Editorial Roundup: New England

Hearst Connecticut Media. May 11, 2022.

Editorial: Should girls lacrosse players wear helmets? Of course they should

If the absence of mandatory helmets in girls lacrosse seems baffling, consider the history of protective equipment in baseball.

The most popular commentary among visitors to the Baseball Hall of Fame is surely, “Can you believe ...?”

As in “Can you believe they caught balls with so little protection on their hands?”

The first ballplayers of the 1800s played barehanded, before trying out gloves that look more like fingerless mittens. Still, the gear was scoffed at by many players. Many broken fingers later, it finally sunk in that it was OK to wear gloves.

More decades passed before someone got the notion early in the 20th century that there might be wisdom in covering heads as well. Still, it took Major League Baseball until 1971 to make them mandatory. Helmets with ear flaps were not required until 1983.

Dave Stewart’s article for Hearst Connecticut Media gets right to the point in its headline: “Is it time to mandate helmets in girls lacrosse?”

Yes.

Stewart documents how Stonington became the only high school in Connecticut to mandate helmets in girls lacrosse after one of its players — Kate Reagan — suffered her second concussion in 2018. It was an inspiring rally of support for Reagan, though no other schools followed suit, and she wound up quitting the sport.

Sports conferences tend to look to one another for guidance, yet the Connecticut Interscholastic Athletic Conference, USA Lacrosse and the National Federation of State High School Associations have all resisted a helmet mandate. They are required for goalies — who are documented to suffer fewer concussions — and all players must wear safety glasses.

One of the leagues needs to take a leadership position on this issue, and it might as well be the CIAC. It’s ridiculous that headgear is a mandate only for boys lacrosse teams. Even more surreal is that only one state requires them for girls. That would be Florida, which is typically a punchline for careless behavior.

Players can always opt to wear helmets. But that means that when heads butt on the field — and they do — a helmet can collide with a bare head.

There is also the matter of the balls, which travel around the speed limit on Interstate-95.

“Unless you take checking out of the game, there are going to be checks around the head,” said Regan’s coach, Jeff Medeiros. “And the ball is a hard rubber ball moving at 60 to 70 mph. It’s almost stupidity not to wear the helmets in this game.”

Helmets won’t prevent all concussions, as anyone knows who watches the NFL or college football. But try to imagine all the sports that require helmets suddenly banning them. A three-year study suggests concussion rates among girls not wearing headgear was 59 percent higher than for those who used helmets.

Other concerns are raised over the possibility of more equipment making players more aggressive. That’s where the officials, the coaches and the parents come in. The helmets will evolve more rapidly too, if they become commonplace.

But continuing to put athletes at risk like this is the kind of thinking that belongs in a museum.

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Hartford Courant. May 10, 2022.

Editorial: Bill requiring a paper trail for resale of catalytic converters could reduce thefts

We already knew the catalytic converter situation in Connecticut was out of control.

And then it got worse when Farmington Officer James O’Donnell was very seriously injured in September when he was hit by a fleeing stolen vehicle when he went to the scene of a suspected catalytic converter theft. O’Donnell’s already had two surgeries and was expecting a third.

Somehow a Windsor Locks detective avoided injury in a separate incident this year in which an alleged catalytic converter thief drove at his car and missed it only by inches, police have said. In Wallingford this year, police warned people to avoid confronting thieves after one allegedly fired a gun during a catalytic converter theft.

Police have reported thefts in numerous towns, for example when thieves in Windsor Locks stole 26 converters from a plumbing and heating contractor and in Glastonbury, where thefts increased to 56 in less than three full months in 2022, with 14 total in 2020, according to police data.

These thefts have occurred across the state, causing damage to numerous vehicles — including school buses — and have brought very costly repairs to motorists, according to lawmakers.

The converters can be sawed off vehicles very quickly and are valuable to thieves because they contain precious metals and are easily resold.

But now a revised bill has passed the state legislature that would crack down on these thefts by tightening up on the rules for those who might receive or deal in the catalytic converters.

