Sunday, September 25, 2011

Vote early, vote often in Massachusetts

I went to a movie the other day. I paid for the tickets with my debit card and I was asked to show an I.D.

Every time I walk into the Statehouse, I have to show my I.D.

Get on a plane? Keep your I.D. out and available.

Go the polls? Pick an address. Any address. Identification? Not necessary.

Quite literally, I could go to a town where they don’t know me and vote at every polling place. But no one would do that, would they?

Thirty states require voters to show identification to pull a ballot. A group of citizens believes that Massachusetts should be thirty-one, but their petition was found to be invalid by the attorney general because forcing people to show I.D.’s at the polls would make it harder to vote and, because an I.D. card from the RMV costs $25, the law would be a de facto poll tax.

Somebody please make the case for me that showing an I.D. would complicate the ballot checkout system because I can’t figure out why.

Regarding a poll tax, the attorney general’s argument is inconsistent. To register to vote, one must show identification. So the AG is saying 1) that we’re violating the Voting Rights Act of 1965 with our registration laws, or 2) well, I don’t what she’s saying. Help me out here.

A simple solution would be to provide free I.D. cards to people who are registered voters if they have no other valid voter identification.

Despite the AG's ruling, which has been appealed, the petitions will be ready for signature collection starting this week. If the court rules with the AG, the issue will be dead. At least for awhile.

This is an issue, like term limits, that will not be taken up by the legislature as long as the Democrats have a 5 to 1 advantage. The good news is that they had a 10 to 1 advantage just a year ago.

Saturday, September 24, 2011

President is running out of ideas

Guest article by Max Drake
Sandwich

This letter to the editor of the Sandwich Enterprise was reproduced here with the author's permission.

I read, with interest, your reposted NY Times editorial last week under the “What Others Say” column, and along with that, Joanne O’Keefe’s letter to the editor. I couldn’t help but marvel at how the political left is always so willing to give one group the shirt off someone else’s back.

Considering the fact that Obama’s last $880 billion “stimulus plan” borrowed from our Chinese friends, has resulted in a 9.1 percent unemployment rate, a debt ceiling crisis that saw our nation’s credit rating drop, and zero new jobs created in August, I am baffled by those who continue to praise his failed economic policies. It is simply beyond comprehension.

The President’s approval ratings and overall job satisfaction ratings are dropping faster than the barometric pressure at the onset of a Northeaster. For good reason. Combine a 9.1 percent (and probably higher) unemployment rate, $3.79 per gallon of gasoline, $3.90 per gallon heating oil, the highest debt load of any administration in the history of our nation, an economy that is in the toilet, and a president who is governing against the will of the majority, and you have a recipe for a Democratic disaster at the polls in 2012. Amidst all of this, all Obama can come up with is the same old and tired class warfare mantra: “Tax the rich.” Holy smokes.

Furthermore, the President’s confrontational attitude with House Republicans does not seem so much designed to facilitate the passage of legislation as it is to unite his left wing base for his 2012 election campaign. This tactic is so transparent that only the “true believers” still refuse to accept the fact that the emperor has no clothes. Who could support such a cynical approach?

In summary, could someone please tell me when last it was that a tax increase balanced our budget and paid off our national debt? It has never happened, and never will. Cut spending now.

Friday, September 23, 2011

MA alimony bill to be signed by guv on Monday

House bill 3617 has finally landed on the governor's desk. A signing ceremony is scheduled for Monday, September 26, 2011 in Nurses Hall at the Statehouse at 4pm.

The legislation overhauls Massachusetts' antiquated alimony laws--long overdue but late is better than never.

Read a summary of the provisions here.

Read the bill here.

Friday, September 9, 2011

Let’s remember the events of 9/11/2001 on September 11

Call me old-fashioned or a curmudgeon or a cynic, but I’m having a great deal of difficulty getting my arms around the idea of turning the attacks by Muslim terrorists on September 11th, 2001 into a National Day of Service and Remembrance. Like Roebuck, the word remembrance will eventually fade away.

Other non-holiday commemorations focus on the events that took place on that day of the year. June 6th is D-Day. November 11th is Veterans Day, originally Armistice Day for remembering the end of hostilities of World War I and since expanded to recognize the contributions of all armed forces veterans.

December 7th is remembered for the Japanese attack on Pearl Harbor. Also from World War II are VE and VJ Day, both emblazoned on my dad’s memory, having fought in Europe and being en route to the Pacific when Hirohito surrendered.

