Thank you for your support and patience as we all navigate this crisis. I am proud and honored to wake up every morning and represent the 11th Worcester District. A lot of uncertainty surrounds the coming months, yet I am confident that we will get through whatever comes our way just as we have done so far - with compassion, strength, and an understanding that we all have a role to play. Below please find an update on legislative issues and my work since the last update in mid-June.
Since mid-March, much of the legislation prioritized and voted on by the Legislature has been COVID-19-related. Below are the most prominent recent legislative updates. Please refer to my past COVID-19 updates for more information on legislation passed this spring in response to the pandemic.
Extended Session: On July 29th, an Order extending formal legislative sessions through the end of the calendar year was unanimously adopted by the House and the Senate. The Order suspends Joint Rule 12A, which has been in place since 1995 and requires formal legislative sessions to end on July 31 during even-numbered years. I supported the extension so that the Legislature can respond as necessary to the impacts of the pandemic and work on the FY21 budget.
FY21 Budget: The pandemic and ensuing economic fallout devastated FY21 budget predictions. Governor Baker and the Legislature agreed on a $5.25B one-month interim budget to keep state services funded through July, and faced with the continued economic uncertainty caused by COVID-19, the Legislature on July 28th approved a $16.53B interim spending plan that will keep state government running through the end of October. The interim budget, House Bill 4905, An Act making certain appropriations for fiscal year 2021 before final action on the General Appropriation Bill, will give legislators additional time to prepare a full-year spending plan for FY21.
With the state facing a projected FY21 deficit of $6 billion or more, it is virtually impossible for state officials to determine with any degree of certainty a realistic spending figure for the FY21 budget until we know how much aid may be forthcoming from the federal government, which is currently working on another stimulus package. While we wait, the Legislature and the Baker-Polito Administration have reached an agreement to maintain the FY21 unrestricted local aid and Chapter 70 funding at the FY20 levels, as well as provide an additional $107M in school aid to cover inflation and enrollment factors. This commitment is designed to provide a baseline and a higher level of certainty for municipalities and school districts, even though much of what the FY21 final budget will look like remains unknown at this time.
Environment & Energy: On July 31st, the House engrossed House Bill 4912, An Act creating a 2050 roadmap to a clean and thriving Commonwealth, after two days of debate. I voted in favor of the bill, which received a final vote of 142-17. The bill is a redrafted version of Senate Bill 2500, so a conference committee will be appointed to reconcile the differences between the two versions. H4912 directs the Executive Office of Energy and Environmental Affairs (EOEEA) to establish a "2050 Emissions Reduction Roadmap Plan" by December 31, 2022, outlining feasible and equitable pathways for achieving the targeted net-zero goal. The bill sets interim goals calling for emissions to be at least 50% below 1990 levels by 2030, and at least 75% below those levels by 2040. In developing its roadmap plan, EOEEA will be required to create regulations that protect - and, where possible, improve - the condition of low and moderate income persons and environmental justice populations. The bill also creates a clean energy equity workforce and market development program to provide workforce training, educational and professional development, job placement, startup opportunities, and grants promoting participation in the Commonwealth's energy efficiency and clean energy industries to certified minority-owned and women-owned small business enterprises; individuals residing within an environmental justice community; and both current and former workers displaced from the fossil fuel industry.
Telehealth: On July 29th, the House unanimously passed House Bill 4888, An Act to promote resilience in our health care system, following two days of debate. The Senate passed its own version of the bill, S2796, on June 25th, and a conference committee will be formed to reconcile the differences between the two versions. H4888 requires both public and private insurers to treat telehealth services in the same manner as in-person doctor visits, with deductibles, co-payments and co-insurance requirements not allowed to exceed the in-person rate. These rate parity protections are needed as more residents turn to telehealth as a safer option to help minimize their exposure to COVID-19.
