Tuesday, December 24, 2013

Twelve Days of 2013

The Twelve Days of Christmas are upon us and, for the 30th time, investment house PNC has put a price of $114,651 on the 364 gifts called out in the song, a 6.9% increase over 2012. This accounting includes 12 partridges in pear trees, 22 turtle doves, 30 French hens, etc.

As much as I enjoy these go-on-forever songs, including Little Drummer Boy and 99 Bottles of Beer on the Wall, I decided to tap the idea of the Twelve Days of Christmas, not for musical purposes, but to compile a list of the twelve days of 2013, one from each month, that I consider the best gifts I have received this year from my lovely bride.
January 2nd - The culmination of months of hard work, no small amount put in by Mary as coordinator of my campaign for reelection, this was swearing in day on Beacon Hill. Mary understands my desire to serve as state representative and is my confidante and sounding board as I talk incessantly about how we can improve Massachusetts.
February 4th - Mary was amazingly supportive and engaged in my first colonoscopy. She even okayed my article about my experience published in the Barnstable Patriot to encourage others to step up to (or back into) this procedure. See the article here: http://www.barnstablepatriot.com/home2/index.php?option=com_content&task=view&id=32115&Itemid=37
March 3rd - This is our son Chris' birthday. He's the oldest of our six kids and one of two children that Mary brought into our "Brady Bunch" of six. Mary has been the best mother and step-mother any child could hope for. All six are better off today because of her.
April 15th (Tax Day) - On top of everything else she does, Mary manages our CPA office, keeping the work flow moving and dealing with our many clients. She has my absolute trust and no one could be a better face and voice of our business.
May 28th - Mary is a 15-year breast cancer survivor. This was the date of her most recent mammogram. I never take it for granted that her early detection in 1998 was a life saver.
June 5th - On a day that should be All About Mary, her birthday often turns into There's Something About Mary in the middle of my crazy schedule. After energy education awards, realtors' day, and a formal voting session, Mary was very patient awaiting my return from Boston to celebrate her birthday.
July 4th - The Fourth of July starts the parade of our Cape Cod summer visitors. The amount of preparation that goes into being ready for the kids and grandkids is more than most realize and Mary is the one who figures it all out. This summer was no exception and a good time was had by all.
August 19th - Mary's volunteerism is a gift to everyone. This was the date of the organizing meeting for Sandwich's First Night, an event that was spectacularly successful last year and promises to be even better this year. If you want it done right and on time, Mary's the one you can count on.
September 26th - This was the date of the theater debut of Anonymous People on Cape Cod, a celebration of addicts in recovery sponsored by Gosnold on the Cape. Mary really gets this issue and understands how we need to change course in order to get a handle on addiction. She pushes me to continue making this a defining issue for me as state representative.
October 31st - We used to decorate our house off Old County Road for Halloween, adding music and effects to entertain/terrify the neighborhood kids. As you can imagine, it was Mary that always put things together, saving the best stuff from the year before and getting a few new things to make the evening more fun. Where we are now we get no trick or treaters. Five years, no one. But Mary never gives up. She's always got a bowl of treats ready to go, just in case. I love her optimism.
November 27th - Again, in a show of support and selflessness, Mary allowed me to take two days out of our Texas trip to meet with people who put Texas on a different and successful track relative to the sentencing and treatment of nonviolent criminals with substance addictions. I am grateful that Mary takes all of this in stride, knowing that this is important to me and, more than that, important to her.
December 18th - I had meetings in Boston this day and had committed to attend the House of Representatives Christmas party that evening. At about 2pm, I started having second thoughts about the party and being away from Mary. I picked up the phone and, in the most persuasive way I could, talked her into jumping on the bus, meeting me at South Station, and heading over to the party as a couple. We stayed at the hotel that night and returned to the Cape after a morning meeting I had at the Statehouse. Mary loves spontaneity. That is a gift I cherish.
These are twelve days of 2013 that stand out to me but, to tell it straight, not a lot more than the rest of the days that I am engaged by, motivated by, encouraged by, entertained by, consoled by, and loved by the most important person in my world.
Here's to a prosperous and wonderful 2014, my love.

Friday, November 1, 2013

Letter from a recovering addict

I received this letter from a Boston attorney who has been in recovery for many years and experienced the devastation that his addiction had on his health, family and firm.

Representative Hunt:

Thank you for taking the time to meet with me to discuss the substance abuse problem facing us as a country, as a state, as families and as individuals who are suffering. This is such an enormous problem, yet I do not think it has ever received the type of thoughtful response it deserves.  

This problem causes such great pain for the individuals and families affected. This pain alone should more than justify and all-out effort to treat the problem as the public health epidemic that it is. Unfortunately, such great misunderstanding exists among a large percentage of the electorate and their representatives as to the nature of this mental illness, and it is a form of mental illness, that overcoming this is a tall order.  

Once addicted to drugs or alcohol (or both), the sufferer is truly unable to stop. Even worse, the mental obsession to continue to use, coupled with the physical compulsion to use, leads many addicts and alcoholics to engage in behavior that is, at best, self-destructive (i.e., neglect of health, work and family) and, at worse, truly sociopathic (i.e., theft, robbery, rape and murder).

All of these negative behaviors have a societal cost associated with them. It saddens me that the pain inflicted upon the suffering addicts and alcoholics is not reason enough to put significant resources, commensurate with the scope of the problem, into combatting addiction. If the disease were better understood, I believe this might be different. I do not hold out great hope for this happening, but I will, God willing, spend the rest of my life educating anyone willing to listen.

Perhaps, the best way to get this problem the resources devoted to it that it surely justifies is to quantify the costs in dollars.

Most large business organizations, unions, and governments already see the value of devoting significant resources towards the rehabilitation of their employees. EAP (Employee Assistance Programs) exist at most large companies. The legal profession has LCL (Lawyers Concerned for Lawyers), a mandatory charge on every lawyer's yearly bar dues. I am aware of similar efforts in the medical and law enforcement (police) professions. Intelligent people see the value in saving lives, families and organizations from the ravages of addiction.

