The Portland Press Herald / Maine Sunday Telegram » Editorials http://www.pressherald.com Sun, 29 May 2016 21:18:00 +0000 en-US hourly 1 http://wordpress.org/?v=4.3.4 Our View: Forced part-time work a growing economic reality http://www.pressherald.com/2016/05/29/our-view-forced-part-time-work-a-growing-economic-reality/ http://www.pressherald.com/2016/05/29/our-view-forced-part-time-work-a-growing-economic-reality/#comments Sun, 29 May 2016 08:00:00 +0000 http://www.pressherald.com/?p=899354 We like to think of Maine as a state of independent farmers, foresters and fishermen who make their livings off the state’s abundant natural resources.

But the truth is that a person working in Maine is much more likely to be operating a cash register than a skidder.

Three of the top five employers in the state are retailers, with the sector employing 87,092 people, far more than manufacturing, construction, agriculture, farming and fishing. Combined with the 56,805 who the U.S. Census estimates work in the sector that includes restaurant and hospitality businesses, nearly a quarter of Maine’s workers are in these service jobs.

That’s important context for understanding the recent Department of Labor jobs report, which puts Maine’s unemployment rate at 4 percent, below the national unemployment rate and within the range economists consider to be full employment. But when you include forced part-time workers – people who would like to work full time but can’t find a full-time or year-round job – the unemployment rate is a much less impressive 9.3 percent.

SERVICE SECTOR

The prevalence of service jobs in our economy and the increasing number of forced part-time workers is no coincidence. Retail and food service jobs are much more likely to be part time or seasonal than jobs in other industries, and they leave their workers in a much more vulnerable position when the economy takes a turn for the worse.

Only the people who calculate unemployment rates treat part-time work and full-time work as if they were the same. Part-time workers are five times more likely to make minimum wage than full timers. They typically don’t earn paid sick time or vacation days. About half don’t reach the 30-hours-a-week threshold that qualifies them for employer-provided health insurance under the Affordable Care Act.

And while the growth in forced part-time work coincided with the 2007 financial collapse and slow recovery, there is no indication that the situation won’t get worse even as the general economy improves.

MAXIMUM EFFICIENCY

A 2012 New York Times report found that big retailers are using sophisticated software to predict their labor needs, allowing them to limit the hours they offer for maximum efficiency. The move to more part-time work may have started as a response to the recession, but it is probably going to be a continuing trend.

Economists predict most of the fastest-growing jobs over the next decade are not, as we are often told, in high-tech fields, but in providing services, such as retail sales, food service, home care and child care. These are all jobs that easily result in forced part-time employment.

POLICY IMPLICATIONS

That has serious policy implications for Maine. The responses should include:

Accepting federal funds to expand Medicaid for low-income wage earners.

Raising the minimum wage.

Subsidizing affordable housing.

The Affordable Care Act was constructed to protect part-time workers who would not be eligible for employer-sponsored insurance policies, but the Supreme Court made Medicaid expansion optional for states. It’s long past time for Maine to take the option.

An estimated 60,000 people would be covered, including many forced part-time employees. Companies can control who qualifies for benefits, so the public safety net should be stretched to catch the people who don’t make it over the hurdle.

The current $7.50 state minimum wage creates the classic trap for people trying to escape poverty. The jobs they are most likely to get are the jobs with low pay and undependable hours. Keeping the minimum so low puts pressure on them, and it puts pressure on social service programs.

HOUSING MATTERS

And too many low-income workers cannot find a decent place to live. According to a study by the National Low Income Housing Coalition, a Maine minimum-wage worker would have to clock 100 hours a week to be able to rent a two-bedroom apartment. Put another way, it would require full-time employment at $17 an hour to be able to make the rent in most areas of the state. The living wage is higher in places like Portland.

Stable, affordable housing is an essential foundation for healthy, productive families. With a job market producing a high rate of low-wage, less-than-full-time jobs, all levels of government have to work together to make sure that people with jobs can afford a place to live.

We are not advocating that Maine strive to have an economy based entirely on part-time work at low wages. But we should face reality and look beyond a rosy unemployment rate figure. Forced part-time work will be a feature of our economy for a long time, and one government programs should be prepared to address.

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Another View: India Street clinic should be part of neighborhood’s fabric http://www.pressherald.com/2016/05/29/another-view-india-street-clinic-should-be-part-of-neighborhoods-fabric/ http://www.pressherald.com/2016/05/29/another-view-india-street-clinic-should-be-part-of-neighborhoods-fabric/#comments Sun, 29 May 2016 08:00:00 +0000 http://www.pressherald.com/?p=899420 I am writing to express my emphatic support of the India Street clinic and its 20 years of service to Portland. I am a business owner, just around the corner from the clinic; I am a neighbor who lives on the Hill, and I am a former patient who has benefited from India Street’s services when times were tight and health insurance a fantasy.

Regardless of our circumstance, we are all served by this clinic, as those of our fellows in need are not left to wander the streets hopeless, alone and desperate; it’s a benefit to both our personal and business lives.

Ironically, many who ask about the support sign at my shop don’t know the clinic is there. This speaks volumes to the greatest benefit of its location – anonymity. That it is hidden in plain sight meant I could seek the help I needed in confidence. To be clear, the services I sought ranged from general health checkups to making sure I hadn’t done permanent damage to myself during some of my more poorly thought-out engagements.

In the city’s recently revised (November 2015) India Street Form-based Code, there is a clear and powerful statement that directly supports maintaining the clinic’s location.

“The intent of the India Street Code Zone is to establish a district that encourages a mixed-use district, preserves and values the existing historic neighborhood fabric, and fosters and supports local businesses and residential areas” (Portland City Code, Chapter 14, Section 14-275.1).

By providing anonymous health screenings, HIV testing and a successful needle exchange, addressing risky behaviors and dealing with children’s and women’s health and safety, our clinic is an essential thread in that exact “existing historic neighborhood fabric.” And I am that business, and that resident.

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Our View: Time to bring back postal banking http://www.pressherald.com/2016/05/28/our-view-time-to-bring-back-postal-banking/ http://www.pressherald.com/2016/05/28/our-view-time-to-bring-back-postal-banking/#comments Sat, 28 May 2016 08:00:00 +0000 http://www.pressherald.com/?p=899444 It costs a lot to be poor, especially when you want to access your own money.

People without bank accounts pay outrageous fees to cash a paycheck and massive interest rates for small loans.

Banks are not interested in servicing accounts that come with small deposits, and leave the market to payday lenders, who collectively draw billions out of the pockets of the poorest Americans.

New regulations are set to go into effect this year that are designed to end the worst predatory practices, and lobbyists for the industry claim it will kill off their businesses. The hope is that big banks will step in and expand their services to areas that they have ignored in the past. But until they invest in new branch offices, millions of low-income workers would still have no place to cash a check or get credit.

A better solution might be right in front of our eyes. The U.S. Postal Service has retail offices in every community in America and it already provides financial services such as money orders and electronic transfers. It wouldn’t take much to add services like savings accounts, check cashing and debit cards.

Turning the postal service into the bank for people who don’t have banks has been kicking around Washington for a while. It’s a part of Sen. Bernie Sanders’ presidential campaign platform, and it’s a good issue for the fall campaign. It’s a solution to more than one problem and makes a lot of sense.

People who say that the postal service doesn’t belong in banking should take a look at history. Up until 1967, post offices operated as banks, keeping savings accounts and selling savings bonds. The program was created in the William Howard Taft administration and was meant to address the cash hoarding that was rampant in immigrant communities where people did not trust banks.

The program ended in the 1960s because bankers argued it was no longer necessary since deposits in their institutions were insured by the federal government. No one anticipated the banks’ abandonment of poor neighborhoods, and the rise of payday lenders.

The post office could fill that niche much more equitably. It already has the infrastructure and the manpower. It doesn’t need to make profit on the transactions so it can keep its fees low.

It’s time to drive out the predatory lenders and make reasonable financial services available everywhere. It’s time to bring back postal banking.

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Our View: Maine’s alarming bike, pedestrian toll demands road rules refresher http://www.pressherald.com/2016/05/27/our-view-maines-alarming-bike-pedestrian-toll-demands-road-rules-refresher/ http://www.pressherald.com/2016/05/27/our-view-maines-alarming-bike-pedestrian-toll-demands-road-rules-refresher/#comments Fri, 27 May 2016 08:00:00 +0000 http://www.pressherald.com/?p=897852 Six people have been struck and killed this year in Maine while out walking or biking – a statistic that’s even more chilling given that the combined total of pedestrian and cyclist deaths here averages 11 a year. So as Memorial Day weekend approaches, heralding the unofficial start of summer and the annual surge of seasonal traffic, it’s critical that we all take time away from digging out the beach towels and cleaning the grill to educate ourselves about the rules of the road.

The first pedestrian fatality of 2016 occurred Jan. 1, and there have been four more since (the most recent of which is the death May 21 of a Portland man who was struck May 17), and a cyclist was killed at the end of March. This follows a year in which 19 pedestrians were struck and killed, the highest annual toll in Maine in over two decades.

And hundreds of other people on foot or bicycle are injured every year – such as Mattie Daughtry, a state legislator who was hit by a car this month while riding a bike in her hometown of Brunswick.

Car-pedestrian and car-cyclist accidents are largely preventable. But this, of course, requires knowing the regulations that allow all of us to share the road safely. Changes to state law took effect last fall that clarify cyclists’ responsibilities, making it easier for police to ticket pedalers for such offenses as running stop signs or operating against traffic.

The advocacy group that helped develop the new regulations, the Bicycle Coalition of Maine, wants cyclists to follow the rules. They’re not any happier than motorists are to see scofflaws on two wheels fly through a red light.

However, drivers have to be more aware as well: They’re required to give pedestrians and cyclists at least 3 feet of clearance when passing. That may mean spending a few extra seconds waiting for someone who’s walking or biking in front of you, instead of blowing by them with little room to spare and risking an accident. But it’s the right – and lawful – thing to do.

When it comes to road safety awareness, many of us are probably drawing on our memories of parental lectures or driver’s education lessons. There are, however, resources that can bring those interested up to speed, such as the Maine Department of Transportation website and the guide offered by the bike coalition.

The more we all know about our rights and responsibilities as pedestrians, cyclists and drivers, the greater the chance that we’ll be able to enjoy the summer months without being injured or worse. See you on the road.

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Another View: Austrian election close shave with right-wing xenophobia http://www.pressherald.com/2016/05/27/another-view-austrian-election-close-shave-with-right-wing-xenophobia/ http://www.pressherald.com/2016/05/27/another-view-austrian-election-close-shave-with-right-wing-xenophobia/#comments Fri, 27 May 2016 08:00:00 +0000 http://www.pressherald.com/?p=897888 In elections that Americans may examine closely for parallels and to understand what is going on in Europe, Austria on Sunday elected a harmless Green Party candidate president over a less-harmless far-right candidate. The margin was excruciatingly close, just 30,000 votes.

The first round of voting last month eliminated candidates of the two main parties, the center-left Social Democrats and center-right People’s Party. They have ruled the Central European country of 8.6 million off and on since the end of World War II.

The two candidates remaining were Alexander Van der Bellen, former leader of the Green Party, and Norbert Hofer of the right-wing Freedom Party. Van der Bellen won with 50.3 percent of the vote, only after mail-in ballots were counted Monday.

Voters from the defeated centrist parties spared Austria the embarrassment of electing a far-right populist as head of state (though the nation’s chancellor is the more powerful political position). Hofer’s Freedom Party is anti-Muslim, likes Russian President Vladimir Putin, opposes migration and doesn’t like the European Union, which Austria joined in 1995.

It is likely that reaction to mainly Muslim migrants from the East are what helped the Freedom Party boost its vote so drastically, though there are only 90,000 or so asylum seekers remaining in Austria. The current government first followed German Chancellor Angela Merkel’s open-door policy. Then, in the face of opposition, it shifted to border closures and asylum quotas. And while the Austrian economy is relatively healthy and its citizens have a comfortable life, economic inequality is on the rise. A general sense of discontent contributed to the defeat of the old-guard centrist parties.

Europe watched these elections with some apprehension. Hungary and Poland already have right-wing governments. The Austrian election was a worrisome close shave.

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Another View: Acquittal in Freddie Gray case is no vindication of Baltimore police http://www.pressherald.com/2016/05/26/another-view-acquittal-in-freddie-gray-case-is-no-vindication-of-baltimore-police/ http://www.pressherald.com/2016/05/26/another-view-acquittal-in-freddie-gray-case-is-no-vindication-of-baltimore-police/#comments Thu, 26 May 2016 08:00:00 +0000 http://www.pressherald.com/?p=896076 The acquittal Monday of Baltimore Police Officer Edward Nero on charges relating to Freddie Gray’s death should not be seen as a vindication of the police department, its policies, its training or its oversight of officers.

Criminal trials are pending for five other officers in the April 12, 2015, death of Gray, who suffered a fatal spinal injury after he was arrested, shackled and loaded into a police van without a safety restraint. But those verdicts likewise will serve neither to uphold current police practices nor brand the entire department as criminal.

In Baltimore and elsewhere, stories are told of “rough rides” in police vans that officers intentionally mete out to suspects as a brazen and certainly unlawful display of power. Surely there is criminal culpability to be found if that’s what fatally injured Gray.

But what if Gray’s treatment was the result of inadequate leadership, unprepared officers and a series of basic failures in procedure, all exacerbated by lax oversight and discipline? There might be no crime – and yet the city might still have been providing policing that is so inadequate as to be what can only be deemed criminally deficient.

Gray’s death has led to an examination of police practices in Baltimore and other cities. Both Nero’s trial and one earlier this year that resulted in a mistrial have produced testimony about the Baltimore Police Department’s inconsistent application of standards and nonrigorous training.

The mayor and police commissioner have taken some first steps to improve oversight. The U.S. Department of Justice is reviewing the department’s civil rights record. Acquittals do not obviate the need for such scrutiny and reform. Convictions cannot substitute for it.

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Our View: As addiction soars, Maine officials drag feet on response http://www.pressherald.com/2016/05/26/our-view-as-addiction-soars-maine-officials-drag-feet-on-response/ http://www.pressherald.com/2016/05/26/our-view-as-addiction-soars-maine-officials-drag-feet-on-response/#comments Thu, 26 May 2016 08:00:00 +0000 http://www.pressherald.com/?p=896136 There is little disagreement on the severity of the heroin problem gripping Maine and much of the rest of the United States. However, the response remains slow, fractured and underwhelming, and the size of the epidemic continues to dwarf the resources being spent to end it.

