New London Day. March 18, 2021.
Editorial: Legislative approval of deal looks like a good bet
The deal announced Thursday that will allow the Mashantucket Pequot and Mohegan tribes to offer sports betting and online casino gaming can help shore up the business models of both tribal-run casinos in the region, both buffeted by increased competition and the pandemic closure, while generating tens of millions of dollars in state revenues.
While the General Assembly should do its due diligence in evaluating the agreement, legislators must be aware of how difficult these negotiations were and how high the potential is for the deal to crumble if lawmakers try to tweak the arrangement. At this point, there appears no reason for the legislature to oppose the agreement.
Dynamics shifted dramatically three years ago when the U.S. Supreme Court ruled unconstitutional a 1992 federal law prohibiting most sports betting outside of Nevada. Since then, 25 states have legalized sports betting in some fashion, including neighboring Rhode Island, New York and New Jersey.
But the issue was more complicated in Connecticut, where the two federally recognized tribes claimed that sports wagering was considered a casino game under the long-standing compact between the tribes and Connecticut. The compact gives the tribal operations — Foxwoods Resort Casino and Mohegan Sun — exclusive rights to all casino gaming.
The claim was debatable, but ignoring and pushing ahead without tribal agreement would have invited years of litigation and risked the loss of slot revenues that flow to the state. Under the compact, in return for a 25% share of gross slots profits, the tribes were given exclusive rights to casino gaming. The arrangement has produced more than $8 billion in revenue for Connecticut over 25 years.
On and off since he took office in January 2019, Lamont has sought a deal on sports betting. From the start it was apparent the tribes also wanted access to digital casino games as part of any deal. At times it seemed the governor had a lack of urgency in trying to bring the differing interests together.
Give credit to state Sen. Cathy Osten, a fellow Democrat whose 19th District includes both casinos and the tribal reservations, who would not let the governor forget the matter for long, reminding him of its importance and filing legislation that provided the outline of a deal.
That persistence may have annoyed Lamont, but it also sent an important message.
On Thursday, Osten mixed her praise with a bit of a dig.
“I also want to thank the Lamont administration for its commitment to finalize this agreement,” she said, but added, “It is my sincere hope that today’s agreement signals the beginning of a new approach by the State of Connecticut to working with and valuing two of our largest, minority-owned businesses who employ thousands of state residents (and) who contribute billions to our economy.”
We agree with the senator that the administration, in setting economic priorities, has at times failed to recognize the commercial importance of the two casino operations.
Credit goes also to the entire state legislative delegation from southeastern Connecticut. In bipartisan fashion, it responded to the administration’s announcement two weeks ago of a tentative deal with the Mohegan Tribe by making it clear there could be no agreement without the Mashantucket Tribe also on board.
A relatively minor sticking point had held up an agreement satisfactory to both tribes. It centered on the tax rate assessed on online casino gaming revenue. The Mohegans had agreed to 20%. The Mashantucket Pequots wanted 18%. The compromise calls for an 18% rate for five years, then a bump to 20% for at least the next five years. There is a provision for a five-year extension.
Other highlights include a 13.75% tax rate on the tribes’ sports wagering revenue; the right of the Connecticut Lottery to offer online sports betting and to operate up to 15 retail sports betting facilities; and Lottery authority to sublease those locations to Sportech Venues, the state-licensed parimutuel operator.
Lamont included nearly $50 million in new gaming revenue in his 2022-23 budget proposal in anticipation of a deal, but the various parties were offering no revenue estimates Thursday.
The U.S. Department of the Interior has to sign off on amendments to the compact, but that should not prove a difficult obstacle.
Legislation should include funding for a public service campaign warning of the dangers of addictive gambling and increased funding for treatment. For good and ill, commerce has moved to the digital realm of smartphones and laptops, making it no great leap to see wagering migrate there too.
Connecticut Post. March 14, 2021.
