Editorials from around Pennsylvania:
STATE'S NEW ANIMAL CRUELTY LAW HAS SOME TEETH, Dec. 5
Pet owners may want to familiarize themselves with the state's new animal-abuse laws before frigid weather sets in.
Libre's law, which was approved this summer and signed into law by Gov. Tom Wolf, sets requirements on how long an animal is allowed to be tethered outside in adverse conditions.
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Although the law centers on dogs, it also protects cats and horses.
"This is the first cold weather season since we strengthened the animal cruelty laws in Pennsylvania, which include temperature and shelter restrictions for outdoor pets," Wolf said.
Animal advocates had charged that, until now, Pennsylvania's dog laws had no teeth.
"For far too long, we have heard stories of neglected and abused animals who suffered because of deplorable treatment," the governor said. "With our new landmark anti-cruelty legislation in place, penalties will be enforced for individuals who abuse or neglect an animal."
Libre's law — which was named for the Lancaster County puppy that was perhaps hours from death when he was rescued — sets limits on how long an individual can leave his or her pet tied up outside, said Cpl. Michael Spada, the animal cruelty officer for the Pennsylvania State Police.
But the legislation could also be confusing. It states that a dog tethered for less than 30 minutes in harsh conditions is not necessarily being neglected.
The breed, size and condition of the animal comes into play, Spada said. For example, a Chihuahua left in the cold could be considered a neglected animal, but a St. Bernard or husky probably would be OK.
Size, breed and physical health of the canine could be determining factors to neglect, Spada said.
The law serves as a guideline to "promote responsible ownership," Spada said.
Under the terms of the measure, anyone cited for neglect would face a summary offense, unless the animal has been injured.
In that situation, the owner can be charged with a third-degree misdemeanor, which can carry a penalty of up to 12 months in prison.
Fines range from $300 to $15,000.
As with any wrongdoing, the perpetrator must be caught before he or she can be charged. Under the new legislation, any state trooper or local police officer can investigate an animal abuse accusation.
"And they should," Spada said. "This is in the crimes code, and it should be investigated."
Veterinarians, vet technicians and humane society police officers are protected from frivolous lawsuits for reporting animal abuse.
Anyone who suspects an animal is being treated inhumanely should call his or her local police department, the state police or officers from animal welfare groups such as the humane society or the Society for the Prevention of Cruelty to Animals.
"This is a public function that private organizations have been doing" since the 19th century, Nicole Wilson, director of humane law enforcement for the Pennsylvania SPCA, said.
The state's dog wardens, Spada said, do not respond to animal cruelty complaints. Their responsibilities lie mostly with inspecting kennels, making sure canines are properly licensed and investigating dog bites.
The state police are adding animal cruelty liaisons to their ranks to help enforce the law, Spada said.
The liaisons will respond to complaints or advise other troopers who have been summoned to investigate animal cruelty.
The law is meant to make animal owners responsible for their actions as well as to protect the animals.
The public should do its part and report suspected abuses. They may save an animal from needless suffering or death.
—The (Johnstown) Tribune-Democrat
PENNSYLVANIA SHOULD OFFER A RETIREMENT SAVINGS PROGRAM FOR PRIVATE-SECTOR WORKERS, Dec. 6
A study by the Employee Benefit Research Institute found that 62 percent of employees with a retirement plan had more than $25,000 in total savings and investments, and 22 percent had $100,000 or more. However, only 6 percent of those without access to such a plan had more than $25,000 saved, and only 3 percent had $100,000 or more. Nearly six in 10 Americans don't have enough savings to cover a $500 or $1,000 unplanned expense, according to a 2017 report from Bankrate.
Americans don't save. In fact, most are one emergency away — a busted hot water heater, a leaky roof, a blown transmission, a medical issue — from real financial trouble.
One in five Americans don't save any money at all, according to Bankrate.
Why is this?
According to an April marketwatch.com survey, 38 percent said they had too many expenses, some of which may or may not be under their control. The second reason, given by 16.4 percent of the respondents, was that they simply didn't get around to it. The third and fourth reasons — about 16 percent said they don't make enough money, and 13 percent said they were struggling with debt.
There are a number of other potential reasons, but suffice it to say that many — too many — Americans are not prepared for the future. And working until you keel over so your loved ones can collect on the insurance isn't a retirement strategy.
In a Dec. 2 op-ed for LNP, Bill Johnston-Walsh, state director of AARP in Pennsylvania, proposed what we believe is a sound idea — a state-run automatic payroll deduction retirement savings program for private-sector employees.
As Johnston-Walsh points out, the proposal does not guarantee monthly income or rate of return. "It's simply a tool to facilitate individuals saving privately, and it won't create long-term liability for state government. Employees would have a choice of whether to participate, and the accounts would be portable so a person could take the savings to another job," he writes.
Why should the state get involved? After all, private-sector employees can set up their own retirement accounts.
That's true, but they don't do it. Only about 1 in 20 workers will open a retirement account on their own and, as Johnston-Walsh writes, they are 15 times more likely to contribute to a retirement account offered by an employer.
This proposal makes sense for a number of reasons.
