Editorials from around Pennsylvania:
MAKE TICKET MEANINGFUL
Ever since a paying customer was dragged from a United Airlines flight in April for refusing to give up his seat to resolve the airline's overbooking, airlines have announced policy changes. It's not yet clear whether that will result in greater respect for paying customers, but Congress should not wait to find out. By law, it should require airlines to respect their passengers and give meaning to their purchased tickets.
Under a reauthorization bill for the Federal Aviation Administration, some lawmakers have included amendments that would provide some assurance to passengers that airlines actually will honor their tickets and otherwise treat them as more than profit-generators.
One measure would require airlines to resolve any overbooking issues before boarding and would make it illegal for them to forcibly remove anyone from a plane for any issue other than security or safety.
A second measure, already approved unanimously by the Senate Commerce, Science, and Transportation Committee, would require airlines to set ancillary fees that actually reflect their costs and clearly inform passengers of those fees in advance.
After American Airlines announced early this year that it would shrink economy class legroom by another two inches, from which it later retreated, the House Infrastructure and Transportation Committee approved an amendment mandating minimum seat sizes and legroom between seats.
Many airlines already have demonstrated that they won't voluntarily refrain from abusive practices. Congress should not hesitate to give them no choice.
IF PROTESTERS WERE CHARGED FOR POLICE, MLK WOULD'VE BEEN BANKRUPTED
Here's a little imaginative thought experiment:
Imagine that Martin Luther King Jr. is in, say, York.
The year is 2017, and the Civil Rights movement is just gaining steam.
African-Americans are opposed by Jim Crow-era rules and regulations. They're segregated: Separate drinking fountains, separate schools, relegated to the back of the bus. In this imaginary world, it's basically 1963 in 2017.
Dr. King and his supporters wish to hold public protests of these conditions, but their requests to do so are denied by the government.
They decide to protest anyway, peacefully — an example of civil disobedience of unjust laws, as advocated by Gandhi.
Dr. King and some of his followers are arrested and charged with violating the law. They are thrown in jail (and treated badly).
(Yes, this all actually happened — but in Birmingham, Alabama, in 1963, and it resulted in Dr. King's famous "Letter from Birmingham Jail").
But if a law proposed by state Sen. Scott Martin, R-Lancaster, were to be passed and our time-traveling Dr. King were arrested for breaking the law during a protest, he might be on the hook for a huge bill to pay for public safety.
Under Sen. Martin's bill, anyone who commits a felony or misdemeanor during a protest could be forced to pay for the entire "reasonable costs" of the public safety response to the event.
Imagine the bills authorities could have slapped on Dr. King and his followers for "breaking the law" during these protests.
Rosa Parks might have been left penniless for her "crime."
If this proposed law were in effect in 1963, we might not have had a Civil Rights movement. African Americans might still be fighting for basic equality in this "land of the free" in 2017.
Sen. Martin's bill is simply a terrible idea.
He makes the point that large, violent protests cost taxpayers a great deal of money. He says those who break the law and cause the problems should have to pay for the police and other emergency services.
Point taken — and we would certainly never advocate violence.
It didn't help in York in 1969 when race riots broke out.
It didn't help here in 2002 when what some have termed the "Battle of York" raged, with idiotic fights between racists and anti-racists.
Peaceful civic action is the way to go.
But as the King example shows, even peaceful protests can result in criminal charges (unjust ones, to be sure — but charges nonetheless).
This seems likes an effort to intimidate would-be protesters and keep them from exercising their First Amendment rights.
Sen. Martin's proposal mentions pipeline protesters — specifically the protests of the Dakota Access pipeline that some say cost $22 million for emergency responders.
Pipelines have become controversial in Pennsylvania, too. In fact, a group of nuns recently built an open air chapel in the path of a proposed pipeline in Lancaster County. If that doesn't stop the project, and if the nuns resort to peaceful resistance, could they be charged with crimes and forced to pay for police?
How absurd would that be?
And how unconstitutional?
And speaking of our founding documents, how much might the British have levied upon the Boston Tea Partyers for their criminal protests?
Yes, police response to public protests can be expensive.
But that's the cost of freedom.
__York Daily Record
THE STAIN OF YEMEN: US SUPPORT IN SAUDI WAR REMAINS APPALLING
Of the six wars that the United States is involved in around the world, Yemen is surely the most appalling, for at least three reasons.
