Editorials from around New England
Editorials from around New England:
The Connecticut Post
It’s somewhat understandable that Connecticut’s unions are accusing a blue-ribbon panel charged with salvaging the state’s fortunes of taking a “Let them eat cake” approach to blue-collar neighbors.
At the same time, unions are guilty of symbolizing that other overused cake idiom about having it and eating it too.
Labor leaders, for example, slapped a failing grade on recommendations from The Commission on Fiscal Stability and Economic Growth, while embracing suggestions such as raising the minimum wage from $10.10 an hour to $15 over the next four years.
The withering response leans hard on comparing the commission to college freshman who believe they have all the answers. Even their use of quotation marks is sarcastic.
If it sounds like a hopeless contract negotiation, consider the makeup of members on the other side of the table. Most have carried titles of CEO, chairman, VP or president. None represent the voice of a union.
It’s easy for wags to point blame at unions because of the pension debt that has buried Connecticut in such a deep financial hole. As Connecticut tumbles down most state rankings, it is usually cited as tops in the nation for pension benefits, which average here at more than $35,000.
The debt isn’t the fault of the unions, but former administrations that clung to the “pay later” model. More recently, Gov. Dannel Malloy has initiated pay freezes, chopped his payroll and required higher contributions from union members. Many of his critics think that’s not enough.
The unions’ biggest objection to the commission plan is a modification of the collective bargaining model, which has support from several business groups as well as municipalities and the Yankee Institute for Public Policy, a right-wing think tank.
State employee fringe benefits would be removed from collective bargaining, and instead defined by the Legislature.
The members of the General Assembly have taken such a lax approach to past contracts that lawmakers let the clock run out when they had the chance to weigh in on contracts.
“They ignored it because they were able to ignore it. It was a convenient abdication of responsibilities,” commission co-Chair Jim Smith told the Hearst Connecticut Media Group Editorial Board.
Last year’s change to mandate legislative votes on state contracts was a smart step. It was also evidence the General Assembly may not be ready to replace collective bargaining. Pension plans that got Connecticut in this mess in the first place predate collective bargaining.
Another change under the plan is that single, “neutral” arbiters would settle disagreements with compromise settlements. It’s understandable that the unions object to the concept, as such determinations would likely sway south of last-best offers. But it could motivate both sides to be more efficient in reaching an accord.
The unions, of course, renounced all such reforms. They may not deserve to take all of the blame for Connecticut’s instability, but they need to come to the table before all the cake is gone.
The Boston Globe
It was slow in coming, but it appears that Mayor Marty Walsh and Police Commissioner William Evans are finally convinced that a department-wide body-worn camera program is a good idea.
After years of equivocating, Walsh last month committed to fully funding a body camera program for all officers, once a comprehensive study is finalized this summer on the previous one-year body camera pilot program. Boston police officials indicated that the force could be outfitted with the devices by the end of the year.
The new policy represents a big step forward in public safety. But what comes next is critical to ensure the success of body cams in Boston: The right policies have to go along with a permanent citywide program. The Boston Police Department needs clear rules about how the body cams are operated, and how the footage is used.
Consider the latest high-profile national case involving excessive force by police. Stephon Clark was fatally shot in his own backyard by two Sacramento police officers last week when they mistook an iPhone he had in his hand for a gun. The shooting was captured on body cameras worn by the officers. But, according to reports, they were instructed to mute their cameras merely minutes after the shooting.
Once every Boston police officer has to wear a camera, the city must make it clear when the cameras must be activated, and what disciplinary actions will result from misusing the devices. The latter is the single policy recommendation that the Boston Police Camera Action Team, an advocacy group, points to as a must-do when a program is rolled out department-wide.
“We have seen throughout the nation that without explicit consequences, officers get away with mistreatment (or) misuse of the device, which defeats the whole purpose of having the camera to begin with,” said Segun Idowu, co-organizer at BPCAT.
Other key policy considerations involve access to the video footage produced by the body cams. Recently, the Los Angeles Police Department ended its years-long practice of keeping video obtained from body cameras and patrol cars private. The LAPD will now release footage of critical incidents, including officer-involved shootings and deaths or serious injuries that occur in their custody. Boston ought to do the same. It’s not enough to record and preserve video evidence — the public must have access to it.
