$300,000 Secured for Shrewsbury Sewer Infrastructure
The House of Representatives passed a comprehensive economic development bond bill in July that included an earmark I filed for $300,000 that will help enable the construction of a new sewer pump station and related appurtenances along Route 20 in Shrewsbury. The lack of sewer infrastructure along the Route 20 corridor has been a major obstacle impeding the full utilization of the land available for commercial development.
Shrewsbury's Home Farm Water Treatment Plant Receives Grant
The Baker-Polito Administration awarded a $200,000 grant through the Department of Energy Resources so that Shrewsbury could install a new 60kW solar photovoltaic system to help reduce energy use and increase energy efficiency.
Westborough Receives a $22,000 Infrastructure Technology Grant
The town of Westborough received a $22,000 grant for the implementation of a centralized asset and work order management system as part of the Baker-Polito Administration's Community Compact Program.
Shrewsbury Receives a $50,000 Grant from MassDevelopment
The grant award is for the Master Planning and Visioning for the Beal School site and Town Center.
Assabet Valley Technical High School Receives a $497,000 Skills Capital Grant
The grant funds the purchase of six virtual welders, two CNC CO2 laser cutting/marking machines and one fiber laser marking machine and enables Assabet Valley to train adults for careers in metal fabrication and advanced manufacturing.
MSBA Advances Beal Early Childhood Center to Schematic Design
The Massachusetts School Building Authority gave approval on June 27th for the town of Shrewsbury to proceed into schematic design to replace the existing Beal Early Childhood Center with a new K-4 facility on the Glavin Center site. The town is working on a timeline that anticipates a fall special town meeting and late fall town wide vote on this project.
1. Tobacco Purchasing Legislation -
Governor Baker signed into law a bill which raises the minimum age for legally purchasing tobacco products in Massachusetts from 18 to 21, effective December 31, 2018. The bill would also ban tobacco sales at health care institutions and pharmacies and address the vaping epidemic plaguing our schools. The bill contained legislation that I filed which imposed fines for sales of e-cigarettes to minors.
Life Sciences Industry Capital Bond Bill -
Legislation supporting the advancement and expansion of the state's life sciences industry was signed into law by Governor Baker. Under the bill, $462.97 million in capital funding for the Massachusetts Life Sciences Investment Fund is authorized, with approximately one-third of the funding scheduled to be distributed to programs at the state's public universities, including $50 million for UMass Lowell and UMass Medical School to advance neuroscience-related workforce training and research.
Municipal Police Training Fund -
With widespread support from the law enforcement community, Governor Baker signed into law legislation which calls for the creation of a new dedicated revenue stream to help fund municipal police training in Massachusetts. The bill authorizes a $2 statewide rental car surcharge, the proceeds of which will be deposited into a newly-created Municipal Police Training Fund that will be used to provide basic training for new police recruits and mandatory in-service training and specialized training for veteran police officers. Under the bill, rentals of less than 12 hours will be exempt from the surcharge, as will customers who utilize transportation network companies such as Uber and Lyft.
4. Veterans Benefits (BRAVE) Act -
The Legislature passed comprehensive legislation known as the "Brave Act" to enhance veterans' benefits in Massachusetts. The bill has several components, some of which include doubling state funding assistance for indignant veterans' burial costs; increasing the property tax exemption available to veterans who perform volunteer work for their home community and allowing combat medics to use their military training to receive EMT certification without having to repeat duplicative classes. Also corrected under the bill were clauses within the 2012 Valor Act which were problematically interpreted.
5. Extreme Risk Protective Order Bill -
Governor Baker signed legislation which will allow household members or others in close familial-type relationships, as well as law enforcement to file an extreme risk protection order (ERPO) petition with the court to temporarily remove firearms from suicidal or dangerous individuals for up to a year. The bill also mandates that the respondent receives information related to crisis management, mental health, substance use and the petitioner be provided information regarding civil commitment.
6. Civics Education Bill -
The House and Senate passed legislation designed to advance Massachusetts students development of strong citizenship skills via the expansion of civics education in public schools. While state law already requires elementary and high school students to receive instruction in American history and civics, the bill adds several new civics-related topics to the curriculum. The bill also requires that all public middle and high school students be given the opportunity to participate in a civics project, to be funded via the newly established Civics Project Trust Fund.
7. Disability Benefits Bill -
The Governor signed An Act relative to disability benefits, which creates a presumption that certain cancer-related illnesses, if contracted by firefighters or police involved in fire investigations, are work-related and thereby eligible for disability benefits. The bill recognizes the heightened risk which firefighters and fire-exposed police officers face of developing certain cancers or related illnesses as a result of occupation.
