LNP/LancasterOnline. September 20, 2023

Editorial: Third Pennsylvania bird count will launch in January. Even fledgling birders are invited to volunteer.

As LNP ‘ LancasterOnline’s Elizabeth DeOrnellas reported Sunday, “Scientists and birders are getting ready for the January launch of Pennsylvania’s third Bird Atlas — a massive survey that rallies volunteers statewide in a five-year effort to count and catalog the state’s birds.”

More than 2,000 volunteers took part in the last bird count. Organizers are hoping to match or exceed that number this time around.

The aim will be to provide five seasons of data — with a focus on breeding birds — and so the collection will stretch into January 2029.

For the first time, a Pennsylvania Bird Atlas will incorporate winter surveys in addition to breeding season surveys. This will enhance scientific understanding of the state’s bird populations.

The project is a partnership of the Pennsylvania Game Commission, Hawk Mountain Sanctuary, the Pennsylvania Society for Ornithology and the Pennsylvania Bird Atlas Steering Committee.

Fieldwork for Pennsylvania’s first Bird Atlas was completed from 1983-89, and surveys for the second atlas were conducted from 2004-09.

Amber Wiewel, a wildlife biologist and the coordinator for the third Pennsylvania Bird Atlas, said she hopes the new data will enable scientists to look at how the range of species has shifted and note changes to breeding times.

Climate change — which has had profound effects on so many aspects of our natural world — has resulted in a northern shift to the range of some species, and Wiewel said the new data collection might show that species also are beginning to breed earlier.

Members of the Lancaster County Bird Club are expected to participate in the data collection efforts. But Wiewel emphasized that the project aims to be inclusive and accessible even for inexperienced birders. The eBird app from the Cornell Lab of Ornithology will enable the participation of volunteers of all ages and experience levels.

This would be a great project for teachers and parents to involve children in — and a great way for fledgling birders to hone their observational skills.

Special protocols will be developed for birders who want to seek out endangered or threatened species, as well as harder-to-find species, so it might be wise to leave those to more experienced birders. But Wiewel said it is just as valuable to note the presence of bird species that are common to Pennsylvania.

As DeOrnellas reported Sunday, birders can use the eBird app to record species and details such as singing, the presence of pairs, where the species was found, how many were present and how long they were observed.

The app’s users can access maps and look by county or by block to see where data already has been recorded and what additional data might be needed to fully count the number of breeding birds in the state. More information and updates may be found at the bird count website ( lanc.news/BirdAtlas ).

Millennials and Generation Z members discovered birding during the COVID-19 shutdown. Bird-watching is a low-cost, rewarding way of connecting with nature. We urge Lancaster County residents of all ages to consider helping to count Pennsylvania’s many wild and wonderful birds.


Pittsburg Post-Gazette. September 25, 2023

Editorial: Shapiro’s pragmatic voter registration measure deserves unanimous support

Gov. Josh Shapiro recently implemented a new measure to ensure more Pennsylvanians have access to elections: Residents getting driver’s licenses and ID cards will now automatically be opted into registering to vote through Pennsylvania Department of Transportation (PennDOT) computers. State residents already had the option, but an automatic prompt remains a simple and effective way to nudge voters in the direction of civic duty.

The measure is also inherently secure. Everyone getting an ID at a government PennDOT facility already provides proof of residency, age and citizenship.

American voters’ low turnout numbers are already a blemish on our democracy. Voter participation in special elections and primaries sometimes dips into the single-digits. Using every tool available to make voting accessible, easy and simple strengthens the social and political fabric of the country.

But some state Republicans have strongly opposed to the measure. Among them is House Minority Leader Bryan Cutler, R-Lancaster, who argued that Mr. Shapiro lacked the authority to enact a new voter registration system. But removing an opt-in from a pre-existing registration screen is more an update than the creation of a new system, and shouldn’t require legislative approval.

The first law requiring Drivers License Centers to provide voter registration services was the National Voter Registration Act of 1993. That act says, “Each State motor vehicle driver’s license application (including any renewal application) submitted to a State motor vehicle authority must serve as a simultaneous voter registration application.” This new measure falls firmly into line with the law’s guidance.

The inherently bipartisan measure also brings Pennsylvania into a cohort of 23 other states with an opt-out rather than opt-in DMV voter registration. And there’s more good news: Tuesday’s changes add five more languages into the voter registration instructional database, bringing the total to 31.

Another house Republican who came out publicly against the measure was Sen. Cris Dush, R-Jefferson, who issued a breathless statement calling the Shapiro administration “tyrants.” According to his statement, “(the new policy) risks turning a solemn duty into a thoughtless action, exploiting the system to catch the unwitting, the uncertain and the unintentional.”

In this case, the “unwitting, the uncertain and the unintentional” happens to be anyone at a Drivers License Center. And the terrible action they’re being tricked into performing is, well, registering to vote.

“Preserving the personal responsibility of registering to vote is not about making things harder; it’s about ensuring that the act itself carries the weight and importance it deserves,” Sen. Dush wrote. But registering to vote is not, and shouldn’t be, a test of passion or perseverance. It should be normal. Like renewing your driver’s license.

Adding more errands to voters’ to-do lists doesn’t convey the weight and importance of voting. Making sure that a democracy accurately reflects its people, however, does.


Pittsburgh Tribune-Review. September 24, 2023

Editorial: Easier voter registration is better for everyone

The more people vote, the more votes count.

It shouldn’t matter what party someone joins. It shouldn’t matter whether someone picks no party at all. Ideally, everyone would cast a ballot. Everyone would have their say.

That should be a point on which everyone agrees. But there are no points on which everyone agrees anymore.

On Tuesday, Gov. Josh Shapiro announced an executive action that would streamline a process that was already in use. The new policy just turns it on its head.

