- Associated Press
Friday, May 10, 2019

CONNECTICUT

The Connecticut Post


May 3

In the aftermath of the Sandy Hook Elementary School tragedy in 2012, Connecticut not only crafted some of the toughest gun control legislation in the United States, but also maintained pressure on the rest of the nation to follow suit.

But that legislation was never perfect.

Mental health experts quickly recognized contradictions. Someone who voluntarily checked into a psychiatric facility automatically surrendered their right to carry a gun for six months.

The very concept stigmatized mental illness. It was a blanket rule, even for any lawyer, doctor or educator who wisely went in for a mental health tune-up.

Meanwhile, someone who was involuntarily sent to a facility - someone seen as a potential danger to themselves or others - could retain their weapons.

Such lapses in logic still challenge legislators as they try to refine Connecticut gun legislation.

Mental health treatment is not this black and white. Someone coping with anxiety or grieving should be encouraged to get help. In some cases there is certainly wisdom in restricting access to weapons. But mental health is as unique as every human being.

Police officers are on the front lines of mental illness. Not only do they routinely deal with a myriad of sufferers, but they are eyewitnesses to tragedy.

We want police officers to seek help when they need it, and almost anyone would need it after witnessing the death of a child, domestic violence or consoling victims of abuse.

But officers face a unique consequence for tending after their own mental health. Signing up for psychiatric care in Connecticut means they can lose access to their service weapon for at least six months.

Some work around the law by crossing state lines in search of support. Others never get help, fearing a loss of livelihood.

House Bill 5154 attempts to better shield police officers. The bill, which has cleared the Judiciary Committee, would prohibit an officer from being disciplined solely because he or she is seeking mental health services.

It’s not a free pass. Officers would still have to undergo a mental health evaluation before a firearm is returned. It’s a fair solution, as six months can be too long, or not long enough.

Legislators must pay close attention to the details to ensure they get this right.

The measure drew support from Sen. Dan Champagne, R-Vernon, a former officer who acknowledges suffering from Post-Traumatic Stress Disorder.

“Many officers commit suicide because they don’t get the therapy they need,” Champagne said.

Some data has suggested police are 1.5 times more likely to commit suicide than the rest of the population.

James Rascati, a clinical instructor in psychiatry at Yale University who has advised many departments, said the macho culture common at many police departments is a deterrent to seeking help from a therapist.

An officer should be allowed back on the job when they are cleared by an expert. When it comes to gun legislation, it’s more important to be practical than to be tough.

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

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MASSACHUSETTS

The Newburyport Daily News

May 7

Given that Massachusetts is a neighbor to states with more rural reputations - we’re thinking Maine, New Hampshire and Vermont - it may surprise some folks living within an Uber ride of Boston that the Bay State has long had a hunting history of its own.

Those traditions, however, are in danger, not just from climate change and municipal sprawl but from illicit hunting. The enforcement of rules surrounding the sport has become so lax that the state has come to be known as a safe haven for poachers. Wildlife officials estimate that for every animal taken legally, at least one other is poached. Such illegal, out-of-season hunting isn’t just bad for game management, it can be dangerous when poachers are operating in woods frequented by outdoor enthusiasts.

“Right now, we’re unfortunately known as a paradise for poachers,” Stephanie Harris, Massachusetts state director for the Humane Society of the United States, told Statehouse reporter Christian Wade. “They know they can come here and poach animals and not face consequences, even if they’ve been convicted of illegal hunting in their own state.”

The problem has made allies of hunters, animal protection groups and state lawmakers. A bill sponsored by Marblehead state Rep. Lori Ehrlich, among others, would stiffen penalties for those caught illegally hunting or trapping in the Bay State’s forests.

“Many of the fines for poaching are too low, which isn’t a deterrent,” Ehrlich said of the current law. “They’re basically letting willful offenders off with a slap on the wrist.”

The proposal would add the state to a national database that shares information about poachers, meaning someone caught illegally hunting or fishing elsewhere would not be able to get a license here. Fines for killing a range of animals from squirrels and raccoons to deer and bald eagles would run from $50 to as much as $10,000 for multiple offenses. Repeat violators could also face prison time.

