Monday, May 29, 2017

MEMORIAL DAY 2017


FREEDOM IS NOT FREE
 
I watched the flag pass by one day,
It fluttered in the breeze;
A young Marine saluted it,
And then he stood at ease.
 
I looked at him in uniform,
So young, so tall, so proud;
With hair cut square and eyes alert,
He’d stand out in any crowd.
 
I thought… how many men like him
Had fallen through the years?
How many died on foreign soil?
How many mothers’ tears?
 
How many pilots’ planes shot down
How many died at sea
How many foxholes were soldiers’ graves
No, Freedom is not Free.
 
I heard the sound of Taps one night,
When everything was still;
I listened to the bugler play,
And felt a sudden chill;
 
I wondered just how many times
That Taps had meant “Amen”
When a flag had draped a coffin
Of a brother or a friend;
 
I thought of all the children,
Of the mothers and the wives,
Of fathers, sons and husbands
With interrupted lives.
 
I thought about a graveyard
At the bottom of the sea,
Of unmarked graves in Arlington.
No. Freedom is not Free!
 
©Copyright 1981 by Kelly Strong
 
The members of the House Republican Caucus join with Americans everywhere on this Memorial Day in saluting our nation’s fallen soldiers. Their service and sacrifices will never be forgotten.

Monday, May 8, 2017

House Republican Caucus Seeks State Employee Vacation and Sick Leave Policy Reforms

The Massachusetts House Republican Caucus is spearheading efforts to reform vacation and earned sick leave policies for state employees to prevent individuals from abusing the system.

During its recent budget debate, the House of Representatives approved amendment #274, the Caucus’ proposal to establish a task force to develop uniform policies for cashing out unused vacation and sick leave credits. The amendment mirrors language included in House Bill 2559, which is currently pending before the Joint Committee on Public Service.

Just two years ago, former Bridgewater State University President Dana Mohler-Faria cashed in nearly $270,000 in unused sick and vacation time when he retired. In March, longtime Mount Wachusett Community College President Daniel M. Asquino retired with a payout of more than $334,000 for unused sick and vacation time. The Board of Higher Education now caps vacation payouts at 64 days and prohibits state college employees from converting their unused vacation time into earned sick time, but it’s clear that more reforms are needed.

If the task force language is included in the final budget sent to Governor Baker, its recommendations will be filed with the legislature by December 31, 2017.  Reforming the current system will ensure the Commonwealth’s vacation and sick leave policies are in line with other public employers, while promoting greater fiscal responsibility throughout state government.

Friday, May 5, 2017

House Republican Caucus Budget Amendment Promotes Interstate Compact for Online Education

Massachusetts is one step closer to joining a multi-state compact that offers uniform standards to promote distance learning and online education programs to out-of-state students.

An amendment to the Fiscal Year 2018 budget, filed by House Republican leadership and adopted by the House of Representatives last week, authorizes the Board of Higher Education to sign on to the State Authorization Reciprocity Agreement (SARA). Joining SARA will allow public and private colleges and universities offering distance learning programs in Massachusetts to reach students in other states in a much more efficient and cost-effective way. Massachusetts is one of only three states (the others being Florida and California) that are not currently participating in this innovative interstate program.

In our evolving economy, colleges need to be able to respond quickly to students’ changing needs, and delivering high quality online programs through SARA is a great model for addressing those needs.

Thursday, May 4, 2017

House Republican Caucus Proposal Sets Penalties for Unpaid Sex Offender Registration Fees

Sex offenders in Massachusetts who fail to pay their required registration fee will face enhanced penalties under a House Republican Caucus proposal adopted last week as part of the Fiscal Year 2018 state budget.

State law currently requires sex offenders to pay a $75 registration fee at the time of their initial registration, and then annually thereafter. Although the state can waive this fee for individuals who are deemed indigent, a significant amount of the fees goes uncollected. A 2015 investigation by New England Cable News found that, between January 1, 2012 and June 11, 2015, the state collected less than half of the $2.3 million in registration fees it was owed.

The Caucus proposal (filed as amendment #496) calls for imposing additional sanctions against delinquent sex offenders.  If a sex offender hasn’t paid the fee – or has paid only a portion of it – the Sex Offender Registry Board will be required to report them to the Registry of Motor Vehicles and the Department of Revenue within 30 days. Once that happens, the sex offender will be unable to acquire or renew their driver’s license or motor vehicle registration until the fee is paid in full. In addition, DOR will be authorized to intercept the uncollected fee from any state tax refunds due to the sex offender.

The state needs to do a much better job collecting outstanding sex offender registration fees and making sure these fees are paid on time.  The Caucus proposal will hold sex offenders accountable and ensure that they are in compliance with the law.

