The Politics of Animal Cruelty

by Walter Brasch

Pennsylvanians can still butcher, braise, and broil their pet cats and dogs because a murky mixture of politics has left a critical bill on the table in the state senate.

Residents may also continue to use cats, dogs, and other animals as targets for what some erroneously call “sporting events.”

Although there are no documented cases of cats and dogs being thrown into the air at these shoots, there is a long history in Pennsylvania of pigeon shoots. Pennsylvania is the only state where such shoots occur legally. The remaining shoots are in the southeastern part of the state, in Berks and Bucks counties near Philadelphia. However, this past week, an undercover investigator for SHARK, an animal rights group, documented a pigeon shoot in Oklahoma to provide campaign funds for Sen. James Inhofe (R). About 1,000 pigeons, according to SHARK, were thrown into the air a few yards from the shooters.

In Pennsylvania, scared and undernourished birds are placed into cages, and then launched about 30 yards in front of people with 12-gauge shotguns. Most birds, as many as 5,000 at an all-day shoot, are hit standing on their cages, on the ground, or flying erratically just a few feet from the people who pretend to be sportsmen. About 70 percent of all birds are wounded, according to Heidi Prescott, senior vice-president of the Humane Society of the United States (HSUS), who for 25 years has been documenting and leading the effort to pass legislation to end pigeon shoots in Pennsylvania. If the birds are wounded on the killing fields, trapper boys and girls, most in their early teens, some of them younger, grab the birds, wring their necks, stomp on their bodies, or throw them live into barrels to suffocate. Birds that fall outside the shooting club’s property are left to die long and horrible deaths. There is no food or commercial value of a pigeon killed at one of the shoots.

The Pennsylvania Fish and Game Commission says pigeon shoots are not “fair chase hunting.” The International Olympic Committee declared pigeon shoots aren’t a sport, and banned it after the 1900 Olympics because of its cruelty to animals.

But, the Pennsylvania Senate still hasn’t taken HB1750 off the table for discussion. Any senator may request the Senate to suspend the rules to allow a bill come off the table; none have.

The House passed the original bill, sponsored by Rep. John Maher (R), 201-0, in November 2013.

It was amended in the Senate, with Maher’s approval, to ban pigeon shoots under Title 18, which includes animal cruelty statutes.  Although butchering and selling cats and dogs would be a first degree misdemeanor, carrying a fine of $1,000-$10,000 and a maximum prison term of five years, pigeon shoot violations would be only a summary offense, carrying a maximum $300 fine and/or three months jail sentence, and only for those operating the shoot. That bill was approved in the Republican-led Judiciary Committee, 10-4, on June 26. In the next two days, it passed two of the required three readings in the full Senate, but was tabled, July 8, when the Senate recessed for more than two months. The bill was not placed on the voting calendar when the Senate reconvened for five days between Sept. 15 and Sept. 24. The Senate is again in recess and will reconvene for two to four days, beginning Oct. 6 before going on recess until after the Nov. 4 election.

One of the four who voted against the bill in the judiciary committee was Joseph B. Scarnati III (R), the Senate president pro tempore. In his past two elections, Scranati received $5,275 from the NRA PAC, and $1,000 from the Flyers Victory Fund; the Victory Fund was established to support pigeon shoots. However, Scarnati didn’t influence if the bill was to be voted upon by the full Senate, says Kate Eckhart, Scarnati’s communications and legislative affairs assistant. The senator who does influence what bills go on the calendar is Dominic Pileggi (R), the majority leader. Pileggi had voted for the bill when it was in Judiciary Committee. However, Pileggi doesn’t put a bill on the calendar until the Republican caucus discusses it.

Republican caucus leader is Sen. John Gordner (R), who also voted against the bill in committee. However, Gorder says he voted against the bill on procedural grounds. The amendment, says Todd Roup, Gordner’s chief of staff, “was slipped onto the committee’s calendar at the last minute without required notice.”

Gregg Warner, the Judiciary Committee’s legal counsel, disagrees. “We notify members of the committee what bills will be on the agenda on Thursdays or Fridays the week before [a Tuesday meeting],” says Warner, “and then distribute summaries of the bills a day before.” Amendments are often distributed on Mondays before scheduled Tuesday meetings.

