STATE REPRESENTATIVE
PAUL C. CASEY

Room 473-B
State House
Boston, MA 02133
Telephone: (617) 722-2230
District Office
585A Main St.
Winchester, MA 01890
Telephone: (617) 721-7285 or (617) 438-7185

A View from the Hill

FOR IMMEDIATE RELEASE: February 8, 1999
CONTACT: Tom Nolan (617) 722-2230 e-mail: Thomas.Nolan@state.ma.us

PUNXSUTAWNEY PHIL SIGNALS MORE THAN CHANGE IN WEATHER THIS YEAR

Last week, our nation celebrated Ground Hog Day. The day when people across the country wait in anticipation as Punxsutawney Phil, that famed furry weatherman, momentarily emerges from his slumber and by the fortune of his shadow (or lack thereof), predicts either the dawning of an early spring or the continuation of a long winter. Fortunately, Phil did not see his shadow this year, which for us, means a welcome change to warmer weather.

Just a few short days after Punxsutawney Phil signaled the coming of better weather, the House of Representatives underwent its own welcome changes. Last Tuesday, the Democratic members of the House gathered for their traditional Caucus following the inauguration of the new representatives and the new Speaker. The Caucus produced a few promotions in the House Leadership, signaling the beginning of what should be a very productive legislative session. While maybe unexpected by some, these changes will add a breath of fresh air to the halls of the Golden Dome.

I was one of those who took a step forward in the House Democratic leadership team, being promoted to the Chairmanship position for the House Committee on Public Service. For the past two years, I Chaired the House side of the Joint Committee on Public Safety. The Public Safety Committee enjoys a broad jurisdiction, covering all legislation relating to gun control, fire, police, civil defense, motor vehicle, prison and other issues involving the safety of the public.

As Chairman, I was called upon to balance my role as Representative for my constituents with my new leadership responsibilities to the entire Commonwealth on public safety issues. I am proud to say that while chairing that committee, we were successful in passing many positive and influential bills. Keeping the best interests of all residents a priority, we spearheaded efforts to make our neighborhoods safer by crafting the nation's most comprehensive gun control legislation; to make our roads safer by codifying a graduated license program; and to ensure the well-being of those most affected by crime by strengthening our victim witness advocacy programs.

In Public Service, we will be working with many of the same organizations and interest groups and some new ones, examining new and different issues. My days on the Hill promise to be even busier in Public Service, which is the second largest committee in the House, surpassed only by the Committee on Ways and Means. Under its jurisdiction, the Committee receives and hears bills on all matters concerning salaries, civil service, retirement and collective bargaining for state and other public employees. The matters before the committee affect a lot of people, and typically have significant impacts on the state's revenue. While the workload will be incredibly demanding, I am excited about the challenges Public Service will present and I look forward to researching many new matters.

As one of the 21 Joint Committees in the Legislature, the committee is comprised of 11 House and 7 Senate members respectively. During this session, the members of Public Service will be immersed in a number of retirement and benefits-related matters, as well as civil service employment matters. The matters we will be reviewing range from cutting edge issues such as the investment of pension obligations, to "return to work" provisions for employees on disability, to retirement programs for civil service employees such as teachers and police.

The investment of pension obligations is clearly one of the more innovative issues we will be reviewing time and again. Currently, a few cities have latched on to this program including Worcester and Holyoke. Because this type of investment in public funds is relatively new, we have yet to see any real negative effects. The experts generally agree that such a policy, while certainly not for every area, works for appropriate cities and towns.

Another matter we will be asked to take a closer look at stems from the passage of the Disability Reform Act of 1996. That law established certain guidelines for treating civil employees who leave their place of employ on disability. Specifically, the Act put in place certain safeguards for those individuals, essentially affording them greater rights in their return to work. While these measures certainly have merit, there are certain occupations, particularly in public safety, where strict adherence to the Act's provisions may not be advisable, or workable. We will be considering what, if any, rectification is necessary or appropriate.

One of the hotter topics we will be dealing with involves the retirement benefits for certain classes of state and municipal employees, especially teachers and law enforcement personnel. It is interesting to note that according to actuarial studies, the average pension for state employees across the board has risen by 11% over a two year period. Teachers' pensions have increased by 10% over the same period. As we take a closer look in to how the retirement benefit formulae should be altered, if at all, we must always remain committed to making fiscally sound public policy.

Presently, I, along with my colleagues are in the midst of the transition, moving boxes and files and scheduling numerous meetings with a long list of interest groups. There will no doubt be a brief period of intense research and study as me and my staff change gears from Public Safety to Public Service. Very soon, however, we will be mastering these new issues, and others that are sure to pop up along the way. Yet, for now, I am confident that as Punxsutawney Phil returns to his earthen confines for his last few weeks of rest, he can sleep easy knowing that the recent changes to the House leadership on the Hill are sure to keep the Commonwealth blooming.

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