So it’s disappointing to learn that some of the initiatives able to pass the divided Legislature have seemingly been left to collect dust by the Maine Department of Health and Human Services. At least three programs, including two approved and funded a year ago, have not yet been put in place, with no explanation from the department.

With drug overdose deaths at an all-time high, Mainers deserve better answers, and faster movement.

Lying in limbo are a detoxification facility planned for eastern or northern Maine, passed as part of an emergency drug bill in January, as well as an eight-bed treatment facility for women and a new drug court program, both approved a year ago. A DHHS spokeswoman gave no reason for the delay and said that requests for proposals for the drug court program and the detox facility would be issued soon.

An RFP issued last year for the women’s treatment facility – a particularly urgent need – drew two applicants, neither of which the DHHS found suitable. The department turned down one applicant, Scarborough-based Crossroads, apparently because their bid was too high. The claim was met with confusion by Crossroads’ CEO, given the organization’s experience with residential care and its costs.

That’s not the only disconnect between the department and treatment providers. Many say they are confused over what the LePage administration, which has questioned the effectiveness of drug treatment programs, wants from them as they help address the unprecedented number of Mainers seeking help for addiction.

And this is not the first time that such a disconnect has surfaced.

Last year, as a way to counter claims that he was not adequately addressing the heroin crisis, Gov. LePage used a radio address to say that state funds earmarked for treatment were going unspent. DHHS Commissioner Mary Mayhew later said that providers were telling the department that treatment needs were being met.

Both statements were met with disbelief by providers: Across the state, they were struggling to find the resources to help people seeking treatment, whose numbers more than tripled between 2010 and 2014.

If the money was there, why wasn’t the department doing more to get it to providers? And why couldn’t the administration see what dire straits the providers, and their patients, were in?

Those questions were never adequately answered.

And now we can add another: At a time when addiction is working around the clock to kill Mainers, why is the department so slow in implementing programs that might save lives?

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Another View: Humans can help wild creatures by staying away from them http://www.pressherald.com/2016/05/25/another-view-humans-can-help-wild-creatures-by-staying-away-from-them/ http://www.pressherald.com/2016/05/25/another-view-humans-can-help-wild-creatures-by-staying-away-from-them/#comments Wed, 25 May 2016 08:00:00 +0000 http://www.pressherald.com/?p=894792 Those shaggy-haired, shoulder-humped bison roaming Yellowstone National Park have lived in the area since prehistoric times, surviving predators, disease, development.

But can they survive tourists? Despite signs in the park and fliers handed out to visitors warning them about being gored by the horned bison, tourists just can’t seem to stay the officially required 25 yards away. They get out of cars and snap selfies with bison, scurrying back only when the animal takes off after them. (Bison are significantly faster sprinters than humans.) Last year, five people were seriously injured by bison at Yellowstone.

Recently, an interaction cost a bison its life. When tourists spotted a newborn bison calf seemingly shivering from cold, they plucked it from the roadside, put it in the back of their SUV and took it to a ranger facility “because of their misplaced concern for the animal’s welfare,” said a Park Service official. Human interference can cause a mother to reject a calf, and in this case, park rangers were unsuccessful in getting the bison herd to take the calf back in. Ultimately, it had to be euthanized.

Those people were trying to help. Others like the thrill of recklessness – how close can you get to a dangerous animal and live to upload the selfie? For many of us, it’s that we’re urban creatures starved for interaction with animals more exotic than our pets.

But wild creatures need to be left alone – if not for our survival, then certainly for theirs.

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Our View: Price hike could undercut effectiveness of expanding naloxone access http://www.pressherald.com/2016/05/25/our-view-price-hike-could-undercut-effectiveness-of-expanding-naloxone-access/ http://www.pressherald.com/2016/05/25/our-view-price-hike-could-undercut-effectiveness-of-expanding-naloxone-access/#comments Wed, 25 May 2016 08:00:00 +0000 http://www.pressherald.com/?p=894759 As an opioid addiction epidemic continues to ravage lives across Maine, it came as a rare piece of good news last month when L.D. 1547, a bill making the overdose antidote naloxone available over the pharmacy counter, survived a veto by Gov. LePage. But the cost of naloxone is soaring, and while there are short-term steps the state can take to hold down the cost of this lifesaving drug, the inexcusable price spike – as much as 17-fold for some versions – warrants federal intervention.

Legislators’ support this session for over-the-counter naloxone sales is the latest step taken to counter the surge in deadly overdoses in Maine. Laws were already in place allowing police, firefighters, paramedics and EMTs to administer the drug. It’s also legal for relatives of those at risk to get prescriptions for naloxone and give it to the person who’s overdosed.

First responders and family members, however, are running into another barrier to naloxone access: its price. As recently as the late 1990s, the cost was as little as $1 a dose for the generic version of naloxone, which was approved to reverse overdoses in 1971. But although there are now five versions of naloxone on the market, the price continues to soar.

In two years, according to Politico magazine, Kaleo Pharma’s auto-inject version of naloxone (approved specifically for people without medical training, like relatives, to give to a loved one) went from $575 to $3,750. Two vials of Hospira’s generic version, administered in hospitals, skyrocketed from $1.84 in 2006 to $31.66 by 2014.

As demand for naloxone continues to escalate, Maine should take a cue from its New England neighbor, Massachusetts, the first state to negotiate lower prices for the antidote. First responders in Massachusetts were paying $33 to $66 per dose until that state’s attorney general, Maura Healey, threatened to sue Amphastar, the only company that makes an easy-to-use form of naloxone that’s given as a nasal spray.

Last August, Healey reached a $325,000 settlement with Amphastar; combined with $150,000 from state coffers, the deal created a bulk purchase fund for naloxone. Now the antidote costs city and town emergency crews $20 per dose. Since then, five other states have reached similar deals.

Maine’s congressional delegation is also taking notice. U.S. Rep. Chellie Pingree told the Maine Public Broadcasting Network this week that naloxone access is so critical that Congress should consider negotiating purchase of the drug itself. U.S. Sen. Susan Collins, who’s seeking an explanation of the increase in cost, noted that it will undercut the effectiveness of a recent boost in federal funding for naloxone purchases by first responders.

Expanding access to naloxone won’t do much good if those who need it – for themselves or others – can’t afford it. Our state should push the makers of naloxone for a better deal, and our U.S. representatives and senators should press for action on a national level. Mainers’ lives depend on it.

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Another View: Background check question would be reasonable regulation http://www.pressherald.com/2016/05/24/another-view-background-check-question-would-be-reasonable-regulation/ http://www.pressherald.com/2016/05/24/another-view-background-check-question-would-be-reasonable-regulation/#comments Tue, 24 May 2016 08:00:00 +0000 http://www.pressherald.com/?p=893220 A column in Saturday’s Press Herald by David Trahan, executive director of the Sportsman’s Alliance of Maine, uses a contrived example of a friend borrowing a small-caliber gun so his son can shoot a turkey in an effort to brand the background check referendum this fall as “overregulation of the purest kind.”

To be sure, if a person wants to loan a gun to a non-relative to use outside his presence, a background check would be required, just as with a private sale. And for good reason. A gun in the hands of a person who should not have it is just as dangerous, be it bought or borrowed.

The idea is to close the existing loopholes for private, Internet, classified ad and gun show sales (and lending) of firearms and to make sure that buyers and borrowers are legally permitted to possess guns.

That being said, the law does contain common-sense exceptions for sales and loans among extended family members and for loaning a firearm to another member of a hunting party. These exceptions will cover the great majority of situations in which there is little danger of a gun ending up in the wrong hands and where background checks would be unduly burdensome or not feasible.

By now it is clear that a majority of Maine people, and a majority of Maine gun owners, want our state to join the 14 states (including all of the other New England states) that require background checks on most transactions that place guns in the possession of persons not within the owner’s family. We hope that between now and November, the current leadership of the Sportsman’s Alliance of Maine will see the wisdom in this reform and will urge its members to vote “yes” on the background check referendum.

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Our View: Civil rights vote switch heaps shame on Poliquin http://www.pressherald.com/2016/05/24/our-view-civil-rights-vote-switch-heaps-shame-on-poliquin/ http://www.pressherald.com/2016/05/24/our-view-civil-rights-vote-switch-heaps-shame-on-poliquin/#comments Tue, 24 May 2016 08:00:00 +0000 http://www.pressherald.com/?p=893235 The forces of fear and prejudice won a victory in Congress last week, and Maine U.S. Rep. Bruce Poliquin was there to lend them a hand.

The 2nd District congressman was one of seven Republicans who changed their votes at the last minute in the face of ferocious whipping by Republican leadership, allowing a bipartisan nondiscrimination amendment to fail by a single vote.

Poliquin did not distinguish himself or Maine with that vote, and the chant of “shame, shame, shame” that rang out in the House chamber Thursday was the right verdict.

The amendment sponsored by Rep. Sean Patrick Maloney, D-N.Y., would have prohibited contractors who receive public money under a new National Defense Authorization Act from discrimination based on sexual orientation or gender identity. That has been federal practice for the last two years, since President Obama issued an executive order, and an identical amendment was part of the highway bill that passed the House last year.

But the defense spending bill was altered with an amendment that created a broad exemption from the civil rights requirements for corporations and associations that have religious objections.

Without Maloney’s amendment, defense contractors would be able to fire or refuse to hire people just for being gay or transgender, and still profit from doing business with the government. Poliquin issued a statement saying that he was outraged that his vote could be interpreted to mean that he would promote discrimination or that he had succumbed to political pressure. He claimed that the religious exemption was narrowly tailored for religious institutions – as if churches bid for contracts from the Department of Defense.

He should know better. Maine voters passed civil rights protections based on sexual orientation and gender identity a decade ago, and Poliquin should have been able to reassure his Republican colleagues that it has not prevented Mainers from practicing their religion. In the years before the referendum passed, Maine went through the same kind of angry debate that is now roiling places like North Carolina. But after nondiscrimination became the legal standard, our state did not fall apart. The only change was that people had the peace of mind that comes with knowing that you can’t be mistreated based on the fact that you are different from the majority.

In his news release, Poliquin said that he “abhor(s) discrimination in any form and at any place,” but that was not how he acted when he had a chance to do something about it in the House last week. Instead of speaking out in favor of equal treatment under the law and standing firm on an important vote, Poliquin caved.

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Our View: Public comment critical part of local government http://www.pressherald.com/2016/05/23/our-view-public-comment-critical-part-of-local-government/ http://www.pressherald.com/2016/05/23/our-view-public-comment-critical-part-of-local-government/#comments Mon, 23 May 2016 08:00:00 +0000 http://www.pressherald.com/?p=891096 The advantages of local government come from its proximity to the people it is governing, and its ability to hear their concerns directly and answer them immediately.

It’s too bad, then, that residents of School Administrative District 6 are not allowed to speak at board meetings on the topic of their choosing, taking away their best opportunity to hold board members and school officials accountable in a public forum.

SAD 6 is not the only public organization that does this. A Portland Press Herald survey of 20 southern Maine school districts found two others – Scarborough and Cape Elizabeth – that do not allow public comment on matters not on the meeting agenda, and other districts around the state also have imposed this policy, or others like it that restrict public input.

Public comment periods, when allowed, do not draw a lot of traffic – most come and go with only a quick comment from an audience member, if someone is there at all. Most of the time, people are satisfied that their local elected and appointed officials are doing their job.

But when they become convinced that they are not – such as when then-SAD 6 Superintendent Frank Sherburne violated a district policy and board members went silent – residents show up, and they want to be heard.

When something so upsets residents that they attend a meeting and they are not allowed to speak, they understandably grow frustrated. Often, it is the first meeting for these residents. They are unfamiliar with how the meetings are conducted, and can’t believe a taxpayer and parent doesn’t have the right to ask for answers, or at least vent a little. It creates an antagonistic atmosphere, and trust recedes between residents and the people who run their schools.

“They’re sitting there real arrogant, like, ‘We don’t have to listen to the things we don’t want to, because we’re the school board,’ ” one parent said following a SAD 6 meeting.

Of course, some limits should apply. School board members have a tremendous amount of work to get through each meeting. They are volunteers who take on a difficult job for a small stipend, and their time deserves consideration. An open public comment period is not an invitation for residents to harass board members or distract from the duties at hand.

But disruptions can be contained and even eliminated by instituting time limits, and through the good-faith efforts of board members to hear and respond to constituent complaints.

When their questions and concerns are treated with respect, most residents will respond in kind. In order to get the most out of local government, school board policies should speak to those well-meaning residents, not shut them out because a very few act poorly.

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Another View: EgyptAir mystery grim reminder of airport security flaws http://www.pressherald.com/2016/05/23/another-view-egyptair-mystery-grim-reminder-of-airport-security-flaws/ http://www.pressherald.com/2016/05/23/another-view-egyptair-mystery-grim-reminder-of-airport-security-flaws/#comments Mon, 23 May 2016 08:00:00 +0000 http://www.pressherald.com/?p=891102 Plane crashes always stir up some deep human anxieties. But Thursday’s downing of EgyptAir Flight 804 – which killed 66 people – may be more unnerving than most.

The plane was relatively new, and it had no known maintenance issues. It was flying at cruising altitude in mild weather. Both pilots were experienced, and neither indicated anything amiss. In the end, the plane made two sharp turns before a quick, awful descent.

All of which points to the grim possibility of a terrorist attack, and more specifically a bomb on board. But as the inquiry gets underway, three larger points are worth bearing in mind.

Airport personnel increasingly represent a weak point in the global security cordon. Airport staff likely helped an Islamic State affiliate bring down a flight over Egypt in October. Two workers at Mogadishu’s airport helped get a laptop bomb aboard a plane in February. Intelligence officials have worried for years about radicalization among staff at Charles de Gaulle Airport, where Flight 804 originated. Addressing these worries will require better background checks, more intensive monitoring and an awful lot of vigilance. It won’t be easy.

Too many airports still lack sophisticated security technology and properly trained staff. Terrorists are getting better at making explosives. Yet it’s extraordinarily difficult to smuggle them onto planes when airports use advanced bomb-detecting equipment and a layered approach to security. Rich-world governments should offer more help to countries that are making an effort in this regard, and make clear that there will be consequences for those that aren’t.

 Last year was the safest on record for air travel. Much of the point of airborne terrorism is to stoke irrational fear in the flying public, and provoke governments into costly overreaction.

Refusing to acquiesce in this dark cycle is, in the end, the best repudiation to terrorists. And putting better defenses in place is the best way to ensure that their terrible schemes don’t pay off.

