Source: PLS Reporter Date: 9/18/2018
Schemel proposes new way to help sexual abuse victims
Author: Kara Barmoy
Rep. Paul Schemel (R-Franklin) held a press conference Monday morning to introduce legislation establishing a Truth and Restoration Commission tasked with addressing the child sexual assault crisis within the Pennsylvania Dioceses of the Catholic Church.
The commission would have three objectives:
There would be seven commission members that would serve for five years, three appointed by the Governor, and then two by both the House and the Senate.
Schemel discussed how the commission's duties are to listen to testimony from victims, institutional officers, employees and alleged abusers and then review the documents from participating institutions and then report it annually.
Victims would receive compensation from a general fund which would be funded in the first year by the General Assembly, judiciary and the attorney general. After the first year the money would come from the general fund/Truth and Restoration fund funded by participating institutions.
The funding would be calculated based on the extent of abuse concealed, the financial condition of an institution and the relationship between abuse and concealment in merged entities.
The institutions that would participate would be anyone who:
Now why would anyone want to participate with the commission? Schemel discussed that an institution would receive immunity from civil claims currently time-barred by the statue of limitations but which may not be barred under a future civil window. Also they could be receiving pressure from insurance companies, or simply just want to "do the right thing." If the Commission is established the deadline for participation would be Dec. 2019 and the last day compensation could be paid would be Dec. 2027 with the commission concluding in Dec. 2028.
The PLS Reporter spoke with Rep. Schemel after his announcement to get further insight on the Commission.
Kara Barmoy is The PLS Reporter's Senior Multimedia Reporter. Have a question, comment or tip? Email her at firstname.lastname@example.org.
Lawmaker pitches plan to break gridlock on abuse bill
By John Finnerty email@example.com
HARRISBURG — Even before lawmakers return to the Capitol for the fall session, there’s controversy what they might — or might not — accomplish in responding to the state grand jury report on child abuse.
State Rep. Paul Schemel, R-Franklin County, said Monday there are “irreconcilable differences” between proposals in the House and Senate over how to help victims of child sex abuse cover-ups said he thinks lawmakers should consider a third alternative — a truth commission to allocate compensation.
Schemel said his legislation would be modeled on truth commissions used around the world, including in South Africa to help that nation heal in the wake of apartheid. His plan, which has not been formally introduced, would create an independent commission to provide compensation in cases in which public and private institutions covered up sex abuse of children.
Schemel’s proposal comes as lawmakers brace for a showdown in the coming weeks over how to change the state’s statute of limitations for child sex abuse.
A statewide grand jury report that found evidence that 300 Catholic priests had abused more than 1,000 children called for the state to eliminate the criminal statute of limitations moving forward and to open a window of time for victims of old crimes to file civil lawsuits.
House leaders have indicated that they expect to consider statute of limitations reform during the fall session, which begins next Monday.
Gov. Tom Wolf on Monday identified that as one of the priorities he hopes lawmakers will deal with in the fall session.
“We have seen too many pro-victim bills fall to the wayside in the past 18 months and I call on the General Assembly to put victims first and take action on these proposals this fall,” Wolf said. “The grand jury report is a gut-wrenching reminder that our laws are failing too many victims of crime.”
Attorney General Josh Shapiro’s office oversaw the grand jury’s work. Asked to respond to Schemel’s plan on Monday, Shapiro’s spokesman Joe Grace reiterated that the attorney general still thinks the Legislature ought to pass the reforms suggested in the grand jury report.
Those reforms “have growing momentum in the General Assembly — including support from House Speaker Mike Turzai,” he said. “Our Office stands with the victims, who have waited far too long to speak their truth and deserve the chance to obtain justice.”
But Senate Republican leaders have been unwilling to back the mechanism for filing lawsuits in old cases, saying it would be unconstitutional.
Schemel said he agrees that the idea is “constitutionally dubious” and that if the state opens a window for civil lawsuits, the move would be challenged in court.
“We can be creative in coming up with a solution that can give justice to the abused individuals and truly bring restoration,” he said.
Under his commission plan, institutions could volunteer to participate in exchange for immunity if the Legislature does eventually open a civil lawsuit window.
Schemel said victims with credible claims would be compensated from a special fund created by contributions from the institutions found to have concealed abusers.
The state commission would have seven members, appointed by the governor, House and Senate, and include an attorney, an accountant and a psychologist. Compensation payments would be based on a formula that would take into account the nature and extent of the abuse, in addition to any prior settlements and total number of victims. The commission would have a defined tenure of 10 years.
Leaders seek change in law to give abuse victims 'opportunity for justice'
Pennsylvania legislators have a chance to be leaders in drafting and passing an amendment to extend the statute of limitations for survivors of child sexual abuse, local lawmakers said during a town hall Monday at the Holiday Inn Johnstown-Downtown.
In the aftermath of grand jury reports in the past two years that revealed child sexual abuse within the Altoona-Johnstown Roman Catholic Diocese and the dioceses of Allentown, Erie, Greensburg, Harrisburg, Pittsburgh and Scranton, legislators are looking to eliminate the statute of limitations for criminal cases and extend the statute for civil cases of child sexual abuse.
The state’s current law requires victims to file civil claims before they turn 30 and criminal filings before at age 50.
State Rep. Mark Rozzi, D-Berks, is a survivor of clergy child sexual abuse, is also working to create a retroactive two-year window in which victims could bring cases against past abusers.
The amendments to the current law could reach the Senate as soon as Sept. 25, with the current version of that revision “the absolute fairest way forward,” Rozzi said.
Although some Republican lawmakers have called the amendment unconstitutional, both Rozzi and state Rep. Frank Burns, D-East Taylor, say that’s a decision for the state’s Supreme Court to make.
“My job is to pass legislation that serves the constituents I serve,” Burns said.
“It’s needed because of the systematic cover-up that prevented (victims) from filing lawsuits years ago.”
Rozzi said he sees the passage of the amendment as something legislators from both parties should support.
“You either stand with the victims or you stand with the institution and those pedophiles – it’s that simple to me,” Rozzi said.
“We want to give all victims that opportunity for justice. In my heart, I think the Senate has no choice this time. The world is watching right now.”
State Sen. Wayne Langerholc, R-Richland Township, attended Monday’s town hall and said he continues to be repulsed by the abuse documented in the latest grand jury report released in August by Pennsylvania Attorney General Josh Shapiro.
“I spent the better half of my career as a prosecutor, as an assistant district attorney, fighting for victims,” Langerholc said.
“Nothing has changed. I’m for the victims.”
Langerholc said depending on what the amendment looks like when it reaches the Senate, he’s supportive of legislation to provide further justice for victims.
The Netflix documentary series “The Keepers,” which shows how an independent investigation of Sister Catherine Cesnik’s murder led to a suspected link to a priest accused of abuse within the Roman Catholic Archdiocese of Baltimore.
Abbie Schaub, who is featured in the series and conducted research related to Cesnik’s death, attended Monday’s town hall and recalled how she and Gemma Hoskins were “blindsided” by the responses of victims within the school at which the nun worked.
Schaub said the canon law, secrecy and rules within the Catholic Church “continuing to allow known abusers to roam free in our communities.”
Schaub said she came to the town hall to learn from the strides being made in Pennsylvania, as she participates in a push for a grand jury to convene in Maryland.
“I thank you all for your efforts, I thank you for your courage to come forward,” she told those in attendance.
Shaun Dougherty, whose abuse within the Altoona-Johnstown Roman Catholic Diocese was documented anonymously in a 2016 grand jury report, said following the recommendations of the latest grand jury report, which covered six dioceses, is vital to ending a pattern of abuse.
For many child sexual abuse survivors, it’s not about financial gain, but vindication and protection of future generations.
With numerous priests’ names redacted from the grand jury report released in August as they pursue appeals, Dougherty said this proposed legislation should have the same chance.
George Foster first documented abuse within the Altoona-Johnstown Roman Catholic Diocese more than 15 years ago and encouraged those who attended the town hall to call their local legislators in support of the proposed amendments to the statute of limitations.
“This is not my faith, and I pray it is not yours,” he said. “This window of justice must begin with us.”
Jocelyn Brumbaugh is a reporter for the Tribune-Democrat. Follow her on Twitter @JBrumbaughTD.
Source: PLS Reporter Date: 9/18/2018
Candidates try to motivate voters for local races as election day draws near
Author: Stephen Caruso
Wandering into the cavernous Clinton County Fairgrounds commercial building Saturday surrounded by American flags, firearms enthusiasts and the smell of chicken dinners, Steve Baker was a man on a mission “I’d like to ask [Scott] Wagner one question,” he said. A 66-year old retiree from multiple jobs, he lives off his pension, including one from the state. And Baker, a Republican, has seen troubling ads that say the GOP Gubernatorial candidate wants to tax his retirement, based off of old comments he said as a state Senator. He didn’t need to wait long for an answer. Wagner stopped into the Shall Not Be Infringed Rally , put on by the Clinton County Republican Party, on his way from a Penn State football game to a Philadelphia church, and gave a quick speech calling the allegation false. “The next thing [Gov. Tom Wolf] going to do is come out and say ‘Scott Wagner is go take away your children, he’s going to come in and take your jewelry, he’s gonna take your lawnmower,’” Wagner said as he rushed back to his helicopter following a six minute address. “It is pure bullshit.” Baker and others who shared similar concerns on their retirement funds felt were assuaged. The speech, which also celebrated Trump and patriotism while taking shots at Wolf and his “socialist” running mate, Braddock Mayor John Fetterman, worked for the crowd of around 120 people, which ebbed and flowed through the afternoon. Motivating voters like Baker helped draw Wagner as well as Stephanie Borowicz, the teacher, mother and pastor’s wife running for the 76th Legislative District , to spend the weekend urging voters to turn out ahead of a critical gubernatorial and legislative year. But it wasn’t just Republicans rallying to the cause with 50 days left until the election. About 100 miles east in Allentown, Rep. Mike Schlossberg (D-Lehigh) and Rep. Pete Schweyer (D-Lehigh) gathered 70 Democrats for a morning of pep talks, canvass training and doughnuts. Some clad in blue shirts with a wave emblazoned on the back, the crowd, mostly middle-aged women, lustily booed the names of local Republican incumbents as Schweyer read off a list. He also teased the crowd with few tidbits, such as an internal poll that showed a +8 Democratic edge on the generic ballot in state seats with a GOP incumbent. However, both Schweyer and Schlossberg reinforced that winning seats and pushing policies, such as expanding school funding or enacting redistricting reform, instead of playing defense against Republicans, required work and a plan. “Catcalling is good — and it’s important if it fires people up — but it's not just about making those guys loose,” Schlossberg said. “We got the better ideas, we got the better solutions, we want to make sure we win.” While public polling, such as one from Franklin and Marshall University, claimed a statewide Democratic edge in enthusiasm for November, a localized poll released last week from Monmouth University showed Republican voters in the new PA-07 district , including the Lehigh Valley, as more excited to cast a ballot. Schlossberg acknowledged the result, but pointed to events like Saturday’s, which featured a speech from Attorney General Josh Shapiro and was followed up with canvassing, as a way to close any enthusiasm gap. “I’m not stupid enough to ever take an election for granted,” Schlossberg said. Looking at the races proper, independent polling for the state gubernatorial race isn’t great for Wagner. The Rear Clear Politics average has Wolf up 14.7 points. Wagner likewise dismissed
the polling and said he felt his results were better measured by his interactions with voters. “Go talk to a couple that lost their children to a heroin overdose, go talk to a farmer that has to sell his dairy herd, that’s where my poll’s at,” he said. County resident Baker agreed, pointing to missed calls in 2016 to push back on any chance of Democratic gains. “It’ll be like the election for Trump, nobody wants to come out and say it,” he said. But Democratic counterparts will still provide a stiff fight. Shana Baumgartner, a 38 year old mother from Emmaus cites healthcare as a strong motivator to vote. She and her husband were both employed and had insurance through work. Yet when their two year old needed a surprise operation, the cost of the procedure led to each taking on additionally part time jobs. They made it through, but the thought of how a single mom or unemployed person would manage motivates Baumgartner to fight. She didn’t pay much attention to politics pre-Trump, but is now a newly minted councilwoman in her borough, elected last year. While congress and the presidency may draw voters in the most, Baumgartner spoke for many of her fellow attendees when she pointed to her newfound time for down-ballot races. “Ignoring local politics is what got us to 2016,” Baumgartner said. Stephen Caruso is the Harrisburg bureau chief at The PLS Reporter. Have a question, comment or tip? Email him at firstname.lastname@example.org.
By Staff Reports
Anthony Sposato, a Republican who is running against Tina Davis in the 141st district state House race, is calling on Davis to resign after theft charges were filed against her husband.
The Republican candidate for a state House seat representing Lower Bucks is calling on the incumbent lawmaker to step down after her husband was arrested last week on theft charges.
A spokesman for state Rep. Tina Davis, D-141, of Bristol Township, said Monday that she has no intention of stepping down. Davis has served as a state representative since 2011.
“Rep. Davis has done nothing wrong and has never given any thought to resigning,” her chief of staff, Bryan Allen, said in an emailed statement.
In a press release, Davis’ opponent in November’s general election, Anthony Sposato, a former Neshaminy school board member, called for Davis to resign after her husband, James Davis, was charged with stealing $30,000 intended to pay for the utilities of a low-income tenant at a rental property the couple owns.
“We have witnessed too often politicians who go to Harrisburg and are more concerned about enriching themselves than the common man or woman,” Sposato wrote. “This is a clear example of that. Rep. Tina Davis says she supports programs to give assistance to low-income tenants for their utilities, only to have her family steal the money and personally benefit. It’s disgusting and wrong and she should resign today.”
In a brief statement, Allen countered that Sposato’s attempt to tie Davis to her husband’s arrest was a “desperate” move.
“Mr. Sposato is trying to score cheap political points by desperately exploiting a mistake made by a member of Rep. Davis’ family,” Allen wrote.
Protecting the lives of victims and their families is the goal of the Domestic Violence Protection Bill, SB 501, which was passed unanimously by the Pennsylvania Senate. A companion bill, HB 2060, in the Pennsylvania House of Representatives, was passed by the House Judiciary Committee, but has not been brought to the floor for a vote.
HB 2060 would close a deadly loophole in federal law and would disarm dangerous domestic abusers and safely secure their firearms.
This bill would protect abuse victims and the law enforcement officers who respond to domestic violence calls, which are among the most dangerous calls to which they respond. In 2017, 78 Pennsylvanians lost their lives in domestic violence incidents involving firearms. In 2016, two Pennsylvania law enforcement officers were murdered during domestic violence calls.
The PA District Attorneys Association, the PA Police Chief’s Association, and the PA Coalition Against Domestic Violence supports this bill. And the NRA has reported that they are neutral and do not oppose HB 2060.
Please call the Speaker of the House, Mike Turzai and the House Majority Leader, Dave Reed, to ask that they schedule a vote on HB 2060.
And then call your representative to request that they vote yes on this bill.
ASTON — Neumann University’s Center for Leadership will host an informative panel discussion on human trafficking 12:30-4 p.m. Thursday, Sept. 20. “Recognizing and Preventing Human Trafficking in Our Communities” will cover a wide range of the aspects of human trafficking in this discussion, giving audience members perspective from legal professionals, law enforcement, medical professionals and victims’ advocates. Selected experts, introduced by Danielle McNichol, Director of the Center for Leadership, will take the stage of Neumann’s Meagher Theatre to discuss the issue of human trafficking at length. The specialists will focus on practical awareness and prevention tips for both individuals and larger groups or organizations. The opening topic will be human trafficking in our communities, beginning with a presentation from the District Attorney of Delaware County, Kat Copeland, followed by Pearl Kim, former Deputy Attorney General for the Commonwealth of Pennsylvania, who will share her perspective from the top state enforcement agency. Mick McKeown of the U.S. Department of Homeland Security, along with Rich Cordivari and Charles Bohnenberger of Allied Universal will then speak on awareness, recognition and reporting essentials.
Following this segment, the discussion will move to a general overview of human trafficking, from representatives affiliated with the Delaware County Coalition Against Trafficking (DCCAT). Following DCCAT’s presentation, two FBI operatives, Alexis Kreiger and CJ Jackson, will talk specifically about FBI detection tactics and how an everyday person could potentially assist them.
The program will continue with a presentation by Assistant Director of the Delaware County Women against Rape Service Provision, Candice Linehan, who will discuss what social work, advocacy, and policy measures can do for the human trafficking issue. The final topic will be the domestic violence aspects of human trafficking, and that piece of the discussion will be led by Blake Cohen, a medical advocate from Delaware County’s Domestic Abuse Project.
The entire panel-led discussion is slated to last just over an hour, and it will be followed by a short Anti-Human Trafficking Training session. Michael Schwien, a registered nurse in the emergency department of Lankenau Medical Center, will lead the training. Schwien will be focusing on protocols that health care professionals and hospital employees should follow when caring for a patient that is possibly a victim of human trafficking.
The afternoon will conclude with a Q&A session, moderated by Danielle McNichol. The event is free and open to the public and will provide attendees with complimentary light lunch. Individuals and organizations can register online at https://cclde.wufoo.com/forms/q11zm4o9182jx9r/ .
Rep. Steve Barrar (R-Chester/Delaware) is hosting a free paper shredding and drug take-back event on Saturday, Sept. 29, from 9 a.m. to noon at his district office, One Beaver Valley Road, Chadds Ford. The office is located at the intersection of Route 202 and Naamans Creek Road.
Residents of the 160th District will be able to shred up to three packing boxes of materials using the on-site industrial paper shredder. The boxes will be returned to residents. Only paper, not cardboard, will be accepted. Staples and paper clips need not be removed.
Also, prescriptions, over-the-counter drugs and medicines can be dropped off for safe disposal by the Delaware County District Attorney’s Office. By law, needles and epi-pens will not be accepted.
The event is free and will be held rain or shine. For more information, call Barrar’s district office at 610-358-5925.
People are invited to join in forming a human Life Chain 1 to 2 p.m., Sunday, Oct. 7, along the sidewalks on Baltimore Pike at Saxer Ave., Springfield. Participants are welcome to bring signs or chairs. Everyone is welcome to witness for life. For more information, call Regina Scheerer at 610-328-2463.
The Delaware County Kennel Club will present K-9 Officer Charlie and his partner Det. Nat Evans at its next meeting 7:30 p.m. Tuesday, Oct. 8 at Aston Township Meeting Room in the rear at 5021 Pennell Rd., Aston.
K-9 Officer Charlie, a yellow Labrador Retriever, is the partner of the district attorney’s detective and forensic scientist, Nat Evans. The pair works together to eliminate child pornography in Delaware County. K-9 Charlie is one of only 24 K-9 Officers with the title “Forensic Scientist” in the USA and the only one in Pennsylvania.
The public is invited to attend and take advantage of the opportunity to meet K-9 Charlie and learn what Charlie and partner Nat Evans experience day in and day out while performing their duties, working to eliminate child pornography. For more information, call 610-383-4844.
Saint Madeline Parish will hold a Quizzo Night 7-10 p.m., Saturday, Oct. 13 at the School Gym/Parish Center, 500 Tome St., Ridley Park. Cost is $20 or $160 for a table of eight. Reservations will be held at the door. Price includes entrance, beer, soda and water. Players can bring their own food for the table. Everyone must be over 21 to attend. Prizes will be awarded to the winning table. In addition, there will be 50/50 and raffle tickets sold. For more information, visit www.stmadelineparish.org/ .
The Brookhaven Business and Community Association (BBCA) will hold their first annual 5K “Run for Education” through the community of Brookhaven to raise funds to support scholarships to deserving graduates of the 2019 Sun Valley Senior Class, Sunday, September 23. The race will kick off from Coeburn Elementary School at 9 a.m. Registration begins at 8 a.m. The event will be timed and managed by Bryn Mawr Running Company. Cost is $20 per runner through September 22. All ages are welcome to participate; runners under the age of 18 will need a parent or guardian to sign for them. There will be prizes awarded to the top finishers. Online registration is through Bryn Mawr Running Company at: https://runsignup.com/brookhavenbusiness5k
Anyone interested in volunteering at the water stations, registration or food tables may contact: Linda Cassey at Lcassey@comcast.net or Jim Sredenschek at 610-876-6293.
BBCA is a local association of businesses and community leaders in the borough of Brookhaven. Their mission is to bring businesses, community groups, local government and citizens together to advance the economic and civic welfare of the community.
Readers can e-mail community news and photos to Peg DeGrassa at email@example.com /.
AVONDALE – A memorial was unveiled Monday in honor of fallen Trooper Kenton Iwaniec, who “lived to serve and protect our community.”
A portion of Pennsylvania Route 41 (Gap Newport Pike), between state Route 926 (Street Road) and U.S. Route 1, in London Grove and Londonderry townships, was designated the Trooper Kenton Iwaniec Memorial Highway at a ceremony at the Pennsylvania State Police Troop J Avondale Barracks. Iwaniec served there until he was killed by a drunk driver on March 28, 2008. Iwaniec finished his shift and two miles away from the station, an impaired driver crossed the centerline and struck Iwaniec’s vehicle head-on. He was flown to Christiana hospital where he later died.
Cpl. Steven Ranck, who supervised Iwaniec, described him as a caring individual. His friends nicknamed “the shepherd” because he always helped others and acted as the designated driver. His mother, Debbie Iwaniec, said the night before the funeral, she asked God why He took Kenton this way and prayed for direction that would honor Kenton. The Iwaniec family, through the Trooper Kenton Iwaniec Memorial Foundation, has donated more than 1,500 portable breath-testing (PBTs) devices for law enforcement.
State Police Major Maurice Tomlinson, formerly a supervisor at Avondale, said the efforts by the Iwaniec family to deter impaired driving have benefited Chester County residents.