Wednesday, April 26, 2017

House Adopts Republican Caucus Proposal to Review Unfunded Education Mandates

The House Republican Caucus was successful in securing language this week in the Fiscal Year 2018 House budget to address the burden of unfunded state mandates on local schools districts.

The House of Representatives approved an amendment offered by House Minority Leader Bradley H. Jones, Jr. (R-North Reading) to create an Educational Unfunded Mandate Task Force that will review all state laws, regulations, and administrative directives that impose reporting requirements and other mandates on school districts.  In addition to developing a cost estimate for these mandates, the task force will provide recommendations for streamlining, consolidating or eliminating them. The Caucus’ goal is to prevent the state from imposing costly mandates without also providing cities and towns with the financial resources needed to comply with these requirements.

The task force will be comprised of a cross-section of educational professionals, including representatives of the Massachusetts Association of School Superintendents, the Massachusetts Association of School Committees, the Massachusetts Association of School Business Officials, the Massachusetts Secondary School Administrators’ Association, the Massachusetts Elementary School Principals’ Association, and the Massachusetts Administrators of Special Education. The House and Senate chairs of the Joint Committee on Education will chair the task force, with the Commissioner of Elementary and Secondary Education and two legislators appointed by the House and Senate Minority Leaders also serving as members.

Pending final budget approval in conference committee, the task force will convene this summer, and will issue a final report of its findings and recommendations within one year of the initial meeting.

Tuesday, April 25, 2017

House Republican Caucus Secures Conservation Land Tax Credit Cap Increase in FY18 Budget

A House Republican Caucus proposal to expand the Conservation Land Tax Credit received initial approval from the House of Representatives yesterday, on the first day of debate on the Fiscal Year 2018 state budget. The Executive Office of Energy & Environmental Affairs (EOEEA) offers the tax credit to property owners who agree to donate certified land to public or private conservation agencies.

The budget amendment – filed by House Minority Leader Bradley H. Jones, Jr. (R-North Reading) and the House Republican leadership team – calls for an increase in the annual cap from $2 million to $5 million over a three-year period, beginning on January 1, 2018. The amendment seeks to encourage additional conservation efforts throughout the Commonwealth while addressing the existing backlog of tax credit applications.

Established by the legislature in 2008, the Conservation Land Tax Credit was first offered in 2011, providing a tax credit for donated property equal to 50 percent of its fair market value, up to a maximum credit of $75,000 for each qualified donation.  Between 2011 and 2016, a total of $10.7 million in tax credits were issued to permanently protect 10,435 acres of donated conservation land valued at $46.3 million.

“We are very grateful to Minority Leader Jones for all of his leadership and work to expand and improve the Conservation Land Tax Credit,” said Edward O. Becker, President of Essex County Greenbelt and board member of the Massachusetts Land Trust Coalition. “His efforts will help ensure the continuation of this program that recognizes the generosity of landowners who donate their land to conserve farmland, public water supplies, wildlife habitat and outdoor recreation.”

Monday, April 10, 2017

House Minority Leader’s Statement on Release of House Fiscal Year 2018 Budget Proposal


House Minority Leader Bradley H. Jones, Jr. (R-North Reading) issued the following statement today in response to the release of the House Fiscal Year 2018 budget:

“The proposed $40.3 billion Fiscal Year 2018 budget reflects several of the spending and fiscal priorities put forward by the Baker-Polito Administration.  I am pleased to see it builds on Governor Baker’s proposal to increase local aid to our cities and towns, while at the same time minimizing the use of one-time revenues to balance the budget and rejecting any broad-based tax increases.  The House budget rightfully acknowledges the Governor’s efforts to contain spiraling MassHealth costs, while making significant investments in critical areas such as early education and substance addiction, which continues to claim far too many lives in Massachusetts.  Over the next few days, the Republican Caucus will be taking a closer look at the budget to identify areas where we can offer amendments that will further assist our communities and safeguard the interests of the state’s taxpayers.”

Wednesday, January 25, 2017

Representative Jones’ Statement on Governor Baker’s Fiscal Year 2018 Budget Proposal


House Minority Leader Bradley H. Jones, Jr. (R-North Reading) released the following statement today regarding Governor Charlie Baker’s proposed $40.5 billion state budget for Fiscal Year 2018:

“Governor Baker’s budget proposal charts a fiscally responsible course for the Commonwealth that emphasizes a commitment to our cities and towns and accountability to the state’s taxpayers.

I am thrilled to see the Baker-Polito Administration continue to prioritize local aid for our cities and towns.  Maintaining strong state-municipal partnerships is crucial to ensuring that all residents of the Commonwealth share in the state’s prosperity.  The proposed $91 million increase in Chapter 70 education aid and $40 million increase in unrestricted local aid will help further this goal by providing critical funding for schools, public safety and other important municipal services, and form a strong starting point for our local aid discussions.

