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Governor Sets Goals on Education, Health Care, Sentencing

Staff ReportsiBerkshires
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BOSTON — Gov. Deval Patrick called on lawmakers to keep making those "tough decisions" on education, health care and public safety in his fourth "State of the Commonwealth" address.

Speaking at the State House before a joint session of the Legislature on Monday night, the governor pointed to the tough issues the Legislature had worked with on, including the Green Communities Act, the implementation of health care reform.

"Time after time you have made the tough decisions," he said. "Things are better in Massachusetts than in most other places in America; but that does not mean it is good enough."

His set forward his $10 million plan to streamline and consolidate the community college system as the centerpiece in closing a "skills gap" and putting 120,000 of citizens back to work and cutting the jobless rate in half.

"I believe community colleges are uniquely positioned to help close our skills gap and get people back to work," said the governor, pointing to a growing field of jobs that require more than a high school diploma — but less than a four-year degree.

He challenged not only lawmakers to pass his plan but business leaders to match that $10 million in making community colleges an integral piece in workforce development.

By giving the "15 different campuses with 15 different strategies" a sharper focus, said the governor, "they can better prepare people for the middle skills jobs of today and tomorrow."

Patrick also pushed for reform in sentencing for habitual offenders and minimum mandatory sentencing for nonviolent drug offenders. Costs in the prison system have jumped 30 percent (or $100 million) over the past decade, he said, because of longer sentences and mandatory sentencing. At the same time, programs for drug offenders and to aid in re-entry to society have been cut. 

"Ninety-two percent of the total prison population is eligible for release at some point and many come out more dangerous than they were when they went in," he said. "We must have a comprehensive re-entry program .... mandatory supervision after release, and must make nonviolent drug offenders eligible for parole earlier."

The governor agreed that habitual, violent offenders should not have the possibility of parole, but warned he would not accept one reform without the other.

"We must be smarter about how we protect public safety," he said. "That means targeting the most dangerous and damaging for the strictest sentences, and better preparing the non-dangerous for eventual release and reintegration. 

Patrick also called on the Legislature to pass the health care cost-containment bill he submitted last year before starting the budget process.

"We need to put an end to the fee-for-service model. We need to stop paying for the amount of care, and start paying instead for the quality of care," he told lawmakers. "We need to empower doctors to coordinate patient care and to focus on wellness rather than sickness. And we need medical malpractice reform."

The governor said the bill's passage would help sustain the slowdown in health care costs that has seen the increase in the average health insurance premium drop from 16.3 percent two years ago to 2 percent this year.

The governor ended with a plea for the Legislature to continue working with his administration, pointing to the efforts after the tornoados hit in Springfield last year as an example of how communities can rise up to help each other.

"When we work together, when we put aside sound-bite politics and insider games, we can overcome any challenge, I have no doubt about it," said Patrick. 

The entire address as given can be found here.

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