Barrett adds $100M for major upgrades to Alewife Station Garage For Immediate Release

Each year, the Alewife MBTA Station in Cambridge serves as an access point for hundreds of thousands of commuters as they travel around Greater Boston.  Unfortunately, after years of wear and tear, Alewife’s car garage is in need of critical repairs and upgrades.  But good news may be on the way.

During recent debate on transportation bonding and policy, local State Senator Mike Barrett offered a successful amendment to authorize the administration to spend $100 Million on major renovation and repairs to the structure.  The money would be used specifically for repairs, re-construction, and climate change adaption.

Alewife Station opened to the public in 1985.  But, Barrett points out, the garage originally provided for 2,733 parking spots. Nowadays at any given moment 250 may be unusable due to falling concrete and roof leakage.

“I hear from constituents on a regular basis about the poor condition of the garage,” Barrett says.  “It’s insecure and, to be honest, a little creepy at night.  At times the garage has had the highest reported crime rate of any station on the entire MBTA.”

A 2011 report revealed extensive decay in the concrete beams and columns holding up the Alewife Garage.  It concluded: “Field observations of the garage revealed a considerable amount of water leakage…The leakage is a major cause of the structural deterioration of the concrete topping on the precast concrete beams.”

A more recent 2017 report found the worst deterioration is on the second and third levels, where the state of the steel reinforced concrete beams is between “critical” and possible “imminent failure” due to the “level of delamination, spalling and cracking” and areas of “exposed, corroded rebar.”

Barrett says that a portion of the money will be used for multi-modal access to Alewife station, an important change in the fight against global warming.  The transportation sector is responsible for roughly 40% of carbon emissions in Massachusetts, Barrett says.  In addition to allowing more riders to access public transportation, he wants the garage upgrades to allow for green transportation like bicycles.

Currently, the garage is equipped to house about 500 bikes.  Even so, the bike cages are crowded and inconvenient; slots for bikes are often high off the ground and inaccessible for many riders.

“Tip of the hat to Cambridge State Rep. Dave Rogers, who offered a similar amendment in the House, and to Tami Gouveia, who’s the sparkplug in the Legislature for improving the Parking Garage,” Barrett says.  “And to Somerville State Senator Pat Jehlen, who signed on to cosponsor my amendment.”

The Senate transportation bond bill must be reconciled with the House version before going to the governor’s desk.

Should the provision survive the Legislative process and become law, it’s still not a done deal, Barrett says.  Because this is a bond authorization, the governor must decide to direct money to the specified improvements and the treasurer must sell bonds to pay for them.

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Mass. Senate Passes Police Reform Bill For Immediate Release

In the aftermath of the death of George Floyd and nationwide Black Lives Matter protests, the Mass. Senate has voted in favor of sweeping police reform legislation.  In an effort to advance social and racial justice, the bill creates new forms of oversight, promotes community policing, and strengthens standards of the use of force, among other measures.

One major component in the bill — sponsored by local State Senator Mike Barrett — provides new transparency and oversight to the purchase of military weapons by local, county, and state law enforcement.

After Ferguson, Barrett says, Americans learned that local law enforcement agencies routinely take advantage of massive federal sales and donations of equipment and gear that would otherwise be too expensive for municipal budgets.  Deployment of this material occurs disproportionately in communities of color.

“For Massachusetts, the issue is not academic,” Barrett said.  “Many cities, towns, and regional organizations are heavy users of these federal programs.”

Barrett’s measure is designed to increase state and local accountability for the acquisition of “military-grade controlled property,” like assault rifles and mine-resistant ambush-protected vehicles.

Among other provisions, the bill requires local police to get approval from its town meeting or city council before acquiring military-grade property, ensuring that all such purchases are subject to a public hearing.  Additionally, it requires approval by the state’s Secretary of Public Safety and Security for transfers of military-grade property from a federal agency to the state police or sheriffs.  And, after adoption of an amendment filed by Sen. Barrett, such approvals would also first be subject to a public hearing.

