Editorial Roundup: New England

Connecticut Post. June 29, 2022.

Editorial: CT was first state to ban abortion. Now it’s a leader in defending right to choose

The most surprising part of the U.S. Supreme Court’s reversal of federal protection of abortion rights is that the news caught anyone by surprise at all.

Though a draft of the decision was leaked last month, many Americans seemed to hold out hope that a reversal of the law after 50 years wasn’t really going to happen. Even after the final decision dropped on Friday, it was clear a lot of people still hadn’t done their homework.

Stamford Health President and CEO Kathleen Silard mentioned during a meeting with Gov. Ned Lamont Monday that she heard people over the weekend incorrectly believing there was now a federal ban on all abortions.

The reality is that there will almost certainly be an increase in abortions performed in Connecticut.

In the wake of the decision, Connecticut Republican gubernatorial candidate Bob Stefanowski released a statement that the “Supreme Court ruling has absolutely no impact on Connecticut residents.”

Democrats in the state see it considerably differently, and have acted proactively to install shields. As “Roe v. Wade” has become shorthand for the abortion battle over the past half century, the most important letter is certainly the “v.”

It’s “choice v. life.” It’s “Democrat v. Republican.” In Connecticut, it’s “Lamont v. Stefanowski.”

State Rep. Matt Blumenthal, D-Stamford, son of U.S. Sen. Richard Blumenthal (a former Connecticut attorney general) was certainly not among the people taken by surprise Friday.

Matt Blumenthal authored a new law that would thwart efforts by other states from investigating abortions performed in Connecticut, protecting patients and officials. It would also enable anyone in Connecticut sued from out-of-state parties regarding abortions to counter sue for damages and fees.

Though Stefanowski takes a “nothing has changed in Connecticut” tone in his public statements, he has dodged questions about whether he would veto the new laws if he was in the governor’s chair.

So while Connecticut remains a firmly blue state, Democrats are preparing for potential showdowns with red states.

From that perspective, Connecticut has been a national leader on the issue of initiating legal protections for those who cross state borders. Matt Blumenthal predicted other legislation to ward off attacks on health care providers’ licenses and malpractice insurance.

In 2019, the most recent year with available data, 9,202 abortions were performed in Connecticut. The 3.6 percent that came from out-of-state was one of the lowest percentages in the nation.

That latter figure will change. So will a lot of other things. At the Monday meeting, Lamont and health officials recognized opportunities the Supreme Court pivot could deliver to Connecticut. It could attract residents, obstetricians and gynecologists who feel safer living and working here. It’s less likely to cause anyone to leave.

All of this makes 2022 a significant year in defining what Connecticut represents. It doesn’t mean shifts in political and cultural winds aren’t possible. Connecticut, after all, was the first state to prohibit abortions, starting in 1821 and lasting until 1973, the year of Roe v. Wade.

Regardless of what happens next, current Connecticut leadership appears unlikely to be caught by surprise.

___

Boston Globe. June 29, 2022.

Editorial: Police can seize your property too easily in Massachusetts

Senate bill makes crucial policy changes, removes financial incentives for abuse.

For decades, Massachusetts law enforcement has benefited from a steady supply of cash — with few strings attached — from confiscated money and property that might be connected with the commission of a crime.

Some agencies have used that money wisely; some not so much. But now that the state Senate is considering taking those slush funds out of the hands of district attorneys and police departments, the squawking can be heard from Western Massachusetts to Beacon Hill.

“If this bill becomes law, police departments and district attorneys lose money on which we presently rely,” Hampden District Attorney Anthony Gulluni said in a statement. “Many community programs will suffer the loss of these needed funds made possible by our efforts in forfeiture and will, in fact, support and assist the profitability of drug dealing in this Commonwealth.”

Never mind that the law has often been used to confiscate cars borrowed from unwitting friends or family, or property from innocent third parties, or even from those eventually found innocent of a crime. Getting that cash or property returned has in some cases taken years of legal battling. Many, of course, don’t have the resources even to try. This is no time for lawmakers to go wobbly on reforming a law that is an outlier nationally and that provides a perverse incentive for law enforcement to keep confiscating millions of dollars in assets every year.

