Editorials from around New England:
The Times Argus
We all should be concerned and a bit alarmed that the U.S. Supreme Court ruled in the much-followed “cakeshop” case, siding with the bakery that refused to make a wedding cake for a same-sex couple in 2012.
In Masterpiece Cakeshop v. Colorado Civil Rights Commission, the Supreme Court justices split 7-2.
Yes, the ruling affirms the validity of anti-discrimination laws that protect classes of persons when they seek goods and services on the same terms as others in the public marketplace. “As a general rule,” the court stated, religious or philosophical objections to other people “do not allow business owners” or “economic or societal actors to deny protected persons equal access to goods and services” or to “put up signs” excluding them. However, the ruling rejected the central premise of the cake shop and the U.S. Department of Justice, both of which sought to use religion and free speech to justify discrimination against a gay couple.
It is rather ironic that the cake shop and baker technically won, but only because the Supreme Court ruled that they had not received “neutral and respectful consideration” of their arguments by the state commission that heard and decided their case. To that end, the court cited comments made by commissioners on the case that the court said denigrated religion, suggested incompatibility between being a person of faith and person in business, and noted what it said was a possible inconsistency with the commission’s precedents.
It would seem this limited ruling actually provides no basis for this cake shop or other entities covered by anti-discrimination laws to refuse goods and services in the name of free speech or religion.
Fortunately, the court was mindful of how far adrift we could go if every individual could apply his or her religious beliefs to every commercial transaction. The court contrasted permission for a clergy person to refuse to marry a couple as an exercise of religious belief, on the one hand, with the unacceptable “community-wide stigma” that would befall gay people if there was a general constitutional right to refuse to provide goods and services.
In her dissent, Justice Ruth Bader Ginsburg, joined by Justice Sonia Sotomayor, made a notably different argument from Justice Anthony Kennedy’s majority opinion.
Specifically, Ginsburg pushed back against a key part of the majority’s argument by saying there was an important difference between a bakery that refused to make a cake for anyone with anti-LGBTQ language on it and a bakery that refused to make a cake for someone in particular - which they would have made for others - because that someone was a member of the LGBTQ community. While the former was not discrimination, the latter was, she said.
“When a couple contacts a bakery for a wedding cake, the product they are seeking is a cake celebrating their wedding - not a cake celebrating heterosexual weddings or same-sex weddings - and that is the service (the couple) were denied,” Ginsburg wrote.
What the court’s ruling will mean for future cases that could pit LGBTQ rights against religious freedom rights remains to be seen. But it seems obvious, given the court’s ruling and the undercurrent nationally, that we can expect to see more instances of public businesses refusing to provide services to gay people in the name of religious freedom.
The Supreme Court may have dodged the issue for now, but it will not be able to avoid it forever.
The decision may generate mixed feelings in our community, especially a state like ours that has made great strides toward supporting the LGBTQ community. Our anti-discrimination protections must remain vitally important, and we have to continue to seek protections for LGBTQ people here and across the nation.
Ultimately, we must support the LGBTQ community and others in remaining confident in going about their business, working, attending school, marrying and raising children. The Constitution still requires as much.
Mark Brighton is a Portsmouth resident and head of the Association of Portsmouth Taxpayers.
Tracey Gobbi is from Stratham and has been called the “happiest person you ever met.”
Amy Tan is the noted author of “The Joy Luck Club.”
Despite their varied backgrounds, they all have something horrifically in common - Lyme disease.
Stories about the debilitating effects of tick-borne Lyme disease are all too common as the warmer weather approaches (although they are frequently found during warmer winter months in the Seacoast).
Yet the disease continues to baffle medical experts and wreak havoc on those affected and their families.
On Sunday, we told the story of Mark Brighton who is still recovering from Lyme disease and a parasitic ailment called Babesiosis that he got in the summer of 2017 when he was bitten by a tick.
“I’m a diabetic of five and a half decades, I had open heart surgery, I was in an accident in 2000 when I broke 22 bones, but far and away this is the most trying experience I’ve ever had,” Brighton said.
For Tracey Gobbi the impact was different, yet no less frightening.
We met Tracey a month or so earlier.
At the time, Tracey’s mom, Kim, said that the 25-year old woman in her bathroom vaguely resembled her daughter, but the young woman was hitting herself in the face, punching her own stomach, and pulling her own hair.
“Tracey loved life and was the happiest person you ever met,” says Kim. “But her world just kept getting smaller and smaller. I thought, ‘I don’t know who this person is anymore.’”
