Editorial Roundup: New England

Rutland Herald. June 15, 2022.

Editorial: Primary concerns

In every election, there is a lot at stake.

For our state, decisions have been made at the State House and in communities about how pandemic recovery dollars should be spent. Lots of meetings were scheduled. Priorities were set. And now the hard work of putting those projects to action is at hand.

That was unexpected money. In effect, it was a gift, and most elected officials — local, state and federal — understand what happens with these dollars needs to leverage other investments for the future. In other words, these needed to be considered decisions.

Holding communities accountable will be top of mind as these projects are carried out.

But Vermont faces many other challenges that one could call “longstanding.”

As the primary election season ramps up, we are hearing more and more about many of these issues from the candidates. In some cases, the primary challenge is really the only challenge, as candidates hoping to win on Aug. 9 may not face a challenger for the November election.

That means the next six weeks are going to be clutch for contested primaries.

Many of these contested races have forums or debates scheduled. (Several have already occurred.) By the end of this month, absentee ballots can be requested, and the voting for the primary can begin.

As voters, you have an obligation to gather as much information about these candidates and their positions on issues as possible. While primaries are not unusual, it is not always so stark as to how high the stakes can be.

Consider the next two years. As we noted above, there is money available in communities across Vermont to get local projects completed. However, our state has those longstanding issues putting us at a significant disadvantage when it comes to seeing those projects — and other projects — through.

Finding workers right now is tough. To be specific, finding workers with specific skill sets is especially challenging because Vermont has an affordability problem. If a new employee decides they want to move here to work, they struggle — out of the gate — with a lack of affordable housing, too few day care and child care centers, high health care premiums, high utility rates, not enough cellphone or internet service to be reliable and high taxes.

Add to this mix an already struggling economy being bombarded by inflation and now higher interest rates aimed at course correction. We are sprinting toward another recession.

The answer to most of those affordability issues is rooted in policy and governing. But all of it takes money, whether it is incentives, fees or local taxes. Funding and policy is in the hands, for the most part, of elected officials.

Which is why we need to hold accountable these individuals running for office, from U.S. Congress to the seats in the state Senate and House of Representatives. (We can hold local officials to task in March, but that is a different can of worms.)

As a state, we need a path forward, not rhetoric that gets us closer to one. We need plans, and how to pay for them. We need answers to how we get more people to move to Vermont and live here. We need solutions to the housing crisis, so people can find a place to live. We need to add infrastructure so we can add businesses and homes to the grand lists. We need viable triggers toward making Vermont sustainable and not just a playground for people from elsewhere.

Because if we are not careful in what we do next, and we can not put a finer point on this moment in time, many Vermonters will forfeit their future because they will no longer be able to afford to live here.

So show up to the forums and debates. Ask questions of the candidates. Listen to their plans. Force them to prioritize. And then, when the critical votes come — down the road — hold them to those campaign promises.

We can talk gun control and reproductive rights, pension reform and voting rights until the cows come home. But as a state, we need answers to the basic tenets of our livelihood and long-term viability.

Be engaged in the process. Educate yourself on the issues and the candidates espousing the positions you support. This process depends on all of us doing our part to keep the democratic process intact. If we choose to ignore it, we may wake up one day in a Vermont we no longer recognize.

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Boston Globe. June 16, 2022.

Editorial: The train kept a-rollin’. Too bad it wasn’t supposed to.

Runaway trains, derailments, and other safety lapses at the MBTA have caught the eye of federal regulators, whose demands for improvement put the Baker administration on the spot.

The federal government dropped a bombshell on the MBTA Wednesday, releasing devastating findings that document pervasive safety lapses at the agency. Derailments. Runaway trains. Fatigued staffers working 20-hour days with four hours to sleep between shifts. Inspectors, supervisors, and subway drivers without the proper certification to do their jobs. “Excessive wear and defects” in the tracks that carry thousands of subway commuters every day and cause trains to slow for lengthy portions of the network.

Although commuters certainly knew all too well about accidents and delays in the system, the expert review of the T revealed safety flaws that weren’t visible to the average rider. A maintenance train for the Green Line that’s been inoperable for eight months. A backlog of 4,195 open and 12,423 pending defects related to tracks, signals and communication, power, and facilities.

Yes, to some extent these problems reflect deeply entrenched dysfunction at the agency that has persisted for decades. But nearly eight years into his term of office, Governor Charlie Baker owns the dismal safety record at the T. In his time remaining in office, he should make it a priority to clean up the mess.

In fact, he won’t have much choice. The Federal Transit Administration, which conducted the review, took the rare step of issuing direct orders to the agency to fix the system and to the state Department of Public Utilities, which regulates safety at the T, to step up its oversight. The Globe’s Taylor Dolven reports that the FTA has only intervened so directly with a local transit agency once before, when it took over safety oversight for the subway system in Washington, D.C., in 2015.

