Editorial Roundup: New England

Boston Globe. June 9, 2024.

Editorial: No-heavy-lifting committees a symptom of a bigger problem in Beacon Hill

Extra pay for lawmakers has helped concentrate power in the hands of a very few at the top.

The Massachusetts Legislature is beginning to resemble the mythical Lake Wobegon, you know, where “all the children are above average.” But in this case nearly everyone is a leader, a committee chair, or a vice chair.

And being special doesn’t just mean a title painted on their State House office door. No, it means additional compensation. For some, like the busy chairs of the budget-writing Ways and Means Committee, that compensation presumably recognizes the long hours and late nights involved in the job — the public hearings held and countless executive sessions.

But a recent analysis by the Globe’s Emma Platoff and Laura Crimaldi found that at least a dozen committees have not held a single hearing during the current session nor considered a single piece of legislation; yet each has a chair and vice chair who receive additional compensation that goes with the title.

In fact, in the Senate — with a mere 40 members (including three Republicans) and at least 42 standing committees with chairs and vice chairs and another eight lawmakers in Democratic leadership posts (all Republicans serve in “leadership” posts) — there is an embarrassment of riches. Everyone is “above average” and well compensated for it.

For those who have pondered why there is so little floor debate over issues, why votes in each branch are a virtual foregone conclusion on issues from housing to health care to transportation funding, look no further than the way legislative compensation is handed out. The holder of each and every one of those chairmanships (and those holding leadership posts) is beholden to either House Speaker Ron Mariano or Senate President Karen Spilka — including those chairmanships that required no heavy lifting this session.

“(The speaker and Senate president) create positions in order to hand out the salaries. And once they control someone’s salary, they have more control, period,” one former lawmaker said. “Everyone does what the speaker and the Senate president want. It’s just not healthy.”

The Globe’s analysis found those dozens of positions cost the taxpayers some $380,000 a year — and the system keeps growing.

Sure, a decade ago who knew the Legislature would need committees on Cybersecurity or Cannabis Policy (the latter has held a mere four hearings during the current session, all of them in 2023). Issues come and issues go, but it seems committees and the extra stipends they bring go on and on.

Mariano in a statement to the Globe said the Legislature creates committees “because of a newfound or overdue need for increased focus on a specific issue.”

Fair enough. But the Senate Committee on the Census — which this year held no hearings? A standing committee for a once-every-10-year event? This year it gave chair William Brownsberger of Belmont another $20,468 in his paycheck in addition to extra compensation for his leadership post as president pro tempore of the Senate and vice chair of the Committee on Bills in Third Reading, which with a base pay of some $74,000 and a $20,000 travel stipend (the minimum paid to all legislators) brought his salary to $182,674.

The House committee is still called the Committee on Federal Stimulus (a program now largely completed) and Census Oversight. It has held one hearing and reported out one bill. Its chair, Representative Jack Patrick Lewis of Framingham, also got an extra $20,468 for his efforts.

Chairs of the House and Senate Ethics Committees, neither of which held any hearings this year, also get $20,468 tacked on to their base pay whether they have to consider any ethical breaches by colleagues or not. As Representative John Barrett III candidly told the Globe, he’s hoping that no act of possible misconduct involving a colleague will arise to demand the committee’s attention.

And then there’s the rather sorry case of the ever so quiescent House and Senate Post Audit and Oversight Committees, the only legislative committees with the power to “summon witnesses” and “compel the production of books, papers, documents and other evidence in connection with any authorized examination and review.” In other words, a golden opportunity to use the committee’s enormous power for good, as it did in 2012 to explore the true costs of the Big Dig or the 2018 investigation of the closing of Mount Ida College and its subsequent acquisition by the University of Massachusetts Amherst. This year the Senate committee held three hearings, two of them related to hospital staffing in Southeastern Massachusetts, home to chair Marc Pacheco, a month after the news broke of Steward Health Care’s financial woes. The chair of the House committee, Representative John Mahoney of Worcester, called no hearings. Both men receive a $40,936 stipend.

