Editorials from around New England
Editorials from around New England:
Connecticut policymakers find themselves in the same pickle that has confronted small-time bookies, Mafia dons and other crooks who prey on gambling addicts. A big operator moved into the neighborhood and promptly started scooping up business, leaving the previous gambling monopolists to fuss and fume.
The big operator, in this case, is MGM Resorts, which has opened a casino in Springfield, Massachusetts. The previous monopolists are the Foxwood Resort and Mohegan Sun casinos in southeastern Connecticut, along with their associate, Connecticut state government — whose annual piece of the slots action runs into the hundreds of millions of dollars.
It’s no secret that competition in the gambling industry bites into the income of pre-existing casinos. Connecticut’s share of the Pequot and Mohegan slots revenue plummeted from $430 million in 2007 to $270 million last year — in part because of competition from casinos in adjacent states. Evolving consumer habits in entertainment spending may be a factor, as well. The Springfield casino undoubtedly will pull in Connecticut gamblers, as well as folks from other states who otherwise might have traveled to the Connecticut casinos.
As is customary in Connecticut government, lawmakers and Gov. Dannel P. Malloy’s administration doubled down. They, along with the two tribes, sought to open a sort of diversionary casino in South Windsor that hopefully would have drawn gamblers away from Springfield. But Uncle Sam — actually, U.S. Interior Secretary Ryan Zinke — said no, and U.S. District Court Judge Rudolph Contreras last week ruled for the federal government. “The thorough and unambiguous federal court ruling can only be seen as a clear rejection of the Tribes’ insistent efforts to obtain a no-bid commercial casino license in Connecticut,” MGM said in a statement.
Connecticut can appeal, but Judge Contreras conferred on MGM the right to intervene in that event.
Where does Connecticut go from here? The state’s gambling revenues will continue to decline as increasing numbers of gamblers flock to MGM’s Springfield operation. Connecticut even shot itself in the foot, potentially, by creating a commuter-rail line between Springfield and New Haven. The line provides quick, convenient access to the new casino from two of Connecticut’s biggest cities, Hartford and New Haven.
Casino gambling obviously has benefits — witness the billions of dollars Connecticut has collected from patrons of the Mashantucket Pequot and Mohegan casinos, presumably for public benefit — but it also has liabilities. They include drug and alcohol abuse, bankruptcy, business failures among competing entertainment venues, family breakups, embezzlement and even suicide. With the opening of the Springfield casino, Connecticut will see a decrease in the good without a corresponding decrease in the bad. Sadly, it’s too late to gain much benefit or insight from the growing realization that Connecticut never should have allowed itself to become dependent on revenues from a vice.
The Sun Chronicle
Not to harsh anyone’s mellow or anything, but what in the name of Woody Harrelson are local governments doing with rules and regulations on legal marijuana?
The state’s voters in 2016 supported a ballot measure that would have allowed the sale of marijuana and related products for recreational use in January of this year. The state Legislature pushed that back by six months and now, with that optimistic target date long past, the advent of legal pot still is lagging.
That should not be too surprising. In 2012, the state legalized medical marijuana. It was three years before the first dispensary opened in Salem.
So far, there are no legal dispensaries of any kind in The Sun Chronicle area.
That may be changing, however. Bristol County Wellness Center has applied for a special permit from the city council under Attleboro’s new marijuana ordinance, passed just last month, which lays out the rules for both medical and adult-use, or recreational, marijuana.
The company, which is based in Attleboro, was granted a special permit by the city council for a medical marijuana operation in November of last year.
The recreational facility would be located at 34 Extension St. in the Attleboro Industrial Park, where the medical facility is now under construction.
But Attleboro is still well ahead of North Attleboro, where Representative Town Meeting only this month will get around to voting on a series of proposals regulating marijuana retail businesses.
One of the town meeting proposals asks for a 3 percent local sales tax on marijuana while the two others spell out zoning restrictions for various marijuana businesses.
The businesses will not be allowed in residential areas while some will be restricted to commercial zones and others to commercial and industrial, likely putting downtown off limits entirely.
It’s clear that most local officials are not comfortable with the idea of legal marijuana, any more than the majority of state lawmakers are. Area police chiefs — as were law enforcement officials across the state — were adamant in their opposition to legalization.