Already there’s proof that the presence of body cameras not only brings transparency to police-civilian interactions, but is also shining a light on our criminal justice system and making it more equitable.
According to the American Civil Liberties Union of Massachusetts, at least three criminal cases were dismissed in Boston Municipal Court based on footage from body cameras worn by officers from the pilot program. In one case, an officer testified that he decided to search a defendant because the individual “had his hands in his pockets and looked nervous . . . would not make eye-contact . . . was not responding to the officer’s questions about having any weapons . . . eyes became ‘wide eyed’ and chest was visibly pumping up and down; and . . . refused to take his hands out of his pockets when twice ordered to do so.” Upon seeing footage of the interaction, Boston Municipal Court Associate Justice Catherine K. Byrne wrote: ”(T)he video does not support this testimony.” On the other hand, recorded interactions also served to exonerate a Boston police officer in an internal affairs investigation.
Creating an independent record of police encounters with the public, including shootings, has never been more important. Body cams long ago arrived as a public safety technology. Boston is just catching up, and the BPD now needs to make sure the devices are also manipulation-proof — with tough consequences for those who misuse them.
The Providence Journal
In the wake of last month’s school massacre in Florida, policymakers have been busy bickering and grandstanding. But if they should ever desire to work together, winning support across the political spectrum, there is something they could do fairly quickly to protect students: make school buildings more secure.
We cannot cure all of society’s ills overnight. But we can make our school buildings safer places by having better systems to monitor and control who is allowed to enter.
And these fixes don’t have to break the bank.
As The Providence Journal’s Linda Borg reported on March 25, talk about making schools safer has taken on a new urgency, and Rhode Island is in a good position to act, since it is about to embark in a once-in-a-lifetime investment in school buildings.
Experts caution against applying a broad brush to all schools. The age and design of buildings, and what sorts of security systems and measures are already in place, affect what should be done.
But there are some steps that are seen as having the potential to be greatly beneficial. One, as Ms. Borg reported, involves having a system to better control who enters the school. This can be accomplished by having what’s known as a “man trap,” or vestibule, with locked doors on both sides, at the school entrance. In this way, a school can closely monitor who is trying to enter and make it far more difficult for an intruder to get inside.
Other helpful steps include surveillance cameras, windowless doors, and keyless locks on the main entrance doors.
As Robert Boyd, executive director of the Secure School Alliance, a Wilmington, Delaware-based nonprofit that advocates for safer schools, told Ms. Borg: “Our position is we can stop intruders from getting into a building.”
Making this a reality comes with a financial cost, but it might not be as bad as people think. Mr. Boyd told Ms. Borg that many elementary schools could be brought up to basic safety standards for about $100,000.
These are steps that Rhode Island’s leaders should be talking about. At the same time, the state’s leaders should also be talking about establishing formal standards for school safety — something only 12 states have done nationwide, according to the Secure School Alliance — and helping districts to pay the cost of putting those measures in place. Now is the time to address this issue, with Gov. Gina Raimondo seeking passage of a $500 million plan to renovate and rebuild school buildings across the state.
Of course, these steps do nothing to address the underlying issues that might lead someone to take a gun and try to do harm to innocent people. And certainly there are other steps, beyond security measures and changes to physical buildings, that can help. These include training for staff to better understand the social and emotional needs of young people, and hiring school resources officers who can build trusting relationships with students.
When many of us were growing up, school shootings were virtually unknown. Unfortunately, in today’s world, it has become a necessity to set standards for school building safety, and adopt a plan of action to make those steps a reality. That is something Rhode Island should do.
The Portland Press Herald, March 29
Maine has its lowest unemployment rate in 40 years, and there is a larger number of Mainers working today than at any time in history.
Good news, right? Not exactly.
It is good news for the people who currently have jobs and for those who are looking for work. A tight labor market should lead to higher wages when employers have to compete for scarce workers.
But it’s not so great for anyone looking to start a business or expand one who can’t get investors interested when there is not a reliable labor pool.
And another trend that tracks the decline in unemployment rate should be a cause of concern: It’s the drop in labor force participation rate — the percentage of the population made up of people who are either working or looking for work.
