Editorial Roundup: New England

Hartford Courant. July 21, 2022.

Editorial: We’re in a drought; everyone in Connecticut needs to conserve water

The Metropolitan District says there are no mandatory or voluntary water use restrictions being requested of its customers.

That’s good news for its eight member towns and its four more towns that receive partial water service.

This announcement came from the MDC not long after the state issued a “Stage 2″ drought declaration. The MDC was able to do this, it said, as it is relatively flush with water. The agency said its “drinking water reservoir supply” was at more than 94.5% of capacity, and that means there is about 628 days of supply available — assuming regular water production and even with no rainfall in that many days.

And then it rained. We got a nice downpour this week, complete with some power outages and thunder in some areas.

But let’s hope it does rain more — and often — during the next more than 600 days.

As of July 14, the U.S. Drought Monitor reports that all of Connecticut is either “abnormally dry” or in “moderate drought.” The monitor also kindly points out that about 1.3 million of our fellow Nutmeggers live in the areas that are in drought.

In Hartford, rainfall has been down slightly more than 2 inches since June 1, according to the National Weather Service. According to weather-and-climate.com, Hartford’s rainiest month is October and its least wet month is not in summer, but in February.

But this summer’s lack of rain across the state can increase stress on farmers, nurseries and other businesses that require large amounts of water to operate.

The declaration of Stage 2 drought conditions by Gov. Ned Lamont came after a recommendation by the Interagency Drought Working Group and it means there are conditions that possibly affect water supplies in the state, agriculture and our various ecosystems. It’s the second such warning this summer.

Following Lamont’s declaration, the South Central Connecticut Regional Water Authority, which serves 15 South Central Connecticut communities, did ask its customers to voluntarily reduce water use by 10%.

Just a 10% reduction would help prolong available water supplies, reduce system demand and stress on water resources, and lower customer bills, according to RWA President & CEO Larry Bingaman.

While state officials have said the new drought declaration is not a reason to be alarmed, it does mean we all should take action to reduce our water use.

This can include: reducing automatic outdoor irrigation, postponing planting of lawns and vegetation and minimizing waste by fixing leaky plumbing and fixtures.

Not everyone has plumbing skills, but we can all decide to wait on planting new grass, or even to let the current lawn get a little brown. There are folks in Connecticut who have given up lawns altogether for the benefit of the environment, but that’s a whole other topic.

The MDC benefits from the fact that its water supply includes a system of reservoirs, such as the 30.3 billion-gallon Barkhamsted Reservoir and the 9.5 billion-gallon Nepaug Reservoir. The commission notes the Barkhamsted Reservoir “is the largest drinking water reservoir in Connecticut.”

That’s good for the folks who live in the MDC’s central Connecticut towns and cities, including Hartford.

But just like the rest of Connecticut can conserve water, so can those in MDC-served towns.

It poured rain this week and that probably took the edge off some brown lawns and dusty ballfields in towns that got the drenching. Flowers everywhere likely perked up.

But Martin Heft, undersecretary at the Office of Policy and Management and chairman of the Interagency Drought Workgroup, said that when it comes to dry conditions, “Everything is worsening statewide.”

Those are words we all need to heed, whether served by the MDC, a well or another water agency. We are one state and we all need water. It’s a precious resource and even if we do get more summer downpours, there is no reason to waste water.

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Hearst Connecticut Media. July 21, 2022.

Editorial: Will CT ever be seen as a business friendly state?

Is Connecticut bad for business?

It’s a question the political class in the state obsesses over, and for many years the answer appeared to be a clear “yes.” Connecticut is too expensive, too cold in the winter, too highly regulated, and on and on, or so the story went. Elected leaders have spent years trying to turn that reputation around, but some notions are hard to shake.

So it wasn’t all that surprising when Connecticut came out on the low end of a recent survey of all 50 states and their supposed friendliness to business. We rank 39th in the nation, according to CNBC, far below North Carolina at No. 1. At least we can take comfort that we’re above Mississippi, at No. 50.

