Archive for 'Uncategorized'

Feb 14

House Preserves $9M in Local Aid

BOSTON – State Representative John W. Scibak joined his colleagues in the Massachusetts House of Representatives in approving a $115 million supplemental budget that stops the Governor from taking 1% from the $899 million unrestricted general government aid account, thus preserving $9 million. “I commend my colleagues in the House for voting to preserve these monies that have proven essential in this economic downturn,” said House Speaker Robert A. DeLeo. “Aware of the widespread concern amongst constituents and state officials alike, we will once again look to maintain local aid as a top priority as the FY ‘14 budget-balancing process begins.” “Particularly during tough economic times, we have to do all we can to protect the vital programs funded through local aid,” said Chairman Brian S. Dempsey of the House Ways and Means Committee. “We understand how essential this funding is for our communities. Local aid is a priority and, with this vote, the House continues to prove that fact.” “We applaud the members of the Massachusetts House of Representatives for standing with their cities and towns and preserving $9 million in essential local aid,” said Geoffrey C. Beckwith, the Executive Director of the Massachusetts Municipal Association. “Communities use these funds to pay for police and fire protection, schools, public works and much more, and this vote by the House is very good news for local citizens and taxpayers all across the state.”
Sep 05
"EASTHAMPTON - At a forum Tuesday, public officials and representatives of the construction firm that will replace the Route 10 bridge over the Manhan River pledged to do their best to minimize the impact of what they say is the unavoidable six-month closure set to start next March. "There's no question it's going to inconvenience people," said state Rep. John Scibak, D-South Hadley, addressing the approximately 70 city residents and business owners at the forum. "The question is, How can we do it to lessen that inconvenience?" At the one-hour informational meeting, members of the public questioned a panel that included Scibak, state Sen. Michael Knapik, R-Westfield, Mayor Michael Tautznik, and representatives from the state's Department of Transportation (MassDOT) and Northern Construction Service, the company charged with completing the $3.75 million project..." Read the full article.
Aug 03

State Representative John W. Scibak (D-South Hadley) joined his colleagues in the Massachusetts House of Representatives today in celebrating recent session accomplishments as the Legislature breaks for elections.

