It’s not often you get to see Howard Beale, the character from the movie “Network,” played out in real life. It’s one thing to be on the campaign trail and be told by conspiracy theorists to look at things like the book “The Creature From Jekyll Island” (about the Federal Reserve) or to find out why attorneys are not lawyers. It’s quite another to see someone come to a Ways & Means hearing and speak the truth about the manipulation of social services at the expense of the people they’re purported to serve, as well as taxpayers.
Enter Grace Ross, recent candidate for Governor, who was unable to get enough signatures to primary Deval Patrick. A self-proclaimed “activist for social justice,” I had no idea what to expect in her testimony on Friday, March 4th, in the last hour of the last day of a state-wide tour of budget hearings. Because her time was limited to 3 minutes, she presented a simple chart showing state revenue sources, from highest to lowest. Again, due to time constraints, she wanted to make sure we were aware of the fact that food stamps (now called “S.N.A.P.”) and Unemployment Insurance were the two largest generators of income to Massachusetts – and that’s beating a Lottery that is ranked 1st in the nation, reaping over $4B annually. She even reiterated that the sales tax increase was a mistake… gasp!
Her testimony was both disconcerting and exhilarating, all at the same moment, because it pointed out the brutal reality that our Commonwealth actually benefits from having people on food stamps and unemployment – yet this was coming from a “social justice” advocate. Or maybe it wasn’t so shocking so much as surprising, considering the source. Being a “smaller government” conservative Republican, I thought we had cornered the market on believing that the Great Society programs intended to be temporary, transitional safety nets have become permanent hammocks. They have become, in fact, havens in which reside people who are incentivized to remain on public assistance so long as they continue to meet certain criteria, ultimately prevent them from taking positive steps towards financial independence from government programs.
A week earlier, I was shocked to hear testimony from the EOHHS (Exec. Office of Health & Human Services) that the USDA had actually selected Massachusetts for a grant to study health initiatives for people utilizing food stamps. That had to mean, I asked the Director of Transitional Services, that people were on food stamps long enough to actually study their eating habits. “Yes,” was the answer and I was provided with the fact that, in a state of 6,500,000 people, over 800,000 residents were using S.N.A.P.. That’s over 12% of the population. And in the report, it was made clear that they were doing all they could to retain and increase as many people as possible, though online recruitment and extension of the qualification reporting periods. All to keep bringing in as much Federal money as possible, no matter what the fiscal condition of our nation may be.
Those of you who read this and want to equate “Republican” with “heartless” will take offense at what I just posited, but this past Friday, I found an unlikely ally in my corner in the person of Ms. Ross. Not only did she, the supporter of social justice, make the same inferences, but she went on to point out that the state should be doing all it can to help the small business of the Commonwealth get people back to work, taking major swipes at tax breaks and sweet-heart deals to specific companies and industries (Raytheon, Fidelity, & Evergreen Solar). I must admit, I was holding back applause because, aside from the fundamental campaign message of making Local Aid a priority, these were the beliefs I shared as I went door-to-door in my district and which I believe were shared by my communities as evidenced by my election. Grace also spoke of the need to protect against foreclosures, as she predicts it will threaten the economic security of our state – something I concur with and have filed legislation to rectify through mortgage refinance relief. I also plan on calling Ms. Ross this coming week to speak more on the issue.
“Twas grace that taught my heart to fear, And grace my fears reliev’d…”
Looking back and forward to the weeks’ activities;
Monday (2/28): Ways & Means hearing at Holy Family Hospital in Methuen. Heard from Economic Development & Housing, Labor and Workforce, Libraries and Cultural Council.
Tuesday (3/1): Ways & Means hearing in Pittsfield (the LONGEST drive!) to hear from Dept. of Environment & Energy, plus Dept. of Transportation.
Wednesday (3/2): Committee meeting for Personnel & Administration, followed by a formal session to vote on independent panel to handle redistricting. Our initiative was defeated on party lines. Also stopped in to a SpEd PAC meeting in Abington & spoke to a great group of parent volunteers.
Thursday (3/3): Spent the morning with Superintendent & Business Manager for WHRSD, followed by meetings in the district office. That evening went to the PCEA legislative conference/dinner at Monponsett Inn in Halifax. Enjoyed speaking to the MTA members – especially the teachers from my district who had great information and stories about what happens in our schools.
Friday (3/4): The final Ways & Means hearing took place in Gardner Auditorium (at the State House) and it was, by far, the most difficult. Hearing from groups like DBCAN (The Deaf/Blind Community Access Network), high school aged single mothers, homeless families, parents of drug addicted children… It made for a difficult day but it was testimony that had to be heard. Two highlights were Treasurer Grossman’s report and information from gubernatorial candidate Grace Ross (see above).
