- Associated Press - Friday, September 22, 2017

Excerpts of recent editorials of statewide and national interest from New England newspapers.

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NEW HAMPSHIRE


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Portsmouth Herald, Sept. 19

We support York High School administrators in sending a clear message that drugs will not be tolerated in the school or on its grounds.



Last Friday morning, K9 units from around the state conducted the first of what is expected to be periodic searches of the school. No drugs were found in the 30-minute surprise search and no dog had physical contact with students. Administrators said the goal was to disrupt academics as little as possible and the K9 units entered the building after the school was told to “shelter in place,” searching 20 classrooms in all as well as random cars in the parking lot.

“Given the situation over the last two years, we have reasonable suspicion that there have been drugs in our schools,” said School Committee Chair Julie Eneman.

School officials have said they’ve dealt with a burgeoning problem of drugs at York High School over the past several years, and last year declared a “zero tolerance” policy at the school. As of last March, Principal Karl Francis reported six illegal substance incidences and two expulsion hearings all relating to illegal drug use.

School officials said Friday’s search was well planned and a year in the making. Parents were informed of the search several hours after it was conducted in a letter written by interim Superintendent Mark McQuillan.

While some have expressed concern that the search was a violation of student privacy, officials said federal and state law, as well as School Committee policy, make it clear that searches are legal. Last November, the School Committee instituted a policy giving the school administration the authority to conduct searches. Policy states that students “have no expectation of privacy” when using school property such as lockers and desks. Administrators, the policy states, have the authority to inspect these “storage facilities” on a random basis, “with or without reasonable suspicion, and without notice or consent. Canine patrols may be used to conduct searches anywhere on school property.”

Administrators said if another search is to take place and drugs are found they will take a “restorative” approach to help the student perpetrators. We support this approach. These efforts are taken with student health and safety at the forefront and while students should be aware that having drugs on school property is illegal and could result in prosecution, there should be further support to help those students.

“We’re just at the beginning of this, but we’re hoping to work with police and local health organizations to help students,” said Principal Karl Francis. “Maybe it’s against the law and they are issued a summons, but they’re still York High School students. We’d like to support them however we can.”

Our schools are a place of learning, where student safety is of the utmost importance, and they should be kept drug free. We support YHS administrators in implementing the zero tolerance policy. We also take this time to encourage parents to talk with their students about the dangers of drugs and the consequences they can bring, as well as the safety that is expected within our school facilities.

Online: https://bit.ly/2xy3CSu

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MAINE

The Portland Press Herald, Sept. 20

Every day, nationwide, an average of 20 veterans die by suicide.

Every week, a family in Maine loses a military sibling, parent, child or spouse to suicide.

Every year, our country loses about 400 more veterans to suicide than have died in combat since the war on terror began.

This is a national scandal - but it’s a preventable one, if we press our officials to forgo the usual lip service to veterans in favor of policies and actions that actually help them.

Veterans are about 20 percent more likely to die by suicide than are people who have never served in the military, the Department of Veterans Affairs announced late last week, citing the first-ever state-by-state VA suicide data. Epidemiologist Rajeev Ramchand, who studies suicide for the Rand Corp., told the Associated Press that the suicide rate in every state is at least 1½ times higher for veterans than for nonveterans.

Maine’s veteran suicide rate isn’t significantly different from the national norm, the VA found. This doesn’t mean that we don’t have a problem. It’s obvious that we do. There’s no single, obvious solution, but another VA statistic - that 70 percent of the veterans who die by suicide had not been using VA health care - offers fresh information about where to direct state and federal resources.

For example, the VA earlier this year lifted a ban on access to mental health services by veterans with other-than-honorable discharges. While this decision doesn’t address other barriers to care, like the wait times and lack of staffing that have plagued VA care facilities nationwide, it’s a good first step. Veterans who have received other-than-honorable discharges are at higher risk of suicide than their honorably discharged peers - and depriving them of care, therefore, only increases the likelihood that they will die by suicide.

Closer to home, Maine moved in the right direction during the last legislative session by approving L.D. 1231, which sets up a program to gather data on mental health admissions for veterans and establishes a pilot initiative to provide case management for those who require mental health care.