8. Animal Welfare (PAWS II) Act -
In a follow up to previous efforts to strengthen protections and care for animals in the Commonwealth, the Legislature passed animal welfare legislation often referred to as the "PAWS II" Act. The bill makes a strong attempt to reduce animal cruelty and diminish animal deaths by requiring inspection of vacant property for abandoned animals, enforcing criminal penalties and fines on drowning of animals and prohibiting insurance companies from adopting discriminatory practices and coverage policies regarding certain dog breeds.
9. Environmental Bond Bill -
The Legislature sent Governor Baker a comprehensive bond bill which provides approximately $2.4 billion in capital authorizations to support a variety of local and statewide environmental initiatives. The bill, which provides a five-year blueprint for environmental spending in Massachusetts, prioritizes the environment and natural resources through the inclusion of $225 million in funding for the preservation of state-owned forests, parks, campgrounds and reservations across the Commonwealth, and includes significant investments in coastal resiliency and water quality efforts.
Omnibus Health Care Bill -
The House and Senate each passed omnibus health care legislation but failed to reach a compromise in conference committee to send to the Governor. I voted against the House bill as it did not offer any cost saving measures, lacked any reforms to address unsustainable and rising MassHealth costs, and included a series of fee increases targeting professional license holders and established hundreds of millions of dollars in new assessments on the state's largest hospitals, specialty clinics and insurers. The bill, which specifically called for imposing $90 million in assessments on hospitals and $247.5 million in assessments on insurers over a three-year period, almost singularly focused on attempting to stabilize community hospitals, to the detriment of other health care institutions, and provided no long-term approach for preserving community hospitals following the end of these assessments.
"Grand Bargain" Legislation -
In an effort to keep three hugely impactful and complicated ballot questions from going before voters this November, the leadership of General Court brokered an agreement on all three matters between some business advocacy associations and the Raise Up coalition, in the form of "Grand Bargain" legislation. The legislation has three major components: establishment of a permanent sales tax holiday weekend; an increase in the minimum wage to $15 per hour over the course of several years; and the creation of a paid family and medical leave program. While the bill, which was signed into law by Governor Baker, represented better policy construction relative to two of the ballot questions, I did not support the legislation because many of my concerns remained relative to the potential negative impact on the Commonwealth's small businesses and our state's economy.
Conversion Therapy Ban Bill -
The House of Representatives voted to join a number of other states in banning the use of conversion therapy to change the sexual orientation and gender identity of minors in Massachusetts. The bill, which had the backing of the American Psychiatric Association and major medical associations, would prohibit any licensed mental health professional from forcing minors to change their sexual orientation or gender identity. The bill does not apply the ban to those whom are eighteen and older or to those non-licensed faith based and religious counselors. The bill did not receive final enactment prior to the end of the legislative session.
Early Education Bill -
In an effort to build on the House of Representatives investment and prioritization of early childhood education, the House passed an early education bill which will stabilize providers while core elements of the workforce development system are developed. The bill codifies key supports for early educators, including mental health grants and scholarship programs, and ensures high quality programming for providers by establishing an adequate subsidized rate structure.
Automatic Voter Registration Bill -
The Legislature passed a bill to enable automatic voter registration in the Commonwealth. The bill would place the responsibility of implementing automatic voter registration on the Registry of Motor Vehicles, the Division of Medical Assistance and the Massachusetts Health Connector Authority, which are each already respectively tasked with fulfilling a number of complex and very important duties. Under current state law, eligible Massachusetts residents are able to register to vote in any election up to 20 days prior to that election's date, may register online if the RMV has a signature on file, via US Postal Mail, or in person at a number of local and state public buildings. In addition, Massachusetts currently allows individuals to pre-register to vote as early as 16. I voted against the bill as I am concerned it will be an unfunded mandate for cities and towns across the Commonwealth, require the hiring of additional staff at the local and state level, and will not address the root cause of why voter turnout in local, state, and federal elections continues to be low, despite numerous avenues to engage in the democratic process.
Economic Development Legislation -
The Legislature passed a comprehensive economic development bond bill which supports local and regional economic development and workforce training efforts. Of particular note is the bill's establishment of the August 11- August 12 sales tax holiday weekend. The bill allocates $537 million in grants to municipalities, public entities and non-profits for infrastructure improvement purposes. This includes funding dedicated to Shrewsbury in the amount of $300,000 for sewer infrastructure along Route 20 and approximately $1 million for improvements to the Main Street gateway and Dean Park's Master Plan. Also included is $250 million for the state's MassWorks infrastructure program and $75 million for a jointly administered grant program devoted to expanding career technical education and workforce training programs.
