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Editorials from around New England

September 21, 2018

Editorials from around New England:

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CONNECTICUT

The Norwich Bulletin

Sept. 16

It’s hard to believe that two prominent, successful millionaire businessmen running for the highest position in Connecticut’s government have no specifics on how to close a $2.1 billion deficit.

After the first head-to-head debate between Democrat Ned Lamont and Republican Bob Stefanowski ended last week in New London, voters learned little from last week’s head-to-head debate between Democrat Ned Lamont and Republican Bob Stefanowski about how either would fix the state’s budget or how Stefanowski, a business executive from Madison, would go about eliminating the state income tax — a bold promise he made at the start of his campaign.

With less than two months until the general election in November, the two major party candidates for governor are running on generic platforms, offering little in the way of clear, detailed solutions to Connecticut’s long list of problems: its roads and bridges are crumbling; its schools are unable to make ends meet because of soaring special education costs; its retirees may not get the pay they were promised.

Even more distressing is both Lamont, of Greenwich, and Stefanowski have come up with comprehensive solutions for the Department of Motor Vehicles. As annoying as the DMV can be, and however Lamont and Stefanowski boast how good they would be at fixing it, it’s not the state’s biggest problem and they shouldn’t throw it out to voters as a distraction.

It’s time to get serious.

The next gubernatorial debate is Monday at the Shubert Theatre in New Haven. We learned some things from last Wednesday’s debate and from early parts of both men’s campaigns:

— Stefanowski, 56, will continue to convince voters Lamont is merely a new version of Gov. Dannel Malloy, who has “absolutely ruined this state and the economy,” he said. Lamont, 64, will jab at Stefanowski’s failure to vote for 16 years.

— Stefanowski disagrees with highway tolls, saying “toll is just another word for tax.” Lamont supports highway tolls, but specific to the trucking industry where the state would toll “big rigs.”

— Lamont supports following a plan similar to other New England states as far as the legalization of marijuana, believing it will increase revenues. Stefanowski said he’s not interested in addressing legalization because there are far bigger financial problems to address.

Both men claim they have “plans” to fix the state’s fiscal crisis. Stefanowski’s plan to phase out state income taxes and take “a billion dollars” out of the state’s budget and use it to reduce taxes lacks details, or at least details he’s willing to share with voters.

Lamont hasn’t shared much of his plan — he’s only criticized Stefanowski’s, predicting it would mean dramatic property tax increases, and Lamont says he is not going to raise the income tax but rather “live within our means.”

How will they implement their plans? What are their solutions for rising education costs? How does the state pay for its crumbling roadways without tolls? Hopefully Stefanowski and Lamont can give us answers.

Here also is a novel idea. There are five candidates who have qualified to be on the ballot in November. However, debate organizers have created a polling threshold for them to get on stage. That creates a Catch 22 — they can’t get noticed because they aren’t on stage, and they can’t get on stage until they get noticed.

Although The Bulletin is not hosting a governor’s debate this year, our stance has been consistent — if you qualify for the ballot, you get a spot in the debate. With Stefanowski and Lamont not giving voters much to work with, maybe three more voices would have plans that would work — or force the Democrat and the Republican candidates to come with a few real plans of their own.

It’s not enough for Lamont and Stefanowski to say they know how to fix Connecticut. Voters need to know specifics.

Online: https://bit.ly/2pt7bEf

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MASSACHUSETTS

The Standard-Times

Sept. 15

A sheriff-led proposal to address border security between Mexico and the United States by crowd-funding billions of dollars from hardworking taxpayers is an unwelcome idea on many levels.

The proposal was announced Sept. 5 in Washington D.C. by Bristol County Sheriff Thomas Hodgson on behalf of the National Sheriffs’ Association.

The sheriff and his colleagues from 35 states launched the effort after criticizing Congress earlier in the year for failing to enact border reforms including providing necessary funding to build the border wall.

Their goal, according to the National Sheriffs’ Association website, is to secure U.S. borders and prevent more Americans from becoming victims of crime, presumably from immigrants without proper documentation.

As of Friday, about $14,000 had been raised.

Although the website shows a modest goal of $100,000, Sheriff Hodgson told the Standard-Times that this is a starting point and he believes raising the full cost of the wall, estimated between $20 billion and $70 billion, is possible.

We respectfully disagree.

The likelihood of donations reaching $20 billion and resulting in a wall being constructed along the U.S. border with Mexico, as proposed by President Trump, is slim.

For those who believe the border wall is a good and necessary idea, the sheriffs’ proposal can be incredibly attractive, allowing them to address a donation specifically to their desired outcomes. Which is why it is all the more misleading to suggest that these donations have the potential to meet the tens of billions price tag and result in the wall being built.

If the sheriffs’ intent is to raise awareness of the need for stronger border protection, their goal can be accomplished without misleading people.

Also, if the sheriffs are truly committed to immigration reform, their decision to bypass Congress and turn to taxpayers is shortsighted at best.

Especially after an August report from the Government Accountability Office concluded that a full analysis of the costs of building the wall had not been conducted and that pursuing the project would risk higher costs, a longer timeline and a wall that may be ineffective in reducing illegal immigration.

