Rutland Herald. June 14, 2021.
Editorial: First in the nation
Congratulations, Vermont. We did it. We moved the needle back to “normal.” First in the nation to do so.
Four hundred fifty nine days since the state of emergency was enacted by Gov. Phil Scott, it is being lifted at midnight, per the governor’s signed order.
More than 80% of eligible Vermonters have received at least one dose of vaccine for COVID-19. And as we know, that 80% vaccinated figure represents the trigger for the end of coronavirus-related restrictions in Vermont and the expiration of the state of emergency.
What does it mean? All business restrictions and requirements are lifted. All event and gathering restrictions and requirements are lifted. All masking and physical distance mandates are lifted.
But it also means public meetings can be held, well, in public again. We can get down to the business of governing together.
According to Secretary of State Jim Condos on Monday:
– A physical meeting location for public participation must be provided.
– Members of public bodies may still attend meetings remotely.
– Public bodies should review the Open Meeting Law’s advance notice requirements which requires physical posting of notices.
– Meeting minutes must be made available after five calendar days from the date of the meeting.
Deputy Secretary of State Chris Winters noted, “Even though the law is reverting back we strongly encourage public bodies to continue use of these proven tools to better enable all members of the public, including those who have limitations that may preclude physical attendance, to have their voices heard in their local government. Supporting the right of all Vermonters to express their opinions on matters considered is something we all must strive for.”
We hope this push for non-Zoom meetings means the democratic process will continue to be robust and not backslide. In fact, we would urge municipalities to keep the Zoom meeting option as a regular function of the open meeting process.
“If there is a silver lining to be found among the tragedies of 2020, it is that Vermonters have found innovative ways to communicate and participate in state and local democracy. We are hopeful these lessons learned translate into future best practices,” said Condos.
Normal is important right now.
In his remarks yesterday, Scott noted just how impactful this pandemic has been on Vermonters.
“There is no doubt each of us — every single Vermonter — has been through a lot in the last 15 months. Missing time with family and friends; adapting to restrictions; putting off weddings, birthday parties, holidays and travel; working and learning from home. Or worse: losing loved ones, businesses or jobs.”
He went on: “(The) people who deserve the credit most are everyday Vermonters — those who wake up each morning wanting to do the right thing. … Vermonters met this difficult moment from the start. You have cared for one another, you have followed the science, and you have put others first. You stuck together, even while we had to be physically separated. We have been united in our commitment our sense of duty and our care and respect for one another. The ingenuity, creativity and dedication of all Vermonters — to their friends and families, to their neighbors, and to their communities — has been incredible and we should all be very proud. I know I am. Through it all, we have shown the nation — and much of the world — how to respond when there is no playbook, and how to do it with civility and respect. But this is no surprise to me and should be no surprise to anyone who knows anything about what it means to be a Vermonter.
We all need to be mindful that the pandemic is not over. As Senate President Pro Tem Becca Balint noted, “This will be a change for all of us, but I know Vermonters will continue to carefully navigate best practices. We will continue to take care of one another as we enjoy our new freedom. Like all Vermonters, I am truly looking forward to the summer and being together with my friends and neighbors.”
For now, though, we have much to celebrate — publicly again.
Aptly, in showing her pride, Lt. Gov. Molly Gray invoked a famous quote from Calvin Coolidge, “’I love Vermont... most of all because of her indomitable people. They are a race of pioneers who have almost beggared themselves to serve others. If the spirit of liberty should vanish in other parts of the Union, and support of our institutions should languish, it could all be replenished from the generous store held by the people of this brave little state of Vermont.”
Nicely done, Vermont.
Boston Globe. June 18, 2021.
Editorial: Immigrant students merit a tuition break
Massachusetts lags behind some Republican states in granting undocumented high school grads lower rates to attend college.
Nine years ago this week, “Dreamers” in the United States were given the hope, the promise, of living life out of the shadows and without fear of deportation.
Today thousands of such young people — some granted a reprieve by the Deferred Action for Childhood Arrivals program, some simply undocumented — live among us in Massachusetts, study hard, graduate from the state’s high schools, and yet are denied one important benefit accorded to their classmates: in-state tuition rates at the state’s public colleges.
For at least 15 years lawmakers have played politics with the issue on Beacon Hill. It’s time the games stopped. It’s time the lives and futures of young people — most of whom were brought here not by their own choice but by parents who themselves were searching for a better life — were put ahead of scoring political points.
Bills to grant in-state tuition rates to undocumented Massachusetts residents who attended at least three years of high school in the state and graduated — or attained an equivalent diploma through adult education — are once more before the Legislature.
“These students come up through our educational system and have worked hard to move on to college,” UMass Boston Chancellor Marcelo Suárez-Orozco told the Legislature’s Joint Committee on Higher Education. “They value education and often offer an untold potential to our commonwealth.
“An act that affords them the same financial relief and the opportunity for tuition equity with their peers will go a long way to eliminating some of the negative consequences our unauthorized youth students face day in and day out,” he said.