Thirty-ninth isn’t so bad, all things considered. Not long ago such rankings would routinely place Connecticut in the upper 40s, so at least there have been signs of improvement. There’s no question, though, especially in an election year, that everyone in a position of power would like to see the state move up in these rankings. A lot rests on how we’re viewed nationwide.

Even when the overall number is grim, there are consistent bright spots. We’re a well-educated state, with a workforce that checks off all the boxes for companies that want skilled employees. Quality of life is always a positive. And, though we lack an all-star city to call our own, we’re conveniently situated a short trip from two of the best urban centers in America.

But the downsides are just as stubborn. There’s no getting around the expense of living in Connecticut, and it’s not just about taxes. Home values are exceptionally high, especially in the southwestern corridor that has the majority of high-paying jobs. It’s a nice place to live, but it will not come cheap, and that can be a major deterrent.

Then there are our old New England ways, which lead to an overlap in services and 169 independent fiefdoms each with their own notions on governance. It’s a waste of taxpayer dollars. But try to fight against local control and you’ll have a war on your hands.

How to make Connecticut more business friendly? There are many ways, but it’s important not to sacrifice our values. The state is never going to win a race to the bottom in terms of corporate wish lists, but there are steps we could take to make life easier. One that’s raised continually by experts is a real attempt at regionalism.

Yes, there would be pushback. But it’s long past time people realized the best path forward for the state is for communities to work together on solving problems everyone faces. We don’t need to be divided on so many local governance issues, and we could all gain by some consolidation. It would make it easier on our tax bills, for one thing.

Then there’s housing. Again, there will be fights. But we can’t attract companies if workers can’t afford to live in somewhat close proximity to their jobs. That’s just a given.

Connecticut can be more business friendly. But don’t expect the fight to be easy.

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Bangor Daily News. July 20, 2022.

Editorial: It doesn’t take a task force to know that motorcycle helmets save lives

Maine is on track to reach another deadly milestone this year: As of this past weekend, there have been as many deaths in motorcycle crashes as occurred in all of last year. Many of these accidents and deaths were likely preventable so state officials are right to look for ways to improve motorcycle safety. At the same time, riders and drivers can do more to keep Maine’s roadways safe for everyone. Step one for motorcyclists is to wear a helmet, which significantly reduces the chance of death and serious injury in an accident.

On Sunday, John Washington of Baldwin was killed in a crash in Cornish. It was the 21st fatal motorcycle crash in Maine so far this year, which is barely half over. There were 21 fatal motorcycle crashes in all of 2021.

Motorcyclists are significantly overrepresented in traffic crashes and fatalities, the Maine Bureau of Highway Safety said in a press release in May, which was Motorcycle Safety Awareness Month. Nationally in 2020, per vehicle mile traveled, motorcyclists were about 28 times more likely than passenger vehicle occupants to die in a motor vehicle crash and were four times more likely to be injured, according to the bureau.

The increase in deadly crashes this year spurred state road safety officials to form a special motorcycle safety task force last week to investigate and address the increase, said Christopher Ireland, director of the driver license services division of the Maine Bureau of Motor Vehicles.

The group will begin by reviewing various factors that may have contributed to each fatal motorcycle crash and looking for trends, Ireland said. The factors include the time of day when the crashes occurred, road conditions, weather, the drivers’ ages, and whether they were wearing helmets.

The crashes this year have involved people of all age groups and riding experience levels, and the fatal crashes are divided about evenly between those involving other vehicles and those in which cyclists have crashed alone, Ireland said.

But, one trend does stand out: Not wearing a helmet can be particularly deadly.

Of those who have died in motorcycle crashes so far this year, about two-thirds were not wearing helmets, according to Shannon Moss, a spokesperson for the Maine Department of Public Safety.

According to the U.S. Centers for Disease Control and Prevention, wearing a helmet while riding a motorcycle can reduce the risk of death in an accident by more than a third for riders and by 41 percent for passengers. Helmets cut the risk of head injury by more than two-thirds.