The problem is that this still leaves the vast majority of people without many real alternatives. Correctional facilities, although rife with illegal drugs and alcohol within their walls, seem to be society's answer to the problem. Many people do get sober (or clean) in prison, but this is hardly cost effective and the rehabilitation rates are abysmal--just look at the recidivism rates.

Treating people prior to their involvement in the criminal justice system, would be best. Diverting them into treatment after their involvement in the criminal justice system, but prior to incarceration, would be next. Treatment in prison should be a last resort, but is still worth the effort. Unfortunately, by the time prison is in the picture the sufferer has a reduced probability of getting into recovery.

Our courts, prisons, social service agencies, businesses, and individual families are spending enormous resources dealing with the after effects of alcoholism and drug addiction, with very little attention given to the alcoholic/addict. Get the sufferer into recovery and all those other problems go away. Society gains another productive member and the pain ends. This should be the goal.

Thank you again for your time and your efforts.


Sunday, October 13, 2013

Finding out what's in ObamaCare

Listening to Paul Krugman on ABC's This Week with George Stephanopoulos, you'd believe that the measure of success for ObamaCare is someone being able to log into the insurance exchange and create an account. He assures us that these glitches will be resolved.

There is no doubt that the not-ready-for-prime-time Internet software will be fixed eventually. That's not what people will be fuming about in November of 2014. Two aspects of the ACA will be front and center when voters are about to cast their ballots.

First, when the $515 million healthcare.gov website (see the NY Magazine article here) is fixed, health insurance shoppers will get to see pricing for bronze, silver and gold plans. For millions of people, this will be sticker shock because of their expectations, fueled by the President and his administration for several years, that policies offered under the Affordable Care Act will be affordable.

Adding tens of millions of newly-insured individuals and families to our already short-handed health care system, particularly with respect to primary care physicians, will not be without its challenges. Health care delivery is not immune to the effects of supply and demand. When supply is dwarfed by demand, expect 1) higher prices, 2) longer lines, and 3) inferior quality.

As we close in on January 1, 2014, we will hear report after report of people being unwilling or unable to pay the premiums, deductibles and co-pays for the plans that meet the minimum coverage standards of the ACA. Many will sign up anyway with the idea that they might be able to make ends meet, but later will realize that hope doesn't change the fact that family budgets have limits. This epiphany will come about during the height of the U.S. House and Senate re-election campaigns.

Second, in spite of the fact that businesses have been given a hiatus until January 1, 2015 to meet their ACA mandates, millions of employees who fall below middle management in the corporate hierarchy will feel the brunt of full-time jobs being slashed to part-time status in advance of this start date. A 29-hour work week will be commonplace for these folks, the magic number for businesses to avoid the ACA requirement to provide employee health insurance.

In an effort to balance the family budget, second jobs will also become the norm for those who lose their full-time status and their corresponding benefits. Oddly, the selfless act of working harder to keep their heads above water will also push many beyond the threshold for receiving subsidies to help pay for their ObamaCare.

Even if a family of three's income falls below the $73,000 subsidy threshold, say $65,000, insurance premiums will be capped at around $6,000 per year for a high deductible policy, but the family would put at risk another $8,000 to cover the maximum annual out-of-pocket exposure. Will people consider putting up $14,000 for health insurance affordable? (See the chart here.)

As Nancy Pelosi famously proffered: "...we have to pass the [health care] bill so that you can find out whats in it...." Voters will be finding out what's in the bill just in time to weigh in at the polls on November 4, 2014.

Friday, September 13, 2013

Addiction and Crime - A Way Forward

Addiction and Crime – A Way Forward

Randy Hunt, State Representative
Massachusetts 5th Barnstable District
September 2013


Serving on the Joint Committee for Mental Health and Substance Abuse as well as the Interagency Council on Substance Abuse and Prevention has given me a view into the problem of substance abuse that few people outside of the treatment arena are afforded. Three truths I have come to realize are 1) substance abuse is wider spread than most people believe, both geographically and socioeconomically; 2) treatment works; and 3) relatively few people seek out treatment.

Over the past ten years, legislators, governors and state administrators across the country have begun to see the folly of incarceration as a solution to the problem of substance abuse. It is the most expensive and least effective way to address the issue, a veritable turnstile for repeat offenders who do not get the treatment they need. Nonviolent criminals with a substance addiction are crowding our prisons—about one-quarter of all inmates in the U.S.—and costing enormous sums of our states’ limited resources, resulting in other areas of state governments, such as education spending and transportation infrastructure investments, getting short-changed.

Addiction and Crime, A Way Forward is a policy initiative to reduce substance abuse in Massachusetts by focusing on the population of nonviolent criminals with a substance addiction who interface with the criminal justice system. It is, by no means, an omnibus solution for all addicts, the majority of whom never encounter the police, courts and detention; but it is a way to deal with thousands of people who are responsible for the majority of our property crimes, domestic abuse situations, and serious vehicular crashes—all of this with the promise of saving taxpayer dollars.

Why Addicts Commit Crimes

Is Free Will No Longer Free?
Much has been said in recent years about addiction being somewhere between an uncontrollable behavior and a conscious choice. Some characterize it as a mental disease that should be de-stigmatized and dealt with as we do physiological diseases; that is, treatment by professionals in appropriate settings for the appropriate amount of time with the backing of health insurance or public assistance. Others believe in a personal responsibility model that is essentially “you broke it, you fix it” (http://abcnews.go.com/US/story?id=90688&page=1&singlePage=true).

A debate has emerged about whether an addict loses free will, particularly an abuser of opiate drugs which present very powerful physical withdrawal effects. Why would a previously productive person start down the road of committing petty crimes, wrecking relationships, and defying common sense? Would a person with free will choose to ruin their lives and the lives of people around them?

Some argue that it is not free will that is lost, but rather that an addict’s belief in free will turns to disbelief (http://www.ncbi.nlm.nih.gov/pmc/articles/PMC2757759/). That may seem a bit nuanced, but someone who declares “I can’t help it” probably finds it expedient to disavow his free will, thus avoiding self-incrimination.

