Editorial Roundup: New England

Portland Press Herald. April 21, 2024.

Editorial: Maine lawmakers’ inaction on red flag law is a monumental failure

The Legislature busied itself with scores of comparatively meaningless proposals throughout the session just ended. Worse than voting the proposal down, it chose to ignore

It didn’t even come to a vote.

The proposal for a red flag law – valuable, practical legislation that would allow family members to petition a court to restrict a person’s access to guns without going through a mental health evaluation – was neglected by Maine lawmakers in the session that ended last week.

Despite the utter heartbreak and outrage caused by the Lewiston mass shooting, despite the extraordinary intensity of the electorate’s interest in basic, sensible reforms that will make Maine more safe, our representatives simply stood by and let the clock run down. The failure to vote on L.D. 2283 should be a source of shame for all involved.

It takes a particular brand of gutlessness to allow the legislative session to unfold as it did in this instance.

Over the course of the session, what kind of bills did make it to a vote? Plenty of time was spent on the question of tax credits for the Sea Dogs’ stadium in Portland; a new process for the licensing of contractors; the creation of a five-member commission to study, yes, the design of the Maine state flag; on an altogether “duh” ban on unauthorized paramilitary activity; a weedy national popular vote proposal; an inside-baseball proposal limiting concept bills; and many more far less important, less emotive, less urgent measures.

Editorializing on the subject of gun control two months ago, this board reflected on what appeared to be “promising” developments in Augusta while cautioning against any complacency. We took the opportunity to print in alphabetical order the names of the 20 state senators who chose to vote against background checks on private sales in 2023 – every Senate Republican and nine of their Democratic colleagues.

That record matters. We know why the 2023 background check proposal fell through when it did; we know who wanted it to fall through. The fate of the red flag bill in the second regular session of the 131st Legislature will, incredibly, never be known. That works out quite well for some legislators and lobbyists; it works directly against the security of the state of Maine and the people who live here.

Twenty-one states have some version of a red flag law in place. By opting not to join them, Maine is consigning itself to a woefully inadequate policy. We would do well to remember that the “yellow flag” law in place here is not another designation for a common standard – Maine is the only U.S. state with this weaker, conditional version of the law that’s effective enough or good enough for almost half of states to have in place.

Passed in 2019 as a compromise (one negotiated with the Sportsman’s Alliance of Maine, which staunchly opposes red flag legislation – and most other gun safety measures), the yellow flag law sweats the concept of due process, making members of law enforcement and medical professionals responsible for a two-step process of protective custody and a mental health evaluation before any separation from weapons is broached. That’s an arrangement that’s challenging in a crisis.

“The people who are most vested in someone not hurting themselves are the people closest to them,” Jack McDevitt, a professor at Northeastern University’s School of Criminology and Criminal Justice, told Boston.com back in October. “They’re most likely to know someone is going through a difficult time. They’re also the people who care about the person the most.”

Reflecting on the specifics of the Lewiston shooting, Kevin Joyce of the Cumberland County Sheriff’s Office went further. The yellow flag law, Joyce said, “was useless for us.”

Had an effective red flag regime existed in Maine, the killer’s family – who both knew enough and spoke up – would have had a better, more direct route to weapon removal available to them. That should haunt anybody who continues to oppose this reform.

In general, Lewiston should not be used as a political cudgel; attempts to do that by both sides of the gun control debate are cheap and risk belittling both the tragedy and the gravity of the bigger picture. The devastation and the motivation brought about by the shooting, however, should.

“For the sake of the communities, individuals and families now suffering immeasurable pain, for the sake of our state, doing nothing is not an option,” was the appeal made by Gov. Janet Mills in her State of the State address in January. If only that was the case here.


Bangor Daily News. April 19, 2024.

Editorial: Gun safety bills passed by Maine Legislature should become law

With passage of three gun safety bills, Maine lawmakers have approved what could be the most significant strengthening of state firearm laws in decades. These bills, a response to an October mass shooting in Lewiston, should become law.

The centerpiece of the recently passed legislation is a bill proposed and championed by Gov. Janet Mills. In the wake of the horrific Oct. 25 shooting that left 18 people dead and 13 injured, the governor deserves a lot of credit for openly reassessing her opposition to some past efforts to tighten Maine’s gun laws.