As it turned out, Kim had been the victim of a simple bug bite - an infected tick that sent the bacteria coursing through Tracey’s bloodstream that became a Lyme disease infection.
Amy Tan is the founder of LymeAid 4 Kids as the result of her fight with Lyme disease. Tan calls her case typical of many late-stage Lyme patients.
She writes: “I didn’t know the speck on my shin was a tick. I saw no bull’s eye rash. I had a brief bout of the ‘summertime flu.’ Then, over the next four years, I was plagued by a variety of ailments that didn’t quite fit any one disease.”
“Worst of all,” she continues, “I could not read a paragraph and recall what it said. I wrote in circles, unable to tie two thoughts together, never mind the plot of a novel. Yet, outwardly, I looked normal - just a bit listless and tired, at times apathetic then overly emotional.”
Tan’s story is similar to others about which we have read. “The doctors I saw - excellent ones - never considered testing me for Lyme disease, even though I suggested it once. “Very rare,” one said, “and not in California.” More than four years later, in 2003, I finally found a doctor familiar with the disease. Three months after antibiotic treatment, I could write again.”
We can’t stress enough the need to be preventive.
Here are some basic suggestions from Centers for Disease Control and Prevention
Before you go outdoors:
-Know where to expect ticks. Ticks live in grassy, brushy or wooded areas, or even on animals. Spending time outside walking your dog, camping, gardening, or hunting could bring you in close contact with ticks. Many people also can get ticks in their own yard or neighborhood.
-Treat clothing and gear with products containing 0.5% permethrin.
-Use Environmental Protection Agency (EPA) registered insect repellents containing DEET, picaridin, IR3535, Oil of Lemon Eucalyptus (OLE), para-menthane-diol (PMD), or 2-undecanone.
After you come indoors:
-Check your clothing for ticks.
-Showering within two hours of coming indoors has been shown to reduce your risk of tick-borne diseases.
-Check under the arms, in and around the ears, inside belly button, back of the knees, in and around the hair, between the legs, and around the waist.
Portland Press Herald
Maine’s soaring rate of chronic absenteeism points to the need for early and individualized intervention.
Butch Pratt, longtime truancy officer for the Lewiston school district, writes down his number and a note to leave on the door of an apartment where he hoped to discuss a student’s absenteeism. Sixteen percent of Maine students - more than 29,000 - miss more than 10 percent of the school year, new state statistics show.
A kid’s future is never set in stone. But for students who miss a lot of school, it’s at least written in pen.
More than any other single indicator, regular absences are a sign of what’s to come. Kids who are chronically absent - who miss more than 10 percent of the school year - are far less likely to graduate than their peers. And it’s not because they don’t want to learn or can’t handle the coursework. There’s almost always something else going on, and those problems have to be addressed to save a student from a life of underachievement.
According to new data from the state Department of Education, 16 percent of Maine students - more than 29,000 - are chronically absent.
It is a habit that grabs on early and follows students through their academic career. Elementary school students who miss too much school are far less likely to read at grade level by fourth grade, and thus four times more likely to drop out before graduation than are their peers who attend school regularly. Absenteeism in the sixth grade is the strongest hint at that level that a student will fail to graduate; by eighth grade, it’s a better indicator of freshman achievement than test scores. For first-year high school students, missed days are a better sign of who will graduate than grade point average or course failures.
That suggests that there are larger forces at play than academics. Poverty is one, as students from low-income families struggle with unstable living situations and unreliable transportation. Often, there are people with serious health issues at home. For young students, parents may not see the importance of being in school every day, not when compared to the struggles of clothing and feeding them.
There are also students for whom school is a threatening place, because of bullying or social anxiety, or because of a bad experience with a teacher or staff member.
“There are a million different reasons kids are out of school,” Gayle Erdheim, who handles dropout issues for the Department of Education, told the Portland Press Herald, “but usually it’s not that they don’t like math.”
The variety of causes means that chronic absenteeism must be addressed student by student, barrier by barrier. It takes a comprehensive effort within individual schools to recognize at-risk students, help them overcome the issues that are keeping them from school, then make sure those supports are around for the long haul. Such a program is used by Count ME In, a statewide initiative that partners with communities and schools to increase attendance.
It helps to start young, too. Bills that would allow schools to intervene with students as young as 5 have failed in recent years but should be reconsidered - the change in law would help parents and students overcome barriers, and develop good habits, before they become too entrenched.
School absences take a child’s future away a day at a time. And that’s how we can give it back, day by day, until they have a shot at the future they deserve.