“When they suffered their loss, they made a commitment to try to spare any other family from going through what they have gone through,” Tomlinson said.
He presented the Iwaniecs with a letter of commendation for speaking at Operation Nighthawk, an initiative where state and municipal police listen to speakers before conducting roving patrols, searching to get drunk drivers off the roads. Debbie and her husband Ken shared Kenton’s story. State and municipal police made 114 DUI arrests countywide that weekend in May.
“I can’t possibly imagine how difficult it must be for you to continually relive this tragedy,” Tomlinson said. “I can only hope that everyone you touch with your inspirational story truly comprehends the gravity and complexity of your self-sacrifice.
“They have turned their tragedy into an inspiration,” Tomlinson said.
Ken and Debbie Iwaniec are members of Pennsylvania Parents Against Impaired Drivers (PAPAID), along with Downingtown residents, Paul and Maggie Hannagan. Tomlinson also presented a letter to the Hannagans for their efforts to advocate for tougher DUI laws following the loss of both of their children, Miles and Charlotte Hannagan, to a drunk driver. Other parents from PAPAID were in attendance.
State Sen. John Rafferty said state troopers know they will face daily dangers on the job and Kenton “gave his life as a hero.” He said in honor of Kenton, the Demko family of Lancaster County, and others in PAPAID, they are working on Senate Bill 961 to create a felony conviction for those with multiple drunk driving offenses and for those who kill an individual while driving under the influence.
State Sens. Rafferty, R-44, of Collegeville, Andrew Dinniman, D-19, of West Whiteland, and Kim Ward, R-39, of Hempfield, were instrumental in introducing a bill for the memorial for Kenton. This June the Legislature unanimously passed and the governor signed into law Act 61 of 2018.
Dinniman said families like the Iwaniec have endured pain by speaking about their loss to save lives and continue Kenton’s legacy to protect others. Ken Iwaniec said his son loved being around people and serving them. Lt. Michelle Swantner said Kenton “lived to serve and protect our community.”
Patrick Carmody, who successfully prosecuted the case before becoming a judge, said Kenton impacted people in life, and in his death. Carmody heard Ken and Debbie speak to first-time DUI offenders about their son, their loss, and the consequences of impaired driving. To date, they have spoken to more than 60,000 people at various engagements.
“You took the baton of hope that Kenton carried in his life and passed it on these people,” Carmody said. “I can’t say how many lives you saved.”
State Rep. John Lawrence, R-13, of West Grove, said parents who have lost a child hope that their memory will not be forgotten, and this sign shows Kenton is remembered.
“Every time someone drives by this … it will be a sign that we have not forgotten,” Lawrence said. “But we remember this trooper who gave everything for people of this area, for people of this Commonwealth.”
Visit Daily Local News staff writer Ginger Rae Dunbar’s blog about journalism and volunteering as a firefighter at FirefighterGinger.blogspot.com .
By Bill O’Boyle - firstname.lastname@example.org
LEHMAN TWP. — Nathan Welby was sworn in as the newest honorary Lehman Township police officer Monday night before a packed house at the township municipal building.
Nathan, 6, was recently diagnosed with an inoperable brain tumor. His family is making long trips to Children’s Hospital of Philadelphia for chemotherapy, followed by radiation treatments.
His parents, Jeff and Jennifer Welby of Dallas, said “Nate” is always playing cops with his brother, Brian, 8.
And Monday night, thanks to the thoughtfulness of Lehman Township Police Officer Alaisha Sherwood, who spearheaded the idea, “Officer Nate” raised his right hand and took the oath administered by township Supervisor Dave Sutton.
A group of people attending wore light blue T-shirts with “Nathan’s Knights” across the front. Knights represents the Lake-Lehman School District where Nate’s mother teaches and the light blue with navy blue lettering was chosen to represent the Dallas School District where Nate attends school.
The new “junior police officer” was given a uniform, a badge and patches from several Luzerne County police departments. State Sen. Lisa Baker, R-Lehman Township, and state Rep. Karen Boback, R-Harveys Lake, presented Nate with certificates from the state Senate and House of Representatives.
In addition to Lehman Township, other departments represented included Lake Silkworth, Idetown, Back Mountain Regional Fire, Harveys Lake, Wilkes-Barre City, Pennsylvania State Police, Factoryville Fire Department and the Luzerne County Correctional Facility. All presented Nate with patches from their respective departments.
Nate was dressed for the occasion, arriving right on time dressed in a police S.W.A.T. uniform.
“He didn’t know where we were going tonight,” said his mother, Jennifer. “He dresses like that all the time.”
Jennifer and Jeff said they never expected such a turnout for Monday’s ceremony.
“I can’t believe how many people are here,” Jennifer said. “There are a lot of family and friends here and people we never expected.”
Jennifer said Nate has been doing well with his treatments lately. She said he was diagnosed about a year ago with brain cancer.
“He really doesn’t understand the seriousness of it all,” Jeff said. “But as far as tonight, I’m sure he loves it. It really is overwhelming.”
Nate’s grandfather, Jim Welby, serves as township zoning officer.
Officer Sherwood has been with Lehman Township for two and a half years. She said Jim Welby always talked about his grandson and how much he wanted to be a police officer.
So Sherwood went to Lehman Township Police Chief Howard Kocher and Sgt. Mark Liparela and pitched the idea. She said they were in favor of making Nate a junior officer.
“About a month ago, we took Nate for a ride in the cruiser and he loved it,” Sherwood said. “We let him turn on the lights and the siren. He even locked his brother in the back seat. I told Nate he could be my partner anytime.”
Sherwood said she could tell the cruiser ride meant a lot to Nate.
“It meant a lot to me too,” she said.
When the ceremony began, Sutton had Nate stand on a step-stool to take the oath.
“Do you swear to discharge and perform your duties as a Lehman Township junior police officer?” Sutton asked. Nate responded, “Yes.” And then Sutton asked Nate if he would like “to become a Lehman Township Police Officer tonight” and Nate’s response was an even louder, “Yes.”
At that moment, the crowd of about 50 people cheered and applauded for Junior Officer Nathan Welby.
Boback said the certificate she presented is given to those who “display bravery in the face of adversity.”
Baker added, “We’re all standing beside you, Nate, and we are fighting with you.”
Reach Bill O’Boyle at 570-991-6118 or on Twitter @TLBillOBoyle.
By SARAH TITLEY Staff writer
The Venango County Tea Party Patriots' gift of pocket versions of the U.S. Constitution for high school seniors resulted in reservations by some school districts, which found the gifts to be something more than educational.
The plan had been to distribute 572 pocket-sized Constitutions, free of charge, to eight schools, including five public schools, in honor of Constitution Day, which was Monday.
In a decision that Tea Party Patriots Coordinator Jane Richey described as "last minute," the booklets were placed in an envelope marked with the Tea Party Patriots' logo, along with a letter to recipients and a list titled the "28 Principles of Liberty."
The principles were compiled by the National Center for Constitutional Studies, a conservative group, and claim to be based on the ideals of America's Founding Fathers. The principles, however, contain a religious theme.
"It was not our intent to cause any conflict for the school districts," Richey said in an email to the newspaper over the weekend.
On Friday, state Rep. R. Lee James, who helped distribute the material, said, "Nobody is telling these kids they have to live by (the principles). I'm sure each of these 17 or 18-year-olds can decide for themselves how to deal with that piece of paper."
However, on Friday, Keystone School District Superintendent Shawn Algoe said, "We feel as though on some level we were being misled."
Superintendents from four public school districts - Keystone, Oil City, Franklin and Valley Grove - all had the same consensus; the full package was not what had been advertised to them, or what they had agreed to receive.
Calls by the newspaper placed to a fifth public school district - Cranberry - were not returned. Venango Catholic, Christian Life Academy and Faith Christian Academy also received the material.
"We thought we were just getting Constitutions," Franklin Superintendent Pamela Dye said Friday.
However, Richey, who went to schools Monday morning to remove the letter containing the "28 Principles of Liberty" from the envelopes, said that upon her arrival at Franklin High School, the pocket-sized Constitutions were still in the original envelopes with students' names on them.
Only two schools indicated how they would approach the situation when asked Friday.
Oil City said it would inform students who had donated the booklets and would have them available in the main office should a student wish to have one. Algoe said Keystone would not accept the pocket-sized Constitutions.
Additional phone calls made Monday by the newspaper to the school districts weren't returned. Phone calls last week and Monday to the American Civil Liberties Union also weren't returned.
"I feel very, very embarrassed," Richey said Monday.
By Bill Cameron
EAST STROUDSBURG — The first teachers’ strike in the East Stroudsburg Area School District’s history has officially come to an end. School board President Bob Huffman called for a motion around 7:50 p.m. Monday to ratify the tentative agreement struck by union and district delegates during late-night negotiations the evening prior.
“I will gladly make that motion,” answered Lisa VanWhy, chairwoman of the board’s negotiations committee. Her motion was seconded by board Vice President Debbie Kulick.
The board then voted 9-0 in favor of the agreement, after which point the room erupted in standing applause.
“ESEA pride!” someone shouted from the audience, which then echoed around the room.
Members of the East Stroudsburg Education Association, the union which represents the district’s professional staff, had voted 504 to 28 in favor of the proposed agreement earlier that day, union Vice President Scott Hnasko said. The school board’s mutual approval thereafter closed out the more than two years of bargaining that had proceeded the prior week’s five-day strike.
Students will return to classes on Wednesday morning, according to a Monday evening notice from the district. Classes at all 10 district schools had previously been suspended since Sept. 7 due to the teachers’ week-long work stoppage.
On Thursday, the Pennsylvania Department of Education notified the district and its teachers union that the strike could continue no later than Oct. 5 before endangering the 180 school days required before the June 30 deadline. Teachers would have been within their rights under state law to continue the stoppage until that October date had Sunday’s agreement not been reached.
Although school board members were in agreement on Monday night’s contract decision, the board motioned to table a vote on the revised school calendar until its Oct. 15 meeting. Board member Keith Karkut was the motion’s maker, asking for further clarification on the suggested June 14 graduation date.
District teachers’ most recent contract expired in August 2016, although negotiations for its successor began that January. Teachers have been without a raise in the two years since their 2014-16 contract expired. The union membership also accepted a step-freeze on the salary scale for two of the four years of their previous contract, which was negotiated in exchange for a one-time salary increase of $1,500 at all levels to avoid potential furloughs.
The text of the now-approved contract agreement had not yet been published on the district website as of 9 p.m. Monday.
Members of the school board cast their vote on the agreement Monday after first hearing from 11 members of the general public — including state Rep. Maureen Madden (D-115) — all of whom spoke, at least in part, about the strike. Madden and other local political figures, such as state Sen. Mario Scavello (R-40) and his Democratic opponent in the November election, Stroudsburg Mayor Tara Probst, had at times joined teachers at the picket line the week prior.
DARBY BOROUGH — Local historians and consultants are reaching out to former state Rep. Nicholas Micozzie for help in their continued efforts to save a century-old home in Darby borough.
Micozzie will entertain a meeting with interested parties to restore the Wooburne Mansion located on Springfield Road behind the Little Flower Manor complex. The mansion is on a portion of property owned by the county that was purchased in 2016 for open park space.
Representatives from the historical commissions of Darby, Collingdale and Yeadon, University of Pennsylvania Professor Aaron Wunsch and preservation consultant Susanna Barucco are slated to attend with various county-level officials invited.
John Haigis, chair of the Darby Historical Commission, said in a Sunday night email that he hopes Tuesday’s meeting will be a planning session for a future meeting with the larger preservation community. He also hopes to get information about having a structural engineer look at the building and to stop water infiltration from further ruining that building.
"I am hoping for a positive dialog and partly that depends whether anyone from the county shows up," said Haigis on Monday. "It is their building and they will have to deal with it at some point; perhaps they could use help to do that. It is a multi-faceted issue and the county has a lot on their plate."
Estimates to renovate the 55-room mansion go as high as $18 million. Haigis had said previously he would like the building to be incorporated into the park space where it will serve as a trailhead for the Darby Creek walking trail.
The meeting will commence at state Rep. Jamie Santora’s Clifton Heights office at 4 p.m.
Source: Potter Leader Enterprise Date: 9/18/2018
Future of Galeton lake and dam in question
The Potter County Redevelopment Authority and Galeton Borough held a meeting Wednesday night to reveal a possible solution to issues with the Berger Lake and Galeton Dam.
Mike Plummer and two consultants from the feasibility study done of the lake and dam made the presentation in the Galeton High School gym, followed by a question and answer session.
The recommendation is to remove the dam with grant money and create an upper and lower channel. One channel would be a rougher current, where white water rafting could take place. The other channel would be more for kayaking and canoeing.
The plan also includes a new Galeton sign, hiking trails, the opportunity to bring shops or hotels to town and a viewing area to look out over the lake.
Ann Yoast, one consultant from the study, said there are grants available for dam removal, which is “often accomplished at no cost to the owner,” according to the presentation. The estimated cost of removing the dam is $640,000.
If the community takes on this project, the estimated time frame for completion is about a year.
Plummer said if they were unable to get grant money, this particular project would not take place.
Yoast covered issues with the dam. These include interruptions of paddle craft and fish traveling downstream; interruptions of fish traveling upstream for reproduction; interruptions of American eels; sediment accumulates behind the dam, which then reduces the lake depth; stream temperatures; and ice flows are interrupted by silt build-up behind the dam, which can cause flooding. There are also structural issues with the dam itself that would require repair.
Issues with the lake that were brought up included the size of the lake and the shallow depth — which restrains recreation use — and unsanitary geese droppings.
On the other hand, Yoast mentioned that the lake provides a big section of the required secured radius to set off fireworks and provides a water source to fight fires.
The presentation outlined some issues with the structure of the dam, which include cracks and chips, a worn out surface and construction joint deterioration.
The assessment concluded that the dam is in satisfactory condition and can remain in place, if the repairs are addressed in a timely manner, and if there is routine annual maintenance.
Yoast went on to say that there aren’t any public funds available for the repair of the dam, fish ladder improvements, silt removal or maintenance. The estimated cost of dam repair is $300,000 while the annual dam maintenance is estimated at $10,000.
If the Galeton borough were to use taxes to cover the cost of removing the dam and one year of maintenance, it would require a $28 million tax increase, according to the presentation.
A Galeton borough council member said they were working to put this issue on the voting ballot during the upcoming election, that way everyone’s voice is heard.
Representative Clint Owlett was in attendance, and he encouraged citizens and the consultants to reach out to their local government for help in finding money for the repair of the dam.
By MATT FREEZE Staff Writer
SAYRE -- "Gone are the days where you would typically schedule an appointment, wait three weeks to see a primary care provider and come in for a 15-minute visit," said Guthrie Medical Group Associate Vice President David Hall.
Changes are afoot that could transform health care for rural communities.
Guthrie has taken strides through ever-advancing technology to both expand and improve health care in the 21st century in rural areas through the use of what is called "telemedicine."
Telemedicine can take different forms -- two-way live video conferencing between a patient and a doctor, or patients who just need a blemish checked by a dermatologist, for example.
Statewide, hospitals are investing in the technology for specialty care, like stroke and dermatology services, as well as to help patients manage chronic health issues.
Additionally, the advancement expands access to behavioral health services.
In order to facilitate the implementation and expansion of telemedicine, Hall and numerous other health care professionals recently testified before the Pennsylvania Senate regarding a piece of proposed legislation that would reduce barriers to this kind of technological advance.
At that time, Hall explained that providers like Guthrie "need to keep our pulse on the shifting culture around us, so we can serve our community better" by expanding rural health care access for underserved areas.
The legislation is sponsored by state Sen. Elder Vogel, R-Beaver County, and will require insurance companies to provide payment for services delivered through this new process, as long as those entities cover that same service through the course of an in-person visit.
"At this point, what we really want to do is embody preventative care and reduce the need for chronic hospitalizations, chronic disease progressions and focus more on what the patients needs are today," Hall explained Monday. "That is really bringing your primary provider and specialist to the patient."
As an example, Hall noted that neurologists tend to be few and far between.
"Neurologists are hard to recruit -- they're scarce -- there are not many of them across the country," he said. "Luckily, we have a handful here in Sayre. But, then we've got a number of regional care clinics and a huge demand."
"We're able to have this neurologist, who's here in Sayre, see that patient a hour-and-a-half away in Wellsboro for a follow-up visit," Hall continued. "So, it's saving that patient a hour-and-a-half trip up, a hour-and-a-half trip back; it's saving the physician windshield time if we were to regionalize that physician to these sites."
The process would work as any traditional appointment, where the patient would arrive at the local care facility, and a nurse would bring the physician up on screen and remain present should any physical examination assistance be required.
"We have peripheral devices that we would be using," Hall explained. "So, bluetooth-enabled stethoscopes (and more) that the nurse can put on the patient (so that) the physician can see/hear on other end."
"They can actually take a snapshot of those lung sounds and then put it right into that electronic medical record," he said. "So, it's not only 'this is what I hear and how I'm interpreting it' -- here's physical evidence of what the lung sound is, or what the heart murmur is, and put it directly into the patient's chart."
It's actually adding another level of quality in health care, he continued.
"It'll never replace that face-to-face contact with the patient," said Hall. "I think what telemedicine is really meant to do is add an extra layer of accessibility and convenience for the patients. We're not increasing utilization, but we're increasing the ability for that patient to have a more meaningful relationship with that provider without requiring that distance (be traveled)."
As more practitioners adopt the technology, it will increase the number of residents who have access to quality health care while taking advantage of the opportunity to save both time and money.
Currently, telemedicine sites are established at Guthrie facilities in Sayre, Corning, Troy, Towanda and Wellsboro.
In the future, there are plans to expand to locations in Athens, Bath, Canton, Dushore, Erwin, Mansfield, Big Flats and Ithaca.
"We're really contained on what we can do and how far we can expand with telemedicine because we can't meet all (the insurance company) regulations and specificity that they (require) to approve a new site or new procedure or new practice," explained Hall. "So, until this bill goes through, we're really limited on how much we can grow to scale."
The proposed legislation itself would establish a level playing field in terms of what services are covered in using the new technology, which aims to improve the overall health care landscape for both consumers and providers.
"Every insurer may support it, but it is policy-dependent -- not every policyholder has it," Hall continued. "It gets so granular that we almost have to call the insurance (companies) ourselves and say 'hey, we've got a 15-minute visit coming up, are you going to cover this, or is it going to be out of the patient's pocket?'"
"(It is) almost creating more administrative work for a visit that should (otherwise) be reducing the cost of health care," Hall said. "If you think about it from the overhead perspective, 31 percent of any practice (operation cost) is strictly administrative."
"So, that (includes) registering the patient when they come in, scheduling the patient -- all these pieces can be automated," he said. "We schedule online, we pay bills online -- we do everything online. Why can't we see the provider online? Reducing the administrative overhead by 31 percent would be a significant savings."
In addition, Hall noted that the technology will provide enhanced benefits for patients in assisted living facilities like Elderwood in Waverly.
Such facilities can be equipped with a telemedicine machine, so that an on-site nurse could wheel the machine directly into a patient's room -- thereby skipping the often lengthy process of transportation and waiting-room time.
When the state House of Representatives is slated to reconvene this fall, officials will have the opportunity to vote on the legislation and impact health care protocol for rural residents.
A representative from Guthrie was able to weigh in last week on a bill created to improve how insurance covers telemedicine and foster the expansion of those remote services.
The local health care organization was invited to take part in a House Professional Licensure Committee hearing through its involvement with the Hospital Association of Pennsylvania, and after Guthrie had presented its telemedicine technology to state Rep. Tina Pickett (R-110) and state Rep. Mark Mustio (R-44), who serves as chairman of the committee.
“Gone are the days where you would typically schedule an appointment, wait three weeks to see your primary care provider and come in for a 15 minute visit,” said David Hall, associate vice president of the Guthrie Medical Group. “What we want to do is embody more preventative care and reduce the need for chronic hospitalizations, chronic disease progression, and focus more on: What do the patients need today? What do they need to stay out of the hospital?”
Through the use of telemedicine, patients are able to use video conferencing technology to interact with doctors with areas of expertise that might not be available in their home region. Locally, telemedicine can also take the form of the Guthrie Now app which enables patients to communicate with their doctors from home using a smartphone or tablet for minor ailments, or be as simple as taking a picture and sending it to a doctor through Guthrie’s secure network.
Hall noted that this technology is especially important due to difficulties with recruitment seen across the country.
Each of the current sites are deemed non-metropolitan statistical areas, or a rural site that’s underserved by physician care, as determined by the Center for Medicare and Medicaid Services. Because they carry this designation, these areas make telemedicine financially feasible for Guthrie since insurers are required to reimburse at the same level as a face-to-face appointment.
Senate Bill 780, which was passed by the state Senate in June and was the focus of last week’s House committee hearing, looks to change those geographical limitations and make it more financially feasible so that telemedicine can become more widespread.
“We’re able to open these sites and have these patients report to a site, which is typically a primary care location, and have them visit with their specialty,” Hall explained. “We have nephrology and neurology — they’re just so hard to recruit. They’re scarce. There’s not a whole lot of them across the country, but we have a handful of them here in Sayre, we’ve got a number of primary care clinics and a huge demand. So we’re able to have this neurologist who’s here in Sayre see that patient an hour-and-a-half away in Wellsboro for their typical follow-up visit.”
Patients using telemedicine at their local clinics are given their own room, undergo the same intake procedure, and have a nurse there to help with any physical examinations. Bluetooth enabled tools such as stethoscopes, otoscopes and thermoscopes can be monitored by the specialist on the other end in real-time, he noted.
“The great piece about that is they don’t only now see and hear it, they can take a snap shot of those lung sounds and put it into that electronic medical record,” Hall added.
While he said it will never replace that face-to-face meeting between doctor and patient, it adds another layer of accessibility and convenience for the patients.