So as much as I appreciate, encourage and participate in volunteerism, I’m concerned that we are on a federally orchestrated course to push the terrorist attacks to the back burner, opting instead for political correctness. That’s a tall order this year for the leading voice of the National Day of Service and Remembrance, Michelle Obama. The administration is up against the naturally important tenth anniversary of the hijackings, but counting on our collective memory and visceral reactions to wane as time goes on.

I say don’t dilute the significance of this day. I say never forget.

Thursday, September 8, 2011

My takeaway from last night’s Republican debate

Rick Santorum: Me! Me! Me! Call on me!

Jon Huntsman: My podium’s closer to Utah than Brian Williams.

Newt Gingrich: I’d fire everybody. I’d fire myself.

Herman Cain: Nine! Nine! Nine toppings for nine dollars!

Ron Paul: I’m older than Moses. Personal friend, you know.

Michelle Bachman: Puhleez…

Rick Perry: Charles Ponzi was released from prison in 1934. The Social Security Act was signed in 1935. Coincidence?

Mitt Romney: You can read my 59-point plan on the Kindle, in color.


So… Amazon is bringing out a color Kindle? Now that’s something I might be interested in.

Copyright 2011 Randy Hunt

Tuesday, September 6, 2011

Required viewing: The Help


Mary and I went to see “The Help” yesterday. My review of this movie can be summed up in two sentences:

This movie should be required viewing for everyone. Go see it.


Friday, September 2, 2011

Massachusetts trial courts to cut back services


Chief Justice for Administration and Management, Robert Mulligan, announced a reduction in public office hours and telephone coverage in order to compensate for the smaller staff the Trial Court is operating with today compared with 2007.

Doing the math, their headcount in 2007 was 7,780. They have lost 1,167 employees (15%) due to budget cuts during that four-year period.

Let me give you some perspective from a person who worked in manufacturing for many years. If we didn't increase our efficiency by more than 15% over a four-year period, we would have been left in the dust by our competitors.

How can you not be 15% more efficient than you were four years ago? That's the question that needs to be answered here.

As a former auditor with a "big four" accounting firm, I will be happy to spend a week in a court of the chief justice's choice and write a report to be published in a Boston daily of his choice about my experience; free of charge.

*********************************************************************

September 2, 2011

To:       Governor Patrick
Senate President Murray
Speaker DeLeo
            House and Senate Chairs of Ways and Means
            House and Senate Chairs of Judiciary
cc:        Lt. Gov. Murray
All members of the Massachusetts Senate
            All members of the Massachusetts House of Representatives

Next week, the Trial Court will announce some changes in public office hours at 38 courts to help reduce case backlogs and processing delays.

Beginning on September 19, 2011, the Trial Court will implement restricted access to counter and phone coverage to reduce case backlogs and processing delays.  The reduction in counter and telephone hours will provide necessary time for the fewer available staff to execute court orders and prepare and process cases.  The changes will not affect persons seeking emergency restraining orders, harassment prevention orders, mental health emergencies, warrants and other emergency matters.

As you may be aware, the Trial Court now employs 1,167 fewer people than in 2007, a 15 percent reduction of staff, due to substantial reductions in our appropriations.  The reduction in the court’s budget of $85M over the last three years has resulted in the court’s inability to fill vacant positions.  The staffing shortage has caused significant delays in many court divisions.

The 38 courts (list below) that will be affected by the changes in public office hours include:  21 divisions of the District Court, one division of the Housing Court, one division of the Juvenile Court, the Land Court, and the 14 divisions of the Probate and Family Court.

I would be pleased to answer any questions you may have regarding this adjustment in courts’ office hours over the coming days.