Foundation Budget Review Commission/Education Funding Bill - The House of Representatives took unanimous and substantial action to provide additional education aid to cities and towns to help address rising special education and health insurance costs. The bill passed by the House adjusts the state's Chapter 70 formula to increase funding for local school districts by approximately $500 million over 5 years, starting in 2019. In order to provide for more equitable funding moving forward, and to address the Foundation Budget Review Commission's (FBRC) 2015 finding that public education is underfunded by as much as $1-2 billion annually, the bill calls for adopting the FBRC's key recommendations. In addition to factoring in special education costs and the costs of employee's healthcare, the bill also directs the Department of Education to hire an independent research consultant to provide recommendations by December 31, 2018 on how the Chapter 70 formula can be adjusted to better account for English Language Learners and low-income students in each school district. Unfortunately, the bill passed by the Senate was substantially different and the Conference Committee charged with negotiating a compromise bill was unable to reach agreement prior to the end of session. The House has committed to working on new legislation to be filed in the new year.
Opioid Crisis/ CARE Act Bill -
In a follow up to Massachusetts historic 2016 comprehensive opioid legislation, the General Court passed new legislation to address the ongoing opioid crisis in a three-pronged approach focusing on prevention, treatment and care and recovery. The bill has several components, including the creation of the Community-Based Behavioral Health Promotion and Prevention Trust Fund to support evidence-based and evidence-informed programs for children and young adults; expansion of access to non-opioid treatment options for pain management; requiring the use of electronic prescriptions for controlled substances in non-emergency situations by 2020; directing the Department of Public Health to issue a statewide standing order allowing pharmacies to dispense naloxone without a prescription; and establishing a commission to make recommendations on the certification of Recovery Coaches. This legislation takes pivotal steps to ensure qualified treatment facilities are available to serve those in need by enhancing the regulatory and licensing authority of the Departments of Mental Health and Public Health, requiring facilities to accept MassHealth coverage, and mandating that hospitals and emergency facilities refer patients who receive an evaluation to an appropriate and available treatment provider or to provide treatment within the facility if adequate services are available on site.
Energy Legislation -
The Legislature passed comprehensive energy legislation in order to provide for a cleaner and more sustainable energy future for the Commonwealth. Among other components, the bill's highlights include doubling the renewable portfolio standard; establishing an energy storage target of 1,000 megawatt hours by December 2025; boosting offshore wind up to 3,600 megawatts; imposing new reporting standards for gas leaks; and requiring an annual system resiliency report from distributors. The bill also establishes a first in the nation Clean Peak Standard in Massachusetts, which requires retail electricity suppliers to purchase an increasing amount of clean energy during peak hours. In an effort to encourage solar energy and stand up for consumers, the bill eliminates demand charges from solar homeowners.
Reproductive Rights Laws -
The Legislature acted to remove unenforced and conflicting archaic laws pertaining to contraception and abortion off Massachusetts books that imposed criminal penalties. While the laws stricken have not been in practice for many decades or beyond, should the Supreme Court choose to take action to reverse established case precedent under Roe v. Wade, the Commonwealth would be shielded from the impact of that decision.
Consumer Credit Information Bill -
The Legislature passed legislation aimed at providing residents with more control over their credit information and enhanced protection if their information should be compromised. The bill, crafted in response to Equifax's unprecedented data breach, prevents unauthorized access to credit reports and requires the disclosure of the reason one may seek access to another consumer's credit report. Additionally, the legislation calls for free credit report monitoring following a data breach, as well as the elimination of the $5 fee charged by the three major credit reporting agencies to consumers seeking to freeze or unfreeze their credit information following a data breach.
Airbnb Legislation -
The legislature passed a bill to regulate and insure short-term rentals. The bill calls for applying to all short-term rental accommodations the state's 5.7% room occupancy excise tax, permits municipalities to levy an additional 6% tax on short-term rentals costing in excess of $15 per day, and applies to short-term rentals in six cities the 2.75% convention financing fee. The bill allows for cities or towns to adopt specific bylaws or ordinances, which includes the power to regulate the existence or location of operators of short-term rentals and the ability to regulate the class of operators and number of local licenses or permits issued to operators. Under the legislation, municipalities also possess the authority to establish a local option community impact fee of up to an additional 3% on operators who rent out two or more professionally-managed short-term rental units within a municipality, of which 35% of said fee must then be dedicated to affordable housing or infrastructure needs.