The use of Guthrie’s telemedicine services continues to steadily grow. Hall said the Guthrie Now app has around 1,200 visits to date.
“That’s continuing to grow,” said Hall.
When it comes to support for the legislation, Hall said the hearing room in Harrisburg was standing room only with representatives from all five of the state’s physician groups and AARP among those observing. Following the testimony, there was a question-and-answer period in which many of the questions focused on the insurance companies, why they are opposing the bill as written and what can be done to make sure these telemedicine services are uniformly covered.
According to various media reports, representatives of the Insurance Federation of Pennsylvania have called the bill too broad in its current form, stating that not all telemedicine programs are the same and those that are poorly implemented could drive up costs for insurance companies while providing low-value outcomes.
A vote on the measure is expected to take place during the House’s fall session.
Connect with Matt: (570) 265-2151 ext. 1628; email@example.com ; Facebook @Matt Hicks Daily Review.
Deborah Yonick Kalina, Codorus Township
Recently, you may have received a robo-call asking if you would vote for Judith Higgins for Pennsylvania's Senate District 28 on Nov. 6.
If you said yes, the automated poll from her opponent asks if you would vote for Judith if you knew her mentor was U.S. Congresswoman Maxine Waters. If yes, the robo-call asks if you would vote for Judith if you knew she wants open borders and to abolish ICE.
It appears Rep. Kristin Phillips-Hill has no problem associating with a robo-call that makes up things about her opponent and has nothing to do with the race. You must wonder about the integrity of the campaign she plans to run, and her ability to honestly serve the people of the 28th when she campaigns this way.
Perhaps Phillips-Hill doesn’t want to discuss policy. A look at her voting record in the House shows a one-sided approach to policy-making that puts corporate interests over people. She has co-sponsored bills that deregulate corporations and add more red tape to the bureaucracy faced by people in need.
Folks are struggling to pay for housing, food and health care. They’re not waiting for deregulation to bring opportunities that might improve their lives.
Many of Phillips-Hill’s policies will likely hurt women the most. Women make up nearly two thirds of low-wage workers in Pennsylvania. In nearly 65 percent of families, women are the primary or co-breadwinners. And, they support their families earning 79 cents for every dollar men earn, with the wage gap larger for black women and Latinas (68 and 56 cents, respectively).
As a woman with a seat at the table, Phillips-Hill has not advocated policies that empower women and families. Even something that should be bi-partisan, like closing the gender-wage gap, she has not championed. Nor has she lobbied to raise Pennsylvania’s minimum wage, which at $7.25 ($15,080 annualized income before taxes) is at least $1 per hour less than the six surrounding states.
There are lots of issues to talk about in this historic race that will result in the first woman to serve Pennsylvania's 28th Senate District. As the president of the York County Federation of Democratic Women, I believe the people of York County deserve a debate, and I urge our local newspapers to organize one.
By J.D. Prose
Former Beaver County Commissioner and Democratic state Sen. Gerald LaValle, who died last week at 86, was, above all else, a family man, said state Rep. Rob Matzie, the senator’s longtime legislative aide.
Matzie recalled LaValle, of Rochester Township, receiving two calls at the same time, one from a granddaughter and one from a governor. “The governor had to wait because he had to talk to his granddaughter,” Matzie said with a chuckle on Monday.
“Family was first for the guy. Always,” said Matzie, D-16, Ambridge, who worked for LaValle for 14 years before starting his own political career.
Former state Rep. Vince Biancucci of Center Township said LaValle was “very effective” in the Senate because he remained calm and focused. “His favorite quotation was, ‘Keep your eye on the target,’” Biancucci said.
Biancucci credited LaValle with working with him on road issues in Center and on education funding, especially for high schools, the Community College of Beaver County and Penn State-Beaver.
“He was well-respected by the senators,” said former state Rep. Nick Colafella of Center. “I enjoyed his friendship very much.”
Colafella said the fact that his colleagues picked LaValle to serve as minority appropriations chairman “speaks to his character and how they felt about him in the Senate.”
Echoing Biancucci, Colafella said LaValle’s legacy “should be that he was very much involved in the funding of education and to ensure that school districts had ample enough money.”
LaValle, a Marine Corps veteran who retired as a lieutenant colonel from the Marine Corps Reserve, was a former teacher and assistant football coach in Midland and Rochester school districts.
He went from Rochester Council to borough mayor to county commissioner and then the state Senate after winning a special election in 1990 for the 47th Senatorial District.
At the time, two local organizations that received public money and that LaValle had ties to — the Beaver Initiative for Growth he co-founded with former state Rep. Mike Veon and the Voluntary Action Center of Beaver County where his wife, Darla, was executive director — were being investigated by the state attorney general’s office.
No charges were filed against LaValle, but his wife resigned as VAC executive director and repaid more than $50,000 in excessive compensation. Veon served time in state prison for convictions related to BIG and the Bonusgate scandal before a judge set aside his BIG convictions and an order to pay restitution more than a year after he was released in June 2015.
Lawsuit filed against dioceses seeks names of perpetrators
A class-action lawsuit was filed Monday morning in the Allegheny County Court of Common Pleas against several Roman Catholic dioceses, including the Altoona-Johnstown Roman Catholic Diocese, on behalf of survivors of child sexual abuse and parents of children who attend Catholic schools.
The lawsuit, against the dioceses in Pittsburgh, Altoona-Johnstown, Erie, Greensburg, Harrisburg, Scranton and Philadelphia, is also against the bishops who lead them and seeks to compel each diocese to meet obligations as mandatory reporters of child sexual abuse under the state’s Child Protective Services Law.
A press release from attorneys representing the plaintiffs says the lawsuit asserts the dioceses “have systematically failed to meet their reporting obligations, as only 10 of 301 priests named as sexual abusers in the recent Pennsylvania Grand Jury Report are listed on Pennsylvania’s Megan’s Law Database.”
The lawsuit also says at least two priests identified in that report, a redacted version of which was published last month, were arrested immediately following the report’s release, and 20 others were redacted in the report pending appeals.
According to attorneys for the plaintiffs, this conduct “demonstrates the dioceses knew of these perpetrators, yet continue to actively conceal their behavior from the public and law enforcement, who could otherwise investigate and attempt to prosecute these crimes.”
“The goal of this lawsuit couldn’t be more straightforward: the protection of Pennsylvania’s children,” said Benjamin Sweet of Carlson Lynch Sweet Kilpela & Carpenter, LLP, an attorney for plaintiffs.
“Until the church reveals the names of the predators it continues to protect, Pennsylvania’s children are not safe. The church’s cover-up will continue unless and until it publicly releases the names of all suspected predators.”
The state’s mandatory reporting laws require clergy who become aware of any suspected occurrence of child abuse to report that information to law enforcement.
Those who have filed the lawsuit against the dioceses also say the dioceses circumvented the law to make it impossible for parents of children attending Catholic schools to know about suspected perpetrators, thereby placing their children at risk.
Lead plaintiff Ryan O’Connor said he was sexually abused by his parish priest as a young child and now has two children enrolled in Catholic school.
“The healing process for survivors is excruciating,” said O’Connor.
“We are made to feel as though we must choose between our faith and our recovery. Key to this healing process is knowing that my own children aren’t in danger. I’m speaking out for all survivors and all parents who want to know why this church believes they are above the law. We’re here to tell them that they are not.”
Plaintiff Kristen Hancock also has a child who attends Catholic school and said as a parent, she deserves to know the names of any child predators named in the grand jury report.
“It’s a shame that the Catholic Church is still driving which information becomes public,” she said.
“And it’s a shame that it takes a lawsuit to seek to release these names to protect our children. People deserve to know right now what additional information the church is withholding.”
The lawsuit is asking each diocese to submit the names of all suspected predators within their ranks to law enforcement and provide sufficient proof to the courts that they have done so.
The plaintiffs are represented by Carlson, Lynch, Sweet, Kilpela & Carpenter LLP of Pittsburgh; the California-based law firm of Nye, Peabody, Stirling, Hale & Miller; and the Philadelphia firm of Berger Montague.
Timothy Hale is a partner of the California-based law firm and member of the steering committee in the 2007 Los Angeles Archdiocese and San Diego Diocese lawsuits, which resulted in global settlements for survivors.
“This is just the tip of the iceberg,” he said.
Hale said the grand jury’s investigation was extensive, but only includes archdiocesan priests.
“There are entire religious orders of priests who have yet to be investigated, and we expect the amount of perpetrators the church is continuing to conceal to be significantly higher,” he said.
“I see many similarities between what my California clients experienced and what’s happening in Pennsylvania. There is a culture of hidden sexual abuse that is not unique to one diocese. This is the way the church operates.”
Jocelyn Brumbaugh is a reporter for the Tribune-Democrat. Follow her on Twitter @JBrumbaughTD.
Source: Bloomberg News Date: 9/18/2018
The nine years that have passed since the end of the last recession seem to have given many states enough time to save for the next one.
Pennsylvania isn’t one of them.
Twenty-three state governments have sufficient reserves to weather the budget shortfalls that would come with a moderate economic contraction, up from 16 last year, according to a report published Monday by Moody's Analytics.
Another 10 states have most of what they'd need, according to the company.
The savings have left states in a much better position than they were a decade ago, when the housing-market bust and financial crisis left them reeling from deep budget deficits, Moody's said. That may leave them exerting less of a drag during the next recession by lessening the need to cut spending deeply and eliminate government jobs.
"The amount of fiscal drag from states and local governments should be considerably less during the next recession and ensuing recovery than the U.S. experienced during and after the Great Recession," Moody's economists led by Dan White wrote. "However, a troubling number of states are still not ready."
The report considers states prepared if they have reserves within 1 percentage point of what they'd need to weather a moderate downturn.
While the number of well-prepared states has grown, so has the number of those that are not. Seventeen don't have the savings for a moderate recession, up from fifteen a year ago, according to the report.
Louisiana, North Dakota, and Oklahoma were rated the least prepared for the second year in a row, though their finances have shown some improvement.
Pennsylvania joined Arkansas, Michigan, Mississippi, New Hampshire, Kansas, Wisconsin, Illinois, Arizona, Missouri, Virginia, Kentucky, Montana, and New Jersey is performing poorly in the report's stress tests.
On average, a state would need to have reserves sufficient to cover about 11 percent of its budget in order to withstand the next recession without raising taxes or cutting spending.
Jeff Horvath, STAFF WRITER
LA PLUME TWP. — Salena Zito said she knew Donald Trump would be elected president by July 2016, when few others in the national media or political establishment gave him a chance.
Zito’s confidence was informed by her interactions with discontented voters who she met while traveling the country by car, taking back roads to gain an understanding of American communities and the people who live there. It was Zito who, in a piece for The Atlantic published prior to his election, wrote that the press took Trump “literally, but not seriously,” while his supporters took him “seriously, but not literally.”
On Monday, 231 years to the day from the signing of the U.S. Constitution, the national political reporter and author spoke to more than 100 people gathered at Keystone College for Constitution Day about the populist movement that put Trump in the White House and the people who comprised it. Many of those voters, she said, felt ignored by both the Democratic and Republican parties and saw Trump as a rejection of the status quo.
Zito documented the phenomenon in her book, “The Great Revolt: Inside the Populist Coalition Reshaping American Politics,” which she wrote after interviewing hundreds of Trump voters in five key swing states, including Pennsylvania. Dozens of Keystone students read the book ahead of her visit, including Brian Klatt of Scranton, who asked how Northeast Pennsylvania factored in Trump’s win.
“Luzerne County had a huge impact,” Zito said. “It was like a 30-point swing from President Obama to President Trump, but if you spent time in Luzerne you understood that things were changing. ... Too many people look at this election and they try to box it in. And they try to say that only people who voted for Trump were white, old, stupid and uneducated and racist, and it’s much more complicated than that.”
Zito said Trump supporters weren’t just mad at Democrats, they were frustrated with both political parties.
Factoryville resident Ray Hammond asked about the potential of a progressive “blue wave” coming in the upcoming midterm election as a reaction to Trump’s victory.
“Democrats are definitely going to win seats,” Zito said. “I don’t know if it’s a wave, or a tsunami. ... I think anybody who tells you that they know specifically, and they’re right, they just got lucky.”
Hammond followed up by asking about the intensity with which the two sides seem to be reacting to each other.
“I would argue that both parties are in a populist mood right now,” Zito said. “Both are energized and sometimes it’s really, really exciting to watch.”
Ultimately, Zito painted a picture of the Trump coalition as a voting base frustrated with the way things were being done before.
“More of it was being unhappy with the status quo in Washington, period,” she said. “People often ask me, ‘Well what would break this coalition up?’ I always say if he (Trump) becomes part of the swamp. So if he becomes part of the establishment Democrat, establishment Republican, I think that would unravel his coalition.”
Contact the writer:firstname.lastname@example.org;570-348-9141;@jhorvathTT on Twitter
WRITTEN BY RON DEVLIN
READING, PA — Attorney Donald F. Smith Jr. began his Constitution Day lecture Monday afternoon at Albright College with a question: Who was John Bingham?
It's well known, Smith said, that James Madison, who conceived the separation of powers and drafted the Bill of Rights, is considered the Father of the Constitution.
But what had John Bingham done to warrant his name being raised alongside Madison's on Constitution Day, Smith asked rhetorically.
Though his name is pretty much lost to history, Bingham, an Ohio congressman, wrote the second sentence of the 14th Amendment to the U.S. Constitution - "No state shall make or enforce any law which shall abridge the privileges or immunities of citizens of the United States nor shall any state deprive any person of life, liberty or property without due process of law, nor deny to any person within its jurisdiction the equal protection of the laws."
"That one sentence is arguably the most important sentence in the Constitution," said Smith, executive director of the Berks County Bar Association. "If Madison is the father, Bingham is the son of the Constitution."
Professor Suzanne Palmer, adviser to Albright's pre-law students, introduced Smith to about 100 students gathered in the college's student center.
A practicing attorney for 28 years, Smith is past president of the Berks County Bar Association and is president of the Pennsylvania Bar Association's executives association. He teaches courses on the U.S. Constitution and the U.S. Supreme Court in Alvernia University's Seniors College.
Smith focused his hourlong lecture on the 14th Amendment, which was ratified 150 years ago during the period of Reconstruction following the Civil War.
At 425 words, it is the longest and most litigated of all 27 amendments to the Constitution.
Its equal protection and due process clauses laid the foundation for landmark decisions on civil rights, women's rights and gay rights.
The 14th Amendment figured in Brown v. the Board of Education (1954), which struck down separate but equal provisions in education; Roe v. Wade (1973), establishing abortion rights; Bush v. Gore (2000), which decided the 2000 presidential election; and Obergefell v. Hodges (2015), regarding same-sex marriage.
In the heady days following the Civil War, the bloodiest conflict in U.S. history, three amendments expanded rights to all citizens.
The 13th, ratified in 1865, ended slavery. The 14th, ratified in 1868, guaranteed citizenship to all persons born or naturalized in the U.S. The 15th, ratified in 1870, established the right to vote regardless of race, color or servitude.
But it would be, Smith noted, nearly a century before their provisions were realized.
Besides Bingham, Smith said, there was another not-so-well-known figure that played a critical role in advancing constitutional rights.
Supreme Court Justice John Marshall Harlan, Smith said, was the lone dissenter in Plessy v. Ferguson (1896), the decision that established the "separate but equal" standard that upheld segregation in the South.
For his stands in Plessy and other cases, Harlan earned the nickname "The Great Dissenter."
A century later, Justice Anthony Kennedy referred to Harlan in opinions involving gay rights and same-sex marriages.
"One wonders," Smith said, "what will happen now that Justice Kennedy retired."
The Senate Judiciary Committee is holding hearings on President Donald Trump's nomination of Brett M. Kavanaugh to succeed Kennedy, who retired earlier this year.
"After 150 years, the 14th Amendment is alive and kicking," Smith said, "and protecting our constitutional rights in so many ways."
Nonnie Singleton, a longtime member of the Berks Chapter of NAACP, said Smith's lecture elicited the spirit of the Constitution.
"It was very good to learn the history of how America formed its legal system," he said, "and how justice came about."
By John Usalis
MAHANOY CITY — The importance of the science of agriculture in everyone’s lives is part of a special Pennsylvania Farm Bureau program to educate students in the Mahanoy Area School District this week.
The PFB’s Mobile Ag Ed Science Lab began its weeklong visit on Monday, parked near the west entrance to the school to have students.
The PFB website describes the 40-foot-long lab trailer, which provides space for student partners with heating and air conditioning as necessary. The mobile lab contains 12 work stations, with each station providing space for two to three students to complete hands-on experiments. The lab accommodates up to 25-30 classes per week by teaching five to six 50-minute science classes per day.
The website explains that the mobile agriculture education science lab, complete with all supplies and a certified teacher, travels to a different elementary or middle school in Pennsylvania each week. The lab is designed to target grades K through 8.
At Mahanoy Area, the students involved this week will be from kindergarten to sixth grade. Monday’s labs focused on genetics for sixth-graders — three labs on genetics before lunch and one in the afternoon, with the day ending with the “Mighty Smooth Bean” lab featuring third-graders.
PFB instructor Jane Wessner worked with the students, explaining the basics of genetics and how dominant and recessive genes determine different types of food plants and how they determine the physical characteristics of people when it comes to height, eye and hair color, and much more.
Wessner spoke about the scientific method, the process that scientists use to study and learn about the world around them that includes the following steps: identify problem, form a hypothesis, test the hypothesis, collect and analyze data, make conclusions.
Wessner worked with the students, asking questions and explaining genetic theory. The science curriculum meets state Department of Education science and technology and environment and ecology standards and is endorsed by the state Department of Agriculture, as explained at the PFB website. The children perform hands-on science experiments, each teaching a lesson in agriculture. The experiments performed include equipment and supplies not readily available to classroom teachers and are of a nature that most teachers wouldn’t want to tackle in a traditional classroom setting.
Each science experiment is designed to emphasize a different aspect of agriculture, including Pennsylvania’s primary commodities, the environment, biotechnology, food and fiber. Children work cooperatively to solve a problem as they form a hypothesis, collect data and draw conclusions.
“I’m showing the different ways that characteristics and appearances can show up,” Wessner said after a lab. “One would be cross-pollination, which would be a natural process, and the other would be biotechnology, which is man changing the characteristics technologically, manually, and not within the seed.”
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LEWISBURG — The Chesapeake Bay Pollutant Reduction Plan and its regulations were some of the major concerns that members of the regional agricultural community voiced to Patrick McDonnell, secretary of the state Department of Environmental Protection at a breakfast meeting Friday.
Retired, current and future farmers listened as McDonnell spoke about the relationship between the environmental issues in the state and the day-to-day operations on area farms.
“I try to say Chesapeake Bay at the beginning and never say Chesapeake Bay again during the conversation, because the reality is our initiative related to the bay is about our local water quality. It is not about something that happens 90 miles south of Harrisburg. It’s about how are we delivering water resources to our own residents here,” he said.
“The partnership we’ve had with the department of ag, with farmers, the farm bureau and others in this has been one of the key components that we’ve engaged in to try to set us up for success. That’s a very deliberate choice of words because we certainly aren’t there yet,” he added.
He noted that under the federal Chesapeake Bay Pollutant Reduction Plan, the state has until 2025 to reduce about 34 million pounds of nitrogen as well as phosphorous in sediment in order to meet the federal obligations, under the pollution diets that the states have. He added “that’s a big lift for all of us.”
“The challenge before us and the reason why that relationship with (state Department of Agriculture) Secretary (Russell C.) Redding and the department of ag and the relationship with the agricultural community is so important is we’re trying to chart a course and a path on this that is not about just that pollution reduction … this isn’t about some pollution goal that we achieve by 2025. This is about what does the future of farming look like for the next 50 years? How do we give ourselves a platform that is supportive of the farm community and supportive of all the things we want to do for water quality?”
McDonnell detailed how his department is working under a current plan to increase local involvement.
“Right now we’re working with four pilot counties across the southern part of the state to figure out what does a county plan looks like that addresses pollution obligations within those counties. Not in a regulatory hammer kind of way but in a what are the opportunities, how can we find funding, who are the right partners, how do we make decisions, how do we engage municipalities, farmers, residents within those counties in order to accomplish this?”he said.
One of the ways his department has been able to support farmers in their efforts to comply with the federal regulations requiring farm inspections for nutrient and manure management plans is a monetary one. He said his department was able to pull together resources in order to reimburse farmers last year and hopes to continue that program this year.
With the flooding that occurred this summer almost on a weekly basis, McDonnell addressed some of the issues in areas where he said, a 100-year flood may be happening three times in a summer. He talked about dredging, offering it not as the only solution, but as part of a solution.
McDonnell argued it could be a good idea in some cases. But, in other situations, when too much is dredged, it increases energy in the stream, which in turn leads to erosion and causes a larger problem.
Harry Rogers, of Wolf Township, attended the event and related the problems with flooding this summer along local creeks.
“We got hammered this year. We had 40-plus inches of rain in 40 days. I’m waiting for an ark to float by. Basically we have some extremely bad areas along Muncy Creek that need to be worked on,” Rogers said. “We need help to get these streams done.”
The secretary said his department definitely wants to help.
“Talk to us, absolutely. We want to work with and figure out help in specific areas. And part of the message around all of this is that none of this is one solution. There isn’t one thing that you go across the northcentral region watershed and in this spot and this spot that the answers are all the same. It is really about those areas by areas,” McDonnell said.
BY SARAH RAFACZ
Penn State’s research expenditures hit a record high of $927 million in fiscal year 2017-18, according to a university press release .
That’s up $64 million over last year’s figure, according to Penn State. A record $562 million in federal funds, as well as $365 million from private funders, the state and university sources, helped the university reach new heights.