Telegram & Gazette
What goes into a viable political solution, as we know better than ever in this divisive era, depends on the eye of the beholder, even when it comes to an issue such as laying out the political calendar. And when those beholders, who are also the deciders, are the very politicians who would be advantaged - or disadvantaged - by any schedule change … well, you can imagine the hurdles involved in reform.
Gerrymandering for political advantage has been in the news. Two cases - one involving Republican advantages in Wisconsin and the other involving Democratic advantages in Maryland - are awaiting a Supreme Court decision. Less obvious than geography but also very influential are the dictates of something as routine as the political calendar.
In Massachusetts, it’s a nine-month process that starts in February - and far earlier for serious candidates. But February is when nomination papers requiring as few as 150 certifiable signatures for state representative and up to 10,000 signatures for governor and U.S. senator are first made available by the state. There are important dates to be met along the way that can vary by the type of office and whether a candidate is affiliated with a political party - and facing a primary vote - or is attempting to go directly to the November ballot. But the key to this discussion comes seven months into this journey, when Massachusetts holds its state primaries.
This year’s primary vote has been set for Sept. 4, the day after Labor Day. You can just imagine how paltry that turnout will be. And especially in a contested primary race - such as in the Democratic and (only because we have to bring it up) the Republican gubernatorial primaries - the winners have only nine weeks to the final election.
Seven months of building an organization, getting a message out, raising and spending enough money to win a primary vote, and the victor must immediately transition to a nine-week sprint to Nov. 6.
From our perspective, the advantage inures to the well-established, the well-organized and the well-funded. In other words, to the incumbents. This power of the calendar can be as telling as the power of a gerrymandered district, in this case helping the incumbent regardless of party affiliation. And it’s no surprise that our commonwealth’s political calendar featuring a September primary is set under state law determined by those incumbents in the state legislature.
It doesn’t have to be this way. Forty-four states have their primaries before Labor Day. Thirty of those states schedule their primaries between March and the end of June. Only five Northeast states, if you include Delaware along with New Hampshire, New York, Rhode Island and Massachusetts, schedule their primaries in September. (The fiftieth state, Louisiana, schedules its “primary” on Election Day in November - it’s actually a runoff in which everyone, even multiple candidates from a single party, all appear on the ballot. The candidate who gets more than half the total votes, wins. And for contests in which no one gets a majority, then the top two finishers, no matter their party affiliation, go at it in a December runoff.)
An argument against those springtime primaries is that it’s hard to capture voter attention over the summer, that people focus on elections after Labor Day. Perhaps. But for primary contests, money and other party backing should wait until there’s a primary winner. And an earlier primary provides a longer runway for a challenger to take off.
For Massachusetts, an added complication to its September primaries is scheduling around the Jewish religious holidays. State law mandates that the primary be held within seven days of the second Tuesday of September. This year, that falls on Sept. 11. And if the vote is to be on a Tuesday, that means either Sept. 4 (the day after Labor Day) or Sept. 11 (Rosh Hashanah) or Sept. 18 (the start of Yom Kippur). It could be set for another day, such as a Thursday, but there’s likely to be fallout over suppressed turnouts. Thus citizens will be voting the day after Labor Day!
But moving to an earlier month, such as June - which is favored by 17 states from Maine to California - not only provides primary winners a longer runway to November in making their case but also eliminates having to maneuver around civic holidays, such as Labor Day, and religious holidays, and also reduces the potential for a primary vote to be hijacked by a paltry turnout.
We would urge the Legislature to take a serious look at our primary schedule. Just because it’s always been in September doesn’t mean it’s the right thing to do. Certainly other dates, such as filing deadlines and absentee ballot mailings, would need to move, but that’s just a matter of logistics that other states have addressed. Bills to study the issue are filled periodically, including one in the current session to establish a special commission to study ways to increase voter participation in primary elections. Included in that one was a study of primary dates. But also - alert! - a “Top Two Primary System,” similar to California’s. That one we’re not sure about at all. It could easily result in our blue state having November elections that feature race after race with only two Democrats on the ballot. Fortunately, the bill appears to be lost in legislative limbo. But a study of primary dates needs to be resurrected.
Changing the primary to the spring would solve some of the issues we now face, including with turnouts. It also would reinvigorate political debate and make it easier for new voices to break through.
Unfortunately, we aren’t holding our breath, given that the incumbents - of both parties - benefit by the current calendar.
