Editorial Roundup: New England

Hearst Connecticut Media. November 17, 2022.

Editorial: Lamont’s new team to face big challenges

Though many explanations were put forward, there’s no way to know exactly why Ned Lamont won a second term as governor on Nov. 8. Certainly there was his handling of the COVID pandemic, a sense the economy has stabilized and a general rejection of the national Republican message, all of which propelled the incumbent to a convincing win. But there’s no way to parse out exactly what it was the voters of Connecticut liked so much that they asked for another four years.

So when Lamont says he will continue what worked well during his first term, that doesn’t give an observer much to go on. We all hope, for example, that nothing like the governor’s leadership during the worst days of COVID will ever be necessary again.

What has become clear is that Lamont will be working with a new team. As usually happens when an executive enters a new term, Lamont’s inner circle is changing, with Paul Mounds Jr., who has served as the governor’s chief of staff since early 2020, and Nora Dannehy, Lamont’s general counsel since March 2021, have each chosen to step down in favor of new blood. Neither Mounds nor Dannehy specified a new job, but it’s likely their skills will be in high demand in the private sector.

Stepping in to replace them will be Jonathan Dach as chief of staff and Natalie Braswell as general counsel. Braswell is state comptroller, a role she has filled since the resignation for health reasons of former Comptroller Kevin Lembo nearly a year ago. Braswell did not run for the position this year, and now steps in to work directly for the governor. Dach is likewise well-known to Lamont, having served as his policy director since 2019.

It’s not, in other words, a wholescale infusion of new ideas on the way. It’s important nonetheless that new people fill these jobs, if only to give some fresh perspectives on state challenges.

Serving as top aide to a governor is hard work. Most people only do it for a few years, at the most. Burnout is not uncommon, and if a governor is going to continue to lead the state, that person needs the best people at his side. Change is good.

What is unlikely to change is Lamont’s commitment to being careful. Though Connecticut has done well in recent years by turning deficits into surpluses, Lamont has not immediately opened the spigots to fund politically popular projects or irresponsible tax cuts. The planning for the inevitable rainy day must continue, especially in a state with as much long-term debt as Connecticut has run up. Continuing to pay off pension debts will be a centerpiece of the governor’s second term.

But there’s more to running a state than cleaning up old messes. Lamont was reelected to help solve some of our longest-running challenges, including the state’s inherent unaffordability. Housing, education and health care are out of reach for too many families in this state. Tackling those challenges must be top of mind for Lamont’s new team.

Answers won’t come easily. That’s what the new team is here for.

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Hartford Courant. November 16, 2022.

Editorial: The cases the Connecticut Cold Case Unit would not let go

The pain of the four women was palpable.

They testified in Superior Court in Connecticut nearly 40 years after the crimes against them took place, and their words drew a picture of circumstances no person should have to endure.

A home invaded in the dark. A strange man with a gun. The words he spoke, the actions he took. An assault. The terror. The crimes took place in Middletown, Rocky Hill, Windsor and Bloomfield.

Then came the waiting.

The waiting lasted so long that the cases were considered cold. The chance for justice seemed slim.

But behind those four women, there were Connecticut investigators who simply would not give up.

Those investigators gave the women a token of the investigators’ belief that this case would one day come to justice, that the man who had so terrorized the women would one day face that justice.

The tokens were coins given by the state Cold Case Unit, formed by the Office of the Chief State’s Attorney almost 25 years ago to focus on unsolved crimes; it includes prosecutors and investigators who work with state and local police and use new technology to crack cases.

Division officials say the coins, designed by Supervisory Inspector Michael D. Sheldon, were created after Supervisory Assistant State’s Attorney John F. Fahey began leading the Cold Case Unit in 2018. “They were developed with the idea of letting victims’ families know that the Cold Case Unit never forgets their loved ones,” Fahey has said to the Courant.

“The coin reminds them that we live by the idea that we never forget. It’s a little thing that they can hold on to that assures them of the work that’s being done every day on these cases by the Division of Criminal Justice.”

The four survivors, in this case, told the Courant how much the coins meant to them, especially as they faced the trial last month on kidnapping charges of former Hartford charter school CEO Michael Sharpe.

Two of the women still clutched the coins outside Hartford Superior Court earlier this month on the day Sharpe, 71, was convicted of all eight kidnapping counts against him.

“I had it with me all the time, I’ll probably keep it with me all the time forevermore, ”one of the women, Shelley, told the Courant.

But it is important to note that the promises represented by those coins are backed up in many ways by the state of Connecticut itself. It is the state that gives power to enforcement agencies to investigate crimes and, in these cases, it was the leaders of those agencies who decided not to let this one go.

The investigators kept their promise, but they also used their smarts to find the evidence they needed, the technology that analyzed it and the shoe leather they used to find their suspect.