“Our record funding level reflects the hard work and ingenuity of our world-class faculty, students, staff as well as a renewed enthusiasm in Washington for federally supported research and development,” Penn State Vice President for Research Neil Sharkey said in the release.
Penn State’s research expenditures reached a record high of $927 million for the 2017-18 fiscal year.
Kevin Carlini Penn State
The university saw an increase of 14 percent in defense-related funding and an 11 percent increase in funding from industry, foundations and other sponsors.
“Our defense funding levels demonstrate the continuing confidence the Department of Defense has in our research, a partnership of trust that has been decades in the making,” Sharkey said. “The jump in private funding shows how much effort we’ve been putting into translating our work into real-world impacts and supporting the private sector.”
Almost 21 percent of total expenditures, $191 million, come from the university’s own investment in research for the public good, according to the press release.
Morning Call staff
The Lehigh Valley faces a rainy week with a chance of showers and thunderstorms Monday afternoon and evening, and state emergency officials warn that remnants of Hurricane Florence will bring heavier rains that could move into Pennsylvania by evening.
The Pennsylvania Emergency Management Agency said staff and other state agencies will be standing by in case of emergencies caused by rain and possible flooding.
“We have had a historically wet year, with much of the rain coming in the last few weeks,” Gov. Tom Wolf said in a statement. “Some parts of the state are under a flash flood watch, but everyone should keep a close eye on their local forecast and be mindful that conditions can change quickly.”
According to the National Weather Service , periods of heavy rain may cause roadway or flash flooding Monday and into the overnight hours. The weather service also noted a slight risk for tornadic activity along the Interstate 81 corridor in south-central Pennsylvania.
Most of the state will see between 1 and 1.5 inches of rain through Wednesday morning.
The National Weather Service at Mount Holly has not yet issued any advisories for eastern Pennsylvania, but most of central Pennsylvania (extending into Schuylkill County) is under a flash flood watch. A few localized areas there could get 2 to 4 inches of rain, according to the flash flood watch.
Here is the extended forecast for the Lehigh Valley:
A chance of showers before noon, then a chance of showers and thunderstorms between noon and 3pm, then showers likely and possibly a thunderstorm after 3pm. Some of the storms could produce heavy rain. Patchy fog before 9am. Otherwise, cloudy, with a high near 77. Calm wind becoming southeast 5 to 7 mph in the afternoon. Chance of precipitation is 60%. New rainfall amounts of less than a tenth of an inch, except higher amounts possible in thunderstorms.
Showers and possibly a thunderstorm. Some of the storms could produce heavy rain. Low around 70. Southeast wind 6 to 8 mph. Chance of precipitation is 80%. New rainfall amounts between a tenth and quarter of an inch, except higher amounts possible in thunderstorms.
Showers and possibly a thunderstorm, mainly before 5pm, then a chance of showers and thunderstorms after 5pm. Some of the storms could produce heavy rain. High near 79. Southwest wind around 7 mph becoming northwest in the afternoon. Chance of precipitation is 80%. New rainfall amounts between a quarter and half of an inch possible.
A chance of showers before 8pm. Partly cloudy, with a low around 63. North wind 6 to 8 mph. Chance of precipitation is 30%. New precipitation amounts of less than a tenth of an inch possible.
Sunny, with a high near 79. North wind 6 to 8 mph.
Mostly clear, with a low around 58.
Mostly sunny, with a high near 75.
Partly cloudy, with a low around 62.
A chance of showers and thunderstorms after 2pm. Partly sunny, with a high near 81. Chance of precipitation is 30%.
A chance of showers and thunderstorms. Mostly cloudy, with a low around 64. Chance of precipitation is 30%.
Mostly sunny, with a high near 75.
Partly cloudy, with a low around 58.
A chance of showers. Partly sunny, with a high near 71. Chance of precipitation is 30%.
By Sarah Hofius Hall
The former fleet manager for the Scranton School District routinely overbilled the district and worked on personal cars of at least a dozen district employees, a statewide grand jury has found .
Daniel Sansky, 67, of Cortez Road, Jefferson Twp., faces first-degree felony charges, including corrupt organizations, dealing in unlawful proceeds, criminal conspiracy and other felony offenses.
The grand jury investigation revealed Sansky, through his auto body shop, Danny’s Auto Service, overbilled and double-billed for work performed on district vehicles. For example, Sansky overbilled the district by $53,000 to put 114 tires on one garbage truck.
“This individual took advantage of the trust placed in him as a district official and allegedly defrauded the Scranton School District of hundreds of thousands of dollars,” Attorney General Josh Shapiro said in a release. “To the people of Scranton who have been calling out for an investigation, and for more openness, transparency and honesty in their government — we heard you. Let me be very clear — this investigation is live, active and ongoing, and no one is above the law.”
Working jointly with state police, investigators claim Sansky conspired with an unnamed district employee to submit invoices that were never required to be reviewed or approved by the district’s chief operations officer. Invoices from 2009 through 2017 indicate that the Scranton School District was billed for at least $785,195 for work performed by Sansky. Prior to 2014, Sansky rarely provided itemized invoices. The district was not able to locate records for invoices before Dec. 27, 2008.
A review of invoices showed 38 separate occasions when Sansky performed maintenance on the personal vehicles of an unnamed co-conspirator or one of his family members.
Check back for updates.
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JIM LOCKWOOD, STAFF WRITER
SCRANTON — Residents and visitors have long complained that numerous faded or missing street signs throughout the city can make navigating its hundreds of miles of roads difficult, officials said.
To fix the problem, the city will create a “traffic sign management system” aimed at replacing all street signs over a few years.
City council enthusiastically passed legislation Monday authorizing Mayor Bill Courtright’s administration to hire a firm, KS Engineering of Philadelphia, for $270,600 to catalog all of the city’s street signs.
The firm will have a vehicle equipped with GPS cameras record all of the street signs along the city’s 263 miles of roads and create a database of the signs and intersections. The technology also will gauge the reflectivity of the signs.
The firm will create “a video log using a GPS-based data collection system, a visual conditions assessment, sign attributes extraction, a nighttime reflectivity assessment and the preparation of a priority report for replacement. Given the condition of city street signs, most will likely be deemed critical for replacement,” according to city Business Administrator David Bulzoni’s recommendation that the city hire KS.
The city selected the firm through an open process of publicly requesting proposals.
Under the plan, city DPW workers would create the signs in-house with a machine and install them.
Illegible and missing street signs have been a perennial complaint, and the city has been looking at ways to fix the problem. The current response system is “reactive” — a complaint call leads to a handwritten note tacked on a bulletin board for a street-sign replacement — but there isn’t any real protocol or mapping of what needs to be replaced, Bulzoni told council in a caucus Monday before council’s regular meeting. Hiring a firm to make and replace all signs all at once likely would be too costly, he said.
“Anecdotally, we recognize the cost would be pretty significant, so we started to look at alternatives,” Bulzoni said. “We’re not sure whether all the signs need to be replaced immediately. We really need an assessment to understand what really needs to be replaced. I think it can be done efficiently (in-house) over a multiyear period.”
The city years ago had several employees doing street-sign maintenance, but today has only one full-time employee and one part-time employee assigned to the task. Councilman Wayne Evans called that level “woefully understaffed” for a city the size of Scranton.
“We don’t know how many signs out there that are still in good shape that don’t need to be replaced,” Evans said. “When you do a wholesale replacement, it really isn’t cost effective.”
Once the database information is completed, the city will review whether the street-sign staffing is adequate, Bulzoni said.
The city will use state liquid fuels funds to cover the cost of the contract and also will seek a state grant to cover 70 percent of the project cost.
Council members agreed the city needs to take this new approach toward street-sign maintenance.
“We will have an actual inventory (of street signs). Whenever any sign gets replaced, we will have a log of that. This is going to make our DPW much more efficient,” Councilman Bill Gaughan said.
Councilman Tim Perry likened the street-sign concept to the city’s recent streetlight upgrade project that replaced all old bulbs with new LED lights.
“It took a little bit of investment, but that investment will pay off over the long term. I believe this will, too,” Perry said.
Council voted 4-0 — with Perry, Evans, Gaughan and Kyle Donahue all in favor — to adopt a resolution authorizing the KS contract. Council President Pat Rogan was absent.
In other matters, council also voted 4-0 to adopt each of the following resolutions:
■ To hire Highland Associates of Clarks Summit for $39,500 to perform a condition assessment of the Municipal Building. The firm, selected via a public request for proposals, was the only firm to submit a proposal.
■ To appoint Robert Morris of Wales Street to fill a vacancy in the Alternate No. 2 seat on the zoning board. The term expires July 1, 2020. Morris succeeds zoning board member Bob Gattens, who had been this alternate but became a regular zoning board member.
■ To seek a state gaming grant of $464,239 to pay for paving roads in the Fawnwood Heights development in West Scranton. This area had to be cut out of the city’s most recent paving project when overall bids came in higher than expected.
■ To have the Police Department seek a $70,003 state gaming grant to pay for purchase of a police dog and vehicle.
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BY BORYS KRAWCZENIUK, STAFF WRITER
SCRANTON — Lawyers for Keystone Sanitary Landfill and neighbors opposing its proposed expansion argued Monday over whether Dunmore’s zoning ordinance can limit the future height of a new mountain of trash.
A lawyer for Friends of Lackawanna, the chief expansion opposition group, and six landfill neighbors told a visiting judge the ordinance’s 50-foot height limit applies to structures in manufacturing districts like the landfill.
Keystone’s lawyers say the height limit applies to buildings, not structures, and the borough’s zoning ordinance distinguishes between the two. The zoning board sided with Keystone in September 2015. The board’s lawyer, attorney Carl J. Greco, showed up Monday in Lackawanna County Court to back Keystone’s contention that its expansion is not a building.
“We agree with that position,” said Greco, who sat with Keystone’s lawyers, attorneys Jeffrey J. Belardi, David R. Overstreet and Christopher R. Nestor.
Keystone proposes an expansion that will allow it to remain open 46 more years. Initially, the landfill asked the state Department of Environmental Protection to allow burying trash 165 feet higher in the expansion area than on existing permitted areas. Keystone has since amended its application to eliminate the increased height. The zoning board ruling remains based on the original application.
Friends of Lackawanna and landfill neighbors Joseph and Mari May, Edward and Beverly Mizanty and Todd and Katharine Spanish appealed the zoning board ruling. Senior Judge Leonard Zito, the out-of-town judge assigned to the case after every county judge declined to preside, ruled the group and neighbors couldn’t appeal because they lack standing, meaning the landfill wouldn’t affect them. They appealed to Commonwealth Court, which ruled in May they have standing and sent the case back to Zito.
Attorney Jordan B. Yeager, the Friends of Lackawanna and neighbors’ lawyer, told Zito the Keystone case matches a January 2014 Commonwealth Court ruling on a landfill proposed in Mercer County. In that case, the Commonwealth Court found a township zoning ordinance limits structures to 40 feet high and the definition of structures includes landfills.
In ruling against Tri-County Landfill Inc.’s plans for a 99-acre landfill, township zoners ruled the landfill’s soil, multiple liners, gravel, stone and trash constitute a structure that must meet the height limit.
In Dunmore’s ordinance, the definition of a structure says, “structures include buildings, ...,” and buildings in an M-1 manufacturing zone like the one that includes Keystone can stand no taller than 50 feet, though opponents acknowledge the landfill has long piled trash much higher. The ordinance does not specifically exempt Keystone from the height requirement, Yeager said.
Yes it does, but in a different way, argued Overstreet, one of Keystone’s lawyers.
Relying on the zoning board’s argument, Overstreet said the height limit applies only to buildings because of what the zoning ordinance says. While the ordinance’s definition of structures includes buildings, the ordinance also defines buildings as “any structure having a roof supported by columns or walls, used or intended to be used for the shelter or enclosure of persons, animals or property.” The zoning ordinance specifically lists height limits for buildings, not structures, according to a copy of the ordinance.
“You can see clearly the landfill isn’t a building,” Overstreet said. “A landfill is not a building and the height limits apply only to buildings.”
Zito gave Yeager 10 days to file a written response to Overstreet’s arguments and Overstreet another 10 days after that to respond to Yeager.
DEP continues to review the landfill’s expansion application.
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BY JON O'CONNELL, STAFF WRITER
The president of the Abington Heights School Board is stepping down because new conduct rules for state judicial system employees prohibit her from holding an elected office.
Cathy Ann Hardaway has been president for 13 of the 17 years she’s sat on the board. Her term expires in 2019.
The board will accept her resignation at Wednesday’s meeting and has 30 days from then to appoint her replacement.
Hardaway took a job as director of the Lackawanna County Domestic Relations Department in 2016. County judges knew about her board seat when they hired her and allowed her to finish out her term, she said.
However, employee conduct code revisions effective Monday from the Administrative Office of Pennsylvania Courts prohibit her from finishing it, she said.
“It was not by choice,” she said. “I am very sad … to tell you the truth.”
School district officials posted an alert on the district website asking candidates to apply. They hope to select from a large pool of candidates.
Eligible candidates must live in Region 2, which includes Newton and Ransom townships, South Abington Twp. District 2 and Clarks Summit Districts 2 and 4.
A qualified candidate must be a U.S. citizen, at least 18 years old and of good moral character, the posting says.
Applications must be submitted by 4:30 p.m. Sept. 30. Interviews will be held at a public meeting Oct. 11.
Candidates must send a resume and letter of interest to Abington Heights School District, Michele Tierney, Board Secretary, 200 E. Grove St., Clarks Summit, PA 18411 or by email to email@example.com.
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By Jennifer Learn-Andes - email@example.com
While help will always be welcome, Wyoming Valley Levee overseer Christopher Belleman said he can no longer count on flood preparation assistance from the Luzerne County road and bridge department due to its staff reductions.
“I have to face reality. With their lack of resources, we can’t rely on them as we have in the past,” said Belleman, executive director of the Luzerne County Flood Protection Authority.
Instead, Belleman wants to obtain proposals from outside companies interested in providing “as needed” services installing flood gates and performing other work that has been shouldered heavily by road and bridge when the Susquehanna River rises, Belleman said.
The county’s road and bridge department once had more than 60 employees, Belleman said.
Staffing cuts in recent years and difficulties filling vacant positions have brought the department’s current count to 16, county Manager C. David Pedri said Monday.
This year’s budget calls for 23 workers in the department, according to a position listing.
Despite rounds of advertisements, filling road and bridge vacancies has been a challenge, particularly equipment operators, Pedri told council in March. The budget funds 12 operators, leaving three vacancies at this time.
Councilman Robert Schnee has blamed the $25,000 starting salary, which equates to $12.02 per hour, saying the county could not find a backhoe operator for that amount.
The compensation is set by union contract, Pedri said.
Pedri said he has “no issue” with the flood authority exploring outside assistance. The county will continue its “all hands on deck” approach in floods and other emergencies, he said.
The levee system spans 16 miles and includes 13 pump stations, more than 120 underground wells to relieve water pressure and openings that must be filled with gates, panels and sandbags, Belleman said.
In total, 7,300 sandbags and systems of gates and aluminum logs are required to close all 20 levee gaps, including two levee portal openings in Wilkes-Barre and at the Market Street Bridge, Belleman has said.
Each pump station contains 39 deep-well pumps that must be monitored and lubricated after activation so they don’t burn out, he said.
That’s too much for the authority’s seven levee maintenance technicians, Belleman said.
“Seven guys can’t do it all,” Belleman said.
If the authority grants approval to seek proposals Tuesday, Belleman said he will develop specific duties that can be completed by outside entities under the direction of authority employees, he said. Depending on the response and cost, agreements may be approved with two or three companies, he said.
He also wants to seek proposals for assistance with post-flood debris removal along the levee slopes and toe.
Scrambling to find contractors when the “flood waters are lapping” is not in the interest of public safety, he said.
“We would run the risk of not finding someone or properly preparing someone to assist,” he said.
The seeking of proposals is in line with Belleman’s other initiative rounding up and training volunteer engineers and emergency responders to help patrol the levee during flooding.
Approximately 40 volunteers, including several engineers, attended the first training session in June, which focused largely on how to spot potential levee problems — including sand boils, seepage, scouring and sloughing — and methods to address them.
In the record September 2011 Susquehanna flood, some sections of the levee had to be reinforced with sandbags and several hundred tons of rock and dirt to plug paths under the levee that jeopardized its stability.
Belleman said he is preparing a second training session for the group in coming months.
Reach Jennifer Learn-Andes at 570-991-6388 or on Twitter @TLJenLearnAndes.
BY SARAH HOFIUS HALL, STAFF WRITER
SCRANTON — Isolation in senior citizens can affect blood pressure, chronic diseases and depression. A local foundation and social service providers want to make sure seniors don’t feel alone.
The Moses Taylor Foundation met Friday with more than 50 community members, including leaders of nonprofits and health care groups, to discuss ways to end isolation.
“We feel like together, we can figure out how to do something meaningful,” said LaTida Smith, president and CEO of the Moses Taylor Foundation.
In the Scranton/Wilkes-Barre metropolitan area, 18.8 percent of residents are 65 years of age or older, compared to 16.7 percent of Pennsylvanians and 14.5 percent of the U.S. population. Seniors in Lackawanna and Luzerne counties also have higher incidences of many of the risk factors of isolation, including living alone, having an income below the poverty threshold or being single or disabled.
In Lackawanna County, 48.9 percent of seniors are divorced, separated, widowed or never married; 36.6 percent are disabled; and 30.3 percent live alone. More than 9 percent live in poverty. Nationally, it’s estimated than isolation affects 17 to 35 percent of older adults. With its connections to health issues, social isolation results in $6.7 billion in additional Medicare spending annually, according to the AARP.
At Friday’s retreat at Montage Mountain Resorts, participants discussed coordinating services, overcoming barriers and direct interventions. The Wilkes-Barre-based Institute for Public Policy & Economic Development serves as a research partner.
“This is something that is not going away,” said Teri Ooms, the institute’s executive director.
After the foundation creates and implements the strategic plan, the institute will help evaluate progress.
Established in 2012, the foundation focuses on supporting the health and well-being of Northeast Pennsylvania residents.
Since 2015, the foundation has distributed almost $10 million in grants. Going forward, the foundation plans to distribute about $3 million a year, with half going to the basic needs of the community and the other half going to programs to support the strategic initiatives, Smith said. On Thursday, the foundation held a planning retreat for another major initiative — expanding school-based health programs.
“We have wonderful minds in this room. Together, we’ll figure out a few things to do to move the needle,” Smith said.
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Tom Shortell Of The Morning Call
Lehigh County commissioners and Executive Phillips Armstrong offered their support to a growing call for bail reform after about two dozen people attended Wednesday’s Board of Commissioners meeting to urge elected officials to bring about change.
Echoing a national debate on the subject, the group called for ending the practice of cash bail, saying it punishes the poor, increases government spending and guarantees nonviolent people will be held jail without being convicted of a crime.
Despite the backing of elected officials, it’s unclear if that reform is any closer to reality than it was a week ago. The county’s president judge has final say over bail matters, officials said. Court officials did not respond to a request for comment Monday.
Instead, Armstrong and Commissioner Percy Dougherty volunteered to form and sit on an ad hoc committee with court officials with the goal of advancing bail reform.
“I have no jurisdiction to tell the president judge what the county should do, but I can bring the right people together to have a discussion about it,” Armstrong said.
The court system requires defendants in many criminal cases to post bail if they are to be released while charges are pending. Judges often set higher bail as a way to ensure repeat offenders, flight risks or those accused of violent crimes stay behind bars. Bail also serves as a financial incentive for defendants to show up to their court hearings.
But requiring defendants to post cash bail puts an unfair burden on the poor, speakers at Wednesday’s meeting argued. Citing a Morning Call article on bail reform , several people said often people accused of lesser crimes languish in jail simply because they cannot meet their bail. People behind bars can’t go to work and get paid, casting their families into financial insecurity and making it more likely that defendants will commit crimes once they’re released, reform supporters said.
County government and local communities would be better served if Lehigh County Court did away with cash bail for nonviolent, low-risk offenders, the speakers argued. The Vera Institute of Justice, a nonprofit that seeks to improve fairness in the courts, found that Lehigh County had the third-highest rate of pretrial incarceration in the state. If the county did away with cash bail for defendants who pose no risk to the community it would cut costs at the jail, reformers said.
The speakers also cited a 2016 federal court case, where Boyertown man Joseph Curry claimed police failed to properly investigate a shoplifting charge against him in Lower Macungie Township. Curry eventually pleaded no contest after spending nearly three months in jail, where he missed the birth of his son. Curry claimed he only pleaded guilty because he could not post the $20,000 bail ordered by District Court Judge Jacob Hammond.
The Third U.S. Circuit Court of Appeals denied Curry’s appeal but used the case to argue for bail reform.
“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 Court 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.”
"Cash bail poses a three-part problem. It unjustly puts poor people in jail, it increases the cost on taxpayers, and it is increasingly being challenged in the courts,” said Julie Thomases, one of the speakers who addressed commissioners.
Northampton County this year changed some of its bail requirements. President Judge Stephen Baratta said the county will no longer ask for bail on crimes that typically end in a sentence of probation or a short jail stretch. The change, he said, should see the county’s jail population drop by 10 to 20 percent without sacrificing public safety.
New Jersey all but eliminated cash bail at the beginning of 2017 in a move that has been widely praised by reformers. Not only did fewer people wait for months on end for their day in court, but statistics from the New Jersey State Police show crime rates dropped by 5.7 percent during the overhaul’s first year , including a 4 percent decline in violent crime. The system’s biggest problem may be the financial strain on the courts: The cost of the extensive monitoring on some defendants is stretching already thin court budgets .
Without a cash bail option, some defendants accused of violent crimes — particularly in cases of domestic abuse — have found themselves sitting behind bars when they would have been able to post bail in the past. A federal lawsuit challenging the new rules failed this summer when the Third Circuit Court of Appeals found no constitutional right to cash bail.