Yet, helmets are not required for most riders in Maine. State law requires them only for riders who are under 18, those with a learner’s permit and those who have completed their driving test within the last year. Passengers of operators required to wear a helmet also must wear one.

Efforts to change the law to require helmets for all riders in recent decades have been unsuccessful.

A rider safety course is required to obtain a motorcycle license in Maine. Experienced rider courses are offered in partnership with the Bureau of Motor Vehicles.

“Taking these courses is no guarantee of survivability and they do cost money. However, the cost of a course is much cheaper than an accident and it may provide that little extra knowledge to keep a rider out of trouble,” Stephen Burciaga of Monroe, a former Motorcycle Safety Foundation-certified and Maine licensed rider coach, wrote in a recent letter to the editor.

There are also steps vehicle drivers can take to make the roads more safe for motorcyclists. Keep an eye out for motorcycles, which are smaller than cars and trucks and can be harder to see. This is especially true when turning left as many vehicle-motorcycle collisions happen when drivers are turning left. Use your turn signals, so motorcycle riders and other motorists know if you are turning. Give motorcycle riders space as they may need to dodge road hazards, such as potholes.

And, put down the phone and pay attention to your driving.

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Boston Globe. July 21, 2022.

Editorial: Put the brakes on the prison moratorium

Lawmakers’ efforts to slow incarceration will hurt those already behind bars.

The state’s only prison for women in Framingham, built in 1877, is the oldest operating correctional facility of its kind in the nation — a dubious distinction at best.

It isn’t alone among state correction facilities in desperate need of attention. Since 2019 the Disability Law Center has been demanding that correction officials deal with an ever-worsening mold problem at Bridgewater State Hospital, and has strongly recommended the building of a new facility (albeit one run by the Department of Mental Health instead).

Correction officials recently outlined in a letter to legislative leaders a number of “critical initiatives” and needed upgrades at prison facilities including special units to deal with prisoners receiving medical assistance for substance abuse and geriatric inmates who are confined to the corrections equivalent of assisted living at MCI-Norfolk or nursing care at MCI-Shirley.

“These improvements require facility modifications that will require not only funding, but the allowance of discretion in how existing facilities are used — or not used,” Secretary of Public Safety Terrence M. Reidy and Correction Commissioner Carol Mici wrote to Senate President Karen Spilka and Senate Ways and Means Chair Michael Rodrigues last month.

Their plans for making real improvements in the lives of those living in state prisons are now at risk as lawmakers thrash out the remaining issues on a state borrowing bill. The one thing the House and Senate seem to be in agreement on is the need for a five-year halt in any prison-related construction.

“We need a five-year pause on new jail and prison construction and prison expansion to ensure that the pathways away from incarceration for women and for men, pathways that this Senate helped create, are being justly used and often used,” Senator Jo Comerford told her colleagues when the measure was debated back in June.

It’s a nice theory, but one that ignores the facts on the ground — that people will commit crimes, they will be sentenced to prison and our criminal justice system needs to provide those inmates better conditions than it does currently.

Unless and until we become a community of saints, a five-year moratorium risks ushering in an era of potentially cruel and unusual punishment.

The letter from Reidy and Mici noted that the House version of the moratorium language “would restrict the Department’s ability to maximize operational efficiencies, address environmental hazards in aged facilities, and meet the evolving demands of the inmate population.”

Now keep in mind, Massachusetts generally has among the lowest incarceration rates in the nation. And the department’s current population is the lowest it has been in 35 years, allowing the closure of MCI-Cedar Junction over the next two years. That maximum security prison was operating at 68% of capacity on the day the closure announcement was made back in April.

Framingham, built to accommodate some 500 women, housed about 162 women as of April 2021, 70% of them convicted of violent crimes, 50 of them serving life sentences, according to a report issued by The Ripples Group in June. The group was hired by the state Office of Capital Asset Management and Maintenance, which oversees state buildings, to assess the future of Framingham.

