Editorial Roundup: New England

Boston Herald. July 30, 2021.

Editorial: Time for Senate to pass, not spike, betting bill

House lawmakers are again putting the legalization of sports betting in the Senate’s court after overwhelmingly approving a bill that would allow that gaming activity for the second time in as many years.

“The time has come for us to legalize sports betting in Massachusetts,” said Rep. Jerald Parisella (D-Beverly), who co-chairs the Joint Committee on Economic Development.

The proposal scored a blowout win in the House, posting a 156-3 victory in the 160-member body.

Now that the House has approved the measure, the focus shifts to Parisella’s Senate counterpart, Eric Lesser, whose sports betting bill has yet to make its way through the Senate Ways and Means Committee.

The Longmeadow Democrat has publicly indicated his colleagues may finally be prepared to move positively on this matter, if it meets their criteria.

Though vague on when the Senate might take up the issue, Lesser told NESN that Massachusetts “should really hope and aim to get this going by the end of the calendar year.”

“I think we’re ready. Look, it’s been three years since the Supreme Court allowed states to move forward on sports betting. Since then you went from two states — New Jersey and Nevada — that had sports betting markets to 30. And again, almost all of our neighbors in almost all the states in the Northeast now have it,” Lesser said on the regional sports network. “So it’s time. It’s time for Massachusetts to do this.”

We’re not sure what audience Lesser was trying to persuade, other than reluctant senators. It certainly isn’t the residents of the commonwealth who, if you believe a recent poll on the subject, are decidedly in favor of sports wagering.

That survey, commissioned by Encore Boston Harbor and Plainridge Park and conducted by respected pollster David A. Paleologos Associates in early June, found that 61% of Massachusetts voters would support sports betting in the state.

That positive number jumps to 72% if the funds were used to support K-12 education or welfare programs.

The most important influencer that Lesser must convince happens to be the person leading his caucus, Senate President Karen Spilka.

Senate indifference killed the bill in the last session, and Spilka doesn’t seem predisposed to make it a priority any time soon.

The Ashland Democrat recently remarked the Senate would review the sports betting proposal “as it continues its work to address the many important issues facing the commonwealth, including COVID-19 recovery, mental health reform and meaningful voting reforms.”

The House and Senate will probably take a summer break soon, so it’s unclear when — or if — the Senate plans to take up a sports betting bill.

But while the Senate fiddles, other states will continue to cash in on sports betting, providing added revenue, and in the process siphoning Massachusetts tax dollars.

In case it’s escaped Spilka’s attention, it should be noted that sports betting is a major nationwide growth industry. It brought in $960 million in the first quarter of 2021, according to a state Gaming Commission report.

The Senate’s main concern — and main impediment — with any sports betting legislation appears to be ensuring the proper protections for problem gamblers.

Both Senate and House obviously appreciate their need, and should be able to reach a consensus.

Senators, stop moving the goalposts and pass a sports-betting bill that the entire Legislature can support.

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Boston Globe. July 30, 2021.

Wanted: The return of Governor Baker’s leadership on masks

Like it or not, it’s time, again, to mask up.

Everyone — no matter what their age, gender, politics, or religious preference — is sick of masks.

However, to stop more people from getting sick from the fast-spreading Delta variant of COVID-19, the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC) is now recommending that fully vaccinated Americans should wear a mask indoors if they live in a place with “substantial” or “high” coronavirus transmission — a category that includes some, but not all, of Massachusetts. The CDC also recommends universal indoor masking for all teachers, staff, students, and visitors to schools, regardless of vaccination status.

In what was supposed to be a mask-free summer (except on public transit and a few other specific settings), this policy reversal is a real bummer. Across the country, there’s resistance, especially from Republicans who continue to play dangerous partisan politics with the life-and-death consequences of a pandemic. Massachusetts is not immune from such partisan gamesmanship either. In a campaign e-mail, Republican Geoff Diehl, who recently announced he’s running for governor, called on Governor Charlie Baker, a fellow Republican and potential primary opponent, to reject the CDC’s recent announcement regarding mask use — and, by the way, to please donate to his campaign to assist in “spreading our message,” not to mention assistance in spreading the virus.

