Colorado Editorial Roundup
Grand Junction Daily Sentinel, March 14, on NCAA restoring integrity to college basketball:
Last week, the NCAA reported generating $1.06 billion in revenue for the 2016-17 school year and $761 million of that came from last year’s Division I men’s basketball tournament, according to the Washington Post.
Those revenues came on the backs of a “workforce” that doesn’t get paid. The lack of sufficient compensation for amateur student-athletes has created an environment of corruption, greed and dirty money — something the NCAA acknowledged by appointing a committee led by Condoleeza Rice to fix what ails college basketball.
Last September four college basketball coaches were among 10 people arrested as part of an FBI investigation into bribery and pay-to-play schemes. A complaint filed by federal prosecutors alleges four Division I assistant coaches were bribed to steer players toward agents and financial advisers, according to the New York Times.
“Documents associated with the cases have implicated dozens of current and future players on prominent programs, casting something of a pall over the annual Division I men’s basketball tournament, the NCAA’s marquee event that tips off this week,” the Times reported.
It’s probably an exaggeration to think that the majority of March Madness aficionados cares, or even knows, that the tournament is unfolding with scandal as a backdrop. Most people are studying their brackets trying to predict upsets — not remedies for misconduct.
That’s the job of the Commission on College Basketball and “if it seeks sincere resolution, the path starts with doing more to appreciate the impact the players have on this lucrative sport,” Washington Post columnist Jerry Brewer wrote on Sunday. “The days must end of pretending to be an amateur enterprise, pocketing all the money and then having the nerve to be shocked that the workers want to be compensated more, too.”
Whether that means increasing the value of scholarships, providing stipends or paying players outright is part of the debate. A Pac-12 task force recently made recommendations that could serve as a preview of the NCAA commission’s findings. That group focused on the relationship between the NBA and the NCAA. It also recommended relaxing regulations barring contact with agents and removing summer basketball programs from the purview of the apparel companies.
The NCAA basketball tournament is arguably the nation’s single biggest sporting event. It’s doubtful that the sordid details that gave rise to task forces and commissions will make a dent in the tournament’s popularity. It’s too riveting — too full of magical moments, Cinderella stories and buzzer beaters.
That’s precisely why, as Brewer notes, this is a game worth saving. The fact that “honest and earnest programs can still prosper in this vile environment” should be an inspiration to clean up the game. It starts with showing “concern about how much the NCAA is profiting under the veil of amateurism.”
Let’s hope the NCAA’s “one shining moment” this year is coming up with a realistic way to restore integrity to the game.
The Denver Post, March 13, on another drug sentencing reform:
A shocking new report indicates Colorado prisons are being filled with drug offenders charged for possession, despite this state’s legalization of marijuana and 2013 sentencing reforms intended to favor treatment over incarceration.
The Colorado Criminal Justice Reform Coalition report found 15,323 felony drug cases filed in 2017, up from 7,424 in 2012. The report found 75 percent of those cases were for simple possession, and, of those offenders actually sent to prison, 84 percent were originally charged with only possession.
We will be among those shouting for additional sentencing reform if those numbers survive scrutiny, but Colorado’s district attorneys are as puzzled as we are by the statistics, given what they anecdotally see every day as they prosecute cases.
“Even if someone shot up with heroin in court, they are likely not going to prison,” said District Attorney George Brauchler, who ran the 2016 numbers for the 18th Judicial District. His research found that of 1,068 cases filed for felony possession, only 102 of them included prison sentences. Of those 102 cases, 80 involved a plea to felony possession from a higher-class felony.
That leaves 22 cases out of 4,867 felony cases in Brauchler’s district where the top charge was felony possession, and all but one of those cases was connected to charges in another jurisdiction that were likely more serious and therefore resulted in the prison time.
So what’s going on with such major discrepancy? The disconnect points to a fundamental problem with Colorado’s judicial system: a lack of reliable data upon which policy makers can make sound decisions.
For example, the Colorado District Attorneys’ Council flagged a troubling trend earlier this year: felony criminal filings across Colorado had increased by nearly 50 percent over five years. No one is certain why.
But it all might tie back to the complexities of sentencing reform that in 2013 created a system where those charged with a felony for possession could get the conviction dropped to a misdemeanor by completing treatment and not violating probation.
“What I fear is that we are filling up our prisons with people who are victimizing our community because of an untreated drug problem,” said Dan Rubinstein, district attorney for the 21st Judicial District. “If we could have treated the drug problem sooner, not only would we have an offender with a treated drug problem, we would have many fewer victims.”
Rubinstein helped draft the 2013 law and said he is concerned by the spike in felony convictions. He said he will begin drilling into data in Mesa County, but anecdotally he doubts prisons are being filled with drug offenders who are facing convictions for possession alone. Rather he suspects to find multiple repeat offenders and those who go on to commit more severe crimes.
Much more research needs to be done before Colorado can get to the heart of this problem, especially given the debate now before lawmakers on whether to reopen a prison in Cañon City.
We join the chorus of those wanting low-level drug offenders to get treatment in their communities rather than punishment in our prisons. But those sent to such facilities in lieu of prison must be legitimately able to benefit from treatment, and not hardened criminals.
Cortez Journal, March 12, on Sunshine Week:
The belief that good government flourishes when it is well-supervised by citizens has been deeply held in this country since its founding. As firmly entrenched as that value is, Americans shouldn’t forget that the rights that uphold their informed participation require constant tending.
