Attend the networking reception for progressives in the Susquehanna Valley. Enjoy hearty appetizers and desserts, wine tasting, and good conversation. Meet new like-minded individuals and reconnect with those you know.
This past week the republican senate leaders hijacked efforts to pass sensible redistricting reform in Pennsylvania. Instead of moving bipartisan legislation forward that would have empowered the people of Pennsylvania in the redrawing of our legislative and congressional districts, a few powerful republican legislators took the opportunity to obliterate existing compromises, abandon any efforts to diligently fix the process, and institute unfair advantages to their own party.
In 2012, state republican legislators drew distorted, biased maps that disenfranchised voters and compromised our democratic process; the League of Women Voters challenged the congressional districts on the basis of political gerrymandering; subsequently the districts were deemed unconstitutional and thrown out by the state Supreme Court.
Susquehanna Valley Progress (SVP) has long supported the establishment of an independent commission made up of real people –not partisan players with partisan agendas–to draw congressional and legislative districts. SVP is a supporting organization of Fair Districts PA (FDPA), a non-partisan statewide coalition working to create a process for redistricting that is transparent, impartial, and fair. In 2017, FDPA endorsed bipartisan legislation introduced in the house and senate with strong sponsorship on both sides of the aisle.
In the house, the legislation languished in the State Government Committee, chaired by Republican Rep. Darryl Metcalfe. Metcalfe refused to move the bill or hold hearings. In April, he called a last minute committee meeting where he unveiled a plan that killed the original intent of a the fair districts approach and instead guaranteed the legislative majority would control redistricting, even stripping the governor and the Supreme Court from participating in the process. It was a callous and arrogant move that demonstrated how little Metcalfe regards the people of this state, nonetheless, fair and transparent democracy. The measure passed by party lines in the committee. Fair Districts abandoned the house bill and turned its attention to the Senate. Surely there would be reasonable republicans to work with in the other chamber.
FDPA began working with Senator Folmer, a republican from Lebanon County, and chair of the State Government Committee. Folmer, to his credit, has often taken a balanced approach to making government work better. He collaborated with FDPA to advance the bill. There were challenges along the way and certain provisions were stricken from the original language that caused a great deal of concern among those who have long supported a truly independent process.
Folmer introduced an amendment that resolved many of these issues. The amended legislation was not perfect but with improvements could have resulted in good reform. His amendment passed with a vote of 44 to 1.
Then another amendment was proposed that killed any chance of fairness and transparency. Republican Senator Aument of Lancaster, with support of his party leaders, pushed an amendment through to replace the statewide election of members of the Supreme, Commonwealth, and Superior Courts with election by judicial districts.
The amended bill passed along party lines with Senators Folmer and Rafferty courageously voting no along with every democratic senator.
Republican senators’ Constitutional amendment would give the majority party in the General Assembly a strikingly unprecedented degree of influence over who is elected to our statewide courts, including the Pennsylvania Supreme Court. This undermines the checks and balances in our state government — including those that have blocked, and in the future would block, the Republicans from tilting the rules of our democracy in their favor.
The state appellate courts are our last line of defense against consolidation of state power. When the Supreme Court determined the republican-drawn districts were unconstitutional, republican legislators chose not to right the wrong, but to instead make the process worse by undermining the courts that keep them in check. These new rules guarantee republicans will have control over the courts for decades to come.
By hijacking the efforts of so many committed volunteers, republicans in the legislature have signaled their belief that they are impervious to the anger and frustration felt by so many voters across our state.
This bill will now go to the house. Call your state representative immediately and tell them to vote no on SB22. Tell them we need to start over and find a process that is fair, transparent, and works for the people, not powerful politicians.
Nicole Faraguna is a founding member of Susquehanna Valley Progress and an active volunteer of Fair Districts PA –Susquehanna Valley.
How many firearms exist in the United States? How confident are we that these weapons are in capable hands? What happens when a gun owner is no longer responsible? What recourse can society take to ensure that the mentally unstable cannot easily harm themselves or others?
No one, including the U.S. government, knows for sure the number of guns in America. Estimates vary between 270 to 310 million weapons, or close to one firearm for every man, woman and child. Let’s assume the majority of these guns are purchased legally by responsible, law-abiding citizens. What happens when a stable gun owner becomes unstable? Since it is relatively easy to purchase any type of firearm (especially rifles) in most states, what happens when a dangerous person slips through the cracks?
In Florida a mentally unbalanced 18-year old was able to acquire a weapon despite numerous warning signs, including violent, threatening behavior. Over the past few years, the alleged Parkland Florida shooter had several run-ins with local police and was under the care of a behavioral therapist.
Local police were called to his home dozens of times for domestic violence situations, his school had expelled him for erratic behavior, and the FBI and other law enforcement agencies had received calls warning that he might attempt to carry out a school shooting.
Yet, there were no arrests and no recommendations for involuntary commitment, allowed per Florida law, for individuals deemed a danger to themselves or others. Thus, there was no official record that would prevent him from purchasing a weapon.
The gun dealer that sold the AR-15 semi-automatic rifle, used in the Marjory Stoneman Douglas High School shooting, followed proper protocol. The National Instant Criminal Background Check System (NICS) is not designed to analyze warning signs or calculate preemptively.
Certainly, more intervention and follow through was needed in this situation. But in too many cases, firearms are sold to individuals with no criminal or violent history yet with the inclination to do real harm. A red flag law provides law enforcement the authority to do something rarely feasible… confiscate guns from a dangerous person.
Five states have enacted red flag laws while 24 additional states, including Pennsylvania, are considering similar bills. The law establishes a judicial process in which guns could be temporarily seized from those deemed dangerous. The restraining order is requested by someone close to the individual — a parent or guardian, teacher or member of law enforcement — and evidence is presented before a judge. If the petition is granted, weapons are seized immediately and held for at least a year. An individual can challenge the order and a petition can be extended if a judge deems it necessary.
These laws are designed to be fair and transparent and are not intended to indiscriminately seize guns. In a meeting with members of Congress last week, President Trump offered his support but went a step too far, saying “take the guns first, go through due process second.” I disagree. Due process is a fundamental part of our nation’s legal framework and should not be so easily dismissed.
The purpose of red flag laws is not to eliminate guns but to safeguard a community or an individual from a potentially dangerous situation.
Red flag laws could stop the next mass shooting but they also could prevent an unstable person from taking his/her life. For someone undergoing emotional stress, easy access to a gun could be the difference between life and death. Ninety percent of people who attempt suicide with a gun die while 90 percent of those who use some other method live. Firearms offer little room for second chances.
Republican state Rep. Todd Stephens is introducing a red flag bill in Pennsylvania. This bipartisan solution could make a real difference when it comes to preventing gun violence.
The NRA opposes red flag laws while contending its support for keeping guns out of the hands of criminals and the mentally ill. The NRA should not prevent our elected officials from making Pennsylvania safer.
Call your state representative and ask that they co-sponsor Rep. Stephens’ bill. By supporting this measure, they could make real progress in protecting Pennsylvanians.
If you are interested in getting more involved on the issues that really matter, check out the organizations active in the region. The listings in the directory offers contact information and in some cases specific volunteer opportunities for groups working for progress in the region.
The Susquehanna Valley Progressives is pleased to honor Charles Sackrey for his leadership and steadfast support of free thought, human and civil rights, social justice and for his defense of the environment and the disenfranchised.
If you would like to share a note of congratulations, please submit a short quote (75 words or less) along with your name and affiliation, if any, by July 15. Feel free to include your favorite photo of Charles.