Barre-Montpelier Times Argus. April 26, 2021.

Editorial: Count matters

The count is in, and it counted.

The nation’s population declined to its slowest rate of growth since the Great Depression.

Our state’s population grew almost 2.8% in the last decade, to a resident population of 643,077, according to figures released by the U.S. Census Bureau. The figures show that in the last decade, Vermont added 17,336 people. However, Vermont will continue to have only one representative to the U.S. House.

The data also showed Vermont continues to be hobbled by an aging population that has lead to a shrinking workforce and a decline in the number of children in the state’s schools, even with the state working hard to attract new residents.

Vermont’s growth outpaced three states that lost population from 2010 to 2020. Those states were Illinois, Mississippi and West Virginia.

Neighboring New Hampshire saw a definite surge. New Hampshire was the second fastest growing state in New England over the last decade.

That state’s resident population on April 1 was 1,377,529, a 4.6% increase from 2010. Massachusetts was the fastest growing state in New England, seeing a 7.4% increase. That matches the 7.4% resident population increase in the nation as a whole.

With more deaths than births, all of New Hampshire’s population gain in recent years has been due to people moving into the state, according to an analysis published in December by the University of New Hampshire’s Carsey School of Public Policy. That in-migration had slowed and then stopped after the Great Recession but has begun returning, researchers said.

Previous research also has shown recent migration gains were greatest among young adults. That helps offset the mortality rate among older residents at a time when the three northern New England states have the oldest median ages in the country. (Vermont was hoping to see a similar trend.)

Altogether, the U.S. population rose to 331,449,281 last year, which the Census Bureau said was a 7.4% increase — the second-slowest increase ever. Experts say that paltry pace reflects the combination of an aging population, slowing immigration and the scars of the Great Recession, which led many young adults to delaying marriage and starting families, according to the Associated Press.

During the census, the U.S. Census Bureau counts the number of people who live in each state on census day of the census year — in this case, April 1, 2020.

The bureau also counts all military and U.S. government employees and their dependents who live overseas on that day — and determines which states they claim as their residences when in the U.S.

Any military personnel who are only temporarily deployed overseas are not counted where they live, but in the states where the military bases from which they were deployed are located.

Those numbers deliver a total number of people who live in each state, for apportionment purposes.

When determining how many seats a state gets, there are a few constraints. First, is that there are 435 seats and 50 states; the District of Columbia participates in the Electoral College, but gets only a nonvoting delegate in Congress.

In addition, states cannot get partial seats. Because every state must get at least one seat, the first 50 seats are assigned automatically, one per state.

The Constitution does not specify the method of apportioning the rest of the congressional seats, but the underlying assumption is best summarized as “one person, one vote” — every person residing in every state should be included, and no person should have more of a voice than any other.

So what does the most recent data suggest?

Starting in 2023 — after the next congressional elections — seven states will have fewer seats in Congress than they do now, and six will have more.

These calculations and changes are the primary purpose of the government’s efforts every 10 years to count all the people who live in the United States. It’s written into the U.S. Constitution. In addition, the number of House seats a state has helps determine the size of its delegation to the Electoral College, increasing or decreasing state residents’ power to pick the president.

The seven states that each lost one seat in the House as a result of the 2020 census are California, from 53 to 52; Illinois, from 18 to 17; Michigan, from 14 to 13; New York, from 27 to 26; Ohio, from 16 to 15; Pennsylvania, from 18 to 17; and West Virginia, from 3 to 2.

The six states that gained one or more seats after the 2020 count are Colorado, from 7 to 8; Florida, from 27 to 28; Montana, from 1 to 2; North Carolina, from 13 to 14; Oregon, from 5 to 6; and Texas, which had the biggest increase, went from 36 to 38.

In other words, the count mattered.

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Boston Globe. April 29, 2021.

Editorial: Home of the gerrymander, Massachusetts should move to independent redistricting

As more states have turned redistricting over to independent commissions, Democrats on Beacon Hill retain their grip on drawing the Commonwealth’s political boundaries.

If there ever was a year that underscored the need to protect the democratic process, it was the past one: Lawmakers across the country have pushed a flood of measures to restrict some voters’ access to the polls, former President Trump’s efforts to muck with the Census count to give Republicans a political advantage are still reverberating, and his Big Lie about election fraud resulted in a deadly insurrection.

And while a host of voting rights reforms are desperately needed at all levels of government, there is one move states, including Massachusetts, can immediately take now: create independent redistricting commissions to redraw state and congressional district lines.

In Massachusetts, the birthplace of the gerrymander, the move is long overdue. Though Beacon Hill is lopsidedly Democratic, the power that comes from wielding the pen that redraws district lines is antidemocratic in a nonpartisan way — it protects incumbents over challengers. The lines determine how much power voters’ ballots carry, how much protection incumbent lawmakers enjoy, how difficult it will be for candidates from communities split between districts to run for office, and whether districts truly reflect a community’s demographic complexion.