Baker, who has not yet announced whether he plans to run for a third term, has been resisting calls to reinstate mask requirements. The Department of Public Health did update its guidance to the public on Friday, advising vaccinated people with certain risk factors to wear masks, but stopped short of echoing the CDC, and did not address schools. While there’s no direct evidence Baker’s reticence is rooted in politics, let’s just say we miss the governor who led the fight against COVID-19 in Massachusetts in 2020. There were twists and turns to his approach, but over the past year, Baker established himself as a leader who followed the science and the CDC.

In March 2020, Baker stepped up quickly to the COVID-19 challenge by declaring a state of emergency. From that flowed emergency orders regarding mask-wearing, venue capacity limits, travel restrictions, and other restrictions, all connected to CDC guidance and daily tracking data on the status of the pandemic. The state of emergency was terminated on June 15, 2021, and for a while we could all rejoice in mask-free freedom.

Today, no one wants to be the bad guy who reimposes mask mandates. So it’s understandable for Baker to lean on statistics about the relatively high rate of vaccination in Massachusetts compared with other states and the lower rates of infection than many other locations in the country.

However, cases are rising here too, with clusters in some communities such as Provincetown. Earlier this week, the CDC included five Eastern Massachusetts counties among the places where people, including those who have been vaccinated, should wear masks in indoor public spaces. It makes sense; data from the recent outbreak on the Cape show that, of the people who tested positive for COVID-19, vaccinated people had about the same levels of the virus as vaccinated people, which means they are probably spreading the disease when unmasked, even without symptoms.

But for now, Baker seems determined to leave mask-wearing decisions to local businesses and government officials. That’s too bad, because the governor has the leadership credibility to get Massachusetts in the right frame of mind when it comes to masking and to create consistency across the state’s counties amid summertime travel. No, no one wants to mask up again, but a call from Baker to do it statewide would help stop the spread. Massachusetts citizens are smart enough to understand that it doesn’t take much for the Delta variant that has reached substantial or high transmission rates in Suffolk County to get to Middlesex or Norfolk counties. And it’s worth emphasizing that however annoying, masks are a trifling inconvenience compared with shutdowns and quarantines.

Meanwhile, Baker should definitely call for masks in schools, as the Massachusetts Teachers Association and a group of lawmakers — all Democrats — have asked him to do. Again, this shouldn’t be about partisan politics. It should be about doing what’s best for all the people of Massachusetts, especially for kids. Previously, Baker had no problem doing that. Citing data that supported the move, last February, over union objections, he unveiled a plan that forced local school districts to return to in-person, five-day-a-week learning for elementary school students. Now the CDC and the American Academy of Pediatrics are recommending masks in schools for everyone.

Once again, Baker should lead by following the science and tell Massachusetts to mask up.

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Hearst Connecticut Media. July 28, 2021.

Editorial: Can we talk about all these bears in CT?

Are black bears getting bolder? Or are there just more of them this year? Both. If this continues — and there’s nothing to stop it — it’s bad news for the bears.

There have been 5,507 bear sightings this year in Connecticut — twice as many as a decade ago. That includes 131 sightings in New Milford, 77 in Southbury, 58 in Hamden, 26 in Danbury, 20 in Greenwich, 17 in Stamford and even one in New Haven.. A bear was hit by a car Monday in Trumbull (53 bear sightings this year) and had to be put down.

If only the bears kept to themselves. Alas, they knock over our trash cans and go after our grills. The state called the number of bear complaints last year “unprecedented.” It got so bad in Simsbury (418 sightings this year) that the town now prohibits bird feeders from spring till fall.

Before you dust off granddad’s rifle, know that hunting black bears is illegal in Connecticut, except in self-defense and to protect farms. Also, black bears don’t eat humans, generally speaking. They’re going after your garbage, not you.

They will attack a person if threatened. But that’s rare — one attack per year across North America. Often, such an attack involves a scuffle with dogs. A bear mauled a dog in Granby earlier this year, possibly while trying to reach a bird feeder in the yard.

The increase in bear reports is more worrying for their sake than ours. The state reported more than 40 home intrusions by bears looking for food last year — a record. And 63 bears were killed in road crashes in Connecticut in 2018 — another record. Last month, a man died when his motorcycle hit a bear in Harwinton.

With so many bear sightings these days, it’s hard to believe that Connecticut had almost no bears from the mid-1800s until the 1980s because of hunting and deforestation to make way for farms. As farms dwindled and forests returned, so did the bears.

