'Child abuser' is a toxic label

I am happy that all parties involved in the case of Marianne Kennedy, a Philadelphia elementary school teacher accused of child abuse, have gone before a judge to determine the truth about what happened ("Teacher awaits hearing decision," Wednesday). This case illustrates some of the significant problems in the ways our child-abuse laws are structured and implemented and the devastating impact they can have on people's lives.

Every year, thousands of people are accused of child abuse and placed on the statewide abuse registry. Like Kennedy's case, this process occurs without any hearing or opportunity to present evidence before the drastic step of being placed on the registry is taken. People lose their jobs or even their children as a result of unproven accusations. Unlike the Philadelphia School District, most employers are unwilling to keep people employed while they wait for hearings to clear their names. The majority of child-abuse cases that go to a hearing are overturned, though it can take months for resolution.

Because of the severe implications of being placed on the child-abuse registry for life, protections for the accused should be tightened. A hearing before being placed on the registry would be one step the commonwealth could take to ensure that people's lives are not devastated by false accusations of abuse.

|Janet Ginzberg, senior staff attorney, Community Legal Services, Philadelphia, jginzberg@clsphila.org

Will 'Trumpcare' do the job?

The repeal of Obamacare and the announcement of the replacement plan is coming soon, President Trump said a week before his inauguration ("Trump: Health plan is near," Monday). His promise of "insurance for everybody" and "lower numbers, much lower deductibles" is typical of his arrogant oversimplification of complex domestic and foreign issues affecting the American people. Hopefully, his advisers will structure a plan to retain the Affordable Care Act's best features while reengineering costs and coverages to create a better product. To scrap it without due diligence and informed judgment would be a disaster.

Imagine Trump's reaction when his legacy plan is dubbed "Trumpcare," and it crashes and burns with his name on it.

|Michael Novak, Philadelphia

Support beverage tax and kids

How refreshing to read about the restaurant owners who are matching Philadelphia's sweetened-beverage tax and donating the money to a neighborhood school ("Embracing new tax," Jan. 11). Relax, everybody - the so-called soda tax will help our schools. Let's embrace it and find additional ways to support the education and enrichment of our children.

|Deb Faulkner, Lansdale

Bring on more bike lanes

If I read your front-page article about bike lanes correctly ("Not everyone believes in the value of bicycle lanes," Tuesday), in support of bike lanes we have traffic safety and public health. Against bike lanes, we have people who can't park their cars in the bike lane for a short period of time to get their mail or drop off groceries, which violates traffic laws regardless of the existence of bike lanes, because you can't lawfully park in a lane of traffic.

If that's the best the opponents have, I expect to see bike lanes on every street in the city soon enough. And when that happens, those of us who commute by bike will welcome our already-bike-friendly city becoming even more so.

|David S. Cohen, Philadelphia, dsc250@gmail.com

Focus on guns, not the mentally ill

While I understand the impulse of State Rep. Mike O'Brien (D., Phila.) to to immediately look for a policy solution after yet another mass-shooting tragedy, I fear the legislation to limit the availability of firearms to the mentally ill plays into the hands of those who often work to thwart efforts to enact life-saving policies ("Pa. must close deadly loophole," Jan. 11).

Laying blame on those who suffer from mental illness is misguided. In fact, after a mass shooting, groups such as the National Rifle Association want us to focus on mental illness and ignore critical facts. Mental illness is not the problem. According to the U.S. Department of Health and Human Services, only 3 to 5 percent of violent acts can be attributed to people living with a serious mental illness.

Mental illness is not a reliable predictor of violent behavior. But there are scientifically proven indicators of future gun violence, such as a history of domestic violence.

I hope we, including allies in the General Assembly, carefully plan a broad approach to the problem and not play into the narrative designed by those who are content to allow guns to continue to flood our communities.

|Jeff Dempsey, program director, CeaseFirePA, Philadelphia