Editorial Roundup: New England

Bangor Daily News. October 29, 2021.

Editorial: A recap of the BDN editorial board’s take on November’s referendums

No on 1

The primary aim of Question 1 is to stop the New England Clean Energy Connect, a transmission line that would run for 145 miles across western Maine to bring hydro-electricity from Quebec to Massachusetts. Some of this cleaner power will flow to Maine, along with a package of benefits, including investments in broadband, heat pumps and education.

This initiative is the wrong way to address objections to the corridor and, if passed, its language could have far-reaching implications beyond this transmission line project.

A “yes” vote on Question 1 has the potential to largely lock Maine into our current energy mix, which is heavily reliant on fossil fuels, and could hamper efforts to combat climate change.

We first supported construction of the New England Clean Energy Connect, a spinoff of Central Maine Power Co., in 2019 because we think it can be part of Maine’s and the region’s necessary work to diversify our energy supply to combat climate change.

The language in the legislation that would be enacted if Question 1 passes would ban high-impact transmission lines in the Upper Kennebec region, which could hamper future efforts to bring hydro-electricity to Maine. It would also expand the language of the Maine Constitution to require two-thirds legislative approval for a variety of projects, including transmission lines, landing stips, pipelines and railroad tracks, on public lands.

It would also add a provision to state law requiring a majority vote in the Legislature to approve high-impact transmission line projects anywhere in Maine, even if they are not on public land.

The three provisions in Question 1, especially the new legislative approval requirement, are an overreach that could hamper future projects and investment in Maine.

Many Mainers are troubled that CMP, which is owned by the Spanish company Iberdrola, and Hydro-Quebec, which is owned by the province of Quebec, will make a lot of money from this project. Energy companies, most of which are not headquartered in Maine, are financially backing a “yes” vote on Question 1 and will continue to make a lot of money if the measure passes. This decision shouldn’t be about rewarding or penalizing companies — it’s about assessing an energy opportunity for Maine.

The corridor has received approval from seven federal and state agencies and more than a dozen municipal approvals, which in most instances, included opportunities for public comment or hearings. We fear that passage of Question 1 would send a worrying message to those who may want to invest in and develop major projects in Maine that the state’s regulatory environment is too uncertain, and that an opportunity to make the energy supply in New England and Maine a little cleaner will be lost.

Yes on 2

For the seventh year in a row, Maine voters are being asked to support a bond of about $100 million to pay for needed upgrades and maintenance of the state’s transportation infrastructure, mostly our roads.

Voters should approve this bond, but they should also expect their elected leaders to agree on additional and better ways of paying for the big backlog of construction projects instead of turning to them to approve a $100 million bond every year.

This year, as in other recent transportation borrowing requests, the bulk of the money — $85 million will go toward roads and bridges. The remaining money – $15 million – will be spent on other modes of transportation, including railroads, airports and marine transportation. The bond will leverage $253 million in federal funds.

Maine has a backlog of transportation work and not enough money to pay for it. This bond money is helpful, but it is not the full solution.

Raising the state’s gas tax – and examining other ways to collect transportation user fees, such as a fee per miles driven, which would capture electric vehicles – also need to be considered as part of the solution

In the meantime, a “yes” vote on Question 2 will pay for needed maintenance and upgrades to Maine’s transportation system.

No on 3

The concept of building more independent, self-sustainable local food systems — where people can feed themselves and their families rather than relying on large-scale agriculture, international grocery store chains or the government — is a good one. The supply chain disruptions and empty shelves seen during the COVID-19 pandemic demonstrate that plainly and painfully.

Question 3 on the Nov. 2 ballot, however, does more than ask voters to sign off on this idea. This referendum is not simply an up or down vote on self-sufficiency or locally grown food. It asks people to approve a new amendment to the Maine Constitution, enshrining a right to “grow, raise, harvest, produce and consume” food of their choosing. For us, it also raises a host of questions about what this language would mean for existing laws and regulations spanning from food safety and animal welfare to environmental protection.

Backers of the referendum are confident that such questions and potential unintended consequences have been addressed in the amendment language. They believe this is simple and straightforward. We simply disagree.

Even with the understanding that no right is absolute, we have a hard time seeing how creating this new, ambiguous constitutional right won’t lead to court challenges where judges, rather than the Legislature, will decide what this language really means.

We’ll also point out that the constitutional amendment proposed in Question 3 does not expressly mention hunger. That’s not for lack of trying, as an earlier version did include language that would have explicitly established a right “to be free from hunger, malnutrition, starvation and the endangerment of life from the scarcity of or lack of access to nourishing food.”

As we understand it, that language was removed for pragmatic reasons, in order for the measure to gain enough support in the Legislature. We understand the calculus of compromise, but frankly find that language more compelling than what ended up on the ballot.

No matter how you vote, don’t forget to turn in your absentee ballot if you have one or go to the polls on Tuesday.

___

Portland Press Herald. October 26, 2021.

