Editorials from around New England

April 5, 2019

Editorials from around New England:



The Day

April 1

It has been nearly two months since the Catholic Diocese of Norwich released its list of priests that it said had been credibly accused of sexual misconduct involving minors. If the purpose of releasing the list was intended to provide transparency and start to move past the scandal that has long dogged the church, it was an abject failure.

The problem is that Bishop Michael Cote wants to define the parameters of transparency, unadvised and unquestioned by any independent entity. He has lifted the veil, but only so far. The result is that rather than reassuring parishioners and the public, the attempt at coming clean has only generated more questions and, to a degree, created greater distrust about the church’s real intentions.

Was the intent to truly come to grips with what happened or to make a gesture and move on? The evidence suggests the latter was the greater motivation. It didn’t work.

The release of 43 names provided little context. There were names, dates of ordination, whether the individuals were removed from ministry, if they had died, and whether they were a member of the diocese at the time of the credible abuse allegations.

But there was no listing of the parishes these men had served in at the time of their abusive actions or information on the scope of their behavior or the number of potential victims. Most disappointingly, there was no acknowledgement of how their cases were handled by former bishops and the diocese.

The bishops were the enablers of this becoming a massive scandal. It is a reality many still appear unwilling to confront. How often were these priests reassigned, often after supposedly being “cured” by counseling of their propensity for deviancy, only to find new child victims in parishes left unaware of their past misconduct? Why were police or child welfare agencies not contacted? Or were they?

As for what was released, the diocese fumbled and stumbled forward. Within days the diocese added three names of priests, men who served the Diocese of Norwich but had credible allegations lodged against them elsewhere.

Most troubling, the diocese removed the name of a former priest from the list, admitting there were no allegations of sexual abuse of a minor in the individual’s record, but making no apology. The priest, now deceased, had however ministered to the homosexual community in a manner that was in opposition to church teaching and orders. He was dismissed from the priesthood in 1994. Why was he listed? There was no explanation.

Evidence has continued to surface that there were other priests who faced credible claims of sexual abuse of children, but never made the list. At the time the diocese released the names, it stated $7.7 million had been paid out to victims, but did not state which priests were tied to settlements. Personal injury attorneys, who have represented plaintiffs suing the church for permitting the abusive conduct, said the settlement number appeared low. Soon after, the diocese announced another $900,000 settlement.

If Bishop Cote wants to throw open the windows of the diocese, he would ask for volunteers to come forward from the laity and provide them access to the files in the church’s possession. Grant such a panel the independence to provide a credible accounting of what happened and who was responsible.

It is fair to note the Catholic Church has changed in this country and diocese. The most egregious behavior is largely in the past, though not exclusively. Training requirements now in place for clergy, laypersons and volunteers who work with children focus on recognizing the signs of abuse and new rules call for suspicion of misconduct to be reported to police or child welfare advocates.

That is not enough. Legislation under consideration in the General Assembly would give those who were minor victims of sexual assault, but who are now prohibited by the statute of limitations from filing a lawsuit, an opportunity to do so regardless of age. It deserves approval. Under current law, some are unable to file lawsuits because they did not do so by age 48.

In the meantime, the church could establish a victims’ compensation fund, providing counseling and support for those who have credible cases but who, for whatever reasons, are unlikely or uninterested in finding restitution through the legal system.

Coming to grips with the legacy of abuse and cover-ups, combined with genuine efforts at reconciliation with past victims, would be a start down the long path to restoring credibility.

Online: https://bit.ly/2YE0cst



The Cape Cod Times

April 4

A drive to mandate training to prevent sexual harassment at institutions of higher learning throughout the state could not have come at a more important time. Study after study suggest that the issue of sexual harassment and assault on college campuses remains an insidious and under-reported problem, especially among young women. Couple this with a U.S. Department of Education effort to roll back protections for the victims of such attacks, and the urgency of this bill becomes even more apparent.

The act was drawn up by Katelyn Babbin, a legislative aide to state Rep. Randy Hunt, R-Sandwich, who has co-sponsored the measure with 13 of his House colleagues. The measure also has the support of state Sen. Julian Cyr, D-Truro. If passed, the act would require that all post-secondary schools in the commonwealth annually administer sexual harassment training for faculty, staff, and students. That training would come in the form of programming to help make people more aware of the problem as well as how to create an environment of safety and respect.