“Once there is enough support in the caucus,” says Roup, the bill will go back to Pileggi. The person responsible for counting votes is Sen. Patrick Browne, Republican minority whip. Because caucus discussions are secret, neither Browne nor Gordner will reveal if the bill was discussed. Gordner, however, will vote for the bill if it gets to the floor for a third reading, says Roup.

Josh Funk, deputy general counsel of the Senate Republican caucus, says there are two tests as to whether a bill is placed onto the calendar to be voted upon by the full Senate. The first test is if a majority in the caucus wants it. The second test, says Funk, is that, “It is not Sen. Pileggi’s policy to put bills up for a vote if the end result will be that they fail to receive 26 votes,” a Senate majority.” However, in the final two days before the Senate recessed this past week, Pileggi did place two bills onto the calendar that failed, by wide margins, to get 26 votes. Nevertheless, a policy that severely restricts open debate, with most discussions and decisions made in secret, significantly reduces the rights of the public to learn how their elected representatives think about a particular issue; the policy could violate Section 702 of the state’s Sunshine Act that declares, “The General Assembly finds that the right  of the public to be present at all meetings of agencies and to witness the deliberation, policy formulation and decision making of agencies is vital to the enhancement and proper functioning of the democratic process and that secrecy in public affairs undermines the faith of the public in government and the public’s effectiveness in fulfilling its role in a democratic society.”

Although there may not be enough votes in the Republican caucus, there are more than enough votes to pass the bill in the Senate. In addition to 24 co-sponsors, an informal tally shows at least a half-dozen other senators will support the bill.

This is also bill the public supports. A statewide survey by Mason-Dixon Polling and Research a year ago revealed not only do more than three-fourths of all Pennsylvanians want to see legislation to ban live pigeon shoots, only 16 percent of Pennsylvanians oppose such a ban. More than four-fifths of all Pennsylvanians say live pigeon shoots are animal cruelty. The bill is supported by the Pennsylvania Bar Association, the Pennsylvania Council of Churches, the Pennsylvania Veterinary Medical Association, the ASPCA, and the Pennsylvania Federation of Humane Societies. Most Pennsylvania newspapers have editorialized against pigeon shoots.

So, why wasn’t the bill brought up for a third reading before the Senate adjourned in July? And why is it still on the table?

The answer is enmeshed in a web of politics. Fearing an NRA backlash, and perhaps not wishing to alienate any voters less than six weeks before an election, the Senate may have stalled the vote because of an intense lobbying effort by the NRA. On the day before the Judiciary Committee was scheduled to hear the bill for the first time, the Institute for Legislative Action, NRA’s lobbying arm, sent urgent alerts to Pennsylvania members and the legislature. The NRA leadership opposes bans on pigeon shoots, believing that to ban animal cruelty is the “slippery slope” to banning guns.

“That’s completely nonsense,” says Roy Afflerbach, a lifelong hunter, and former state senator and Allentown mayor.

Many in the Legislature cower in fear at receiving less than an “A+” rating from the NRA. In the Senate Judiciary committee, Sen. Richard Alloway (R), a long-time hunter and a vigorous gun-rights advocate, called pigeon shooting a “blood sport.” After an attack by the NRA, he said, “I find it laughable that my friends [at the NRA] would somehow label me anti-Second Amendment.” Sen. Daylin Leach (D), vice-chair of the judiciary committee, doesn’t worry about the NRA rating. “Pigeon shoots, says Leach, “are a barbaric relic of a long-ago past. Hunters are ashamed of it, and it’s time to stop the gratuitous cruelty that pigeon shoots represent.”

The NRA alert called pigeon shooters “law-abiding, ethical shooting enthusiasts.” However, undercover investigators have observed a large part of the lure of pigeon shoots is illegal gambling on how many birds each shooter will wound or kill. The alert also told legislators that opposition “does not come from within the Commonwealth, but from the outside,” targeting the Humane Society of the United States as the leader of the “animal ‘rights’ extremist groups.” However, the NRA is as much an “outside organization as HSUS; its headquarters is in Fairfax, Va.. Both NRA and HSUS have Pennsylvania field offices. All Pennsylvania humane organizations support HB1750. Humane PA PAC, which opposes the pigeon shoot, has 32,000 members, most of them Pennsylvanians.

There is another political land mine for the bill. Even if the Senate passes the bill, the House of Representatives, which had passed the bill without the pigeon shoot amendment, is a far more conservative body, and could likely hold up passage of the bill.