Her bill would extend background checks to all advertised gun sales, essentially closing a loophole that has allowed some gun purchases to skirt the review process that has stopped sales to convicted felons, domestic violence perpetrators and hundreds of others in Maine who are prohibited from making such purchases. The governor’s successful bill also includes support for additional mental health and substance use stabilization services and modest changes to Maine’s yellow flag risk protection order law, which can help address concerns raised after the Lewiston shooting.

A bill to create a stronger extreme risk protection order law, a red flag law, stalled in the final days of the legislative session.

In addition to the governor’s bill, Democratic lawmakers passed legislation to require a 72-hour waiting period for gun purchases and a bill that would require that guns forfeited to law enforcement agencies be destroyed rather than sold, which was amended to also ban bump stocks.

While we understand concerns about some of the technicalities of these bills, we believe they are reasonable restrictions that seek to promote gun safety while also respecting the rights of lawful gun owners. All three bills should become law.

Waiting periods, which are in effect in 12 other states, including Vermont and Florida, and under consideration in others, have been shown to reduce gun homicides and suicides. For example, a 2017 study found a 17 percent drop in homicide deaths and a 7 percent to 11 percent drop in deaths by suicide when gun purchase waiting periods were in place.

Studies have suggested waiting periods can lower intimate partner gun homicide rates. Gun rights advocates have argued waiting periods could delay a domestic violence victim in getting self-protection, but little empirical evidence for that exists, Bangor Daily News reporter Billy Kobin wrote last month.

In fact, access to guns increases the risk of domestic abuse. For example, an abusive partner’s access to firearms makes it five times more likely that a victim of domestic abuse will be killed, and domestic violence assaults involving a gun are 12 times more likely to result in death than those assaults involving other weapons or bodily force, Francine Garland Stark of the Maine Coalition to End Domestic Violence told members of the Judiciary Committee in March in testimony in support of the waiting period bill.

“Implementation of a 72-hour waiting period on the purchasing of a firearm would reduce the likelihood of impulsive acts of lethal violence,” she testified.

Reporting by the BDN’s Maine Focus team brought to light the fact that some law enforcement agencies sell firearms that have been forfeited to them. These guns can, and have, later been recovered by police in other states. Destroying them, as some police departments in Maine and other states already do, simply makes sense. Which is why we generally supported LD 2086, despite process concerns about complicating the bill with an amendment to ban bump stocks.

The gun safety bills passed by lawmakers this session, notably the governor’s legislation, are a significant step forward for Maine. They all should become law.


Boston Globe. April 24, 2024.

Editorial: State definition of ‘juvenile offender’ should follow the science

Legislation to ‘Raise the Age’ gets a boost from the Senate president and the Celtics

For more than five years, Massachusetts lawmakers have been pondering and debating — but not acting on — legislation that would change the way the state defines juvenile offenders and finally allow the law to follow the science on youthful brain development.

Well, this year has to be different, Senate President Karen Spilka vowed in a Monday speech to the Greater Boston Chamber of Commerce. This year, discussion of “hope” and “developing a strong workforce for our future” needs to include a criminal justice reform that will bring state law into the 21st Century.

“Most kids will make a mistake — or 10— in their lifetimes,” Spilka told the Chamber. “For many of us, those mistakes didn’t stop us from having the chance to fall in love, start and nurture a family, take out a loan for an education, buy a house or car, or develop a calling and a career that we love and live for.

“It is unjust that some young people — by virtue of geography, race, ethnicity, or family background — will be robbed of opportunities to create a life full of meaning and happiness because of an early entanglement with the criminal legal system,” Spilka said.

The legislation is known as Raise the Age. It’s an effort to gradually expand the state’s juvenile justice system over a four-year period to include this new category of emerging adults — ages 18 to 20. Those charged with serious crimes, including murder, would continue to be tried as adults, as they are now. But eventually this new cohort would be kept out of the adult prison system.

“Massachusetts will never reach its full economic potential without ensuring that we engage everyone in opportunities to learn, work, and succeed. It is time to build on this movement and follow the body of supporting evidence,” Spilka said.

The immediate problem is that the legislation hangs by a slender thread with an April 30 deadline looming for it to be reported out of the Judiciary Committee — barring another extension on that reporting requirement.

The bill this year also has the support of Attorney General Andrea Campbell and the Boston Celtics, who have been sporting Raise the Age T-shirts.

The proposal was originally supposed to be part of a sweeping 2018 criminal justice reform act. But it encountered considerable political headwinds from district attorneys and juvenile court officials, some of whom who feared being overwhelmed with cases.

But a lot has changed in recent years.

