Massachusetts State Senate Unveils Next Generation Climate Policy FOR IMMEDIATE RELEASE

Massachusetts State Senate Unveils Next Generation Climate Policy

(Boston – 01/23/2020) Amid increasing reports of environmental devastation worldwide, the Massachusetts State Senate has taken major new steps in advancing the state’s approach to combating global warming.  The Senate’s next generation climate policy package, including An Act Setting Next Generation Climate Policy, An Act to Accelerate the Transition of Cars, Trucks and Buses to Carbon-Free Power, and An Act Relative to Energy Savings Efficiency, were released by the Senate Ways and Means Committee today, and are scheduled to be debated by the full Senate next week.

 

“The young people of Massachusetts have told us in no uncertain terms that they are looking to state leaders to take bold action on climate change,” says Senate President Karen Spilka.  “The Massachusetts State Senate has listened.  I’m proud of Senator Barrett for his diligence in crafting a thorough legislative package that takes concrete steps to reduce emissions and provides a plan to create a greener, healthier and more sustainable future. I would like to thank Senator Barrett and Senator Michael Rodrigues for their contributions to this next generation of climate leadership.”

“As a result of a collaborative stakeholder process, the package of bills polled out by the Committee today proposes a comprehensive plan to reduce our carbon footprint and boldly confront the impacts of climate change,” said Senator Michael J. Rodrigues, Chair of the Senate Committee on Ways and Means. “I applaud Senate President Spilka for her leadership and Senator Barrett for his thoughtful collaboration and partnership, which helped shape our efforts to put forward a series of bills to achieve net-zero carbon emissions by 2050 and transform our energy delivery system to benefit our climate and future generations. I look forward to a robust and energetic debate next week on the Senate floor.”

“Getting to net zero is absolutely necessary but it’s also a big lift,” said State Senator Mike Barrett, lead author and Senate Chair of the Utilities & Energy committee.  “This bill is all about the how of it, as in ‘Here’s how we are going to get there.’”

Key provisions of the climate policy package include:

  • Setting a statewide greenhouse gas limit for the year 2050 of “net zero” emissions. To achieve this, An Act Setting Next-Generation Climate Policy requires the state to hit near-term limits in 2025, 2030, and every five years thereafter; set sub-limits for transportation, buildings, solid waste, natural gas distribution, and other major sectors; and make implementation plans that are “clear, comprehensive, and specific.”
  • Establishing the Massachusetts Climate Policy Commission. The commission would be a new, independent public watchdog to oversee government’s handling of the unfolding crisis of climate change.  Commissioners will be charged with offering a nonpartisan, science-based view of the problem as it plays out in Massachusetts with its attendant natural, economic, and demographic impacts and risks.

“We want this commission to be an independent guardian of the future, notably the future of younger generations, insulated from political pressure and consisting of the most authoritative and credible Massachusetts voices we can find,” stated Senator Barrett.  “Job one for the Commission is to tell us if we’re on track in bringing down emissions.  Job two is to advise us on what to do next.  The commission will give us objective information about the performance of both government and the private sector and will pay special attention to the impact on low-income and other disadvantaged communities.  If the commission works as intended, it will be a new voice, standing apart from politics as usual and committed to shedding light on a very hard problem.”

  • Reflecting the price of carbon. Under the bill, the Administration would be free to choose among various market based forms of pricing carbon—including a revenue-neutral fee or a regional “cap and trade” system similar to the Transportation Climate Initiative (TCI)—but he or she would have to do so by Jan. 1, 2022, for transportation; Jan. 1, 2025, for commercial, industrial and institutional buildings; and Jan. 1, 2030, for residential buildings.  Any mechanism would be implemented so as to minimize the impact on low-income households, disadvantaged communities, and vulnerable manufacturing sectors.
  • Providing legislative direction to the Department of Public Utilities (DPU), the state’s primary energy oversight agency, for the first time. Compensating for a decades-long omission, the bill assigns the DPU a mission statement.  It requires the agency to balance five priorities: reliability of supply, affordability, public safety, physical and cyber security, and, significantly, reductions in greenhouse gas emissions.

