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Editorial Roundup: New England

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Hartford Courant. October 13, 2022.

Editorial: Hartford must have a powerful voice in choice of courthouse site

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The reactions came soon after the news had been shared about three sites in downtown Hartford being considered as the location for a new federal courthouse.

The U.S. General Services Administration, with oversight on development of federal buildings, named the potential sites for the $335 million project that would replace the aging Abraham A. Ribicoff Federal Building and Courthouse on Main Street.

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The sites: a parking lot on Allyn Street; a parking lot at 10 Ford St., (where the former Parkview Hilton hotel sat until it was torn down in 1990); and a parking lot in the area known as “Bushnell South,” at the corner of Capitol Avenue and Hudson Street.

that might sound like an awful lot of parking lots, but the concerns that arose are about the value of the land for mixed-use redevelopment, including that commodity so precious in Connecticut: housing.

Mayor Luke Bronin was the first to point out, and we think rightly so, that the city appreciates the commitment to building a new courthouse in Hartford, but that it needs to be “in the right location and with the right design, a courthouse could complement our economic development work.”

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Even more importantly, Bronin noted an issue that could impact residents in a city that needs all the revenue it can get. “It would be a shame to put a tax exempt courthouse in a location where there are active efforts underway to pursue taxable residential development,” he said.

Capital Region Development Authority Executive Director Michael W. Freimuth also raised questions about the choice of potential sites and the tax consequences. “This is a large tax-exempt use with marginal economic spin so we really need to be conscious to get optimum balance between the federal needs/requirements and the existing municipal plans and efforts at these locations,” Freimuth told The Courant. THE CRDA is the quasi-public that is overseeing the area’s development.

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U.S. Sen. Richard Blumenthal, D-Conn., and U.S. Rep. John Larson, D-1, also weighed in, saying in a joint statement they were pleased that the courthouse project was proceeding. But the lawmakers also noted they would work closely with GSA and the city “to ensure that the final site selection is consistent with the city’s economic development needs.”

We know that Hartford is very developed and land for any structure is not easy to come by. The city also has multiple brownfields — those are polluted sites — that need to be cleaned up and that can present limits on how that land can be used.

Add these constraints to the worries Bronin has about tax rolls, locations and complementing development, and the choice of a site for a new courthouse becomes all the more important.

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We understand the reasoning behind the goal of new courthouse: There are space, security and building condition issues with the current structure on Main Street.

Further, a new courthouse would have 11 courtrooms and 18 chambers for judges, compared to the current eight courtrooms and 11 chambers. That’s more space for more government business to get done.

There’s no timetable yet for a decision on the site of the courthouse, and groundbreaking could be years away.

Bronin and other officials want to work with the GSA during the site selection process, and along with further study of the sites there needs to be a period of public comment.

Bronin and others, including Blumenthal and Larson, must be given every opportunity to work with GSA to minimize or eliminate any tax impacts and ensure this project benefits the city and the federal government.

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Hearst Connecticut Media. October 19, 2022.

Editorial: CT can leverage boom in business startups

If Connecticut can seize the moment, we could be on the crest of the Age of the Entrepreneur.

The state is in the midst of a welcome boom in applications for new business startups, which is making the gubernatorial candidates sound like entrepreneurs themselves.

Like any business improving its product to ward off the competition, that’s a good thing for the consumer. Republican candidate Bob Stefanowski is criticizing incumbent Ned Lamont for not doing more to nurture a welcoming environment for new businesses. Independent candidate Rob Hotaling says he would enhance the investment capacity of Connecticut Innovations, the state’s quasi-public technology investment arm.

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In other words, while Lamont the candidate is typically criticized for spending too freely, he is accused of being too tight with the state’s purses when it comes to new business.

Lamont counters that the state has initiated the $75 million Boost Fund to offer new businesses “a little scratch” in the form of a low-interest loan.

Unlike many hot button issues (gun control, affordable housing), this is a case where everyone wants the same thing.

Whoever wins on Election Day should welcome worthy suggestions regardless of which political camp is pitching them. So let the candidates squabble over the issue in these final three weeks.