These are common sense changes, and should move through the Legislature quickly.

Online: https://bit.ly/2PRFFN1

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VERMONT

The Lebanon Valley News

May 4

It has never been easy to make a living from dairy farming, but with milk prices depressed for the fifth year in a row, many farms across the nation now are struggling merely to survive.

Sadly, they often fail. Vermont has lost more than 400 dairy farms in the past 11 years, while nearly 700 farmers got out of the dairy business in Wisconsin last year alone. “I’ve been in this for over 40 years, and this is as bad as it’s ever been,” Jacques Parent, who runs a large dairy operation in northwestern Vermont, told The Associated Press last month.

Oversupply is the main reason milk prices have declined by nearly 40% over the past five years. Increased production has been driven in part by big corporate operations employing new technology that makes milking more efficient.

At the same time, Americans’ per capita consumption of fluid milk has dropped nearly 10% over five years, extending a trend that stretches back nearly three decades.

And in Wisconsin in 2012, then-Gov. Scott Walker implemented a program encouraging dairy farmers to ramp up production to meet a goal of producing 30 billion pounds of milk a year by 2020, overtaking California as the nation’s leading milk producer. That target was met by 2016, but the resulting glut devastated the industry, according to farm advocacy groups.

More recently, the situation has been made worse by the Trump administration’s imposition of tariffs on foreign steel and aluminum, which have drawn retaliatory tariffs from Mexico, Canada, Europe and China on American dairy products. And the administration’s immigration policies also are making it difficult for dairy farmers to get the labor they need.

The 2018 farm bill includes an expanded insurance program that may provide modest help when it is rolled out next month.

Under this “dairy margin coverage” program, farmers pay premiums and receive payments when the gap between milk prices and feed prices reaches a certain level. “It’s appreciated, but it’s only a little Band-Aid,” says Parent.

No wonder, then, that some American dairy farmers are looking north of the border for a sustainable model. At a two-day dairy summit held in Jay, Vt., last month, a petition was circulated calling for a national milk supply management program, something that Canada created back in the 1960s, at another time of low milk prices.

The idea is to limit the supply of certain commodities - dairy, poultry and eggs - to what Canadians are expected to consume, so that stable, predictable prices result. Farmers basically hold a license to produce up to a specified amount. This quota system prevents a market glut, and farmers receive a guaranteed minimum price, negotiated with processors, for their output.

Canada also puts high tariffs on imports that exceed fixed quotas, something that has infuriated Trump, who promises that a new North American trade agreement will eventually provide greater access to Canadian markets for American dairy products.

That remains to be seen, and time is running short for many farms.

The supply management system is disdained by free-market economists, who maintain that Canadians pay more than they otherwise would for dairy products and that the poorest families are hurt the most. But supporters of the system argue that consumers in New Zealand, which abandoned its supply management system in the 1980s, have not reaped the benefits.

A supply management system would be a departure for the United States, where many farmers, along with much of the public, generally fear government intervention in markets, but the circumstances are sufficiently dire that it just might have some appeal.

Kara O’Connor of the Wisconsin Farmers Union framed the issue this way at the Vermont summit: “We’re inviting people to consider whether consumers might pay a few cents more for a gallon of milk in exchange for saving hundreds of dairy farms per year and paying less in taxes for government dairy programs.”

Indeed, many communities value farms not only for what they produce but also for keeping land open and in use and for preserving a traditional - if challenging - way of life. The trade-off O’Connor lays out is well worth considering.

Online: https://bit.ly/2J5p5sq

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NEW HAMPSHIRE

Foster’s Daily Democrat

May 1

“We need to have a strong economy,” says Robert L. Bixby, executive director of the nonpartisan Concord Coalition. “But a strong economy does not mean that we will be able to avoid making hard choices on programs like Medicare, Social Security and other spending priorities.”

Bixby recently met with the Seacoast Media Group editorial board to discuss the importance of policymakers acknowledging the nation’s fiscal challenges and of voters calling for actionable plans to address them. We agree engaging in reform, sooner rather than later, is important to ensure future generations have a better standard of living and a brighter future.