Dougherty, a Republican, embraced the call for reform, saying the issue went beyond typical partisan divides. While law and order is generally considered a GOP mainstay, Dougherty noted, bail reform does not conflict with that stance and may help the county save money.
“It is costing us a lot in the county jail. If you’re a fiscal conservative, you have to believe the bail system is improper,” he said.
Armstrong volunteered to form an ad hoc committee with himself, a county commissioner and representatives of the district attorney’s office, court administration and the public defender’s office to review the matter. Dougherty volunteered for the post and was approved as the commissioner’s liaison by a unanimous vote.
This article has been corrected after an earlier version incorrectly identified which law enforcement agencies Joseph Curry sued.
WRITTEN BY KAREN SHUEY
READING, PA — Berks County and the unions representing workers at Berks Heim missed a Saturday deadline to modify future contracts but have agreed to extend negotiations rather than resume the process of marketing and selling the nursing home to a nonprofit organization.
Commissioner Mark C. Scott said Monday that while little progress has been made in talks with the two unions this summer to cut the costs needed to help absorb the $18 million deficit the Heim is projected to face in the next 10 years, he's willing to suspend his support to sell the Heim until after delegates from the county and one of the unions meet next week to discuss possible concessions.
“I'm willing to consider what they have to say,” he said. “We'll evaluate how sincere they are when that meeting convenes.”
That meeting is scheduled to take place next week with representatives from the Service Employees International Union.
Maryellen Nussbeutel, a licensed nurse and SEIU chapter president at the Heim, said the union is willing to negotiate.
“There's a reason Berks Heim holds the gold standard in resident care … (and) to maintain that level, union nurses and frontline staff have said all along we are open to discussing cost-saving measures to save our home,” she said. “But we also need county commissioners to recognize the terms of our collective bargaining agreement, which doesn't expire until December 2019.”
Scott said no meetings have been scheduled with the United Food and Commercial Workers International Union at this point, but he believes the last correspondence with union officials was headed in a positive direction.
“I'm trying to honor the process,” he said. “I'm hopeful that we can reach some kind of resolution only because my interaction with the employees and local leadership have been much more encouraging than the interactions with the state and national leadership.”
Wendell Young IV, president of UFCW Local 1776 Keystone State, said his team is working on setting up a meeting to discuss the collective bargaining contract set to take effect in 2020.
“We're not being disagreeable,” he said. “But our bargaining team is dealing with other contract negotiations right now. We're not going to drop absolutely everything else to rush to respond to Commissioner Scott's random 60-day pause. We're going to try to meet with them as soon as possible, but there's limits.”
In a letter sent to the unions last month, the commissioners outlined several contract changes that could be made to the next collective bargaining agreement scheduled to take effect in 2020 that they believe would result in significant savings.
Those changes include eliminating the additional weekend pay rate, increasing the pay cycle to 80 hours, eliminating double-time and freezing all wages for one year.
With the county-owned nursing home having struggled with cuts to Medicaid funding in the tens of millions of dollars in recent years and exploding health care costs, the commissioners hired a firm in January to help them explore selling the facility in Bern Township to a nonprofit. But three months later, the process was halted at Scott's request.
Scott held a press conference in June during which he said he would suspend his support to sell the Heim for 60 days if the unions that represent Heim workers would modify their contracts.
He gave the unions until mid-September to make a good-faith effort on concessions.
While his colleagues — Christian Y. Leinbach and Kevin S. Barnhardt — were unaware of the announcement prior to that press conference, they supported his invitation to negotiate with the unions.
Young said he was also surprised by the announcement and was disappointed Scott failed to reach out to union leadership before making his public statements.
“This is what happens when some politicians go off acting on things they don't know a whole lot about,” he said. “He made it sound like he already had support from the unions, but he had never talked with us about that. We didn't know what he was talking about.”
But Young said he's willing to move forward despite that decision and an initial lack of clarity from the county about when exactly any potential concessions would take effect.
“We're going to engage in a very robust conversation about this, but if they're going to say it's only going to be about our workers and not about other things that impact the budget, then they're in for a very long discussion,” he said.
PHILADELPHIA — Former Reading Mayor Vaughn D. Spencer will learn his fate early next year.
Spencer, 71, who was found guilty of 11 counts during a federal corruption trial last month, will face sentencing Jan. 10 at 9:30 a.m. in front of U.S. Chief Judge Juan R. Sanchez at the federal courthouse in Philadelphia.
Following a two-week trial, Spencer was found guilty on nine counts of bribery and one each of conspiracy and wire fraud. He faces a maximum sentence of 20 years on the wire fraud charge, 10 years on the bribery charge and five years on the conspiracy charge, plus up to $750,000 in fines, according to the U.S. attorney's office.
The former mayor — who served from 2012 through 2015 and prior to that was on City Council from 2000 through 2011 — was found guilty of being at the center of a pay-to-play scheme in which he exchanged city contracts for campaign contributions.
He also was found guilty of being involved in paying a bribe to former City Council President Francis Acosta in exchange for getting rid of city campaign contribution limits, rules which ended up not being repealed. The bribe was intended to assist Acosta's wife, Rebecca, in her campaign for district judge.
Spencer was convicted, in part, thanks to a series of secret recordings made by a political consultant who was cooperating with the FBI. Many of those recordings were played during his trial and showed Spencer and others frequently mixing discussions of city contracts with ones about campaign contributions.
Spencer is the last in a series of local officials and businessmen to be brought down by the investigation.
Francis Acosta, who previously pleaded guilty to conspiracy and has completed his two-year sentence in federal prison.
Eron Lloyd, Spencer's former special assistant, who has pleaded guilty to conspiracy and is scheduled for sentencing Oct. 2 in Allentown.
Mark Neisser of T&M Associates, who has pleaded guilty to conspiracy and is scheduled for sentencing Oct. 3.
Matthew McTish, an engineer with McTish, Kunkel & Associates, who has pleaded guilty to conspiracy and is scheduled for sentencing Oct. 4.
Rebecca Acosta, who has pleaded guilty to conspiracy and will be sentenced Nov. 28 in Philadelphia.
James Hickey, a consultant for Sovereign Enterprises, who pleaded guilty to honest services fraud and mail fraud in the Spencer case as well as a similar, unrelated case in Allentown, and was sentenced in May to 18 months in federal prison.
WRITTEN BY DAN KELLY
READING, PA — When is an appointment not an appointment?
After sitting for two interviews with City Council, Jim Cinelli of Wyomissing was recommended by council for a seat on the Downtown Improvement District Authority board.
But as Cinelli's recommendation was moving forward at a committee meeting prior to council's regular meeting Sept. 10, Mayor Wally Scott learned that the appointment was his to make, not council's. He asked that Cinelli's appointment to the DID board be delayed until council's next regular meeting, on Sept. 24, so that he could evaluate other candidates.
"One thing I found when looking at the makeup of this board is that there are only two city residents on the board," Scott said at council's committee of the whole meeting Monday night.
Councilwoman Marcia Goodman-Hinnershitz, chairwoman of the finance committee, said if Scott was going to assert his appointment authority, he should have done it earlier in the process and not waited until after council had interviewed several capable candidates for the boards of DID and its planned successor, the Downtown Revitalization Public Private Partnership.
After a week earlier having decided to delay their vote on Cinelli's appointment, council members reversed course Monday and voted 6-1 to put Cinelli on the DID board. Council President Jeffrey S. Waltman Sr. voted no.
Meanwhile, council took issue with Scott's appointment to the Public Private Partnership board. Scott was supposed to appoint a city resident to the board and chose W. Glenn Steckman III, city managing director, which some on council felt unfairly weighted the board makeup in the Scott administration's favor.
Also Monday, council held a first reading of an ordinance to require that the citizen representative on each board be a city resident who is not employed, appointed or elected to any government position.
If the ordinance passes and survives a veto by Scott, it would not affect Steckman's appointment. New ordinances cannot be retroactive, so it would apply only to future mayoral appointments.
Scott placed Steckman on paid administrative leave last week. The mayor has said he hopes to have a decision on Steckman's future with the city by Friday.
WRITTEN BY DAN KELLY
READING, PA — Heads rolled Monday morning at Reading City Hall.
Dana Damato, manager of the city Codes Department, was fired Monday morning, officials said.
On Friday, city officials confirmed that Managing Director W. Glenn Steckman III and city Solicitor Jan “J.D.” Krafczek had been placed on administrative leave but had not been terminated.
Neither official was in his office Friday or again Monday. Neither official has responded to multiple requests for comment on the disciplinary actions.
On Monday, sources said that Damato had a meeting with Alejandro Palacios, who as director of Community Development was Damato's immediate supervisor. After that meeting, Damato was then summoned to the Human Resources Department, where he was told he was being fired, sources said.
Damato was handed a letter saying the city had received external and internal complaints about his performance. Danny Gilmore, director of human resources, confirmed that Damato had been terminated.
Damato had worked for the city almost exactly two years, starting Sept. 19, 2016, according to human resources records.
City government sources said Krafczek told them Monday that he had resigned.
Efforts to reach Krafczek were unsuccessful. Assistant Solicitor Osmer Deming was promoted Monday to acting solicitor. City Council must approve Krafczek's successor as solicitor.
Krafczek became a city lawyer in 2017 and became city solicitor in February after the retirement of former Solicitor Charles D. Younger, who is now working as deputy director of the Reading Parking Authority.
Attempts to reach Mayor Wally Scott for comment on Krafczek's resignation Monday were unsuccessful.
Steckman was hired in May 2016 and remains on paid leave. Scott has indicated that he will make a final decision on Steckman by week's end. Under the City Charter, the mayor must give Steckman 15 days' notice before he can be terminated.
Turnover of staff and authority boards has been a hallmark of Scott's tenure as mayor.
All five members of the Reading Parking Authority board of directors have changed since he took office in January 2016. Reimundo “Rei” Encarnacion resigned suddenly as executive director of the parking authority in August 2017, after about 18 months on the job. Felix Freytiz III, parking enforcement officer supervisor, resigned at the same time.
Josefina Encarnacion, Reimundo's sister, was fired the same summer as administrative services director and acting human resources director.
Also, Monday night, City Council went into executive session with Scott to discuss Steckman's future employment with the city, but it remained unclear what it will be.
WRITTEN BY JEREMY LONG
READING, PA — Dr. Thomas Lubben has been trying to bring a performing arts charter school to Reading for three years. Tonight, he will find out if the Reading School Board approves of his latest proposal.
The school board will vote on his revised application for the Berks Charter High School for the Performing and Visuals Arts at its board meeting at 6 p.m.
But Lubben doesn't think the board will approve it.
"I'm pretty sure they are going to say 'no' again," Lubben said Monday. "Really, they are just anti-charter school period."
Lubben said he will not be in attendance for the vote because he will be attending a meeting in Bucks County.
The proposed school would be for grades nine through 12 and housed in the former Central Catholic High School.
In November, the board voted 8-1 to deny the charter for the school. In July, Lubben filed a revised application.
Last week, the Reading School District's administration released a report criticizing Lubben's application. The report said pre-enrollment data "leaves many questions on how accurate the enrollment counts are," "the budget appears to include overstatements of revenues" and "the application lists a German teacher on staff yet does not provide a course offering in German."
Since he is confident the school board will vote against his application, Lubben said he preparing to file an appeal with the state charter board.
The school board also denied charters for two previous performing arts charter schools proposed by Lubben.
It voted down Lubben's applications for the Berks Arts Academy Charter School in 2016 and for the Berks Arts Academy Charter Elementary and Middle School in March.
School boards and the Pennsylvania Department of Education have the authority to review charter school applications and may oversee, regulate, revoke, renew or not renew charters, according to the state Department of Education's website.
Lubben has founded four other performing arts charter schools: the Easton Arts Academy Elementary Charter School; the Lehigh Valley Charter High School for the Performing Arts in Bethlehem; the Arts Academy Charter Middle School in Allentown; and the Allentown Arts Academy Elementary Charter School.
Contact Jeremy Long: 610-371-5032 or email@example.com.
WRITTEN BY READING EAGLE
READING, PA — The trial to determine whether the owner of I-LEAD Charter School's downtown property owes $2.8 million in back taxes has been postponed until December, according to court filings.
I-LEAD Inc., the owner of the building at 401 Penn St., was scheduled to appear Monday in front of Berks County Judge Madelyn S. Fudeman for a three-day trial to determine if it indeed owes nearly $3 million in taxes to the city, county, school district and the city's Downtown Improvement District.
The trial has been rescheduled for Dec. 17, according to court documents.
In its appeal to the county's board of assessment appeals in 2014, the school argued it should be tax-exempt.
The property is listed on Friday's upset tax sale for unpaid property taxes.
The court earlier this month required the nonprofit to secure a bond for a quarter of the back taxes, about $500,000, to be removed from the tax sale list.
David Castro, CEO and president of I-LEAD Inc., said Monday it has committed to a bond and has followed the financial requirements set out by the court.
Castro believes the court will take the property off of the tax sale list before Friday.
The building is for sale for $9.6 million with an additional $705,464 in a transfer tax.
SHILLINGTON, PA — Cumru Township residents Monday night voiced concerns to the Gov. Mifflin School Board about a proposed group home for at-risk adolescent boys.
Superintendent Dr. Steven M. Gerhard told them he looked into the home's effect on the district and found that Berks County Intermediate Union will handle educating its residents.
"We are concerned about issues like traffic, water, sewer, emergency services, our property values, taxes public safety and just the general welfare of our community," Monica Bereschak told the board and district administrators.
Last week, well over 60 residents packed the Cumru Township building during a Zoning Hearing Board meeting about zoning variances requested by Diversified Treatment Alternatives Centers LLC of Lewisburg, Union County, also known as DTA. The for-profit company aims to convert a large home at 479 Imperial Drive into a group home for boys "who have experienced sexual, physical or emotional abuse, and have subsequently begun to act out and/or are exhibiting harmful behaviors."
The 20,000-square-foot, single-family house on 9.3 acres would house and home school 40 boys, ages 11 through 17.
Bereschak, who lives in the 900 block of Imperial Drive, said since the home is taking boys from all over the state, she does not see it filling a local need and that Berks County already has Abraxas Academy in New Morgan.
Bereschak went on to say a former resident at DTA's Danville, Montour County, facility was allowed to reintegrate into a Northumberland County school district in 2011. That student, Duane Mattison, was arrested and pleaded guilty to indecent assault and no contest to indecent exposure for actions against a girl in the district's special education program with him.
"I'm asking you to support us in opposing this facility so we don't open ourselves up to risks to our school district, to our educators and to our students of Gov. Mifflin," Bereschak said.
Lisha Yochimowitz, who lives on the 1000 block of Imperial Drive, also spoke out in opposition to the group home and asked if the school district would have to pay for its residents' education and if the district will have to provide any services to the group home. She also expressed concern about the boys from the group home interacting with district students.
"I'm really concerned about the safety of our current students if these individuals are allowed into our activities," Yochimowitz said.
Gerhard said he was familiar with the proposal and he has been speaking with leaders at the Berks County Intermediate Unit to get as much information as he could about DTA's two facilities in Danville and Lewisburg, Union County.
Gerhard said Gov. Mifflin would not provide any services to the group home. The BCIU will provide education for group home residents and the BCIU will then bill the students' home districts for those services.
Board President James Ulrich added that none of the group home boys would be permitted to participate in district activities.
Gerhard said he is planning to attend and possibly testify at the Zoning Hearing Board's next meeting on the proposed group home, which will be held at the Cumru Recreation Center on Oct. 9 at 6 p.m.
Late last year, officials were banking that a reorganization at the York County Prison would rein in overtime costs that had nearly doubled since 2013.
It appears the changes are paying off, with those costs down $2 million so far in 2018 compared to the same period last year.
As 2017 came to a close, county officials were expecting to pay $6.5 million for more than 150,000 hours of overtime at the prison. In June 2017 alone, York County Prison employees worked more than 21,000 hours of overtime, costing the county more than $790,000.
At that time, a staff reorganization based on recommendations from the state Department of Corrections was being implemented to increase communication and foster teamwork, according to Warden Clair Doll.
The warden noted then that his staff was already seeing reduced overtime costs, and he expected that to continue.
The county commissioners apparently shared his optimism, budgeting $5 million — or about $1.5 million less than the actual costs in 2017 — for prison overtime costs in 2018.
Deputy Warden Adam Ogle briefed the York County Prison Board last week on overtime costs so far this year.
From January to August of this year, he said, prison staff worked about 81,660 overtime hours, down nearly 30,000 from last year's total of about 111,000 overtime hours for the same period.
The difference amounts to a savings of about $2 million.
Doll noted at the Sept. 11 meeting that the county ratified a new contract with correctional officers on May 22 that included a pay raise retroactive to Jan. 1, 2017, giving a bump to the dollar figure for paid overtime. That means that while the overtime hours are decreasing, the county is actually paying more for them.
The 2018 pay rate for correctional officers ranges from $23.60 per hour for those with zero to four years of service to $29.25 per hour for those with 20 or more years of service, said York County spokesman Mark Walters.
Walters said the correctional officers' previous contract expired Dec. 31, 2016, and the officers continued working at the 2016 rate without a new contract until May of this year.
Wages at the 2016 rate ranged from $22.50 per hour for officers with up to four years of service to $28 per hour for officers with 20 or more years of service. If the current contract had been approved by Jan. 1, 2017, officers would have earned a range of $23 to $28.75 per hour for all of 2017 and a range of $23.60 to $29.25 per hour for all of 2018.
The current contract is valid through the end of 2020, Walters said.
"What's really important is looking at the hours, because that gives you a better trend of how we're doing with the overtime," the warden said.
Doll said reorganizing the staff and concentrating on boosting morale have gone a long way toward improving the situation by decreasing the number of employees calling off work.
Commissioner Doug Hoke, who serves as president of the prison board, said on Monday, Sept. 17, that overtime costs are always a problem with 24/7 operations but that the recent changes have been effectively implemented by the prison administration.
"I think we’re going in the right direction," Hoke said.
Walters said the prison currently employs roughly 536 people.
The county is encouraged by the reduction of overtime but would like to see the numbers continue to decrease, Walters said.
More improvement is likely thanks to the addition of 31 new officers who will begin training Monday, Sept. 17, Doll said. That number includes 11 employees who will fill current vacancies and 20 who will fill newly added positions.
Prison overtime costs have increased every year since at least 2013 — when about 96,000 hours of overtime cost the county about $3.4 million — and the county had only budgeted for $4.5 million for prison overtime in 2017.
SUNBURY — Northumberland County Commissioner Kymberley Best sued Commissioners Rick Shoch and Sam Schiccatano in county court on Monday for allegedly violating the state's open records laws.
The minority commissioner filed the lawsuit through her law partner, Timothy Bowers, against the two majority commissioners for allegedly violating the Sunshine Act, which requires that elected officials deliberate and take official action on agency business in an open and public meeting. Best specifically takes issue with a petition to declare Northumberland County Drive, at the Northumberland County South Campus in Coal Township, as a public road. Best, in a separate filing, is also asking a judge to delay the hearing scheduled for 10:15 a.m. Friday and dismiss the county's petition to declare the road public.
The road is located where Parea BioSciences, a medical marijuana grower/processor, is planning to purchase county land for $1.5 million near the new Northumberland County Prison in Coal Township, a real estate agreement that Best opposed. In a public statement, Best said she believes the road being declared public is a vehicle for a 2-mill tax increase and additional borrowing — two actions that the county code authorizes when roads are declared public.
"Filing suit against the majority commissioners was a dire and last step. However, the culture of secrecy around Commissioners Shoch and Schiccatano has grown so severe that Kym is not even notified when the county institutes proceedings in court," Bowers said. "As (former) chief clerk, Kym risked her job for the sake of transparency in government. As a lawyer, this firm and she went to court against the last administration to make it operate in the Sunshine. Because of the majority commissioners, we must do so again."
Best said Parea needs a subdivision of the proposed site from the prison to proceed. A subdivision is not possible unless the property has access to a public road not less than 25 feet away.
"Therefore, majority seeks to aid this for-profit company by having the road deemed public," she said.
Additionally, Best in the lawsuit takes issue with work sessions and staff meetings. Best says that decisions are made at work sessions and staff meetings are often attended by both Shoch and Schiccatano, making a quorum of the commissioners.
She is asking a judge to require minutes be kept at all county work sessions and staff meetings, that votes taken at work sessions be recorded and that all commissioners be provided with 20 hours advanced notice of the business at work sessions.
Such meetings should be advertised and open to the public, according to the court documents.
Bowers said the lawsuit is not about damages and Best requested no money.
"Rather, this is an effort to reform a broken system that cannot be fixed from within," Bowers said.
Schiccatano reserved comment. Shoch, who referred to Best as former county Commissioner Vinny "Clausi's underling," said county Solicitor Frank Garrigan will handle the attempt "to thwart the sale of county property that will benefit taxpayers by $1.5 million."
"I have not read the actual complaint filed, and I doubt I'll have time to do so anytime soon, but our solicitor has assured me it is entirely baseless and meritless, as all of her past allegations against us have proven to be," Shoch said.
Melissa Melewsky, media law counsel for the Pennsylvania NewsMedia Association, said there are exceptions in the law that allows for non-public executive sessions, such as discussion about a specific employee and their job performance, or administrative acting, such as the implementation of policy already discussed and making payments according to contracts.
"It's difficult to say whether there's an issue here, but the fact that one commissioner is saying there is, it's obviously problematic," Melewsky said. "The bigger point is that it doesn't matter what you call a meeting. You can call it a staff meeting, a work session, or a dinner at OIP, what matters from a Sunshine Act perspective is if there's a quorum present, if they are deliberating agency business or taking official action. If the answer is yes, it has to happen at a public meeting."
