- Associated Press - Friday, April 27, 2018

Editorials from around New England:

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CONNECTICUT

The Day

April 22

Favorable winds are blowing from offshore - winds that literally will bolster the economic and environmental futures for both the region and state, as long as state officials and regulators move decisively.

Connecticut last week received three proposals vying to provide the state’s first offshore wind energy project. New Bedford, Massachusetts-based Vineyard Wind proposes to bring 190 megawatts of energy to Connecticut from a large-scale wind farm 14 miles south of Martha’s Vineyard. Deepwater Wind, which already developed the wind farm off Block Island, proposes to generate power for Connecticut from an offshore wind farm between Montauk, N.Y., and Martha’s Vineyard; while a joint Eversource and Denmark-based Orsted proposal would bring the energy to Connecticut from an offshore wind farm 65 miles off New London’s coast. Both the Deepwater and Eversource/Orsted proposals say they will bring 200 megawatts of power to the state.

Besides helping fuel the state’s energy demands and reduce dependence on dirty fossil fuels, the project chosen also could generate some $16 million in local, state and federal taxes; infuse cash directly into a fund set up to help spur the local economy; and create hundreds of jobs for the region.

New London stands at the epicenter of this potential. As Scott Bates, chairman of the Connecticut Port Authority, pointed out last week, not only is New London strategically located at the geographic center of these potential offshore wind farms, but it is also the only deepwater port between Boston and Norfolk without width restrictions or bridges that impose height limitations on its main channel, making it a perfect transportation and manufacturing hub for turbine parts.

While wind energy has many assets, some have been slow to accept this form of energy generation because it can be a lethal flight hazard to migrating birds, mar the natural landscape and pose deleterious impact on the ocean. A wind farm located as far offshore as those being proposed, however, shouldn’t harm the marine ecology and poses little threat to aesthetics. Certainly, these turbines would have not have as high a degree of high visibility as ridgeline wind farms that have created much controversy in many locations, including northern Vermont.

More careful wind farm siting and advanced turbine technology are also helping to mitigate the impact of wind energy on birds. Careful examination of bird flight paths and application of this knowledge should make it possible to strategically locate an offshore wind farm, given the vast expanses of available open ocean. Even the Audubon Society, a much-respected agency dedicated to protecting birds and other wildlife, supports wind energy projects as long as they are sited in places that minimize threats to birds. Among the reasons for the society’s support is that global warming poses a much more serious threat to birds and wildlife than do wind farms.

In Connecticut, a successful wind energy bidder is expected to be chosen in June, with a contract executed and approved by the fall. While planned timelines for large projects such as these often are overly optimistic, the governor and other state officials are encouraging this development. They must step up to quickly support a viable project. Labor leaders and environmental advocates have already enthusiastically backed the state’s request for offshore wind proposals.

We advocate that the state Department of Energy and Environmental Protection and Public Utilities Regulatory Authority move decisively and as quickly as possible to make one of these projects a reality. Not only does offshore wind energy for Connecticut make sound environmental sense, but the project could also be a key to finally revving up the long-stagnant local economy and New London’s much-awaited economic revitalization.

Online: https://bit.ly/2K2AAxT

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MASSACHUSETTS

The Berkshire Eagle

April 20

Whenever a police officer falls in the line of duty, their sacrifice reawakens gratitude among those they protect. There is no higher calling than putting one’s own life on the line in the service of the community, and when those slain are young, beloved and leave grieving family behind, the pain is felt even more acutely. Yarmouth Officer Sean Gannon, 32, was serving an arrest warrant on April 12 when a routine chore turned into an armed standoff culminating in his own death by gunshot wound to the head.

Tragedies such as this rightfully elicit deeply emotional responses, and in the heat of the moment, reason can sometimes be relegated to the back seat. Such is the case in the aftermath of Officer Gannon’s death.

Within days of the crime, the Massachusetts Republican Party tweeted its support for reinstatement of the death penalty as punishment for killing a police officer.

Massachusetts has not imposed the death penalty since 1947, and in 1984 the Massachusetts Supreme Judicial Court ruled a new death penalty law unconstitutional. Periodically, attempts occur in the Legislature to reinstate the death penalty, but thankfully they have gotten little traction. The exclusion of the death penalty from its list of punishments is now well established in the Commonwealth, and this makes a tacit statement about how Bay Staters collectively view the role of society in ensuring its own order as well as what constitutes “cruel and unusual punishment.”