Editorial: Health care hiring needs state’s help

Gov. Mills is rightly working with the industry to beat longstanding national workforce trends.

Some people are surprised to hear that Maine’s largest industry isn’t fishing, forest products or even tourism. It’s health care.

Nearly one in five Mainers draws a paycheck from a health care job, including people who work for some of the state’s largest employers – our regional medical centers – and some of the smallest – including home health agencies.

One thing they all have in common is difficulty hiring and retaining the staff they need to meet their obligations.

It’s a problem that has been exacerbated by a 19-month pandemic that has demanded more of everyone throughout the system, but workforce challenges were an issue in Maine’s health care sector long before COVID appeared, and they won’t go away if the virus were to suddenly disappear.

On Monday, Gov. Mills rolled out the details of a health care workforce plan that uses federal COVID aid to launch programs designed to help hire, retain and promote a generation of health care workers who will not only fill the gaps that exist today but also replace the thousands of people in health care who are retiring or leaving the field for other reasons.

It’s a complex problem that won’t be fixed with a single remedy. On Monday, Mills explained how her administration was going to put resources behind a number of proposals.

They include:

• $4 million for scholarships and debt relief for students in health care fields.

• $8.5 million to help people in health care jobs to attain higher-level credentials so they can move up in their field.

• $1.5 million to encourage young people to consider health care careers, with $500,000 earmarked for recruiting direct-care service jobs, such as home health aides.

Programs like these will probably be the first steps, if Maine is going to buck the national trends in health care employment. A report released last month by Mercer, a New York-based asset management firm, forecasts millions of vacancies in lower-paid health care jobs in the next five years, including nursing assistants, who are critical to staffing nursing homes.

Mercer also predicts a national shortage of nurses and primary care doctors, which may change the way health care is delivered in the places that don’t meet the workforce challenge.

The national scope of these trends should rebut the notion that the labor shortage in Maine’s health care sector was caused by the Mills administration’s COVID vaccine requirement for health care workers. Retaining the very small number of employees who will give up their jobs because they refuse to be vaccinated would not have any meaningful effect on the employment numbers – not in the short term and certainly not in the long term.

The only way to fill those jobs is to bring more Mainers into the health care professions and to bring more people who want to work in health care to Maine. Mills’ plan moves Maine in the right direction.

___

Hearst Connecticut Media. October 26, 2021.

Editorial: CT’s medical oversight board needs a remedy

Few relationships are as intimate as those between patient and doctor.

So when that relationship is compromised, patients need to be able to shift that trust to the people who hold doctors accountable.

A new report suggests the Connecticut Medical Examining Board could do a better job of handling and resolving complaints against doctors in the state, which can range from flawed treatments to whether they were practicing under the influence of drugs or alcohol.

Dr. Sidney Wolfe, the founder and senior adviser of the Public Citizen’s Health Research Group, which produced the report, makes the alarming claim that “tens of thousands of parties are exposed to doctors who should not be practicing.”

It’s easy to get lost in the numbers. Stamford attorney Kathryn Emmett, who chairs the Connecticut board, told the Connecticut Health I-Team, that the study’s comparison of how states discipline doctors is not a level yardstick.

It’s a fair point, but that doesn’t erase that the report sounds the alarm on a string of issues that demand deeper discussion. Investigations into claims of medical wrongdoing can take years to resolve. Not all accused physicians are guilty, but those who are can often continue harming more patients in the meantime. There can be serious medical consequences when these issues are not addressed.

There can also be resistance to being too critical of a panel such as the Connecticut Medical Examining Board, as the members are unpaid and absent of staff and funding.

That bears repeating: These are volunteer board members with no funding or staff.

But if that means the system isn’t working, there needs to be a new system.

A call for a reboot came from within the board. Longtime board member Jean Rexford, who is also the founder of the Connecticut Center for Patient Safety, voiced concerns that led to the formation of a working group within the board. The sessions of that group have remained closed to the public because the State Department of Health deemed them administrative.

While the privacy of patients must be preserved, there is clearly a need for more transparency in this process.

Rexford is not alone. Another board member, Michele Jacklin, called the board “impotent and toothless” compared to ones in other states.

The Connecticut Health I-Team’s reporting uncovers several issues that warrant reform.

Board members should be getting some training before assuming such heavy responsibilities.

Such problems are not unique to Connecticut. There should, for example, be consistency in the fines that are issued.

The current system counts on patients to blow the whistle. As a result, it is reactive rather than proactive. Outreach to shield the public can come in many forms, such as monitoring appropriate communication from health officials regarding COVID-19 protocol.

The last thing Connecticut needs is more bureaucracy, another layer of watchmen. But lawmakers should get involved to assess whether this panel is meeting its mission.

It needs to diagnose the problem, then administer a cure.

___

Meriden Record-Journal. October 25, 2021.

Editorial: The need for police at school board meetings

Police at hot topic meetings makes sense

Police presence at a recent Southington Board of Education meeting brought on a discussion about whether that extra security was a reasonable precautionary measure or a move meant to intimidate.

