Published January 2, 2019
By DAN TOMASELLO
LYNNFIELD — Education funding and tax relief for senior citizens are among State Rep. Brad Jones’ biggest priorities once the legislative session convenes in January.
Jones, who represents North Reading, Lynnfield and sections of Middleton and Reading, was first elected to the State Legislature in 1994 and has served as the Republican minority leader in the House of Representatives since 2002. He has never missed a roll call vote.
In an interview with the Villager, the North Reading Republican said the time has come to address education funding in the commonwealth.
“One of my biggest priorities for the upcoming legislative session is to make sure we take action to address the long-standing inequities in the state’s education funding formula, and that we work to eliminate unfunded state mandates imposed on our cities and towns,” said Jones. “Local school districts have been struggling to pay for the rising costs of special education services and health care benefits for school employees and retirees. We’ve increased funding for regional school transportation reimbursements to 85 percent, but we need to do more to help relieve the financial pressure on our cities and towns.”
Jones said reforming the Chapter 70 education funding formula “should be a priority during the next legislative session.” The Chapter 70 program, which was established by the Massachusetts Education Reform Act of 1993, is the major program of state aid to public schools.
“The Foundation Budget Review Commission released a report in 2015 that determined the state has been underfunding public education by as much as $1 to $2 billion per year,” said Jones. “The fact that the House and the Senate both passed legislation this year to revise the formula but failed to come to an agreement stands out as perhaps the biggest missed opportunity of the 2017-2018 session.”
Jones said he will continue advocating for legislation designed to provide “meaningful property tax relief” for senior citizens.
“The town of Reading and a handful of other communities currently offer a means-tested property tax exemption for homeowners who are 65 or older and have lived in the community for at least 10 years,” said Jones. “The House passed a bill in July that would create a local option giving all cities and towns the opportunity to offer a similar program, but the Senate has yet to act on this proposal. I think it’s important that we do everything we can to make sure seniors who are living on fixed incomes can continue to live in the same communities where they grew up and raised their families, and I’m hopeful we can pass legislation in the next session to help them do so.”
Jones also said the state needs to do more to address housing in the commonwealth. He supports Gov. Charlie Baker’s proposed housing choices bill because “it addresses the growing need for additional housing in Massachusetts.”
“Right now, production is not keeping up with demand and it’s contributing to the high cost of housing in the state,” said Jones. “Without more housing, particularly more affordable housing, Massachusetts businesses will have a hard time retaining workers. The governor’s bill provides communities with more flexibility by allowing local zoning bylaws to be changed through a simple majority vote, rather than a two-thirds vote. It also provides cities and towns with access to capital grants, technical assistance grants and other incentives to promote housing construction. Gov. Baker has estimated that these changes will help to facilitate the construction of an additional 135,000 housing units across the state over the next seven years.”
Jones noted the Massachusetts Municipal Association, which represents cities and towns, supports this legislation.
“There is strong support for the bill at the local level,” said Jones. “Some of my colleagues have raised concerns about the proposed changes to the process for revising local zoning laws, but the good thing is this is not a ‘one-size-fits-all’ approach and leaves it up to the individual community to determine what works best for them and whether or not these changes are worth pursuing.”
Jones also said the opioid crisis will be a major focus area for lawmakers once the legislative session convenes.
“The state has already taken a number of steps to address the opioid crisis with the passage of the 2016 STEP Act (Substance Use, Treatment, Education, and Prevention) and the 2018 CARE Act, but more work needs to be done,” said Jones. “The latest statistics released by the Department of Public Health in November show there were 1,233 confirmed opioid-related overdose deaths in Massachusetts over the first nine months of 2018, with another 252 to 318 such deaths anticipated. Although the figures are trending downward, those numbers are still alarming and represent a serious public health threat that can’t be ignored.
“The bill-filing deadline for the 2019-2020 legislative session is Jan. 18,” Jones continued. “One of the bills I am considering re-filing would allow attending physicians to place individuals in a 72-hour substance abuse treatment program if they are treated for an overdose twice within a seven-day period. Under the state’s 2016 opioid law, individuals treated for an overdose are required to undergo a substance abuse evaluation within 24 hours. Doctors can advise them of their treatment options, but the patient is under no legal obligation to enter treatment, and can only be committed on an involuntary basis through a court order. Getting patients into treatment is the first step to putting them on a path to recovery, and I am convinced we can save lives by giving attending physicians this option.”
Jones said he will continue supporting the state’s Chapter 90 program, which allocates funds for capital improvement projects such as highway construction. In April, Jones voted for a Chapter 90 bill that will allocate $200 million to cities and town for one year.
“I also supported the release of an additional $40 million in Chapter 90 funding as part of a fiscal year 2018 supplemental budget that was signed into law on Oct. 23,” Jones added. “This additional funding provided Lynnfield with a total of $493,980 in Chapter 90 money this year.”
Jones supports the proposed Equifax bill as well. In September 2017, Equifax announced that its credit report databases were breached, which impacted 148 million people.
“I strongly support the Equifax bill because it will give consumers more control over how their personal credit information is used and will help protect them from data breaches,” said Jones. “The bill prohibits the release of a consumer’s personal information without their consent, and requires anyone attempting to access a consumer’s credit report to disclose their reason for doing so to the consumer. The bill also mandates that businesses and credit reporting agencies provide free credit monitoring services to consumers in the event of a breach, which is important because that can help prevent any further compromise of their personal information.”
Jones noted Baker “returned the Equifax bill to the Legislature after formal sessions ended with some corrective amendments.”
“These amendments were designed to clarify that the Department of Children and Families can continue to access credit reports in connection with enforcing the state’s child support laws and protecting the credit history of children who are under the state’s care,” said Jones. “These amendments will also ensure the state does not violate federal laws that allow financial institutions to use credit reports to extend pre-qualifying credit and insurance offers to Massachusetts residents. The House approved a modified version of these amendments on Nov. 29, but the Senate still needs to act on them.”
Jones predicts clean energy will be another focus area for lawmakers.
“The clean energy industry in Massachusetts has been enjoying strong job growth over the last decade, with the number of workers in this field increasing by 84 percent since 2010, which makes it an important sector of the state’s economy,” said Jones. “With the state working to reduce greenhouse gas emissions, I expect there will be a continued focus on legislation promoting the development of cleaner and more efficient energy sources.”