Editorial Roundup: New England

Portland Press Herald. November 8, 2021.

Editorial: Federal prescription plan has been on Maine’s agenda for years

The Build Back Better plan includes a price negotiation system for prescription drugs, and all of Maine’s congressional delegation should support it.

Twenty-one years ago, older Mainers went to Augusta to testify about how they regularly traveled to Canada to buy life-sustaining medications that they could not afford to buy at home.

The Maine Legislature responded and passed a first-in-the nation plan that required the pharmaceutical manufacturers to negotiate price discounts on prescription drugs for the most vulnerable state residents.

The law withstood legal challenges from the industry that went all the way to the Supreme Court, and today Maine Rx is a lifeline for low-income older adults and people with disabilities. But the high cost of prescription drugs is not a problem that can be solved on a state-by-state basis.

Now, in 2021, there is finally national legislation that takes on this crucial healthcare affordability issue.

The Build Back Better Plan, President Biden’s package of climate and social spending, includes a bill that would allow the U.S. government to use its market clout to negotiate more reasonable prices for some prescription drugs, just as Mainers demanded 21 years ago.

This is something that all members of Maine’s congressional delegation should get behind, but so far they have not.

Sen. Susan Collins is not a supporter. The prescription drug plan is part of a large package that had to be put together to avoid obstructionist tactics by Senate Republicans, including Collins, who abuse the filibuster rule to create a minority veto on legislation. If the government gets the authority to bargain the price of prescription drugs – as is done in every country in the developed world – it will be despite the Republicans, not with them.

And 2nd District Rep. Jared Golden, a Democrat, has continued to obstruct the Build Back Better plan in the House, signing on to a letter last week demanding a delay that could scuttle the bill while he waits for information about its costs.

But the package is paid for with tax increases on the wealthy, and the prescription drug portion saves the government money, unlike the deficit-financed infrastructure bill that he has been cheerleading.

Waiting around for accounting on the whole package risks blowing an opportunity that Maine people have been demanding for more than two decades. If Republicans take control of one or both houses of Congress next year, that opportunity will be lost, perhaps for another 20 years.

Fortunately, the other members of the congressional delegation know what’s at stake.

First District Rep. Chellie was an original sponsor of the Maine Rx bill in 2000, and is a supporter of the Build Back Better package.

So is Sen. Angus King, who, as Maine’s independent governor, signed the bill into law back at the start of the century.

Too much coverage has focused on the cost of the package – $1.75 trillion over a decade – and not enough about what’s in it.

Mainers should know that a law that would lower prescription drug costs is in the package, and they should know who is standing in its way.

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Hearst Connecticut Media. November 12, 2021.

Editorial: Infrastructure bill to bring needed CT changes

The state’s congressional delegation is understandably excited about the infrastructure package recently approved in Congress. That’s partly because there’s a lot of money and many worthwhile projects at play, but also because, given the way things look in Washington, it could be the last major legislation passed for some time.

Still, the accomplishment shouldn’t be ignored, and one of the biggest beneficiaries will be local rail service. With renewed emphasis on the need to cut emissions and transportation playing a major role in our state’s carbon output, encouraging people to get on trains should be a policy focus.

There’s no better example of low-hanging fruit than Metro-North’s Waterbury line, which goes up the Naugatuck Valley from Bridgeport. With stations in downtowns along the line and a series of communities in need of an economic boost, encouraging people to live locally and take the train to work should be an easy win.

But development has been hampered by service on the Waterbury line, which for years has operated on one track, meaning only one train could be in service in either direction at any time. That translates into hours between departures, and kills the frequency that is required to lure people out of their cars and onto the tracks.

That’s due to change thanks to the infrastructure bill. In addition to a two-way route, the 27-mile branch also will receive new trains and upgraded stations, with work completed by next summer.

