LNP/LancasterOnline. March XX, 2023
Editorial: Pennsylvania lawmakers must enact sensible gun safety legislation
Martin School in the School District of Lancaster has students in kindergarten through eighth grade. That means most of the students there are younger than 14.
And yet one brought a gun to school.
Thankfully, the firearm wasn’t loaded, or else this could have gone a whole different and terrible way.
We actually don’t need to imagine what might have happened. Abigail Zwerner, a first grade teacher in Virginia, was shot by a 6-year-old student in her classroom in January.
The Virginia boy’s family claimed in a statement that the 9 mm handgun — legally purchased by the boy’s mother — had been “secured” in their home. Nevertheless, the boy was able to get his hands on the gun and carry it to school in his backpack, police said.
Because she’s a teacher, Zwerner’s first thought was that she needed to get her other students, whom she called “my babies,” to safety — despite the serious injuries she sustained (ruptured bones in her hand, a bullet in her chest, a collapsed lung).
Last week, she told NBC’s “Today” show that the shooting has “changed me. It’s changed my life.”
Of course it has. Shootings — no matter where they take place — change even the lives they don’t claim.
And their prevalence has altered our national psyche; the threat of gun violence is pervasive.
Which is why we keep imploring the Pennsylvania Legislature to pass sensible gun legislation.
In the Virginia case, the 6-year-old will not be charged, but the local prosecutor told NBC News that he is still reviewing the case to determine whether anyone else should face criminal charges. We hope the adults in that child’s home face some consequences.
Virginia has no laws requiring the safe storage of guns, but it is at least illegal in that state to leave a loaded, unsecured firearm “in such a manner as to endanger the life or limb of any child under the age of 14.”
Pennsylvania, however, has “no law that imposes a penalty on someone who fails to secure an unattended firearm and leaves it accessible to an unsupervised minor,” according to the Giffords Law Center to Prevent Gun Violence.
The gun that the Lancaster student took to school had been reported stolen — which is good. But there’s no Pennsylvania law that requires gun owners to report lost or stolen firearms to law enforcement.
Lancaster city passed its own such ordinance in 2009 but was sued in 2015 by the National Rifle Association. The NRA cited a long-standing Pennsylvania law that prohibits municipalities from enacting regulations that, as The Philadelphia Inquirer explained, “are stricter than what is allowed in state law.”
The lawsuit eventually was dropped, but it had the chilling effect the NRA undoubtedly hoped it would.
Philadelphia now hopes that the Pennsylvania Supreme Court will strike down the state’s preemption law as unconstitutional. Beset by a crisis of gun violence, that city is seeking to implement its own gun ordinances, including one that would require reporting lost or stolen firearms to law enforcement.
As The Associated Press reported last week, “Since 2018, Pennsylvania’s Legislature — long controlled by Republicans — has not seriously entertained any new firearm restrictions.”
In fact, lawmakers have gone — and continue to go — to great lengths to pander to the gun lobby.
Could that change now that Democrats narrowly control the state House and the Democratic former state attorney general, Josh Shapiro, is governor?
That was the hope of those who rallied at the state Capitol in Harrisburg on Thursday to mark the fifth anniversary of March For Our Lives, a movement launched after the February 2018 shooting in which 14 students and three staff members were fatally shot at a high school in Parkland, Florida.
We share their hope.
But we know that it won’t be easy to convince enough state lawmakers to finally pass the commonsense reforms that polls show the majority of Pennsylvanians want.
Consider these remarks, reported by the AP and uttered Thursday by Franklin County state Rep. Rob Kauffman, the ranking Republican on the Pennsylvania House Judiciary Committee.
Kauffman offered up the usual pro-gun lobby blather: Stricter gun laws won’t stop criminals who commit crimes with guns. And he took issue with those who compare driving laws with gun regulation.
“I know it’s hard for folks with serious tragedies to relate to that, but many of us, that’s where our minds are — that you cannot affiliate a driver’s license and gun ownership because one is a constitutional right and one is not,” he said.
The flip side of this statement is that gun-rights advocates like Kauffman cannot relate to the “folks” driven by tragedy to rally outside the state Capitol for gun safety legislation.
What Kauffman also seems to be saying is that the Second Amendment trumps the “unalienable rights” promised in the Declaration of Independence: life, liberty and the pursuit of happiness. He implies that government has been rendered powerless by the Second Amendment to pass laws to improve gun safety. But not even the late conservative U.S. Supreme Court Justice Antonin Scalia believed that.
In 2008, Scalia wrote, “Like most rights, the right secured by the Second Amendment is not unlimited. (It is) not a right to keep and carry any weapon whatsoever in any manner whatsoever and for whatever purpose.”
Unfortunately, many Pennsylvania lawmakers are too cowardly to take on even the mildest gun safety reforms — like requiring safe storage or the reporting of stolen guns. They offer up legislation pandering to culture-war concerns because that’s easier than addressing the actual harms that firearms pose to Pennsylvanians — children, teachers, all of us.
We could resign ourselves to a future in which schoolchildren will continue getting their hands on firearms, and lawmakers in Harrisburg will continue to serve up platitudes and excuses. But we deserve better, so let’s demand better.
Uniontown Herald Standard. March 26, 2023
Editorial: As our population ages, more nurses are needed
When the contractions start, when the device next to the hospital bed is beeping loudly, or when indigestion might actually be something more serious, you want a nurse to be there.
