Editorial Roundup: New England | iNFOnews | Thompson-Okanagan's News Source
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Editorial Roundup: New England

Barre-Montpelier Times Argus. June 27, 2024.

Editorial: Vermont arts

One of the things we love about summer is you don’t have to look far for an outdoor concert or show. Whether it is visiting Bread and Puppet in Glover; or a concert at the lawn at Shelburne Farm, the calendar is full of options.

Similarly, playhouses and community theater are in full force, and there are plenty of arts walks and the ever-popular Art in the Park event in Rutland.

A recent poll conducted by the Center for Rural Studies at the University of Vermont for the Vermont Arts Council confirms what we already know: We love our arts in Vermont.

The poll, which included nearly 500 respondents over the age of 18 across the state, showed that 93% of respondents agreed (or strongly agreed) that opportunities to view and participate in arts and culture are an important part of thriving and healthy communities; while 87% of respondents agreed arts and culture are an important part of K-12 education in Vermont. In addition, 84% of respondents said that arts and culture are very important or somewhat important to the identity of our state.

Our arts editor, Jim Lowe, has made a decades-long career out of covering and celebrating the thriving arts community. If he could have more space for his content in the newspaper, he would gladly take it, because he is only scratching the surface of Vermont’s rich contributions.

While most of the respondents were employed, 35% of the respondents were not in the workforce, either retired or classifying themselves as unemployed. More than 50% of the respondents indicated they had household members who were under age 18. The largest number of respondents — almost 40% — were between the ages of 35 and 44, but the ages ran the gamut from 18 to 85, or older.

Of the Vermonters polled, those who said they were indifferent or disagreed on the role of the arts were marginal. The breakdown was: valuing arts in and culture in K-12 education, about 6% were indifferent or disagreed; on whether the arts made for healthy communities, the minority was 13%; and when asked about arts defining the state’s identity, the minority was about 16%.

We stand with the majority of Vermonters on this issue.

We believe arts and culture serve as the heartbeat of thriving and healthy communities, enriching lives and forging connections that transcend boundaries, geographical or cultural. That, in turn, leads to richer experiences for audiences, and economic vitality — not just for arts venues but also the communities where venues are drawing the crowds.

If you think about what makes arts important in Vermont, you have to think about the state as a whole. Arts and culture are instrumental in shaping this state’s identity and that sense of place. Through visual arts, music, dance, literature and theater, communities express their collective history, values and aspirations. Every week we publish a long list of public art installations and galleries, local museums and cultural festivals. They all serve as repositories of community memory, preserving traditions and stories for future generations.

Directors of these venues will tell you, it is critical to longevity of the arts to attend as families, and get young people to attend time and again. (“Get kids’ butts in seats and you’ve got them for life.”) We need these cultural anchors, because they instill pride and belonging among residents, creating a shared narrative that strengthens social bonds and fosters a sense of unity. How many things can we point to (perhaps youth sports as a close second) can do that?

But it is the deeper impact we believe has the lasting effect.

As we can extrapolate from the poll results, arts and culture can stimulate creativity and innovation, essential ingredients for a dynamic community. Creative expression encourages critical thinking and problem-solving skills, nurturing a culture of innovation that extends beyond traditional artistic domains. Across Vermont, there are countless examples of creative industries such as design, media and technology thrive alongside traditional arts, driving economic growth and attracting investment. And right now, Vermont needs all the help it can get.

Ultimately, the poll results show that cultural events have a very positive effect on that “quality of life” we Vermonters constantly tout and propagandize. It brings us together in very intimate and meaningful ways.

Studies show that participation in arts and cultural activities promotes individual well-being and social inclusion. Engaging with the arts enhances cognitive abilities, boosts self-esteem and reduces stress levels. Whether through attending concerts, joining community art classes, or volunteering at local venues, individuals forge meaningful connections and build supportive networks, which is crucial to community building. Inclusive cultural programming ensures that diverse voices are heard and celebrated, fostering a sense of belonging among marginalized groups and promoting social equity. How much more Vermont can you get?

Ongoing success for the arts community comes down to money. For years, municipal and regional planners have leaned into the “creative economy.” The arts community has been a big part of that, and there have been notable successes across Vermont, including in Brattleboro, White River Junction, Rutland, Waterbury, Montpelier and Burlington.