It’s not just the Naugatuck Valley that will gain. Other train lines could see improved service with a goal of shaving precious minutes off commuting time between Connecticut and New York City, which helps not only traditional commuters but also people who make the reverse trip, living in New York and working in Connecticut.

It would be wrong, though, to think of the infrastructure package as primarily about mass transit. As is typical with federal legislation, much more money will be dedicated to highways and cars, which is, after all, how most people get around. U.S. Sen. Richard Blumenthal said at a news conference the legislation dedicates about $4 billion to roads and bridge projects, $1.3 billion for public transit projects, and $30 billion for Amtrak rail improvements in the northeast corridor.

What that will mean in practice is uncertain. It will be good for the construction industry, which has been enthusiastically in favor of the bill, and that will bring positive economic benefits for the state. But the exact outlay in terms of projects has not been specified.

Some bridges and highways are in need of repair, and work to fix them has been delayed too long. Whether the state goes ahead with other plans, such as widening highways, is uncertain, but many elected officials have shown interest in going in that direction.

That would be a mistake. Highways need to be kept in good shape, but added capacity is not going to solve our problems. Finding a way to get some people off the roads would do more for traffic problems than any expansion project we could devise.

Infrastructure spending on this magnitude only comes along so often. We need to get it right.

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Boston Globe. November 11, 2021.

Editorial: Another Veterans Day without a fix for soldiers homes

The headlines have faded about the tragedy at Holyoke, but lawmakers still have promises to keep.

Parades are great. Who doesn’t love those marching bands and banners and flags on Veterans Day?

But really taking care of veterans, really making life better for those who served this country in war and in peace, well, that’s harder.

There was some good news for vets this week in the opening of a new outpatient clinic on the campus of UMass Chan Medical School — a partnership between the school and the federal Veterans Affairs Central Massachusetts Healthcare System. Such community-based services are essential to meeting the needs of today’s veterans.

But even one of the clinic’s biggest champions, congressman Jim McGovern, had to admit that the 48,000 square-foot facility was more than a decade in the making and required “an enormous amount of patience,” both in Worcester and in Washington, to finally happen.

That should have been the easy stuff. It wasn’t.

Far thornier is how to fix the governance of the state’s two veterans homes, facilities that provide long-term and residential care for several hundred aging veterans.

Today, another Veterans Day will come and go without the promised passage of those much-needed reforms. It was more than a year ago that 76 elderly veterans died during a COVID-19 outbreak at the Soldiers’ Home in Holyoke in the wake of a scandalous lack of leadership and an even more scandalous lack of competence.

That combination “created a perfect storm for the tragic and preventable” outbreak in the spring of 2020, lawmakers wrote.

There has been no shortage of investigations — one ordered up by Governor Charlie Baker, another conducted by a special legislative oversight committee. The Holyoke home’s superintendent at the time, Bennett Walsh, and its former medical director, David Clinton, face charges of criminal neglect in a case brought by Attorney General Maura Healey. State Health and Human Services Secretary Marylou Sudders has been named a defendant in a lawsuit brought by families of veterans who died at the facility.

But legislation aimed at providing oversight, at fixing the systemic problems that led to that human tragedy, is still stalled on Beacon Hill. The proposed legislative fixes are sound ones: creating a statewide advisory council, replacing the position of secretary of veterans’ services with a cabinet-level secretary of veterans affairs, and creating an ombudsman for vets under care in the homes and an emergency hotline for family and staff to report their concerns.

All future superintendents would be required to be licensed nursing home administrators. (Walsh was not.) Candidates for the job would be reviewed by the secretary of veterans affairs, the secretary of health and human services, and the executive director of veterans homes and housing. The governor would have final say on the appointment or removal of the superintendent.

The chain of command would be clear, rather than the hodge-podge of deniability uncovered by the legislative committee, headed by Representative Linda Dean Campbell and Senator Mike Rush, that investigated Holyoke and drafted the legislation.

