Editorials from around New England

January 25, 2019

Editorials from around New England:



The Connecticut Post

Jan. 25

This must be the year that Connecticut takes the next logical steps in protecting children and each other.

We are talking about gun safety and gun violence prevention. Although Connecticut became a leader in gun regulation in 2013, more needs to be done.

Numerous related bills have been proposed in the General Assembly in recent weeks to further gun safety and gun violence protection. It is not too early to become informed, track the bills, and testify when committees have hearings.

Bills related to ghost guns and printable 3-D guns, in particular, ought to get passed this session. They were raised last year, but were not approved by both chambers.

Ghost guns are untraceable. They have no serial numbers because they are assembled without much effort at home from parts ordered over the internet. Anyone — even teenagers — can get one.

In testimony before the Judiciary Committee last year, Westport First Selectman James Marpe called the possibility of unregulated ghost guns a “very real threat to public safety.” People at Staples High School faced “hours of emotional turmoil” while police responded to a tip in February that a student talked of carrying out a mass shooting. The tense situation was prolonged because police did not know whether the student had a ghost gun.

How large of a problem ghost guns are in the state, and how many end up in criminal hands, is unknown because they are unregulated. But the sense is that they have been growing as a way to get around stricter gun legislation adopted after the Sandy Hook Elementary School tragedy in 2012.

Two freshmen state senators, Alexandra Bergstein of Greenwich and Will Haskell of Westport, both Democrats, introduced legislation to ban ghost guns.

Bergstein submitted Senate Bill 89, “An Act Concerning Ghost Guns,” and Haskell submitted Senate Bill 158 to “ban guns without serial numbers and regulate those which are sold in a form requiring the purchaser to finish assembly or that are homemade.” Both were referred to the Judiciary Committee.

In the House, 10 Republicans, mostly representing Fairfield County towns, proposed House Bill 5725 to “prohibit the sale or manufacture of any firearm that does not have a serial number or is homemade by any means, including 3D printing.”

The bipartisan support against ghost guns is encouraging. Gov. Ned Lamont, while a candidate, pledged support to ban ghost and 3D-printed guns, which are made of plastic, have no serial numbers, and therefore are untraceable.

Do-it-yourself firearms, such as the 3D-printed guns and home-assembled ghost guns, should not be allowed to continue operating outside of lawful regulation.

Other proposals to watch for this session include Senate Bill 60, submitted by Senate President Pro Tempore Martin Looney of New Haven, to require anyone openly carrying a gun to show a permit if requested by police. Several were introduced regarding safe storage of firearms (SB 91 and HB 5345) and parental responsibility (HB 5431).

This is the time to take the next steps to make Connecticut safer.

Online: https://bit.ly/2RcG6QV



The Boston Globe

Jan. 22

In a handful of courthouses in the Merrimack Valley, an important experiment in criminal justice reform is underway.

Court officials are partnering with UTEC, a Lowell organization that works with some of the toughest young men in the region, to reimagine probation — that critical way station between freedom and imprisonment.

Some 56,000 people statewide are under probationary supervision — either in lieu of a prison sentence, or as they ease their way back into society after months or years behind bars. And the Merrimack Valley pilot program homes in on one crucial subset of that population: young adults, ages 18 to 24.

Decades of neuroscience research show that the brain is still developing into the mid-20s. That can mean a lot of bad, impulsive decisions; this age cohort has a higher recidivism rate than any other. But when the brain is that plastic, there is also real opportunity for redemption. For turning lives around.

“Young adults are a discrete group,” explains probation commissioner Edward Dolan. “You can’t treat them like they’re 15-year-olds. And you can’t treat them like they’re 50-year-olds.”

Indeed, the pilot joins a small, but promising array of programs around the country that aim to carve out a unique place for young adults in the criminal justice system. Prisons in Billerica and Cheshire, Conn., have established separate young adult units. And San Francisco launched a Young Adult Court a few years ago.

In the Merrimack Valley, about 30 high-risk young adults are participating in the voluntary program so far, with plans to expand to 60 or 70 if the state does the right thing and steps up funding.