I voted against the legislation as I feel it is onerous and it fails to differentiate between those homeowners who rent out their primary or secondary residence for a small portion of the year and depend on that income, compared to professionally managed Airbnb properties. The legislation places an undue and inequitable burden on families and individuals and applies standards and taxes which are better served for commercial properties and companies more comparable to hotels. The legislation also calls for a statewide registry that I believe requires too much information on homeowners renting infrequently to be provided or publicly listed. Governor Baker has proposed some common-sense changes to this legislation that I hope are adopted, including exempting homeowners who rent their units for fewer than 14 days a year.
Shrewsbury Home Rule Petition Enacted for Glavin Center Property
Senator Moore and I co-filed legislation pursuant to an official request from the Town of Shrewsbury during a Special Town Meeting vote on January 17, 2018, that requests that the Division of Capital Asset Management and Maintenance convey the parcels of land that currently comprise the Irving A. Glavin Center on Lake Street, to the Town of Shrewsbury and the Shrewsbury Youth Soccer Association for purposes of open space and recreation, and for restricted use for general municipal purposes. The site is the preferred location for a new K-4 school that the town expects to bring forward for a vote next fall. The bill was enacted in the House and Senate on July 25th and is now before the Governor for his signature.
Westborough Charter Change
I co-sponsored legislation filed with my Westborough colleagues to amend the Town of Westborough's charter, pursuant to an official request following a vote of the town. The bill will change the title of town personnel from "MIS/GIS Director" to "Information Technology Director." The bill has been engrossed in the House of Representatives.
Fiscal Year 19 Budget
The Legislature passed, and Governor Baker signed a $41.8 billion state budget for FY19 which represents a 3.2% increase in spending over FY18 and provides significant funding increases for local aid, K-12 education funding and mental health and substance abuse services. The House budget allocates $4.91 billion in Chapter 70 education aid, which represents an increase of $160.6 million over current funding levels and includes $19,887,358 for Shrewsbury and $7,951,974 for Westborough; $1.1 billion for unrestricted local aid to help support a variety of municipal services, including $2,880,275 for Shrewsbury and $1,198,188 for Westborough; $319 million for the special education circuit breaker funding, an increase of $25 million from FY18; $876 million for the Department of Mental Health; and over $200 million to combat the opioid and heroin epidemic. The FY19 budget also makes a $368 million deposit into the state's rainy-day fund to ensure our state's fiscal health and limits the use of one-time revenue to just $95 million, down from nearly $1.2 billion in the FY15 budget.
Within the final budget, I was able to secure $50,000 for Shrewsbury Youth and Family Services to support their efforts to increase mental health literacy and to eradicate the stigma around seeking mental health services through the continuation of their Youth Mental Health First Aiders training across Central Massachusetts and the Commonwealth. I also joined my Central Massachusetts colleagues to ensure a change in statute be made to allow for the assignment of a 5th Justice to the Worcester County Juvenile Court as the increase in care and protection orders for our youth and families in Central MA has led to the highest number of active cases per judge in the Commonwealth. I was also a lead sponsor of the Healthy Incentives Program budget amendment, and able to garner broad, bi-partisan support from 90 House co-sponsors, leading to inclusion of $4 million in the final budget for the program which supports our local farmers and provides access to fresh fruits and vegetables to individuals and families eligible for SNAP benefits.
Community Events, Town Celebrations & Recognitions
Armed Forces Day Celebration
In May, my legislative colleagues from the Central MA Veterans Service District, Senator Mike Moore and Representatives Carolyn Dykema, Danielle Gregoire, David Muradian and Hank Naughton and I hosted our 4th Annual Armed Forces Day celebration. It was a day to reflect and say thank you to the men and women who have served our country, defending our liberty and freedom. We were fortunate to have speakers Lieutenant Governor Karyn Polito, Congressman Jim McGovern, Major General Gary Keefe, District Director Justin Sousa and Shrewsbury Deputy Fire Chief Bruce Card, Jr. We also had many youth involved, including the Grafton Job Corp Color Guard, culinary program students from Assabet Valley Technical High School, student readers Thomas and Patrick Ryan, Caitlin Kane, Madison Colonna and Sasha Wilkinson, along with Boy Scouts from Troop 114, members of the Westborough High School band, and Carly O'Brien singing the National Anthem and God Bless America. Reverend Robert Henry Hyde led us in a closing prayer. Thank you to Beth Casavant, Gayle Vigeant and Jessica Beliveau for all their help planning this special event and Melissa Pride-Fahs for the great pictures! You can view pictures and the ceremony