It also requires the development of prevention strategies, in the form of promoting “positive healthy behavior,” and calls for training so that those who witness such behavior will take steps, whether the person be a bystander or an employee of the institution. Schools would also be required to report the results of their training to the state.

Babbin is a good choice to draft such a measure. Hunt reports that she spearheaded an initiative at Boston College to do much of what the bill calls for on a statewide level. As a trainer for Bystander Intervention, she helped create a program that taught students how to recognize and respond to incidents of sexual assault. Last year, Babbin offered assistance to Independence House, a Cape-based group, during its #SoMuchAbuse conference, working toward a similar goal.

One of the focal points of the effort is to reduce the tidal wave of harassment and assault that engulfs college students each year. According to the National Sexual Violence Resource Center, more than one out of every four college women have experienced unwanted sexual contact during their time in school, and almost two out of every three female students have been the victim of sexual harassment.

In light of such alarming statistics, one might think that there would be little need to force schools into taking such simple measures as education campaigns. Unfortunately, such is not the case. Although the federal Department of Education’s Office for Civil Rights once pushed colleges and universities across the United States to take a harder line on allegations of sexual violence, Secretary of Education Betsy DeVos has championed an effort to roll those protections back. Last November, she proposed a set of new rules that put the rights on those accused of sexual predation on the same level of those who were making the accusations. Some have noted with alarm that the burden of proof for sexual assault on college and university campuses is now higher than it is for non-sexual cases.

In truth, DeVos’ proposals were part of an even larger effort throughout the department to roll back a host of Obama-era guidelines meant to protect the rights of everyone from transgendered individuals to people of color to individuals with disabilities. This, however, does not make the changes to the sexual assault guidelines any less reprehensible. In fact, if anything, it just reveals that like every other marginalized population, at the national level at least, victims of sexual violence can simply expect to be re-victimized by a system purportedly in place to protect them.

Fortunately, thanks to Babbin and Hunt, Massachusetts may soon be able to distance itself from such counterproductive and dangerous initiatives. The Joint Committee on Higher Education will take up the bill on April 9. Hopefully, the committee will see the value in proactively protecting students from a threat we recognize, but have done all too little to combat.

Online: https://bit.ly/2OPOB4V



The Providence Journal

April 3

America’s amazing natural gas boom of the past decade, produced largely by innovative hydraulic fracturing techniques — known colloquially as “fracking” — could not have come at a better time. It is urgent that the United States, like the rest of the world, reduce carbon dioxide emissions. Yet at the same time, renewable energy sources such as wind and solar, while expanding, are not yet efficient and reliable enough to supply adequate power to an industrialized and prosperous country of 330 million.

Natural gas, which pollutes the atmosphere far less than burning coal or oil, is widely regarded as a “bridge fuel” that can take us from an era of dirtier fossil fuels to a future of cleaner power, still being invented and refined. Microsoft co-founder Bill Gates, for example, one of the richest people in the world, is backing what his company TerraPower calls “a more affordable, secure and environmentally friendly form of nuclear energy.” Such abundant energy would produce no greenhouse gases (though the public remains skeptical and fearful of nuclear).

Thus, the fact that the United States is now the world’s largest producer of natural gas, surpassing Russia about a decade ago, is astonishingly good news for our country, as it has driven natural gas prices to record lows.

It is unfortunate, though, that many residents of New England have been left out of the boom that much of the rest of the country is enjoying.

Consider a recent announcement from Holyoke Gas & Electric and Middleborough Gas and Electric, in Western Massachusetts. Since January, the two companies have enforced a moratorium on new residential natural gas hookups in several towns, including Holyoke and Southampton. Their announcement was hardly unprecedented: “The HG&E moratorium is not the first in western Massachusetts. Berkshire Gas has had a new hookup moratorium in eight Franklin and Hampshire County towns for about four years and Columbia Gas has had a moratorium on new natural gas service in Northampton and Easthampton since 2014,” reported the Boston Herald.

The reason for the moratoria is simple: New England’s pipeline infrastructure is woefully inadequate, judged by experts to be the nation’s worst. (They’re a big reason that New Englanders pay far more for energy than other Americans.) So-called environmental activists and the politicians they control have repeatedly stymied attempts to build new pipelines.