Participants work in a handful of UTEC-run social enterprises — a mattress recycling business, a cafe and catering outfit, and a woodworking operation that makes cutting boards and salad tongs sold at Whole Foods markets throughout the Northeast.

UTEC — founded 20 years ago as United Teen Equality Center, but now with an expanded mission to serve older youth, ages 17-25 — also offers free child care and mental health services. And the organization says its young adults have substantially lower recidivism rates than the broader, justice-system-involved population in this age cohort.

The group has had an informal relationship with the probation department for years. But UTEC will now be able to access probation’s formal risk assessments, offering a more robust picture of the young adults it serves. And eventually, probation will dedicate officers in five courthouses to work directly with UTEC — referring young adults to the program and monitoring their progress.

The courts and probation department are also discussing incentives for completing UTEC programming — including a reduction in probation fees and trims to probation sentences.

Importantly, all the players seem willing to experiment. Gregg Croteau, chief executive of UTEC, says the program will function as a “learning lab,” with lessons to be drawn by the state and, hopefully, the nation.

Paula Carey, chief justice of the Trial Court, sees an opportunity for a broad impact. And she says lawmakers should keep funding the pilot when they take up the budget this spring: “I think this is a winner all the way around.”

Only time will tell, of course. But for now, the Merrimack Valley experiment is certainly worth supporting.

Online: https://bit.ly/2Hy0Xia



The Providence Journal

Jan. 25

These are not journalism’s salad days. The Internet has knocked out the pillar that traditionally supported expensive reporting — classified ads and other forms of print advertising. Additionally, the relentlessness of the 24-hour news cycle demands ever faster reporting, and with far fewer resources.

Meanwhile, the country is governed by a president who has made no secret of his disdain for much of the news media. He’s talked of “opening up the libel laws” to make it easier to bankrupt journalistic enterprises. He routinely lambastes critical reporting as being so much “fake news.”

So far, so bad. Our system of government is utterly dependent on a robust press — the ultimate check on our elected officials. A United States without a healthy news media, dedicated to truthful and objective reporting that fairly calls all parties to account, is one in which our governmental and corporate overlords could get away with any manner of abuse.

One of the ways the press holds powerful organizations to account is by generating sources within them. Think Mark Felt — “Deep Throat,” of Watergate fame. That’s why it’s so disturbing that, in a climate already inhospitable to the press, the Department of Justice is reportedly seeking to revise its guidelines for when prosecutors can seize the records of journalists. This is an apparent effort to curtail leaks from confidential sources. The department’s proposed revisions would have a chilling effect on the free operation of the press.

Longtime journalist John Solomon, writing at The Hill, has the story. “The current system requires prosecutors in most cases to exhaust all obvious investigative methods for identifying leaks before seeking to intrude on a journalist’s free-speech rights,” Mr. Solomon reports. This strikes the right balance, allowing bureaucracies to investigate leaks without hampering the operation of the press and the free exercise of the First Amendment.

However, proposed changes at the department would “lower the threshold that prosecutors must meet before requesting subpoenas for journalists’ records ... and eliminate the need to alert a media organization that Justice intends to issue a subpoena.”

The government hates when its agents leak to the press; and why wouldn’t it? Presidential administrations have reasons to keep the nation’s secrets secret, though in too many cases they use security as an excuse to shield themselves from scrutiny. Meanwhile, the actions of the Justice Department in recent years have seemed increasingly and ominously political.

President Trump’s Justice Department is hardly the first to go after leakers. As Mr. Solomon recounts, when he was a reporter for the Associated Press in the early 2000s, “the Justice Department and then-Deputy Attorney General Robert Mueller — yes, the same one now running the Russia investigation — subpoenaed my phone records without notifying AP.” President Barack Obama’s administration behaved similarly, spying on journalist James Rosen and prosecuting journalist James Risen.

If there is any hope that the department will relent, it’s that the mooted changes are apparently being prepared at the behest of Deputy Attorney General Rod Rosenstein. Mr. Rosenstein is expected to leave the department soon.

Here’s hoping that William Barr, likely to be the next attorney general, scuttles this ill-founded proposal.

