Editorials from around Pennsylvania:
CLEAN UP IRS REHIRING
As Congress tackles tax reform, the IRS needs reform, too — specifically, its hiring practices, which too often result in bringing back former employees it let go under clouds of suspicion, in apparent violation of existing laws.
That's what two Republican senators, North Carolina's Richard Burr and Wyoming's Michael B. Enzi, contend in a Sept. 15 letter that urges stiffening such laws. The Washington Times reports they're asking Sen. Shelley Moore Capito, R-W.Va., and Sen. Chris Coons, D-Del., "the top lawmakers on the Appropriations Committee panel that oversees the IRS . to write even tougher restrictions into the 2018 spending bill."
Mr. Burr also has a bill of his own "that would bar the IRS from rehiring anyone who separated from the agency due to conduct or performance issues."
The problem is documented by a series of reports from the Treasury Inspector General for Tax Administration. An audit released in July found "some 10 percent of employees the IRS hired between January 2015 and March 2016 had left under the cloud of investigation, yet were brought back," The Times says, adding that IRS rehires have included "fraudsters, tax cheats and disruptive employees."
Neither such problematic individuals nor IRS officials who rehire them belong on the government's payroll. Whether via the 2018 spending bill, Burr's bill or both, Congress must force the IRS to clean up its rehiring act. Taxpayers deserve an honest, trustworthy IRS workforce.
—The Tribune Review
TRASH ACT MATTER OF RESPONSIBILITY
Accounting for waste is a matter of civic responsibility. Unfortunately, for too many local and state governments, that responsibility begins and ends with sending their garbage to Pennsylvania.
Although exporting waste is expensive, it's cheaper and easier than comprehensive statewide waste management plans that account for most garbage without exporting it.
The problem is pronounced in Northeast Pennsylvania, especially Lackawanna County, which has two huge landfills that accept out-of-state waste. And it is urgent because of the massive Keystone Landfill's vast expansion plan, which remains under review by the state Department of Environmental Protection.
Towns and states that are adversely affected by massive garbage imports have little recourse because garbage is part of interstate commerce. The Constitution endows Congress with authority over that commerce.
Congress can empower states, however, and U.S. Rep. Matt Cartwright and Sen. Bob Casey, both of Lackawanna County, have reintroduced a bill to do so. The Trash Reduction and Sensible Handling Act, or TRASH Act, would alter the trash-disposal market by requiring states to establish responsible waste-management policies or face costs for failing to do so.
Under the bill, any garbage-exporting state would be required to have waste management plans and safe-handling regulations equal to or greater than those of the state where the garbage is dumped. If the exporting state fails to establish those policies, the importing state would be able to assess substantial fees on the imported garbage, in addition to host municipality fees.
At the least, the law would result in greater assurances that the imported garbage is safe. And the added fees would be a powerful incentive for exporting states to dispose of more of their own garbage.
Congress should pass the TRASH Act to give states and affected local governments the weapons that they need to stem the flow of imported garbage and the environmental and economic problems that come with it.
—The (Scranton) Times-Tribune
TRUMP SABOTAGING OBAMACARE WITH BIRTH CONTROL RULE
It should be clear by now that the unexpected is what to expect most from President Trump. Since angering fellow Republicans last month by making a deal with Democrats to fund the government, Trump has made a series of decisions that show bipartisanship is just another commodity to him, not a goal.
Trump's continued efforts to eviscerate the Affordable Care Act show he has no intention of working with Democrats to improve the law. The Health and Human Services Administration issued rules Friday to make it easier for employers and insurers to invoke religious or moral objections to avoid the ACA requirement that contraceptives be covered by insurance as part of preventive care.
White House press secretary Sarah Huckabee Sanders said the rule change reflected Trump's concern for the freedom to practice one's faith. "I don't understand why that should be an issue," she said.
It's an issue because the new rules aren't about faith, they're about shoring up Trump's support from social conservatives.
California has filed suit, saying Trump's new rules will leave millions of women without access to birth control and consequently increase contraceptive costs to state-funded programs. Other states could make that same argument, and should with their own litigation.
There also was no bipartisanship in Trump's announcement Monday that the government will rescind Clean Power Plan rules issued by the Environmental Protection Agency under President Barack Obama to reduce carbon dioxide emissions by power plants. Emissions from coal-fired plants impact global warming and the deadly weather it has spawned in recent years.
EPA chief Scott Pruitt announced the rule change in coal country, Hazard, Kentucky. Standing nearby was Senate Majority Leader Mitch McConnell, R-Ky. McConnell was all smiles, but he can't get too comfortable with the administration, given Trump's mercurial temperament. McConnell was berated by Trump for failing to get a repeal of the ACA through the Senate.
Trump also has cast shade on any hope of a bipartisan immigration agreement. The president announced in September that he would phase out the Deferred Action for Childhood Arrivals program, but he expressed sympathy for the "Dreamers" whose parents brought them into this country illegally as children.
Too steep, however, is Trump's price to keep nearly 700,000 immigrants enrolled in DACA from being deported by March.
In return, he wants Democrats to agree to pay for a border wall, which he once insisted would be paid by Mexico; support efforts to withhold federal grants from sanctuary cities, like Philadelphia, which refuse to have their police act like an arm of Immigration and Customs Enforcement; and back his plan to stop unaccompanied minors fleeing gang violence in Central America from entering the United States.