The last free-standing vote in the House occurred in 1994. Although the vote was 99-93 to ban the shoots, a majority of 102 votes was required. Later bills were scuttled, usually by leadership of both political parties.

Four years after the House failed to pass legislation to ban pigeon shoots, the state Supreme Court ruled that the Hegins Pigeon Shoot, held on public property, was not only cruel “but moronic.” The organizers grudgingly disbanded the annual Labor Day event, held from 1934 to 1998. The Court’s opinion did not extend to shoots at private clubs, all of which draw many of the participants and spectators from New Jersey, and are held in secret.

“The tens of thousands of Pennsylvanians who have contacted their legislators, year after year, for decades, deserve a vote,” says Heidi Prescott. If the bill is brought to a vote, “it will pass,” she says.

[Dr. Brasch, an award-winning journalist, has been covering Pennsylvania pigeon shoots for more than 20 years. He is a former newspaper and magazine reporter and editor, and the author of 20 books. His current book is Fracking Pennsylvania, an overall look at the politics and economics behind fracking, and its impact on health, agriculture, and the environment. The book also investigates fracking’s effects upon animals.]

 

AIDS Advances May be Compromised by Legislative Inaction

by Walter Brasch

Researchers at Temple University in Philadelphia may have found an entry-way to the cure for AIDS.

Once the HIV virus enters the body it can lie dormant for years. It can also evolve into AIDS.  But, until now, it could never be removed.

It’s far too early to claim an AIDS cure-there still has to be several years of clinical trials- but this may be as close to a solution as scientists have come.

There can be a lot of politics in medical science, but the researchers at least have the wisdom to know they must work together and focus upon the people not the politics.

Even if there is a cure for AIDS, even if there are significant advances in the treatment and cure of other communicable diseases, it may not mean much if patients can’t get the medical treatment they need because obstructionists are doing their best to separate the people from the solution.

Two hours west of Philadelphia is Harrisburg, the Pennsylvania state capital. This is where Gov. Tom Corbett and his well-oiled legislature shut down 15 of 60 public health clinics, have plans to shut down nine more to “save” about $3 million a year, and laid off 73 nurses and support staff. In July, the state Supreme Court issued an emergency injunction to prevent the state from shutting down more health clinics, and is reviewing a petition to force the administration to reopen the other clinics. Under the Corbett administration, Pennsylvania ranks 43rd of 50 states in per capita public health spending, according to the Robert Wood Johnson Foundation. The governor also vetoed a budget item to spend $2 million a year from tax revenue generated by oil and gas companies to do research about the effects of fracking upon the people’s health, to provide health care information, to treat those who may have been affected by air and water pollution from fracking, and to establish a health care registry that would help identify problems. But he was more than willing to give all kinds of tax breaks to oil and gas companies, including Royal Dutch Shell, a foreign corporation, which he handed a $1.7 billion tax credit. If the state taxed gas extraction companies at a rate at least that of other states, there would be at least another $500 million a year that could be used to help protect the people’s health and their environment.

More than 50 times, the Republican-controlled U.S. House of Representatives has tried to wipe the Affordable Care Act (ACA) off the books. This quixotic mission will continue to fail for two reasons. First, the Supreme Court of the United States, which has a majority of conservatives, ruled the Act is constitutional. Second, all evidence shows the Act has led to better health care and at least 2.3 million Americans covered who couldn’t get insurance prior to the passage of the ACA. More than eight million Americans have already signed up for ACA coverage, and are now receiving better health care at lower insurance rates.

Further, because of the ACA, more than 5.5 million senior citizens and disabled have saved about $4.5 billion on prescription drugs in the past three years, according to the U.S. Department of Health and Human Services. Fourteen “red” states have chosen not to be a part of the ACA, their legislatures adamantly refusing to agree to anything that President Obama has proposed, even if it means the people suffer. The impartial Rand Corp. estimates these states will spend about $1 billion more taxpayer funds than if they expanded Medicaid under ACA provisions. Because of their refusal to agree to the ACA, almost four million residents of their states will continue to be uninsured, forcing the state and hospitals to pay for emergency medical care for low-income individuals. (In Pennsylvania, with a Republican governor and legislature, if the state agreed to implement the ACA, the savings would be about $600 million the first year.) However, the rabid Right Wing has continued to sling a barrage of lies and half-truths, usually picked up, channeled, and reported by the mass media. The time and money devoted to this political gesturing by Right Wing politicians could better be spent on funding research to find cures for Ebola, multiple sclerosis, numerous forms of cancers, and dozens of other life-threatening diseases.

