York Dispatch. June 22, 2021.

Editorial: By coming out, former Penn State standout Carl Nassib proves his courage

The Merriam-Webster definition of courage reads as follows: “Mental or moral strength to venture, persevere and withstand danger, fear or difficulty.”

If we’ve learned anything about West Chester’s Carl Nassib this week, it’s that he’s courageous.

As you’ve almost certainly heard by now, the former Penn State standout has become the first active NFL player to come out as gay. He made the announcement on Monday during Pride Month.

That couldn’t have been an easy decision for Nassib, who is far from an NFL star. In fact, he’s a journeyman.

Entering his sixth NFL season, the defensive lineman has already played for three teams. Last season, with the Las Vegas Raiders, he played in 14 games with five starts, registering 2.5 sacks. In the callous world of pro football, he’s eminently dispensable.

His decision to come out could very well put his job and NFL future on the line.

Checkered history: That’s because of the NFL’s recent track history on the gay issue is checkered, at best.

In 2014, Michael Sam came out before the draft in 2014. He was coming off a season when he was the Co-Defensive Player of the Year in the Southeastern Conference, which is generally considered the best college football league in America.

Nevertheless, Sam immediately started sliding down draft boards. Executives, hiding behind anonymity, said they didn’t want to take a chance on him. One of the NFL’s most respected men, Tony Dungy said he wouldn’t draft Sam because he would become a “distraction.”

Sam eventually became one of the final picks of the draft by the St. Louis Rams, but he got cut before the season and never played a down in an NFL regular-season game.

Another player, cornerback Eli Apple, was asked at the 2016 NFL Combine if he “liked men.” The clear implication was that if Apple answered “yes,” his draft stock would almost certainly drop.

A lot to lose: So, it’s very obvious that Nassib has a lot to lose by coming out. Last year, Nassib signed a three-year, $25 million deal with the Raiders, with $16.75 million guaranteed.

So, financially, he’s doing well, but when his current contract runs out, will another team be willing to take on the “distraction” of signing a solid, but certainly not great player, who is also openly gay?

That will be determined.

Words of support, but will actions follow? At the moment, the football folks are all saying the right things.

Statements of support have come from Raiders coach Jon Gruden, the Raiders organization, NFL Commissioner Roger Goodell, some fellow NFL players and PSU head coach James Franklin.

Frankly, that’s to be expected. Words come easy. Actions, however, will be much more telling. How will the fans react? How will his teammates treat him in the locker room? How will opponents talk to him on the field?

Already, many social-media posts have been less than kind.

Saying and doing the right thing: Nassib, for his part, is saying and doing all the right things.

He’s even donated $100,000 to the Trevor Foundation, a nonprofit that seeks to prevent suicides among LGBTQ youth.

Of course, overcoming adversity is nothing new for Nassib, who walked on at PSU before becoming the Big Ten Defensive Player of the Year and leading the nation in sacks with 15.5 as a senior in 2015.

Still, coming out as gay will likely present Nassib with his biggest challenge yet.

All indications are, however, that he possesses the courage to pass his latest, and greatest, test.

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Pittsburgh Post-Gazette. June 17, 2021.

Editorial: Pennsylvania’s Game Commission should call the shots on Sunday hunting

Pennsylvanians headed out last year to rediscover the great outdoors in record numbers. From hiking to camping, to fishing and hunting, outdoor activities garnered increased participation.

Nothing is expected to change this trend in 2021. Hunting licenses alone already are higher this year than last year.

Until recently, Pennsylvania was one of the few states with archaic blue laws that prevented Sunday hunting, a throwback to a time when the state used such laws to encourage families to spend time together and attend church on Sundays.

Hunters now can engage in their sport on three Sundays during the season, but working Pennsylvanians who clock in Monday-Friday still generally have only one day a week to practice their sport.

Perhaps encouraged by the number of hunters purchasing licenses, Pennsylvania lawmakers are considering a bill that would allow the Pennsylvania Game Commission to determine how many Sundays could be open to hunting, removing the decision from the state Legislature. The bill should pass.

In contemporary times, it is widely accepted that the state should not attempt to directly or indirectly influence how families spend their Sundays. Recent opposition to opening up the state for Sunday hunting emanated primarily from farmers concerned about trespass and safety.

When Pennsylvania legalized a few days of Sunday hunting, effective in 2020, part of the new law included provisions requiring hunters to secure written permission from landowners to hunt on their property and steeper penalties for trespassing. This was a reasonable nod to farmers’ concerns.

Allowing the state’s Game Commission to determine the particulars of Sunday hunting puts the question in the purview of the experts on the matter. The commission currently is conducting a pair of studies to better understand how Sunday hunting allowances impact license purchases, with early data indicating that a majority of hunters are in favor of expanding the program.

There hasn’t been much general outcry against Sunday hunting, and those who have taken advantage of the few Sundays that have been open to date have expressed appreciation.

As more hunters take to the woods, this is a timely effort to relocate decision-making power from the Legislature, an unwieldy body for such calls, to the Game Commission, which is better equipped to determine how to expand the program.

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Stroudsburg Pocono Record. June 18, 2021.