As of Tuesday, July 31st, the House passed major legislation pertaining to economic development, health care cost containment, the MBTA, criminal justice, and aid for citizens and municipalities across the Commonwealth. “With a strong focus on creating jobs and improving Massachusetts’ innovation economy by cutting costs and streamlining the state’s higher education system, I am proud to say that the House of Representatives had one of the most productive sessions in recent memory,” said House Speaker Robert A. DeLeo. “In addition to creating jobs, the House paid due attention to the needs of small businesses, families, and municipalities while also passing several important reforms that will improve the quality of life for everyone in Massachusetts in the future.” With an eye to offsetting the pain of the economic downturn, the House closed the session by passing two major pieces of legislation that create jobs and curb health care costs on patients and business, respectively. The House placed creating and retaining jobs at the center of its agenda. It sent to the Governor a strong piece of legislation that implements strategically-focused economic development policies to make Massachusetts more competitive. The bill achieves that by improving the Commonwealth’s innovation economy, promoting economic prosperity through infrastructure investments and streamlined permitting, facilitating the expansion of new and existing businesses, and training our workforce for the future. The bill also places a unique focus on the “innovation economy” as one of the pillars of Massachusett’s economic future. Few issues burden families and businesses as much as the high cost of health care. Accordingly, the House worked on historic health care cost containment legislation that addresses the unsustainable cost of health care while allowing the health care industry to continue to provide world-class quality care. The bill aims to empower patients and assist hospitals while streamlining health care in the Commonwealth through the use of electronic health records. Under this law, patients will be provided with more tools to make informed decisions as they pertain to care and cost and struggling hospitals will get assistance from a Distressed Hospital Fund. Aware of the tough economic circumstance some families find themselves in, the House took action to protect homeowners who have fallen victim to predatory mortgages and unnecessary foreclosures. Under this legislation, lenders and banks will have to offer loan modifications to borrowers in certain circumstances so that foreclosure can be avoided. Also at the end of session, the House approved a tough sentencing bill that cracks down on habitual offenders and establishes new requirements to improve the functions of the state parole board. After much deliberation, the House approved a bill that requires the habitual offender tag to be placed on anyone convicted of two crimes from a list of the most serious offenses, including murder, rape and kidnapping. It mandates that any habitual offender found guilty of a third offense from the list of most serious crimes would be ineligible for parole. The balanced bill also reduces mandatory minimum sentences for certain drug offenses. These major successes have built upon the successes of last year wherein the House worked to pass myriad legislation pertaining to municipal health care, court reorganization, and expanded gaming. [...]
Aug 01
State Representative John W. Scibak joined his colleagues in the Legislature today in sending to the Governor legislation that will update the current system for handling children who consistently get in trouble at home or at school, including runaways and students who are habitually truant, transforming the 38-year-old Children in Need of Services (CHINS) program that critics say unnecessarily puts troubled children in front of a judge before seeking services to help the children and their families. “The current system is too complex and too confusing, and it unnecessarily drags some children in front of a judge over and over again,” Senate President Therese Murray (D-Plymouth) said. “More than half of these children have some kind of mental health disorder and need better care and services instead of this taxing exposure to the courts which studies show will make them more likely to be involved in serious crimes later in life. The reforms in this bill will improve children’s lives and help keep families together.” “I am proud that Chairman Dempsey, Leader Donato, members of the conference committee and the Legislature as a whole have taken strong action to protect at-risk youths,” said House Speaker Robert A. DeLeo (D-Winthrop). “We need to get many of these children out of the legal system and into services and other support programs with their families so we can best ensure that they lead lives as productive residents of our state. These are practical reforms that help children and families in the short term and strengthen the Commonwealth in the long-term.” “For several decades, the CHINS system has not been working as intended by the legislature to keep children out of the juvenile justice system,” said Senator Karen Spilka (D-Ashland), chief Senate sponsor of the bill. “It is difficult to overestimate the importance of passing this critical reform. This bill will give the thousands of children and families who need assistance each year a clearer path to accessing the services and supports they need without exacerbating their situation and before it becomes dire. The bill will make a huge, positive difference in the lives of our families, our friends, our neighbors, our communities, and will strengthen our state as a whole.” [...]
Aug 01

State Representative John W. Scibak (D-South Hadley) joined his colleagues in the Legislature today in sending final legislation to the Governor that implements strategically-focused economic development policies to make Massachusetts more competitive by improving the Commonwealth’s innovation economy, promoting economic prosperity through infrastructure investments and streamlined permitting, facilitating the expansion of new and existing businesses, and training our workforce for the future.

“This legislation will help us support and invest in our fast-growing core industries to ensure our continued growth,” Senate President Therese Murray (D-Plymouth) said. “This effort focuses on some of our top priorities, addressing the needs of our workforce and providing critical support to our small businesses and the manufacturing industry. Massachusetts is already home to a competitive economic climate and this bill marks another step forward toward promoting economic development in the Commonwealth.”

“I commend Chairman Joseph Wagner, the Joint Committee on Economic Development and Emerging Technologies, the conferees, and all of my colleagues in the Legislature for delivering this much-needed jobs legislation to Governor Patrick,” said House Speaker Robert A. DeLeo (D-Winthrop). “Creating jobs and improving innovation and technology in the Commonwealth have been atop the House’s to-do list since the beginning of my speakership and I’m so proud to say that this bill lays the framework for economic growth by establishing a friendly environment in the Commonwealth for small businesses, start-ups, future entrepreneurs, manufacturers and others.”

“The legislature has once again committed to making job growth a priority for Massachusetts,” Senator Gale D. Candaras (D-Wilbraham) said. “The policies and funding in the Jobs Bill will assist businesses, cut red tape, and encourage entrepreneurs to make Massachusetts home.”

“This legislation enhances the economic climate and fosters job creation through targeted investments and important reforms,” said House Chairman of the Joint Committee on Economic Development and Emerging Technologies, Joseph F. Wagner (D-Chicopee). “By investing in our workforce, improving public infrastructure, and strengthening the innovation economy, this bill positions Massachusetts well for continued economic growth.” [...]