 

  • Jumpstarting efforts to supply low-cost solar electricity to low-income communities. To reverse the failure of state programs to incentivize solar energy projects in low-income neighborhoods, as well as spur job creation, the bill requires the Department of Energy Resources (DOER) to set aside future solar allocations for such neighborhoods.

 

  • Letting cities and towns adopt a “net zero” stretch energy code. The bill allows the state to support communities that choose on their own to move away from fossil fuels as the source of heating for new buildings.  The state’s contribution is to promulgate a “net zero” energy code, so that localities have the option available if they want to use it.  The bill shifts responsibility for the code’s development from the Board of Building Regulations and Standards to the DOER.

“When it comes to bringing down emissions, buildings are the toughest nut to crack,” Barrett says.  “We need to move on multiple fronts.”

  • Nudging natural gas utilities to adapt. The bill authorizes utilities to test technology and pipelines that generate and transport “renewable thermal energy,” an emissions-free way to heat buildings that draws on the relative warmth of temperatures below ground.
  • Strengthening executive branch oversight of MassSave. The bill directs the Secretary of Energy and Environmental Affairs (EEA) to set emissions reduction goals, in advance, for each three-year plan the utilities formulate for MassSave.  It requires the DPU, at the conclusion of each three-year plan, to certify how much the plan actually contributed to meeting the Commonwealth’s greenhouse gas emission limits.

 

  • Tightening the alignment between MassSave and emissions limits. The bill requires electric utilities to include an explicit value for emissions reductions whenever they calculate the cost-effectiveness of a MassSave offering.

 

  • Setting a deadline for converting MTBA buses to all-electric power. An Act to Accelerate the Transition of Cars, Trucks, and Buses to Carbon Free Power directs the MBTA to limit bus purchases and leases to zero-emissions vehicles beginning in 2030, and to aim for an all-zero-emissions fleet by 2040, to reduce transportation-related emissions in city neighborhoods.
  • Offsetting the Trump Administration’s efforts to slow progress on efficient appliances. An Act Relative to Energy Savings Efficiency updates Massachusetts appliance standards to improve energy and water efficiency standards for common household and commercial appliances, helping to conserve energy and save consumers and businesses money.

Other provisions include:

  • Assembling the state’s first-ever database of energy use in large buildings.

 

  • Adding two building efficiency experts and an expert in advanced building technology to the membership of the Board of Building Regulations and Standards, which will retain responsibility for the base energy building code.
  • Authorizing the Massachusetts Clean Energy Center (MassCEC) to fund energy innovation pilots, and to take actions addressing health effects associated with the distribution and consumption of fossil fuels such as natural gas.
  • Directing the DPU to consider the impact on emissions when it reviews electric and natural gas rates, prices, charges, and contracts.

 

  • Directing state government to limit purchases and leases of vehicles to zero emissions vehicles only, beginning in 2024, if affordable replacements are available.
  • Conducting a study of the opportunities to electrify vehicles owned or leased by municipalities, regional school districts, and regional transit authorities, taking into account costs and possible sources of financial help from state and federal government.
  • Providing permanent statutory authorization for the “MOR-EV” program, the Commonwealth’s system of financial incentives for purchasers of zero emission vehicles.

“In Boston, we set a goal of becoming carbon neutral by 2050,” stated Boston Mayor Marty Walsh.  “Buildings along with transportation make up nearly 99 percent of Boston’s carbon emissions and I’m proud to join my colleagues at the Legislature in support of this proposal, which puts critical strategies in place to cut emissions across the Commonwealth. Together, we’ll work towards a more sustainable Boston for our residents, and generations to come.”

