Health costs

The Mass. Taxpayers Foundation recently recommended that local officials be given the power to design their own health plans without having to negotiate with the unions, and that state retirees use Medicare for their primary health care coverage. Do you support these proposals?

Democrat

Changing plan design unilaterally is unfair, since it usually involves shifting costs to the employees.

I support the Senate plan to allow unilateral changes to bring the community to a benchmark equal to the GIC spending level, but requiring sharing of the savings, and coalition bargaining.

Republican

There are several different proposals of this nature being put forward right now.

The local police and fire unions should have the opportunity to meet with their state senator and discuss their health care and retirement options. I've met with several police union leaders and they are more than willing to negotiate. However, my opponent hasn't given them the opportunity to do so.

Finally, I wouldn't consider supporting a bill like this unless the local cities and towns are able to collect the savings directly and not the state.

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State pensions

The foundation also proposed changes in state and municipal pensions, such as increasing the retirement age and capping annual pensions at $100,000. Do you agree?

Democrat

We don't need to increase the retirement age, since the system is fully funded and new employees pay for the entire cost of their retirement.

I voted for the recent Municipal Relief law, which caps pensions at 63% of the federal cap, or about $125,000, adjusted by inflation.

On the other hand, I encourage people to continue working, at least part-time. Our economy needs older workers, and working at a job you enjoy is good for your health.

Republican

There needs to be some type of pension reform because the current system is bankrupting the state.

I would support raising the retirement age for most state and municipal workers. However, there are jobs like police officers and firefighters where their performance relies on their physical abilities. This needs to be taken into consideration when determining a new retirement age.

I would also support legislation that would cap annual pensions; however, I don't necessarily agree with capping them at $100,000.

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MCAS

Do you believe in keeping the requirement that a student must pass the MCAS or an MCAS-like test in order to graduate from high school?

Democrat

No.

Extensive scientific research proves that high-stakes standardized tests do nothing to improve student achievement or to close achievement gaps.

That's why the nation's leading researchers and research organizations, including the American Educational Research Association and the National Research Council, consistently oppose high-stakes standardized tests.

The proof includes the eight years of No Child Left Behind, which has had no impact on national achievement as measured in the National Assessment of Educational Progress. The reason is probably that no test can measure more than a small subset of what we want students to learn.

Teachers emphasize what is tested on the specific, high-stakes test that their students must take, and they de-emphasize what is not tested. Net effect: zero. There were many studies even before NCLB proving that high-stakes testing just doesn't work.

If we believe in using scientific evidence to guide education policy, this would be a good place to start.

There are other approaches to improving achievement that do work, ranging from reducing economic inequality so that we have fewer students from desperately poor families, to upgrading teacher preparation. Let's try something that works.

Republican

Massachusetts has long had some of the best public schools in the nation. Eliminating the MCAS requirements would weaken our public schools. We've invested too much time and money into the project to abandon it now, especially where it has proven to be successful.

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Public records

Should the state Legislature be exempt from the state's public records law?

Democrat

What I think should be exempt is communications from constituents, who may have very personal problems.

Republican

No, I don't believe that the state senate should be exempt from the state's public records law. There needs to be more transparency in government in order to make sure state senators are acting in the best interest of their constituents and this is one way we can achieve that.

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Party leadership

Cite any votes (if an incumbent) or positions (if a challenger or newcomer) you have taken that disagree with the stance taken by your party's legislative leadership.

Democrat

Expanded gambling and subsidies for particular industries.

Articles on these two issues are in my newsletter archives at www.patjehlen.org under 'Casino Debate' and 'Dissent on Life Sciences.'

Republican

The casino bill is just one of many bills where I disagreed with my party's leadership. This bill would have created thousands of jobs and brought the state hundreds of millions of dollars which we desperately need during this fiscal crisis.

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Endorsements

Will you make public any questionnaires you fill out in pursuit of the endorsement of unions or other groups?

Democrat

I would be happy to share these upon request.

Republican

Yes, I will. In fact, I will be posting the answers to all of my questionnaires on my website very shortly. The voters deserve to know what types of promises their elected officials or candidates are making and to what groups.

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Legislative audit

Should the Legislature be subject to a full audit?

Democrat

I'd like to hear who would do the audit, but I have no objection in principle.

Republican

Every body of the state government should be subject to a full audit. This is the only way we are going to curb wasteful spending and get our fiscal house in order.

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Formal sessions

Is the Legislature holding enough full formal sessions?

Democrat

I don't think the number of formal sessions is the limiting factor when it comes to legislation. The real question is when bills are released from committee and when they are scheduled for debate and for a vote.

Republican

I don't believe that the Legislature is holding enough formal sessions.

Massachusetts is facing several crises right now and the Legislature should be working overtime to correct these issues. They spent the majority of this past session debating a casino bill, which didn't pass, while there are more than 325,000 people out of work and countless others are fighting to make ends meet on a daily basis.

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Term limits

Should there be term limits for the jobs of House Speaker and Senate President?

Democrat

I have voted for the Senate rules, which limit the President to 8 consecutive years. I supported term limits for the Speaker as a House member.

Republican

Term limits should be in place for these positions. We need to have regular change so that the people holding these positions are doing what's in the best interest of the people and to keep corruption at a minimum.

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Responses gathered through e.thePeople