This is the same Congress that had blocked funding to improve the VA system, while spending $3 million this year alone to investigate what they have created as the Benghazi Scandal. It’s already been investigated and re-investigated. Senior military commanders and impartial diplomats have already told the truth, but the House still wants to throw out its chest and throw a junior-high tantrum. Think of what that $3 million can do to help the nation’s homeless, about one-fourth of them veterans.

Members of Congress believe they have to travel all over the world on what they call “fact-finding tours.” These tours often find facts in tropical island nations.  And now, thanks to a decision by the apparently misnamed House Ethics Committee, members of Congress don’t even have to report if their trips were funded by lobbyists. Think of what several million more dollars can do to help improve the health of the impoverished rather than help members of Congress get sun tans.

It’s just politics. But, how many more will suffer and die from our misguided priorities.

Dr. Brasch’s latest book is Fracking Pennsylvania, which looks at the health, environmental, economic, and political effects from fracking.]

 

Gasbag Signs Smoke and Mirrors Budget

Gov. Corbett finally singed the budget pushed through by Republican majorities in the House and Senate though he showed his innate ability to tick off his own Party members by using his line item veto generously.  Gov. Gasbag cut funding for the legislature as a message that he wasn’t happy they hadn’t gutted state worker and teacher pensions.

When conservatives use the word “reform” they actually mean “eliminate.”  That’s what pension reform does and the Guv’s plan actually would have cost taxpayers more in the long run while gutting the retirements of thousands of Pennsylvanians.  These pensions were negotiated in good faith by unions in lieu of higher wages.  The Commonwealth refused to adequately fund them (as required by law) until it has become a crisis situation.  Corbett’s solution was to simply screw these workers.  A new 401(K) system would just result in higher salaries and other benefits for school districts as teachers sought to recoup these lost wages.  Meanwhile the current system would still have to be funded, somehow, along with the new one.  That would wind up costing more than if we simply funded the current pensions as required by the contracts to which we agreed.

The Governor gave the finger (literally and proverbially) to the State House and Senate by cutting its budget significantly.  No need to worry though since they’re sitting on over $150 million in unused prior appropriations.  Heaven help the House and Senate have to do what every other state agency has had to since 2008:  do more with less.

Other items cut in the line item veto gut funding for state parks, medical assistance, lobbying disclosure, gun checks and other important functions of state government.

This is already a smoke and mirrors budget because it depends on one time sources of income which won’t exist.  The Pennsylvania constitution requires a balanced budget but we didn’t have one this year.  Because of Corbett’s vast mismanagement of the state economy, at a time when the national economy is doing well, has resulted in significantly decreased revenues.  He cut corporate taxes and refused to close loopholes.  Jobs aren’t being created and we’re losing hundreds of millions in potential tax revenues of natural gas extraction.  We still don’t tax smokeless tobacco for instance.

This is not a balanced budget because the state liquor store system is not going to be privatized. Corbett didn’t have the votes for that in this session or last and he certainly won’t get any cooperation from the House and Senate after cutting their own budgets.  This clueless blonde has never learned from his mistakes and refuses to develop any relations with the state legislature even though it is controlled by his own Party.  In a way we’re fortunate he’s so incompetent because a lot of potential damage to the citizenry was avoided due to his incompetence.

Pennsylvania Private Job Performance Through the Looking Glass

By Stephen Herzenberg, Third and State

In the 1890s, scientist George Stratton reported that, after four days of wearing a lens that inverted his vision, his brain reprocessed what he saw and flipped everything back up the right way.

John Micek’s Friday article brought this experiment to mind.  Micek quotes Pennsylvania House Speaker Sam Smith summing up the accomplishments of the House of Representatives in the 2011-12 legislative session: “We … focused on the economy and private-sector job creation.” Majority Leader Mike Turzai echoed Smith saying: “We kept our commitments on fiscal responsibility and private-sector job-creation.”

Let’s take a look at some actual job numbers.