I filed and secured two amendments to H4888. Amendment #3, Increasing Access to Cancer Clinical Trials, would work to increase enrollment, retention, and minority participation in cancer clinical trials. It would also eliminate financial barriers to participation by informing trial subjects - as well as family, friends and chaperones who accompany them - of their eligibility to be reimbursed for travel expenses and other ancillary costs through government entities, study sponsors, public and private foundations, corporations, and individuals. Amendment #71, titled Rare Disease Advisory Council, would establish a rare disease advisory council in the Commonwealth, which would be a powerful tool in creating a comprehensive rare disease network and bolstering education and attention to the cumulative mass and prevalence of rare diseases. The mission of the Council would be to advise the Governor, General Court, and Department of Public Health on the incidence and status of rare disease in Massachusetts. Both amendments are based in legislation I filed this session.
Economic Development: On July 28th, the House approved a multi-million dollar economic development bill on a vote of 156-3 following two days of debate. House Bill 4879, An Act enabling partnerships for growth, is designed to stimulate job growth and provide additional support to cities, towns, and businesses during the COVID-19 pandemic. In addition to authorizing $456 million in bond funding to support housing production, workforce training initiatives, climate resiliency, small businesses, cultural organizations, and a variety of local earmarks, House Bill 4879 puts forth a number of policy initiatives, including legalized sports betting in Massachusetts and additional protective guidelines governing evictions during COVID-19. The bill also contains local zoning reform language originally included in Governor Baker's Housing Choice legislation to help address the state's affordable housing shortage.
I was successful in securing the adoption of Amendment #15 in the House version of the bill, which I co-filed with my colleagues Representatives Dykema, Gregoire, McMurtry, and Ferguson. Amendment #15, titled Women's Rights History Trail, is based on legislation I filed this session which was passed unanimously in the House last September that has yet to be taken up by the Senate. The Amendment will create a Women's Rights History Trail in the Commonwealth consisting of sites and properties associated with the struggle for women's rights and women's suffrage. The Amendment also establishes the Women's Rights History Trail Task Force, which will have one year from the signing of the bill to plan how to best implement and promote the History Trail. The Senate passed its own version of the Economic Development Bill, so a conference committee is working to reconcile differences between the House version and the Senate version.
Breakfast After the Bell: On July 28th, the House and Senate approved House Bill 4218, An Act regarding breakfast after the bell, which will help students be better prepared for learning by providing them with a nutritious breakfast at school. The bill requires public schools to provide a school breakfast after the beginning of the instructional day if at least 60% of the students are eligible for free or reduced-price meals under the federal National School Lunch Program. H4218 was a Food System Caucus priority bill, so I am especially glad to see it passed and am confident it will make an even bigger impact on Commonwealth students during this time of heightened food insecurity. Schools will have the flexibility to choose which breakfast service model best suits students, including breakfast in the classroom, grab and go breakfast served from mobile carts or kiosks located in the school, or a second chance breakfast offered during breaks between classes.
Police Reform: On July 24th, the House approved House Bill 4860, An Act relative to justice, equity and accountability in law enforcement in the Commonwealth, by a vote of 93-66, after days of debate. It is my opinion, as well as that of 65 of my colleagues including 34 democrats, 30 republicans and one unenrolled, that the bill went too far and could ultimately defer qualified candidates from pursuing a law enforcement career and prompt seasoned veterans to leave the profession. The House provided little time to fully vet the many provisions contained in the nearly 100-page bill and only allowed the submission of written testimony for two days. The Senate did not accept any testimony and lacked any real input from the law enforcement community in either chamber's assessment of the legislation.
I support provisions of H4860 that would establish a statewide licensing and certification process for all law enforcement officers (and yet required that the majority of the members of the commission have absolutely no law enforcement experience), ban the use of chokeholds, and require officers to intervene if they witness police misconduct. However, I believe the bill went too far in restricting no-knock warrants and limits on the ability of law enforcement to be notified by schools of potential problems, including students suspected of being affiliated with gangs. I also felt there was a great deal of confusion around the issue of qualified immunity, largely due to the rushed nature of the bill and the absence of advice from professionals, and I have concerns about making changes to the qualified immunity law without fully understanding the potential implications and unintended consequences that could result. The House and Senate, which both passed their own versions of the Police Reform Bill, have appointed a conference committee that will attempt to reconcile the differences between the two bills.
