Pittsburgh Post-Gazette. April 29, 2023

Editorial: Official Pa. Diwali recognition a symbol of progress and welcome

The Pennsylvania House voted 200-1 on Wednesday to recognize the Hindu feast of Diwali, known as the “festival of lights.” The bill now proceeds to the State Senate. If approved, the feast will officially be known as “Diwali Day” in Pennsylvania, celebrated this year on Sunday, Nov. 12.

Stephanie Borowicz, a Republican serving parts of Clinton and Union counties, cast the sole dissenting vote.

Almost certainly, two, three or four decades ago, far more politicians would have joined Ms. Borowicz in opposing Diwali Day, even though it won’t be a state, legal or official holiday in Pennsylvania. The House’s near unanimous approval represents a step forward in recognizing and affirming the range of cultures that enrich the commonwealth.

Thankfully, no one raised the specter of a culture war. No one accused the House of approving a “pagan” holiday. No one objected to honoring our Hindu and South Asian neighbors — reactions the bill would have triggered not so many years ago.

.Local representative Arvind Venkat, a Democrat who represents the North Hills, sponsored the bill. Diwali, he told the House’s state government committee, “celebrates the triumph of light over darkness, of good over evil, and of truth over ignorance.” He likened it to feasts and holy days in other religions. More than 1 billion people, worldwide, celebrate it, including not only Hindus, but also Sikhs, Jains and Buddhists.

The first Hindu elected to the House and the only Indian-American serving there, Mr. Venkat, an Emergency Room physician, proposed the bill to recognize the place of “the ever-growing and vibrant South Asian community” in Pennsylvania. For them, he told the committee, an official recognition of the feast is “truly a marker of our integration into the fabric of Pennsylvania.”

Between 2 and 3 million Hindus are estimated to live in the United States, including 130,000 in Pennsylvania, about 1% of the state’s population, Pew Research Center reported. Up to 90% of them are immigrants. Nearly half have post-graduate degrees; and more than a third earn more than the U.S. average.

The bill’s other local sponsors, all Democrats, were Jessica Benham, Dan Frankel, Sara Innamorato, Brandon Markosek, Joe McAndrew and Dan Miller.

Culture wars may continue to seethe elsewhere, but on Wednesday, the Pennsylvania House replaced strife with unity and fear with hope.

Pittsburgh Tribune-Review. April 30, 2023

Editorial: Promising bipartisan start to House’s work

The Pennsylvania House of Representatives has done something that seems like a throwback to a quaint time we can barely remember.

It did its job.

More than that, after coming back into session following a lengthy break, the lawmakers got down to the business of making laws and not just playing politics. Sure, there was some politics. There always is. But a shocking amount of governing was done that transcended labels.

Four bills passed unanimously. Yes. Every single member looked at it and decided it was worth doing.

Sure, one of them was Senate President Pro Tempore Kim Ward’s bill to cover mammograms and screenings for breast and ovarian cancers. It’s very hard to oppose a bill like that. No one is pro cancer.

Legislators also took the high road in changing the language of the public school code to be more sensitive and inclusive of some of the individuals it serves — particularly those with disabilities and diagnoses that fall under mental health and development delays. That was unanimous, too.

Other bills didn’t pass with 100% support, but it is almost more inspiring to see honest bipartisan concession and debate on issues that aren’t as universally supported as “cancer is bad” and “be kind to disabled children.”

In all, eight bills passed with people from both parties agreeing there was merit in the ideas that were brought to the table.

What is tragic is that this is amazing. This should be the default. This should be so routine as to be boring. You looked at a proposal, discussed it, put it to a vote in committee, moved it forward to the body as a whole and came to a consensus? Congratulations. You understood the assignment.

But that understanding is something we must applaud when it happens because it happens so seldom anymore. Too often, we see such a deeply partisan divide that it would not be surprising to see half the Legislature — or the Congress — burn to death because the other side said the building was on fire.

The razor-thin Democratic majority in the House could do one of two things. It could grind the process to a halt and make everything so blatantly partisan that nothing gets accomplished. We have definitely seen that happen in many levels of government in recent years.

But the other outcome — the one every lawmaker should strive to achieve — is to remember the purpose of a bicameral legislative body and the separate powers of government.

It is about listening, negotiating, compromising and setting aside the fight in favor of the solution.

It’s only April. We are just four months into this session — less if you count the time it took to seat the winners of three Allegheny County special elections. There is still time for this to to devolve into political business as usual.

Let’s hope the lawmakers realize there is more to be gained by everyone in working together.

Scranton Times-Tribune. May 1, 2023

Editorial: Tax proposal won’t pass, but it’s sound

Five Democratic legislators have proposed changing the state income tax to make it less regressive, but it has scant chance of passage in the divided Legislature.

Still, the proposal demonstrates how the state’s flat-rate income tax adversely affects lower-income taxpayers.

Pennsylvania is among the 41 states that impose personal income taxes, and among the 11 in that group that do so with a universal flat rate. The state’s 3.07% flat personal income tax rate is on the low end of the range that states assess.

In several states, conservative legislators have proposed moving from progressive rates that increase according to income, to flat rates, arguing that it’s fairer for everyone to pay the same rate.

But as the new initiative in Pennsylvania shows, the flat rate is anything but truly flat in terms of the percentage of total income lost to taxes. An analysis by the progressive Pennsylvania Budget and Policy Center found, for example, that the 20% of the state’s families with the lowest incomes pay about 14% of their income in state and local taxes, whereas taxpayers in the top 1% pay about 6% of their incomes in those taxes.