 

Other provisions of the bill include:

 

  • Strengthen the use of force standards: The bill bans chokeholds and other deadly uses of force except in cases of imminent harm.  It requires the use of de-escalation tactics when feasible; creates a duty to intervene for officers who witness abuse of force; limits qualified immunity defense for officers whose conduct violates the law; and expands and strengthens police training in de-escalation, racism, and intervention tactics.
  • Clarifies and rebalances the understanding of a qualified immunity defense: Under the legislation, the concept of qualified immunity will remain, as long as a public official, including law enforcement, is acting in accordance with the law.  However, this bill will not impact or limit existing indemnification protections for public officials.
  • Creates a Police Officer Standards and Accreditation Committee (POSAC): The committee will be an independent state entity composed of law enforcement professionals, community members, and racial justice advocates. The committee is tasked with standardizing certification, training, and decertification of police officers.  The POSAC will maintain a disclosure database of all misconduct complaints, and investigate complaints involving serious misconduct.  It will also prohibit nondisclosure agreements in police misconduct settlements and establish a commission to recommend a correctional officer certification, training, and decertification framework.
  • Imposes a moratorium on the use of facial surveillance technology: Government entities will not be able to use this technology while a commission studies its use and creates a task force to study the use of body and dashboard cameras by law enforcement agencies.
  • Addresses “school-to-prison pipeline:” The presence of a school resource officer will be at the discretion of the superintendent. The provision also prevents school districts from sharing students’ personal information with police except for investigation of a crime or to stop imminent harm.  The bill also expands access to record expungement for young people by allowing individuals with more than one charge on their juvenile record to qualify for expungement.
  • Establishes the Strong Communities and Justice Reinvestment Workforce Development Fund to shift funding from policing and corrections towards community investment. Controlled by community members and community development professionals, the fund will make competitive grants to drive economic opportunities in communities most impacted by excessive policing and mass incarceration.
  • Begin dismantling systemic racism: The legislation bans racial profiling, and requires racial data collection for all police stops. It also introduces a police training requirement on the history of slavery, lynching and racism, and creates a permanent African American Commission.  A primary purpose of the commission will be to advise the legislature and executive agencies on policies and practices that will ensure equity for, and address the impact of, discrimination against Black, Indigenous, and people of color.
  • Establish the Latinx Commission: Based on the existing Asian-American Commission and the African American Commission created in the current bill, to bring more underrepresented voices to the table and advance equity in policymaking.  Another prohibits decertified law enforcement officers from becoming corrections officers, while a further amendment eliminates statutory language offensive to the LGBTQ+ community.
  • Creates a Commission on Structural Racism: The commission is tasked with mapping out the systems impacting the Department of Corrections (DOC) mission using a structural racism lens.  This commission will propose programming and policy shifts and identifying legislative or agency barriers to promoting the optimal operation of the DOC.  It also creates a roadmap for the legislature to establish a permanent publicly-funded entity to continue this work.

The Senate’s Reform, Shift + Build Act now moves to the Massachusetts House of Representatives for consideration.

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The Fossil Fuel Lobby Is Targeting the State Senate’s Climate Bill. We Wish to Respond. For Immediate Release

On Thursday, June 25, an organization named the Mass Coalition for Sustainable Energy criticized Massachusetts State Senate climate legislation now pending before the House of Representatives.  In response, State Senators Mike Barrett and Jason Lewis issued the following statement.

 

 

In January of this year, the Massachusetts State Senate passed An Act Setting Next-Generation Climate Policy, now pending before the House of Representatives.  The Senate’s approach to reducing greenhouse gas emissions is radical not in its ideology but in its seriousness; we’re determined to get emissions down across the Massachusetts economy, transportation and buildings included.

 

We should add that the senators who wrote the legislation sat down with a good many commercial interests, listened to what they had to say, and made changes.  At the time of the bill’s final passage — with the votes of both Democrats and Republicans, and with only two dissents in the 40-member Senate — its seriousness of purpose seemed to impress the business community without unsettling it.

 

But that was then.  With the onset of COVID-19, conservative elements are eager to exploit an opening.  Two years ago, an investigative report in the Huffington Post blasted the then-new Mass Coalition for Sustainable Energy as a “front for gas interests,” identifying, as major funders of the group, Eversource, National Grid, and Enbridge, the pipeline conglomerate behind the natural gas compressor station project in Weymouth.