Irrespective of the academic debate about addiction’s connection to loss of free will, it is a fact that, by force or by choice, addicts engage in destructive behaviors and often are unable to pull themselves out of their downward spiral. Along the way, many addicts commit crimes, from illegal drug possession to property theft, from embezzlement to robbery.

Sometimes, the first significant manifestation of a loved one’s drug habit is an arrest. Perhaps changes in the addict’s behaviors and routines went unnoticed or were chalked up to the stresses of school or a job or a relationship. Often the crimes committed are of a nonviolent nature but come with stiff penalties. In fact, about a quarter of all inmates in the United States are nonviolent criminals with a substance addiction (http://www.nationalreview.com/corner/269208/prison-math-and-war-drugs-veronique-de-rugy).

At the point where interdiction and treatment are most called for, our justice system parks nonviolent criminals with a substance addiction in prison, where recovery is rare.

Treatment versus Incarceration
Treatment Does Work
Doug Sellman, Professor of Psychiatry and Addiction Medicine at the National Addiction Centre in Christchurch, New Zealand, describes the ten most important things known about addiction (http://www.scribd.com/doc/45303234/The-10-Most-Important-Things-Known-About-Addiction-Sellman-Addiction-2010-See-response-by-Sobels-Missing-the-Continuum):

(1) Addiction is fundamentally about compulsive behavior;

(2) Compulsive drug seeking is initiated outside of consciousness;

(3) Addiction is about 50% heritable and complexity abounds;

(4) Most people with addictions who present for help have other psychiatric problems as well;

(5) Addiction is a chronic relapsing disorder in the majority of people who present for help;

(6) Different psychotherapies appear to produce similar treatment outcomes;

(7) “Come back when you’re motivated” is no longer an acceptable therapeutic response;

(8) The more individualized and broad-based the treatment a person with addiction receives, the better the outcome;

(9) Epiphanies are hard to manufacture; and

(10) Change takes time.

The referenced article provides a summary on each of the ten points and encapsulates some of the difficulties and frustrations related to addiction treatment, but however difficult and frustrating treatment options can be, there is one consistent finding across many studies of treatment versus incarceration: Treatment costs a fifth or less compared with the costs of incarceration (http://www.justicepolicy.org/uploads/justicepolicy/documents/04-01_rep_mdtreatmentorincarceration_ac-dp.pdf).

With such a “bang for the buck,” why wouldn’t legislators, administrators and adjudicators call for more treatment and less prison time for nonviolent criminals with a substance addiction? Even with relapses and recidivism being factors in treatment cost, an addict could go through treatment five times before equaling the cost of one incarceration. The fact is that drug offenders who complete treatment programs recover and stay sober at much higher rates than those who receive no treatment while incarcerated.

Drug Diversion Programs
Non-Violent Offenders Get A Second Chance
The good news is that states have started to embrace the concept of treatment as an alternative to incarceration, including Massachusetts. One of the staunchest advocates of treatment for nonviolent criminals with a substance addiction is Judge Mary Hogan Sullivan, the Dedham District Court’s presiding justice and director of specialty courts in the District Court Department (http://www.boston.com/news/local/massachusetts/2013/03/23/newton-district-court-launches-drug-court-program-newton-court-adds-drug-treatment-session/LU9zGdBpysehw2ZVGLujDN/singlepage.html).

The system she has created is essentially probation with required addiction treatment and drug testing. Drug court, as it is commonly called, is an option for a convicted drug offender with the alternative being incarceration. In a 2003 study by the Center for Court Innovation, the recidivism rate among 2,135 participants in drug courts in six states was 29% lower over a three-year period compared with drug offenders who did not participate in the programs (http://www.samhsa.gov/samhsa_news/volumexiv_2/index.htm). Unfortunately, only twenty drug courts exist in Massachusetts and they depend greatly on the talent of their probation officers who, in many cases, learned their craft through on-the-job training.

Mission Direct Vet, a program specific to Massachusetts veterans with criminal charges combined with mental health disorders, such as post-traumatic stress disorder (PTSD), recently completed its five-year grant period, producing a model for dealing with this growing population. Paired with veterans who have had similar experiences, the results in terms of reduced recidivism were excellent. Moreover, given the statistical probability that the participant group would normally suffer several suicides, the fact that none were committed is particularly noteworthy (http://www.ndci.org/conferences/2011/agenda/F-21.pdf).

Critics argue that more should be done to offer treatment before an addict becomes a convicted criminal. It is not a matter of “either/or” but rather an issue of funding, which is hard to come by in either scenario, and creating points of interdiction that occur before an addict becomes a convict. Gosnold on Cape Cod, for example, is working to develop an interdiction program in primary physicians’ offices by training people to identify symptoms of addiction in patients who are there for other reasons. School-based drug education programs are a requirement of the omnibus opiate drug addiction bill that was passed in July last year but are yet to be incorporated in the statewide curriculum.

The Texas Experiment
Mandatory Treatment Saves Billions
In 2005, Texas began reforming drug sentencing and shifting money to drug rehabilitation and prevention programs, which has saved the state billions of dollars [in avoided costs] and reduced crime. Such reforms have earned the praise of unlikely bedfellows: NAACP President Ben Jealous and conservative activist Grover Norquist. The NAACP argues that sending people to jail for nonviolent drug offenses turns young people into hardened criminals and disproportionately affects black people, while Norquist argues that states waste taxpayer money locking up people who could be rehabilitated more cost-effectively (http://news.yahoo.com/blogs/lookout/texas-close-prison-first-time-state-history-175703769.html).

In August of 2011, the Texas governor announced that the state would, for the first time in its history, close down a prison due to a reduced prison population and the lowest crime rate since 1968. Two other prison closures have been authorized by the state legislature.

What Texas did to accomplish this seemingly herculean feat was to invest heavily in drug courts, electronic monitoring, and improved parole and probation monitoring of nonviolent criminals with a substance addiction. Texas is also not hamstrung by mandatory minimum sentencing, something once popular with both conservatives from the “lock ‘em up and through away the key” school of thought and liberals, whose unions saw job security in long sentences and overcrowded prisons (http://www.nationalreview.com/corner/355661/conservatives-welcome-eric-holder-criminal-justice-reform-bandwagon-vikrant-p-reddy).

