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.