Editorials from around Pennsylvania:


Easton Express Times, June 9

Wait, did we hear that correctly?

A handful of Republican legislators in Harrisburg are saying this budget season might be the time to raise Pennsylvania's woefully deficient minimum wage.

That would be progress.

For the last five years, Gov. Tom Wolf and minority Democrats in the Legislature have been making the case that Pennsylvanians can't afford to live, much less raise a family, on the state's $7.25 minimum wage. Not without government assistance, help from food banks, working multiple jobs.

All of Pennsylvania's neighboring states have taken action recently to help those at the bottom of the wage scale. In February, New Jersey Gov. Phil Murphy signed a bill that will raise the state's minimum wage to $10 per hour on July 1, then set it on a path to reach $15 for most workers by 2024.

Wolf wants to do something similar. He proposes to raise the state's minimum to $12 per hour this year and bump it by 50 cents annually until it hits $15 in 2025. He also wants to eliminate the $2.83 per hour minimum for workers who rely on tips.

Majority Republicans in the state House and Senate have resisted, arguing that raising the minimum wage hurts employers who rely on low-wage workers, along with workers who need the opportunity to start in entry-level jobs. And it's never a good idea to mandate higher wages in a bad job market, they say.

So what's different this year?

For one thing, the Democratic governor and GOP leaders aren't facing a budget crisis. They expect to pass an on-time budget by June 30, with no new taxes or increases. That what happens when the state runs a $800 million revenue surplus instead of a multi-billion-dollar deficit.

Pennsylvania's economy and job market are on the upswing, too.

It's this isn't the year to help out low-paid Pennsylvanians, it may never arrive.

There are plenty of analyses and studies looking at the impact of raising the minimum wage. Some focus on the plight of those living at subsistence level; others defend the need to maximize job growth and retention.

One eye-opening figure was released recently by the Keystone Research Center. It found that a move to $15 per hour would boost the wages of 2.2 million workers in Pennsylvania — about 37 percent of the state's resident workforce. In Northampton County, that would raise the income of 48,000 people, and in Lehigh County, 57,000, according to the center.

It's encouraging that partisans in Harrisburg aren't fighting over "how," but "how much." Some Republicans are countering Wolf's $15 an hour target with something closer to $12 an hour.

If lawmakers are serious about helping Pennsylvanians keep up with wages in neighboring states and share in a better economy, they need to make a significant move here — and index a minimum wage increase over time.

Online: https://bit.ly/2MTQwrE


The Harrisburg Patriot News, June 12

Many small colleges in Central Pennsylvania are struggling, trying to find the magic cure for dwindling enrollments, shrinking revenue and rising costs. But Harrisburg University seems to have found an answer, going from an unknown, fledgling institution in a near bankrupt city, to a bustling, cutting-edge campus helping fuel an urban renaissance.

While other universities have been slow to move from their old-age, liberal arts focus to embrace new fields like e-sports and cybersecurity, President Eric Darr has pushed boldly into the new Trekkian frontiers, bringing both national and international acclaim.

And Harrisburg University's new vision, new students and new money is helping bolster its hometown.

HU's success has clearly been a team effort. But Darr, who took the helm in 2012, gets credit for building a diverse and creative team that has attracted students from well beyond Pennsylvania.

The university now offers online courses to students around the world, has opened a campus in Philadelphia, and even plans to open a campus in the United Arab Emirate to pull in potential students from the Middle East and Asia.

While some higher ed campuses here in Pennsylvania struggle to attract students and faculty of color, Harrisburg U seems to have figured it out. The school boasts that its percentage of women and minority students and faculty in the male-dominated STEM field are well above the national average.

In a recent article published by the Chronicle of Higher Education, Darr emphasized the importance of recruiting diverse staff and faculty. When students from traditionally underrepresented groups in STEM see faculty and staff like them, Darr said, "They begin to believe that it is possible to pursue science and technology career."

Darr's words are backed up by the numbers. Women make up 52 percent of the university's undergraduates, compared to 18 percent national in science and technology programs. And the university says 45 percent are African American, compared to the national average of 7.6 percent in STEM studies.

Universities typically boast about attracting students with high SAT scores or stellar grades, but Darr touts the university's interest in students who are "curious" about science and technology, and who are willing to risk failure before they succeed.

"We have spent time, effort and money building relationships with teachers, advisers and administrators in troubled urban school districts hoping to attract smart, curious students who others will overlook or deny for admissions."

Imagine that . . . a university that seeks out students with unrealized potential, rather than turning them away for low SAT scores; a university that reaches into the urban areas of Philadelphia, Baltimore and Harrisburg looking for hidden gems; and a university that is engaged with the city around it, rather than closed off in a cloistered campus.

As other colleges sink millions in luxury dorms and glitzy dining halls to lure the best and brightest, Harrisburg University has opted to commit to community development, offering imperfect students the tools to succeed.

Harrisburg University sees itself as vital to the city's long-term stability, and it has become a catalyst for economic development. It has helped to revitalize the underutilized Whitaker Center with an E-sports practice facility. And this fall, a new $2 million student union facility is slated to open on the center's arcade level, offering space for fitness and aerobic classes, as well as private study and gaming areas.

