Editorials from around New England:
Effort to address to implicit bias in jury selection an important one
A case that originated in New London could lead to changes in the way juries are selected, with the goal being to assure that defendants get a jury of their peers - not juries that are inclined to assess police evidence less critically and disinclined to give the accused the benefit of the doubt due to racial bias.
In other words, the Connecticut Supreme Court, in learning lessons from the jury selection for that New London trial, wants to assess whether changes are needed to make the system fairer. That’s a good thing, because the objective should be equality in justice for all.
We are not at all surprised that Chief Justice Richard Robinson, the first African American to serve in that position in Connecticut, stepped outside the normal boundaries of assessing an appeal to take this important step. The high court upheld the guilty verdict in the case. It could have stopped there. The court typically does. But it recognized the case raised “broader themes of disparate impact and implicit bias” in jury selection, raising “extremely serious concerns with respect to the public perception and fairness of the criminal justice system.”
So, as part of its decision, authored by Robinson, it ordered the creation of a Jury Selection Task Force, appointed by the chief justice, and charged it with studying the issue of racial discrimination in jury selection and recommending changes.
Robinson, you may recall, sat down with Day Staff Writer Karen Florin on Nov. 6 at Connecticut College for “A Conversation on Race,” at which he discussed the need to address bias in the criminal-justice system.
In the case at point, Evan Holmes had appealed his 2013 conviction for the murder of Jorge Rosa, 25. Holmes claimed that the prosecutor had acted with discrimination in keeping a black man off the jury, denying him a fair trial.
That would-be juror was Winston Taylor, a social worker and supervisor with the Department of Social Services. Questioned during jury selection by the prosecutor, Senior Assistant State’s Attorney Paul J. Narducci, Taylor was frank in admitting that, based on his personal and professional experience, certain groups of individuals - minorities - are disproportionately questioned by police, convicted of crimes and subjected to harsher sentences. But he said he could be objective as a juror.
Fearing Taylor might be biased against the prosecution, Narducci used a preemptory challenge - available to both the prosecutor and defense attorney - to dismiss Taylor from the jury pool.
Defense attorney William T. Koch Jr. responded with a “Baston challenge,” referencing a 1986 U.S. Supreme Court decision that found preemptory challenges cannot be used to exclude jurors based solely on race. The trial court judge found Narducci had legitimate reasons beyond race - Taylor’s doubts about the fairness of the system - to dismiss Taylor. Three other black jurors were seated on the jury that convicted Holmes.
While agreeing with the lower courts in upholding the conviction, the Supreme Court expressed concern about the high threshold set by the Baston precedent, a finding “that the prosecutor had … acted with purposeful discrimination in exercising a preemptory challenge.”
By allowing prosecutors to dismiss jurors simply because they may have concerns about police and judicial bias - views more likely to be held by certain minorities - the selection process appears to be allowing an “implicit bias (that) may be equally as pernicious and destructive to the perception of the justice system,” wrote Robinson in the court’s decision.
The state of Washington formed a panel to consider similar concerns about implicit bias. It resulted in a new rule there that it is “presumptively invalid” to reject a juror because they have some distrust of law enforcement or experiences tied to their living in a high-crime neighborhood.
The rule also gives Washington judges more leeway in disallowing preemptory challenges in which race or ethnicity appear to be a factor “in the totality of circumstances.”
“The court need not find purposeful discrimination to deny” the dismissing of a juror, under the new Washington rule.
In Connecticut, the soon-to-be-appointed panel will be allowed to assess the entirety of the jury selection process. Creating a better system is not only vital for the rights of defendants but, as importantly, to improve confidence in the fairness of the criminal-justice system among all communities.
It’s time for bipartisan action on failures of federal budget process
Bangor Daily News
Congress approved a $1.4 trillion spending package just in time for Christmas. We’re glad the legislation passed - and the president signed it into law - as it averted another costly and unnecessary government shutdown and provides some level of certainty for federal spending through the end of September.
That is no small achievement in an age of seemingly constant shutdown politics and short-term continuing spending resolutions, and amidst the bitter divisions that have only deepened during the ongoing impeachment process.
All four members of Maine’s congressional delegation rightly voted for the package before lawmakers left the Capitol for the holidays.