“We applaud the Senate’s leadership and are pleased to see President Spilka making good on her promise to move forward critical climate legislation,” stated Jacob Stern, Deputy Director of the Massachusetts Sierra Club. “Given that climate science tells us we only have until 2030 to substantially reduce our emissions, we hope that this legislation will serve as a catalyst for immediate action. We look forward to reviewing the bill in detail and working with our movement allies to pass these much-needed policies into law.”

“NECEC commends Senate President Spilka and the Massachusetts Senate for proposing a net zero emissions standard, in alignment with scientific consensus,” said Northeast Clean Energy Council (NECEC) President Peter Rothstein. “Swift passage of this legislation will accelerate the clean energy transition in the energy, buildings and transportation sectors, and will cement Massachusetts’ position as a premier place to build a robust clean energy economy.”

“We thank the Senate for releasing an energy bill that sets us on a course to more boldly address climate change—the most critical issue of our time,” stated Elizabeth Henry, President of the Environmental League of Massachusetts.   “By setting interim GHG reduction targets and echoing the Governor’s call for net zero emissions by 2050, the Senate acknowledges how much work is left to do.  In particular, we applaud the Senate for directing DOER to develop a net zero stretch code to address the built environment, and for including provisions that would accelerate electric vehicle use and ability of low income communities to access solar energy.”

“With the bill released today, President Spilka and Senate leadership are setting the Commonwealth on a meaningful pathway to a net-zero carbon economy by 2050”, said Deborah Donovan, Acadia Center’s Massachusetts Director. “The strong interim target of a 50% reduction by 2030 ensures that Massachusetts will make the next decade count. The ambitious provisions of this bill will boost our economy and protect the health of our most vulnerable residents and our planet.”

“Communities want and need a Net Zero stretch code in order to meet their local climate goals,” said Rebecca Winterich-Knox of the Mass Climate Action Network. “Committing to the goal of Net Zero by 2050 is a big step in the right direction, and will let cities and towns take leadership on better buildings.”

“The Senate Committee’s climate bill will make a real difference for people’s health and our climate,” said Alyssa Rayman-Read, Vice President and Director of CLF Massachusetts. “Getting to zero emissions by 2050 is an absolute necessity, and pushing the T to exclusively use electric vehicles will go a long way towards hitting that goal.”

“This legislation will continue to fuel our transition away from a carbon intensive economy, while promoting new job growth and economic opportunities for the Commonwealth,” stated Michael Green, Executive Director of Climate Xchange.  “A carbon free economy will benefit all of the Massachusetts businesses and residents. This legislation will unlock much needed market signals, providing the opportunity for sustainable business growth, innovation and continue to make Massachusetts one of the most vibrant economies in the nation.”

The entire Senate is expected to vote on the legislation by the end of January.

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Mass. Legislature Passes Distracted Driving Bill FOR IMMEDIATE RELEASE

Nov. 21, 2019 – (BOSTON) – State Senator Mike Barrett, along with his colleagues in the House and Senate, voted to enact legislation to ban motorists from using hand-held electronic devices in vehicles unless drivers use the device in hands-free mode.

Hands-free mode is defined as voice communication with a mobile electronic device without touching, holding, or otherwise manually manipulating a device.  Law enforcement officials will issue warnings to drivers for first offenses during a three month grace period, which will last until March 31, 2020.

“Many many of us have occasionally held a mobile device while driving,” said Senator Barrett.  “Now comes a law that makes doing so illegal, and with heavy penalties attached. This is one statue that will necessitate a significant amount of behavior change.”

“The safety of our residents is paramount,” said Senator Friedman. “This long overdue bill will protect our drivers and pedestrians as well as reduce the rate of tragic accidents caused by distracted driving on our roads. I’m proud the Legislature passed this commonsense bill, and am grateful that our busy roads and highways in the 4th Middlesex will become safer for everyone as a result.”

“As a bicycle and pedestrian advocate, I have long been a strong supporter of banning the use of hand-held electronic devices while driving,” said Representative Ciccolo. “Operating a vehicle is a full time activity, and drivers who take their eyes off the road endanger not only themselves, but everyone around them. To that end, this bill will save lives while taking critical steps to ensure the law is not used as a way to unduly target drivers because of their race.”