The idea of offering, or forcing, treatment programs pays off in a number socially beneficial ways as well. Addicts who receive treatment find themselves able to hold a job, repair relationships, and return to productive society; all huge upsides compared with years of incarceration. Additionally, opportunities to “give back” abound in recovery programs that rely on peer counselors as an element of their treatment protocol.

Other States Climbing Aboard
Discovering That Treatment Is Effective and Cheaper

Since 2010, a number of conservative legislatures have passed major criminal justice reform packages. Ohio, Georgia, Pennsylvania and South Dakota joined Texas by moving from “tough on crime” to “a focus on recovery” when it comes to nonviolent criminals with a substance addiction. Overall, 28 states have embarked on major reforms during the past five years, with 19 of those states being led by Republican governors or GOP legislatures and nine by Democratic governors or legislatures.

There are still holdouts in some legislatures, primarily Republicans who believe that they’ll be cast as “soft on crime,” a stigma they believe could threaten their political futures. Legislative efforts in Florida and Indiana fell victim to arguments that public safety would be compromised if nonviolent criminals with a substance addiction weren’t locked up (http://online.wsj.com/article/SB10001424127887323836504578551902602217018.html).

Paradigm Shift for Massachusetts
Time to Expand Successful Programs

The message is clear that incarcerating our way out of the drug and alcohol addiction crisis has not worked. The “War on Drugs” has also proven that, in spite of all efforts to stop illegal drug flow into this country, the fundamental economic model of supply versus demand overwhelms all attempts to stamp out supply. If there is demand, someone will supply it. Is there any shortage of heroin on the streets of Boston or Hyannis?

Massachusetts needs to get serious about fully implementing criminal justice reforms relative to nonviolent criminals with a substance addiction and investing heavily in expanding our successful drug diversion programs. No one can sincerely argue that it’s not a good idea to repair lives, put families back together, get people back to work, reduce crimes that go hand-in-hand with substance abuse, and save taxpayer dollars at the same time.

There are three key items that need to be addressed in order to construct a reform bill. I will file legislation to authorize three commissions to both independently and collaboratively study and provide methods and costs for implementing the key objectives:

1)      Judiciary Commission: This commission would be comprised of members from all three branches of state government and nongovernmental advocacy groups to create eligibility criteria for mandated treatment/monitoring and propose necessary changes in existing laws to accommodate for this reform.  – The Texas law requires judges to put nonviolent criminals with a substance addiction with no previous felony convictions into a treatment program. For those with a prior felony conviction, the judge has latitude in choosing between a treatment program and incarceration. A similar construct should work in Massachusetts along with adjustment to or elimination of some mandatory minimum sentencing guidelines that extend to otherwise eligible nonviolent criminals with a substance addiction.

2)      Treatment Commission: This commission would be comprised of members from all three branches of state government and nongovernmental advocacy groups to develop plans to expand Massachusetts’ drug diversion programs to include every district court in the commonwealth. Additionally, this commission would specify the necessary resources and related costs for both internal and outsourced assistance required to accomplish this expansion. – There are 62 district courts, of which only 20 have a drug court. Clearly the cost of adding 42 more drug courts needs to be determined, but as important, the commission must create a plan for how Massachusetts would apply best practices with the goal of having consistently high quality of personnel and services across all of the drug courts. This expansion would also contemplate the subdivisions of drug courts, such as veterans’ and juveniles’ drug courts. Finally, the commission should consider a hybrid approach of incarcerated treatment for addicts who require the additional discipline of a 24/7 treatment facility.

3)      Corrections Commission: This commission would be comprised of members from all three branches of state government, unions, and nongovernmental advocacy groups to project the effects of a reduced prison/jail population on the operations and capital needs of the corrections system. – A few years into the implementation of the nonviolent drug offender changes in Texas, its legislature authorized the closing of three state prisons. The first actual closure was announced in 2011. These reforms also allowed the state to scrap plans to build two additional facilities. Similar results should be expected and planned for in Massachusetts. As prison/jail population declines, a plan needs to be in place to adjust operating and capital requirements to maximize cost savings. To this end, it is critical that consideration be made to retraining people to fill roles in the expanded drug court system and to repurpose space in our prison system to serve as treatment centers.

We must cast aside the old paradigm, be up to the pushback of status quo special interests, and tackle this issue head on. Working with my fellow legislators, I am confident that we will advance legislation to accomplish these goals and make Massachusetts a better place to live.

Monday, August 19, 2013

Pro-Choice movement requires explanation (guest editorial)

By Mary Wagner from East Sandwich

This is a letter to the editor that was not published by the Cape Cod Times.
Sunday's paper asked readers if they were "Ready for 2014?" I think there is a lot of explaining to be done on many subjects before we are ready for 2014. One example is the abortion issue--not the law, but other aspects of the Pro-Choice Movement.

* Abortion is a business, a billion dollar business. It includes the selling of body parts. Why does it need our tax dollars?

* People supporting abortion call their movement "pro-choice." But every effort made to require abortion centers to provide more information is rejected by "pro-choice" people. The average man who buys a new car spends more time and has more information about his car than most women have about the abortion they are about to have.

* The abortion movement is considered "a woman's health" issue and yet, across the whole country, very few centers are ever checked for adequate hygiene. Nor are the credentials of the personnel verified. Why not?

* We live in a time in which there are statistics for everything. ObamaCare is going to collect details not only about our health but our finances. And yet there are no records about abortions. How many women die in a year because of abortions? How many wish they did not have the abortion?What are the long term effects of abortions?

The thousands of women who march every year in the many Right to Life Marches carrying a sign "I regret my abortion" suggest there are consequences we are not hearing about. Why not?

Thursday, July 18, 2013

Sagamore Bridge traffic can be a nightmare

After maddening events such as the gridlock created on Mother’s Day in 2012 or the 25-mile July 4th weekend backup this year, every amateur traffic engineer (including myself) gets to work at solving the problem of the Sagamore Bridge.


