. Wade is a "federal issue."
"I'm not running for president right now," he told WHYY-FM reporter Dave Davies. "I'm more focused on the problems in Pennsylvania."
When he was reminded that a ban bill could reach his desk as a result of the debate over abortion reverting to the states as a result of any future high court action, Wagner, who opposes abortion, and often brags about his 100 percent pro-life rating, told WHYY-FM that "It may, and whatever happens happens."
"Right now, in this interview, I'm not committing to anything," said Wagner, who has supported restrictive abortion-ban legislation, including a so-called "heartbeat bill," that would ban the procedure as early as the sixth week of pregnancy, which is before most women even know they're pregnant.
Wolf, a Planned Parenthood volunteer who supports abortion rights, has said he'll veto any ban that reaches his desk.
In a statement, Wolf's re-election spokeswoman, Beth Melena, said "there's no question what will happen to women if Wagner" wins the November general election.
"Scott Wagner has said he will sign a 6-week ban, which is before most women know they're pregnant and is the most extreme anti-abortion legislation in the country. The 6-week ban does not even have exceptions for rape or incest. Scott Wagner would be detrimental to women's health and their right to choose."
In a statement, Wagner's spokesman, Andrew Romeo, said the Republican nominee is "pro-life. He has a 100 percent pro-life voting record. He'd sign pro-life legislation as governor. But he would also want to review any new bill that comes before him and make a decision based on the specifics of the legislation."
Women's groups and reproductive rights advocates, casting a wary eye at President Donald Trump's most recent Supreme Court nominee, a re increasingly looking to state governments to protect them if Roe, the case that legalized abortion, is overturned or radically modified.
"I think the handwriting is on the wall, and a lot of advocates are looking to the state and local level for protections we're not likely to get from the federal government for much longer," Sue Frietsche, a senior staff attorney in the Pittsburgh office of the Women's Law Project , told PennLive last week.
EBENSBURG – Pennsylvania Attorney General Josh Shapiro, several of his staff and attorneys representing clergy named in a still unreleased grand jury report regarding child sexual abuse across six Catholic dioceses attended a hearing behind closed doors in front of Cambria County President Judge Norman Krumenacker III on Thursday.
Shapiro, along with Senior Deputy Attorney General Daniel Dye, were in Krumenacker’s courtroom for approximately 90 minutes.
Krumenacker, who oversaw the 40th statewide investigating grand jury, confirmed the hearing involved the Pennsylvania Supreme Court’s July 6 opinions detailing the deadlines for briefs to be submitted by attorneys representing those named in the report as well as representatives of the state attorney general’s office.
The Pennsylvania Supreme Court on June 20 halted the release of the nearly 900-page report that was the result of a two-year investigation into child sexual abuse within the Roman Catholic dioceses in Allentown, Scranton, Harrisburg, Greensburg, Pittsburgh and Erie.
A subsequent opinion released by the high court detailed some of the reasons for issuing the stay, which was requested by unnamed parties.
“Many individuals have lodged challenges” to the report with Krumenacker, the state Supreme Court opinion says, “generally asserting a denial of constitutional rights.”
The opinion said: “Most, if not all, of the petitioners alleged that they are named or identified ... in a way that unconstitutionally infringes on their right to reputation and denies them due process based upon the lack of pre-deprivation hearing and/or an opportunity to be heard by the grand jury.”
The opinion also said a temporary stay was appropriate to allow time for essential judicial reviews, consideration of constitutional claims made and to gather more information to address the petitions under review.
“The Court intends to revisit the stay order when the proceedings before it have advanced to a stage at which either the petitions for review can be resolved, or an informed and fair determination can be made as to whether a continued stay is warranted,” the opinion concluded.
Shapiro’s office later announced plans to file an objection to that stay.
“I continue to urge the public to be patient with the process,” Krumenacker told The Tribune-Democrat following Thursday’s hearing with Shapiro, Dye and attorneys for those mentioned in the report.
Joe Grace, communications director for Shapiro, declined to comment on Thursday’s proceedings.
Upon exiting Krumenacker’s courtroom just before 3 p.m. Thursday, Shapiro also declined to comment.
On June 5, Krumenacker issued an 11-page public opinion denying a series of motions seeking evidentiary hearings to dispute parts of the report before individuals' names appear with any allegations.
Krumenacker said granting such hearings would undermine the investigative role of the state’s grand jury.
“Adopting the position advanced by the movants would fundamentally change the Grand Jury Act’s procedures, change the historical function of grand juries and effectively bring the grand jury process to a halt, turning each investigation into a full adjudication,” Krumenacker wrote.
Krumenacker’s opinion also noted that release of the report would support the state’s interest in preventing child abuse, providing justice to abused children and protect abused children from further abuse by identifying abusers and those who enable them.
Responses to Krumenacker’s opinion – along with most of the filings following the Pennsylvania Supreme Court’s stay – were sealed, but the state Supreme Court filing says “affected individuals have filed multiple petitions for review, along with emergency applications for stay.”
Jocelyn Brumbaugh is a reporter for the Tribune-Democrat. Follow her on Twitter @JBrumbaughTD.
A legal response from Pennsylvania’s attorney general to those challenging an investigative report into decades of alleged sexual abuse in six Catholic dioceses — including the ones based in Pittsburgh and Greensburg — does not violate state grand jury secrecy laws, a Cambria County judge presiding over the matter has ruled.
Common Pleas Court Judge Norman A. Krumenacker III, however, left it to the discretion of state Supreme Court justices as to whether to publicly release the argument filed by Attorney General Josh Shapiro’s office. The state’s high court last month temporarily barred the public release of the grand jury report after several unidentified parties objected to its contents.
Supreme Court spokeswoman Stacey Witalec said she had no further information on the ruling.
The 800-plus page report has been in the possession of the six Catholic dioceses being investigated and their lawyers since May. In addition to the diocese of Pittsburgh and Greensburg, the others are in Erie, Scranton, Allentown and Harrisburg.
The report originally was scheduled for publication June 22. The Supreme Court blocked the release in order to give 14 people named but not charged in the probe an opportunity to argue that its publication would violate their constitutional rights.
Officials with the each diocese involved said they supported the public release of the report.
But lawyers for those 14 challengers, believed to be former and current members of the clergy, filed petitions this month arguing that lifting the veil of secrecy on Shapiro’s arguments against their complaints would violate grand jury secrecy.
In a ruling Thursday, Krumenacker said he reviewed Shapiro’s arguments and found no breach of grand jury secrecy.
Shapiro called Krumenacker’s ruling “an important step” in his office’s efforts to make the report public.
“Our office continues to fight to ensure this report is released and victims’ voices are heard by the people of Pennsylvania,” he said.
Deb Erdley is a Tribune-Review staff writer. You can contact Deb at 412-320-7996, firstname.lastname@example.org or via Twitter @deberdley_trib.
By Ivey DeJesus
The release of a long-awaited grand jury report into clergy sex abuse in Pennsylvania on Friday seemed imminent.
In an order issue Friday, Cambria County Common Pleas Court Judge Norman A. Krumenacker III opined that the report does not violate the secrecy parameters of a grand jury investigation, ruling that the report was intended to be released to the public. The judge ruled that the report could be released to the public at any moment and it was up to the Pennsylvania Supreme Court to lift a stay.
In his opinion, Krumenacker writes that the "information contained in the Report is no longer protected by grand jury secrecy as the Grand Jury intended it to be released to the public in an expeditious manner."
Attorney General Josh Shapiro last week filed a brief to stave off efforts to prevent the release of the entire report.
"Today, Judge Krumenacker ruled in favor of the Commonwealth and victims that our brief should be made public," Shapiro said in a written statement.
"Our office continues to fight to ensure this report is released and victims' voices are heard by the people of Pennsylvania. This marks an important step in that process."
Attorneys for at least two dozen petitioners - mostly members of the clergy - had argued that the report violated their rights to due process. They also argued that the report is filled with inaccuracies and would cause irreparable damage to their reputation. The petitioning clergy were arguing that they should be given the opportunity to revise the report; and that the redacted documents violated the secrecy proceedings of a grand jury investigation.
The state Supreme Court in late June ordered a stay on the release of the findings of the 18-month-long investigation, which looked at child sex crimes across six dioceses in Pennsylvania. The report remains under seal until the high court lifts the stay order.
MICHAEL RUBINKAM of The Associated Press
Pennsylvania is forcing three former state university students who say they were sexually abused by a high-ranking administrator to pay $10,000 in court costs after a jury ruled against them in their federal lawsuit nearly four years ago.
The state attorney general's office, representing East Stroudsburg University, said it's "standard procedure" to seek repayment of court costs. The students' lawyer denounced the legal maneuver as "outrageous, insensitive and vindictive," and plans to appeal it.
East Stroudsburg fired former Vice President Isaac Sanders in 2008 following an internal investigation by Pennsylvania's state university system into allegations of sexual misconduct toward students as well as financial mismanagement at the university. Sanders' termination letter, which was made public as part of the civil suit, said he had "exercised exceedingly poor judgment" toward the students.
But a jury ruled against them after a 2014 trial, and, this week, the court granted East Stroudsburg's request to recover its litigation costs.
The former students' lawyer, Albert Murray Jr., said he was incredulous, given the state is targeting people who say they were sexually molested by a state employee.
"It's hostile toward victims of sexual assault," Murray said. "It'll make victims of sexual assault not want to come forward. ... Why would they do this against these boys? They're already hurting."
Sanders, the university's former chief fundraiser, has repeatedly denied wrongdoing, and he's never been charged with a crime. The former students, now in their 20s and 30s, insist Sanders used his high-powered job to offer them gifts, scholarships and campus jobs, then sexually assaulted them.
Under federal rules, the winning party is entitled to recoup court costs from the losers. In this case, East Stroudsburg — which was dismissed from the case long before it went to trial — sought reimbursement for transcripts, witness fees and copying charges. Sanders, who was represented by a private attorney and not the attorney general's office, has made no such request.
"As a standard procedure in any case where a court finds in favor of our client, we seek a repayment of our court costs," said Joe Grace, spokesman for Democratic Attorney General Josh Shapiro .
Sanders' accusers unsuccessfully appealed the jury verdict, claiming, among other things, that the judge improperly barred testimony from some accusers and that a critical piece of evidence — the State System of Higher Education's investigative report that led to Sanders' firing — was improperly excluded from evidence. The U.S. Supreme Court declined to hear the case in February.
It's unclear whether any criminal investigation of Sanders was ever conducted. The State System has said it never forwarded its report, which was written by an outside law firm, to any local, state or federal law enforcement agency. The report remains under court-ordered seal.
A total of six students filed suit against Sanders and East Stroudsburg in 2009, but three of them were tossed from the case after a judge ruled the statute of limitations had run out on their claims.
By David Wenner
Residents of a Hampden Township personal care and assisted living facility won't have to scramble to find new homes.
The Pennsylvania Department of Human Services plans to continue working with Brookdale Grandon Farms to prevent another instance of a male resident with dementia sexually assaulting female residents.
In a worst-case scenario of the facility losing it's license, the department and assorted local agencies would work with residents and their families to find new facilities, and the facility would not be allowed to close abruptly, said Colin Day, a spokesman for the department.
"Residents will not be left hung out to dry ... It won't close without any notice," Day said.
The department told Brookdale in May it planned to revoke the facility's state license to operate a personal care home and it also banned new admissions at the facility, which has about 100 residents. Brookdale is appealing, saying the situation doesn't warrant loss of license.
The actions came after the department apparently concluded Brookdale wasn't making sufficient progress in addressing lapses that allowed a resident with dementia to carry out nine sexual assaults last July. The assaults consisted mostly of grabbing at the breasts of female residents of the dementia unit, or forcing a female resident to touch him inappropriately.
The department said Brookdale failed to protect residents and failed to report the assaults to appropriate agencies. The state required Brookdale to carry out a plan of correction that, according to state records, consists mostly of training staff how to prevent such acts, and making them aware of laws and procedures for reporting them.
On Friday, Day said no appeal hearings have been set, but lawyers for Brookdale and the state have had discussions.
A spokeswoman for Brookdale, which is part of a Wisconcin-based chain, has said the facility is committed to staying open and maintaining a safe home for residents. Brookdale said no residents are in danger.
Day said one possible outcome is for Brookdale to operate under a provisional license as it works to complete the plan of correction to the state's satisfaction.
DonnaMarie Passaro was relieved to hear the home won't close on short notice. Passaro, who has a loved one at Brookdale, said she overheard Brookdale staff talking about the facility losing its license. She said she contacted the department and was told Brookdale was appealing a suspension, but was unable to find out when the situation might be resolved, or when the home might close.
"That makes me feel better that it won't happen overnight," she said Friday when told by PennLive of the department's assurance Brookdale won't close abruptly or in the immediate future.
By Kelly Monitz
JIM THORPE — The state Attorney General’s Office is investigating the Carbon County Clerk of Courts Office, county Commissioner Chair Wayne Nothstein confirmed on Thursday.
“There is an active investigation of the Attorney General’s Office and also our insurance carrier is doing an audit in that office,” he said, adding that the commissioners couldn’t say anything further due to the investigation.
Two weeks ago, the commissioners brought in two Lehigh County staff members to help with an excessive backlog of work in the Clerk of Courts Office and Bureau of Collections, which are two offices controlled by the clerk of courts.
The county estimated then that there is more than $1 million in court-related fees waiting on paperwork that hasn’t been filed yet.
Unfilled vacancies in the office have contributed to the backlog. Some positions have been vacant a year or more. The commissioners wanted to see the positions filled, but under county code only the officeholder can hire for the office.
William McGinley, the former clerk of courts, retired on May 1. His second deputy, Julie D. Harris, is serving as acting clerk of courts until the governor and the state Senate approve the Democratic Party’s nomination for the post. The first deputy position has been vacant for more than a year.
The paperwork backlog has affected the workings at the prison and other county offices, including the sheriff, probation and prothonotary’s offices, and also people in the community, such as those whose driver’s license suspensions were delayed.
The county’s plans for the Susquehanna Street building project are before the Jim Thorpe Planning Commission. Nothstein said he attended a meeting this week and addressed concerns and questions the borough may have. The county hopes to work out any issues before the next meeting and receive approval on the plans.
On Thursday, the commissioners approved an addendum to an agreement with Form Space Design of Bethlehem, increasing the cost by $180,000 for a new contract total of $440,000. The addendum encompasses building design changes, a traffic impact study, vibration monitoring and existing retaining wall investigation.
In other business, the commissioners:
■ Tabled bids on two Community Development Block Grant projects for review by the Office of Planning and Development. They are for Lehighton’s Stedman Avenue reconstruction and Weatherly Senior Center’s heating, ventilation and air conditioning unit replacement.
■ Approved a grant-in-aid application with the state Board of Probation and Parole for the improvement of adult probation services through the reimbursement of eligible salaries of professional staff. Estimated revenue is $65,000. The county applies for these funds annually.
■ Advertised an invitation to bid for two CDBG projects: Jim Thorpe Seventh Street reconstruction and Packer Twp. Joe Andreuzzi Community Park.
■ Advertised a notice of the county’s Section 504 Officer and Process for Grievance, which is required for the CDBG application.
■ Approved a letter of agreement with Children’s Advocacy Center in Scranton to provide expert witness testimony services for the 2017-2018 fiscal year.
■ Submitted a budget modification to the Department of Community and Economic Development for the 2017 emergency solutions grant, transferring $2,500 from rapid rehousing rental assistance to rapid rehousing financial assistance cost center, as recommended by the Carbon County Action Committee for Human Services.
■ Adopted and advertised a fair housing notice as required for the CDBG program.
■ Approved a maintenance agreement with Edwards Business Systems of Bethlehem on a new Konica Bizhub 458e copier. The cost will be billed quarterly at $.0073 per copy and includes toner, parts and labor and will remain fixed for three years.
■ Approved a banner request for the Men of Marian Summer Picnic from today to July 30.
■ Adopted a resolution honoring Sean Philip Hall, a member of Boy Scout Troop 41, Holy Trinity Church in Palmerton, on attaining the rank of Eagle Scout.
Contact the writer: email@example.com; 570-501-3589
By John Finnerty firstname.lastname@example.org
HARRISBURG — Legalizing marijuana for recreational use could provide Pennsylvania with $581 million in tax revenue a year, state Auditor General Eugene DePasquale said Thursday.
That’s almost three-times as much as the $200 million DePasquale said the state missed out on annually when he called for legalizing marijuana in 2017.
The auditor general said the higher estimate comes from the number of Pennsylvanians who say they smoke marijuana, along with estimates from other states about how much marijuana users spend on the drug.
More than 8 percent of Pennsylvania adults admit they use marijuana recreationally despite its status as an illegal drug, DePasquale said.
In Colorado and Washington, where marijuana has been legal since 2012, adult users spend an average of $2,080 annually, DePasquale said.
A statewide poll by Franklin and Marshall College released last September found that 59 percent of Pennsylvanians surveyed support legalizing marijuana — a major turnaround from a 2006 poll that found 70 percent of Pennsylvanians opposed the idea.
DePasquale said such surveys suggest lawmakers should take steps to make marijuana legal. The money could be used to bolster the state’s child protective services by increasing pay for caseworkers or hiring more of them, he said. It could also be used to provide more treatment for people struggling with opioid addiction, DePasquale said.
Gov. Tom Wolf supports efforts to decriminalize possession of small amounts of marijuana but has not backed a broader move to fully legalize marijuana for recreational use, his spokesman J.J. Abbott said Thursday. The governor also supports efforts “to keep low-level marijuana users out of the criminal justice system,” Abbott said.
State Sen. Daylin Leach, D-Delaware County introduced a measure to legalize marijuana for recreational use in January 2017. Only one other lawmaker signed on as co-sponsor — state Sen. Sharif Street, D-Philadelphia. The measure has not gotten a committee vote.
The state Senate did vote unanimously in April on a resolution urging Congress to reclassify marijuana. That resolution focused on the need to reclassify the drug to protect the rights of medical marijuana patients. Pennsylvania passed a medical marijuana law in 2016. Dispensaries for patients to get medical marijuana began opening in February. There are now 29 dispensaries open in Pennsylvania, according to a map produced by the Department of Health.
Pittsburgh Mayor Bill Peduto said that as marijuana becomes legal in more places, it’s inevitable that it will be legal in Pennsylvania eventually.
“We’re going to be a leader or a follower,” he said.
Peduto joined DePasquale at a press conference Thursday touting the benefits of legalizing recreational marijuana.
The Pennsylvania District Attorneys Association opposes the idea.
“We understand the interest in getting revenue,” said Richard Long, executive director of the prosecutors’ group. “The societal costs outweigh the revenue.”
He said too many people who are addicted to heroin or opioids have histories of using other drugs, including marijuana. Legalizing marijuana would also implicitly tell young people that marijuana is acceptable, he said.