In addition, the school is proceeding with plans for a $135 million, 17-story tower in downtown Harrisburg. It is investing about $100 million in the project that will house a new health and science center.

The building also will house a hotel and restaurant and should be a significant boon to a section of downtown in need of a shot of adrenaline.

So, while there are predictions of doom and gloom for small colleges in the coming decade, Harrisburg University just might provide a clear roadmap for the future of higher education.

Online: https://bit.ly/2WBYVol


LPN, June 9

Let's see if our state lawmakers can understand this simple math problem.Subtract 6% or more from 100% and what do you get?

A population that's more vulnerable to an outbreak of vaccine-preventable disease is what you get.

And peril for babies, for pregnant women, and for people whose immune systems are compromised by illnesses such as cancer.

Because in Pennsylvania immunization exemptions are handed out as if they were lollipops, parents in Lancaster County are seeking exemptions for their schoolchildren at alarming rates. Here, nearly 1 in 10 students has been exempted from some or all vaccinations.

And that is lowering our community's defenses against diseases for which science and medicine decades ago provided the answer: safe, reliable vaccines.

This is deeply frustrating to physicians such as Shakthi Kumar, of Lancaster Pediatric Associates, who wrote in the March 10 Sunday LNP that it is distressing "to be distracted from new battles because we are still fighting old ones."

Dr. Kumar wrote that she trained in India and has seen "the devastation caused by infections such as diphtheria, tetanus, whooping cough, polio, measles, mumps, rubella and meningitis."

'Brady Bunch' vs. science

Yet in the United States, parents — sucked into the dangerous campaign of misinformation and quackery that is the anti-vaccination movement — blithely dismiss the danger of diseases such as measles, which can result in brain swelling, pneumonia, blindness and death.

Those possible outcomes were noted in an op-ed written in last week's Sunday LNP by Dr. Joseph Kontra, chief of infectious diseases and director of infection prevention at Penn Medicine Lancaster General Health.

We'd rather heed Kontra than anti-vaxxers who — aiming to downplay the seriousness of measles — point to a 1969 episode of "The Brady Bunch," in which the Brady kids become sick with the measles and revel in their time off from school. (Actress Maureen McCormick, who played Marcia Brady, has felt compelled to counter the anti-vaxxer narrative.)

Here's the reality of measles: "Measles is the most contagious infection on Earth," Kontra wrote. "It is so contagious that a full 90% of nonimmune persons, even when exposed briefly to a measles patient, will become infected. ... In the decade prior to the 1963 availability of the vaccine, an estimated 4 million people in the U.S. got measles each year. Out of the 549,000 average annual reported cases, there were 48,000 hospitalizations, 1,000 cases of brain swelling resulting in chronic disability, and 495 deaths."

Declared to have been eliminated in the United States in 2000, measles is returning with a vengeance. According to the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention, the number of measles cases in the United States has reached its highest level in more than 25 years, with 1,001 cases in 26 states — including Pennsylvania — reported through Wednesday.

That owes significantly to the anti-vaccination movement.

Easy exemptions

We understand why parents would seek to exempt from vaccination a child with legitimate medical issues. Medical exemptions require a physician's approval.

But as Stauffer reported last Sunday, "philosophical exemptions dominate in Lancaster County; there were 774 among the 11,788 county students in the 2017-18 school year, compared to 127 medical and 217 religious."

To obtain a philosophical or religious exemption, all a parent needs to do is to sign a piece of paper, which offers only a single line for the parent's explanation. That's it.

According to data from the Pennsylvania Department of Health for the 2017-18 school year (the latest available), public schools in Lancaster County had an average exemption rate of 4%.

But private and charter schools had an average exemption rate of 12%.

And schools too small to be included in the state report had an astonishing average exemption rate of 45%.

"For the 2017-18 school year, 44 religious exemptions were claimed at private and charter schools in the county," Stauffer reported. "Of that total, 20 were for a group of 47 kindergartners at Susquehanna Waldorf School in Marietta."

Susquehanna Waldorf is not a religiously affiliated school. But a recent New York magazine article noted that the founder of Waldorf education, Rudolf Steiner, believed "vaccination could impede proper spiritual development." Waldorf schools, with their emphasis on art and play and "countercultural wholesomeness," that article observed, tend to attract parents who are overwhelmingly "white, affluent and well-educated." Annual tuition for grades one through eight at Susquehanna Waldorf is $9,300 — and that doesn't include hundreds of dollars in fees.

"A colorful, engaging, nurturing and natural journey of the senses, filled with wonder," is how one parent describes Susquehanna Waldorf on its website.

We're left with wonder, too: How can nearly half of a kindergarten class go to school without the required vaccinations? It doesn't appear to be a matter of scant financial resources.

It's mystifying. And worrying.

And Susquehanna Waldorf isn't alone in its high exemption rate.

No theological objection

As Stauffer reported, four years of reports show an average exemption rate of 19% for kindergartners at Ephrata Mennonite School.