EEE: On July 20th, Governor Baker signed into law Senate Bill 2757, An Act to mitigate arbovirus in the Commonwealth. The new law requires the mosquito control board to provide at least 48 hours of notice prior to conducting any aerial spraying and provide a form on its website that individuals can use to request notifications. The law also requires the mosquito control board to post a report on its website within 30 days of any aerial spraying detailing the specific preventative, management, and eradication methods used, areas sprayed, number of applications, and products used. Property owners and towns are also able to opt out of spraying under the new law, provided they have an alternative mosquito management plan. Finally, the new law stipulates that any actions taken by the board must be done in a way that protects public health while minimizing any adverse impact to the environment, and a Mosquito Control for the Twenty-First Century Task Force was formed. The Task Force must perform an evaluation of the 2020 mosquito control process and file a report by October 31st, 2021.
Cocktails To-Go: On July 20th, Governor Baker signed into law Senate Bill 2812, An Act to expand take-out/delivery options in response to COVID-19. The new law allows restaurants to sell cocktails to-go as part of take-out and delivery food orders. Cocktails must be sealed and customers are limited to 64oz per transaction. Take-out wine and beer were legalized in April. The new law comes as a next step in helping restaurants, which have been one of the hardest-hit industries by the pandemic.
Voting Options: On July 6th, Governor Baker signed into law House Bill 4820, An Act relative to voting options in response to COVID-19. The new law will provide MA voters with expanded early, absentee, and mail-in voting options for state and municipal elections taking place in 2020. It requires the MA Secretary of State to mail applications to all registered voters by July 15th so they can request a mail-in ballot for the September 1st primary election, using a prepaid return envelope, with a second mailing sent on by September 14th for voters to request a mail-in ballot for the November 3rd general election. The Secretary of State must also develop an online portal for voters to request a mailed ballot, conduct a public awareness campaign on the expanded voting options available, promulgate emergency regulations to ensure the use of public health safeguards at early voting sites and polling places, report back to the Legislature on how voting can be made more accessible for voters with disabilities, and report on the costs of implementing the changes included in the law. Finally, the new law gives municipal clerks the ability to process ballots received by mail before election day and allows municipalities to eliminate the check-out table at polling locations and/or change a polling location for reasons of public health or public convenience.
Juneteenth: House Bill 4808, An Act making appropriations for the fiscal year 2020 to authorize certain COVID-19 spending in anticipation of federal reimbursement, was signed into law by Governor Baker on July 24th. H4808 includes language designating June 19th, commonly known as "Juneteenth" as an official state holiday. Juneteenth commemorates the end of the Civil War and the freeing of slaves in the United States.
Child Protection: On July 9th, the MA House of Representatives unanimously passed House Bill 4852, An Act relative to accountability for vulnerable children and families. Since the start of the COVID-19 pandemic, the number of 51A (child abuse and neglect) reports made to the MA Department of Children and Families (DCF) has dropped steeply. Experts believe that since children are no longer in school and no longer out in their communities interacting with mandated reporters such as teachers and coaches, children who are abused and/or neglected at home are not being "seen" and therefore cases of child abuse/neglect are not being reported.
H4852 would require DCF to develop and update specific case management policies to improve its operations and to ensure the safety of the children under its care, move the board that investigates the deaths of children in state care from the Chief Medical Examiner's Office to the Office of the Child Advocate, and require that DCF file an annual report detailing the outcomes of children and young adults leaving or aging out of DCF care and custody, including whether or not they have secured housing, employment, and post-secondary education. The legislation would also require DCF to analyze and report on various aspects of the child welfare and education system to understand the novel coronavirus' impact on vulnerable children, require monthly updates from DCF on child abuse and neglect reports made to the department, and directs DCF to develop and implement a public information campaign to increase awareness of child abuse and neglect during the State of Emergency. Finally, H4852 creates a Foster Parents' Bill of Rights, designed to articulate specific rights and responsibilities to help DCF recruit and retain foster parents.
