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Editorials from around Pennsylvania

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HOW GOSNELL GOT AWAY WITH IT

Kermit Gosnell has been found guilty of the very savagery that legalized abortion was supposed to end. His murder conviction Monday should leave both sides of the sanctity-of-life debate asking how he got away with it for so long.

Gosnell had been performing abortions at his Women's Medical Society clinic in West Philadelphia for 30 years before a 2010 drug raid there revealed fetuses stuffed into bags, milk jugs, and juice cartons. The state subsequently shut down the clinic, and a grand jury accused Gosnell of running a house of horrors.

Reeking of cat urine and lacking trained staff, Gosnell's bloodstained clinic was an affront to one of the chief arguments for legal abortion: that it would prevent women from being mutilated, maimed, and murdered by unscrupulous doctors and others who would terminate any pregnancy for a fee.

The term "back-alley abortion" became common decades ago, when so many of the then-illegal procedures were taking place not in medical settings, but amid unsanitary conditions in homes or offices that women visited secretly. By some estimates, up to 200,000 such illicit procedures were performed each year in this country between 1880 and 1973, when the Supreme Court's Roe v. Wade decision found statutes arbitrarily outlawing abortion to be unconstitutional. Before Roe, the wire clothes hanger became a disturbing emblem of abortion, a reminder that a piece of twisted metal might be used to perform a procedure that, because it was illegal, was also unregulated.

Making abortion legal and putting it under government's watchful eye was supposed to keep people like Gosnell from practicing butchery. But the jury found that Gosnell, 72, killed three babies after they were born alive, and it found him guilty of involuntary manslaughter in the death of a woman who died of a drug overdose at his clinic. He was also found guilty of many of the lesser charges against him, which included performing abortions after 24 weeks of gestation, the limit set by Pennsylvania law, and routinely ignoring the 24-hour waiting period required before an abortion is performed.

Anti-abortion activists have argued that the Gosnell case is the latest evidence that the practice of abortion is beyond redemption and should end - period. But the bad doctor's atrocities serve just as much as a clarion call for better scrutiny of all abortion providers.

It's unlikely that Gosnell's horror show could have gone on for so long if his patients hadn't been poor women who couldn't afford to go elsewhere - and who didn't want to draw attention to themselves by reporting what they had seen and experienced inside his den of depravity.

Pennsylvania already has some of the nation's strictest abortion-clinic regulations. In fact, five clinics closed after more stringent rules were imposed in 2011. But such rules are meaningless unless they're enforced.

That's the strongest message of the Gosnell case: that no procedure that determines life and death should be treated as so routine that it can be ignored.

— The Philadelphia Inquirer

TANKER EXPLOSION'S PRICE TAG IS A WAKE-UP CALL ON TRANSPORTATION FUNDING

The flames were hot enough to melt concrete. And it was a miracle no one was killed.

But the effects of last Thursday's fiery tanker explosion at the interchange of Interstate 81 and Route 22/322 in Susquehanna Township will be felt for months.

The price tag to repair the damage has been ballparked at $10 million. And tens of thousands of motorists will be inconvenienced while that work takes place.

Last week, Gov. Tom Corbett swiftly signed a disaster declaration allowing the state to seek federal assistance to fix the damaged roadway.

Still the conflagration and its staggering cost was a vivid reminder that Pennsylvania lacks the permanent resources to repair thousands of miles of roadway and fix more than 4,000 structurally deficient bridges across the state.

But Corbett and state lawmakers have a solution within reach.

Last Tuesday, the Senate Transportation Committee voted 13-1 to approve a three-year, $2.5 billion infrastructure-funding package that would be paid for through increased motor vehicle license and registration fees, surcharges on moving violations and by lifting the cap on Pennsylvania's wholesale gasoline tax.

The funding proposal sponsored by Transportation Committee Chairman John Rafferty R-Montgonery, is more aggressive and more expensive than the five-year, $1.8 billion proposal Corbett offered during his February budget address.

But the Rafferty plan also more closely reflects the goals sketched out by the administration's own Transportation Funding Advisory Commission, chaired by Transportation Secretary Barry Schoch. Released in August 2011, the report called for similar fee and registration hikes and inflationary adjustments thereafter.

At this writing, 48 days remain until the state closes the books on the 2012-13 fiscal year. Besides passing a balanced spending plan that provides resources for public schools and social welfare programs, lawmakers should approve, and Corbett should enthusiastically sign, a transportation-funding package into law by that deadline.

While lawmakers face a host of big-ticket items this budget season, none serves a more compelling public policy interest than well-maintained roads and bridges and a robust mass-transit system.

Providing stable and predictable funding for such a system not only ensures public safety - another a core function of government -- but it also furthers the state's economic competitiveness at a relatively low cost to the average motorist - about $2.50 a week, based on the recommendations of Schoch's report.