Robert A. Mulligan
Chief Justice for Administration & Management

Changes in Court Office Hours
District Court
·        Attleboro, Barnstable, E. Brookfield, Fall River (telephones only), Haverhill, Lowell, Malden, Palmer, Taunton, Waltham, Woburn, Wrentham (civil open Thursday)
o       Counter and phone coverage restricted 1:30 to 3:30 p.m.Monday through Friday
·        Natick/Framingham
  • Counter and phone coverage restricted 1:00 to 2:00 p.m. Tuesday and Thursday
·        Lawrence, Lynn, Newburyport/Ipswich (telephones only),SomervilleSpringfieldStoughton, Uxbridge, Westborough
o       Counter and phone coverage restricted 1:30 to 3:30 p.m.Monday, Wednesday & Friday
Court sessions still will begin at 9:00 a.m. and 2:00 p.m.
Restricted access applies to any business except:
Persons seeking emergency restraining orders, harassment prevention orders,
mental health emergencies, warrants
Housing Court
·        Western Division
o       Counter and phone coverage restricted 12 Noon to 2:00 p.m.Monday through Friday
Scheduled matters will continue to be heard throughout the day.
o       Satellite sessions cancelled the first week of each month inNorthamptonPittsfield and Greenfield.  Emergency matters during this week will be handled in Springfield. These satellite sessions will continue the other weeks of the month.
Juvenile Court
·        Springfield Session of the Hampden County Division
o       Counter and phone coverage restricted 8:30 to 9:00 a.m. and4:00 to 4:30 p.m. Monday through Friday.
Land Court
o       Counter and phone coverage restricted 8:30 to 10:00 a.m.Monday through Friday
Court sessions will be held as scheduled throughout the day.
Probate and Family Court
·        All divisions
o       Registry Counter and phone coverage restricted after 3 p.m.Monday through Friday
Applies to any court business, except emergency restraining orders and other emergencies.
Court sessions still will begin at 8:30 a.m.

Thursday, September 1, 2011

Requests for committee hearing on National Grid's and NSTAR's responses to Tropical Storm Irene

The first letter below is a request from Paul Adams and me for a hearing in front of the Joint Committee on Telecommunications, Utilities and Energy of National Grid and NSTAR.

The second letter is my more detailed request for the committee to look into the need for legislation or beefed up regulations regarding minimum standards for customer service during a storm event and its aftermath.

Feel free to comment on your own situation after the storm.


*********************************************************************************************

September 1, 2011

The Honorable John D. Keenan, House Chairman
Joint Committee on Telecommunications, Utilities and Energy
State House, Room 473B
Boston, MA  02133

Dear Chairman Keenan:

As members of the Committee and on behalf of the House Republican Caucus, we write to engage your thoughts on having the Committee call on representatives from National Grid and NSTAR to appear at a public hearing to discuss public outcry from prolonged power outages that plagued Massachusetts in the wake of Tropical Storm Irene.

As you know, on Sunday, August 28th, cities and towns across the Commonwealth were barraged with both severe winds reaching upwards of 80 mph and flooding rains as a result of Tropical Storm Irene. Subsequently, power outages were reported as far reaching as Berkshire and Barnstable Counties. At the height of the power outages, nearly 700,000 residents were without power around the Commonwealth. At the time of this letter being written, close to 65,000 households remain without electrical power. As members of the Committee and on behalf of the residents of Massachusetts, we feel this event reached such a critical point that we respectfully request the Committee to call on officials from both National Grid and NSTAR to appear before a public hearing to discuss how to better pursue preventative measures to ensure that a situation like this does not occur again.

The purpose of this public hearing would be threefold. First, we think it would be helpful for National Grid and NSTAR to discuss their current emergency response plans, and any improvements that can be made to such plans as a result of Tropical Storm Irene. Second, the public hearing could facilitate dialogue surrounding the failed communications between the electric companies and both customers and municipalities during, and in the wake of, the storm. Finally, it goes without saying the need to address residents’ reports of untimely response by National Grid and NSTAR to the widespread power outages would be imperative.

We appreciate and applaud the tireless work of the electrical workers that have labored day and night to get power back up and running to hundreds of thousands of households. Since we realize the Department of Public Utilities will most likely conduct similar hearings, we respectfully defer to your expertise as to the best way to proceed in conjunction with the Administration.

We appreciate your consideration of this request and would be happy to discuss it with you at your convenience. We look forward to your response.

Sincerely,

  
                                                           
Representative Paul Adams                                         Representative Randy Hunt
17th Essex District                                                       5th Barnstable District

*********************************************************************************************

September 1, 2011

Benjamin Downing, Senate Chairman
John Keenan, House Chairman
Joint Committee on Telecommunications, Utilities and Energy
Statehouse Room 413F
Boston, MA 02133

Re:       Substandard customer service by NSTAR in wake of Hurricane Irene and
            concerns about our electrical grid on Cape Cod

Honorable Chairmen:

Background

Hurricane Irene, which was downgraded to a tropical storm before moving across Massachusetts, affected Cape Cod and the Islands on Sunday, August 28th. The height of the winds were felt from approximately 11:00 a.m. to 4:00 p.m., with a maximum gust of 72 mph measured at the Massachusetts Maritime Academy on Buzzards Bay. Sustained winds were between 40 and 50 mph. It was not a significant rain event for Cape Cod.