Riley Yates, Peter Hall Of The Morning Call
John Z. Murphy Jr. spent 42 days in Northampton County Jail on misdemeanor charges because he couldn’t come up with $800 in bail money.
In fact, the 34-year-old Allentown man would still be in prison awaiting his unresolved case, if not for an initiative the county court recently implemented.
Frustrated that too many defendants were languishing behind bars for lack of bail, Northampton County in late April launched a long-planned effort to make it easier for people charged with minor crimes to stay out of jail before trial.
It seeks to avoid incarcerations like that of Murphy, who was freed in June by a judge who granted him unsecured bail on his simple assault case, allowing him to be released without having to post any money.
The push is part of a national conversation around bail reform, as advocates question whether it is appropriate to imprison defendants before they have been convicted merely because they lack financial means.
“We know that when you have a system that depends on money, then the only thing you know about the people who are in jail is that they’re poor,” said Nancy Fishman, project director at the Vera Institute of Justice, a nonprofit that seeks to improve fairness in the courts.
Fishman and other reformers say pretrial incarceration has cascading effects on defendants, causing them to lose their jobs and housing, and breaking up their families. People jailed before trial are more likely to plead guilty and receive harsher sentences. And those who scrape together the money to post bail often do so by borrowing from relatives and friends, creating additional financial stress.
Because of its stringent cash bail requirement , Pennsylvania houses more pre-trial inmates than all but a handful of states. Many jurisdictions are re-examining whether cash needs to be part of the equation — or whether the decision should be based on risk, and not wherewithal.
New Jersey all but eliminated cash bail last year, replacing it with a system in which judges jail only those defendants who are deemed to be a significant flight risk or a danger to commit more crimes. In Pennsylvania, Allegheny County has championed the use of such risk assessments. In Philadelphia, District Attorney Larry Krasner announced in February that his office would no longer seek monetary bails for a slew of misdemeanors and nonviolent felonies.
“The whole philosophy behind [reform] is that our traditional system in the United States of requiring cash bail is unfair to those who are indigent, who are living on the margins,” said Judge Stephen Baratta, who spearheaded Northampton County’s initiative during his recently ended tenure as the court’s president judge. “The bail reform movement is to make it more fair.”
Bail traditionally serves two purposes: to ensure defendants show up for their court hearings, and to protect society from those whose alleged crimes make them a danger to the public.
Law enforcement is often lukewarm to efforts to release more defendants before trial, fearing they will go on to commit more crimes and noting that even the best risk assessments are not flawless.
Any meaningful bail reform must contain adequate safeguards to keep the public protected, said Richard Long, the executive director of the Pennsylvania District Attorneys Association.
“Primarily bail is there to ensure someone appears for court, but there’s obviously a public safety component as well,” Long said. “Like all of these criminal justice reforms, it has got to be done responsibly.”
By many accounts, Pennsylvania lags behind other states in its approach to bail. It was given a D grade last year from the Pretrial Justice Institute, a nonprofit that supports alternatives to cash bail. The Vera Institute’s study of trends in incarceration shows Pennsylvania, in 2015, had the ninth highest rate of pretrial incarceration in the United States, with about 270 people in jail for every 100,000 residents. Among Pennsylvania’s 67 counties, Lehigh had the third highest rate of pretrial incarceration behind only Pike County and Philadelphia, according to the study.
An analysis of Pennsylvania court data by the Council of State Governments Justice Center found 36 percent of defendants were given monetary bail in 2015. Northampton and Lehigh were among the counties with the highest rates of cash bail for both felonies and misdemeanors.
The state also has faced criticism from federal courts, with a 2016 Third U.S. Circuit Court of Appeals opinion calling inequitable bail “a flaw in our system of justice” and a “threat to equal justice under the law.”
The court’s vitriol was spurred by the fate of Joseph Curry of Boyertown, who was arrested in November 2012 for shoplifting $130 of goods from Walmart in Lower Macungie Township, though he insisted it was a case of mistaken identity.
District Judge Jacob Hammond set bail at $20,000, which Curry was unable to post. He spent 88 days in Lehigh County Jail before he pleaded no contest to the charges, receiving two years of probation.
In a civil rights lawsuit, Curry’s attorney said his client only entered into the plea — in which he accepted a conviction without admitting guilt — because he wanted to return to his family. While jailed, Curry missed the birth of his only child and lost his job, putting his home and car in jeopardy, according to court records.
Curry charged he was the victim of malicious prosecution by police who failed to investigate whether Walmart’s claim that he shoplifted was valid. But given his conviction, his suit was dismissed, though the Third Circuit said it did so reluctantly. The court used the opinion to hold forth on the hazards of cash bail.
“It seems anomalous that in our system of justice, the access to wealth is what often determines whether a defendant is freed or must stay in jail,” Circuit Judge Michael Chagares wrote. “Further, those unable to pay who remain in jail may not have the ‘luxury’ of awaiting a trial on the merits of their charges; they are often forced to accept a plea deal to leave the jail environment and be freed.”
In some local cases where people have been held on charges that were eventually dismissed, the consequences were costly to taxpayers.
Last year, state police paid $150,000 to Wilfredo Ramos of Brooklyn, N.Y., to settle his federal lawsuit alleging he was wrongly held in Lehigh County Jail on charges of driving under the influence of drugs. Ramos’ $10,000 bail kept him in jail for five months while state police tested his blood for drugs three times. Ultimately, the charges were dismissed because there was no evidence.
While imprisoned, Ramos lost his job and his apartment. His vehicle, unclaimed from an impound lot, was sold at auction, his suit claimed.
A 2015 federal lawsuit made similar claims on behalf of Alexander Bernstein, a New York man jailed in Lehigh County for nearly a month under $25,000 bail on drug charges after a stop on Interstate 78.
Troopers alleged they found cocaine in the car’s trunk, but later lab tests concluded it was only homemade soap. Bernstein settled his claims against state police for $195,000 last year. During his imprisonment, Bernstein also lost his job, apartment and belongings, his lawsuit claimed.
Nationwide, more than 60 percent of jail inmates are being held because they lack bail, according to the federal Bureau of Justice Statistics. That’s roughly 459,000 people.
Northampton County’s new approach hopes to reduce its jail population by 10 to 20 percent, said Baratta, the judge. That represents 60 to 120 prisoners, he said, at an estimated daily cost of about $110 a day each.
Baratta said judges still will be tough on serious felonies, and will treat them as they always have, with typical monetary bails. The focus is on cases involving relatively minor charges that would likely lead to probation or a short stint in jail if they end in conviction, he said.
The goal is to avoid imprisoning those defendants before trial altogether — even if for only for a few days as they arrange money for bail — while keeping them under the county’s supervision and getting them referred to the drug or mental-health treatment they need.
To make it happen, before those defendants are arraigned they undergo a risk assessment by a pretrial services officer who runs their criminal record, their history of appearing for court, and maps out their background: age, family ties, employment. The officer rates each person’s risk, and comes up with a bail recommendation.
That contrasts with how Northampton County used to do things, under defendants were brought into court for the first time with little information to help the judge set bail. Decisions were based on what the arresting officer might know, or what the defendant volunteered.
Baratta said the initiative comes with the realization that even short stints in prison often do more harm than good. He noted that under the status quo, the United States has achieved the highest incarceration rate in the world.
“That’s nothing to be proud of,” Baratta said. “You can’t say we’ve made our streets safer with our current system.”
Northampton County is one of a rising number of counties to recognize the value of bail reform, according to Nicolle Schnovel, president of the Pennsylvania Pretrial Services Association.
A 2015 survey by the organization found that at least 25 of the state’s counties had no pretrial services programs. Just a dozen counties reported using risk assessments.
Among those was Lehigh County, which has been using them for 20 to 30 years, said Maureen McManus, who directs the county’s pretrial services.
Someone accused of a minor drug crime will often be connected with treatment instead of being jailed, she said. Likewise someone with a mental health problem, she said.
“We started back in the ’80s, looking at prison population reviews,” McManus said. “We’ve been doing this for a very, very long time.”
In scrutinizing bail in Pennsylvania, the Council of State Governments Justice Center found that amounts varied widely from county by county, even among neighbors.
In Lehigh County, a typical misdemeanor bail was $5,000, while in Northampton County, it was $1,000, though defendants are often required only to post 10 percent to secure their release.
The statistics were no surprise to McManus.
“I think we’re doing a good job in Lehigh County, but in Lehigh County, we set high bails,” she said.
Even for those lucky enough to afford bail, posting it can be expensive. Lehigh County Chief Public Defender Kimberly Makoul said bail amounts that seem insignificant to many people are astronomical to her office’s clientele — even if just a few hundred dollars.
Given the court fees that accompany bail, some of the money is never returned, regardless of whether the accused makes all of his or her court dates — and even if there’s ultimately an acquittal.
For someone posting $10,000 in cash in Northampton County, court fees total $180. For someone posting a bond for that amount, the fees total $200. And that’s not counting the private fees that someone using a bail bond company must pay to the bondsman.
Lehigh County’s fees reach $248 for someone posting $10,000 cash, and $300 for someone relying on a bond.
There’s no evidence that monetary bail makes people more likely to show up in court, Cherise Fanno Burdeen, CEO of the Pretrial Justice Institute, said . Steps as simple as sending low-level offenders text messages to remind them of court dates can improve appearance rates. For higher-risk offenders, electronic monitoring, regular check-ins with court officials, and orders to stay away from victims are effective alternatives to bail, she said.
“Even the people who are considered most risky have a 50-50 chance of appearing, and in baseball you often consider that a winning season,” Burdeen said.
In places such as New Jersey, where the presumption has turned toward release without bail, 85 to 90 percent of defendants are released while their cases are pending. Prosecutors who believe a defendant is a public safety or flight risk must request a detention hearing to prove there is nothing that would alleviate the risk.
Scott Wilhelm, a Phillipsburg defense attorney who practices in New Jersey and Pennsylvania, cautioned that while eliminating cash bail has been largely positive in the Garden State, it isn’t a panacea.
For those detained due to risk, there’s no amount of money they can come up with to change that, Wilhelm noted.
That can pose its own challenges, especially in domestic violence cases where prosecutors object to release, fearing the worst, he said.
“They’re being held maybe for a period of time that’s longer than their ultimate punishment would be,” Wilhelm said.
New Jersey’s non-monetary bail system survived a challenge when the Third Circuit ruled July 9 that there is no federal constitutional right to monetary bail. The court noted New Jersey’s aim in enacting the reforms.
“Monetary bail often deprived presumptively innocent defendants of their pretrial liberty, a result that surely cannot be fundamental to preserving ordered liberty,” Circuit Judge Thomas Ambro wrote.
There’s little research to back up the effectiveness of risk assessment tools, said George Mason University law professor Megan Stevenson. Communities that undertake them must determine what their goals are and how much of a trade-off they’re willing to accept to reduce the number of people in jail.
“You’re not going to get dramatically lower incarceration rates without some increase in failure to appear,” Stevenson said.
In Northampton County, District Attorney John Morganelli’s office wasn’t involved in planning the local bail initiative. But Morganelli said he is confident judges will recognize which cases are serious and which defendants need to be incarcerated.
Morganelli said he was uninterested in spearheading changes as Philadelphia prosecutors did, saying he doesn’t believe that is his role.
“You can’t have a defense-based lawyer in the DA’s office,” Morganelli said. “In my view, we need to protect our community from violent crime. We need to protect our community from crime.”
In the case of Murphy, the man jailed for 42 days in Easton, prosecutors objected to his release.
Murphy is charged in North Catasauqua with misdemeanors of simple assault and terroristic threats for an angry confrontation April 19 in which police said he threw a soda bottle containing urine at his girlfriend’s mother, hitting her in the face.
Murphy’s bail was initially set at $8,000, with $800 needed to secure his release. But Murphy’s public defender, Susan Hutnik, said her client couldn’t afford that amount, though he held a full-time job as a house painter.
In a handwritten petition, Murphy said he has two children to support, verifiable employment and reliable transportation.
“I am not a flight risk,” wrote Murphy, who has a lengthy criminal record, albeit largely for marijuana possession.
On June 13, Murphy’s bail was reduced by Baratta, who happened to be sitting in bail court that day. Baratta noted the dilemma: For lack of bail, Murphy risked spending the summer in jail as his case wound its way through the court process.
Since being released, Murphy appeared for court without problems, according to Hutnik. He waived his preliminary hearing on June 26, and Hutnik said she has worked out a plea agreement.
On Sept. 13, Murphy will be arraigned at the courthouse in Easton, a time when many defendants resolve their cases. If he hadn’t been able to post bail, he would have sat in jail for 134 days by then.
Northampton County has initiated bail reform to jail fewer defendants before trial. Before it was implemented, pretrial services director Nina Reynard tracked 51 low-risk defendants in February 2017. Her findings:
*They spent an average of 16.5 days in Northampton County Jail before posting bail or resolving their cases.
*It cost $97,000 to incarcerate them before trial
*All but four ultimately received sentences that didn’t call for incarceration, for instance probation or fines.
By Matt Miller
A Commonwealth Court panel has given an Old Order Amish widow some wins and some losses in a battle with her township over an outhouse.
In an opinion issued Friday, Judge Patricia A. McCullough ordered Warren County Judge Maureen A. Skerda to reconsider her finding that Sugar Grove Township's sewage facilities ordinance doesn't violate the constitutionally protected religious rights of Iva H. Byler.
McCullough also overturned Skerda's April 2017 order that Byler pay $100 monthly for violating the sewage ordinance, along with Skerda's determination that a subsection of that ordinance - the Privy Ordinance - can be applied retroactively to Byler's property.
The state judge did agree with Skerda that a trust Byler set up for the property had violated the township's building code by allowing some of Byler's sons to live in sheds on the property without seeking building or occupancy permits.
This is not the first time Sugar Grove has battled its Old Amish residents in court over what happens to their waste. At least one other fight has been waged over the township's insistence that members of the sect - who shun the use of electricity - hook onto the power grid and the township's sewer system.
In Byler's case, township officials claimed the mother of 10 repeatedly violated regulations by continuing to use the privy at her home. They claimed she was barred from doing that because her home has running water. As McCullough noted, that running water is delivered by gravity from a spring via a pipe that goes to a tap inside Byler's home.
As for the privy, McCullough cited testimony that it was installed sometime in the 1990s, before the township's sewage ordinance was enacted. That's why she shot down Skerda's retroactivity ruling.
McCullough ruled that Byler, who has no income and is supported by her carpenter sons, doesn't have to pay $100 monthly to the township because Sugar Grove officials never asked Skerda to impose any financial penalty. Those officials merely mentioned that at one point in the multi-year fight Byler could be subject to fines that had reached $160,000, the state judge noted.
The Commonwealth Court's decision resulted from Byler's appeal of Skerda's ruling, which required Byler to correct the violations or face eviction. Skerda acknowledged Byler's religious beliefs, but found they were outweighed by the need to protect the health of the public.
McCullough found that in making the latter call Skerda "ignored" a provision of the state's Religious Freedom Protection Act. That provision requires that state and municipal regulations "shall be construed so as to avoid the imposition of substantial burdens upon the free exercise of religion without compelling justification."
The state judges sent that issue back to Skerda for her to expand upon her conclusion that health concerns trump Byler's religion-based no-electricity belief.
By Matt Miller
A Pennsylvania school district must provide a news media outlet with a surveillance video that supposedly shows a teacher roughing up a student on a school bus, a Commonwealth Court panel ruled Friday.
That ruling, set in an opinion by President Judge Mary Hannah Leavitt, marks the third time in little more than a year that Easton Area School District has been ordered to provide that footage to The Express Times/Lehighvalleylive
The state Office of Open Records and a Northampton County judge previously told the district the same thing.
At issue is a video shot on the morning of Feb. 8, 2017 by a security camera on a school bus parked outside Paxinosa Elementary School. The footage supposedly shows teacher Aaron Dufour, who no longer works for the district, slamming a student down onto a bus seat.
District officials have been fighting the release of the video on multiple grounds.
They have claimed that providing it to the news organization would violated the federal Family Educational Rights and Privacy Act and thereby jeopardize the district's federal funding. Also, they have insisted the film must be kept under wraps because it is part of the disciplinary record against Dufour.
Neither argument swayed Leavitt.
She found the video's release won't put the district's federal funding at risk because the incident depicted isn't covered by the Privacy Act. That law only prevents the release of "educational records" of students, and the bus video doesn't fall into that category, Leavitt found.
"The video depicts a teacher's alleged misconduct. The Privacy Act does not apply to the disclosure of teacher records," she wrote.
The district's disciplinary record argument fails, Leavitt concluded, because no disciplinary action had been completed against Dufour when Express Times reporter Rudy Miller filed a request for the video under the state's Right to Know Law two weeks after the bus incident.
Renovating vacant lots into green spaces can lower feelings of depression for those living nearby, especially in poor neighborhoods, a new Philadelphia study found.
Researchers found that planting grass and trees in formerly empty and blighted lots led residents within a quarter-mile radius to feel 40 percent less depressed. In neighborhoods that fall below the poverty line, the effect was even more pronounced, with feelings of depression dropping 68 percent .
Researchers say the study provides support for a low-cost public health measure to address one of the most costly health conditions in the United States. Individuals and insurance programs spend more than $70 billion annually on depression treatment . In comparison, renovating a vacant lot cost about $1,600 per 1,000 square feet and $180 per year to maintain, according to the study, published Friday in JAMA Network.
“This really is a relatively low-cost intervention compared to the amount of money that is spent on other health problems,” said Eugenia South, coauthor of the study and assistant professor of emergency medicine at the University of Pennsylvania.
That’s not to say a green space can replace traditional therapies or medications, South explained. But it could work in conjunction with those treatments, and provide the added benefit of affecting an entire neighborhood. It could be particularly useful in low-income communities, where there is a prevalence of mental health concerns and people often find it difficult to access traditional health care.
For the study, more than 500 vacant lots throughout Philadelphia were randomly assigned to either a greening intervention, a trash cleanup, or no intervention. The greening involved removing trash, leveling the land, planting new grass and trees, and installing a low wooden fence. Trash cleanup involved removing trash and mowing any pre-existing grass. The Pennsylvania Horticultural Society performed the renovations.
Researchers surveyed more than 300 residents around the lots in the 18 months before and after the renovation, asking them how nervous, hopeless, or depressed they felt. While residents near greened lots reported significant improvements in feelings of depression, those near lots that only received trash cleanup did not.
The findings indicate that “green space in and of itself is important for mental health benefits,” South said.
It adds to a growing body of evidence showing that a lack of parks and other infrastructure is associated with depression , while spending more time in and around green spaces can lower depression rates and reduce physiological symptoms of stress .
Tracy Jamison, 54, says she’s noticed that difference after several lots were renovated in the area of North Philadelphia where she’s block captain. (The lots were not necessarily included in the study, but were renovated in the same way.)
“The lots used to have old cars and trash piling up. Now kids bring coloring books and use the space for camp,” she said. “It makes the community happier.”