Under the federal edict, T officials must increase staffing at its operations center and ensure employees are getting enough rest; make sure workers are property certified; fix worn track sections like the stretch of the Orange Line between Tufts and Back Bay; and improve overall safety procedures. Some of the federal directives come with tight deadlines. For instance, the T has only 48 hours to start submitting staffing plans and validating rest periods.

“The MBTA is developing immediate and long-term mitigation measures to address these matters,” T spokesman Joe Pesaturo said in a statement. “The MBTA will share its plans with the FTA in the coming days and weeks.” Meanwhile, the T expects all its active rail transit employees will be certified this week.

For the state, the damning findings could hardly come at a worse time, when workers are settling into new commuting habits as the coronavirus pandemic eases. The FTA said the public “should not interpret the special directives issued today as a reason to avoid the MBTA subway or light rail.” But when an investigation finds that the T’s “aging assets may be deteriorating without a clear plan in place for corrective maintenance or renewal,” that’s bound to affect the worker deciding whether to commute by car or train, or the downtown businesses deciding whether to continue remote work.

The explosion of teleworking during the pandemic means that workers and businesses are more footloose than ever. Greater Boston needs the T to help attract and keep businesses. Meanwhile, the state needs to convince workers to choose public transportation to cut greenhouse gas emissions and reduce traffic congestion.

But if riders don’t have faith in the basic safety of the subway system, its environmental and economic benefits won’t amount to much. Baker spent the first months of his governorship getting the T up and running again after disastrous winter storms in 2015; the latest warnings from the federal government should prompt him to spend his last months in office tackling dysfunction at the T too.

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Bangor Daily News. June 13, 2022.

Editorial: Maine’s yellow flag law is a work in progress, not a model

For those who need help: call the Maine Suicide Prevention Program’s toll-free crisis hotline at 1-888-568-1112 or nationwide at 1-800-273-TALK or text TALK to the Crisis Text Line at 741741 or visit www.suicidepreventionlifeline.org.

Maine’s yellow flag law has been held up as a model for federal policy to combat gun violence. However, the law, passed in 2019, has shortcomings that have limited its use and effectiveness.

The law, which had strong bipartisan support in the Legislature, allows law enforcement to petition a court to seize guns or other weapons, but only if a medical professional determines that a person with a mental health condition poses a significant threat to themselves or others.

This medical assessment, which is initiated only after a person has been taken into protective custody by law enforcement, is an added layer of review that is not part of the red flag laws that have been enacted in 19 states and the District of Columbia.

Getting such a mental health determination has been difficult, Jeff Austin of the Maine Hospital Association told the Portland Press Herald this week. Many mental health practitioners don’t feel qualified to make such a determination and many fear retribution from those they are asked to evaluate, Austin said.

As a result, law enforcement officials have reported difficulty implementing the yellow flag law because of a lack of medical providers willing to do the required assessments.

As of March 31, according to data from the Maine Attorney General’s Office, 23 people have been taken into protective custody by law enforcement to initiate the yellow-flag process since the law went into effect in July 2020. Nearly three-quarters of those cases involved a threat of suicide. The office does not track how many gun removal petitions were ultimately approved by a judge.

“Telling an individual that he is not fit to possess a weapon is provocative and a retaliation of some sort is foreseeable,” Austin said. Hospital officials worry that if people are brought by law enforcement to their facilities for a mental health assessment to determine if their weapons should be seized they may retaliate against hospital staff, putting medical providers and patients at risk.

“A second concern of hospitals is that the yellow flag assessment is getting attenuated from the kind of medicine our clinicians are qualified to practice,” Austin told the Portland paper. “I am not a clinician. But I have heard some express concern that this is getting into behavioral psychology, not traditional psychiatry.”

The state is moving ahead with a new system of remote assessments that should help address both concerns, but it is not in place yet.

The 2019 law required the Maine Department of Health and Human Services to develop a request for proposals to develop a system for conducting assessment outside of health care facilities. The department worked with Spurwink to build a crisis center in Portland where people can go to get emergency mental health services seven days a week. The center opened in February.

Providing telehealth assessments for protective custody and weapons seizures will also be offered through the new center, beginning in the fall. This telehealth system, which will allow people to be evaluated while they are held in protective custody at police stations, emergency rooms or other facilities, should also address the hospital association’s second concern about the small number of psychiatric specialists qualified to undertake the assessment required by the yellow flag law. It will also make this expertise available statewide.

Maine’s yellow flag law may prove to be a useful tool to reduce gun violence, including suicides, which are by far the top cause of gun-related deaths in Maine. But, it is too soon to tell because its full implementation has been slowed by the complexity of – and the resistance to – the mental health evaluations that it requires.

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Portland Press Herald. June 14, 2022.

Editorial: Cutting gun violence will take regulating guns

Maine Sens. Collins and King back a program that invests in mental health and school security, but wouldn’t change the kinds of weapons sold or who can buy them.

Americans have been pleading with their government to “do something” about gun violence after a pair of horrific mass murders last month. On Sunday, a bipartisan group of 20 senators including Maine Sens. Susan Collins and Angus King announced that they have an agreement on what the “something” might be.