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Our View: Green power companies helped kill solar bill http://www.pressherald.com/2016/05/22/our-view-green-power-companies-helped-kill-solar-bill/ http://www.pressherald.com/2016/05/22/our-view-green-power-companies-helped-kill-solar-bill/#comments Sun, 22 May 2016 08:00:00 +0000 http://www.pressherald.com/?p=889248 We have commented before about the unusual coalition that came together behind the solar bill, which fell only two votes short of becoming law over a gubernatorial veto.

You could have predicted that solar installers and environmental groups would have been on board, but it was a surprise to see Central Maine Power and Emera Maine, two power transmission utilities that have been critical of the way solar customers are compensated for the excess power they produce. The coalition also included the public advocate, the state official charged with representing all ratepayers at the Public Utilities Commission, and lawmakers from both parties.

But there were surprises on the other side as well. Of course, there was Gov. LePage, who is against any renewable electricity that isn’t generated from biomass boilers or hydro dams, and enough Republican stalwarts in the House to sustain a veto.

PRESSURE FROM BIG SOLAR

Alongside the solar skeptics, however, were some of its biggest believers – the national solar installers Sunrun Inc. and SolarCity, which hired lobbyists and made political donations to make sure Maine did not succeed in instituting a way of compensating solar consumers without making them free riders when it comes time to pay for upkeep on the grid.

The reason Big Solar was opposed to the bill isn’t that modernizing Maine’s market for solar energy would have been a bad thing for the state – it wouldn’t have. The new system would have dramatically expanded both the capacity and the type of solar facilities in Maine. It would also have generated an estimated 650 jobs while maintaining around 300 existing jobs and provided the catalyst for millions of dollars in private investment.

But Big Solar didn’t like the bill because it would have protected non-solar customers from cost shifts – thus making the deal for new solar customers a little less sweet. If the bill had worked here, it could have provided an alternative for other states that are also struggling with finding the fairest way to compensate small generators for the renewable power they sell to the grid.

Now the solar question in Maine will leave the Legislature and go to the PUC, whose three members are all appointees of Gov. LePage.

They could decide to eliminate the 20-year-old practice of compensating solar customers for the power they produce, or they could set the price paid to those customers so low that most homeowners and businesses wouldn’t be able to justify investing in solar panels. Then the only people in the market would be people who would install solar for other than economic reasons.

COMMUNITIES RECONSIDER LARGE-SCALE PLANS

In fact, some solar development is going ahead in Maine. Bowdoin and Colby colleges have invested in systems; Madison Electric is building a large project to provide power to its customers, and an installation at the Sanford airport will sell electricity to private clients. But none of these projects relies on credits or excess power revenue to be workable.

Meanwhile, the failure of the effort to reform Maine’s solar regulations has several communities reconsidering plans for large-scale solar projects or shelving them altogether. By installing photoelectric panels on top of capped landfills to provide renewable power to municipal buildings, schools and streetlights, Falmouth, Portland, South Portland and Rockland were hoping to cut municipal electric costs and put to use open space that otherwise has no purpose.

The provisions in the vetoed bill that changed the way solar producers are compensated for excess power they generate and allowed larger projects to offset construction costs would have made the communities’ plans more financially viable. Now town and city officials are waiting and watching for the rules to be clarified.

The collapse of the solar industry in Maine would not make much of a dent in Big Solar’s business. They are more interested in protecting their interests in bigger states.

But their interests and Maine’s are not the same. And hundreds of people who could have gotten good-paying jobs over the next few years will have to wonder why so many local leaders sided with Big Solar and not with them.

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Another View: Dill, Amnesty International ignore downside of decriminalizing prostitution http://www.pressherald.com/2016/05/22/another-view-dill-amnesty-international-ignore-downside-of-decriminalizing-prostitution/ http://www.pressherald.com/2016/05/22/another-view-dill-amnesty-international-ignore-downside-of-decriminalizing-prostitution/#comments Sun, 22 May 2016 08:00:00 +0000 http://www.pressherald.com/?p=889314 In her May 8 column, Cynthia Dill posed the question: Should prostitution be legalized? Her answer implicitly endorses the full decriminalization policy proposed by Amnesty International and other watchdog organizations. This policy would decriminalize everyone involved from the marginalized (mostly) women and girls who are the merchandise, to the buyers and middlemen who exploit them.

Instead, Dill should be asking why this supposedly well-paying and attractive trade must rely on victims of poverty, prior abuse and coercion to meet men’s demand for paid sex.

Contrast Amnesty International’s acceptance of prostitution with the recommendations made by attendees at the Carter Center’s World Summit to End Sexual Exploitation, held in May 2015 in Atlanta.

They state: “Commercial sexual exploitation is gender-based violence and a public health crisis made possible by unethical and ungrounded male entitlement, which disproportionately affects the most vulnerable among us. We oppose language and law that allows for the dehumanization of people who have been commercially exploited.”

They endorse the Nordic model, first implemented in Sweden and since adopted by several other countries, which works to discourage the demand for commercial sex by penalizing the buyer, while decriminalizing prostituted individuals and providing them with support services, including pathways for those who want to exit prostitution.

In her memoir, “Paid For,” Rachel Moran describes her life in prostitution as well as why the policies in line with the Nordic model are an effective way to end a global trade that reduces countless women to disposable objects and undermines the humanity of all women.

Like Ms. Dill, I would like to know where the presidential candidates stand on this basic human rights issue. I do know that I will not be supporting Amnesty International while it continues to advocate a misogynist full decriminalization policy that legitimizes the selling and buying of people.

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Another View: Satellites could be key tool in ensuring emissions compliance http://www.pressherald.com/2016/05/21/another-view-satellites-could-be-key-tool-in-ensuring-emissions-compliance/ http://www.pressherald.com/2016/05/21/another-view-satellites-could-be-key-tool-in-ensuring-emissions-compliance/#comments Sat, 21 May 2016 08:00:00 +0000 http://www.pressherald.com/?p=890358 When nearly 200 countries agreed in Paris late last year to work together to reduce emissions of the greenhouse gases that cause global warming, one crucial detail was left hanging: verification.

Under the accord, the nations backed a set of principles and goals designed to stop global temperatures from rising more than 2 degrees Celsius above pre-industrial levels, the point beyond which many scientists believe catastrophic climate change will occur. Some experts questioned whether even the pact’s aspirational target of 1.5 degrees Celsius would be low enough to avoid the worst effects.

PACT BASED ON GOOD INTENTIONS

Now it turns out that the world is warming even faster than previously anticipated. NASA announced recently that last month was the warmest April on record and said it marked the seventh month in a row of global temperature records – and the third straight month that the old record was smashed by the largest margin ever. Climate experts say that 2016 will likely be the hottest year on record, by the widest margin on record. Those changes reinforce the broad scientific agreement that drastic reductions in carbon production are crucial.

The Paris accord was supposed to start us down that path, and it was an important, if late and insufficient, step forward. Yet it is an agreement based on little more than good intentions. The pact is voluntary, with international shaming of transgressors the only truncheon available. Each country is responsible for measuring and attesting to its own emissions. It is, in effect, an honor system for saving the planet.

That is a significant weakness. Beyond the obvious problem that nations can simply lie about their emissions, there’s the secondary problem of false reporting by private actors – think Volkswagen, which rigged its emissions tests for diesel engines. And there’s the possibility of simple error. Under the 1992 U.N. Framework Convention on Climate Change, industrial nations are supposed to issue annual reports on emissions, with developing countries issuing reports less frequently. But the reporting varies in reliability from country to country.

DATA MINING BY SPACE AGENCIES

A plan by a coalition of national space agencies, including NASA, could offer the kind of monitoring and verification needed to ensure that the signatory countries are living up to their word. The agencies are putting together a network of six to eight satellites that will, among other things, be able to map carbon dioxide emissions, the biggest contributor to global warming, and methane, which has more significant but shorter-term effects, from individual nations.

The monitoring idea grew out of an effort to understand “climate feedback,” such as how changes in ocean temperatures influence air temperatures, which in turn affect ocean temperatures. But scientists realized the collected data also could be mined to verify emissions.

NASA already has one satellite in place, and it will be joined in two years by a second. Japan also has put up a satellite, and others are planned by France, China and the European Space Agency. A NASA official said it was difficult to estimate what the total cost would be, but others suggest it could be in the billions of dollars.

And the science is still being developed. One trick is figuring out how to separate readings of human-caused carbon dioxide emissions from naturally occurring, uncontrollable emissions – forest fires, volcanoes and rotting vegetation, for instance. But the scientists are confident they can make it work.

And they should. Of course, such a system is contingent on government funding. Here in the United States, with climate-denying politicians both in Congress and running for president, continued support is not guaranteed. Which is yet another indicator of how crucial this fall’s election will be.

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Our View: New DHHS rules unfairly exclude new arrivals from getting General Assistance http://www.pressherald.com/2016/05/20/our-view-new-dhhs-rules-unfairly-exclude-new-arrivals-from-getting-general-assistance/ http://www.pressherald.com/2016/05/20/our-view-new-dhhs-rules-unfairly-exclude-new-arrivals-from-getting-general-assistance/#comments Fri, 20 May 2016 08:00:00 +0000 http://www.pressherald.com/?p=887790 According to the LePage administration, the small number of asylum seekers in Maine are such a drain on state finances that they should be turned away for aid at city hall, and forced to use shelters and soup kitchens while they work their way through the long and complicated asylum process.

It’s simply not right to cut off aid to asylum seekers, often skilled and educated immigrants who have endured much and have a lot to give their new home. And after the Legislature passed a bill last year ensuring that immigrants here legally may receive General Assistance, it doesn’t follow the law, either.

The law, L.D. 369, was written broadly but clearly to cover two groups of asylum seekers, those “lawfully present in the United States,” which under the widely accepted federal definition means those who have been granted asylum as well as those who have filed an application for asylum, and those “pursuing a lawful process to apply for immigration relief.”

However, the rules conceived by the Maine Department of Health and Human Services rewrite the definitions of the two categories, placing people whose eligibility for aid was never in question – such as refugees – in the first category, while contorting the definition of the latter category to exclude those who are taking good-faith, active steps toward asylum.

In essence, the DHHS wants to cut off some asylum seekers from this vital aid – not cash but vouchers, which pay mainly for housing – because they are not moving quickly enough toward asylum status, something that is hardly their fault.

Non-citizens are given one year to apply for asylum after their arrival in the United States. Most come on short-term visas, so they have from the time the visa expires until their first year runs out before they are subject to deportation.

However, if they take out an application for asylum, they are considered – by everyone but the DHHS – to be here legally, even if they have not finished and submitted the application by the time their first year in the country ends.

That is often the case. Filling out the application requires dozens of hours of work, overseen by a lawyer, if it is to be successful. The stakes are high, too; a small mistake can be fatal to prospects for asylum.

But under the DHHS rules, people struggling through this process, who under federal law already cannot work, would not get any aid, either, until their application is formally accepted, creating a huge gap during which asylum seekers would have few options for obtaining basic necessities.

The U.S. immigration process is too slow and cumbersome, particularly considering the language and cultural barriers in play. It is unfair to both asylum seekers who want to start a new life and the states that have to support them while they are unable to work.

But the new DHHS rules won’t solve that problem. They’ll just shift it somewhere else, and make it harder for asylum seekers to get to a place where they can really contribute.

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Another View: Kepler’s discovery promises to expand boundaries of space http://www.pressherald.com/2016/05/20/another-view-keplers-discovery-promises-to-expand-boundaries-of-space/ http://www.pressherald.com/2016/05/20/another-view-keplers-discovery-promises-to-expand-boundaries-of-space/#comments Fri, 20 May 2016 08:00:00 +0000 http://www.pressherald.com/?p=887802 NASA’s Kepler Space Telescope continues to expand the boundary of mankind’s understanding of space.

Last week, NASA announced that it has confirmed Kepler’s discovery of 1,284 new planets orbiting distant stars. Of this cornucopia of exo-planets, NASA believes nine are potentially habitable for life as we understand it. An estimated 550 are rocky planets with 100 of those clocking in at around Earth-size or slightly smaller. Planets that are solid and rocky as opposed to gaseous are more likely to harbor the conditions that will be conducive to life.

Two Earth-size alien worlds look especially promising: Kepler-1638b and Kepler-1229b. One is in the sweet spot of a “Goldilocks zone” of a nearby star; the other is on the inner edge of that zone circling its star. There’s a lot of excitement about such worlds because they indicate that Earth-like planets may be more common than once believed. The known number of planets has effectively doubled, thanks to the probe’s relentless scanning of nearby stars in our Milky Way.

While ground-based telescopes have yet to confirm Kepler’s discoveries, there is little doubt that it will happen. The science is solid and based upon meticulous observation of light fluctuations by stars as the planets transit past them. In capturing these fluctuations, Kepler has been an invaluable window into our cosmic neighborhood.

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Our View: Competition among insurers cuts care costs, yields better results http://www.pressherald.com/2016/05/19/our-view-competition-among-insurers-cuts-care-costs-yields-better-results/ http://www.pressherald.com/2016/05/19/our-view-competition-among-insurers-cuts-care-costs-yields-better-results/#comments Thu, 19 May 2016 08:00:00 +0000 http://www.pressherald.com/?p=886302 The Affordable Care Act was designed with two major objectives: It was supposed to extend health insurance to people who had been uninsured, and it was supposed to create a competitive marketplace that would lower costs over time.

Maine has fallen short on the first goal, but don’t blame Obamacare. Gov. LePage and Republican allies in the Legislature have blocked Medicaid expansion, refusing the federal funds that would have been used to cover 60,000 people. As a result, Maine was the only state in the country that failed to lower the rate of people without health insurance between 2010 and 2014.

That’s an embarrassment, but we can be more hopeful about progress on the second objective.

Aetna announced that it wants to sell individual plans on the Maine insurance exchange. In nine counties (including Cumberland, York and Sagadahoc), Aetna would join Anthem Blue Cross and Blue Shield, Harvard Pilgrim and Community Health Options to serve residents who buy their insurance in the Obamacare marketplace.

Four companies competing for business will have a strong incentive to keep rate increases to a minimum by controlling costs. Under the market reforms of Obamacare, companies can’t do that the old way, which was to deny service to people with pre-existing conditions, or dump patients when they got too sick.

The companies that win in this competition will be the ones that offer the lowest rates because they have policies that promote the long-term health of their plan members, and the best customer service that keeps their healthy customers loyal. As long as there is that kind of competition in the marketplace, there will be pressure on insurance companies to keep people healthier and happier.