According to the Juvenile Detention Alternatives Initiative, a national organization that has been working in Massachusetts since 2007, some 4,345 youths were admitted to detention facilities run by the Department of Youth Services that year. By 2017 the figure stood at some 1,400. By the end of 2022, the number had dropped to 728 juveniles admitted and by last year stood at about 450.

Not that DYS has maintained an unblemished record of caring for and educating those entrusted to its care, according to a recent Justice Department Compliance Review of detainees with disabilities. But capacity should at least no longer be an issue. And DYS already deals with some youths up to age 21.

A Supreme Judicial Court decision earlier this year found it was unconstitutional to sentence 18- to 20-year-olds convicted of first-degree murder to life without parole That effectively sets the stage for further reform of the system.

“Advancements in scientific research have confirmed what many know well through experience: the brains of emerging adults are not fully mature,” Chief Justice Kimberly S. Budd wrote in the majority opinion. “Specifically, the scientific record strongly supports the contention that emerging adults have the same core neurological characteristics as juveniles have.”

It was a trailblazing decision with some obvious consequences for the rest of the criminal justice system.

“We must recognize the ‘unique characteristics’ of emerging adults that render them ‘constitutionally different’ from adults for purposes of sentencing.”

But it’s not the court’s job to “fix” the issue at hand. That’s the job of the Legislature — one it has managed to shirk for too long. Five years is long enough to wait. The science on brain development is solid. Now the law should follow the science.


Rutland Herald. April 19, 2024.

Editorial: Pass/fail

On Thursday, the ACLU of Vermont published its Civil Liberties Report Card, assessing Gov. Phil Scott’s record on civil rights and civil liberties during his most recent term in office. The report card issued failing grades to the Republican governor across all five categories, which included homelessness, drug policy and criminal justice, education equity, racial justice and police accountability, and economic justice.

“While his track record in prior terms has been mixed, Governor Scott’s policies and positions over the past two years have proven increasingly hostile to Vermonters’ civil liberties, as well as the needs and values of Vermont families and communities,” the report states.

ACLU Vermont Executive Director James Lyall called the governor’s record during the current biennium “profoundly disappointing,” adding his organization and its supporters are “increasingly troubled by the governor’s public policy choices regarding Vermonters’ rights and well-being.”

While the report card rightly takes Scott to task on some policy areas, its critiques in other areas lack context and fail to consider the struggles communities around the state are facing, which complicate these issues profoundly.

On the issue of homelessness, the ACLU accuses the Scott administration of forcibly un-sheltering or displacing scores of Vermonters and “enacting cruel and arbitrary barriers to undermine the legislature’s emergency housing program,” as well as preventing people with disabilities and other vulnerable Vermonters from accessing shelter.

It also calls out Scott’s ill-conceived plan to open four short-term overnight group shelters this winter for those evicted from the hotel voucher program that were “haphazardly appointed,” barely used and imposed on host communities with little advance notice.

However, the organization rather unfairly places the situation squarely at Scott’s feet — blaming him for Vermont having the second-highest rate of homelessness in the country — without acknowledging the Legislature’s complicity in exacerbating the situation by kicking the can down the road.

Regarding drug policy and criminal justice, the ACLU seems to be letting its broader concerns over justice reform cloud its ability to see the issues on the ground across the state. It criticizes Scott for opposing harm-reduction strategies such as “overdose prevention centers” (supervised injection sites) and “stoking fears about public safety in one of the safest states in the country.”

For Vermont communities on the front lines of the opioid epidemic, like Burlington and Rutland, such sites are a hot-button issue. Yes, there is evidence to suggest these sites can helpful getting people into recovery but gaining approval from potential host communities will no easy feat — a fact the governor seems to understand.

While Vermont may be one of the safest states, it is impossible to deny the rise in crime in recent years. Even if the data puts us squarely on the safe end of the spectrum, it doesn’t feel as safe here as it once did. While we all prefer the idyllic Norman Rockwell fantasy of Vermont as a bucolic safe space insulated from the harsh world beyond its borders, we must also accept the challenging reality many communities are living in. From regular gunfire incidents in Burlington to the spike in homicides and violent crime statewide last year, Vermont needs to get a handle on crime.

We agree that simply throwing more people in jail is not a sound or just solution. Restorative, community-based alternatives need to be provided to those willing to engage in the process. However, there needs to be accountability — especially for low-level repeat offenders tying up police and court resources.

