IN YOUR CORNER WITH SENATOR IVES – Let’s Get the Basics Right in Massachusetts!

By: State Senator Katy O’Connor Ives – April 2013


Kathleen O'Connor Ives
Kathleen O’Connor Ives

As the legislative session heads into the spring, there are a series of important issues facing the Commonwealth. I’m highlighting transportation funding and child safety in this column. As always, I welcome your thoughts on these and other issues.

Trains, roads and taxes

Beacon Hill is currently debating how to adequately and predictably pay to maintain and improve the state’s transportation infrastructure. Governor Patrick has asked the legislature and public to support a call for $1.9 Billion in new revenues to support investments in both transportation and education. Many legislators can agree that the need for improved funding for transportation and education is necessary. However, raising threats of increased fare rates and service cuts for public transportation adds to the public’s sense of economic unpredictability, and it’s not a constructive strategy for political discourse.

I see three important elements missing from the transportation funding proposal. First, we first need an update on MBTA accountability. There needs to be additional transparency on the status and progress of promised reforms for more efficiencies within our transportation system. We need to see ongoing improvement in the safety, cleanliness and reliability of the public transportation system since the reorganization of the transportation agencies took place. That accountability and credibility must be in place for us to invest in its improvement. How can commuters feel confident in public transportation as a viable alternative if its unpredictable and more expensive (once the cost of parking is included), than driving?

The second thing that’s missing is a recognition that most people don’t have any discretionary income right now. We must understand how the current economic climate relates to funding proposals.

Lastly, we need to be willing to consider creative alternatives. One example of a more long-term concept to directly fund transportation improvements is express lane tolling. Express lane tolling has been implemented in Maryland, Georgia and Virginia, where an EZ Pass allows drivers to use the carpool lane or another designated lane as an “express lane” during heavy traffic periods. Drivers can opt to pay a couple of dollars to avoid traffic and get in the express lane. This kind of revenue source would be optional, drivers would decide if they want to use the lane on an individual basis and those monies would go directly back into the transportation system.

As an added benefit, retrofitting existing lanes to create express lanes would create jobs. I’ve been discussing the idea with residents and electeds to get feedback. A strategy like express lanes could provide funding to improve our public transportation. Increased ridership on public transportation in turn, would ease traffic congestion. An improved public transit system and a new option for drivers to get to that meeting, appointment or flight on time is possible. In short, accountability, fairness and creativity are key to moving forward on this.

Child Safety Should be First Order of Business at Department of Early Education & Care

We were all disturbed by the recent report from the State Auditor, citing major breaches in the oversight of Massachusetts child care facilities. More specifically, the report found 119 instances where the address listed for Level 2 or Level 3 sex offenders in the Massachusetts Sex Offender Registry matched that of a Department of Early Education & Care (EEC) licensed child care provider.

The EEC is responsible for licensing and regulating child care providers and residential care and adoption/foster care placement agencies. The report found that EEC is not confirming that child care facilities are conducting the required Criminal Offender Record Information (CORI) checks on facility staff. Additionally, EEC has not been conducting unannounced inspections of residence-based child care facilities as required by law.

The report from the State Auditor made specific recommendations to fix these problems. I’ve filed legislation in response to these recommendations which would require child care facilities licensed through EEC to perform CORI checks for all child care facility operators, workers and those on the facility premises, even if they do not typically have unsupervised interaction with children. Under this legislation, EEC would be required to perform Sex Offender Registry Information (SORI) checks on all new child care provider applicants and renewals. Applicants or current licensees that didn’t perform CORI checks would have their licenses suspended and risk license revocation.

I’ve also sent a letter to Acting EEC Commissioner Weber requesting a meeting to discuss the audit’s findings and his Department’s plan of action. I’ve asked the Department to include the recently departed EEC Commissioner in meetings where they anticipate explaining the failures in oversight and their response since these problems transpired under her tenure. The EEC has responded to my office’s letter and a meeting is on the books. I look forward to updating residents on this front in the next edition of the column.