It found the facility “oversized, physically outdated for its rehabilitative mission” and requiring a “significant capital investment” to make it work.

“The Strategic Plan for women who are incarcerated in Massachusetts envisions a considerably smaller footprint and operation than what exists today at MCI-Framingham,” the report suggested. “In line with DOC’s current mission, at the heart of the entire strategy are rehabilitation as primary mission and human dignity as a non-negotiable without sacrificing safety and security.”

The plan, which does not specify a geographic location, envisions a campus-like arrangement with individual living units modeled on a more European approach to corrections and a separate pre-release center that will allow women to participate in work-release programs.

“If this strategy is implemented as envisioned, the resulting system for women’s incarceration in the Commonwealth will likely become the exemplary model for other states,” the report says.

But all of that seems not to matter to people who call themselves advocates for prison reform yet now stand in the way of much needed improvements with a singlemindedness that ignores the basic needs of those currently incarcerated.

The moratorium is simply a dreadful idea no matter who is governor and who will be running the correction system. And this one will be around long enough to kill any hope of improvement throughout the entire first term of whoever succeeds Governor Charlie Baker.

No matter which version lands on his desk, Baker would do his successor — and the state’s incarcerated population — a tremendous service by killing this before it sees the light of day.

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Portland Press Herald. July 22, 2022.

Editorial: Chipotle tries to take unionizing off the menu

Corporate management are scared of workers exercising their rights.

Workers have power, no matter the job. Don’t let anyone tell you otherwise.

Why else would Chipotle Mexican Grill, a multinational corporation with over 3,000 locations and revenue of more than $2 billion in last quarter alone, be so scared of a couple dozen employees in Augusta, Maine?

Chipotle permanently closed its Augusta location Tuesday in what the company says was a response to staffing shortages.

But it’s no coincidence that workers in Augusta had just become the first at a Chipotle to begin forming a union.

The employees at the Augusta Chipotle had complained of poor and unsafe working conditions for a while before walking off the job in protest last month. Soon after, a majority of the workers signed union cards, expressing their intent to organize.

The news was delivered to management on June 20. On Tuesday morning, just before a hearing scheduled to determine the process of union election, a statement from a corporate official said instead the store would be closed for good.

The statement attributed the closing to problems finding workers and on-site managers for what the officials called a “remote restaurant,” even though it’s located in the biggest and busiest shopping center in the region and has never been short of customers.

But what they’re really worried about is workers at other locations hearing about what’s happening in Augusta and getting ideas of their own.

Companies that thrive on the backs of low-wage workers count on holding on to the power in the employer-employee relationship. That way, they can exploit employees through low pay, unreasonable work demands, and volatile schedules, then replace them with new hires once they burn out or demand more money.

It’s been called the “low-wage carousel,” and it promises a steady source of workers who have no choice but to take one of the jobs.

It also keeps most workers from advancing in any meaningful way, and makes it difficult for them to gain security for themselves and their families.

The companies that benefit from this exploitation were not happy to see the power balance shift toward workers during the pandemic. As COVID shrunk the workforce, it became harder to recruit workers in a whole host of low-wage industries, giving people more choice and causing wages to rise.

But that shift is unlikely to be permanent, and when corporations are no longer forced by a tight labor market to treat workers better, they’ll simply stop. It’ll be the workers at the bottom who see their power and benefits disappear the fastest.

The only way for workers to hold on to power, and to ensure that their hard work will be rewarded with safe, stable working conditions and livable wages, is to organize.

And the only way for Chipotle to keep the upper hand is to prevent workers from realizing that it is possible for them to exercise their rights in that way.

Just look at Starbucks, which tried everything in its power to stop locations from unionizing over poor scheduling and low pay, but now must contend with a movement fighting for employee rights, including at a store in Biddeford.

Chipotle’s corporate management looked at the employees at its Augusta location and saw a threat.

They know that workers coming together in solidarity can force them to make changes — and they hope that the rest of their employees never find that out.

END