Of the roughly 30,000 veterans in Maine who don’t use VA health care services, it is estimated that over 10,000 are in need of mental health care. If Maine’s new pilot program can save the life of just one of them, it will have been worth it - and hopefully, the initiative will do far more than that for those who have done so much for their country.

Online: https://bit.ly/2wCv5TJ

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VERMONT

Brattleboro Reformer, Sept. 20

Vermont is well-known around the world as a place that welcomes outsiders, as travelers or as new residents.

It has to be. There’s just 625,000 of us here, and it’s not overstating the facts to say every visitor who pulls up to a roadside store for maple syrup and cheddar cheese, ties a lift ticket to their ski jacket or tees off at a golf course is important to our economy. They come here, and come back, because they feel welcome.

That’s why the behavior of border patrol and immigration enforcement officers operating in Vermont is of great concern here in Manchester, 143 miles south of the Highgate Springs border crossing.

Their recent run of behavior - turning away Muslims at the Canadian border, seizing and searching electronic devices without warrants, and harassing migrant farm workers active in the Migrant Justice movement - is putting our state’s reputation and our livelihoods in jeopardy. It needs to stop.

None of that nonsense makes America safer. All it does is send a hostile, unwelcoming message to those who would visit and work in our state. It’s not who we are or who we want to be.

So we’ll be very interested to hear what James Duff Lyall, executive director of the ACLU of Vermont, will have to say about the ACLU’s lawsuit against the federal government over no-warrant searches of electronic devices when he visits Manchester’s Northshire Bookstore on Wednesday evening.

We acknowledge that border patrol officers have a tough, stressful job. Our border with Canada is vast, while the border patrol’s resources are thin.

But this is still a nation of laws - such as the Fourth Amendment.

Consider the case of Vermont journalist Terry J. Allen, who was wrongly asked to erase her camera’s memory card and turn over her cellphone by U.S. Customs and Border Protection officers during a recent border crossing. She wrote about the experience for VTDigger.org.

Allen was told that she was not allowed to take photos at the Highgate Springs facility, when, in fact, federal law allowed her to do just that.

Here’s what CFR 102-74.420 says: “Except where security regulations, rules, orders, or directives apply or a Federal court order or rule prohibits it, persons entering in or on Federal property may take photographs of … (c) Building entrances, lobbies, foyers, corridors, or auditoriums for news purposes.”

Allen reported that a Department of Homeland Security bulletin affirmed the right of agents to conduct interviews to make sure photographers aren’t taking pictures for nefarious purposes. But that bulletin also said this: “Because the initial interview is voluntary, officers should not seize the camera or its contents and must be cautious not to give such ‘orders’ to a photographer to erase the contents of a camera as this constitutes a seizure or detention.”

Allen acknowledges she had it easy. The officers gave her phone back and let her go on her way.

Ghassan and Nadia Alasaad were not so fortunate.

On July 12, the Alasaads were crossing the border at Highgate Springs as they returned from a family vacation in Quebec to their home in Revere, Massachusetts, when they were detained by CPB officers for six hours and had their cellphones searched without a warrant.

The Alasaad family are naturalized citizens of the United States. He’s a limo driver; she’s a nursing student. They pose no threat to national security. Their 11-year-old daughter was running a fever and needed to get home.

Instead of being welcomed back, they were treated like they don’t belong here, and for no apparent meaningful purpose. When Mr. Alasaad asked why his family was being detained and searched, the supervisor responded that he had simply felt like it. And when the family got their phone back 15 days later in the mail, their video of their daughter’s graduation was gone.

There’s a word for what happens when people in positions of power misuse their authority to demean or intimidate others because they feel like it. That word is “bullying.”

We can’t say for certain if the Alasaads were profiled and hassled for their names or their appearance. It would be unfair to make such a serious accusation without the facts. But the optics are undeniably awful. And the Alasaads are not alone.

Diane Maye, a former U.S. Air Force captain now working as an assistant professor at Embry-Riddle Aeronautical University, is also among the plaintiffs in the ACLU suit. She told The New York Times she was detained at the Miami International Airport on June 25 on her return from Europe and had her laptop and phone searched.

Maye, who managed advisers to the U.S. State Department and the U.S. Department of Defense as a U.S. contractor during the Iraq war, told The Times she was interrogated about her travels, career and contacts in the Middle East.

