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Thursday, October 18, 2012

Heads Up: Morning headlines for Oct. 18

Posted By on Thu, Oct 18, 2012 at 9:09 AM

Story of the day: The state Supreme Court hears arguments over how much zoning power, if any, municipalities should have when it comes to drilling. Our very own Bill O'Driscoll was there: Read his account here.

Meanwhile, in Harrisburg, state legislators tried to hurry up and pass some bills so they could get back home and campaign for re-election already. Among their accomplishments was a measure that would eliminate a loophole in the state law penalizing "straw purchases" of firearms for criminals. (We previously noted the loophhole on Monday.) The NRA opposed this measure, but I guess it merely takes the tragic death of a police officer for politicians to discover the tiniest filament of a spine. One of the bills that didn't make it across the finish line was a charter school reform bill. Prediction: House Majority Leader Mike Turzai -- who declined comment -- is going to get a few less Christmas cards from his fellow Republicans than he was expected. Though a lot of them had probably already stricken him from their list anyway.

Speaking of legislative action, here's a city story with implications for next year's mayoral race -- which I guess is pretty much any story these days. Among the flurry of bills the state legislature passed this week was a measure allowing Pittsburgh to waive the residency requirement that currently applies to city police. But Mayor Luke Ravenstahl says he intends to leave the requirement intact. But likely challenger Bill Peduto says he's open to scrapping the requirement, as a strategy for retaining police on the force. Could this help shape the FOP's endorsement next year? Stay tuned.

A final note on our legislature's follies. Republican state Rep. Tarah Toohill (Luzerne County) turns out to have engaged in some "youthful improprieties," photos of which -- showing her in the presence of a bong and a woman she appears to be kissing -- have surfaced online. Representative Toohill has taken to the internet herself: In a statement, she acknowledges that the photos are of her, but she "is not that young woman today." She also advises other young women -- who no doubt look to their state legislators to set a moral example -- to consider their own behaviors more carefully. Fair enough. And ordinarily, I wouldn't care. If anything, this stuff might make it more likely that I'd vote for Toohill than the average Republican yahoo. But here's the thing: Toohill sits on the House judiciary committee. In that capacity, she -- along with just about everyone else -- voted in favor of an "anti-sexting" bill that would penalize minors for sending naked pictures of themselves by cellphone or other device. That bill also passed, albeit with some objections about the provisions punishing "teenage experimentation." Is it just me who's bothered by the double standard here? Tarah Toohill, who appears to have engaged in some experimentation of her own, wants to be reelected so she can continue to pass bills like the one punishing other young women's experimentation. Granted, the punishment for self-sexting is a only a summary offense that shouldn't ruin anyone's life. But something about this seems ... off. Doesn't it? (ADDED: Others have noted that Toohill has also opposed decriminalizing pot use.)

Pennsylvania's state-supported university system, where professors have been teaching without a contract for more than a year, has rejected a call for binding arbitration. Now instructors are talking about the possibility of a strike at schools including IUP and Clarion University.

And ... speaking of higher ed. No surprise here: Student loan debt keeps increasing -- and Pennsylvania students keep bearing a heavy burden. Maybe our state's stagnant support for higher ed has something to do with that? At least students can't blame professors earning fat-cat salaries as part of a new labor contract!

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