Monday, July 18, 2022

As Sports Betting Grows, States Tackle Teenage Problem Gambling -- July 12, 2022 Stateline

Read it here -- 

As Sports Betting Grows, States Tackle Teenage Problem Gambling 
By: Marsha Mercer 
Read time: 6 min

Friday, June 17, 2022

Juneteenth is not a legal holiday in most states -- Stateline June 17, 2022

 My latest story on Stateline --


A year after Juneteenth became a federal holiday commemorating the end of slavery in the United States, most states have yet to enact Juneteenth legal holidays.

When President Joe Biden signed the holiday into federal law June 17, 2021, only a handful of states had Juneteenth holidays with paid time off for state employees: Illinois, Louisiana, Maine, Massachusetts, New York, Oregon, Texas, Virginia and Washington.

At least another eight in the past year have elevated Juneteenth to paid state holidays: Colorado, Connecticut, Delaware, Georgia, Maryland, Nebraska, Ohio and South Dakota.

Long celebrated in the Black community as Freedom Day, Independence Day or Emancipation Day, Juneteenth is a time for get-togethers, picnics, concerts and reflection. Establishing federal and state legal Juneteenth holidays guarantees attention to painful United States history that is still unknown to many Americans, an annual assessment of racism in society, and celebrations of Black culture, history and achievement.

“It’s an issue of respect,” Oregon Democratic state Sen. Lew Frederick, who carried the Juneteenth bill that the legislature unanimously passed, said in an interview. “We need to understand just what our history is about and move from there. It will increase our awareness of other issues associated with the history of racism in this country.”

Juneteenth is short for June the 19th, the day in 1865 when U.S. Major General Gordon Granger arrived in Galveston, Texas, and read General Order Number 3, which informed about 250,000 enslaved people in Texas that they were free. The handwritten order said, in part: “All slaves are free. This involves an absolute equality of personal rights and rights of property, between former masters and slaves, and the connection heretofore existing between them, becomes that between employer and hired labor.”

President Abraham Lincoln had signed the Emancipation Proclamation, freeing slaves in the states that were in rebellion against the Union effective Jan. 1, 1863, but Union troops did not reach the westernmost Confederate state to enforce the order for two and a half years. In January 1865, Congress passed the 13th Amendment abolishing slavery in the entire country. General Robert E. Lee surrendered the last major Confederate army that April, and the 13th Amendment was ratified the following December.

Texas was the first state with an official Juneteenth holiday in 1980. But it was not until the racial reckoning sparked by the police murder of George Floyd in 2020 that momentum built elsewhere for federal and state Juneteenth holidays.

Each state decides its own state government holidays, and there is no centralized tracking of Juneteenth state legal holidays.

In some states, the cost of another state holiday has been cited as an obstacle, as has lack of awareness of Juneteenth.

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In Connecticut, where only two lawmakers voted against making Juneteenth a paid state holiday, state Rep. Gale Mastrofrancesco, a Republican, said in an interview: “My only objection is, it’s another paid holiday.” She added that state workers now can accrue 46 paid days off a year—15 vacation days, 15 sick days, three personal days and now 13 holidays.

“Nine weeks! I don’t see anyone in the private sector getting that much time off with pay,” she said.

Connecticut state Sen. Rob Sampson, a Republican and the other “no” vote, said in an interview, “Juneteenth is very important to me. Abraham Lincoln is the reason I became a Republican.”

But, he said, the extra holiday was “a reach for us.” The legislature had just passed 2.5% annual pay raises for each of four years as well as bonuses for state employees.

As ranking members of the committee that oversees government administration, Mastrofrancesco and Sampson tried to persuade their Republican colleagues to vote against the holiday, but none did.

“I maintain they were wrong, and so were the Democrats,” Sampson said.

For some legislators, Juneteenth is particularly personal. In Connecticut, during an emotional three-hour floor debate, several state representatives shared stories of their experiences with racism and intimidation.