Online: https://bit.ly/2FPj9SS



The Rutland Herald

Jan. 24

Gov. Phil Scott is in search of the middle.

The Republican, up against a Democratic majority in the House and Senate, put forth a balanced budget that includes enough specifics to please and displease both sides of the aisle.

While his inaugural address two weeks ago was a series of broad charges toward compromise and civility, yesterday’s budget address put a fine point to those edicts.

The state, he noted, faces enormous budget challenges, but Scott insisted there are areas of compromise. His tone proved to be more important than any one line item in the budget.

“I’m certain, if we build consensus on solutions, and compromise when we can’t, we can come to agreement on a budget that supports everyone by growing our economy, making Vermont more affordable and protecting the most vulnerable,” the governor said.

He offered several starting points by which some hard discussions can begin. This speech was as much a plea to lawmakers as it was a salvo to the citizens of Vermont.

“We all know our challenges are great. But I believe in the strength of this institution. I believe in each of you and our ability to solve problems and help people,” he told the joint session. “At a time when it’s so easy to focus on the bad, let’s believe in the good, the good that comes from the people of Vermont. And the good that can come from this building.”

His conclusion spoke volumes: “Today, we can be the example. We can reject hate and anger, partisanship and division. We can recognize Vermonters call for balance, for civility and for us to work together. And we can commit to solving the problems ahead of us and helping the people who sent us here to do so. . If we do, we will make a difference in the lives of Vermonters, and our actions will prove that the best work still comes when we’re guided by our core beliefs in freedom and unity.”

So what did the governor put out there for consideration?

— He emphasized investments and policy reforms to expand the economy and state revenues, by reversing Vermont’s demographic trends, increasing the number of Vermonters in the labor force and transforming the state’s education system to the very best in the nation — all pledges on which he campaigned and affirmed in the inaugural.

— He offered to collaborate with lawmakers to continue to modernize state government, and manage the state’s operational costs and financial obligations, while investing in pro-growth policies that benefit all communities.

— He highlighted the importance of investing in clean water, saying: “It’s not an exaggeration to say that the 20-year, $2 billion project ahead of us is as much a major infrastructure and jobs program as it is essential environmental policy.” He proposed tweaks toward the estate tax to generate revenue toward that end.

— He proposed a tax on vaping paraphernalia and e-cigarettes in an effort to “stop it in its tracks,” citing staggering statistics about the number of young Vermonters who are now part of the “epidemic.”

— Including about $19 million in federal funds, Scott’s budget funds $48 million in clean water infrastructure projects.

— To advance the governor’s commitment to make Vermont more affordable, the budget includes initiatives to expand the availability of broadband, revitalize homes and downtowns and put electric vehicles within reach of more Vermonters. At the same time he indicated he would not support a carbon tax if it were proposed.

— The governor’s budget also makes the initial investment needed to launch his voluntary paid family leave program, and to eliminate the income tax on military pensions.

— In an effort to spur and support economic growth, Scott detailed a plan to modernize Act 250.

He asked for money to improve the state’s cybersecurity and IT infrastructure and proposed an initiative to expand statewide broadband access through a municipal bonding program and a digital partnership with Microsoft.

He won’t get everything he wants. No governor ever does. But he is making a different kind of ask. It is widely known the Scott administration is trying hard to collaborate more with committees and lawmakers this session. It’s talking the talk and walking the walk, which may pay off.

Certainly, politics plays a role; but the governor is right to insist on finding that middle ground. A gauntlet was not thrown on Thursday. An olive branch was extended.

Now we will see how far it goes.

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



The Portland Press Herald

Jan. 25

Transgender members of the military shouldn’t be objects of fear and derision, and their willingness to serve and sacrifice shouldn’t be demeaned.

But with just a few sentences two years ago, President Trump did all of that.

In a series of tweets in July 2017 that surprised even our own military, Trump declared he was banning transgender Americans from the armed forces. Lawsuits followed, but earlier this week the Supreme Court said the ban could move forward while the issue plays out in court.

Meanwhile, thousands of soldiers, sailors, Marines and airmen and women are left wondering whether their careers are over - if their willingness to fight and maybe die for our freedom is just not enough.

