Why Gov.-Elect Wolf Is Right About the Death Penalty

imageThe widow of a police officer who was murdered criticized both Governor-elect Tom Wolf and me for our opposition to the death penalty in a piece that appeared on PennLive last week.

Maureen Faulkner specifically asked why should a person who has taken the life of another “be allowed to keep their own life.” She has a unique standing to comment on this important issue of public policy: Obviously, the horrors she has endured give her a valuable perspective on many facets of the criminal justice system. She raised important points and deserves a response.

The death penalty, which has been eliminated throughout most of the civilized world and has recently been repealed in six states, including our neighbors New Jersey and Maryland, is an inappropriate punishment for many reasons.

Perhaps the most compelling reason for rejecting capital punishment is the inevitability of executing completely innocent people. Since the U.S. Supreme Court allowed the death penalty to be reinstated, 149 people have been sent to death row and then released, after being fully exonerated of the crimes for which they were convicted, most through DNA evidence. Some of these people came within hours of being executed.

Counting all crimes, more than 2,000 people were found to have been wrongly convicted in the past 23 years. It is clear that our criminal justice system is imperfect. Considering all of the innocent people who were convicted but then freed by DNA, it is extremely disturbing that DNA evidence is available in only about 15% of all murder cases.

Most murders are committed by guns, leaving no DNA evidence. Thus, considering the scores of death row inmates whose innocence was proven by DNA out of the 15% of cases where it is available, how many innocent people are among the 85% of cases in which DNA evidence is not available? Assuming that the proportion of innocent people is the same in both groups, we have sent to death row many hundreds of people who are innocent, but unable to prove that innocence.

Faulkner said that in no case it was “proved” that an innocent person has been executed. That is misleading.

First, in most cases, once a person is dead, people stop looking. There is generally no funding source for the hundreds of thousands of dollars it would take to continue investigating a case after the defendant has been executed.

Even if funding was available in a given case, in no forum a person’s innocence can be “proved.” The state does not conduct posthumous retrials of dead defendants. That said, in a number of cases there is very strong evidence that an innocent person was executed.

Another compelling reason to eliminate the death penalty is that we simply cannot afford it. Recent studies in California and Maryland have shown that a death-penalty case costs between $2 million and $3 million more to process, try and carry out than a non-capital murder case.

Given that we have processed hundreds of death penalty cases since reinstatement, simple math tells us that we are spending billions of dollars just to have a death penalty. Think of what that money could be used for instead: more effective forms of crime reduction, education, or even tax cuts.

Other reasons to eliminate the death penalty relate to:

  • the unfair, arbitrary, and racially disparate way it is administered;
  • all of the ancillary costs of litigating issues related to capital punishment, such as what chemicals may be used for the execution; and
  • the significant moral problems with giving a government, that many people do not think can deliver the mail efficiently, the power to decide when to kill its own citizens.

I can certainly understand Faulkner’s rage and desire for revenge against the man who killed her husband. I am sure I would feel the same way if I were ever in similar circumstances.

One of my heroes, the former New York governor, Mario Cuomo, who opposed the death penalty in all circumstances, was frequently asked what he would do if someone he cared about was murdered. I will paraphrase his typical answer:

I would pick up a baseball bat to bash the killer’s brains in myself. But before I reached him, what I hope I would do is ask myself if this would bring my loved-one back, and if I am acting in a way consistent with my religious and moral principles, and if I would want my family to see me acting this way. And I hope that before I got to the killer, I would put the baseball bat down.

That is what we as a society must do. We must put the baseball bat down.

Originally published in PennLive.

Gaza as Seen by a Progressive Zionist

Courtesy of Yaakov (Dry Bones) Kirschen drybonesblog.blogspot.com/

Courtesy of Yaakov (Dry Bones) Kirschen drybonesblog.blogspot.com/

— by Daylin Leach

As a progressive (or “liberal” as I grew up calling myself), I’ve been troubled by the divide I’ve seen in the progressive community over the Israeli-Hamas conflict.

While there are many good progressives on the national scene who, as I do, support Israel enthusiastically, I have also seen the unmistakable strain of anti-Israeli sentiment on the part of progressives I know, read, or interact with on social media. To me, much of what I’ve heard from these people with whom I normally share so much is both profoundly troubling, and antithetical to everything progressivism is supposed to be about.