Forbes reports that globally the creative economy is estimated to be worth $985 billion with no signs of slowing down. But that sustainability also includes constantly looking for grants, seeking donations and building on other forms of philanthropy.

Vermont needs cultural tourism to boost local economies, generate revenue, create jobs, and attract more folks to our downtowns. No doubt (and Jim Lowe will undoubtedly confirm) cultural tourism has emerged as a powerful driver of economic development, drawing visitors to museums, galleries, theaters, and venues across Vermont. Beyond direct spending, the cultural sector supports a network of businesses, from restaurants and hotels to retail shops.

By investing in arts and culture, Vermont communities not only enhance quality of life but also stimulate economic activity and generate long-term prosperity. That’s a smart, lasting approach we can’t live without.

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Portland Press Herald. June 23, 2024.

Editorial: Maine’s PFAS crisis demands change of approach

We’ve got to wrap our heads around the rising costs of solving this problem; they are only going to rise.

Whether or not it believes it can afford to do it, the state of Maine has a duty to mitigate PFAS in the drinking water of the households affected by sludge contamination.

If the state can’t solve the problem right away (which it can’t), it can certainly start taking meaningful steps in that direction.

As the Portland Press Herald/Maine Sunday Telegram reported last week, hundreds of Maine homes are “stranded in PFAS limbo.” These homes find themselves in a stress-inducing bind; by federal standards, their well water is too contaminated with the hazardous per- and polyfluorinated substances, or “forever chemicals,” to drink.

By state standards, however, it is not contaminated enough to qualify for help.

When we talk about these “hundreds” of homes – roughly 500 – we are talking only about the homes where the private wells have been tested by the state. However, how many more are contaminated by PFAS is anybody’s guess.

As multiple studies have borne out, you do not need to be situated near a sludge-afflicted farm, or any other known source, to be at risk. As this editorial board noted back in August 2022: “PFAS are now in our wells, our deer, our milk, our eggs and our fish. They rain down in parts of the world that have never otherwise encountered them.”

In recent years, this board has been mostly encouraged by the state-level efforts to mitigate and address PFAS. Few other states have taken appreciable action. In that 2022 editorial, we noted that the Maine state “interim” safety standard was a stringent 20 parts per trillion. Some standards were more stringent still; at the time, New Jersey’s was 13 parts per trillion.

“Safety thresholds keep dropping,” the board wrote. “We now know that a fraction of a part per trillion of one type of PFAS – so low it cannot be measured by lab detection methods – is enough to jeopardize health.”

A year later, we warmly welcomed the Environmental Protection Agency’s proposed national drinking water standards for water providers, which identified a 4 parts per trillion threshold for two targeted types of PFAS in water and 10 parts per trillion for three others – the minimum amounts detectable in testing.

That gap between the federal standard and the state standard – and what that results in for rightly worried Mainers – needs to be closed. And the state plans to do that.

As it stands, though, it has no plans to stop using 20 parts per trillion as the threshold for financial assistance to private citizens. That’s not based on the science, or the research, of which we have more and better by the day. No, it’s based on the budget.

This has to change, and fast.

Maine has invested about $100 million in its response to PFAS in the past two years. State assistance to people affected – to the tune of $15 million to help 484 Maine landowners contending with sludge-contaminated water – has involved providing bottled water to drink; covering payments for new connections to alternative water sources; and the installation and maintenance of often-costly water filtration systems.

Although that may seem like a lot of money, the reality is that far, far more is going to have to be poured into this crisis. It’s not as if we didn’t see this coming, and it’s not as if Maine doesn’t have a rainy day fund at capacity, or a budget surplus (we have both). The EPA can also be expected to release billions of dollars to states for the purpose of PFAS mitigation in the coming years.

There’s no good reason not to apply the same urgent logic to private landowners whose water is polluted – whether by state standards or by federal standards – as we applied to the establishment, in 2022, of the $60 million emergency fund to help farmers whose livelihoods were wrecked by PFAS.

It goes without saying that the ills of these extremely stubborn substances far exceed harm to professions and profits. Their presence poses a substantial risk to public health and safety, stretching way beyond the agricultural sector and into Mainers’ bloodstreams. The chemicals do not discriminate – playing a part in birth defects, cancers and cardiac events – why should we?

