Philadelphia Inquirer. May 17, 2021.
Editorial: Republican lawmakers should deal with real issues instead of targeting transgender children
Have Pennsylvania lawmakers run out of problems to solve? We have to wager that’s the case since Republican legislators introduced new legislation to fix a problem that doesn’t exist. In April, five Republican state lawmakers, including Philadelphia’s own State Rep. Martina White, introduced a bill to ban transgender students from playing on women’s sports teams.
Pennsylvania is not alone. Similar bills, with titles that are variations on Protect Women’s Sports Act, have been introduced in at least 20 other states and already passed in at least six others. All of these bills exist to bully transgender children and should be dropped.
The wave of anti-trans legislation follows an executive order that Joe Biden signed on his first day in office to prevent discrimination on the basis of gender identity or sexual orientation. The order states: “Children should be able to learn without worrying about whether they will be denied access to the restroom, the locker room, or school sports.”
In 2020, the U.S. Supreme Court affirmed that discrimination against trans people in the workplace is considered discrimination on the basis of sex under federal law.
Republican state lawmakers have taken it upon themselves to reverse progress — all based on false pretense.
The argument of the Pennsylvania Republican lawmakers is that Biden’s order requires transgender girls to “be permitted to compete on women’s school sports teams.” That’s an exaggeration of what the order does, as it does not address any existing rules governing when transgender athletes can compete — in Pennsylvania, for example, school principals decide the policy.
Lawmakers claim that trans girls and women who’ve gone through puberty would have a biological advantage in sports against cis female athletes and that could, for example, threaten cis athletes’ chances of winning sports scholarships. The Associated Press asked sponsors of these bills to cite such incidents in their states: Not a single one did.
This bullying could place tremendous psychological strain on transgender teens, who are already at higher risk of suicide than their cisgender peers.
Sports are supposed to be about developing character and team spirit. These bills, aimed only to exclude, do the opposite. Pennsylvania is awash in issues large and small — ongoing pandemic, economic recovery, gun violence, and overdose, to name a few — that require legislative action. This is an instance where our lawmakers don’t need to intervene.
Scranton Times-Tribune. May 17, 2021.
Editorial: Report boosts cases for obvious: Reassess
It doesn’t require a taxation expert to recognize that property taxation throughout Lackawanna County inherently is unfair. It could not be otherwise because the last countywide assessment was in 1968. To contend that the current assessments are fair and accurate, one would have to contend that nothing has changed since then.
The failure to reassess is not rooted in economics, but in politics. A long succession of county administrations have declined to reassess because too many commissioners feared the political backlash that might result from some percentage of property owners who experience tax increases due to accurate property values.
Of course, some percentage of property owners would pay lower taxes due to accurate property values, but they somehow escaped the commissioners’ notice until 2018. Then, a group of Scranton residents sued the county, contending that Lackawanna County’s failure to reassess had resulted in their being overtaxed for at least 12 years.
The state constitution and supporting law require uniform taxation, which is impossible to achieve with a 53-year-old assessment base.
Taxation expert Robert C. Denne recently filed a report in the case, stating: “Lackawanna County’s reliance on this incredibly outdated base year has resulted in massive property tax assessment nonuniformity.”
The county has argued in the case that there is no uniformity issue because the common level ratio, which is calculated by the state and considers out-of-date assessments, is the same countywide. But as the plaintiffs’ attorney countered, that is irrelevant because it only applies to assessment appeals, rather than to the vastly disparate taxes that the vast majority of county property owners pay based on the obsolete assessment base.
State appellate courts already have rejected the county’s argument in several cases from other counties, which have been ordered to conduct reassessments even though their most recent reassessments were not nearly as old as Lackawanna County’s 53-year-old relic.
The county commissioners should stop waiting to lose in court and start preparing a reassessment — all the more so because the government’s $20 million-plus surplus and impending receipt of more than $40 million in federal pandemic-recovery funds eliminates the traditional excuse that the county can’t afford a reassessment.
Pittsburgh Post-Gazette. May 17, 2021.
Editorial: State government should end emergency no-bid contracts
There were valid reasons for the state to award no-bid contracts in the early days of the coronavirus pandemic to expedite purchases of personal protective equipment and other medical supplies. But there is no reason to continue that practice today, regardless of whether the state still is under an emergency order.