First, when I say I am a progressive, let me tell you what I mean: the legislation in Pennsylvania legalizing same-sex marriage, raising the minimum wage to $12 per hour, mandating paid family leave, abolishing the death penalty, legalizing marijuana and taxing the use of plastic bags are not only bills I support, they are bills I’ve introduced. A number of commentators have nicknamed me “The Liberal Lion of Pennsylvania,” a moniker I proudly embraced during my recent Congressional campaign.

My views on foreign policy are similarly, if not quite as aggressively, progressive. I opposed the wars in Vietnam, Iraq, Panama, and Grenada. However, I am not a pacifist; I supported going into Afghanistan to prevent those who attacked us on 9/11 from planning their next strike. Generally, I support more foreign aid to help alleviate poverty and a greater emphasis on human rights in our dealings with other nations.

Courtesy of Yaakov (Dry Bones) Kirschen drybonesblog.blogspot.com

To me, this general world view can lead to only one logical conclusion, which is the strong support of Israel in its current conflict with Hamas. There is one country in the Middle East which respects women’s rights, gay rights, the rights of political minorities, free speech and the right of dissent, and that is Israel. There is no other nation in the region which could, in any sense of the word, be considered progressive.

Hamas has a human rights record that can only be described as awful. Being gay is a crime punishable by death and women are subjected to strict dress codes, and are often the victims of “honor killings” while the Hamas government looks the other way. Religious minorities living in Gaza are subjected to almost daily governmental harassment, and one need only watch the news to see reports of extra-judicial killings of anyone even suspected of opposing Hamas’ war on Israel. There is no other context in which progressives would tolerate the sort of human rights violations against their own people that Hamas perpetuates every day.

It is certainly true that a large number of Gazans have lost their lives in the current conflict. And some of my progressive friends have correctly noted that many of them are innocent civilians and children.

But tragically, this is the case in all wars. We don’t fight wars against individuals; we fight against governmental regimes that control the weapons that threaten us. There were many innocent Japanese children during World War II. They were too young to know who Hideki Tojo was. But Tojo bombed Pearl Harbor. We had to fight back, sad in the knowledge that innocent people would die. Similarly, Israel has the right to defend itself when attacked, doing their best to minimize civilian casualties.

Many progressives, who share my strong preference for peace over war and rarely, if ever, find a legitimate reason for Israel (or the United States for that matter) to use force, somehow justify Hamas shooting rockets into Israel. The fact is that since Hamas assumed power, they have fired almost 15,000 rockets, killing dozens and injuring almost 2,000 Israelis. No other nation in the world would be expected to tolerate this.

Courtesy of The Cartoon Kronicles @ cartoonkronicles.com

Courtesy of The Cartoon Kronicles @ cartoonkronicles.com

Perhaps we could all have some faint hope that the recently announced open-ended cease-fire will result in some progress in addressing the concerns of all sides. I understand that progressives feel the Palestinian people have legitimate grievances, and it seems to me that the negotiating table is the place to address them. But there is no grievance that would justify Hamas’ deliberate targeting of civilians, which is a war crime. And there is no progressive principle which would require Israel to silently endure countless attacks on its people.

We all have political heroes. As a progressive, I find my inspiration in the words of Martin Luther King, Gandhi and Nelson Mandela. These great, progressive leaders all achieved far more for their people than the rocket-launchers and suicide-bombers of Hamas have for theirs. I would hope that in time, the progressive community can come closer to speaking with one voice in condemning the sort of terrorism and genocide that can be found in the Hamas charter. If we as progressives really care about the suffering of the Palestinian people and peace, we have no other choice.

Democratic Jewish Outreach Pennsylvania Endorses Daylin Leach


Official campaign video.

— by David S. Broida, William Epstein, Burt Siegel and Jill Zipin (steering committee of Democratic Jewish Outreach Pennsylvania)

State Senator Daylin Leach is the candidate for the U.S. House of Representatives in Pennsylvania’s 13th congressional district who best reflects democratic as well as Jewish values. Senator Leach’s long and unwavering record of support of women and families is well known, and he will continue to work to uphold and defend the civil rights of all people.