Advocates of the death penalty argue that it is a deterrent, but many if not most murders are not plotted out, they occur in the heat of the moment. There is reason to believe this may have happened in the death of Officer Gannon, and neither deterrence nor punishment affects someone acting out of rage or vengeance.

On the other side of the argument are those who believe that punishment for crimes ought to be combined with sincere efforts at rehabilitation with the goal of enabling a miscreant to re-enter society and ultimately live a productive life. This reasoning permeates the new criminal justice reform act recently passed by the Legislature and signed into law by Governor Baker. The new law does, in fact, provide for new mandatory minimum sentencing for assault and battery on a police officer resulting in serious injury. Advanced DNA testing has removed enough falsely accused inmates from death row to establish that the possibility of judicial errors must make the ultimate penalty obsolete.

Proponents also argue that the families of victims, as well as society, require retribution if they are to move forward. While this cannot be readily dismissed, providing the awesome power of retribution to government, which besides making honest mistakes has executed far more blacks than whites in apparently systemic racist fashion, is simply too dangerous. Assuredly, far more harm than good will result.

While we respect police officers and are grateful for their service, creating a special category of punishment sets a worrisome precedent. The point has been made that a criminal being pursued by a police officer will react more aggressively if there is no death penalty because there is nothing to lose, which assumes that those being pursued are actually considering such a distinction. Regardless of its merit, however, the arguments against the death penalty are stronger, and creating one loophole will likely lead to the creation of others.

Ultimately, the best course in a tragedy of this nature is to celebrate the exemplary service and personal character of the officer and mourn his loss, prosecute the alleged murderer to the fullest extent of the law, and if he is found guilty, incarcerate him for the rest of his life without possibility of parole. No one should trust their flawed government with the power of life and death. The tragedy in Yarmouth hasn’t changed that.

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

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RHODE ISLAND

The Providence Journal

April 23

Rhode Islanders who have made owning a home their biggest investment are happy to see values finally rising, after the frightening declines of the Great Recession. But the rise in home values isn’t helping everyone.

More than a decade after advocates said Rhode Island has a housing affordability crisis, renters continue to face a short supply and high prices, with a typical two-bedroom apartment costing more than $1,000 a month. First-time home buyers trying to scrape together enough for a purchase face prices in most communities that are beyond the reach of families earning the median income.

Children are impacted too. According to the latest Rhode Island Kids Count Factbook, high housing costs last year sent nearly 1,000 children into homeless shelters and other types of emergency housing.

Here’s the real problem: Rhode Island has for more than a decade had one of the lowest rates of housing production in the country, both in total numbers and on a per capita basis. According to new U.S. Census figures, Rhode Island cities and towns last year issued permits for only 1,156 new houses - the fewest of any state.

In truly free markets, demand sparks new production, helping to increase supply and bring down prices. But that is not likely to happen in the local housing market, given the construction industry’s consensus that it is much more profitable to build elsewhere.

In Rhode Island, land costs are high, government regulations add significantly to the cost of building, and incomes here often do not pay enough for a family to buy a new home. At the same time, Rhode Island, on a per capita basis, spends far less than surrounding states to produce subsidized, income-restricted housing that would meet the needs of some of those people who can’t afford the high market prices.

Yet there are steps that Rhode Island could take.

One is for taxpayers to spend more on income-restricted housing. Voters approved a $50 million bond in 2016. Two earlier bonds, totaling $75 million, helped to pay for 1,944 income-restricted homes, condominiums and apartments. That’s hardly enough to meet the need, but it helps.

The state also should make it easier for builders to build new houses, by reviewing zoning regulations, building permit fees and other factors that add to the cost of new homes. Cities and towns sometimes frown on new housing developments because new homes bring new families that add to local student populations and the cost of running of local schools. But something must be done to balance those concerns with the need for more affordable housing for Rhode Islanders.

With Rhode Island looking to remake and build its economy, the demand for new homes is only going to grow. According to a 2016 study completed for Rhode Island Housing, the state needs about 3,500 new housing units a year through 2025 to meet demand - far more than are being produced.

The pathetic number of permits issued shows something is wrong. Rhode Island’s leaders should be looking into what is keeping new homes from being built.

Online: https://bit.ly/2r20KbC

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VERMONT

The Rutland Herald

April 25

Members of the Republican Party, who hold a majority in the U.S. House and Senate, have been content to stand idly by while President Donald Trump has attacked any number of democratic institutions in word and deed.