Racial Disparities in Maternal Health: On June 30th, the MA House of Representatives passed H4818, An Act to reduce racial inequities in maternal health, a bill I co-sponsored this session. The bill would create a 25-member commission to work to identify the causes of racial disparities in maternal health and develop recommendations to address them. I worked with the Minority Leader's Office to ensure the minority party is represented on the Commission by appointing the ranking minority members of the Joint Committee on Public Health to the Commission. The Commission would be co-chaired by the House Chair and Senate Chair of the Joint Committee on Public Health and include the Commissioner of Public Health, the Executive Director of the Health Policy Commission, and the Chair of the MA Black and Latino Legislative Caucus. The Commission would be charged with investigating racial disparities in maternal health and be required to file a report with its findings and recommendations within one year of the bill's effective date.
Supplemental Budget: House Bill 4808, An Act making appropriations for the fiscal year 2020 to authorize certain COVID-19 spending in anticipation of federal reimbursement, was signed by Governor Baker on July 24th. The supplemental budget includes $25,000 for St Anne's Food Pantry in Shrewsbury and $10,000 for PPE for the Town of Shrewsbury, both the result of amendments I filed. $25,000 for the Westborough Food Pantry and $10,000 for PPE for the Town of Westborough are also provided for in the supplemental budget due to amendments Representative Gregoire filed, which I co-sponsored. Finally, there is a provision in the supplemental budget secured by Senator Moore that $175,000 is equally distributed to seven towns, one of which is Shrewsbury, for technology, health, and safety improvements in public schools related to COVID-19.
Road and Bridge Funding: On July 2nd, Governor Baker signed a $200M Chapter 90 statewide bond authorization, House Bill 4803, An Act financing improvements to municipal roads and bridges. Shrewsbury received $987,552 and Westborough received $788,542 through the bond authorization. Established by the Legislature in 1973, the Chapter 90 program allocates funding to cities and towns on an annual basis, using a formula that is based on a weighted average of a community's population, employment, and total road miles. It is a 100% reimbursable program that provides funding assistance for towns to carry out roadway construction, renovation, and improvement projects.
Information Technology Bond Bill: House Bill 4733, An Act financing the general governmental infrastructure of the Commonwealth, $30,400 for the Westborough Public Library is included in the bill to allow for social distancing and updated technology capabilities and connectivity at the Library. There is also funding for security technology and equipment for the town of Shrewsbury included in H4733, which in total invests nearly $1.8B in information technology, public safety, food security, and data and cyber-security improvements through local and state government. The bond bill is now before the Governor.
As a member of the Food Security Task Force convened by the Governor and as a founding Co-Chair of the Legislature's Food System Caucus, I also worked to help establish a $36.5M food security program with the MA Department of Agricultural Resources through the IT Bond Bill to support food banks, farm stands, elder services, and other food distribution channels disrupted by COVID-19. In addition, the bill provides $5M to the Executive Office of Health and Human Services to develop a system to make it easier for applicants and recipients of MassHealth and the Medicare Savings Program to access benefits through the Supplemental Nutrition Access Program (SNAP) if they are eligible.
