- Associated Press - Wednesday, June 29, 2016

Recent editorials of statewide and national interest from New York’s newspapers:

The Poughkeepsie Journal on legislative action to fight the heroin epidemic.

June 25

So, once again, Gov. Andrew Cuomo has crisscrossed the state and signed into law a bill designed to fight the heroin scourge.

Let’s hope this helps those struggling with addiction. Let’s hope this provides relief to families coping with addicts. Let’s hope this creates a climate in which communities can heal and overcome the devastation brought on by this destructive drug.

Of course, the public knows this battle must go well beyond government action and requires a comprehensive community response.

As the governor said when he signed a package of bills several years ago designed to tackle opioid-related abuse, “This problem gets solved when neighbors and brothers and sisters and aunts and uncles really recognize their responsibility, and the entire community takes responsibility for this situation.”

Nevertheless, strong laws must be in place, ranging from focusing more on treatment than incarceration to forcing insurance companies to cover more of those expenses.

Toward the end of the legislative session last week, Cuomo and legislative leaders did strike a broad-ranging agreement. One initiative is directed at stopping doctors from over-prescribing the initial supply of opioids for patients. Others are aimed at insurers, prohibiting them from requiring prior authorization for heroin-addiction treatment and including inpatient rehabilitation and medication to manage withdrawal symptoms.

A recent report by state Comptroller Thomas DiNapoli showed New York has outpaced the national average in both opioid use and deaths. In fact, the number of opioid-related deaths rose 47 percent across New York between 2010 and 2014, according to the latest state Department of Health statistics.

This deadly trend is absolutely intolerable.

The state can, at least, point to some successes - and, tellingly, those wins have come from people on the front line of this fight. For instance, expanding first-responders’ access to naloxone, a medication that can reverse the effects of an opioid overdose, has unquestionably saved lives.

The governor has set a proper, humane tone in the fight against heroin, but whether this second dose of legislation goes far enough remains to be seen. However, the state does deserve credit for going back and trying again.

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Online:

https://pojonews.co/2906Myq

The Plattsburgh Press-Republican on New York eliminating alcohol restrictions.

June 22

The New York State Legislature is eliminating one of the state’s so-called “blue laws,” having voted to allow drinking to occur in restaurants and bars at 10 a.m. Sundays instead of the current noon.

To our way of thinking, it’s a step out of a prudish history and into a practical addressing of a 21st century economic issue.

Blue laws date back to the 1600s. They got that name as a disparaging reference to restrictions on behavior that, little by little, were dropped from legislation or custom.

The noon start for serving of alcoholic beverages on Sundays is one of the survivors, but it, too, will soon be part of history.

There is no argument that alcohol causes some people problems. Some drinkers are addicted, and some drivers refuse to moderate their intake. But those problems are addressed under other laws.

The truth is that our economy needs all the ingredients it can muster, and allowing cocktails at a Sunday brunch at a restaurant could be one of them. It isn’t going to solve our biggest issues, but it can be a small contributor.

And, really, is there magic to the noon hour on Sunday? It is only an arbitrary time, tied to a bygone era. Laws should reflect current needs and preferences.

If it’s drunk drivers that are the concern, forbidding alcohol sales until noon on Sundays is hardly the solution. Effective policing is, and we have that. So is stricter sentencing for lawbreakers, and we also have that.

Whereas, even a generation ago, far too many drivers had multiple DWIs on their records, that is now a rarity, as the problem is addressed early on.

Gov. Andrew Cuomo, a supporter of the bill, put it this way: “The agreement to overhaul this state’s archaic blue laws will knock down artificial barriers for restaurants and small businesses and help this industry grow even stronger.”

He referred to New York brewers of beer, wine cider and distilled spirits - a number of whom are located in the North Country - who are trying to compete on an international stage.

Many restaurants, apparently, were turning a blind eye to the law anyway, according to the state, serving alcohol before the allowable starting time of noon. This new legislation will make what apparently was common illegal practice legal.