Researchers are only just beginning to understand how and why green spaces affect mental health.
can also reduce gun violence , which could make people feel safer, she said. They’re also used as a gathering space for residents, building a sense of community.
That’s been an added benefit for 72-year-old Rafael Martinez, who likes to spend his free time in a greened lot near his North Philadelphia home chatting with friends. It’s even inspired him to clean up another lot on his own. He planted a garden of kale, collard greens, and tomatoes there, and he shares the produce with his community. “It beautifies the neighborhood and it makes you feel good,” he said.
Andrew Lee, an associate professor of public health at the University of Sheffield in the U.K., says finding the reason green spaces have positive effects is key to informing public policy. Is it the social aspect of a park that improves mental health? If so, cities should not just build green spaces, but host barbecues and other gatherings, he said. If it’s the physical activity component, then every green space should be built with exercise equipment.
Lee coauthored a review of studies on green spaces and health in 2011 and found few investigated that aspect.
“Sometimes you can spend a lot of money on an intervention and realize not much is coming out of it,” Lee said. “But if you understand how an intervention works, you can maximize the benefits and ensure it’s likely to work.”
Kimberlee Douglas, director of the landscape architecture program at Thomas Jefferson University, said the new study provides concrete evidence for something people intuitively know: “We have an innate need for nature.”
From her experience building parks in Philadelphia’s low-income neighborhoods, she’s seen them provide benefits beyond mental health. They’re great places for kids to explore, use creativity, and build social skills, she said. They encourage people to exercise more.
“It gives communities a different way to think about themselves,” Douglas said. “They can be proud of where they live.”
Green spaces in urban areas have also been linked to cooler temperatures and fewer heat-related deaths . When properly designed, they can reduce noise levels and air pollution and improve stormwater management .
One concern that arises in some communities is that green spaces will increase real estate prices and force residents out of the neighborhood. Douglas and South said renovations need to be done with the community’s input.
“Our intention is not to push people out,” South said. “We want it to be something that is helping the neighborhood be healthier for the people who live there.”
By Gary Puleo , The Times Herald
UPPER MERION>>What happens in Vegas is apparently good for Valley Forge.
The Las Vegas company that now owns Valley Forge Casino Resort was recently named one of the best places to work in Vegas.
Boyd Gaming Corporation ranked fourth in a recent study curated by career website Zippia , which relies on a data-based approach to determine the best companies to work for, ensuring consistency with employee sentiment, according to Zippia’s marketing strategist Drew Walters.
“Boyd’s recognition on this list reflects the company’s strong financial health, diversity, and salaries relative to similar positions in the area,” Walters noted.
In its overview of Boyd Gaming, Zippia noted that the company is always looking “for fun, passionate people who are committed to exemplifying pride and excellence in all they do. The company offers all team members a choice among three different health care plans so that they can get the medical coverage that best fits their needs.”
Last December, Boyd Gaming, which operates 24 gaming facilities in seven states in the U.S. — a dozen of them in Vegas — announced that it had entered into an agreement to acquire the ever-evolving First Avenue fun palace from Valley Forge Convention Center Partners LP for a cash consideration of $280.5 million.
Valley Forge is the company’s first casino property in Pennsylvania.
On the phone from the company’s Vegas headquarters, spokesman David Strow said he saw a lot of long term potential in the King of Prussia location
“I’ve heard fabulous things about the King of Prussia area, and with the presence of Valley Forge National Historical Park, there are a lot of things drawing people to that area. Pennsylvania has emerged over the last several years to become one of the largest gaming markets in the United States,” Strow added. “It’s one of the areas where we didn’t have a presence before, so we’re very excited about the opportunity to get into the Pennsylvania market.”
In keeping with new legislation, the $10 admission casino fee that had been enforced since the casino opened at 12:01 a.m. on March 31, 2012, had been eliminated, which made the situation that much more appealing to Boyd, Strow allowed.
“Obviously, that makes the opportunity to operate in Pennsylvania more attractive, but even before this legislation passed, Pennsylvania was an attractive market for us. It was a state where we did not currently have operations and it’s the second largest gaming state in the country. It trails only Nevada. In terms of commercial casinos, Pennsylvania is now ahead of New Jersey.”
In a recent press release, the Pennsylvania Gaming Control Board, which oversees all aspects of the state’s casino industry, along with oversight of new gaming initiatives to the Race Horse Development and Gaming Act, announced approval of the Change of Control of the Category 3 Slot Machine Licensee Valley Forge Convention Center Partners, L.P., operator of the Valley Forge Casino Resort in Montgomery County, to Boyd Gaming Corporation.
Under the agreement approved by the Board, the license held since March 2011 by Valley Forge Convention Center Partners, L.P. will be transferred to Boyd Gaming Corporation., a publicly traded company based in Las Vegas, the release noted.
The Board also indicated that Boyd Gaming must pay to the Commonwealth a change of control fee of $1.35 million.
The release added that Pennsylvania’s casino industry currently consists of 10 stand-alone and racetrack casinos in operation, along with the two smaller resort casinos, which collectively employ 18,000 people and annually generate roughly $1.4 billion in tax revenue from slot machine and table games play.
According to the release, the largest portion of the money is reportedly used for property tax reduction to all Pennsylvania homeowners.
Protecting your information online may seem complicated but an official from the state Department of Banking and Securities told residents at Memorial Homes apartments this week that having a safer experience online is about awareness.
Katrina F. Boyer, a consumer outreach liaison with the department, outlined simple things people may do when online to make sure that hackers couldn’t get a hold of their information.
“As we change our culture and we make talking about cyber security, scams and identity theft a part of our everyday conversation, we become much more aware of it and it helps us stay on our toes,” Boyer said.
When learning about how to create a safer presence online, failing to update anti-virus software, web browsers and a computer’s operating system is like leaving the doors open to your house for invaders to come in, she said.
“If we do not update our systems, we are leaving our computers open to bad guys who can figure out ways to get around security systems,” she said.
When browsing on the internet, Boyer said it is important to know that a web address that starts with “https” means that it is a secure, encrypted website and that hovering over links sent to you through an email will tell you if the link is taking you to the website that it says it is.
Using strong passwords with varieties of numbers and both capitalized and lower case letters in unorthodox combinations can greatly deter computer programs from discovering your password, Boyer said. Finding a secure place like a physical notebook to keep passwords can also allow a person to remember passwords and keep away from using only one password for everything.
Boyer showed a list of the most common passwords in 2015 which included “123456,” “password,” “baseball” and “football.”
“Do any of those passwords look familiar?” She asked. “If we use these passwords, you can bet a criminal can guess that password in a quick, hot second.”
Memorial Homes residents were happy with the opportunity to learn more about how they can safely browse the internet, but many felt that all of the dangers online can still be intimidating.
“I am computer illiterate,” Earl McGuire Jr., a resident, said. “(The apartment building) has a computer room and I try to use it. I didn’t know things could be so complicated.”
“I can’t say I am worried, but I am concerned there is so much of it,” Marie Fye, a resident, said.
Site Manager and Services Coordinator, Becky Beaver said she was glad that she was able to offer presentations like this to the residents, adding that many had asked her to have Boyer come back after she had given a talk in June.
“There are a lot of people who wouldn’t have the means to get this information,” Beaver said. “Cyber security affects everyone.”
HARRISBURG, Pa. (AP) – Pennsylvania saw its unemployment rate drop for the second straight month, hitting a new post-recession low, as payrolls expanded slightly.
The state Department of Labor and Industry said Friday that Pennsylvania’s unemployment rate dropped two-tenths of a percentage point to 4.3 percent in June. The national rate is 4 percent.
A survey of households found Pennsylvania’s civilian labor force contracted again, this time by 1,000, falling further below its 2012 record high as employment rose and unemployment shrank.
A separate survey of employers showed seasonally adjusted non-farm payrolls rose by about 4,000 in June, reaching a new record high above 6 million.
The biggest gains were in the manufacturing and leisure and hospitality sectors. Construction and professional and business services shrank the most.
Friday’s figures are preliminary and could change.
State gives a shoutout to Mister Rogers to tout National Pennsylvania Day
Every day is some day, but today is National Pennsylvania Day, prompting the @pennsylvaniagov Twitter account to invoke “Mister Rogers’ Neighborhood” and craft beer as reasons to be home-state proud.
Happy #NationalPennsylvaniaDay ! As the birthplace of independence, the home of Mr. Roger's Neighborhood, and the top brewer of craft beer in the nation, it's no wonder we're #PAproud today and every day. pic.twitter.com/CjUVgbtQ6c
— Pennsylvania (@PennsylvaniaGov) July 20, 2018
According to the National Day Calendar website: “National Pennsylvania Day on July 20 recognizes the second state to join the Union. Once the home of the temporary capital of the United States in Philadelphia, Pennsylvania is also known as the Keystone State. While the source of the nickname has been forgotten, the meaning is not lost. Bridge builders know leaving the vital keystone out of their structure would be folly and would lead to collapse.”
Forgotten by whom? According to many a source, including statesymbolsusa.org : “Pennsylvania’s nickname is ‘The Keystone State’ because it was the middle colony of the original 13 colonies, and because Pennsylvania has held a key position in the economic, social, and political development of the United States.”
While some on social media are using the occasion to express their displeasure with the PA, here is a tweet that celebrates the western part of the state:
It's #PennsylvaniaDay ! 😀 Being born and raised in the City of Champions, PA will always have a special place in my ❤️. Pennsylvania has many of the most beautiful parks, lakes, rivers and mountain scapes in America (and @Fallingwater !) We visit whenever we can! #PAproud pic.twitter.com/hlCZqbA8nZ
— AmericanME (@AmericanLuvSong) July 20, 2018
Sharon Eberson: email@example.com or 412-263-1960. Twitter: @SEberson_pg.
By Alan R. Crippen II
Our country is divided about immigration policies, the scope and limits of pluralism, the nature of religious liberty, and the extent of tolerance and diversity.
These issues are not new to public debate and, in fact, date to the roots of American freedom more than three centuries ago. It may be helpful to revisit that story to glean insights for our time.
This July 30 marks the 300th anniversary of the death of William Penn, Pennsylvania's founder.
The gentleman Quaker, political theorist, and real estate developer was 73, but he gained notoriety in his mid-20s for challenging the English Church-State establishment.
An Oxford-educated Anglican turned religious dissident, his radically liberal idea was that the human conscience is free and people should be allowed to worship and live in ways that accord with their personal religious beliefs as informed by the Bible. In other words, compulsory worship and belief is not true faith.
As Penn argued in his Great Case for Liberty of Conscience, "God only, and no other besides himself has endowed us with those excellent gifts of understanding, reason, judgment and faith...."
Penn's idea garnered a following in England, especially among the Society of Friends or Quakers and other marginalized religious sects. But his initial efforts to reform English law were not realized, at least in the Mother Country. The New World, however, offered the chance to model his political theory that faith and liberty could be successfully paired.
Cashing in on a debt the Crown owed his late war hero father, Penn was granted a charter for a new colony with the caveat that it be named in honor of the elder Admiral Sir William Penn.
This was an embarrassment to the Quaker son whose self-effacing humility eschewed personal aggrandizement as a vice. The 17thCentury real estate developer-politician had no interest in self-branding.
By the time Penn turned 36, he was the sole owner and proprietor of what we know as Pennsylvania, and he launched what he called "a holy experiment."
Penn believed the virtue of love was central to life, including political life: "Love is above all; and when it prevails in us all, we shall all be lovely, and in love with God and one with another."
The foundation of Pennsylvania's freedom was an ethic of love - liberty constrained by compassionate care for others and the common good. He named the capital city Philadelphia - a biblical word meaning "brotherly love."
A model of democratic liberalism, Pennsylvania became arguably the freest government in the world. Penn's 1701 constitution - the Charter of Privileges - irrevocably established liberty of conscience and religious freedom for the inhabitants, attracting universal attention for those longing for liberty. Immigrants flocked to Pennsylvania from not only the British Isles, but the rest of Europe.
One of them was a German religious dissident named Francis Daniel Pastorious, who sailed to Pennsylvania with 80 others.
His shipboard passage described the diversity onboard:
"There was a doctor of medicine with his wife and eight children, a French captain, a Dutch cake baker, an apothecary, a glassblower, a mason, a smith, a wheelwright, a cabinet maker, a cooper, a hat maker, a cobbler, a tailor, a gardener, farmers, seamstresses, etc. They were not only different in respect to age... and in respect to their occupations ... but were also of such different religions and behaviors that I might not unfittingly compare the ship that bore them hither with Noah's Ark ..."
This is Pennsylvania's heritage of faith and liberty - a metaphorical "Noah's Ark," where people could flee the Diluvian judgment of European tyranny for the seedbed of political and economic prosperity.
Though one of the newest colonies in America, Pennsylvania became the most religiously diverse, tolerant, cosmopolitan, and economically prosperous of British colonies.
As Penn had hoped, it became the "seed of nation."
Is Penn's achievement cherished today? Does his vision of love still have relevance as America grapples with modern immigration policies, exploding pluralism, and expanding social diversity?
And what about that fundamental and irrevocable right of religious liberty? Can Americans live together in harmony, even with our deepest differences? Is Penn's achievement in pairing faith and liberty still relevant?
Alan R. Crippen II is Chief of Exhibits and Programs at the Faith and Liberty Discovery Center coming to Philadelphia's Independence Mall in 2020.
That’s what they said, over and over, at the libraries and rec centers I visited Thursday when I asked how they felt about the city’s victory in the Pennsylvania Supreme Court case that was the main obstacle to badly needed repairs to their buildings.
“Fingers crossed,” said T. Kim Robinson, a children’s librarian at the Kingsessing Branch in Southwest Philadelphia.
It’s not that Robinson, who is 62 and has been a city librarian for 18 years, isn’t excited over the news that the state’s highest court decided in favor of the city’s soda tax, which will fund its Rebuild project. She is excited. Just cautiously so.
Look around her library. There’s the flaking ceiling that sheds chips of paint near the tables in the children’s section, and the aging computers in the cramped literacy room, where volunteers teach adults from 18 to 74 with second-grade reading skills.
There’s the “alleged elevator.” They call it that at the Kingsessing Branch because it’s so often broken that no one is sure it even exists. Robinson runs a program for kids with special needs in the community, but because of the small and ornery elevator, she goes to them in their homes.
There’s the feeble HVAC system that shuts down if a strong wind blows. Those days, the library has to close.
This is how it’s been all over the city for the last two years . Fingers crossed. Librarians and rec center leaders are some of the least cynical people on the planet, but the thought that Philadelphia could deliver on the $500 million Rebuild project is antithetical to anyone’s lived experience in these systems .
Though the tax has raised money — a projected $78 million for this fiscal year — the project stalled as the tax was challenged by the beverage industry and merchants. Now, with the court’s ruling, the city has an opportunity to finally put the shovels in the ground. The city also has a responsibility to make sure as many of those shovels as possible are wielded by minority workers from the communities these libraries serve. And Council has a responsibility to make sure we don’t revert to our old Philly ways — playing small-time politics on big-time issues.
The tax isn’t perfect. It has raised less money than projected. Small shop owners and lower-income Philadelphians bear a heavier weight than the wealthy. Funding Rebuild shouldn’t have required such a fight in the first place, but now we have to put these funds to use.
We must make these libraries and rec centers, which hold such outsize importance in their communities, places that are actually desirable to visit — sanctuaries not just because of their role in the community, but because of the actual building themselves.
In the meantime, the librarians cross their fingers.
In Fishtown, in a three-story library that was once a stable, they can’t even joke about the “alleged elevator.” It just doesn’t work, ever, since the rec center pool flooded the basement three years ago. Even in some neighborhoods that haven’t been ignored for decades, the libraries are floundering.
“I’m excited,” the library manager, Sheila O’Steen, said of the recent court victory. “But is it really going to happen?”
At the Cobbs Creek library, despite all its vibrant programming — the cooking classes, the community meetings, the story times — branch manager Christina Holmes crossed her fingers in the hope that the Rebuild money would help them finally remove the heavy grates from the windows, the ones that patrons say make the place look like a prison.
Back in Kingsessing, waiting for the elevator to come, Robinson told the story of how, years ago, she worked in a children’s hospital as a pharmacy tech and saw a young boy with a gunshot wound to the head die in front of her. That’s when she decided to become a librarian: Because even if that boy had survived, she wondered, what kind of future would the city provide him?
At the rec center next door, rec leader Jamila Abdur led a group of kids through a rehearsal for their upcoming play, part of a citywide contest on fire prevention. They practiced on a wide staircase. “We have a beautiful stage upstairs,” Abdur said. “We just can’t use it.” The room is without air conditioning, and stifling.
The kids came up with the play’s plot: A riff on Hansel and Gretel in which a pair of siblings runs away from home after their father loses his job and their family risks eviction. They find themselves in the kitchen of a witch (with many fire hazards, in keeping with the contest’s theme). In the play, the family’s plight winds up being all a dream.
That’s what the rec center is, Abdur said. A place of escape. A place where, for a few hours a day, everything else can just be a dream. We owe these spaces to these kids — if not palaces, then at least not places held together by duct tape.
By Laurada Byers
Fair is fair.
We support the School District of Philadelphia’s commitment to maintaining standards of academic quality. All of us as parents and citizens benefit from high-quality schools, and we should demand nothing less from those whose job is to educate our children.
When it comes to enforcing these standards, all schools should be treated equally: We should identify and support good schools; and we should identify and fix — or close — bad schools.
And there’s the problem. In promulgating the new Philadelphia Charter School Performance Framework to measure school quality, the school district employs a double standard. It holds charter schools to the standards of the framework, yet it completely ignores these same standards when assessing the performance of district-operated public schools.
The framework and its implementation are so bizarre that it leads to a single conclusion: The district is rigging the game to limit the expansion of charter schools, while continuing to tolerate the failing conditions in far too many of its own neighborhood public schools.
Here’s how it works: The framework assigns a score to charter schools from 1 to 100 percent. A school earning a score of under 45 percent does not meet the standard; a score between 45 and 70 percent approaches the standard; and a score above 75 percent meets the standard.
Fine so far, and we agree that the district should hold charters to high standards of academic performance, fiscal management, and transparency in operations and governance. So, if a school is found to not meet the set standard, we agree that such conditions should not be tolerated.
But let’s hold every school to the same standard. Recently, Excellent Schools PA published the results of research applying the framework to all schools in Philadelphia, not just charters. Unfortunately, the results put the lie to any claim by the district that the framework represents its commitment to high-quality schools.
Consider these findings from the research:
The research makes two points pretty clearly:
The district needs to end the hypocrisy of applying different standards to measure the performance of its schools. There should be only one standard, and all schools should be required to meet it.
Fair is fair.
Laurada Byers is the co-founder of the Russell Byers Charter School and board president of Philadelphia Charters for Excellence.