Editorial: Climate plan an important step for CT
Fossil fuels have powered the world economy for generations, but it has not been without cost. In addition to immediate health concerns from mining and burning long-buried carbon deposits, the long-term effect on our atmosphere is even more severe. We should not expect to escape such dangers without paying a price.
A few extra cents per gallon of gasoline will not be the end of it.
It could be an important step, though, which is why Connecticut Gov. Ned Lamont was right to enter into the Transportation and Climate Initiative, a regional market-based program aimed at reducing greenhouse gas emissions from the transportation sector.
The agreement focuses on the largest source of emissions in the state and the Northeast, and is projected to increase gas prices by 5 cents per gallon by 2023.
There’s been some disagreement about whether this charge can properly be called a tax, and it’s a sensitive topic because Connecticut is already known for high gas prices. But it doesn’t matter what it’s called — the plan is sound and likely to be effective, if only one step among many necessary to curb emissions.
Proceeds from the program are to be deposited in the state’s Special Transportation Fund lockbox, with at least 35 percent directed to overburdened and underserved communities. Spending will focus on further reducing emissions, though making driving more expensive has also shown to have an impact on people’s driving habits.
Lamont has promised that increases in gasoline prices will not exceed 5 cents a gallon in 2023 or 10 cents a gallon by the end of 2032, and given regular fluctuations in the price of filling up attributable to any number of factors, it’s likely most people wouldn’t even notice those kinds of changes. Even if those prognostications change, this is an important enough project that it’s worth the cost.
The effects of climate change are already being felt, and not just in faraway places. Local communities need to invest now in resiliency measures to plan for serious floods that are likely to become more common in years to come. Severe storms and extreme events are already a regular part of life, and show no sign of abating. The emergency is here already.
Taking steps to limit fossil fuel usage is important, as well as the efforts the extra money into the transportation fund will help pay for. It’s not something that can wait for better budgetary days.
The worries of local business owners and people on the economic brink should not be dismissed. Five cents a gallon is not nothing. And it’s certainly true the transportation sector is not alone in generating emissions. A real attempt to bring Connecticut into the future demands a closer look at our electric grid and the ways we generate power. Natural gas is not the answer.
But that doesn’t eliminate the need to take on transportation. It will require an all-hands effort to tackle climate change, one that goes far beyond Connecticut. A rethinking of our entire transit system is in order. As we work our way there, TCI is an important step in the right direction.
Portland Press Herald. March 19, 2021.
Editorial: Owners of polluted Maine land deserve more time to seek damages
Dozens of homeowners have found that their properties are contaminated with industrial chemicals. State law shouldn’t let responsible parties off the hook.
Some landowners allowed the sludge to be spread on their property because they were assured it was a safe and effective fertilizer. Others just had the bad luck to live near someone who did.
Mainers in both categories had their properties contaminated by industrial chemicals linked to a variety of serious health problems. Now, they are seeing their farming operations shut down and their land plummet in value.
The application of the contaminated sludge, which came from wastewater treatment plants and paper mills, occurred over decades, but the landowners themselves are just now finding out about it. That shouldn’t keep them from getting what they deserve.
Two bills under consideration in the Legislature would give landowners six years from the discovery of the pollution itself to file lawsuits. Lawmakers should pass the bill so that any responsible parties – whether they are chemical manufacturers, paper mills or others – can’t claim that state law limits lawsuits to six years after the pollution occurred.
More than three dozen states already have such a rule. At least two lawsuits have already been filed in Maine related to contamination by per- and polyfluoroalkyl substances, or PFAS, a category of chemicals used as coatings in a variety of consumer products.
PFAS don’t break down in the environment or body, making them especially harmful. Some have been linked to a number of health problems, including cancer, low birth weight, immune suppression and fertility issues. The two most-studied chemicals, PFOS and PFOA, have been banned. Many others are still in use, however, and many experts believe they will be found to be harmful, too.
