Scranton Times-Tribune. May 3, 2021.

Editorial: Pass Yaw bill to help farms get greener

Pennsylvania has fallen far behind the pollution reduction goals it has agreed to in the multi-state and federal effort to revive Chesapeake Bay. Other governments that are party to the agreement — Virginia, Maryland and the District of Columbia — have sued the Environmental Protection Agency for failing to force Pennsylvania to comply with the standards.

Even though Pennsylvania does not border the great bay, it is the largest source of freshwater that flows into it. The 13,000-square-mile Susquehanna River watershed, including most of Northeast Pennsylvania, also is the largest source of the nutrient pollution that continues to hinder the bay’s recovery.

Most of that pollution, in turn, comes from thousands of Pennsylvania farms within that border streams that feed into the Susquehanna River and, ultimately, into the bay.

Pennsylvania has done a decent job of reducing pollution from sewage systems and other sources, which are centralized collection points for pollution and are much more stringently regulated than individual farms.

Republican state Sen. Gene Yaw, of Lycoming County, chairman of the Senate Agriculture and Rural Affairs Committee, has introduced a bill that could help to address the problem by helping farmers pay for the costs of diminishing polluted runoff from their fields.

The Agricultural Conservation Assistance Program would address agriculture-related water issues statewide, rather than in the Susquehanna watershed alone, involving nearly 80,000 miles of streams.

Under the program, county conservation districts would manage agricultural water quality projects, and state funds would be funneled through those agencies, rather than leaving the matter to individual farms.

At a recent event announcing the program, Yaw said he likely would seek to use some federal money to fund improvements, but that he was open to all funding sources.

One of those potential sources, gas drilling, directly is related to water quality. Yaw, however, is a primary opponent of a modest, fair extraction tax on gas comparable to those in other states. He should reverse course and recognize such a tax as a means to resolve the water issues.

In any case, the Legislature should approve the bill to improve water quality, generally, and to inch the state towards meeting its obligations to the bay restoration.

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York Dispatch. April 28, 2021.

Editorial: Two recommendations to help us safely navigate rest of spring sports season

The York-Adams League made the absolute right call last week when it announced that it would not hold postseason spring tournaments in baseball, softball, boys’ volleyball, boys’ lacrosse and girls’ lacrosse.

The reasoning behind the decision was rock solid.

Because of the multiple postponements caused by the continuing COVID-19 pandemic, there was just no way to make up the many events that need to be rescheduled and still have enough open dates remaining to fit in the league tournaments before the District 3 playoffs began.

York-Adams spring tournaments canceled because of numerous COVID-related postponements

For better or worse, it’s a fact of life in Pennsylvania high school athletics competition that the district and state playoffs take precedence over everything else, including league tournaments.

Something had to give, and that something was the league tournaments.

To our way of thinking, however, there are two more steps that should be taken by the schools and the Pennsylvania Interscholastic Athletic Association over the coming weeks.

Do away with nonleague events: First, the individual schools within the York-Adams League should make the call to do away with nonleague competitions through the end of the regular season.

The COVID-19 pandemic is simply refusing to go away quietly, and now more young people are getting sick. That’s likely caused by the increasing number of variants that are emerging and the fact that young people are not yet vaccinated.

Given that background, it would seem prudent to limit high school activities where possible, without taking the drastic step of completely shutting down those activities.

Stopping nonleague competition would limit the number of contact points where the coronavirus could possibly spread.

Eliminating the nonleague events would also open up some dates to reschedule the many postponed league events that need to be made up. That should certainly help to alleviate the stress being felt by athletic directors these days.

Some coaches, players and parents will almost certainly grumble that eliminating nonleague events will take away valuable opportunities for teams to measure themselves against outside foes and compile ratings points in the district qualification process.

There’s no denying that.

Still, these are unprecedented times and the utmost caution must be taken. Eliminating nonleague contests certainly seems the prudent thing to do. Eliminating the nonleague games wouldn’t prevent teams from winning league regular-season titles or competing in districts or states.

Use the win-or-go-home model for district play: Additionally, the PIAA should revert to the postseason plan it used in the fall and the winter. The governing body for high school sports in Pennsylvania should use the win-or-go-home model that seemed to work well in the previous two seasons.