Another report, released last week by the American Civil Liberties Union Border Rights Center and others, also criticized the border wall proposal as ineffective, asserting walls do not significantly reduce smuggling or immigration, or make the United States safer.

Sheriff Hodgson has remained consistent in his attempt to curb illegal immigration in this country but this plan, like his 2017 proposal to send Bristol County inmates to the border to help build the wall, has little merit.

If the sheriff truly wishes to impact national policy decisions, he could run for Congress and lend his voice directly to the conversation there.

The taxpayers in this county elected him to run the jail system here and to focus on creating safer communities closer to home.

Online: https://bit.ly/2MXb65y

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RHODE ISLAND

The Providence Journal

Sept. 19

It is a bad idea — and surely unconstitutional — for government to decide who gets contracts on the basis of their political views.

May governments deny contracts to those who support Republicans? Or Democrats? In such cases, government could quickly become a weapon for enforcing conformity of speech with those in power.

So the North Smithfield Town Council’s non-binding resolution, passed by a 3-2 vote, urging the town to refrain from buying Nike products seemed problematic from the start. Two days after the vote, Council President John Beauregard backed off, saying he will move to recall the resolution next week.

Still, a statement by the American Civil Liberties Union of Rhode Island during the episode struck us as over the top.

It remains important to defend the essential American idea that all members of our society have a right to express opinions on contentious political issues.

This week’s blowup centered on Nike’s decision to hire former National Football League player Colin Kaepernick as its spokesman, richly rewarding him for his high-profile activism, including his branding police as pigs and kneeling during the national anthem in protest against what he contends is widespread racism by local law-enforcement officers in America.

“The Town Council’s passage of this inflammatory resolution over the objections of the many residents who came out to oppose it is shameful,” the ACLU said in a statement. “By punishing the right to peacefully protest and refusing to recognize the racial injustice prompting that protest, the resolution shows a disdain for both freedom and equality. Rhode Island is better than this.”

The ACLU has long been an important advocate for the First Amendment. That makes some of its suggestions puzzling.

For example, council members have the right to vote “over the objections” of people who attend a meeting. Under our system, council members answer to all of the voters, not just the ACLU or those who attend meetings.

Most striking is the ACLU’s statement that Town Council members have no business “refusing to recognize the racial injustice prompting (Kaepernick’s) protest.” In truth, Americans have every right to disagree with Mr. Kaepernick’s ideas — and even to question his motivations.

Americans may dispute his views that police are pigs (expressed on his socks) and his support for Cuba’s brutal dictatorship (expressed on his T-shirt), and to debate the prevalence of racism among police officers.

Just as we strongly defend Mr. Kaepernick’s right to raise controversial issues — and indeed applauded him for doing so (“Kaepernick’s crusade,” editorial, Sept. 8, 2016) — we defend the right of other Americans to challenge his views.

That’s what America is supposed to be all about.

Nor do we accept the idea that it is automatically racist to support fidelity to the flag and the national anthem. Many patriotic Americans who despise racism believe that the flag should be honored as a symbol of this extraordinary country and its freedoms for which many have sacrificed their lives.

Whether the council should have acted as it did, the First Amendment does permit Americans to disagree with Nike’s marketing strategy.

Online: https://bit.ly/2O1TmdJ

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VERMONT

The Bennington Banner

Sept. 14

On Monday, four student journalists at The Register, the Burlington High School student newspaper, broke the news that the Vermont Agency of Education had filed six counts of unprofessional misconduct charges against BHS guidance director Mario Macias.

The four student editors — Julia Shannon-Grillo, Halle Newman, Nataleigh Noble and Jenna Peterson — used public records to document the story. The charges include incompetence, falsifying a student transcript, mistreatment of employees, improper release of student information to a third party and improper treatment of a college student, who was working as a substitute teacher. Macias denies any wrongdoing, but the state is considering revoking his educator’s license for 364 days.

Tuesday morning, BHS principal Noel Green ordered the Register’s teacher adviser, Beth Fialko Casey, to have the article taken down. The four student editors, fearing retaliation by the district against their adviser, reluctantly removed the story, replacing it on the newspaper’s website with a message to the community: “This article has been censored by Burlington High School administration.”

In our view, that’s a fairly clear violation of Act 49, the “New Voices” law passed by the Legislature and signed by Gov. Phil Scott last year. That law was designed to protect student journalists and their advisers from the very censorship that administrators wrongly imposed at BHS.

Those students should have been congratulated by the adults in the building for beating the state’s professional press corps to a significant news story. Their achievement and public service should be a point of pride for the school and the district. Instead, these young journalists were regrettably silenced by bureaucrats who should have had their backs.

“It feels frustrating,” Newman told WPTZ-TV in Burlington. “Especially because this is a case where we feel like this is information that people really deserve to know.”

The Vermont Press Association, of which this newspaper is a member, and the New England First Amendment Coalition, whose mission this newspaper supports, have issued a statement sharply criticizing the Burlington School District and its high school administration for censoring the story. The VPA and NEFAC are asking for corrective steps, including reposting of the story, a commitment to follow state law protecting student journalists and their advisers; training for area school districts in upholding that law; and written letters of apology from Superintendent Yaw Obeng and Principal Noel Green.