“I was tugged in different ways, depending on who was speaking,” Democratic state Rep. Geraldo Reyes Jr., chair of the Black and Puerto Rican Caucus, who presided over the debate, said in an interview.

“I can understand the argument from the other side, but this is not just about dollars and cents,” he said. “This is part of the restitution that has never been made to people of color that I believe everyone will benefit from.”

Several Connecticut lawmakers said they had not heard of Juneteenth, Reyes said, and he himself learned about it only six or seven years ago when there was a local celebration.

In Oregon, during debate on the Juneteenth holiday last year, Frederick, 70, spoke about his personal history in the civil rights movement in the South—he first experienced tear gas at the age of 8 at a demonstration—and showed pictures of generations of his family.

“A lot of what we’re doing is acknowledging Oregon started off on the wrong foot,” Frederick told Stateline. In the 1840s, Oregon’s provisional government passed Black exclusion laws that prohibited Black people from settling there. Admitted to the Union in 1859 with a Black-exclusion clause, Oregon was the only state that joined as Whites-only.

Tennessee Republican Gov. Bill Lee included funding for a state Juneteenth holiday in his proposed budget this year. The paid holiday proposal died in the GOP-controlled legislature after state Sen. Joey Hensley, a Republican, said in a February committee hearing that he had asked well over a hundred people in his district what Juneteenth is, and only two of them knew.

“I just think it’s putting the cart before the horse to make a holiday people don’t know about. We need to educate people first and then make a holiday if we need to,” Hensley said.

“It was really disappointing,” Tennessee state Sen. Raumesh Akbari, a Democrat who sponsored the Juneteenth bill, said in an interview. “We think this is important enough to recognize as a state.”

Even though Tennessee will not have a paid holiday for state employees, Nashville and Chattanooga are among dozens of cities nationwide that have announced paid Juneteenth holidays for city employees.

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The last new federal holiday was created in 1983, when President Ronald Reagan signed into law a holiday for the birthday of Martin Luther King Jr.; it’s observed on the third Monday in January. The federal MLK birthday holiday was first observed nationally in 1986 but was not made a state government holiday in all states until 2000.

Some disagreement has arisen about which Emancipation Day states should commemorate. The District of Columbia now has paid holidays on April 15, the district’s Emancipation Day, along with Juneteenth.

In Florida, a Juneteenth state holiday bill died after some historians argued the state should honor Florida’s Emancipation Day instead. A Union general read the Emancipation Proclamation in Tallahassee on May 20, 1865.

Other states recognize Juneteenth with a day of remembrance or observance, but they aren’t legal holidays and do not entitle state employees to paid time off. North Dakota was one of the last to recognize Juneteenth, passing in June 2021 a ceremonial Juneteenth observance rather than a state legal holiday.

California has had a Juneteenth Day of Observance since 2003. A bill to make Juneteenth a legal state holiday is pending in the legislature.

Several governors in states without a permanent Juneteenth holiday on the books have used their executive power to declare a one-time paid holiday for state employees. As Juneteenth falls on a Sunday this year, the holiday is being celebrated on the Friday before or Monday after.

In both Alabama and Mississippi, the birthday of Martin Luther King Jr. and the birthday of Confederate General Robert E. Lee are a shared paid state holiday. Alabama Republican Gov. Kay Ivey declared June 20 a Juneteenth state holiday for 2022, closing all state offices.

West Virginia Republican Gov. Jim Justice made Juneteenth a paid state holiday this year to be observed on June 17.

And in North Carolina, Democratic Gov. Roy Cooper signed an order June 6, granting workers in Cabinet agencies in state government eight hours of “Personal Observance Leave,” which they can take June 20, or any other day.

A Juneteenth holiday bill failed in South Carolina, where Confederate Memorial Day on May 10 is a state legal holiday. A compromise that would have allowed state employees their choice of Juneteenth, Confederate Memorial Day or any other day off with pay didn’t get out of committee this session.