The Philadelphia Zoo is reviewing its protocols on conflict de-escalation following the arrest of a black teenager earlier this month that was captured on video and raised questions about why police were involved.
“Philadelphia Zoo officials have met with a number of community and civic leaders, neighborhood groups, and other citizens over the past two weeks to discuss the incident that occurred on July 5,” zoo spokesperson Dana Lombardo said. “We have already begun work to identify a partner or partners to help us develop additional training to advance our staff’s existing skills in communication and conflict de-escalation, building on current procedures for a thorough and comprehensive program.”
The incident occurred when a zoo public safety officer asked a group of boys to leave the plaza outside the zoo’s gates near 34th Street and Girard Avenue. The boys, Lombardo said, had thrown rocks at a zoo staff member the day prior and had often solicited money in the plaza. People who commented on a video of the arrest — which was posted on Facebook and has received more than 300,000 views — said the boys sold water there.
The group began to leave, Lombardo said, but made a “threatening remark” to one of the zoo’s safety officers, who then flagged down a Philadelphia police cruiser that was driving by.
The zoo did not detail what the alleged remark was or whether the arrested boy, 14, who was cited for disorderly conduct, was behind it.
In the video of the arrest, a black zoo public safety officer shouted at a white public safety officer believed to have flagged down police.
“This is what you did!” the black safety officer yelled at the white safety officer as police held the boy face-down on the ground and tried to put him in handcuffs. “This is what you want. Is this what you want?”
“I only asked him to move!” the white safety officer shouted back. “I asked him to move.”
Lombardo said the safety officer who flagged down police wanted help dispersing the group. She said the interaction between police and the group “unexpectedly” led to the boy’s arrest.
The incident at the zoo has drawn comparisons to other cases in which white people alerted police to black people or viewed them as threats. Last month, about 10 police officers confronted a black family over a minor dispute with white staff at a West Philadelphia movie theater . Police blamed a radio miscommunication on the large response; the family said it was racial profiling. No one was arrested.
In various U.S. cities this year, videos have also captured white people calling police on a black girl selling bottles of water , black men barbecuing in a park , a black woman sleeping in a common dorm room , and, in Philadelphia, black men sitting at a Starbucks.
Questlove has weighed in on the Kenney administration’s reported decision to move Jay-Z’s annual Made in America festival off the Benjamin Franklin Parkway .
Questlove, real name Ahmir Thompson, addressed the situation in a statement on Instagram in which he drew parallels to to the Roots being dropped from Wawa Welcome America’s lineup in 2016. Previously, the Roots were music directors of Wawa Welcome America, which is also held on the Parkway, every year from 2009 to 2015 .
“So what’s the logic when someone cuts its nose to spite its face?” he wrote. “For all Philadelphians asking @TheRoots why we ‘decided’ to no longer participate in the 4th of July #WelcomeAmerica we all but resuscitated from cliche hell … this is past ‘why fix something that isn’t broken?’”
Questlove added that festival organizers used “our talent, our resources, our contacts, our reach” and that “not for nothin but y’all thought it was the city who pulled in Kevin Hart to host?” In his posting, he included a video of Fox 29’s Quincy Harris , who echoed Questlove’s sentiments in an interview on the network.
“Another thing about Wawa Welcome America that I did not like: I did not like that once Mayor Kenney came into office that the Roots were pulled from Wawa Welcome America,” Harris said.
Kenney’s office on Tuesday announced that 2018 would be the last year that Made in America would be held on the Parkway. Roc Nation, Jay-Z’s entertainment company, told the Inquirer that the festival, which it presents alongside Live Nation, has no plans to leave the city. To date, Live Nation vice president of touring Omar Al-Joulani told the Inquirer, the festival has generated $100 million in direction spending since it started in 2012.
“I’m absolutely hopeful that we can figure out a way to open up a dialogue with the city so we can be back on the Parkway in 2019,” he said.
Jay-Z was more pointed in an Inquirer op-ed in which he addressed the decision, writing that he is “disappointed that the mayor of the city of Philadelphia would evict us from the heart of the city.”
“We consider this stance a failure on the mayor’s part. Is this an accurate representation of how he and his administration treat partners that economically benefit his city?” Jay-Z wrote. “Do they regularly reject minority-owned businesses that want to continue to thrive and grow alongside his city’s people?”
Kenney responded to Jay-Z on Wednesday , saying in a news conference that “we love” Made in America and “we want to keep it” in Philadelphia. Holding it on the Parkway, however, has caused operational problems, he said.
“We had some operational difficulties on the Parkway because of how long it takes to kind of set up and take down,” Kenney said.
Kenney added that it was noted in paperwork for the festival that 2018 would be Made in America’s last year on the Parkway, but that the city received no pushback from Roc Nation until now. His office, however, is “in conversations with the right people now.”
When asked whether other Parkway events are at risk of being moved, Kenney did not say no, and noted that a recent study “talked about the stress of the infrastructure on the Parkway.”
However, Kenney left open the possibility of a Parkway-based Made in America for 2019, saying that “I love Jay-Z.”
“The Parkway is very important to Jay,” Roc Nation COO Desiree Perez told the Inquirer. “So I’m not sure that not having the Parkway will work.”
WRITTEN BY DAVID A. KOSTIVAL - READING EAGLE CORRESPONDENT
The Berks County MS4 Steering Committee has voted to approve sending a letter to the Pennsylvania Department of Environmental Protection regarding comments individual municipalities received about their pollutant reduction plans.
The committee has concerns about DEP stating that there might be insufficient planning and infrastructure because there are roads and areas upstream of roads that do not have curbs or gutter systems.
The committee disagrees with PennDOT's assessment that all municipally owned roads must be part of the MS4 planning areas.
"Revising a municipality's PRP (pollutant reduction plans) to include these roads will dramatically increase compliance costs, creating a scenario wherein the municipality through its taxpayers will be paying for treatment of pollutants that never reach surface waters," the letter states.
The committee is asking the DEP to reconsider its view and that these roads not be included in the MS4 planning areas.
Committee secretary and county planner Ashley Showers asked members of the committee to have their individual municipalities send similar letters to state representatives.
The state requires storm water management programs because polluted stormwater runoff is commonly found storm sewer systems from where it is often discharged untreated into local waterbodies.
The Berks County MS4 steering committee consists of 37 municipalities that have combined efforts to fulfill the requirements of the state program.
The committee meets quarterly.
WRITTEN BY KAREN SHUEY
READING, PA — The fate of Berks Heim once again dominated the conversation at the Berks County commissioners meeting Thursday.
A group of about a half-dozen residents came to oppose selling the county-owned nursing home and urge the board to slow the process of marketing the Heim to a nonprofit entity.
They also encouraged the commissioners to keep the community in the loop about how decisions are being made.
“I understand the finances have been shifting a little bit with the state willing to chip in some extra money and I know some lawmakers are very cognizant of the problems facing county-owned nursing homes across the state,” said Exeter Township resident Harlan Kutscher. “So, my question is, what is the big rush to sell the home right now? Because I just don't see the urgency.”
Commissioners Chairman Christian Y. Leinbach said there is no rush.
“We have been very methodical,” he said.
Leinbach pointed out that the board is still looking for new ways to cut costs and new appeals to the state for more funding. He mentioned the board is considering the possibility of opening negotiations with the two unions that represent employees at the home and pushing local legislators to re-examine the way the state doles out cash to county-owned facilities.
And he touted the success the board has already had.
Leinbach said the 1 percent increase in the Medicaid reimbursement rate in the recently passed state budget and a boost in funding from the intergovernmental transfer program have had a modest impact on the financial outlook of the Heim in Bern Township.
But, despite those small victories, the home is still expected to carry a deficit starting in 2020.
Commissioner Mark C. Scott said that while the timeline to sell the Heim is not set in stone, moving quickly on a deal would make the Heim a more valuable asset.
“A lot of people say government should be run more like a business and that's what we're doing in this case,” he said. “When you have a business and you consider selling a division of your business because economic forecasts says it's a declining aspect of your business, you're better off getting out of it while it's still making a profit rather than hemorrhaging red ink.”
But, he added, that is just one factor to consider when thinking about selling the Heim.
Kutscher said that he — and he suspects many others — would be willing to pick up the tab to keep the Heim under county control. He said he would gladly pay $4.40 more in 2019, citing the potential impact the decision would have on county taxpayers based on figures compiled by Chief Financial Officer Robert Patrizio during the fall.
Leinbach said he believes a tax increase must be the last resort.
“I think we need to make sure our partner the state, who set up the system for funding Medicaid patients, is held accountable,” he said. “And if we weren't seriously looking at a sale right now you wouldn't be here, the unions wouldn't be talking to us about possible concession, we wouldn't have the Legislature's attention. The only reason the state is looking at this is because last fall Berks County said we need to look at the possibility of selling.”
WRITTEN BY DAN KELLY
READING, PA — PennDOT and consulting transportation engineers and planners on Thursday showed a new proposal for making the Warren Street Bypass safer.
Traffic accidents, mostly rear-end collisions, have plagued the stretch of highway from the Carbon Street on-ramp to the westbound lanes of the bypass, also known as Route 12, and the Butler Street on- and off-ramps from the highway's eastbound lanes.
Berks County Transportation Planner Alan Piper reminded the 17 planners, engineers, business owners and political representatives present that the Route 12 project started out as a repaving project.
Because of multivehicle pileups on the stretch of highway from Carbon Street to the Wyomissing borough line, and because a number of businesses expressed doubts about limiting or even blocking access to their properties, the project has grown into a major overhaul, Piper said.
Chief among the skeptics is Harry O'Neill, owner of Empire Services, the demolition and construction company at 1420 Clarion St. on the north side of the highway.
O'Neill has said that PennDOT's improvement plans, which include installing curbing that will restrict or in some cases block access to businesses on the north side of the highway, would cause him to move Empire and its roughly 250 employees out of the city.
City Councilwoman Donna Reed, whose district includes the bypass and surrounding neighborhood, has helped coordinate the meetings because she said she does not want to see Empire or a half-dozen other family-owned businesses along the highway move or go out of business.
The plan presented Thursday would create a 2½-block acceleration lane running from the Carbon Street westbound on-ramp to halfway between Clarion and Chester streets.
A 3-foot-wide concrete rumble strip would protect traffic entering the highway via the acceleration lane until drivers get up to speed.
However, having traffic from businesses entering the new lane as drivers are accelerating is too dangerous and many of those driveways would have to be closed.
The concrete median of the highway would be moved 2 feet south and the eastbound traffic lanes would be reduced from 12 to 11 feet. A 10-foot shoulder would be added on the south side of the eastbound lanes for added safety.
The speed limit there is 45 mph but PennDOT officials and business owners agreed the average speed there is more like 60 mph.
Rich Willingmyre Sr., president of Rich's Automotive Sales & Service, 1340 Clarion St., said that the best way to slow down traffic on the highway is to install traffic lights at several intersections along that stretch of the bypass.
Piper said that the problem with red lights is that they stop traffic and cause their own rear-end collisions.
"They took out the light at Park Road because it was backing traffic all the way back to Carbon Street and that's where the crashes were occurring," Piper said.
Emily Opilo Of The Morning Call
A more-than-decade-old budgeting error has cost Allentown $3.5 million in cash reserves, city officials revealed Wednesday.
The problem, which was caused when revenue was never allocated to pay for capital projects, became an issue around 2002, said Brent Hartzell, Allentown’s finance director. That year, $6 million was spent on capital projects, but no revenue was put toward the expenditures, he said.
“We spent $6 million that we did not have,” Hartzell told City Council. “Let that sink in.”
Allentown finance officials have spent the last 18 months investigating the capital projects fund, Hartzell said. Initially, in April 2016, city officials reported to City Council that they found an extra $2 million in the accounts. Some of the spare cash was from projects that were completed and never closed out. Other money was from projects that were stopped before all of the allocated money could be spent.
Before Allentown moved forward with spending the spare $2 million, the issue of the missing revenue was discovered. During their review, finance officials found some years where too much revenue was put toward capital projects, Hartzell said.
In 2003, a bond was issued and $6.8 million was budgeted for capital projects. However, $9.8 million was actually received, which reduced the overall deficit in the capital account, city records show.
Once all of the differences between revenue and spending were accounted for, Allentown’s capital fund was found to have a $3.5 million deficit, Hartzell said Wednesday. In May, city officials transferred that amount from Allentown’s cash reserves to the capital fund.
Hartzell called the situation a “terrible hit to the general fund.”
“It’s not something we are at all proud of, but we’ve got it fixed,” Hartzell said.
Allentown’s cash reserves were already significantly reduced to balance the city’s last several budgets, and the additional reduction has taken a toll. This year, ratings agency Standard & Poor's downgraded the city's financial outlook , citing Allentown’s decreasing available cash reserves.
Allentown has about $7.5 million in the cash reserves for 2018. That includes a $4.8 million stabilization fund that the city would prefer not to tap. The Government Finance Officers Association's standard calls for two months worth of operating expenses to be on hand. For Allentown, which has a $107 million budget, that would be $18 million.
Still, Allentown continues to tap reserve money. In February, Allentown drew nearly $600,000 from cash reserves to pay for remediation due to a malware virus attack on the city. That reserve was also tapped by $3.9 million to balance the city's 2018 budget, and by $3.6 million to balance the 2017 budget.
Allentown faces an expected $4 to $5 million deficit for the next five years, and has almost no capacity to do any long-term borrowing, according to the city’s five-year financial projections. Allentown’s property tax rate has not been increased in more than a decade.
In 2002, when the $6 million mistake was recorded, former Allentown Mayor Roy Afflerbach had just taken office. However, the city’s 2002 budget would have been prepared by outgoing Mayor Bill Heydt, who did not leave office until January 2002. Hartzell said he could not be sure which administration would bear responsibility.
Councilman Ed Zucal chided city officials for offering “a bunch of excuses.”
“This is unacceptable,” he said. “This should be a total embarrassment to this entire council.”
Tim Darragh Of The Morning Call
Albert Abdouche is not the kind of man who overcomes an obstacle and then shoots back at the naysayers, “I told you so!”
So when Abdouche, the owner of the Americus Hotel, stepped to the podium Thursday at a celebration marking the beginning of the 91-year-old grand dame of downtown Allentown’s redevelopment, he acknowledged his yearslong effort to get the financing needed for the job.
“Finally,” he said, “I’m here.”
Abdouche got to this point by following a plan he championed years earlier — it would take about $15 million, he said, to restore the building. Others, including the Allentown Neighborhood Improvement Zone Development Authority, were skeptical. It might take twice that much, some said, as ANIZDA refused to extend the zone’s crucial tax benefits to the project.
It took a consultant’s report in early 2016 supporting Abdouche’s financial plan and a relatively new commercial lender in the Lehigh Valley the next year to get to the $15 million finish line.
That history was in the background as Abdouche and his family celebrated with city and county officials and business associates in the hotel’s large ballroom.
Speaking for the family, Abdouche’s daughter, Kristen, said the days before the successful deal with First Keystone Community Bank were sometimes challenging.
“There were days where he came home frustrated and nearly defeated,” she said.
The mood changed from nervous fear to joy when the bank approved the loan and they received the news via a three-word text message: “He got it.”
Abdouche thanked more than a dozen figures or groups who played a role in his life as a hotel owner since he bought the Americus at a sheriff’s sale in 2009.
Among those he cited were state Sen. Pat Browne, R-Lehigh, “the godfather of the NIZ,” as he called him. Browne wrote the law creating the NIZ, which allows developers in the 128-acre zone to apply state and some other taxes toward their construction loans.
Abdouche also showed gratitude to First Keystone Community Bank of Berwick, which provided a $9 million loan that closed last month.
“I went to many, many banks,” before First Keystone said yes, he said.
Combined with a $1.5 million state grant and his own money, Abdouche says he’ll have the hotel at Sixth and Hamilton streets done, top to bottom, for roughly $15 million.
A parade of speakers hailed the rebirth of the Americus, which for decades was the Lehigh Valley place to be — Mayor Ray O’Connell noted that his children had their junior and senior proms there. Notable visitors included then-Vice President Richard Nixon and entertainer Bob Hope. But after a period of success in the 1980s and early 1990s, the hotel’s fortunes sunk. It stopped taking guests in 2002 and closed in 2007.
Steve Bamford, ANIZDA executive director, said the Americus is a key property in the NIZ.
“If you think of the NIZ as a puzzle, this is a critical piece … in the overall development of the Neighborhood Improvement Zone,” Bamford said.
Guests will be welcomed in 85 daily rooms and 48 extended-stay rooms late this year or early next year, Abdouche said. The ballrooms will host events this year, he said.
Abdouche was not ready Thursday to say which hotel flag will associate with the Americus.
Work started well before the festivities Thursday. Jay Calhoun, superintendent of JD Matthews Associates, the Jenkintown construction manager, said some of the renovations have been done on the first five guestroom floors. Workers soon will tackle floors six through nine, he said, which are gutted.
Work also has begun on the ground-floor corner retail spot, where a small, specialty Walgreens drug store will open this year, according to Abdouche.
The retail development and the ongoing hotel renovations, Browne said, are testament to the spirit, tenacity and vision of two Alberts — the hotel’s builder, Albert Gomery, and Abdouche, who saved it.
Port Authority officials said they are discontinuing their agreement with Bieber Transportation Group effective July 28 for a total of $214,000 in costs that Bieber has not paid.
About 450 passengers use Bieber to commute from the Lehigh Valley and Berks County to the Port Authority Bus Terminal in Manhattan. But the Kutztown-based carrier has missed payments for years, with the Port Authority issuing notices of termination in 2008, 2010 and 2012.
Each time, the parties came up with payback agreements on which Bieber eventually fell behind, Port Authority spokesman Steve Coleman said Friday. The latest arrears “forced the issue.”
“This has been a persistent problem for about 15 years,” he said.
Bieber warned commuters that they may no longer be operating out of the terminal through a post to its website Thursday.
“Bieber Tourways Management is diligently working on a solution to this situation, as well as seeking alternative pick up and drop off locations to utilize if it becomes necessary,” Bieber said. “Please know Bieber Tourways is committed to providing our passengers with the best possible service and will continue to work until a suitable solution to this fluid situation is achieved.”
Bieber did not return calls for comment.
Online court records indicate the IRS filed a lien for $915,736 against Carl R. Bieber Inc. earlier this year, and Pennsylvania authorities have filed a $187,143 lien against Bieber.
A Berks County judge ordered Bieber to pay First National Bank of Pennsylvania $450,968 in May as a result of a lawsuit. Records available online do not include details of the case.
Berks County Court records also show Bieber as one of several garnishees in a lawsuit filed last year by Transforce Inc., a driver staffing service, seeking $592,098.
Founded as a trucking company in 1928 and expanded to include charter bus service from the Lehigh Valley in 1946, Bieber now has a fleet of 54 buses, including several luxury coaches, according to its website. Its tour buses carry a maximum of 33 to 56 passengers.