The newly drafted bill that emerged recently from the Senate Ways and Means Committee aims first and foremost to bring Massachusetts into line with the standard used by most other states and by the federal government — that the government has to prove to the court “by a preponderance of the evidence” that the property is forfeitable. The current standard is the much lower “probable cause.”

The bill also prohibits the attorney general or district attorneys from confiscating assets under $250 in value, and it provides the right to a public counsel in forfeiture proceedings for those who had one at trial or for owners not involved in a criminal proceeding but who can prove indigency.

No longer permitted under the bill is the official use by law enforcement of any of that confiscated property. (An Indiana case involving a confiscated Range Rover seized in connection with a $225 drug bust went all the way to the Supreme Court before it was ordered returned.)

The section that raises law enforcement hackles is the one that would require all forfeited money and the proceeds of any sale of assets go into a special state trust fund that would be subject to appropriation. Its use would be designated for a number of worthy programs — jail diversion, violence prevention, substance use disorder treatment, or general “crime prevention purposes.”

But the trust fund concept would also mean no more photo-ops of DAs turning over those checks to community groups or, say, standing surrounded by budding dancers at the local Boys & Girls Club as Gulluni was for the $7,000 check from his forfeiture fund that helped renovated a dance studio.

And let’s not forget that DAs are elected.

Police chiefs, on the other hand, sometimes use their cut of the forfeiture funds for nifty new technology without the benefit of having to run such purchases by local governing bodies — like enabling the Boston Police Department’s propensity for spyware.

Gulluni referred to the “Robin Hood effect” of asset forfeiture — “taking money from those who misuse it and providing to those to do good with it.” Except the way it actually works is that asset forfeiture too often takes from those who can least afford it — the Committee for Public Counsel Services provided data this fall that about half of all forfeitures were under $2,000 — and giving it to a DA’s favorite causes.

According to data gathered by the state’s Trial Court, the overwhelming number of those who have had money or property confiscated never pursue a legal claim for it. Often that’s because the cost of a lawyer would exceed the potential proceeds.

The Senate has already delayed consideration of the bill a week and now faces a dozen amendments, many of them aimed at restoring control over those funds to district attorneys or police departments, or efforts to replace the funds, which based on past years can amount to $6 million to $8 million a year.

The legal parameters of civil asset forfeiture have long cried out for reform. But that is only part of the problem. Removing the financial incentives for abuse — by taking district attorneys and police departments out of the equation — is just as essential.

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Bangor Daily News. June 27, 2022.

Editorial: Another reminder of how Maine is failing its youth, this time from the Department of Justice

Advocates have argued for a long time that Maine fails to provide adequate community behavioral health services for our children, too often housing them in institutions instead. Multiple reports have indicated the same, while detailing persistent problems at the state’s only youth detention center.

Another weighty voice has joined this chorus emphasizing the way Maine is failing some of its most vulnerable young people: The U.S. Department of Justice.

Following a complaint from Disability Rights Maine, the DOJ investigated Maine’s system of care for kids with behavioral health needs. The department found that Maine is in violation of the Americans with Disabilities Act (ADA), and outlined those findings in a June 22 letter to Maine Gov. Janet Mills and Maine Attorney General Aaron Frey.

“We have determined that Maine is violating the ADA by failing to provide behavioral health services to children in the most integrated setting appropriate to their needs,” U.S. Assistant Attorney General Kristen Clarke of the Civil Rights Division wrote. “Instead, the State unnecessarily relies on segregated settings such as psychiatric hospitals and residential treatment facilities to provide these services. As a result of these violations, children are separated from their families and communities.”

As reported by the BDN’s Rosemary Lausier, the DOJ identified barriers to these services such as lengthy waitlists, an insufficient provider network, inadequate crisis services and a lack of support for foster care parents.