The Sagamore and Bourne Bridges were completed in 1935, a time before the Cape Cod summer bustle was as extreme as it has since become. The lane width on these bridges is ten feet, a full two feet skinnier than the standard widths used for bridge design today. Anything that further restricts the actual or perceived width of these lanes will, no doubt, slow down traffic even more.

In general, drivers are uncomfortable with the tight fit, especially in light of the high curb/sidewalk on one side and a high curb on the other. This is the primary reason why cars slow down when crossing the bridges and, ultimately, the constraint that leads to long backups at peak traffic times. Each bridge can manage just above 3,000 cars an hour. If 20,000 cars are leaving Cape Cod via the Sagamore Bridge between noon and 5:00pm on a Sunday, there will be a backup.

A menagerie of solutions for the Sagamore Bridge problem

Three lanes off/one lane on
This idea seems appealing at first blush and has been proposed as a Friday afternoon solution as well (three lanes on/one lane off). The problems with either of these proposals are:

1) Going back to the item noted above regarding anything that further narrows the lanes will slow down cars even more, the use of barrels, stanchions, pop-up dividers, or any other device to demarcate the three lanes in one direction from the one in the other would take up precious lane width, both actual and perceived. Furthermore, the double yellow line in the center of the bridge is in constant use. (How many times have you seen a car or truck with a tire on that centerline?) That is a clear indicator that the dividers would be mowed down in short order.

2) There are two-lane highways on either side of the bridge. Opening up the roadway to three lanes on the bridge would invite even bolder lane changes than we see now when drivers jockey to use one of the two exits on the north side of the Sagamore. Perhaps the left lane could be for Route 3 traffic only, one might suggest. A restriction such as this would require an additional series of barrels, stanchions, etc., between the two left lanes of the three lanes off, leaving the lane widths at nine feet or less.

Close down the entrance in front of the Christmas Tree Shop
There is support for this action because it is instinctive that this merging of traffic is jamming everything up. If this was the real constraint, then everyone would be flooring it immediately after passing this entrance and sailing across the bridge. The reality, on the other hand, is that traffic continues to crawl over the bridge, unclogging on the mainland side.

We could agree to disagree, but there is a way to determine whether it’s the bridge or the Christmas Tree Shop entrance that is the actual constraint. The bridge traffic counts are monitored 24/7 in both directions. By comparing the rate of flow at known peak times (that is, when there is a backup), one could determine if the southbound flow at peak is significantly higher than the northbound flow at peak. If that turns out to be the case, then the Christmas Tree Shop entrance would rise to the top of our culprits list. I will be requesting this comparison from the Department of Transportation to see what it reveals.

If the Exit 1 entrance does turn out to be a problem, closing it off is not going to be a panacea. One would assume that the options for a driver confronting this closure would be to continue on Route 6 to the Bourne Bridge or to circle back and join the fun at Exit 2. Our public safety officials in Bourne and Sandwich agree that both towns would be subject to frequent gridlock if this approach was taken. The three-mile stretch between the bridges on the two-lane Sandwich Road would also fill up quickly and block the residents living off of that road.

A better solution would be to reroute access from Route 6A by developing a one-way connector that runs along what is called Bayview Road which would start at the Sandwich/Bourne town line and dump into Route 6 about six-tenths of a mile south of Exit 1. This would relieve the jam up at the bridge while traffic could still use Exit 1 to leave Route 6.

Make each of the bridges one-way in opposite directions during peak times
That’s not going to happen.

Paint “fog lines” on the bridges
Fog lines are those white lines painted near the shoulder of a road to help drivers maintain their position within lanes on foggy nights. The theory here is that the narrow lanes and tall curbing on the bridges makes for nervous Nellies, which could be relieved by painting bright white lines next to the curbs to delineate the space a driver actually has at his/her disposal. A variation on this idea is to paint the sides of the curbing in a contrasting color to the pavement, accomplishing the same goal.

I find this intriguing in that there might be competing results from such a change. While better defining where the outside lane meets the curb, it might also create the perception of a narrower lane. As precarious as driving next to a tall curb may seem, relatively few people ever bump into it. Most of the scratches and gouges are courtesy of plow drivers, who apparently lose track of where their blades are in driving snow storms.

Move the sidewalk to the outside of the bridge
This seems like a no brainer, and like most no brainers, there’s more to the story. Although hanging a sidewalk on the outside of the bridge is doable, there is no road deck support under the existing sidewalk. In fact, the sidewalk is hollow, a space that is used for all of the utility cabling that crosses the Cape Cod Canal. To add an extra foot of width to each lane, which would still be substandard to the 12-foot widths that are used for new bridge construction, the infrastructure improvements would be very costly. It’s still worth consideration, however.

Add variable tolling (aka value pricing) to reduce traffic at peak times
“Avoid the rush, pay half as much.” This was the slogan for the Midpoint and Cape Coral Bridges in Lee County, Florida, when variable tolling was introduced in 1998. The discounted periods occurred before and after the normal morning and evening rushes on weekdays with driver paying half of the normal $1 toll. Today, the toll is $2 and the discount remains at 50 cents. “Avoid the rush, pay three-quarters as much” doesn’t have the same ring to it.

Of course, the bigger issue here is that there are no tolls. Adding an incentive to a current toll structure is certainly easier than selling the idea of tolling in the first place. The complication of the bridges being the property of the U.S. Government, operated by the Army Corps of Engineers, is an interesting one as well, though probably not unique.

Another problem is rooted in what economists call elasticity. It simply refers to how changing one variable affects others. In this case, if there is variable tolling, say $3 to cross at peak times and $1 to cross at nonpeak times (or even $3 at peak and zero at nonpeak), how effective would that be in encouraging people to avoid Friday or Sunday afternoons or noontime on Saturdays? Would a typical tourist care about $3 when it’s less than half of what he paid for a glass of wine the night before? There would be a point at which behaviors would change, no doubt, but that might be the same point at which a tourist decides that coming to the Cape is just not worth it.

Build a new bridge
As a permanent solution for our traffic woes, $320 million or so would pay for a new bridge to supplement the two existing bridges. Eliminating the Bourne and Sagamore Bridges altogether would cost more on the order of $600 million.

