Tuesday, January 26, 2016

Supreme Court Gives Second Chances to Juveniles Sentenced to Life

Suzanne Potter, Public News Service 

A U.S. Supreme Court decision grants parole or re-sentencing hearings to people sentenced to life in prison without parole when they were juveniles. (Kconnors/morguefile)
A U.S. Supreme Court decision grants parole or re-sentencing hearings to people sentenced to life in prison without parole when they were juveniles. (Kconnors/morguefile)
HARRISBURG, Pa. - A U.S. Supreme Court ruling on Monday is expected to bring relief to thousands of people serving life sentences in prison for crimes they committed as children.

The high court made retroactive a 2012 ruling that banned mandatory life sentences without parole for juveniles, clearing the way for people to ask to be re-sentenced or get a parole hearing.

"Justice (Anthony) Kennedy stressed that the decision to impose life without parole should be almost never invoked," said Marsha Levick, deputy director and chief counsel at the Juvenile Law Center in Philadelphia and co-counsel on the current Supreme Court case, Montgomery vs. Alabama. "They should be able to contemplate the possibility of a life on the outside again."

After the 2012 Supreme Court ruling, Pennsylvania had refused to apply the decision to older sentences. So, this ruling gives new hope to about 500 people behind bars in the Keystone State.

Nate Balis, director of the Annie E. Casey Foundation's juvenile-justice strategy group, applauded the decision, saying it is inhumane to sentence someone younger than 18 to die in prison.

"The adolescent brain doesn't fully develop until the mid-20s," he said. "Young people ought to be treated as youth who are still changing and who are capable of changing, which means it should be about their development and not about punishment."

The ruling is online at supremecourt.gov.

Thursday, January 21, 2016

Advocates Push for "Long-Overdue" Reform of Toxic Chemicals Law

Andrea Sears, Public News Service 

Some imported children's toys may contain toxic chemicals, and health and safety advocates say the government isn't doing enough to test or restrict them. (Joseph Mischyshyn/geograph.ie)
Some imported children's toys may contain toxic chemicals, and health and safety advocates say the government isn't doing enough to test or restrict them. (Joseph Mischyshyn/geograph.ie)
PITTSBURGH – For the first time in 40 years, the federal Toxic Substances Control Act is being reformed, and advocates for the changes say the results could give Pennsylvanians a much-needed layer of protection.

Chemicals are everywhere, including in children's toys, household products and construction materials.

Michelle Naccarati-Chapkis, executive director of Women for a Healthy Environment, points out that since the law passed in 1976, more than 83,000 chemicals have been used in commerce, but the Environmental Protection Agency has only reviewed 200, and regulated just five.

"So, there's general consensus that that particular act is woefully broken,” she states. “It's not doing anything at this point to really protect public health and the environment."

Reform bills have passed both houses of Congress, although both bills contain provisions that she believes would hinder the law's effectiveness.

The Senate bill, for example, would block states from taking any new action on a chemical while the EPA is conducting its assessment.

With no law on the books in Pennsylvania, Naccarati-Chapkis says consumers here often depend on laws in other states, such as California's Prop 65 warning label requirement.

"I was purchasing items for my children,” she relates. “One of them contained a Prop 65 warning label saying it may contain lead and phthalates, and so that gave me pause to select another product on the shelf."

Phthalates are a hormone-disrupting chemicals used in some plastics.

There are also provisions Naccarati-Chapkis says would be major improvements on the existing law, including setting a minimum number of chemicals to be tested each year.

She’s counting on the final result being the best of both the House and Senate bills.

"So, we are at a time where we must ensure that the commonsense approaches are a part of that conversation as these bills get reconciled in Congress, in early 2016," she states.

Monday, January 18, 2016

Keystone Progress Summit Announces U.S. Candidate Debate



Keystone Progress Summit Announces U.S. Candidate Debate
Keystone Progress predicts “most insightful and interesting debate of the year.”

(HARRISBURG, PA)—The 2016 Keystone Progress Summit will open with a debate among the
Democratic U.S. Senate candidates on Friday, February 19.

All three Democratic candidates, John Fetterman, Katie McGinty and Joe Sestak have confirmed their participation.

Ritchie Tabachnick, the chair of the board of directors of Keystone Progress, predicts that “This debate will be the most insightful and interesting debate of the year.  Our questions will not be the questions you have heard at other events.”


The debate will be held at the Hilton Harrisburg, in the Harrisburg Ballroom.  It will start at 6:00 PM on Friday, February 19.

The debate features candidates who will be on the ballot in the April Democratic primary.  Incumbent Senator Pat Toomey was also invited to the debate. He declined to participate.

You can register to attend the Summit, or just the debate at www.keystoneprogresssummit.org


Pennsylvania Faces Coverage Gap for Hispanic Children

Andrea Sears, Public News Service
Hispanic children are the fastest-growing segment of the U.S. population, and yet are less likely to be insured than other children. (ryse5/pixabay.com)
Hispanic children are the fastest-growing segment of the U.S. population, and yet are less likely to be insured than other children. (ryse5/pixabay.com)
PHILADELPHIA - During the first year of the Affordable Care Act, Pennsylvania made little progress getting more Hispanic children covered with health insurance, according to a new report.

The Georgetown University Center for Children and Families says 22,000 Hispanic kids, about 7.5 percent, had no insurance in 2014, a significantly higher rate than other children.

Sonya Schwartz, policy fellow at the center, says getting insurance to all kids is vital because they are the future and healthy children are healthy learners.

"We know that Latino children are the fastest-growing segment of our entire population," says Schwartz. "They're growing from one in four children today, to one in three children by 2050. And Hispanic children will be our nation's future doctors, teachers and workers."

The report says the vast majority of Hispanic children in Pennsylvania are citizens or legal residents and eligible for Medicaid or CHIP, the Children's Health Insurance Program.

Colleen McCaulley, healthy policy director at Public Citizens for Children and Youth in southeastern Pennsylvania, says the state could do more to better inform parents about the insurance programs that are available.

"Doing more targeted outreach in Spanish, and helping to inform families that participation in these programs does not have consequences on their immigration status," she says.

McCaulley points out Pennsylvania's health insurance programs do not disclose information about immigration status.

Nationally, the first year of the Affordable Care Act saw the number of uninsured Hispanic children drop by about 15 percent. But according to Schwartz, that still leaves almost 10 percent with no health insurance.

"There are 1.7 million uninsured Hispanic kids in this country," Schwartz says. "Two out of three of those kids, or more than 1 million kids, are right now eligible for Medicaid and CHIP, and unenrolled."

The Georgetown report notes Hispanic children are much more likely to have health insurance in states that have taken multiple steps to expand coverage for both children and parents.