- Associated Press - Friday, June 29, 2018

Editorials from around New England:

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CONNECTICUT

The Republican-American

June 28



Connecticut’s union-backed Working Families Party (WFP) is excited by news from north of the state’s border. The Massachusetts legislature has passed paid family-and-medical-leave legislation, and Gov. Charlie Baker, a Republican, signed it Thursday. Before Gov. Baker affixed his signature, Lindsay Farrell, WFP’s executive director, told CT News Junkie, “Once this is signed into law, we will be surrounded by states that have paid family leave.” Connecticut has offered unpaid leave since 1990.

Connecticut should not emulate Massachusetts. The paid-leave path is too risky, in light of Connecticut’s struggles.

In recent years, the Connecticut legislature has considered a proposal that would create a paid family-and-medical-leave trust fund that would be administered by the state Department of Labor (DOL). Workers in the public and private sectors would contribute one half of 1 percent of their weekly pay to the fund. Each worker would be allowed to tap it for “12 work weeks of family leave compensation . or a combination of family and medical leave compensation,” as Hearst Connecticut Media Group reported this spring.

This legislation never has made it out of the legislature. During this year’s regular session - which ended May 9 - it was approved by the Labor and Public Employees Committee, but failed to advance. Early on, Gov. Dannel P. Malloy said that in all likelihood, the votes would not be there for it to pass the full legislature.

While workers themselves would cover the direct costs of these benefits, the legislation nonetheless is bad news. As we noted in an April 9 editorial, it would, among other things, almost certainly necessitate expanding DOL’s payroll and leave employers on the hook for the “non-wage benefits” of their on-leave employees. Connecticut’s fiscal crisis shows no signs of abating, while the Constitution State consistently fares poorly on surveys gauging the states’ all-important business-friendliness. Accordingly, paid family-and-medical-leave legislation stands only to worsen these formidable problems.

Gov. Baker was free to do as he wished, but Connecticut policymakers shouldn’t allow his decision to influence theirs. They would be wise to weigh the drawbacks of the paid-leave route against Connecticut’s problems, and govern accordingly.

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

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MASSACHUSETTS

The Boston Globe

June 28

Every day that Lidia Souza spends away from her 9-year-old son, Diogo, is time that was brazenly and unjustly stolen by the US government. It’s been nearly a month.

Souza, an immigrant from Brazil, was separated from Diogo at the US-Mexico border. The 27-year-old mother came to the US seeking asylum; she was sent to detention while her son was taken away from her. Souza was eventually released and traveled to Hyannis to stay with family. Through a stroke of luck, Souza located her son at a facility in Chicago but has faced multiple bureaucratic barriers to regain custody of him. Among them: a 36-page application, including Souza’s fingerprints as well as those of the members of the household where she is staying.

Now Souza’s lawyers are suing to force the government’s release of Diogo.

That is just one tragic case of parental separation. Multiply that times 2,000.

Despite President Trump’s reality show theatrics last week, when he signed an executive order to “maintain family unity,” there is simply no evidence that the administration is devoting any resources at all to the essential task of reuniting parents and their kids. In a few short weeks of cruelty, the administration has created an enormous logistical headache that it’s shown no ability or desire to solve. Congress must intervene to create an independent commission to unravel the mess and restore some basic decency to the treatment of families separated at the border.

As of Tuesday, the Department of Health and Human Services still had custody of 2,047 migrant children who were separated from their parents at the southern border. Under questioning from Congress, HHS Secretary Alex Azar refused to say how long it will take to reunite families. He said he sees “no reason” why separated families can’t find children.

On the ground, advocates and lawyers report a harrowing situation, pointing to a secretive and impossible process designed to withhold information. In the face of such a daunting task, some radical ideas have been proposed - the genetic testing company 23andMe offered to donate kits to speed up the identification and matching process but was rebuffed.

Adding to the urgency, late on Tuesday night, a federal judge in California issued a preliminary injunction blocking family separations and ordering the reunification of families within 30 days, and within 14 days if children are younger than 5. “The unfortunate reality is that under the present system, migrant children are not accounted for with the same efficiency and accuracy as property,” Judge Dana Sabraw wrote. She also said that the administration’s “responses to address a chaotic circumstance of the government’s own making … belie measured and ordered governance, which is central to the concept of due process enshrined in our Constitution.”

