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March 2, 2013

JOHN FINNERTY | Court squabbles keep money from helping kids

HARRISBURG — Bucks County District Attorney Dave Heckler said that while all of the recommendations of the child protection task force are important, expanding the use of children’s advocacy centers would be at the top of his wish list.

Heckler was chairman of the child protection task force created in the wake of the Penn State child sex scandal.

There are 22 children’s advocacy centers across Pennsylvania.

They provide a one-stop shop so that young victims of abuse can be interviewed and examined by experts in recognizing abuse. Proponents say that the centers are better for the victims, because victims must recount their ordeals fewer times. The centers also tend to be better for society because they are more effective at getting evidence and witness testimony that can be used against abusers.

Rep. Kathy Watson, R-Bucks, said that making the advocacy centers available more widely would be one of the best ways that the state could effectively combat child abuse. Finding a source of funding to pay for that kind of expansion would normally be quite the trick.

But there is the matter of what to do with the $60 million fine included in the NCAA sanctions against Penn State. Heckler’s fellow district attorneys recognized the importance of children’s advocacy centers and issued a statement recommending that the Penn State fine be used to open more centers.

Devoting a portion of the fine money to advocacy centers was part of Act 1, signed into law by Gov. Tom Corbett last month. But, unfortunately, as part of the “You’re suing me? Well then, I’ll sue you” gamesmanship between the NCAA and Corbett, the collegiate governing body filed a federal lawsuit saying Pennsylvania has no business telling the NCAA how it should spend the money. Corbett already had filed what many felt was a politically pandering lawsuit, arguing that the NCAA overstepped its authority by levying the sanctions against Penn State for misconduct completely unrelated to athletic competition.

It doesn’t make a whole lot of sense to take the money and use it to fight child abuse elsewhere. The sanction money ought to stay in Pennsylvania.

Watson argues that the fine money would be best spent setting up new programming, like the advocacy centers. But alas, the money sits while the lawsuits work their way through the courts.

Around Harrisburg:

• The struggle to make dismantling a highly profitable monopoly seem like it makes financial sense kind of depends on getting more people to buy alcohol. But there is some data to suggest it won’t work. Why not? Pennsylvanians already drink plenty. A National Institute of Alcohol Abuse and Alcoholism (known as the Institute with the Redundant Name to its friends) study found that alcohol consumption in Pennsylvania was higher than three neighboring states, Ohio, West Virginia and New York. Per capita alcohol consumption was higher in New Jersey, Delaware and Maryland. Must be the beaches. But I don’t see how the liquor plan compensates for that.

• Roland Zullo, who as a university researcher probably sees things differently, noted that there may be no good time to unload a monopoly if you are interested in generating the most money possible for government. But this may be a particularly bad time. You see, there is a national discussion about decriminalizing marijuana. Colorado and Washington made recreational use of marijuana legal in 2012.

If you missed it, Rep. Daylin Leach, a Democrat from Philly-land, has even introduced legislation that would make marijuana legal here. Call it, the Keystoned State Act, if you’d like. Regardless, if marijuana were to be decriminalized, then the state store system would already be in place to handle the trade. I guess that’s something to stick in your pipe and smoke, as they say.

John Finnerty works in the Harrisburg Bureau for Community Newspapers Holding Inc. He can be reached by email at jfinnerty@cnhi.com or on Twitter at @cnhipa.

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