It’s also important to consider the approaches taken by other states that are also seeing booms. The measuring stick is an Internal Revenue Service record of Connecticut residents who filed an intent to add payroll. From January 2021 through September, there were such filings from 23,600 state residents. That’s a 31 percent increase when compared with the same period in 2018-19, second among Northeast states only to New Hampshire’s 40 percent.

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The start dates are significant, as January 2021 is 10 months after the arrival of COVID-19 shuttered business and crippled the economy, and 2018-19 represents a reliable comparison because it is pre-pandemic.

The fever chart shows there were more filings in 2021 than in 2022, though there was another noticeable spike in August.

Any entrepreneur faces obstacles, and starting a business in Connecticut in 2022 comes with a few bonus challenges. The job market is tight, so labor won’t come cheap. And the Federal Reserve raised interest rates, meaning startup loans will be pricier.

Connecticut is gambling here as well, and is rooting for a lot of success stories. So the state needs to do more than merely produce loans. It needs to ensure it has enough resources to scout and aggressively support startups that could produce a return in investments.

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That’s the bigger picture. On a smaller scale, it’s exciting to bear witness to Connecticut residents who are in the process or reinventing themselves, pursuing dreams, embracing ambitions.

In the aftermath of a historic time period where so many lives were at risk, people are willing to take more chances on their futures.

That’s a gamble for both the entrepreneur and their backers. There will be failures. But there is also a chance to taste something new at eateries, to discover unique products, to witness scientific innovation. If Connecticut does not embrace the idea of the new, there can be no Age of the Entrepreneur.

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Bangor Daily News. October 19, 2022.

Editorial: Ed Muskie and the Clean Water Act

This week the Clean Water Act turns 50. Maine Sen. Ed Muskie is considered a prime champion of the law, its grandfather, if you will. The act, along with the Clean Air Act, which Muskie considered more important, was the impetus for major improvement in our environment. Both air and water pollution have been significantly reduced since these laws were pushed by the senator from Rumford, who went on to be a U.S. Secretary of State.

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The Clean Water Act became law on October 18, 1972. It was vetoed by President Richard Nixon, but his veto was quickly overridden.

Passing the bill took a lot of persuasion, something Muskie undertook through a series of speeches across the country. He spoke to civic leaders and to everyday people to spread his message of protecting the environment, for all Americans, not just for “speculators” who sought to buy it up for their own use, or for other commercial interests.

Some of these remarks were recently curated by Bates College, where Muskie graduated with a degree in history and government in 1936. They touch on what are now familiar themes: protecting our water and air for all Mainers; recognizing environmental protection as a means of economic development.

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Here is a sampling.

Speaking at an Elks Lodge in Millinocket in October 1970, Muskie made the case for preserving the environment as a way to create jobs.

“I was asked on your radio this afternoon… if I had but one wish that I could make for Maine, what would that wish be? My answer was that I hope we find a way to create economic opportunity for all people without destroying the beauty that is this state,” Muskie said. “So I say that was my very quick reaction but now that I’ve had a few hours to think about it, I can’t think of another wish that I would make.”

“But the challenge that is in it for us, is that we begin to look at this precious resource through different eyes; that we begin to be more selective about the uses to which we’re willing to put it; that we begin to think more in terms of public ownership of these shorelands, both lake and ocean, to ensure that the public as a whole has reasonable access to it; that we adopt the kind of public policy that ensures that a reasonable proportion of these wildlands be retained in that state so that our children, as well as we, can remember what it’s like to camp out where you can hear a loon, to walk through miles of wilderness where you have the impression no one else has ever been.”

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Speaking to the conference of the National Association of Counties in March 1970, Muskie emphasized the human connection to the environment.

“And we should all understand that we are all in the same boat,” he said. “That what happens to our environment must make a difference to all of us, whoever we are. And that what happens to each of us, must make a difference to the rest of us. So we must reclaim the total human environment.”

In a speech after the Clean Air Act was enacted, Muskie sought to humanize the importance of protecting our environment and to remind people that they knew what it meant to have clean water and air.