Aug 01
State Representative John W. Scibak (D-South Hadley) joined his colleagues in the Legislature yesterday in completing work on a framework of nation-leading health care reforms, sending to the Governor a comprehensive, landmark cost-control bill estimated to save the Commonwealth $200 billion over the next 15 years while improving the quality of care, increasing patient access, and strengthening the transparency and accountability of the state’s entire health care system. The bill comes at a crucial time as health spending is projected to double from 2009 to 2020, outpacing both inflation and growth in the overall economy, while Massachusetts residents and businesses continue to struggle with increasing premiums and other health care costs. “Since we passed Health Care Reform and became a model for the country, we have been working toward this moment,” Senate President Therese Murray (D-Plymouth) said. “Health care costs are a burden on businesses and many individuals and families, despite recent successes in bringing down premiums in some cases. With this bill, we are once again showing the nation that shared concerns and a willingness to work together can provide answers. I am proud of the work so many people put into this bill, especially Senator Moore, Senator Petruccelli, Senator (Bruce) Tarr and the entire conference committee. Legislators, health care providers, business owners and consumers came together to make this happen. This bill will reel in health care costs, removing a major roadblock to long-term job growth and allowing essential investments in education and transportation without harming our number one industry or patient care.” “I applaud Chairman Walsh, Leader Mariano, the other members of the conference committee, and the Legislature as a whole, for the work they have done in passing the health care cost containment bill,” House Speaker Robert A. DeLeo (D-Winthrop) said. “This bill has a simple goal: to cut healthcare costs that burden businesses and consumers while maintaining the high quality of health care the residents of our state enjoy as well as our status as a national leader in innovation. Once again, the Legislature has shown that we can work together to solve difficult and complex problems, and, in so doing, establish our state as first among all other states.” “With this legislation, Massachusetts continues to lead the nation in advancing the health of the people of the Commonwealth,” said Senator Richard T. Moore (D-Uxbridge), lead Senate conferee and Chairman of the Joint Committee on Health Care Financing. “We do so by creating a true partnership between state government and the health care sector of the Commonwealth’s economy. The focus of this legislation is not one that is a heavy-handed regulatory approach, but one where state government leads by example and partners with the private sector to continue health care reform.” “The passage of today’s bill is all about seeing our health care system through the eyes of the patient,” said Representative Steven M. Walsh (D-Lynn), House Chair of the Joint Committee on Health Care Financing. “We have the highest quality medical system in the nation and the highest percentage of health care coverage, yet it is a struggle for families to afford their health insurance premiums. This legislation focuses on increasing efficiency and cutting costs within our system, while enhancing the quality of care that our patients receive and empowering them to make the best personal health decisions.” “I am very pleased with the outcome of this extremely important piece of legislation,” said Senator Anthony Petruccelli (D-Boston), conferee and Senate Chairman of the Joint Committee on Financial Services. “It will have long-lasting positive effects on the cost and quality of health care for the people of Massachusetts.” “In this second phase of health care reform, Massachusetts leads the nation once again by tackling the ballooning costs that are crippling state and local budgets, prohibiting businesses from reinvesting in their workforces, and unduly burdening the Commonwealth’s working families,” said House Majority Leader Ronald Mariano (D-Quincy), a conferee.“This bill builds on the progress the health care industry has made and goes further by addressing the urgent fiscal needs of our community hospitals in negotiating this bill by providing them an essential funding lifeline.” “Congratulations to Chairman Walsh, who has spent the last two years learning and understanding the current standing of health care in Massachusetts, and congratulations to his staff and all of my colleagues who worked on this. I look forward to supporting this legislation and seeing its implementation,” Representative F. Jay Barrows (R-Mansfield) said. “I strongly believe that we needed to take an aggressive role to cut these growing costs. And I’m proud that we’ve finally fixed the fair share assessment, which will now stop penalizing those employers that have been doing it right all along.”  