Bixby says the United States is on an unsustainable fiscal track. It is rapidly building up the national debt, which is now equal to 78 percent of the economy (GDP). That is the highest level since the World War II era. Federal budget deficits continue to widen, nearing $1 trillion annually.

A stark reality is also that interest on the debt may soon cost more than all defense spending, and spending on health care and retirement security will continue to eclipse 50 percent of the total federal budget.

Programs like Social Security and Medicare need attention, as the trustees for both programs recently reported. For years, the Social Security and Medicare trustees have warned the programs are on fiscally unsustainable paths.

Social Security has been running a cash deficit since 2010 and its trust funds are now projected to be exhausted by 2035, according to its trustees. And the Medicare trustees said the program’s Hospital Insurance trust fund will likely be exhausted by 2026.

Both programs will experience growing cash deficits as they pay out more than they receive from their respective payroll taxes. The government must also spend more each year just to provide the same level of benefits to more people due to the rising cost of health care and steady flow of retiring baby boomers.

Put plainly, the trustees’ reports reveal tax revenues are not keeping pace with promised spending levels.

The primary drivers of the nation’s unsustainable track are demographics and health care cost growth. Continued inaction by elected leaders to lower health care costs and to put Social Security on a sustainable track will simply result in a higher cost of reform over time.

The U.S. is the world’s largest economy, its debt is still viewed as a safe investment and interest rates on the debt have remained abnormally low. This has created a lack of urgency for the public and policymakers in terms of making needed reforms. But it’s a false sense of security. Even if interest rates remain low, the built-in mismatch between projected spending and revenues still results in an unsustainable path.

It is an odd time for the nation to have increasing debt and deficits because economic growth has been steady and unemployment is quite low. Normally, this would be the time the federal government works to reduce deficits by increasing revenue, reducing spending or some combination of the two.

Unfortunately, the nation’s window for reform may be closing. Recent reports show the economy experiencing a shot in the arm after the 2017 tax code overhaul, but underlying trends have not changed. Long-term forecasts still project economic growth to slow down to less than 2 percent a year. A slowing economy or recession could make it very difficult to make responsible policy changes.

“The reason for the projected drop-off in economic growth is our demographic change,” Bixby says. “Labor force growth is dramatically slower than it used to be, and productivity has been falling as well.”

As a result, he calls for finding ways to expand and improve the workforce. “You need to encourage people to be in the workforce and you need to find ways to increase legal immigration,” Bixby says. “The government has a role in workforce investment and training as well.”

Bixby adds: “What we need is a fiscally responsible economic growth agenda. We can’t expect better economic growth without fiscal responsibility but unless we do more to enhance economic growth it is going to be even more difficult to dig ourselves out of the fiscal hole we are in.”

But Bixby said there is hope, and we agree. There are a wide variety of potential solutions available, but political will is needed to act.

With the 2020 New Hampshire Primary in full swing, voters are engaged and candidates are in the state frequently. The public should call upon candidates to put out plans that grapple with these policy issues, and those plans should provide realistic options to pay for any new investments or programs.

A national conversation that plans for the future and addresses current challenges is needed, and the New Hampshire Primary is a great place to foster that conversation.

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

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RHODE ISLAND

The Providence Journal

May 9

Hiding information from the public about the record of judicial nominees (including brushes with the law) seems a peculiarly bad idea, even by the dismal standards of Rhode Island, long plagued by judicial corruption.

So it is a puzzle why Senate Majority Leader Michael McCaffrey, D-Warwick, has introduced a bill to keep the public from learning too much about applicants for lifetime judgeships in Rhode Island.

As Journal Staff Writer Patrick Anderson reported (“What if prospective judges could hide their histories?,” news, May 3), the politician’s bill would make “investigations of the personal background of each nominee as it relates to a determination of judicial fitness … confidential.”

In the bad old days, background information on judicial candidates was kept from the public. After 2012, changes in the state’s public records law made more information available.

One of the candidates in 2016 for District Court judgeship was former state Rep. Timothy Williamson, D-West Warwick. His background report included two arrests in the 1980s and other encounters with police. The release of that information may have rubbed some of his State House friends the wrong way.

