AP NEWS

Editorials from around New England

February 8, 2019

Editorials from around New England:

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RHODE ISLAND

The Providence Journal

Feb. 5

Few issues seem as bitterly divisive as abortion. Abortion touches on people’s core beliefs about the sanctity of life, morality and freedom, including the right of women to control their own bodies and choose what medical procedures they will receive.

When the issue comes up before a legislative body, other key public policy matters go by the wayside. The public’s attention may be consumed by the abortion debate.

The issue has grown contentious again this year because many Democrats are concerned about a shift in power at the U.S. Supreme Court, with the elevation of conservative Catholic Brett Kavanaugh to the court. Some fear the court could overturn Roe v. Wade, the 1973 landmark decision that made abortion legal under certain conditions nationwide.

The 46-year-old ruling brushed aside state laws on abortion. Some conservative legal analysts argue the ruling was flawed and that the people of the states should have been left with the power to establish such laws. All the same, it seems doubtful that the court, under Chief Justice John Roberts — not exactly a rabble-rouser — has any burning zeal to overturn Roe v. Wade.

Politicians and politically adept judges understand that most Americans, however uncomfortable they are with abortion, want to keep the procedure legal — within certain bounds.

Nevertheless, the mere chance that the court may someday review Roe v. Wade, and turn power back to the states, has led some advocates of abortion rights, including in Rhode Island, to seek to codify the court’s 1973 ruling in their state’s laws.

As longtime supporters of abortion rights, we believe there is a value in going through this exercise, even though it may be symbolic at the moment. It is very important that women be reassured that their rights to choose will not be stripped away by a Supreme Court ruling at some future date. As state law now stands, abortion would be illegal in Rhode Island if not for Roe v. Wade.

Some hope to use this process to move the state considerably beyond the protections laid out in Roe v. Wade. We fear that approach may be self-defeating in heavily Catholic Rhode Island. Catholic teaching holds abortion to be the taking of innocent life, and Bishop Thomas Tobin is leaning on Catholic legislators to oppose a law protecting abortion rights.

Controversial abortion measures such as those recently passed in New York and under consideration in Virginia would seem to stand little to no chance in Rhode Island’s General Assembly. A bill codifying Roe v. Wade, on the other hand, might well muster the votes to pass, even if personally opposed by some Catholic legislative leaders.

Whatever its virtues as an interpretation of the U.S. Constitution, the Roe v. Wade ruling has been widely accepted for generations.

Gallup polling in 2018 found that 50 percent of respondents support legal abortion in certain circumstances, while 29 percent want it legal in all circumstances. Another 18 percent believe it should be illegal in all circumstances. In short, most Americans basically support the approach of Roe v. Wade.

We hope the General Assembly will move forward with codifying Roe v. Wade here, making clear that women’s rights will be protected in Rhode Island in the event that the ruling is someday overturned.

Online: https://bit.ly/2BpMxeg

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MASSACHUSETTS

The Sun Chronicle

Feb. 5

There’s an old expression that relates to the urgency of results: The world doesn’t want to hear about the labor pains, it just wants to see the baby.

Does it matter that the New England Patriots played in arguably the dullest Super Bowl ever en route to their sixth championship title in 17 years? Does it matter that Super Bowl LIII this year had one of the big game’s worst TV ratings ever? Does it matter that the 13-3 victory is the lowest-scoring Super Bowl in its 53 years of existence? Does it matter that the Pats played the Los Angeles Rams, a team widely viewed as inferior to the New Orleans Saints — which fell to the Rams in the run-up to the title match thanks to a controversial non-call of what appeared to be an egregious penalty?

Nah. All that matters on Planet Patriot — pretty much comprised of the New England states — is that future ageless Hall of Famer Tom Brady has run out of fingers on one hand to carry around all those garish digital trophies.

Objectively, it wasn’t much of a game to watch, unless you’re a strategy wonk and relish in Patriots’ Coach Bill Belichick’s uncanny knack for knowing what to do in virtually every situation. Smothering defensive games are seldom entertaining, and this one was breathless for all the wrong reasons: The first quarter was scoreless, the Pats were up by three at the half, the Rams tied it in the third quarter and the Pats finally got the game’s only touchdown on a two-yard run by Sony Michel with 7:03 left in the snooze fest, sealing the deal with a Stephen Gostkowski field goal with 1:16 to go.

Adding to the overall ennui was the much declaimed halftime show, with Maroon 5 singer Adam Levine first wearing a patterned tank top many compared to their grandmother’s tablecloth before stripping down to reveal a heavily tattooed torso akin to Ray Bradbury’s “The Illustrated Man.”

But Patriots Nation natives would not be deterred, their adulation boundless, with no constraints set by a game’s entertainment value. They and their beloved team were there to win again and the Patriots did not disappoint — again.