The legislation, for the first time in the nation, establishes a statewide health care cost growth benchmark for the health care industry equal to the potential growth of the state’s gross state product (GSP) from years 2013 to 2017, then dropping it 0.5 percent below potential GSP from 2018 to 2022 and back to potential GSP for 2023 and beyond. Meeting this goal will result in an estimated $200 billion in savings in the health care industry over the next 15 years which will be passed onto businesses, municipalities and residents of the Commonwealth who are struggling with increasing premiums and other health care costs. Under the bill, the state’s existing Health Care Quality and Cost Council is reorganized into the Health Policy Commission which will establish and review the health care cost growth benchmarks and oversee the development and implementation of alternative payment methodologies. The Commission will also conduct annual cost trend hearings and administer funding sources that will help distressed hospitals, promote wellness programs and complete implementation of a statewide electronic medical records system. The Commission will be governed by an 11-member board, including the Secretary of Administration and Finance and the Secretary of Health and Human Services, and three appointments each by the Governor, the Attorney General and the State Auditor. The Commission’s cost trend hearings will be supported by a new independent state agency, the Center for Health Information and Analysis, reconstituted from the existing Division of Health Care Finance and Policy and serving as the Commonwealth’s designated health care data collection and reporting agency. The Center will be governed by an executive director appointed by a majority vote of the Governor, Attorney General and State Auditor, and it will provide critical, independent analysis of the how the state’s policies are affecting cost trends.       The bill requires the state’s Medicaid program, the state’s employee health care program and all other state-funded health care programs to transition to new health care payment methodologies. These payment models incentivize the delivery of high-quality, coordinated, efficient and effective health care over quantity of services to reduce waste, fraud and abuse. To support the development of “best practices” for care delivery and payment reform models, the legislation establishes a certification process for accountable care organizations (or “ACOs”), which are health care provider systems dedicated to cost growth reduction, quality improvement and patient protection through coordinated care. These “Model ACOs” would receive a contracting preference in state health programs over other ACOs. The bill addresses the market power of certain providers by authorizing the Commission to review and determine if a provider’s market concentration exceeds certain parameters and to decide if a provider is engaged in unfair market practices or methods of competition. Any such findings or other violations of law would be referred to the Attorney General for further action. To reduce the costs of unnecessary litigation and malpractice claims, the bill creates a 182-day cooling off period while both sides try to negotiate a settlement, and it allows for providers to offer an apology to the patient. The bill makes the following enhancements in the transparency and accountability of the health care marketplace:
  • Requires all health care provider systems to register with the state and report regularly on financial performance, market share, cost trends and quality measures;
  • Charges the Attorney General to monitor trends in the health care market including consolidation in the provider market in order to protect patient access and quality;
  • Establishes a Cost and Market Impact Review to examine changes in the health care marketplace and their impact on cost, quality and market competition;
  • Develops a process to track price variation among different health care providers over time and establishes a Special Commission to determine and quantify the acceptable and unacceptable factors contributing to price variation among providers; and
  • Establishes new tools to help consumers make health care purchasing decisions based on comparative cost and quality.
The legislation also increases access to essential care and promotes administrative efficiencies by doing the following:
  • Expands the role of physician assistants and nurse practitioners to act as primary care providers in order to expand access to cost-effective care;
  • Expands an existing workforce loan forgiveness program to include behavior and mental health providers;
  • Requires the development of standard prior-authorization forms, which would be available electronically so that providers would use only one form for all payers; and
  • Streamlines data reporting requirements by designating a single agency as the secure data repository for all health care information reported to and collected by the state.
Since passing the omnibus Health Care Reform Act of 2006, used as the model for national health care reform, the Legislature has passed reforms in 2008 enhancing primary care access and e-health initiatives and in 2010 helping individuals and small businesses reduce the costs of health insurance plans. 