And, if you have the idea that moving the serving time back two hours was too much, the state Restaurant Association had actually lobbied for 8 a.m.

Some bars cater to sports fans of international events that start drinking in their countries long before noon. The changing elements of our evolving world helped make this blue law obsolete.

There is nothing magic about being able to drink responsibly beginning at noon on Sundays.

And, for anyone who drinks irresponsibly, those two additional Sunday hours aren’t going to make a difference.

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Online:

https://bit.ly/298Uzws

The Auburn Citizen on the need for tougher ethics laws.

June 29

A U.S. Supreme Court ruling overturning former Virginia Gov. Bob McDonnell’s bribery conviction has high-paid defense lawyers for public officials giddy over the idea that it may get a lot harder to put their corrupt clients in jail.

The scary part is they’re right - unless the federal government and states, certainly corruption-happy New York, make some changes to clarify ethics laws and impose tougher restrictions on pay-to-play activities.

The core issue in the McConnell case was whether the $165,000 in gifts and loans from a wealthy businessman to the governor, who then arranged for special access to other public officials to help that businessman, constituted illegal bribery.

The Supreme Court said it did not, overturning lower court findings.

It didn’t take long Monday for Steven Molo and Joel Cohen, lawyers for convicted former New York state Assembly Speaker Sheldon Silver, to put out their talking points. They said the decision “makes clear that federal government has gone too far in prosecuting state officials for conduct that is part of the everyday functioning of those in elected office.”

That everyday functioning, they and others argue, is simply helping constituents.

“The Supreme Court again has again restricted the Justice Department from its ever-expansive theories of prosecuting public officials because it recognizes that we are in a system in which public officials take a lot of day-to-day actions on behalf of people, ideas and causes,” said Abbe Lowell, a lawyer for New Jersey state Sen. Robert Menendez, who’s facing bribery charges of his own.

The problem with that line argument, and ultimately with the Supreme Court ruling, is that it fundamentally ignores that other part of the equation. That these “day-to-day actions on behalf of people” shouldn’t be limited to those who can lavish their elected representatives with gifts and money and jobs and other perks.

Nevertheless, the highest court has spoken, which means that laws need to be more precise.

In New York state, good-government watchdogs have long called on the reduction, or outright elimination, of outside income for elected state officials.

We had hopes that the convictions of Silver and Skelos would lead to a dramatic improvement in this flaw with how Albany is structured. Sadly it did not.

Perhaps the threat that Silver and Skelos could actually never serve a day in prison and have their convictions overturned is enough to motivate action.

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Online:

https://bit.ly/292u2My

The Wall Street Journal on the need for the U.S. to reassert its international leadership.

June 26

Britain’s decision to leave the European Union opens an era of political disruption, but along with it comes opportunity. The U.S. can seize this moment of uncertainty to reassert its leadership of a Western alliance of free nations.

Britain and Europe are masters of their own fate, but the Continent has always benefited when a confident America points in the right direction. The Obama era has been marked by U.S. indifference and de facto default to the EU, the kind of supranational body President Obama thinks should rule the world.

But the EU has proved unequal to the urgent tasks of reviving economic growth and resisting security threats on its eastern and southern borders. It’s time for the U.S. to get back in the game because America needs a confident, prosperous Europe as a partner to defend the West against the rise of authoritarian regimes and global disorder.

An important first signal would be for the U.S. to invite the U.K. to begin bilateral free-trade talks that run alongside current talks with the EU. Mr. Obama may not be able to rise above his pre-Brexit taunt that Britain will move to “the back of the queue” on trade. But this would not be his first strategic mistake.

A trade deal with the world’s fifth-largest economy - and one of Europe’s healthiest - is in America’s interests for its own sake. A two-track trade negotiation would also help the British in their negotiation over new terms of trade with the European Union by giving Britain the leverage of a U.S. alternative. U.S.-British talks could also prod Brussels to move faster and rebuff the French protectionism that is infecting the EU-U.S. talks.