Senator McCaffrey makes the preposterous argument that candidates for judgeships - immensely lucrative and powerful jobs for life - should be treated like applicants for every other state job, whose personnel records are kept confidential.

“I feel that records relative to a job application, and that is what this is, should be confidential,” he said. “Obviously we have seen over the last few years that information has been released.”

Indeed, he wants to create a new taxpayer-funded infrastructure to protect the secrecy of judicial applicants, with state workers and a “secured state property” dedicated to keeping citizens in the dark.

Signing onto this terrible idea are Judiciary Committee Chairwoman Erin Lynch Prata and Sen. Frank Lombardi, both lawyers.

In truth, a State House janitor and a Supreme Court justice have different degrees of power to influence and possibly corrupt our republic. The public should know as much as possible about the latter.

As Common Cause Executive Director John Marion notes, Rhode Island now requires the release of information about candidates for the bench for good reason: “From the 1970s until the 1990s we had waves of corruption scandals in our judicial system. Rhode Island should not retreat from that transparency in any way. Unfortunately, this bill would shield important information from the public about candidates for lifetime appointments to the bench. This serves no public interest.”

We have seen that Rhode Island’s judges for life, chosen more for their political connections than strictly their legal acumen, are far from deities.

Supreme Court Justice Francis Flaherty, for example, is now fighting an ethics violation ruling through a taxpayer-funded insurance policy to salve his ego. Last year, Superior Court Judge Netti Vogel warred against the public over the First Amendment. The state’s taxpayers were forced to squander nearly $50,000, as of last November, on her protracted legal battle before a federal judge concluded the obvious, that she was wrong about the people’s constitutional rights.

Before politicians and the friends of politicians win these lifetime positions, ostensibly to serve the public, the public should be fully apprised of any skeletons in their closets. Let us hope this bad and inexplicable bill goes nowhere.

Online: https://bit.ly/2PYH8Rs

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MAINE

The Portland Press Herald

May 9

Apparently, it’s not all bad news on the global climate front. Just ask Secretary of State Mike Pompeo.

Human activity, especially burning coal and oil, is driving a faster increase in temperature than at anytime in human history. It’s not only a threat to our long-range existence, it’s already causing environmental disasters right now. These events are projected to hit catastrophic levels over the next two decades unless the developed world can turn away from a carbon based economy.

Meanwhile the government Pompeo represents, the one with the world’s biggest economy, won’t even admit there’s a problem, wasting precious time.

But the secretary says it’s not all bad news, folks. At this rate of warming there will be some awesome shipping lanes where a polar ice cap used to be, giving a big boost to global trade. And not just that - retreating arctic ice will make it possible to extract more oil and gas from parts of the world that have been inaccessible.

Pompeo’s observations, made at the Arctic Council meeting in Finland this week, are technically true, which doesn’t make them less outrageous. This was the conference that the United States insisted would have no mention of climate change in the official joint statement of the nations and indigenous groups that attended. For the first time since the international organization was formed in 1996, it issued no statement of its priorities.

Score a win for Pompeo and a loss for the planet. While he’s right that warming will likely make it easier for a ship to travel between the Atlantic and Pacific oceans, that’s not all it will do.

The loss of polar ice is projected to have a series of cascading effects that will accelerate warming, and make parts of the planet uninhabitable. As ships navigate the Northwest Passage, multiple meters of sea level rise will swamp island nations. Equatorial temperatures will climb beyond the limits of human endurance. Severe storms, droughts, wild fires and famine will overwhelm the abilities of governments to cope, leading to political collapse, civil wars and a refugee crisis that dwarfs anything the world has ever seen.

It is the height of arrogance to only acknowledge climate change when you are tallying up its few benefits. The forces that open shipping lanes will also create disastrous consequences that should be calculated on the same balance sheet.

Ninety-one leading climate scientists signed on to a UN report last year that delineated what’s at stake: Human activity is warming the planet, causing environmental damage and untold human suffering. It’s happening now and it’s going to get much worse soon if we don’t act.

Compared to that, cutting the time it takes a ship to reach China doesn’t really sound like such good news, after all.

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


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