Sen. Susan Collins touted - and for good reason - a long list of measures her office said she secured in the funding agreement, including up to $150 million to address tick-borne diseases like Lyme, $300 million for a new training ship at Maine Maritime Academy and more than $4 billion for heating and weatherization programs. Sen. Angus King highlighted the inclusion of worthwhile provisions aimed at cutting prescription drug costs, supporting Gold Start families and bolstering rural health.
Rep. Chellie Pingree correctly acknowledged that the “isn’t a perfect bill by any means” while highlighting worthy investments such as $425 million in election security funding for states.
“Mainers are relying on us to provide certainty and protect our country from another senseless government shutdown,” Pingree said. And that’s a key reason why the yes votes from Maine’s delegation were the responsible choice in December.
Having said that, there should be little doubt that the process that led up to this spending bill remains significantly flawed. While there’s plenty to like in terms of valuable investments included in the more than 2,300 page document, there’s also plenty to question. At some point, Congress needs to stop putting itself in the position of choosing between a shutdown or a massive spending package agreed to at the last minute.
Theatrics, hyperbole and some policy disagreements aside, we agree with a lot of what Sen. Ted Cruz had to say in a viral video the Texas Republican posted on Twitter after he was one of only a small number of senators to oppose both parts of the funding agreement.
Though we viewed this funding as must-pass legislation to avoid the unnecessary and significant harm seen with last year’s 35-day shutdown, Cruz has as undeniable point about how broken the federal budget process has become.
Cruz took issue with a host of provisions included in the package, such as funding for gun violence research and raising the legal age for tobacco purchases to 21. We happen to think a lot of those individual policies make sense, but we do agree with Cruz in that last-minute budget deals (even when they are the result of months of behind the scenes work) are not a responsible way to go about making these decisions or funding the federal government.
“We’ve got to have Congress actually do its job, pass appropriations bills one at a time and spend money responsibly for the taxpayers instead of just continuing business as usual as the Washington swamp sadly has done far too long,” Cruz told a local CBS station in Texas. And he’s right about that.
Minus the swamp rhetoric, that’s not too far off from what we’ve been saying for a year about returning to a more “regular” budget and appropriations process - a process that follows a more predictable timetable rather than putting the government on autopilot with continuing resolutions or scrambling to avoid a shutdown with longer term but last-minute deals.
The notion that this process has fallen off track is nothing new. Members of Maine’s delegation have not shied away from criticizing the frequent use of continuing resolutions, now almost a foregone conclusion at some point in the fiscal year. This approach fails both in addressing our growing federal debt and deficit, and in making targeting investments to meet American’s current needs.
“Here’s a statement that won’t draw a lot of disagreement: Congress’s current budget process is just not working,” King. said in November when he joined with a group of Republicans and Democrats to introduce the Bipartisan Congressional Budget Reform Act.There has long been widespread bipartisan recognition on this issue. It’s time for bipartisan action.
Americans deserve a more deliberative, open and predictable budget and spending process that doesn’t set the stage for showdown drama every few months.
Lawmakers did the responsible thing in December by passing this spending bill, averting another shutdown, and advancing some valuable investments. But from a larger process standpoint, it is irresponsible for Congress to continue down this path of budgeting by crisis, rather than by deliberation.
Elections and child care costs
Newburyport Daily News
Balancing work and family life is never easy for political candidates, who find themselves constantly in the spotlight while attending community breakfasts, lunches at the senior center and after-dinner campaign rallies. The task is especially difficult for candidates with small children.
Let’s face it: Child care is expensive, leaving some would-be public servants in Massachusetts facing a choice of whether to spend thousands of dollars of their own money while on the campaign trail, or to not run at all.
There is, of course, a simple step the state Legislature could take to address the problem: Allow campaign funds to pay for child care when it’s needed during election-related activities.
The practice has been allowed in federal races since 2018, yet a mere six states allow for it in local campaigns (New Hampshire, to its credit, is one of them). A bill that would have allowed campaign spending on child care was introduced in Massachusetts in 2018. It has gained little traction among lawmakers who have little interest in risking their incumbent status. And so, the Legislature remains exceedingly white, male and wealthy.
That has to change. A MassINC report released last November noted the Massachusetts Legislature does not reflect the diversity of the state, finding that “Asian, African-American, and Latino residents are significantly underrepresented. To achieve balance, the legislature would need an additional 31 members of color.”
What’s more, the report said, “In Massachusetts, 52% of adult citizens are women, yet women hold less than 29% of the seats in the Legislature. The National Conference of State Legislatures now ranks Massachusetts 27th in gender representation, down from 18th in 2009. To achieve balanced representation, the Legislature would need an additional 47 female members.”