Maine has a long way to go to reduce the number of people without insurance. Especially troubling is the percentage of children who are uninsured, which increased from 4 percent in 2010 to 6.3 percent in 2014 as a result of Gov. LePage’s cuts to social services.

But it’s encouraging to see private-sector businesses competing to serve the expanded pool of people who can now afford insurance because of the Affordable Care Act. It’s good to see progress toward at least one of Obamacare’s main objectives.

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Another View: Habitat director’s claims aside, overtime exemption would not be an undue burden on Maine’s nonprofits http://www.pressherald.com/2016/05/19/another-view-habitat-directors-claims-aside-overtime-exemption-would-not-be-an-undue-burden-on-maines-nonprofits/ http://www.pressherald.com/2016/05/19/another-view-habitat-directors-claims-aside-overtime-exemption-would-not-be-an-undue-burden-on-maines-nonprofits/#comments Thu, 19 May 2016 08:00:00 +0000 http://www.pressherald.com/?p=886296 I’m somewhat dismayed by the May 18 Maine Voices by Godfrey Wood, executive director of Habitat for Humanity Greater Portland, attacking the new U.S. Department of Labor overtime rules that require employees paid under $47,500 a year to be paid overtime.

The argument that this is a deadly burden on the nonprofit sector is bizarre. Nonprofits can continue to pay people salaries of less than $47,500. They just have to either let them go home to their families after 40 hours, or pay slightly more when emergencies make them stay late.

Congress mandated overtime pay under the New Deal because employers had the power to force desperate workers to work as many hours as possible. The idea was to incentivize employers to allow the workers to go home, and to force them to spread the work out by hiring more people. They carved out salaried executive, professional and administrative employees because their high salaries and unique job responsibilities necessitated an exception.

But employers started trying to pretend that everyone was a highly skilled manager. The definition of “highly paid” employee hasn’t been adjusted appropriately, and currently workers getting just $455 a week can be considered exempt. The Obama administration is changing this to carve out only workers making $913.

This will protect the assistant manager at the fast-food restaurant from the employer that realizes there is no reason not to make him work more hours. And it will protect the noble people who are willing to work as professionals at nonprofits making low salaries.

The combination of low salaries and high child-care costs keeps many “professionals” in the nonprofit sector one bad stroke of luck from poverty. This rule will allow them to spend less on child care, or to have more time to volunteer with Habitat.

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Another View: Rule would help restore rights that consumers now sign away http://www.pressherald.com/2016/05/18/another-view-rule-would-help-restore-rights-that-consumers-now-sign-away/ http://www.pressherald.com/2016/05/18/another-view-rule-would-help-restore-rights-that-consumers-now-sign-away/#comments Wed, 18 May 2016 08:00:00 +0000 http://www.pressherald.com/?p=884838 A federal watchdog agency has the opportunity to protect consumers in a big way. The Consumer Financial Protection Bureau has proposed a rule that would bar companies from forcing customers and clients to resolve disputes through arbitration. This practice is common, with entities ranging from banks to nursing homes to landlords and cable and cellular telephone providers sneaking mandatory arbitration language into contracts with consumers.

If they want a service and the provider requires arbitration, consumers have little choice but to sign their rights away. Mandatory arbitration takes away a person’s right to seek redress through the courts (except small-claims courts), and more important, it bars consumers from coming together in class-action lawsuits that are especially effective for bringing companies to account for wrongdoing and changing their behavior.

But the writing is on the wall. The use of mandatory arbitration has become so prevalent, and the potential for abuse so widespread, that the bureau has proposed limiting it. Under the proposed rule, companies would not be able to keep customers from initiating or joining class-action suits, though individual suits could still be precluded.

The bureau was created in 2008 amid a recession triggered partly by predatory lending practices. Its job, it says on its website, is “rooting out unfair, deceptive or abusive acts.” Forced arbitration is all three. It should be entirely banned from consumer contracts. But a rule allowing class-action lawsuits will do for now.

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Our View: Stopping teen OUI deaths should start at home http://www.pressherald.com/2016/05/18/our-view-stopping-teen-oui-deaths-should-start-at-home/ http://www.pressherald.com/2016/05/18/our-view-stopping-teen-oui-deaths-should-start-at-home/#comments Wed, 18 May 2016 08:00:00 +0000 http://www.pressherald.com/?p=884841 For teenagers and their families, spring is synonymous with events commemorating life’s milestones. And the biggest celebrations center on prom night and high school graduation. But the memories of these happy occasions can be irrevocably marked when a teenager is killed in an alcohol-related car crash. Efforts to prevent such tragedies should start long before senior year, when parents model and discuss the attitudes and behaviors toward alcohol that will help their children stay happy and healthy for decades to come.

The rate of alcohol-related fatalities has been on the decline in Maine within the past several years. Our state’s least experienced motorists, however, are an exception to this trend.

Between 2012 and 2014, drivers ages 16 to 20 were second only to 21- to 24-year-olds in their rate of involvement in fatal drunken-driving accidents, according to the state Office of Substance Abuse and Mental Health Services. In fact, operating-under-the-influence fatality rates have been rising among both age groups since 2008-10.

How can this be? Preventing substance abuse by young people has been a top priority among lawmakers, educators and law enforcement for the past several decades. And Project Graduation, the program intended to replace boozy post-commencement parties with supervised, alcohol-free celebrations, emerged in Maine in 1980 after a string of teenage deaths and injuries in the western region of the state, most of which were attributed to drunken driving.

But anti-alcohol and drug abuse initiatives haven’t quelled young people’s curiosity and desire to take risks. Quite the opposite. Nearly 25 percent of Maine teenagers report they’ve been drinking in the past 30 days, according to a state survey of Maine students in grades seven through 12, and about 12 percent have been binge drinking (defined as having five or more drinks within a couple of hours).

Meanwhile, a separate survey found that just 3 percent of the parents of Maine teenagers believe their child has had more than a taste of alcohol within the past month. What’s more, a mere 0.3 percent believe their child has been binge drinking within two weeks of the survey.

The disconnect is a massive one. But it doesn’t have to be that way. As Portland-based 21 Reasons notes, parents are the top influence in their children’s lives, and there’s a lot they can do to sway young people toward healthy behavior. The nonprofit group recommends, for example, that parents get to know their child’s friends and their parents; stay up until curfew and talk with their teenager about the night’s events; and discuss the family’s rules for underage drinking.

As teenagers grow and prepare for their adult lives, it’s easy to believe that they’re ready to take on the world. The facts about young people, driving and drinking prove otherwise. And parents should equip themselves to teach their children how to handle one of life’s biggest risks.

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Our View: Invented threat feeds hysteria over bathrooms http://www.pressherald.com/2016/05/17/our-view-invented-threat-feeds-hysteria-over-bathrooms/ http://www.pressherald.com/2016/05/17/our-view-invented-threat-feeds-hysteria-over-bathrooms/#comments Tue, 17 May 2016 08:00:00 +0000 http://www.pressherald.com/?p=883050 Gallons of ink, and volumes of hot air, have been spent in the last few months on the supposed dangers of allowing transgender people in general, and students in particular, to use bathrooms and locker rooms consistent with their gender identity.

A Portland High School senior, however, summed up the debate in four words.

“No one really cares,” Brianna Guptil, 18, told the Portland Press Herald last week, after President Obama issued a federal directive supporting transgender rights.

No one really cares, that is, except those drumming up unwarranted fear of sexual predation, all at the expense of a small, vulnerable population just trying to live their lives.

That’s because, before conservatives, suddenly and hysterically, made transgender bathroom usage an issue, it wasn’t an issue at all.

Ridiculous scenarios

No, until conservatives began concocting ridiculous scenarios in which the recognition of transgender rights would lead to bathroom assaults, transgender people used bathrooms at schools and in stores and restaurants, for years, without putting anyone in danger or compromising anyone’s privacy. For the most part, no one even noticed.

In all that time, in states like Maine that prohibited discrimination against transgender men and women in public accommodations, bathrooms were not dangerous places.

Transgender people did not expose themselves to children, or otherwise make people uncomfortable.

In fact, most transgender men, for instance, look masculine, and would not get a second glance in a men’s room.

And sexual predators did not use the laws as “cover” to gain access to bathrooms where there would be children or members of the opposite sex. In fact, “spying” on people in bathrooms is against the law whatever your sex or gender identity, and regardless of the laws covering bathroom access.

These problems only existed in the minds of people ignorant and uneasy when it comes to gender identity, and unwilling to learn more, and the politicians happy to exploit that fear and unfamiliarity.

Not real then, not real now

These problems weren’t real when Nicole Maines of Orono fought her fight for equality. They weren’t real when states began living under laws that protected transgender people from discrimination.

And they won’t become real now that Obama issued his directive that public schools must permit transgender students to use bathrooms and locker rooms consistent with their chosen gender identity (clarifying the stance of his administration, not creating a new law as some of his detractors have claimed).

As the debate clamors on, that’s important to remember – the fear and disgust that some people harbor for transgender men and women have been created and reinforced by an ongoing fiction.

The best we can do is ignore that phony narrative, and continue bending our laws toward justice and tolerance. That’s something worth caring about.

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Our View: For Maine, national monument up north represents opportunity http://www.pressherald.com/2016/05/16/our-view-for-maine-national-monument-up-north-represents-opportunity/ http://www.pressherald.com/2016/05/16/our-view-for-maine-national-monument-up-north-represents-opportunity/#comments Mon, 16 May 2016 08:00:00 +0000 http://www.pressherald.com/?p=880515 Jonathan Jarvis, head of the National Park Service, is not coming to Maine today in preparation for a federal takeover. He’s not even here to find a way to protect the land in question – owned by conservationist Roxanne Quimby, the 87,500-acre parcel east of Baxter State Park will likely remain as it is in perpetuity, regardless of the outcome of the national park debate.

No, Jarvis is in Maine to see whether the land should receive the significant exposure and prominence that comes with a federal designation, and whether the designation can be administered in a way that satisfies local concerns.

The people of the Katahdin region, and everyone with a stake in the future of the area, should enter that discussion with good faith, because the highest and best use of the Quimby property is as a national monument then a national park, with the potential to draw thousands of new visitors, as well as new investment.

PATH TO A PARK

Jarvis plans to hold public meetings today in Orono and East Millinocket, both moderated by Sen. Angus King, and the latter with selectmen from five Millinocket-area communities.

Following a visit to the region in 2014, and coming soon after Maine’s congressional delegation and the Obama administration exchanged letters regarding the land’s future, the meetings are seen as a signal that President Obama is considering the land for a national monument designation.

Available to the president to unilaterally protect “historic landmarks, historic and prehistoric structures, and other objects of historic or scientific interest,” the designation is often a precursor to a national park, which requires an act of Congress.

That’s the path taken by Grand Canyon and Grand Teton national parks, as well as our own Acadia National Park, which like Quimby’s proposal faced stiff opposition, but now sees more than 2 million visitors a year.

Although a North Woods national park enjoys strong statewide support – 67 percent, according to one poll – as well as the backing of the Katahdin area chamber of commerce and Rotary Club, nonbinding referendums in towns near the land have gone overwhelmingly against the idea, and the forest products industry that drives the region’s economy is strongly against it, as well.

The skepticism is understandable. Maine has very little experience dealing with federal ownership of land. Instead, almost unfettered public use of private property has allowed recreation and industry to live symbiotically for generations.

A WAY TO COEXIST

There is fear that the involvement of the federal government would disrupt that, adding to all the change and uncertainty already gripping the region.

But there’s no reason a park can’t coexist with the forest products industry while bringing its own benefits, which include the distinction of being a national park and the massive marketing power that comes with it.

A study commissioned by Quimby’s organization, and reviewed by well-regarded economists, predicts a 150,000-acre national park – the ultimate goal, supported by a $40 million endowment from Quimby – would create 450-1,000 jobs with above-average pay, just as parks have done in areas of similar size and demographics.

Alternately, harvesting timber on the land would sustain only 21 jobs, and contribute less than 1 percent of the total harvest in Maine.

But concerns remain about how the park would affect the surrounding area. Will it cut off long-standing snowmobile trails and logging roads? Will it impose tighter enviromental restrictions that limit the ability of the forest products industry to operate? Will its boundaries eventually expand without the input of local residents?

Those concerns were laid out in a letter to Jarvis from the congressional delegation – minus Rep. Chellie Pingree, who is in favor of a park – and Jarvis is open to addressing them.

Wariness of the park proposal is reasonable, as is the need to get assurances, in writing, that opponents’ fears won’t be realized.

But dismissing the proposal out of hand because the federal government is involved is absurd, and detrimental to the future of the region.

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Another View: Small farmers can be trusted with raw milk http://www.pressherald.com/2016/05/15/another-view-small-farmers-can-be-trusted-with-raw-milk/ http://www.pressherald.com/2016/05/15/another-view-small-farmers-can-be-trusted-with-raw-milk/#comments Sun, 15 May 2016 08:00:00 +0000 http://www.pressherald.com/?p=879423 I’m shocked that anyone who grew up drinking raw milk, produced on a farm where the farmer knew every cow and whose livelihood relied on word of mouth, would vote against local food. But this seems to be the exact sentiment of Sen. Peter Edgecomb, R-Caribou, in the April 24 article “Legal defeat only emboldens ‘food sovereignty’ movement in Maine.”

I’m going to go out on a limb here and say those voting against the local food movement haven’t investigated the impact that increased local food resources could have on Maine.

For example, if there were a natural or man-made disaster today, many would find themselves without food because of the food deserts existing in Maine.

A food desert is an area where 500 people or 33 percent of the population, whichever is greater, are far enough from the grocery store and food centers that they can’t get enough food for an active, healthy lifestyle without substantial travel.

Over 75,000 Mainers are living in a food desert, and just as many live in communities on the verge of being food deserts. These people have next to nothing for food security. One disaster will leave many Mainers hungry. Anyone recall the winter of 2014-2015, when the Eastern Seaboard shut down and the store shelves were emptying at an alarming rate? Imagine that on a larger scale.

By allowing more homesteads and small farms the chance to sell locally, we limit and dissolve the food deserts, securing food for Maine. Addressing the “safety” issue: If Dairyman Dan gets a bad reputation because people are getting sick from his milk, he abuses his animals or has shoddy practices, he’ll go out of business more quickly than the conglomerate dairy farms doing the same. I’d trust Dairyman Dan over the conglomerate farms any day, as the locals can force him to be honest.