The General Assembly’s primary responsibility during the legislative term that began five months ago was to close the existing budget gap and adjust the second year of the two-year budget to bring it into balance. According to Comptroller Kevin Lembo, it failed.
“Connecticut is on track to end the current fiscal year with a $721 million deficit that reflects the results of the recent bipartisan budget agreement,” read a statement released by Lembo’s office.
The revision to the state budget signed by Gov. Dannel P. Malloy May 15 increased the deficit projection by $334.3 million for the fiscal year that ends June 30, according to Lembo, a Democrat.
The deficit grew, said Lembo, because the budget shifts certain funding from the current budget to the fiscal year 2019 budget that begins July 1, covering up projected shortfalls. These include about $300 million in payments to hospitals, $21 million for Medicaid and $21.5 million for state retiree health insurance.
To make this possible, the General Assembly ignored the volatility cap law it had passed only a few months earlier, in October 2017. Approving the cap, the legislature had agreed to use any revenue windfalls to build up the state Budget Reserve Fund, commonly known as the rainy day fund. Yet confronted with a windfall in unexpectedly high income tax revenues, much of it associated with one-time tax manipulations tied to federal tax law changes, the General Assembly ignored the volatility law it had passed in bipartisan fashion.
Following the volatility law would have boosted the reserve fund to $1.3 billion, Lembo calculated. Instead, most of that windfall income will be diverted to close the deficit, leaving a $766 million reserve, 4 percent of the general fund. Lembo recommends 15 percent be kept in reserve to protect from future revenue downturns.
“While many important state and municipal programs were preserved,” writes Lembo, the legislature largely used “revenue that is one-time in nature.”
The bottom line is that the next governor and legislature elected in November will face a continuing state budget crisis and a too-small rainy day fund. The Office of Fiscal Analysis estimates a $2 billion deficit in the 2019-20 fiscal year, rising to $2.6 billion in 2020-21.
Let’s hear candidates talk about that when seeking your votes.
The Providence Journal
Elected officials should take a bow for recent actions to make guns less of a public-safety threat to the people of Rhode Island.
Last week, Gov. Gina Raimondo signed into law “red flag” legislation that will help the police remove dangerous weapons from individuals who are perceived to be at “imminent? risk of killing innocent people - and themselves. The governor also signed into law a bill to ban the sale of bump fire stock devices, which can turn semiautomatic weapons into automatic weapons.
Lawmakers deserve credit for standing up to political opposition and passing these measures to protect the public.
The “red flag” bill was co-sponsored by House Speaker Nicholas Mattiello, D-Cranston, and Rep. Dennis Canario, D-Portsmouth, a former police officer, after 17 students were killed on Valentine’s Day at Marjory Stoneman Douglas High School in Parkland, Florida.
There had been many “red flags” about the accused lone gunman, a 19-year-old who posted on social media his crazed intentions to become a “school shooter.” Local police and the FBI did little to respond to serious warnings, effectively permitting the shooter to take an AR-15 semiautomatic rifle into the school, fire at will and destroy people’s lives in an instant.
Police officials in Rhode Island strongly supported legislation that would make it easier to remove weapons from clearly unstable people, while providing them with due process protections. The law will allow the police to ask a judge for permission to seize guns for a year from residents who show clear warning signs of committing violence. That seems a sensible way to try to protect the public in some circumstances.
The banning of the bump fire stock was simply common sense, too.
This device, which generally retails for less than $200, was used on a semiautomatic weapon by a lone gunman at a Las Vegas-based country music festival last year. He killed 58 people, wounded hundreds of others, and left the entire nation in mourning after his horrifying spree of violence.
Even the National Rifle Association, an aggressive lobbying group that defends the Second Amendment, frowned on the device after that bloodbath. In a statement issued shortly after the Las Vegas shooting, the NRA called on “the Bureau of Alcohol, Tobacco, Firearms and Explosives (BATFE) to immediately review whether these devices comply with federal law. The NRA believes that devices designed to allow semiautomatic rifles to function like fully automatic rifles should be subject to additional regulations.”
Neither of these laws would get illegal weapons out of the hands of would-be killers and off the streets. But they could provide the public some protection against those who would egregiously misuse guns.
We also note there are other measures, not passed in this session, that would help further protect the public. Bills under consideration would raise the legal age to buy shotguns or rifles; ban military-style weapons with high-capacity magazines; and ban guns on school grounds. They face more doubtful prospects, particularly the last two.
But we would be remiss if we failed to thank legislators for putting the public first with “red flag” legislation and the ban on bump stocks.
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