Sharpe was only charged after his DNA matched DNA saved from the crime scenes.

Investigators first tested his DNA in items taken from his trash and compared it to DNA samples left on items found in the women’s homes. The court-ordered cheek swab test confirmed there was a less than 1 in 7 billion chance that the DNA came from someone other than Sharpe, according to testimony from forensic analysts.

A lot goes into bringing justice to fruition.

This is a case for which the Cold Case Unit and those involved should be praised. They put in the work that backed up the promise made by those coins.

“I just wrap my hand around that coin and hold it sometimes,” Shelley said. “And I’m just so thankful for the Cold Case Unit and their level of care.”

Now, Sharpe faces up to 100 years in prison.

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Bangor Daily News. November 16, 2022.

Editorial: Senate should approve marriage equality bill

As we’ve written before, federal legislation to protect marriage equality should not be necessary. But, after the Supreme Court overturned nearly a half century of legal protections for reproductive health choices, it is clear that what are thought to be fundamental rights can evaporate. Plus, some conservatives have suggested that previous rulings that protect the rights to marry the person of your choosing should be reconsidered.

Given this political reality, a bill to protect same-sex and interracial marriages should quickly move through the U.S. Senate.

Votes are scheduled this week on the bipartisan Respect for Marriage Act, which would require that federal law recognize any marriage that was valid when and where it was performed. The bill has been championed by Maine Republican Sen. Susan Collins and Sen. Tammy Baldwin, a Democrat from Wisconsin. Republican Sens. Rob Portman of Ohio and Thom Tillis of North Carolina and Democrat Kyrsten Sinema of Arizona were also involved in negotiating a compromise bill. It is also supported by Maine independent Sen. Angus King.

Similar legislation passed the House in July, with 47 Republicans voting for it.

The senators say they are confident they have the support of 10 Republicans needed to overcome a filibuster.

“The Respect for Marriage Act is a needed step to provide millions of loving couples in same-sex and interracial marriages the certainty that they will continue to enjoy the freedoms, rights, and responsibilities afforded to all other marriages,” the five senators involved in building support for the bill said in a press release on Tuesday. “Through bipartisan collaboration, we’ve crafted commonsense language to confirm that this legislation fully respects and protects Americans’ religious liberties and diverse beliefs, while leaving intact the core mission of the legislation to protect marriage equality.”

An amended version of the bill does not require a state to issue a marriage license that is counter to its laws and says that religious organizations will not be required to provide any services, facilities, or goods for the solemnization or celebration of a marriage.

These religious liberty protections were added to gain the support of more Republicans in the Senate in hopes of easing passage of the bill.

The legislation would repeal the Defense of Marriage Act, a 1996 law that defined marriage as between a man and a woman. That law was rendered moot by the Supreme Court’s 2015 Obergefell decision, when the court ruled that marriage equality was protected by the U.S. Constitution, thereby legalizing same-sex marriage nationwide. However, DOMA has remained on the books and could potentially be revived if it is not repealed.

Senate Majority Leader Chuck Schumer called the legislation “as personal as it gets,” before sharing that his daughter and her wife are expecting a baby in February.

“It will do so much good for so many people who want nothing more than to live their lives without the fear of discrimination,” Schumer said on the Senate floor on Tuesday.

And, although fundamental rights should not be about popularity, Americans have grown more supportive of marriage equality over the past 30 years. More than 70 percent of Americans support marriage equality, including 55% of Republicans, according to a recent Gallup poll.

“It is time for the Senate to get the job done and pass this bill to protect marriage equality and ensure that all Americans are treated fairly and equally under the law,” Collins and Baldwin wrote in a column published in the Washington Post in July.

We agree; the Senate should pass the Respect for Marriage Act.

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Boston Herald. November 17, 2022.

Editorial: Health studies cast shadow on weed

Massachusetts has often been described as a nanny state, cosseting its citizens with overprotective policies.

But sometimes the nanny takes a day off.

The commonwealth banned flavored tobacco and vapes in 2019 after a rise in suspected lung injuries from vaping.

The ban was aimed at protecting young people from the harms of tobacco and vaping.

“Massachusetts moved quickly to act on behalf of the children of the Commonwealth to modernize our laws that regulate tobacco,” then-Massachusetts House Speaker Robert DeLeo said in a statement.

The Legislature is now working on another bid to safeguard citizens from ingested evils. The Act to promote healthy alternatives to sugary drinks calls for an excise tax on distributors of certain drinks with added sugar and promoting healthy alternatives to such drinks. It’s reached the Study Order stage with the Joint Committee on Revenue.

The state wants us to be healthy and capable of taking deep breaths.

So what will Massachusetts do about marijuana?