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Our View: Lawmakers should push warden service inquiry http://www.pressherald.com/2016/05/15/our-view-lawmakers-should-push-warden-service-inquiry/ http://www.pressherald.com/2016/05/15/our-view-lawmakers-should-push-warden-service-inquiry/#comments Sun, 15 May 2016 08:00:00 +0000 http://www.pressherald.com/?p=879435 It would take a lot of guts for Maine lawmakers to stand up to pressure from the governor and investigate charges of overzealous policing by the Maine Warden Service. But they should find the strength.

Citizens need someone to get answers when they feel that they have been abused by a heavy handed government agency. If the Legislature won’t look out for the rights of Maine people, who will?

On May, 8, this newspaper published accounts of people in the town of Allagash, who felt they had been unfairly targeted in an undercover sting operation by the Maine Warden Service that culminated in a military-style raid in which homes were searched, property seized and lives disrupted. The whole thing was recorded by two camera crews from “North Woods Law,” a reality-TV show that turns real-life law enforcement officers into entertainers.

What’s worse, the targets of the raid say they were investigated by an undercover agent who encouraged them to break the law by breaking it himself, drinking with them while hunting and even illegally shooting a deer to get them to follow along.

Whoever ignores complaints of official oppression like this should plan to be on the receiving end of it some day. These are serious charges. The best way for police agencies to refute them is with transparency. The Maine Warden Service has responded with silence.

During a six-month investigation by reporter Colin Woodard, the wardens involved in the Allagash raid and their supervisors refused to be interviewed and tell their side of the story. They would only accept questions in writing and those were answered perfunctorily or not at all. They won’t say whether it’s legal for an undercover agent to supply targets with alcohol. They won’t say how much the Allagash operation cost taxpayers.

A legal request under the state’s Freedom of Access law for emails between the wardens and the television producers was never fulfilled. A requested wardens service undercover-work policy manual was turned over with 15 out of 16 pages almost completely blacked out. It appears that the department spent more time resisting the public records law than complying with it.

To date, the only response from the department is a lengthy press release. A government agency should never have to hide behind a written statement. Responsible leaders go before the public and fully answer questions, including follow up questions. Anything less is a dodge.

Now other Mainers are coming forward to say that they were also targeted in sting operations by the Maine Warden Service involving the same undercover agent. They also say he supplied beer and drank with them, drove with a loaded gun and shot a deer illegally, encouraging them to do the same.

LePage made news last week claiming that the Telegram’s story proves that the media is biased against him, even though Woodard’s story never mentioned the governor. After initially expressing some concern about the conduct alleged by the people of Allagash, LePage has since taken a hard line, attacking the newspaper and putting pressure on lawmakers to look the other way, too. That would be a huge mistake.

Whether you believe the targets or the wardens, you have to acknowledge that there is a legitimate controversy about what happened. There is also a dispute over whether some investigative techniques are appropriate even if they may be legal.

This is where the lawmakers have to stand up. Several committees could have jurisdiction on these issues. The Judiciary Committee oversees right-to-know practices; Inland Fisheries and Wildlife oversees the warden service; Criminal Justice looks at police matters. Another candidate would be the Government Affairs Committee, which works with the Office of Program Evaluation and Government Accountability, the state’s in-house watchdog organization.

It will be up to bipartisan legislative leadership to agree on a process that has integrity.

The leaders of the House and Senate should decide which committee, or combination of committees, would find the facts and get answers from the warden service, under subpoena if necessary.

This won’t be easy to do in an election year, but Maine people deserve to know what their government is doing. Lawmakers should not back down.

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Another View: UnitedHealth Group’s exit shows Affordable Care Act works http://www.pressherald.com/2016/05/14/another-view-unitedhealth-groups-exit-shows-aca-works/ http://www.pressherald.com/2016/05/14/another-view-unitedhealth-groups-exit-shows-aca-works/#comments Sat, 14 May 2016 08:00:00 +0000 http://www.pressherald.com/?p=879636 The Affordable Care Act’s critics seemed to get a shocking piece of new evidence when UnitedHealth Group, the country’s largest health insurer, announced last month that it would pull out of many ACA markets next year. In fact, the news is not all that shocking, and it is not a sign that the law is failing.

Though UnitedHealth is the country’s largest health insurer, it is not a dominant player in the marketplaces that the ACA set up for individual insurance buyers. It covers only about 6 percent of 12.7 million marketplace participants. United does not appear to have been very effective at competing to attract customers. An Urban Institute study found that United’s premiums tend to be higher than competitors’, perhaps because its plans offer wide networks of doctors, hospitals and other providers to choose from, which is expensive. Unsurprisingly, marketplace insurance buyers tend to pick lower-cost options. The Kaiser Family Foundation concluded that even if United stopped participating in all ACA marketplaces, premiums would go up about 1 percent overall.

United’s selective exit from ACA marketplaces appears to reflect two positive features of the law. First, Obamacare was meant to spur competition among insurance companies, thus constraining premiums; in many markets, this dynamic appears to be at work, to the detriment of United. Second, the law has curtailed many of the ways that insurers used to contain their costs, such as refusing to cover certain people or certain treatments, or jacking up premiums for older customers. Many insurers on the ACA marketplaces have responded by offering plans that keep costs down by narrowing their networks of providers. This is a better way to contain costs than those the law forbids.

All that said, the ACA’s backers should not be too sanguine. United’s exit could reduce competition in some smaller markets with fewer participants. Moreover, there is evidence that other insurers are also finding it hard to make a profit in certain ACA markets. The danger is not that the markets will fall apart, but that customers might continue to face some premium volatility as insurers raise prices to keep their balance sheets in order.

The biggest issue may be that ACA marketplaces have simply taken longer than expected to develop. National enrollment is well below what the Congressional Budget Office predicted around the time the law passed, in large part because many more people than expected continued to receive insurance coverage from their employers. Another factor is that some people kept their old plans rather than joining the new system. This is one reason to think that enrollment will continue to rise; it will just take longer than originally projected.

The ACA’s authors expected that there would be some volatility as markets found their footing, so they built some temporary stabilization mechanisms into the law.

The logical response to the current state of the new health system would be keeping those mechanisms around a little longer. But we stopped expecting logic on the ACA from Congress long ago.

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Our View: Allowing Maine judges leeway on fines a step toward equal justice http://www.pressherald.com/2016/05/13/our-view-allowing-maine-judges-leeway-on-fines-a-step-toward-equal-justice/ http://www.pressherald.com/2016/05/13/our-view-allowing-maine-judges-leeway-on-fines-a-step-toward-equal-justice/#comments Fri, 13 May 2016 08:00:00 +0000 http://www.pressherald.com/?p=878292 Each year, thousands of low-income Maine residents are jailed because they can’t pay fines for relatively low-level offenses. The extent of this inequity is becoming clear to policymakers, who helped craft recently approved legislation that gives judges discretion in imposing fines – a reform that represents a notable step forward on behalf of vulnerable Mainers.

Over 60 percent of the people in Maine’s county jails are there awaiting trial; they haven’t been convicted of anything. And many pose no flight or public safety risk. They’re there because mandatory minimum fines are required for nearly 1,100 civil and criminal offenses in Maine, and judges can’t waive them, even for defendants who can prove that they can’t pay.

Changes to this deplorable situation were put in motion last year following a sharply worded address to the Legislature by Chief Justice Leigh Saufley, head of the state’s court system, who said: “Pretrial detention may make less dangerous people more dangerous, and we may be missing the need to detain people who currently present a serious threat of violence.”

The new law grew out of recommendations by a task force convened after Saufley’s speech. Most significantly, judges will be allowed to reduce or waive fines for simple assault (not including domestic cases), drug offenses and operating after one’s driver’s license has been suspended.

Giving judges more latitude in setting fines will restore protections to which low-income Maine residents – like all Americans – are entitled. The U.S. Supreme Court made it clear in 1983 that putting people behind bars for failure to pay is unconstitutional, ruling in Bearden v. Georgia that it creates a system of justice that punishes poor Americans more harshly than richer people for identical crimes.

According to top Judicial Branch officials, nobody in Maine is incarcerated simply for failure to pay: People who don’t pay fines are sent letters ordering them to come to court and set up a payment plan, though some ignore the letters. But to put it gently, the idea that the judicial system doesn’t target the poor amounts to splitting hairs.

People who are homeless or who lack permanent addresses – most, if not all, of whom are low-income – probably wouldn’t get the court’s letters. And the poor are disproportionately affected when judges aren’t allowed to take into account a person’s ability to pay fines.

Once people are behind bars for failure to pay, they can wind up losing their jobs, making it vastly less likely that they’ll be able to pay what they owe, return to the community and support themselves and their families. Meanwhile, the jails fill up, driving up the cost of running the facilities and increasing the workload for county correctional staff.

There’s still work to be done. For example, the original proposal was amended to remove a provision that would require the state – rather than criminal defendants – to pay bail commissioners’ fees. But this is progress – not only for the state’s judicial system but also for equal justice under law – and we’re glad to see it.

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Another View: Twitter’s stance on surveillance endangers national security http://www.pressherald.com/2016/05/13/another-view-twitters-stance-on-surveillance-endangers-national-security/ http://www.pressherald.com/2016/05/13/another-view-twitters-stance-on-surveillance-endangers-national-security/#comments Fri, 13 May 2016 08:00:00 +0000 http://www.pressherald.com/?p=878394 Twitter has reportedly barred the analytics firm Dataminr, which scans the Twitterverse for breaking news and trends, from selling its services to U.S. intelligence agencies. Twitter seems to have no good reason for standing in the way of national security – beyond advancing its own public relations strategy.

U.S. intelligence agencies and Dataminr are said to have been working together for several years in an unpaid pilot program. Twitter, which claims it’s just learning about the arrangement, won’t allow it to be extended, because it opposes selling its content for purposes of government surveillance.

Twitter’s resistance is remarkably arbitrary, given that any private firm can pay Dataminr for the service. The Department of Homeland Security has a $255,000 contract to receive breaking news, although it’s unclear whether that allows surveillance use.

Twitter says that intelligence agencies could develop their own methods for tracking public accounts on the social media site. This is true but beside the point: It makes little sense for the CIA to re-create a program that Dataminr has already made, hemmed in as it would be by intellectual property concerns. What’s more, Dataminr’s product has already proved applicable to national security: It reportedly sent an alert to clients about the Brussels terror attacks 10 minutes before any news organization reported them.

Twitter’s stance is also hypocritical: It’s more than happy to sell all sorts of personal data on users to advertisers.

In the case of Dataminr, the tweets the government wants to monitor are messages freely sent out to the world – with no expectation of privacy. Twitter’s baseless stand against the U.S. intelligence agencies may set back national security, but it will do nothing to advance personal freedom.

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Our View: Warming Atlantic bodes poorly for lobster industry http://www.pressherald.com/2016/05/12/our-view-warming-atlantic-bodes-poorly-for-lobster-industry/ http://www.pressherald.com/2016/05/12/our-view-warming-atlantic-bodes-poorly-for-lobster-industry/#comments Thu, 12 May 2016 08:00:00 +0000 http://www.pressherald.com/?p=876405 It doesn’t take a crystal ball to see one possible future for the Maine lobster industry. All it takes is a look south.

Warming water temperatures, the result of man-made climate change, have for decades been the primary factor in pushing the lobster population farther and farther north, first decimating the industry off the coasts of Rhode Island and Connecticut, then off Cape Cod.

And even though the industry has been booming in Maine, with record landings the last three years, the focal point of the catch has changed through the years, from Casco Bay to Penobscot Bay and, now, Down East, a signal of its vulnerability to change.

One of the state’s iconic industries, indispensable to and inseparable from so many communities, is being disrupted. The question is: How far will it go?

Fortunately, regulators are watching.

TAKING NOTICE

The Maine Department of Marine Resources will soon award contracts for studies exploring not only the full economic impact of the lobster industry, on which there is surprisingly little data, but also the impact of warming ocean temperatures on lobster biology and the ocean ecosystem in the Gulf of Maine.

The Atlantic States Marine Fisheries Commission lobster management board has also voted to study lobster stocks in the Gulf of Maine and Georges Bank.

The latter study is meant to avoid the kind of collapse that occurred in southern New England, where there are only an estimated 10 million adult lobsters, one-fifth of the population total from its peak.

As a result of that collapse, the commission has adopted new measures for that region to be phased in by June 2019, among them closed seasons, closed areas, trapping cutbacks and changes to minimum and maximum sizes.

That could be the future for the Gulf of Maine. In some ways, it’s already here.

The record landings – $495 million in 2015, more than four times the catch of 20 years ago – have come despite no growth in lobster population in southern Maine, once the center of lobstering in the state. The haulings off York County have actually shrunk, mirroring the changes off Cape Cod and further south.

TROUBLE AHEAD

That is, in large part, attributable to the warmer and more acidic waters in the Gulf of Maine, which since 2004 has been warming faster than anywhere on Earth, with the exception of an area northeast of Japan.

The warming water helped kill the population of cod – formerly the fishery’s kingpin – and acidic water is particularly bad for shellfish. The effect on mussels, oysters and clams is already apparent. It’s not hard to see trouble ahead for the lobster.

“We’re definitely seeing this geographic shift, and it’s in keeping with the warming of the gulf,” said Robert Steneck of the University of Maine’s Darling Marine Center. “Unless something changes in terms of ocean temperature trends, the Gulf of Maine will not likely remain a great place for high lobster abundance. How long this takes to play out, whether it’s decades or centuries, nobody knows.”

Maine cannot by itself do much to reduce the greenhouse gases that cause climate change, though even considering those limitations, state government has not done enough to address and ready for warming.

At the very least, state officials should implement the findings of a commission that studied ocean acidification, and Maine should hold up the gulf as an example to the rest of the country of what warming will bring, as we wait for the next round of studies to reinforce just how dire the situation is.

There should be little doubt that changes in climate could disrupt the lobster industry the same way that changing markets have harmed Maine paper mills, with similarly devastating results for the communities that rely on it. We have to be prepared.

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Another View: Punishment out of line with scale of Maine commission’s infraction http://www.pressherald.com/2016/05/11/another-view-punishment-out-of-line-with-scale-of-maine-commissions-infraction/ http://www.pressherald.com/2016/05/11/another-view-punishment-out-of-line-with-scale-of-maine-commissions-infraction/#comments Wed, 11 May 2016 08:00:00 +0000 http://www.pressherald.com/?p=875046 Congratulations on your boneheaded April 27 editorial egging on the attorney general to punish the 15 members of the special state commission on education funding because they were either unaware or saw no compelling reason to object to excluding uninvited non-members, who were turned away from the commission’s initial, closed-door meeting, at which nothing of substance was discussed or on the agenda.