Recent board meetings have covered controversial subjects: mask mandates and how to teach about race issues in American history, among other topics. These meetings have drawn large audiences.

Board of Education Chairwoman Terri Carmody, a Democrat up for re-election, told the Record-Journal concerns over crowds prompted a request to have two officers at the Oct. 14 meeting, held at the John Weichsel Municipal Center.

“That was because there was going to be quite a rally outside,” she said. “Not knowing how some of these rallies can go, we felt it was a precautionary measure we wanted to take.”

Parents opposed to the mask mandate for students have been a frequent presence at school board and other town meetings. Many parents didn’t like the unusual police presence, according to Carmody. Police waited in the hall outside the meeting and weren’t needed.

Board Vice Chairman Joe Baczewski, a Republican running for re-election, said, “I don’t see a group of people where we need two armed police officers at a meeting. That bothered me.” Baczewski said parents have been “respectful and reasonable.” Residents who show up to voice an opinion are “doing your due diligence,” he said.

Carmody referred to meetings in other towns that have been disrupted by mask mandate protesters. “It’s just precautionary. We live in troubled times right now,” she said.

Parents and officials who question the need for officers at town meetings voice a legitimate concern. Questions about the intent of a police presence are well within asserting rights to free assembly and speech. It’s our civic duty, a check and balance, to make sure law enforcement isn’t being used as an intimidation tactic. The purpose of having a police presence and what their role is should be clear.

In the case of the Southington school board, the precautionary justification holds up.

Police are deployed for many civic, school and community activities whenever a crowd is expected. They can provide a sense of security, among other functions. They answer questions, direct traffic and keep an eye out for troublemakers or other potential dangers.

When a crowd situation involves a charged atmosphere, there’s no doubt police can help keep the peace, if necessary.

Southington parents have conducted themselves well and have required no police interventions. That doesn’t change the fact that having police nearby can help ensure that those parents’ good intentions aren’t sullied by one or two troublemakers.

___

Lowell Sun. October 28, 2021.

Editorial: MassWorks grants work for Lowell

Public-private partnerships have been a lifeline to urban centers pursuing economic development that otherwise would be beyond their financial reach.

In this state, that integral relationship was recently on display in Lowell and Leominster with the awarding of grants to support two major projects.

On Monday, Gov. Charlie Baker, Lt. Gov. Karyn Polito and other top state officials were in Lowell to announce a $1.72 million MassWorks Infrastructure Program grant to support a mixed-use development proposed on upper Merrimack Street, along with a number of other monetary awards.

Earlier this month, Leominster received a $2.09 million MassWorks grant for the extension of Orchard Hill Park Drive.

That funding, along with $19 million in private investment, is expected to create 300 full- and part-time jobs in 234,000 square feet of new building space, according to the city.

Proposed by JDCU and Soucy Industries, Lowell’s Acre Crossing development will create 32 affordable condominium units for first-time homebuyers and street-level retail and office space.

The MassWorks funding enables the city to make infrastructure improvements needed to support the project, including sidewalk reconstruction, traffic signal updates and new lighting.

Lowell City Manager Eileen Donoghue called the project “a textbook example of the kind of transformative development the MassWorks program can support,” and that it will have a great impact on the city’s Acre section, one of the state’s most diverse neighborhoods.

“Once completed, this project will revitalize an underutilized space, create permanent jobs, provide pathways to homeownership for working families and set a new standard for development in the neighborhood,” Donoghue said.

Monday also marked the inaugural round of MassWorks funding awarded through the One Stop process.

Combined with the other grants, the One Step program represents a combined total of $88 million for projects in 122 communities.

In Leominster, this latest MassWorks grant marks the continuation of vital funding secured through that program.

“This is a real win for Leominster,” Mayor Dean Mazzarella said. “This grant brings our total received from the MassWorks program to over $8 million in 10 years.”

The city previously received a $1.3 million infrastructure grant for the Adams Street area that leveraged $20 million in private investment, creating 100 units of housing and 40,000 square feet of commercial/retail space.

The city also received a $2.5 million grant for the downtown area that complemented private-sector investments put into the new Enterprise Bank Building, Brady’s Restaurant and new housing units on Summer Street.

Currently in the works is another MassWorks infrastructure grant for $2.4 million for the mall area, which will allow for development or expansion of several buildings on its perimeter. That project connects improved infrastructure from the current Route 13 project all the way through to downtown.

“We have been investing in this area for years,” Mazzarella said. “In the 2000s we partnered with the state to invest over $3 million to bring the sewer/water lines from the Mall at Whitney Field all the way to Orchard Hill Park Drive, which expanded local jobs and our tax base.

“This project will continue that trend with 300 more jobs and additional tax revenue.”

City officials noted the highly competitive nature of these grants, which funnel funding to only the most ready and highest impact projects.

It’s no exaggeration to say that MassWorks grants have worked out for these two old mill towns.

END