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Editorials from around Pennsylvania

Published on NewsOK Modified: July 2, 2014 at 8:59 am •  Published: July 2, 2014
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Editorials from around Pennsylvania:

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SMART, HISTORIC RULING ON CELLPHONE PRIVACY

In 2012, Chief Justice John G. Roberts Jr. told a university audience that the challenge for the Supreme Court for the next 50 years would be: "How do we adapt old, established rules to new technology?"

Recently, the court proved itself equal to that challenge in at least one context. It ruled unanimously that, except in extraordinary cases, police must obtain a warrant before searching the contents of an arrested person's cellphone.

This is a historic decision because allowing police to sift through the contents of a modern smartphone gives them access to a wealth of information about a person's most private and personal affairs, from emails to family photos to bank statements. As Roberts wrote in his magisterial majority opinion: "With all they contain and all they may reveal, (cellphones) hold for many Americans 'the privacies of life.'"

In the case of David L. Riley, a San Diego man arrested on weapons charges, those privacies included a photograph police found on his phone showing him in front of a car used in a drive-by shooting. Riley was eventually convicted of attempted murder.

You don't need a law degree to believe that allowing police to search through a cellphone without a warrant is an "unreasonable search" of the kind prohibited by the 4th Amendment. But to reach that conclusion, Roberts had to wrestle with a 1973 decision that gave police wide discretion to search people they arrested-- including packages in their pockets -- even if the search wasn't necessary to disarm the suspect or prevent the destruction of evidence.

Rather than overruling that decision, Roberts declined to extend its reasoning to cellphones, which contain the sort of records that would have been stored in private homes at the time the Bill of Rights was adopted. "The fact that technology now allows an individual to carry such information in his hand does not make the information any less worthy of the protection for which the founders fought," Roberts wrote.

—The (Hanover) Evening Sun

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LEGISLATIVE MISCHIEF: STATE'S CARBON PLAN SHOULD BE DEVISED BY EXPERTS

Opponents of President Barack Obama's plan to combat carbon pollution might sermonize about choice and control, but a bill that passed the state House of Representatives Tuesday could unwittingly undermine Pennsylvanians' ability to chart their own future.

Under federal guidelines issued in June, the state Department of Environmental Protection must submit a plan to the U.S. Environmental Protection Agency on how Pennsylvania will cut emissions from existing power plants by almost a third by 2030.

But House Bill 2354 from state Rep. Pam Snyder, D-Greene County, would impose a number of constraints on the state plan, notably the requirement that it be approved by the General Assembly first.

Requiring such legislative approval not only would allow politics to undercut the work of the state's authorities on Pennsylvania energy usage, but it also would increase the chance that the state will miss the deadline for submitting a plan on time. Then the federal government could impose its own plan on Pennsylvanians, an outcome no one wants.

The bill now moves to the state Senate.

Giving legislators the final say on the plan could also result in the state submitting to the same special interests that lawmakers serve. Industries would be able to influence the plan at the expense of its protection for Pennsylvanians, their resources and environment.

No matter how much legislators huff and puff, the Clean Air Act is the law of the land, and climate change is a reality that the world must address. The bill seems motivated by either political opportunism or scientific denial, declaring, "reasonably priced reliable sources of electric power generated in this Commonwealth are vital to the health, safety and welfare" of its residents.

The EPA's Clean Power Plan, which seeks to prevent 6,600 deaths, cut carbon emissions by 30 percent and reduce particle pollution by 25 percent, is a huge step forward for America and the environment. It should not be a step backward for Pennsylvania because of a bill that invites legislative interference.

—Pittsburgh Post-Gazette

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RECIDIVISM DROP GOOD FOR STATE

Pennsylvania was one of eight states recently recognized for making progress in reducing the number of inmates who were back in state prisons within three years of release.

A report by the Justice Center of the Council of Governments, released earlier this month, found that Pennsylvania's recidivism rate, three years after inmates were released in 2007, was 43.9 percent.

Three years after inmates were released in 2010, that rate dropped to 40.8 percent.

"When you translate that into raw numbers, we're talking about 500 fewer people going back to prison, which is halfway to building a new prison," Michael Thompson, director of the justice center, said in an announcement about the report.

Results like that make it sound like we're moving in the right direction, and we hope that's the case.

A little more than a year ago, a benchmark report released by the state Department of Corrections indicated the need for a more comprehensive analysis when talking about recidivism.

"To get a true picture of whether our state prison is meeting its goal of reducing future crime, we need to look at more than just the reincarceration of an individual," state Corrections Secretary John E. Wetzel said.

"We need to look at rearrests as well to see the whole picture of how and when individuals come into contact again with the criminal justice system," he added.

A finding in the correction department's February 2013 report, which included statistics dating back to 2000, revealed that approximately 6 of every 10 Pennsylvania inmates recidivate when recidivism is defined as being rearrested or reincarcerated within three years of being released from prison.

When the February 2013 report came out, we described the 6 out of 10 ratio as too high and unacceptable. Our position has not changed.

That's too many inmates returning to a corrections system that failed to make a difference.

But the latest study by the Justice Center highlights efforts such as its Recidivism Risk Reduction Incentive program, commonly referred to as Triple R-I, as one of the reasons behind the drop in recidivism that study reported.

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