“Juneteenth is a very important day off, in South Carolina in particular, since it is the state that started the Civil War, firing on Fort Sumter and first state to secede,” state Sen. Darrell Jackson, a Democrat who sponsored the bill, said in an interview.

“There are people like me who don’t feel comfortable celebrating Confederate Memorial Day. How could I?” said Jackson, who traces his family back five generations, including three generations of slaves.

“I’m going to reintroduce the bill early on” next session, he said, adding he hopes it will have a better chance when it’s not an election year and legislators who may have been reluctant to express an opinion will feel freer to do so.

Stateline Oct11

More States Say Goodbye to Columbus Day

Tuesday, May 31, 2022

State parks try to attract more diverse visitors -- 31 May 2022

My latest on, the online news service of the Pew Charitable Trusts 

Thursday, May 12, 2022

An island vacation to imagine -- May 12, 2022 column


Planning a vacation? Consider this alluring place in Virginia:


“The Unrivalled Health and Summer Resort of the Atlantic Coast



And this: “It is almost unnecessary to speak of the many and great advantages of Cobb’s Island as a Seaside Resort and Watering Place, unrivalled for its surf-bathing and magnificent view of the ocean.”

Or this, also about Cobb’s Island Hotel, from a Richmond newspaper: “There is a peculiar, indefinable charm about this spot which every one who lingers here twenty-four hours is sure to experience.”

But, don’t reach for your phone to book a room.  

The flyer and the newspaper report are from the 1890s. Cobb’s Island Hotel, once one of the most famous hunting, fishing and swimming resorts on the East Coast, is no more. Nor are the other hunt clubs and hotels that dotted the Virginia barrier islands from the late 1800s until 1933.

The Barrier Islands Center in Machipongo tells the fascinating story of a lost way of life and culture through professionally produced documentaries and beautifully curated rooms with more than 7,000 artifacts.

In the 1990s, “Eastern Shore people saw their artifacts become very collectable and they were getting bought up and leaving the shore, and once something leaves the area, it’s gone,” said Sally Dickinson, director of the center. “So the founders said, `Wouldn’t it be great to have a museum.”

Islanders and their descendants loaned or donated the photos, objects of everyday life, decoys, fishing rods, china and even an ornate silver set from Cobb’s Island Hotel. The center will celebrate its 20th anniversary May 28 with an Art and Music on the Farm Festival.

Nathan F. Cobb came to the Eastern Shore from Cape Cod in 1838, seeking a better climate for his wife and daughters who suffered from consumption. The next year, he bought what became known as Cobb’s Island for $100 or $150, depending on the account, built a hotel and began a lucrative business salvaging contents from ships that ran aground.

He and his three sons reportedly never charged a penny for saving crewmembers’ lives but made out well from the goods the ships carried. His hotel would include a chapel, bowling alley, dining room and ballroom.

The coming of the railroad down the Eastern Shore peninsula in the 1880s ushered a golden age for the island resorts. Instead of taking a steamer and several boats, a wealthy passenger could board a train in New York or Philadelphia in the morning, catch a short boat ride, and arrive in time for dinner.

These were thriving villages with general stores, post offices, schools and churches. Generations of residents grew, caught or hunted their own food, raised sheep and spun wool.

In the late 1800s, Atlantic Ocean storms swept over the fragile, sandy islands and claimed for the seabed many of the communities where 19th century entrepreneurs had staked their claims to hospitality. The Great Hurricane of August 1933 wreaked havoc on the islands, ending the era, but there was a bright spot.

The hurricane cut an inlet between Ocean City and Assateague Island. The Army Corps of Engineers made the inlet permanent, creating a tourist boom for Ocean City while leaving Assateague Island separate. It now is a pristine national seashore and wildlife refuge, while Ocean City attracts more than 300,000 visitors on summer weekends.

In the 1960s, Virginia’s 14 undeveloped barrier islands seemed headed the way of Ocean City as developers eyed building bridges and erecting hotels. The Nature Conservancy bought the islands and is preserving them in their natural state – an almost unbelievable stroke of luck for us and later generations. People can go by boat and visit for the day except for certain times of the year.