Court order or not, does anyone really believe Trump and Company have even a sliver of will to facilitate this process in any meaningful and humane way? On the contrary: The separation of families and the new policy that caused it, the “zero tolerance” mandate at the border, were meant to be intentionally cruel, both in their design and chaotic implementation. Why should we trust that same administration to conduct an orderly and effective reunification of families?

Senate minority leader Charles Schumer of New York called for an immigration czar to be appointed by the Trump administration to oversee the reunification of migrant families.

Yet the solution shouldn’t be left in the hands of the administration. Instead, Congress must step up and appoint an independent family reunification czar, someone with the stature and mission of Kenneth Feinberg, the lawyer who administered compensation for victims of the 9/11 attacks. By all lights, this person would have authority to coordinate between agencies and remove bureaucratic obstacles. Only then can our elected officials in Washington begin to show they’re serious about righting this moral wrong of historic proportions.

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

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RHODE ISLAND

The Providence Journal

June 28

Standing up for the First Amendment, the U.S. Supreme Court ruled 5-4 Wednesday that people cannot be forced to pay into unions as a condition of working.

The case was brought by an Illinois state employee, Mark Janus, who questioned how, under the Constitution, he could be compelled to pay into a union that uses his money to advance a political agenda with which he vehemently disagrees, one that impacts taxes, government debt, budgets and spending priorities.

Here in Rhode Island, all of those things have been affected mightily by the enormous power of public employee unions. Unions have also blunted efforts to reform public education, by insisting on thick teacher contracts that constrain management influence and attacking such innovative alternatives as charter schools.

It was not an unexpected ruling, given the makeup of the court and its recent track record of support for the First Amendment, but it quickly drew howls of outrage from Democrats, including in Rhode Island. Public employee unions are one of the most powerful political interests in the country, and contribute overwhelmingly to Democratic politicians.

As the Boston-based Pioneer Institute noted Wednesday, a whopping 18 of the 20 political action committees that contribute the most to candidates for state and county offices in Massachusetts are labor organizations, and 85 percent of all PAC contributions go to Democratic candidates, according to the latest data. The percentage of campaign contributions going to Democrats from labor PACs is surely higher, the institute said.

President Trump, as is his wont, was quick to gloat. “Big loss for the coffers of the Democrats!” he tweeted. Republicans know well that they fare better politically in states where union dues are not required as a condition of working.

Still, how much of an effect the ruling will have is hard to measure.

Most of the nation’s states - 28 - are already right-to-work states, meaning people are not forced to pay in to a union to work. Rhode Island is among the minority of 22 that have not granted workers that right.

As we have noted, when people are not compelled to pay in, many opt out. In Wisconsin, public employee union membership shriveled 40 percent after workers won the right to choose. That’s a lot of dues. Analysts estimate that between 15 percent and 30 percent of members in the 22 states will decline to join.

We suspect, though, that the change will not be dramatic in Rhode Island. Union members here surely recognize the clout they wield at the State House, returning more than their dues in benefits and favorable labor laws that protect their financial interests. There is no stronger or more relentless special interest on Smith Hill.

Many members will surely understand that their narrow financial interest is served by continuing to pay dues. And they will be under strong peer pressure, possibly including social ostracism, to keep on paying.

The unions, meanwhile, will probably use their political clout to seek legislation that blunts the impact of Wednesday’s ruling. Unions might also strive to retain members by focusing more on such issues as pay and working conditions, and less on straight politics.

Online: https://bit.ly/2Kwv7PU

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VERMONT

The Rutland Herald

June 25

This Sunday, it will be legal for adults 21 and older to possess up to an ounce of marijuana under state law. That will have implications - related to both growing and driving - of which Vermonters will want to be ever mindful. And wary.

After all, this is what state residents said they wanted, and lawmakers and a somewhat reluctant governor provided earlier this year. But it is not as simple as many people believe.

It remains illegal to buy pot in Vermont unless you’re a registered medical marijuana patient, in which case you’re already buying marijuana from a dispensary. Chances are, in time, people will probably be allowed to give marijuana, seeds or plants to one another as gifts. (In Maine, one businessman began giving away marijuana for free and accepting donations for “packaging and handling.”)

