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Why did things go wrong at the Registry?

Most of the focus so far in the scandal at the Registry of Motor Vehicles has been on finding out what went wrong. Now attention is starting to shift to why.

On the Codcast, Sen. Eric Lesser of Longmeadow and Paul Levy, one of the state’s most  experienced managers, discussed why an agency would ignore all the warning signs and allow notices about Massachusetts driver violations in other states to pile up unattended. The situation only came to light when a Massachusetts driver who should have had his license suspended because of a drunken driving arrest in Connecticut plowed into a group of motorcyclists in New Hampshire, killing seven of them.

Lesser is vice chair of the Legislature’s Transportation Commission, which heard seven hours of testimony last week from an assortment of Registry officials who acknowledged they were aware of the backlog of out-of-state violation notices but did little or nothing to address the problem.

“What was clear from the top is that a culture had developed where this was not a priority,” he said. “There were clear warning signs along the way and there were red flags along the way and there were audits that flagged these issues. But for whatever reason, the can was kicked down the road and it wasn’t made a priority to get that backlog resolved.”

Alex Morse wants to change how Washington works

Alex Morse, the 30-year-old mayor of Holyoke, may look like he’s on a fool’s errand by challenging Rep. Richard Neal in next year’s Democratic primary. After all, just seven months ago Neal’s three decades of toil in the DC vineyards landed him in one of the most powerful positions in the House, chairman of the tax-writing Ways and Means Committee. But Morse says the veteran Springfield pol is out of step with the urgency of the times, and he questions whether Neal’s new clout will deliver tangible gains for the First Congressional District.

“I think there’s an urgency to this moment right now in our country,” Morse says in this week’s Codcast. “These aren’t normal times. It isn’t business as usual. And that urgency isn’t matched by our current representative in Congress.”

Immigrant advocates slam Trump asylum changes

It’s inhumane. It’s a violation of international law. It’s not the way things have worked since the mid-1960s. These were the arguments of immigration advocates following last week’s announcement by the Departments of Homeland Security and Justice that rules for claiming asylum in the US would be changing.

Sarah Sherman-Stokes, associate director of the Immigrants’ Rights and Human Trafficking Clinic at Boston University Law School, and Susan Church, a partner at the immigration law firm Demissie & Church in Cambridge, say the most massive asylum overhaul since the Immigration and Nationality Act of 1965 is also doing away with due process rights and the governmental rule of separation of powers.

Under the new regulations, an applicant seeking asylum in the US must be denied refuge in each country along the way to the American border.

“It’s blatantly illegal,” said Church on The Codcast. “You cannot change a law that Congress enacted with a regulation that isn’t passed by elected members of Congress.”

Rosenthal says pharma must do its part

It isn’t surprising that Amy Rosenthal, the executive director of Health Care for All, wants to rein in the cost of prescription drugs. She’s been quite clear that breakthrough drugs don’t have much of an impact if people can’t afford them.

But her talk of shared responsibility on the Health or Consequences Codcast with Paul Hattis and John McDonough took the debate in a new direction. She said she has made the rounds with all of the players in the Massachusetts health care system and discovered a shared pride in all that has been accomplished in terms of near-universal coverage and moderating prices. Each of the players has contributed.

“Individuals were required to start buying health insurance, the individual mandate,” she said. “Employers had an employer assessment. Hospitals and insurers have to go before the Health Policy Commission. All of these things were not easy. People had to put some serious skin in the game. And all we’re saying at this point is that it’s time for pharma to do their part in this.”

Two views of the pause in ICE courthouse arrests

The CommonWealth Codcast hosted Center for Immigration Studies’ Jessica Vaughan and immigration attorney Matt Cameron to break down the history behind courthouse arrests in Massachusetts, and what a recent decision barring most ICE agents from courthouses could mean. Vaughan is the Director of Policy Studies for the D.C.-based Center for Immigration studies, a nonpartisan research institute that examines economic, security, and social impact of immigration.

Cameron is the managing partner of Cameron Law Offices, and the director of Golden Stairs Immigration Center, an East Boston non-profit immigration legal service provider. He also teaches immigration policy at Northeastern University.