In 2006, Maine’s labor force participation rate was almost 67 percent, exceeding the national average. It crashed during the recession, but unlike the unemployment rate it has never bounced all the way back. It’s currently 63.4 percent, a 3.5 percent drop that represents 46,700 additional people subtracted from the workforce.
This is sometimes characterized as a problem of welfare cheats who don’t want to work. But the real situation is much more complicated. People outside the workforce include those with disabilities and chronic illness, like diabetes, as well as family members who stay home to care for them or young children, and full-time students.
Recent research by the Federal Reserve Bank of Atlanta attributes a national drop in workforce participation to something that should be familiar to anyone who’s been paying attention to Maine trends: It’s our aging population.
There are a troubling number of prime-age workers who have stopped looking for a job. But retirement is the biggest reason people are leaving the workforce.
All across the country, members of the baby boom generation (born between 1946 and 1964) are hitting retirement age. Maine has the highest percentage of baby boomers in the nation, so we are seeing the biggest impact. This is not going away. In 2014, state economists predicted that we would see the labor force participation rate shrink by 1 percent a year until 2024, which would leave just over half the state in the workforce.
That’s not sustainable, no matter how low the unemployment rate gets.
Employers are going to have to be more open-minded when they fill jobs. The recent announcement that the Portland Police Department would consider applicants who are not U.S. citizens, or who have smoked marijuana, is an example of that. The department has found that good applicants are too hard to find, and it must be willing to talk with people who would have been peremptorily rejected in the past. Other employers may also have to adjust to reality.
Programs to hire seniors and people with disabilities would make a difference. So would broadband expansion to give more people work-from-home options. Vocational training programs and apprenticeships are a good way to make sure that young people get off to a solid start.
But Maine is not going to be able to survive falling off this demographic cliff without help. Young people will need to move here in greater numbers and that includes young people who may have been born in other countries. Without them, the state will change rapidly for the worse.
Until we find a way to grow the workforce, there won’t be much economic news worth celebrating.
The Rutland Herald, March 30
A bill to ban “coyote tournaments” has passed the Vermont House, and the Senate should follow suit. The tournaments, where people compete to kill as many coyotes as possible in a limited period of time, represent an extreme subset of all hunters. They strike most people as distasteful, and unrepresentative of hunters in general. We think Gov. Scott should sign this bill into law, should it make it to his desk.
However, beyond this specific issue, there is a broader concern in the sporting community about what this bill might represent. Some in the hunting, fishing and trapping community see it as a movement toward a radical change in the way their sports and livelihoods are governed, as outlined in a column by Dennis Jensen in last weekend’s Rutland Herald and Times Argus.
They might be right, given that Vermont has a somewhat convoluted system for managing its wildlife. Policy is generally set by an appointed board of representatives — one from each county — which takes testimony from state wildlife biologists and managers. However, the Legislature can overrule the board and enact laws directly governing wildlife management.
That system may be best exemplified by a ban on using firearms to fish for pike, enacted in 1969 by the Department of Fish & Wildlife, then known as Fish & Game. After the ban was put in place, some in the Legislature got wind and immediately put in place a law that allowed for fishing with guns. The department’s regulation was based in science and sound judgment; lawmakers overruled them based on the desire of some of their constituents.
The coyote tournament ban is somewhat similar — the Legislature taking action when the policymaking agency is not. While the Department of Fish & Wildlife has not taken action to ban these tournaments, it does not support them, does not see a wildlife management need for them, and thinks they probably make hunters look bad, according to the Jensen article. Thus the House has stepped in. Hunters fear this might be a precedent for other perpetually-proposed bills governing bear hunting, trapping and other elements of the sport — wildlife management based on what one segment of the population does or doesn’t like. Beyond this, there is worry that reforms to the Fish & Wildlife board — some of which are welcomed, like televised meetings — will further drive wildlife management into the hands of people who might deprecate the role of hunters in managing the state’s wildlife.
There is some grounding for their fears, even as hunting retains broad acceptance among Vermont’s population, with one of the highest proportions of hunters in the United States. Deer season in the fall is something like Vermont’s national holiday, with traditions of deer camp, opening day, visiting at the weigh-in stations and the youth hunting days. The hunting traditions keep Vermonters closer to the land and to its wildlife than most in our increasingly indoor-centric lives. Young hunters learn the great responsibility that the hunter has in choosing to take a life, and learn the contours of the hills and valleys that their fathers and grandfathers may have tramped in pursuit of a 10-pointer.