Coleman, the Port Authority spokesman, said several carriers have already expressed interest in absorbing Bieber’s routes. In the interim, he suggested Bieber customers catch a Trans-Bridge Lines bus in Allentown or Bethlehem, and hoped the 10-day window would give commuters time to figure out their options.
Daryl Nerl Special to The Morning Call
With the exception of a two-year hiccup, Richard H. Johnston has been rising up the ranks of the Northampton County Sheriff’s Department since 2002, when the 20-year law enforcement veteran was first hired as a deputy.
He was promoted to sergeant in 2006 and lieutenant in 2008. The hiccup came in 2010, when Johnston was laid off for budget reasons, but he was rehired in 2013 at his old rank and his been running the protective services and transport division since then.
Northampton County Council on Thursday night officially confirmed Johnston as the new county sheriff by an 8-0 vote. Councilwoman Peg Ferraro abstained without explanation.
Johnston, who has been serving as acting sheriff, replaces David Dalrymple, who held the position from 2014 to 2017 in the administration of former county Executive John Brown. His annual salary is $89,235.
“It’s a promotion story,” said current Executive Lamont McClure, who recommended Johnston for the job. “He rose up through the ranks. That speaks well of his character and it speaks well of the department.”
McClure has now filled 11 of 12 Cabinet-level positions in his half-year-old administration. The director of court services remains unfilled and has been that way since before McClure became the new executive. He said he is still evaluating the county’s needs and will decide whether to fill the position at a later date.
Court services work is overseen by Charles Dertinger, McClure’s director of administration.
Now a 34-year veteran of law enforcement, Johnston spent his first 20 years as a cop in New York City, first as an officer with the transit police from 1982 to 1994 and then becoming a sergeant with NYPD from 1994 until 2001.
He then moved his career to the Lehigh Valley, where he served as a security officer for the Easton Area School District for one year before he was hired by the county sheriff’s department.
During the two years he was laid off, Johnston worked as a security officer and a table games dealer at the Sands Casino Resort in Bethlehem. He lives in Bethlehem Township.
Luzerne expects to pick third Northumberland County location by fall
By Justin Strawser firstname.lastname@example.org
Luzerne County Community College has made no decision in the search for a new college campus in the Valley but it is planning to give a formal assessment to the Susquehanna Valley Community Education Project committee about its preferred site later this year.
Bob Garrett, president of the committee that has been working closely with Luzerne, said the goal is to have an official announcement by early fall with the vision of starting classes for the fall semester 2019.
Thomas P. Leary, President of Luzerne, in a statement provided this week to The Daily Item by the college's director of relations, Lisa Nelson, said they are currently in discussions with community leaders and officials to "determine the feasibility of opening a college site in Sunbury."
"These are preliminary discussions and no decisions have been made," said Leary. "We appreciate the opportunity to discuss ideas for providing educational services to the people of the Sunbury area."
Luzerne already has a branch campus in Shamokin at the county-owned Northumberland County Council for the Arts & Humanities as well as a center in Kulpmont. Luzerne officials have toured the former Shikellamy Middle School at 15 Fairmont Ave. in Sunbury, the former J.C. Penney department store at the Susquehanna Valley Mall and a former Warrior Run school building in Watsontown.
Luzerne County Community College has a main campus in Nanticoke with six off-campus centers in Scranton, Hazleton, Wilkes-Barre, Berwick, Kulpmont and Shamokin. Another center in Pittston in Luzerne County is opening in the fall. Northumberland County provides the space to Luzerne for no rental fee in Shamokin.
The Valley has "excellent post-secondary offerings," such as Susquehanna University, Bucknell University, Triangle-Tech and Lackawanna College, but the community college aspect is missing to help those people transition or cater to non-traditional college students, Garrett said.
By this fall, Garrett said the goal is to have the site evaluation process finished, be working toward developing the courses to offer in 2019 and be renovating any buildings if needed.
"We want to hit the ground running and we want to promote it," Garrett said.
There are no losers in this plan, he said.
"All oars are in the water, everybody is paddling in the same direction," he said.
By Mark Guydish - email@example.com
DALLAS — Noting school board representatives have missed two court-ordered contract bargaining sessions, the Dallas teachers’ union has asked a Luzerne County judge to declare the district in contempt.
Attorney Jeffrey Husisian filed the request Thursday, responding to district solicitor Vito DeLuca’s decision to appeal County Judge William H. Amesbury’s order for mandatory negotiations. The order required negotiations to start July 10 and to be held every weekday from 6:30 to 10:30 p.m. The order also required sessions to take place seven days a week if no agreement was reached by July 14.
DeLuca contends it has been too difficult to get the same five school board members to attend each meeting, as required by the order. He also suggested the two sides have come no closer since the order went into effect.
DeLuca said the appeal protects the district from a contempt ruling because it sends the case to the state level, superseding the county judge’s order.
In the union’s filing, Husisian argues the appeal does not supersede Amesbury’s order. He cites two similar court cases, including one in Crestwood School District, when a county judge ordered negotiations between that school board and the support staff union.
Husisian was the attorney for the Crestwood support staff union at the time. The school board had similarly appealed court-ordered negotiations. Crestwood officials argued the appeal superseded the court order, but both a county judge and Commonwealth Court ruled against the district.
The Commonwealth judge deemed the bargaining order was “interlocutory and not immediately appealable.” An interlocutory order is a decree or judgment given during the course of legal action, rather than a final order. Husisian contends there are ample case rulings that make it clear an appeal can only be made on final orders, not on interlocutory orders.
The union notes Amesbury’s order required negotiation sessions daily July 11 through 16, and that both sides met on those dates. But the district representatives did not show up July 17 or 18, which were also days for mandated sessions.
Because the bargaining order is interlocutory and cannot be immediately appealed, the district’s appeal doesn’t supersede the order, Husisian argues. That, in turn, means failure to show up at those two sessions “is illegal and in contempt” of Amesbury’s order.
The union seeks a hearing as soon as possible, and wants the judge to “order the School District to resume honoring the bargaining order.” It also wants the judge to “instruct the local sheriff to obtain custody of the School Board Members who, under the bargaining order, are required to attend the negotiation sessions” and to “physically escort said School Board members to the negotiation sessions.”
Reach Mark Guydish at 570-991-6112 or on Twitter @TLMarkGuydish
BY TERRIE MORGAN-BESECKER
The second phase of the defamation case that former Lackawanna County Commissioners Randy Castellani and Joseph Corcoran filed against the owners of The Times-Tribune will focus on efforts the newspaper took to verify information and the impact the article had on the former commissioners’ lives.
A Lackawanna County jury Wednesday found a Jan. 12, 2004, article by former reporter Jennifer Henn falsely reported the men were uncooperative with a 2003 grand jury investigating the county prison.
In order to receive monetary damages, the former commissioners must now convince the same jury that the newspaper acted with “reckless disregard” for the truth and that the story harmed their reputations.
The legal standard, known as “actual malice,” is an additional burden a public figure must meet as opposed to a private citizen in a defamation case.
Castellani and Corcoran filed the lawsuit in 2005 against Henn and the Scranton Times LP, owner of The Times-Tribune. Attorneys for the newspaper and the former commissioners agreed to dismiss Henn from the lawsuit with the understanding that the paper will assume any liability for her actions.
Testimony in the second phase is scheduled to begin this morning after the attorneys meet to try to resolve disputes over what evidence will be allowed. Senior Lackawanna County Judge Robert Mazzoni planned to hold a hearing on the dispute Thursday, but it was postponed.
Contact the writer: firstname.lastname@example.org; 570-348-9137; @tmbeseckerTT on Twitter
By John Beauge
Special to PennLive
WILLIAMSPORT -- The Lycoming County controller spent $2,174 in legal fees to win a court battle over a $60 pair of pants ruined by an adult probation officer.
But the battle Controller Krista Rogers has been waging is not over.
Friday she said she will seek repayment of the $60 Luke Ellison was reimbursed for pants he ruined while capturing an absconder.
To some it may appear illogical to challenge a $60 payment but Rogers said she was just doing her job to protect the county.
A Commonwealth Court panel Tuesday ruled Ellison was not entitled to reimbursement because the county does not provide clothing for probation officers.
The panel also said that insufficient documentation was submitted to support the opinion of Judge Nancy L. Butts, who found reimbursement was allowable under a county human resources policy.
Butts declined comment on the appellate court decision and directed probation officials not to talk about it.
Ed McCoy, chief adult probation officer, had in the past expressed disappointment that a question over a $60 pair of pants had reached the courts.
"I wish I hadn't had to go to this level," Rogers said. The commissioners could prevent this from happening again by changing the policy, she said.
This is the history of the case:
Ellison ripped his pants Dec. 28, 2016, chasing down Amanda Confer, who fled when he went to her Williamsport home because she had failed to report as required.
After Rogers refused Ellison's request for reimbursement, Butts on Jan. 17, 2017 ordered her to take the $60 from the offender supervision fund.
Rogers contended use of money in that fund is limited to salaries and benefits of employees and operational expenses of the office.
Butts issued a second order Jan. 26, 2017, directing Confer to reimburse the county the $60.
The judge issued a third order denying Rogers' motion for reconsideration of her directive to pay Ellison. Appellate court filings followed.
When Rogers finally reimbursed Ellison, she did so as a fringe benefit and withheld taxes on the $60.
All fringe benefits must be taxed, she said at the time. She said then as she does now: "I'm just trying to do the right thing to protect the county."
COAL TOWNSHIP — Coal Township must turn over thousands of documents in less than 30 days as part of the discovery in the ongoing lawsuit involving permit fees at the future Northumberland County Prison.
Township Board President Craig Fetterman said the county wants five years worth of building permits, which means between 300 and 500 permits a year with multiple pages on each permit. He estimates it may cost the township $20,000 due to extra labor, overtime and attorney fees.
"What does a homeowner replacing their staircase or windows have to do with building a prison?" Fetterman said. "In my opinion, this is a play to make us spend money. It's wrong. It's sinful."
The township spent more than $40,000 on defending the lawsuit so far, Fetterman said.
Northumberland County paid $220,801 in third-party inspection fees under protest last year toward the prison project in Coal Township. Commissioners Rick Shoch and Sam Schiccatano voted to file the lawsuit in an attempt to recoup the money because they say the township fees are unreasonable, not enforceable by law, unconstitutional and invalid as a matter of law.
The township’s permit fee structure is 1 percent of the total cost of the project plus additional costs for a third-party inspection under the Uniform Construction Code. The township argued that the county’s lawsuit is premature, the county lacks jurisdiction and failed to follow the statutory conditions of an appeal.
Shoch remains critical of Fetterman, saying the township has declined under his leadership and that township voters should remove him from office.
"Mr. Fetterman insults the intelligence of his constituents every time he opens his mouth regarding this matter," Shoch said.
Shoch said he will not allow Fetterman's "poor decision making to drag down the rest of our county."
Lycoming County Commissioner Jack McKernan admonished community members against Williamsport Mayor Gabriel J. Campana’s proposal to turn control of the levee system over to the city Municipal Water and Sanitary Authority Thursday.
“I don’t want people to get the idea that turning the levee over to the authority is going to solve our problems,” he said.
The Greater Williamsport Alliance levee work group was formed about 1 1/2 years ago in order to address levee repairs “because this board of commissioners was concerned that there didn’t seem to be anything happening with the area municipalities,” he said.
Fran McJunkin, deputy director of GIS for the county planning department, is “the spearhead behind” efforts to fund much-needed levee repairs and has been a spokesperson and leader in meeting with legislators, regulating departments, other levee-keepers and more, McKernan said.
McJunkin coordinated the visit to the Sunbury Municipal Authority last week, and the county also is working closely with the Army Corps of Engineers, Thomas Keller Consulting and legislators such as Gene Yaw, R-Loyalsock Township, he continued.
“We’re hopeful that we can accomplish a lot with those organizations,” McKernan said.
“Using an authority as a long-term solution for maintenance and future repairs to the levee is a good idea,”he added, “but I don’t want to see the folks in Harrisburg or Washington (D.C.) give up on helping us to pay for these immediate items that we need to take care of.”
The responsibility is in the hands of the municipalities and the cities, he said.
In another matter, community member Betty Steinbacher, a seasonal Beaver Lake resident, voiced her concern for her neighbors’ mounting sewer bills.
With few rate payers in the remote area, rates are high, and the dominantly senior population is unable to keep up, she said. One man’s home is being foreclosed on — not by the banks due to unpaid taxes or the like, but by the Lycoming County Water and Sewer Authority for unpaid sewer bills, Steinbacher said.
“The people who are really affected are the people with minimal income, the people who are retired,” she said. “I predicted there would be sheriff’s sales … that people would lose their houses. I didn’t think it would happen this fast. He’s losing his house to the sewer authority!”
The commissioners explained that they cannot exercise control on the authority beyond appointing its board members, and that member John Gramling was appointed in January as someone who may be able to explore this issue further.
“We have tried to respond to the constituents there in terms of appointing people who can advocate, or who could explore the problem,” said Commissioner Rick Mirabito. “So, to the extent that we have control over — trying to make sure the board is representative — we did that.”
Further, state Department of Environmental Protection regulations, managed by the authority, are more expensive in some areas than others, which affects rates. And rates can’t be raised in one place to pay for changes made in another, said Commissioner Tony Mussare. The township, in this case, Penn Township, has to help Beaver Lake residents, he said.
On another note, Mussare announced that local dairy farmers and their supporters will congregate at the Lairdsville firehall starting at 9 a.m. Tuesday to meet with various speakers, legislators and others throughout the day about the loss of dairy farms locally, statewide and nationally.
“They’re pleading for help. It sounds very desperate,” he said. “This group has gone all the way to the top, they can’t go any further.”
In other business, the commissioners:
• Approved the purchase of two generators for $38,049 from Hunter and Lomison for the Department of Public Safety’s North Mountain and Armstrong tower sites. The purchase is reimbursable through 911 funds.
• Approved the purchase of a 2008 GMC ambulance for $16,000 from the Old Lycoming Township Volunteer Fire Co. for the coroner’s office, to be paid for with the coroner’s special funds.
• Approved the following personnel actions: a part-time assistant county detective at $22 per hour not to exceed 1,000 hours annually, effective July 29; promotion of Paula R. Young as a full-time replacement EMA administrative assistant at $17 per hour, effective July 29; reclassification of Travis D. Heap as a correctional counselor at $23 per hour effective Oct. 7; Dalton T. Lovell as a full-time replacement correctional officer relief at $16 per hour, effective Sunday; Sean M. Farley as a full-time replacement correctional offiver relief at $16 per hour, effective Aug. 5; and reclassification of Leslie A. Carnevale as a clerk II at $13 per hour, effective Aug. 26.
The next meeting will be held at 10 a.m. Tuesday in Executive Plaza.
LEWISTOWN — Mifflin County Commissioners approved an agreement with West Wayne Township Sewer Authority for 2016 Community Development Block Grant funding at the board’s regular meeting on Thursday.
According to Jim Lettiere, the county’s community development administrator, the $105,600 project involves the replacement of 340 feet of sewer line under Miller Lane and Prospect Lane and six public lateral replacements, as well as reconstruction of an existing sewer line.
The board also approved a preparation and administrative agreement between the Mifflin County commissioners and the Wayne Township supervisors to apply for a CDBG competitive grant for another project in Wayne Township.
Lettiere said they would be requesting $500,000 in funds.
Additionally, the board also approved an intergovernmental agreement between Mifflin County and the Pennsylvania State Police, allowing Mifflin County to access the Pennsylvania Statewide Radio Network.
The agreement would allow the county to share resources with the state and would allow the county to be eligible for funding more upgrades in the future.
Commissioners also took the following action:
¯Approved a request for exoneration of 2018 county real estate tax bill and relieve the tax collector from collecting the bill for a property in Lewistown Borough. The value of the property has been reduced.
¯Approved a professional services agreement with GeoDecisions, in Camp Hill, for geographic information systems upgrades for $1,800.
¯Authorized Juniata Valley Behavioral and Developmental Services to advertise for the county mental health/intellectual disabilities/early intervention administrator position.
Commissioner Rob Postal noted that the position has been filled by an interim administrator for more than a year and due to a lack of qualified applicants, the requirement that the candidate must reside in Mifflin or Juniata counties has been changed from a requirement to a preference.
¯Accepted an award letter for the Mifflin County Reentry Strategic Plan Grant in the amount of $14,378.
¯Approved grant agreements for the Homeless Assistance Program amounting to $27,491.
¯Approved Human Services Department Fund Agency Contracts for July 1 through June 30, 2019, amounting in a total of $50,000.
¯Amended the retirement date of Donald Howell, GIS analyst, to Sept. 28.
¯Hired part-time corrections officer Philip Kyle.
¯Hired part-time corrections officer Brandon Platzer.
¯Accepted the resignation of Daniel Kearns from his position as part-time corrections officer.
HOLLIDAYSBURG — Blair County leaders have taken a step toward acquiring up to 70 more surveillance cameras for the county prison.
The prison board voted Thursday to solicit bids for cameras and related equipment to update and expand the prison’s video surveillance system and to increase the amount of recorded video that can be stored.
The manufacturer’s recommended retail price for the cameras and related equipment is $176,000, but bids could come in lower, Deputy Warden Holly Garner told prison board members on Thursday. She also mentioned the $176,000 does not include installation costs.
County leaders have spoken about the need to increase surveillance cameras at the prison to eliminate what have been referred to as blind spots. During Thursday’s meeting, prison board members indicated that bond issue money is available to cover the expense.
The state Department of Corrections, whose personnel completed a review of the prison last year at the county’s request, named more cameras among its recommendations, prison board Chairman Daniel Milliron said Thursday.
The DOC refused to release the study to the public and turned down the Altoona Mirror’s request for a copy with safety-related information redacted.
Milliron said Thursday that the age of the prison is a factor, which influences the facility’s need for more cameras and it’s also a factor as to why the county is not going for a wireless camera system.
The 70 cameras to be purchased, Garner said, will be wired into the prison’s current system.
When asked if the cameras will include sound capability, Garner said no because that would create wiretapping issues.
Prison surveillance video has become an important part of court proceedings in recent months where in-mates and corrections officers have faced criminal charges. Because of the prison’s video system, jurors were able to view video of several inmates involved in a plot to remove tobacco from another inmate’s rectum. While the prison has no video inside the inmate’s cell, it had video of a prison day room where the plot developed.
Prison video also was used in a court case where a former corrections officer was found guilty of official oppression. In that case, the jurors were able to see the officer push a handcuffed inmate backward to the floor.
Prison video also was used against a male corrections officer found guilty of indecent assault, false imprisonment and harassment based on allegations of a fellow female employee. While the prison had no video of the assault, it had video of the woman going into and leaving the room where the incident occurred.
