Pa. moves to protect 32 farms in 18 counties from development | Five for the Weekend

‘Saving farmland protects the beauty and productivity of our state, the health of our environment, the vitality of our economy, and our ability to feed a growing population,’ Agriculture Secretary Russell Redding said

By: - June 18, 2022 6:59 am

A farmer plants corn into a cover crop of barley. (Photo courtesy of U.S. Natural Resources Conservation Service/The Missouri Independent).

Happy Weekend, friends.

It’s Capital-Star Editor-in-Chief John L. Micek, sitting in for Associate Editor Cassie Miller while she takes some well-deserved time off.

Officials at the state Department of Agriculture announced this week that the commonwealth recently moved to protect 32 farms in 18 counties from future development, preserving a total of 2,264 acres. That came at a cost of $8.2 million in state, county and local money, the agency said in a statement.

The 32 newly preserved farms are in Berks, Bucks, Centre, Chester, Cumberland, Dauphin, Lancaster, Lebanon, Lehigh, Lycoming, Mifflin, Monroe, Montgomery, Northampton, Perry, Schuylkill, Washington and York counties, officials said.

With this latest announcement, the state has helped to preserve 6,076 farms in 58 of the state’s 67 counties, putting a total of 613,884 acres of farmland off-limits to developers. All told, the state has spent $1.6 billion since 1988 on farmland preservation, the agency said in its statement.

“Saving farmland protects the beauty and productivity of our state, the health of our environment, the vitality of our economy, and our ability to feed a growing population,” Agriculture Secretary Russell Redding said in a statement. “It is not only one of the most important investments our state, federal and local governments make together, it is a priority we all agree on.”

As always, the rundown of your top 5 most-read stories of the week starts below.

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1. A ‘tidal wave’ in psychology: Advocates call on lawmakers to approve psilocybin treatment

Mark Keller still uses his call sign “Slider,” even though he retired from the Navy in 2012.

Keller excelled during his 20 years as a naval flight officer. But when he retired, trauma from an incident in 2005 when he accidentally killed 12 innocent people began to resurface, he said.

Like many veterans, Keller has Post Traumatic Stress Disorder. He initially sought help from the U.S. Department of Veterans Affairs, which he described as “incompetent,” then from private healthcare providers, who prescribed him Ativan, a sedative.

Ativan, Keller said, was “not the right answer;” he became addicted.

“I lost my family. I lost my business. I was one day from being homeless at one point,” Keller said. “And I was a drug addict.”

And, Keller said, he wasn’t healing. As he emerged from his addiction, he said heard from a friend about veterans who received psilocybin treatment for PTSD in Peru. Keller traveled to Peru and got the treatment himself, and described it as “profound.”

(Photo via The Philadelphia Tribune)

2. Pa.’s $5 prison co-pay helps no one. Eliminate it | Opinion

This morning, Physicians for Criminal Justice Reform released a statement urging the elimination of the $5 medical co-pay for incarcerated people in Pennsylvania state prisons, which serves as a large barrier to care.

They share that it can take between 12 and 26 hours of labor in a prison job before a person can pay for just one visit for basic medical care, since prison jobs pay a 19 cent per hour minimum wage and 42 cent per hour average wage. Therefore, the co-pay ends up creating an insurmountable barrier to care for people behind bars, leaving them to forego necessary treatment. It is appalling that the state treats people this way in our very backyards. This is an issue we should all care about.

Pennsylvania has one of the most cost-inefficient prison systems in the country – and it’s funded by us. The Vera Institute reported that the Department of Corrections spent over $42,000 per incarcerated person in 2015, which was a 22% increase in spending compared to 2010. Only 10 states spent more per person that year.

Considering the effect of the $5 co-pay on these costs adds further insult to injury. It is documented that preventive care is not only life-saving and keeps people from developing severe medical complications, but that it can often save money. For example, for such a common disease as diabetes, it is estimated that between 48 percent and 64 percent of lifetime medical costs are for life-threatening complications that result from poorly-managed diabetes, including heart disease and stroke.

GOP Sen. Pat Browne, of Lehigh County, reacts to Gov. Tom Wolf’s budget proposal (Capital-Star photo by Cassie Miller).