Many older hunters will tell you that early on, in their younger days, they were all about the hunt. But with age, and wisdom, for them hunting season is often more about being out in the quiet, meditative woods, or sharing their experience with the next generation.
These traditions provide the greater context to hunting that the general population might miss when confronted with an extreme example such as the coyote tournaments. And state wildlife managers will tell you that hunting plays an essential role in managing the wildlife population — lessons that were hard-won through the boom and bust deer years of the 1960s and 1970s. These traditions, combined with the science, should continue to drive the management of hunting in our state.
The Portsmouth Herald, March 27
Approximately 2,500 people in Portsmouth, New Hampshire, joined more than 1 million people across the nation in the “March For Our Lives” rallies held last Saturday in support of gun law reform.
We were impressed with the turnout and the courage and eloquence of the many students, including from York High School, who spoke from the heart, urging state and federal legislators to take action to reduce mass shootings in schools and other public places.
There have been 34 school shootings since the country last said “never again,” following the killing of 20 elementary school students and six adults at the Sandy Hook Elementary School in Newtown, Conn., on Dec. 14, 2012, according to FactCheck.org.
Despite the horror of young children being gunned down in their classrooms and President Barack Obama’s full-throated support, federal gun laws did not change after Sandy Hook and some states, including New Hampshire, reduced gun laws even further.
The failure to enact any meaningful reform following Sandy Hook has led many observers of gun politics to question whether the energy and passion of student-led protests following the Valentine’s Day killing of 17 students, coaches and teachers at Marjory Stoneman Douglas High School in Parkland, Florida, will also end in futility.
In our view, the protests growing out of Parkland have already sparked meaningful change. Florida, a state with some of the most lax gun laws in the country, just passed a mandatory three-day waiting period to buy a gun and raised the age to buy a rifle from 18 to 21. Oregon, Washington and Rhode Island have also enacted new gun safety regulations.
At the federal level, President Donald Trump’s Department of Justice has proposed banning the sale of bump stocks, devices that effectively turn legal semi-automatic firearms into illegal automatic weapons. The bump stock conversation began after a murderer killed 58 concertgoers and injured more than 400 on Oct. 1, 2017 in Las Vegas, the worst mass shooting in American history.
The most significant action taken since the Parkland murders was contained in the omnibus spending bill passed by Congress and signed by Trump on Friday. The bill includes a provision that clarifies the so-called Dickey Amendment, passed in 1996, which the CDC interpreted as a ban on research into gun violence.
The omnibus bill clarifies that “the CDC has the authority to conduct research on the causes of gun violence.”
The Dickey Amendment, which its author former Congressman Jay Dickey now calls a mistake, was a response to CDC research between 1986 and 1996, which found that people who kept guns in their homes faced, “a 2.7-fold greater risk of homicide and a 4.8 fold greater risk of suicide,” according to a 2012 op-ed published by Dickey and a former CDC director.
In the op-ed, they note that research into motor vehicle fatalities has led to interventions such as child car seats, seat belts, air bags, motorcycle helmets and a minimum drinking age. The country has spent $240 million a year on traffic safety research, but almost nothing to research the cause of firearm injuries.
“As a result, U.S. scientists cannot answer the most basic question: What works to prevent firearm injuries? We don’t know whether having more citizens carry guns would decrease or increase firearm deaths; or whether firearm registration and licensing would make inner-city residents safer or expose them to greater harm. We don’t know whether a ban on assault weapons or large-capacity magazines, or limiting access to ammunition, would have saved lives ...”
“What we do know is that firearm injuries will continue to claim far too many lives at home, at school, at work and at the movies until we start asking and answering the hard questions.”
Anyone who has followed the gun debate knows that each side shouts past each other with dueling statistics that are usually exaggerated to reinforce the shouter’s point of view.
What this nation needs is an objective study of the causes of firearm deaths and injuries so that voters can make informed choices about how to best improve public safety. Clarifying the Dickey Amendment is a good first step and funding that research is an essential second step.
So will the post-Parkland protests make a difference? In our view, they already have.