In Trump’s mind, what these institutions have in common is that they are part of a conspiracy that is rigged against him.

In reality, they all exist to uphold and protect our national security and the rule of law - the bedrock American principle that holds that no person shall be beyond the reach of justice.

The president’s actions suggest he doesn’t see it that way, preferring to believe that laws shouldn’t and don’t apply to him.

A few examples:

Trump attacked the U.S. intelligence community after top officials at the CIA and National Security Agency, among others, concluded that Russians sought to influence the outcome of the 2016 presidential election and continue to target the country’s electoral system going forward. Trump dubbed the heads of those agencies liars, leakers and political hacks.

That’s rich, considering that Trump made more than 2,000 demonstrably false or misleading statements in just his first year in office, according to The Washington Post, one of Trump’s favorite targets.

When presented with stories in the press that are anything less than flattering, Trump’s knee-jerk reaction is to shoot the messenger by attacking the media, except for the fawning Fox News channel, which has become the 21st-century U.S. equivalent of TASS, the Russian state news agency.

He has attacked the courts, the election process that put him into office in the first place, and pretty much any elected official who dares question his competence or judgment.

He has also sought to undermine the legitimacy of Special Counsel Robert Mueller’s investigation, which is looking into the role Russia played in the 2016 election.

Trump insisted during one of his Twitter rants that, “The Mueller probe should never have been started in that there was no collusion and there was no crime.”

The president’s assertion that there was “no crime” is decidedly at odds with the fact that four of Trump’s former aides have been indicted, and three have pleaded guilty to crimes.

It should come as no surprise, then, that law enforcement has also been a favorite target of Trump, especially the FBI, which Trump seems to believe is out to get him and those around him. Actually, there may be some validity to this point, given the growing belief that Trump may be guilty of obstruction of justice - the same charge that ultimately brought down President Richard Nixon in the 1970s.

The difference between now and then is that members of Congress in the Nixon era were willing to stand up to the president and place the interests of the country ahead of those of their own political party.

It was a Republican - the late Tennessee Sen. Howard Baker - who perfectly framed the defining question of the Watergate era when he asked in 1973, “What did the president know, and when did he know it?”

Nixon, in case anyone has forgotten, was a member of Baker’s own party.

During the Iran-Contra hearings that investigated the administration of Republican President Ronald Reagan in 1987, it was another member of the GOP - the late Warren Rudman of New Hampshire - who chose loyalty to country over party when he famously declared that, “The American people have a right to be wrong.”

The Constitution provides for a system of checks and balances between the branches of government, but that system only works if members of Congress embrace their role as a watchdog over the executive branch, something they thus far appear unwilling to do, consequences to the country be damned.

If Trump is allowed to undermine our democratic institutions and obstruct justice unchecked, he represents a danger to the rule of law and our democracy.

Which makes it worth asking: If Republicans in Congress choose not to exercise their constitutional duty, what court will be left for them to petition to get their souls back?

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

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NEW HAMPSHIRE

Foster’s Daily Democrat

April 25

When it comes to government transparency, New Hampshire has written high ideals into both its constitution and statutes.

Article 8 of the New Hampshire Constitution states: … “The public’s right of access to governmental proceedings and records shall not be unreasonably restricted.”

The preamble to Chapter 91-A, the state’s Right-to-Know law declares: “Openness in the conduct of public business is essential to a democratic society.”

Unfortunately, New Hampshire’s ideals are not reflected in the actions of many governmental bodies, which routinely deny right-to-know requests.

In September 2017, Gov. Chris Sununu convened a bipartisan, expert commission representing a wide range of interests to address a gap between the ideals contained in our laws and constitution and how government access plays out in the real world.

In the real world, increasingly often, when citizens seek access to public information from government bodies, they are denied. The Pulitzer Prize winning Center For Public Integrity gives New Hampshire an F, for public access to information, ranking it 49th out of 50 states. It received an overall grade of D-minus.

While some state, school and municipal bodies really do try to abide by the spirit and letter of the Right-to-Know law, many others do not. Citizen requests are denied on grounds that are legally questionable and then the citizens’ only recourse is to take that governmental body to court.