You can’t stay on Cobb’s Island, but you can step up to the hotel’s wooden reception desk, look at the handwritten names in the guest register and see the original room keys -- at the Barrier Islands Center.

And you can visit the barrier islands, designated an International Biosphere Reserve by the United Nations, a vital refuge for shorebirds and seabirds on the Atlantic Flyway, in their natural state.

©2022 Marsha Mercer. All rights reserved.

Monday, May 9, 2022

On Stateline, the online news service of the Pew Charitable Trusts



State Supreme Courts Are (Slowly) Starting to Look More Like America

Can we stop the exodus of teachers? -- May 5, 2022 column


If you’ve ever wondered, as I have, what former presidents chat about when they’re sitting together, waiting for an event to start, President Joe Biden gave us a glimpse.

Before the funeral of former Secretary of State Madeleine Albright April 27 at the National Cathedral, Biden told former Presidents Barack Obama and Bill Clinton he would be welcoming the Teacher of the Year to the White House that afternoon.

“And they all talked about how much they enjoyed the years they were here with the Teacher of the Year event,” Biden said told the teachers later.

I can almost hear some readers snickering that teachers are a big Democratic constituency, so it’s no wonder Democratic presidents welcome them. That may be true, but it’s offpoint. 

Teachers are among the professionals -- along with first responders, health care workers and military personnel -- who deserve support and respect from all of us, regardless of our politics, especially during the pandemic.

But surveys suggest educators – everyone from teachers to bus drivers to cafeteria ladies -- are fed up, and many are considering quitting.

Fifty-five percent of educators say they’re thinking of leaving the field, according to a National Education Association member survey released in February. That includes 62% of Black and 59% of Hispanic NEA members.

Heavier workloads to cover for absent employees, pay that fails to keep up with inflation and lack of respect from students and parents are among the factors.

The average teacher salary nationwide is $66,397 for the 2021-22 school year, which, when adjusted for inflation, means pay is down 3.9% over the last decade, the NEA reported.

The average budgeted classroom teacher salary in Virginia for fiscal year 2022 is $62,101, less than a 1% increase from the previous fiscal year, the Virginia Department of Education reported in January. Virginia ranked 28th in teacher salaries in the nation in 2019-2000, according to NEA calculations.

Contributing to burnout is the fact schools and teachers have become pawns in our culture wars.

In Virginia, candidate Glenn Youngkin campaigned on restoring educational excellence but as governor launched a “Help Education” tip line so parents can report – call it what it is: snitch on – school officials who teach “divisive” lessons. That’s not supporting schools and teachers; that’s intimidation.  

Worse, he refused to release records related to the tip line under the Freedom of Information Act, claiming they are “working papers and correspondence.” So much for transparency. The Washington Post and a dozen other news organizations filed suit April 13, seeking the records.

At the Teacher of the Year celebration, Biden decried the politicization of education, saying: “Today, there are too many politicians trying to score political points, trying to ban books, even math books . . . Did you ever think, when you’d be teaching, that you’d be worried about book burnings and banning books, all because it doesn’t fit somebody’s political agenda?”

Teachers have enough to worry about, with staying healthy and helping their students who have fallen seven to nine months behind in their learning during COVID-19.

The activism of conservative-leaning parents, ginned up by closed schools and mask mandates, is probably here to stay for the foreseeable future, but other parents also need to step up to support teachers and make their voices heard. 

Biden touted the American Rescue Plan, which he signed in March 2021, that included $122 billion in emergency relief funds for elementary and secondary schools as well as an additional $8 billion to states and school districts to meet needs of students with disabilities and $800 million for students experiencing homelessness.

All 50 states submitted plans for spending the money and are implementing them. Localities added about 279,000 education jobs in 2021 and 46,000 more in the first two months of 2022. But more needs to be done to help teachers.

“American teachers have dedicated their lives to teaching our children and lifting them up. We’ve got to stop making them the target of the culture wars,” Biden said.