One of those no-bid contracts awarded last year went to a company that now is at the center of controversy over a data breach affecting thousands of Pennsylvania residents.
Insight Global, an Atlanta-based staffing agency, received a $29 million no-bid contract to conduct contact tracing of people who tested positive for COVID-19. In late April, the company was cited as the source of a data breach at the state Department of Health, a breach that involved medical information of about 72,000 Pennsylvanians.
Health Department officials said security protocols were disregarded by some Insight Global employees, resulting in the leak of information such as a person’s name, age, gender, sexual orientation and COVID diagnosis.
Data breaches of any sort are concerning, but this one is particularly troubling because those who tested positive for the virus were encouraged to participate in contact tracing as a way to stem the spread of the virus. They had every right to expect their confidential information would be protected.
The incident has state House Republicans calling for an investigation into Insight Global and an immediate end to any contract with the commonwealth. Some lawmakers are also calling for the governor to end no-bid contracting during the pandemic. The implication is clear: Did the state rush to contract with a company ill-equipped for the job? Would usual bidding requirements have forestalled such an arrangement?
It’s impossible to definitively determine if the data breach would have been avoided had the contract gone out for bid. What can be determined is this: The conventional bidding process entails a review and vetting of potential awardees. It’s a process — a public one, at that — that takes longer but gives government time to consider options.
With the number of people vaccinated growing and the number of COVID cases dropping, the emergency situation that gave rise to the awarding of no-bid contracts has passed. The practice should end.
Johnstown Tribune-Democrat. May 14, 2021.
Editorial: Outside prosecutor needed for Bedford BLM shooting case
The best chance for justice in the Bedford County Black Lives Matter shooting is for the case to be prosecuted by the state attorney general’s office.
Nine months after a late-night shooting on Aug. 24, 2020, involving Black Lives Matter marchers, and two months after receiving the report from a state police investigation into the incident, the Bedford County district attorney filed charges against two men.
Lesley Childers-Potts acted on May 7 – just as reporters from The Tribune-Democrat and Spotlight PA were buzzing around the courthouse and the shooting scene like bees at the hive, and just as we were about to report that we had learned the state police filed their report on the rural Route 30 incident in March.
We don’t view this as coincidence – rather, cause and consequence.
“After two months of the state police’s report sitting there on her desk, I can’t help but wonder if the pressure of being revealed prompted this,” Alan Cashaw, president of the Johnstown chapter of the NAACP, told reporter David Hurst.
Yes it is.
The delay only fueled the division in the community, where claims of racism collided with the belief that a property owner was acting in self-defense.
Fears and heated emotions sparked a rally the following day at the Bedford County courthouse – with residents brandishing high-powered weapons – and a second shooting at a nearby hotel where the marchers were staying before leaving town.
We were troubled that the state police took seven months to complete an investigation into the shooting – although ballistics reports are never quick.
We found it further troubling that the DA waited two months to respond to the police probe, and acted only when pressured by reporters.
That was consistent with our experiences with Childers-Potts in the weeks and months following the shooting. Our numerous calls to her office garnered no response.
As recently as March 22, reporters from The Tribune-Democrat and Spotlight PA visited the Bedford DA’s office. She did not speak with them, and an assistant told them the incident was still “under investigation.”
We do believe appropriate charges were filed, including numerous serious counts against Terry Myers, 51, of Schellsburg.
But will the case ever see the inside of a courtroom?
We have no confidence that the Bedford County DA’s office can fairly and justly prosecute this case – or even has a desire to do so.
Perhaps we should credit Childers-Potts with taking a step that is certainly unpopular in Bedford County and across the region – charging a white man for an act of violence against another individual, an outsider, who was not white.
She also filed serious charges against a marcher who landed at Conemaugh Memorial Medical Center to have buckshot removed from his face.
• Myers – who, according to state police, fired a 12-gauge shotgun into a crowd that had stopped in the parking lot of his father’s business, Myers Garage – was charged with aggravated assault with a deadly weapon, 19 counts of recklessly endangering another person, and simple assault.