Marijuana is still illegal under federal law. The U.S. attorney’s office in Vermont has discretion to decide how aggressively to prosecute marijuana cases.

From a law enforcement point of view, there are also challenges.

Recently, the Vermont State Police issued a new training bulletin to help troopers navigate the changes in the law. The guidelines are based on best practices, however, switching from illegal to legal is not a flip of a switch; it’s an evolution.

While the law against driving impaired doesn’t change, there are new limits on what police can do during a traffic stop. A whiff of marijuana in a vehicle does not constitute probable cause to conduct a search of the vehicle any more.

Vermont did not adopt a standardized method for measuring whether a motorist is under the influence of cannabis, and police are receiving extra training in identifying impaired drivers. If a trooper believes someone is under the influence of cannabis during a traffic stop, one of the state’s 50 or so “drug recognition experts” can be called. If the expert agrees the driver is impaired, then the trooper can take the driver in and seek a search warrant to obtain a blood test.

Meanwhile, when Act 86 goes into effect, adults 21 and older with a green thumb will be allowed to grow up to six plants: two mature, and four immature. Vermonters with a medical marijuana card can grow marijuana. While Vermonters don’t have to look over their shoulder if they are growing, there are considerations.

The law envisions marijuana cultivation as something that happens at home with the written permission of the property owner. People who want to grow marijuana in their rental apartment need to clear it with their landlords first.

In addition:

-The plants must be in a secure enclosure screened from public view.

-Marijuana harvested from plants doesn’t count toward the one-ounce limit as long as it’s stored on-site, in an indoor place, and “reasonable precautions are taken to prevent unauthorized access to the marijuana.”

The law certainly does not mean “pot is legal” in Vermont. People who are convicted of possessing more than one ounce of marijuana, or more than two mature and four immature plants, can be imprisoned up to six months and fined $500 unless they participate in a court diversion program. On a second offense, penalties rise to two years and $2,000.

People will start facing three years in prison and a $10,000 fine if convicted of having two ounces of marijuana, and the penalties continue to rise for greater amounts.

Anyone who gives marijuana to a person under 21 years old, or enables their consumption of marijuana, can be imprisoned up to two years and fined $2,000. Those penalties rise to five years and $10,000 if the underage person causes death or serious injury while driving after they have received the marijuana. Anyone injured as a result can sue for damages. There are separate penalties for underage Vermonters, depending on the age of the offender and the recipient.

While pot advocates have long-awaited the day they can legally grow weed, it is going to require effort - among police, community leaders, landlords and individuals interested in growing their own marijuana - to come to terms with the new law, and understanding what it means (and how it was intended).

There still are plenty of misconceptions out there about what Act 86 does. Before getting cloudier, everyone should bone up on the law, and how it will be enforced.

Online: https://bit.ly/2N9vLoc

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NEW HAMPSHIRE

The Concord Monitor

June 29

The U.S. Supreme Court’s decision to overturn precedent and allow cities and states to collect sales taxes on goods sold online is certainly bad for New Hampshire. Whether it’s “disastrous” for the state’s economy, the word used by most of the state’s congressional delegation, depends on Congress. If it acts to standardize reasonable rules governing the taxation of internet sales, significant economic harm, if not disaster, will be avoided. If not, the Granite State and its thousands of small businesses will suffer.

The court’s ruling was probably inevitable. Online sales have become too big a factor in the economy, and too big a disadvantage to brick-and-mortar businesses in the 45 states that levy sales taxes, for states and the high court to ignore.

Between cities, counties and states, there are some 12,000 sales tax venues, each with its own rules, levies, permits and limits. Before the internet, there was no way even a medium-sized company could comply with all their laws. Now, within hours of the high court’s ruling, companies began selling, or in one case giving away, sales tax tracking software to retailers. Retailers will have little choice but to pass the cost, in time and money, of serving as tax collectors to their customers, both in-state and out.

Gov. Chris Sununu has called for a special legislative session to craft state laws to protect New Hampshire businesses, but we fail to see how they can avoid complying with the high court’s ruling. New Hampshire can set up hurdles to the collection of taxes on out-of-state sales, but the power to regulate interstate commerce lies with the federal government.