Your editorial ensures that the members of the commission will be angry for committing an unintended, unpardonable sin and hesitate to attend future meetings. You foment further divisiveness between the executive and the legislative branches, and you add to the public’s cynicism and distrust of politics and the media.

This is a relatively minor incident, which could easily have been smoothed over with a few mea culpas, but you chose to magnify it into an earth-shaking event. It did not involve dishonesty, fraud or malfeasance of any public official or other member of the commission, nor did it threaten to bring down the government.

And this is yet another chapter in your relentless, paranoid hatred of Gov. LePage.

Your contributions to the public weal are unprecedented.

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Our View: Personal finance lessons crucial for teenagers http://www.pressherald.com/2016/05/11/our-view-personal-finance-lessons-crucial-for-maine-teens/ http://www.pressherald.com/2016/05/11/our-view-personal-finance-lessons-crucial-for-maine-teens/#comments Wed, 11 May 2016 08:00:00 +0000 http://www.pressherald.com/?p=875079 Thousands of Maine teenagers will soon be graduating from high school, and regardless of whether they’re going on to college, the military or the workplace, they’ll need to know how to manage their money. But not every senior has had those lessons by the time they get their diploma. That’s why we’re glad to learn that legislation is in the works to make financial education a graduation requirement in all Maine high schools – and to help young people avoid expensive lessons later on.

Financial topics are part of Maine’s educational standards, and schools are required to teach students how to manage money and debt. So Maine earned a B in high school personal finance education from Champlain College’s Center for Financial Literacy, which surveyed all 50 states and presented the results in a report last year. But this might be a case of grade inflation: Maine teens aren’t required to study personal finance to graduate.

That could change, thanks to a several-time Maine Teacher of the Year nominee. Ami Amero, who’s been teaching financial topics for about 10 years at Forest Hills Consolidated School in Jackman, is working with the Maine Department of Education, the Finance Authority of Maine and others to draft a bill mandating financial education for every Maine high school graduate.

We support these efforts to provide a solid foundation for Maine’s young people as they prepare to make their own way in the world. Those pursuing postsecondary education need to understand how they’re going to pay for college and how much their major will influence their post-college earning level. Teens going into the workforce should be equipped to make decisions about finding and keeping a job and paying for rent, groceries and utilities. Young service members, who are making financial decisions on their own and, often, far from home, have to be schooled in how not to squander their first significant paychecks.

A shaky background in personal finance plays out in any number of ways, numerous studies have concluded. Compared to their more- educated peers, consumers with lower levels of financial literacy are more easily influenced by promotions for high-cost payday loans and high-interest credit cards and mortgages. They’re also more likely to run up debt and less likely to have a retirement plan or a cushion of savings.

Details of the financial education graduation mandate are still to come, but we embrace the proposal’s basic outline. The more Maine teens know about money, the better equipped they’ll be for the adult lives they’re now starting – and all of us can only benefit.

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Another View: Repressive regime in Egypt cracks down on gay men http://www.pressherald.com/2016/05/10/another-view-repressive-regime-in-egypt-cracks-down-on-gay-men/ http://www.pressherald.com/2016/05/10/another-view-repressive-regime-in-egypt-cracks-down-on-gay-men/#comments Tue, 10 May 2016 08:00:00 +0000 http://www.pressherald.com/?p=873183 Apologists for Egyptian strongman Abdel Fatah al-Sissi say the brutal repression he has unleashed since leading a 2013 military coup is necessary to combat domestic terrorists, including a branch of the Islamic State. That does not explain why dozens of secular liberal democrats have been imprisoned, nor why journalists, civil society groups, human rights activists and even an Italian doctoral student have become targets for security forces and prosecutors. It also does not explain an underpublicized but ugly crackdown on a community that has nothing to do with Islamist extremism: gay and transgender people.

Homosexuality is not a criminal offense in Egypt, but according to the Egyptian Initiative for Personal Rights, nearly 200 people have been arrested under the Sissi regime since late 2013 on charges of “debauchery.” A number have been sentenced to shockingly long prison terms.

Egypt’s assault on gay men is another example of how much of the world remains hostile to lesbian, gay, bisexual and transgender rights, despite the recent progress in the West. Some 75 countries still criminalize same-sex acts; Islamist extremists recently assaulted and killed two gay activists in Bangladesh. Authoritarian regimes in Russia, Uganda and elsewhere deliberately inflame hatred of gay people as a way of distracting attention from their own corruption.

It’s hard to know if that is Sissi’s intention. What’s clear is that the campaign against gay people is one of the multiple ways in which repression in Egypt has outstripped that of any regime in modern times. It has nothing to do with combating terrorism or even Islamism – and sooner or later, it’s sure to backfire.

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Our View: Maine Warden Service should open up about Allagash raid http://www.pressherald.com/2016/05/10/our-view-maine-warden-service-should-open-up-on-allagash-raid/ http://www.pressherald.com/2016/05/10/our-view-maine-warden-service-should-open-up-on-allagash-raid/#comments Tue, 10 May 2016 08:00:00 +0000 http://www.pressherald.com/?p=873213 For the residents of Allagash, it looked like something out of a television show.

Thirty game wardens, backed by state troopers, stormed into the tiny town on a February night, serving warrants and searching homes with the stated intention of breaking up a major poaching operation.

In the end they made only two arrests and got convictions on charges such as tagging a deer with the wrong permit holder’s name, hunting while drinking and shooting a single grouse.

If the raid looked like a TV show, that might have been because it was. In addition to the law enforcement officials who charged into Allagash on Feb. 5, 2014, there were two crews from “North Woods Law,” a reality show on the Animal Planet network, which promises to bring viewers along as wardens do their jobs.

The Allagash raid raises questions about whether the camera crews are just observers of wardens doing their jobs or a powerful incentive for the law enforcement agents to make their work more entertaining.

More questions surround the two-year investigation that led to the Allagash raid. The intelligence was acquired by an undercover agent, who made repeated trips to Allagash posing as an out-of-state hunter. The subjects of his sting cried foul, saying the agent broke many of the laws he was supposed to enforce and aggressively tried to entice the targets to break the law. The questions are mounting, but don’t look to the Maine Warden Service for answers. During Colin Woodard’s six-month investigation for the Maine Sunday Telegram, the state agency dragged its feet on public records requests, demanded excessive payment in advance for copies of documents and failed to turn over requested email exchanges between the agency and the show’s producers. The service even has refused to turn over an unredacted copy of its undercover operations policy manual.

The problems uncovered by Woodard’s reporting have drawn the attention of state Sen. Paul Davis, R-Sangerville, a co-chairman of the legislative committee that oversees the Department of Inland Fisheries & Wildlife. Davis plans to meet with Commissioner Chandler Woodcock to hear his side of the story. The lawmaker should not stop there, but continue with a legislative investigation in which officials are compelled to testify.

Allowing real police work to be televised as entertainment is a risky proposition. The kinds of things that make for a better reality show are not necessarily what we want public servants to be doing in reality.

The department should let the public see all of its communications with the production company, and officials should explain why a few minor incidents in a small town warranted an investigation and raid of this size.

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Our View: Universal school meal proving its value in Maine, nationwide http://www.pressherald.com/2016/05/09/our-view-universal-school-meal-proving-its-value-in-maine-nationwide/ http://www.pressherald.com/2016/05/09/our-view-universal-school-meal-proving-its-value-in-maine-nationwide/#comments Mon, 09 May 2016 08:00:00 +0000 http://www.pressherald.com/?p=869988 After years of experience and research, we know what an important role the federal school meals program plays in making sure all students have the nutrition they require to grow healthy, and to stay focused on the lessons at hand.

And now, five years after the passage of the Healthy, Hunger-Free Kids Act, we know that offering free meals to all students makes it easier to reach more of those who really need them.

A proposal now surfacing in Congress, however, would make many schools ineligible for the universal free meal program, cutting back on the success that has been seen the last two years in places like Skowhegan and Portland, as well as West Virginia and Detroit.

That proposal should be dead on arrival. With all we know now about how hunger affects learning and cognitive development, Congress should be expanding its school meals program, not cutting it back just as it is hitting its stride.

COMMUNITY ELIGIBILITY

The Community Eligibility Provision, part of school lunch reforms passed in 2010, says that any school or school district in which 40 percent or more of students qualify automatically for free or reduced-price lunch can offer free meals to all students, regardless of income. Schools are then reimbursed by the federal government on a sliding scale based on how many of their students participate in means-tested state or federal programs, such as food stamps.

A proposal before the House Education and Workforce Committee, however, would raise that threshold to 60 percent, saving $1.6 billion over 10 years, which would then be redirected to breakfast and summer food programs.

Supporting the other meal programs is an admirable goal, and one that should be pursued on its own.

But because of the way the percentage rates are calculated, raising the threshold would eliminate all but the very poorest schools from the universal free meals program, and ensure that a good portion of the students who very much need the extra meals do not get them.

REFORMS WORKING

In a lot of places, school meal programs are vastly underutilized. In Maine, for instance, only 61 percent of those eligible for free or reduced-price lunch are participating. Not coincidentally, there are about 64,000 students in Maine who are not getting enough nutritious food.

But that has started to change in the last few years, coinciding with the arrival of the Community Eligibility Provision, which removes the stigma kids felt under the previous system, when they were singled out for receiving free meals.

Lewiston, for one, reports an increase in usage of about 20 percent after implementation of the free meals program, and nationwide, there have been increases of 25 percent in breakfast meals and 13 percent in lunch, all while cutting back on the amount of administration the program requires.

And, barring any changes, it will only improve from there. In its second full year following three years of pilot programs, the Community Eligibility Provision is now used by 18,000 schools, an increase of 4,000 from the first year and about 51 percent of the total eligible.

The proposed change, however, would make roughly 7,000 schools ineligible, including many in Maine, which has few truly high-poverty schools but many within the 40 percent to 60 percent range that would be affected.

That would be a shame. Poor kids need access to regular, healthy meals regardless of where they go to school, and the Community Eligibility Provision gets them those meals. We know it works, and it shouldn’t be disrupted.

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Another View: Creating National Primary Day would improve presidential system http://www.pressherald.com/2016/05/08/another-view-creating-national-primary-day-would-improve-presidential-system/ http://www.pressherald.com/2016/05/08/another-view-creating-national-primary-day-would-improve-presidential-system/#comments Sun, 08 May 2016 08:00:00 +0000 http://www.pressherald.com/?p=869262 The political system here in the United States is in need of a change. A presidential national primary is called for.

How can this be accomplished?

First: Anyone wishing to run for our highest office in the land would not be permitted to declare their intentions until April 1 of the election year. Then those candidates would campaign until the national primary voting day, which would be the first Tuesday in August. Candidates campaigning would convey to Americans why they consider themselves best qualified to be a presidential candidate for their party. During the campaign there would be three national debates to allow us, the citizens of the United States, to better determine the best choice.

All citizens of voting age would be eligible to vote in the primary. The new voters would be able to register to vote even on the day of the election or choose the absentee ballot avenue prior to the election day.

Voters would have one ballot with all the candidates listed. Voters would be able to vote for one candidate from any party.

The results would give us the choice of who the people would like for each party’s presidential candidate.

The political parties would launch their conventions to confirm their elected candidate and develop their platform for the upcoming election season. On Labor Day weekend, the presidential campaign would get underway. How would this improve the selection of a presidential candidate for each party?

Firstly, we Americans are perfectly capable of deciding our choice for president without enduring two years of campaigning.

Secondly, the huge of amount of money currently expended under the present system is completely unnecessary. Perhaps, under the new system, we could limit the big money influence of the super pack on the election outcome.

Streamlining the primary process through the elimination of individual state primaries and caucuses would certainly cut back on the rules confusion and mayhem that exists at the moment.

Finally, every voter counts in the U.S. This much-needed change in the selection of presidential candidates would give the voters an opportunity to help preserve and strengthen democratic elements of our precious and delicate democracy.

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Our View: Tuition relief for out-of-state students could pay off for Maine economy http://www.pressherald.com/2016/05/08/our-view-tuition-relief-for-out-of-state-students-could-pay-off-for-maine-economy/ http://www.pressherald.com/2016/05/08/our-view-tuition-relief-for-out-of-state-students-could-pay-off-for-maine-economy/#comments Sun, 08 May 2016 08:00:00 +0000 http://www.pressherald.com/?p=869460 Maine is old and getting older. As deaths outpace births every year and more Mainers reach their 65th birthday than graduate from high school, the state enters a “demographic winter” that affects every aspect of our economy.

We collectively get older and the workforce shrinks, demand for goods and services drops, and entrepreneurs look elsewhere to start their businesses. Young people are forced to chase opportunity across state lines, making the problem even worse.

Nowhere is it more evident than the state’s public university system, which has struggled for years with declining enrollments and loss of tuition revenue as a result of these trends. There just aren’t enough kids.

There is no magic solution to a problem like this, but the University of Maine has come up with a novel idea that could make a difference.

Instead of sticking with the common practice of charging high tuition for out-of-state students, the university has experimented with offering qualified students from six states the equivalent of their home-state tuition to come to Orono.

In its first year, the “flagship match” program has resulted in commitments from an additional 392 out-of-state students to attend the school in the fall. That is 392 young people who want to come to Maine, who will get to know Mainers and who will establish relationships with Maine businesses. At the conclusion of their educations, these students may decide to stay here and start their families. Helping these student afford a UMaine education could pay dividends later in the form of a younger workforce.

The economic impact of out-of-state students was explored in a 2003 study by Jeffrey A. Groen of Cornell University and Michelle J. White of the University of California at San Diego.

They found that attending a public university in a given state increases the probability of a student living in that state after graduation. This is just as true for out-of-state students as in-state ones, and what Groen and White call “high-ability” students, regardless of where they come from, are more likely than their lower-achieving peers to live where they went to school.

Where these graduates settle is very important to the local economy. Groen and White cite research that shows college graduates are more likely than those without a degree to start new businesses and create jobs. College graduates earn higher incomes and pay more taxes. And wages of both high school and college graduates are higher in places where there is a higher share of college graduates in the labor force.

The two economists concluded that states do not benefit from discouraging out-of-state enrollment; rather, “we find that states in fact gain financially when public universities admit additional out-of-state students.”

