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Editorials from around Pennsylvania

Published on NewsOK Modified: March 25, 2015 at 12:29 pm •  Published: March 25, 2015
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"I can't believe this is even controversial," said Mr. Toomey, still incredulous that last year's measure never made it out of committee, although the House approved its version unanimously. His frustration is warranted, as is the bipartisan plan, which codifies common-sense practices that should have been law years ago.

Senators who stonewalled the 2014 bill said Congress shouldn't act as a school board and states already have their own rules about background checks. That's precisely the problem. States vary wildly in what checks they require, and they don't always communicate with each other. Pennsylvania does it right, requiring three checks (Department of Human Services, state police and FBI) every 36 months, for both regular and contract employees. But 12 states don't require background checks on contract employees at all.

Toomey, the father of three, notes that while most teachers and other school employees are honorable, the abuse of children in school settings is "not an isolated event." In 2014, 459 school workers were arrested in the United States for sexual misconduct, 26 of them in Pennsylvania.

The new measures might not have prevented all those abuses, but they might have saved Jeremy Bell. He was the 12-year-old West Virginia boy who was raped and killed in 1997 by his principal, a former Pennsylvania teacher who had been suspected of abusing boys in Delaware County, but was still able to get a job one state away.

Motivated by that tragedy and the potential for others, Toomey vows to keep pushing, saying, "We're going to vote on this, one way or the other." Now attached to a controversial sex-trafficking bill, it may fail again, but Toomey is right to keep trying.

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TOWARD LESS DEADLY FORCE

Nearly two years ago, a Philly.com report revealed an alarming and puzzling trend: Philadelphia residents had committed fewer violent crimes and fewer assaults on police in 2012 than in the previous year, but the police had shot many more Philadelphians. A subsequent federal review underscores the cause for alarm but leaves less occasion for puzzlement.

The Department of Justice report released this week found that the city's officers are not consistently trained or equipped for alternatives to deadly force, nor are they reliably subjected to thorough investigations and oversight when they do fire their weapons. That makes it less surprising that police are involved in about one shooting a week and that many Philadelphians are reflexively suspicious of officers' use of force.

Police Commissioner Charles Ramsey rightly requested the independent review in response to the rising number of shootings, and he and Mayor Nutter seem to be taking its recommendations as seriously as they should given the city's long history of police corruption and violence.

The DOJ team found a relatively constant incidence of shootings over seven years, disproportionately affecting minorities and involving suspects with guns only a little more than half the time. Annual shootings involving officers fluctuated between 42 and 62 a year from 2007 through 2013, averaging 52 a year. Ninety percent of those shot by police were black or Latino, and 56 percent had firearms.

The report's findings on training and equipment show the department can do better by its officers as well as the public. Police aren't uniformly equipped with nonlethal weapons such as Tasers and pepper spray, for example. They are insufficiently trained in de-escalating conflicts, perceiving threats, and avoiding bias, the report found. And the department's use-of-force policies need to be clarified and more regularly taught to officers.

The DOJ also found that internal reviews of police shootings are inconsistent and often ineffective. Meanwhile, the department has unacceptably stonewalled external oversight by the Police Advisory Commission, while it's been without an integrity officer, another civilian overseer, since 2005.

The DOJ's findings have to be taken in the context of a city sadly beset by violence, with more than 5,000 gun crimes reported last year and most shootings by officers occurring in high-crime neighborhoods. However, there is little excuse for insufficient oversight, training, and tactics to minimize deadly force. The Police Department has a difficult, dangerous job, but taking pains to avoid adding to the bloodshed is an important part of that job.

— The Philadelphia Inquirer.

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STILL PLENTY OF WORK TO DO ON STATE GAS DRILLING REGULATIONS:

Successive state administrations and state legislators eagerly have embraced the natural gas industry while contending that the government has well-regulated the enterprise in the public interest.

Unfortunately, as the industry matures, it continues to demonstrate the many ways in which the state government continues to play catch-up.

It is extraordinary, for example, that the state government still is debating the merits of an extraction tax that simply is part of the drill everywhere else in the United States that gas is drilled.

But that is one of the older arguments. Recently a panel discussion at Wilkes University revealed that the state has yet to come up with a definitive regulatory regiment for one of the most fundamental aspects of the thriving gas industry — pipeline transmission.

John Quigley, the new secretary of the Department of Environmental Protection, announced a pipeline task force to consider the various issues the transmission lines present, nearly a decade after the industry began laying them.

And the Legislature passed the Pipeline Act, outlining standards, only in 2011.

Issues include erosion control, wetland protections and property rights.

It's apparent that as the industry matures, the only thing Pennsylvanians can count on is that the public interest in the safe operation of the industry is a work in progress.

— The (Wilkes-Barre) Citizens' Voice.

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WE NEED TO PROTECT OUR CHILDREN FROM THE DANGERS OF LEAD POISONING

Lancaster County has the youngest population per capita in Pennsylvania.

Lancaster city has one of the highest rates of children with elevated blood lead levels in the state.

And yet only 7 percent of children in this county were tested for lead exposure in 2013.

Two steps would go a long way toward protecting our children, and a third has a good chance of helping in that effort:

— Adopting ordinances in our municipalities requiring property owners to address issues that can expose children to lead. Of the county's 60 municipalities, only the City of Lancaster has such an ordinance.

— Be aware, particularly if you live in a home built before 1978, of how to check for lead, when to have your children tested and what to do to protect your children from the serious and irreversible dangers of lead exposure.

— Finally, a Lancaster County public health department could help to get more children tested for exposure to lead.

A health department also could help the county in other ways, including: securing federal grants available only to qualified health departments, such as Healthy Homes funds from the Department of Housing and Urban Development; helping municipalities draft effective ordinances to identify and abate lead problems in homes; and assisting in boosting the rate of childhood vaccinations, both by getting the word out to parents regarding the value of vaccines against measles and other serious diseases and by coordinating flu shots in cases such as the H1N1 swine flu outbreak of 2010-11.

While Lancaster city children have the highest known lead levels, it is not the only place in the county where children are at risk. Other Lancaster County towns have a lot of homes built before 1978, including Christiana (97 percent) and Marietta (94 percent).

Municipalities should adopt enforceable ordinances to get older homes with children tested and any elevated lead levels corrected.

The Lancaster County Lead Coalition, formed by the countywide Partnership for Public Health and Lancaster General Health's Center for Wellness, is partnering with the University of Pennsylvania to tackle the lead issue here. They are hoping to get a $400,000 annual grant — $2 million over five years — from the National Institutes of Health, to raise awareness about the dangers of lead poisoning, and to get more children tested.

If you think your children have been exposed to lead — if you live in an older home that may have lead-lined pipes or lead paint — talk to your child's pediatrician.

The Environmental Protection Agency also recommends a paint inspection and a risk assessment (which includes checks, for peeling paint and lead dust), prior to signing a lease on an apartment or purchasing a home if possible, for anyone with a child and an older home.

So, join the fight for our children against lead. Test that pre-1978 home if you own or live in one. Urge your municipality to adopt an ordinance requiring property owners to address the problem. And ask candidates for county commissioner in this year's election to consider adding a countywide health department to coordinate this and other important public health efforts.

— LNP