For years, when visiting a state office to get a driver’s license or a photo identification card, people were faced with a question on the little computer screen.

Do you want to register to vote?

It was offered as an option — a simple step that let you take advantage of one office to handle a second activity. For anyone who has had to wait in line in a government office, it was a win to have the ability to kill two proverbial birds with one red-tape stone.

Shapiro’s action changes the question subtly. It goes from asking if you want to register to assuming you do — but still offering the ability to opt out if it isn’t something someone wants to do.

It is a good idea because it can address concerns that have existed on both sides of the political spectrum.

Republicans long have advocated for better identification at polls. This would make sure that even more voters have official state-issued IDs, countering an argument from many Democrats.

Republicans also have advocated for better security around the process. Registering via a state system in a state office would seem more secure; people registering as part of licensure also would have to provide proof of identity.

There has, however, been pushback.

Senate President Pro Tempore Kim Ward, R-Hempfield, has bristled at the process being done unilaterally by the governor rather than via action by lawmakers. Republican Committee of Allegheny County Chairman Sam DeMarco sees it as hypocritical given Democratic objections to voter ID.

“This smacks of an attempt to stem the tide of Republican momentum,” he said.

There is nothing that stops legislators from taking steps to refine the process to their liking. There is nothing that stops both parties from continuing to encourage registration and to encourage their supporters to vote.

But, in the meantime, why is it ever a bad thing to have more people prepared to exercise their right and responsibility to vote?


Scranton Times-Tribune. September 25, 2023

Editorial: ‘Curriculum’ bill more about politics

Pennsylvania law requires public school districts to give parents and guardians access to curriculum, academic standards, instructional materials and assessment techniques. Many of those districts also post the materials online.

Such disclosure, however, does not stir the political pot enough for some members of the Pennsylvania Legislature.

The Senate Education Committee recently approved a bill, with all seven Republicans in favor and all four Democrats opposed, that would serve no educational purpose while creating a massive administrative burden for districts. It would, however, inspire more of the book-banning and fearmongering that have become far more prevalent at the school district level.

Former Gov. Tom Wolf properly vetoed the first version of the bill after it passed both houses of the Legislature in 2021, which then had Republican majorities. Now, Republicans control the Senate and Democrats have a slim majority in the House. But the new bill is just as bad as the vetoed version.

The bill would require schools to post online an internet link or the title of every textbook used to teach students in kindergarten through 12th grade. Schools also would have to post a course syllabus or written summary of every class offered to students and the state academic standards for each course. Schools would have 30 business days to update the information any time the material changes.

Since parents invested in their children’s education already have guaranteed access to that information, it’s clear that the initiative is aimed at fomenting political controversy rather than enhancing transparency relevant to education.

That matches the objective in 2021, when Democratic state Rep. Dan Frankel of Allegheny County characterized the bill as an effort to “bring the culture wars into our classrooms” by allowing national political activists to access Pennsylvania teaching plans.

If the Senate passes the bill, it likely would have a rockier road through the House Democratic majority than its predecessor experienced in 2021. But if this political grenade masquerading as transparency makes it through the Legislature, Gov. Josh Shapiro should veto it.


Uniontown Herald-Standard. September 23, 2023

Editorial: Book censors undercut libraries, communities

Pennsylvania is the second-largest producer of natural gas in the nation, with Texas out in front.

Texas and Pennsylvania are, unfortunately, ranked first and second in another area: the number of challenges made to library books.

According to a report released this month by the American Library Association’s Office of Intellectual Freedom, there were 56 challenges made to books held by libraries across the commonwealth in 2022, putting Pennsylvania in second place in this ignominious category after the Lone Star State, which saw 93 challenges. Across the country, there were more than 1,200 efforts to censor library books in 2022, double the number from the year before. The association reports the requests usually come from a small but vocal minority of people, many of whom have not actually read the books in question, but are calling for them to be removed based on media reports or things they have seen online. The overwhelming majority of the complaints center on volumes dealing with race, gender or sexuality, such as “The Bluest Eye,” by Toni Morrison, or “Gender Queer: A Memoir,” by Maia Kobabe.

Of course, challenges to books have been happening since Johannes Gutenberg created the printing press. Almost 100 years ago, for example, D.H. Lawrence’s “Lady Chatterley’s Lover” was banned in the United States, Britain and other countries, and some booksellers were arrested for making it available. It’s now considered a classic and is readily available at libraries in Washington, Greene and Fayette counties, can be ordered with a click of the mouse and no one raises an eyebrow about it. Shirley Robinson, the executive director of the Texas Library Association, told The Washington Post that “book challenges and censorship are nothing new. … But the volume of challenges and the vitriol against librarians is unprecedented.”

Even more disturbing are efforts by some states to cut ties with the American Library Association. State libraries in Missouri, Texas and Montana have done so, and officials in other states are apparently considering it. Opponents claim that the American Library Association advocates having pornography in libraries, which is far from the case. The organization has taken stands for having a wide range of information available to all citizens. They have also stood up to censorious bullies.

It should also be noted that the American Library Association helps out libraries by giving grants, scholarships and awards. Local libraries can use these grants to purchase computers and books, and some of the libraries that get this assistance are in small, rural communities.

Arguably, the attempts to undercut libraries and demonize librarians are part of a strain of anti-intellectualism that has run through American life since its founding. But undercutting libraries is doing a major disservice to communities. We should cherish and support places where people have the opportunity to expand their horizons just by possessing a library card. They are also community gathering places, one of the few spaces where people can come together that doesn’t involve buying and selling.

The late CBS evening anchor Walter Cronkite was once considered America’s most trusted man, and he offered this bit of wisdom about libraries: “Whatever the cost of our libraries, the price is cheap compared to that of an ignorant nation.”



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