The flagship match initiative is criticized by people who think that the tuition relief should be offered only for Maine students, but they are missing an important point. Most of the out-of-state students who would receive a discount would otherwise not be coming to Maine at all. Just as an airline lowers prices to avoid flying half-empty planes, getting some tuition from these students is better than getting nothing. Attracting out-of-state students makes UMaine a stronger institution in the near term and has a long-term payoff for the state.

The program is just getting underway, and it is far too soon to call it a success, although the initial results are very promising. University officials will keep tracking these students, and they will be able to see how many of them choose to live in Maine when they graduate.

If the program continues to attract a significant number of out-of-state students, it should be expanded to more than six Northeastern states, and it should drive a re-evaluation of the concept of out-of-state tuition at all of the university system’s campuses.

Maine needs to look at every way that it can add more young people to the workforce, and adjusting tuition rates at its public universities might be the best economic development investment that the state could make.

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Another View: Republican lawmaker let his district down, Rep. McCabe says http://www.pressherald.com/2016/05/07/another-view-rep-mccabe-republican-lawmaker-let-his-district-down/ http://www.pressherald.com/2016/05/07/another-view-rep-mccabe-republican-lawmaker-let-his-district-down/#comments Sat, 07 May 2016 08:00:00 +0000 http://www.pressherald.com/?p=869565 You could almost feel sorry for Rep. Michael Timmons: a first-term lawmaker from Cumberland who’s in a pickle after caving to Republican leadership.

Almost, but not quite. He’s a grown man responsible for his own choices.

Timmons and five other House Republicans – Rep. John Pichiotti of Fairfield, Timothy Theriault of China, Brian Hobart of Bowdoinham, MaryAnne Kinney of Knox and Kathleen Dillingham of Oxford – “took a walk” on L.D. 1649, the solar bill, when it mattered the most.

Timmons omitted that part in his self-serving account in Thursday’s Press Herald.

After initially voting to override the governor’s veto, he went missing on the second vote about an hour later. These members figured folks back home couldn’t get mad if they weren’t on the record casting a “No” vote. But dozens of solar advocates witnessed firsthand what they did.

Rank-and-file House Republicans must face extraordinary pressure when their conscience and common sense go against the will of their leadership and the governor. I’ve seen one in tears in such a situation.

Now, Timmons is lashing out at me.

It’s true. We had a second vote because I employed a strategy allowed under House rules, a well-established parliamentary action that dates back to the days of the Founding Fathers. It’s been used about a dozen times in this session alone.

If only Republican leadership had invested some time in educating their caucus on procedure, perhaps their members wouldn’t get their feelings so hurt when they don’t understand the rules.

I hope Timmons can let go of his misplaced anger and redirect that energy toward doing what’s right, even when he’s under pressure.

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Our View: Team’s departure leaves too many questions http://www.pressherald.com/2016/05/07/our-view-teams-departure-leaves-too-many-questions/ http://www.pressherald.com/2016/05/07/our-view-teams-departure-leaves-too-many-questions/#comments Sat, 07 May 2016 08:00:00 +0000 http://www.pressherald.com/?p=869670 The Portland Pirates are gone, leaving a lot of questions behind them.

Like how much money did the Cross Insurance Arena make when the hockey team had a home date?

Was a $100,000 exit fee a reasonable guarantee for the anchor tenant of a publicly owned facility?

Could the city of Portland’s economic development staff or the local business community have convinced the team to stay if they had been given the chance?

But the biggest question might be: Should the government even be involved in risky entertainment ventures?

Minor league hockey is a tough business. Teams have to pay large franchise fees to their parent organizations and rely on local attendance for most of their revenue. These are private businesses, and when they fail, their investors take the hit.

But the arena has no investors. When it has to make up for a $600,000 operating deficit, like the one the facility ran up in the last fiscal year, or make a $1 million bond payment, it’s the taxpayers who have to make good. And they have a right to know what they are getting for their money.

But the way the arena is governed leaves far too much mystery around its operations. The arena is governed by a board of trustees, which is appointed by the Cumberland County commissioners. The county levies taxes on municipalities, which raise their shares from property owners.

The city of Portland paid to cover the biggest share of operating losses at the arena last year, but it was not included in any discussions about the future of the Pirates and the building.

Portland Mayor Ethan Strimling is calling for more taxpayer oversight of the arena and a better accounting of its revenue and expenses. That makes sense, and it should start right away.

In 2011, the Pirates and county officials campaigned together for a $34 million bond issue that would modernize the building and keep the team in town.

What looked like a close relationship soon fell apart in an ugly dispute over lease terms two years later, when the renovation was complete. But their differences appeared to have been resolved.

The public deserves a full account of what went wrong and should be included in a discussion about the facility’s future. After financing the renovation, voters deserve more answers than questions.

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Another View: Spy court gives rubber stamp to unconstitutional snooping http://www.pressherald.com/2016/05/06/another-view-spy-court-gives-rubber-stamp-to-unconstitutional-snooping/ http://www.pressherald.com/2016/05/06/another-view-spy-court-gives-rubber-stamp-to-unconstitutional-snooping/#comments Fri, 06 May 2016 08:00:00 +0000 http://www.pressherald.com/?p=867894 The Foreign Intelligence Surveillance Court is supposed to provide a measure of oversight and due process for secret law enforcement agency requests for surveillance warrants against foreign spies and other suspects in the U.S. But information on the requests contained in a recent Justice Department memo suggests that the court is serving as little more than a rubber stamp for federal agencies.

Of the nearly 3,000 requests made by the National Security Agency and the FBI to intercept communications such as emails and phone calls over the past two years – 1,379 in 2014 and 1,457 in 2015 – not a single one has been rejected by the FISA court.

The memo also noted that last year the FBI requested 48,642 national security letters, which require Internet and telecommunications companies to turn over information on their customers, and are typically accompanied by a gag order that prevents the companies from disclosing that the FBI has requested the data, oftentimes without any time limits. This includes requests covering information for thousands of American citizens.

The times and the technology may have changed since the drafting of the Fourth Amendment, but our unalienable rights have not. Based on what little we have been able to glimpse of our government’s secret surveillance activities, it is clear that the government has far exceeded its authority and violated citizens’ rights.

It is time to put an end to police state tactics such as dragnet surveillance and return to the legal principles of due process and the issuance of specific search warrants based only on probable cause, not fishing expeditions.

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Our View: Maine’s rejection of Medicaid expansion has high costs for hospitals http://www.pressherald.com/2016/05/06/our-view-maines-rejection-of-medicaid-expansion-has-high-costs-for-hospitals/ http://www.pressherald.com/2016/05/06/our-view-maines-rejection-of-medicaid-expansion-has-high-costs-for-hospitals/#comments Fri, 06 May 2016 08:00:00 +0000 http://www.pressherald.com/?p=867768 Maine’s continued rejection of Medicaid expansion is hurting not only thousands of uninsured Mainers, but also health care workers themselves – like the 22 people recently laid off from the Farmington-based Franklin Community Health Network – to help make up for revenue that the health system is losing because of the state’s failure to expand Medicaid.

Gov. LePage and his allies in the Legislature have repeatedly opposed expansion as a handout to “able-bodied” people who’d rather get government assistance than get a job. Now that they have evidence that their intransigence is affecting some of the state’s biggest employers, they should re-think their position and support expansion as a way to keep Maine’s health systems healthy.

The layoffs at the Franklin health system – which runs Franklin Memorial Hospital in Farmington – are part of a cost-reduction plan that includes the elimination of 40 full-time positions. Chief Financial Officer Wayne Bennett explained in the Morning Sentinel this week how the failure to expand Medicaid has cost the system money.

For one thing, it’s caused a slight rise in the number of uninsured patients who need free care. For another, it’s driving up the number of people who don’t seek care at all, reducing the number of patients the system would see.

At Franklin and other Maine hospitals, Maine’s failure to broaden Medicaid is seen as a primary driver in soaring charity care costs, from over $100 million in 2000 to over $570 million in 2014.

Health care facilities are also losing out on Medicare revenue. That’s because the Affordable Care Act assumes that states will approve expansion, providing hospitals with more paying patients and reducing charity care expenses. This is supposed to protect the facilities from the costs of Medicare reimbursement cuts, which are also part of the law.

Operating under the ACA without Medicaid expansion is “clearly a factor (in) the financial hardships of hospitals,” Maine Hospital Association lobbyist Jeff Austin told the Sentinel, noting that about 40 percent of hospitals in Maine are currently operating at a deficit.

Health care facilities in other states that didn’t expand Medicaid – such as Georgia, Oklahoma and Tennessee – have also had to lay off staff or even close their doors. This is what happens when lawmakers decide health-related issues purely on their political merits.

Maine state Sen. Tom Saviello, a Republican whose district includes the Farmington area, sponsored expansion legislation this session, but it never made it to a vote. He plans to reintroduce the bill next session – which should give expansion’s critics in Augusta time to study the mounting evidence against their stance and come down on the side of what’s best for their constituents and those who care for them.

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Another View: Column on fate of Maine solar expansion bill distorts Cumberland legislator’s record http://www.pressherald.com/2016/05/05/another-view-column-on-fate-of-maine-solar-expansion-bill-distorts-cumberland-legislators-record/ http://www.pressherald.com/2016/05/05/another-view-column-on-fate-of-maine-solar-expansion-bill-distorts-cumberland-legislators-record/#comments Thu, 05 May 2016 08:00:00 +0000 http://www.pressherald.com/?p=865809 In his recent column, Greg Kesich distorted my position on a bill and left out key facts about the events that transpired on the session’s final day.

Let me be perfectly clear: I voted in favor of L.D. 1649, which would have expanded solar energy throughout Maine. When Gov. LePage vetoed the bill, I voted to override his veto when it was first presented. Those are facts.

The real story of dishonesty was conveniently omitted from Kesich’s column, so allow me to provide the facts of what transpired.

As I stated, I voted to override the governor’s veto and when it was apparent the House would sustain, House Democratic Leader Jeff McCabe, a loud and vocal supporter of the solar bill, switched his vote at the last possible second.

By doing so, McCabe voted to sustain the governor’s veto, putting him on the prevailing side. According to House rules, any member on the prevailing side can request a reconsideration of the vote. Typically, this motion occurs when new information comes to light.

Soon after he switched his vote, McCabe intentionally misstated his motives for doing so on the House floor and called the bill back up for reconsideration. His behavior actually drew laughter from his fellow Democrats in the chamber. I don’t see the humor in McCabe’s actions; in fact, I find them deplorable.

I also believe that when a supposedly reputable newspaper omits key facts and distorts the truth in an attempt to smear a sitting state representative, there should be consequences. Greg Kesich owes me and my colleagues an apology. At the very least, he should print a correction to his column. If he refuses, then I hope the Portland Press Herald would show him the door.

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Our View: Preventable medical errors killing too many Americans http://www.pressherald.com/2016/05/05/our-view-preventable-medical-errors-killing-too-many-americans/ http://www.pressherald.com/2016/05/05/our-view-preventable-medical-errors-killing-too-many-americans/#comments Thu, 05 May 2016 08:00:00 +0000 http://www.pressherald.com/?p=865827 Errors in medical care cause more U.S. deaths than anything short of heart disease and cancer. And they’ve almost certainly been killing Americans at a high rate for some time. Because of shortcomings in how those deaths are reported, however, they’ve never been listed among the top causes of death, and thus are not seen as a serious threat to mortality.

That should change. Medical errors are highly preventable, and improving how they are recorded and investigated would lower their frequency and save lives – a lot of lives, actually.

A study from a professor of surgery at Johns Hopkins University School of Medicine, published this week in the journal BMJ, estimates that medical errors kill over 250,000 Americans a year, more than chronic obstructive pulmonary disease, suicide and motor vehicle accidents. That’s 9.5 percent of all deaths – nearly 700 a day.

The numbers may sound high, but they’re backed by prior research. A 2004 Medicare report estimated the 2000-02 medical error death toll at 575,000 people, an average of over 190,000 a year. The U.S. Department of Health and Human Services reported that 180,000 Medicare beneficiaries alone died from medical error in 2008.

And in 1999, an Institute of Medicine report estimated annual deaths resulting from medical error at 98,000, which many researchers said at the time was likely a significant underestimate.

The 1999 report caused a stir, but no real action, among medical professionals and policymakers. Sixteen years later, not much has improved.

Secrecy is a big part of the reason why. When doctors diagnose the wrong problem or prescribe the wrong treatment – or when a care provider makes any of the million human mistakes that can result in death in a clinical setting – health care facilities are not eager to talk about it.

Their silence is protected, too, by the U.S. Centers for Disease Control and Prevention, which doesn’t require the reporting of medical errors on death certificates. As a result, medical errors are not listed among other significant causes of death, and are kept off the annual lists that let people know, for example, just how big a problem respiratory disease is, and what kind of response it warrants.

That’s a shame. Deaths caused by “communication breakdowns, diagnostic errors, poor judgment, and inadequate skill,” as the BMJ study describes medical error, could benefit from more sunlight.

Improved data collection and dissemination – along with more thorough, independent investigations of errors – would allow all hospitals and health care providers to learn from the mistakes of others, leading to the creation of better systems and protocols.

Human error can never be entirely removed from medicine, but it can be recognized and mitigated. A patient’s main concern should be the severity of his or her illness, not the adequacy of the treatment.

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Another View: Ruling supporting free speech a victory for nonprofit donors http://www.pressherald.com/2016/05/04/another-view-ruling-supporting-free-speech-a-victory-for-nonprofit-donors/ http://www.pressherald.com/2016/05/04/another-view-ruling-supporting-free-speech-a-victory-for-nonprofit-donors/#comments Wed, 04 May 2016 08:00:00 +0000 http://www.pressherald.com/?p=864488 Free speech is crucial to our democracy. And after explicitly backing candidates or initiatives, essential to free speech is financial privacy. It’s good to know, for example, who is giving money to a political candidate because politicians have direct control over our lives. But if nonprofit groups and foundations cannot keep donor lists secret, then the donors can be harassed into ending their gifts, silencing the groups’ work.

That’s why we cheer federal Judge Manuel Real’s decision last month to keep secret the donor lists of the Americans for Prosperity Foundation. In order to solicit donations in the state, California Attorney General Kamala Harris demands that nonprofits reveal donor names, claiming that the so-called Schedule B forms are needed to look for violations of state law.

Real replied, “Over the course of trial, the Attorney General was hard pressed to find a single witness who could corroborate the necessity of Schedule B forms in conjunction with their office’s investigations.”

Harris said the forms would be kept private. But the judge found that the attorney general has failed to keep the lists confidential.