The First Amendment of the U.S. Constitution, and Article 13 of the Vermont Constitution, both of which guarantee free speech and freedom of the press, do not end at the schoolhouse door. Indeed, freedom of speech is essential to academic inquiry. It’s a birthright of citizenship, not an optional privilege that well-paid administrators may revoke when it becomes inconvenient. It’s our hope that educators in our region will remember this lesson when student journalists report stories that might cause some initial discomfort.

In the meantime, we tip our caps to the student journalists of The Register for their dedication and poise, and encourage them to keep up the excellent work.

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

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NEW HAMPSHIRE

The Nashua Telegraph

Sept. 20

A $20 million federal grant is on the way to the Granite State to help New Hampshire’s Established Program to Stimulate Competitive Research develop new ways of manufacturing biomaterials, including the use of 3D printing technology.

The funding will create a five-year project known as NH BioMade. At the University of New Hampshire in Durham, researchers begin their work with the goal of using new technology to reproduce life-saving materials.

“This grant will allow New Hampshire to expand its research capacity throughout the state through workforce development programs, growing our economy and creating jobs,” U.S. Sen. Jeanne Shaheen, D-New Hampshire, said in announcing the endeavor. “The research and design of biomaterials will help save lives, and I am thrilled to see the National Science Foundation recognize New Hampshire’s role in the development of this cutting edge technology.”

We support this project’s two stated goals:

To advance medical science to save lives; and

To grow employment and educational opportunities in New Hampshire.

Still, officials must use the taxpayers’ money wisely. Every effort should be made to extract as much research and development from that $20 million as is possible.

After all: a nation that is about $21 trillion in debt has to eventually start keeping track of expenses.

Online: https://bit.ly/2OIb3fB

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MAINE

The Bangor Daily News

Sept. 20

The House and Senate have passed bills that will increase treatment for substance abuse disorder, slow the flow of illegal opioids into America and provide funding for more research into substance use. Both bills include long-needed changes that will help states tackle the deadly opioid crisis. What they don’t include is enough money to achieve their goals.

To be sure, the authorized funding — nearly $8.4 billion through 2023 — is substantial. But, so is the scope of the opioid crisis, with millions of Americans unable to access needed treatment. By contrast, the federal government spent $20 billion a year on the AIDS epidemic.

When House and Senate negotiators get together to work through the differences between the two bills, authorizing additional funding should be a priority.

The bills build on the recommendations of a presidential commission to focus heavily on treatment. According to recent data from the Substance Abuse and Mental Health Services Administration, nearly 21 million Americans needed substance abuse treatment last year. However, only 4 million of these people received any treatment in the past year and only 2.5 million received treatment at a specialty facility.

Nearly a third of those who did not receive treatment said they couldn’t afford it, often because they don’t have health insurance. More than a third worried that accessing treatment would negatively affect their job, or make their friends or neighbors have a negative opinion of them. Nearly 11 percent didn’t know where to go to get treatment.

This legislation is a good start to overcoming these hurdles.

“By providing support for prevention, treatment and recovery, this all-of-the-above approach will provide vital assistance to individuals and families who are struggling with addiction,” Sen. Susan Collins said after the 99-1 Senate vote this week.

A provision from Collins that creates grants to support peer support networks, like that of the Bangor Area Recovery Network, is included in the Senate bill. Research shows that peer support reduces relapses and improves long-term recovery. Another provision, backed by Collins and Sen. Angus King, aims to stop shipments of illicit drugs, like fentanyl, through the postal service. A King-sponsored provision will allow Medicaid to cover care for infants with neonatal abstinence syndrome.

“This legislation isn’t perfect — but it’s an important step in the right direction on an issue that desperately needs progress,” King said.

A centerpiece of the legislation is an expansion and extension of the 21st Century Cures Act, which provides grant funding to states and Native American tribes for prevention, response and treatment efforts. Funding local efforts is crucial, but the $500 million annually authorized in the bill is far too little. It is also distributed mostly based on population. Rep. Bruce Poliquin has co-sponsored legislation to distribute the money based on per capita opioid addiction rates. This would benefit states like Maine that has been disproportionately hit by the epidemic. Under the Senate bill, 15 percent of the state funds would be distributed based on opioid death rates. This is a move in the right direction but more fully distributing the money based on the severity of the epidemic is a change the conference committee should strongly consider.

The Senate bill, which includes dozens of provisions, also supports research on non-addictive pain medication and requires the Food and Drug Administration to expedite approval of such medications. It expands a grant program to train first responders to administer naloxone, an overdose-reversing drug. It also includes funding to expand prescription monitoring programs and related data collection and analysis, and to share this data among states.

It would allow the use of telehealth treatment for substance abuse disorder for Medicare recipients and encourage the same for Medicaid subscribers.

These bills, which also boost law enforcement efforts, are important steps forward. The final bill can be improved with funding that better matches the scope of the crisis.

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

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