Editorials

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With warmer weather comes an urge to leave the house, and we expect, as usual, there will be a lot more cars on the road, so now is a good time to remind our readers not to lose their cool behind the wheel.

Whether a driver made a mistake — as we all do from time to time — or not, it can be terrifying for that person when another motorist becomes enraged and takes it out on them. We’ve all experienced tailgating or obnoxious horn-honking, and some of us have been victims of more dire cases of road rage, like prolonged following and actual physical violence or threats. In the less confrontational incidents, frustrated and angry drivers often lash out because it’s easy to hide in the anonymous bubble of a car, when they would not have been so bold to display such anger in person. In the more extreme cases, the mad drivers may have had a screw or two loose to begin with and might have acted out no matter the location or circumstance.

We understand that daily stresses factor into this problem, and Long Island’s immense traffic congestion doesn’t help the frustration we might already be feeling while in the car. But consider this: The AAA Foundation for Traffic Safety reports that aggressive driving is a factor in more than half of all traffic fatalities, according to 2009 data. In those cases, “motorists are concerned with the others’ aggressive driving while many are guilty themselves.”

Terrible accidents involving mangled cars happen all the time, but they don’t have to happen over things as petty as payback for being cut off or revenge on a slow-moving vehicle. We urge our readers to slow down when they’re seeing red behind the wheel and take some time to think about what the other person’s situation might be before lashing out. Give each other the benefit of the doubt because we are all humans who make mistakes. Let small road infractions go with a deep exhale. Rising tempers don’t give us license to rage on the road. And the consequences can be deadly.

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If you haven’t yet read The Post and Courier’s “Till death do us part” series of stories on domestic violence in South Carolina, which won a Pulitzer Prize this year, you should. The opening paragraph sets the tone for the series with a shocking statistic: “More than 300 women were shot, stabbed, strangled, beaten, bludgeoned or burned to death over the past decade by men in South Carolina, dying at a rate of one every 12 days while the state does little to stem the carnage from domestic abuse.”

It goes on to say that while “state officials have long lamented the high death toll for women, lawmakers have put little money into prevention programs and have resisted efforts to toughen penalties for abusers.”

The piece is both disturbing and eye-opening, and while South Carolina is different from both New York and the smaller communities of Suffolk County, domestic violence is still a complex issue, and we commend our representatives for not just standing by.

The Suffolk County Legislature unanimously approved a pilot program on Tuesday that would provide 30 new GPS tracking devices for family court judges to assign to offenders with an order of protection against them. The program would also allow victims of domestic violence — if they so choose — to wear their own tracking devices so they may be alerted if an offender is near them.

The legislation is the latest brought forth by Legislator Kara Hahn (D-Setauket) and continues to strengthen county laws relating to domestic violence.

While some may question the use of tracking devices, giving the discretion to judges allows us to evaluate each case on an individual basis. That would hopefully limit the GPS system to the most dangerous offenders and prevent us from violating anyone’s constitutional rights. And 30 devices is a small number when looking at the bigger picture — in 2013, there were more than 1,500 violations of orders of protection in Suffolk County.

If assigned appropriately, carefully and conservatively, the devices could help give domestic violence victims a new sense of safety and freedom to live their lives.

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Tensions between police departments across the country and the communities they have sworn to protect have been high over the last several months, and Suffolk County is not an exception in this trend. But we differ from the areas where tensions have exploded into street protests and violence in one crucial way: We can prevent such an eruption.

A group of 21 local Latinos has recently filed a lawsuit against the Suffolk County Police Department, alleging officers racially profiled them and even robbed them during police stops over the last 10 years. The lawsuit alleges the police have a culture of discriminatory policing.

The case is in part a response to the arrest of the SCPD’s Sgt. Scott Greene, who during a sting operation was found taking money from a Latino driver. Greene now faces 81 criminal charges against a couple dozen Hispanic victims, and authorities say he was working alone.

But we could trace the issue back a little further as well, to the 2008 hate-crime stabbing murder of Marcelo Lucero, a Patchogue man from Ecuador. In the wake of the murder — for which seven young men were convicted — and the police’s investigation, there was public outcry over perceived police bias against Hispanics.

We have no doubt the majority of police officers are good people who just want to do their difficult, and at times dangerous, job of protecting Suffolk County residents. But it’s also true that a few bad apples can spoil the bunch — or lead to public perception that they have spoiled the bunch, which matters just as much.

The good news is we are in a desirable position to change things for the better — if we acknowledge the warning signs of trouble. The places in this country where there have been protests and riots, for various reasons, tensions between the police and the community had been stewing for a while. We should not let this come to pass in Suffolk County through our own inaction.

A 2013 settlement between the county Legislature and the federal Department of Justice — enacted in response to the Lucero case — is a good start. That agreement called for anti-bias training, taking feedback from the community and tracking complaints of police misconduct.

Our police department should kick that into high gear, holding more community forums and communicating to residents both the steps officers are taking to reduce bias and the progress of that work.