The chemicals made their way from products into groundwater, as well as the treated sludge from wastewater plants and some paper mills. Using the sludge on farms was considered a win-win: Farmers got free fertilizer, while municipalities could get rid of it for nothing.
But the cost of that free sludge has proved to be very high. Bruce Harrington of Fairfield, where the biggest cluster of contaminated land has been found, told lawmakers this week that he raised concerns about the sludge 30 years ago, only to be told it was perfectly safe. Now the water he and his family use to drink, tend the garden and fill the pool has been found with levels of PFAS 350 times higher than the allowable federal limit – which itself is too high.
Contamination has shut down milk and beef sales on one family’s 10th-generation farm. Another man told lawmakers he blames his contaminated well, measured at about 185 times the allowable limit, for his wife’s kidney failure.
The list goes on and on. At least 45 wells in Fairfield alone have so far tested above the federal limit, with more in Arundel. As more testing occurs, more contamination will be found. More lives will be upended as they discover their homes and health have been put at risk for years.
They’ll be in that position through no fault of their own, and they deserve to be made whole.
The Legislature should give them the time they need to get a fair shake.
Boston Globe. March 15, 2021.
Editorial: A wave of evictions is not inevitable. It’s a policy choice.
The solution to the looming eviction crisis is as simple as giving renters cash.
When it comes to housing, the pandemic recession prompted a demonstrably different government approach than previous economic downturns. As millions of people began losing their jobs last March, paying the rent became more and more burdensome for middle- and low-income families. It quickly became clear that millions of rent payments were going to be missed, and a wave of evictions seemed inevitable. But because of the public health nature of the crisis — and the fact that mass evictions would not only take a toll on tenants and landlords but could also make the pandemic worse — the federal government imposed a nationwide eviction moratorium that has now, after several extensions, been in place for nearly a year.
The moratorium was a relief for renters and has so far prevented many evictions from taking place — though some still do. On its own, however, the ban has not completely averted an eviction crisis; it has merely postponed it. Moritoriums also rest on a shaky legal foundation: One federal judge in Texas ruled against the federal policy, and Massachusetts dropped its state moritorium last fall after a federal judge warned it couldn’t go on indefinitely.
Once federal and state governments lift their bans, which they will eventually have to do, tens of millions of tenants will be at immediate risk of losing their homes. If that happens, more people will fall into poverty, and the entire economic recovery will inevitably slow down. The $1,400 payments in the pandemic relief package will help a little, as will the extended unemployment benefits, but some tenants now owe a year of back rent, a debt that threats to become a millstone around their financial necks for years to come.
To prevent a flood of evictions that could leave millions homeless and indebted, Congress must send states more money in rental assistance, and state and local governments must build programs to efficiently get that money in tenants’ hands as soon as possible.
The federal government has so far set aside a significant amount of money to address this issue. Between the relief bill passed in December and President Biden’s rescue plan, Congress has allocated $45 billion in rental assistance funds. While those funds will go a long way in helping people pay their landlords back for missed payments, it’s simply not enough to help everyone in need. According to a December estimate, Americans collectively owe up to $70 billion in back rent, a figure that doesn’t include people struggling to make their next payments. So as states begin to distribute the rental assistance allocated by Congress, federal lawmakers should be prepared to replenish the fund as needed.
Right now, however, the most crucial step in preventing evictions is for state and local governments to quickly deliver the federal aid. The problem is that most states are underprepared. While some states, including Massachusetts, and many local jurisdictions have already established rent relief programs, most states have yet to create them. As a result, there have been delays in getting cash out to the tenants and landlords who need it as local governments figure out how best to administer the program.
Another roadblock to getting the money out the door is that many of the programs have so far relied on landlords’ active participation in them — whether by filing the application for assistance themselves or agreeing to receive the money from the government. And some landlords have refused to accept the federal money on the grounds that doing so would require them not to evict their tenants. State and local agencies ought to design their programs to ensure that the money go directly to renters so that landlords have to accept it. (Doing so would also help tenants living in informal housing arrangements.)
