Recent editorials of regional and national interest from New England’s newspapers:
UConn made right move to cancel football season
The Connecticut Post
It wasn’t going to be easy for the University of Connecticut football team to have a season this year under any circumstances. In its first year without a conference affiliation, UConn had already lost several opponents as other teams look to limit travel and eliminate nonconference opposition in deference to the ongoing pandemic. There would have been work to do to find a full slate of games to play.
Instead, UConn officials made the right call last week in canceling the season altogether. In a decision that took into account the opinions of the student athletes, UConn made the difficult move to go without football for a season rather than put anyone at unnecessary risk.
It was the first, but will not be the last school in the nation to do so.
Elsewhere around the country, other schools and conferences are looking at delays. Some athletic directors have ruled out fall sports entirely, hoping that the situation improves in time for the winter or that time can be made up in the spring. But there’s no guarantee of an improving situation regarding the coronavirus. Everyone is hoping for the best, but we need to face reality. This is not going to go away on its own.
All of which puts the Connecticut high school decision earlier this year to go ahead with a shortened football season in a worse light. With so much attention being paid to social distancing inside the schools, it makes little sense to then send students out into close contact with others on the football field. Thankfully, officials showed signs this week of rethinking that call and pushing the high school football season to 2021.
For UConn football players, who will retain a year of eligibility by not having a season this year, it was likely a difficult decision and a hard reality to accept. Even if they have no plans for football beyond college, it’s still a huge part of their lives. Playing at a high level against top teams is something they’ve planned for their whole lives, and no one can predict what the future will hold. This could be their only shot.
Still, holding off on the season is the right decision. But it also raises new questions about the possibility of holding any sports this year, including UConn’s signature basketball programs. If it isn’t safe enough to play outdoors in October, it is likely not going to be safe indoors in January. And there’s little chance of getting college students into a professional-style “bubble” to ensure their safety from the virus.
That will be a decision for another day. Nothing about this process will be easy, and colleges and universities face many wrenching calls about opening safely while maintaining the well-being of students, faculty and staff. Still, anyone expecting a full slate of college sports anytime soon should start to prepare themselves for some disappointment.
It’s easy to overlook UConn football. It’s been many years since the team has won much of anything. But in this off-field decision, everyone involved made the right decision. The games can wait.
Voters deserve better ballots
The Lynn Daily Item
When it comes to ensuring election ballots contain clear and concise voter information, Massachusetts can do better.
The Massachusetts Secretary of State’s Election Division deserves praise for ensuring ballots, including the one drafted for the Sept. 1 primary elections, is printed in Spanish as well as English.
But that’s where the praise ends. The ballot is riddled with confusing and outdated titles and language, and decidedly short on information valuable to the voter.
For example, the Democratic primary ballot mailed to residents includes the heading, “Senator in Congress.” Any eighth grader knows this is a clumsy, if not redundant, way to describe the office sought by U.S. Senator Edward J. Markey and U.S. Representative Joseph P. Kennedy III.
The proper heading should read, “United States Senator.”
The ballot heading for the Sixth Congressional District primary should simply read, “United States House of Representatives,” not “Representative in Congress.”
Both of these ham-handed examples pale in comparison to the poor description the voter is subjected to in the race for the Governor’s Council District Six seat.
We can give voters the benefit of the doubt and assert that most people come to the polls informed about their voting choices. But the harried or less-than-prepared voter could be forgiven for reading “Councillor” on the ballot and wondering if they are voting in a city or a state election.
The same can be said about the description for legislative races listed on the ballot. Ballot listings for state Senate and Massachusetts House of Representatives candidates are listed under the heading “General Court.”
There is nothing technically inaccurate about this description except for the fact that it never crosses the lips of anyone talking about the state legislature.
The busy voter who is not a political science major specializing in Massachusetts politics can be forgiven if they fill out the ballot wondering if they are electing a judge.
Ironically, the elected office probably least familiar to voters is the only one accurately described on the ballot: The office of Register of Probate.
Voters are probably curious to know the community where a candidate lives. But the ballot practice of listing someone’s precise address is of little or no interest to anyone.
The ballot should include concise descriptions of the elected offices listed on it. “U.S. Senator” could include this description: “The candidate elected will become Massachusetts’ junior senator serving a six-year term. U.S. Senator Elizabeth Warren is the state’s senior senator.”
The Governor’s Council description could read: “Governor’s Council duties include advising the governor on appointments, pardons and commutations.” Short, sweet and informative.
Voters are demanding accessible and fair ways to make their voices heard on election day. It’s time for Massachusetts ballots to inform them with concise and helpful language.
Trump order on unemployment is wrong solution to a very real problem
Bangor Daily News
President Donald Trump had the right inclination last week in issuing an executive order to extend emergency benefits to millions of unemployed Americans.