Compare that to the additional $1 million in costs that, according to Schoch's report, are racked up for every day of inaction. By Aug. 1 of this year, two years to the day since the release of Schoch's report, the cost of repairing roads and bridges will have increased by roughly $750 million.

This should be a gimme. Business leaders support more money, arguing it costs them more in lost productivity and gas to sit in traffic. Organized labor supports it because it will create tens of thousands of new, well-paying construction jobs. And there is, generally, bipartisan agreement that the state should proceed.

Standing in the way are two obstacles.

One of them is Corbett's 2010 campaign season pledge to not raise taxes. As a result, he opposes raising direct fees on motorists. But this argument is a red herring. The Republican also supports lifting the cap on the wholesale gasoline tax, the cost of which will almost certainly be passed along at the pump.

The other is the stubborn refusal of some lawmakers, primarily rural Republicans, to sink more money into mass transit because the bulk of those dollars are split between the state's two largest cities: Philadelphia and Pittsburgh.

But it is undeniable that smaller mass-transit agencies, such as LANTA in the Lehigh Valley or CAT in central Pennsylvania, will also benefit from increased funding. That means, as business leaders have pointed out, more routes and more people getting to work and paying taxes on their wages.

From the railroads in the 19th century to the interstate highway system of the mid-20th century, Americans have known that the path to prosperity lies along a well-maintained transportation infrastructure.

This spring, Corbett and lawmakers have an opportunity to honor that legacy. They can. And they must.

— PennLive.com

JOB APPLICANTS TOO DRUGGED UP? LET'S FIND OUT

Democrats — and some muzzy-headed Republicans — are up in arms over Gov. Tom Corbett's recent assertion that high unemployment is due in part on drugged-up applicants.

Corbett said that employers across Pennsylvania have told him and others that some candidates don't even make it to the drug test, walking away when told that drug tests are mandatory. Other jobless people fail new-hire drug tests, or else are bounced shortly after being hired when random tests show that they have been abusing drugs.

"Insulting!" screech the moochers who think that welfare and unemployment payments should continue to provide comfortable livings to drug abusers. "It disrespects us! Takes away our dignity!"

No, what takes away dignity is drug/booze abuse plus habitual unemployment. Those who do both are self-inflicted bums.

Let's be fair. Thousands of non-druggie, non-drunk unemployed people want new jobs; some desperately so.

But some are drugged-up parasites, sucking taxpayer-supported welfare and unemployment programs into debt.

Some? How many?

Nobody knows. No statistics are reported to state government by employers when applicants walk away or are rejected for drug-use reasons.

Let's find out whether Corbett's claim is solid, or just smoke.

Pennsylvania's Department of Labor should find out:

— How many people do not show up for drug tests?

— How many applicants do fail drug tests?

— How many new hires are soon fired for failing drug tests or being drunk on the job?

Let's go beyond employer self-reporting. State government can cross-check employer-reported names against names on file in the court system, in the mental health system, in the addiction treatment programs, to bolster or discount the employer claims.

We're spending hundreds of millions of dollars on unemployment benefits, welfare payments, job-training programs. What good does it do to train workers — and pay them during training with taxpayer-provided money — if they fail drug tests, sign up for more training, and continue the cycle?

If we are supporting large numbers of druggies with welfare/unemployment, we need to wean them. Employers need drug-free workers, especially where machinery, vehicles or other dangerous stuff is involved. Taxpayers need fewer people on the dole and more holding productive jobs that broaden the tax base.

We have heard what Corbett says he heard. We have experienced some of this "There isn't a drug test, is there?" attitude down through the years.

But is it a huge problem or just a rare anomaly?

State government should find out, and let us know.

— (DuBois) Courier-Express

THE OTHER POLLINATORS

The buzz generated by a new study from the U.S. Department of Agriculture and two commercial beekeeping groups is discouraging. Nearly 32 percent of managed U.S. honeybee colonies died last winter, pushing the loss rate up by 42 percent over the previous winter.

But while Colony Collapse Disorder is a serious problem, too tight of a focus on it obscures the bigger, less discouraging pollination picture, in which honeybees play a surprisingly small role.

Winter's honeybee losses threaten about 70 pollination-dependent crops and could cost the nation $20 billion to $30 billion in crop losses, according to a USDA estimate. The new study renews worries about the disorder, which scientists identified in 2006. Parasites, disease, genetics, nutrition and pesticides combine to cause it, they say.

Yet honeybees aren't nature's sole pollinators. Other types of bees, flies, beetles and butterflies pollinate, too. And a study published on the journal Science's website on Feb. 28 says domesticated bees aren't nearly as effective at pollination.

That study looked at 600 agricultural fields scattered across every continent but Antarctica and planted with 41 crops that depend on insect pollination. It found wild insects enhanced pollination for 100 percent of those crops but honeybees did so for just 14 percent.

Some other scientific literature suggests these other wild pollinators might be compromised, too. If so, protecting them is a key part of protecting pollination overall — not just that done by honeybees.

— Pittsburgh Tribune-Review

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