Sure, there have been some improvements since those dark days early in the pandemic. Holyoke is now scheduled for a complete overhaul of its aging facility under a $400 million bond bill proposed by the governor and passed by the Legislature last spring.

As of the most recent state report, issued Nov. 1, Holyoke housed 100 veterans who served in World War II, Korea, and Vietnam, 36 of them age 90 or above. But that legislatively mandated report also indicated that its last US Department of Veterans Affairs inspection, conducted last March, was hardly a ringing endorsement of the place. The annual VA survey identified 472 deficiencies, of which 449 “were cited as ‘No actual harm, with potential for more than minimal harm.’ ”

The report also noted, “Any issues that were identified by the inspections were corrected, and a Corrective Action Plan (CAP) was submitted to the VA and was accepted.”

Holyoke was granted provisional certification in June.

Chelsea, too, had VA-cited “deficiencies” but far fewer of them, and, as in years past, the federal agency accepted the state’s plan for corrective action and gave it provisional certification. Chelsea is already in the process of a rebuilding effort, designed to address some of the VA’s concerns about room layouts.

So some “fixes” have been made, but much work remains to assure that this vulnerable population isn’t once again victimized by a system still in need of change.

The story has faded from the headlines. Lawmakers politically pounded Governor Baker — as well they should have — and they said all the right things. But they still haven’t done the right things. They haven’t made the changes they promised. The state’s veterans deserve their attention before another year goes by.

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Brattleboro Reformer. November 11, 2021.

Editorial: Protecting election workers protects the democracy

When the two sides of an increasingly divided nation collide in ugly, sometimes violent incidents, it makes us wonder where we as a nation are headed.

The latest incident struck close to home this week. Reuters released a report Wednesday about nine cases of Americans making violent threats against election workers across the country. One of those interviewed is apparently a man from Bennington, who wouldn’t give his name but told Reuters he lives in the woods and is a construction worker.

His threats started shortly after the election loss of the former president in November 2020 and have been aimed at the Vermont Secretary of State’s Office, Dominion Voting Systems — whose voting technology he blamed for the president’s defeat — and at times Reuters’ reporters themselves.

The threats were violent, suggesting election workers should kill themselves or be killed.

Remarkably, Washington County State’s Attorney Rory Thibault said the comments weren’t criminal and instead were protected free speech. On that recommendation, Vermont State Police declined to investigate.

Thibault is right to tread carefully on this legal point. Vermonters value free speech rights and put up with a lot to ensure that robust and expressive debate is protected. We as a newspaper are especially committed to preserving the First Amendment right of free speech, and we invite sometimes heated debate on our pages about issues that matter to our readers.

These death threats — and others like them aimed at town clerks and Election Day poll workers — go too far to ignore. Threatening the lives of everyday Vermonters, who work for little or no pay to count votes and staff polling places, cannot be tolerated.

The identity of the caller from Bennington remains unconfirmed, and it’s unclear if he actually lives in Vermont. Still, the possibility that someone so close to the Secretary of State’s Office in Montpelier is threatening the lives of employees is enough to frighten staff and cast a dark shadow over coming to work every day.

Shooters, whether in newsrooms, malls, schools, town offices or on the street, have become a terrifying modern reality. These threats are not an abstraction; they are playing out in other parts of the country and the world.

Bennington’s state senator, Richard Sears, chairman of the Senate Judiciary Committee, said he has been working with other lawmakers, Secretary of State Jim Condos and Thibault to draft legislation to change the system and protect election workers.

That’s a valuable discussion to have. This case makes it clear that Vermont law needs to change.

The players drafting the proposed changes need to walk that line between restricting legitimate free speech and protecting the lives of Vermonters who face these threats. Talk is not cheap when one party is threatening to murder the other.

We will watch for legislative action on this issue, not only to protect the lives of our neighbors, but because our democracy depends upon safe and healthy elections.

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Rutland Herald. November 11, 2021.

