Editorials from around New England
Editorials from around New England:
Bangor Daily News
Call them Republicans that tell the truth, if much too late. President Donald Trump’s former head of the Department of Health and Human Services said Tuesday that insurance prices will rise because the GOP weakened the Affordable Care Act. Earlier, Florida Sen. Marco Rubio said that few Americans were benefiting from Republican-backed federal tax cuts because large corporations were using their tax savings to raise stock prices.
It is refreshing to hear Tom Price and Rubio belatedly speak the truth. Of course, their comments come much too late to change or stop the damaging law changes that they are now criticizing. But they serve to underscore how the Republican tax cut package, which included a repeal of the Affordable Care Act’s individual mandate, was misrepresented to score a political win that doesn’t benefit the average American.
Speaking about the repeal of the mandate that required Americans to buy health insurance or pay a penalty, Price said: “There are many, and I’m one of them, who believes that that actually will harm the pool in the exchange market, because you’ll likely have individuals who are younger and healthier not participating in that market, and consequently that drives up the cost for other folks within that market.”
Price, who left the administration in September after it was revealed that he took expensive charter flights at taxpayer expense, made the comments at the World Health Care Conference in Washington on Tuesday. He said the opposite while working for the Trump administration and pushing for changes to the Affordable Care Act. To be sure, the mandate was far from perfect — penalties were disproportionately paid by working-class Americans — but it kept the pool large enough to be sustainable.
If this logic — that fewer people in the health insurance pool will mean higher costs for those that remain — sounds familiar, it is because health care and insurance experts, and the Congressional Budget Office, warned that this would happen.
In November, the budget office projected that 13 million fewer Americans would have health insurance by 2027 as a result of the elimination of the individual mandate. It also said average premiums in the exchanges would increase by about 10 percent in most years over the next decade, compared to leaving the mandate in place.
“Those effects would occur mainly because healthier people would be less likely to obtain insurance and because . the resulting increases in premiums would cause more people to not purchase insurance,” the budget office said at the time.
Sen. Susan Collins, who ultimately voted for the tax cut bill, added important amendments to the bill and tried to ameliorate the consequences of the mandate repeal. But her provisions have not been approved by Congress, as many feared would happen.
Already the number of people without health insurance is rising. The uninsured rate among working age adults has risen to 15.5 percent, from 12.7 percent in 2016, according to the Commonwealth Fund. It cites weakening of the Affordable Care Act for essentially scaring people away from the health insurance program.
Last week, Rubio spoke the truth about the Republican tax cuts passed last year. Like Price, however, he is no hero because he voted for the tax cut plan.
“There is still a lot of thinking on the right that if big corporations are happy, they’re going to take the money they’re saving and reinvest it in American workers,” Rubio said in an interview with The Economist. “In fact they bought back shares, a few gave out bonuses; there’s no evidence whatsoever that the money’s been massively poured back into the American worker.”
As if to bolster this point, Apple on Tuesday announced $100 billion in stock buybacks, a move to raise stock prices, which benefits the company’s executives and shareholders. Corporations are spending 58 times more on stock buybacks than they are spending on employee bonuses and wage increases, according to Americans for Tax Fairness.
Many experts said the tax cut package, and the repeal of the individual mandate that it included, would be bad for average Americans. It is discouraging that some Republicans are only speaking out after the damage has been done.
The Portsmouth Herald
In New Hampshire and Maine it is legal to carry a concealed loaded firearm without first getting a permit or license, essentially stripping police chiefs of the power to evaluate whether someone poses a danger to the public.
If you think this is a bad idea, wait until you hear what Congress wants to do now.
At a time when the overwhelming majority of Americans are urging Congress to do more to protect innocent people from gun violence, the U.S. House recently passed the “Concealed Carry Reciprocity Act of 2017,” which would amend the federal criminal code to force states to ignore their own gun laws and honor those of other states, even when those state laws are far less restrictive.
The bill would also “override some state laws that prohibit carrying concealed weapons in bars, schools, shopping malls, movie theaters, subways or parks,” according to a letter objecting to the bill, signed by 17 state attorneys general. That bill is currently before the Senate, which has its own, similar reciprocity bill, S 446.
Fortunately, local police chiefs, attorneys general, the American Bar Association and many other groups are pushing back against the idea that states with lax gun laws should have the ability to determine gun regulations in states that deemed it necessary to have a conceal carry permitting process for public safety.
