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Two for the new year

November 24, 1998

Time will run out on the 1997-98 session of the Pennsylvania legislature this week, rendering all pending bills null and void. Some, like the one to force all state motorists to buckle their seat belts, won't be mourned by most citizens. Others, however, are sure to be revived when the legislature reconvenes Jan. 5.

The most important of these may be Gov. Tom Ridge's bill to give families state grants so their children can attend the public or private school of their choice.

Recent court rulings make a challenge on constitutional grounds less likely, but our reservations about the idea remain.

If there are a limited amount of spaces in a private school, who decides whose child gets in? What restrictions or oversight will the school face if it accepts granted-funded students? Can private, religious-based schools refused to participate in the program?

And then there's transportation: If Mrs. Smith wants her little daughter Mary to go to a better elementary school located across town, must the school district bus the child, or will Mrs. Smith have to make those arrangements herself?

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Ridge may have an easier time passing his proposed moratorium on the creation of new municipal landfills. Drafted this last session in reaction to criticism that the state is accepting too much out-of-state trash, it would ban new landfill permits for three years.

Some rural communities have discovered that accepting out-of-state trash can be lucrative, and there is no restriction on this sort of "interstate commerce." But some residents worry about what other states are sending to Pennsylvania, and its possible effect on groundwater.

Ridge might have better luck if next session's bill required each jurisdiction to submit a multi-year plan for its own municipal waste, showing that it was reserving space for future garbage disposal.

Forcing local governments to hold some space in reserve might be a better option than a ban that would adversely affect those areas that really have run out of places to send their trash.

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