 

Last week the Coalition surfaced anew, patching together a limp critique of Next-Gen that seems less about the bill and more about the Coalition’s longer-range objective, which is to keep fossil fuels at the heart of Massachusetts energy policy.  In a letter dated June 25th, addressed to leaders of the House, the fossil fuel interests and real estate developers led off with long-winded assurances of their objectivity.  Then they got down to brass tacks, telling readers that “sources of energy like natural gas have important and positive roles” to play, since “renewable sources cannot fill the void.”

 

Interesting.  Especially since the Senate bill hardly mentions natural gas per se, focusing instead on a widely-accepted bottom line — the need for truly dramatic reductions in Massachusetts emissions.  If this means relegating natural gas and its various hybrids to a much-reduced backup role, so be it.  As for any voids that may be left by today’s renewable resources, we certainly intend to see them filled — by tomorrow’s renewable resources.  Clean-energy solutions like heat pumps are already better than fossil fuel lobbyists care to admit, and the Senate wants them to be better still — one good reason we expand the mission of the Massachusetts Clean Energy Center.

 

The Senate’s basic insight is this: Its considerable contributions to first-generation policy notwithstanding, the 2008 Global Warming Solutions Act has generated significant emissions reductions in the electric power sector only.  Today, transportation, buildings, and industrial processes account for 79% of Massachusetts greenhouse gases.  After 12 long years, it’s clear that a law written in 2008 cannot drive reductions in these sectors, nor keep us on the emissions track we need to travel.

 

To get climate policy moving again, the Senate bill sets “net zero” emissions as Massachusetts’ overall greenhouse gas limit for the year 2050.  This is already policy in California and New York; in fact, it’s already policy in the Baker Administration.  The Senate takes the logical next step, baking net zero into law so that future governors will keep a steady course.

 

A 2050 objective set, the Senate then addresses the demanding and multi-faceted challenge of actually reaching it.  For one thing, we appreciate that this far-off goal, however imperative, will not motivate near-term change, so we direct the Executive to set interim limits at five-year intervals starting in 2025.  We insist on sector sublimits, too, so that transportation, buildings et al are asked to hit custom-fit benchmarks, and progress can be readily checked.

 

And, yes, among many other provisions, the Senate proposes a Climate Policy Commission, not to make policy (the prerogative of the Legislature) nor to carry it out (the province of the Executive), but to serve as a guardian of the future for younger generations.  Job One for the Commission is to tell us if we’re on track in bringing down emissions.  Job Two is to give us objective advice on what to do next.  (Omitted altogether from its mission is any power to make rules or regulations — for instance, to change the state building code, a crucial reform we assign to the Massachusetts Department of Energy Resources.)

 

We want the Commission to consist not of special interests (in its June 25th letter, the fossil fuel lobby demands a seat!) but of engineers, data analysts, and scientists.  We want it insulated from political pressure and made up of the most authoritative and credible Massachusetts voices we can find.

 

And, of course, the Commission should listen.  Which is why the Senate gives it an advisory council broadly representative of the public and specifically including the voices of low-income and moderate-income communities, displaced workers, industry and manufacturing interests, young people, the green economy, transportation, agriculture, housing, and local government.

 

Across the country, fossil fuel interests are mounting counter-attacks on common-sense climate initiatives that once seemed certain to become law.  And, yes, it can happen here, in Massachusetts.  Unless we fight back.

 

  • END –

Voters Will Have Options during the Pandemic For Immediate Release

(6/18/2020) – By the terms of new legislation approved this past Tuesday in the State Senate, every eligible Massachusetts resident will have the option of voting by mail, a history-making first.  The bill, which passed unanimously, comes amid widespread safety concerns about in-person voting during the pandemic.

The legislation applies to both the September 1st state primary and the November 3rd general election.

“It was disturbing to see in-person voting produce chaos in Wisconsin,” said local State Senator Mike Barrett.  “People had to risk getting sick to cast a ballot.  For us, in Massachusetts, revamping elections almost overnight has not been without its problems.  But we’ve adapted and gotten the job done.”