On education, the ACLU chides Scott’s opposition to putting limits on the use of school resource officers, as well as his support for the creation of “behavioral threat assessment teams” in Vermont schools, which it argues undermines students’ rights and threatens to “compound existing disparities.” It also criticizes Scott on the issue of school choice, stating he has “offered no path forward to limit the flow of public dollars to private schools that can undermine the guaranteed common benefit of a public education for all Vermont’s children.”

Both are fair critiques. Vermonters are right to be concerned about an overreliance on SROs and the implementation of threat assessments, which without proper oversight and accountability can unfairly target marginalized student populations. Similarly, the flow of public funds to religious institutions must be heavily scrutinized. Here, too, oversight and accountability are essential to ensure no school receiving taxpayer money is permitted to discriminate or promote intolerance.

Racial justice and police accountability is another failing category for Scott, according to the report card, which cites his veto last year of a law that would have prevented police from lying to children in interrogations, as well as his administration’s opposition to measures to reduce “overpolicing and racial bias on our roadways by limiting unnecessary law enforcement interactions.”

Economic justice is a final area where the ACLU gives Scott a failing grade, rightly arguing, his administration could do more to level the playing field by taxing corporations and wealthy Vermonters more.

“In an era of historic wealth inequality, when our communities need new resources, the governor refuses to ask the wealthiest Vermonters to pay their fair share,” the report states. “Meanwhile, he has made misleading statements about widely popular proposed taxes on corporations and the wealthy, and claimed, without evidence or analysis, that affluent residents will flee the state.”

The report card, which comes as Scott is poised to announce whether he plans to seek a fifth term, seems eager to sow the seeds of doubt among voters. But despite his broad popularity — he is, after all, the most popular governor in the country, according to at least one national survey — he’s not beyond scrutiny. As Scott weighs another term, we hope he takes these critiques to heart and leads justly to secure and expand the liberties of all Vermonters.


Hearst Connecticut Media. April 19, 2024.

Editorial: Why do hate crimes endure in CT?

A swastika was found carved into a window in bathroom stall at the Darien train station in October.

Back in 1947, director Elia Kazan filmed Gregory Peck at the same station for the film “Gentlemen’s Agreement,” a film and novel that made Darien synonymous with antisemitism.

Decades earlier, in the 1920s, the KKK was putting fliers in Fairfield County mailboxes. Recently, antisemitic propaganda was spread around Stamford, Danbury, Glastonbury and Trumbull.

Will hate crime still be a problem in Connecticut in 2124?

It seems inconceivable that our towns and cities will still be dealing with the likes of the distribution of antisemitic propaganda 100 years from now. But history has already taught us that hate crimes will endure the passage of time and generations, continuing even after the events of World War II united the nation to combat the horrors of what such hate can unleash.

The Anti-Defamation League d ocumented 184 antisemitic incidents in Connecticut in 2023, which represents a 170 percent increase from the previous year. It will surprise no one that the Oct. 7 Hamas attack on Israel fueled the spike, which has continued into 2024.

Percentagewise, the increase is even worse in Connecticut than the numbers across the United States, which saw a 140 percent increase to 8,873 reported incidents. The incidents documented after Oct. 7 were higher nationally that had been seen in a calendar year since the ADL began gathering the records in 1979.

The reality is surely worse than this grim scorecard suggests. Legislation against hate crimes vary from state to state. Connecticut’s laws are broader than those in most states, and Georgia, Wyoming, Utah and Indiana continue to lack such laws, according to the NAACP data. Where there are no laws there are also likely undocumented incidents of this nature.

The same is surely true in Connecticut. The incidents we know about are everywhere. The ADL documented 25 bomb threats at synagogues and antisemitic incidents in 82 communities. Seventeen incidents were on college campuses.

ADL Connecticut Regional Director Stacey Sobel summed it up succinctly: “It has been a really challenging time.”

It will continue to be. The incidents themselves are weapons, expressions of bias. Even if it wasn’t revealed in carvings, online extremism and anonymous threats, the bigotry would still fester.

Connecticut responded to a flurry of incidents in 2017 and 2018 with bipartisan legislation that mandated high school lessons about genocide and the Holocaust, as well as tougher convictions on hate crimes.

During the current session, the state Senate approved a bill that would create a task force to study the effects of hate speech and bullying on children.

We need to talk more about these issues in Connecticut, in America, in 2024. The carvings can be sanded away, the graffiti can be scrubbed and online prejudice can be blocked, but we won’t change history until we take stronger actions to confront the consequences of hate.