“While inexpensive natural gas has never been more plentiful in the United States, there is insufficient pipeline capacity in our region to deliver additional load,” said Holyoke Gas & Electric. “Recent proposals that would increase natural gas capacity in the region have been met with opposition, and the current pipeline constraints are causing significant adverse environmental and economic impacts on the region’s ratepayers.”

In short, we are letting perfection become the enemy of the good. While natural gas is indeed a fossil fuel, it pollutes much less than coal and oil. Blocking new pipelines accomplishes little but raise energy prices. And, because it prevents people from using natural gas, it also increases emissions — a truly perverse outcome.

Moreover, new pipelines can be constructed at the same time that states take other actions to reduce the production of greenhouse gases. Natural gas is a complement to, and not an enemy of, sound environmental planning.

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



The Rutland Herald

April 1

It would behoove us, in Vermont and the United States, to be hospitable, fair, inclusive and welcoming. The citizens of one Vermont community — Montpelier — acted upon those principles last November when they voted 2,857 to 1,488 to amend their city charter to allow residents who are not U.S. citizens but are in the country legally to vote in most local elections. Voters in Winooski, considering a similar charter change, unfortunately decided otherwise, and in 2015, Burlington voters also turned down such an initiative.

Montpelier, therefore, stands to be the first Vermont municipality to allow legal no-citizen voting, but the proposed charter amendment must first be approved by the Legislature and then by Gov. Phil Scott. A bill furthering their constituents’ decision was submitted for this legislative session by Democratic state Reps. Mary Hooper and Warren Kitzmiller, and is now being considered by the House Government Operations Committee. Kitzmiller recently predicted that the bill, H.207, will be approved by the committee and then by the full House, largely along party lines, with the same results in the Senate. He was less certain that Scott would sign the legislation.

Here’s hoping Kitzmiller’s predictions are correct, and that the governor signs on. Why? For one thing, it’s a decision that Montpelier voters made, with a fairly healthy margin, about conducting their own local affairs. Nor do there seem to be legal nor constitutional barriers. The director of elections in the Secretary of State’s office explained last week that as long as the proposed change applied only to local issues — not state or federal elections, and in fact not to some decisions affecting the Montpelier-Roxbury school district because the charter change must not affect Roxbury — local voters should have their way.

Which they did, of course, in Winooski and Burlington. The resistance registered by majority voters in those cities, and by the minority in Montpelier who opposed the measure, may stem from an assumption that noncitizens have somehow rejected the opportunities and responsibilities that citizenship confers, or perhaps that they are transients and won’t be around long enough to have a real stake in the outcome of a vote. There could, for some — a minority, we’re sure — be darker reasons, rooted in antipathy to immigration.

But, if we believe in democratic self-government, we should agree that people have an intrinsic right to vote, to participate so far as the law allows in decisions that affect them. This is especially true when, in so many ways, they contribute to their communities: providing their skills to employers who benefit from them; patronizing local stores and businesses; owning or renting property; paying the taxes levied on all these activities to support local police and fire services and fix the sidewalks and sewers; and sending their kids to school.

It’s not like Montpelier is trailblazing some whacked-out political theory. Legal noncitizen residents can vote on local issues in various communities in Illinois, California and New York. In Takoma Park, Maryland, they’ve been doing it since 1992.

Predictably, though, conservative ideologues have launched a determined campaign against such provisions. U.S. Rep. Jeff Duncan, R-South Carolina — whose native Southland pretends (when it serves the South’s interests) to be a bastion for “states’ rights!” — has introduced a bill in Congress that would ban all federal funding from going to states and municipalities that allow what he calls “alien suffrage.”

Clearly discomfited by support for noncitizen voting by nemeses Rep. Alexandria Ocasio-Cortez (D-NY), former Georgia Democratic gubernatorial candidate Stacey Abrams and the evil City of San Francisco, Duncan wrote, in the National Review, that “even when advancing the radical policy of noncitizen voting, (liberals) can’t state their true view: that drawing a distinction between citizens and noncitizens of the United States is immoral. It’s the same principle that leads them to oppose both securing the border with a wall and enacting effective immigration enforcement measures. But, in the same way that a strong border is what protects the citizens of the United States from drug trafficking and terrorism, a strong border between who is and is not a voting member of our Republic based on citizenship protects and upholds the legitimacy of our institutions.”