“As citizens, you know what dirty water is,” he said to the Housatonic Valley Association in Newtown, Connecticut in October 1973. “You know when you cannot swim in the Housatonic River, you know when those tributaries you used to fish no longer have trout. You know that’s pollution. And I’m not sure you’re interested in the exact quantity of suspended solids or the oxygen demand in the river, but (what) you are interested in is getting an unhealthy environment healthy, getting a dirty river clean.”

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Although he did not name the former Maine senator, President Joe Biden recognized the efforts of Muskie and others who pushed for environmental improvements in a proclamation marking the Clean Water Act’s 50th anniversary.

“Fifty years ago, the Congress passed the Clean Water Act of 1972, revolutionizing America’s responsibility to protect and restore the vital waterways that sustain our communities, our economy, and our ecosystems,” the proclamation said..

“Five decades later, our Nation’s waters are dramatically cleaner. Once dead rivers and lakes are now flourishing with wildlife. People have returned to boat, fish, and swim. Sacred waters that Tribal Nations have relied on for generations are clean again,” the proclamation added. “It is a powerful tribute not only to the activists who first sounded the alarm, built a movement, and fought to pass this powerful law but also to the Americans everywhere who have since done so much to help enforce it, safeguarding our waterways and taking on polluters in court.”

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Boston Globe. October 18, 2022.

Editorial: Cannabis commission needs to right its regulatory ship

Holyoke death investigation points to a tail wagging the dog scenario at the agency.

A 27-year-old woman collapsed on the job at a cannabis processing facility in Holyoke in January, dying several days later — a fact that didn’t become widely known for eight months — and now nine months after Lorna McMurrey’s death an investigation by the state’s cannabis regulators is still incomplete.

That raises the issue of worker safety at the plant run by a company with multiple citations at its various operations in Florida, Pennsylvania, and now Holyoke by the federal Occupational Safety and Health Administration.

It also raises issues of transparency and effectiveness for the Cannabis Control Commission, an agency that has prided itself on being the gold standard on both during its just over five years in business.

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The story of McMurrey’s death was first widely discussed in late September by cannabis activist Mike Crawford on his podcast “The Young Jurks.” He quoted a co-worker of McMurrey’s who said she had quit the Trulieve Grow Facility a month earlier over conditions at the plant. She leveled the accusation in a post on McMurrey’s online obituary.

McMurrey, according to her family, was filling pre-rolled joints with ground cannabis flowers at the facility when she complained of being unable to breathe. She was taken by ambulance to a nearby hospital where she died several days later.

The company reports it notified OSHA immediately, as required by law, and state regulators. But when news of the death broke last month, Commissioner Bruce Stebbins, who was a commission member at the time of McMurrey’s death, and newly appointed Commission Chair Shannon O’Brien were both flummoxed.

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They were blindsided, it appears, by their own staff, who now insist an investigation into health and safety practices at the facility had already begun before McMurrey’s death and was continuing. According to a statement released Friday by the Cannabis Control Commission, it’s apparently standard operating procedure to keep the five commissioners in the dark lest their role as “ultimate arbiter” be compromised.

“To avoid pre-judging any applicant or licensee, Cannabis Control Commissioners are not customarily privy to investigations that are being performed at the staff level,” the statement read. “If an investigation leads to an administrative enforcement action, Commissioners hold a place as ultimate arbiter in an appeal procedure.”

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Is there some parallel universe in which this tail wagging the dog scenario makes sense? It would be the equivalent of, say, the FBI going out and doing an investigation but keeping the local US attorney’s office in the dark until it deemed a case worthy of prosecution.

The investigation was launched in the fall of 2021, before McMurrey’s death, in response to “employee complaints.” One former employee interviewed by the Globe who quit in August 2021 complained that the firm only provided paper medical-style masks and that most workers were afraid to speak up about safety concerns.

And while that isn’t unusual in the industry, a report by a working group in Colorado studying health and safety issues found, “they do not provide a level of respiratory protection compared to disposable filtering facepiece respirators approved by the National Institute for Occupational Safety and Health.”

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It’s hard not to wonder whether a more timely investigation of the 2021 complaint might have averted McMurrey’s death.