Editorial: For their service

Barre set aside political bickering and pettiness to agree to hang a giant flag across the heart of downtown this week. Bickering aside, that giant American flag (and every American flag) serves as an appropriate backdrop and reminder of this day.

It is about those who serve our nation.

This week we received a notice from Robert Dornfried, a second lieutenant with the Vermont Army National Guard. Dormfield let us know that his battalion, based in Rutland, is commemorating 100 years of service.

For sure, we could (and should) speak to the significance to those military personnel serving our nation in a variety of capacities. That is what this day is about. Ironically, its purpose is often lost.

Let’s be clear with a history lesson: Veterans Day originated as “Armistice Day” on Nov. 11, 1919, the first anniversary of the end of World War I. The U.S. Congress passed a resolution in 1926 for an annual observance, and Nov. 11 became a national holiday beginning in 1938.

It is worth noting (and this is an important distinction) unlike Memorial Day, Veterans Day pays tribute to all American veterans — living or dead — but especially gives thanks to living veterans who served their country honorably during war or peacetime.

The second lieutenant shared a wonderful tribute, a portion of which we share here:

"As the nation marks Veterans Day, the 572nd Brigade Engineer Battalion of the Vermont Army National Guard would like to pay special respects to the Rutlanders who answered the call of duty in what came to be called “the war to end all wars.

More than 100,000 Americans died in World War I, including 642 Vermonters who had been summoned to defend freedom and democracy, this time on the world stage. More than 14,000 Vermonters served in the First World War. Vermonters and Rutlanders, situated along key rail lines, served as a critical junction for the flow of logistical supplies, while those at home promoted war bond drives, collected supplies and helped instill a patriotic zeal to drive the war effort.

Americans and Vermonters changed the course of the war during our 18 months of involvement, but not without overcoming unseen obstacles, including the highly contagious 1918 flu epidemic, anti-German hysteria, anti-war protests, and challenges to civil liberties. As hostilities drew to a close, another Vermonter and future president, Massachusetts Lt. Gov. Calvin Coolidge, took the reins of leadership to earn distinction across the region.

As one war came to a close and Americans attempted a return to normalcy in the 1920s, one man in particular, Rutland-area World War I and World War II veteran Maj. Gen. Leonard Wing, would emerge as an unbroken link between America’s two major 20th-century wars, and an embodiment of Rutland’s military heritage and civic virtue. Wing rose through the ranks of the 1st Battalion, 172nd Infantry Regiment, while also rising in small-town politics during the inter-war period. He then commanded the highly decorated 43rd Infantry Division in the Pacific Theater of World War II. The lineage and honors of this unit, heavily comprised of Rutlanders, continues uninterrupted to this present day with the Rutland-based 572nd Brigade Engineer Battalion.

Today, as you enter the Armed Forces Reserve Center on Post Road, you will see an homage to the inspiration and humility of Rutlanders who answered the call of duty throughout America’s 19th- and 20th-century conflicts. In the command section, a portrait of General Wing greets all soldiers, serving as a reminder of American Soldiers’ courage and sacrifices.

As the 21st century unfolds, the 572nd BEB is poised to carry on the tradition of service and commitment to the greater Rutland community and to steward the legacy of those who have served the United States of America and the Green Mountain State. Trust that the 572nd BEB stands ready to serve and defend, at home and abroad, drawing motivation from those who have served and continue to serve Rutland and Vermont."

Meanwhile, in Barre, with the giant American flag flying over downtown, another tribute is taking place today. Besides the ceremonial wreath-laying and heartfelt words for all of our servicemembers, CVTV, the Granite City’s PEG access station, is taking the entire day to air previously recorded interviews with local veterans on Spectrum Channel 192 and cvtv723.org online.

Veterans Day is about service to our nation. In no way is about politics, ego or agendas. It is about the individuals who stand up for our freedoms, our rights and serve our nation with courage, valor and pride.

Honor them today, and thank them for their service.

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