Bench crackdown? Take a seat

Some things never change in Philadelphia because we don't demand it, as I was reminded by the Streets Department's plan to remove illegal billboard benches ("Phila. to remove unauthorized ad benches," May 11.) That's old news, literally.

A nearly identical newspaper article detailing a crackdown on unauthorized ad benches was published in The Inquirer way back in 1989. At the time, writer Marie McCullough noted that the problem had been "allowed to proliferate for more than 20 years" already.

Enter the year 2013. The city is doing another sweep and issuing $75 fines for each bench. That is less than a red-light violation. Why low-ball the ticket? Quantify the value for advertisers and make the cost of these benches - at the risk of fines and confiscation - not worth it.

While I hate to see the loss of public seating in areas with few places to sit and rest, these benches are unsightly. But so long as the consequences are practically nonexistent and it's financially fruitful to keep running this operation illegally, we'll be trapped in a time loop like Groundhog Day.

Emaleigh Doley, Philadelphia

Risk in loosening appraisals

After the savings and loan debacle of the 1980s, Congress required states to regulate real estate appraisers. Pennsylvania instituted a process that has worked since 1992. Under the state's unambiguous rules, real estate salespeople are allowed to perform "competitive market analysis" when done in conjunction with securing a listing. All other instances of valuing real estate require a certified appraiser.

Now, pending state Senate legislation would allow salespeople to perform valuations for additional purposes. With no standards, and inadequate education and experience requirements, this quickly could create a Wild West situation that's bad for property owners and consumers alike. Say you're involved in a divorce or a partnership dissolution: Under this bill, you may be faced with a legal nightmare of having a biased and nonobjective valuation that costs you dearly. If you inherit property, the Internal Revenue Service might have a valuation that requires you to pay substantially more than you should. Inaccurate price opinions done early in the lending process could preclude obtaining a loan, and so on.

Although not perfect, the present system works well, is easy to understand, and protects state residents. It would be a travesty for our elected officials to enact Senate Bill 869.

Richard M. Lam, vice chairman, Board of Certified Real Estate Appraisers, Plymouth Meeting

Tall tales from State Store allies

With advocates of the State Store monopoly, when one argument is shown to be totally bogus, they'll just trot out another. For a time, we were told that the state monopoly resulted in wonderful selections at excellent prices, the envy of our neighbors. When that's shown to be nonsense, it turns out that if State Stores did have excellent prices, that would lead to all kinds of alcohol-fueled crimes. When comparisons with neighboring states show that statement to be ridiculous, we're told that private wine stores would cause widespread unemployment and great human suffering. When it's suggested that an increase in the number of retail stores would actually lead to more jobs, we're told stores would be closed in areas being underserved (although a day later we learned that privatization would lead to an overabundance of wine stores). But there can't be any adequate justification for the state to monopolize and control the distribution and retail sale of a common consumer product.

Charles Slater, Haverford

Prison program a welcome rarity

In the New Leash on Life program, both mistreated dogs and incarcerated men formed relationships that wouldn't have been possible without optimism both outside and inside the prison walls. In our prisons, that's all too rare.

It's a system that compounds the woes of childhood and prisoners' egregious mistakes as adults by forgoing education (except for GEDs and anger-management classes). Men, women, and youths are locked up with little guidance to generate positive ideas. A dulling diet of low-quality television and endless games is a poor substitute for more positive interventions.

Families who choose to give emotional and financial support to a prisoner find themselves in a quandary. There is only so much money they can spend on overpriced phone calls and limited visits. So, families also suffer severely from long sentences, often spent across the state.

Fortunately, The Inquirer's coverage of the New Leash program brought out the humanity of the inmates, facilitators, and dog trainers.

Judy Miller, Green Lane

Gas wells helping Pa. do very well

Recent reports suggested that Pennsylvania's abundant natural gas production - which exceeded two trillion cubic feet in 2012 - is a missed opportunity to provide critical financial resources to meet the needs of citizens. Not true.

With Pennsylvania's innovative approach, an impact fee is collected that's designed to compensate local governments for costs associated with shale development. In just the first two rounds of collections, local governments are benefitting from the more than $406 million in impact fees paid. This consistent revenue stream - enacted by Gov. Corbett and forward-thinking legislators in the General Assembly - is going directly to county and municipal governments.

So what, then, does two trillion cubic feet of natural gas mean? It means job security for the nearly 250,000 Pennsylvanians working in the oil and gas industries. It means opportunity in tens of thousands of other indirect and induced jobs. It means a commonwealth that has gone from importing 75 percent of its gas just six years ago to one that is now a net exporter. It means lower gas and electricity prices, saving nearly $1,000 a year for every homeowner.

Patrick Henderson, Energy Executive Office, Office of the Governor, Harrisburg

When radical surgery is best

After my daughter was born nearly 18 years ago, I asked my mother - then a breast cancer survivor - to undergo the BRCA gene testing, not just for me, but for my children, particularly my daughter ("Jolie's revelation has business, legal angles," May 16).

Scared and reluctant, my mother took the test anyway, for me. The results were negative, fortunately, but my risk of being diagnosed with breast cancer remains double the norm because of my mother's illness and that of an aunt who also developed breast cancer.

While waiting for my mother's results, there was no question in my mind what I would do should she have tested positive: double mastectomy and oopherectomy. My children were young and so was I. My job was to be with them.

So I applaud actress Angelina Jolie's decision not only to protect her life and her children's future, but also to use her public position to help inform other women about their risks and options.

Rachel Ezekiel-Fishbein, Elkins Park