There is a civil rights dimension. The legislation also improves transparency in public safety by granting expanded access to traffic stop data.  It has been 15 years since the last public report on traffic stop data; under this bill the state will be required to publish and analyze the data annually.  Expanding access to this information improves transparency and improves public safety outcomes.

The bill will also:

  • Allow for drivers to use mapping or navigation devices if they are affixed to the windshield, dashboard or central console or integrated into the vehicle and only involve a tap or a swipe;
  • Exempt use of electronics in the case of an emergency and for first responders if they are using the devices as part of their duties;
  • Penalize drivers with $100 fine for the first offence, $250 fine and safety course for the second offence and $500 fine and surcharge for third and subsequent offences;
  • Expand data collection of identifying characteristics including age, race and gender and location when police issue a uniform citation;
  • Hold law enforcement agencies accountable, if data suggests those jurisdictions may be engaging in racial profiling, by requiring them to collect data on all traffic stops for a one-year period and provide implicit bias training;
  • Require the Executive Office of Public Safety and Security (EOPPS) to publish data online annually
  • Mandate EOPSS to contract with a research institution to conduct an annual analysis of the data collected.
  • Direct the EOPSS Secretary to hold three public hearings across the Commonwealth annually to present the findings of the annual report and analysis and field public testimony; and
  • Create a public awareness campaign informing and educating drivers on the dangers of using technological devices while driving

The bill now goes to the governor.

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Barrett Bill Requires Tax Returns for Pres. Candidates

At a recent public hearing at the State House, local State Senator Mike Barrett urged support for his bill to require presidential candidates to release their tax returns in order to appear on the Massachusetts primary or general election ballot.

“Until recently, Americans just assumed that the stature of the Office of President ensured the observance of certain principles of transparency and integrity,” Barrett said, at a hearing of the Committee on Election Laws.  “While unwritten, the ideas seemed well-established.  One such idea is the disclosure by presidential candidates of recent tax returns in order to reassure the public about possible conflicts of interest.”

In front of the packed crowd, Barrett added that “There is continuing and intense support for a bill requires anyone running for president to disclose his or her tax returns.  The voters have a right to know.”

This session Barrett’s bill is co-sponsored by 32 members of the Senate and House of Representatives.

Recently, California’s Legislature and Governor have put on the books a law similar to Barrett’s disclosure proposal for presidential candidates running in Massachusetts.  Barrett says that “Now it’s high time for us to act.”

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BARRETT ADDS FUNDS TO AID LOCAL GROUPS The Senate officially closes the books on the 2019 Fiscal year, greenlighting a supplementary budget that includes dedicated funding for Waltham-based non-profits.

BOSTON – During recent debate, the State Senate adopted an amendment offered by local State Senator Mike Barrett to support a building that has become a Waltham institution.  The amendment provides $200,000 for improvements to a structure that’s home to eight non-profits devoted to food, farming, and agriculture.

Tenants of the building include Waltham Fields Community Farm, Waltham Land Trust, Green Rows of Waltham Community Gardens, Boston Area Gleaners, Mass Farmers Markets, Grow Native Massachusetts, and Boston Area Climate Experiment.

Each organization works on sustainable agriculture, local produce, and healthy diets, from a century-old “field station.”   The main administrative building, which sits on a large agricultural site at 240 Beaver Street, is in need of some repair and maintenance, which Barrett’s amendment will help address.

“For the sake of a group of non-profit tenants that do a great job serving the interests of everyone in Waltham,” said Barrett, “we need to invest in this building. It needs a lot of work, but these organizations are well worth it.”