However, the order is confusing, potentially costly to states, and likely to face legal challenges because the president likely doesn’t have the power to make the changes included in the order.
But the president was on target with his professed motivation of taking action to prompt Congress to reach agreement on another stimulus package as the coronavirus pandemic and its economic consequences continue. A fuller stimulus package is a better way to handle the enhanced unemployment benefits and other aspects of an economic recovery plan than executive orders of questionable validity.
Unfortunately, there doesn’t appear to be much movement in Congress to negotiate a needed package. The Democratically controlled House passed a broad $3 trillion plan in May. Senate Republicans put out a $1 trillion plan that didn’t include many needed elements, such as financial help to local, tribal and state governments.
Surely, there is a lot of middle ground between these proposals that should be fertile ground for negotiations.
In the meantime, more than 30 million Americans are receiving unemployment benefits. They are unlikely to see a return of enhanced unemployment benefits any time soon.
As part of emergency spending to keep the economy afloat during the early days of the coronavirus pandemic in the U.S., Congress passed enhanced unemployment benefits of an additional $600 a week. The enhanced benefits, which help both workers who lost their jobs and the economy as a whole, expired in late July. Federal Pandemic Unemployment Compensation has pumped nearly $900 million into the Maine economy.
The House bill, the HEROES Act, would extend the $600 a week unemployment benefit until January. The Senate Republican HEALS Act would pay an extra $200 a week through September and then switch to a new system aiming to replace 70 percent of a recipient’s prior income when combined with state assistance.
After a breakdown in negotiations between the House, Senate and White House, the president released his own plan.
On Saturday, the president said he was authorizing the Federal Emergency Management Agency to allocate $44 billion to states. The money could be used for supplement unemployment benefits of $400 per week. States would be required to cover 25 percent of that cost. If unemployment numbers stayed the same, the match would cost Maine about $8 million weekly, according to the Maine Department of Labor.
In a statement Monday, Maine Labor Commissioner Laura Fortman said the department was seeking further information from the federal government about the order, saying details are “vague and include no information about how the program should be implemented or would work, raising serious concerns about the ability to deliver benefits to out-of-work Mainers in a timely manner.”
The department and the state’s unemployment system has already struggled to keep up with increased demand due to the pandemic. Adding new requirements and a new program could further delay help to the nearly 80,000 Mainers who have been receiving employment benefits.
In addition, Maine is expecting to see a budget shortfall of $1.4 billion over the next three years, according to one state estimate, making it unlikely that the state could pick up the cost of additional unemployment benefits.
“Asking states now to take on additional expenses is unresponsive to these needs and threatens important programs and services,” Gov. Janet Mills said in a statement.
The president’s order may be well intentioned, but Congressional action is required. The most direct — and effective — way to help workers is to extend the unemployment benefit that lapsed in July. The best way to help the country weather both the continuing pandemic and its economic fallout is to pass a significant stimulus package that focuses on boosting families, small businesses and state and local governments.
Bordering on Abuse
The Caledonian Record
According to the Burlington Free Press this week, “Several New England branches of the American Civil Liberties Union (ACLU) are suing U.S. Customs and Border Protection over border checkpoints they say are unconstitutional.”
The lawsuit was filed on behalf of a Woodstock, N.H. resident who was stopped by border patrol and searched in 2017.
The United States Border Patrol insists that case law gives it the authority to conduct warrantless operations within 100 miles of any border.
But in May 2018, New Hampshire Circuit Court Judge Thomas Rappa ruled that the border patrol’s checkpoints are unconstitutional. He excluded evidence in criminal cases uncovered by customs agents during these warrantless stops. The Woodstock resident was thereby cleared of criminal wrongdoing.
That was the right call in the view of Vermont’s congressional delegation which spoke out against a 2018 U.S. Border Patrol plan to stage immigration checkpoints in the state’s interior.
“We are concerned these interior checkpoints may result in warrantless searches that violate the constitutionally protected Fourth Amendment right to privacy for everyone in our country and will instill fear in our immigrant communities — regardless of an individual’s immigration status,” a joint statement from Rep. Welch and Sens. Leahy and Sanders said. “We believe that inside our country the phrase ‘show me your papers’ does not belong in the United States of America.”
We certainly agree. And that’s the point of the ACLU federal suit filed Tuesday in the U.S. District Court in Concord, N.H.
“In addition to being unconstitutional, these checkpoints offend basic notions about what it means to live in a free society,” said Lia Ernst, senior staff attorney for the ACLU-Vermont chapter. “People in this country should not have to answer to armed and unaccountable federal agents while they are going about their daily business.”
We wholeheartedly agree with Rep. Welch, Sen. Leahy, Sen. Sanders, Judge Rappa and attorney Ernst. Theirs are the only reasonable positions to hold on clearly unreasonable searches.
In our view the place for border patrol is at the border.