Allowing campaign funds to be used for child care expenses would make it easier for underrepresented groups - women, young parents, people of color - to run for office. The result, while not guaranteed, could be a Legislature that looks more like the state it purports to serve.
Child tax underscores the shifting priorities
America’s income gap, the difference in annual earnings between those at the top of the economic ladder and those at the bottom, is the greatest its been in more than a half-century. The nation’s wealth gap is even greater. The bottom 50 percent of Americans hold just 1 percent of the nation’s wealth. The top 10 percent hold 70 percent, of which the top 1 percent accounts for 32 percent.
In 2017 the Trump administration and a Republican Congress made tax changes that increased the gaps. Some of the changes, the biggest drop in corporate tax rates in history, for example, benefited the 10 percent of Americans who own 84 percent of stocks. That change was noticed. Changes to the federal child tax credit, which shifted more money to the upper middle class than the poor, slid through the shadows.
Earlier this month, The New York Times published a story with the headline, “Tax Credit for Children, Except the Ones Who Need It Most.” The story, by reporter Jason DeParle, explained that Trump’s tax reform made households with incomes up to $400,000 for married couples eligible for up to a $2,000 per child tax credit. Unlike a tax deduction a tax credit comes right off the top. Owe Uncle $5,000 but have two $2,000 child tax credits? Pay $1,000.
Republicans structured the tax credit so that the higher an eligible family’s income, the bigger the credit. Minimum wage workers saw their per-child tax credit increase by just $75. In the nation’s poorest counties, the Times reported, more than half of all parents earned too little to get the full $2,000 per-child benefit.
Nationally, 35 percent of households had incomes too low to receive the full credit. A single parent with two children would have to make $30,000 to qualify for the $4,000 credit, which is partially refundable. Parents who earn enough to qualify but owe little or nothing in taxes can get up to $1,400 back as a refund that again is based on earnings. A policy of giving more to families that need less help makes no sense. Giving the full-benefit to poor households would reduce childhood poverty by 25 percent or more.
Study after study has found that children who grow up in families with less financial stress, more stability, less hunger and access to at least some of the enriching experiences middle-class children are afforded, do better in school, earn more, pay more taxes as adults, and cost society less in social services like drug treatment and incarceration.
Democrats, with support from some Republicans, have filed several bills that would grant the full tax credit, or in some cases even larger credits, to low-income families with children. It’s impossible to assess, in the chaos that is Trump’s Washington, what the odds are that bills that provide more help for the poor will become law. In fact, the trend, given the administration’s threatened cuts to the nation’s food stamp program, is in the other direction.
A child poverty rate of just under 20 percent placed the United States 34th among developed nations, according to the United Nations Children’s Fund, behind not just Scandinavian and European nations and Canada, but Mexico, Poland and Latvia. Increasing the child tax credit and making it equally available to all families below a household income level of say, $200,000 or $300,000 would dramatically lower the poverty rate. It would also, and this is why generous credits deserve universal support, brighten the future of millions of children and strengthen the nation. Please give the effort your support.
A decade of lost opportunity
Perhaps the bottom line of Rhode Island’s past decade is that it stands on the brink of losing one of its two seats in the U.S. House.
That means the population of other states grew more, largely because their economies attracted more middle-class people who wanted to work. In a sense, then, the 2010s represented a decade of lost opportunity for Rhode Island, and not only because the ruling class sent the state’s Triple-A baseball franchise packing.
Rhode Island rejected the largest single private development proposal in its history, a $1-billion state-of-the-art natural gas plant in Burrillville. While we all want to move beyond fossil fuels as soon as possible, it seems clear that, in the real world, we will need infrastructure to obtain energy from natural gas, which is far cleaner than oil and coal, for the foreseeable future. Rhode Island’s energy prices, among the highest in America, represent a severe drag on its economy.
Let us hope another major project, the $300-million luxury apartment tower proposed by Jason Fane, will not also fall victim to Rhode Island’s aversion to economic development.
The state has also been hampered by a second-rate public education system, with its weak and timid reforms designed to placate exceedingly powerful special interests. That has left poor and minority students, in particular, trapped in bad schools, while doing grave harm to citizens and to the state’s economic prospects. People are looking to the new education commissioner, Angélica Infante-Green, to make the new decade a brighter one.