The EPA standards, paired with the high incidence PFAS contamination all over Maine, should inform reform of the state-level plan. The information we have about these noxious chemicals has changed in recent times – it has improved. The state’s response must change and improve with it.

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Boston Herald. June 26, 2024.

Editorial: Massachusetts wants migrants to stay away, still offers perks

Gov. Maura Healey is attempting to rip up the red carpet for migrants by sending members of her administration to the southern border in Texas. Their mission: to get the word out that shelter space is at peak capacity in Massachusetts.

Too little, too late, Governor.

Emergency Assistance Director Gen. Scott Rice said it is “essential” that the Healey administration spread the word “that our shelters are full so that families can plan accordingly to make sure they have a safe place to go.”

“This trip is an important opportunity to meet with families arriving in the U.S. and the organizations that work with them at the border to make sure they have accurate information about the lack of shelter space in Massachusetts,” Rice said in a statement.

One problem: Team Healey can insist all it wants to the folks in entry points like San Antonio, McAllen, Hidalgo and Brownsville that the Bay State is full up, but the reality is far different.

As long as Massachusetts has a right to shelter law on the books, they will come. As long as new shelter sites are “selected” around the state to house overflow crowds, they will come. As long as we issue drivers licenses regardless of immigration status, they will come. And as long as the Healey Administration pulls out the stops to get work authorizations for migrants, they will come.

You can throw out the welcome mat, but it doesn’t mean a thing if you leave the door wide open.

Though Healey signed off earlier this year on a nine-month limit for families with children and pregnant women to stay in state-run shelters, that’s still the offer of a place to stay for nine months, an appealing deal for those who want shelter ASAP. Even if the journey includes some nights bunking down in Logan Airport, the good people of the Healey Administration work tirelessly to find fresh shelter space.

Money is no object. The Healey administration spent $674 million on the emergency shelter system as of June 13, according to data released last week. Officials estimate costs could reach $932 million this fiscal year and $915 in fiscal year 2025. The state is buckling under the financial strain of housing and caring for the migrant influx, but it has yet to turn off the spigot and end the right to shelter law.

If the officials sent to Texas wanted to up the ante on futility, they could stop off in Washington and implore President Biden to close the border, not merely limit those allowed to cross. Fat chance, of course, which is why Healey’s going for a Hail Mary with the border trek.

Biden owns the border crisis, as it is he who undid former President Trump’s stricter immigration policies. Beleaguered leaders like Healey were left to pick up the pieces, yet they also acted as enablers, making cities and states more attractive to migrants with generous shelter policies and work authorizations.

It’s unlikely the visit to the border cities will do much of substance. Massachusetts is still attractive to migrants because of what we do, not what we say. And as long as that remains unchanged, they will come.

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Boston Globe. June 24, 2024.

Editorial: The Cannabis Control Commission has gone to pot

Mired in dysfunction, the agency in charge of regulating legal cannabis needs serious reform

Something stinks at the Cannabis Control Commission.

The state agency, created as a result of the 2016 ballot campaign to legalize marijuana and charged with regulating the nascent industry, has never been a model of speed, effectiveness, or transparency.

But over the last year, the commission has descended into outright dysfunction — to the point that a state watchdog has recommended the unusual step of placing it into receivership.

Clearly, it’s time to clean house — for the sake of cannabis consumers and business owners, and the general public that expects at least a baseline of competence in public officials. And it’s time for the state’s leaders, who have generally avoided the whole fiasco, to do more to end the dysfunction.

In a remarkable letter, Inspector General Jeffrey Shapiro wrote to the Legislature last week outlining the commission’s woes, urging lawmakers to revamp its governance structure, and suggesting they authorize the appointment of a receiver to run the agency in the meantime.

Governor Maura Healey, Treasurer Deborah Goldberg, and Attorney General Andrea Campbell, who are jointly responsible for appointing the five commissioners, have largely taken a hands-off approach to commission operations. The turmoil should be the impetus they need to vocally push for reforms.

Healey’s spokesperson said the governor “shares the concerns that have been raised about the ongoing situation” and is prepared to work with the Legislature and other appointing authorities on a path forward. Campbell and Goldberg also said in prepared statements that they will work with the Legislature to address concerns.