Suárez-Orozco, who emigrated from Argentina as a teen, added that many will be the first in their families to go to college.
Currently, undocumented students must pay the same tuition as any international student — at UMass Boston that would be $35,159 for the 2021-22 academic year, compared with $14,697 for in-state students. The differential for, say, Bunker Hill Community College is about $6,390 (for a 15-credit course load) for out-of-state students versus $3,300 for in-state students.
The legislation would not include tuition differentials for the state’s medical or law schools.
According to Amy Grunder, director of legislative affairs for the Massachusetts Immigrant and Refugee Advocacy Coalition (MIRA), as of 2018, some 13,000 undocumented children were enrolled in the state’s public schools.
“Many of them don’t realize they are undocumented until they apply for college,” she told the committee.
Both Grunder and Suárez-Orozco testified that the students are further disadvantaged by not being able to access federal financial aid and are often excluded from scholarship programs as well.
With enrollments at community colleges and some state colleges declining as well, making college more affordable for this pool of students would be a win-win for the schools and the students.
Grunder testified that MIRA has been advocating for in-state tuition for undocumented students since 2003, and that in that time 21 states and the District of Columbia have adopted similar proposals, including neighboring Rhode Island, Connecticut, and New York, and such Republican strongholds as Texas and Oklahoma.
“These states are not outliers,” she said. “They are pragmatic and they are fair, and it’s past time that we join them.”
A good deal of lip service has been paid to the idea during that time as well — and yet it never seems to make it over the finish line up at the State House.
Of course, the ultimate solution ought to be a permanent fix for the legal status of some 11 million undocumented immigrants in this country, especially the more than 1 million Dreamers. The American Dream and Promise Act, which would codify and extend DACA, was passed by the US House, but its odds are far slimmer in the Senate, and time is running out with the 2022 mid-term election looming.
Massachusetts’ undocumented students should not have to wait for the federal big fix. The state and its communities have already made a considerable investment in the education of these young people. This change will help everyone reap the benefits of that investment.
Boston Herald. June 14, 2021.
Editorial: Republican state chairman needs to go
With apologies to Mark Twain, if you didn’t believe the state’s Republican Party could become any more of sideshow, just give Jim Lyons and friends a few feuding minutes.
Lyons, the former Andover state rep and current chairman of the Republican State Committee, recently accomplished the impossible — making the already irrelevant GOP even more of an outlier.
He began his herculean feat by refusing to sanction GOP committeewoman Deborah Martell of Ludlow, who said in an email that she was “sickened” to learn that Republican congressional candidate Jeffrey Sossa-Paquette and his partner had adopted two children.
While acknowledging Martell’s comment was in poor taste, Lyons not only didn’t defuse the controversy, he managed to inflame it by saying he wouldn’t “force a woman of deep Catholic faith to resign.”
We didn’t realize bigotry was compatible with Catholicism.
This example of lame leadership didn’t sit well with Republican lawmakers or the GOP’s LGBTQ bloc.
Last week 29 of the 30 House Republicans called on Lyons to demand Martell’s resignation or resign himself. They’ve since been joined by Gov. Charlie Baker and other prominent state Republicans, including a former congressman and lieutenant governor, who’ve called for Lyons to step aside over his refusal to censure Martell.
Lyons in turn asked his Republican followers Thursday to sign a petition “to push back against the woke cancel culture mentality” of elected GOP officials pressuring him to resign.
The Mass. GOP’s schism spilled into public view Wednesday outside the venue of a party committee meeting in Marlboro, where supporters of Sossa-Paquette demanded Martell’s resignation.
While Lyons remained mum, his top lieutenant vehemently denounced Martell’s objectionable behavior.
“It is our obligation to condemn it, try to mitigate it as best as possible and quite frankly to ask for Ms. Martell to resign because she does not represent the Republican Party of Massachusetts,” Tom Mountain told the Herald.
And the main item of business on that GOP committee’s agenda? To rescind a proposal that would have removed Gov. Baker, Lt. Gov. Karyn Polito and certain Republican lawmakers from the party’s executive committee.
That body historically has used its authority to endorse candidates in GOP primaries, as it did in 2018 when it backed Baker over conservative challenger Scott Lively.
The proposed bylaw change was amended instead to require two-thirds of the entire 80-member State Committee to back endorsements in a Republican primary, rather than giving the Executive Committee that authority.
It appears the Lyons-led committee took this step under duress.
To summarize, the head of the Republican State Committee failed to penalize a committee member for her outrageously prejudiced email, and in the process squandered an opportunity to showcase this minority party’s inclusiveness, which put him at odds with his own party leadership and the vast majority of the Republican establishment.
And undoubtedly forced by the publicity generated by this internal party squabble, opted not to pursue unseating the Republican governor from an influential GOP committee panel.
And for that show of incompetence, Jim Lyons deserved the lion’s share of the credit.
A party that can barely claim to represent 10% of the state’s electorate can’t afford to be led by an avowed conservative ideologue — a minority within his own minority party.