In the meantime, the federal government should extend the eviction moratorium past March 31, to the extent allowed by the courts, because there is virtually no way that the $45 billion in federal aid will be delivered within the next two weeks.
Ultimately, building the state-level infrastructure to respond to the current housing crisis is an opportunity for a more permanent solution to evictions, which can have enormously destabilizing impacts on families and children. And because the lingering effects of the pandemic on low-income families in particular will probably last years, the federal government should create a permanent rental assistance fund that helps tenants who incur unexpected financial losses pay the rent. On the state level, governments should create more tenant protections such as better access to legal counsel.
By coupling short-term fixes like eviction bans with more permanent solutions that build on the current rent relief programs, both states and the federal government can ensure that a flood of evictions is not merely postponed but finally averted.
Boston Herald. March 17, 2021.
Editorial: Rep’s bill makes it easier to prosecute hate crimes
In an acknowledgement of the steady creep in reported hate crimes across both the country and commonwealth, state Rep. Tram Nguyen has joined Attorney General Maura Healey and state Sen. Adam Hinds to address the issue.
The Andover Democrat has introduced a new legislation that would refine the state’s hate crime statutes to make it easier to prosecute offenders.
“The crux of this is that we want to give more tools to law enforcement and prosecutors to hold perpetrators accountable and provide better protections for victims,” Nguyen said.
Nguyen said Healey — aware of Nguyen’s efforts to combat the rise in anti-Asian discrimination since the onset of the coronavirus pandemic — approached her with the idea for the bill in January.
Nguyen has also enlisted the support of Middlesex District Attorney Marian Ryan, who also runs the Anti-Hate Anti-Bias Task Force of which Nguyen is a member.
According to Nguyen, the language in her bill — HD.1653 — would combine and rework Sections 37 and 39 of the General Laws to clarify what constitutes a hate crime, give clearer guidance on how to enforce the statute and clearly express that such despicable behavior is not protected by the First Amendment.
And as a deterrent, the legislation would also match the degree of penalties with the gravity of the offense.
For instance, someone who harasses individuals because of their race might at most receive a two-and-a-half-year prison sentence, whereas someone who also commits battery while doing so could be sentenced to twice that amount of time, according to Nguyen.
“Right now these crimes have essentially the same or similar penalties,” she said. “Now we’re doing escalating penalties based on the severity.”
Nguyen added that the bill was not introduced because of any specific hate-fueled incident, but rather because of emerging reports over the issue’s growing prevalence.
The representative referenced a recent NBC News report that analyzed police department statistics from across the country and determined that anti-Asian hate crimes increased by nearly 150% in 2020.
Nguyen has witnessed an expression of racial intolerance – whether intentional or inadvertent – right in her House district.
Last October, in the waning days of the fiercely partisan presidential election, an Andover resident hung a noose on his lawn, which he said depicted the Democrats’ treatment of President Donald Trump.
The avid Trump supporter insisted the noose, placed next to a skeleton in the spirit of Halloween, wasn’t racially motivated, but rather a political statement.
But when photos of his handiwork began circulating on social media, they drew the attention of residents, town officials, politicians, activists and police.
“Whatever his motivation is, the interpretation is concerning to us,” Nguyen said at the time. “The residents shouldn’t have to guess what his motivation is.”
In this situation and with other more egregious acts of intolerance, ignorance is no excuse – or defense. And with Nguyen’s legislation, that could mean a hefty prison sentence if found guilty.“If people understand that these crimes will not be tolerated, they will be less likely to commit them,” Nguyen said. In the absence of a greater understanding and acceptance of racial and ethnic diversity, vigorous prosecution of hate crimes remains our last, best defense.
State Rep. Nguyen’s bill serves that latter purpose.