Editorial: Perry betrays his brothers in arms

A question for Central Pennsylvania Congressman Scott Perry: What fate would have awaited you if you’d voted with the vast majority of your own party to honor members of law enforcement for their heroic service at the U.S. Capitol on Jan. 6?

Perry, whose 10th District encompasses all of Dauphin County and parts of Cumberland and York counties, reportedly told Politico that the bill is “all politics. It’s all garbage.” He ripped the bill on a Fox News station last Wednesday morning, saying “What is absolutely outrageous is politicizing their supreme sacrifice while in duty, while in service, while in uniform.”

He may be referencing inclusion of the word “insurrection” in the bill’s language. That was the complaint from some of the 21 — out of 211 — Republicans in the House who voted against a Congressional Gold Medal for the officers.

Oxford Languages defines “insurrection” as “a violent uprising against an authority or government”. We fail to see how what happened on Jan. 6 doesn’t meet that standard.

Perry himself on Jan. 6 used strong terms to denounce the attack on Twitter, saying “I unequivocally condemn any violence and criminal acts taking place, and pray for a restoration of peace.” So why equivocate now when asked to honor those who defended him that day?

Since he mentioned politics, we see Perry’s vote as one with virtually no political upside and plenty of downside.

Perry, a strong, reliable conservative, was in little danger of losing votes from the right. He has a 100% rating from Heritage Action for America, an advocacy organization committed to “holding lawmakers accountable to their promises to advance the conservative principles...”.

The other 100%-rated U.S. House members from Pennsylvania are Reps. John Joyce, R-13, Fred Keller, R-12, Daniel Meuser, R-9, and Guy Reschenthaler, R-14. All voted to award gold medals to Capitol Police.

No, if Perry’s seat is in danger, it’s because his district, which includes the cities of Harrisburg and York, is gradually shifting from red to purple.

In November, Perry barely beat out well-known Democrat Eugene DePasquale, Pennsylvania’s former auditor general, to retain his seat. It’s votes from the left he’ll need in 2022 with DePasquale looming. The Democrat has said he’s “strongly considering taking (Perry) on again” and he’s filed paperwork to that effect with the Federal Election Commission. Voting against honoring the Capitol Police is likely to disgust Democratic voters in his district and steel their resolve to oust him next year.

So if Perry’s vote doesn’t help him politically, we’re left with this — he voted his heart. And for Perry, who’s no stranger to the horrors of combat, that’s a particularly disgraceful betrayal of his brothers in arms.

Perry is a retired Pennsylvania Army National Guard Brigadier General and a veteran of Operation Iraqi Freedom, where, in 2009, he commanded the 2nd Battalion, 104th Aviation Regiment. He reportedly flew 44 combat missions, amassing 200 combat flight hours in helicopters that were transporting cargo, soldiers and civilians.

In short, Perry is a hero who served courageously in Iraq. He, of all people, should realize that what happened on Jan. 6 will likely haunt some members of the Capitol Police force and the Metropolitan Police Department for the rest of their lives.

For two — Jeffrey Smith and Howard Liebengood — “the rest of their lives” proved only a matter of days and weeks. They died by suicide.

Any bill that’d honor the service of Smith, Liebengood and the Capitol Police is certainly not “all garbage”.

If there was a degree of politics involved in the bill, the better course of action for Perry and the 20 others who opposed it would have been to get their objections to the language or the politics on the record and then cast a vote for the men and women who prevented a greater tragedy that day. Some of them are still recovering from injuries five months later. A few are gone forever.

In a statement to the York Daily Record, Perry said he remained indebted and grateful for the “bravery and dedication” of all law enforcement officers and that he supports them.

But when it came time to choose between focusing on the people or the politics of the situation, Perry chose poorly. He chose the latter.

We’d suggest that when history looks back at HR 3325 it’ll be Perry and his ilk who’ll be remembered for making a political statement on an occasion that called for unity.

Because the politics of the day shouldn’t place a limit on the worth of the sacrifices made by anyone in uniform. As a military man who served with distinction, Perry should know that better than anyone.

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Philadelphia Inquirer. June 18, 2021.

Editorial: With a $3 billion surplus, Harrisburg should cut the word ‘scarcity’ from the vocabulary

The only mistake Pennsylvania can make during this budget season is not spending big. That should be easy considering that tax collection revenues exceeded estimates by a whopping $3 billion and the American Rescue Plan brought the state another $7.3 billion.

But nothing is easy in Harrisburg, where the Republican controlled legislature is hellbent on obstructing anything the Democratic governor proposes.

The list of areas that needed big spending before the pandemic hit Pennsylvania is a tragic embarrassment:

Pennsylvania had a $4.6 billion education spending gap

More than 600,000 people earned less than the federal poverty line and another nearly 1.4 million earned above it but below needed cost of living

1-in-4 Pennsylvanian’s had student debt (an average of $40,000)

Nearly 90,000 households a year faced evictions

More than 700,000 people didn’t have health insurance

Nearly 400,000 kids faced hunger

Then coronavirus made every one of these issues worse, not better. Pennsylvania processed more than six million federal and state unemployment claims since the pandemic started — and the state unemployment rate continues to be above the nation’s. Two reports published last week warned that the housing crisis is going to get worse after the pandemic, with more people finding themselves unable to afford safe and stable housing. After a year of virtual learning, schools are going to need more resources to help students catch up. More than 800,000 households racked up $743 million in debt to the major electric and gas utilities, putting them at risk of shutoffs. The list goes on and on.