Consolation games or matches should be eliminated in district play. That would again limit the number of games played and thus limit the risk of COVID-19 spread.

It’s not a perfect solution. The history of PIAA sports is littered with teams that went on to win state titles after suffering district defeats. Under the format used in the fall and winter, such runs could not happen.

At the moment, however, there aren’t any perfect solutions. We are living in a very imperfect world right now.

The top priority should remain the health and safety of our young people, without completely denying them the opportunity to compete in sports. That is especially important for this year’s seniors, who were completely denied their spring seasons a year ago as juniors.

Eliminating nonleague contests and using the win-or-go-home postseason format are the smart and safe moves.

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Altoona Mirror. April 30, 2021.

Editorial: It should be easy to vote, hard to cheat

State Government Committee Chairman Seth Grove, R-York, has been holding hearings in the Legislature since November, focusing on the general election of 2020 and the issues that cropped up during that election.

Pennsylvania’s election law, originally passed in 1937, was updated during the COVID-19 pandemic — as it should have been — to fulfill the unique needs of voters during the crisis.

But the law also was tampered with inappropriately when the former secretary of state and the highly partisan state Supreme Court made decisions that violate any plain reading of Pennsylvania’s Constitution.

The committee listened to county election directors and heard from balanced, nonpartisan testifiers.

Throughout the 10 hearings, the committee received testimony from more than 50 experts and local and state election officials, including officials from other states.

Numerous flaws were found within Pennsylvania’s election code and its implementation.

It is no secret the last-minute court rulings and often unclear guidelines from the Department of State caused confusion among voters and led to nonuniformity among the 67 counties, which goes against the Pennsylvania Constitution.

For example, the Department of State is pushing a false narrative that Pennsylvania has early in-person voting. Early in-person voting has not been approved in any law adopted by the General Assembly.

Another area where Pennsylvania election law fails are for those voters with disabilities. We can and must do better to provide statutory accessibility and modernization to help our disabled voters.

It was learned that nearly $21 million in third-party grants, typically from big businesses, contributed to the lack of uniformity when the money was disproportionately distributed. About half of that money was directed to Philadelphia, which equaled to about $10 per voter, while most other counties received less than a $1 per voter.

Election security must begin at the voter registration process, the most important part of our election process next to the casting of ballots.

County governments are registering individuals without validating information on their voter registration application. Voter applications must be verified prior to approval.

Individuals have not been disenfranchised from Pennsylvania’s current voter identification requirements, which allows 16 different forms of ID and applies only to first-time voters of a polling location.

Election data has shown states with stronger voter identification requirements have increased voter turnout among all demographics.

Recent polling shows support for voter identification policies with 75% of voters, a majority of Republicans and Democrats, in favor.

Local election officials would like to see a change to the election timeline so they can better manage the election process.

They requested changing the voter registration deadline from 30 to 15 days before an election, but increasing absentee ballot application deadlines from seven days before an election to 15 days before an election, and allowing for pre-canvassing of ballots seven days before an election.

Elections must be held to the highest integrity while also being accessible to all legal voters — and only legal voters. Rules must be fair, impartial and evenly enforced.

We didn’t have that last November.

It’s crucial the Legislature, the body designated to do so in the state constitution, ensure that laws make voting accessible to all — except cheaters.

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Wilkes-Barre Times Leader. April 30, 2021.

Editorial: Positioning NEPA to reap benefits from pandemic’s changes

More durable businesses, offering both in person and online services that can get them through tougher times.

More restaurants providing indoor, outdoor, pick-up and even delivery dining.

More flexibility in work at more jobs, with remote and in-office options for more people.

Lower business expenses on leasing/maintaining physical space, but maybe more cost in providing connectivity and the technology and support necessary to work remotely.

A shift, for many, from working and living where you have to — because that’s where everything is — to working and living where you want to — a shift that could change the dynamics of what lures people to downtowns or suburbs.

The pandemic has changed everything, sometimes radically, sometimes modestly, but the reach of the COVID-19 virus goes far beyond things that happened this past year.

Yesterday’s annual Times Leader inNOVAtion section gave some in-depth explanation of how things shifted, and may continue to shift moving forward in our region.