One proposal is to build a third bridge about halfway between the two existing bridges, funneling people from both Routes 3 and 25 across the canal with the option of heading towards Hyannis or Falmouth. Using land on the Massachusetts Military Reservation, soon to be Joint Base Cape Cod, feeder roads would connect traffic to/from Route 6 before Exit 2 and to/from Route 28 close to the Otis Rotary.

It is estimated that this new bridge would syphon off about 50% of the current traffic, turning the Bourne and Sagamore into “neighborhood” bridges. Another benefit would be that most heavy truck traffic would access the new bridge in order to avoid the Bourne Rotary and the tie-ups at Exit 1 on Route 6.

So what’s holding up the program? Setting aside all of the environmental issues, permitting, access to the MMR, etc., this would be mostly federally funded, which would put it up against many other Army Corps of Engineers projects across the country. To get on the list of accepted projects, there must be a “bang for the buck” that outstrips competing proposals.

The problem here is that 25-mile-long backups are a rare occurrence. Even the more typical six or eight mile backups only occur on summer Sundays and holiday Mondays and are usually dissipated within four or five hours. It would be a tough sell to propose infrastructure improvements sufficient to cover extreme peak usage when that usage is expected to occur only 10 or 15 times a year for durations of less than six hours. That’s about 90 to 100 hours out of nearly 8,800 a year, about one percent of the time.

Having worked in New York City, I could imagine a more compelling case for $320 million to be spent on traffic mitigation where the bridges are jammed up 16 hours a day, seven days a week.

Weigh in

I have received many excellent suggestions via my blog and email replies in the past. Now’s the time for you to weigh in with your ideas.

Friday, July 5, 2013

Fireworks are illegal in Massachusetts; driving while on the phone is not

According to the National Fire Protection Association (NFPA), consumer fireworks in 2011 caused 17,800 fires in the United States which "resulted in an estimated eight reported civilian deaths." Two things stand out in this factoid: 1) Like guns, cars and kitchen knives, fireworks generally do not injure or kill people without the intervention of a human being; and 2) what about the gathering of these statistics required the NFPA to qualify their statement with "an estimated eight reported civilian deaths?"

The American Pyrotechnics Association and National Council on Fireworks Safety offer up that an average of four people die from failed use of fireworks each year in the U.S. Many more, as one would suspect, are injured in fireworks accidents, logging 9,600 visits to the emergency room in 2011.

Groups that advocate for illegalizing fireworks, such as the Alliance to Stop Consumer Fireworks (formed by the NFPA and the American Academy of Pediatrics), argue that the dangers of using consumer fireworks outweigh the fun factor and that it's an optional activity in that no one must operate fireworks.

For purposes of comparison, one might argue that operating a cell phone while driving is also an optional activity and that it is far more dangerous than setting off a bottle rocket. In fact, the National Safety Council cites at least 1.3 million automobile crashes in 2011 that involved cell phone usage. The National Highway Traffic Safety Administration concluded that 3,092 deaths were attributable to cell phone sourced distracted driving in 2010.

Given the magnitude of accidents, injuries and deaths associated with cell phone use while driving, would we not benefit from banning this activity in Massachusetts?

Could a cell phone ban be enforced? How do you know when someone is talking on a hands-free cell phone, singing along with Jim Croce's "Operator," or talking to himself? What if police were armed with a device that could detect that a cell phone is in use?

By the way, forget about banning cell phones unless the driver is using a hands-free device. The issue is not holding a phone to your ear; it's distracted driving. Several studies have shown that hands-free devices show no benefits over hand held cell phone use while driving.

Are you ready to relinquish more of your liberty in exchange for saving a life? Or hundreds of lives? To put it another way, do we want or need the government to again save ourselves from ourselves?

Monday, May 27, 2013

2013 Town of Sandwich Memorial Day Parade and Commemoration

I was pleased to be asked by the American Legion to speak at this year's Memorial Day Parade and Commemoration. It was a perfect weather day and we had a great turn out.

Fred Sozio, Korean War Veteran, was the parade marshal. He received a long and loud applause when Will Rogers, American Legion Commander, introduced him. Everyone also welcomed US Navy Captain (Retired) Barbara Knight, Patricia DeConto (whose son, Capt. Gerald DeConto, was killed in the terrorist attack on the Pentagon on September 11, 2001), and Jane Ellis, who sang God Bless America.

Police Chief Peter Wack gave a stirring reminder of the people who we should keep in our thoughts and prayers on Memorial Day, including first responders who gave their lives assisting others.

Lt. Travis Andrade spoke about the fundamental reason we engage in military action: To preserve our freedoms, not to destroy our enemies. He provided many current and historical references to bolster his points and delivered his address impeccably.

PFC LaRiviera of the Nicholas Xiarhos Young Marines led us in the Pledge of Allegiance and the Sandwich High School Chorus sang a beautiful rendition of the Star Spangled Banner.

The bell tolled for all of our Town of Sandwich veterans who passed away since last year's Memorial Day Commemoration. Wreaths were laid, 21-gun salutes honored the dead, and Taps was played by bugler Robbi Laak.

My speech follows:

My sincerest thank you goes out to the members of the American Legion Post 188 who coordinate this Memorial Day Parade and Commemoration. This event is a symbol of their allegiance to our fallen troops, many of whom have been relatives, friends and acquaintances of the legionnaires who are here today.

I also welcome all of our parade participants and observers, especially those of you who are senior citizens and youngsters, for it shows that you are never too old to honor the sacrifices of our military servicemen and women, and you are never too young to start learning about those who fought for our freedoms.

In Massachusetts, the fight to be an independent country goes back to the shot heard ‘round the world. The Battles of Lexington and Concord were fought on April 19, 1775, more than a year before our declaration of independence. Four days later, the 6th Massachusetts Regiment was formed and later joined by militias and armies from across the thirteen colonies to shed British rule and give birth to the United States of America.