The prison board also spent about a half hour in executive session Thursday to review staff-related recommendations that retired Sheriff Mitch Cooper, who chaired the prison board and temporarily served as acting warden, prepared in response to the DOC study.
The DOC study recommended hiring more staff, but the executive session, Milliron said, was warranted because it focused on specific personnel.
Under the state’s Sunshine Law, governing boards are allowed meet in executive session when discussing specific employees and their employment-related issues. But the exception doesn’t apply to discussions relating to groups of employees, the creation of new jobs or related budget discussions, based on a synopsis of the law posted online by Pennsylvania News Media Association.
No public action was taken after the prison board’s executive session concluded.
Mirror Staff Writer Kay Stephens is at 946-7456.
By Matthew Rink
Web portal will house range of economic, socioeconomic, demographic data about Erie County, its people, and properties.
A new data-driven online portal that will aim to improve Erie County’s chances of landing new businesses and making more accurate decisions about community and economic development could go live by the second week of September.
The Erie County Department of Planning, the Emerge 2040 steering committee, the Erie Regional Chamber & Growth Partnership and the Erie County Redevelopment Authority are behind the creation of a new data center. Once live, the public, including business owners and entrepreneurs from the county and far beyond, will be able to access economic, socio-economic, demographic, industrial, and environmental data with the touch of a few buttons.
Such data will overlay GIS mapping.
The county’s new data center will be especially helpful for businesses that are trying to select sites within Erie County.
Jeff Keeler, coordinator of the data center, told Erie County Council members during a finance committee meeting Thursday that the data center will be a “one-stop shop” where users can find a range of information.
The site, Keeler said, “will be a regularly maintained, up-to-date, visually appealing and interactive portal with accurate and actionable information on the region, Erie County’s economy, its people, its places and its projects.”
The data center will be able to conduct economic impacts studies that analyze the direct, indirect and induced impact of projects.
Rick Novotny, executive director of the Erie County Redevelopment Authority, said that currently there is no place online find detailed information about the county. The Redevelopment Authority, he said, received a call Thursday from a Cleveland company seeking a brownfield of 10 acres or more.
“With a push of a button we could find all of the brownfield sites in Erie County with 10 or more acres,” Novotny said of the data center’s capabilities. The data center will include information about all properties, including those that are for sale. Some of the information will be supplied by national firms. Other information will be generated locally.
“Unfortunately we are about 10 years behind on this,” Novotny said, noting that the county will also be able to obtain information about the types of businesses looking to locate here.
In May, Erie County Council allocated $52,500 for the creation of the data center. Of that, $47,500 was from the Emerge 2040 steering committee. Emerge 2040 is the county’s 25-year planning document. The other $5,000 came from the county’s general fund.
The Erie County Planning Department ($2,500), Erie Chamber & Growth Partnership ($10,000) and Erie County Redevelopment Authority ($5,000) have also made investments in the data center project.
Council members mostly expressed support for the project. Others questioned why it has taken so long. Council members Andre Horton and Fiore Leone asked why the Erie Regional Chamber & Growth Partnership didn’t spearhead the project years ago.
“This is stuff that the chamber of commerce should have been doing,” Horton said.
“This should have been set up 15, 20 years ago,” Leone said. “Year after year, we’ve funded the chamber ... I’ve seen nothing. Like I said, I mean no disrespect. Hopefully, the Planning Department does something and something is accomplished in that area because I think we need it.”
Tom Tupitza, volunteer board chairman for the Erie Regional Chamber & Growth Partnership, attended the presentation to County Council.
“I’m not here to defend what’s happened in the past,” he said. “But I know we need the tools, and this is one of them, to do whatever we need to do. Our goal is to come up with a sustainable system that will not simply be a taxpayer system to fund what we need to do for economic development.”
Matthew Rink can be reached at 870-1884 or by email. Follow him on Twitter at www.Twitter.com/ETNrink .
By Matthew Rink
The department has proposed a name change of sorts.
It might soon be time for the Erie County Department of Planning to order new letterhead.
The department has proposed a name change of sorts. An ordinance before Erie County Council would extend the name to the Erie County Department of Planning and Community Development.
The proposed change would better reflect the work the department does, which goes beyond “traditional” county planning departments.
County documents cite the department’s involvement in the federal Community Development Block Grant program and the Coastal Zone Management program. It also cites the department’s work in assisting municipalities with transportation, infrastructure, housing, environmental, recycling, and solid waste issues. Also, the department has been involved with the implementation of long-range planning projects, including Erie Refocused, Embrace Millcreek, Emerge 2040 and now oversees the new county land bank.
Gary Lee, director of administration for County Executive Kathy Dahlkemper, asked council members to make the change during a finance committee meeting Thursday.
Former U.S. Sen. Rick Santorum had sensed a shift in the political winds recently in favor of Republicans running in November’s midterm election.
That would have been good news for U.S. Rep. Lou Barletta, the Hazleton Republican seeking to unseat the Democrat — U.S. Sen. Bob Casey Jr. — who defeated Santorum in 2006.
Then President Trump went abroad, hammering NATO allies; embarrassing the United Kingdom’s prime minister, and, finally, embracing Russian President Vladimir Putin’s denial of 2016 election meddling, which is disputed by America’s intelligence agencies.
Democrats were outraged. So were many Republicans.
Barletta, by contrast, praised Trump and blamed Democrats for the Putin controversy, even as Trump tried to walk back his comments.
“The president is focused too often on himself and not on things that are bigger than himself,” said Santorum, now a CNN political pundit. “That’s what gets the president in trouble.”
Barletta’s campaign is inextricably linked to Trump’s political future. He took heat last month for President Trump’s “zero tolerance” policy of separating children from parents who enter the country illegally, supporting the president as he pushed the effort and then when he rolled it back.
That kind of loyalty gets rewarded in Trump’s world.
Vice President Pence is due to headline a Barletta fundraiser Monday at the Union League in Philadelphia. And Trump has committed to campaigning for Barletta in Pennsylvania.
Santorum said Barletta must capitalize on the president’s popularity while avoiding his pitfalls.
“What Lou’s job is, in my opinion, is to say: ‘Look at the policy, don’t look at the president,’” Santorum said.
Val DiGiorgio, chairman of the Pennsylvania Republican Party, said a rough week for Trump may resonate in the southeastern corner of the state but not so much in other areas.
“It depends on where you are,” DiGiorigio said. “Clearly the president is a double-edged sword for Lou. He’s going to drive out the base in much of the state. Lou’s going to have to build his own brand in the southeast.”
Thirty-three percent of the state’s registered voters live in Philadelphia and its surrounding counties — Bucks, Chester, Delaware, and Montgomery — the rest in the other 62.
While Casey has targeted Barletta for his ties to the President, Pennsylvania Democratic Party Chairwoman Nancy Patton Mills said the party is not “running against Donald Trump” in the Nov. 6 general election. Still, she said Trump’s foreign missteps “brought us to a completely different page,” shifting the focus from politics to patriotism.
“I think Barletta at this point will have to go back to the drawing board,” she said. “If Barletta thinks he can win the support of Trump supporters in Pennsylvania by being unpatriotic, I don’t know what that path to success would be.”
Barletta’s relationship with Trump has always been complicated. He liked Trump’s take on illegal immigration, but still hesitated to support the New York real estate developer.
“He was saying things that I was feeling and thinking,” said Barletta, who built a political brand on fighting illegal immigration in Hazleton while he was mayor from 2000 to 2010.
Barletta had endorsed Santorum, a friend and fellow fantasy baseball league participant, for president. But Santorum’s campaign failed to catch fire.
Santorum said Trump was the “the natural guy” for Barletta to support next.
“We really see the Republican Party as a party in a revolutionary time,” Santorum said. “It has to be concerned about those who think the elites in both parties have left them behind.”
Barletta announced his support for Trump in March 2016.
“I would have been the first in Congress to endorse him, but my staff talked me off the ledge for a couple of weeks,” Barletta said earlier this month.
Then came the teasing from other members of Congress.
“They thought I was doomed,” Barletta said. “My colleagues would laugh at me and make fun of me because I endorsed Donald Trump.”
Barletta, in making his endorsement, lamented that division, saying he was “discouraged that certain members of the Republican Party have spent more time trying to figure out how to stop Donald Trump than they have trying to understand why he is so popular in the first place.”
Barletta said Trump, in a June 2017 phone call, was the first person to urge him to run for the Senate. He previously had been considered for a position in Trump’s cabinet.
“He said, ‘You would have been good in my administration, but I needed you in the House,’” Barletta said of Trump’s phone call. “’I need you in the Senate now. Announce tomorrow.’”
Barletta offered a series of stalls: He had to think about it, he had to talk to his wife.
“’Announce tomorrow,’” Trump repeatedly replied, Barletta said.
Again Barletta hesitated, announcing his candidacy 10 weeks later.
Laura Olson Call Washington Bureau
Pittsburgh attorney David Porter moved a step closer to a seat on the 3rd Circuit Court of Appeals on Thursday, when a Senate panel advanced his nomination over objections from Democratic Sen. Bob Casey .
Home-state senators are given the courtesy of signaling their approval of federal judicial nominees, which they do by returning a form known as a “blue slip.” Casey has withheld his blue slip, saying Porter advocates conservative legal policies that are hostile to workers and equal protection laws.
Three other Trump administration appellate court picks who lacked support from at least one of their home-state senators also have move forward, a practice that has infuriated Democrats and liberal activists.
Republicans involved in the nomination process say the blue-slip practice is not meant to give home-state senators a veto over a nominee. They also say Casey was consulted on Porter’s nomination, though Casey’s office has disputed that.
After Thursday’s 11-10 vote in the Senate Judiciary Committee, Porter’s nomination now awaits a vote by the full Senate.
If confirmed, Porter would serve on the appeals court that hears cases from Pennsylvania, New Jersey, Delaware and the Virgin Islands. He has worked as a business litigation attorney with the Pittsburgh firm of Buchanan Ingersoll & Rooney for two decades.
Casey presses ITC to protect newspaper industry
WASHINGTON — U.S. Sen. Bob Casey joined about a dozen lawmakers this week who stood up for print newspapers struggling with recently imposed tariffs on Canadian newsprint.
In testimony Tuesday before the U.S. International Trade Commission, the Scranton Democrat called a free press and newspapers “a bedrock of our democracy.”
Newspapers “must have access to the necessary resources that ensure our informed public,” Casey said.
Newsprint is a necessary resource for print newspapers, according to the Tribune-Review. The Trump administration imposed a tariff on Canadian newsprint in response to a complaint from a Washington state paper producer that argued Canadian competitors take advantage of government subsidies to sell their product at unfairly low prices.
Newsprint is generally the second-largest expense for local papers. The tariffs have increased prices by 25 to 30 percent.
“While we value our larger publications with wide circulation, it is our local newspapers, whose reporters execute the duties of the fourth estate for their communities, that have struggled the most as Americans across the country make difficult choices in the face of stagnant wages. I have heard from many newspapers in Pennsylvania expressing concern about the impacts of Commerce’s preliminary findings. I know you will undertake a judicious review of the concerns raised by my constituents and take the appropriate action,” Casey said.
Pennsylvania has more daily and weekly newspapers than any other state in the country, Casey said, citing Penn State. The state has 76 dailies and more than 150 non-daily publications, he said.
By Staff Reports
Republican Senator Pat Toomey and Democrat Senator Bob Casey rarely agree, but this week, they both condemned President Trump for his performance at a press conference with Russian President Vladimir Putin. In a statement , Toomey called “Trump’s blindness” to Putin’s “hostile acts … very troubling.” Casey tweeted that Trump’s behavior was “dangerous and reckless.”
Their concerns were echoed by people around the country, in op-eds, tweets, social media comments and media appearances. We’re here to remind you that there’s another way to have your voice heard: Call your representative in Congress.
We’ve consulted a variety of sources to help you make the most of these calls.
Most importantly, you should be clear about what you’re asking for and why you’re asking for it. State your name, where you live, the name of your representative, why you are calling, what action would you like your representative to take, and why the action is important.
To make it easier, we’ve designed this easy-to-customize script. Feel free to use our menu of choices or your own. The numbers for Pennsylvania and New Jersey representatives are below.
Revising the script? Let us know what you said when you called your representative by emailing Inquirer.Letters@phillynews.com .
Senator Bob Casey Jr (D), (202)-224-6324
Senator Pat Toomey (R), (202)-224-4254
Rep. Bob Brady (D), (202)-225-4731
Rep. Dwight Evans (D), (202)-225-4001
Rep. Mike Kelly (R), (202)-225-5406
Rep. Scott Perry (R), (202)-225-5836
Rep. Glenn Thompson (R), (202)-225-5121
Rep. Ryan A. Costello (R), (202)-225-4315
Rep. Brian Fitzpatrick (R), (202)-225-4276
Rep. Bill Shuster (R), (202)-225-2431
Rep. Tom Marino (R), (202)-255-3731
Rep. Lou Barletta (R), (202)-225-6511
Rep. Keith Rothfus (R), (202)-225-2065
Rep. Brendan Boyle (D), (202)-225-6111
Rep. Michael Doyle (D), (202)-225-2135
Rep. Lloyd Smucker (R), (202)-225-2411
Rep. Matt Cartwright (D), (202)-225-5546
Rep. Conor Lamb (D), (202)-225 2301
Senator Robert Menendez (D), (202)-224-4744
Senator Cory A. Booker (D), (202)-224-3224
Rep. Donald Norcross (D), (202)-225-6501
Rep. Frank A. LoBiondo (R), (202)-225-6572
Rep. Thomas MacArthur (R), (202)-225-4765
Rep. Christopher H. Smith (R), (202)-225-3765
Rep. Josh Gottheimer (D), (202)-225-4465
Rep. Frank Pallone, Jr. (D), (202)-225-4671
Rep. Leonard Lance (R), (202)-225-5361
Rep. Albio Sires (D), (202)-225-7919
Rep. Bill Pascrell, Jr. (D), (202)-225-5751
Rep. Donald M. Payne, Jr. (D), (202)-225-3436
Rep. Rodney P. Frelinghuysen (R), (202)-225-5034
Rep. Bonnie Watson Coleman (D), (202)-225-5801
Not sure who your representative is? Click here to search for your House representative by zip-code .
By Kevin Dellicker
The bizarre overreaction to President Donald Trump’s meeting with Russian President Vladimir Putin reveals more about the American political establishment than the objects of their ire.
Russia is not the Soviet Union, Putin is not Stalin, and President Trump is right to attempt a dialogue that could defuse the start of a protracted conflict. The screaming elites from both political parties are the ones who lack context and perspective, not Trump or his supporters.
Relations with Russia are bad, but they have not reached the point of no return. Fortunately, the current state of bilateral relations is very different from the last time America and Russia clashed, with better opportunities to forge a productive understanding.
During the Cold War, that was impossible, as the Soviets possessed three traits that made them our mortal enemy and threatened our very existence.
First, the Soviets had an underlying ideology — communism — that was incompatible with our western way of life. Americans valued capitalism, liberty and self-government. Communists valued socialism, collectivism and totalitarianism. The ideologies were diametrically opposed and mutually exclusive.
Second, the Soviets had achievable plans to spread their ideology worldwide. Communist theorists believed that as long as capitalism and communism coexisted, the two systems would be in a perpetual state of war. So, the only way to guarantee their communist utopia was to destroy capitalism and achieve world domination. Accordingly, the Soviets set out to spread communist revolutions across the globe.
Finally, the Soviets possessed the means to carry out their plans. Their formidable industrial might sustained an immense military with the capability to roll across Europe and project power anywhere in the world. Their conventional weapons were backed by a nuclear arsenal that could instantly annihilate any place on earth.
That triple threat of communist ideology, expansionist planning and massive forces made the Soviet Union a true evil empire. No amount of engagement could change the fundamental nature of the relationship. The Soviets had to be defeated if we were to survive as a nation.
Not one of those characteristics describes Russia today.
Russia is not defined by some frightening ideology. Its pervasive corruption, crony capitalism and heavy-handed tactics are examples of individual failures to achieve desired reforms, not evidence of a collective longing to return to autocracy. Just 30 years ago, Russia was ruled by communist dictators, and before that by czars. Perhaps the real story is how far they have come in such a short period of time.
Russia has no plans for world domination. Yes, the country longs for its glory days of power and influence. But, annexing Crimea, interfering in Ukraine and propping up Syria are different than conquering Poland, invading Afghanistan and toppling governments across Central America. Russia has many desires but few achievable plans, and managing their wishful thinking requires a different approach than countering the marching orders of the Comintern.
Finally, Russia lacks the means to threaten the West. The U.S. dwarfs Russia in military power, spending 10 times more than Russia on its armed forces.
And, with an economy about the size of Spain’s, Russia will not catch up any time soon. Russia’s nuclear arsenal remains a viable deterrent. But only in the fantasies of Russian nationalists and Washington elites is Russia a peer power to the US.
In fact, Russian election ‘’meddling’’ is evidence of their weakness, not their strength. Amateurish and inconsequential, the episode is a textbook example of an asymmetric response by an inferior challenger against a dominant foe, nothing but a petty annoyance.
Yet, instead of dispensing a secret cyber-spanking, patching the vulnerabilities and otherwise ignoring the whole pathetic affair, the U.S. has incessantly whined about Russian “attacks” and elevated them to legendary status.
Russia still has the potential to devolve into an isolated mess that menaces the West for decades to come. Butthat is not who they are today. Defining them as such is factually inaccurate, offensive to their citizens and unhelpful to diplomacy.
Russia is a proud nation, recovering from a humiliating defeat and anxious to reclaim what they believe is their rightful place on the world stage. They seek to be a leader in the community of nations, not its pariah. If we can leverage their desire to re-engage, Russia could help us solve many stubborn and long-standing problems.
That is, unless the screaming elites are successful in turning minor conflicts with Russia into major battles. President Trump should be commended, not condemned, for trying to defuse a dangerous situation before it becomes Cold War II.
Kevin Dellicker, who lives in Heidelberg Township, is a four-time veteran of the global war on terrorism with 17 years’ experience as a military intelligence officer.
Trump's lawyer recorded him discussing payments to ex-Playboy model
Matt Apuzzo, Maggie Haberman and Michael S. Schmidt
The New York Times
WASHINGTON — President Donald Trump’s longtime lawyer, Michael Cohen, secretly recorded a conversation with Trump two months before the presidential election in which they discussed payments to a former Playboy model who said she had an affair with Trump, according to lawyers and others familiar with the recording.
The FBI seized the recording this year during a raid on Cohen’s office. The Justice Department is investigating Cohen’s involvement in paying women to tamp down embarrassing news stories about Trump before the 2016 election. Prosecutors want to know whether that violated federal campaign finance laws, and any conversation with Trump about those payments would be of keen interest to them.
The recording’s existence further draws Trump into questions about tactics he and his associates used to keep aspects of his personal and business life a secret. And it highlights the potential legal and political danger that Cohen represents to Trump. Once the keeper of many of Trump’s secrets, Cohen is now seen as increasingly willing to consider cooperating with prosecutors.