As ABC News and other outlets reported, people who smoke marijuana were more likely to have certain types of lung damage than people who smoked cigarettes, according to a new study that reviewed lung scans of smokers. The researchers who led the study say their findings suggest smoking marijuana may be more harmful than people realize.

The Centers for Disease Control and Prevention estimates at least one-fifth of Americans have tried marijuana at least once. The Bay State legalized weed in 2016.

Some health effects, such as brain development issues, high blood pressure, and increased risk of heart attacks and strokes, have been studied. However, according to Dr. Albert Rizzo, lung doctor and chief medical officer of the American Lung Association, “We don’t know the long-term effects of marijuana as we do for the long-term effects of tobacco.”

But medical experts did sound the alarm on the dangers of weed before Massachusetts made it legal.

The Massachusetts Medical Society as well as 10 statewide physician specialty groups opposed Question 4 in 2016, the initiative that legalized recreational marijuana here.

James S. Gessner, M.D., president of the Massachusetts Medical Society, wrote in the Boston Herald: “marijuana is not harmless, and the risk of addiction is real. The mind-altering element in the drug, THC, is today four times stronger that it was in the 1980s, and according to the National Institute of Drug Abuse (NIDA), about 9% of those who use marijuana will become addicted. The rate jumps to 17 percent for those using it in their teens, and increases to 25% to 50% among daily users.“

Marijuana turned out to be a cash crop for Massachusetts

There are now some 434 recreational and 98 medical licensees in the state, pulling in $1.4 billion a year. But the accent isn’t on health – it’s on equity and inclusion within the industry.

We can expect more studies on the ill effects of weed to roll out. But can we expect Massachusetts to put health before revenue?

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Boston Globe. November 17, 2022.

Editorial: Antiabortion pregnancy centers are deceiving women. They need to know that.

Governor Charlie Baker vetoed money for a public education campaign on crisis pregnancy centers. Lawmakers should go right back at it next year.

Women with unwanted pregnancies face what, for many, will be the most difficult decision of their lives.

And the “free abortion counseling” advertised online may sound like just what they need: an honest discussion of their options.

But the crisis pregnancy centers that often pitch this counseling aren’t what they appear. They’re not abortion clinics. They’re not community health centers.

They’re an arm of the antiabortion movement, built to dissuade.

The staff at these facilities have the First Amendment right to say what they wish about abortion. But women weighing visits deserve to know what they’ll encounter inside.

Recently, state lawmakers took a modest, if important, step toward building awareness — approving $1 million for a public education campaign about the difference between crisis pregnancy centers and legitimate reproductive health care clinics that offer a full suite of services, including abortion.

Departing Governor Charlie Baker, a self-styled champion of abortion rights with a mixed record on the issue, vetoed the measure. And lawmakers can’t override since they’re in informal, end-of-the-year sessions. But the state Legislature can and should move swiftly to approve the funding next year. And incoming governor Maura Healey, who has raised the alarm about crisis pregnancy centers as the state’s attorney general, should sign it after she starts her new job.

Conservatives have labeled the proposed public education effort a “smear campaign.” But it’s no smear to point out the sector’s deceptive practices.

Crisis pregnancy centers often locate near abortion clinics in a bid to draw in unwitting patients. And they provide inaccurate medical information and incomplete care.

That can be dangerous.

Kara Kimball, a chief resident obstetrician and gynecologist at University of Massachusetts Memorial Medical Center in Worcester, told the editorial board about a patient who recently showed up in the hospital’s emergency department.

After a positive pregnancy test at home, she’d visited a crisis pregnancy center — drawn by the promise of a free ultrasound. There, Kimball says, she got inaccurate information about her pregnancy. And the staff failed to refer her for an emergency consultation, as they should have.

Over a week later, she showed up at UMass Memorial with a severe hemorrhage. Fortunately, she survived. But the lesson, Kimball says, was clear. Visitors to crisis pregnancy centers aren’t getting the information they need.

The debate over the public awareness campaign comes at an especially fraught moment.

In June, the Supreme Court overturned Roe v. Wade and threw the issue of abortion rights to the states.

That’s put a special burden on blue states to shore up their own residents’ rights and provide a refuge for women from redder locales.

Massachusetts has mostly met the test. Lawmakers included $2 million for abortion access in the budget they passed this summer — including the first-ever direct state spending on abortions. And in a recently approved economic development bill, they provided an additional $16.5 million for reproductive health.

Baker, to his credit, signed that spending into law. But he vetoed the $1 million provision for the public education campaign. And he offered a weak explanation — noting that the state already works with a nonprofit to publish a list of the state’s roughly 30 crisis pregnancy centers.

Beacon Hill, which has been at the forefront of protecting abortion rights, should stay out front on this issue. Bay Staters deserve better than just a list.

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