Friday, February 16, 2018

Governor Baker Approves Early Voting Funding

Massachusetts communities are one step closer to being compensated for some of the expenses they incurred during the 2016 state election cycle, the first to offer early voting.

Today, Governor Baker signed into law a $17.8 million supplemental budget that includes just over $1 million in early voting reimbursement for cities and towns.  Inserted through an amendment offered by House Minority Leader Bradley H. Jones, Jr. (R-North Reading) and his Republican leadership team, the funding has been allocated to cover expenses that State Auditor Suzanne Bump has determined constituted an unfunded state mandate.

“Communities across the state did a tremendous job implementing the early voting law and making sure the process ran smoothly in the days leading up to the election,” said Representative Jones.  “The funding contained in this supplemental budget will allow the state to fulfill a long-overdue financial obligation to our cities and towns.”

The state’s early voting law was approved by the Legislature in 2014 and was first implemented during the 2016 state election.  The law allows registered voters to cast a ballot as early as 11 business days prior to election day, and up to two business days before the election, during the biennial state election.

A ruling issued by Auditor Bump on February 14, 2017 determined that the state should reimburse communities for a portion of their early voting costs, citing the law’s “requirements that municipalities establish an early voting polling location that has sufficient staffing and privacy for voters.”

The early voting funding was initially inserted in the House version of the supplemental budget on January 31 through an amendment filed by Representative Jones.  The amendment was approved unanimously on a vote of 153-0.

Representative Jones had previously secured partial funding in the House version of the Fiscal Year 2017 final deficiency budget last October, but the final version of that bill omitted the funding and instead included language directing the state auditor to certify the actual costs for each municipality through her office’s Division of Local Mandates.  Auditor Bump recently certified a statewide total of $1,063,978.14 as being eligible for reimbursement.

Tuesday, February 6, 2018

Rep. Jones: Governor Baker's 72-Hour Hold Proposal Will Save Lives in Fight Against Opioids

The following column by House Minority Leader Bradley H. Jones, Jr. appeared in the February 4 print edition of the Boston Globe’s North section in response to the question “Should doctors be allowed to have addicted patients committed involuntarily to treatment facilities for 72 hours?”:

Despite ongoing efforts to combat opioid abuse, Massachusetts continues to face an epidemic that has claimed thousands of lives. In 2016 alone, the state’s Department of Public Health confirmed 2,094 cases of overdose deaths, a 24 percent increase over the previous year.

From January to September of 2017, DPH documented another 932 confirmed opioid-related overdose deaths. Although the numbers are trending downward, there are still far too many people dealing with drug dependency issues, and far too many lives being lost to this scourge.

Governor Charles Baker’s proposal to allow individuals to be involuntarily placed in a drug treatment program for up to 72 hours will help save lives. It will also address the all-too-familiar vicious cycle that occurs when a patient reports to the emergency room suffering from an overdose and is treated and released, only to end up back in the ER after another overdose.

Under previous legislation we adopted in 2016, ER patients treated for an opioid-related overdose, or given the overdose-reversing drug naloxone prior to arriving at the hospital must undergo a substance abuse evaluation within 24 hours. Patients are advised of their treatment options, but are not legally required to enter treatment. Individuals can be involuntarily committed to receive treatment for their addiction only with a court order.

During debate over the 2016 legislation, I offered an amendment to allow attending physicians to restrain a patient and place them in a treatment facility for three days if the patient had already received a substance abuse evaluation and returned to the hospital within seven days with another opiate-related overdose.

Governor Baker’s proposal would allow medical professionals and police officers to authorize the transfer of a patient to a substance use treatment facility without a court order if the patient presents a danger to themselves or others, and for the patient to be held in that facility up to 72 hours if deemed necessary by a physician. A court order would be required to hold patients beyond the 72 hours.

Governor Baker’s 72-hour proposal is intended as a “last resort” option, but will literally save lives, getting people into treatment and hopefully placing them on a path to recovery by reducing their chances of suffering a potentially fatal relapse. It deserves serious consideration as one tool towards addressing this epidemic.