In a written response to Shapiro, though, Cannabis Control Commission acting chair Ava Callender Concepcion disputed Shapiro’s conclusions, calling the receivership proposal “ill-advised,” and questioning whether he had authority to recommend governance changes.

So what’s the fuss all about?

Where do we start?

The most high-profile brouhaha is Goldberg’s suspension of Cannabis Control Commission chair Shannon O’Brien last September over still-murky allegations. O’Brien challenged the suspension in court, and following a process approved by a judge, Goldberg held four days of closed-door hearings into whether to terminate O’Brien, concluding June 17. This personnel clash should never have dragged on for nine months, and Goldberg needs to quickly conclude it so the commission can move forward.

But O’Brien’s departure is symptomatic of larger issues. Four of five original commissioners — including initial chair Steve Hoffman — left before their terms were up. Virtually the entire senior staff has turned over, including the agency’s first executive director, Shawn Collins. The 134-person agency has 22 vacancies.

At a June meeting, commissioners voted to strip acting executive director Debbie Hilton-Creek of her responsibilities overseeing daily operations, instructing her to focus on human resources. Commissioner Kimberly Roy said the commission’s vote violated state law.

Separately, WBUR reported that three former high-level female commission staff alleged they were bullied by Cedric Sinclair, the agency’s communications head who was suspended in December.

Shapiro said conflicts stem from a governance structure where lines of responsibility are vague. “The problems that have plagued the CCC have roots in the CCC’s enabling statute, which is unclear and self-contradictory with minimal guidance on the authority and differing responsibilities of the CCC’s commissioners and staff,” he wrote. Since May 2022, Shapiro said, the CCC spent more than $160,000 on mediation to draft a governance charter, but no draft has been released. (Concepcion said a document is in the final stages of legal review.) Shapiro said in an interview that an employee who questions one leader and doesn’t like the answer can go to another leader. “The OIG finds that a commission structure is not suitable for running the day-to-day operations of a state agency with as many responsibilities as the CCC,” Shapiro wrote.

The leadership structure — five commissioners named by three appointing authorities and a staff run by an executive director — is unusual, but not unprecedented. It works for the Massachusetts Gaming Commission. But an industry overseeing a few large casinos is different from one regulating myriad small businesses. A more parallel regulatory body would be the Alcoholic Beverages Control Commission run by Goldberg’s office. In fact, the ballot question legalizing marijuana envisioned a similar structure of three commissioners overseen by the treasurer. It was only the Legislature’s rewrite of the law that mimicked the gaming commission.

Lawmakers could consider different governance options: a commission under one agency, an executive branch department, or a revamped commission where responsibilities are more clearly delegated. There might be a way to separate the agency’s public policy responsibilities — like ensuring social equity — from operational responsibilities, like investigations and human resources. While Concepcion suggests that shared decision-making protects the public by reducing the potential for corruption, it also means no one person is in charge. The commission needs the “buck stops here” accountability that today is lacking.

The Cannabis Control Commission has serious responsibilities. Cannabis produces $1 billion in sales annually in Massachusetts and raises $322 million a year in tax revenue, with 634 operating businesses. As Concepcion noted, the commission has had accomplishments, including a recent decision to allow marijuana to be transported to Martha’s Vineyard and Nantucket. But the agency still hasn’t stood up “social consumption” sites like marijuana cafes. It dragged its feet implementing rule changes in the delivery industry. It is still working to ensure that people disproportionately affected by prior drug law enforcement can enter the industry, even as existing retailers struggle with plummeting prices. Industry attorneys say agency staff take a long time to answer questions, clarify regulations, and issue licenses.

Receivership for a state agency is unprecedented, and it would be up to lawmakers to decide who appoints a receiver and their responsibilities. It is not a long-term solution, but a short-term tool to buy lawmakers time to craft a governance plan. But it might be necessary.

As State Senator Michael Moore, a prominent critic of the commission, said in an interview with the editorial board, the cannabis industry is new and important. “There’s a lot of potential here, but we need to reset it and make sure we put in a structural governance plan that’s going to enhance the industry rather than hurt the industry,” Moore said.

For that to happen, the most crucial step is for Healey and legislators to decide they’ve had enough of the chaos and step in with the reforms the agency needs.

END

News from © The Associated Press, 2024
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