Thursday, June 17, 2021

NorCo Closed Friday For Juneteenth

Earlier today, President Joe Biden signed a Bill making Juneteenth a federal holiday.  It's a celebration of the end of slavery, and the bill declaring it a national holiday was passed with broad bipartisan support. Fourteen House Republicans voted No, but it appears their objections were based on the name of this holiday, not the substance of the bill. In response to this new federal holiday, Executive Lamont McClure has given workers the day off. 

Expect to see most places remain open. This includes stock exchanges, banks and the mail. The USPS  explained it needs time to work the holiday into its schedule. 

Supremes Duck Latest Challenge to Affordable Care Act

In a 7-2 ruling penned by Justice Stephen Breyer, the United States has rejected a challenge to the Affordable Care Act, aka Obamacare, brought by 18 Republican states. You can read the opinion here. Justice Clarence Thomas concurred, while Justices Samuel Alito and Neil Gorsuch dissented. 

What killed this challenge was the Court's conclusion that the challenging states lacked standing. It declined to rule on the merits of the challenge. "Neither the individual nor the state plaintiffs have shown that the injury they will suffer or have suffered is “fairly traceable” to the “allegedly unlawful conduct” of which they complain," noted Breyer.

In his dissent, Justice Alito grouses this "is the third installment in our epic Affordable Care Act trilogy, and it follows the same pattern as installments one and two. In all three episodes, with the Affordable Care Act facing a serious threat, the Court has pulled off an improbable rescue."

Interestingly, Trump appointees Brett Kavanaugh and Amy Coney Barrett sided with the majority. 

DA Houck Updates NorCo Council on Crime

District Attorney Terry Houck updated Northampton County Council yesterday on the upcoming central court commencing on July 6. This court was established by President Judge Michael Koury, Jr., and will conduct preliminary hearings for jailed defendants. Judge Koury concluded these hearings will be more efficient, secure and cost-effective if held at the courthouse.

DA Houck previously praised Judge Koury's decision, noting this system has worked well in Lehigh and other counties. He did have one concern. He noted that police officers should remain armed at these hearings. He explained "they have a target on their back when they don't have a gun in their holster."  

President Judge Koury apparently agrees. Houck informed Council that Judge Koury is preparing an Order that will enable uniformed police officers to carry their firearm into Courtroom 4, where central court is located. This is only about 50' from where officers currently secure their firearms when they appear at the courthouse. "Judge Koury was all for it," said Houck.  

This has also been a concern of the Northampton County Chiefs of Police, who worry that unarmed uniformed police officers could face retaliation from gangs. 

"When they don't have their sidearm, they're out of uniform," noted Houck. "I think it's dangerous."

Houck indicated that only one county - Allegheny - prohibits all law enforcement officers, even deputy sheriffs from wearing firearms. 

Council member John Cusick also asked Houck about the opioid crisis. Houck said there's been an increase in what he calls a "serious problem" and questions whether the cure, i.e. methadone, might be worse than the disease, i.e. addiction. 

Houck added that fentanyl is fooling drug users. "They're taking these drugs thinking it's one thing, and it's not, and that's what's killing them." 

In response to a question from Council President Lori Vargo-Heffner, Houck indicated that the Courageous Conversations program continues. That program was started in the aftermath of the George Floyd murder, and included conversations that included police officers, leaders within communities of color and ordinary citizens. After several large meetings, it was decided to continue in smaller groups. He indicated police departments have an interest in continuing these conversations, but individual departments have manpower issues. 

Council member Ron Heckman told Houck several police officers have told him they are concerned about an increase in gang activity. "It's streaky," the DA responded. He noted gangs come from New York and New Jersey, mostly Jersey. He said that if you "step on it quickly, it usually subsides. And it has subsided lately." He added that the Regional Crime Center (RIIC), located in Allentown, has really helped to combat gang crime. It enables investigators to identify co-conspirators 

"Is it an epidemic? No. But they do wander over here on occasion to sell drugs and when that happens, we usually have violence ... ." 

Houck noted that both Easton and Bethlehem Police Departments have detectives specifically trained for gangs.

Council member Kerry Myers asked Houck to explain whether crime has increased or decreased in the pandemic. "We saw more drug cases and more domestic violence, and that was in direct relation to the pandemic," answered Houck.  He indicated other crimes are down. 