Forcing states to accept the lowest common denominator of gun laws impinges on states’ rights, endangers the lives of law enforcement officers and removes barriers to gun trafficking and terrorism, according to the attorneys general letter.
Durham Police Chief David Kurz and Kittery, Maine, Police Chief James Soucy signed a letter to congressional leaders opposing the mandated reciprocity bills and Portsmouth Police Chief Robert Merner also voiced concerns.
These bills ”... would force states to allow individuals to carry guns who are not qualified to do so under their own laws,” wrote the International Association of Chiefs of Police. “This legislation is a dangerous encroachment on individual state efforts to protect public safety, and it would effectively nullify duly enacted state laws and hamper law enforcement efforts to prevent gun violence.”
The chiefs wrote that mandated reciprocity would override the requirements in some states for safety training and the prohibition of permits to people with “multiple convictions for violent misdemeanors or drug or alcohol abuse problems.”
Finally, the chiefs note ”... there is currently no system to verify the validity of concealed carry permits across state lines, which means that law enforcement could not confirm whether an individual is carrying a weapon legally or creating a risk to public safety.”
The attorneys general offer an example of how this law would challenge police. “A police officer patrolling city streets at 2 a.m. who spots a gun under the shirt of a suspicious person lurking outside a nightclub could (in order to avoid a potential lawsuit under the House bill) be forced to turn his back on any subject who merely asserts residency (in) a ‘permitless state.’ ... In short, requiring officers to conduct traffic stops and other police activity with no ability to authenticate every other state’s carry laws would pose an extraordinary and unnecessary risk to our communities and to the men and women who put their lives on the line every day to protect us.”
Opponents of the bill note because conditions and circumstances vary widely from state to state, and even within states, decisions about gun regulations are best left at the state and local level.
“The policy offends deeply rooted principles of federalism where public safety is traditionally the concern of state and local government,” writes the American Bar Association in a letter to the House Subcommittee on Crime, Terrorism and Homeland Security. “A state’s ability to consider safety factors — such as age, evidence of dangerousness, live firearm training or criminal records — would give way to other states’ less stringent requirements.”
We ask those who support this reciprocity bill how they’d feel if Congress imposed gun laws from New York or Massachusetts on their states. We’re certain those who successfully passed concealed carry in New Hampshire and Maine wouldn’t like it at all.
While we don’t agree with concealed carry in Maine and New Hampshire, those decisions were made by elected representatives of the people and must be respected. We should not impose our regulations on other states, nor should they impose their regulations on us.
The Vermont Paid Family Leave act recently passed the House and is currently being considered by the Senate.
We think the act is a pure act of fraud perpetrated by our Legislature to cheat and mislead all working people in Vermont.
Under the guise of caring about voters, lawmakers created a bill that does little or nothing to help workers who may have the need for an emergency family leave.
If the true motive was to create a leave bill, they needed only to design one and mandate that all employing entities in the state adopt it. If existing employers (like us) already have a plan that exceeds the state design, then it could remain.
That would have, indeed, been easy both to establish and to administer.
As it turns out, the real reason the legislators want a leave plan is to create a new source of tax revenue to bankroll another of their slush funds.
The present plan wants to create an employee wage tax of .141-percent. The plan will fall under the auspices of the Department of Labor. The plan’s very first order of business is to skim the first $1.5 million to pay state DOL workers. The level of the tax will be examined each year and increased as the legislature (undoubtedly) sees fit. It will always go up.
Meanwhile, if a worker wishes to take leave, they won’t be paid the full wages they receive when working. The House plan set the benefit amount at 80-percent but the Senate committee wants the state to pocket more of the tax, so they reduced the payout to 70-percent.
If that’s not a sure sign of the legislation’s true purpose . we’re not sure what could be.
Workers who already enjoy free leave benefits from their employer are about to start paying for significantly inferior plans.
Caledonian-Record employees, for instance, have had the following benefits since the mid 1960s: 40-hours a year of sick, accruable in perpetuity up to 500 hours (if an employee’s illness extends beyond accrued hours, the employee continues to be paid until such time they can return); When someone leaves through retirement, job-change, or termination, they are paid their accrued hours at 40-hours-a-week until the hours are paid off; A maternity leave plan without a set time limit (but not less than three months); Paternity leave; Short and long-term disability; Paid leave for family illness or death is granted in 100-percent of instances.