The state similarly failed to adopt a strategy that might keep its strong hospital system - a vital part of the economy - in place. Let us hope it does better in the decade ahead.
Among the milestones of the past decade was the election of the first woman governor in Rhode Island history. Gina Raimondo has sought to capitalize on the state’s strengths in education and medicine to create more high-paying jobs. While her spirit was welcome after years of lethargy, such efforts can only go so far, given that the state lacks the concentration of talent and technology businesses to become another Silicon Valley or Boston.
To their credit, elected officials have made the business climate less punishing in the last decade. But significant work remains to make Rhode Island’s overall tax and regulatory structure competitive. Central planning is never as sophisticated as the marketplace, with entrepreneurs weighing multiple factors before investing in a state.
On the plus side, voters showed a growing aversion to political corruption by rejecting a popular twice-convicted felon for mayor of Providence. But the state continued to struggle with transparency, a problem made explicit through the 38 Studios debacle, a costly investment in an insanely risky video-game company without sufficient public vetting.
Too many government officials, almost as a matter of habit, continue to hide information from the public, and judges in certain instances have demonstrated a shocking lack of understanding of the First Amendment.
All this will give leaders plenty of opportunities to make the 2020s a better decade for Rhode Island, if they care enough to rise to the challenge. Rhode Island has an attractive capital city, a lovely coastline, the beautiful and historic Newport, excellent colleges, a regional airport and many other virtues that could help it to thrive.
Climate change curriculum
With so many young Vermonters taking an active role in speaking out on issues related to climate change, perhaps lawmakers should take seriously a proposal that will be coming their way this session that would require school districts to offer lessons on climate change.
In neighboring New Hampshire, a bill up for consideration before that legislature would do just that.
The House bill would require at least 10 hours of climate education or a full semester of environmental education in high school, and anywhere from two hours to eight hours for younger students. It would take effect July 1, 2021.
The idea is that the citizens of the future need to be ready for the climate emergency.
The bill’s sponsor, Rep. Chris Balch, a Democrat from Hillsborough, said some teachers incorporate climate change into their science curriculum, but it’s the state’s responsibility to prioritize it.
“We need to have a common base of knowledge of what climate change is, how it works, how it happens, what we can do about it,” he said.
Climate change education varies across states, and often from one classroom to the next. Nationally, many teachers report that they shy away from the topic, not only because of issues with materials, but also the political sensitivities, and uncertainty over where to introduce an issue that crosses so many disciplines.
The bill focuses on causes and effects of climate change in New Hampshire and beyond; maximizing energy efficiency in homes and schools; information about careers in solar, wind, hydrogen power; and other topics.
School boards across California also have taken steps to recognize the impact of climate change on the environment and their students.
Now, many students and teachers are saying it’s time to put ideas on how schools should address climate change into practice.
Climate change falls under the core ideas for middle and high school students in the Next Generation Science Standards, new standards adopted by the state in 2013. Environmental Principles and Concepts are also included in the California Science Framework, which provides guidance for teachers on how to implement the new science standards.
These principles cover broad topics such as how humans depend on and influence natural systems and by law must be integrated into state-recommended textbooks and instructional materials.
Schools are encouraged to teach environmental literacy, which by definition includes climate change, according to state law.
The Education Code does not mandate that schools teach it, however. But because climate change is in the state standards, and California’s state science test is aligned to those standards, climate change could appear on the statewide science assessment.
Internationally, it has happened as well.
The Italian government announced in November that, starting in 2020, it will become the world’s first country to institute a mandatory course on climate change and sustainable development in all public schools.
“The entire ministry is being changed to make sustainability and climate the center of the education model,” Italian Education Minister Lorenzo Fioramonti told Reuters. “I want to make the Italian education system the first education system that puts the environment and society at the core of everything we learn in school.”
Now when kids show up at school next September, they’ll have about an hour a week (or 33 hours per year) of a climate-change-related course. The Education Ministry will develop the curriculum with the help of scientific experts.
Other subjects, such as geography, math and physics, will also incorporate in a sustainable development lens.
It makes sense, and it’s an idea that should be adopted here in Vermont. We are a small enough state - and progressively minded - that it could be implemented easily.
Education is an essential element of the global response to climate change. It helps young people understand and address the impact of global warming, encourages changes in their attitudes and behavior and helps them adapt to climate change-related trends.
We need to emphasize the importance of these standards and the impact of climate change more broadly.
They are the kind of lessons that need to be learned.
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