The five states that lack a sales tax, Oregon, Alaska, Montana, Delaware and New Hampshire, could retaliate by enacting a sales tax of their own but that would do even more harm to retailers in those states. It would also impose what is a particularly regressive tax.

According to the nonprofit, nonpartisan Institute of Tax and Economic Policy, the poor pay 7 percent of their income in sales and excise taxes, middle-income households pay 4.7 percent, and the wealthy just 1 percent.

South Dakota, which took the online home goods company Wayfair to court to collect that state’s 4.5 percent sales tax on internet sales, requires any company with more than $100,000 in online sales, or that fulfills more than 200 orders, in that state to pay sales taxes. Some states set the limit at $250,000 or more. Some disregard the number of sales within the state and tax solely based on total sales revenue.

Despite the lines that form before holidays, the bulk of Concord’s Granite State Candy Shoppe sales are online. Will chocolates be exempt as food or taxed? It could depend on where the buyer lives. Illinois, for example, taxes Snickers bars, which contain mostly the same ingredients as Twix bars, but it does not tax the latter because that confection includes a bit of flour.

We’d like to see New Hampshire’s congressional delegation promote legislation barring the taxation of online sales of less than $250,000 in a given tax district, irrespective of the number of sales. Small businesses like Granite State Candy might easily exceed the 200-order limit in a city or state but most would be unlikely to exceed the $250,000 sales cap.

The internet has been a boon to small business. It must not become a burden.

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

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MAINE

The Kennebec Journal

June 28

A delicate balance on the U.S. Supreme Court was blown up Wednesday by the announced retirement of Justice Anthony Kennedy.

Although he was a Reagan appointee and a conservative on most issues, Kennedy nonetheless cast key deciding votes that protected socially liberal values, such as a woman’s right to choose an abortion and the ability of same-sex couples to marry.

Now President Donald Trump is preparing to nominate a successor who would push the court more reliably rightward, not just during Trump’s time in office but possibly for decades.

And thanks to a narrow one-vote Republican majority in the U.S. Senate, there are few people who can stand in his way. One of them is Maine’s Republican Sen. Susan Collins.

Collins could have a lot to say about this nomination if she chooses to weigh in.

Trump and Senate Majority Leader Mitch McConnell, of Kentucky, would need almost every Republican vote to force through an appointment in the face of Democratic opposition. If only two Republicans refused to be rushed, the nomination could not go forward.

Collins can and should demand that any replacement for Kennedy reflect the retiring justice’s unique position on the court over the last three decades. Collins can and should require that Kennedy’s replacement have bipartisan support and should not be confirmed by a 50-49 vote by the current Senate.

A nomination this consequential demands less deference to the president than Collins usually demonstrates. There are thousands of Americans who have the kinds of résumés that would qualify them to serve on the court, but what this nominee believes matters as much as their credentials.

The court’s conservative majority showed this week, with a decision that undid more than 70 years of labor law, that there is no consensus on what it means to respect precedent or what constitutes judicial activism. Until we arrive in an era of common understanding, the best we can hope for is balance.

And the loss of Kennedy could mean the loss of balance. For instance, it would take only one vote on the Supreme Court to overturn Roe v. Wade and send abortion law back to the states, ending nearly a half-century of constitutional protection.

Supreme Court nominations have become increasingly politicized since the failed Robert Bork nomination in 1987, which led to Kennedy’s appointment.

In 2016, Republicans took the unprecedented step of refusing as much as a hearing to President Barack Obama’s nominee, Judge Merrick Garland, keeping the seat open until after the election.

Democrats responded by filibustering Trump’s nominee, Neil Gorsuch, and the Republicans came back with the “nuclear option” of changing the Senate rules to require no more than a majority vote to confirm a Supreme Court justice.

Collins voted for the rule change but said she did so with regret. She said the Senate would need to restore “the unwritten ethos that has made this body a model for the world for 230 years. It is an ethos built upon trust, compromise, and restraint.”

Those three qualities should be on Collins’ mind again as this process moves forward. Balance on the court is worth maintaining in these divided times.

Online: https://bit.ly/2ID1DOh

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