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Hearst Connecticut Media. October 13, 2022.

Editorial: Everyone benefits when more people vote

Voting patterns in the United States tend to run inversely proportional to their local impact. Many people will come out to vote for president, while a special election for a community position will draw very few voters.

That’s understandable, given how much power a president has to affect everyone’s lives. But local positions could have a more immediate impact on day-to-day life, such as the look of a neighborhood or the character of a road. It’s not a president, after all, who will determine whether you can get a building permit.

This year’s elections fall in the middle of that spectrum. A midterm election includes every member of the U.S. House of Representatives, roughly one-third of the U.S. Senate, and many governors, including in Connecticut. In this state, it also includes every member of the state General Assembly, as well as state treasurer, comptroller, attorney general and secretary of the state.

There’s a lot at stake. But since there is no presidential election, we can expect turnout to fall well below 2020 numbers, though likely above what we’ll see in next year’s local elections. Increasing turnout should be a goal for every political leader, regardless of party, because the outcome affects everyone. It’s in all our interests to have more people’s voices heard.

Unfortunately, not every elected official acts that way. Too many take steps to limit voter turnout, putting up obstacles to potential voters and making it harder to register, or to even know if you might be eligible. This is done in the interest, supposedly, of preventing fraud. But we have voluminous evidence to show that voter fraud, where one person impersonates someone else or tries to vote multiple times, is vanishingly rare, and has never been shown to happen sufficiently often to sway an election.

In Connecticut, to our credit, we do a good job at expanding voting availability. Though our state constitution limits early and absentee ballots, efforts are underway to change that, and voters will have their say on those questions on this year’s ballot.

Already, Connecticut allows same-day voter registration, in person at selected locations. The online voter registration deadline is Nov. 1. Absentee ballots must be received by the time polls close, 8 p.m. on Nov. 8. Recently, Secretary of the State Mark Kohler unveiled a new online system that allows voters to request their absentee ballot electronically.

These are all welcome changes, along with the COVID-era allowance for anyone to request an absentee ballot, which was previously available only to people who were physically unable to be at the polling station on Election Day. It’s important to keep that measure going in a post-COVID world to ensure as many people vote as possible.

As candidates prepare for the final sprint to Election Day, they are consistently harping on turnout as the key to victory. It’s vital that as many people as possible make their opinions known and cast their vote for these important positions. That shouldn’t be controversial.

There’s no political angle. Both parties benefit from more voters turning out, as recent federal elections have demonstrated. It’s up to everyone to boost voter participation.

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Hartford Courant. October 6, 2022.

Editorial: CT communities should push cost of illegal vehicle rallies onto the riders

Police organizations around the state face it: large, organized groups practicing dangerous, reckless and illegal driving.

We’ve all seen it, and it can include big groups of motorcycles and ATVs, with riders racing each other and around cars, practicing wheelies and creating a lot of noise and disruption.

An example of this occurred in September, when about 100 people blocked an intersection in Wethersfield as they did dangerous maneuvers, including doughnuts, revving vehicles and playing loud music with flashing lights — all of which prompted several neighbors to fear for their safety, police in that community said. Of course, when officers arrived, the participants scattered.

The city of Hartford knows the problem well, with it exacerbated during the pandemic.

Officials in Hartford report seeing a decline in this type of behavior this year, but part of that is clearly attributable to the amount of effort and money they had to put into combating the problem.

That included adding drones to find four-wheelers, dirt bikes and stolen cars (among other uses for drones such as missing person’s cases and keeping an eye on large events).

The drones are intended to make the streets safer, including by having the devices follow scofflaws rather than having officers do high-speed pursuits. Such pursuits are less common already as the state, through the Police Officer Standards and Training Council, in 2019 restricted when police statewide can chase cars and trucks.

“The use of drones makes our streets safer,” Hartford police Lt Aaron Boisvert told The Courant.