He supports increased funding for our public schools as he believes all children need and deserve a good education. He understands, as do we, that the path to economic prosperity lies in providing our children with the best education possible.

More after the jump.
Senator Leach also has championed a pathway to citizenship for the 11 million  undocumented immigrants who live in this country. Such a pathway is both a Jewish and American value and is good for the prosperity of our nation. He also is a passionate supporter of a strong and a secure Israel.

We believe that Senator Leach will be the  best advocate for the constituents of Pennsylvania’s 13th congressional district. We are pleased to add our voice to those of the many others who look forward to his victory in the May 20 democratic primary.


Update: February 7, 2014 MoveOn Endorsement

Here’s what a few MoveOn members across Pennsylvania’s 13th district had to share about Daylin:

  • “Daylin Leach is a true progressive with exceptional people skills. His sense of fair play coupled with a great sense of humor will be able to build bridges and form much-needed alliances in Congress-without compromising his principles.”
    — Susan G., Lansdale, PA
  • “I know Daylin personally. While he’s often known for his wit, he is incredibly intelligent, a tireless advocate for progressive causes, and the type of person you would actually want in Congress.”
    — Tony H., Bridgeport, PA
  • “Daylin has been my PA state senator and he is a solid progressive voice and vote. He is also a fearless progressive leader in our area and a really good guy. Doesn’t hurt that he is really smart and funny, and comes from humble beginnings so he understands the life lived by most people.”
    — Mary Ann H., King of Prussia, PA
  • “Daylin Leach is one of the most forward progressive thinkers in Pennsylvania. As a leader in public education, the environment, women’s rights, LGBT equality, and tax fairness, Daylin is bold, unapologetic, and takes action. He has given us a light at the end of the apathetic tunnel-the antithesis of the do-nothing Congress of the past two years. I endorse Senator Leach and look forward to calling him Representative Leach in 2015.”
    — Eric E., King of Prussia, PA

State Sen. Leach: ASA Israel Boycott Is “Misguided, Irrational”

In a letter to the president of the American Studies Association (ASA), Curtis Marez, Pennsylvania State Senator Daylin Leach (D., Montgomery County) attacked the boycott of Israeli institutions by the Association.

In the letter, that will be publicly released tomorrow (Tuesday), Leach wrote, “you did not issue a statement criticizing a particular practice of the Jewish State; you singled out Israel for an alleged widespread systematic abuse of human rights.

“Among the countries you have not chosen to boycott are Iran, China, Russia, Saudi Arabia, Syria, Sudan and even North Korea, which apparently just executed a former government official on the day of his ‘trial’ by feeding him to a pack of starved wild dogs.”

Dear Mr. Marez,

As a former college professor and current Pennsylvania State Senator and member of the Senate Education Committee, I was disappointed (although, sadly, not surprised) to learn of the American Studies Association (ASA)’s decision to boycott academic establishments in Israel.

It is my view that this decision is misguided, irrational, and a slap in the face to the very concept of academic freedom.

Letter continues after the jump.
In your statement attempt the justify the academic boycott of Israel, the ASA said: “The Council voted for an academic boycott of Israeli institutions as an ethical stance, a form of material and symbolic action. It represents a principle of solidarity with scholars and students deprived of their academic freedom and an aspiration to enlarge that freedom for all,” and that the boycott is warranted because “Israeli institutions of higher education are a party to state policies that violate human rights.”

Really?

Certainly a case could be made that when it comes to human rights, Israel is imperfect. I would note that the same case could be made in regards to the United States, both in the past and currently.

But you did not issue a statement criticizing a particular practice of the Jewish State; you singled out Israel for an alleged widespread systematic abuse of human rights.

To my knowledge, you have call for a boycott of no other nation. This action suggests that Israel is uniquely deficient in its respect for basic rights.

Among the countries you have not chosen to boycott are Iran, China, Russia, Saudi Arabia, Syria, Sudan and even North Korea, which apparently just executed a former government official on the day of his “trial” by feeding him to a pack of starved wild dogs.

Even the Palestinian Authority, which you purport to be fighting for, conducts summary trials and executions and extra-judicial murders by militias of people deemed “collaborators” and has nothing resembling a free press.