“It’s the height of absurdity that the bottom 60% of income earners are, on average, paying nearly double the tax rate of what the richest Pennsylvanians pay,” state Rep. Chris Rabb said.

He, along with fellow Democratic Reps. Elizabeth Fiedler and Rick Krajewski of Philadelphia, Sara Innamorato of Allegheny County and Joshua Siegel of Lehigh County, propose making the tax more progressive.

One option, for example, would decrease the personal income tax on wages and interest by 8%, from 3.07% to 2.8%, while increasing to 6.5% the levy on “passive income” such as dividends, gambling winnings, profits derived from rents, and other categories.

The group also offered several other options that would reduce the levy on direct wages and increase it on other nonwage taxable income. The lawmakers project that the change would increase state revenue by at least $2.6 billion at a time when the government projects significant budget deficits in the second half of the decade.

The Legislature, now embarked on a five-year project to vastly reduce the corporate net income tax rate, should strive to make personal income taxation less regressive.

Uniontown Herald-Standard. April 30, 2023

Editorial: Gambling offers benefits, but addiction is its dark side

The house always wins, as the saying goes, but gambling has generated plenty of other winners in Pennsylvania, too.

The Pennsylvania Gaming Control Board recently reported that gambling generated an eye-opening $515 million in revenue in March, the first time revenue crossed the half-billion-dollar mark since gambling was legalized in 2006. It represented an 11% increase compared to March 2022, and came from slot machines, table games, games on the internet, sports wagering and more. The Hollywood Casino at the Meadows in Washington County and Lady Luck Casino Nemacolin in Fayette County contributed to that sizable take.

And while it’s never a joy to walk away from a blackjack table or slot machine with empty pockets, losers can take comfort in knowing that their “contributions” are helping with property tax relief and a portion of the proceeds also go toward beneficial community and infrastructure projects. Besides, many people who do visit casinos view it as being a form of benign leisure – they can go, maybe they’ll win something, have a little fun, and then walk away.

The dark side of gambling, though, is that it’s not just a harmless way to unwind or kill some time for some Americans, but a serious, harmful addiction. Estimates have it that 6 million of us – about 2% of the United States’ population – have a gambling addiction. And all of those addicts have a much, much easier time getting a fix than they once did. No longer does anyone have to venture to Las Vegas or Atlantic City to hang out in a casino – there are more than 400 casinos operating in the country as of 2020, and a bunch just over the border in Canada. Above all, there are an abundance of opportunities to gamble online. As more than one observer has noted, we all now have a casino in our pockets thanks to smartphones.

Individuals hooked on gambling can wreak havoc on their relationships with friends and family, savage their bank accounts and destroy their careers – how many times have we heard stories of individuals getting fired from their jobs and being brought up on charges because they’ve pilfered money from their employers’ accounts so they could gamble?

The rise of sports gambling has left some young men particularly vulnerable, according to several news reports. Pamela Brenner-Davis, team leader of the New York Council on Problem Gambling, explained, “Young people, particularly those under the age of 25, still have underdeveloped brains that make them predisposed to addiction, particularly gambling addiction.”

Pennsylvania residents who realize they have a problem with gambling can enroll in a self-exclusion program that will keep them out of casinos and away from gambling for a specific period of time. Information on getting help is also available online at responsibleplay.pa.gov.

After all, hoping that gambling addiction can be cured with one big win is a bet no one should make.

Wilkes-Barre Citizens’ Voice. April 28, 2023

Editorial: Committee’s gun safety bills save lives

Gun rights absolutists reflexively oppose any gun-safety proposals. But gun-safety bills that the state House Judiciary Committee passed this week demonstrate that the government can recognize the right to bear arms while requiring gun owners to be responsible.

Democrats on the committee approved the bills over Republican objections. And even if the narrow Democratic House majority passes the bills, they are doomed in the Republican-controlled Senate.

Yet the bills are thoughtful, directed at specific problems, and would be likely to reduce the state’s toll of gun-related toll deaths and injuries.

According to the National Center for Health Statistics, Pennsylvania had a firearms injury and death rate of 14.8 per 100,000 residents in 2021. Its homicide rate was 9.8 per 100,000 residents.

About 1,600 Pennsylvanians die after being shot each year, and another 3,000-plus suffer wounds. Although the public focus naturally is on violent crime, 62% of Pennsylvanians who die from gunshots die by suicide, whereas 35% die by homicide. The remainder involve firearms accidents.

The committee-passed bills would:

— Mandate that weapons be sold with trigger locks, and that they be stored safely. Abundant research shows that proximity of an unsecured, loaded firearm triples the risk that someone with suicidal thoughts will follow through. Securing weapons also would reduce accidental shootings, especially among children.

— Enable courts to remove weapons from people who, after evaluations and court hearings, are found to be a danger to themselves or others. That “red flag” law especially would be helpful in fighting domestic violence.

— Require gun owners to report when guns are lost or stolen. People often sell guns to criminals who cannot obtain them legally, and then claim that the guns were lost or stolen when they show up at crime scenes.

— Mandate background checks for all gun sales. State police conducted 1.4 million background checks and flagged sales to 27,000 individuals with violent-crime records. Those people should not be able to get a gun anywhere else.

These proposals would enhance gun safety without imperiling gun rights. Lawmakers should think about the measures and approve them, rather than reflexively rejecting them due to ideology.



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