We agree that such pursuits can be dangerous and that when used correctly the drones are a safer option.

Hartford had to spend a lot of money for that technology but was lucky enough to have $2.5 million in state money to invest in it, including cameras and software.

But not every community in Connecticut will have that state funding to spend, nor will they have the extra tax dollars to focus on ridding their street of wanton disregard for other motorists.

Despite the cost, police in some communities are boosting patrols and looking for new ways to catch scofflaw motorists.

Wethersfield police Lt. Michael Wren said his department would boost patrols in the area where the riders had gathered. Despite past incidents of groups of cars, motorcycles or ATVs grouping up and causing traffic issues, the September incident was “the first time we’ve seen this amount of cars organized like this in town,” Wren told The Courant.

That is not a harbinger of better behavior on the part of the riders or for Wethersfield taxpayers catching a break in having to pay their department to patrol for people who are purposely breaking the law and creating havoc.

Police have said many of the drivers belong to clubs that set up these events — even determining the strategies for blocking traffic to create racing space on highways.

There needs to be a regional or even statewide effort to crack down on actions that by many accounts are considered dangerous and that could include wider use of drones and sharing of investigative intelligence about where the gatherings might take place.

But there also is another way to hit scofflaws where it hurts.

In New Haven, the Board of Alders two years ago raised the fines for riding illegally to match the state maximum with a $1,000 infraction for the first offense, and then $1,500 to over $2,000.

New Haven police told The Courant that, in the first 10 months of 2021, the department issued 13 first offense fines.

Other communities that face mayhem imposed by people who have no right to cause dangerous disruptions should consider imposing the same level of fines.

Those wheelies might not be so much fun if they cost $1,000 each.

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Bangor Daily News. October 11, 2022.

Editorial: Agreement must turn into action to protect attorney calls in Maine jails

Unanimous agreement is not always so easy to come by, particularly in matters of public policy. But last week, a state committee working to ensure that people in Maine jails and prisons have proper access to their legal representation proved it is possible.

That group, the Committee to Ensure Constitutionally Adequate Contact with Counsel, showed unanimous but unofficial support on Oct. 5 for the idea that jails, state correctional facilities, law enforcement, prosecutors and other state agencies need to adopt clear policies for protecting confidential communications between attorneys and their clients.

Based on legal precedent and state law, we frankly feel this has long been an obvious conclusion. But as reporting from Samantha Hogan and the Maine Monitor for more than two years has shown, some jails have still been listening to and recording some of these calls. So there is a demonstrated need for more clarity and consistency in these policies.

The Maine Monitor reporting played an instrumental role in the creation of this committee in the first place (just look at how prominently its stories are featured in committee background materials), and the committee now looks poised to make official recommendations soon that lawmakers will hopefully take up in the next Legislature.

As part of the committee’s work, a helpful but eye opening spreadsheet has detailed how jail facilities across the state handle inmates’ access to legal representation. Thirteen of the 15 jails say they “distribute written policies, procedures, or guidance related to confidentiality of attorney communications with inmates,” for example. And 11 out of 15 “possess written materials that are provided or available to inmates regarding recording of telephone calls.” All jails should be doing these things.

Most alarmingly here, eight of the 15 jails do not “provide forms to detainees or inmates that are used by the inmate to provide the telephone numbers of their attorneys for the purpose of ensuring confidentiality of attorney calls,” which is unacceptable. It is not particularly surprising that jails are recording some attorney calls when they aren’t providing clear ways to flag those phone numbers.

There was a particularly instructive and productive exchange about these numbers at last week’s hearing, between committee members Rep. Thom Harnett and Maine Sheriffs’ Association President Dale Lancaster. As law enforcement officials have said in the past, Lancaster emphasized that sheriffs don’t want to capture these calls in the first place.