Resurrecting the state’s Republican Party as a viable political force will never happen if it continues on the dead-end trail Lyons has blazed.
He should do his party a favor by resigning, or be removed by the state committee from his leadership post.
Portland Press Herald. June 16, 2021.
Editorial: Maine’s job bonus offers a needed nudge to workers
The program announced this week is an unprecedented step for unprecedented economic times.
We’ve never seen an offer quite like the state’s $1,500 sweetener for unemployed workers who find a job this month, but we’re not surprised. There are a lot of things happening in the economy that we’ve never seen before.
We have never seen a growing economy suddenly shut down the way ours was in the early months of 2020 when the SARS-CoV-2 virus began spreading around the country.
And we have never seen the level of federal intervention to head off a second Great Depression, a mostly bipartisan effort that pumped $5.3 trillion into the economy in the form of direct payments to individuals; aid to state, local and tribal governments; support for large and small employers, and investment in health care systems.
Unemployment insurance also got a boost from the federal government. Congress created programs that, for the first time, expanded the list of jobs eligible for jobless benefits to include self-employed workers and contractors and added an additional weekly benefit, now $300, that is designed to bring everyone’s pay close to the median income.
As vaccinations prove themselves effective and the economy is reopening, it’s those unemployment benefits that are getting the most attention, largely from people who claim that they are too generous and discourage people from going back to the workforce.
That’s what is prompting Gov. Mills’ administration to make a limited-time offer: An unemployment benefits recipient who takes a full-time job in June and holds it for eight weeks will earn a $1,500 bonus. A new employee who starts in July can earn an extra $1,000.
It’s a first-come-first-serve program funded with $10 million of federal funds, and it could reach as many as 7,500 of the 38,000 Mainers who are collecting weekly benefits. It’s designed to get restaurants and hotels staffed up through what is expected to be a busy summer tourism season.
These bonuses may give a nudge to people who are on the fence about going back to work, especially those who have transportation or childcare issues keeping them at home. But no one should believe that the unemployment benefits are the only thing holding the economy back.
We need to remember that a worker shortage was Maine’s biggest economic problem even before COVID hit. Many seasonal businesses relied on foreign guest workers, who are not getting unemployment checks to stay home. Restrictions on international travel are keeping them away from Maine.
And even though some businesses are ready to rebound, others are not. More than 170 Maine day care centers have closed during the pandemic, and many report that they can’t meet demand because they can’t raise wages high enough to attract teachers without pricing out most of their customers. Helping families pay for quality child care is another intervention the state is undertaking to get parents back into the workforce.
These are unprecedented times, so it should come as no surprise to see the state taking unprecedented steps to get the economy moving again. The bonus program is a small but promising step toward a economic recovery. We’ll be surprised if it’s the last.
Hearst Connecticut Media. June 13, 2021.
Editorial: “Baby bonds” a revolutionary attempt to fight poverty
The challenge is persistent poverty and an enormous wealth gap, by some measures among the widest in the nation. Any number of state policies have been proposed over the years to overcome these problems, and yet they remain.
Connecticut is going a different route, thanks to a revolutionary program championed by state Treasurer Shawn Wooden and passed by both houses of the state Legislature. Instead of tax credits or enterprise zones or development incentives, the state is pioneering a simpler approach — identifying children in need and simply giving them money.
It’s not quite that easy — the money is set aside when children are born, and they are deemed eligible by virtue of being enrolled in Medicaid. It is then made available to be spent when they turn 18 and complete a financial education requirement. Through the magic of interest, what started as a $3,200 investment is expected to increase to around $11,000 by the time it becomes available.
The money could then be used in a variety of ways. Maybe it will pay for school, or go toward starting a business or buying a home. Whatever it is used for, it will go back into the economy and help spur growth, which makes it valuable from a big-picture perspective. From a personal standpoint, it could make the difference between getting by and not.
Known as “baby bonds,” the plan is part of a larger bonding package approved by the Legislature as the session wound down this month. The idea has been touted for years as a way to help close our enormous wealth gap by giving people the means to make a better life for themselves, and experts from across the political spectrum have come out in favor of the plan.
But Connecticut is where it happened first. Wooden deserves credit, along with members of the Black and Puerto Rican Caucus, who made the proposal a priority this year.
A report last year found the state’s racial income gap is at the highest level it’s been since the 1980s. Though baby bonds are race neutral, Black and Hispanic children make up a high percentage of those eligible for Medicaid, and stand to gain most from the program’s approval. It will take some time for the effects to be felt, but the program could be a major boost for people in the state most in need of help.
Because of the long lag between the program’s inception and when the first beneficiaries will take advantage of the funds, the need to do more to help those in need will remain acute. The budget passed by the Legislature this session makes some moves toward equity, but the need for assistance will continue.
Still, this is a major step forward at taking on one of our longest-standing challenges. Though baby bonds flew under the radar a bit this year as other issues — like taxes and marijuana — took most of the attention, this is the bill that could have the greatest effect long term. The Legislature showed it can get it right.