In addition, the Senate’s supplemental budget furthers the chamber’s commitment to ensuring all children have access to greater educational opportunities.  The budget dedicates $50M to fund educational programming costs associated with the Student Opportunity Act, which recently cleared both the Senate and the House of Representatives.  The Senate’s budget also ensures student safety and mental well-being through separate $10M investments in both school behavioral health services and enhanced public school safety and security measures, respectively. Additional education investments include:

  • $30M for targeted assistance for school improvement
  • $20M for the Endowment Incentives Program for public higher education institutions to provide an incentive for campuses to leverage private contributions
  • $10M for campus safety and security infrastructure grants to institutions of higher education
  • $5.1M to assist school districts with regional school transportation costs
  • $2M for special education circuit breaker reimbursements
  • $1M in rural school aid

 

The Senate’s closeout budget makes a number of targeted investments to help communities update aging transportation and water infrastructure, and improve public health.  The supplemental budget invests $60M in Chapter 90 funding to support improvements of local roads and bridges. It also provides $5M for a new pilot program to tackle increased traffic congestion, which is currently threatening quality of life and access to jobs.  Additional investments to support our communities include:

  • $50M for the MBTA capital acceleration program
  • $35M for the Massachusetts Clean Water Trust to help finance improvements to local water systems
  • $28.4M for targeted per- and polyfluoroalkyl substances (PFAS) contamination remediation of public water supplies and ongoing monitoring
  • $5M for culvert and dam repairs
  • $5M for costs associated with mosquito spraying to reduce the risk of Eastern equine encephalitis (EEE)
  • Authorizes $5M in grants for de-leading projects at early education facilities, childcare centers and elementary schools

The Senate’s budget addresses the pressing issue of climate change by investing $5M for a program to provide consumer rebates and other economic incentives to reduce carbon emissions.  In addition, the proposal dedicates the use of $32M in Regional Greenhouse Gas Initiative (RGGI) funds per fiscal year to promote the purchase and lease of electric vehicles, and to support the Green Communities program through December 31, 2021.

Finally, the supplemental budget reinforces the Senate’s belief that voting is key to a healthy democracy by authorizing an early voting period for the 2020 presidential primary, to begin on Monday, February 24, 2020 and end on Friday, February 28, 2020. It also funds $1.25M for early voting implementation.

The Senate’s Fiscal Year 2019 closeout supplemental budget will now be reconciled with the House’s version, which was passed last week.

Barrett vote on Student Opportunity Act, passes unanimously in the Senate Press Release

FOR IMMEDIATE RELEASE

October 4, 2019

 

Barrett vote on Student Opportunity Act, passes unanimously in the Senate
Bill would invest $1.5 billion in public schools, update statewide education policy, and support effective approaches to closing opportunity gaps for students throughout the Commonwealth.

BOSTON – On October 3, Senator Mike Barrett (D-Lexington) joined their Senate colleagues in unanimously passing the Student Opportunity Act, which would invest an unprecedented $1.5 billion in Massachusetts K-12 public education. This legislation would ensure public schools have adequate resources to provide high-quality education to students across the state, regardless of zip code or income level. Assuming inflation, over time the bill could provide an estimated $2.2 billion.

The Student Opportunity Act would significantly help school districts that serve high concentrations of low-income students. At the same time, school districts across the Commonwealth would benefit from updates to the existing funding formula, along with increased state investment in other vital education aid programs such as transportation, school construction and renovation and special education.

Taking into account these new investments, policy updates and the needs of all types of districts, the Student Opportunity Act would create new ways to monitor and measure progress, support effective approaches to closing opportunity gaps, and deliver results for all students.

“Most of the funding in the bill ensures equal opportunity by providing money to the poorest school districts in the state,” said Senator Barrett. “Still, our local districts get full reimbursement of the cost of out-of-district transportation for students with disabilities. This is no small thing, financially. So we all come out ahead.”

There are five recovery high schools across the Commonwealth that provide a safe, sober, and supportive school environment for students with substance use disorder. These schools have been tremendously successful – resulting in higher graduation rates, lower absenteeism, and the opportunity for students to develop skills and strengths needed for personal, academic, vocational and community success. In addition to providing traditional academic courses, these schools offer students a wealth of therapeutic and other support services for students. These additional treatment services, however, can be expensive and pose a funding challenge for recovery high schools.

