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Editorials from around Pennsylvania

Published on NewsOK Modified: May 20, 2015 at 8:16 am •  Published: May 20, 2015
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And in the here and now, Congress bears some responsibility for Amtrak.

The NTSB doesn't yet know if faulty tracks were a factor in Tuesday's derailment. But NTSB member Robert Sumwalt said the Philly railways' lack of a positive train control system was a factor.

"Based on what we know right now, we feel that had such a system been installed in this section of track, this accident would not have occurred," Sumwalt said.

Amtrak CEO Joseph Boardman said in a news conference Thursday that the system actually has been installed, but wasn't yet operational.

Technical and regulatory roadblocks had "delayed the acquisition of a radio frequency that would allow the system to function properly," The New York Times reports.

Congress had mandated that the system be installed by the end of this year on all rail lines used to convey passengers and certain toxic materials.

But as a McClatchy report points out, "One thing Congress did not do when it required railroads to install the system was give them any money to do it. When asked Thursday how much the government had contributed to the freight railroads to assist with positive train control, (Ed) Hamberger, of the Association of American Railroads, replied, 'Zero.' "

Unfunded mandates are never a good idea.

The next time you take an Amtrak train from Lancaster, you might want to spend the time aboard writing a letter to our representatives and senators in Washington, telling them that.

— LNP

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BIGGER TRAILERS ARE ROAD TO RUIN

The trucking industry has been making special deliveries in Washington, spending millions of dollars on lobbyists and in congressional campaign contributions in a new push to eliminate federal safety rules that limit the size of trucks.

A $55.3 billion transportation funding bill making its way through Congress does just that. It would allow the maximum length of each trailer in a tandem rig to rise from 28 feet to 33 feet, or a combined length of 66 feet rather than 56 feet — not counting the length of the cab and the spaces between the cab and the lead trailer and between the lead and second trailers. In all, some rigs would exceed 90 feet. The longer trucks could carry 18 percent more freight by volume but still would be bound by the federal 80,000-pound weight limit.

The industry claims that the longer trucks will be no less safe than current rigs, but Advocates for Highway and Auto Safety cite data showing that the crash rate for tandem trailers already is 15 percent higher than for single units. Making the rigs longer inevitably would make them more difficult to control and stop, especially amid adverse weather and road conditions. And there can be no safety advantage to making the huge, slow-moving rigs even more difficult to pass.

Apparently, the trucking industry and its dependents in Congress believe that the answer to the nation's badly stressed highway and bridges is to put bigger trucks on them.

In a further bow to the industry, the bill would kill an effort to increase minimum liability insurance requirements on trucks, which has remained at $750,000 for 30 years, and lifts some restrictions on driving hours for operators — further diminishing safety and compensation for people injured in truck crashes.

U.S. Rep. Lou Barletta, the 11th District Republican from Hazleton, was instrumental in delaying a previous industry effort to trade safety for lower costs. He rightly argued that the bigger trucks pose special hazards when they leave the interstate highways and enter towns with roads incapable of handling them. He should renew that effort, and Congress should join him in elevating safety above profits.

— Pottsville Republican & Evening Herald

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VOTE ON MEDICAL MARIJUANA BIL OVERDUE

Republican majorities in both houses of the state Legislature famously resist any federal rules that contradict their priorities — from air and water pollution regulations to Medicaid expansion.

It is remarkable, then, that a key Republican refuses to move an important and long overdue piece of state legislation without first securing the blessing of federal bureaucrats. The state Senate recently passed a bill to authorize the prescribed use of medical marijuana and sent it to the House.

Rep. Matt Baker, a Tioga County Republican and chairman of the House Health Committee, said he will not move that bill or any medical marijuana bill without the blessing of the U.S. Food and Drug Administration.

Thus would Baker deny to many patients the prospect of relief, in favor of keeping the medicinal pot issue in a classic bureaucratic Catch-22. Because marijuana is listed by the FDA as a Schedule 1 drug — the most restrictive category — there has been limited clinical research of the type necessary for FDA approval of medicinal use.

Meanwhile, 23 states have filled that void by approving limited use of marijuana for specific medical purposes. While use of marijuana still violates federal law, a bill passed by Congress in December precludes the Department of Justice from spending money to prosecute state-authorized dispensaries or patients who abide by state laws. And, since several states have authorized recreational use of marijuana, the DOJ has adopted its own policy precluding prosecution on federal charges as long as the states closely regulate and enforce their own laws.

In Pennsylvania, the bill that passed the state Senate, 40-7, would permit people with a doctor's recommendation to use marijuana to treat conditions including cancer, epilepsy, post-traumatic stress disorder, glaucoma, diabetes, Crohn's disease and multiple sclerosis. It would allow oils, pills, liquids, gels, tinctures, home-made edibles and, in limited cases, vaporization. It would preclude smoking.

Gov. Tom Wolf supports the bill.

Baker should put the proposal to a committee vote rather than simply sitting on it. If he doesn't do so, his House colleagues should move a separate but identical bill through a different path to passage.

— The (Wilkes-Barre) Citizens' Voice