Rudy Giuliani, Trump’s personal lawyer, confirmed in a telephone conversation Friday that Trump had discussed the payments with Cohen on the tape but said the payment was ultimately never made. He said the recording was less than two minutes and demonstrated that the president had done nothing wrong.
“Nothing in that conversation suggests that he had any knowledge of it in advance,” Giuliani said, adding that Trump had directed Cohen that if he were to make a payment related to the woman, write a check, rather than sending cash, so it could be properly documented.
“In the big scheme of things, it’s powerful exculpatory evidence,” Giuliani said.
Cohen’s lawyers discovered the recording as part of their review of the seized materials and shared it with Trump’s lawyers, according to three people briefed on the matter.
“We have nothing to say on this matter,” Cohen’s lawyer, Lanny J. Davis, said when asked about the tape.
The former model, Karen McDougal, says she began a nearly yearlong affair with Trump in 2006, shortly after Trump’s wife, Melania, gave birth to their son Barron. McDougal sold her story to The National Enquirer for $150,000 during the final months of the presidential campaign, but the tabloid sat on the story, which kept it from becoming public. The practice, known as “catch and kill,” effectively silenced McDougal for the remainder of the campaign.
David J. Pecker, chairman of The Enquirer’s parent company, is a friend of Trump’s, and McDougal has accused Cohen of secretly taking part in the deal — an allegation that is now part of the FBI investigation.
When The Wall Street Journal revealed the existence of the payment days before the election, Trump’s campaign spokeswoman, Hope Hicks, said, “We have no knowledge of any of this.” She said McDougal’s claim of an affair was “totally untrue.”
Icarus. Oedipus. Macbeth. Lucifer. Frankenstein. Napoleon. Custer. Hitler. Nixon.
From the mythic to the artistic to the historic--all these men spawned their own nemeses as sufferers of the same deadly affliction: hubris.
In case the meaning of this Greek word has faded from your memories of high school studies, here's a refresher : "Hubris is extreme pride and arrogance shown by a character, which ultimately brings about his downfall. Hubris is a typical flaw in the personality of a character who enjoys a powerful position. As a result, he overestimates his capabilities to such an extent that he loses contact with reality. A character suffering from hubris tries to cross normal human limits and violates moral codes."
For 18 months Americans have been enduring the vagaries of the next name to be added to the list of hubristic archetypes: the current Oval Office squatter.
Every news article or story about him, it seems, teems with examples of his vanity, arrogance, and incompetence.
Certainly a nation's leader should exude self-confidence; a legitimate leader should demonstrate a pride in having been chosen to represent and execute the laws and constitution of a country. However, pride can manifest itself in disparate ways.
Psychology professor Jessica Tracy delineates two types of pride . She provides these traits as typical of authentic pride: based on a realistic appraisal of one's competencies, abilities, and achievements; typically felt when one has worked hard for an achievement; generates prestige; comes from feelings of confidence; people feeling authentic pride tend to be accomplished, productive, creative, empathic; authentic pride helps create strong friendships.
Conversely, Tracy offers the following traits of hubristic pride: not realistic; grandiose, inflated sense of self; egotism, arrogance, conceitedness; not particularly conscientious; disagreeable, anti-social, problematic relationships; aggressive; unempathetic.
The recent presidential treks to Asia and Europe demonstrate emphatically which type of pride the current dissembler-in-chief exudes. The stench of his hubris is beginning to irritate the moral olfactory nerves even of some of his supporters; but none of these backers should be surprised by his reprehensible behavior.
Eugene Sadler-Smith, Director of The Hubris Project at Surrey Business School, says constituents should have seen the Republican candidate's character during the campaign : " . . . it is easy to see how the potential hazards of extreme self-regard could be playing out in the US. The billionaire businessman and president-elect, Donald Trump, already displayed palpable signs of hubris in the speech in which he declared his intention to seek nomination in June 2016. In it he uttered a total of 257 references to himself (compared to a mere seven mentions of 'America' or 'American') including: 'I'm really rich,' 'I'm proud of my net worth,' 'I've done an amazing job,' 'I beat China all the time -- all the time,' 'Rebuild the country's infrastructure? Nobody can do that like me,' and so on."
Two years ago, perhaps many voters on the conservative side of the political divide overlooked the inexperienced and unqualified candidate's bloviating and his questionable character in hopes that his election would help them realize their views for what was best for the nation.
In the post-inauguration months it should be clear even to his staunchest backers and apologists that this nascent autocrat wants what is best, not for the country, but for only himself.
"You get what you pay for."
Almost weekly someone in our family will lovingly recite my late father-in-law's mantra, and we share a chuckle at his acquired wisdom.
If I were to twist his favorite aphorism to suit today's world, I would announce, "You pay for whom you elected." Right now we all--supporters and adversaries alike--are paying for the electoral choice made in 2016.
The costs of electing a hubristic narcissist include diminishing respect for our country by the world's nations; increased suffering by the poor and disenfranchised in our own country, including many of those who voted for him; exploding incivility, divisive speech, and violent behavior among our own citizens; broken alliances with governments and leaders who once shared a common commitment to freedom and justice; a spate of executive orders that undermine and undo policies intended to raise up people, not demean or suppress them; economic policies that will lead to more wealth concentrated in the portfolios of a few oligarchs and less money in the majority's piggy banks.
It is true that many of today's autocrats around the world weaseled into power under the cover of "democratic" elections as Amanda Taub of the New York Times notes in " How Autocrats Can Triumph in Democratic Countries ": "This phenomenon, which experts call 'authoritarianization,' highlights a deep vulnerability built into the structure of democracy itself. Once in power, unscrupulous leaders can sometimes manipulate the political environment to their own benefit, making it more likely that they will be victorious in future contests. By winning those elections, they gain the stamp of democratic legitimacy -- even for actions that ultimately undermine democratic norms."
Yes, I know that few of these countries cited in the piece, for instance, Turkey, Russia, and Venezuela, have long and well-established democracies in their histories as does the United States.
That is not to say, though, in the current political climate our democratic system is not vulnerable, especially when the present president meets behind closed doors with dictators who have goals of undoing our cherished ways of governing of, by, and for the people.
"Pride goes before destruction, and a haughty spirit before a fall" counsels Proverbs 16:18. Let's not allow a hubristic president to cause our country to fall.
It is time to slam on the brakes of this looming train wreck. The time has arrived to elect courageous, patriotic--not nationalistic--visionaries who will challenge and curtail this building orange head of steam that seems destined to derail our democracy.
It is time to replace the West Wing and congressional sycophants with qualified leaders-- from the left, the center, the right--whose genuine and sincere allegiance is to the country and all it citizens, present and future, not to partisan politics or personal position.
Then, and only then, will all people of this nation once again be able to express authentic pride in being citizens of the United States of America.
Lloyd E. Sheaffer is a regular PennLive Opinion contributor. His work appears monthly. Readers may e-mail him at email@example.com .
By Joe Scarborough
The morning after my first congressional reelection campaign, I was driving around Pensacola, Florida, collecting signs from supporters' yards. It was an opportunity to spend time with my dad, who I had always suspected favored my brother over me. But I was confident that the previous night's victory would make him proud.
As we began driving through my neighborhood, the car radio was reporting election results: "And freshman Republican congressman Joe Scarborough breezed to reelection with an impressive 73 percent of the vote." Turning toward my father in anticipation of some welcome adulation and praise, I found him instead glaring at the radio.
"Who the hell were the other 27 percent?" he bellowed.
Twenty years later, I am asking my father's question of the party I once represented in Congress. For if it is true that only 40 percent of Republicans believe the United States should remain in NATO, as recent polling indicates, then who exactly are the other 60 percent?
Were they sleepwalking through history while our North Atlantic allies stood shoulder to shoulder with the United States during that long, twilight struggle against Communist Russia? Have they forgotten that during that Cold War, nothing less than the planet's survival hung in the balance?
Or that it was the North Atlantic alliance that pushed back tirelessly against Kremlin thugs who were trying to undermine the Western democracies? Or that American presidents from Harry S. Truman to George H.W. Bush shared NATO's mission to free 100 million Eastern Europeans from the cruel grip of a regime that enslaved an entire continent and killed tens of millions of its own people?
Are today's Republicans now so tribal as to blindly endorse a foreign policy warped by President Donald Trump's obvious allegiance to a former KGB chief who controls Russia through repression, bribery and political assassination and who has called the collapse of that evil empire the "greatest geopolitical tragedy of the 20th century"?
Exactly who are these people, and what have they done with my party? And how could any American support Trump's tragically weak performance at Helsinki?
What loyal American would embrace a "Putin First" foreign policy that aligns U.S. interests with a Russian dictator's goals rather than those long championed by America's military and intelligence communities?
How can any red-blooded Republican not be repulsed by their commander in chief's blubbering belief that a former Soviet spy's cynical lies were as compelling as the clear and convincing evidence presented by the U.S. military community, the CIA and his own director of national intelligence?
It strains credulity to believe that any Republican would be so foolish as to defend the diplomatic debacle that led one European newspaper to call the U.S. president "Putin's Poodle." Even at home, Rupert Murdoch's New York Post blasted Trump's "see-no-evil" approach, and the Wall Street Journal editorialized that Congress needed to develop a containment strategy for both Vladimir Putin and Trump.
If anything can still be shocking three years into Trump's chaotic political career, it may be that 71 percent of Republicans still support his handling of Russian relations, even after a summit that many considered treasonous.
If he were still alive, my rock-ribbed Republican father would be asking who these 71 percent were, and why they were selling out America's national security in the name of a hapless reality TV host. But there is no good answer to that question. Further speculation over Trump's disloyalty to the United States or Republicans' fealty to their dumpy dupe of a demagogue is best left to political historians and the ongoing investigation of Special Counsel Robert Mueller.
But regardless of the verdicts ultimately handed down by historians and the special counsel's office, the Helsinki summit brought two distressing realities into even sharper focus: The president of the United States is under the thumb of Putin. And the Republican Party he leads no longer deserves to survive.
Joe Scarborough, a former Republican congressman from Florida, hosts the MSNBC show "Morning Joe." He wrote this piece for The Washington Post, where it first appeared.
Fox News host Kimberly Guilfoyle, who has spent more than a decade hosting shows like Outnumbered and The Five, is leaving the network to hit the campaign trail with her boyfriend, Donald Trump Jr.
“Having Kim Guilfoyle on the trail campaigning with Donald Trump Jr. for Republicans this fall is a win for the entire GOP,” Andrew Surabian, a spokesman for Trump Jr., said in a statement. “Kim is one of the most influential voices in the MAGA movement and knows how to light up a crowd.”
Vanity Fair’s Gabriel Sherman, among the most well-sourced reporters covering Fox News, was first to report the news of her departure. Fox News did not respond to a request for comment.
Per 3 sources briefed on matter, Don Jr’s girlfriend Kimberly Guilfoyle is leaving Fox News. More details TK
Guilfoyle, who is dating President Trump’s oldest son, Donald Trump Jr., could end up taking a position with the pro-Trump super PAC America First Action , according to ABC News. America First Action has spent millions of dollars on attack ads against Democrats who don’t support the president’s agenda. According to Open Secrets, the super PAC spent more than $1.1 million against Rep. Conor Lamb in his upset special-election win in western Pennsylvania against Republican opponent Rick Saccone, an outspoken Trump supporter.
As president-elect in 2016, Trump reportedly considered adding Guilfoyle to his administration as White House press secretary, a role that ultimately went to Sean Spicer. After Spicer’s resignation in 2017, Trump reportedly considered her again for the role, but she ultimately decided to remain with the network.
“I’m a patriot, and it would be an honor to serve the country,” Guilfoyle told the Mercury News in a 2017 interview. “I think it’d be a fascinating job. It’s a challenging job, and you need someone really determined and focused, a great communicator in there with deep knowledge to be able to handle that position.”
Guilfoyle has reportedly been dating Trump Jr. since May, just two months after his wife Vanessa filed for divorce after 12 years of marriage . Guilfoyle and Trump Jr. have since confirmed their relationship publicly, and the pair have practically been inseparable on Instagram.
Guilfoyle even hinted on Breitbart Radio earlier this month that she could end up marrying Trump Jr. , noting that she “finally got it right this time” after failed marriages to California lieutenant governor Gavin Newsom (who is running for governor) and businessman Eric Villency. She was also previously romantically linked to Anthony Scaramucci , a hedge fund investor who served as the Trump administration’s White House communications director for 10 days.
Guilfoyle also said she could see Trump Jr. following his father’s footsteps and one day becoming president.
“He has a compelling political voice, he is incredibly bright. I have seen him at these different rallies,” Guilfoyle said on Breitbart Radio. “He gets out there and actually talks to the real people, the men and women who have been left behind in this country.”
By James Lidgren and Ross M. Stolzenberg
Before nominating 53-year-old Brett Kavanaugh to the Supreme Court, President Donald Trump expressed a hope that his pick would serve for 40 to 45 years. That was wishful thinking: The longest-serving justice in history, William O. Douglas, lasted over 36 years but was so obviously incompetent toward the end that his colleagues conspired to decide no closely contested cases until he stepped down.
Still, Kavanaugh is likely to serve a long time by our standards, and a very long time by the standards prevailing when the Constitution was framed. For most of American history justices left the court at an average age below 70. Today it’s about 80. They used to serve about 15 years, but now average more than 28 years. (For scale, consider that 28 years ago, about 38 percent of the U.S. population had not yet been born.) As much as justices appear to enjoy these extended careers, their unlimited terms are dysfunctional for the judicial system, the court itself, the presidency, and Congress. We need term limits for the court.
Right now, justices race against senility, physical decrepitude and death itself in order to hand the power to appoint their successor to a specific party. Justice Anthony M. Kennedy was appointed by a Republican, and to few people’s genuine surprise, retired with a Republican in the White House. That’s how it usually works. In a 2010 article, we calculated that the odds of a justice retiring rise 168 percent during the first two years of the term of a president of the same party. Justices also tend to avoid retirement when the sitting president is not of the same party, a delay that triples their odds of dying in office.
These distorting effects add up. While it might seem that things would average out over time, that doesn’t happen. From Dwight Eisenhower’s presidency through Barack Obama’s, six presidents were Republicans and five were Democrats, but that didn’t lead to similar numbers of appointments for each party. Rather, Democrats appointed eight justices, while Republicans appointed 17. Much of the imbalance comes from Eisenhower and Nixon, who appointed nine justices between them — more than the five Democratic presidents combined, in spite of Nixon’s premature departure from office.
Long tenures on the court also provoke a fear, reasonable or not, that an ill-considered appointment could damage the nation for a long time. That fear worsens already acrimonious confirmation hearings, often marked more by exaggerated claims and character assassinations than with evidence of the quality of jurisprudence that a nominee would bring to the court.
Term limits of 18 or 24 years for Supreme Court justices would fix many of these problems. Under staggered 18-year term limits, for example, one of the nine seats could be filled every odd year. If any justice died or retired before the term was up, a replacement would fill only the remainder of that term. Thus, there would be no partisan advantage in retiring early because doing so would not change the schedule of regular appointments.
After completing an 18-year term, justices could still serve on lower courts, thus technically preserving their life tenure as a federal judge, though not all of it would be on the Supreme Court. Such a fundamental change in the meaning of life tenure probably would require a constitutional amendment, although not everyone thinks so.
Adding court term limits to the Constitution stands a better chance than some might think. A constitutional amendment requires ratification by three-quarters of the states, and judicial term limits are well established in the states. Term limits or maximum judicial ages are used by 49 of 50 state supreme courts, as well as the high courts of other highly developed countries.
If there is an impediment, it’s Congress. Senators and representatives might, in the abstract, favor term limits for justices, but might not want to encourage anyone to start thinking about term limits for the legislative branch.
By Michael Anton, For the Washington Post
A Supreme Court confirmation fight always raises constitutional hopes and stokes constitutional fears. With one more justice, they’ll repeal Obamacare! If they get one more justice, they’ll overturn Roe v. Wade! To arms!
These periodic, now-inevitable freak-outs are a sad by-product of our country’s drift away from political rule and over-investiture of power in the judiciary. But happily, the most urgent constitutional challenge of our time needn’t wait on a court ruling. Each political branch of government has the constitutional authority needed to fix it.
I refer, here, to ending birthright citizenship.
The notion that simply being born within the geographical limits of the United States automatically confers U.S. citizenship is an absurdity – historically, constitutionally, philosophically, and practically.
Constitutional scholar Edward Erler has shown that the entire case for birthright citizenship is based on a deliberate misreading of the 14th Amendment. The purpose of that amendment was to resolve the question of citizenship for newly freed slaves. Following the Civil War, some in the South insisted that states had the right to deny citizenship to freedmen. In support, they cited 1857’s disgraceful Dred Scott v. Sandford decision, which held that no black American could ever be a citizen of the United States.
A constitutional amendment was thus necessary to overturn Dred Scott and to define the precise meaning of American citizenship.
That definition is the amendment’s very first sentence: “All persons born or naturalized in the United States, and subject to the jurisdiction thereof, are citizens of the United States and of the state wherein they reside.”
The amendment clarified for the first time that federal citizenship precedes and supersedes its state-level counterpart. No state has the power to deny citizenship, hence none may dispossess freed slaves.
Second, it specifies two criteria for American citizenship: Birth or naturalization (i.e., lawful immigration), and being subject to U.S. jurisdiction. We know what the framers of the amendment meant by the latter because they told us. Sen. Lyman Trumbull of Illinois, a principal figure in drafting the amendment, defined “subject to the jurisdiction” as “not owing allegiance to anybody else,” that is, to no other country or tribe. Sen. Jacob Howard of Michigan, a sponsor of the clause, further clarified that the amendment explicitly excludes from citizenship “persons born in the United States who are foreigners, aliens, [or] who belong to the families of ambassadors or foreign ministers.”
Yet for decades, U.S. officials – led by immigration enthusiasts in and out of government – have acted as though “subject to the jurisdiction” simply means “subject to American law.” That is true of any tourist who comes here. The framers of the 14th Amendment added the jurisdiction clause precisely to distinguish between people to whom the United States owes citizenship and those to whom it does not. Freed slaves definitely qualified. The children of immigrants who came here illegally clearly don’t.
Those framers understood, as did America’s founders, that birthright citizenship is inherently self-contradictory. A just government in the modern world rests on the social compact, a freely entered agreement among free citizens. That compact’s scope and authority extend only to those who have consented to its terms and whose membership has been consented to by all other citizen-members. A compact that anyone can join regardless of the wishes of its existing
members is not a compact. As President Trump likes to say, “If we don’t have a border, we don’t have a country.”
Some will argue that the Supreme Court has already settled this issue, establishing birthright citizenship in United States v. Wong Kim Ark. But this is wrong. The court has only ruled that children of legal residents are citizens. That doesn’t change the status of children born to people living here illegally.