If we act as partners, we can improve police service and our officers’ relationship with residents to make our community a better place to live for everyone.

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We should secure our homes and cars when we are not in them. Stock photo

Sun’s out, thieves out.

As Long Island heats up after a long, cold winter, so does criminal behavior.

We’ve been seeing more and more reports of larcenies, burglaries and stolen property as the weather warms up. It may tick up from here into summer, which would be nothing new in the world of crime patterns. But many of these incidents can be avoided if people would just use their heads.

That means locking our cars when we’re not in them, and not leaving purses and other valuables inside — and especially not in full view of every passerby.

It also means turning the cars off and not leaving the keys inside. One of our reporters once called the police after spotting an idling but empty car in a parking lot, the lights on and the driver’s side door ajar. About five minutes later, a man who may or may not have been the owner got into the car and drove away.

Leaving a car running and walking away from it is foolish, whether we are in a parking lot or in front of our own house. Why tempt fate?

We should also remember to close the windows in our houses when we aren’t there. This one is tricky because it’s hot outside and there could be a lot of windows open. But we should all be in the habit of doing it just like we are in the habit of locking our front doors, because open windows can make an easy access point for burglars.

Sometimes we cannot prevent a criminal from breaking in and stealing something, but we can reduce our risk by securing our belongings as much as possible.

You know you’re from Long Island when …

1. You drive your car everywhere, including just up the road to the drug store or 7-Eleven. There is a car in your driveway or garage for every person in your house.
2. You water your lawn and plants even when it has recently rained because it’s on a timer and you just left it.
3. You pass at least one dead animal lying on the side of the road every day.
4. You have access to delicious foods imported from all over the country and the world.
5. You live in a terribly wasteful society.

Earth Day gives us time to reflect on what we do every day that affects the environment, both here on Long Island and the nation as a whole.

We burn up gas for every small trip we make, when we could walk or bike if we weren’t so rushed or lazy. We waste water by taking long showers or leaving the faucet on as we brush our teeth. We flush pills down the toilet or use a paper cup for coffee every morning or unnecessarily go through a ton of plastic shopping bags.
Almost all of us are guilty of at least one of these things, which all put strain on Mother Earth. But this is the only home we have — for now — so we should get our heads in the game.

Please join us in thinking about the impact of our everyday actions on the environment and make a commitment to cut out or reduce just one of those negative actions year-round — not just on a day like Earth Day.

A small change blazes the trail for larger ones, so it’s a good place to start.

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From unfunded mandates to grounds maintenance, school districts are burdened with many costs, but high energy bills don’t have to be one of them.

State Sen. Carl Marcellino (R-Syosset) recently introduced legislation that would strengthen the state’s support of alternative energy systems in school districts. All types of alternative energy systems — whether solar, wind and/or geothermal  — would be eligible for state building aid. The legislation would also remove a requirement that has the systems meet an 18-year payback window in order to receive aid. These changes make sense, as they’ll empower school districts to go green while also saving taxpayers money.

A few school districts on the North Shore have discussed installing solar panels on their building roofs, while two — Miller Place and Three Village — are moving forward with plans to install the panels. In Miller Place, the panels are expected to save the district more than half its utility budget. In Three Village, by the time the project is paid off, the district could be saving hundreds of thousands of dollars.

While we encourage other school districts to investigate how alternative energy systems could help their districts reduce costs, we also hope they’ll continue searching for ways to reduce their energy consumption. Replacing an energy source with a clean alternative is a step in the right direction, but it doesn’t do anything to address a greater energy consumption problem that pervades our communities, including in our schools.

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An anti-Common Core rally in Smithtown. File photo

Opting students out of state standardized tests has become a hot topic, and it’s a decision that should rest in the hands of parents, not school leaders.

Recently, Comsewogue School District officials had threatened to consider not administering the tests altogether if Gov. Andrew Cuomo (D) and the state education department did not acquiesce on a list of demands, one of which was to stop weighing student test scores so heavily in teacher and administrator evaluations. But the district clammed up on the measure after its attorney intervened. In addition, the NYSUT union, which represents teachers across the state, has called for a mass opt-out.

State law comes down hard on actions like this: Any school-board members or other officials like superintendents who willfully violate state education regulations — such as by refusing to administer a required assessment — risk being removed from office by the education commissioner, and state aid could be withheld from the district.

At the heart of the matter is a battle over local control of our school districts. While local officials should be consulted when it comes to shaping state education regulations and standards, there must be some degree of state standardization in education to ensure that our programs sufficiently educate kids. It’s wrong for administrators and school officials to politicize a high-emotion situation — the opt-out movement — in a way that could be detrimental to students.

In a school-sponsored, massive opt-out, the ones who face the greatest risk are the students — officials may put their jobs at stake, but the kids’ entire futures could hang in the balance if the state pulls education aid from a district that heavily relies upon it, or if otherwise competent school board members and administrators are kicked out of office.