Those countries are apparently fine. But you boycott Israel, which:

  • is a democracy;
  • respects the rights of women, who are considered fully equal in Israeli Society;
  • legally recognizes the rights of its gay and lesbian citizens;
  • has an independent judiciary which sometimes strikes down government actions;
  • has the rule of law;
  • has minority voting rights and Arab members of the Knesset; and
  • has a completely free press.

As you may already be aware, more than 100 American universities have taken issue with ASA’s decision, and have themselves decided to reject the boycott. The American Council of Education, the Association of American Universities and the American Association of University Professors have also expressed their opposition.

Further, it has been noted in the media that only approximately 16 percent of the ASA’s 5,000 members actually voted in favor of the boycott. It was troublesome to learn that this decision, which has severe implications, was pushed through with minimal member input and significant public opposition.

Finally, in an examination of your association’s mission statement, is it not a violation of academic freedom and aspiration to target students and professors in a country for reasons beyond their control?

A goal of your organization is to “enlarge [academic] freedom for all”, but does the boycott not actually limit academic freedom, thereby only granting it to some?

I will conclude this letter by reinforcing what was previously expressed to you by Rep. Eliot L. Engel, senior Democratic Member of the House Foreign Affairs Committee, when he wrote that he encouraged you to review the most recent Country Reports on Human Rights Practices by the State Department.

I would reiterate his statement pointing out that the report says that “there were no government restrictions on academic freedom” apparent in Israel.

Voters Don’t Decide Who Wins; Map Drawers Do

Top: Republicans control 13 of Pennsylvania’s 18 Congressional Districts. Bottom: Alternative map, drawn by State Senator Daylin Leach, gives Democrats control of 13 districts.

Top: Republicans control 13 of Pennsylvania’s 18 Congressional Districts. Bottom: Alternative map, drawn by State Senator Daylin Leach, gives Democrats control of 13 districts.

As a democracy, we are proud of our electoral system: We assume that citizens, through their vote, wield the ultimate power over our government and determine who shall represent them.

However, this is not the case in reality. Rather, legislatures, through their redistricting authority, draw electoral maps specifically engineered to re-elect themselves and their colleagues.

In 2012, the majority of Pennsylvanians (50.24%) voted for Democratic candidates for Congress while 48.74% who voted for Republicans, and 1.02% who voted for other candidates.

However, Democratic candidates prevailed in only five of the 18 congressional districts: Bob Brady and Chaka Fattah in Philadelphia, Mike Doyle in Pittsburgh, Allyson Schwartz in the Philadelphia suburbs, and Matt Cartwright in northeastern Pennsylvania.

Was this simply a matter of luck?

Packing and Cracking

The district map was designed to pack as many democrats as possible into these five districts. Fattah, for example cruised to victory with 89.28% of the votes, versus 9.37% for Robert Mansfield and 1.35% for James Foster.

By forcing the Democratic voters to “waste” votes in districts where they are a super-majority, the Republican politicians are able to construct 13 districts with sensible Republican majorities.

Conversely, Democratic seats in other Democratic strongholds such as Harrisburg and the Pittsburgh suburbs were prevented by cracking those areas into pieces and diluting them with outlying areas that lean Republican.

In other words, voters do not choose the representatives who share their values; rather, the legislators wielding their pens choose the constituents whose support they can count on in the voting booth.

The rest of the article, and TED Talk by State Sen. Daylin Leach, follow the jump.
Since the redistricting process was controlled by Pennsylvania’s Republican governor, Tom Corbett, and the Republican majorities in the state House, State Senate and Legislative Reapportionment Commission, it is not surprising that the results are skewed in favor of the Republicans as far as mathematically and legally possible.

If Democrats Drew the Map

To illustrate how easily the results can be skewed in the opposite direction, Pennsylvania State Senator Daylin Leach drew a map, which shows Democratic majorities in 13 congressional districts, and Republican majorities in the remaining five districts.

In other words, if the map had been different, the congressional election could have been completely reversed — 13-5 instead of 5-13 — without a single Pennsylvanian changing his vote. What a farce our elections have become!

