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Reinstating The Draft
On October 5, the leadership of the US House of Representatives rushed to vote on a bill that would reinstate the military draft. The Universal National Service Act of 2003 (H.R. 163) was originally introduced by Congressman Charles Rangel (D-NY) well over a year ago. Until October 5, this bill had not seen the light of day, nor was there any hint that it would be taken up on the House floor. Suddenly, with exactly four weeks left before the election, the bill was brought up for a vote. Because the bill was introduced under a special rule, there was no committee discussion or vote, and only a 40-minute debate was allowed on the floor.
The military draft is a serious issue that involves the lives of young Americans, those who are serving and those who may be called upon to serve. It is an issue that deserves real debate, not political gamesmanship. Our political leaders, beginning with President Bush and Senator Kerry, should contribute to a national dialogue by explaining how they will shape foreign and security policy to address the significant strain that the military is under. This vote should mark up a ratcheting up of the debate, not the end of the discussion as some politicians apparently intended.
School Bus Safety Is No Accident
October 17 through October 23 is National School Bus Safety Week. Most people do not realize that school bus transportation continues to be one of the safest forms of ground transportation. In fact, a school bus is 28 times safer than a passenger car. This is no accident. It is through the efforts of hardworking and dedicated professionals, particularly the drivers, that makes this so.
Our tremendous safety record is due to tough federal and state regulations, extensive school bus driver training and review and our commitment to safety. School busing is a much more complex and demanding job than most people realize or appreciate. It is supported by an extensive network of personnel including mechanics, dispatchers and driver safety trainers. The vehicles are designed, built and equipped for the safety of the children they are used to transport. They are operated during the busiest travel periods of the day and in all types of road and weather conditions.
The problem is that our best efforts can only deliver a part of the results. An awareness of the law and the behavior of the driving public remain a critical element in the safety of the children we transport to and from school. Too many times school bus drivers report motorists passing stopped school buses when they are picking up or discharging students. School buses are equipped with an eight-way lighting system. The amber (yellow) lights will begin flashing between 300 feet and 150 feet before the school bus stops. During this time, the motorist must prepare to stop. When the school bus stops, the red lights will begin flashing and the side-stop arm will be extended. All motorists meeting or following the bus must be stopped at least ten feet from the bus and are not to proceed until the red lights are no longer activated and students have reached a place of safety. Pennsylvania law is quite simple to remember; a motorist must always stop for a school bus when the red lights are flashing. There are no exceptions. This includes fire engines, ambulances, police cars and funeral processions. If a motorist fails to stop for a school bus, it is an automatic sixty-day suspension of their drivers license, five points on their driving record and a $100 fine.
School bus safety is also influenced by activity on the bus. The driver has to contend with weather and road conditions and maintain an awareness of all activity around the bus, driveways, intersections, people, pets and wildlife. While a driver has all this to consider outside the bus, he need not be distracted by misbehavior inside the bus. Rules are provided for students to follow while riding the bus and are there to maintain a safe and orderly environment. Parents/guardians should serve as role models and instruct their children in appropriate and socially acceptable behavior on a school bus as well as everywhere else. The driver should be accorded the respect he has earned and deserves.
Observe School Bus Safety Week, every week. It could save a life.
Your Local School Bus Drivers
Congress Needs To Restore Funding
During every significant rainfall event since fall 2002, flood and emergency management officials in the Susquehanna basin have been on alert because of repeated, above normal stream-flows. The weekend of September 19 proved to be the proverbial straw that broke the camels back as Tropical Storm Ivan dumped anywhere from 1.5 to 9.5 inches of rain in the basin, in a very brief amount of time. Small streams, everywhere from New York to Maryland began flooding some of them setting new flood records and eventually the already-swollen Susquehanna River could no longer keep the flood waters within its banks.
This flood is being recorded as the fourth or fifth worst on record in the basin. As damage estimates continue to add up, we know with certainty that the damages would have been much, much worse were it not for the Susquehanna Basin Flood Forecast and Warning System. The National Weather Service used the data generated by the Susquehanna System to predict flood levels with remarkable accuracy many hours in advance allowing people to secure their property and evacuate long before the flood waters threatened their personal safety.
Regrettably, despite the Systems irrefutable benefits, Congress eliminated its direct funding in FY-04. If Congress does not restore the direct funding for it in FY-05, the Susquehanna Systems identity could be lost forever.
The Susquehanna System uses radar and a network of stream and rain gauges to provide the data that are used to forecast river levels and issue more accurate early flood warnings. The system was initiated for this basin because our watershed is recognized as being one of the most flood-prone areas in the entire country. It is an extremely cost-effective flood protection program, reducing the average annual flood damages in the Susquehanna basin by $32 million. That represents a 20-to-one benefit-cost ratio; for every dollar invested by the federal government, the system saves $20 through reduced flood damages and reduced payouts through the federal flood insurance program.
Following Tropical Storm Ivan, many people throughout the basin are speaking out in support of the system, including emergency response officials, community leaders, business representatives and others. They agree with us that the Susquehanna System is well worth the $2 million recommended for the System by the Commission.
As good as the current system is, Susquehanna System operators need to make vital upgrades to address system vulnerabilities in gauging, radar and data communications. These problems will go unaddressed if adequate funding is not restored; leaving the basin vulnerable to future flood damages that could have been prevented.
Members of Congress representing the Susquehanna basin have historically been ardent supporters of the Susquehanna System. We are counting on them again to have the funding restored for this program that safeguards public safety. At this late stage of the budget process, we are relying on members of the Senate, most notably Senators Arlen Specter and Rick Santorum from Pennsylvania and Barbara Mikulski and Paul Sarbanes from Maryland.
In a time of tight budgets and with the country engaged in military action, everyone understands the need to curb spending. But eliminating direct funding for a proven system that protects lives and prevents countless millions in flood damages each year certainly does a disservice to the residents and businesses of the Susquehanna River Basin.
Paul O. Swartz, Executive Director
Susquehanna River Basin Commission
TO THE EDITOR POLICY
Thank you, Susquehanna County Transcript
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