OSHA fined Trulieve more than $35,000 in connection with the McMurrey fatality — findings the company is contesting, arguing, according to a company spokesperson, that dust levels at the facility were “well below acceptable ranges.” The case is one of six still-open OSHA cases involving Trulieve facilities. In 2020 the company was fined more than $10,000 for violations at Florida facilities of respiratory protection and hazard communication rules. Six of the seven violations were deemed “serious” by OSHA.

The CCC statement also noted that since being advised of McMurrey’s death it “has collaborated with state and federal agencies,” including the state Department of Public Health and OSHA, which, it noted “has primary jurisdiction of incidents involving workplace safety.”

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Well, OSHA has had its say — albeit one that is being contested. The CCC retains the right to inspect facilities under its jurisdiction at any time for any reason. But all of that is pretty meaningless to the workers who report day in and day out to a facility where one young woman died and other workers have filed complaints that to this day remain unanswered.

A self-congratulatory press release issued last month on the commission’s fifth anniversary, noted, “Maintaining public health, safety, and welfare is a central pillar of both the Commission’s work and a safe cannabis industry, beginning with ensuring licensee compliance with agency regulations.”

Surely that includes workplace safety.

It’s long past time for commissioners, including the new chair, to demand a role in an investigatory process instead of leaving it to the commission’s bureaucracy. It’s that bureaucracy that has gone more than nine months without issuing a report or — until Friday — a single public statement on the McMurrey death and its aftermath. For a commission that has prided itself on transparency, that’s a disgrace. It’s also a wake-up call to do better.

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Boston Herald. October 14, 2022.

Editorial: Beacon Hill has cash for EVs, how about heat?

Criminals don’t care about age.

Gunning down a 14-year-old boy and stabbing a 91-year-old woman don’t keep them up at night.

Criminals don’t care if their victims are heading into school, sitting on their front porch, or walking their dog in a local park.

It doesn’t concern them that neighborhoods live in fear, that mothers are afraid to let their children play outside, that families don’t feel safe in their own homes as bullets shatter windows.

It’s just business.

Not if you’re living and working in Boston neighborhoods besieged by violence. Then it’s a nightmare, one that continues unabated despite the thoughts and prayers of city leaders.

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Boston Mayor Michelle Wu spoke after civil rights icon Jean McGuire was attacked this week.

“I am disgusted and angry to know that an elder in our community had to fear for her safety going about her daily routine, walking her dog,” Wu said.

That was Tuesday. On Wednesday Wu and members of her administration announced plans to overhaul Boston Common.

Wu said the “Boston Common Master Plan Draft Report” has ideas that aim to be “weaving together all of the possibilities in every nook and cranny of this space.”

As the Herald reported, the city wants the entryways into the park to be more inviting, and for the whole thing to feel more stitched together, with better signage potentially with something akin to a mini-Freedom Trail line on the ground connecting several of the more significant monuments, including the soon-to-be unveiled The Embrace statue honoring Martin Luther King Jr. and Coretta Scott King.

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How much will it cost? That remains unclear — but “a whole lot” would be a safe guess.

At the same time, some two dozen Boston Police officers opted to transfer from the force and join Boston Fire. As the Herald reported, it’s an unusually large swing among the city’s first responders.

Boston Police Patrolmen’s Association President Larry Calderone noted “The officers leaving will tell you they’re sick and tired of being taken for granted and disrespected by the never ending criticism associated with the ‘defund the police’ movement.”

Cam Goggins of Live Boston, a nonprofit that works with first-responder groups across both police and fire, chalked the exodus up to what many cops see as the understaffing of the police department and the forced overtime.

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“It speaks to the culture of the Boston Police Department where the pressure of that understaffing has rolled down onto the shoulders of the officers,” he said, also saying that the “anti-police rhetoric” from politicians had further decreased morale.

The all-police-are-bad crowd would disagree, but Boston needs more police on our streets. We certainly don’t have a shortage of criminals, or wannabe gangsters using weapons to make their point.

And to increase the ranks of the BPD, you need funding.

We’re not saying the plan to give the Boston Common an overhaul is bad — but the timing is.

Parents are worried about their kids being safe in Boston Public schools, walking home, or even hanging out in front of the house. And we’re sure many are thinking twice about a walk through a local park.

Before raising cash for a Common redo, Boston should find funding to make our streets safe.

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