In fact, one could draw an even more skewed map, with more homogeneous districts, giving Democrats small majorities in every single district, and leaving the Republicans with no representation at all.

Could it be argued that the Republican-skewed map was dictated by the rules and the demographics, rather than by political interests?

Both Leach’s map and the actual map feature contiguous districts almost equal in population. However, Leach’s map has more “compact” districts, whereas the actual map has districts which meander across the state in search of pockets of Democrats or Republicans as the case may be.

Furthermore, the Pennsylvania State Constitution requires legislative districts to avoid splitting counties, cities, towns, boroughs, townships and wards “unless absolutely necessary.” Some splitting is necessary, because Philadelphia is too large to fit inside single district. However, Leach’s map has three fewer splits than the  map adopted by the state assembly.

Our state’s congressional delegation should be truly representative of the makeup of our state, and the Pennsylvania State Constitution should be amended to enshrine this principle into law.

Fear of a Word: Marijuana Forbidden for Sick 3-Year-Old

— by Pennsylvania State Senator Daylin Leach

Garrett Brann, who is about to turn 3 years old, has a form of epilepsy, known as “Dravet’s Syndrome,” which is robbing him of his childhood, a normal life, and much more.

The disease manifests itself primarily in almost constant seizures. Garrett routinely has more than 100 seizures, of varying degrees of intensity, every day.

Garrett’s story is obviously sad, but what makes it truly tragic is that there is a treatment which could very possibly end Garrett’s seizures and allow him to live a normal life. However, because that treatment is a derivative of marijuana, he is not allowed to have it.

More after the jump.
As a result of the frightening and damaging seizures, Garrett’s brain does not rest long enough to develop normally. He, like all children with the Syndrome, suffers from severe cognitive underdevelopment, which only gets worse with time.

He used to be able to feed himself and speak, but has lost those abilities. He can no longer walk consistently and frequently falls. As a result, Garrett’s parents have had to rush him to the emergency room repeatedly for stitches and other medical treatment.

Garrett cannot run, climb steps or jump like a normal 3-year old. He receives occupational, physical and speech therapy, but makes no real progress in any of these areas, as the Syndrome continues to run its often-fatal course.

In an effort to ameliorate the seizures as much as possible, Garrett is currently on a highly toxic and addictive three-drug regimen. These drugs are known to cause liver damage. One of them is not covered by insurance, and costs the Brann family thousands of dollars per year.

The treatment that could help Garrett is known as “Charlotte’s Web,” named after the first girl with the Syndrome to whom it helped.

Charlotte, like Garrett, suffered with near constant seizures. Also like Garrett, nothing seemed to help her until she was given the marijuana-based oil.

The results were miraculous. Her seizure rate went down from hundreds per week to less than one. She is now developing normally and has regained much of what she had lost when she was constantly seizing. Similar results have now been seen in dozens of children with the Syndrome.

The miracle treatment is a tincture or oil that comes from a certain, specific strain of marijuana.

It is important to know that marijuana contains two active compounds:

  • The first is tetrahydrocannabinol, or “THC.” This is the part of the marijuana plant that is an intoxicant, and makes people “high.”
  • The other active compound is known as cannabidiol, or “CBD,” which cannot make people “high” at all.

The specific strain of marijuana used to create Charlotte’s Web is packed with CBD and contains almost no THC. So the oil that could help Garrett cannot and will not get Garrett stoned or intoxicated in any way.

If Charlotte’s Web came from a yucca plant or bacteria grown in a laboratory, it would be easily available in every CVS or Rite-Aid in America.

But because it comes from marijuana, the plant that dare not speak its name, no child in Pennsylvania can obtain, possess or use it. Garrett’s parents can fly to Colorado, establish residency, buy the oil and bring it back to Pennsylvania, but if they do they risk arrest and felony prosecution.

This policy is insane. A few drops of a simple oil can potentially save a young boy’s life. The oil is not addictive, not intoxicating, and has no side effects.

There is no rational reason to deny this child the medicine he needs. The only thing that stands between Garrett and a normal life is the fear of the word “marijuana.”

This word has the same effect on many policymakers in Harrisburg and Washington, D.C. as Kryptonite has on Superman: it causes them to lose their ability to think clearly, and forces them to flee in terror.