So much for “Welcome to Miami.”

These no-warrant electronic searches started under the administration of George W. Bush, increased under Barack Obama, and have spiked since Donald Trump took office. So there’s a long history and blame to go around. But the recent increase is an alarming trend that needs to stop.

Vermonters do not want their valued visitors to feel like they’re being profiled as criminal suspects.

Vermonters do not much appreciate it when the migrant farm workers who do hard work for long hours and little money are hounded by ICE agents.

And Vermonters certainly do not tolerate even the hint of U.S. citizens at our border being treated differently because of their last name or their appearance.

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

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CONNECTICUT

The (Meriden) Record-Journal, Sept. 20

Recently there have been two instances of bipartisan cooperation - some may call it bipartisan maneuvering - one at the federal and another at the state level. Both cases are remarkable in that they come in an era of extreme partisanship.

Frustrated by the Republican-led Congress’ failure to repeal the Affordable Care Act, President Donald Trump recently looked to Senate Minority Leader Chuck Schumer and his counterpart in the House, Nancy Pelosi, in so friendly a manner the president referred to them as “Chuck and Nancy.” The move irritated Republicans, who felt the president was abandoning his party in favor of bipartisanship, and worried liberals who felt the Democrats’ willingness to cooperate was “normalizing” the president. But if the cooperation leads to progress it will be worth applauding.

During a harried night in Hartford last Friday, three Democratic senators broke ranks and voted for a Republican budget plan. The deal their own party had struck, they said, was bad for the state at a time when the economy continues to struggle. The Senate has an 18-18 split, so the defection meant the GOP’s $39.64-billion budget passed by a 21-15 vote, a remarkable result for a state long dominated by a Democratic General Assembly.

Since Democratic Governor Dannel P. Malloy vowed to veto the plan, the state’s budget miasma continues, and the stalemate has municipal officials worrying. The continued delays are making a bad situation worse. “Nobody likes bad news,” Cheshire’s town manager, Michael A. Milone, recently told the Record-Journal. “But if you’re going to get bad news, the earlier the better.”

Is there any good news in these developments? There may indeed be. It can be generally observed that what Americans want, and what Connecticut residents want for their state, is less partisanship and more action.

In explaining his decision to break ranks Friday night, state Sen. Paul Doyle, a Wethersfield Democrat, said he wanted the legislature to “move forward with a bipartisan budget.” He said he recognized it was a risky move politically, but felt the future of Connecticut was more important.

It’s hard not to think that if more elected officials felt similarly the nation and the state would be better off.

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

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MASSACHUSETTS

The (Newburyport) Daily News, Sept. 17

The hefty price tag on many college educations is a knotty issue with many consequences and no easy solutions. Never mind the college graduates who leave school mired in debt, or whose families shoulder heavy borrowing burdens, many would-be students never make it to the first day of class because they can’t afford it.

Which makes it all the more encouraging to see the evolution of a program that gives students an affordable path to four-year degrees from Massachusetts’ network of community colleges and public universities.

State education leaders last month announced the expansion of Commonwealth Commitment, which can help students who earn associate’s degrees at community colleges afford a bachelor’s degree from a state university. Students who sign up for the program can lock in tuition rates and get rebates on fees, shaving off as much as 40 percent from what they would otherwise spend for a bachelor’s degree at a state school. That’s not even factoring in financial aid.

The program began as an opportunity for students majoring in one of six areas. That list recently expanded to 40 majors. Education officials hope broadening the choices to include majors such as communications and industrial design will entice even more students to sign up for a program that attracted just 100 people when it was launched back in spring 2016.

For students, the potential savings is “dramatic,” state Education Secretary James Peyser noted in an interview with State House News Service, “but making college cheap is really only a part, in some ways a small part, of what we’re trying to do here.”

Commonwealth Commitment also aims to grow the number of residents with at least a bachelor’s degree - now about 40 percent of Massachusetts adults, compared to about 30 percent of those in the United States at large.

More bachelor’s degrees - offered in fields from liberal arts to early childhood education to business and computer science - collectively mean a workforce better prepared for skilled jobs. That helps attract high-quality industry and employers who tend to pay better and offer more lucrative benefits. And that helps just about everyone.