Sunshine Week, March 11-17 this year, focuses attention on the open-meetings and open-records laws that give ordinary people the right to observe the workings of government. Such laws are foundational to our representative democracy. Coloradans’ rights are strong because of decades of advocacy by journalists, government watchdogs and lawmakers who believe in transparency.
Such laws are upheld, though, by the insistence of the public on pushing open illegally closed doors and digging for documents someone says cannot be found, and then on taking action based on what they find. Those basic laws are not permanent guarantees; Colorado residents know what can happen when deep-pocketed outside interests breeze in with a new agenda. Don’t assume you have a right to information that affects you; be vigilant in ensuring that everyone does. Local elected bodies follow those laws most closely when they know constituents will call them on violations.
Access to information is only the first step; accountability requires something more. Those who seek to govern must be willing to stand in the light, and when they falter in their commitment to do that, the light must come to them. They must care what their constituents think and want; they must be responsive, and they must know that constituents will insist on that.
In the past few decades, technology has made uncovering information much easier, so a new way of discounting the truth has developed. Those whose actions are being questioned no longer bother discussing the topic but jump straight to accusing the messenger of being wrong, dishonest or even incapable of understanding information that cannot be disputed.
By all means, argue the issues, but don’t attempt to gaslight the American people.
Batting away negative revelations by declaring them “fake news” is a new low in government of, by and for the people. Information really is power; otherwise, what would be the purpose for withholding it?
Insisting on governmental transparency should not be political. Americans have plenty of history that teaches what can go wrong when secrecy is allowed to prevail unchecked. Especially in an era when the rights of individuals are threatened by governmental obeisance to corporate interests, no one can blindly trust that the government will act in his or her best interests.
The right course is to participate in ensuring that it does, and that requires knowing what public officials and agencies are doing and why they’re doing it. Keep shining the bright light of public oversight into the shadowy corners where abuse can hide.
The (Colorado Springs) Gazette, March 13, on Medicaid work requirement possibly helping with labor crunch:
Colorado has a labor crunch, and it is about to get worse. It may be time for state politicians to consider a work requirement for able-bodied adults on Medicaid.
At below 3 percent, Colorado’s unemployment ranks among the lowest in the country. All indicators show the economy remains white-hot, which makes it even harder for employers to find employees.
With tax cuts in place, the national economy added 313,000 jobs in February and put much of the country into a tight labor market. Yes, it is mostly a good problem to have.
The dearth of workers has employers flooding the federal government with applications for H-2b visas. They are desperate bring in workers from Mexico to take seasonal jobs in what the Denver Post described as landscaping, construction, hospitality and tourism.
The booming economy has created so much demand for seasonal employees the government received requests for 82,000 visas on Jan. 1. That compares with 24,000 on Jan. 1, 2017. Applications subsequent to Jan. 1 drove requests to 144,000 for 33,000 summer visas. The Department of Homeland Security has resorted to a lottery to pick winners and losers.
“It is dire,” said Brad Ahl, president of Windsor-based Labor Solutions, as quoted in The Post.
The visa program requires employers to prove they pay competitive wages and have the means to cover payroll.
“We don’t know how we will get the workers,” said Jake Leman, construction division manager at Singing Hills Landscaping, as quoted by The Post. “If we could bring back the guys we had from last year, we would be able to survive and fulfill all of our contracts.”
For businesses, it means leaving money on the table as contracts go unfulfilled and customers go unserved for lack of adequate staffing at hotels, resorts and attractions. Consumers will have difficulty hiring firms to conduct work around their homes.
At a time like this, Colorado should consider following the lead of former President Bill Clinton.
During another era of low unemployment and economic fortune, Clinton signed into law the Personal Responsibility and Work Opportunity Act of 1996. It required able-bodied recipients of federal welfare to undergo training for skilled labor and/or find gainful employment within a limited time frame.
In signing the bill, explained a 2016 Washington Post editorial, Clinton converted welfare “from an open-ended benefit to a time-limited one conditioned on work effort.” The Post explained how supporters rightly hailed the program “as the antidote to the previous system’s perverse incentives for dependency.”
“In its first half-decade, welfare reform produced dramatic results, as both caseloads and poverty rates declined rapidly,” the Post argued, explaining it had reversed its position since opposing the reforms under previous ownership in 1996.
In Colorado, able-bodied adults make up about 45 percent of Medicaid recipients. Lots of them work hard in low-wage jobs that provide no health care plans. They would be unaffected by a law tying Medicaid to employment.
Some nondisabled Medicaid recipients see no reason to work when government provides health care, shelter and food. Their numbers may be small, but they do a disservice to the majority of able-bodied Medicaid recipients who work hard and pay taxes.
That is why the federal government this year allowed states to apply for a program that attaches work requirements to Medicaid benefits, much like Clinton’s reforms tied cash benefits to employment.
Colorado politicians have discussed the idea but have not applied.
After Wisconsin applied in January, PBS interviewed able-bodied Medicaid recipients who did not like the new requirement. Thomas J. Penister of Milwaukee said he could not imagine taking a job because he suffers from anxiety. He’s serious.
“Would it be advantageous of me to go into the workforce instead of me therapeutically transitioning to a state where I’m actually ready to perform in the workforce?” he asked.
Yes. Lots of taxpayers suffer anxiety while toiling to provide health care for people with ridiculous excuses for refusing to work.
Employers in Colorado and elsewhere are begging for immigrants to fill jobs Americans won’t do. It is time to seriously consider tying Medicaid to work, for those who are not disabled. Direct them to apply for jobs with employers who applied in futility for visas this year.
A policy that improves cash benefits could improve our Medicaid system, the economy, and the futures of people who discover the rewards of hard work.