Quick takes on the issues in the news this week in central Maine …
THUMBS UP to Pittston Consolidated School for its new outside classroom. The open-air structure, a cement slab with a roof, was built with the help of volunteers and donors.
When the weather turns nice, students often ask to have class outside. Now, in Pittston, that actually can happen. On a recent day, third-graders read to kindergartners in the outdoor classroom. First-grade teacher Sherry Marcum is using the site for lessons about weather and the climate by placing thermometers at different points on the roof.
“It’s nice to have that space so they can get the sense of what it really means,” Marcum said.
There is no substitute for rigorous work in the classroom. But bringing students outside now and then gives them a change of scenery and engages them in the world around them.
THUMBS DOWN to the Legislative Council for not including a sex-trafficking bill among the proposals to be considered in the upcoming session.
The bill, sponsored by Rep. Amy Volk, R-Scarborough, would allow Maine courts to vacate prostitution convictions for victims of sex trafficking, so that the stigma of those convictions doesn’t follow the victims as they try to move forward with their lives. It is based on legislation written by an advocacy group and already approved in a number of states.
The Legislative Council, composed of six Democrat legislators and four Republicans, considered nearly 400 bills during a four-hour session on Wednesday, and approved only about a quarter of them. Volk’s bill was denied along party lines.
Sex trafficking is not a huge problem in Maine, but it is a heartbreaking one, and it was rightly beginning to get attention here. Earlier this year, the state took a step in the right direction when Gov. Paul LePage signed into law a bill that increased the penalties for sex traffickers. Earlier this month, Preble Street in Portland announced it had received a $400,000 grant to establish services for victims of prostitution in Maine.
Republicans have pounced on the council’s decision, saying the bill is now dead. The good news is that is not necessarily true; Volk has the opportunity to appeal the council’s ruling. Sen. Troy Jackson of Allagash and Rep. Mark Eves of North Berwick, both Democratic members of the council, said through spokeswomen that many good bills were shot down at this week’s council meeting, in the interest of focusing the Legislature’s workload in the short session. Both leaders showed an interest in the human trafficking issue and said they looked forward to hearing Volk’s argument on why her bill should be heard next session.
Perhaps Volk’s bill will get the attention it deserves. The victims of sex trafficking are often vulnerable homeless teenagers, many with addictions. They need someone to stand up for them. Let’s hope Volk wins her appeal, and the bill gets an audience.
THUMBS UP to the same legislators for moving forward with a bill from Sen. Roger Katz, R-Augusta, that would study a pilot program that would allow college students to avoid traditional college loans.
The program, which has found success in Oregon, establishes a state fund that students can draw from to pay for college. The students then agree to pay 3 percent of their salaries back into the fund for the next 24 years of work.
Skyrocketing college tuition and the backbreaking loan commitments that come with it are handcuffing college graduates. Any attempt to counter this alarming trend is welcome.