Congress, however, provides a very different model. There the base pay is $174,000 and only the House speaker ($232,500), the President pro tempore of the Senate, and the majority and minority leaders in each branch ($193,400) get additional compensation. Committee chairmanships bring power and prestige but no additional pay.

The California Legislature, the highest paid in the nation (base pay is $128,215 for Assembly members), according to figures kept by the National Conference of State Legislatures, follows the congressional model with only the speaker ($147,446), the Senate president pro tempore ($141,097), and the majority and minority leaders ($137,832) earning slightly more. Chairmanships are just part of the job.

There was a time when being a Massachusetts lawmaker was considered part time and the pay of rank-and-file members reflected that. Perhaps then the extra compensation for being a committee chair might have made some sense. That time is long gone. No lawmaker gets less than $94,000 a year and most get considerably more.

The speaker and Senate president each get more than $203,000 a year — well over what their counterparts in California (population 39 million) get and darn close to what the speaker of the US House is currently paid.

The Massachusetts system is out of control and so are its consequences — a Legislature where power is concentrated at the very top, debate is a thing of the past, and real democracy is a distant memory.


Bangor Daily News. June 13, 2024.

Editorial: Even without law change, Maine police should destroy forfeited guns

The BDN Editorial Board operates independently from the newsroom, and does not set policies or contribute to reporting or editing articles elsewhere in the newspaper or on bangordailynews.com.

A bill that would have required Maine law enforcement agencies to destroy weapons that are forfeited to them was vetoed by Gov. Janet Mills in April.

After it had been introduced, the bill was amended to also ban bump stocks. We were concerned that combining the two issues could doom the common-sense measure to stop the sale of firearms by law enforcement agencies. Our fears were realized with the governor’s veto.

The governor signed a bill, which she had initially crafted, to expand background checks for advertised firearms sales, change the state’s yellow flag law and make additional investment in mental health services. She allowed a bill that will impose a 72-hour waiting period on most gun purchases to become law without her signature.

She vetoed the gun destruction and bump stock ban legislation because, she said, the language around what would be banned was too broad and, because it was different from federal law and definitions used in other states, it may not have withstood legal scrutiny.

“Despite the well-meaning nature of this bill, I am concerned that the novel language this bill contains, the manner in which it was developed, and the short time that was available during its review create the risk for unintended mistakes,” Mills wrote in her veto letter.

It is unfortunate that an otherwise straightforward ban on the sale of firearms forfeited to law enforcement agencies became mired in the more complex, but also worthy, effort to ban bump stocks. Although sales through police departments account for a small number of gun sales in the U.S. each year, stopping these sales may have kept some guns away from criminals.

In the absence of a state law barring the practice, law enforcement agencies can still destroy weapons forfeited to them. It doesn’t take a law change for more agencies to do this.

Maine law currently requires all forfeited firearms used in the commission of a murder or homicide to be destroyed, but police may sell guns used in other crimes. Reporting by the Bangor Daily News’ Maine Focus team found that the Oxford County sheriff had sold guns from evidence to a local gun shop without following the legally required steps or documenting the deal. This was the impetus for the bill to ban such sales, which was sponsored by Sen. Anne Carney, D-Cape Elizabeth.

Many police departments, in Maine and across the country, already destroy weapons that are either forfeited to or turned in to them.

However, as the Maine Monitor reported earlier this year, there needs to be more accountability among the companies that are paid to destroy such weapons. Some guns are not fully destroyed with some components being sold as part of kits to make new weapons. This is counter to the whole point of law enforcement agencies sending in weapons to be destroyed.

A voluntary gun give back program, sponsored by the Maine Gun Safety Coalition, collected hundreds of weapons earlier this month. Portions of those guns were melted and recycled, with some portions used in art projects.