And they’ve been about as welcoming to pot dispensaries in regular retail areas as they would be to a nuclear waste dump.
In that, they’re a little out of step with a fair number of their constituents. A recent study determined that 21 percent of residents in the state used marijuana in the previous 30 days, legally or not.
Comfortable or not, local governments need to stop treating these potential revenue-producing operations as illicit enterprises.
We think Attleboro Mayor Paul Heroux had it right when he criticized the city’s restrictive rules as undermining what the state’s voters have decided is a legitimate business.
“That limitation flies in the face of the principles of a free market economy, makes it more difficult for customers to purchase this commodity and it undermines the development of this business,” he said.
Now that’s some straight talk.
The Providence Journal
Rhode Island seems to be on a terrible losing streak with large economic development projects.
The Pawtucket Red Sox have announced plans to abandon their loyal fans for a lucrative deal with the politicians of Worcester. Providence officials seem to be turning up their noses at a $250 million skyscraper downtown.
And the prospects for the largest private development in state history, the $1 billion Clear River natural gas plant in Burrillville, have grown chillier.
The operator of the regional power grid, Independent System Operator New England, is moving to cancel its deal for energy with Chicago developer Invenergy. That’s because the plant — beleaguered by delays in Rhode Island, including political and legal challenges — will not get up and running fast enough to produce the contracted energy.
ISO-NE awards such contracts three years before the energy is needed, to make sure it has sufficient supply. In return, developers are paid a premium for the power they will provide.
Without such a deal, financing from banks and other investors could be difficult, though Invenergy still seems willing to build the plant and invest an enormous amount of money in Rhode Island.
“We remain fully committed to this project,” said Michael Blazer, the company’s chief legal counsel. “We will spend whatever it takes.”
Needless to say, the loss of the plant would be a painful blow to Rhode Island, costing it jobs and significant tax revenue. It would also make it harder for the region to move from costly, more heavily polluting older plants to a state-of-the-art facility that operates with maximum efficiency.
That means higher energy bills and/or more pollution for the region. Zealots who claim we no longer need natural gas plants — in part because of more expensive renewable energy — are not living in the real world, experts note. We do not yet have the affordable means to store sufficient energy to supply the region’s needs when the wind is not blowing and the sun is not shining. It may be decades before that happens.
Those thwarting natural gas have driven the region’s energy producers to burn much more polluting oil and coal at times of peak use.
ISO-NE insists the region needs more natural-gas-fired plants. It also warns of rolling blackouts in winters ahead if New England fails to improve its natural gas infrastructure, including new plants and sufficient natural gas pipeline capacity. Anyone who opens a skyrocketing electric or natural gas bill these days knows what a poor job the politicians are doing keeping prices under control.
In its wisdom, the state government of Rhode Island — which has a very expensive economic development bureaucracy — is doing nothing to help the largest economic development project in its history. Commerce Secretary Stefan Pryor says the plant is not part of his “portfolio,” and Rhode Island is leaving everything to the regulators. The state has not lifted a finger to help clear any of the hurdles the plant has confronted dealing with local governments and opponents.
If there is anybody in state government who possesses an ounce of pragmatism and an understanding of the value of economic development, they might want to look into ways to support big projects that would greatly help the residents of Rhode Island.
Days after Saturday Night Live made a mockery of Vermont’s “whiteness” in a comedy sketch about racism, the membership of the Vermont League of Cities and Towns has approved two resolutions that tackle head-on the systemic racism that seems to be afflicting the state.
On Wednesday, the VLCT membership departed from its usual annual meeting business to unanimously approve two resolutions: one condemning recent racist events both in Vermont and nationally, and a second calling on lawmakers to pass a constitutional amendment eliminating residual language still in Article 1 of the Vermont Constitution that allows a person to be held as a servant, slave or apprentice if that person is below the age of 21.
The first resolution reads: “Resolved: that the Vermont League of Cities and Towns condemns in the strongest possible terms, discrimination in all its manifestations, that is publicly or privately directed against public officials in particular, or generally toward any and all people.”
That mention of discrimination also is intended to extend to women in response to the #metoo movement.