Trump doesn't seem to really care if Democrats come around to his way of thinking. His agenda isn't about compromise. It's about keeping this country as divided over social issues as it was when he won the White House. The formula worked for him then, and he believes it will again in a re-election bid. But what a price this country will pay if his cynical approach to government continues to prevail.
—The Philadelphia Inquirer
SOME PROBLEMS CAN ONLY BE RESOLVED COOPERATIVELY
The country mourned again when a gunman in Las Vegas shot and killed nearly 60 people and injured almost 500. The inevitable question followed: Why did he do it?
Every time there is senseless violence, we think if we can answer that question, maybe we can be proactive and stop it from happening again. Yet, it happens again, and we shake our collective heads and wonder what could've prevented it.
The discussions that ensue after mass shootings largely remain the same, reinvigorating the debate over stricter gun laws. One side holds up gun violence statistics and says we should limit gun sales. Fewer guns will lead to less violence, they say. The other side tells you that additional good, upstanding people should arm themselves. They suggest that knowing that the person next to you may be armed could stop someone considering violence.
Whether there are greater gun restrictions, or more guns, the larger problem remains: those set on doing violence will find a way.
Homemade bombs, vehicles and knives have all been used to kill and harm crowds. The casualties may be fewer, but the intent to kill or maim is the same.
The reality is that bad people will find a way to do bad things. Police agencies exist because people don't follow the law.
Read our daily recent arrest listings. Despite the gun laws that exist now, police file charges weekly against people for carrying firearms without a license or possessing firearms that criminal convictions preclude them from having.
That is, mind you, not a suggestion that we throw our hands up and deem the gun debate worthless. It isn't; but it's not going to be decided overnight, or even with a great deal of discussion.
Rather, it is a call to look at our society and figure out what broke in it along the way.
The world seems unrecognizable some days. Large scale, mass casualty violence is less of a shock than it was 20 years ago because it occurs with startling regularity.
Instead of reacting to each of these by wondering why each individual instance occurred, perhaps the solution is to look to our past and see what's changed. Why and how did we get so off track? Stop blaming the other political party, gender, religion or age group and stand together as one united country to figure out how we can make things better.
And stop, while you're at it, believing that the pervasive, exclusionary divisions we buy into every day are not contributing to the problem. Those divisions can make us deaf to the suggestions and thoughts of others with differing beliefs, because we've shut them out before we've heard them out.
Jason Aldean, the country singer on stage when Stephen Paddock killed and injured so many, Sunday night, in Las Vegas, released a statement earlier this week.
It said, in part, "This world is becoming the kind of place I am afraid to raise my children in. At the end of the day we aren't Democrats or Republicans, whites or blacks, men or women. We are all humans and we are all Americans and it's time to start acting like it and standing together as one."
The free exchange of ideas, thoughts and opinions should not create an insurmountable boundary. A difference in age, skin color, gender or religion shouldn't make a difference.
We should work as one to fix the problem of violence in our country.
—The (Uniontown) Herald-Standard
PUSH NEEDED FOR HIGH-SPEED RURAL INTERNET
A lot of us are old enough to remember when the internet was at once a novelty and a wonder. In the years since, it has become another essential utility, like electricity and running water.
For countless Americans, high-speed internet is an indispensable tool of their businesses and livelihoods and a portal for a variety of entertainment and educational options.
Access to high-speed internet — defined by the federal government as download speeds of at least 25 megabits per second — is largely taken for granted in most of urban America. The population density of cities and metropolitan areas made it feasible — that is, profitable — for providers to create the networks that offer global reach.
But that access remains elusive in many rural areas of the country, including in the Erie region. That only widens the growing divide between metropolitan and rural America, and hinders economic activity in areas where greater connectivity could mean opportunity.
As Erie Times-News reporter David Bruce detailed on Monday, 37.5 percent of Erie County residents — mostly in the rural southern and eastern parts of the county — don't have access to high-speed internet. And the market forces that brought it to metropolitan areas are working against them.
Because of lower population density and the distances between homes and businesses, it often doesn't pay for internet providers to expand their high-speed networks into rural areas. The return doesn't justify the investment required.
But that leaves those areas at a disadvantage on a variety of fronts. Residents have difficulty working from home, operating an online business or engaging in distance education. They have fewer options for health care resources and information. They can't tap into entertainment options, such as Netflix and other streaming services, because their internet access isn't robust enough to support them.
Some observers compare the situation to the 1930s-era effort to extend electric service to rural areas nationwide. The federal government made loans to local cooperatives, many of which continue to provide service to this day.
Extending high-speed internet service to rural areas without it — which is vital to those areas as well as the nation as a whole — merits an effort of similar scale. If there are issues with potential for bipartisan agreement in today's poisonous atmosphere, this is one of them.
President Donald Trump this summer said that expanded access to high-speed internet in rural America would be part of his infrastructure plans. Democratic lawmakers in September called for $40 billion in funding toward the same purpose.
"In the 21st century it is just as important as a telephone, water, sewer, roads," U.S. Agriculture Secretary Sonny Perdue said in June. "It has become an infrastructure of necessity."
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