The department also suggested remedial actions such as improving access to existing services, addressing waitlists, providing crisis services rather than law enforcement responses, making investments to expand and maintain the pool of behavioral health providers, and enacting a policy to prevent providers from refusing to serve children eligible for community-based behavioral health services.

“Hopefully today is the day that Maine begins to turn away from expensive and ineffective institutional solutions and toward a system that supports youth in their homes and communities,” Atlee Reilly, the legal director for Disability Rights Maine, said in response to the DOJ findings. We strongly agree.

As the DOJ findings acknowledge, the state has taken some steps to improve its system for community-based behavioral health services. The Maine Department of Health and Human Services announced on June 24 that it is starting to distribute over $15 million for behavioral health providers that the Legislature approved on a bipartisan basis earlier this year.

But what does it say about state performance on this issue when an improved situation is still in violation of the ADA?

While the DOJ did not suggest it as one of the potential remedies, we continue to believe that closing the Long Creek Youth Development Center is part of this complicated puzzle. As the DOJ findings discuss, “Maine is using Long Creek as a de facto children’s psychiatric facility instead of providing more integrated treatment options.”

Long Creek has become a catch-all that shoulders the failure to provide adequate community-based services. It’s time to make the needed investments and also abandon this failed catch-all that has enabled the status quo to continue. Both can and should happen together.

The DOJ press release that announced its findings also included a statement from Darcie McElwee, the U.S. District Attorney for the District of Maine.

“Access to local community-based services for children with mental health and/or developmental disabilities is a critical need for families across Maine,” McElwee said. “I hope that the violations identified by the Justice Department can be remedied so that these children and their families are able to obtain quality services in their own communities.”

That hope must become an expectation across the state. The current situation is unacceptable. If this wasn’t already clear to Maine leaders, the Department of Justice findings should leave no doubt that things must change.

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Hearst Connecticut Media. June 29, 2022.

Editorial: CT was first state to ban abortion. Now it’s a leader in defending right to choose

The most surprising part of the U.S. Supreme Court’s reversal of federal protection of abortion rights is that the news caught anyone by surprise at all.

Though a draft of the decision was leaked last month, many Americans seemed to hold out hope that a reversal of the law after 50 years wasn’t really going to happen. Even after the final decision dropped on Friday, it was clear a lot of people still hadn’t done their homework.

Stamford Health President and CEO Kathleen Silard mentioned during a meeting with Gov. Ned Lamont Monday that she heard people over the weekend incorrectly believing there was now a federal ban on all abortions.

The reality is that there will almost certainly be an increase in abortions performed in Connecticut.

In the wake of the decision, Connecticut Republican gubernatorial candidate Bob Stefanowski released a statement that the “Supreme Court ruling has absolutely no impact on Connecticut residents.”

Democrats in the state see it considerably differently, and have acted proactively to install shields. As “Roe v. Wade” has become shorthand for the abortion battle over the past half century, the most important letter is certainly the “v.”

It’s “choice v. life.” It’s “Democrat v. Republican.” In Connecticut, it’s “Lamont v. Stefanowski.”

State Rep. Matt Blumenthal, D-Stamford, son of U.S. Sen. Richard Blumenthal (a former Connecticut attorney general) was certainly not among the people taken by surprise Friday.

Matt Blumenthal authored a new law that would thwart efforts by other states from investigating abortions performed in Connecticut, protecting patients and officials. It would also enable anyone in Connecticut sued from out-of-state parties regarding abortions to counter sue for damages and fees.

Though Stefanowski takes a “nothing has changed in Connecticut” tone in his public statements, he has dodged questions about whether he would veto the new laws if he was in the governor’s chair.

So while Connecticut remains a firmly blue state, Democrats are preparing for potential showdowns with red states.

From that perspective, Connecticut has been a national leader on the issue of initiating legal protections for those who cross state borders. Matt Blumenthal predicted other legislation to ward off attacks on health care providers’ licenses and malpractice insurance.