The biggest development seems likely to be the permanent addition of e-everything: e-commerce, e-business meetings, e-food buying and delivery, e-learning, e-family gatherings, e-sharing whatever it is you need to share.

This means some real pain for those who couldn’t or wouldn’t find a workable online presence. For example, Penn’s Northeast President/CEO John Augustine predicted “Malls are done, and will not come back like they once were.” We’ll wait to see — the pandemic’s first lesson is to expect the unexpected. But the trend had already been away from mall as retail mecca toward mall as mixed-use facility.

At the same time, as Diamond City Partnership Executive Director Larry Newman and others noted, downtowns — once ravaged by the growth of malls — are poised to see steady if not dramatic growth, especially if they retained or returned to the old mixed-use model, giving people a pleasant, walkable place to live, shop and find entertainment of all types within a small distance.

The pandemic forced schools from elementary to graduate to adopt distance-learning abilities and techniques out of necessity, but institution leaders told Times Leader reporters much of the tech will remain in a mix of in-person and online services and opportunities.

Some coming changes are not pandemic driven. Wilkes-Barre Area School District is building a new high school that promises to bring tech, space use and programming ideas in use elsewhere to the area. The Luzerne Intermediate Unit is centralizing some special needs services for area students. Bear Creek Community Charter School is expanding it’s still-new facility. Geisinger’s vast expansion of it’s Wyoming Valley Cancer Treatment Center is framed out and rapidly moving to completion.

Situated along the corridors of I-80, I-81 and the Pennsylvania Turnpike positions our region to reap benefits from all the changes brought by the pandemic. We boast outdoor attractions that have drawn new patrons amid the isolation of the virus. Our colleges and universities have made great strides surviving through the pandemic while focusing on the future, supporting innovation centers and entrepreneurship as well as expansion of science, technology and medical programs.

In short, inNOVAtion offered a great deal of hope for all of our region’s pandemic-weary residents. The potential is real moving forward, we just have to take advantage of it.

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Pittsburgh Post-Gazette. May 2, 2021.

Editorial: W.Va. makes smart offer to lure new residents

The neighboring state of West Virginia has come up with a cleverly inventive plan to reverse its ongoing population decline, a plan built around the state’s natural beauty and the surge in remote-work opportunities.

West Virginia is willing to pay people to relocate to within its borders — $12,000 over a two-year period. And the offer comes as many employers are shifting to a permanent remote-work model, making it possible for a person to do his or her job anywhere. West Virginia is ponying up an added incentive that officials hope will appeal especially to younger workers: a package of yearlong passes for outdoor activities such as whitewater rafting, horseback riding, rock climbing, skiing and golf. The combined value of the incentives is estimated at more than $20,000.

This is forward thinking by West Virginia officials who are modeling the Ascend West Virginia program — a public-private partnership — on successful efforts elsewhere, efforts that involved money as the enticement, with the additional lure of access to the state’s unique outdoor opportunities. And for those who are accepted into the program and commit to the two-year residency, there’s also the offer of access to co-working space and continuing education classes at West Virginia University — all for free. (The program is accepting applications now for the first 50 openings in Morgantown, with future slots available in Shepherdstown and Lewisburg.)

Officials are taking advantage of the work-from-home concept, which has soared in the past year because of the coronavirus pandemic. It’s a logical part of the incentive plan: If you can work from home, work from home in West Virginia, where you pick up some cash and explore myriad outdoor and educational activities in your free time at no cost.

State officials hope the incentive-laden program launches a reversal in the population decline of the last half-century. West Virginia’s population peaked at just over 2 million residents in 1950, and although there was some modest growth in the 1970s, the overall trend has been downward or flat. The Associated Press reported that West Virginia is the only state that has fewer residents today than it did in 1950. It was one of only three states to show a population loss in the 2020 census, and it had the highest percentage loss at 3.2%.

The success of remote work during the pandemic has other states exploring similar ways to attract new residents. Maine and Vermont both offer programs for remote workers that include up to $10,000 in relocation expenses. Cities such as Tulsa, Okla., and Chattanooga, Tenn., will provide relocation assistance and forgivable loans.

West Virginia has taken things a step further by combining monetary enticements with access to the many outdoor attractions that already bring in significant tourist dollars. Neighboring states: take note.

END