In the history of the employee plans at the Caledonian-Record, no one has ever been forced to decide between employment or family emergency. Employees always receive 100-percent of their normal weekly wage when on leave and no employee has ever had to contribute a single dollar to the plans.
Now the legislature is about to take all of that away from them and replace it with another tax on their wages. No wonder everyone is leaving.
The Hartford Courant
A bill that would allow school bus drivers to administer potentially life-saving medication to students suffering from severe allergic reactions should become law.
The bill, HB5452, would give school bus drivers the authority to administer a dose of epinephrine — commonly with a device called an EpiPen — to students suffering from anaphylactic shock.
It’s an incredibly simple, and remarkably effective, response to potentially fatal allergic reactions to bee stings or foods such as peanuts, eggs and shellfish.
In Connecticut, where long school bus rides through rural areas far from hospitals are the norm, it makes all the sense in the world to give bus drivers clearance to perform this life-saving act.
But, remarkably, there is resistance from the Connecticut School Transportation Association, which represents school bus companies.
Lobbyist Jean Cronin told The Courant that it’s hard enough for companies to hire bus drivers — the background check process itself can take months — and “the more burdens we put on a school bus driver, the more stressful and less appealing this job becomes,” she said. Some school bus drivers “get squeamish” at the prospect of performing “medical procedures.”
Poppycock. How can this be construed as a burden?
Administering an EpiPen can hardly be called a medical procedure. It involves pressing a plastic “pen” into the side of one’s thigh and holding it there for a few seconds. It does not require the removal of any clothes.
Ms. Cronin suggested that because the dose is administered in the thigh — the outside of the thigh — drivers could face questions of sexual assault.
A school bus driver in Agawam, Mass., went through exactly this situation a few years ago when a student on her bus had a severe reaction. She is credited with helping to save the student’s life.
It’s hard to imagine that any school bus driver, confronted with a child in anaphylactic shock, wouldn’t be more than willing to perform this simple procedure.
Liability isn’t an issue. The bill limits bus drivers’ liability. They’re covered.
The bill doesn’t require that drivers carry their own EpiPens. The devices are temperature sensitive, and a bus is not the right place to store them. It simply allows drivers to administer a dose.
Training is inexpensive and can be done online. It’s incredible how easy they’ve made it to save someone in anaphylactic shock. Of course school bus drivers should be able to do so.
New York passed such a law last year.
About 4 percent of all children have some sort of food allergy, according to the CDC. Even slight exposure to many foods can cause a potentially fatal allergic response. More children are being diagnosed with such allergies every year, according to the CDC.
This bill could save lives, at almost no cost.
Legislators should pass the bill.
The Cape Cod Times
When the Cape Cod Mall opened in the 1970s, it featured a powerful trio of anchor stores, including Woolworth’s, Filene’s and one of the most storied names in American retail: Sears. Since then, countless thousands of shoppers have negotiated the store’s aisles, doing Christmas shopping, getting back-to-school clothes, and buying tools that were once guaranteed to last a lifetime.
Now, however, Sears may be pulling up stakes at the mall, shuttering its department store doors and perhaps joining Woolworth’s, Filene’s, Toys R Us, and even Benny’s in the dustbin of Cape Cod’s retailing history. And although new stores will likely fill the physical space left behind, it might take some of us a bit longer to absorb what the potential demise of Sears means, both in terms of our collective pasts and far vaster futures.
First, an important caveat: No one from the Cape Cod Mall or Sears has officially announced the end of the store’s presence in Hyannis. In fact, the retailer’s director of corporate communications said that the company has “a few years remaining” on its lease. That said, Simon Property Group, which manages the Cape Cod Mall and owns more than half of its footprint, has approached the town of Barnstable about dividing the space where Sears now sits into two separate retail entities, perhaps as early as next year. The exterior rendering of one of those spaces suggests that Target may be considering an entry into the Cape Cod market, but neither Target’s corporate office nor Simon Property Group would confirm that particular piece of speculation.
Like many department stores, Sears has struggled in recent years, working to balance its debt obligations while also fighting to stay relevant in a world where online shopping continues to eat more and more into so-called brick and mortar profits. In what some saw as a brilliant business move and others felt was an act of desperation, the company merged with Kmart in 2005, hoping that the combined buying power and additional retail locations would help position the parent company for success. Instead, the corporation has continued to hemorrhage red ink in the decade-plus since then.