The deal would dedicate money for states that want to institute crisis intervention restraining orders, also known as “red-flag” orders, which lets judges require that people temporarily give up their guns if they are found to be a danger to themselves or others.

It also pledges money for community mental health services, school-based mental health resources, telehealth access and school security improvements.

“Families are scared, and it is our duty to come together and get something done that will help restore their sense of safety and security in their communities,” the senators said in a statement they all signed. “(O)ur plan saves lives while also protecting the constitutional rights of law-abiding Americans.”

It’s nice to see progress, but it’s too early to celebrate anything: There are still plenty of opportunities for this agreement to fall apart in a sharply divided Senate or in negotiations with the U.S. House, which passed a more ambitious violence-prevention package last week.

The actual policies that make it into the final bill, or get cut out of the proposal before a vote, are what matters. It’s worth noting one thing that is missing from the senators’ statement: the word “gun.” This is clearly no accident – and it’s an omission that speaks to the politics that make doing anything meaningful such a longshot.

This negotiation started in response to the racist murder of 10 African American shoppers in Buffalo on May 14 and the random massacre of 19 fourth-graders and two teachers in Uvalde, Texas 10 days later. But the senators’ program puts major focus on school security and mental health services.

It’s long past time for this country to invest in mental health services, both in the community and in schools. But this is not a mental health problem. It’s also not school design problem. Psychiatrists and architects are not going to reduce gun violence if we aren’t willing to talk about guns, too.

Schools aren’t the only places where people feel unsafe. Churches, synagogues, movie theaters and shopping centers have all been the sites of mass shootings in recent years. Every week this year there have been at least four mass shootings, in which four or more people were killed or wounded. Just last weekend, 10 people were killed and 42 injured in mass shootings in Chicago, Denver and Detroit that did not make the national news because we have become desensitized to “ordinary” violence.

The package of bills that passed the House last week called for an all-out ban on the sales of high-capacity magazines and prohibiting sales of most semiautomatic rifles to people younger than 21. (The Buffalo and Uvalde shooters both bought their AR-15-style rifles legally as soon as they turned 18.)

Maybe it’s too much to ask that members of Congress pass a single law that would fix a complicated problem like gun violence. But we can’t do much if we don’t acknowledge that guns play a role in the problem.

The bipartisan Senate proposal is far more than many people who follow the politics of gun control ever expected. But it’s far less than what we would need to truly make this a safer country.

If this is the first step in a long process in which Democrats and Republicans learn to trust each other as they make incremental progress toward a shared goal we would have something to celebrate.

But, past experience suggests that this proposal is the best we are going to see until the next shocking massacre, when members of Congress are again convinced that they have to “do something” about gun violence.

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Hearst Connecticut Media. June 15, 2022.

Editorial: Money rewrites the CT high school playbook

There is one universal truth in every sport: If you step into the arena without knowing the rules, you’ve already lost.

Many of the bodies guiding high school sports across the country were using outdated rule books when the NCAA opened the gateway to athletes profiting from their name, image and likeness (NIL).

Change has been coming as quickly as a senior tackle at a freshman quarterback, but many states have tried to shield high school athletes from the lure of financial rewards. It’s one of the last lines of defense for amateur sports.

Just last year, the issue was deemed a threat to “the most sacred and fundamental aspect of high school sports in the United States — the concept of amateurism!” by Karissa Niehoff, the executive director of the National Federation of State High School Associations.

Niehoff happens to be the former executive director of the Connecticut Interscholastic Athletic Conference (CIAC). Sixteen months after she wrote those words, the change she spotted on the horizon has arrived.

While the scholastic sports season has been wrapping up, the CIAC has been rewriting policies to address NIL.

Essentially, a student star will now be able to get an agent and pursue financial opportunities, while avoiding use of logos and names of schools.

The league also prohibited income coming from the likes of tobacco, cannabis, alcohol and gambling products. It’s hard to miss the irony that these are the areas Connecticut has been leaning on for revenue in recent years.

Connecticut was the 10th state to take the leap, but is a few months behind New York and New Jersey. Stepinac, a private school in White Plains, New York, hired a marketing consultant to help students with deals. It could be an outlier, but is more likely a harbinger of things to come.

The reality is that Connecticut rarely produces athletes that would lure frenzied interest from sponsors. But CIAC by-laws were overdue for a reboot to reflect how the world has changed since the big bang of social media.

High schoolers are already hurling their names, images and likenesses out into the world, elbowing for position as social media influencers. Drawing income from their sports identities seems only fair given the growing scrum to win subscribers and profits from sites.

Dividing students from their high school identities is the right move, but schools shouldn’t pretend they don’t also stand to profit from the talents of the brightest stars.

Purists will likely never embrace such changes. It’s admirable to adhere to the ideal that scholastic sports is education-based, but life lessons evolve with the times. It’s about more than teamwork, leadership, coping with defeat and the rewards of a strong work ethic.

In essence, the CIAC executed the lessons of high school competition on this issue, playing offense as well as defense.

But this game has barely even started.

END