Between January 2011 (the start of the current legislative session) and September 2012 (the latest data available), the number of private-sector jobs in Pennsylvania grew by 87,000, an increase of 1.8%. In this period, Pennsylvania ranked 31st out of the 50 states for private job growth by percentage. National private-sector job growth equaled 3%.

If you look at the last 12 months, from September 2011 to September 2012, Pennsylvania’s private-sector job ranking falls to 35th, with the state’s private-sector job growth equal to about half the national rate.

Now, compare that to job growth between January 2010 and January 2011, when the commonwealth ranked 12th among the 50 states with job growth of 1.8% (compared to the national rate of 1.3%).

As our summer policy brief explained, part of what is dragging down private job growth in Pennsylvania are deep cuts to education and other services that led to the layoff of 20,000 teachers and thousands of other public-sector workers in 2011. As a result, private-sector job growth also is not keeping pace with more than three out of every five states.

I’d hate to see the numbers if the Legislature hadn’t kept its commitments on private-sector job growth.

Pennsylvania Politics Continues to Override Humane Actions

by WALTER BRASCH

A national animal welfare organization has filed an ethics complaint against a Pennsylvania district attorney.

SHARK (Showing Animals Respect and Kindness) charges Bucks County DA David Heckler with conflict-of-interest, favoritism, and failure to fulfill his professional responsibilities. The ethics charges were filed with the Disciplinary Board of the Pennsylvania Supreme Court.

SHARK, an Illinois-based charity, has been more active in Pennsylvania following a $1 million donation by Bob Barker to stop pigeon shoots. Pennsylvania is the only state that has open and regularly occurring pigeon shoots.

The conflict-of-interest charges date from 2010 when Heckler refused to allow Johnna Seeton, a humane officer, to have an attorney and then blocked her from filing summary citations of animal cruelty against the Philadelphia Gun Club of Bensalem, Pa. “I showed him the evidence, and that’s the last I heard from him,” says Seeton. But it wasn’t the last of the case. “The next thing I know is that I read in the paper that Mr. Heckler had brokered a deal with the gun club,” she says. That deal was for the club to pay court costs and make a $200 donation to the Bucks County SPCA. Seeton was never consulted. Heckler, however, prior to working out a deal had gone to the media to denounce Seeton’s citations as nothing more than “hot air.”

The deal was worked out with Sean Corr, attorney for the PGC. Corr, says Steve Hindi of SHARK, “was one of the biggest individual donors to the Bucks County Republican Committee [which had] heavily funded Heckler’s election campaign.” Heckler had been a state representative and senator and then a judge of the Bucks County Common Pleas Court. Corr, who was shooting pigeons at the PGC in December 2009, was convicted of harassment for shoving a camera into Hindi’s face; Hindi was not on PGC property at the time of the incident, according to the Doylestown Intelligencer. Corr is currently a part-time solicitor for the county.

On April 30 of this year, Seeton filed five summary citations of animal cruelty against the PGC for violations during pigeon shoots on March 17 and 31. State law gives DAs the discretion to deny the presence of attorneys for plaintiffs. However, Heckler’s actions are the only time any DA denied Seeton, a humane officer since 1998, the right to have an attorney. Seeton says that a private attorney representing the Pennsylvania Legislature Animal Network (PLAN) would incur no public costs. As was the case in 2010, Heckler refused to tell Seeton the reason for his denial of legal representation.

“There is a reasonableness standard that a DA in denying attorney representation will have a bona fide reason to do so,” says Elissa Katz, an attorney and president of Humane PA PAC, “but in this case there appears to be no reasonable basis for denying representation.” The PGC, however, could be represented by an attorney in the court of District Magistrate Leonard Brown. Heckler’s action “places the parties on an unfair playing field from the beginning,” says Katz.

Heckler numerous times stated that although he isn’t a pigeon shooter, he is reluctant to pursue charges against pigeon shooting because it isn’t a crime in Pennsylvania. Tom Logan, a Bucks County assistant district attorney, says the reason the DA’s office is denying Seeton legal representation is because “a review of the law [indicates] it is not a crime. If it’s not a crime, we don’t want to turn it into a crime.”