The pandemic exposed the weak underbelly of the social and economic safety net in Pennsylvania — a state that has a far too low minimum wage, no requirement on employers to provide paid medical leave, and no general assistance program.

Consider the latter, in 2019 Pennsylvania Republicans eliminated Pennsylvania’s General Assistance program. The program was one of the only cash-assistance programs in the state for people without children, serving about 11,000 Pennsylvanians most of whom are disabled adults with no income who can’t work. The budget of the program was a grand total of $40 million — or 0.4% of the $10 billion the legislatures have to play with. The General Assembly can reinstate a program that helped keep some of Pennsylvanians most vulnerable individuals afloat for what is not much more than a margin error within the surplus.

In early June, a coalition of advocates demonstrated in Harrisburg under the banner of the Poor People’s Campaign, to demand that lawmakers restore general assistance, expand affordable housing, and bolster the staffing at unemployment offices to help process claims.

Many Democrats in the Pa. legislature want this money to bolster the state’s struggling education funding. A group of Democratic lawmakers from throughout the state — including multiple lawmakers who represent Philadelphia such as Sen. Vincent Hughes, Sen. Nikil Saval, and Rep. Elizabeth Fiedler — are demanding that the surplus go toward fixing toxic schools. Democratic Gov. Tom Wolf is sticking by his $1 billion plan to narrow the education spending gap. Originally Wolf proposed paying for the education plan by increasing the state income tax on Pa.’s top third earners. In response to the surplus, Wolf is ditching the increase — which received no traction with Republicans.

Meanwhile, the Republican plan for the surplus seems to pretend that there is no surplus. A spokesperson to Republican House Majority Leaders Kerry Benninghoff told Spotlight PA that the state’s fiscal position is not as “rosy” as Democrats think and added: “While Republicans have and will continue to ensure our commitment to funding education, we are not in a position to use what financial flexibility we do have to make promises beyond our ability to fulfill them.”

Republicans have opposed an increase in income taxes on the highest earners and a severance tax on fracking to fund education. Now they seem opposed to spending literally free money. If there is a bipartisan commitment to funding education, one side it is not showing.

Pennsylvania has a once-in-a-lifetime opportunity in this year’s budget cycle. School infrastructure and education spending would be a critical investment in the future. With so many worthy causes, the General Assembly really can’t go wrong — as long as lawmakers spend big.

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Altoona Mirror. June 22, 2021.

Editorial: Protect private enterprise

More than a few years back, the federal government learned how easy it was to force states to comply with mandates that were outside the realm of national control — withhold highway funding.

This mild form of extortion was used to make the states pass mandatory seatbelt legislation and raise the drinking age across the land to 21.

While we agree that both of these are worthy causes, neither is really in the jurisdiction of Washington — so Congress simply said, don’t pass these laws, and your state will lose essential funding to maintain roads and highways.

And it worked.

Our state legislature seems to be taking a page out of that playbook, threatening to strip colleges and universities — most of which are private institutions — if they dare to protect their campuses by requiring vaccination against COVID-19 as a condition for entry.

The financial back door the legislature has chosen is the Pennsylvania Higher Education Assistance Agency, which in some form or another puts money in the coffers of practically every institution of higher education in the commonwealth.

And we thought private enterprise was supposed to be able to think for itself.

We’re understanding of the fact the legislature does not want to mandate COVID vaccines as long as it remains under an emergency use authorization.

But we are surprised it is Republicans who are loathe to celebrate one of the crowning achievements of the Trump administration — Operation Warp Speed is a promise kept for the former president, who pushed to make sure vaccines were available, quickly and safely, to end the pandemic as soon as possible.

Senate Bill 618 would bar state, county and local governments, as well as school districts and colleges that receive public funding, from requiring people get vaccinated in order to get service.

The legislation was amended on the Senate floor to add language that would also bar the secretary of health from issuing public health orders for people who aren’t sick or haven’t been exposed to an infectious disease.

This would hamstring the state in the event of an infectious disease breakout.

We supported the amendments to prevent another disastrous executive takeover of the state as we endured over the past 15 months. But we fear the legislature has become giddy with power as a result of the voters’ overwhelming statement in the primary election.

The lawmaking branch — presumably knowing a veto is coming, and likely not having the votes to override it — should be doing what we heard them say they wanted to do throughout the pandemic: work as a team with the governor to do what is best for the state.

We believe private businesses have an absolute right to protect themselves by freely choosing to require patrons to partake in reasonable safety precautions.

We disagree with mandatory “vaccine passports” as nearby New York has forced upon residents.

But, we believe individuals should have the right to obtain and carry one from a trusted third party, thus being able to engage with the private entities that request it.

We continue to encourage everyone who is eligible to get a vaccine — and put this pandemic behind us. And we think Harrisburg should be echoing the same message.

END