Trump says these patriots are not wanted because their presence in the military is a burden and a disruption.

In both arguments, he is wrong on the facts. But in this case, as with so many others, the president doesn’t care about the facts.

The sudden announcement of the ban came as the Trump administration was discussing whether to end the use of public funds to pay for gender reassignment surgery for service members.

This by itself was an idea rooted in bigotry. Transgender service members make up just 1 percent of the military, and transition-related health care would cost the military no more than $8.4 million extra a year, according to the Rand Corp. Compare that with the $84 million the Pentagon spends every year on erectile dysfunction medication, and you’ll see that it was not remotely about cost.

But Trump took it many steps beyond that, using social media to call for a nearly complete ban while the military was still studying the matter, catching his administration off guard.

The audience for his impetuous order was neither his generals nor civilian leadership, but the president’s longtime supporters. Not long before, they had united in favor of laws that sought to prevent transgender Americans from using the bathroom corresponding to their gender identity.

It was a perfect wedge issue for the president to exploit, and the military ban was just an extension of that, along with initiatives to strip transgender Americans of other protections.

So Trump made up some bit about “costs and disruption” and tweeted it out without any regard for how it would affect the lives of as many as 15,000 service members, or how it would play in a country already experiencing an uptick in hate crime against transgender Americans.

The “disruption” argument is the same one used to keep African Americans, women and gays out of the military, and it is no less nonsense here.

A Rand study commissioned by the Pentagon under then-President Barack Obama found that allowing transgender people to serve openly would “have no significant impact on unit readiness.” Six former surgeons general and an alphabet soup of major health organizations came to the same conclusion.

Most tellingly, the Rand study found, of the 994 service members diagnosed with gender dysphoria after Obama lifted the previous ban, 393 were deployed to Iraq and Afghanistan. Only one did not complete the deployment because of mental health reasons.

But these service members are more than a number. They are more than their gender or the medications they need.

They are Americans like Brynn Tannehill, a former naval aviator whose quest to rejoin the military is in jeopardy. Or Patricia King, a 20-year veteran who completed three tours, or Navy Lt. Cmdr. Blake Dremann, who has been deployed 11 times since enlisting in 2005.

Their service, and the service of so many others like them, is worthy of our appreciation. Americans should stand up and see that it is not so carelessly thrown away.

Online: https://bit.ly/2Re5bLl



Nashua Telegraph

Jan. 24

Former Maryland congressman John Delaney appears to be an underdog in his bid for the 2020 Democratic presidential nomination. Nevertheless, we find him somewhat impressive.

Friday, Delaney spoke with reporters and editors at The Telegraph’s office on Main Street in downtown Nashua.

“I want to be the president that brings us back together. I want to be the president that gets things done,” he said during the interview.

Growing up in a blue-collar household, Delaney advanced to graduate from both Columbia University and Georgetown University Law Center. He was named an Ernst & Young Entrepreneur of the Year in 2004, while he earned a on Fortune Magazine’s 2017 list of the “World’s 50 Greatest Leaders.”

Considering the aggressively divisive rhetoric of some on the political left these days, we found Delaney’s approach rather refreshing. For example, his proposal to raise the top tax rate on capital gains from its current level of 20 percent seems relatively reasonable, especially the way he frames it.

“If you invest for a living or work for a living, you should pay the same tax,” he said.

Capital gains taxes are paid by those who post earnings from the sale of stocks, mutual funds or other investments.

Conversely, the top income tax rate (for money earned through work) is 37 percent. Delaney favors the tax rates being equal.

Though Delaney opposes President Donald Trump’s plan for a wall at the U.S.-Mexico border, he does not support the left-wing globalist agenda of open borders.

“The American people want border security,” Delaney acknowledged. “You want cameras and drones on the border.”

Delaney, who has been actively campaigning for president since mid-2017, currently ranks No. 10 on The Telegraph’s list of 2020 Democratic presidential contenders. We appreciate his thoughtful and measured outlook in seeking the nation’s highest office.

We hope we will be able to make similar statements about his primary opponents.

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