Not everyone is in love with our team, of course. There are millions of people outside the team’s six-state love zone who decry All Things Patriots, particularly rejoicing in rehashing the nefarious gates, Spy and Deflate, and who would give anything to see our mighty fall, fantasizing about the Holy Trinity (Brady, Belichick, owner Robert Kraft) tumbling from the pigskin heavens as failed mortals. Which of course gives rise to another popular regional expression we smugly love to recite: You hate us because you ain’t us.

Without question, this seemingly endless ride of champions won’t last forever. Brady and Belichick, fearless and peerless as they are now, will lose their touch. The dynasty will grind to a halt.

When? Time will always tell, but for now, the world doesn’t care about the labor pains. All Patriots Nation knows is that Brady’s got four more fingers to carry those babies around on.

Online: https://bit.ly/2Gxzaft

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CONNECTICUT

The Day

Feb. 5

For all but the recent fraction of their history, the challenge facing humans was finding enough food to survive. That remains a problem for about 795 million people globally who do not have enough food to lead healthy lives.

Yet in much of the developed world the modern health problem is having too much to eat, with poor food choices from this abundance contributing to an epidemic of obesity.

Despite nutritional labels and efforts to educate the public about the correlation between health problems and obesity, the trend continues, most alarmingly among younger people. A new analysis, published by the American Cancer Society in the Lancet Public Health, finds a correlation between increases in certain cancers and rising obesity among those aged 24-49.

Cancers traditionally associated with people in their 60s and 70s are hitting the millennial generation. The six obesity-related cancers cited in the analysis are colorectal, endometrial, gallbladder, pancreatic, kidney and multiple myeloma. Researchers found cancers in this group are double among millennials as compared to their baby boom parents at the same age. If trends continue, seven in 10 people born between the early 1980s and mid-1990s will develop weight problems, compared to half of boomers.

While the causation between excessive weight gain and increased cancer is not yet clear, that there is a link is settled science. The new analysis adds to the compelling case that trimming obesity rates must be a public health priority. Obesity is already known to cause heart disease and type 2 diabetes. It is driving up health care costs.

The prevalence of obesity is about 40 percent among adults, according to the U.S. Centers for Disease Control and Prevention. Connecticut ranks 42nd in obesity at 26.9 percent, a number that includes adults and children. West Virginia has the highest obesity rate at 38.1 percent.

Public education about healthy eating and lifestyles must become a higher priority, but it is up against a fast-food industry that spends $4.6 billion annually. Communities need to work toward providing healthier food choices in poor urban centers. Doctors must treat weight gain as a genuine health problem with strategies to address it.

People with college degrees and higher incomes had lower obesity prevalence compared with those with less education and lower incomes, according to the CDC, making increased access to higher education and opportunities part of the solution.

If the U.S. fails to address its weight problem it will continue to get fat, but it won’t get happy.

Online: https://bit.ly/2GmcLlr

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NEW HAMPSHIRE

The Telegraph

Feb. 6

Nearly two years since the closure of the former Daniel Webster College in Nashua, the building and property appear to be in virtually the same state.

And no one locally seems to know what the future may hold for the 50-acre campus, which sold for nearly $12 million in late 2017.

“Nothing has happened that I know of,” Mike Diffily, a spokesman for the property’s reported owner, said recently.

The owner is identified as Sui Liu, reportedly a Chinese national who has been represented by Virginia attorney David Lu.

Around the same time Liu purchased the property at auction, reports surfaced that the Chinese University of Hong Kong was behind the deal. University officials, however, deny this.

“In response to recent media reports which mention, ‘The Chinese University of Hong Kong’s bid for the former Daniel Webster campus in Nashua, New Hampshire, U.S.,’ CUHK wishes to clarify that it has not bid for or purchased the above-mentioned site,” the university stated on its website.

Daniel Webster College was founded in the late 1960s as New England Aeronautical Institute, a two-year school that focused on aeronautical engineering and flight instruction.

The college began its rapid descent into financial trouble shortly after it was acquired by ITT Technical Institute, a for-profit entity that soon became the focus of a federal probe for allegedly leaving students stranded with high debt and few job prospects. The former school graduated its final class in May 2017.

If Sui Liu really is the property’s owner, we hope that he will soon take some form of action at the property. The last thing Nashua needs is a large parcel of property near the center of the city to fall into a state of significant disrepair and/or disheveled state.

Online: https://bit.ly/2I0i7oF

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MAINE

The Bangor Daily News

Feb. 7

For years, the Maine attorney general’s office has reviewed incidents when law enforcement officers have used deadly force. The purpose of these reviews is to determine whether the use of force was justified. The office has always found that it was.