It was not always this way.
In fact, if you go back to the start of Sears and Roebuck, the company struck much the same level fear into its competition as the name Amazon does today. The business began as a must-have catalogue company, offering every corner of America access to a wide variety of products via the U.S. Postal Service. In fact, for the first three decades of the company’s existence, Sears and Roebuck did not have any brick and mortar stores.
You could literally buy anything from Sears, including a house. In fact, during a 32-year stretch in the early 1900s, the company sold about 70,000 kits with which consumers, or their builders, could build a home. Then, in the mid-1920s, the company began opening retail stores, often offering the same wide variety of products. Such options left many smaller, hometown stores unable to compete. The arrival of a Sears in the region sometimes spelled doom for such mom and pop businesses.
Now, more than a century later, Sears finds itself on the receiving end of those same forces of market change, but it has decided to fight rather than acquiesce. Last year, the company announced an initiative that involved downsizing existing stores and opening new ones with substantially smaller footprints. It has also worked to step up its online game, although it has lagged behind other businesses, such as Walmart, that have found themselves facing similar odds.
Whether these changes will ultimately keep the storied retailer afloat remains to be seen. At the start of 2018, the company announced it would close an additional 39 Sears stores and 64 Kmart locations after another less-than-stellar year. And despite efforts to reduce its obligations and improve its financing options, the company still carries more than $4 billion in debt, a pricey albatross around the neck for any business, but especially one whose sales numbers have routinely headed in the wrong direction.
Will some form of Sears persevere? It’s difficult to say. The company’s fortunes have definitely fallen in recent years, but its history reveals an amazing capacity for reinvention. One thing seems certain, however. If it does survive, the Sears of tomorrow will likely look more like the Sears and Roebuck of our grandparents’ or even great grandparents’ era than it does the Sears of our childhoods.
A new study suggests Rhode Island is failing to make it clear to the public exactly how it is spending taxpayer dollars.
In ranking states for transparency on spending, the U.S. PIRG Education Fund assigns grades of A to F. Those receiving a top grade are lauded for creating “user-friendly websites that provide” the public with “accessible and comprehensive information.” Those receiving an F “fail to meet” even the “basic standards of online spending transparency.”
In the nonprofit group’s latest annual report, released last month, Rhode Island landed close to the bottom, earning a grade of D.
The state failed to provide a wealth of easily accessible, detailed information through its online “Transparency Portal,” according to “Following the Money 2018, How the 50 States Rate in Providing Online Access to Government Spending Data.”
The report said most states provide a “checkbook-level” of detail that allows the public to “view payments made to individual companies,” see “details on purchased goods or services” and see “benefits obtained in exchange for public subsidies.” But Rhode Island failed to “provide a useful level of itemization” that would show just what the state is spending on “line items for specific departments.”
Rhode Island’s “Transparency Portal” prompted one researcher to remark: “There is nothing breaking down the operating costs into smaller categories — all there is is a really long list of vendors, and no way to know what they received payments for.”
The state also fared poorly in a new measure of openness that helped reduce its grade from last year’s B-minus to this year’s D — a “Real World” test that sought information on six categories of expenses, such as travel by the governor’s office and contracted legal services obtained by the attorney general’s office. Rhode Island was one of 10 states that failed to provide this information.
A spokeswoman for the Rhode Island Department of Administration, responding to the report, said the department that appreciates the feedback and is “already well on” its way to “increasing transparency around state spending.” Last year, said spokeswoman Brenna McCabe, the state added “state designated grant applications” to its transparency portal, and it is now in the process of adding “a new e-procurement system that will allow ... all contracts and paperwork associated with state procurements” to be accessed online.
Those are steps in the right direction, but Gov. Gina Raimondo’s administration should use this latest nationwide analysis to assess Rhode Island’s transparency and look for ways to improve. Given that we are talking about the public’s money, and given the rampant cynicism Rhode Islanders have after so many scandals involving their elected officials, it is in the interest of all to make disclosure of records a top priority. In the long run, greater transparency makes for better public policy and stronger support from citizens.
With that in mind, Rhode Island’s leaders should do what it takes to move the state to the top of this list.