To help meet these challenges, Friedman successfully secured an amendment in the Student Opportunity Act that would allow school districts to establish a local reserve fund to pay for unanticipated or unbudgeted costs of students attending recovery high schools. She also secured an amendment that would direct the Department of Elementary and Secondary Education (DESE) to determine the appropriate per pupil costs at recovery high schools to better inform future policy regarding staffing and funding levels needed to ensure the quality and sustainability of these schools.

The Student Opportunity Act would fully implement the recommendations of the 2015 Foundation Budget Review Commission (FBRC), ensuring that the school funding formula provides adequate and equitable funding to all districts across the state. The bill would provide an estimated $1.4 billion in new Chapter 70 aid over and above inflation when fully implemented over the next seven years. It would also modernize the K-12 education funding and policy landscape in four areas:

  • Estimate school districts’ employee and retiree health care costs using up to date health insurance trend data collected by the state’s Group Insurance Commission (GIC);
  • Increase special education enrollment and cost assumptions to more accurately reflect district enrollment;
  • Increase funding for English language learners (ELL) that is differentiated by grade level to reflect the greater resources required to educate older ELL students;
  • Address the needs of districts educating high concentrations of students from low-income households by:
    • Providing additional funding based on the share of low-income students in each district; districts educating the largest percentage of low-income students would receive an additional increment equal to 100% of the base foundation; and
    • Returning the definition of low-income to 185% of the Federal Poverty Level, as opposed to the 133% level that has been used in recent years.

To ensure that education-funding levels remain adequate, effective and equitable, the legislation includes forward looking provisions to address additional funding challenges and policy areas. The bill would direct the Department of Revenue (DOR) and DESE to analyze the method of determining required local contributions in the Chapter 70 school funding formula for the purpose of improving equity, predictability and accuracy. It would also establish a Rural Schools Commission to investigate the unique challenges facing rural and regional school districts with low and declining enrollment.

Finally, the legislation would create a “21st Century Education Trust Fund” to support schools and districts pursuing innovative approaches to learning, increase the Massachusetts School Building Authority’s annual spending cap by $200 million to allow for more school building and construction projects, set up a three-year timeline to fully fund charter school tuition reimbursements, increase foundation rates for guidance and psychological services, and expand a special education reimbursement program to include transportation costs.

The legislation now moves to the House of Representatives for consideration. To track the progress of the bill, visit https://malegislature.gov/Bills/191/S2350.

Hearing exposes tensions over climate policy pace The Taunton Daily Gazette

Barrett voiced frustration that the administration would not be committing itself to a plan before the 2020 elections to allow candidates for the state legislature to have a debate about the state’s climate policy.

Holding up a copy of the 2018 Comprehensive Energy Plan published by the Department of Energy Resources, Barrett described it as 165-pages with “not a single discernable plan.” He said he wanted to know, for example, what the administration’s plan was to convert 2.4 million privately-owned, gas-powered vehicles to electric.

“Your leadership on TCI is crucial and it’s also gutsy, and I appreciate that. Still, this endless infatuation with planning and scenario building is frustrating,” Barrett said.

“At some point, scenarios become a dodge,” Barrett said.

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MASSDEMS ENDORSE “GREEN NEW DEAL FOR MASSACHUSETTS NOW” The Somerville Weekly News

“Climate change is relentless, and ‘putting a price on carbon’ is the single most effective thing a state government can do to fight it,” said state Sen. Mike Barrett, a longtime champion of carbon pricing.  “We need to put Massachusetts state government at the forefront — right where our constituents want it to be.”