Community Events & Recognitions
Commonwealth Heroines: I am proud to have nominated Maureen Johnson of Westborough and joined Senator Moore's office in nominating Kim Pettingill-Long of Shrewsbury to become 2020 Commonwealth Heroines. Maureen and Kim have made significant contributions to our communities. We are so very appreciative of their giving nature and acknowledge that much of the wonderful work they do every day goes unrecognized, even though it is profoundly felt. Maureen has supported nearly all of the pillars that make a community strong through her extensive volunteer work for the Westborough Public Schools, Public Library, and local cultural events and arts. Kim is a leading advocate for gun control and gun safety legislation in Massachusetts and across the country through her role as the State Chapter Lead at Moms Demand Action for Gun Sense in America and her service on the Shrewsbury Youth and Family Services Board. Thank you to both women for their immense sacrifice and to the Massachusetts Commission on the Status of Women for giving us the opportunity to recognize these exemplary women.
National Merit Scholarship: Nishka Pant, a 2020 Westborough High School graduate, was awarded a National Merit Scholarship, a well-deserved result of her accomplishments, skills, and potential for success in collegiate studies. She undoubtedly will make wonderful contributions to society, and we hope her path brings her back to Westborough in the future. Please join me in congratulating Nishka and wishing her luck as she embarks on the next stage of her life.
E-Sports Team Titles: The Shrewsbury High School E-Sports Team, coached by Coach McKinstry, won both Massachusetts State E-Sports titles this year. The skill and passion of the E-Sports Team is evident in their seven state titles in League of Legends and Rocket League, and the fact that SHS remains the only state champion school since the inception of the e-sports high school league. Congratulations to Coach McKinstry and team members.
Letters About Literature: Zainab Ridha of Shrewsbury and Ella Walker of Westborough both received Honorable Mention Awards in Mass Letters about Literature. Zainab wrote to Dr. Seuss about The Lorax and Ella wrote to Lynda Mullaly Hunt about Fish in a Tree. Congratulations to both on this accomplishment.
Science & Engineering: Arnav Mishra, Alina Shkurikhina, and Zoe Rudnick of Shrewsbury both placed in the 2020 Massachusetts Science and Engineering Fair. Congratulations to both on their talent and hard work, especially during these times of uncertainty. Congratulations also to Adita Dosi, who qualified for the International Science and Engineering Fair. Her qualification is the first for Shrewsbury High School since 2009. Thank you to these four students for making Shrewsbury proud.
WuXi Biologics': I was thrilled that my office was able to join a virtual ceremony on June 16th to celebrate the recent completion of the land agreement and beginning of construction at WuXi Biologics' Worcester biopharmaceutical manufacturing facility at The Reactory biomanufacturing park. An exciting development for our community!
Project 351 Leadership Reunion: Project 351 held their Leadership Reunion on June 17th, and I was happy to join the virtual event. It was an evening of celebration and community building with the Ambassador Class of 2020 and Alumni. I am grateful for the work Project 351 does for young people of the Commonwealth and am proud to work with them and support their mission.
Graduates: My sincerest congratulations to all Shrewsbury and Westborough residents who graduated from middle school, high school, college, grad school, or any other program this spring. I am so sorry for how the pandemic impacted your senior spring. However, there is absolutely no doubt in my mind that you graduated a more resilient person, more equipped to take on the world and make a positive impact in whatever pursuit you choose to embark on next, due to the hardship you encountered this past spring. Whether you stay in Shrewsbury or Westborough or continue your journey elsewhere, know that we are all rooting for you. Thank you for making us proud!
100th Anniversary of the 19th Amendment: On June 30th, the MA Legislature's Women's Caucus partnered with Suffrage 100MA to discuss the history of the suffrage movement in the Commonwealth. Fredie Kay and Katrina Huff-Larmond gave an overview of the women (and few men) who fought for the passage of the 19th Amendment. I was honored to give introductory remarks during the briefing on behalf of the Women's Caucus and play a small role in ensuring we don't lose sight of the significance of the 100th Anniversary of the 19th Amendment, as well as all the work we have ahead of us to continue to advance the rights of women.
MA Sustainable Communities: On June 19th, I spoke as a panelist on a MA Sustainable Communities Local Food System Zoom gathering and shared my perspective as a State Legislator and Co-Founder and Co-Chair of the Food System Caucus on the current challenges and solutions to local food production and distribution.