• Orsino V. Thurman, 37, of Milwaukee, Wisconsin – who, state police said, fired a handgun after Myers shot into the air, and then took the shotgun blast to his face – was charged with two counts each of simple assault and recklessly endangering another person and two summary grade counts of defiant trespass and criminal mischief – and illegal possession of a firearm.
The latter charge was connected to Thurman’s 2000 conviction on felony drug possession charges in Wisconsin, which meant he couldn’t legally carry a weapon.
Thurman was called the Wisconsin group’s security officer, despite being a convicted felon. For possessing a firearm illegally and for discharging that gun, he deserves to face charges. As of late in the week, he had not been formally arraigned, nor had Thurman been located.
Myers was free on $75,000 unsecured bond. He faces second-degree felony charges that carry a possible sentence of 5 to 10 years in prison and a $25,000 fine.
Still, the filing of charges did not clarify sufficiently where this case is headed.
“People need to know what happened,” Schellsburg resident Max Bulger said in our story Saturday.
“Otherwise, everyone is going to keep arguing over two different stories. It makes it hard to know what is what.”
We agree. Evidence should be brought before the public in a courtroom.
We see a degree of fault on both sides of this situation – questionable judgment, over-reactions, using guns over discussion – all against the backdrop of racial tension.
We also believe the district attorney’s handling of the situation raises serious doubts about her ability to fairly and fully execute the litigation of this case.
Molly Steiber, spokeswoman for the Office of Attorney General, said the state prosecutor accepts cases referred by county DAs for either a lack of local resources or a potential conflict of interest, under the Commonwealth Attorneys Act. Either of those circumstances could be seen as factors here.
The Bedford County Black Lives Matter shooting should be handled by the state attorney general going forward.
Altoona Mirror. May 13, 2021.
Editorial: Skilled labor force essential
The battle against COVID-19 may well have been the world’s greatest challenge since World War II, and just as life after the war was not the same as it was before, life after the coronavirus is almost certainly not going to be the same as it was 15 months ago.
To cite just one example, so many people have worked remotely, and have done so without a detectable drop in productivity, that it is bound to call into question the purpose of all those enormous office buildings out there, which will have knock-on effects on office parks, downtown business districts and the whole commercial real estate industry.
And while the job market is recovering and some economists say a boom is just around the corner, there are some jobs that probably won’t be coming back in sectors like restaurants, retail and hospitality.
Looking down the road, the trend toward automation will almost certainly gather speed as proprietors seek to “pandemic-proof” their enterprises in case another virus paralyzes the world in a decade or two.
There are some professions, though, where the supply right now is greater than the demand, where the compensation is solid and the barriers to entry are not as formidable as they are in other lines of work.
Those jobs are in the skilled trades, and that includes everything from the carpenter who helps refurbish your kitchen, to the plumber who clears the clogged drain in that kitchen.
On Tuesday, former Pittsburgh Steelers running back Jerome Bettis stopped at the 84 Lumber outlet in South Fayette Township to talk up the skilled trades on “National Signing Day,” which had high school seniors signing pledges to continue learning about and working in the skilled trades, just as some of their peers sign on the dotted line to attend certain universities and participate in collegiate athletic programs.
Bettis remembered how his dad worked as an electrical inspector in Detroit for most of his career, and how he might have pursued similar work had his football career not blossomed.
Bettis said, “This is important work.”
Arguably, the skilled trades have not been treated like important work, much to the detriment of students and the workforce as a whole.
Many students have been pushed toward attending a college or university when they might have been better off attending a community college or technical school. Not only would they have been closer to finding a job that they like that comes with a decent paycheck — some jobs in the skilled trades pay anywhere from $50,000 to $80,000 per year — but they wouldn’t have to carry the crushing load of debt that can follow the four-year effort to get a bachelor’s degree.
Ed Gillespie, a counselor to President George W. Bush and a onetime candidate for governor of Virginia, pointed out recently that “most Americans don’t get college degrees, and the demand in the labor market for skilled labor and certification training is strong, but there’s a gap in supply.”
If there has been a stigma attached to work in the skilled trades, it needs to be removed.
After the pandemic, we all might be inclined to value “essential workers” a little bit more.
That sense of appreciation needs to extend to workers in the skilled trades who perform necessary and beneficial work every day.