“I understand and I take them at their word — I’ve heard from the sheriffs, I’ve heard from corrections, I’ve heard from the offices of the district attorneys — that nobody wants to hear these calls, nobody wants them intercepted. You know, we all recognize the constitutional rights of both persons in custody and not in custody,” Harnett responded. “But I’m still struck by the fact that you’re not telling the person who’s incarcerated how to do this, or what the policy is. I mean, there is no policy (in some jails). So how are people supposed to know what they are supposed to do to protect their calls if there aren’t any policies in place (for inmates to provide their attorney’s phone number) in the majority of the county jails in the state?”

Lancaster, who is the Somerset County Sheriff, said he doesn’t “necessarily disagree with that, of having the policy, but I don’t want you to think just because there isn’t a policy that that is not happening.”

The Somerset County Jail that Lancaster oversees, according to the spreadsheet, does have policies and procedures related to the confidentiality of attorney communications and does provide the opportunity for inmates to give the jail their attorney’s number to help make sure those calls aren’t monitored.

“Given the significance of the constitutional rights that we’re talking about here, don’t you think that every jail should have a policy, and every jail should give that policy to persons who are incarcerated so they’re not deprived of those constitutional rights?” Harnett then asked him.

Lancaster agreed. “Sure, that is a legitimate request,” he responded.

It absolutely is a legitimate request. As this back and forth shows, along with the preliminary agreement among commitment members, consensus is possible on this issue. That agreement must carry over to the committee’s final report, due Nov. 2, to work in the Legislature next session, and to day-to-day operations in Maine jails and prisons. There are clear, actionable areas of agreement that can help protect the constitutional right to counsel across the state.

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Boston Globe. October 10, 2022.

Editorial: Home health care is a critical support for strained families and an aging society. It’s time we treated it that way.

State lawmakers have temporarily boosted pay for home health care workers during the pandemic. Now, lawmakers should make those increases permanent.

It is difficult to appreciate the toll of caring for an ailing, elderly relative until you’ve lived through it.

Watching a loved one suffer is heartrending. Your bond with that person can fray as the daily frustrations of tending to their needs mount. That brings its own kind of anguish. And with so much of your attention focused on caring for an elder, your work life or parenting can suffer.

For the older person, leaning on a spouse or a child for help with a meal or a trip to the bathroom can feel humiliating. The guilt of pulling that spouse or child away from other responsibilities can be hard to live with.

Any kind of break can feel vital for both parties.

That’s what makes home health care and other kinds of at-home support — help bathing and doing laundry and preparing meals — such important work. It’s a respite for families in some of the most difficult periods of their lives.

And the service has taken on even greater importance during the pandemic years, allowing older people to stay out of congregate settings where the coronavirus can spread to deadly effect.

As demand has spiked, the agencies that provide these services have struggled to find workers to meet it.

In Massachusetts, government-set reimbursement rates translate into pay of about $15 to $19 per hour for home health aides, who help clients get around their living rooms and bedrooms and provide them with medication reminders, and workers known as homemakers, who wash and fold clothes or make sandwiches at lunchtime.

Jobs at Walmart and Dunkin’ pay at similar rates, without the same physical and emotional demands. And it can be hard to compete.

Federal and state governments, to their credit, have supported the fragile industry these past few years by providing “add-ons,” or temporary funding boosts — with much of the money targeted to increased pay for home health aides and homemakers.

But as the country moves into a different phase of the pandemic, and as an aging society comes to terms with the growing need for at-home supports, those temporary bumps won’t do. Something more sustainable is required.

State lawmakers could, and should, take a couple of important steps.

The first is to approve a Senate measure, tucked into a stalled economic development bill, that would create a $250 million reserve to enhance pay for some of these vital workers and other human service workers. The money would have to be spent over the next two years, but it could mark the start of a longer-term commitment.

The second is a measure that would create standards for a rate-setting process that’s pretty opaque at the moment.

State officials would be required, for instance, to analyze the cost of similar services provided in other health care settings — like hospitals and nursing homes. And they would have to provide reports to state lawmakers about how they arrived at the rates.

