Rutland Herald. July 9, 2022.
Editorial: Regressive decision
In our email this week came a note from State Auditor Doug Hoffer. The headline stated, “Vermont Supreme Court Deals Serious Blow to Government Transparency and Accountability.”
We could not agree more. In fact, we are going to use Hoffer’s own words to explain why this is such a regressive decision.
“The Court’s decision cloaks the use of hundreds of millions of Vermont taxpayer dollars in secrecy, allowing Vermont state agencies to protect themselves and their contractors from independent performance and spending oversight,” he wrote.
“Two years ago, my office requested some documents from OneCare Vermont, the state’s only Accountable Care Organization. For context, OneCare was accountable at that time for $1.2 billion in state, federal and insurer payments to Vermont hospitals and providers. Our request was for payroll records so we could better understand two elements concerning their use of state funds. First, OneCare had provided state regulators with conflicting information about the salaries they were paying staff. We wanted to understand why. Second, OneCare requested an alarming 33% increase in total salary costs in just one year. Vermont taxpayers pay a large portion of those salaries through OneCare’s contract with the Department of Vermont Health Access (DVHA) and we wanted to know why they sought such a large increase,” he wrote.
He goes on to explain the elected role of state auditor: “(M)y job is to make sure that Vermont tax dollars are not wasted and that government-funded programs are performing as intended and at the level Vermonters deserve. My office has made similar requests of state contractors like OneCare many times over the years. Never before had we been rebuffed. Despite assurances that we would not disclose any personally identifiable information, OneCare argued that my office simply did not have the right to access their records. This despite two explicit provisions in OneCare’s contract with the state.”
Here are those provisions:
“Authorized representatives or agents of State of Vermont and the federal government shall have access to Contractor’s accounting records and the accounting records of its subcontractors upon reasonable notice and at reasonable times during the performance and/or retention period of the Contract for purposes of review, analysis, inspection, audit and/or reproduction.”
The second is the audit provision that appears in contract Attachment C, a clause contained in all state contracts: “Records Available for Audit: The Party shall maintain all records pertaining to performance under this agreement … The records described shall be made available at reasonable times during the period of the Agreement and for three years thereafter or for any period required by law for inspection by any authorized representatives of the State or Federal Government.”
(Get some popcorn, this is where it gets good.) “There is no real ambiguity here. The language authorizing the State Auditor to access records has never been in doubt before the Supreme Court’s ruling today. In their opinion, they write that my office is not explicitly listed as an “authorized representative” of the State, and therefore this standard contract provision (which every one of the hundreds of state contracts includes) does not apply to the State Auditor. Well, if access to records was restricted only to those explicitly listed then no entity would qualify because none are listed in that critical contract language. And if not the State Auditor, who?”
Hoffer takes the justices to task: “The Supreme Court also argues that if anyone does have the right to access such records it would be the state agency who contracted with the outside party. But what if that agency would prefer certain facts not come to light? What if the agency is worried about how they themselves would be viewed if the Auditor’s Office accessed certain contractual records? Should (any state agency) be able to thwart the work of the State Auditor this way? If so, it is a betrayal of any sense of true government accountability and will encourage the outsourcing of state tax dollars to shield performance from independent scrutiny.”
Hoffer is correct in stating the “whole point of an independently elected State Auditor is to hold state agencies accountable. We cannot do that if we need to seek permission from those we wish to evaluate. Those with something to hide will effectively be unpoliceable.”
We join Hoffer in questioning the logic here. This is neither accountable nor transparent. And Vermonters will suffer under such precedence.
“This is truly a dark day for Vermonters, since the sun will no longer shine on the use of hundreds of millions of dollars of your tax dollars,” Hoffer wrote.
Shame on our Supreme Court. And thanks for nothing.
Boston Globe. July 13, 2022.
Editorial: Mass. women shouldn’t have to travel out of state for late-term abortions
The pressure point involves language that would expand access to abortion after 24 weeks in cases of “severe” fetal anomaly, in addition to what is already allowed — cases involving “lethal” fetal anomalies.
This is not the time to back down on abortion rights protections in Massachusetts. This is the time to stand up for them.
Yet the Massachusetts Senate — one of the most pro-abortion rights legislative bodies in the country — could be on the verge of backing down. The pressure point involves language that would expand access to abortion after 24 weeks in cases of “severe” fetal anomaly, in addition to what is already allowed — cases involving “lethal” fetal anomalies.
By a vote of 136-17, the House passed a bill last week that embraces that language change.