Harris has been investigating ExxonMobil on whether it “lied to the public and shareholders about the risks of climate change, and whether the company’s statements over the years constitute violations of securities laws,” as The New York Times reported. But the oil giant also has free speech rights and can express itself as it wishes.

Now that Harris, who is running for the U.S. Senate, has been chastened over Schedule B disclosure, we urge her to drop her probe of ExxonMobil. As Thomas Jefferson said, “I would rather be exposed to the inconveniences attending too much liberty than to those attending too small a degree of it.”

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Our View: Rise in child shootings should provoke action http://www.pressherald.com/2016/05/04/our-view-rise-in-child-shootings-should-provoke-action/ http://www.pressherald.com/2016/05/04/our-view-rise-in-child-shootings-should-provoke-action/#comments Wed, 04 May 2016 08:00:00 +0000 http://www.pressherald.com/?p=864581 Twenty-three times so far this year, according to The Washington Post, a child age 3 or younger has found and fired a gun. In 11 of these shootings, somebody – usually the child – was killed. Incidents like these are shocking, tragic and largely preventable. But that means fully, and finally, committing ourselves to policies and technology that help keep firearms out of kids’ hands.

The figures presented by the Post on May 1 show an acceleration in the pace of toddler shootings. However, they’re just a small part of the gun violence involving children in our country. In 2015, at least 265 people in the U.S. were unintentionally shot by children under 18. Eighty-three died, including 41 of the children who carried out the accidental shootings.

There are proven ways to stanch this epidemic. For example: Twenty-eight states have child access prevention laws, which, to varying degrees, hold gun owners liable if a child accesses their firearms. Over 800 injuries were prevented and $37 million in medical costs were saved in 2001 in 10 of the states that have these laws, according to a 2005 study for the National Bureau for Economic Research.

On the technical side, guns are now being designed with features that prevent the wrong person from pulling the trigger, such as biometric sensors (like fingerprint readers) and “James Bond”-style grip recognition. One such “smart gun,” the iP1, requires the single authorized user to enter a five-digit PIN into a special watch before firing. (The code is good for eight hours at a time.)

But the company that makes the iP1 hasn’t been able to sell it because of boycott pressure from the National Rifle Association and its allies. Invoking fears that mandating gun-safety technology will pave the way for greater gun control, gun-rights advocates have also come out against a recently announced White House plan to use federal funds to help develop smart guns and to subsidize their purchase by police agencies.

President Obama should focus on fighting terrorism, an NRA spokeswoman declared after the president’s announcement last week. But the threat that militants present to Americans must be put into context. Twenty Americans died at the hands of potential or suspected terrorists in Paris, San Bernardino, California, and Chattanooga, Tennessee, in 2015. Accidental shootings by children, on the other hand, took over four times as many American lives last year.

When it comes to protecting children versus protecting rapid access to guns, our priorities should be clear. Most Americans want safer firearms – just as they support policies to require that guns be stored out of children’s reach. It’s time for this silent majority to speak up and demand action.

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Our View: Riverview Psychiatric Center gets right man for turnaround http://www.pressherald.com/2016/05/03/our-view-riverview-gets-right-man-for-turnaround-effort/ http://www.pressherald.com/2016/05/03/our-view-riverview-gets-right-man-for-turnaround-effort/#comments Tue, 03 May 2016 08:00:00 +0000 http://www.pressherald.com/?p=862628 Rodney Bouffard, a special education teacher by training, has become a turnaround expert of sorts for some of Maine’s most troubled institutions.

After overseeing the closure of the Pineland Center in New Gloucester, a state-run home for the developmentally disabled that was beset by dysfunction, Bouffard became superintendent of the Augusta Mental Health Institute and helped forestall a federal investigation, getting the psychiatric hospital in line as it wound down toward its eventual closure.

Then he led the Long Creek Youth Development Center in South Portland as it addressed allegations of abuse and became a model juvenile corrections facility.

Those experiences make him the right person for his new job: superintendent of Riverview Psychiatric Center, AMHI’s successor, where low staff morale and a nearly three-year fight for federal recertification have hindered the hospital’s ability to deliver care.

It won’t take long to find out if the confidence in Bouffard is warranted.

Just a few days into his tenure, Bouffard is confident that he can fix almost immediately what is Riverview’s foundational problem – staffing shortages that have run direct-care workers to the bone in the last year-plus, threatening worker safety and making clinical gains more difficult.

As of late January, nearly one-third of nursing positions and one-tenth of mental health worker positions were empty, about one-seventh of all positions at the hospital.

As a result, Riverview staff endured more than 2,000 hours of overtime a month over the last year, much of it mandated and handed out at the last minute, forcing workers to extend shifts without notice.

The situation has left nurses and mental health workers tired and frustrated. Many have left Riverview for better pay and hours, and the ones still there are struggling to do their jobs in a difficult atmosphere.

Bouffard will have some help on that end, as lawmakers last week approved, over a veto by Gov. LePage, a bill to provide raises to nurses and mental health workers at Riverview and Dorothea Dix Psychiatric Hospital in Bangor, making the pay in those positions more competitive with other employers.

These workers are on the front lines at the hospital, providing day-to-day, face-to-face interactions with patients in desperate need of good, attentive care. There is no fixing Riverview without first fixing the staffing problems, and Bouffard knows it.

“That hospital is only going to be as good as the people who essentially are interacting with the patients, so if (the workers) can plan on whatever their day is going to be, they’re going to be a lot happier,” Bouffard told the Kennebec Journal. “My sense is if I can resolve that, get a little more infrastructure on the units, I think we can really be moving the place in the right direction.”

The staffing shortage can be solved in four to six weeks, he said, setting the stage for other improvements. If so, it’s a good shot that Riverview will be another successful turnaround for Bouffard.

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Another View: Sentence recognizes true victims of Dennis Hastert’s betrayal of trust http://www.pressherald.com/2016/05/03/another-view-sentence-recognizes-true-victims-of-hasterts-betrayal-of-trust/ http://www.pressherald.com/2016/05/03/another-view-sentence-recognizes-true-victims-of-hasterts-betrayal-of-trust/#comments Tue, 03 May 2016 08:00:00 +0000 http://www.pressherald.com/?p=862718 A federal judge sentenced former House Speaker Dennis Hastert to 15 months in prison, more than prosecutors had recommended. The judge apparently was unmoved by Hastert’s poor health, his courtroom appearance in a wheelchair and pleas from the likes of ex-House Majority Leader Tom DeLay, who wrote the court, “He doesn’t deserve what he is going through.”

We say: Good for the judge.

Hastert is not the victim here. The victims are the men who, as teenage boys, were sexually abused by Hastert when he coached their wrestling team in Yorkville, Illinois, decades ago.

“A serial child molester,” said U.S. District Court Judge Thomas M. Durkin last week. Hastert, 74, had pleaded guilty to a banking violation, not sexual abuse, but his aim in illegally structuring bank transactions was to cover up his predatory behavior. Hastert falsely told investigators that one victim – to whom he was voluntarily paying money as recompense for pain and suffering – was extorting money from him.

That Hastert’s molestation of multiple victims was uncovered almost by happenstance points to the difficulties in detecting these crimes. One victim, before his death, told his sister he had never said anything because he didn’t think he would be believed.

Hastert has now admitted to the sexual abuse, but he can’t be criminally or civilly held liable, which underscores the need to change laws that give victims and prosecutors too short a time in which to seek redress. Defenders of restrictive laws argue the need to protect people against latent claims, but that’s why we have juries. As Judge Durkin said, “Some conduct is unforgivable no matter how old it is.”

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Our View: Hiking Maine’s minimum wage could narrow enforcement gap http://www.pressherald.com/2016/05/02/our-view-hiking-maines-minimum-wage-could-narrow-enforcement-gap/ http://www.pressherald.com/2016/05/02/our-view-hiking-maines-minimum-wage-could-narrow-enforcement-gap/#comments Mon, 02 May 2016 08:00:00 +0000 http://www.pressherald.com/?p=860255 A $10.10-an-hour minimum wage has been in place in Portland since January, but it’s unclear whether workers are actually getting all the money they’ve earned. That’s because enforcement depends on employees coming forward and reporting wage violations. And many workers fear retaliation if they speak up.

Exact figures on the extent of wage-law compliance and violations are hard to come by. But the annual loss to workers totals in the hundreds of millions, according to the Economic Policy Institute. The left-leaning think tank based its estimate on the total amount of money recovered for employees who retained private lawyers or complained to federal or state agencies in 2012.

When Portland joined the growing number of U.S. cities and counties that have raised local base pay above state minimums, it also took over the responsibility of enforcing the new ordinance.

Like many other small cities with legislated higher wages, Portland’s enforcement model calls on underpaid workers to turn in their employers. Elsewhere, violations are uncovered in court – like SeaTac, Washington, where over a dozen class actions have been filed since its wage ordinance took effect in 2014.

Of course, many workers who’ve been shortchanged never sue or contact the government. They don’t have the time or the money, or they’re worried that they’ll lose their job, have their hours cut or be demoted for whistleblowing.

This could change if Maine voters were to pass the $12 minimum that’s on November’s statewide ballot. Unlike Portland, the Maine Department of Labor has designated staff to handle investigations of minimum-wage complaints.

And researchers have identified best practices that governments can adopt to ensure that workers get promised minimum-wage hikes, such as:

Partnering with community organizations to educate workers and businesses.

Tightening penalties to deter retaliation and further wage-law violations.

Focusing resources by targeting high-risk industries and repeat offenders to find violators before employees turn them in.

Wage violations hurt not only employees but also honest businesses, whose labor costs are undercut by unscrupulous employers, and state and local economies, which lose out when fewer dollars are circulating to businesses. Passing a $12 state minimum would pave the way for stronger enforcement, rewarding fair-minded Maine employers and helping make sure all Maine workers get paid what they’ve earned.

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Another View: Congress has no reason to delay Zika funding http://www.pressherald.com/2016/05/02/another-view-congress-has-no-reason-to-delay-zika-funding/ http://www.pressherald.com/2016/05/02/another-view-congress-has-no-reason-to-delay-zika-funding/#comments Mon, 02 May 2016 08:00:00 +0000 http://www.pressherald.com/?p=860261 Over two months after the White House asked Congress for more than $1.8 billion to fight the Zika virus, Congress has yet to provide it. President Obama, Republicans claim, has failed to explain in sufficient detail how his administration would spend the money.

Most of the money will go to help states control the mosquito that carries the virus, expand programs to test for it and work on developing a vaccine.

The case for action now is overwhelming. Come summer, the Zika-bearing Aedes aegypti mosquito will begin to spread the disease across much of the continental U.S. Pregnant women who contract the disease are at greater risk of giving birth to children who are stillborn, have microcephaly or experience eye and brain lesions.

Among the questions Republicans say remain unanswered is what portion of the money is needed for the current fiscal year. That level of detail wasn’t necessary in 2005 when President Bush requested and received emergency funding to combat avian flu.

Republicans also argue that the federal government has enough money left over from the fight against the Ebola virus to deal with Zika. But the administration has already transferred $600 million in Ebola funds to fight Zika, and it claims that taking more could leave Americans exposed to another outbreak; there have been Ebola cases recently in Guinea and Liberia.

Finally, House Republicans say that any request for new money to combat Zika should come through the regular appropriations process, not as an emergency request. But if a disease that could endanger newborns across the southern half of the U.S. by July doesn’t qualify as an emergency, it’s hard to say what does.

This is a delay that could endanger lives. There have already been 891 cases of Zika in the U.S., including 81 pregnant women. Republicans need to move, and quickly.

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Our View: Maine education task force should focus on achievement gap http://www.pressherald.com/2016/05/01/our-view-maine-education-task-force-should-focus-on-achievement-gap/ http://www.pressherald.com/2016/05/01/our-view-maine-education-task-force-should-focus-on-achievement-gap/#comments Sun, 01 May 2016 08:00:00 +0000 http://www.pressherald.com/?p=859613 A “blue ribbon” commission created by Gov. LePage began work last week on an important review of the way Maine funds and delivers education. The panel represents a wide range of views and constituencies, and for it to produce anything meaningful, the members will have to find common ground.

In that way, there are parallels to be drawn with the diverse group of stakeholders that for months worked to find a bill on solar power that was acceptable to (almost) all sides, only to have it killed by LePage’s unwillingness to compromise.

But if you’re choosing to be hopeful, there are signs that this case could be different.

Speaking last week at events in Portland and Auburn, Bill Beardsley, Maine’s education commissioner-in-waiting, outlined what should be one of the tenets of his department, saying that it is the state’s “moral obligation to help the kids most in need.”

That should be the commission’s starting point, and its focus.

FINDING COMMON GROUND

At both of last week’s lectures, Beardsley laid out in broad strokes the challenges he sees facing Maine schools. Enrollment is falling, he said, yet costs continue to rise, test scores are not rising along with spending, and teachers are being asked to do too much.

There’s a lot of room for debate in that simple statement, and the members of the commission will no doubt find it, and find themselves, stuck in a familiar political morass.

The question of equal opportunity for all Maine students, however, could make for some common ground.

Beardsley last week talked about the widening gap between the performance of students in Maine’s most affluent school districts, most of which are found in the southern and coastal parts of the state, and the students in its poorer districts, largely in northern and western Maine.

“Somehow we have got to break that achievement and income gap,” he said in Auburn.

That is not by any means an easy goal, but it is the right one. There is a wide disparity in the resources available to school districts in Maine, and thus a big difference in what those districts are able to offer students.

What’s more, the less affluent districts have to educate more students who come from low-income families, and who are more likely to come to school hungry and tired and thus have a harder time learning.

THE ACHIEVEMENT GAP

Together, those circumstances create the achievement gap. Students start off ahead or behind based on where they were born and who their parents are, and that gap only grows as they go through school.

We can see the effect in third-grade reading proficiency, one of the best predictors of future academic success and another of Beardsley’s topics this week.

Well-funded, well-run preschool programs are proven to help close the achievement gap for young students, but those improvements tend to slip away in the ensuing years as funding falls away and the demographic realities take hold.

Conservatives may not like to hear it, but part of solution is additional spending. In order to close a gap based on available resources, it has to be. One study suggested Maine spend an additional $250 million to fully fund state school aid and special education.

But spending is not the only answer. As we’ve argued before, there are school districts doing more with less, and others should learn from them.

In fact, that’s one of the commission’s goals, and it should be the basis for finding bipartisan solutions to the growing achievement gap.

That’s not an easy task – the fate of the solar bill shows as much.

But for the sake of Maine students, we hope Beardsley’s comments are a sign the same won’t happen to the education commission.

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