###

Aug 01
State Representative John W. Scibak (D-South Hadley) joined his colleagues in the Legislature in approving legislation to improve emergency response services of Massachusetts public utility companies. Widespread power outages across the state last year during Tropical Storm Irene in August and an October snowstorm exposed areas of concern and prompted the legislative action. “We want to make sure residents and customers don’t run into the same problems with service providers,” Senate President Therese Murray (D-Plymouth) said. “We all understand that storms will knock out power, but there needs to be reasonable response times and proper notifications in every community. This legislation will improve communications and hold utility companies accountable for restoring power.” “Natural disasters such as Tropical Storm Irene are unpredictable, but this legislation creates a response system in Massachusetts that will ensure readiness when the unexpected occurs,” said House Speaker Robert A. DeLeo (D-Winthrop). “This bill works to improve communication and oversight between municipalities and utility providers and will help keep victims safe in the event of a disaster.”  “Today we build on steps taken in 2009 to demand prompt restoration of power following extreme storms,” said Senator Benjamin B. Downing (D-Pittsfield), lead sponsor of the bill.  “Utilities must do a better job of communicating their restoration progress to customers and public officials. If they fail their responsibilities to their customers before, during or after a storm, those customers should be the recipients of any fines assessed by the Department of Utilities as we ensure through this bill.”    “While living in New England, we all know storms are inevitable, however Massachusetts ratepayers have every right to expect prompt return of service!,” said House Chair of the Joint Committee on Telecommunications, Utilities and Energy John D. Keenan (D-Salem). The bill requires public utility companies to provide three-times-daily estimates to customers about when electricity will be restored following a 24-hour damage assessment period. It also requires companies during major storms to set up a call center which must be located in Massachusetts within 50 miles of a utility’s service territory and have sufficient staffing to handle calls. Utilities must also report storm outages to the state and designate a community liaison in each community when implementing an emergency response plan. To enhance that effort, the legislation requires utilities to designate staff at the Massachusetts Emergency Management Agency to help coordinate statewide response. Furthermore, utilities will pay an assessment charge to help the Department of Public Utilities pay for storm investigations. The cost of this assessment cannot be passed onto customers, nor can any costs of penalties assessed on utilities for violating emergency preparation and response requirements. The final bill now goes to the Governor for his signature.

###

Jul 11
"Friends of Children Inc., a Northampton nonprofit child advocacy organization, honored state Rep. John Scibak on June 28 for his work in securing over $335,000 in state funding for one of its programs. The service, called Court Appointed Special Advocates, or CASA, works to represent children in child welfare and family court systems. Scibak, a South Hadley Democrat, restored the program's funding after it had been cut from the state budget since 2008, leaving CASA struggling to stay afloat. According to CASA director Randee Laikand, with the allocated money the program will "train and support volunteers to speak out and act as advocates for the best interests of abused and neglected children." Scibak was one of nine politicians to push for amending the budget so that state funds and assets were devoted only to the CASA program. Scibak has represented the 2nd Hampshire District for nine years..." Read the full article.
Jun 29
State Representative John W. Scibak joined his colleagues in the Massachusetts House of Representatives today in passing three pieces of legislation that expand on the state’s Green Communities Act, improves emergency storm response protocol, and puts in place a new standard on how to handle gas leaks across the Commonwealth. “I commend Chairman Keenan and the members of the Joint Committee on Telecommunications, Utilities and Energy for their tireless work on these three critical bills,” said House Speaker Robert A. DeLeo. “In addition to cutting the costs of renewable energy and improving public safety, these bills work to create and maintain jobs in the Commonwealth, a priority to which we have remained committed throughout this entire legislative session.” “I would like to thank Speaker DeLeo for bringing these three bills to the floor that support our thriving green industry, improve utility communications with ratepayers during storms, and ensure we have safe and dependable gas infrastructure” said Chairman John Keenan of the Joint Committee on Telecommunications, Utilities and Energy. “The energy bill aims to create more jobs here in the Commonwealth, while also looking at how electric rates are calculated and affect our communities. Because of the Green Communities Act, Massachusetts is ranked #1 in the country for energy efficiency programs. This bill builds upon on the great work we started with the Green Communities Act years ago.” H. 4198 Energy Bill This legislation expands on the Green Communities Act of 2008 by establishing a new requirement for distribution companies to engage in two procurement periods to jointly solicit proposals for long term renewable energy contracts through a competitive bidding process. Contracts must be for projects that work to create jobs and stimulate the state’s economy while being cost effective. These contracts shall last 10-20 years and satisfy an additional 4% of peak load. The bill raises the net metering cap on public generation facilities from 2%-3% of a distribution company’s peak load and from 1%-3% on private generation facilities. Additionally, the bill amends the current property tax exemption for solar or wind powered systems, directs the DPU to establish a cost-based rate design for distribution companies recovering costs and requires that they also design all base rates using a specific cost allocation method based on the equalized rates of return for each customer class, and establishes a requirement for distribution companies to enter into long-term contracts to procure energy from generating facilities that are located on the site of a retiring coal or oil-fired generating facility under certain circumstances. H. 4196 Storm Response Bill This legislation mandates that emergency response plans must identify management staff responsible for company operations, including a public information officer responsible for coordinating with the state and municipal officials, and an estimate of service workers available to respond to an emergency within 24 hours. Plans must also include a communication system with customers during an emergency that includes continuous access to staff assistance and twice-daily updates on estimated return of service via telephone, a website and 1 other media outreach effort. Utility must set up a sufficiently staffed call center during an event, as well. Any violation of service standards or emergency response plans during a storm will result in a penalty collected by the DPU that will be credited to ratepayers. H. 4199 Gas Leaks Bill This legislation puts in place an industry standard on how to handle gas leaks by first creating a classification system that measures how threatening each leak may be to public safety. The system works to prioritize leak repairs by helping to create a schedule wherein the most dangerous leaks are repaired immediately. The bill puts in place new reporting requirements for gas companies, authorizes DPU to establish a minimum winter patrol standard for cast iron pipelines susceptible to leaks, and addresses aging natural gas pipeline infrastructure by allowing gas companies to file replacement plans with the DPU for review.