A year from now, Lycoming College and the city of Williamsport can expect to put the final touches on a project expected to better connect the school with the community.
Most recently, it was announced that 80 percent of the funding for the $25 million East Third Street/Old City Gateway Revitalization project has been secured.
College officials are excited about the project expected to boost economic development to the neighborhood.
“The project is very important to the college,” said Jeff Bennett, vice president for finance and administration. “It will be the new gateway to the school.”
It can be expected, he said, to revitalize the East End of the city, while at the same time connect the school to Williamsport.
The college’s $12 million contribution to the project represents its investment to the project.
Another $2.5 million has come from various donors and grant sources.
Marla Kramer, Lycoming College senior director of marketing and communications, said the project includes Krapf Gateway Center to house the school’s Center for Enhanced Academic Experiences, Outdoor Leadership and Education, seminar and study rooms, a lounge and other support and educational services.
“When people arrive at Lycoming, this is the first building they will see,” she said.
She noted that the relationship between the city and college will only be enhanced with the completion of the project set for September 2019.
Added Bennett: “One of the objectives was to make a pass-through to the community.”
He said the project remains on schedule.
The project has been supported by a number of governmental bodies, organizations and individuals, including: River Valley Transit, First Community Foundation Partnership, Lycoming County, East Third Street Commission, the state Department of Transportation, and local elected officials.
The reinvestment in the neighborhood will include infrastructure work along Basin and Franklin streets, a streetscape project for East Third Street and other improvements.
ROARING SPRING — The Spring Cove School Board opted Monday to not take its half of the local 1 percent realty transfer tax, leaving it all to the six municipalities within the district.
While the school district has a legal right to collect half of this tax, six of the nine board members voted not to claim the district’s share.
All of the local realty transfer tax will continue to be distributed to Martinsburg and Roaring Spring boroughs as well as North Woodbury, Freedom, Huston and Taylor townships.
Numerous township and borough representatives who attended the meeting Monday expressed relief at the board’s decision.
“We’re very happy with the outcome. Hopefully, they don’t do it next year,” said Mark Ayers, North Woodbury Township supervisor. “We’re very happy we don’t have to find another avenue for more money.”
Ayers estimated if the school district claimed its half, that it would’ve taken about 8 to 9 percent of the township’s budget.
Richard Brantner Jr., Martinsburg borough manager, said he was also pleased with the outcome. “It’s part of our revenue so it’s going to help balance our budget for next year,” he said of the realty transfer tax.
Spring Cove School Board members Amy Acker-Knisely, John Biddle, James Butler, Charles Gojmerac, Linda Smith and Troy Wright voted no to taking 0.5 percent of the tax while Floyd Deterline, Brian Gahagan and Jason Rhykerd voted yes.
“It was a tough decision, but I just thought that everyone’s under the gun with budgets. And I think I want to have a good working relationship with the boroughs and the townships,” said Acker-Knisely, the board’s vice president.
“I just don’t think it’s the right time right now,” she added. However, she pointed out that future boards will still be able to decide whether or not to take the district’s share of the realty transfer tax. “I think right now, I just want us all to work together because we’re all … under the thumb of the budget.”
Gahagan, the board’s president, said the school district board has a fiscal responsibility to collect its share of the tax as a way to raise money to address the budget deficit.
“Obviously, the timing was not outstanding,” Gahagan said, acknowledging that the municipalities are in the midst of their budgeting process. “This is something we could’ve done for years, and I just think as an elected school district (official), this is my job to try and find a way to close the budget deficit.”
If the board members voted to claim the 0.5 percent, the school district would’ve received an estimated additional $100,000 each year.
The board members also voted to rescind a previous motion to have Fairway Labs test about 20 water samples for lead at a rate of $15 per sample. The board passed a motion to use Mountain Research instead to test water samples at a rate of $10 per sample.
Mirror Staff Writer Shen Wu Tan is at 946-7457.
Southmont Borough resident Bob Walker believes that in order to create positive change in the area, the community needs to come together as one.
“The whole area is not going anywhere, and we have to get together and solve the problems – together,” Walker said. “We have so many talented people who have the background to do it. We need to put them in the position and back them.”
Walker was one of about 20 area residents who attended a municipal consolidation exploration ad hoc committee meeting on Monday led by Dan Hill, president of the Westmont Hilltop School Board, and fellow board member Robert Gleason.
The meeting was the first of many to come, and Walker wasn’t alone on Monday in thinking consolidation is the key to improving the area. Several residents spoke during the inaugural get-together expressing their endorsement in seeking a merger as a solution to help move the area forward.
“I think with the people I see here tonight, it’s a very good starting point, but we don’t have enough elected officials representing their municipalities here, ” Walker said. “I think they should come and express their opinions about what’s going on.”
Walker was not the only individual who noticed a lack of elected officials in attendance on Monday. Gleason, the former chairman of the Republican State Committee of Pennsylvania, said during the meeting that it was important to gain the support of elected officials to give the proposed consolidation momentum.
“If we can grow this committee, the elected officials will get the word,” Gleason said. “And if they don’t get the word, then we would run candidates. This isn’t a Republican/Democrat thing – it’s not political from that point of view. But I think that’s the way you solve this.
“We need to make a change in Johnstown,” he said. “This needs to happen.”
The proposal is to consolidate Westmont Borough, Southmont Borough, Upper Yoder Township, Lower Yoder Township, Ferndale Borough and Brownstown Borough into a single municipality.
Hill believes encouraging commercial enterprises to locate within the proposed merger would help to create tax opportunities and increase funding – an impact that could reach Ferndale and Westmont school districts.
“We can’t keep increasing the tax base to solve these problems,” said Hill during the meeting. “It’s about approaching it the right way.”
Gleason said: “It’s about the will of the people.”
The next committee meeting is tentatively scheduled for 6 p.m. Nov. 6, in the Knowledge Commons at Westmont Hilltop Junior-Senior High School.
Ronald Fisher is a reporter for The Tribune-Democrat. Follow him on Twitter @FisherSince_82.
Hempfield school directors raised the threshold for property tax assessment appeals by $150,000 on Monday night, but it did little for those who feel the district’s policy is singling out residents and amounts to “spot” appeals.
Residents turned out in large numbers at a previous board meeting to level criticism at the district’s assessment-appeal policy , which challenged tax assessments on properties that have sold for more than $100,000 over their assessed value.
At its meeting Monday night, the school board voted 5-4 to retain a Pittsburgh law firm that has been pursuing the appeals, and to raise the threshold to $250,000. Board President Sonya Brajdic said she hoped it would satisfy many of the more than 70 people who attended the meeting and those who signed up to speak.
It did not.
“I still think there are issues and problems with this entire program,” said resident Alan Fleissner.
“This doesn’t come across as being fair,” said Candace Cieslo, whose family moved into the district last year. “It comes off as being targeted.”
Cieslo and others said the program would discourage developers from investing in the district.
“Why would anyone invest in a community if they feel their taxing system is unstable?” she asked.
Resident Wayne Freed referenced two bills in the state’s previous General Assembly session aimed at curbing the assessment-appeal process statewide, and asked the board to wait until Pennsylvania lawmakers decide what direction to go.
Resident Nancy Fischione received an assessment-appeal letter but found out Monday night that, with the dollar figure bumped up to $250,000, she is no longer affected.
“This process is still wrong,” she told the board. “What you’ve probably done is change this crowd to a new crowd, once they receive letters.”
Pittsburgh law firm Andrews & Price was retained by the district to carry out the appeals assessments. Brajdic and board members Jeanne Smith, Diane Ciabattoni, Michele Fischer and David Iwig voted to modify the policy.
Resident Dana Smith said he has spoken with several homeowners in anticipation of a possible legal challenge.
“This is principally wrong,” Smith said. “Please do not force me into a court of law. I will not back down.”
Smith and other residents accused the board of singling out individual homeowners for assessment appeals.
“We as a district do not go out and do spot assessments,” Brajdic said. “That is not our job.”
Resident Scott Graham said the district should get out of the assessment business.
“Property assessments should be the responsibility of Westmoreland County government, not the Hempfield Area School District,” Graham said.
Westmoreland has not had a countywide reassessment since 1973.
Patrick Varine is a Tribune-Review staff writer. You can contact Patrick at 724-850-2862, firstname.lastname@example.org or via Twitter @MurrysvilleStar.
Farrell set to emerge from Act 47
By ERIC POOLE Herald Assistant Editor | News
FARRELL – At a council meeting last month, Ed Fosnaught, the city’s designated Act 47 coordinator, stood up and praised local officials, including Mayor Olive McKeithan, for their efforts to pull Farrell from the state’s economically distressed community designation.
“You’re on track to exit Act 47. That’s not an accident,” Fosnaught said. “It’s because you have done a good job. Mayor McKeithan and the council have made tough decisions.”
Farrell has been on the state’s economically distressed community list, known as Act 47, since November 1987. The city was Pennsylvania’s first municipality to go into Act 47 status and has been on the list longer than any other community.
In the next few weeks, almost certainly by the end of 2018, Farrell will leave Act 47, according to city Manager Mike Ceci. But its freedom from state scrutiny might be short-lived because of decisions being made in the nation’s capital.
When a community goes into Act 47, it gains the ability to expand taxation to non-residents who work in the economically distressed municipality. But it also gives up some control to state authorities.
Distressed municipalities are assigned a coordinator by the Department of Community and Economic Development. In Farrell’s case, that’s Fosnaught, a former Lawrence County commissioner now working for DCED. He was assigned to the city earlier this year.
The coordinators make austerity recommendations – the ‘tough decisions’ Fosnaught referred to last month at Farrell’s council meeting – to cut costs. The combination of decreased costs and increased revenue is supposed to lift economically distressed communities to solvency.
Ceci said the city, as part of an Act 47 plan established in 2013, can’t create any new full-time positions without a budget offset, either by spending cuts or revenue increases. Farrell also spun off the Stey-Nevant Public Library.
Farrell gives the Stey-Nevant library $20,000 a year. The facility also receives funding through Community Library of the Shenango Valley, which now oversees the Farrell library’s operations.
The decision was controversial, Ceci said, but necessary to allow the library to continue providing necessary services like internet computer access and afterschool programs.
“The alternative to that was the coordinator comes in and says, ‘You need to lock the doors,’” he said. “The state, through the DCED, does not see that as an essential like police and fire.”
In a move that saves Farrell an estimated $500,000 a year, Farrell dropped out of the Southwest Mercer County Regional police department in 2015. Farrell’s withdrawal, coming a year after Shenango Township dropped out, doomed the regional police agency.
Ceci said he still supports multi-municipal initiatives like the regional police department, but said those arrangements have to involve similar communities. The Southwest Mercer County police included Farrell, a mixed residential-urban-industrial community, alongside mostly rural Shenango Township.
Under Act 47, Farrell is able to levy an additional 0.8 percent income tax on non-residents who work in the city. Those additional funds have been invaluable for balancing the city’s budget during most of its time in economically distressed municipality status.
Since 2017, though, Ceci said Farrell has treated the additional money like it doesn’t exist, choosing instead to sock the revenues away in a “rainy day” fund. More importantly, city officials are preparing for departing Act 47, because it won’t have access to that revenue stream when it is no longer in distressed status.
“For the last two years, we’ve been living as if those revenues aren’t there,” Ceci said.
Through August, the non-resident tax generated about $331,000 this year, which puts it on pace for almost $500,000 by the end of 2018.
The non-resident tax is a point of contention, and its existence puts pressure on Farrell to leave Act 47.
In 2014, the state passed a law to prevent other municipalities from staying on Act 47 as long as Farrell has. Under the 2014 amendment to the 1987 Act 47 regulation, municipalities are required to emerge from economically distressed status within five years of filing a recovery plan.
That would have forced Farrell, which filed its most recent recovery plan in May of 2013, out of Act 47 earlier this year. However, the state gave Farrell one more year to finish its recovery process.
Ceci said that law passed in part because state legislators in rural communities had received complaints from constituents paying increased taxes to the municipalities where they worked, but did not live, and there was a perception that Act 47 municipalities remained in distressed status longer than they needed to.
If city Councilman Robert Burich had his way, Farrell might continue in Act 47 status.
He said most of the non-resident employees at businesses in Farrell don’t pay taxes in Pennsylvania, much less Farrell, because they’re Ohio residents, who show up for work and leave Farrell without leaving any money behind, except for the non-resident tax.
Burich said he would like to see Farrell continue collecting the non-resident income tax, even though the city is now balancing its budget without it.
“I’m a firm believer in that, especially in Farrell, where we don’t have a large retail district,” he said.
Ceci said there are intangible and tangible benefits to getting out of Act 47, including as a signal to companies and individuals that the city is on firm ground fiscally, although Burich said that image enhancement won’t offset $500,000 in revenue. But he also realizes that the state won’t allow Farrell to keep collecting the non-resident tax.
“We can stay in Act 47 forever as far as I’m concerned,” Burich said. “But the state has other ideas.”
Burich credits Ceci for turning the city’s fortunes around and said the manager has done a “fantastic job.” For his part, Ceci said leaving Act 47 will give the city some flexibility in spending and borrowing.
The manager said Farrell is about to undertake an analysis of its streets to figure out the city’s worst roads and begin an aggressive paving project, which would require borrowing about $2 million with a 10-year repayment. Under Act 47, Ceci said repaving the streets would be impossible.
“The state isn’t going to let you borrow that much money,” he said.
Elephant in the room
As the end of 2018, and the impending exit from Act 47, nears, Ceci is keeping a close watch on developments involving the NLMK steel mill, located in the city west of Martin Luther King Boulevard.
NLMK has been hit hard by a tariff proposal by President Donald Trump, who ordered a 25 percent levy on steel imported into the United States. From March, when the tariffs went into effect, through early August, NLMK paid more than $90 million to the federal government on foreign steel.
The company, which employs about 750 people at its Farrell facility, purchases most of its steel from Russia, where its parent company is based, and other countries, before processing it into steel coil.
NLMK has applied with the U.S. Commerce Department for an exemption from the tariffs, but has gotten no word back.
Ceci said he has been in contact with Bob Miller, president of NLMK Pennsylvania, about the tariff exemption process. If the tariffs force NLMK to close the Farrell plant, it would be devastating to the city’s bottom line – approximately 22 percent of Farrell’s tax base comes directly from the factory.
While Ceci said he is concerned about NLMK’s efforts to win a tariff exemption, he said it won’t delay Farrell’s Act 47 departure, unless the facility closes immediately.
“Unless a bomb drops tomorrow or before the end of this year with a closing, we’re moving out,” he said. “If it happens six months into next year, they could drop us back in (to Act 47).”
Ceci sees some hopeful signs in Farrell’s 2018 revenue statements. Real estate transfers have increased from last year, which indicates more people are buying homes in the city.
Resident income tax collections are on the rise as well, a sign that more city residents are earning more money, Ceci said.
In what the manager called a “game-changer,” FarmaceuticalRX has won a license to open a medical marijuana grow facility, and a research-and-development laboratory, on the 600 block of Martin Luther King Boulevard in Farrell. FarmaceuticalRX also has offices in Pittsburgh and Columbus, Ohio.
The company will have 30 employees in the grow facility and another 100 in its research-and-development section, and Ceci said the facility could yield economic benefits that range beyond the city limits.
The city is using grant funding to combat blight. Council voted last month to award contracts for demolition of a long-vacant 104-year-old school building and a closed department store, and Ceci said there is some interest in newly cleared properties.
If NLMK’s tariff exemption goes through, that would be cause for celebration, literally. Ceci told council members last month that he would inform them about the request as soon as he does.
“If you see me walking in with a case of champagne, you’ll know.”
County receives Pa. flag that flew combat missions
By ERIC POOLE Herald Assistant Editor | News
MERCER — Air Force Chief Master Sgt. Jim Masotto is in the delivery business.
And war is what he delivers.
“Our mission is to deliver the fight,” said Masotto, a retired Sharon police officer, by way of answering the question about the service his unit provides. In other words, everything that the men and women in the boots on the ground combat zones overseas need, reaches the battlefield in Air Force cargo planes.
But one Air Force C-17 Globemaster transport carried a special accessory — a Pennsylvania state flag that flew in combat missions earlier this year. Senior Airman Dennis Best presented that flag to Mercer County commissioners in a ceremony Thursday before the board’s meeting.
Best, a reservist who works as a Mercer County deputy sheriff, was deployed from February to August this year. Masotto said the flag was unfurled on board the cargo jet, which flew missions in Afghanistan and Kuwait.
“They hang it up inside the plane and stretch it out,” he said.
The presentation held special meaning for Best, who said giving the flag was a way to show his appreciation to county residents.
“I’m very grateful to the people of Mercer County for their support,” Best said. “I work here. My family lives here.”
As far as the county commissioners were concerned, the sentiment was mutual.
Commissioner Matt McConnell expressed his gratitude to Masotto and Best, and said supply planes from the 910th Airlift Wing based in Vienna Township, Ohio, often soar above Mercer County on their way to, or returning from, action overseas.
“There are so few people who realize that the planes that fly over us on weekend are flying to combat,” McConnell said.
Follow Eric Poole on Facebook and Twitter @HeraldEricPoole. Email him at email@example.com .
U.S. Senate passes $4.7B opioid plan
By John Finnerty firstname.lastname@example.org
The U.S. Senate on Monday voted 99-1 to approve a $4.7 billion plan to fight the opioid epidemic.
The Opioid Crisis Response Act includes a measure authored by Sen. Pat Toomey, R-PA, to help better track when Medicare dollars are being used to prescribe opioid painkillers to people who’ve previously experience drug overdoses. It was one of 70 pieces of opioid-combating legislation merged into the bill.
Among the other provisions in the bill are measures championed by the state’s Democratic U.S. Sen. Bob Casey.
Those include a pair of proposals that would help children and their mothers. One would direct the federal government to provide more help for states to improve the plans for safe care for substance-exposed infants, according to a statement from Casey’s office. The act would also require that the federal government update a strategy for dealing with issues like neonatal abstinence syndrome and reauthorizing a grant program to provide residential treatment for pregnant women and new moms with addiction issues.
Both Casey and Toomey voted in favor of the bill.
The Opioid Crisis Response Act would also reauthorize funding for treatment that’s translated into $26 million in federal opioid-fighting funding for Pennsylvania in each of the last two years, Toomey said.
Monday, Gov. Tom Wolf announced that Pennsylvania has received $5.1 million from the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention.
“This funding will assist the Opioid Operational Command Center in ensuring the entire commonwealth is working to address this crisis,” Gov. Wolf said. “Much of this funding will be used to strengthen the state’s data collection and analysis, which will help us as we engage with local municipalities to address the opioid crisis.
The funding will assist in numerous areas, including:
• Pharmacy outreach and education;
• Public information campaigns conducted by local health departments;
• Hiring epidemiologists and data staff to continue to assist in data collection;
• And working to collect fatal overdose data with coroners;
Lawmakers on both sides of the aisle hailed the Senate plan.
Senate Minority Leader Chuck Schumer, D-N.Y., speaking on the floor of the Senate, said the bill is the result of “real bipartisanship."
“Comprehensive crisis requires a comprehensive solution. That’s what this legislation is,” said Senate Majority Leader Mitch McConnell, R-Ky.
More than 200 organizations had publicly called on the Senate to act.
“That’s what we will do when we pass this landmark legislation,” McConnell said.
Toomey said that some of the key measures include stepped-up monitoring of “over-utilization” of painkillers.
Under existing law, if an individual is taken to the hospital due to an opioid overdose, that person can later continue to get opioid prescriptions without any additional scrutiny, he said.
“It would not raise a flag,” Toomey said.
The changes approved by the Senate would create a monitoring system through Medicare to make sure doctors are aware if patients have previously overdosed on opioids. The measure wouldn’t bar doctors from prescribing painkillers those individuals, it would just ensure the doctors are aware of the patient’s prior overdose, he said.
The Senate measure must be reconciled with a House bill passed in June, but lawmakers said they are optimistic that an agreed-to version of the legislation can be completed.
Laura Olson Call Washington Bureau
The U.S. Senate advanced its latest effort to combat the national opioid epidemic Monday evening, approving a wide-ranging bill that includes a provision from Pennsylvania Sen. Pat Toomey to ensure doctors are aware when a Medicare patient survives an overdose.
Under the legislation, the federal Medicare program would be required to take action after someone suffers a nonfatal opioid overdose, notifying both insurer and prescriber so that they are able to better monitor the patient’s drug use.
“I was shocked to learn that you could have an overdose of an opioid, survive the overdose, and then within a very short period of time, a doctor could prescribe that very same opioid for you, and it wouldn’t even raise a flag with Medicare,” Toomey told reporters ahead of the Senate vote Monday evening.
While Medicare has a program for monitoring potential overuse of prescription drugs, Toomey says that program is under-used. His section of the bill would require those who have a nonfatal overdose to automatically be monitored through the existing program.
One in three — or 14.4 million people — in Medicare’s Part D received at least one opioid prescription in 2016, according to the Department of Health and Human Services. The federal government spent almost $4.1 billion in 2016 on 79.4 million opioid prescriptions through Part D.
Research from the University of Pittsburgh ’s Graduate School of Public Health looked at nonfatal overdoses by those enrolled in Pennsylvania’s Medicaid program. Researchers found that 40 percent of patients who overdosed on heroin, and 60 percent of patients who overdosed on opioids, filled an opioid prescription within six months of their overdose.
Toomey said the Pitt research “very much informed” his proposal. His staff has been seeking language for the bill to have a similar policy apply to Medicaid.
Toomey’s legislation was among more than 70 proposals drafted by five Senate committees that were combined into one bill. It may see additional changes: the U.S. House of Representatives already passed its own opioid legislation, which must be reconciled with the Senate version in order to reach the president’s desk.
The Senate measure also would renew a grant program to bolster state efforts on opioid addiction prevention and treatment. Pennsylvania received $26.5 million through that federal grant program earlier this year.