Wednesday, June 16, 2021

600,000

Yesterday, I told you that Covid-19 cases are trending upward in eight vaccine-hesitant states.  One of you responded, "My God, the horror. Double masks. School, church business closings. More stimulus because fear is infrastructure."

In a country that has suffered 615,000 deaths as of yesterday, I find that dismissive attitude troublesome. 

According to CBSNews, the new Covid-19 cases appearing are mostly among the vaccinate hesitant. 

Tuesday, June 15, 2021

Covid-19 Cases Rise in Eight States

According to The Hill, there's an uptick over the past two weeks in new Covid-19 cases in Alabama, Arkansas, Hawaii, Missouri, Nevada, Texas, Utah and Wyoming. All but Hawaii are below the average vaccination rate. 

GOP Exec Candidate 100% Against Vaccine

Lynch with Tom Carroll,
identified as a racist
in his DA campaign.
Pennsylvania requires school children to obtain a wide variety of vaccines for diseases extending from measles to polio. There are exemptions for medical or religious reasons or on the basis of strong moral or ethical conviction. I am aware of no effort to make the Covid-19 vaccines mandatory on a state or federal level. Employers may have the right to require workers to be inoculated, but few have done so.  Nevertheless, an anti-mask anti-vaccine group calling itself Health Freedom Pennsylvania rallied outside the capitol steps in Harrisburg to decry the "medical tyranny" of the three coronavirus vaccines currently approved for emergency use. Steve Lynch, the GOP nominee for Northampton County Executive, was the final speaker. 

Lynch, who never spent a day in the military, referred to himself as an "absolute constitutional patriot" who is "100% against" the vaccine. He made the following points  

"Bejing Biden [is] sleeping in the basement 80% of the time" "

"We have a mass murderer as a Governor" ... "Rachel Levine and Tom Wolf are mass murderers" ...  "Why aren't they having criminal charges pressed against them?" 

"Our government is infiltrated by bureaucrats that have been bought and paid for by China" 

"The Supreme Court is a joke"  

"All my conspiracy theories are coming true" "They do not have the authority to tell you what you're going to put into your bodies. Stop listening to them." 

"[W]e're not violent"  

If Steve Lynch were county executive when Covid-19 hit, Gracedale's census would be zero. 

Monday, June 14, 2021

Should I Be Liable For What My Readers Say?

This may come as a hock to you, but I was sued for libel a few years ago. I do say some outrageous things from time to time. I also sometimes get my facts wrong, although I try to be accurate This lawsuit, however, was based on nothing I said. It was instead premised on some ugly anonymous comments posted by readers before I began moderating this blog. I understand that I am responsible for my own remarks, but should I be held liable for what others say?

Judge Anthony Beltrami said No. He based his decision on Section 230 of the strangely named Communications Decency Act [CDA]. That's a federal law designed to encourage online debate. It was the first definite ruling on a blogger's liability for comments by others in Pennsylvania.. Judge Beltrami's ruling was noticed in several prominent legal circles.  

Now there's a movement, mostly from conservatives, demanding the repeal of Section 230. What they apparently fail to realize is that they are shooting themselves in the foot. Without Section 230, Facebook and numerous group administrators would be held responsible for what others say. They would be forced to shut down. This blog would have to end as well. Even though I've been forced to play comment cop, Google would never agree to assume liability for my mistakes. 

I'd support a reform of Section 230, but not a repeal. To the extent we can do so, I think we need to encourage the free and open exchange of ideas. In fact, I only moderate this blog because of one person intent on preventing that free exchange. 

Friday, June 11, 2021

Pa. GOP Proposes Election Law Changes

Yesterday, I told you that county officials statewide have been frustrated by the state's failure to tweak our election laws. As luck would have it, state GOP legislators proposed some major changes yesterday. Though Governor Wolf and Democrats are already complaining, most of the changes are really noncontroversial and will help county elections officials. 

SpotlightPa lists these changes as follows: 

  • Require every voter to present ID at the polls - This is the most controversial change. Democrats have maintained for years that minorities and persons with limited income often lack ID. That may have been true decades ago, but these days, everyone has ID. As an election judge, members of both parties often insisted on presenting ID, even though it was unnecessary. While I doubt that an ID requirement is really needed to prevent someone from impersonating another voter, it will give Republicans more faith in our elections.   