We must overcome this superstitious way of thinking. It is causing people to suffer needlessly, both with symptoms that could have been eased, and with the side effects of drugs much more toxic and dangerous than Charlotte’s Web could ever be.

Would our policy on medical marijuana make sense to you if Garrett was your son?

See No Warming, Hear No Warming, Speak No Warming


DEP acting head, E. Christopher Abruzzo.
Credit: Pennsylvania DEP

— by Pennsylvania State Senator Daylin Leach

Yesterday, I heard the following from E. Christopher Abruzzo, Tom Corbett’s nominee for Department of Environmental Protection Secretary:

I have not read any scientific studies that would lead me to conclude that there are adverse impacts to human beings or to animals or to plant life at this small level of climate change.

While it is absolutely galling that Corbett would have the audacity to nominate someone for the post of protecting our environment who has not read anything at all about the human impact on climate change, it is not unexpected.

However, I was the only member of the State Senate yesterday to hold Corbett’s nominee accountable, ask hard questions, and vote against his nomination.

As an environmentalist, I believe it is of the highest imperative to protect our natural resources, and am willing to stand up to anti-environment politicians like Corbett to do what is right — and that is what I want to do when I am elected to Congress.

More after the jump.
As The Philadelphia Inquirer reported:

Leach was the only senator to oppose moving Abruzzo’s nomination out of committee for consideration by the full 50-member Senate, expected within the next week.

He said he believed Abruzzo, a longtime prosecutor who later served as a deputy chief of staff to Corbett, had “no obvious experience in environmental protection, and that manifests itself in things like not knowing the science behind climate change.”

“This is not a reflection on you,” said Leach. “There are many positions that you would be qualified for. I do not think this is one of them.”

The Death of Democracy in the US

— article by State Senator Daylin Leach, reprinted from the Philadelphia Jewish Voice , 2006.

Voters no longer choose their politicians; instead, politicians choose their voters when they draw the district lines. I have been leading the fight to take the politics out of redistricting.

Redistricting has become a tool used by legislative leaders to ensure that elections are never competitive. As you know, the constitution requires that political boundaries are redrawn every 10 years to reflect population shifts. In recent years, politicians of both parties have become increasingly blatant about drawing these lines to ensure that there are as few genuinely competitive districts as possible. As a result, 95 percent of us live in districts where our vote essentially does not count because those who drew the lines have already decided which party will win.

More after the jump.


Current Pa. congressional districts by party.

Though gerrymandering has been a growing problem for centuries, new technology has made it increasingly effective. Let me explain how this works. Say there are two adjacent legislative districts, both of which typically divide their vote evenly between the Democratic and Republican parties. When the next redistricting comes around, the party leadership of both parties will make a deal to swap precincts so that instead of two 50-50 districts, the new map will have one district that is 70-30 Republican and the other that is 70-30 Democratic. People still walk to the polls on election day, but everyone knows who will win before the first vote is counted.

Iowa has actually passed similar reform. As a result, four out of five of Iowa’s congressional districts are competitive. That is more competitive districts than there are in Pennsylvania, New York and California combined. That state’s legislative races are similarly competitive.

The powers that be in both parties oppose this bill because it takes power out of their hands. The only way that reform will ever happen is if there is a public outcry demanding it.

Instead of Just Making College Affordable, Make It Free

U.S. Unemployment Rate, 25 years and over:
July 2013 data:

Less than a high school diploma 11.0%
High school graduate, no college 7.6%
Some college or associate degree 6.0%
Bachelor’s degree and higher 3.8%

Source: Federal Reserve Bank of St. Louis

It is becoming increasingly difficult to get a job which pays a decent salary without a college education. Nevertheless, the cost of a college education is increasing exponentially, far outstripping inflation and typical salaries.

About one-third of college students receive subsidized Federal loans. The rate on these loans was fixed in 2007 at 3.4%. Last month, Congress let this rate expire, which caused the rate on new student loans to suddenly double to 6.8%, bringing a college education out of the reach of most students.

A life of privilege should not be the birthright of the privileged few, passed on from generation to generation like the titles of nobility, which we Americans have wisely forsaken (U.S. Constitution, Article I, Section 9, Clause 8).