The Governor’s budget continues to take positive steps towards reducing the state’s structural deficit, and significantly reduces the use of one-time spending revenues. His budget not only avoids drawing from the state’s stabilization fund, but also calls for a portion of the state’s tax revenues to be deposited directly into the fund every year before other spending priorities are set.  This is a sensible approach that will help build the fund so that vital state programs and services residents rely on can be preserved during future economic downturns.

Governor Baker has made it clear that he will oppose any plans to implement a broad-based tax increase.  As the budget process moves to the Legislature, I am hopeful the House and Senate will follow this same philosophy when crafting their respective spending plans.  I look forward to working with my colleagues and the Administration over the next few months to develop a budget that will address many of the needs of the citizens of the Commonwealth.”         

Wednesday, January 11, 2017

Representative Whipps Named to Special Commission Studying State Fire Code Regulations


House Minority Leader Bradley H. Jones, Jr. (R-North Reading) has appointed Representative Susannah Whipps (R-Athol) to serve as his designee on a special commission that will study the regulation of cutting, welding and other hot work processes governed by the state fire code to enhance the safety of the public and first responders.

Representative Whipps is one of four state legislators serving on the 11-member special commission, which will also include State Fire Marshal Peter Ostroskey, Boston Fire Commissioner Joseph Finn, and five members appointed by Governor Charlie Baker with backgrounds in public safety and related construction trades.

“As the owner of a company that manufactures equipment for the water and wastewater industry, Representative Whipps is very familiar with the regulations and standards governing welding work,” said Representative Jones.  “Susannah’s knowledge in this area will be an asset to the special commission as it considers potential changes to the current state fire code.”

As part of its investigation, the special commission will study the current requirements for issuing licenses and permits for hot work processes that are capable of initiating a fire or explosion to determine if these requirements provide adequate protections.  The special commission will also consider the use of supervised details and firewatchers; the adequacy of fees to cover inspection, oversight and other municipal costs; the deterrent effect of penalties for violations; cost recovery assessment for damages resulting from the failure to comply with rules and regulations; the training and certification required to perform the work; and other ways to enhance work safety.

The special commission will file a report containing its findings, including any proposed legislation, by June 1, 2017.

A seventh generation Athol resident who previously served for nine years on the Athol Board of Selectmen, Representative Whipps was recently re-elected to her second two-year term in the Massachusetts Legislature.  She represents the Second Franklin District, which consists of the communities of Erving, Gill, New Salem, Orange, Warwick, Wendell, Belchertown, Athol, Petersham, Phillipston, Royalston, and Templeton.

Tuesday, January 10, 2017

Representative Dooley Named to Task Force on Integrity in State and Local Government


House Minority Leader Bradley H. Jones, Jr. (R-North Reading) has appointed Representative Shawn Dooley (R-Norfolk) to serve as his designee on the Task Force on Integrity in State and Local Government.

Created at the request of House Speaker Robert A. DeLeo, the task force will conduct an investigation and study of the existing legal and regulatory framework governing the conduct of all state, county and municipal elected officials, as well as appointed public employees. The investigation will include a review of the state’s Conflict of Interest Law, the Financial Disclosure Law, and the regulations of the State Ethics Commission.

“Representative Dooley brings a unique perspective to the task force, having served in government at both the local and state levels,” said Representative Jones.  “Shawn’s experience and expertise will be an asset to the task force as it works to identify ways to clarify and strengthen the state’s ethics laws.”

Representative Dooley is one of six state legislators serving on the 13-member task force, which is being co-chaired by the chairs of the House and Senate Ethics Committees and the House and Senate chairs of the Joint Committee on State Administration & Regulatory Oversight.  Other members serving on the task force include Attorney General Maura Healey; the respective Chief Legal Counsels for the Governor, the Senate and the House; and three members with expertise on issues relating to ethics, public integrity or campaign finance who will be appointed by Governor Charlie Baker, Senate President Stanley Rosenberg and Speaker DeLeo.

The task force will file a report of its findings with the Governor, Senate President and Speaker on or before March 15, 2017.

Representative Dooley represents the Ninth Norfolk District, which is comprised of the towns of Norfolk, Plainville, Wrentham, Medfield, Millis and Walpole.  He previously served as the Norfolk Town Clerk and as the Chairman of the Norfolk School Committee before winning a special election in January of 2014.

Wednesday, January 4, 2017

Rep. Brad Jones Re-Elected as Minority Leader


Representative Bradley H. Jones, Jr. (R-North Reading) has been unanimously re-elected by his Republican colleagues to serve an eighth term as Minority Leader of the Massachusetts House of Representatives.