And he added, “It’s not enough to give teachers praise. We ought to give you a raise.”

© 2022 Marsha Mercer. All rights reserved.

Thursday, April 28, 2022

What a wild turkey tells us about Washington -- April 28, 2022 column


A wild turkey is terrorizing people on a bike trail in the District of Columbia. Several runners and bicyclists report being menaced by the angry bird.

“There’s actually a pretty healthy turkey population in D.C. and the surrounding areas,” Dan Rauch, a wildlife biologist with the district’s department of the environment, told NBC 4 in Washington. “There’s at least a hundred, maybe even two, here in the District.”

Oh, come on. Everybody knows there are more turkeys than that in Washington.

At least that’s what the polls say. President Joe Biden and Congress both suffer from rock-bottom approval ratings. Only about 40% of people approve of the job Biden is doing, and Congress’s approval rating is even lower.

Only about 25% approve of the job Congress is doing, according to the latest Real Clear Politics poll average. Slightly more – but only slightly – think the country is moving in the right direction, about 30%, according to RCP’s poll average.

The rampaging turkey looks diligent compared with the do-nothings in Washington.  

It’s spring, but in the nation’s capital it feels like the dark days of fall – as in election season. The midterms may be six months away, but Democrats and Republicans are so busy attacking each other they can’t get anything accomplished.

The country is awash with problems – inflation, the pandemic (still with us) and the crisis at the border, chief among them. Government is supposed to solve problems, or at least try, but Democrats keep fighting among themselves and Republicans, who smell electoral blood in the water, won’t lift a finger to help.

Biden has failed to deliver on much of his agenda. Hardly anyone even mentions voting rights legislation anymore, even though more than a dozen states have passed more restrictive voting laws.

The Build Back Better package – scaled down from Biden’s original $4 trillion proposal to about $2 trillion – appears doomed, although some Democrats still hope to salvage about $1 trillion. They disagree about what should be their priority – maternal and child health, pre-K education, a child tax credit, clean energy measures – and about what can pass.

Nearly every day the news about the environment worsens: “megadrought” in California, wildfires, water shortages, and yet, again, nothing happens in Washington.

It always comes back to: What does Joe want? A spokesman for Sen. Joe Manchin, D-W.Va., said Monday he was agreeable to boosting energy production, lowering prescription drug costs and raising taxes on the rich, The Washington Post reported. But Manchin himself told reporters Tuesday there’s no formal agreement.

“I want to make sure ya’ll understand: There’s no false hopes here,” said Manchin, who also continues to hold out for fully paying for the package, a sticking point.

Manchin says he will run for re-election in 2024, so there’s no downside in his red state for his opposing Biden’s agenda.

Congress failed to pass aid to buy more coronavirus vaccines and treatment before leaving on spring break. Now, more aid for Ukraine is also in doubt, as Republicans warn they won’t allow Democrats to include coronavirus aid in the Ukraine package.

Republicans want a vote on lifting Title 42, the controversial Trump-era measure that allows the Department of Homeland Security to “expel” migrants at the border without allowing them to apply for asylum. The administration contends the emergency measure, a public health order, is no longer needed and planned to lift it May 23.

A federal judge in Louisiana has blocked the administration from phasing out the restrictions before May 23. Border crossings are up and are expected to surge even more.

Washington almost never blames itself for anything, so it was surprising to hear Rep. Elissa Slotkin, D-Michigan, lash out at both political parties.  

“Our immigration system is broken,” she declared at a hearing Wednesday. “Democrats and Republicans own that. Right now, Democrats have the House and Senate and White House and have done nothing to get comprehensive immigration reform.

“Four years ago, Republicans had the House, the Senate and the White House and did nothing” on immigration reform. Imploring her colleagues to introduce legislation to make the border situation better, she said: “Don’t just use it as a political cudgel.”

But they will. No wonder people are so grumpy.

©2022 Marsha Mercer. All rights reserved.