A Senate bill, that is scheduled for a vote on Wednesday, does not. Explaining the omission, state Senator Cindy Friedman of Arlington told the State House News Service that the concern over such a language change is: “Does it open a door wider (to abortion) than people are comfortable with?” She also said she feared that Governor Charlie Baker would veto the bill if it contained such a provision and didn’t want to jeopardize the other broad abortion rights protections included in it. (Baker has not taken a public position on the legislation but vetoed an earlier effort to expand late-term abortions, a veto the Legislature overrode.)
Abortions after 24 weeks are rare and usually represent very tragic situations — as exemplified by the story of Kate Dineen, as recently told by Globe columnist Shirley Leung. Last July, Dineen was 33 weeks pregnant when a fetal MRI revealed that her son had suffered a catastrophic stroke. Doctors told her there was a 50 percent chance he would die before birth. If he survived, he could die at any time — or live with extreme pain and suffering.
Dineen’s doctors at Massachusetts General Hospital also told her the language in the current law that allows termination of a pregnancy in case of a “lethal” fetal anomaly created a gray area that prevented them from performing an abortion. So she had to travel to Maryland for the medical care she needed. “The phrase ‘lethal fetal anomaly’ ties their hands. They have a very narrow interpretation of what constitutes a lethal fetal anomaly,” Dineen told the Globe editorial board. “Anything not on the short list, they send those patients out of state.” Her fetus’s condition was not on the “short list.”
What needed to change, doctors told Dineen, was language to give them more flexibility when it comes to performing a late-term abortion — and adding the phrase “severe fetal anomaly” would accomplish that. So Dineen has been lobbying Beacon Hill lawmakers for that proposed change, which has support from a list of OB-GYN specialists, including several from MGH.
“There’s a persistent myth of the ‘nonchalant, third trimester abortion’, ” said Dineen — the myth being that a pregnant woman would wake up late into a pregnancy and say, “I’ve been on the fence. Today feels like a good day to get an abortion.” But as Dineen knows from personal experience, the truth is very different. Being faced with such a decision is agonizing and being forced to travel makes it worse.
A law passed by the Massachusetts Legislature in December 2020 — over Baker’s veto — was supposed to help women avoid difficult situations like that faced by Dineen. The so-called Roe Act codified abortion rights and allows women to terminate pregnancies beyond 24 weeks under certain conditions.
The goal of the Roe legislation, said Dr. Luu Ireland of UMass Memorial Healthcare, and a supporter of Dineen’s effort, was “not to allow a 24 week exception for every pregnancy. Our goal was to give physicians and families the ability to choose abortion for a fetus not expected to survive, or have any chance for quality of life.” But as Dineen found out, the Roe Act “leaves significant gray areas,” said Ireland. Now the goal is to address those gray areas “and allow physicians to provide care without fear of litigation.”
One example of a gray area, said Ireland, would be Trisomy 18, a chromosomal condition that before medical advances would result in the death of a fetus or death shortly after birth. Now, a baby born with Trisomy 18 might live for a couple of months or a year, but with a questionable quality of life. “A lot of families would choose to avoid that suffering for their children and choose abortion,” she said.
As for those opponents who warn that a Down syndrome diagnosis — which comes in the first or early second trimester — would qualify as a “severe fetal anomaly,” Ireland said, “We in the medical profession, in the OB-GYN world would never consider Down syndrome a severe fetal anomaly, I would never consider it for post-24 week termination.”
Extending the right to an abortion after 24 weeks in the case of a “severe fetal anomaly” does defer to a doctor’s expertise. It gives them the discretion they need to prevent someone in Dineen’s situation from having to leave the state. Meanwhile, since the Supreme Court overturned Roe v. Wade, leaving the state to seek care elsewhere is increasingly difficult, as clinics that perform abortions are over-whelmed by women who can’t get the care they need in their home states.
The abortion rights legislation that lawmakers are taking up contains a range of other important protections for those who offer and seek reproductive care. On one hand, it’s tempting to say the perfect should not be the enemy of the possible, so the wording around pregnancy termination after 24 weeks should not derail the entire bill. But it’s wording that is the difference between allowing people like Dineen to get the care they need here in Massachusetts, instead of being burdened by the logistics, expense, and additional anguish of traveling out of state. The Senate should include it, and pass the bill soon, with enough votes and enough time left in the session to override any potential veto.
Bangor Daily News. July 14, 2022.