To do this a citizen can spend a great deal of money out of his or her own pocket to hire a lawyer to argue the case in court, or, they can prepare the case themselves and argue it pro se, often facing off against a well-paid and highly experienced government lawyer. The process can also be expensive for the government. In one case cited by the commission, Porter v. Town of Sandwich, the plaintiff was awarded over $200,000 in attorney’s fees and associated costs.

Even when citizens argue cases themselves, they still have to pay court fees, money to serve the complaint to the government agency and/or its attorneys, take time off of work, etc. Arguing a case pro se is also time consuming and expensive.

The Commission to Study Processes to Resolve Right To Know Complaints, held several meetings in September and October of 2017 and unanimously concluded: “To (ensure) that a right-to-know grievance resolution process would be easier, cheaper, and faster and have sufficient input and advice from a wide audience of interested parties, it was agree that an Ombudsman should be established with oversight by a Citizens’ Right-to-Know Appeals Commission.”

Rather than going directly to court a citizen denied his or her right to know would have the option to take the case to the ombudsman, a lawyer with expertise in the state’s Right-to-Know law, making it easier and less expensive to challenge a denial. The citizen could still opt to take the case to court rather than the ombudsman and the government agency could appeal an ombudsman decision in court, but we feel certain that most cases would be efficiently resolved at the ombudsman level.

The commission’s recommendations became the foundation for SB 555, which passed the state Senate and House Judiciary Committee but has gotten hung up in the House Finance Committee because the ombudsman would be paid $48,000 a year. The New Hampshire House votes on SB 555 today.

We urge the New Hampshire House not to ignore the excellent work done by the governor’s commission and the recommendations of the state Senate and House Judiciary Committee and vote yes on SB 555. While we appreciate the Finance Committee’s concerns over spending money on an ombudsman, in our view, improving citizen access to public information is worth far more than $48,000, it is the priceless foundation of our democracy.

Online: https://bit.ly/2FjDM4w

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MAINE

The Portland Press Herald

April 27

Gov. LePage on Wednesday vetoed a bill because, he says, it would limit his power as chief executive. He’s right - and that’s exactly the point.

The governor wants to use his executive power to all but eliminate a program that’s effective at identifying and helping at-risk kids. While evidence mounts that the Department of Health and Human Services isn’t doing enough to protect children from abuse, LePage wants to make certain that it can’t do any more.

L.D. 1874 would fund the $2.2 million Community Partnerships for Protecting Children program through the end of January, when the next governor will be in office. It passed unanimously in the Senate and overwhelmingly in the House, and lawmakers should remember why it got so much support when they return to Augusta next week to deal with the governor’s veto.

Until very recently, the program appeared to have a bright future. Started in the Portland area about a decade ago, it had great success bringing schools, police, churches, nonprofits and others in a community together to work with families whose children were at risk of abuse or neglect. The program was expanded just two years ago, and now serves all of southern Maine plus Augusta, Bangor, Belfast and Lewiston.

Earlier this year, however, the Le-Page administration told the organizations that contract to run the program that it would be eliminated in the fall, saying that state officials had determined it to be duplicative of other state efforts and not “evidence-based” enough for their liking.

Even if the decision had not come out immediately after the beating deaths of 4-year-old Kendall Chick of Wiscasset and 10-year-old Marissa Kennedy of Stockton Springs, it would have been a poor one. The program’s ability to target resources just where they are needed, and to deal in a variety of ways with difficult and vulnerable populations, soon became apparent, and lawmakers acted swiftly to save it.

But the deaths of Kendall and Marissa, both after extended periods of physical abuse that appear to have been missed by the state, revealed the likelihood of deep problems within Child Protective Services, and led the Legislature’s Government Oversight Committee to launch an investigation into the state’s handling of the children’s cases and the child-protection system as a whole.

It would be foolish to change anything until that investigation is complete and the Legislature has had an opportunity to respond. We don’t know what the probe will tell us about the cracks in the system, but we know they are there - the deaths of the two young girls show us that much.

We know that the state is handling many more complaints of child abuse and neglect than previously but with the same number of workers. And we know the governor and the Legislature ignored annual pleas from the state’s child welfare ombudsman to improve the assessments that determine whether a child is in danger.

The evidence that has emerged in the last few weeks points clearly to a system that has far too few eyes watching out for child abuse, yet LePage still wants to end a proven way to identify the next Kendall Chick or Marissa Kennedy before it’s too late.

If that’s how he plans to exercise his executive authority, then it should be taken away.

Online: https://bit.ly/2Hx2i4o

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