The first is the state that Yemen has been reduced to. It was the poorest country of the Middle East even before the war started more than two years ago. Now, its cities demolished by years of U.S.-backed bombing by Saudi Arabia, it has experienced an estimated 16,200 deaths, many of them children and other civilians. It is now in the grip of a cholera epidemic, with an estimated 500,000 victims. And there is widespread malnutrition.
The second reason the Yemen war and American involvement in it approach war criminality is that the rationales for it are petty, political and antithetical to their alleged religious basis. The Saudis' continued assault on the Yemeni Houthis is based primarily on the fact that they see themselves as the champions of Islam's Sunnis against the Iranian-backed Shiite Houthis. In other words, it's a 21st-century religious war, and also a proxy war between two Middle Eastern powers, Saudi Arabia and Iran.
That aspect of the Yemen war is made even more complicated by the fact that it is also about competition between Saudi-backed Yemeni Sunni President Abdrabbuh Mansur Hadi and his also-Sunni predecessor as president, Ali Abdullah Saleh, heightening the cruel absurdity of the conflict.
U.S. involvement in the Yemen war is based primarily on the fact that America sells the Saudis warplanes. Those warplanes need spare parts, munitions and U.S. technical support to keep them in the air bombing Yemen. In terms of the merits of the parties to the conflict with reference to U.S. strategic interests in the region, there isn't a dime's worth of difference among the Yemen parties to the conflict. America's taking sides in the Saudi-Iran, Sunni-Shiite competition in the region is a question far separate from the Yemen war.
The Saudis are promoting media coverage of the humanitarian aid they are providing to stricken Yemenis. That may be considerable, but what they could really do is stop bombing the country and help the Yemenis make peace among themselves. The United States should stop helping the Saudis attack Yemen and instead encourage the United Nations, the Arab League and other bodies to actively seek an end to the war and make lasting peace there before an already pathetic situation there gets even worse.
IGNITION INTERLOCKS ARE A GOOD START BUT MORE NEEDS TO BE DONE TO KEEP IMPAIRED DRIVERS OFF THE ROAD
Fewer people will be driving drunk in Pennsylvania. That's the bottom-line result of this law, which was long overdue.
We needed it because ignition interlocks work.
For a 10-year period beginning Dec. 1, 2006, the devices prevented more than 65,000 attempts (of repeat offenders) to start a vehicle in Pennsylvania, according to the state's office of Mothers Against Drunk Driving.
For many first-time DUI offenders, the threat of further legal trouble isn't enough of a deterrent.
"Last year in Pennsylvania, there was an average of 10 'lockouts' — meaning the device detected alcohol so the vehicle did not start — for every installed interlock device," Brett Hambright, spokesman for the Lancaster County District Attorney's office, told LNP staff writer Jonas Fortune.
We appreciate Gov. Tom Wolf signing this bill into law in May 2016, and we laud Rep. Keith Greiner, R-Upper Leacock Township, for pushing the bill through the state House — a process that began in late 2014.
But we're especially grateful to people like Chris and Susan Demko, who spent two years lobbying for the legislation. Their daughter, Meredith, was killed in July 2014 by a driver who was drunk and high on heroin.
It shouldn't have been this much work to pass a sensible piece of legislation that will save lives.
Pennsylvania's DUI law came in 49th out of 50 states and the District of Columbia in a 2015 ranking by WalletHub.
Had it not been for the Demkos, the legislation might never have seen the light of day. They were relentless, sharing their terrible story, keeping the pressure on lawmakers, refusing to let frustration deter them.
"I think at the end of the day the takeaway for us is it's good for the state, it's good for the citizens and there will be surely less people that will be killed as a result of DUI driving," Chris Demko told LNP in 2016 after the governor signed the bill. "This legislation, to me, was a good starting point."
He's right. The county averages 1,600 DUIs a year and a quarter of them are repeat offenders, according to Hambright. Much more needs to be done.
For example, it now takes six offenses before someone faces a mandatory 30-day jail sentence for driving with a suspended license — including those suspended for DUI — under Pennsylvania law. Six strikes is simply too many. The law needs to be amended.
Increasing the mandatory sentences for DUI offenders who cause serious injuries or death, and making it a felony to have multiple DUI convictions are also steps that can and should be taken.
A 2,000-pound automobile is a lethal weapon when someone who can't see straight sits behind the wheel. Too many families have suffered and will suffer if the laws don't change.