However in Bensalem Twp., where the PGC is located, pigeon shooting is illegal. In May 2002, the township determined that “live pigeon shoots do, in fact, violate the Pennsylvania Animal Cruelty Statue . . . as well as Township Ordinance No. 71,” and issued a cease and desist order. The PGC briefly suspended the shoots. Karel Minor, executive director of the Humane Society of Berks County, says pigeon shoots, contrary to public perception and political gesturing, are already illegal. The shoots, says Minor, aren’t protected “under any statute, law or code.” Further, he says, “Because they aren’t exempt from animal cruelty law, they are subject to them by definition.”

However, the problem is enforcement. “As long as DAs aren’t allowing humane society police officers to enforce existing law, the legislature is going to have to stop avoiding the issue and clarify that this practice is illegal,” says Heidi Prescott, senior vice-president for the Humane Society of the United States (HSUS). Leaders of the state legislature, cowered by a heavy NRA lobbying campaign that irrationally equates an end of the cruelty of pigeon shooting with a violation of Second Amendment rights, have numerous times blocked legislation from a full vote. The only time the bill was voted on as a free-standing bill was in the 1980s. Several attempts to amend it have been made over the past 20 years, the closest vote taking place in 1994, when the House voted 99-93 in favor of an amendment to ban pigeon shoots, but fell short of the 102 votes needed for passage.

Most of the 20-25 pigeon shoots are in suburban Philadelphia, specifically Bucks and Berks counties, with a combined population of more than one million. Individual shoots are also held in Dauphin and Northumberland counties. The Hegins pigeon shoot in Schuylkill County was finally cancelled in 2000 after the state Supreme Court ruled that animal cruelty charges could be filed against the organizers. That shoot, begun in 1935, had attracted national attention during its last 12 years when animal rights protestors tried to rescue wounded birds and used several tactics as they confronted shooters and their supporters, including large numbers of skinheads and fringe groups from the extreme right.

Pigeon shoot organizers put as many as 5,000 birds, often scared and undernourished, into small cages and then release them about 30 yards in front of pretend-hunters with 12-gauge shotguns. Most of the birds are hit by the shot within five to 10 feet of the cages, with many shot while standing on the ground. About three-fourths of all birds are wounded, not killed outright, says Prescott. If shot within the gun club’s property, trapper boys, often in their teens will take the birds, wring their necks, snip their heads off, or stuff them alive into barrels to suffocate. If the birds survive long enough to fly outside the gun club’s property, most will die lingering and painful deaths; at the PGC, many will fall into the Delaware River and slowly drown as they struggle to swim to shore, says Prescott.

The Pennsylvania Game Commission doesn’t call pigeon shoots a sport nor does the International Olympic Committee, which banned it after the 1900 Olympics. Most hunters and sportsmen oppose pigeon shoots because they aren’t considered to be fair chase hunting.

SHARK also claims Heckler repeatedly refused to file charges against the PGC for actions that specifically violate Pennsylvania law. It claims Heckler refused to file charges against PGC members for deliberately firing shotgun shells at protesters in boats on the Delaware River. The PGC had initially filed requests with the Coast Guard to establish temporary exclusion zones on the river during pigeon shoots, but withdrew the requests. SHARK believes the reason is because the PGC didn’t wish to file an environmental impact statement that would reveal more than a century of shotgun shells and dead pigeons polluting the river.

The SHARK petition also claims that in two separate incidents PGC members recklessly drove their vehicles at female protestors. Both actions were captured on videotape. In one case, the local police and the DA’s office refused to press charges. In the second incident, a PGC member who is an attorney yelled sexist obscenities at a Marianne Bessey, an animal rights activist, “as he recklessly drove his SUV past her.” Later, in media interviews, the PGC member acknowledged his actions. However, when Bessey, an attorney, tried to file a private complaint for disorderly conduct and harassment, Heckler denied it. Bessey says Heckler claimed there was “insufficient evidence” and that her complaint lacked “prosecutorial merit.”

Heckler also refused to file charges against an individual who, SHARK claims, assaulted Hindi and brandished a pistol, threatening him for protesting. According to the petition, Robert Olsen, operations manager of Carlton Pools, owned by Joseph Solana who holds live pigeon shoots on his property, twice drove his SUV directly at a vehicle driven by Hindi on the company’s parking lot. The third time, according to the petition, on a public street, Olsen “grabbed at and assaulted” SHARK investigator Janet Enoch. When Hindi tried to intervene, Olsen pointed a loaded pistol at Hindi, swore at him, and ordered him to “get down on the ground,” according to the complaint. Although the assault was videotaped, Heckler filed only two charges-reckless driving and fighting. In contrast, according to SHARK, Heckler prosecuted a resident who “pulled a handgun on a snow plow operator who had just buried his car in the snow.” That charge led to a three month jail term.