Recall it was a civil lawsuit charging that 2001 redistricting maps were drawn to protect white incumbents at the expense of voters of color that led to former Massachusetts House Speaker Tom Finneran’s indictment for perjury and obstruction of justice.

It is precisely that political power that has prevented a perennially-filed bill that would establish an independent commission to redraw district lines, but still give lawmakers the ability to review redistricting plans before they are enacted, from going anywhere in the State House.

“Elected officials are loath to give up that power, and that includes redistricting. That’s always something that has a direct impact on each of our legislative districts,” said State Senator James Eldridge, sponsor of the bill, in a phone interview.

Now, as Massachusetts and other states engage in the decennial reapportionment process following the release of federal census data, the need for state-level protections is stronger than ever. Less than two year ago, the US Supreme Court stripped citizens of the ability to bring lawsuits challenging partisan gerrymandering.

The state made some strides to create a more democratic and transparent process for redrawing district lines after the 2010 census, with a process that allowed greater public access to information about the district redrawing process, including holding public hearings and releasing proposed new maps before they were adopted.

But it is important that Massachusetts and other states that have yet to create independent bodies to oversee that process do more, to prevent cities and towns from being carved up in ways that diminish or destroy their political clout, to protect the ability of candidates of color and those who come from outside of the political establishment to compete, and to ensure greater transparency and accountability to the process. An independent commission would bring the process out of the dark committee rooms of the State House, and into the sunlight.

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Portland Press Herald. April 27, 2021.

Editorial: Inmates of Maine’s prisons, jails need vaccines, too

The state is leading the nation in distributing COVID vaccines, except to one vulnerable group.

Late last year, the state released its plan to distribute COVID-19 vaccinations. At the top of the list were frontline health care workers, first responders and people who live in congregate settings, like nursing homes.

As the vaccine has become more available, the categories of people eligible to sign up for shots got broader. Now, anyone age 16 or older can sign up to receive one of the vaccines that have been approved for emergency use.

But five months after the first dose was administered in Maine, one congregate setting still has barely been reached by the vaccination program. It is the state’s prisons and county jails, the sites of three COVID outbreaks in the last month.

Because they don’t have freedom of movement, incarcerated people are at a heightened risk of catching and spreading the coronavirus that causes COVID-19. Potentially infected staff and new inmates come into the facilities on a daily basis, which is why corrections facilities have been among the most dangerous places in the country over the last year.

But while staff members have been eligible for vaccinations since the beginning of the year, inmates have had only a very limited opportunity to be immunized. As new, more transmissible variants enter our communities, the danger of a catastrophic outbreak increases.

The state Department of Corrections manages the prisons and has been tasked with making the vaccine available in the state’s jails, which are run by county sheriffs. The process has been slow. Just 284 of roughly 1,600 people in prisons – about 18 percent – had been vaccinated as of April 9.

And that progress is slower in Maine’s 15 county jails. Of 10 that responded to inquiries from the Portland Press Herald, only seven had administered any vaccines to people in custody, and the total number of shots administered between them was just over 100. Last year, those 10 counties averaged 1,200 inmates a night, or 80 percent of the state’s jailed population.

Outside the walls, Maine is a national leader in its effectiveness at getting people vaccinated. More than half of the eligible population had received at least one shot by the middle of last week, and the state has a higher percentage of fully vaccinated people than any other state. Now that the one-dose Johnson & Johnson vaccine is being distributed again after a weeklong pause to investigate rare complications, the state has an opportunity to slow community spread, making it safer for a return to normal activities.

But the prisons and jails are still waiting.

Cumberland County Sheriff Kevin Joyce told a reporter last week that he felt that earlier access to vaccines could have prevented the recent outbreak at his jail in which 51 inmates and staff tested positive for COVID.

“We still forget that the jail is a congregate facility,” he said. “Where is the priority on that?”

There’s no more time for delay. Before one of these outbreaks turn deadly, the state should make sure this vulnerable population is protected.

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Heart Connecticut Media. April 30, 2021.

Editorial: Opponents should drop opposition to CT’s new school vaccination law

When Gov. Ned Lamont signed into law this week a measure repealing Connecticut’s religious exemption from mandatory school vaccinations, it should have been the end of the story. The bill has been raised many times in recent years, but it took until now to finally get it onto the governor’s desk. Opponents, though, say they still plan to fight the law, this time through the court system.

They would be better off expending their energy elsewhere. There is little indication a court challenge would be successful, and it’s better for everyone to consider the issue settled. Eliminating the exemptions will benefit public health around the state.