The hope is that the standards and transparency will tilt the system toward better pay for front-line workers over time.

Given the importance of what they do, better pay should be an urgent priority for the state.

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Rutland Herald. October 12, 2022.

Editorial: Voices for children

During some of the most recent forums and debates for candidates seeking elected office, either at the State House, or for statewide office, moderators have posed pointed questions about issues affecting children.

Some of the issues have focused on resolving the need for more day care and child care in Vermont. There have been questions raised about Act 46 and its effectiveness, as well as education funding.

And rightly so. Many of those issues are at the heart of some of the state’s deepest troubles, and can be pointed to as examples of why Vermont has such a difficult time finding and retaining younger families and professionals.

Voices for Vermont Children took the issue to another level. Earlier this month, it rolled out a voter guide. It does not endorse specific candidates, however, it does provide important tools for electing leaders who are “all-in for kids.”

In addition to being a good primer on the voting process, it highlights many of the issues facing Vermont families with kids, and provides questions that voters can pose to candidates. While effective for these positions, the same questions will become just as relevant — if not more so during both the upcoming budget season for school districts statewide, as well as the election cycle for school boards come next March.

According to its own release on the voter guide, which can be found online at bit.ly/guide1013, “Often conversations about child and family policy focus on children’s future value — as members of the workforce, or as leaders solving the social and environmental crises they’ve inherited. But in most of the world, children are recognized as having intrinsic value, and the protection and care of children is understood to be a shared public responsibility.”

It goes on to say, “Our disregard for children is apparent in measures of child and family well-being. Among nations with similar economic and governmental structures, the U.S. routinely reports among the highest rates of poverty, income inequality and infant mortality. Outcomes for Black, Brown and Indigenous children are substantially worse, stemming from centuries of economic, legal and social exploitation. Our children are growing up in a pervasive, damaging climate of racial, environmental, economic and gender-based violence — as well as increasing gun violence. At the national level in particular, elected leaders seem unable to advance substantive policy change.”

It points to the United Nations Convention on the Rights of the Child that brought together world leaders in 1989 to recognize that childhood is “a special, protected time, in which children must be allowed to grow, learn, play, develop and flourish with dignity.”

Nearly 200 countries signed onto the declaration; the United States did not. “This is more than a symbolic omission,” the group writes.

“Vermont does relatively better on these measures, but in absolute terms there is so much that remains to be done. …Now is the time to push the needs of the over 120,000 children and youth who call Vermont home — but currently lack a vote — to the forefront of every candidate’s agenda,” it concludes.

Here is a sampling of some of the questions voters should be thinking about:

— How do you think existing education policies address education inequity? What else is needed?

— What is the function of a public education system?

— Vermont statutes state the budget should “reflect the public policy goals established in State law and recognize every person’s need for health, housing, dignified work, education, food, social security, and a healthy environment.” Vermont has a strong foundation of programs and policies that benefit kids and families, but many gaps remain. From housing and food insecurity, to an inadequate mental health system, too many kids are still struggling. How would you go about directing adequate public funding to ensure that these gaps are filled?

— What does the concept of “equity” mean to you, and what role do you think it should play in policy making?

— Even when Vermont’s safety net programs are combined, they do not meet the basic needs of children in families struggling to access financial security. Would you support increasing benefits in programs like Reach Up to a level that would effectively bring our supplemental poverty rate to zero? Other questions focus on foster care, poverty rates, equity issues and better ways to support Vermont parents.

As a nation, we are at a pivotal moment when it comes to the direction we want to take in education and caring for children. In Vermont, we have our own, local issues that — in many ways — exacerbate the issues being debated at a national level.

It is imperative that our elected officials think about Vermont’s kids and advocate for them in the long-term. After all, those kids are going to be voters themselves someday.

The Associated Press

The Associated Press (AP) is an independent global news organization dedicated to factual reporting.