In 2019, the most recent year with available data, 9,202 abortions were performed in Connecticut. The 3.6% that came from out-of-state was one of the lowest percentages in the nation.

That latter figure will change. So will a lot of other things. At the Monday meeting, Lamont and health officials recognized opportunities the Supreme Court pivot could deliver to Connecticut. It could attract residents, obstetricians and gynecologists who feel safer living and working here. It’s less likely to cause anyone to leave.

All of this makes 2022 a significant year in defining what Connecticut represents. It doesn’t mean shifts in political and cultural winds aren’t possible. Connecticut, after all, was the first state to prohibit abortions, starting in 1821 and lasting until 1973, the year of Roe v. Wade.

Regardless of what happens next, current Connecticut leadership appears unlikely to be caught by surprise.

___

Hartford Courant. June 30, 2022.

Editorial: Libraries should make decisions about books — not politicians

Colchester First Selectman Andreas Bisbikos said, “The book in question was immediately removed from circulation.”

That sounds more than a bit like censorship.

But no, Bisbikos maintains, it’s not.

Pulling a book about LBTQ icon, entertainer and drag queen RuPaul off a display of children’s books was not “book banning” but was instead that the Cragin Memorial Library director was simply asked to temporarily remove the book only from the children’s section, according to Bisbikos.

The book was deemed by a parent as inappropriate for young readers because it contains purportedly sexually provocative imagery.

Following that parent’s complaint to Bisbikos, he told Library Director Kate Byroade to remove it and to conduct a review of the more than 20,000 books in the library’s children’s collection and all the images in those books, according to Byroade.

The RuPaul biography — part of a Pride display at the library for the month of June — depicts a cosmetic advertisement RuPaul was featured in years ago in which women dressed in bustiers and thigh high boots spell out the word “VIVA,” Byroade has said.

The library director, however, also has pointed out that “objectified images of women” are seen in other books that have not been pulled from shelves — including those featuring female superheroes.

She’s right about that and we all know such images of women are not limited to books about superheroes.

The targeting of the RuPaul book brought immediate pushback from LGBTQ advocates, including Patrick Dunn, executive director of the New Haven Pride Center. Dunn pointed out how important the representation of LGBTQ people in children’s literature is to the health, wellbeing and survival of young LGBTQ people and youths with same sex or transgender families.

“The idea that a young person might be able to go to their public library and be browsing through the shelves and see someone that looks like them could literally save a life,” Dunn told The Courant. “Seeing representation in your community is lifesaving.”

Dunn makes an important point as LGBTQ adults and children continue to be targeted by bullying and worse in this state and country: Equality, acceptance and understanding are needed and books can help communities reach those goals.

But what about the parent who found the book offensive to children?

Byroade said that before Bisbikos’ demand about the RuPaul book, there already was a process in place for dealing with such concerns.

When complaints about a book’s content come in, Byroade and another library staffer review the book for overall content and follow a sometimes lengthy procedure to evaluate the book’s place in the library’s collection. The decisions are not made lightly, she has pointed out. Byroade has since received just such a complaint about the RuPaul book and will start the review process.

For his part, Bisbikos has said he does not think the book is appropriate for young readers (it’s target age is fourth grade and older).

“The issue of this book, for me, really has to do with its placement: does it belong in the children’s section or does it not?” Bisbikos told the Hartford Courant. “I don’t believe that an image like that belongs in the children’s section of the library. But I would have no concern with it being in another section of the library.”

Bisbikos is right that he should play no role in which books are bought or displayed in the town library and also that the parent’s complaint about the book should be seriously considered. But Byroade also is right that there is a process in place for the library to follow and that is what she intends to do.

She will not be rushed and that bodes well for this library and decisions about the books and other materials it contains. The library staff should make the decision and not a parent.

“This is a process. This is not, turn around 30 minutes later and pull the book,” she said.

And while for now the book is “internally checked out” meaning it is not on display, it can be viewed at the library upon request.

Even better, there have been patrons who sought to borrow the book this week, and copies are being sent out from other libraries in the state, according to Byroade.

END