Monday (3/7): Will be working at District Office all day, on legislative filings plus organizing for St. Patty’s parade in Abington on Sunday, March 20 (e-mail Geoff@GeoffDiehl.com if you want to march & get a t-shirt… only $20)
Tuesday (3/8): Will be working at District Office all day. Also getting team together for Whitman Hanson Education Foundation “Adult Spelling Bee.” Our team is the “Bee-con Hill” swarm!
Wednesday (3/9): Meetings at State House, formal session to vote on “An Act reorganizing the Executive Office of Labor and Workforce Development.” That evening, there is an open budget hearing at the Whitman-Hanson Regional High School (performing arts auditorium), starting at 7pm.
Thursday (3/10): Will be at the annual South Shore Chamber luncheon at Lombardo’s in Randolph, followed by meetings at the State House in the afternoon & MassGOP events at the Union Club in the evening.
Friday (3/11): Two breakfasts, one at Good Samaritan Hospital and the other at North River Collaborative, followed by a tour of South Shore Voc Tech in the afternoon. Returning to district office for meetings for the remainder of the day.
As part of my ongoing pledge to review all bills I’ve filed or co-sponsored, here are more of the House & Senate bills I’ve signed on to and what they mean (most have hyperlinks to the state website):
HD01110: An Act Authorizing the City of Boston Retirement Board to Grant Creditable Service to Certain Nurses. Rep. James M. Cantwell
(Not sure why there is no link to the General Court website.)
- This is a refile from the previous session. Rep. Cantwell and I have constituents in our districts who worked as nurses local, then were asked to work in Boston Hospitals due to labor shortages. They are asking to have their years spent in Boston added to their years locally to count as part of their retirement.
HD01291: An Act Relative to Valid Identification at Voting Polls. Rep. Elizabeth Poirier
- Any person who seeks to vote in a public election is required to establish his or her qualifications to vote by providing a current valid photo form of identification to election officials prior to voting.
HD01332: An Act Relative to Sexual Deviants. Rep. Donald Wong
- Like “Melissa’s Bill,” this is a 3 strikes law for sexual offenses, mandating life in prison.
HD01376: An Act requiring the Commonwealth to Fully Fund State Mandates Imposed Upon Local Communities. Rep. James Lyons
- Quinn Bill, Regional Transportation, Bullying Laws… All come from the legislature with either no funds to implement or funding that has been removed or reduced. Either fund them or take them off the books and let municipalities decide the level of service they can afford to provide.
HD01523: An Act Relative to Payment for Use of Ambulance Services. Rep. James M. Cantwell
- This bill would base the cost of ambulance services on the lesser of the ambulance service provider’s usual and customary rate, or three times the current published rate set by Medicare.
- Secondly, this would prohibit the practice of “balanced billing,” where individuals that used ambulance services could not be billed for costs deemed to be owed to municipally operated ambulance service after reimbursement by the insurance company.
- Lastly, insurance companies would be prohibited from implementing a policy that was the subject of recent discussions known as “pay-the-patient-first.” Pay-the-patient-first, which has yet to take effect, would mean insurance companies would pay individuals directly for the use of ambulance services, who, in turn, would be expected to pay the ambulance service provider. This policy would create a situation where cities and towns are using means of legal recourse against their own residents to recover money owed to them.
HD01590: An Act Regarding Breaking and Entering of a Firearm Retailer, Wholesaler or Manufacturer. Rep. Christine E. Canavan
- This law will increase penalties on those who break and enter into gun shops, so as to further prevent guns ending up in the wrong hands.
HD01711: An Act Relative to Constitutional Rights. Rep. George N. Peterson, Jr.
- Creates a new section of law creating a presumed right and protections from local governments who might make up their own laws.
HD01716: An Act Relative to the Right to Carry Firearms. Rep. George N. Peterson, Jr.
Completely re-writes section 131 (LTC Laws).
- Makes it shall issue
- All lawful purposes
- Removes any mention of restrictions
- Eliminates “Classes”
- Establishes “prohibited person”
- Reforms the judicial review process adding a “finding of the facts” and more.
- Adds penalties for failing to issue
IN CLOSING: Another packed week of legislative work behind me & am looking forward to warmer weather and some district events coming up soon. Am always interested in your feedback, so please send an e-mail to: email@example.com whenver you’d like. Until next week, I’m proud to be your voice on Beacon Hill!