Let us also pause to think about how adult behavior affects our kids. This paper has previously editorialized about how the commotion over the Common Core and state testing has negatively affected children — students see and hear their parents’ and teachers’ reactions, and many mimic that fear and anxiety when they otherwise would not have had such emotional reactions to tests and classes. At some point, we have to ask ourselves if this is the kind of behavior we want to teach our kids.

Calling for change is one thing, but screaming for it is another. Let’s not play politics. Above all, let’s keep cool.

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As a community newspaper, we value reader feedback and welcome any and all letters to the editor on the stories that compel our neighbors. But we received one letter in particular this past week that we felt warranted a larger editorial response.

Last week, we ran a story on Suffolk County Legislator Kara Hahn (D-Setauket) spearheading a new law that aims to more aggressively address domestic violence by empowering victims — connecting them with agencies and offering up a self-assessment questionnaire — and analyzing offenders. The bill was approved without a single “nay” in the Legislature, showing the county’s commitment to the issue.

On Monday, we opened up an anonymous letter addressed to the publisher of this newspaper, responding to our domestic violence reporting.

“Women can be opportunists,” the letter started. “If a man just pushes his girlfriend or paramour or even his wife, the next thing you know, she comes to court with a brace on her neck and bandages and a story that complains how she was pushed down a flight of stairs and strangled.”

Our initial reaction to this argument was scoffs and rolling eyes. (And why is this man pushing his partner to begin with?) While some people may have valid concerns over the consequences of tighter domestic violence laws, our anonymous reader’s remarks underscored the very same symptomatic problem, which affects both women and men, that Hahn’s legislation is looking to end in Suffolk County.

“No wonder guys go off the deep end and murder their so-called girlfriends. If I could not see my children, I would be mad as well. Enough to murder — possibly,” the secret letter writer said about custody battles. “Women are so thick-headed, unreasonable and vindictive, especially where money is concerned, that the greed of a woman scorned cannot be fathomed and we, the dads, husbands, boyfriends, are left out in the cold with no recourse.”

The writer asked that this newspaper “do something about these issues.” That is why we chose to dedicate this week’s editorial to his letter — to do something when we are confronted with a disgusting diatribe that condones violence against a group of people.

We hope the county law, still in its infancy, helps shift the train of thought of those like this reader.

Thank you for the letter.

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College is expensive. Actually, college is ludicrously expensive these days, as 60 percent of graduates from colleges and universities in New York are coming out of school with a debt of more than $26,000, according to the Project on Student Debt, an initiative of the nonprofit Institute for College Access & Success.

With these numbers in mind, we support Assemblyman Chad Lupinacci’s (R-Huntington Station) push for increasing the maximum amount of financial aid awarded through the New York State Tuition Assistance Program.

While college costs have increased drastically over the last 10 years, there has been no substantial increase in the maximum TAP award a student can receive. Individuals can currently cash in a minimum grant of $500 and a maximum of $5,165 each year.

Lupinacci said he wants to raise the maximum to $6,470, while also increasing the maximum eligible household income from $80,000 to $100,000. We wholeheartedly support this measure, as the increases would better align with SUNY and CUNY tuition rates for in-state residents and the high cost of living in New York.

For the 2014-15 school year, a typical undergraduate student studying at a SUNY college will pay a little more than $7,500 for tuition and student fees. Add room and board, and that cost becomes about $19,600.

Raising the maximum TAP award would provide many students — who may be supporting themselves and working full-time — an easier pathway to obtaining their degrees. This program could be especially crucial to students who are on their own and may not have someone to co-sign a loan.

We often use the phrase “every penny counts,” and in this case it couldn’t be truer. The purpose of public education is to increase access to an important service. Increasing TAP will help further that goal.

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New York Secretary of State Cesar Perales hit Hauppauge last week to outline Gov. Andrew Cuomo’s plan to increase the state minimum wage from $8.75 to $10.50.

In his pitch, Perales projected a rippling economic impact that could potentially give 150,000 workers a pay raise and bring $382.3 million in value to Long Island. While this newspaper supports the notion of empowering our low-income earners with higher minimum wages, we still only see it as a one-dimensional, short-term fix that does not address the bigger issues of affordability.

Raising the minimum wage is a risky move that could end up hurting us in the long run if not done in conjunction with other means to address inflation and making New York — and Long Island — more affordable and livable. Long Island has already been struggling to prevent its young people from relocating because of its lack of affordable living options, and raising wages could consequently end up bringing the cost of living even higher for those still hanging on.

It’s already hard enough to live on Long Island as rents continue to skyrocket and costs continue to increase. That’s why we need a multi-pronged approach to coincide with the established proposal to raise the state minimum wage, which has increased a total $4.50 since 1991.

There are plenty of pros to raising the minimum wage, and Perales outlined key points during his Hauppauge visit — he said the number of workers on Long Island earning minimum wage would jump from the current 85,264 to 202,248.

But the state must not ignore the cons that come with such a move, including the potential layoffs at Long Island’s small businesses lining the main streets of our communities.

Our leaders too often put short-term patches on long-term wounds. Those immediate fixes serve a purpose, but we should be looking at the bigger picture.