Editorial: Court ruling again highlights need for better data about how lobster fishing impacts right whales
A federal judge ruled last week that federal fisheries regulators are not doing enough to protect North Atlantic right whales, an endangered species, from fishing gear used by New England’s lobster and crab fisheries.
The ruling – and the changes that it might compel – are another blow to Maine’s lobster industry. But, more, it is a condemnation of the National Marine Fisheries Services plans to protect the whales, which are thought to number less than 400. The judge, James Boasberg of the U.S. District Court for the District of Columbia, blasted the agency for approving a plan last year that allowed for continuing entanglements of whales in lobster and crab gear while gear changes were implemented to reduce these entanglements. For example, the plan allowed 2.6 entanglements in lobster and crab gear that could cause death or serious injury to right whales each year through 2025, although NMFS calculated that only 0.8 entanglements should be allowed in federal waters to preserve the whale population.
Consequently, that plan, called a biological opinion, was rejected by the judge. It was the second time Boasberg has rejected a plan to manage the fisheries to protect right whales. He did not put the rules that stemmed from the plan on hold, nor did he order that the lobster fishery shut down.
On Tuesday, a different federal court reinstated a seasonal closure to most lobster fishing of more than 900-square miles off the coast of New England to protect right whales. The court cited fisheries regulators congressionally mandated responsibility for protecting the whales in overturning a Maine court ruling that had halted the closure, which is in the fall and winter.
Interestingly, both conservation groups and fisheries organizations have called the biological opinion that was rejected last week flawed and asked that it be scrapped – for very different reasons. The conservationists argued that the plan didn’t include adequate restrictions to protect right whales. Fishing industry groups, including those representing Maine’s lobster fishery, have long argued that the plan was based on faulty science and unfairly punished the industry for harms they did not cause.
Now, these groups have yet another chance to bridge these gaps. Boasberg ordered NMFS and other parties to the lawsuit, including conservation and lobster industry groups, to develop alternative plans that would better protect the whales for the court to consider.
That work, we believe, is hampered by a lack of needed data. We remain puzzled and frustrated that years into legal wrangling over fishery rules and right whale protections, adequate data on the interactions between whales and fishing gear remains sparse.
To mix metaphors, imagery and science: If we can send a telescope into space and see images of the formation and death of stars and learn new details of galaxies that are millions of light years away, why do we not know where right whales are?
Under the now-rejected biological opinion, fisheries regulators finally enacted measures to track both commercial fishing and right whales. That information is essential to moving beyond anecdotal evidence – and some sparse data – about whether and where whale habitat and lobster fishing overlap. Without such data, lobster fishermen can rightly claim that they are being asked to make significant changes without evidence that they are causing harm.
At the same time, we’d encourage the lobster industry to move beyond messages that emphasize fighting regulations to highlight some of the many changes they have already made to reduce the threat to right whales. For example, many lobstermen in Maine are in the midst of replacing their trap lines with lines that will break away if hit by a whale. They are also marking their gear to better identify if rope from Maine is entangling right whales.
Judge Boasberg acknowledged this work, but essentially warned that it might not be enough. In his opinion, which is littered with marine metaphors, he also recognized the harm that more stringent restrictions could have on the lobster industry. That, he wrote, is why he asked the parties to work together to come up with more protective solutions.
As years of negotiations, rule changes and lawsuits have shown, this is no easy task. But, it is better than having draconian measures imposed by a court.
Hearst Connecticut Media. July 13, 2022.
Editorial: CT sees Supreme Court decision as a business opportunity
There’s really no other way to shorthand it — Gov. Ned Lamont is marketing Connecticut as a sanctuary state for abortion.
It brings to mind former Texas Gov. Rick Perry making his first visit to Connecticut to try to lure away gun manufacturers in the wake of the Sandy Hook tragedy nearly a decade ago.
In seizing landmark moments in history as business opportunities, governors reaffirm the essence of what their states represent. Connecticut’s shade of blue deepened when Roe v. Wade was overturned last month. Of course, that also has the potential to chase off some residents and businesses.
Lamont sticks to his reliable sleeves-rolled-up, “aw, shucks” demeanor in a video pitch to businesses. He starts by reaffirming that his state won’t yield on supporting the right to choice, “not as long as I’m governor.”
“So this may be a time for you to think about taking a look at Connecticut as a place to move your business.”
Then the governor counts off reasons out-of-state businesses might embrace moving to Connecticut.
“A place where maybe your employees feel more at home. Perhaps you feel more at home. Your customers can better identify with our values.”