The outrage expressed by students, their parents, and all those concerned with the future of America’s highly educated workforce was heard in the halls of Congress. Last Friday, President Obama signed a compromise bill to lower interest rates. According to Cecilia Munoz, “Under the new law, nearly 11 million borrowers will see their interest rates decrease on new loans made after July 1, 2013. About 8.8 million undergraduate borrowers will see their rates on new loans drop from 6.80% to 3.86%, and about 1.5 million Graduate Unsubsidized Stafford borrowers will see their rates drop on new loans from 6.80% to 5.41%. Finally, over 1 million Grad PLUS and Parent PLUS borrowers will see their rates on new loans drop from 7.90% to 6.41% — the first reduction in years.” (Since these rates are based on the bond market, The Washington Post notes that “as the economy improves in the coming years, as it is expected to, those interest rates will likely climb and could soon be higher than current rates, unless Congress again acts.”)

Undergraduates may be breathing a sigh of relief as they prepare to go back to school this fall, but still their education will end up more expensive than ever, before putting college out of reach of more and more of America’s youth.

Will this satisfy the many voices that have been clamoring for the government to make education more affordable?

Yet, others are advancing toward a more ambitious objective: making higher education not just affordable, but free.

Three ideas for free tuition follow the jump.
Pay it forward, pay it back

Pennsylvania State Senator Daylin Leach (D-Montgomery) writes about the legislation he and State Representative Brendan F. Boyle (D-Philadelphia/Montgomery) are introducing in Harrisburg:

I will be introducing a landmark bill in the Pennsylvania Senate to make college affordable for every Pennsylvanian.

Growing up, my mom and I didn’t have much, and it was only because of programs like Pell Grants that I was able to go to Temple University for college. Since I graduated, tuition has risen astronomically, and state and federal financial assistance hasn’t been able to keep up. If I was finishing high school today, I would not be able to afford to go to Temple without taking on a mountain of debt.

That is why I will be introducing the “Pay It Forward, Pay It Back” program to make state, and state-related universities (like Temple) affordable for every student by letting them attend college with no money down and without paying high interest rates.

The way that it works is simple: we will create a fund from which students can draw funds to pay their tuition. After graduating and joining the workforce, students will “Pay Back” into the fund, interest free, through a small percentage — around 4% — of their income.  

The plan will eventually become self-sustaining, but until it does, we will use seed funding from a competitive, temporary tax on natural gas extraction.

Once this bill is signed into law, Pennsylvania will be one of the the nation’s leaders in affordable college education and every student will have the same opportunities that I did.

Boyle adds:

With Pennsylvania’s college graduates shouldering the second highest level of student loan debt in the country, the need to take a hard look at our existing system of funding higher education is urgent. This legislation would initiate the process of conducting a comprehensive, in-depth analysis of the Pay It Forward model.

There are currently a handful of states that are considering or have passed similar legislation, including Oregon, which last month passed legislation that Boyle credits as the impetus behind their proposal:

I think the number of states that have expressed interest in this model demonstrates that the traditional way of financing public higher education is fundamentally broken and that there is a strong demand for new ideas. The Oregon bill offers an excellent template for how such a game changing proposal should be approached. Given that this plan would likely require an investment of tens of billions of dollars before becoming solvent, carefully examining the merits and cost of Pay It Forward on an objective and nonpartisan basis will provide insight into whether such a program is feasible in Pennsylvania.

A similar idea is being considered in California, where grantees would commit to paying 5% of their salary for the next 20 years.

This idea is not a Utopian, liberal, “pay what you can” dream. According to the journal Inside Higher Ed, the “concept was thought up, independently, by two Nobel winners in economics, Milton Friedman [noted Libertarian thinker] and James Tobin.”

Posse Scholars

Many promising students do not fulfill their potential, because they do not have the necessary support networks to guide them in their education. For that reason, the Posse Foundation steps into the breech and identifies at-risk youth “with extraordinary academic and leadership potential” while they are still in high school, organizing them into teams (or “posses”) of ten students.

The students in any posse are responsible for each other, support each other in their studies, and help each other stay out of trouble. The Posse Foundation’s university partners have committed to giving full scholarships each year to an entire posse, based on the posse’s total scores, grades, etc.