3. Budget mavens Browne and Saylor’s reelection losses not a factor in negotiations, experts say

This budget season will be the last for a trio of venerable Republican budget negotiators leaving office this year.

Sen. Pat Browne, of Lehigh County, and Rep. Stan Saylor, of York County, both Republicans, and the chairs of their respective chambers’ Appropriations committees, each lost primary challenges last month.

Senate President Pro Tempore Jake Corman, of Centre County, lost a bid for the Republican nomination for governor and did not seek reelection to the Senate.

It’s uncertain whether the impending departure of three of the Pennsylvania Legislature’s budget power players will affect the process of turning Gov. Tom Wolf’s budget proposal into a final spending plan that both lawmakers and the state’s chief executive will approve.

Some state government watchers, legislators and staff say there’s a potential that legacy burnishing, by both the leaders and Wolf, could result in a tough fight for a compromise. Others say Browne, Saylor and Corman are stalwart fiscal conservatives who won’t change their approaches to bargaining.

“I don’t think it changes the calculus at all,” Saylor’s spokesperson Neal Lesher said. “All three are committed to be conservative voices at the table.”

House Homeland Security Oversight and Management Efficiency Subcommittee Chairman Rep. Scott Perry makes opening remarks during a hearing on “critical canine contributions to the DHS mission’” in Washington, D.C., May 18, 2017. U.S. Customs and Border Protection Photo by Glenn Fawcett

4. Pardons, Proud Boys, assault of a police officer: Pennsylvania’s ties to Jan. 6 committee findings

More than a year-and-a-half after the Jan. 6 attack on the U.S. Capitol, the congressional committee tasked with investigating the riot held its first hearing to present findings on Thursday.

The U.S. House committee conducted more than 1,000 interviews — including with Pennsylvania officials — and reviewed tens of thousands of documents related to the attack and efforts to overturn the 2020 election. The televised hearing was the first in a series of hearings aimed at giving the American public a comprehensive look at the events leading up to the worst attack on the U.S. Capitol in more than 200 years.

The commonwealth has among the highest number of residents who have faced arrest for their actions in the deadly riot. Pennsylvania Republican lawmakers also objected to the 2020 Electoral College results.

State Sen. Dan Laughlin, R-Erie, speaks at a press conference announcing a bill to legalize marijuana with Democratic state Sen. Sharif Street, D-Philadelphia, on Feb. 24, 2021. (Courtesy of Senate Democrats)

5. The pressure is on Pa. as neighboring states legalize recreational cannabis

Will bipartisan talks in Harrisburg finally spark recreational marijuana legalization, or is the latest effort to go green destined to go up in smoke?

With neighboring states including Maryland, New York and New Jersey establishing their own private adult-use cannabis markets, Pennsylvania may be feeling peer pressure to act. The General Assembly has taken steps this year to learn more about recreational cannabis legalization through a series of public hearings in Senate committees, and a pair of bipartisan proposals suggest the commonwealth may be closer to legalization than ever before.

“I think that there is a growing sentiment in the Pennsylvania General Assembly that it’s not whether we legalize cannabis, but when,” state Sen. Sharif Street, a Democrat from Philadelphia, told City & State. Street, alongside state Sen. Dan Laughlin, an Erie County Republican, introduced SB473, an adult-use marijuana legalization proposal, last year.

The proposed legislation calls for a “rational framework” for legalization. It would allow adults 21 and older to purchase and possess up to 30 grams of cannabis, allow medical patients to grow up to five plants at home for personal use, ban marketing toward children, provide workplace and intoxication rules and emphasize social equity by creating equity licenses and expunging criminal records for anyone with a non-violent cannabis conviction.

And that’s the week. See you back here on Monday.

 

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John L. Micek
John L. Micek

A 3-decade veteran of the news business, John L. Micek is the Pennsylvania Capital-Star's Editor-in-Chief. An award-winning political reporter, Micek’s career has taken him from small town meetings and Chicago City Hall to Congress and the Pennsylvania Capitol. His weekly column on U.S. politics is syndicated to 800 newspapers nationwide by Cagle Syndicate. He also contributes commentary and analysis to broadcast outlets in the U.S., Canada and the U.K. Micek’s first novel, “Ordinary Angels,” was released in 2019 by Sunbury Press.

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