Though vaccines are much in the news lately, the controversy in Hartford did not concern the various COVID-19 vaccines that everyone 16 and over is now eligible to receive. The process of developing and producing those vaccines has been a modern scientific miracle, and their use has helped turn the tide of a historic pandemic. That anyone is even talking about a return to normal this summer is entirely because of the coronavirus vaccines.

It wasn’t long ago that many other deadly diseases that have now been all but eradicated were commonplace, especially among children. Few today have to worry about a measles or polio outbreak, something that would be considered an unimaginable luxury just a few decades ago. Vaccines made this possible, and their health benefits have long since been proven.

That hasn’t stopped the incessant fear mongering. Thousands showed up at the Capitol this week to oppose final passage of the religious exemptions bill, but few offered anything in the way of a coherent rationale for their stance. Science is ever changing, and what is recommended today may be different than what experts said yesterday. But on vaccines, we have long-term evidence that the good they bring overwhelmingly outweighs any negatives.

Opponents of the bill tried to make the issue one of personal autonomy. Yes, vaccines are safe, they argued, but the state should not be forcing anyone to undergo a medical procedure they don’t want.

These arguments fall short. No one is forced to take vaccines, but if you want to take part in public schooling, basic safety measures are warranted. There are still people who have medical reasons why they can’t be vaccinated, and this measure supports their right to go to school without fear of catching a deadly disease. There is more at stake than personal autonomy.

The bill was not rushed; it has been in the works for years. It’s true that testimony was cut off after 24 hours, but no one can argue that all sides of the debate have not been heard. And it’s worth noting how many religious leaders have spoken up in recent months arguing that no major religion demands its adherents abstain from vaccinations.

Passing the bill and signing it into law were the right moves. Children already enrolled who have those exemptions will be allowed to complete their schooling. For the good of everyone, opponents need to drop their opposition to this law.

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Boston Herald. April 24, 2021.

Editorial: Federal grants not solution to river pollution

Reps. Lori Trahan and Seth Moulton have consistently lobbied the federal government for more help to clean up the combined sewer overflows (CSO) that continually deposit pollutants into the Merrimack River.

Last week, they got their answer, one that should tell them that federal grants alone won’t solve the Merrimack’s and any other distressed waterways’ problem.

Trahan announced that the U.S. Environmental Protection Agency (EPA) allocated $67 million in grant funding to assist local communities across the nation in stemming the outflow of these contaminants.

This event occurs when excess storm water mixes with raw waste in municipal sewerage treatment facilities with single-flow filtration systems, depositing that contaminated mix into rivers and other waterways, which can kill aquatic life and cause gastrointestinal diseases.

Since its reauthorization in 2018, the Sewer Overflow and Stormwater Reuse Municipal Grants program has seen modestly higher annual appropriations — given the enormity of the task — from $28 million in fiscal year 2020 to $40 million in fiscal year 2021.

The key concern of Trahan and others involve the formula the federal government applies in dispersing these limited grant dollars.

Back in September 2020, Trahan and Moulton, along with two of their New Hampshire congressional colleagues, Chris Pappas and Annie Kuster, sought changes to the proposed EPA grant formula for sewer overflows.

They were concerned that one of the proposed metrics, total population, would penalize smaller states like Massachusetts and New Hampshire, and not reflect a state’s actual need for assistance.

They urged the EPA to “replace the total population with a metric that weighs per capita needs.”

They also wanted the agency to prioritize awarding these grants to financially distressed communities, as required under the Clean Water Act.

In March 2021, the EPA finalized the grant-award methodology.

Factors weighed include the latest Clean Watershed Needs Survey (50%), total state population (16.7%), urban population (16.7%), and annual average precipitation (16.7%).

The lawmakers previously also encouraged the EPA to meet its lawful obligation to provide more frequent updates to the Clean Water Needs Survey, which they identified as the most comprehensive dataset for identifying states’ stormwater management needs.

By the way, the Clean Watershed Needs Survey back in 2012 —the most recent document we could find — assessed the cost of CSO remediation at close to $50 billion, so we can only imagine what that calculation is now.

Whatever the criteria, it leaves Massachusetts vying along with every other state, U.S. territories and the District of Columbia for pieces of that $67 million prize.

And whatever a state receives must be reallocated to individual municipalities to address infrastructure needs including, but not limited to, CSOs.

It’s literally going to take an act of Congress to funnel the sum of funds needed to overcome this massive infrastructure problem.

Trahan tried to do just that In April 2019, when she introduced the Stop Sewage Overflow Act to support the elimination of CSO contamination in rivers across the United States.

While the original legislation stalled, Trahan reintroduced the bill to Congress in March 2020, key parts of which are now contained in comprehensive infrastructure legislation pending in Congress.

Congress must provide the resources that a federal government agency is unable or unwilling to do.

END