It encourages people to save, and it gives them the mechanism to do so.
It's a win for companies, especially small businesses that don't have the resources to set up their own retirement plans.
And, as Johnston-Walsh writes, "the fact is when workers set aside money for retirement, they are less likely to rely on public assistance programs later in life, saving significant taxpayer dollars for programs like Medicaid, Supplemental Security Income, the Supplemental Nutrition Assistance Program and housing assistance."
This type of state-run plan is already up and running in Oregon. Eight other states have proposals on the table.
In Pennsylvania, there is — believe it or not — bipartisan support for such a plan; and bills have been introduced in both the House and Senate. The words "bipartisan" and "support" rarely appear in close proximity when talking about state legislation so we're encouraged.
We would urge the General Assembly to seriously consider establishing Pennsylvania's first state-based retirement savings plan.
As Johnston-Walsh writes, the plan is really a variation of the Pennsylvania 529 college savings plan, which is now among the most popular ways to save for a child's education.
When you consider some of the numbers, encouraging individuals and families to save money for the future can only be a good thing.
According to a Federal Reserve study, nearly half of Americans would struggle to cover a $400 expense in an emergency.
That's a razor-thin margin of error.
True, offering Pennsylvanians a plan to save money doesn't mean they'll participate. And it's also true that some will continue, by choice, to walk a financial tightrope of their own making.
But Johnston-Walsh is correct in nudging today's workers and Pennsylvania to think about the future.
"If lower income retirees were able to increase their retirement incomes by as little as $1,000 a year, Pennsylvania could save $330 million on public assistance programs between 2018 and 2032," he writes.
For some, 2032 might seem a long way away. It's not, and now is the time to consider what the future will look like. As Yogi Berra once said, "It's getting late early."
COURT'S RULING ON TRAVEL BAN BRINGS NO RESOLUTION, Dec. 6
The U.S. Supreme Court ruled Monday that the Trump administration can implement a ban on travel to the United States by most citizens of Chad, Iran, Libya, North Korea, Somalia, Syria and Yemen and some from Venezuela, pending rulings by two lower courts. The court's action raises some interesting questions, apart from what the Supreme Court's ultimate ruling will be on the issue.
Not at question is the right and duty of an American president to ban citizens of a country from traveling to the United States if they pose a threat to our lives and safety.
Courts' objections to previous versions of the ban centered on the fact that Chad, Iran, Libya, Somalia, Syria and Yemen are majority-Muslim countries, suggesting that the apparent focus on religion made the ban unconstitutional. A counterargument would be that not only are two new countries on the list, North Korea and Venezuela, not Muslim-majority nations, but also that each of the Muslim-majority nations also has among its population non-Muslims, notably Iran and Syria, although many of Syria's Christians were driven out of the country during its civil war.
Another problem is that some nations, notable hosts of terrorists, including Afghanistan, Egypt, Iraq and Saudi Arabia, are not on the list, in spite of the Saudis and Egyptians who numbered among America's 9/?11 attackers. That would call into question the whole concept of the list, raising the question of why some obvious countries were omitted from it, for whatever reason. There is also the problem that, if exclusion is based on nationality, the ban potentially includes 6-month-old babies as well as bona fide terrorists.
When Mr. Trump first spoke of his ban on Muslims traveling to the United States, there was the sense that it was a temporary measure, designed to provide a breathing spell for U.S. authorities to tighten up on screening potential travelers to the United States. The nearly a year that he has been in power has provided the opportunity for the imposition of sharper criteria for the examination of applicants for visas. That fact raises the possibility that the more universal ban is no longer necessary. Immigration to the United States has been basically cut in half. Even the number of foreign students applying to American colleges and universities has declined significantly.
Courts, including probably eventually the Supreme Court ruling on the constitutionality of the ban, will take into account primarily the legal basis for it. But it is nonetheless a very political measure, bearing on U.S. relations with the eight countries on the list and others. Another group not dealt with is naturalized citizens of other countries, including America's European allies, some of whom may even have fought as jihadists in the wars in Afghanistan, Iraq and Syria.
In the past, the United States has not done too badly leaving it to consular officers in American embassies abroad and immigration officers at ports-of-entry to screen potential entrants, based on their experience and judgment, not on universal bans based on citizenship.
But the next move on the issue is up to the courts.
—The Pittsburgh Post-Gazette
CHILD WELFARE REFORMS COULD SAVE LIVES, Nov. 30
On April 23, a Northern York County Regional Police officer was dispatched to a one-story home on Greenbriar Road in Manchester Township.
It was what police refer to as a well-being check. Someone had called police concerned about the residents and asked that they check to see whether they were OK.
When the officer peeked through living room curtains, he saw the body of Tammy June Williams. She had been shot to death. Upon further investigation, he found the body of 3-year-old Kelly Williams. In a back bedroom, he found the body of Kelly's father, Frankie, dead from a self-inflicted gunshot wound.
Police said that it was a double murder-suicide, that Frankie Williams shot his mother and daughter and then turned the gun on himself.
The family was known to the system. Earlier this year, the York County Office of Children, Youth and Families had opened an investigation into Kelly's well-being. There were allegations that the house was unsafe, that the family was using a bucket for a toilet and that there were drugs being used in the house.