Toomey worked on sections of the bill to require electronic prescriptions for opioids, and to monitor prescribing patterns to identify physicians who are prescribing far more of the drugs than other doctors within their specialty.
The legislation also includes proposals seeking to stop fentanyl from coming across the border through the mail, to boost medication-assisted treatment, and provisions from a bill from U.S. Sen. Bob Casey, D-Pa ., providing for infants born addicted to opioids.
Sen. Toomey: Opioid legislation 'an important step forward'
About 115 people die each day from prescription opioid overdoses and new federal legislation is aimed at curbing the deadly crisis.
U.S. Sen. Pat Toomey, on Monday, said the Senate's passage of the Opioid Crisis Response Act is "an important step forward in fighting the opioid crisis."
There was bipartisan support for the legislation that focuses on education, prevention and treatment of a nationwide problem the Center for Disease Control said was attributed to more than 200,000 deaths between 1999 and 2016.
The legislation, which must be reconciled with a House bill passed in June, authorizes $4.7 billion to fight the problem through education, treatment and monitoring of who is prescribing the pain medications.
Snyder County District Attorney and Coalition for Kids chairman Michael Piecuch welcomes legislation that addresses the problem that has affected numerous Valley families.
"It is a crisis that cuts across generations. The ripples are felt in every aspect of our community," he said.
Selinsgrove resident Brian Farrell hopes the legislation will also provide educational programs to thwart others from taking the same path his daughter, Delaney, followed before her death at age 23 in July 2017 from a heroin overdose.
"We have money that goes to all the other horrors, like floods. This could save lives," said Farrell.
Last year, Piecuch prosecuted a Selinsgrove man, George I. Botticher, 26, of Selinsgrove, who pleaded guilty to one count of felony drug delivery in the July 17, 2016, heroin overdose death of John-Michael Arcuri, 31, of Middleburg. Botticher received a prison sentence of 15 to 36 months in August.
"We need to address the faucet and the drain," Piecuch said, referring to the source of the opioids and the impact it has on lives.
Efforts are needed to stem the amount of prescription drugs being given to individuals, providing safe disposal of unused medications and increasing addiction treatment options, he said.
All of this is being addressed by federal and state funding.
In addition to the federal legislation passed Monday, Gov. Tom Wolf announced the state has received $5.1 million from the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention as part of a cooperative agreement for emergency response to continuing the fight against the opioid crisis.
“Much of this funding will be used to strengthen the state’s data collection and analysis, which will help us as we engage with local municipalities to address the opioid crisis," Gov. Tom Wolf said.
The funds will cover the costs of pharmacy outreach and education, public information campaigns, hiring epidemiologists and staff to assist in data collection, improving the collection of fatal overdose data and training for first-responders and physicians.
U.S. Sen. Pat Toomey, R-Zionsville, used a teleconference Monday to give a thumbs- up to legislation for helping fight the nation’s opioid problem.
The lawmaker noted that the bill contained several provisions among the range of programs in the legislation that he supports.
“I am very supportive of this legislation,” he said.
In fact, Toomey said he could cite nothing in the bill he opposed.
The Opioid Crisis Response Act of 2018 adds around $8 billion in spending for fighting the opioid crisis, according to the Congressional Budget Office.
“I think this is an important step forward,” he said.
He said he expected passage of the bill Monday night.
Toomey said among the provisions of the bill he either authored or co-authorized is a section that works to improve prescribing for Medicare beneficiaries who are victims of opioid-related nonfatal overdoses. It instructs Medicare to identify individuals who have nearly died from overdosing on opioids and establishes a system for sharing the information with prescription drug plans, doctors and patients.
Toomey noted that the federal government is the world’s largest purchaser of opioids and therefore has a unique responsibility to administer them in an appropriate way.
“Medicare and Medicaid are not doing everything they can to minimize the opioid problem,” he said.
Other provisions of the bill supported by Toomey include use of an online portal to report suspicious activity of prescriptions and a mandate for electronic prescribing for controlled substances in Medicare Part D.
Toomey declined comment on recent allegations involving sexual and physical assault against Supreme Court nominee Brett Kavanaugh.
Christine Blasey Ford has alleged that at a party during their high school years, Kavanaugh pushed her into a bedroom along with his friend Mark Judge, attempted to remove her clothes and put his hand over her mouth when she tried to scream.
Kavanaugh has denied the allegations.
Toomey in July announced his support for Kavanaugh as a Supreme Court judge
The U. S. Senate passed sweeping legislation intended to combat the nation’s opioid crisis in a 99-1 vote on Monday evening.
The wide-ranging package known as the Opioid Crisis Response Act of 2018 rolls up 70 bills that will advance research, treatment, awareness and recovery efforts related to opioid abuse that will be backed by about $5 billion in funding.
The bipartisan plan also attempts to strengthen the government’s response to the epidemic through training and coordination between agencies such as the Food and Drug Administration and the Customs and Border Protection as they detect, seize and test drugs, such as fentanyl.
“I think this is an important step forward, really one of many, but an important step forward in fighting this horrendous opioid crisis,” said U.S. Senator Pat Toomey, R-Pennsylvania.
The package also reauthorizes state block grants that sent $26 million dollars to Pennsylvania in 2017 and 2018 to help people suffering from opioid addiction get treatment.
In Pennsylvania, there were more than 5,400 drug-related overdose deaths in 2017 — 800 more than 2016, and a 64 percent increase since 2015.
Earlier this year, Pennsylvania Governor Tom Wolf declared a statewide disaster to enhance the state’s response and access to treatment. In April, he wrote a letter in support of the federal legislation.
“The bill, designed to address the ongoing heroin and opioid crisis by improving interagency collaboration and the collection, analysis, and sharing of data, will go a long way toward assisting Pennsylvania’s efforts to stem the tide of the epidemic for Pennsylvania families and communities,” Wolf, a Democrat, wrote. “I sincerely appreciate the bipartisan process, including multiple public hearings, that have helped shape this comprehensive piece of legislation.”
Toomey, who chairs the finance subcommittee on health care, says his contributions to the package will beef up monitoring and oversight on how opioids are used through Medicare and Medicaid programs.
“The government buys more opioids than any other entity in the world and as such has a unique responsibility to at least make sure that the opioids that the government is buying for people is being administered in an appropriate way.”
He added that the current system for monitoring people who have experienced a nonfatal overdose is ineffective.
“I was shocked to learn that you could have an overdose of an opioid, survive the overdose and then within a very short time a doctor could prescribe that very same opioid,” said Toomey. “I think that is a clear shortfall we will correct in this legislation.”
Toomey also pushed to increase oversight of physicians who are outliers in the amount of opioids they prescribe and to mandate a digital record for the prescription of controlled substances including opioids.
The Senate must now reconcile its plan with the House of Representatives, which passed its own bill in June.
Source: Susquehanna County Independent Date: 9/18/2018
BY REGGIE SHEFFIELD
This September the Substance Abuse and Mental Health Awareness Administration wants you to celebrate recovery.
Much of the Administration’s focus is on the opioid epidemic, which has in recent years reached even rural areas of the country like Susquehanna County. On Saturday about 30 attended a Town Hall on opioids at the Susquehanna County Library in Montrose and discussed issues surrounding addiction, treatment and how to pay for it. The Substance Abuse and Mental Health Awareness Administration is part of the federal Department of Health and Human Services.
The event was sponsored by Marc Friedenberg, the Democratic nominee for the recently redrawn 12th Congressional District. The seat is currently held by Tom Marino, a fourth term Republican. Friedenberg is a teacher of technology law and policy at Penn State.
One of the speakers included his former opponent in the Democratic primary, Judith Herschel of Susquehanna, a certified drug and alcohol counselor, whom Friedenberg beat by a narrow margin.
Dave Passetti of Barnes Kasson Hospital also appeared on the panel to discuss drug and alcohol counseling programs such as Trehab and medication assisted therapy programs.
“It’s going to take our elected officials continuing to advocate for the necessary funding for treatment in our rural communities and putting forth legislation that supports recovery and does not hurt them,” Herschel told the audience.
“You see the awful aspect of this disease is that it affects every aspect of who we are, each and every one of us. It affects our children; it affects our family; it affects our schools, our jobs, our businesses, our neighborhoods. If effects our health care system, our legal system. It affects everything. We still have a very long road ahead of us,” she said.
According to the watchdog website consumersafety.org, “Since 1999, there has been a 300% increase in opioid prescriptions in the United States. Along with the increase in prescriptions, there’s been a deadly uptick in opioid addiction, which is now the leading cause of death in individuals under the age of 50. While many opioid abusers resort to buying illegal substances like heroin, 75% of addicts have reported that their first opioid was a prescription drug.”
According to data provided by the U.S. Drug Enforcement Agency in a July 2017 report Analysis of Drug Overdose Deaths in Pennsylvania, 2016, the drug overdose rate in Pennsylvania in 2016 was 36.5 per 100,000 people.
For Susquehanna County, which has a population of just over 40,000, the drug overdose rate that year was 18.5. By comparison, the drug overdose death for that year in neighboring Bradford County, with its population of just over 60,000, was 27.1.
Another speaker, Susquehanna County Commissioner MaryAnn Warren, acknowledged the need for more services in Susquehanna County.
“What we have seen with so many overdoses, so many deaths, we have seen grandparents who are now taking care of grandchildren, we see families that are over in Children and Youth Services exceeding numbers that we’ve ever had before because children are being taken away from parents and being put in foster homes. And babies are being born already addicted,” Warren said.
Warren has joined others to establish the Substance Abuse and Recovery Initiative, which will start meeting this week, and which she hopes will help develop local ways to provide solutions to problems facing people facing drug and alcohol problems.
“We’re looking to bring all of those people to the table and to find some of the answers to get more resources into the county and to get people connected to the resources that we already have,” Warren said.
Some inroads have been made, she reported. One included the county’s successful voluntary Drug Take Back program. Warren told the audience that Sheriff Lance Benedict told her his office had collected 2,000 pounds of unused prescription drugs since the program was started in 2011.
Another inroad, Warren said, is the establishment of the Dial 211 Help Line with the help of a $10,000 grant from the United Way. Similar to the well known 911 emergency number, the free, confidential, 24-hour a day service can connect dialers with local services for a wide range of issues from Drug and Alcohol problems to Child Abuse or neglect reports, disaster recovery and even anti-bullying services.
Those in recovery, Herschel said, need boatloads of support, particularly when returning to the same environments from which the negative behaviors were learned. In these types of circumstances, Herschel said, healthy relationships are very important. Other, traditional societal pillars may also play a useful role.
“Churches can be a healthy steppingstone into a healthy relationship,” Herschel said.
Mirroring lawsuits filed years ago against Big Tobacco companies over the dangers of smoking, court dockets over the last year have swelled with lawsuits against opioid producing pharmaceutical companies claiming that drug companies hid the highly addictive nature of opioids.
Sandy Vieczorek, who traveled from Wyoming County to attend Saturday’s Town Hall, asked Friedenberg whether, if elected, he would support legislation which would insure that any monies from opioid lawsuits would go directly to combating opioid addiction.
“Ideally we would learn from the tobacco class (action lawsuits) that it would be, that we would learn the value of telling the truth, either to consumers in that case or to doctors, perhaps, in the case of the opioid epidemic. I don’t think we have fully and we haven’t internalized it yet but that’s what we’re always striving for,” Friedenberg said.
Friedenberg’s opponent in the November 6 general election, Tom Marino, authored the controversial Ensuring Patient Access and Effective Drug Enforcement Act, signed into law by President Barack Obama in 2016.
Once a nominee for the post of President Donald Trump’s Drug Czar, Marino withdrew his name from nomination after media reports linked him to the law which limited the DEA’s ability to, among other things, halt what they considered suspiciously large shipments of opioids. The law came under intense fire even from Marino’s Republican colleagues.
Laura Olson Call Washington Bureau
Updated 8 a.m. Tuesday with a statement from Sen. Pat Toomey .
Democratic U.S. Sen. Bob Casey is calling for a Senate panel to refrain from voting on President Donald Trump ’s nominee to the U.S. Supreme Court so lawmakers can investigate the allegation that Brett Kavanaugh sexually assaulted a woman while in high school.
The Pennsylvania legislator, who announced his intention to oppose whoever Trump nominated to the top court before Kavanaugh was formally picked, weighed in on the allegation that unfolded ahead of an expected committee vote this week.
Christine Blasey Ford said — first in a private letter to a Democratic lawmaker and to the Washington Post in an interview published Sunday — that at a party when they were teenagers, Kavanaugh drunkenly groped her, attempted tried to take off her clothes, and put his hand over her mouth.
Kavanaugh has denied the allegation, saying a statement Monday he "had no idea who was making this accusation” until Sunday’s Post article. He also says he is willing to speak to the Senate Judiciary Committee to "refute" the charge.
In a Twitter post, Casey commended Ford for coming forward publicly with her story.
“Dr. Christine Blasey Ford has bravely come forward and deserves to be heard,” Casey said. “What she describes in her interview is a violent sexual assault, which should be disqualifying for a nominee to a lifetime appointment to the Supreme Court.”
Casey’s Republican challenger, U.S. Rep. Lou Barletta , said in a statement that the allegation should be taken seriously, but also accused Democrats of playing politics by not ensuring the allegation could be vetted sooner.
"It is unfortunate that Senate Democrats waited until the 11th hour to bring to light information they have had in their possession for months, leaving little option for giving Judge Kavanaugh and his accuser a fair hearing,” Barletta said.
He added that “it would be best for Judge Kavanaugh, his accuser, and the American people to hear testimony immediately from both sides in front of the Senate Judiciary Committee.”
During a conference call on opioid legislation that the Senate is expected to pass later today, Republican U.S. Sen. Pat Toomey declined to weigh in on the latest developments, saying he had been in meetings and hadn’t had a chance yet to “read, much less digest” them.
Toomey said he would release a statement after he gets up to speed on the situation.
His office sent a a statement Monday night, after the Senate Judiciary Committee announced that Kavanaugh and his accuser would testify before the committee next Monday.
“It is appropriate for Judge Kavanaugh and Christine Blasey Ford to both appear before the Senate Judiciary Committee,” Toomey said. “I will be following the testimony closely and will consider it in the context of all the information that has been presented about Judge Kavanaugh and his record.”
Logan Hollinger , York Dispatch
U.S. Sen. Bob Casey Jr. took a break from campaigning to take a victory lap through a York-based precision stamping business in celebration of a career technical education bill that was signed into law in late July.
The two-term Democratic incumbent running for re-election was accompanied by local officials and business leaders Monday, Sept. 17, at Tooling Dynamics, a microprecision metal stamping company in York City.
Casey said the bill was an "ultra-rare" example of bipartisan cooperation in Congress: Republican Sen. Mike Enzi from Wyoming also sponsored the bill that President Donald Trump signed into law July 31.
Casey is running against Republican Rep. Lou Barletta of the state's 9th District — previously the 11th District prior to congressional redistricting by the state Supreme Court in February — and Dale Kerns of the Green Party in the upcoming November election.
But Monday he stepped away from campaign lingo to highlight his legislation that provides federal resources for CTE providers nationwide.
The bill is the first reauthorization of the Perkins Career and Technical Education Act since 2006, which encourages states, schools and CTE providers to further develop education and job-training programs to meet the needs of modern, local economies.
The act first became law in 1984 under President Ronald Reagan with the goal of supporting CTE training in hopes that encouraging individuals to delve into the field would benefit the U.S. economy.
The act had been updated twice prior to the most recent reauthorization.
"We're learning the importance of career technical education," Casey said. "We can make it possible to make an on-ramp to jobs, so (people) can get the skills and education they need to get the jobs in this plant."
Casey cited Bureau of Labor Statistics data, saying that 54 percent of jobs in the state require some sort of post-secondary education and training — excluding bachelor's degrees and above — but only 43 percent of workers in the state are qualified to fill those jobs.
As a result, Casey said, passing the legislation was just a step in the right direction to training and hiring workers for "the growing economy."
"Even with the reauthorization of Perkins, we have to make sure we are implementing it well so we can produce the workers that we need for the manufacturers in the state and grow those numbers," he said.
The message resonated well with Tooling Dynamics, a company that employs about 200 individuals, said operations manager Tyson Berkey, adding that the company has struggled with filling positions locally.
"It's been a real challenge to fill the skilled-labor positions that we have in this company," Berkey said. "Tool makers are the primary skilled function that we need, and that is not a position that you can just hire directly out of school. It's been difficult to get people interested."
Berkey added that the company often uses in-house apprenticeships to train new employees, which would benefit from the federal funding provided by the reauthorization of the Perkins Act.
Rick Lee , York Daily Record
Pennsylvania Sen. Bob Casey Jr. is on the stump with less than 50 days before the general election. He stopped in Monday at the York Daily Record and met with editor Jim McClure and engagement editor Scott Fisher.
Campaigning for his third six-year term, Casey, 58, holds a 14-plus point polling lead over Republican challenger Lou Barletta.
Here are six takeaways from the meeting:
Midterm elections always are something of a referendum on the success and popularity of the current presidential administration. But here, Casey believes Pennsylvanians who are more concerned with wages, affordable healthcare and job creation will be the voters who turn out in November.
Casey's biggest successes since ousting Rick Santorum in 2006 include passage of the ABLE Act, allowing families to to save up $100,000, as opposed to the previous $2,000, for a disabled family member's future education, housing, transportation and job training.
"That has had a nationwide impact on families," Casey said.
Casey also mention the Campus Sexual Violence Elimination Act (saVE act), which demands more accountability and responsibility from colleges and universities in assisting sexual assault victims.
'Young men have to be part of the solution," Casey added.
Casey said it is too early to know if the Trump administration and the federal government is dealing appropriately with the results of Florence.
"I've been very critical of the administration's response to what happened in Puerto Rico," Casey said, adding that response "was deficient."
"There are times when only the government can be the lead in responding to national disasters. It is important we give FEMA and other agencies the resources they need to do their job," he said.
Casey has not changed his mind on the Supreme Court nomination of Brent Kavanaugh, and it pre-dated the recent alleged drunken, high school party sexual assault allegations against Kavanaugh.
Casey said that Trump, during the presidential campaign, had agreed with the Federalist Society and the Heritage Foundation that any Supreme Court nominees under his watch would come from a list of 25 names generated by those two ultra-conservative organizations.
That said, Casey also believes the committee vote on Kavanaugh should be delayed until both he and his accuser can be heard by the Senate.
"These are very serious allegations," Casey said. "This is the kind of criminal conduct that should be disqualifying for any judge."
"I'm not supporting anyone on that list. You have to be hard right enough to get on the Heritage list."
Casey said he would support Trump's voiced, but unimplemented, federal infrastructure program.
"We should be working on a major American infrastructure, a big commitment, not just to rebuild roads and bridges, but to provide water and sewer systems to communities. And, also to bring broadband to rural communities."
A Roman Catholic and former altar boy, Casey said he was stunned by the allegations of priest sexual abuse in the Catholic Church.
"It is diabolical," Casey said. "Right from the pit of Hell. Pure evil. It is hard to comprehend that children were preyed upon for decades. I know where I want them to go on Judgment Day."
Casey said he may not have been targeted as a child because his father (former Pennsylvania Gov. Bob Casey) was a well-known politician and an attorney.
Kelly, DiNicola agree to forum at Mercyhurst University
Republican U.S. Rep. Mike Kelly and his Democratic opponent in the Nov. 6 election, Ron DiNicola, have agreed to debate on Oct. 8.
Tony Coppola, DiNicola’s campaign manager, confirmed that the forum will take place at the D’Angelo Performing Arts Center on the campus of Mercyhurst University, starting at 7 p.m.
WJET-TV first reported that the debate would happen. The TV station is one of the debate’s sponsors, along with the Manufacturer and Business Association, Mercyhurst University and WQLN-TV.
The debate will be open to the public and televised live. The two campaigns went back and forth regarding the details of proposed debates for several months.
Kelly, of Butler, and DiNicola, an Erie lawyer, are running for the newly-configured 16th Congressional District seat. Kelly, 70, is seeking his fifth two-year term in the U.S. House of Representatives.
DiNicola, 62, ran unsuccessfully for Congress in both 1994 and 1996.
“Despite our efforts to enfranchise more voters and organizations in the debate process, my opponent refused to compromise, a characteristic he has also displayed in the gridlocked Congress,” DiNicola said in a statement. “I have accepted this debate because I believe it is vitally important to have an open dialogue with Congressman Kelly in front of Western Pennsylvanians.
“I look forward to sharing my vision of reducing the influence of special interests and corruption so Washington works for Western Pennsylvania again. This is in stark contrast to Congressman Kelly’s record of standing up for those same special interests and enriching himself in Congress, including his support of the Kelly Kickback — a special tax break for car dealers like himself. Our campaign will be announcing in the coming days our efforts to enfranchise voters across the district in this process.”
Mike Barley, Kelly’s campaign manager, also released a statement Monday.
“Congressman Kelly is excited to have a meaningful discussion about the issues most important to the District,” Barley said. “This is a prime opportunity to have both candidates discuss their very different backgrounds and policy stances. Congressman Kelly proudly supports pro-growth policies, lower taxes for everyone, and the creation of family-sustaining jobs. Ron DiNicola supports the same far-left Obama-Clinton-Pelosi playbook that failed our country and left us weaker.
“Congressman (Kelly) has produced real accomplishments in Washington that have made life measurably better for hardworking taxpayers and families in our region. Ron DiNicola would help Nancy Pelosi and other liberals reverse these measures if elected. We expect the debate to highlight these contrasts.”
Libertarian Ebert Beeman of Erie, a 69-year-old former Erie County Councilman, is also in the race.
Beeman, contacted Monday, said he was not aware that the debate had been set. Beeman said he wants to be included.