  • Allow counties to begin processing and counting mail ballots — what’s known as “pre-canvassing” — five days before Election Day - County elections officials have been begging for this head start so they can complete the county as soon as possible after the polls close. 

  • Create six days of in-person early voting, beginning after the 2024 presidential election - There was a long line of early voters before the 2020 Presidential. This stressed an elections office that was burdened with numerous other tasks. 

  • Allow mail ballot drop boxes for seven days before Election Day

  • Move the voter registration deadline to 30 days before Election Day, from 15 -  When a person registers 15 days before an election, it is often too late for registration information to be placed in pollbooks. I have encountered numerous voters from both parties who had registration cards but were not in the system.  

  • Move the deadline for requesting mail ballots to 15 days before Election Day, from seven. -  We now know that numerous voters who wait until the last minute to apply for an absentee will end up having to go to the polls on election day and vote provisionally.  Extending the cut-off date ensures those who apply for a mail-in ballot will actually get them before the election.  

  • Allow voters to fix — or “cure” — mail ballots with missing signatures. - This was a major problem in the Presidential.  

  • Ban counties from accepting private donations for election administration. - This appears to be an overreaction to Facebook's donations to numerous counties to cover Covid-related expenses. 

Thursday, June 10, 2021

County Officials Frustrated by State Inaction on Election Priorities

Since the Presidential election, state legislators (aka sore losers) have conducted numerous hearings on our election. They've heard from Sore-Loser-in-Chief Donald Trump. They listened attentively to Rudy  Giuliani. And have done nothing. What they should be doing is addressing two problems identified by the county officials who actually count the votes. 

First, state legislators need to allow elections officials to begin the pre-canvass of mail-in ballots (MIB) a few days before the actual election. The County Comm'rs Ass'n of Pa. would like to begin the process three weeks before election day. I'd agree that's too long. It's likely that word would leak out and this could affect the election. But I believe a strictly controlled process, starting three days before the election, would worker. To prevent a leak, the elections officials involved could be sequestered, just like a jury, until the polls close. 

Second, the cut-off to apply for  MIB needs to end earlier than it does now. Currently, a voter can apply for a MIB as late as seven days before the election. This requires elections officials to process and mail the ballot. The post office is also rushed. As you might expect, some voters will get their MIB after the election. Many who get tired of waiting will go to the polls and vote provisionally, which burdens pollworkers and is often completed with mistakes. The cut-off to apply for a MIB should be two weeks prior to the election.  

Wednesday, June 09, 2021

NorCo Offering Vaccines at Drive-Thru Testing Center

As soon as Covid-19 tests became readily available, Northampton County established a drive-through Covid-19 testing center. Now, you can get vaccinated there as well. 

This testing and vaccination center is located at Lehigh Valley Hospital-Coordinated Health Allentown Hospital (LVH-CHA). This is located at 3100 Emrick Boulevard in Bethlehem Township with hours of operation of Monday/Wednesday/Friday from 10:00AM – 2:00PM and Tuesday/Thursday from 3:00PM – 6:00PM.

You need an appointment for a vaccine. You have three options:

  1. Schedule at the LVHN website at LVHN.org/appointments.
  2. Schedule on the MyLVHN patient portal, at MyLVHN.org.
  3. Call 833-584-6283 (833-LVHN-CVD). The COVID-19 Vaccine Hotline is open Monday-Friday 8:30 a.m.-5:30 p.m. and Saturday-Sunday 9 a.m.-5 p.m.

According to Executive Lamont McClure, drive-throughs are very convenient, especially for anyone with a mobility problem.

Two vaccines - Moderna and the single dose Johnson and Johnson - are being offered. 

Republican Executive candidate Steve Lynch has blasted vaccines, asserting the virus was created by the government so they can force you to submit to DNA-altering inoculations. This is highly irresponsible. People who listen to him could die. 

McClure has a different take. "Vaccines have the power to save both lives and livelihoods and Northampton County is committed to making sure our residents have every opportunity to get vaccinated.”

As the number of vaccinated people has increased in NorCo, new Covid-19 cases have plummeted. I'm no epidemiologist, but it certainly appears the vaccine is working. 

It's certainly working at Gracedale, where new Covid-19 cases have vanished. I hate to think what the death toll would be at our nursing home if an anti-masker and anti-vaxer like Lynch were running the county.