All Montpelier’s voters wanted to do was invite the folks who pass them on the sidewalks every day to be treated as the neighbors and community members they are. That’s not throwing open the borders, and it’s not advancing some radical agenda aimed at erasing the concept of citizenship. It’s just treating people with the respect they deserve.

Don’t you agree, governor?

Online: https://bit.ly/2CS2mvd



The Nashua Telegraph

April 4

We admit the idea of eating and drinking at a height of 65 feet in downtown Nashua, all while enjoying a concert at the planned Performing Arts Center, seems rather intriguing.

Indeed, adding a rooftop terrace to the center set for construction at the former Alec’s Shoes building would allow for a highly unique experience.

Still, we hope city leaders are not getting too far ahead of themselves with such ambitious ideas. After all, how much does the estimated $15.5 million price tag actually cover?

Last week, Nashua Director of Economic Development Tim Cummings discussed the ongoing project during a special Board of Aldermen meeting.

“We are continuing to work toward trying to find the private capital necessary to continue moving this project forward,” Cummings said. “We are very optimistic that we will obtain the private capital necessary to be able to move this project forward into the construction phase.”

We certainly look forward to the opening of the long-anticipated PAC. We are not sure how much of a draw it will ultimately be, but it will clearly be an upgrade from the existing structure. It should help drive some additional business in the downtown area, particularly on evenings in which it hosts performances.

However, city leaders must not go overboard with the PAC. If such ambitious rooftop city can be added to the venue at reasonable cost, we would encourage it. If the cost is simply too high, guests may have to simply take their seats inside the venue.

We also hope city leaders do not create something that is only accessible for the affluent members of the community. This, of course, would occur if typical ticket prices are too high for many families.

We want to see the PAC succeed as a venue in which all of Greater Nashua can take pride.

Online: https://bit.ly/2FR7dNX



The Portland Press Herald

Only 12 weeks into her term, Gov. Mills has managed to do something that her predecessor failed to do in eight years: She signed a bill that would give more Mainers an opportunity to take advantage of the historic price collapse of solar panels, whose cost has declined 99 percent in 40 years.

Mills signed a bill Tuesday that restores net metering, which gives solar customers a credit for the excess energy they produce when the sun is shining to offset the cost of the power they pull off the grid when it is not. The bill also wipes out a scheme designed by the Public Utilities Commission that would have required solar customers to have two electric meters and would have charged them for all the electricity they used, even if they generated it themselves.

Restoring net metering will bring a sense of certainty to the industry in Maine, which has been rocked by former Gov. Paul LePage’s animosity to any kind of renewable-energy project. His vetoes of solar expansion bills and his negative rhetoric created confusion in the marketplace and slowed the growth of an industry that is still providing good-paying jobs in areas that have been hit hard by economic contraction.

But it’s important to remember that the bill that Mills signed this week only gets the state back to the status quo, where we were before LePage began trying to wipe out the market for the solar power generated on rooftops. It brings back rules developed in the 1990s, when solar collectors were prohibitively expensive and had little impact on the state’s energy grid.

A lot has changed since then. Solar energy is a key element of a decarbonized future for Maine. Clean power generated from the sun stops us from sending money out of state to buy greenhouse-gas-producing fossil fuels. If we are going to use more electricity for transportation and home heating in order to stop contributing to climate change, the state will need to expand the amount of clean energy produced here, and a set of regulations that encourages private investment is one part of the equation.

Net metering, the status quo that was restored this week, is a blunt instrument that does not always create the right incentives to make the most of the technology. There are still unnecessary limits on community solar farms, where customers who can’t have their own systems - either because of cost or the location of their home — can buy a share of power produced in a better location. And it’s still too hard to build large-scale solar projects, which are the most efficient way to exploit the technology.

The lack of innovation on the regulatory side is why Maine lags in solar energy jobs and solar power produced. Cleaning up the chaos caused by the last administration is important, but it’s the starting line, not the end of the race.

Over the next weeks, lawmakers will have to work hard to make sure that we have the right rules in place to take full advantage of this promising part of the clean-energy economy.

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