The second VLCT resolution reads: “Resolved: that the Vermont League of Cities and Towns calls on the legislature to amend Chapter 1, Article 1 of the Vermont Constitution to read ‘That all persons are born equally free and independent, and have certain natural, inherent and unalienable rights, amongst which are the enjoying and defending (of) life and liberty, acquiring, possessing and protecting property, and pursuing and obtaining happiness and safety. Slavery and involuntary servitude in all forms are prohibited.’”
It was brought to the attention of the membership by Plainfield Select Board member Sasha Thayer.
Both resolutions passed unanimously and with little discussion.
In a statement issued Thursday, Public Policy Director Karen Horn wrote, “Clearly, these are overarching issues on which Vermont’s local officials believe it is imperative to take a stand. Calling them out at the same time VLCT adopts it(s) Municipal Policy is entirely appropriate.”
Last weekend, SNL lampooned the Green Mountain State as a “Caucasian paradise.”
The state is the second-whitest state in the nation after Maine, with a population that is 94 percent white, according to the latest U.S. Census figures.
While the skit was intended to poke fun, it fell on the heels of the resignation of black lawmaker Kiah Morris, of Bennington, who stepped down, in part, because of escalating harassment and threats against her and her family.
In recent months, there have been racist flyers found tucked in books in public libraries and on college campuses. White supremacist recruiting materials have been found in communities across Vermont. There have been repeated concerns about the Confederate flag being flown or displayed at public events. And there have been threats against public officials willing to condone school districts who fly the Black Lives Matter flag. Around the state, the NAACP-Vermont reports, there have been incidents of assaults, threats and violent attacks against people of color on a regular basis.
That’s why the SNL skit stung, and the VLCT resolutions are so timely and important.
In the sketch spoofing a neo-Confederate community meeting, SNL took on the state’s lack of diversity. In it, Jim, played by cast member Beck Bennett, presents the need for creating an “agrarian community where everyone lives in harmony because every single person is white.”
“Yeah, I know that place, that sounds like Vermont,” actor Adam Driver, playing a meeting attendee, says.
“The SNL cast was in great form on Saturday night,” Michael Schirling, secretary of Vermont’s Agency of Commerce and Community Development, said in a statement this week.
In his statement responding to the skit, Schirling touched on the points of humor in the sketch referencing classic Vermont points of interest — like corn mazes, country stores and covered bridges — but said the state is more than what it is known for.
“We invite SNL viewers to Vermont to see all that we have to offer, including our increasingly diverse communities and wide array of tourist destinations including the African American Heritage Trail,” he wrote. “Now is a perfect time to visit or to consider a move here. The leaves are changing and so is Vermont.”
We commend the towns and cities that unanimously rose up against racism and discrimination this week. Their charge is a first step toward knocking back racism and making bold strides toward change — not just at a micro level but systemically. We urge the Legislature to take up the constitutional amendment and remove the inappropriate, outdated language.
It is steps like these that will show we are acknowledging the deep-seated issues lurking in Vermont, and coming up with solutions toward meaningful progress.
Portland Press Herald
If you follow the news, you might think that the opioid overdose epidemic is our only drug-related public health crisis.
To be sure, it is a serious problem that claims more than one life a day in Maine, affects nearly every community and demands a much bolder coordinated response than what we have seen so far.
But it is not the only one, and it may not even be the deadliest. Alcohol, available at corner stores and gas stations everywhere, is killing Mainers and ruining lives right under our noses.
A new World Health Organization study blames alcohol for 3 million deaths a year, accounting for one in 20 deaths globally.
Unlike many diseases tracked by the WHO, alcohol use disorders are most common in the richest countries such as those in Europe and the Americas. With Maine, along with the rest of New England, among the heaviest drinking states, a better public health approach should be at the forefront of state policy, aimed at preventing dangerous drinking with education and providing treatment for people who need to stop. But alcohol is so prevalent it can hide in plain sight and does not get the attention it demands.
Part of the problem is that alcohol is used safely on a daily basis by millions of adults. While a recent study found that there was no absolutely safe dose, it measured very small levels of risk for light drinkers.