Monday, February 5, 2018

Representative Dooley: Tax Increases Should Not Be on the Table in State Budget Talks for FY19

The following column by State Representative Shawn Dooley (R-Norfolk) appeared in the February 4 print edition of the Boston Globe's West section in response to the question “Should any increases in major state taxes be on the table instate budget talks for next year?”:

In an ordinary year, increasing the taxes of the hard working men and women of Massachusetts should only be on the table after all other options are exhausted. But as we all know, it is not an ordinary year and raising taxes should definitely be off the table for this year’s budget debate.

The reality is that the world has changed dramatically over the past year and fiscal year 2019 is on track to follow course. The new federal tax plan that was passed last month creates a tremendous amount of uncertainty for many of our fellow citizens and has the potential to have a negative impact on the Massachusetts economy. Fortunately, it appears the benefits might minimize these negatives but at this moment it is too early to tell.

The creation of the $10,000 cap for state and local tax deductions in the new federal law is going to send shockwaves through our state. If we couple this with the proposed additional 4 percent tax on earnings above $1 million — the subject of a state ballot question this fall — and our punitive death tax, Massachusetts is poised to be a costly state for taxpayers. To add additional tax increases onto this already excessive structure would be pure folly.

While the Commonwealth is anticipating increased revenue collections, we must still remain vigilant in weeding out waste and abuse. As legislators, we need to make the tough choices to streamline programs and ensure that we spend our neighbors’ hard earned money efficiently.

Having a foolhardy approach toward spending, justified by a tax increase, only sets the groundwork for disaster when the economy eventually adjusts.

Massachusetts is a wonderful place to live; but if we are not fiscally prudent, it will simply become too expensive to raise a family or run a business here. New Hampshire is already trying to poach our current and future businesses by touting their low taxes and inexpensive cost of living. If we vote to raise taxes this year, it will send the message that Massachusetts is not “open for business;” and instead we are embracing the old “Taxachusetts” moniker.

Thursday, February 1, 2018

House Approves Minority Leader Brad Jones’ Early Voting Cost Reimbursement Amendment

Massachusetts communities are poised to receive compensation to offset the costs associated with implementing the state’s early voting law, thanks to an amendment filed by House Minority Leader Bradley H. Jones, Jr. (R-North Reading) and members of the House Republican Caucus.

Representative Jones’ amendment would provide more than $1 million in reimbursement to cities and towns across the Commonwealth to cover certain costs that were incurred during the November 2016 state election cycle.  The amendment was approved unanimously by the House of Representatives on January 31 as part of a $17.6 million supplemental budget, but still requires Senate approval and Governor Baker’s signature before the money can be released.

“Over the past year, I have made it a personal priority to ensure that our cities and towns receive compensation for what was essentially a state-imposed unfunded mandate,” said Representative Jones.  “I’m hopeful the Senate will act quickly to pass this proposal so we can deliver this funding to our communities without any further delays.”

Enacted in 2014, the Massachusetts early voting law allows registered voters to cast a ballot as early as 11 business days prior to election day, and up to two business days before the election, every two years during the biennial state election.  More than 1 million early votes were cast during the 2016 election.

In February of 2017, State Auditor Suzanne Bump ruled that some of the expenses incurred by municipalities to implement the law constituted an unfunded mandate, and recommended that these costs should be borne by the Commonwealth.

Last October, Representative Jones led a successful effort to secure a $485,559 funding appropriation for early voting reimbursements as part of the House version of the Fiscal Year 2017 final deficiency budget.  Although the final version of the bill did not contain any funding for early voting costs, it did include language directing the state auditor to certify the costs for each municipality and to report back to the Legislature by January 10.

On January 8, the auditor provided the Legislature with documentation certifying a statewide total of $1,063,978.14 in municipal costs as eligible for reimbursement.  The full amount is reflected in Representative Jones’ amendment.

The supplemental budget now moves to the Senate for further action.