The bill would prohibit motor vehicle recyclers from receiving a catalytic converter that is not attached to a vehicle. As The Courant’s Chris Keating has reported: That move is designed to stop criminals from cutting converters off cars and bringing them to junkyards and recyclers in return for cash.

The idea is, frankly, genius: If few will buy the detached product, why would anyone bother to steal it from someone else?

According to the legislature’s Office of Legislative Research report on the bill, in reference to scrap metal processors, junk dealers, and junk yard owners and operators, it also would establish “recordkeeping requirements and other conditions for receiving a catalytic converter that is not attached to a vehicle.” Further, the ORL report notes, it would prohibit “anyone other than a motor vehicle recycler or motor vehicle repair shop from selling more than one unattached converter to a scrap metal processor, junk dealer, or junk yard owner or operator in a day.”

These new record-keeping requirements would be extensive and would even require certain transactions to include “a clear photograph or video of the seller, the seller’s driver’s license or identity card, and the converter,” according to the ORL report.

As Keating has reported, the 10-page bill also would require transactions by check, not cash, and the junk dealers would need to file weekly reports with the state police on their transactions in a closely watched system.

“A lot of it is paperwork and identification processing,” state Sen. Dan Champagne, a former police sergeant, has said. “Paperwork of where the catalytic converters came from.”

And would anyone want to steal a catalytic converter if they have to have their photo taken when they try to sell it? We think not.

We think the requirements have a good chance of cutting down on the illegal market for these converters.

Cutting down on the illegal market would mean a lot more security for motorists and hopefully fewer risks for law enforcement. Gov. Ned Lamont should sign this bill.

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Bangor Daily News. May 11, 2022.

Editorial: Maine is heading toward semi-open primaries

It is a little hard to believe, but the June 14 primary election is right around the corner. And while many of the notable primary races this election cycle are local ones, this year’s primary could make statewide history: This could be the last time unenrolled voters are prevented from participating in a party primary.

The Maine Legislature passed a bill, LD 231, into law that will eventually allow Maine voters who have not registered with a political party to cast a ballot in either the Democratic or Republican primary, including presidential primaries. This is known as a semi-open primary system.

Unenrolled voters can currently enroll in a party on Election Day and vote in that party’s primary, but they must join the party. After doing so, they must remain in the party for at least three months before they can change their enrollment.

Under the semi-open primary law, they will be able to remain unenrolled.

The bill became law on May 8 without the signature of Gov. Janet Mills. No matter how the new law made it across the finish line, this is a good outcome. It does not take effect until Jan. 1, 2024, so it will not apply to the upcoming primary this year.

We’re generally skeptical of changes to election procedures, and we doubt this change will suddenly usher in a wave of increased primary participation or greatly limit political polarization. But we do believe it can help, both in engaging more voters (particularly younger voters) and broadening the typically polarized primary electorate.

Sen. Chloe Maxmin, a Democrat from Nobleboro, explained to fellow lawmakers last year why she introduced this legislation. She discussed campaigning in a district she said is roughly one third Republican, one third Democratic and one third unenrolled voters. As of November 2021, according to data from the Maine Secretary of State’s Office, unenrolled voters across the state totaled 361,602 compared to 399,135 enrolled Democrats and 315,907 enrolled Republicans.

“Countless unenrolled voters on the campaign trail lamented how they could not vote in a party primary. Their taxes pay for these elections, but they can’t participate,” Maxmin testified last year. “They will vote on the primary winner in the November general election, but they have no say on who that candidate will be.”

Maine recently moving back to presidential primaries rather than party caucuses is yet another reason to move forward with semi-open primaries. Primary elections are paid for by the Maine people, and the Maine people — yes, even unenrolled voters — should be able to participate in them.

There is bipartisan agreement on this proposal. Sen. Matt Pouliot, a Republican from Augusta, testified last year as a co-sponsor of the bill.