Connecticut protects its bears. They are usually peaceful, timid creatures. This state has long resisted a bear hunt, unlike neighboring Massachusetts and New York.

At some point, though, we have to talk about them.

Because we humans wiped out wolves in Connecticut long ago, bears have no natural predators. Their population, now around 1,200, is estimated to grow 10% to 15% a year. Soon, Connecticut’s woods won’t be able to sustain them all.

The state Department of Energy and Environmental Protection says Connecticut can support 3,000 bears, but that seems impractical, given the frequent encounters we humans are having with less than half that number.

For the moment, we don’t have to do anything, except take down our bird feeders, shout and wave if we come upon a bear and walk slowly away.

But hungry bears will continue to amble into our backyards and onto our roads, and eventually we’ll have to make a tough decision.

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Rutland Herald. July 29, 2021.

Editorial: Vermont’s New Deal

When America was in the throes of the Great Depression nearly a century ago, President Franklin Delano Roosevelt introduced a series of initiatives that would be almost impossible to imagine today — at least at the national level. But our brave little state (thanks for that phrase, President Coolidge) does a better job of bucking trends and leading the way than many others. So one of Roosevelt’s ideas certainly seems worthy of consideration.

In 1933, Roosevelt created the Civilian Conservation Corps. The CCC at its peak employed half a million men. It planted more than 3.5 billion trees, created more than 700 state parks, fought wildfires, built 3,000 fire towers and maybe most impactful for Vermont, created the U.S. ski industry — starting in the Green Mountain State, cutting trails for mountains like Stowe, among others.

Fast forward to today, and our state can use a program like this again — with some alterations, of course. It shouldn’t be limited to men, it also shouldn’t be segregated as it was in the 1930s. But the need for the work and the enormous potential payoff exists. It’s also a program that has the likelihood to cross the political aisle because of the breadth of benefits it can provide regardless of political leanings.

While the tech industry is starting to be a financial player in Vermont, our bread and butter — and artisanal cheese and craft beer — is still heavily dependent on farms, logging, syrup production and the big money maker, tourism. There’s a familiar thread running through those spaces. Each is heavily dependent on the environment. And reports from neighboring states, a drive down your road or just a look around your property should give you some cause for concern.

We have reports of Asian long=horned beetles and spotted lanternflies — species accidentally introduced to North America decades ago that have caused devastation to forests and farms coming from neighboring state. In our state, the emerald ash borer has been confirmed — a beetle first seen in Michigan in 2002 that has killed more than 30 million ash trees in that state alone. In comparison, what you may have seen in your yard this year — Lymantria dispar (formerly known as gypsy moth) caterpillars — hardly seems to be a problem, but they can kill trees, too. And bordering our roads? Miles and miles of wild parsnip, another invasive, is propagating.

Although we think of Vermont as a “little” state, there’s still lots of ground to cover and there just aren’t enough game wardens and rangers to go around. We have the option to sit and wait and hope for the best, or we can be proactive in protecting our livelihoods and our leisure activities. Creating a Vermont-centric CCC has the possibility to safeguard what we hold dear.

Take a look at the easiest problem first. Wild parsnip, also called poison parsnip, is a root vegetable native to Europe and Asia. It was introduced to North America by the settlers and eventually escaped their gardens and has been causing problems ever since. If the sap of the plant gets on your skin, and that skin is exposed to daylight, you can get a severe chemical burn. Needless to say, hikers and hunters don’t want to wade through fields of this plant. Fortunately, it’s relatively easy to control. Sure, towns can send the road crew out to trim it down before it flowers, and lopping it a couple times a season might take care of it, but carefully pulling up the whole plant is more effective — until you multiply that action by millions. But a few thousand Vermonters getting out to the fields and handling that? It’s a challenge we could overcome.

And they wouldn’t just be pulling up parsnip. They’d be keeping an eye out for those insect enemies — the emerald ash borer, the Asian longhorned beetle, the spotted lanternfly and, just for good measure, hungry caterpillar outbreaks. The program would cost money obviously, but so, too, did the original Roosevelt program, and with nearly 100 years under our belts as a ski destination and leaf-peeper mecca for even longer, we have an idea of how that investment paid off and how much we stand to lose. The investment to keep those things around for another 100 years would surely be paid back with interest.

END