But the minority of drinkers who engage in dangerous behavior like binge drinking (five or more drinks in two hours for a man, four for a woman) or exceed the daily recommendations (no more than two drinks a day for a man and one for a woman) are putting their physical and mental health at risk, causing unnecessary suffering for themselves and their families.
According to the researchers, 28 percent of the deaths were due to injuries, including traffic crashes, suicide and violence; 21 percent die from liver disease, pancreatitis and other digestive disorders; 19 percent die of cardiovascular diseases, and the remainder due to infectious diseases, cancers, mental disorders and other health conditions.
No one is calling for a return to Prohibition, but there are steps policymakers could take to alleviate the problem.
Duke University professor Philip J. Cook has long argued that raising the federal excise taxes on alcohol should be part of the response.
About 60 percent of the population, who don’t drink at all, would pay nothing. Light to moderate drinkers would pay only a little more, but heavy drinkers, who are incurring the biggest health care and law enforcement costs, would pay the bulk of the tax, and those people who spend every cent they have on booze would have less to spend.
Other WHO recommendations are policies that are already in place, regarding limits on advertising and the places where it’s legal to drink. They could be tightened up and combined with the kind of public health information effort that changed attitudes about cigarette smoking.
Complacency is the biggest obstacle. As the WHO report shows, minimizing alcohol’s threat to public health would be bad policy.
The recent case of a Hampton groomer charged in the death of Teddy, a 5-year-old golden retriever, should serve as a cautionary tale for all pet owners.
Beth Bessemer, owner of Mrs. Doolittle’s Bath House on Route 1 in Hampton, was charged by Hampton police with two counts of animal cruelty on Sept. 19.
They allege Bessemer negligently permitted Teddy to endure unnecessary suffering at her grooming facility by leaving the dog in a crate with a heated dryer blowing on him and a noose around his neck, causing his death. Additionally, police allege an alternative theory that on the same date Bessemer negligently deprived the dog of necessary care and sustenance by leaving him unattended in conditions detrimental to his well-being, which caused his death.
For Teddy’s owner, Joanne Schwope, the death of her dog, who she considered a member of the family, was devastating. She dropped her pet off for a routine grooming only to return three hours later to learn that her dog was dead. “It’s just really odd not having him around anymore,” she said, holding back tears. “We think about him every day.”
But for the North Hampton woman, the death was also a call for action to ensure no other pet owner goes through what she did. She’s pushing lawmakers to create licensing requirements for groomers in New Hampshire in honor of Teddy.
Locally and nationally, animal deaths at groomers are rare. But they do happen. And in each case, the owners of these pets were surprised to learn there are no requirements for groomers to obtain a vocational license. While you need a license to work in a hair salon and nail salon, you don’t need one to be a groomer.
Legislation has been sponsored in several states to create licensing for groomers, but it hasn’t caught on. Connecticut and Colorado have at least some regulations in regard to tethering dogs and leaving them unattended while tethered.
The Professional Pet Groomers and Stylist Alliance, in response to calls for regulations, developed its own professional standards of care that were adopted in 2015. The guidelines do not address techniques for grooming or styling an animal. Instead they focus on care, safety and sanitation.
Among the standards is to have non-slip table tops for dogs; safe and humane pet restraints; pets must be closely and frequently monitored during cage drying; and the facility must carry general and professional liability insurance and follow all local, state and federal guidelines, rules and regulations.
While the PPGSA itself does not offer individual memberships or certifications, the member organizations of the PPGSA have agreed to incorporate these standards into their own education, training and certification programs.
But pet owners should not rely on that alone and must be aware and do their part. The Humane Society of the United States offers several tips when looking to find a pet a groomer.
It recommends asking a friend, veterinarian, boarding kennel, dog trainer, pet supply store or animal shelter for suggestions. After selecting a groomer, it recommends checking the local Better Business Bureau to see if any complaints have been lodged against the grooming facility. It also recommends asking the groomer whether their registered or certified by a grooming school or professional association, and the names of a few current clients to interview.
Other recommendations include checking online reviews and touring the facility to ensure it’s clean.
Schwope said her biggest piece of advice is for pet owners to do their homework before entrusting them with the care of their loved one.
“For people to just be aware, ask questions ask to see where their pet is going to be,” Schwope said. “Don’t take anything for granted, because I did, and that was my biggest regret.”