In addition to revisiting legislation to stop the sale of forfeited weapons, lawmakers should look for ways to ensure that when police do send weapons to be destroyed that is what actually happens.

When guns are properly seized or forfeited by their owner, law enforcement officials have an opportunity to take them out of circulation. They should do so, whether required by state law or not.


Portland Press Herald. June 9, 2024.

Editorial: Mitigation of climate change must not be lost to its management

We seem eerily good at bracing for and braving the tumult that a changing climate throws our way – and less good at working to arrest the change.

The barest glance through the news last Thursday painted a sobering picture.

A new twist in the protracted battle over the construction of the offshore wind energy facility in Searsport; Maine park rangers warning that patches of “supersaturated sand,” the likes of which startled a beachgoer who sunk at Popham last week, are becoming more common because of accelerated coastal erosion; three significant global climate records shattered (last month, the global heat record was broken for the 12th straight month); and the Gulf of Maine reported to be warming three times faster than the global average.

“Another way to say it,” wrote Portland Press Herald/Maine Sunday Telegram reporter Penelope Overton, “is that Maine has logged more than a decade’s worth of sea level rise in only 16 months.”

The Gulf of Maine’s “shallow underwater topography” was likened to “a kiddie pool sitting out in the sun,” the warming steadily killing marine life and driving the rise in sea level that threatens coastal environments and communities.

Elsewhere, the coverage was no better. Temperatures soared into the hundreds in many U.S. towns and cities. “Welcome to the subtropics,” trumpeted a headline of a New York City blog post that was doing the rounds on social media. “Southerners share tips on dealing with our new daily thunderstorms.”

As a thick blanket of humid fog reminiscent of last summer settled on southern Maine, USA Today published a guide explaining “how to cope” with soaring electricity bills that come with the potentially astronomical cost of cooling a home in 2024. Unsettling images out of Phoenix showed a fireman demonstrating a zippered “ice immersion” bag, newly on offer to an increasing number of heatstroke victims, on a plastic dummy.

Urgent steps to protect ourselves from dying, drowning or losing property are appropriate and have to be taken. The same goes for storm damage relief, which Maine has promptly made available to residents most affected by the latest devastation.

But far, far more urgent again is the need for rock-solid consensus on climate action and vastly expedited timelines for both decarbonization and the transition to clean energy.

For years, sensible, proven policies have been let languish on desks and in legislative chambers at the state and federal level. It is as if we were not in a clear state of emergency, as if addressing climate change were not the burning imperative of our time.

Look no further than what’s been happening in Searsport. Although the bickering would lead us to believe otherwise, there is – as this editorial board noted in the spring (“Perfection is the enemy of our environment,” April 14) – no perfect location for an offshore wind turbine port.

And yet, it is the federal picture that requires the most correction. America needs national policies to arrest the descent into what the head of the U.N. referred to last week as “climate hell.”

In an excellent and memorably clear-minded February 2023 op-ed in these pages, retired landscape architect and urban planner Peter Monro, of Portland, set it out as follows.

“If all U.S. annual emissions were hurled into the air in 24 hours, Maine’s emissions would be done in less than five minutes. If Maine stopped all our emissions tomorrow – went to carbon zero not in 2050 or 2035 but by March 1, 2023 – nobody would notice. Our state’s success would be lost in the statistical noise of everyday emissions’ variability,” Monro wrote.

All eyes are still, then, on Washington, D.C., where Maine continues to be overrepresented – with both Sens. Susan Collins and Angus King – on the bipartisan Senate Climate Solutions Caucus. These senators are best-placed to push, hard, for legislation and reforms that may once have seemed dramatic and now look like the minimum reasonable response. We’re talking about:

• instituting carbon pricing, a taxation framework that charges leading emitters and gives back to ordinary Americans • implementing more stringent clean energy standards • forging new international agreements – and sticking with them • approving major investment in new clean energy technology

Any political split over climate change simply should not be able to survive contemporary statistics and increasingly challenging realities. It is incredible that “debate” on this life-or-death matter has been sustained.