“Having the support of the entire House Republican Caucus means a tremendous amount to me, and I thank my colleagues for their continued confidence in my ability to lead our Caucus as we embark on a new legislative session,” said Representative Jones. “I am especially grateful for the continued support of the residents of Lynnfield, Middleton, Reading and North Reading and the trust they have placed in me to serve as their voice on Beacon Hill.”

A lifelong resident of North Reading, Representative Jones was first elected to the House of Representatives in 1994, and has served as House Minority Leader since 2002.  He was recently re-elected to his twelfth term representing the 20th Middlesex District.

Representative Jones continues to maintain his perfect voting record.  He has cast 6,554 consecutive roll call votes and has not missed a single vote in his nearly 23 years in the Legislature.

Tuesday, January 3, 2017

Representative Kane: Governor Baker Made Right Decision in Issuing His 9C Cuts


The following column by Representative Hannah Kane (R-Shrewsbury) appeared in the January 1 edition of the Boston Globe's West Section:

The governor is empowered to use his authority to reduce spending if the Secretary of Administration and Finance determines that budgeted revenues will not be sufficient to meet budgeted expenditures. Disappointing tax revenues and growing exposure for underfunded accounts such as public defense services for indigent defendants and family homelessness services have prompted Governor Charles Baker to use spending cuts to bring this year’s state budget back into balance.

The reductions are one quarter of one percent of the $39.25 billion state budget. While the scope does not lessen the impacts of these cuts, which affect several of my own priorities, we must be candid in the overall fiscal environment of the Commonwealth.

The Baker-Polito Administration took office in January 2015 inheriting serious fiscal challenges: a $765 million mid-year fiscal 2015 budget deficit and a nearly $1.8 billion shortfall looming for fiscal 2016. The fiscal 2015 budget gap remained despite governor Deval Patrick having already implemented over $198.1 million in cuts himself in the fall of 2014.

The culprit of this persistent gap is expenses that far outpaced yearly tax revenue growth. The fiscal 2015 budget that Governor Patrick signed into law was up 5.6 percent from the preceding year. Compounding the aggressive expense growth was an unhealthy reliance on the state’s stabilization — or “rainy day” — fund and one-time revenue sources to balance the budget for eight years.

The Baker-Polito Administration, working with the House and Senate, has brought fiscal restraint to Beacon Hill. Together, we are seeking to rebuild the Commonwealth’s long-term fiscal health by controlling expenses, rebuilding the rainy day fund reserves, and paying down debt, while achieving balanced budgets that provide increases in local aid and education funding and address such priorities as defeating the opioid epidemic and bringing reforms to the Department of Children and Families — all without tax increases. While debate on the necessity and merits of timing will always accompany the painful decision to authorize cuts, the administration strongly believes that the fiscal indicators necessary to trigger their use are clear.

Monday, January 2, 2017

Representative Jones: Governor Baker's 9C Cuts Were Unfortunate, But Necessary


The following column by House Minority Leader Bradley H. Jones, Jr. appeared in the January 1 issue of the Boston Globe's North Section:

The $98 million in budget cuts announced by Governor Baker on Dec. 6 were unfortunate but necessary.

While there’s never a good time to make cuts of this magnitude, accusing the governor of acting prematurely ignores the fiscal realities the state is facing. It also conveniently overlooks the fact that Governor Baker already had delayed taking action months ago in deference to requests by legislative leaders.

Governor Baker had no hidden agenda in implementing his cuts. He was only trying to achieve one simple but important policy objective: producing a constitutionally required balanced budget.

Faced with a continued softness in revenues persisting through the first five months of the fiscal year, Governor Baker had no choice but to act. In January 2016, the state was projecting $26.9 billion in revenues for fiscal 2017, a 4.3 percent increase over fiscal 2016. When tax collections began falling short of projections in the spring, fiscal 2017 revenue estimates were reduced to $26.2 billion. Then, in October, revenues were again revised downward, to $26 billion, reflecting 3.1 percent growth over fiscal 2016.

In July, the governor vetoed about $265 million from the original fiscal 2017 budget, due to his belief that the Legislature drastically underfunded several areas of the budget based on the historical amount these programs typically received for funding. The Legislature later restored most of the governor’s original cuts, leaving the problems of underfunding, and thus an unbalanced budget, in place.

In addition, revenue projections used by the Legislature for its budget were reduced by $175 million in October. Revenues remained below this lower benchmark by about $21 million through November. This $195 million revenue shortfall, coupled with historical spending exposures, necessitated the administration’s cuts.

Governor Baker has indicated a willingness to consider reversing some of these cuts if the revenue outlook improves, but it is still very much an open question whether the resources will actually be available to do so. The bottom line of how we will pay for these items remains.

I am hopeful that revenues in December and beyond will rebound, that spending exposures will be less than anticipated, and that we can then have a conversation about restoring at least some of the cuts in the months ahead.