A Pennsylvania Supreme Court redistricting plan unveiled in February reworked what had been known as the 3rd Congressional District. The district now includes Erie, Crawford, Mercer, Lawrence counties and the western portion of Butler County.
Kelly has represented the 3rd District since 2010, when he defeated Democratic incumbent Kathy Dahlkemper.
Kevin Flowers can be reached at 870-1693 or by email. Follow him on Twitter at www.twitter.com/ETNflowers .
By Dave Davies
Accusations in this national Republican TV ad attacking Democrat Scott Wallace were rated “false” by Politifact Pennsylvania.
A new ad in the hotly contested congressional race in Bucks County attributes some shocking words to Democratic candidate Scott Wallace – that he believes in population-control measures to punish “irresponsible breeding,” and he thinks families with more than two kids should be “taxed to the hilt.”
Turns out Wallace never said any such thing or, as far as fact-checkers can determine, advocated anything like that.
The ad is from the National Republican Congressional Committee, which cites a Fox News report about contributions 15 years ago from the Wallace family foundation to groups interested in limiting population growth.
The offending words come from a brochure produced in 1968, long before the Wallace Global Fund made any donations. Politifact Pennsylvania pored over the details and rated the NRCC’s claim “false.”
But that won’t prevent the message from reaching plenty of voters.
Federal campaign reports show that the NRCC spent $553,000 on media buys last week as the ad began running.
Asked for comment, NRCC spokesman Chris Martin didn’t respond to the Politifact Pennsylvania rating, but he said the NRCC is “committed to holding Scott Wallace accountable for his extreme views.”
The campaign of U.S. Rep. Brian Fitzpatrick, the Republican incumbent, did not respond to a request for comment on the ad. As an independent group, the NRCC is barred from coordinating activities with candidates it supports.
Meanwhile the Wallace campaign has a new ad that attacks Fitzpatrick for his vote on the December tax overhaul, arguing it benefits the rich and adds to the federal deficit.
Meanwhile, Fitzpatrick got a boost Friday with the endorsement of Local 98 of the International Brotherhood of Electrical Workers, the region’s most politically influential union.
A little later Friday, Wallace’s campaign announced the endorsement of the Service Employees International Union and provided a list of 10 other unions that have endorsed the Democrat, including the Transport Workers Union and the United Auto Workers.
Union endorsements for Fitzpatrick are a little more striking since organized labor is often seen as more aligned with the Democratic Party than with the GOP.
Fitzpatrick has gotten the backing of the Pennsylvania AFL-CIO, the Pennsylvania State Education Association, the Philadelphia Building and Construction Trades Council and other unions.
The Inquirer reported last month that Fitzpatrick had raised $200,000 from labor groups, far more than Wallace.
Construction unions have a history of supporting both Democratic and Republican politicians at the state and local level, because they want a receptive hearing when they seek support in the legislature to fight anti-union measures.
Pat Eiding, president of the Philadelphia Council AFL-CIO, told me that Fitzpatrick probably benefits from relationships established by his brother, former U.S. Rep. Mike Fitzpatrick, who held the congressional seat through 2016. As a county commissioner before going to Congress, he worked with unions in that role.
Eiding said Brian Fitzpatrick has also worked on building his own relationships.
“Brian has made a very concerted effort to reach out to people,” Eiding said. “He contacted me, and we had a good talk. We didn’t agree on a lot of things, like this tax plan, but it was a good talk.”
IBEW Local 98 said in a statement that Fitzpatrick had stood with the union “in opposing right-to-work laws while supporting federal project labor agreements and prevailing wage,” and he had “supported judges who respect labor’s rights.”
Local 98 has the one of the biggest-spending political committees in the state, expending up to $2 million a year on political operations and contributions. Local 98’s spending can be a game changer in state and local races where there are no contribution limits.
It can only contribute $5,000 to a federal candidate, unless it chooses to create or fund a super PAC which can spend unlimited sums provided it doesn’t coordinate with the candidate it supports.
Local 98 spent hundreds of thousands on super PACs supporting Democratic congressional candidates Brendan Boyle, who won a primary battle in 2014, and Rich Lazer, who lost his primary earlier this year.
In a statement on labor’s role in the race, Wallace said, “I stand with working families 100 percent of the time, won’t take a dime of corporate PAC money, and am thrilled to have received endorsement from so many diverse local and national unions.”
Montour County Republican Party headquarters officially opens
DANVILLE — Congressional candidate Dan Meuser, of Luzerne County, cut a red ribbon to officially open the Montour County Republican Party headquarters Monday.
He participated in the ceremony before attending a meet-and-greet hosted by the Montour County Republican Committee in his honor at Seidel's Mardi Gras.
Meuser said he has been in Montour County dozens of times. "We have a great Republican team here with our committee, state senator, state representative and chairwoman and mayor who so graciously provided this place as a victory center," he said. The headquarters is located on the first floor and former salon in the home at 320 Mill St., which is owned by Danville Mayor Bernie Swank and her husband, Red Swank.
"Danville and all of Montour County are crucial to our campaign. I am looking forward to working with public officials and community leaders and will do my best for the county should we be successful," Meuser said.
Also participating in the ribbon cutting were Montour County Commissioner Vice Chairman Dan Hartman and party committee member, committee member Beth Goldman, Committee Chairwoman Marlene Gunther, Mayor Swank and Gunther's husband, Don.
Chairwoman Gunther said the headquarters will be open from 11 a.m. to 1 p.m. Monday through Thursday, 5 to 7 p.m. Friday and 9 a.m. to noon Saturday.
At the headquarters, open to the public, people can find signs for candidates, coffee mugs for Meuser's and state Rep. Kurt Masser's campaigns, T-shirts, stickers, pamphlets and more.
Some merchandise will be available for sale with proceeds going toward committee events and operating expenses, Gunther said.
The committee is holding a fundraiser featuring collectable Christmas ornaments of county landmarks with the drawing to be held in November after the election, Swank said. Tickets for the drawing will be sold at campaign headquarters.
Committee Vice Chairwoman Pam Stetler previously said the meet-and-greet, open to the public, was aimed at getting people out to meet Meuser.
Meuser, a former state revenue secretary, is running for the seat held by Congressman Lou Barletta, who is seeking election to the U.S. Senate office held by Democrat Bob Casey Jr.
The district Barletta represents is currently the 11th but will become the 9th District in January.
Democrat Dennis Wolff, of Columbia County, is running against Meuser.
Masser was unable to attend the ribbon cutting and meet-and-greet because of illness, Gunther said.
Pop quiz time. Name the three branches of our federal government.
If you had to Google it, you should be ashamed. But you have company.
Only about one-third of people in a recent poll were able to name all three branches. About the same percentage couldn’t name any of the branches.
As we age, we forget a lot of what we learned in school. I once knew the abbreviations of all of the elements on the periodic table and could recite the Gettysburg Address. They’re history as far as my brain is concerned. But I’ll never forget the three branches of government.
I think they were burned into my memory from watching the “Schoolhouse Rock” cartoons that played on Saturday mornings in the 1970s. A few taught lessons about the U.S. Constitution, including the separation of powers into the executive, legislative and judicial branches.
I bring this up now because Monday was Constitution Day, the anniversary of the signing of the Constitution in Philadelphia in 1787. It’s a pretty remarkable document that still serves us well 231 years later.
It is the basis for our freedoms. It created the system of checks and balances and separation of powers that we’re seeing in action quite a bit these days, with courts ruling on presidential orders and the legislature vetting the president’s Supreme Court nominee.
It’s a shame — no, it’s a disgrace — that people know so little about what the Constitution established. People can raise the First Amendment to say what they want and the Second Amendment to show off their assault rifles, but maybe don’t know much more.
Heck, a lot of people, about 27 percent, said in the survey that they thought the president can ignore a Supreme Court ruling that he believes is wrong.
If you’re one of them, you’re wrong.
The survey of our constitutional knowledge was done last month by the Annenberg Public Policy Center of the University of Pennsylvania in advance of Constitution Day.
Results of its previous surveys weren’t much better.
The high mark of people being able to name all three branches of government was 38 percent, in 2013 and 2011. It was as low as 26 percent last year.
It makes you wonder whether some of those people screaming about what’s happening in Washington — in support or in protest — have any basis for what they’re screaming about. Maybe things aren’t to their liking because they want something that’s not possible under the Constitution.
Paul Muschick’s columns are published Monday through Friday at themorningcall.com and Sunday, Wednesday and Friday in The Morning Call. Follow me on Facebook at PaulMuschickColumns , Twitter @mcwatchdog and themorningcall.com/muschick .
Maryland plans to appeal EPA denial of emissions petition.
By BRIAN WITTE Associated Press
ANNAPOLIS, Md. (AP, Sept. 17) — Maryland will appeal the U.S. Environmental Protection Agency's decision to deny the state's efforts to reduce emissions from 36 power plants in five upwind states, Maryland's attorney general said Monday.
The EPA signed a final agency decision denying Maryland's petition for relief under the Clean Air Act late Friday.
"We intend to appeal EPA's decision to the U.S. Court of Appeals for the D.C. Circuit, so that Marylanders do not have to continue suffering the consequences of other states' pollution," Frosh said.
Maryland contends the power plants are violating the "good neighbor" provision of the Clean Air Act. The power plants are in Indiana, Kentucky, Ohio, Pennsylvania and West Virginia. The EPA also denied four petitions from Delaware relating to emissions from out-of-state plants.
The Maryland petition was filed in December 2016. It asked EPA to require the coal-fired facilities to run pollution-control equipment that is already installed to reduce emissions of ozone-forming nitrogen dioxide.
The EPA concluded neither state met the burden to demonstrate that the sources they named emit or would emit ozone forming pollutants at levels that violate the Clean Air Act's good neighbor provision for the 2008 and 2015 ozone standards. The agency proposed to deny the petitions in May, and has considered public comments on that proposal before issuing its final decision.
"Consistent with the EPA's proposal and based on the best data available to the agency at this time, the agency is finalizing its denial of these petitions," the EPA said in its decision.
The Chesapeake Bay Foundation criticized the EPA decision. CBF said the emissions contribute to nitrogen problems in the nation's largest estuary that fuel harmful algal blooms and create dead zones in the water.
"This is yet another example of EPA putting big business above human health and the environment," said Jon Mueller, vice president of litigation for CBF. "The agency is making it more difficult to achieve Bay clean-up goals by failing to limit interstate air pollution."
By: David Montgomery
FORT WORTH, Texas — Toting a huge olive-green backpack stuffed with medical supplies, physician assistant Joel Hunt pushes through a dense cluster of woods less than two miles from downtown Fort Worth. He approaches a suspended tarp that serves as a makeshift tent, peeking inside at an elderly woman who was evicted from her home nearly eight months ago.
“So how have you been doing?” Hunt asks. The woman, who is lying on her back, warms up to Hunt’s gentle questioning. She says she is out of medicine for her back pain, and was “kicked out” of her residence in January. Hunt invites her to his clinic for a back-pain referral, then extends his hand in a fist-bump gesture. The woman reaches out and pats his wrist.
“Honestly, her biggest issue that we need to address is getting her out from underneath a tarp by the railroad tracks,” said Hunt, a stocky 41-year-old with a salt-and-pepper beard and dark brown hair tied in a ponytail.
“This is not a friendly place. Some bad actors come through here, and they don’t necessarily have to have a reason to hurt you. It’s a hard life.”
That description — “a hard life” — could easily apply to the entire caseload of homeless patients served by the still-emerging field of street medicine.
“Street medicine,” which had only a few resolute practitioners when it got its start in the mid-1980s, has surged within the past decade, growing into a network of programs in over 85 cities and in 15 countries. In the United States, street medicine programs are operating in more than 20 states and at least 45 cities, including New York, Chicago, Atlanta, Los Angeles, Minneapolis, Detroit and Washington, D.C.
Advocates attribute much of the growth to organized efforts by street medicine supporters to expand awareness and create new programs. The first street medicine symposium was held in 2005 in Pittsburgh, followed by the creation of the Street Medicine Institute four years later. A 2017 symposium in Allentown, Pennsylvania, drew more than 500 international participants, compared with a handful at the Pittsburgh gathering.
So-called point-in-time estimates by the U.S. Department of Housing and Urban Development placed the number of homeless people at 553,742 in 2017. Two-thirds, or 360,867, were in emergency shelters or transitional housing. The remaining third, or 192,875, were in unsheltered locations — making them most vulnerable to threatening diseases and physical abuse.
Homelessness declined by 14 percent — 93,516 people — over a 10-year period starting in 2007, but it increased by 1 percent between 2016 and 2017, according to HUD.
In some areas of the country, such as California and Hawaii, soaring housing prices are fueling a more rapid increase. One recent study found that eight of the 10 states with the highest rates of homelessness also were among the 10 states with the highest median housing prices.
Hunt’s Fort Worth-based street medicine program, sponsored by the JPS Health Network, Tarrant County’s safety-net public health provider, is one of the few in the country to be operated by a tax-funded health system instead of a nonprofit.
A primary goal of the JPS program is to cut down on emergency room visits by the homeless. Some patients treated by Hunt’s team visit the emergency room more than 50 times a year, according to JPS. Public and private hospitals alike are prohibited by federal law from turning away patients.
“Homelessness is hazardous to one’s health, and homelessness kills,” said G. Robert “Bobby” Watts, CEO of the Nashville-based National Health Care for the Homeless Council, which
advocates for policies to combat homelessness, including comprehensive health care and expanded access to housing.
Lacking shelter, showers and adequate nutrition, homeless people living outdoors are more likely to suffer from a range of illnesses, including high blood pressure, diabetes, frostbite, heat stroke and other maladies. Many have mental illness and addiction problems.
Street medicine practitioners must search for their patients, often traveling into high-crime neighborhoods and secluded homeless camps in wooded vacant lots and alongside rivers and creeks. Many of those who take up the challenge are often driven by a deep-seated commitment to serve the less fortunate.
After addressing immediate health needs, street medicine teams try to connect the homeless with follow-up services through clinics and nonprofits. The goal is to get the homeless into transitional shelter as quickly as possible, and then to connect them with jobs and permanent housing.
“When you devote the resources, especially housing resources, you can help end homelessness,” Watts said.
An early practitioner, Dr. Jim Withers, used to dress in tattered clothes and rub dirt in his hair to blend in with his homeless patients on the sidewalks of Pittsburgh in the early 1990s. Withers, 60, who serves as medical director of Pittsburgh Mercy’s Operation Safety Net, traces the roots of his involvement to his childhood, when he often accompanied his physician father on house calls.
“There was just something about those house calls that never left me,” he recalled. “I really wanted to get out of the hospital and really embed myself with people who were not being served.
“When I first started going out, I was just amazed with the number of people tucked into nooks and crannies and along river banks and how many had medical problems that weren’t receiving any care.”
Withers, along with James O’Connell, who founded the Boston Health Care for the Homeless program in 1985, is one of the physicians whose legendary stature in the homeless medicine world influenced Hunt, a former Army medic from Houston.
Hunt’s service in the Army from 1998 to 2004 included being assigned to an unconventional warfare surgical team in Colombia to support the 7th Special Forces Group, which was in the country to assist and train the Colombian Army in counter-insurgency operations. Hunt described it as a “bare-bones operation” to treat U.S. and Colombian Army personnel, as well as civilians in danger of losing life, limb or eyesight.
After getting his master’s degree as a physician assistant at the University of Utah in 2008, Hunt became medical outreach director for the Fourth Street Clinic in Salt Lake City and started the homeless clinic’s street medicine program in 2009. He was hired to head the Fort Worth outreach team in 2014.
As director of the eight-member JPS Care Connections team, Hunt is based in the JPS Medical Home clinic at True Worth Place, a resource center located near Interstate 35 in the heart of Fort Worth’s homeless community. It is surrounded by four homeless shelters and, on any given day, serves as a magnet for throngs of homeless people who begin arriving early in the morning.
Hunt’s team includes five community health workers, a social worker and a nurse. Hunt sees patients at the clinic, but he mostly ventures onto the streets to search for homeless patients.
“We’re not trying to be an ambulance that sees you once and leaves and never comes back,” Hunt said as he set out earlier this month. “We try to keep a handle on the folks that we do see. It’s easier said than done.”
His first stop was an overgrown vacant lot across the street from a convenience store. Several men and a woman sat under a large tree, greeting Hunt and his colleagues, behavioral science specialist Candace Barton and community health worker Rachel Stovall, with an obvious familiarity.
Discarded remnants of middle-class life, including an old coffee table and part of a sectional couch recovered from a curb, served as furnishings for the outdoor residents. As Hunt took their blood pressure and checked for other vital signs, some talked matter-of-factly about a rootless life and struggles with alcoholism.
Robert “Gizmo” Huerta said he served 15 1/2 years in prison for a motor vehicle burglary before being released in 2008. He’s been living at the encampment for about a year. He wears thrift store clothing, sleeps on cardboard and relies on odd jobs for income. His arms are laced with tattoos from his prison days.
“It’s a lot better than being locked up,” said Huerta, who turned 47 in August. “I’d rather be hungry and homeless than be locked up.”
Brandi Jones, 40, brushed back tears as Hunt checked her hands, took her blood pressure and asked about her overall health. “Last night, I could feel my whole heart beat,” she said, telling the PA that she felt “more depressed than anxious.” After Hunt asked what was worrying her, she told him, “Stupid stuff.”
“It’s not stupid if it’s making you anxious,” Hunt told her.
Jones, who was born in Oklahoma, said she spent her early years in foster care. “It’s a long story and I really couldn’t get into it.” She said she is still married to her husband of 23 years, but hasn’t seen him or her children since around 2010.
Raul Reyes, 59, originally from El Paso, said he has been homeless for more than a year, since losing a $732 monthly federal disability payment because of what he described as a paperwork issue. He said he was plagued by back problems and high blood pressure, which Hunt said could be helped with medicine. Team members also advised Reyes that he could possibly get the clinic to help restore his disability payments.
Hunt’s backpack is filled with dressings, wound care kits, iodine, toenail trimming equipment, colon cancer screening cards, condoms, suture removal kits and other items. A smaller yellow bag that he carries over his shoulder contains a blood pressure kit, stethoscope, thermometer and one of his “most powerful” tools, a small laptop that can link him to health network data.
The father of four said street medicine sends a powerful message to the people it serves.
“They’re not talked about in a fond, kind of normal, humanizing way,” he said. “Having somebody check in on them because they’re human goes a long way to adding dignity, adding hope.”
By the Editorial Board
State prison officials understandably upgraded security after more than 20 staff members were sickened by contact with a synthetic drug that had been smuggled into several prisons.
The prisons were “locked down” for a week. Afterward, the Department of Corrections announced tighter screening for visitors, processing of all mail at a central location and a ban on donated books. According to the DOC, synthetic drugs can be sprayed onto paper used in letters and books.
Banning all donated books is a draconian response that the DOC should reconsider.
The DOC will allow inmates to purchase electronic books for use on a prison-approved reading device that costs $147, which is beyond the means of many prisoners.
Access to education is a fundamental aspect of rehabilitation, and book donations are a fundamental means of prisoners’ access to books.
Keir Neuringer of the Philadelphia organization Books Through Bars said the group sends about 7,000 packages a year to prisoners, containing one to five books each. Book ’Em, which is operated by the Big Idea Book Store and Thomas Merton Center in Pittsburgh, sends about 2,000 more book packages.
Banning books detracts from the prisons’ rehabilitative mission. The DOC, which otherwise has been innovative in advancing that mission under the direction of Secretary John Wetzel, should reconsider the ban.
By the Editorial Board
EMS workers serve on the front lines of the state’s addiction crisis. Don’t let their call for help go unanswered.
When the call for help comes in, emergency medical services organizations respond. They rush their expertise and expensive, high-tech equipment to the scene, where they assess and treat the patient in need.
In some cases, the patient does not need or declines transport to the hospital. And when that happens, nothing requires insurers to foot the bill for the care EMS service providers rendered in these so-called “no-transport” calls. EmergyCare, a regional nonprofit ambulance service serving seven counties, including Erie, has estimated about 1,330 trips end this way each year, costing the agency about $200,000 a year.
That is wrong.
It is wrong in principle — people should get paid for the work they do. But the harm is compounded when you consider the importance of emergency medical care and the ongoing financial and staffing challenges those who provide it face.
The struggles of the region’s emergency response safety net, especially the shrinking ranks of volunteer fire companies, have been well-documented. Other agencies have had to shoulder the burden and do so under a reimbursement system that makes the service increasingly infeasible.
EmergyCare executive director Bill Hagerty said inadequate reimbursements limit what the agency can pay its skilled emergency medical technicians and paramedics. At $11 to $13 dollars an hour, it is on par with service industry wages, he said. The turnover rate is high and EmergyCare is now about 20 people short. As a result, Hagerty and other administrators sometimes answer calls.
Meadville Area Ambulance now covers Cambridge Springs and Cochranton, owner Eric Henry told reporter David Bruce. The agency has not only had to cover a larger territory, but has lost a precious recruiting pool — emergency medical technicians and paramedics who got their start in volunteer fire companies, he said.
Some relief is promised in January, when Medicaid reimbursements paid for EMS services are scheduled to increase by 50 percent. But even with that healthy bump, the cost of responding to Medicaid patients’ calls will still exceed the reimbursement rate, Hagerty said.
Key bills requiring insurers to pay for EMS services delivered during no-transport calls have been passed in both the state House and Senate and now sit in committees. These reimbursements won’t solve everything, but they will help.
It is time to move this legislation forward. Insurance industry advocates have expressed openness to it. As one EMS executive told the Centre Daily Times, EMS workers spare the health care systems’ expense by sorting out who needs emergency room care. That should be worth something.
EMS workers serve on the front lines of the state’s addiction crisis. They render aid at traffic accidents and medical emergencies in our homes. Don’t let their call for help go unanswered.