Pigeon shoots, like cockfighting and dog fighting, “are contests scored by hurting and killing live animals while gambling on the outcome, representing the worst of humanity,” says Prescott.  

Although Pennsylvania legislators, police, and DAs may publically say how much they detest animal cruelty, they have shown their cowardice to do what is right by their failure to prosecute cruelty charges against pigeon shoots.

[Walter Brasch, an award-winning syndicated columnist, has shot at many clay pigeons but never at a live pigeon. He attended his first pigeon shoot as a reporter more than 20 years ago, and has been writing about the cruelty of pigeons shoots since then. He is the author of 17 books; his latest is the critically-acclaimed novel Before the First Snow.]

~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~

Walter M. Brasch, Ph.D.

Latest Book: Before the First Snow: Stories from the Revolution

(www.greeleyandstone.com)

www.walterbrasch.com

www.walterbrasch.blogspot.com

www.facebook.com/walterbrasch

http://www.youtube.com/watch?v…

PA Taxpayers Underwrote ALEC

Keystone Progress secured financial records from the State House and Senate and has determined that $50,000 of taxpayer money was paid directly tot he lobbying group ALEC.  The American Legislative Exchnage Council (ALEC) has also been called the “A Legislator For Every Corporation” and writes laws passed in state legislatures around the country based on a radical right wing agenda.  The “Stand Your Ground” or “Castle Doctrine” gun laws which promote murder are one example.

The Open Records request for communications was denied, something was seems obviously illegal.  Citizens have a right to know what correspondence has transpired between Pennsylvania legislative members of ALEC and some of the extreme legislation being introduced in Harrisburg.  The financial documents are troubling enough:

The Pennsylvania House spent $234,775.04 on ALEC since 2000.

The Pennsylvania Senate spent $76,042.35 since 2004.

Why are you funding trips to ALEC events?  If members such as John Pippy, Ron Marsico, Joe Petrarca, John Taylor and Steve Barrar want to be this extravagant let them spend their own money on ALEC.  This is a disgrace and should be investigated by the Attorney General.  This is no less outrageous than BonusGate.

The $50,000 payment to ALEC, a lobbying organization, should be illegal.  This cries out for extensive lobbying reform.  Any trips to conventions like ALEC should be publicly disclosed by all lawmakers.  Voters have a right to know who is the pocket of whom before they vote.

Legislative Caucuses Present Dueling Tax Plans

Rep. Jim Cox unveiled the newest iteration of the failed Commonwealth Plan for property tax reform joined by several conservative, anti-worker Democrats.  Meanwhile Senate Democrats introduced their own plan yesterday.  The Cox plan, a derivative of Sam Rohrer’s notoriously regressive “reform” which died when its numbers didn’t add up replaces school property taxes with a higher personal income tax and expanded sales tax.

Sales taxes are very regressive because they drain more, as a percentage, of a working or poor person’s income than a rich one.  Property taxes, by their nature are progressive because they more valuable your property the more you remit.  Businesses and industry also pay property taxes and are the biggest beneficiaries of “reform.”  Isn’t it interesting that legislators like Cox and Tom Caltagirone (D-Allentown Diocese) support a system which provides a huge tax exemption to businesses while shifting that burden to working people?  Since they’d now tax coffins this would, in reality, enact a “death tax.”  Democratic House candidate Frank Denbowski, who would be another Caltagirone lapdog, came out in support of the Republican plan this week.

By comparison the Senate Democratic plan, touted by Vince Hughes and Judy Schwank, among others, would pump another $1 billion into spending for job creation, education, the disabled and health care for kids which Gov. Corbett has slashed.  A gas extraction tax which is commensurate with the value of the resource plus an end to the Delaware Loophole would raise about that amount of money.  Senate Democrats have advocated changing the personal income tax to a progressive system which would result in greatly reducing or eliminating school property taxes.  This shifts the burden back onto those best able to afford it rather than those who cannot.  Eliminating a major tax on businesses and corporations and shifting that to working people is immoral.

A Mainstream Plan for Taxing Natural Gas Drilling in PA

A blog post by Sharon Ward, originally published at Third and State.