And one year of data from Shalom Mennonite School in Terre Hill shows a 35% exemption rate among seventh-graders.

As we noted in March, the Amish and Mennonite churches have no theological objection to vaccination.

A statement emailed to Stauffer from Shalom Mennonite School described an overall sense of "respect within our patron body for the individual choices of each family."

Joshua Good, administrator of Ephrata Mennonite School, said this: "I feel that parents should be empowered to make the decisions that they feel are best for their children."

What about other people's children? What about the infant too young to be immunized? Or the parent undergoing chemotherapy and susceptible to illness?

Where has our sense of collective responsibility gone?

Matter of public health

And why aren't Lancaster County lawmakers — who represent what is clearly an anti-vaccination hotbed, ripe for a disease outbreak — acting to eliminate personal-belief exemptions?

As Stauffer reported, Montgomery County Democratic state Sen. Daylin Leach introduced a bill last month that would end philosophical and religious exemptions.

We understand why Lancaster County's state Sens. Ryan Aument and Scott Martin would be reluctant to co-sponsor a Leach bill. It was reported last week that an inquiry into sexual misconduct complaints made against Leach found a "lengthy pattern of troubling behavior."

So propose your own bill, Sens. Aument and Martin. We implore you. We ask the same of the rest of the Lancaster County delegation to Harrisburg. And state House Majority Leader Bryan Cutler: You have the sway to fast-track such a bill in your chamber.

Lawmakers in other states are working to eliminate personal-belief exemptions because they pose a clear and present danger to public health. It's well past time for lawmakers to act here, too.

Online: https://bit.ly/2KfOaS8


Pittsburgh Post-Gazette, June 12

Potential conflicts of interest must be revealed by stockbrokers to their clients. This was the crux of a necessary, though not perfect, new regulation approved by the U.S. Securities and Exchange Commission, surprising only in that it hadn't been in place earlier.

The regulation requires brokers to act in the "best interest" of their clients. It requires brokerages to end practices of having sales contests and quotas for certain products. It prohibits brokers from selling only their company's products and requires more disclosure on their pay incentives but preserves the practice of selling stocks on commission.

The regulation will affect more than 40 million investors who buy stocks and bonds for retirement, college costs, and other reasons.

Financial institutions backed the regulation, which has been debated for more than a year and was enacted this month on a 3-1 SEC vote. It will be enforceable as of June 2020. It was under debate after the investment industry successfully sued to overturn Obama-era rules that were more stringent.

Protections for clients under the new rule are not as stringent as those imposed on investment advisers, which have a "fiduciary" duty, meaning they have to put their clients' interests above their own. Brokers, under the new rule, will not be allowed to use the term "adviser" as part of their title or description.

Critics of the new regulation, including the AARP, said it doesn't provide enough protections for consumers against biased investment recommendations by brokers. It doesn't require a broker, for example, to recommend the lowest cost mutual fund as cost is only one factor to be considered in whether the investment is in the client's "best interest."

The new regulation is better than nothing. But disclosure of potential conflicts, as will now be required, doesn't eliminate possible harm to investors. The SEC should revisit the issue once the regulation has been in place long enough to evaluate whether tighter restrictions are warranted to protect investors.

Online: https://bit.ly/2MMPePk


The Scranton Times-Tribune, June 12

As Pennsylvania continues to stagger toward another round of gerrymandering state legislative and congressional seats, California has announced that the online application process is open for state residents who want to be part of the 2020 Citizens Redistricting Commission.

The Pennsylvania Supreme Court last year threw out the most recent congressional district map, which was devised by politicians in the state Legislature after the 2010 census. And that discarded map was better than the one that lawmakers originally came up with. The Supreme Court found the original map to be so badly gerrymandered that it delayed implementation from 2012 to 2014 and ordered improvements.

Before the Supreme Court commissioned the new congressional map last year, Pennsylvania was among the most heavily gerrymandered states for congressional districts, and it still is for state legislative districts.

That is because state lawmakers themselves control the redistricting process, and ruthlessly conduct it for their own benefit rather than in the cause of the "free and fair elections" required by the state constitution.

As if to emphasize that prevailing self-interest, lawmakers last year killed a reform effort. The original proposed constitutional amendment to create an independent redistricting commission was killed by lawmakers who amended it into oblivion or rendered it toxic with legislative poison pills.

So the state maintains its demonstrably corrupt system, which is fundamental to bad governance. Holders of gerrymandered seats face no pressure to compromise because they have chosen their own voters to suit their own agendas. The result is the political polarization and policy paralysis that characterizes the nation's largest full-time legislature.

California eliminated a politician-controlled redistricting system following a statewide referendum in 2008, in favor of a 14-member citizens' commission comprising five Republicans, five Democrats and four independent members.

In 2010, nearly 30,000 Californians applied to sit on the commission. In Pennsylvania, the same half dozen state legislative leaders responsible for the state's poor governance also remain in charge of drawing new districts.

Pennsylvania residents should demand that their lawmakers release their grip on the redistricting process.

Online: https://bit.ly/2RajQsw

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