We gather on this day to pay tribute to the 25,000 people who lost their lives in the Revolutionary War;

to the 15,000 in the War of 1812;

to the 625,000 in the Civil War—some say many more and it is the war that inspired Memorial Day;

to the 117,000 in World War I;

to the 405,000 in World War II;

to the 37,000 in the Korean War;

to the 58,000 in the Vietnam War;

to the 2,000 in Afghanistan;

to the 4,500 in Iraq;

and to the 33,000 others who paid the ultimate sacrifice fighting for our country in numerous other conflicts since the birth of this nation.

Every one of those 1,300,000 brave soldiers, sailors, airmen, marines, coast guardsmen, and merchant marines left grieving families and friends who knew them for who they were and what they stood for. They were casualties of war, yes. They were counted and logged, yes. But they were not statistics.

No, they were husbands, wives, fathers, mothers, sons, daughters, brothers and sisters. They were people who had their futures cut short because they put themselves in harm’s way to defend our way of life. Our freedoms. Our liberty.

It is in honor and memory of these brave souls that we take time out of our busy schedules to honor our dead on Memorial Day. And it is fitting that we follow these somber moments of commemoration with fellowship, food, drink, and family activities. Just keep in mind those who gave their all to ensure that we keep these freedoms.

I will conclude with a short poem entitled “No Need To Fear.”

There is no need to fear for me,
For it is my will and my duty to serve.
I will always carry your love with me,
As it helps steady my nerve.

There is no need to fear for me,
For even if I shall not return,
On that day I will meet Him.
His grace and forgiveness I will earn.

There is no need to fear for me,
For this is my calling and my choice.
I rise to protect our freedoms
And give Liberty her voice. – Randy Hunt 2013

Thank you for being here today. God bless our troops and God bless America.

Photos by Gerry Nye, Town Constable

Monday, April 29, 2013

Sandwich Town Meeting has controversial articles in the warrant

I invite everyone to weigh in on any of the 26 articles comprising our 2013 Sandwich Annual Town Meeting warrant--meeting to take place at the high school on Monday, May 6th--and the one article on Tuesday night's Special Town Meeting warrant, a debt exclusion request for the proposed public safety building and fire substation.

What's likely to consume most of our time are the following articles:

Article 14 - Recommended Town Charter Revisions - For my take on this, click here. Other than changing the town clerk to an appointed position, I don't have much to offer on this article. Some people are a little worked up about the library trustee changes.

Article 19 - Medical Marijuana Moratorium - Short of having a sampling table in the hallway which would lead to a very relaxed conversation on this article, it's likely we'll have some rather lively debate and heated moments on this one. The town manager will explain at length how this doesn't mean forever.

The following are petition articles signed by at least ten voters:

Article 20 - Local Option Meals Tax Program - This went down last year, but like Whack-A-Mole, it's back again. It's only a cup of coffee a month, they'll say. Death by a thousand cuts (or in this case, a thousand cups of coffee). Here's my recycled take on this article.

Article 21 - Separate & Privatize DPW Divisions - Somebody got dissed at the dump and is now proposing that the DPW be carved up into four pieces and each piece farmed out to the lowest bidder.

Article 22 - Impose Marina Waiting List Fee - If it moves, tax it. If it keeps moving, regulate it. If it stops moving, subsidize it.--Ronald Reagan / If it moves too slowly, throw a $25 fee on it.--Citizens Petition

Article 23 - Beach Parking Receipts to Renourishment Fund - This would set aside 20% of the beach parking and sticker receipts for projects at our salt water beaches, including dune renourishment.

Article 24 - Campaign Financing at Federal Level - Approval of this article would show our support for overturning the Citizens United U.S. Supreme Court decision, aka "Corporations are people, too."--Mitt Romney

Article 25 - Close Pilgrim Nuclear Power Station - This article intends to gather momentum in the effort to close the nuclear plant in Plymouth. The debate could be interesting.

The following is the article slated for Tuesday night's Special Town Meeting:

Article 1 - Debt Exclusion for Joint Public Safety Building - Here's the grandaddy of all of the town meeting articles. $30 million to build the new public safety building and fire substation. See my post on this article here.

Sunday, April 28, 2013

Why Dan Winslow is our best bet for winning the U.S. senate seat

See Dan's TV ad here. Literally, my proximity to Dan Winslow in the State House of Representatives (I sit in one row up and directly behind him) has given me a unique perspective on this fellow. We kid that, because the only electrical outlet around us is right behind Dan's chair, his job is to keep my iGadgets plugged in and charged.
It's a funny line, but being able to tap Dan on the shoulder to ask about some complicated maneuver in the proceedings or background on an issue before us is extremely helpful to me and others around us. Dan has worked as a judge, as chief counsel to Governor Mitt Romney, and now in the legislative branch. His depth of knowledge humbles me, and that's no easy task.
Do we want to win or just make a point?
I was ecstatic when Scott Brown won the senate seat along with many of you. Scott was there at the right time, handled a few key points--like "with all due respect, it's not the Kennedy seat"--extremely well and benefited from Coakley's string of gaffs and miscues. A great time was had by all.
Fast forward to November 2012 and the energy was noticeably absent from his race. By that time, Scott had taken a couple of votes that disappointed conservative Republicans; the one closest to the election being his vote against interstate authorization for concealed carry permit holders. In a microcosm of what happened to Mitt Romney, too many Republicans sat at home, refusing to vote for a candidate who didn't line up with them 100% on all of the issues.
This again is going to be a time when we can insist on a complete DNA match before casting our votes, or we can look at the bigger picture of whether we'd be better off as a state having a Republican senator.
Let's take the Pro-Life / Pro-Choice debate as an example. Who in this race says they are pro-life? Sullivan, Gomez and Lynch. Who has promised to work to reverse Roe v Wade? No one. What practical difference is there between the candidates on this issue? None.

Dan Winslow supports a woman's right to choose and has proposed legislation to make adoption less onerous and less expensive with the hope that this alternative will be a realistic choice for women who cannot be mothers.

Mike Sullivan's website reads: "I will promote policies to simplify the process of adoption, recognizing that there are many loving families who are eager to adopt a child only to find the process excessively complex and expensive."

Is there a difference here? Yes. Dan Winslow has actually filed legislation to make this happen.

