STATE REP RACE Q&A: Judy O’Connell Discusses Economic Development, Opioid Epidemic

WILMINGTON, MA — Wilmington Apple is asking weekly questions to the seven candidates running in contested primaries for the Wilmington/Tewksbury State Representative seat (19th Middlesex).

Below, in her own words, are the responses to this week’s questions from candidate Judy O’Connell (D-Wilmington).

#7) What will you do as State Representative to help individuals and families in Tewksbury, Wilmington and beyond who are struggling as a result of the opioid epidemic? 

According to the Massachusetts Bureau of Substance Abuse Services and the Massachusetts Department of Public Health, the opioid-related death rate in Massachusetts has surpassed the national average, with a sharp rise in numbers in the last two years. As a State Representative, I will be a strong voice for the people and families who are struggling with this insidious disease on Beacon Hill in any manner possible. This crisis affects every demographic. Both sides of the aisle need to be “all in” in our efforts to help address this serious problem.

Specific to the 19th Middlesex District, according to the MA Department of Public Health, between 2014 and 2017, based on town of residence, there were 38 confirmed opioid related deaths for Tewksbury and 21 confirmed for Wilmington. This may not be the totality as additional deaths between 2016-2017 are still in process of being confirmed by the Chief Medical Examiner. I would argue that 1 fatality is too many. The stakes are higher with increased potency of drugs such as Fentanyl. I would advocate for any state funding to help support local initiatives whether it’s through early education within the public schools or community based education and prevention programs for all residents, including our veterans and seniors. Early education of our children is key. We must carefully balance our desire to keep children sheltered from the harsh realities of this disease with the need to provide them with the tools they need to ensure that they don’t succumb to substance abuse disorder. Furthermore, I will fully support any initiative for harsher penalties and sentencing requirements for drug dealers.

We need to treat families impacted by substance abuse in our district with care and compassion. We need to end the stigma, support recovery and find ways to help addicts in recovery get their lives back on track and recognize that it will likely take long term comprehensive treatment. The state funding provided to the Tewksbury State Hospital for the myriad of treatment programs must continue and possibly be increased. As State Representative, I would support legislative efforts to address the misuse of legal prescription medications which are a major contributor to this issue. While the prescription monitoring program is showing some signs of success, we need to continually improve upon these statistics. As of 2017, the rate of individuals with activity of concern in Massachusetts was 6.3 per 1,000, down from 14.3 per thousand in 2013. Let’s continue to work on shutting down any loopholes for potential abuse.

During my tenure on the Wilmington Board of Selectmen, I was a staunch advocate for hiring a full time Health and Recovery Coordinator funded by tax payer dollars. We also need to continue our efforts relative to the role of mental health in substance abuse. Additionally, we need to dive deep into understanding how substance abuse affects men versus women. Despite the number of deaths affecting more men than women, female deaths are on the rise. We also need to address why women are much less likely to seek treatment due to family and child care issues.

Finally, I believe it’s important to listen and take direction from our public safety officials and others on the front lines of fighting this epidemic in the process of crafting legislation. I support House Bill No. 4470 by House members of the Mental Health committee currently referred to the House Ways and Means Committee.

#8a) What will you do as State Representative to help attract and maintain small and large businesses in Wilmington and Tewksbury?

As a State Representative, I would be a staunch supporter of smart economic development programs that would benefit the 19th Middlesex District. Governor Baker proposed an Economic Development Bill which is pending in the House which is intended to increase our ability to attract new businesses to Massachusetts. This proposed legislation includes a number of reforms to our economic development incentive program by expanding the availability of refundable tax credits and creating the opportunity for larger credits commensurate with extraordinary economic opportunities. The legislation also enables the use of credits to fill vacant downtown storefronts and makes a technical correction to an existing tax deduction on the rehabilitation of abandoned buildings.

I admire the Town of Wilmington’s initiative to engage the services of the Economic and Public Policy Research group at the UMass Donahue Institute to perform a market study of the Route 38 corridor and the shopper profile that will allow us to reach out to business types that can thrive in our environment.

Recently the Town of Wilmington Town Meeting approved the Tax Increment Finance (TIF) agreement with Analog Devices which will be the catalyst for this global technology leader expanding its presence in Wilmington by making their location in Wilmington their global headquarters. This agreement is an example of how the communities within the 19th Middlesex District can work with businesses to retain them and help them grow which will lead to an increase in employment in the area as well as tax revenue. The Town of Tewksbury continues to make the same inroads with economic development with a current highlighted example of the Lowell General Hospital medical facility that is currently being constructed on Route 38 after years of town officials and community members advocating for the economic development of that area.

#8b) Do you consider yourself a business-friendly candidate? Why?

Yes, I do consider myself a business-friendly candidate as I have been a small business owner in Wilmington for the past 11 years. Additionally, I am a member of the Wilmington Tewksbury Chamber of Commerce and I support shopping locally whenever possible. As an elected official within the Town of Wilmington over the past decade, I am acutely aware of how important commercial businesses are to a community and the value they provide in services as well as tax revenue.

BONUS FUN QUESTION: Wilmington Town Meeting voters recently banned plastic bags at grocery and retail stores, due – in large part – to their negative effects to the environment. The ban goes into effect in May 2019.  Do you agree with Wilmington voters and would you like Tewksbury voters to do the same this fall at their Special Town Meeting?

The presentation given at the last Wilmington Town Meeting to ban plastic bags at grocery and retail stores was compelling. I am supportive of increased efforts to have a greener community. I have personally been a user of plastic bags as a grocery shopper and I am constantly reusing them for various other purposes before turning them in to be recycled. I respect the Town Meeting process and the vote to ban plastic bags prevailed, so I will embrace this change. If there are residents in Tewksbury who also feel strongly about this idea, they too would have the same opportunity to bring a petition warrant article forward to a future Tewksbury Town Meeting for residents to vote on.

(NOTE: Do you have a question for the candidates? Email wilmingtonapple@gmail.com and it may be asked in a future Q&A or in a debate.)

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