Commonwealth Commitment isn’t free. Even if taking the form of uncollected tuition and fees, the cost is real for college officials trying to make ends meet.

Lane Glenn, president of Northern Essex Community College, notes the state’s network of 15 community colleges is already coping with declines in funding and enrollment. Of course, he adds, Commonwealth Commitment wasn’t expected to pose much of a cost burden initially. As it grows, the program is expected to prompt more students to enroll in local colleges, which certainly helps their budget picture.

The state’s community college system already offers a quality, affordable entry point into higher education for students who can’t or don’t want to borrow or pay tens of thousands of dollars per year. Their programs are springboards to skilled jobs - and to further education. A separate state program, called “A2B Degree,” is specifically designed to help community college graduates continue studies in the University of Massachusetts system, turning two-year degrees into four-year ones.

Massachusetts in particular, and New England in general, boast high concentrations of college-educated adults. Thirty-five percent of New Hampshire’s adult population has a bachelor’s degree, according to the U.S. Census Bureau, ranking eighth in the country. Connecticut ranks fourth, and Vermont seventh.

As for Massachusetts, only the District of Columbia has a higher concentration of adult residents with at least a bachelor’s degree. Still, three of five adults in Massachusetts don’t have a four-year degree. And while there are many reasons an individual may choose not to earn one - it isn’t necessary for every profession - the fact remains that many employers look for a college credential before reading the rest of the application.

For many students, lowering the cost barrier is essential to making a four-year education possible.

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

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RHODE ISLAND

The Providence Journal, Sept. 18

Special interests are hoping to hit the jackpot this week in a special session of the General Assembly. One of the more troubling measures is an excessively generous bill that would presume all heart disease incurred by firefighters is job-related. That would put taxpayers on the hook for far more lifetime tax-free disability pensions.

Gov. Gina Raimondo and General Treasurer Seth Magaziner, both Democrats, oppose this measure as far too reckless, and lacking in appropriate protections for taxpayers. Unfortunately, politicians in the General Assembly, who enjoy campaign contributions and political support from public-employee unions, are notorious for ignoring the interests of taxpayers.

Mr. Magaziner’s office estimates the total cost of this bill could be $2.3 million to $2.8 million each and every year - an additional, painful burden on local taxpayers, who already bear some of the highest property taxes in America. If our math is correct, the legislation would thus burden taxpayers with an additional $23 million to $28 million in costs over 10 years, and an additional $46 million to $56 million in costs over 20 years.

Advocates argue that 37 other states have a presumption of heart disease tied to the job. But other states apply limits and protections. For example, those who smoke, eat or drink excessively might not be eligible. In some cases, there are also time limits on pensions and transitions to other forms of assistance.

Meanwhile, the treasurer’s office warns that the legislation could drive up the costs of other post-employment benefits, though the measure is being rushed through faster than there is time to fully analyze the costs.

Currently, Rhode Island firefighters may obtain tax-free disability pensions for heart disease if they can establish that the ailment was job-related. Under the existing system, communities are permitted to advance arguments that this was not the case.

“Introducing an automatic presumption into the law would require the Retirement System to disregard relevant evidence, including the opinions of examining physicians, in granting the benefit,” warned Patrick Marr, the treasurer’s chief of staff, in a memo to House Speaker Nicholas Mattiello.

This bid to slap a new and unjust burden onto taxpayers’ backs comes as the state grapples with repairing its many crumbling bridges and unsafe and outdated schools - problems that have been allowed to fester for decades, at an estimated cost to taxpayers of billions of dollars. At the same time, state budget experts are warning of the need to close massive state budget deficits in the coming years. And taxes are already high.

Clearly, this is an idea that merits further scrutiny and should not be hurried through in a special fall session of the General Assembly. In particular, an assessment of all the costs is absolutely necessary, as well as a careful analysis of how other states handle presumption of on-the-job heart disease. While this is going on, any firefighter disabled by an injury on the job has full recourse to the existing process of hearings to make his or her case.

Given Rhode Island’s limited resources, it is vitally important that these pensions be reserved for those who are truly injured on the job.

Online: https://bit.ly/2xA2KMY

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