What about gay marriage? None of the five support the Defense of Marriage Act.

What about transgender rights? Let me be unequivocal about this issue. The transgender bill that the legislature passed in November 2010 did not have anything in it relative to the use of bathrooms. The "Bathroom Bill" portion of this legislation was removed by an agreement which was brokered by Dan Winslow and several Democrats who saw the potential problems that the original language could create. I fume when I hear one of my friends declare that Dan Winslow voted for the Bathroom Bill. Now you know why.

Why Dan Winslow can win in June
Although, as I've pointed out, that there are few, if any, practical differences between the candidates on social issues, the perceived differences will work against Sullivan or Gomez in the June 25th general election. Dan Winslow will be able to focus on the big issues of jobs, the economy, national security, etc., free from getting entangled in a social issues debate that is simply unwinnable in Massachusetts.

Dan Winslow versus Markey or Lynch in a debate would be highly entertaining. From personal experience, I can tell you that Dan is quick on his feet, inspiring, energetic, and will leave people scratching their heads wondering why the Democrat was so unprepared.

Dan Winslow has shown time and again that he can generate ideas that people from both sides of the aisle can embrace. When Republicans talk about repealing ObamaCare, Democrats and middle-of-the-roaders shut down and stop listening. When Dan talks about Excel & Exempt, a proposal in which states that comply with a minimum standard relative to universal health insurance would be exempted from ObamaCare, now all of a sudden there's an idea that has appeal to both parties.

Dan is always looking for common ground upon which compromise can be reached. This is what we need in Washington, D.C. Enough of the foxholing. Enough of the division. Enough of the partisan politics.

Where have all the statesmen gone?

We have one in our midst. He is Dan Winslow.

Sunday, April 21, 2013

Town clerk should remain elected position

I see one compelling and overriding reason for keeping the office of town clerk an elected position. The reason for this has nothing to do with the current office holder; it has nothing to do with how many towns' charters call for elected versus appointed town clerks; it has nothing to do anyone's particular viewpoint on this issue other than my own.

Elections should be managed by people not under the control of the elected.

This is how we handle our statewide elections, which are managed by the secretary of the commonwealth. Our state constitution, ratified in 1780 recognizes that the top elections officer should not report to the governor. On a federal level, elections are also managed state-by-state rather than by a centralized, presidentially-appointed elections authority.

We should not vary from this fundamental separation of power at the local level. An appointed town clerk would report to the town manager, who takes direction from the elected board of selectmen. This is a conflict of interest.

Arguments about the electing an incompetent person to the office of town clerk are insulting to the electorate. Arguments about how many other towns have appointed clerks make use of "lemming logic."

Give us credit. We the people who have the responsibility for choosing our town clerk can handle this responsibility.

I ask that someone rise up and offer an amendment to the charter adoption article to delete this change from an elected to an appointed town clerk. I appreciate the work of the charter committee, but this wresting of power from the electorate and awarding it to the town manager is bad policy.

See the May 2013 town meeting warrant, which includes the proposed charter by clicking here.

Sunday, March 31, 2013

ObamaCare attacks low income earners

Does anyone remember how many times President Obama claimed on the campaign trail that his tax plan would not affect individuals earning less than $200,000 or couples earning less than $250,000? It would only affect people, like the Obamas, who could afford to pay a little more. (Isn't it endearing for someone to remind you over and over that they are richer than you?)

One of his tax increases will hit only low income earners and leave rich people, like the Obamas, unaffected. It's a well-known tax threshold that has been tweaked by the Affordable Care Act, namely the medical expense deduction floor.

Up to the end of 2012, anyone who had allowable medical expenses, including co-pays, deductibles, other uninsured expenses, and health and long-term care insurance premiums, could deduct the portion of those expenses that exceeded 7.5% of adjusted gross income (AGI). Simply put, if your AGI was $50,000, then medical expenses in excess of $3,750 would be deductible. That is, $5,000 of medical expenses would yield a deduction of $1,250.

In Massachusetts, this is the only expense from Schedule A, Itemized Deductions, that is also allowed on the state income tax return.

Starting in 2013 (and in 2017 for people 65 and older), the Affordable Care Act raises this threshold to 10%. In the example above, the $1,250 deduction would vanish.

Who is this going to hurt? The Obamas? Of course not. This change will only affect lower wage earners who have high medical expenses. Serious medical conditions are often the reason for both, inability to work and frequent doctor visits and hospitalizations. This is the worst example of the rich riding on the backs of the poor that has slipped into law in years.

Most people will not learn of this attack on low income earners until they visit their tax preparers next year only to find out that they are the target of ObamaCare at a time when they are most vulnerable.

Congress needs to address this issue before the end of this year.

Wednesday, March 13, 2013

Invitation to youth risky behavior event

From: Linell Grundman
Subject: For Immediate Release
Date: February 28, 2013 1:30:51 PM EST

The Sandwich Substance Abuse Prevention Task Force, (SSAPTF) invites the public to a major event.

"Creating a Community Aware, Engaged, and Addressing Youth Risky Behavior"
Monday, March 18th, 6:30 - 8:30 p.m.
Sandwich Town Hall, Second Floor

Facilitated by national and international Drug Education Specialist, Jeff Wolfsberg, the program will include comments from Jeff along with audience participation. It is a Town Meeting type format.

Throughout the evening we focus on three critical areas: Social Norms, Education and Prevention, Environmental Changes. These are areas highlighted through the results of the recent Youth Risky Behavior Survey conducted by the SSAPTF.

There will be a panel of resource specialist available to address specific questions.  They represent the diverse group of skill sets that come to the SSAPTF and the community working on issues of creating a healthier place for our youth, for us all. Included on this resource panel will be representatives from the town's Fire and Police, our schools, other youth serving organizations, and the medical community.

In addition to the central portion of the evening, in conclusion thirty minutes will be provided for people to have one on one conversations with SSAPTF members and our panel.

Students are welcome.  The results of the resent Youth Risky Behavior Survey are available on the Town's web-site. Please plan to attend. You can make a difference!

Linell Grundman