On Monday, August 29th, NSTAR’s recorded customer service message requested customers to call back on Tuesday. On Tuesday, NSTAR’s recorded message informed everyone from Cape Cod to expect repairs to be completed by Saturday, September 3rd at 10:00 p.m. or for a few areas by Sunday at 10:00 p.m.

A timeframe such as this is equivalent to no information at all. For someone without electricity, the difference between one day and four days is huge. If a person knew with certainty on Tuesday that power would not be restored until Saturday, that would constitute actionable information and might persuade that person to throw out their perishables, rent a motel room, or stay with family or a friend who has power.

NSTAR gave us no information on which a reasonable person could make a decision. On Monday, NSTAR reported that 162,000 customers across their systems had no electricity. On Tuesday, NSTAR reported that 84,000 customers remained without power. The fact was that none of our residents without power knew if they’d see electricity restored in 4 hours or 4 days.

Late Monday evening, NSTAR posted a chart at nstar.com of the number of customers by community, the number of customers without power, and the percentage of customers without power. This chart provided no perspective on when to expect restoration of power. On Tuesday, the chart was updated to reflect the number of customers by town with restored power and included the Saturday and Sunday dates for expected repairs in Cape Cod towns. Again, NSTAR’s communications lacked operable information.

Steps Forward

First, let me be clear that I am in no way criticizing the work of NSTAR’s repair crews or the people responsible for prioritizing the work and dispatching the crews. They appear to be doing the job of getting customers back up and running. My criticism is aimed at the lack of information provided to the public by NSTAR, leaving no one able to make critical decisions relative to handling their personal affairs, business interests, and the needs of relatives unable to manage through the downtime.

An effective and credible customer service function requires accurate and timely information. In the aftermath of a storm like this, a utility is faced with determining where the outages are and the causes for each of the outages. Then it must prioritize the blackout areas based on public safety, greatest number of customers restored per repair, etc. Furthermore, personnel, replacement equipment, and machinery availability has to be considered as well as timing of subcontractors (tree removal services, e.g.)

In a perfect world, the exact date and time of power restoration for each customer would allow flawless decision making. In the real world, each repair site has its nuances and necessary resources are not always available at the right time. Having said that, this is the nature of the beast and utilities do the best they can to juggle the moving parts in making decisions to prioritize the repairs.

Once decisions are made about where and when to send repair crews, the public has a right to know what the decisions are. As an example, if there are 500 repair work sites and fewer than 500 crews with the appropriate equipment, an ordering must be established by management. As a customer, to know that your blackout area is near the top of the list versus near the bottom of the list is important, actionable information.

As a minimum customer service standard, I propose the following:

1)      During any event involving the loss of a utility service, the utility company must provide information regarding where the areas without service are by municipality and commonly known names of areas within the municipalities. This can be made available using an online mapping tool, smart phone apps, reverse 9-1-1 systems, through the news media, the 2-1-1 system, or any other method that is widely used and accomplishes the goal of disseminating information effectively and efficiently.

2)      Accompanying or integrated into the above information must be a list by region in which coordinated repair crews are working to include repair projects that are completed and those that are pending, in the most likely order of dispatch. To the best of management’s knowledge, estimated completion dates for each repair project or group of related repair projects must be made available.

3)      The first posting of the above information must occur within 12 hours of dispatching the first repair crew and be updated no less frequently than every 12 hours until all repairs related to the event are complete. Real time posting of information is encouraged.

4)      An archived copy of these reports, or “snapshots” of real time data at intervals of no less than 12 hours, must be submitted to the Department of Public Utilities within 30 days of completion of the event reporting.

The above minimum standard of public reporting during disaster events could be codified in law or by DPU regulation. However it is decided, I would encourage the Joint Committee on Telecommunications, Utilities and Energy to take up the issue as soon as practicable. I will be happy to sponsor legislation to this effect if we agree that legislation is warranted.

Electrical Grid on Cape Cod

Hurricane/Tropical Storm Irene has brought to light a situation that is potentially far reaching with respect to the electrical grid on Cape Cod. The storm was large but not particularly fierce on the Cape. Given that, the amount of power disruptions seem out of line with the severity of the weather event, which points to issues regarding the stalwartness of the electrical grid and what might happen if we experience a hurricane.

I suggest we, as a committee, gather additional information regarding expectations for damage from this storm versus what actually happened and invite some disaster planners from the state and private industry to assess our preparedness for future events.

Sincerely,


Randy Hunt, State Rep - 5th Barnstable District
Committee Member - TUE