In 2017, for the first time, the office convened a group to look at these incidents to learn if and how such incidents, which are often deadly, could be avoided in the future.

Many of their conclusions are unsurprising — for example, the state’s inadequate mental health system requires police officers to intervene in crisis situations. Still, the group’s report offers an important blueprint for lawmakers and law enforcement personnel as they seek to minimize encounters that require the use of deadly force.

There are two important things to know. First, police use of deadly force, thankfully, is rare. According to the U.S. Bureau of Justice Statistics, less than 1 percent of public contacts with the police across the country end with the use of force. Last year, there were only five such incidents in Maine, after an unusually high 12 in 2017.

But, when such incidents do happen, they are traumatic to victims, their families and communities, and to the officers involved and their colleagues. With this in mind, further minimizing such encounters should be a priority.

Second, while long standoffs capture the attention of the media and public, many use of force incidents are over in about a minute. In nearly half of the 10 incidents reviewed by the panel, officers used deadly force within 60 seconds, giving law enforcement officers very little time to assess the situation and determine how best to diffuse it.

The Maine task force reviewed 10 cases in which police used deadly force between 2015 and 2016. Here’s what it found: “The typical individual involved was a male in possession of a deadly weapon, with a criminal history, who was suffering symptoms of depression, often to the extent that they were exhibiting suicidal ideation. In addition, most individuals had alcohol or drugs in their system.”

Then there is this, perhaps the most important statement in the report: “Despite the substantial number of individuals living with mental health challenges, or using alcohol or drugs, it was notable that very few had, or were receiving, any formal treatment to help manage those issues.”

Accessing mental health care can be difficult. Beyond the stigma, there are too few mental health providers and cost is a barrier to many.

A recent analysis by the University of Southern Maine Muskie School of Public Service and the Maine Health Access Foundation found that Mainers with mental health conditions were more likely than the general population to have low incomes and low educational attainment, and to be on public insurance or have no insurance at all. For example, among those with probable depression, 31 percent are part of households with income below $15,000 per year. Compare that to people without probable depression, only 9 percent of whom are part of households with annual incomes below $15,000. A quarter of those with probable depression were covered by the state’s Medicaid program, known as MaineCare, compared with 9 percent of those without probable depression.

While removing financial and other barriers to treatment must be a focus of lawmakers, the task force did recommend helpful steps for law enforcement such as working more closely with families with a member who is living with mental illness or substance abuse disorder to ensure they are aware of community resources. The task force’s report also recommends more widespread adoption of the practice of teaming law enforcement with crisis intervention and substance abuse and mental health personnel, and suggests working to expand such a model to more rural areas.

The panel convened by the attorney general’s office also recommended more training for dispatchers on working with mental health, substance use, developmental disabilities, other vulnerable populations and crisis response. This is especially important because dispatchers are often the first point of contact when a crisis develops. They not only need information to best direct individuals to community resources, if appropriate, they also need to assess risk to help law enforcement best respond to such situations.

The report makes clear we ask law enforcement officers to take on herculean tasks. They are on the front line of the opioid and mental health crises that plague Maine and the nation, and are called to end domestic disputes and to protect our school children. Building more accessible mental health and substance use treatment systems is a priority, but so is equipping officers and dispatchers with the tools to defuse dangerous situations before they become violent or deadly.

Online: https://bit.ly/2Brvj0i

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VERMONT

The Caledonian Record

Feb. 7

Last week a group of Rice High School students sued the Vermont Department of Education for denying them access to the state’s dual enrollment program that allows high school kids to earn college credit at public expense. The state policy is to explicitly exclude religious schools from over $1 million in annual state funding.

That’s a violation of their civil rights, according to lawyers for the plaintiffs.

“The State is penalizing parents for exercising their constitutionally protected right to choose a religious education for their children, and is discriminating against the faith-based schools they choose,” lawyers for the Rice students said.

We agree, and think this challenge is long overdue.

We also would remind readers that legislators blew the opportunity to do the right thing in 2014 when the Vermont House rejected an amendment to H.876 (Branagan) to specifically allow religious school students to take advantage of the program.

The measure failed 76-65. Detractors said their concern was that any form of public support for religious school students might pose constitutional problems.

We think that’s pure hogwash and flies in the face of the Brigham decision — requiring equal access to educational opportunities and equal funding for all Vermont students. It’s also a question of basic fairness and decency.

Unfortunately the state Department of Education is notoriously incompetent on those fronts.

The way we see it, the state discriminates against these kids in a cynical bow to public school hegemony. Why else would an education department, whose lone competency is wasting taxpayer money, go out of its way to deny educational opportunities to a tiny class of Vermont students?

We think it’s nakedly partisan, mean-spirited and has virtually zero chance of surviving this long overdue legal challenge.

Online: https://bit.ly/2MVRDDL

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