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Lexington Climate Strike demands action against climate change Wicked Local

With other speakers on the bleachers with him, State Senator Mike Barrett talks to the hundreds gathered on the Lexington High School football field for the Lexington Climate Strike Friday, Sept. 20, 2019

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Solar backlash may make it tough to build larger projects in Mass. Boston Globe

Senator Michael Barrett, cochairman of the Legislature’s energy committee, says he has watched this backlash against solar power with dismay. Rooftop solar is great — he has panels on his house in Lexington. But Barrett says the state can’t wean itself off natural gas- and oil-fired power plants without larger, industrial-scale solar projects getting built. He worries that the anti-solar attitudes are driven by NIMBY attitudes among neighbors who simply don’t want to see panels near them.

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Local legislators chime in on licenses for undocumented immigrants Wicked Local

BOSTON — Supporters of a bill that would make driver’s licenses available to undocumented immigrants packed the State House’s largest hearing room on Sept. 4 to renew the push for a policy that has come up short in previous sessions and would need to be passed with enough support to survive a likely veto by Gov. Charlie Baker.

The legislation — House Bill 3012 and Senate Bill 2061 — filed by Reps. Tricia Farley-Bouvier of Pittsfield and Christine Barber of Somerville, and Sen. Brendan Crighton of Lynn, would permit all qualified residents, regardless of immigration status, to apply for and receive a standard state license under the state’s now two-tiered system.

Sen. Michael Barrett (D-Lexington) also supports the legislation.

“I’m in favor … and my constituents are, too,” he said. “I’ve gotten about two dozen supportive emails at this point. I know realistically, that the district won’t be unanimous about the idea, but there is no system here for making sure everybody on the road is licensed and has demonstrated some degree of competence. I don’t want anyone driving unless they are licensed. So, I want to open a channel for them.”

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Lexington senator pushes for president tax return requirement Wicked Local

With legal challenges pending over a new California law requiring presidential candidates to disclose their tax returns to appear on the ballot, the sponsor of a similar bill in Massachusetts said the Bay State should follow suit before waiting for the court cases to play out.

Sen. Michael Barrett, D-Lexington, who filed a presidential tax returns bill in January for the second consecutive session, said the Legislature often passes laws that could be subject to a challenge in court, and in those cases they act on the bill and then “let litigants sue.”

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Lawmakers hike assessment on utilities 50% CommonWealth

THOUGH LAWMAKER LEFT a handful of proposed taxes on the cutting room floor when they compromised on a budget, the fiscal year 2020 spending plan being reviewed by Gov. Charlie Baker includes a 50 percent increase in the annual assessment imposed upon gas and electric utility companies.

The assessment of a percentage of each utility company’s Massachusetts revenue is meant to be a reimbursement of the cost of overseeing and regulating the gas and electric industries. The budget awaiting Baker’s action would raise the maximum rate of that assessment from 0.2 percent of revenue to 0.3 percent of revenue.

Sen. Michael Barrett, who filed the assessment increase as a budget amendment, said the idea stemmed from September’s natural gas explosions and fires in the Merrimack Valley, and the subsequent closer look at the Department of Public Utilities.

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Lawyering for the poor

Met to discuss representation of low-income people on matters like evictions, heating shutoffs and hospital bills.  From left to right: Michael Avitzur, Gov. Relations Director for the Boston Bar Association; Jonathan Albano of Weston, President of the BBA; Abbigail Shirk, Staff Attorney at MetroWest Legal Services; Elizabeth Soule of Waltham, Exec. Director of MWLS; me; and Joseph Sherman of MWLS.

Tribute to Retiring State Representative, Jay R. Kaufman

At yesterday’s tribute to the illustrious Jay R. Kaufman, I joined State Rep. Michelle Ciccolo (Jay’s able and excellent successor) and Deborah Johnson Brown (representing terrific State Senator Cindy Friedman) in presenting the honoree with a rather rare document — a Resolution, honoring his achievements, enacted jointly by the Massachusetts State Senate and the Massachusetts House of Representatives. The lovely head of hair in the foreground belongs to the distinguished Congresswoman Katherine Clark.