Last Wednesday, the Guardian published a recap of the general election in India – where the temperatures soared to 121 Fahrenheit last week – contrasting the life-endangering process of going out to cast a vote in deadly heat with the political candidates’ inconceivable unconcern.

Or is it inconceivable? Should we settle for political candidates who do not appropriately prioritize climate change – or, indeed, for candidates who act too slowly or not at all, or who belittle or deny the climate crisis out of ignorance, convenience or a toxic mix of the two – it becomes an accurate preview of a very disturbing future.


Hearst Connecticut Media. June 7, 2024.

Editorial: Who can make CT’s roads safer?

State Trooper Aaron Pelletier’s death is further evidence that Connecticut roads are not safe.

Pelletier, of Southington, was dealing with a stopped car May 30 when he was sideswiped by a hit-and-run driver who was subsequently charged with manslaughter and driving under the influence. The president of the Connecticut Police Chief’s Association, Avon Chief Paul Melanson, told Hearst Connecticut Media that “many, but not most, comply with the move-over law.”

Pump the brakes and consider those words: “Many, but not most.”

That means that, as a collective, Connecticut drivers are failing. The correct response shouldn’t be “many” or “most.” All drivers should slow down when it’s necessary.

If you drive in Connecticut, you already know how dangerous it is to step out of a vehicle on the side of a busy road. Police earn the public’s respect every time an officer has to pull over a vehicle and approach the driver.

So many things can go wrong. The need to keep a close eye on the passengers who have been pulled over means officers can’t look behind them.

Drivers on busy roads have to resist a temptation to spend too much time gazing into the rearview mirror. Despite strides on technology, cell phones continue to be a distraction for too many drivers. In Connecticut, “driving under the influence” can now include legal cannabis in addition to alcohol and illegal substances. And it’s become routine for Connecticut drivers to have to share the road with extreme speedsters who treat vehicles on the horizon as though they are mere obstacles in a “Grand Theft Auto” video game.

This is why it’s so important to have troopers focused on hazardous drivers. But the perils aren’t limited to police. Driving a tow truck is in the running for one of the most dangerous jobs out there. The AAA Foundation for Traffic Safety reports that 123 roadside assistance providers were killed by passing vehicles between 2015 and 2021.

Connecticut’s Move Over law was passed in 2009 to protect drivers of emergency vehicles who assist disabled motorists on state roads. It has since been expanded to include everyone who gets stuck on the side of the road.

No one should need the threat of a fine to slow down when approaching the scene of an emergency. But fines in the event of an accident range from $2,500 to $10,000.

Local roads can be dangerous as well. Bridgeport officials planned a news conference for Friday morning to address the “disproportionate level of traffic accidents and fatalities that plague” the city’s East End neighborhood.

The simple rules bear repeating because bad behavior behind the wheel has persisted over generations. Too many drivers are distracted by food and in-car entertainment. Others selfishly prioritize their personal schedules over the lives of road workers, police or stranded motorists.

Aaron Pelletier was remembered as a dedicated husband and father, a role model, a mentor and a proud Connecticut State Trooper. He died trying to keep our roads safe. That needs to be everyone’s mission.


Barre-Montpelier Times Argus. June 12, 2024.

Editorial: Not if, when

We will keep knocking on wood that our weather “luck” holds out.

In less than a month, we will be honoring the one-year anniversary of some of the most extraordinary flooding in Vermont history. In the communities that were hardest hit, a heavy rain is triggering what can only be a version of Post Traumatic Stress Disorder.

The personal and physical cost of the 2023 flooding was high in Vermont.

But not just here. This week, the U.S. Congress Joint Economic Committee (on which U.S. Sen. Peter Welch serves) shared a report that finds that flooding nationwide causes as much as $496 billion in losses each year.