It’s not a sophisticated ad. There is more dignity in the language of the open letter Lamont co-wrote with Lt. Gov. Susan Bysiewicz.
“If you are looking to relocate to a state that supports the rights of women and whose actions and laws are unwavering in support of tolerance and inclusivity, Connecticut is for you,” they wrote.
The governor’s spokesman, Max Reiss, reasoned that “If this elicits a conversation in places like Texas or Florida or Missouri, we think that’s a good thing for Connecticut.”
Lamont’s Republican rival, Bob Stefanowski, dismissed the likelihood that the issue would budge the needle for businesses contemplating a move. He, and others, point to evergreen obstacles such as labor costs, taxes and energy expenses.
Others said it is already having an impact. Peter Denious, chief executive of Advance CT, said a woman who owns a company in Ohio inquired about Connecticut with the declaration “we’re outta here.”
Fran Pastore, chief executive of the Women’s Business Development Council in Stamford, said female entrepreneurs are expressing interest in launching in Connecticut.
If there is a business opportunity here, it rests on the next generation of businesses and employees.
Millennials and Gen Zs have done an admirable job of defining themselves as champions of diversity, equity and inclusion issues. Stefanowski may be correct that being a pro-choice state may not be enough to attract established businesses.
But it will matter to members of a younger work force who factor in social justice in making minor — and major — life decisions. Many of them think about it as they choose where to eat, where to shop, where to live and where to work.
Being defined by the tenets of tolerance is not a strategy; it’s the correct course. Connecticut is right to invite others to champion what that represents.
Hartford Courant. July 8, 2022.
Editorial: All police vehicles must be equipped with seat belts
“If federal action is warranted, the Justice Department will pursue every available avenue to the full extent of the law.”
Those are the words of Connecticut’s U.S. Attorney Vanessa Roberts Avery in reference to the case of Richard “Randy” Cox, who was paralyzed and hospitalized after being taken into custody by the New Haven Police Department on June 19.
Avery made the statement on the same day Karl Jacobson, a longtime veteran of the New Haven Police Department, was sworn in as the new police chief in the Elm City.
Jacobson said he plans to focus less on arrests and tickets, more on connecting with the community, preventing crimes, practicing accountability and building trust at a time when the department faces an investigation. It’s also facing the rightful public outcry over the severe injuries suffered by Randy Cox.
Connecticut State Police are investigating the case and Avery said her agency will coordinate with them and “our other law enforcement partners at the state and federal levels.”
Avery is right to let the public know she is closely monitoring the investigations into the circumstances that left Cox hospitalized and right to note that “all suspects taken into police custody must be afforded timely and appropriate medical care in the event of an emergency.”
In this case, while Cox was being taken in following his arrest, a New Haven police officer apparently made a hard stop to avoid a crash. That threw Cox into the wall of the transport van headfirst, according to video from the incident released by police.
Even worse, while the officer pulled over to check on Cox and called for medical attention, the officer didn’t follow protocol and drove to the detention facility instead of waiting for help. Cox was pleading for help.
Officers took Cox out of the van, holding him as he couldn’t move, put him in a wheelchair and processed him, police have said and the video shows. And after Cox slid from the wheelchair and told officers he thought his neck was broken, officers picked him up and carried him by his arms to a holding cell, where emergency services arrived and provided aid.
The scenario as described and seen on the video makes anyone with any first aid training want to scream: What about neck and head injuries and not moving a person if you suspect one?
And there is something else here that is beyond belief: There were no seat belts in the New Haven vehicle, just loops and a bar to hold onto while handcuffed.
Seat belts are made to prevent exactly the kind of injury Cox suffered. They are made to protect people riding in a moving vehicle, and there is nothing this police department or any police agency could say that would provide an excuse for the lack of seat belts in any vehicle used to transport a detained person.
Randy Cox deserved that protection.
Civil rights attorney Ben Crump is representing Cox and his family. They will seek justice for Cox.
Avery said her “prayers are with” Cox and his family.
Avery said she thinks Jacobson and New Haven Mayor Justin Elicker “acted expeditiously and reported publicly on some actions already taken” by that city, including suspending several officers and a “commitment to reform NHPD practices.”
New Haven then announced Thursday a series of reforms that will include the use of seat belts for all detainees “in any transport vehicle.” There is a stated exception and “approval requirements” for when “a prisoner is combative or officer safety considerations make doing so impractical.”
But one of the reform moves should be statewide — nationwide even — and include adding seat belts to any vehicle any police department uses, and no vehicle should be used to transport arrestees until this is done.