Problem is, we are dealing with a critical shortage of nurses. The caregivers who guide us through those moments when we are at our most sick and vulnerable have increasingly been retiring or otherwise decamping from the profession. It’s an issue in this region, across Pennsylvania and around the country. Physician assistants are also in increasingly short supply.
Here are some numbers: Vacancy rates stand at 32% in Pennsylvania for certified registered nurse practitioners and support staff, according to a recent industry survey. The vacancy rates are at 30% for registered nurses providing direct care, and 17% for clinical nurse specialists. Overall, Pennsylvania has one of the worst nurse shortages in the country. To give you an idea of where things stand, the Pittsburgh Post-Gazette reported earlier this year that UPMC had more than 3,000 openings for nurses. Though nursing pays relatively well, some nurses reached a breaking point following the extreme stresses of COVID-19 and decided to abandon ship.
Wayne Reich Jr., president of the Pennsylvania Nurses Association, pointed out, “They come out of nursing school, they see what the conditions are like, and they leave the profession.”
And a look at the commonwealth’s demographics does not offer reassurance – we have a large population of older residents, with more and more baby boomers creeping into the years when they will need more and more health care. The National Nursing Workforce Survey found that the median age of registered nurses is 52 – given the demands of the job, many of these nurses will want to retire over the next 15 years or so. It’s estimated that nursing numbers will need to increase by 9% in order to meet our health care needs by 2030, and we’ll also need 33% more nurse practitioners and 34% more physician assistants.
The Pennsylvania State System of Higher Education (PASSHE) hopes to relieve the shortage by requesting an infusion of $12 million from the Legislature, a portion of which it would use for financial aid for students interested in pursuing careers in nursing or as physician assistants. The Hospital and Health System Association of Pennsylvania has said the state needs to create a health care workforce council. State Sen. Camera Bartolotta, the Carroll Township Republican, is one of the forces behind a sensible measure that would do away with the requirement that nurse practitioners must be affiliated with a doctor. If it is finally approved – versions of the bill have been in the pipeline for almost a decade – it would allow nurse practitioners to work independently.
Also, more steps need to be taken to bring men into the profession.
Barack Obama once said, “America’s nurses are the beating heart of our medical system.” We can’t afford to let that heartbeat get fainter.
Wilkes-Barre Citizens’ Voice. March 23, 2023
Editorial: Don’t tie pensions to inflation
Government employees need not fret how wild swings in financial markets will affect their pensions. Public employment is the last bastion of the “defined benefit” pension plan.
Public pension plans — funded by workers, taxpayers, and plan investments — must pay the defined benefit.
The standard for the private sector is the “defined contribution” plan, by which workers and some employers contribute to a plan, such as a 401(k), without any guarantees.
State law considers a defined benefit to be, well, defined. It does not require benefits to increase over time for retirees, because the benefit is determined during each employee’s active career by factors such as longevity, salary and contribution rates.
For years, lawmakers sporadically increased retirees’ benefits because public employees and their unions are an important political constituency and because the big state and school pension plans were solvent and generated enough money to cover the costs.
Legislators have not authorized a cost of living adjustment since 2002, because their own greed and incompetence has made doing so unaffordable and politically untenable. In 2001, with flush pension funds to plunder, lawmakers shamefully gave themselves a 50% pension increase and cut in state and school employees for 25%. They decided that investment revenue alone would cover the costs, so the governments did not pay into the plan. Lawmakers added the COLA for existing retirees in 2002.
Then a series of financial calamities occurred, casting the plundered plans deep into distress.
Those plans, still badly underfunded, consume about $5 billion a year in state contributions and require each of 500 school districts annually to contribute an amount equivalent to about 35% of its payroll.
Tuesday, the House and Senate Democratic policy committees jointly conducted a hearing on increasing pension benefits for retirees whose last COLA was in 2002. That increase made the average benefit $847 a month.
Witnesses called for not only increasing the (un)defined benefit, but ensuring automatic increases based on inflation.
Retroactively increasing defined benefits is a dubious step. But lawmakers, who insult taxpayers by tying their own automatic annual pay increases to the rate of inflation, should not even consider tying retiree pension benefits to inflation.
Scranton Times Tribune. March 27, 2023
Editorial: Just disclose settlement
Pennsylvania law is clear that governments may not seal settlements of cases brought against them, or which they might bring as plaintiffs, because citizens are the government and taxpayers foot the bill.
Yet, the Pittston Area School District has tried to make an end run around disclosing the details of settlements with four victims of a former district band director, Brendan J. Carter, whom a court deemed a violent sexual predator and sentenced to 7-to-14 years in prison in 2021.
District lawyers Sam Falcone and John E. Freund III have acknowledged a settlement and that the district did not admit any wrongdoing, which is a standard settlement term. The plaintiffs’ attorney, Neill T. O’Donnell, has filed legal documents stating that the case is “settled, ended and discontinued with prejudice.”
But when The Citizens’ Voice, The Times-Tribune’s sister paper in Wilkes-Barre, filed a Right-to-Know request for the settlement, the district rejected the request with a semantic dodge. It replied that the relevant documents “do not exist in the possession, custody and control” of the district.
Perhaps not, but they certainly exist “in the possession, custody and control” of the district’s publicly paid lawyers. As noted by Melissa Melewsky, a media law attorney for the Pennsylvania NewsMedia Association, government agencies “have a legal duty to obtain settlements from law firms or insurance companies.”
Damages will be covered primarily by an insurer, which the taxpayers pay for such purposes. The district should stop obfuscating and disclose the settlements.