In July 2023, Vermont experienced several days of nonstop rain, with nearly 9 inches of rainfall falling on parts of the state. The torrential rain caused flash flooding, washouts and mudslides across the state. Homes, businesses, farms, and public infrastructure were damaged, and many were completely destroyed, according to an overview provided by Welch’s office.

“Vermonters know all too well the immense toll flooding can take on our community. This report is a stark outline of the economic costs of a flood — which only measures a fraction the challenges communities endure as they work to recover, long after the flood waters recede. That’s why I’m continuing to fight for more resources for flood recovery and resiliency for Vermont,” the senator reiterated this week.

Vermont is only a small part of the big puzzle. The new analysis found that flooding damage costs an equivalent to 1% to 2% of U.S. Gross Domestic Product, or $180 billion to $496 billion each year. Costs can include: infrastructure upgrades needed to protect against future flooding; direct and indirect commercial impacts from flooding; structural damages; costs associated with flood-related deaths; decreased tax revenues; damage to ecosystem services; increases in insurance premiums; and crop loss, among other costs.

According to the report, the ongoing impacts of climate change are likely to increase costs in the future. “Whether from an overflowing river, rising coastal waters, or a flash flood, flooding causes extensive harm to American households, infrastructure and businesses across the country. In the last year alone, devastating floods have hit Vermont, California and Kentucky as climate change increases the threat of these disasters in inland and coastal communities. This string of deadly flooding years — along with higher threats of future floods — underscores the massive costs of flooding and climate inaction.”

Another recent analysis found that every $1 spent on flood resiliency efforts saves up to $318 in flood-related damages.

The report goes on to state: “It is important to note that, while climate change is increasing the cost of flooding, there is significant uncertainty around what the true total cost of flooding is in any given year. Regardless of the exact number, it is clear that floods represent a massive cost to the U.S. economy.”

The economic costs in this analysis include (in billions of dollars):

— Infrastructure upgrades needed to protect against flooding: $68.9 to $344.5

— Direct commercial impact from flooding: $31.6 to $40 and indirect commercial impact from flooding: $27.1 to $34.3

— Structural damage to commercial physical assets: $15.9 to $19.9

— Expected annual damage to homes with federally-backed mortgages: $11.1 to $15.1

— Total value of owned outright homes lost to sea-level rise: $5.4 to $10.8

It also took into account annual loss in tax revenue as result of flooding; damage to transit infrastructure from flooding; expected annual damage to homes with non-federally backed mortgages; insurance claims from flood damage to mortgage-free homes; costs associated with flooding deaths; damage to ecosystem services from flooding; increases in insurance premiums; school infrastructure damage from flooding; and insured crop loss from flooding.

And that’s only what the government — state and federal — knows about. “The total costs in this report should be viewed as a likely undercount of the true total cost, as there are several costs connected to flooding that are difficult to measure and have not been fully quantified by researchers. … Climate change may also increase many of the included and excluded costs going forward as heavier precipitation makes flash and river floods more damaging while rising sea levels put coastal areas at greater risk,” the report states.

To our earlier point, additional costs unaccounted for include: injuries suffered from flooding; mental health effects from displacement or fleeing from floods; damage from erosion and landslides caused by flooding exacerbated by wildfires destabilizing land; water contamination; damage to cultural heritage; slower economic growth, including from tourism loss; prevention of access to essential public services, including health care and emergency services and grid power loss; and broader social impacts and displacement costs beyond moving costs.

Fortunately, the damage got the attention of lawmakers and engineers. In January 2024, the Government Accountability Office recommended that the U.S. Army Corps of Engineers include climate resilience in its day-to-day operations to better manage flood risk.

Welch and his colleagues have introduced various bills designed to provide support and protection moving forward.

Flooding imposes large costs on our residents and the economy. We need to be ready for the next “when” — not “if.”