Knowing that they will earn this scholarship, or fail to do so, as a group, each posse is a team with a common goal to shoot for, and the raw talent to succeed. Since 1989, 4,884 public school student have succeeded as posse scholars. The posse continues to function when in the university of their choice and even beyond, as an invaluable, tried-and-tested support network for these talented youth, who may be the first children in their families to benefit from higher education.

President Obama has seen the value of the Posse Foundation’s work, and accordingly donated all of his $1,400,000 in Nobel Peace Prize money to the Posse Foundation, and 10 other charitable causes:  

The news that Posse will receive a generous gift of $125,000 came via a White House announcement.

“These organizations do extraordinary work in the United States and abroad helping students, veterans and countless others in need,” said President Obama. “I’m proud to support their work.”

The other nine organizations who will receive donations ranging from $100,000 to $250,000 are: AfriCare, the American Indian College Fund, the Appalachian Leadership and Education Foundation, the Central Asia Institute, the Clinton-Bush Haiti Fund, College Summit, Fisher House, the Hispanic Scholarship Fund and the United Negro College Fund.

“On behalf of the entire Posse Foundation, I thank President Obama for this incredible acknowledgment and support”, says Posse President and Founder Deborah Bial. “For 20 years, Posse has been finding outstanding young people and connecting them to the great education they so deserve. The president’s support is more than financial; it is a message to the country that these young people are not only important, but needed as leaders. We are beyond thrilled.”

Loan Forgiveness

Another way students attend school for free is by committing to public service. Instead of giving back a small percentage of their salary for decades, they devote themselves to service for a shorter period of time. For example, the United States Armed Services will pay for students to attend medical school, if they agree to serve as a medic in the military for an equal number of years. Each year of free medical school equals one year of required service:

When you’re pursuing an advanced health care degree, the last thing on your mind should be how you’re going to pay for it. The U.S. Army can help with one of the most comprehensive scholarships available in the health care field — The F. Edward Hébert Armed Forces Health Professions Scholarship Program. Qualifying students receive full tuition for any accredited medical, dental, veterinary, psychology or optometry program, plus a generous monthly stipend of more than $2,000.

In fact, during summer break, the students receive officer’s salary while they get their military training.

Similar programs exist to encourage doctors to work for a few years in under-served rural communities, or for student to train (or engineers to retrain themselves) to teach science, technology, engineering or mathematics in poor urban neighborhoods.

These ideas may put higher education into everyone’s reach, and conversely, put everyone’s talents into the reach of society.

Same Sex Marriage in Montgomery County

Philadelphia News, Weather and Sports from WTXF FOX 29

Last week, Montgomery County’s Register of Wills Bruce Hanes announced that he would start issuing marriage licenses to same-sex couples.

In today’s Philadelphia Daily News, State Senate Daylin Leach defends Hanes’ action:

These licenses would seem to be issued in contradiction to the Pennsylvania statute that limits marriage to one man and one woman. Mr. Hanes says that he believes that law is unconstitutional and therefore not enforceable.

Some have attacked Mr. Hanes for essentially going rogue. They say that he does not have the authority to pick and choose which laws he wants to enforce and which ones he does not. They also point out that if a law is unconstitutional, it should be a judge who makes that determination, not a county row officer. While these are reasonable points to make, they miss the true issues at stake. A more comprehensive review of relevant legal issues reveals that the actions taken by Mr. Hanes were, in fact, correct.

In fact, Leach officiated over a Montgomery County same-sex marriage on Monday and PoliticsPA wrote a  piece about it entitled Leach Loves Gays So Much He Marries Them:

“I am thrilled to have had the opportunity to officiate the marriage of a wonderful, loving couple this afternoon in Montgomery County,” Leach said. “Today’s ceremony proves that little by little, we are making strides toward full equality here in Pennsylvania. Each court ruling and each supportive decision made by elected officials puts another crack in the armor of discrimination. Today’s ceremony shows that love can indeed conquer all.”

Leach has long been a supporter of same-sex marriage and LGBT rights. He introduced the first bill in the state Senate to legalize same-sex marriage in 2010.