###

Jun 29
BOSTON—State Representative John W. Scibak (D-South Hadley) joined his colleagues in the Massachusetts House of Representatives in passing a $32.5 billion operating budget that targets aid to cities and towns and provides additional funding for education, school and regional transportation, public housing, environmental protection and health and human service initiatives.  The budget addresses Massachusetts’ fiscal challenges by investing in initiatives that will grow the economy, provide for the operation of state programs and services, and care for those most in need. The budget includes local aid funding at $899 million for FY 13 and is not reliant on any surplus or one time funds.  Chapter 70 education spending grew $180 million to $4.2 billion a growth of 5.3% over the FY 12 General Appropriations Act.  A new fund was also created for Homeless Student School Transportation at $11.3 million while Regional Transit Authorities received a $3.5 million increase over last year’s budget. “I commend the conference committee, the committees on Ways and Means members and staff, and all of my colleagues in the House for their tireless efforts in producing a balanced, fiscally-sound budget for fiscal year ’13,” House Speaker Robert A. DeLeo (D-Winthrop) said. “This budget not only preserves essential services and aids municipalities, but also strengthens our community colleges and reforms our EBT system. Although we still face tough fiscal times, this budget maximizes the value of every last state dollar and strives to implement sensible reforms that will position Massachusetts for a bright economic future.” “I congratulate Speaker DeLeo and House Ways & Means Chairman Brian Dempsey on delivering this budget to the people of Massachusetts,” Said Representative Scibak. The House has managed to create a budget that reflects the unique needs of our state, while laying the groundwork for future economic advancements. Although many parts of the country are still struggling to emerge from this recession, Massachusetts is a prime example of the kind of recovery that can take place when elected officials work in unison to address the critical needs affecting their states.” Through the work of Rep. Scibak and other Members of the House, the budget increases spending on the judiciary by 7.2 percent, to $760 million, with the Trial Court receiving a 7.9 percent spending bump. Spending on the state's environmental agencies rose $20 million under the budget. The budget also allows forthcoming gaming licensing fees to assist community colleges in providing for the workforce demands of the Commonwealth. In addition to funding important programs throughout Massachusetts, Rep. Scibak also secured important funding for the Court Appointed Special Advocates (CASA) program which serves not only the 2nd Hampshire District, but several areas in Massachusetts.

###