"These are all horror stories," Chris Demko said in a press conference at the state Capitol in May. He stood with about a dozen parents who lost children to impaired drivers. "We as a society cannot allow additional senseless tragedies like ours to continue."
The Demkos are part of an organization called Pennsylvania Parents Against Impaired Driving, which advocates for stronger DUI laws. As LNP reported in May, the group is focusing on "high-risk offenders" who they say cause the majority of deaths in the state. Demko said there are four categories of those offenders: those who have a blood alcohol concentration of 0.15 or higher (about two times the legal limit), repeat DUI offenders, DUI offenders with suspended licenses, and drivers impaired by drugs.
There are about 113,000 high-risk offenders in Pennsylvania, according to the group.
Pennsylvania's DUI laws are clearly lagging and inadequate. Our lawmakers need to do their work and keep impaired drivers off the road.
Ignition interlocks for first-time offenders is a step out of the legislative dark ages for the commonwealth's DUI laws.
The Demkos will keep pushing. Our elected officials need to stand with them before there are more suffering families to join the fight.
STATE GOVERNMENT IS BROKEN: IT'S TIME FOR ANOTHER CONSTITUTIONAL CONVENTION
It's time: 2017 is proof that left to its own devices, state government will let us down.
The litany of our grievances is long and it's loud. But mostly, today's shortcomings center on Harrisburg's ignoring the ideal that government "derives just powers from the consent of the governed."
Those words are from our Declaration of Independence.
So are these: "Whenever any Form of Government becomes destructive of these ends, it is the Right of the People to alter or abolish it."
The merits of a continental ideal from 1776 are undiminished when applied to a state in 2017.
We believe it is time for the people to alter the Pennsylvania Constitution and rally to the call of Sen. John Eichelberger, R-Blair, and Rep. Steve Bloom, R-Cumberland, for a limited constitutional convention.
There's still no compelling argument to keep this ceremonial post when other states have found a better way to do it.
A limited constitutional convention is understood to mean that the goal, and the work, of the convention is to be limited to how our state government operates. Bloom and Eichelberger riff on the last one in 1967 as the basis of the next one.
Fifty years later, so many things we see (budgets remain unbalanced and unsigned, the arrogance of unrestrained spending in the Lieutenant Governor's office, earmarks clearly written to circumvent the law) demonstrate that our state government is broken.
Eichelberger and Bloom have the right of it when they say: "Unfortunately, major reform has always been difficult to accomplish in Pennsylvania — it's slow and incremental, and rarely successfully makes its way through the entire General Assembly."
Of course, calling for change for the sake of change isn't quite good enough. The actual changes are what matter most. Bloom and Eichelberger have a few issues they want their proposed convention to focus on.
We do, too.
Here are some things we would like to see addressed by a limited constitutional convention:
—Reduce the size of the government: While we can be persuaded that a full-time Legislature has some merit, we are convinced that members in the General Assembly, with each member representing more people, do not reduce effective representation. We say downsize. Begin that process by eliminating the office of Lieutenant Governor.
—Establish mandatory public financing for campaigns. Or, failing that, hard limits on contributions. Right now, only direct corporate contributions are banned. Otherwise, the sky's the limit.
—Develop term limits for legislative leaders and committee chairs.
—Create language that would ensure that the shenanigans would be taken out of the budget process (And yes, Gov. Wolf, we remembered when you bristled at such a description when you met with us, and still, here we are). Specifically, we want the General Assembly to forward to the governor a budget that contains both spending and revenue simultaneously, and on time. We support the idea of a line-item veto on both the revenue and spending side by the governor. And we specifically want language that states if it's not signed, it's not law. No more ducking. And if there's no on-time budget, there's no pay for lawmakers.
—Consider language that states if the Legislature cannot forward such a budget to the governor on time, that the current year's budget becomes next year's budget, as is. We're more than happy to consider letting the Assembly own that failure and stand for re-election accordingly.
—Set up merit selection for judges on county Courts of Common Pleas and the statewide judiciary.
—Create clear guidelines and process for the drawing of legislative districts, both state and federal.
—Provide clarity in the language concerning earmarks. If FIFA (of all organizations!) can place language in the rules of soccer about "trickery" regarding passes to goalies, we can certainly insert language that bars writing budget expenditures so that that only a specific entity is covered by the language.
We know that others will have their own suggestions. They should be put forward. They should be heard. The best ideas should be acted upon.
It is, to paraphrase the founders, our right, our duty, to throw off such government.
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