Practically, birthright citizenship is, as Erler put it, “a great magnet for illegal immigration.” This magnet attracts not just millions of the world’s poor but also increasingly affluent immigrants. “Maternity hotels” for pregnant Chinese tourists advertise openly in Southern California and elsewhere. Fly to the United States to have your baby, and its silly government will give him or her American citizenship!
It is no wonder that citizens of other countries take advantage of our foolishness. Life is still better here than almost anywhere else, including rising China and relatively prosperous Mexico. The wonder is that we Americans continue to allow our laws to be flouted and our citizenship debased.
The problem can be fixed easily. Congress could clarify legislatively that the children of noncitizens are not subject to the jurisdiction of the United States, and thus not citizens under the 14th Amendment. But given the open-borders enthusiasm of congressional leaders of both parties, that’s unlikely.
It falls, then, to Trump. An executive order could specify to federal agencies that the children of noncitizens are not citizens. Such an order would, of course, immediately be challenged in the courts. But officers in all three branches of government – the president no less than judges – take similar oaths to defend the Constitution. Why shouldn’t the president act to defend the clear meaning of the 14th Amendment?
Judges faithful to their oaths will have no choice but to agree with him. Birthright citizenship was a mistake whose time has gone.
Michael Anton is a lecturer and research fellow at Hillsdale College and a former national security official in the Trump administration.
By: Rebecca Beitsch
To the delight of dog lovers, cities and states have begun passing laws to allow dogs to join patrons on restaurant and bar patios.
Many diners have simply asked, “Wait, that was illegal?”
Sure, the United States doesn’t have the rich history of outdoor dining of say, Paris, where pooches are almost as common as croissants at outdoor cafes. But when the weather is pleasant, it’s fairly common to see people settling in for an outdoor beer with their dog at their feet. And as U.S. culture shifts to become more pet-friendly, the numbers suggest it will only become more common.
Pets are increasingly an important part of many people’s lives. U.S. spending on pets has risen from $17 billion in 1994 to an estimated $72 billion in 2018. The number of craft breweries also has skyrocketed since 2010, expanding the number of spots with a dog-friendly atmosphere.
But in many places, health codes simply don’t allow dogs other than service animals to be present at restaurants and bars. Just nine states have laws that allow canine companionship in such places. Many proprietors across the country have been allowing dogs anyway, with owners at worst ignoring the law and at best believing they were operating in a gray area.
“We had no idea, really. It was an obscure law we were completely ignorant of,” said Nick McFarland, manager at Wonderland Ballroom in Washington, D.C., which was warned, along with several other nearby bars last year, about violating the city health code. But as word got out that the city was enforcing the law, public backlash grew, and the City Council changed it just a couple of weeks later to allow dogs in outdoor spaces .
Other places that have recently changed their patio policies followed a similar pattern. A few complaints spurred health department action, only to unleash an outcry from dog owners.
The Franklin County Health Department, which deals with restaurants in Columbus, Ohio, got a record 17 complaints about dogs on patios this year, up from an average of about one or two. But after sending out a letter to remind business owners of the law, more than 12,000 people signed a petition to change it.
Ohio state Rep. Laura Lanese, a Republican who sponsored a bill to allow dogs on patios that is now awaiting the governor’s signature, said “pups on the patio” events and “yappy hours” designed to raise funds for local animal shelters and rescues helped create a community that pushed back against the health regulations.
“I kind of thought it was silly,” Collin Castore, co-founder of Seventh Son Brewing Co. in Columbus, which has hosted a number of such events. “The dogs aren’t prepping the food or anything, so why not let them on the patio?”
The legislation passed by a wide margin, but not all diners were pleased.
“Now, they’re going to be allowed in restaurants — by law!” one woman wrote in a letter to the editor in Cincinnati. “This, because we have some dog lovers in our legislature. This short-sighted move disregards people like me, who can’t be around dogs and many others who simply prefer to dine without animals around.”
Similarly, Virginia lawmakers enacted a law this year to allow dogs at breweries and in tasting rooms at wineries after the state’s department of agriculture sent out a letter reminding wineries that dogs were not permitted on the premises.
“It’s illegal, and it’s always been illegal,” said Elaine Lidholm, spokeswoman for the Virginia Department of Agriculture and Consumer Services, referring to the warning letter sent last year. She cited complaints that “dogs were pooping, lifting their legs on the actual equipment used for fermenting, and it had gotten out of hand. Dogs were running around without leashes and stuff like that.”
Ronald dines with owners Hannah Bradford and Jeff Hallock at Wonderland Ballroom in Washington, D.C. The bar was one of many to be warned about allowing dogs on the premises before the city council changed the policy.The Pew Charitable Trusts
But there was a backlash from winemakers and people who frequent vineyards, arguing the beverages could be made safely even with dogs nearby. Several business owners say they have staff and supplies on hand to deal with accidents, and any issues between dogs and people have been settled amicably. (Lidholm said the department will enforce the new law as well.)
Lee Hartman, winemaker at Bluestone Vineyard near Harrisonburg, Virginia, who is accompanied at work daily by his dog Lula, a “shelty corgi Yorkie poo,” sent a notice to customers last year after receiving the warning letter. “A vineyard without a dog is just a grape farm,” he wrote at the time, asking his customers to contact their lawmakers.
While many bar and winery owners say they want to be inclusive of a population that increasingly views pets as family, not allowing dogs can impact a business’s bottom line. Proprietors who spoke with Stateline say people who come with their dogs tend to stay longer and drink more — an important factor for small-scale alcohol manufacturers who largely rely on selling a few growlers or bottles after people come for a visit.
Brian Roeder, owner of Barrel Oak Winery near the Shenandoah Valley in Virginia, or BOW in homage to the dog on their labels, said the winery is crawling with dogs on weekends. He said allowing them has been key to keeping a relatively new winery in business.
“How do you pay your enormous bills? You create an environment where people want to stay, and to do that, you’ve got to make it a place where people can bring their kids and bring their dog,” Roeder said. “Without dogs, we wouldn’t have made it. It’s not a direct contribution. They’re not buying things themselves. But on any given Saturday, at least 10 percent of people have dogs with them.”
Of course, not all business owners are eager to welcome animals.
“Some wineries don’t want kids, they don’t want dogs or food carts, and they basically say, ‘It’s not our fault we can’t do that — it’s the law,’” Roeder said. “They didn’t want to be the bad guys. They wanted to blame the bureaucrats.”
Seventh Son’s Castore, who is also president of the Ohio Craft Brewers Association, was one of those who pushed for a change to the state law and noted that allowing dogs is optional, just as in Virginia.
“The gist was people could be allergic to them or some people are deathly afraid of dogs,” Castore said. “I understand both those things, so I think it’s good for bar and restaurant owners to be able to make that choice if they really feel concerned or have customers who complain.”
Rappahannock Cellars does not allow dogs in its tasting room, in part because the law still bars pets from going inside places where food is served.
“You have some people that think it’s unsanitary for various reasons, and that they should not be allowed in restaurants,” said John Delmare, owner of the winery.
“Dogs, as with any animal, bring a certain amount of unpredictability. They could bark at you or scare you,” he said. “We’ve got plenty of people who, based on life experience or whatever, are just not comfortable around animals. We’ve got plenty of dog lovers and plenty of people who aren’t, so we try not to be the arbiters of that.”
Getting legislation passed in Ohio and Virginia required a fair amount of technical debate on health and safety aspects.
“The way alcohol is made actually kills germs, and when it’s bottled, it’s filtered to the microbe level,” said Virginia state Del. John Bell, a Democrat who sponsored the law there. “There’s no contamination risk.”
In Ohio, the bill initially included provisions that barred restaurant workers from petting the dogs and that required facilities to provide a way to clean up after doggie visitors. Those were ultimately scrapped, but similar provisions are expected from regulations now required by the health department.
So now, dog owners can go out with their four-legged companions, not as scofflaws, but as fully welcomed guests in the eyes of the law.
“He’s ready to hit the bar as soon as we get home. We have to tell him, ‘Hey, it’s not 5 o’clock,’” Gus Ciabattoni said of his Chihuahua Biggie while sipping a beer at Wonderland Ballroom on a recent summer evening. He started taking Biggie out last year after the dog’s sister died, worried that he was spending too much time home alone. “Now in hindsight, we should’ve been bringing them both out years ago.”
By The Inquirer Editorial Board
Not that anyone living in the reality-based world needed more convincing, but the recent indictment of 12 Russian intelligence officials charged with interfering in the 2016 election, and Trump’s apparent alliance with Russian President Vladimir Putin in denying the hacks, underscores the seriousness of this attack on United States’ democracy.
Prior to the indictment, the Republican-controlled Senate Intelligence Committee said in May that the Russian government “conducted an unprecedented, coordinated cyber campaign against state election infrastructure.”
President Trump’s willful blindness to the Russian meddling means the U.S. remains vulnerable to interference in future elections. All the more reason why states, including Pennsylvania, must move to protect our voting system from cyberattcks.
Pennsylvania is particularly susceptible to attack. Most voting machines in the state – including in Philadelphia – are old and do not provide a paper record to safeguard against fraud. After Texas, Pennsylvania has the most registered voters using machines with no paper trail, according to Verified Voting, a nonpartisan group promoting trustworthy voting systems. (New Jersey and Delaware voting machines also lack paper records.)
A former National Security Agency engineer said Pennsylvania is a ripe target since it is a battleground state. “If I was a 400-pound hacker, I would target Pennsylvania,” said Ben Johnson, chief security strategist at Carbon Black, a cybersecurity firm, referencing Trump’s ridiculous 2016 comment that the hackers could be someone “sitting on their bed that weighs 400 pounds.”
In April, Gov. Wolf told county officials to replace their electronic voting machines with devices that leave a verifiable paper trail by the end of 2019. But the lack of funding to cover the estimated $125 million cost remains a roadblock.
Congress appropriated $380 million in March to bolster election security nationwide. But Pennsylvania’s share of the funding was only $13.5 million.
Homeland Security officials said Pennsylvania was one of 21 states targeted by Russian hackers before the 2016 election. Hackers succeeded in breaching the system in Illinois, but there was no evidence the vote tallies were altered.
Securing our voting system is not a partisan issue. Indeed, concerns about Pennsylvania’s voting machines predates the Russian election interference.
In 2006, a coalition of concerned voters filed a lawsuit challenging the lack of a paper record. But nine years later, the Pennsylvania Supreme Court ruled in favor of the paperless voting machines, allowing the vulnerable devices to remain in use.
In 2006, a team of computer experts at the National Institute of Standards and Technology could not verify the accuracy of votes cast on paperless touch-screen machines.
In 2015, former Mayor Michael Nutter allocated $22 million to replace the voting machines in Philadelphia. At the time, City Council President Darrell Clark said he was “not feeling” the funding request.
At least one state has moved quickly to upgrade its outmoded voting machines. Last September, Virginia banned the use of the paperless voting machines and ordered ones that provide a paper record by this November. Pennsylvania and other states need to act with the same urgency.
The external threat from Russia shouldn’t be diminished, but the biggest danger to our democracy is our own civic indifference to insuring that voting systems are effective in making every vote count, and every election outcome valid.
It’s obvious by this time that Scott Wagner is positioning himself as the Donald Trump of Pennsylvania politics.
That point was driven home again last Thursday when Wagner, the Republican candidate for governor, accused Democratic Gov. Tom Wolf of proposing a policy that would result in deep and immediate funding cuts to certain school districts.
It was yet another charge straight out of Trump’s shoot-from-the-hip playbook — make an absurd accusation, with no basis in fact, in an effort to stir up the conservative base and confuse the general electorate.
Wagner likely figures that Trump made it work in Pennsylvania in 2016, so he’ll try it in 2018.
We can only hope that Pennsylvania voters will be a little smarter and a little more informed this time around.
Polar opposites: That’s because Wolf’s record on education is positively sterling when compared to Wagner’s rhetoric on the issue. The York County men couldn't be more different.
In 2014, Wolf came into office with a first-term goal of $2 billion in new education money. He’s been able to secure lawmakers’ approval for about half of that total. Given that Wolf is dealing with a Republican-controlled legislature that has opposed him nearly every step of the way, that’s a rather remarkable achievement.
It was also desperately needed after Tom Corbett’s previous Republican administration slashed school funding.
Wagner, meanwhile, has made numerous statements over the years that make it clear he’s no great friend to education, particularly our teachers.
He once said “if we laid off 10 percent of the teachers in Pennsylvania, we’d never miss them.”
He’s also said earlier this year that he believes that the state spends “enough money” on public schools.
Disingenuous charge: That makes his recent charge that Wolf is looking to cut funding to certain school districts completely disingenuous.
Gov. Wolf has said that the state needs “a fair funding formula for all dollars going into public education.”
Wagner took that simple statement and somehow twisted it into a charge that Wolf wants deep and immediate funding cuts for certain school districts.
That’s simply not true. Wolf does not support an immediate shift that would result in cuts to school districts. He maintains that he supports fair funding, adequate funding and increased funding.
Wagner was unable to point to a single instance where Wolf said he thought the switch from the existing distribution system should be immediate or resulting in cuts to certain districts.
That little fact escaped Wagner, which is nothing unusual. Mr. Wagner seldom lets the facts get in the way of a good story.
New formula approved in 2015: In 2015, the Republican-controlled Legislature approved a formula that was designed to favor poorer districts and districts with growing student populations after a quarter century of school-funding formulas that did not entirely account for shifts in wealth or population, while protecting shrinking districts.
It was a long overdue move.
The new formula, thus far, has applied to increases in school aid approved since then, or about $539 million.
Nevertheless, Wagner insists — without any evidence — that Wolf wants to immediately redirect $5.5 billion for public school instruction and operations through the new formula.
An about face: Even worse, Wagner is accusing Wolf of a policy that he has supported in the past.
When the new formula was adopted in 2015, the lawmakers opted against changing how existing school aid was distributed under what is called a “hold harmless” provision. In the past, Wagner said that provision should eliminated and has criticized it for protecting shrinking districts.
Now he has done a complete about face, and ripped Wolf for a policy he himself previously supported.
It’s more than a little hypocritical.
Of course, it’s obvious that doesn’t bother Wagner. He’s just hoping his rhetoric will drown out those troublesome facts.
It worked for Trump in 2016. Now our own Pennsylvania Trump hopes it will work again in 2018.
If you spend a day under the Capitol dome in Harrisburg, one thing rapidly becomes clear: State law is a fluid thing. While some bedrock principles remain immutable, the specifics of language are updated all the time to reflect updates in technology; shifts in societal norms and new knowledge that bubbles up with startling regularity.
Not so for the Pennsylvania Interscholastic Athletic Association. Pennsylvania's high school sports sanctioning body has spent more than four decades leaning on a 1970s-vintage law "authorizing private schools to participate with public schools in post-season athletic events.
The end product?
It's now become virtually impossible for smaller public, or so-called "boundary schools," to compete for championships with deep-pocketed private institutions, or "non-boundary" schools, who can recruit the best talent, shower them with financial aid and pile up trophy after post-season trophy.
This week, more than 100 public school superintendents from across Pennsylvania will gather in State College to discuss the possibility of exiting the PIAA rather than be forced to compete on a fundamentally uneven playing field.
The breakaway group has been referred to as "rogues" by officials at the sports-sanctioning body, which really doesn't foster a constructive ground for discussion about an important policy question.
In an olive-branch gesture, the PIAA tweaked its transfer rules last week, adopting language forcing student-athletes who transfer in the 10th grade or later to sit out the next year's postseason in their respective sport unless they can prove a hardship.
The goal is to restrict participation of transfers in the playoffs , but not the regular season, as PennLive's Greg Pickel reported.
But that doesn't change the fact that the PIAA is clearly disinclined to violate both the letter and spirit of that Nixon-era statute. Simply, the organization is not going to "violate the intent of a law that said we're going to take private schools as full members of the PIAA," the organization's executive director, Robert Lombardi, said.
While that sentiment is understandable - the law is the law - that doesn't mean that the two sides shouldn't figuratively beat their swords into field goal uprights and try to reach a mutually acceptable understanding.
That can go one of two ways:
By the Editorial Board
For all the political caterwauling about “sanctuary cities” providing havens for criminals, a high-profile local case demonstrates that the opposite is true.
As police agencies in officially declared “sanctuary” cities and counties often have said, ensuring crime prevention and law enforcement requires that vulnerable immigrants must feel secure enough to cooperate with police in criminal investigations, without fear of detention or visits from Immigration and Customs Enforcement. It’s a matter of public safety, especially in cities with large immigrant populations. Police leaders often have testified before state legislatures and congressional committees that, without cooperation from people in those communities, opportunistic criminals could act with impunity.
The Lackawanna County district attorney’s office this week charged former Lackawanna County Chief of Staff Andy Wallace with indecent assault and harassment after a month-long investigation. According to charging documents, Wallace allegedly solicited sex from an 18-year-old male Latino clerk at a grocery discount store in Archbald.
Investigators claim Wallace allegedly targeted some young workers at the store because they did not speak English and that he believed that they were unlikely to contact police.
The clerks’ immigration status is unknown. And Archbald and Lackawanna County are not officially declared sanctuary municipalities. It’s not surprising, then, that investigators reported that their principal obstacle in the case was securing cooperation from young Latino men at the store.
Local crime prevention and solving the crimes that are committed are the principal duties of local police. Forcing them to act as local extensions of federal immigration police skews those priorities, misplaces limited local resources and, worst of all, endangers communities that police are sworn to protect.
By the Editorial Board
Ever since President Donald Trump’s inauguration, the administration has been trying to devise a rationale for forcing taxpayers to prop up the failing coal industry to help him keep a campaign promise to a special interest.
The first ploy was that subsidizing coal-fueled power plants was necessary to ensure the reliability of the power grid. Grid operators quickly shot down that notion as a fantasy and the Federal Energy Regulatory Commission unanimously rejected the idea, citing an abundance of generating capacity that is not threatened by the demise of coal generation.
After that, the administration dug deep and came up with the equally false notion that subsidizing failing coal plants is crucial to ensure national security.
Now, Advanced Energy Economy — a coalition of energy interests including the American Petroleum Institute, the Natural Gas Supply Association, the American Wind Energy Institute and others — has released a report detailing the potential costs to power customers of the administration’s subsidy schemes.
It found that, depending on the scope of the proposed subsidies and how they are structured, the costs could range from $9.7 billion to $35 billion a year.
If such costs were necessary to ensure the power supply, it would be worth it. But as the regulators and the new study point out, the money would not produce any improvements.
And, it makes scant sense to force consumers to subsidize failing enterprises when investors are pouring hundreds of billions of dollars into cleaner gas-fired plants to supplant obsolete coal plants, and when conservation and technology have produced flat energy demand.
The report should be another nail in the coffin of the administration’s effort to force consumers to pay for a misguided campaign promise.