A caseworker visited the house twice, on Feb. 3 and Feb. 8. By Valentine's Day, the case was closed. The agency had determined that Kelly was safe.
After Kelly's murder, the state Department of Human Services reviewed the case and determined that the county agency had not done enough.
It is not surprising. Even with reforms to the child welfare system and heightened awareness of the dangers children face in their homes, it is unfortunately common that some cases slip through the cracks and end in tragedy.
The state found that caseworkers didn't thoroughly inspect the home, never going beyond the living room. There was no indication that caseworkers spoke with Kelly directly. They didn't follow up in regard to concerns about drug use in the home. Frankie and Tammy June denied the allegations and declined to submit to drug tests, and it was left at that.
The state investigation concluded that the county agency made a number of mistakes.
Not to point out the obvious, but had the county investigation been more thorough and determined that the allegations were founded, it could have removed Kelly from the home. At least there would have been one less victim.
This case illustrates the shortcomings of the child welfare system, not just in York County, but throughout the state.
The system is mired in bureaucracy; caseworkers spend more time filling out documentation that investigating cases. Caseworkers are underpaid and overburdened with cases. Turnover among caseworkers is high.
These problems are nothing new. State Auditor General Eugene DePasquale, in an audit released earlier this year, described them in detail — the turnover, the overwhelming caseloads, the lack of resources.
DePasquale pointed out that while the state Legislature has expanded mandates to report child abuse — a result of the Jerry Sandusky scandal — it did not provide any addition funding to help counties meet the requirements of the law.
It is not an abstract concept. It is very real. And, as in the case of Kelly Williams, it was fatal.
The system needs an overhaul. Caseworkers have to be relieved of some of the paperwork so they can spend more time in the field investigating complaints. Caseworkers have to be paid more so that they remain on the job. More caseworkers have to be hired so they have the time to thoroughly investigate claims of child abuse.
And that will take money. The Legislature has to make sure that counties have enough resources and funding to meet the requirements of the laws they have passed. That would be the responsible thing for the Legislature to do. Unfortunately, responsible is not one of the first words you think of when it comes to describing the Legislature. Unfortunately, dysfunctional is.
It may be too late for Kelly Williams.
But it shouldn't be too late for the next Kelly Williams.
—York Daily Record
WHY THE REPUBLICANS PASSED A TAX PLAN THEY KNOW IS FLAWED, Dec. 4
An act of desperation is the best way to describe the Republican tax bill passed by the Senate. It could cost the party both houses of Congress if overly exuberant projections of job creation amid an economic boom evaporate, which seems likely. But the GOP is under pressure to prove the party in control of the House, Senate, and presidency can govern.
The Republican tax plan leans heavily on the same economic theory proven wrong long before President Ronald Reagan trotted it out in the 1980s. Humorist Will Rogers derided President Herbert Hoover's version by actually coining the term "trickle-down" economics during the Great Depression.
In a Nov. 28 commentary, Todd Carmichael, co-founder and CEO of La Colombe Coffee Roasters, explained why the GOP plan won't create jobs. "Because what every CEO knows but won't tell you is this," he said. "A tax break for their company simply means a fatter bottom line. Not jobs. Not investment. Just more money in the pockets of the folks like me."
Carmichael's observation matches an analysis of the Senate bill by the nonpartisan Joint Committee on Taxation, whose professional staff of economists, attorneys, and accountants have advised Congress on tax policy since 1926. The committee projected only a 0.6 percent increase in employment before many of the tax breaks in the bill expire in 2025, and a decline in employment afterward.
Even if the tax overhaul stimulates the economy, the committee said it will add a trillion to the national debt. That projection didn't move so-called deficit hawks like Sen. Pat Toomey, who after failing to kill Obamacare are desperate for a victory. In fact, the Senate bill includes a provision that essentially revokes the Affordable Care Act's health insurance mandate for individuals.
Wall Street cheered the bill's huge cut in the corporate income tax rate from 35 to 20 percent, which, unlike the tax breaks for families, won't expire in 2025. But the Senate bill has flaws even for businesses. For example, it ends a research and development credit that helps manufacturing, technology, and pharmaceutical companies pay scientists and engineers. That won't help create jobs.
President Trump also hinted over the weekend that the 20 percent corporate tax rate might creep up to 22 percent when the Senate bill is reconciled with the House version. That could force some companies to pay the 20 percent alternative minimum tax, which the Senate didn't kill as expected. But paying the AMT would disqualify companies for other corporate tax breaks.
Flaws and all, a final tax bill will likely be on Trump's desk to sign before Christmas. The Republicans have learned by now that the president won't hesitate to put the blame on them if they don't come through. Fearing his supporters, they would rather pass bad legislation than be accused of hampering Trump's agenda.
But there's still time for a larger constituency to be heard. Most Americans won't benefit for very long, if at all, from this bill, which sunsets most tax breaks for middle-class families while corporate breaks continue. People must contact their senators and representatives. Make it clear that Trump voters aren't the only ones who can determine a politician's future.
—The Philadelphia Inquirer