Kicking the tires on transpo politics

In a wide-ranging discussion about the Bay State’s transportation problems, former congressman Mike Capuano and Kendall Square Association CEO C.A. Webb made their case for new revenue and bold new investments in transit, while Steve Baddour, a lobbyist who previously served as Senate chair of the Transportation Committee, highlighted the plight of car commuters.

In the most recent episode of the Codcast, those three, who have played a vocal role in transportation policy over the years, batted around some other proposed solutions to get people where they are going faster.

Was Stop & Shop strike a turning point?

THE STOP & SHOP STRIKE earlier this year cost the company about $100 million and resulted in a contract the workers could agree to, but whether the power on display at Bay State grocery stores was an aberration or a sign of resurgent force in private sector labor is an open question.

For decades, private sector labor has been on a decline around the United States, but the Stop & Shop strike gained big buy-in from the public and politicians. Jeff Bollen, who is president of the United Food & Commercial Workers Local 1445, noticed a connection between his union reaching an agreement with Stop & Shop and then later gaining some concessions from Macy’s.

“We believe when the strike ended, and we won that strike, that Macy’s came right back to the table and settled – the best contract we’ve ever gotten from them,” Bollen said.

Bollen and Massachusetts AFL-CIO President Steve Tolman both sat down for an interview on the most recent episode of the Codcast to provide organized labor’s viewpoint on that strike and where the labor movement stands today.

Campbell: Blue Hill Ave. conversation needed

Add Boston City Council President Andrea Campbell to the list of officials talking about creating a dedicated bus lane along busy Blue Hill Avenue.

In a wide-ranging interview on the CommonWealth Codcast with three members of TransitMatters – Josh Fairchild, Jim Aloisi, and Jarred Johnson – Campbell said transportation is one of the top issues in her district, which covers parts of Mattapan, Dorchester, Roslindale, and Jamaica Plain.

“More and more people are paying attention to transit and transportation because they need to get to their jobs, or they need to get their kid to school, or they need to get someplace for a recreational purpose and they don’t want to be on a bus for an hour or two,” she said. “If we want them to connect to these opportunities, we have to have a really thorough and thoughtful conversation about Blue Hill Avenue – dedicated bus lanes, rapid transit, everything needs to be on the table.”

In March, Boston Mayor Marty Walsh accelerated the city’s efforts to launch dedicated bus lanes; Blue Hill Avenue was broached as a possibility at that time but city officials said more outreach to residents in the area was needed first.

CHIA good source of data about Mass. healthcare

The center for health information and analysis produces reams of data for both Massachusetts policymakers and the public, providing a window into state health care expenditures and offering tools to compare prices between different providers.

Ray Campbell, the executive director of CHIA, walked through some of the available online data tools during a recent conversation with Paul Hattis and John McDonough for their “Health or Consequences” Codcast.

“No other state has an organization quite like CHIA,” said Campbell, who added that the agency, which is funded by assessments on the health care industry, looks into spending on hospitals, drugs, and doctors, and it gains some important insights from the all-payer-claims database.

While CHIA has access to tools that are unavailable in other parts of the country, the agency can’t see everything, so it works collaboratively with the health insurers to give consumers a more complete idea of what they might pay for a particular procedure.

Putting standardized testing to the test

With spring comes the annual ritual of MCAS testing in Massachusetts schools. It’s how we gauge the performance of individual students as well as schools and districts. The assessment of basic skills in math, English, and, more recently, science offers a snapshot of academic achievement levels, and it is the central measure used in the state’s accountability system that aims to hold schools responsible for outcomes.

And, argues Jack Schneider, it fundamentally gets everything wrong.

The UMass Lowell professor wrote in his recent book, Beyond Test Scores: A Better Way to Measure School Quality, “We have two decades of evidence that current approaches to educational measurement are insufficient and irresponsible.”

Schneider says on this week’s Codcast that test scores serve only as “demographic data in disguise,” telling us more about the family income of students than about the quality of their education.

He’s part of a cohort of critics who say the testing and accountability systems that have accompanied the modern education reform movement have served to narrow the curriculum — particularly in schools serving lots of poor kids. Test scores, he says, tell us nothing about how safe students feel, whether they are “developing as citizens,” and whether they feel engaged by school.