“In Maine, unenrolled voters currently outnumber Republicans… Now more than ever, Republicans need to engage with unenrolled voters in order to continue building our base,” Pouliot said. “I assume my friends across the aisle are saying the same thing, so inaction is not an option for us. I believe this legislation will give both parties an opportunity to engage more voters, voters who may or may not choose to eventually join a party.”

Along with current lawmakers, at least one former state and federal legislator sees value in the semi-open primary approach: former Sen. Olympia Snowe.

“Power resides with the people through the ballot box,” Snowe said in a statement circulated by the group Open Primaries Maine last year. “In order to help ensure that candidates better reflect the ideological pragmatism of most Americans, Maine should enact semi-open primaries.”

We said it last June, and we’ll say it again.

“Semi-open primaries are certainly not a panacea for the hyper-partisanship that is gripping America,” we wrote at the time. “But making this change, with an analysis of its impact, has the potential to help engage more Mainers in our democracy through the vital act of voting.”

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Boston Globe. May 9, 2022.

Editorial: Tax relief gets trendy on Beacon Hill

With the state Treasury rolling in dough, taxpayers look for a break.

It’s beginning to look a lot like tax cuts for Massachusetts residents are a matter not of “if,” but when. So now the question turns to how — and who will benefit when political leaders agree to return some of the money from those overflowing state coffers to the taxpayers.

April tax revenues created an embarrassment of riches that even tax-cut averse lawmakers could no longer ignore. The tax haul for April was $3 billion over April 2021, $2 billion more than was expected for the month, putting the state $3.5 billion over its year-to-date benchmarks with two months left in the fiscal year.

Governor Charlie Baker had earlier proposed some $700 million in tax relief, much of it aimed at the state’s lower income residents. But the House passed its $49.6 billion budget last month without touching the tax cut issue. The Senate is expected to do the same in its proposed spending plan due out Tuesday.

But last week’s revenue news began to move that needle. Senate President Karen Spilka went on record with a statement noting, “While the details remain to be worked out, I believe we can safely balance targeted spending investments to a number of crucial areas, such as housing, childcare and higher education, with tax relief for individuals and families who are feeling the effects of inflation and continued economic disruption.”

Baker followed last Friday saying that the state was “awash in revenue and we’ve been saying since January... a piece of this needs to go back to the taxpayers.”

And as lawmakers craft their own tax relief package, they need to consider at least one thing Baker got right — that policy counts, that this is the time to make policy changes that need to be made anyway.

That’s certainly the case with raising the threshold on the estate tax from $1 million to $2 million and fixing Massachusetts’ outlier status as the only state in the nation where if an estate goes $1 over that $1 million mark it gets taxed from dollar-one.

House Speaker Ron Mariano noted last March that he had been exploring changes to the estate tax and pairing that with “something else that would benefit renters” even before Baker introduced his bill. The Baker proposal includes increasing the cap on deductions for renters from $3,000 to $5,000, giving working families some $77 million in tax relief.

And as Baker noted last week, it is indeed troubling that the threshold for paying any income tax at all is lower at the federal level than it is in Massachusetts. His proposal would make the income level consistent with federal tax law and put about $41 million back into the pockets of 234,000 low-income taxpayers.

Other proposed tax breaks include doubling the circuit-breaker real estate tax credit for low income seniors and doubling the tax credit for dependent care and child care.

Talk of tax cuts comes at a time when the state’s rainy day fund — a reserve against an economic downturn or fiscal emergencies — is at a record high level, expected to reach $6.55 billion by the end of the next budget. But it’s also a time when inflation has become a budgetary force to be reckoned with. So lawmakers will be looking at the long-term ramifications of any tax cuts.

However, at least 13 other states have used surplus revenues this year to pursue personal income tax reforms, according to a recent report by S&P Global Ratings. And just last week Connecticut’s Democratic governor negotiated with Democratic majorities in both branches of that legislature for the largest tax cut in that state’s history — some $600 million, about half of which will be in one-time cuts. The latter included a gasoline tax holiday and increases to the child care tax credit that would be refundable this summer.