On Tuesday, I joined state Representatives Tom Murt and Gene DiGirolamo at a press conference announcing their bill to enact a natural gas drilling tax that would support shared statewide priorities like education and human services, as well as local impacts and environmental protection.

Almost 98% of natural gas produced in the United States is subject to a drilling tax or conservation fee. This legislation would finally put Pennsylvania into the mainstream of energy-producing states. It would address the impacts of drilling but go beyond that to support economic growth and more opportunities for Pennsylvanians.

You can listen to a two-minute podcast of my remarks from the press conference below and click here to read more about the Murt-DiGirolamo plan (including a link to the lawmakers’ co-sponsorship memo).

Legislative Inaction on Drilling Tax Costs Pa. $200 Million

A blog post from Christopher Lilienthal, originally published on Third and State.

This afternoon, Pennsylvania will hit a less-than-noble milestone: $200 million lost to legislative inaction on a Marcellus Shale drilling tax.

We’re talking about lost revenue that could have helped prevent cuts to schools, colleges, environmental protection and health services for the state’s most vulnerable.

The Pennsylvania Budget and Policy Center is tracking in real-time how much drilling tax revenue has been lost since October 1, 2009 by not having a tax in place. The ticker will hit $200 million by mid-afternoon on Friday.

Click here view the Drilling Tax Ticker.

Across the country, 98% of natural gas is produced in states that have drilling taxes or fees. In many energy-producing states, that revenue supports critical services like education and health care, as well as environmental protection and the local impacts of drilling.

Pennsylvania is the largest mineral-rich state in the nation without a drilling tax or fee of any kind. All 11 states with more gas production than Pennsylvania have a tax or fee. Unlike those states, Pennsylvania is giving away a one-time resource.

As PBPC Director Sharon Ward put it in a recent press release: “Lawmakers have allowed drillers to avoid a tax that they pay everywhere else, and middle-class families are paying the price. $200 million could have kept more teachers in the classroom, college tuition more affordable and prevented a hike in property taxes.”

A Detailed Look at Pennsylvania’s 2011-12 Budget

A blog post from Sharon Ward, originally published on Third and State.

Two weeks ago, the Pennsylvania General Assembly completed work on a 2011-12 state budget that achieved Governor Tom Corbett’s primary objective – to meet a target spending number of $27.3 billion or lower, regardless of the impact.

The budget spends $27.249 billion, the lowest amount since the 2008-09 enacted budget, with cuts totaling more than $960 million.

Still trying to piece it all together? Well, the Pennsylvania Budget and Policy Center has you covered. On Wednesday, we released a detailed analysis of the new budget. Check it out and get all the details.

Here are a few highlights:

  • The budget uses only $200 million of a $786 million 2010-11 year-end surplus. The year-end surplus was 10 times the $78 million surplus projected in the Governor’s March budget proposal.
  • The budget suspends a legally required transfer of 25% of the year-end surplus to the Rainy Day Fund. Lawmakers say this was done as a condition of receiving funds through the American Recovery Act (ARRA). With 2010-11 lapses, perhaps as much as $1 billion is carried forward and unappropriated in 2011-12.
  • The budget presumes revenue growth of 1.2% in 2011-12, far less than the 4.7% assumed in the Governor’s budget proposal in March.
  • Public schools and universities bear the brunt of the cuts in the 2011-12 budget. Grants to school districts, including the basic education subsidy, reimbursements to school districts for the loss of students to charter schools and other program cuts total more than $860 million. Higher education institutions, including Penn State and the other three state-related universities, community colleges, and the 14 State System of Higher Education universities, are reduced by $245 million.
  • Several programs administrated by the Department of Public Welfare are also cut, including welfare-to-work and human services. While the overall reduction from current year spending is relatively small, less than 1%, the budget underestimates hundreds of millions of dollars of spending in the Medical Assistance program, which will either be addressed through supplemental appropriations later in the fiscal year or through program savings.
  • The Welfare Code bill enacted in concert with the budget gives DPW broad authority for one year to make program changes to cut costs. This includes the ability to sidestep formal rulemaking processes and to change program eligibility, modify benefits and provider payments, and to eliminate presumptive eligibility. This authority is granted with the goal of keeping DPW expenditures, including expenditures on entitlement programs, within budgeted amounts.

Learn more about what is in the budget by reading PBPC’s full analysis.