Whether or not Mr. Obama leads, Hillary Clinton and Donald Trump should. Republicans in particular have a great opportunity to shore up a crucial alliance. Mr. Trump and House Speaker Paul Ryan can take the advice of our friends at the New York Sun and hold a joint press conference saying they’d welcome British trade talks. This would show statesmanship by Mr. Trump, allay some of the concerns about his protectionism, and offer a welcome opportunity for the two men to agree about something.

Mr. Trump says he’s not against trade, only against bad trade deals. Here is a moment to show he means it. He could also say he will meet with the new British Prime Minister as soon as possible if he is elected, and that America’s relationship with the U.K. is as important as any in the world.

Brexit also creates an opening to reinvigorate NATO. The transatlantic defense alliance has always been broader and sturdier than the European Union in providing European security, and now it will be the main vehicle for British influence in Europe. This can be a healthy development, especially if it frees Europe from a distracting and generally quixotic attempt to create an EU security structure that overlaps with NATO.

A stronger NATO is essential as Vladimir Putin accelerates his divide-and-conquer strategy in the wake of Brexit. NATO’s decision this month to deploy four new battalions to Poland and the Baltics is a start, but the Russians will continue to press for weaknesses and to persuade Germany to cede Ukraine as part of Russia’s political and economic orbit. The next U.S. President should shore up Western unity by committing more U.S. resources and sending lethal defensive weapons to Ukraine.

Better security for a realigning Europe also requires a more coherent energy policy. After too many years of debate, Washington has finally allowed exports of natural gas that can help break Russia’s stranglehold on Europe’s energy markets. The next President should make it easier to develop and export U.S. energy to Europe.

The Brexit vote has produced a weekend of handwringing, especially from progressives who find democratic uprisings too messy for their tastes. But now that it has happened, the goal should be to seize this moment for reform and rejuvenation. The U.S. can help by reasserting the commitment to Europe it has too often abandoned during the last eight years.

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Online:

https://on.wsj.com/297FY2R

The Daily News on the latest Benghazi report.

June 28

Expending more time than the 645-day gestation period of, appropriately, an elephant, the Republican Benghazi committee on Tuesday gave birth to a report notable only for its 800-page size.

Do not mistake size for new, revealing substance about the 2012 attack on a U.S. compound in Libya that took four American lives.

The conservative echo chamber has long railed about Benghazi in attempts to “get” President Obama and/or Secretary of State Hillary Clinton during her march toward the Democratic presidential nomination.

Committee Chairman Rep. Trey Gowdy famously flamed out in subjecting Clinton to marathon prosecutorial hearings. The House majority leader, Representative Kevin McCarthy, boasted that the committee had hurt Clinton in the polls.

Last week, Donald Trump declared that Clinton was asleep during the attack and didn’t contribute to any response that may have saved lives. Not just factually wrong, it’s absurd: The attack began mid-afternoon Washington time.

Earlier, younger Trumpster Eric Trump said voters should be required to see Michael Bay’s “13 Hours” movie with its intentionally slanted take on Benghazi.

Topping all, Trump executive vice president Michael Cohen tweeted out that Clinton had “murdered an ambassador.”

Actually, the committee report is far more sober - as it would have to be coming after seven earlier probes into the same events.

The document holds Obama, White House aides, the defense and state departments to the same failings as observed before. Security was unforgivably lax. The military responded far too slowly, although a faster response would not have saved lives. The administration put out misleading, if not false, accounts for the events.

All involved, including Clinton, must be held to account for their true roles and responsibilities. The committee had its opportunity, but, in going all out to smear political opponents, conservatives undermined what could have been constructive criticism of an administration’s response to a crisis.

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Online:

https://nydn.us/29418hI

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