So there are certainly ways for lawmakers to make an impact now and into the future for families who are still hurting and to make overdue reforms in the state tax code at the same time. What is needed is focus, fairness, and a willingness to admit that tax relief in times like this can be a good thing.

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Barre-Montpelier Times-Argus. May 11, 2022.

Editorial: Shame on the Senate

Sen. Patrick Leahy took to the floor of the U.S. Senate today in defense of the Women’s Health Protection Act. The vote is expected to fail.

The dean of the Senate made a strong statement — a portion of which we republish here.

“A woman’s right to make choices about her own body is a constitutional right. It was affirmed by the Supreme Court nearly 50 years ago. Polling — as if that should be the benchmark by which we legislate — shows that nearly two-out-of-three Americans believe the fundamental right established in 1973’s Roe v. Wade should be upheld. Yet here we are today — a body of 100, 76% of which are male — making decisions about the private lives of the nearly 168 million women in this country. That’s ludicrous.”

If there has been anything that the past week or so has shown us is that Congress should continue to support legislation that affirms a woman’s right to access comprehensive health care from a trusted provider without interference.

“The right of any woman to receive the health care they choose and seek should be important to each and every one of us. Women — our mothers, daughters, sisters, aunts, friends — they know what is best for them in their own lives. How patronizing to suggest otherwise. How patriarchal. How insulting. How dangerous,” Leahy chastised his colleagues.

He pointed to his home state, and how, in 2019, the Vermont House and Senate by wide margins approved the Freedom of Choice Act, which guarantees the right to access safe abortion care in Vermont. Republican Gov. Phil Scott signed that bill into law in June 2019.

“If the (U.S. Supreme) Court does overturn Roe, the Freedom of Choice Act would protect this health care right in Vermont,” he said.

“The unfortunate reality is that 26 other states stand ready to ban abortion rights in the absence of Roe. What are the women of these states to do? And prominent Republican voices in the Senate even now say they would not rule out the possibility that a future Senate and Congress would overrule such state laws in Vermont and elsewhere, and impose a national ban on women’s choice. And what laws are these states prepared to pass — what resources are they prepared to provide — to support these women and the children they will bear? The answer we know, and I fear, is none. States will determine what you do, but they won’t do anything to help you afterward,” Leahy said.

He went on: “For decades, the Supreme Court has stood as an independent arbiter in this country. Striking down a constitutional right that has supported millions of Americans, not just women, will cause many to lose confidence in the integrity of our judicial system. Worse still, it could threaten the rights protected under the precedent set by Roe and affirmed in other cases. I acknowledge the fear that many are feeling right now about that possibility.”

Leahy stated that is what his office is hearing, and pleaded with his colleagues in the Senate to pass the act.

“What would the suffragists say of us today? What would the icons of the civil rights movement say of us today? A vote against the Women’s Health Protection Act is a vote against equality. It’s a vote against women, plain and simple. It’s a vote against the progress we have made to right the wrongs of inequality. And it is at odds with what an overwhelming majority of the American public believes. It says in many states in this country, women will be treated differently than men,” Leahy said.

The senator, who is not seeking re-election after serving Vermonters for decades, pointed out that the inequity goes further.

“You know, my sons and grandsons can travel anywhere in the United States knowing the law is the same for them. My daughter and granddaughters, under this, would know they could not be treated the same as they traveled around the country. What does that say about America, that our sons and our grandsons will be treated differently than our daughters and our granddaughters? Our daughters and our granddaughters will be told by some states, you have (fewer) rights than your brothers or your fathers or your uncles.”

We share Leahy’s concern for the doomed act. The Senate could have codified protections.

“Shame on this Senate today. I stand with women — my wife, my daughter, my granddaughters — when I say that I trust them to make the health decisions that are best for them. And I will fight against any effort to erode those fundamental, constitutional rights. That’s what the Senate should do; that’s what we should do if we truly are going to be the conscience of the Nation. That’s what this Vermonter intends to do,” he said.

END