The Massachusetts bill contains a number of provisions, including:

  • Implements an early vote-by-mail system: An application to receive an early voting ballot for the primary and general election will be mailed to all registered voters by July 15th. Both applications and ballots will be postage-paid.
  • Creates early voting for the primary and expands early voting periods: For the first time in Massachusetts, early voting will be available for the state primary, to take place from Saturday, August 22nd through Friday, August 28th. Early voting for the general election would take place from Saturday, October 17th to Friday, October 30th.  Early voting hours would vary according to the size of the municipality in order to give voters ample opportunity to participate while not overburdening the election departments of small towns.
  • Tasks the Secretary of State with creating an online portal: The bill requires Secretary Galvin to create an online portal so that voters can request an early or absentee ballot electronically. It must be operational by October 1st, in time for the general election.
  • Ensures early voting options for voters with disabilities: The bill charges Secretary Galvin with providing options for voters who require an accommodation.
  • Expands absentee voting: The bill provides for absentee voting by any person taking precautions related to COVID-19. Voters will also be able return absentee ballots via a secure drop box, in addition to the in-person and by mail submission options available for past elections.
  • Provides tools to assist clerks: Acknowledging the increased burden these options may place on municipalities and clerks, the bill provides for several accommodations to make the logistics of processing votes easier.
  • Makes in-person voting more efficient: The bill allows municipalities to consolidate polling places and eliminate the check-out table at these locations, allowing for a more efficient process and fewer poll workers.

The Senate bill must now be reconciled with similar legislation passed by the House of Representatives.  Legislators do not expect the differences to be difficult to reconcile.

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Senate and House Pass Bill to Increase Health Data on COVID-19 For Immediate Release

The State Senate and House has moved to increase statewide, publicly-available data as it relates to the coronavirus.  The legislation, which passed with bipartisan support, aims to promote equity and transparency as Massachusetts confronts the COVID-19 pandemic.

The bill also establishes a task force to study and recommend policy to address health disparities for underserved and underrepresented communities during the pandemic.  After receiving favorable votes in the Senate and House, the bill has advanced to the governor’s desk.

“Dr. Fauci reminds us that to fight the pandemic we have to follow the science,” said State Senator Mike Barrett (D-Lexington).  “Science depends on good, rigorous data.  In passing this bill, better data to guide decisions is what we’re driving at.”

Under the bill, the state Department of Public Health is required to compile, collect, and issue daily online reports on the number of people tested for COVID-19.  Data collection reports will include all positive cases, hospitalizations and deaths along with the gender, race, ethnicity, primary residence, occupation, disability, age, and primary language of each case.

The legislation also requires that daily reports include data and demographic information from municipalities and counties with more than 25 positive cases.

Importantly, the bill contains provisions to ensure more information from elder care facilities.  “The situation in elder care facilities is catastrophic,” said Barrett.  “We need all the information we can get.”

Sen. Barrett, who has called for more information from state and county correctional facilities, says the bill advances the issue in that respect, too.  Under the new legislation, the state’s Department of Public Health must also publish daily updates on the number of COVID-19 positive cases and mortalities among individuals who are incarcerated. The department will also be required to publish on its website, for each state and county correctional facility, the total number of residents per correctional facility; and the number of residents within each facility who are housed in a cell either alone or with another person.

In addition to requiring greater data collection, the bill requires the Executive Office of Health and Human Services to describe the actions it is taking to address disparities identified through the data collected.

In response to increasing concerns about the disproportionate impact of COVID-19 on communities of color and disproportionately impacted populations, the legislation also establishes a task force to study and make policy recommendations for how to address these health disparities. The task force is required to issue an interim report by June 30, 2020, with a final report due August 1, 2020.

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Lawmakers to Baker: Heed the State’s Highest Court on Inmate Releases For Immediate Release

A group of concerned legislators — 15 State Senators and 23 State Representatives — have sent a joint letter to Gov. Charlie Baker, urging him, as part of the state’s response to the COVID-19 pandemic, to step up the screening and release of inmates from Massachusetts penal institutions.

The letter-writing effort, initiated by State Sen. Mike Barrett (D-Lexington), was inspired by an opinion issued earlier this month by the state’s Supreme Judicial Court, five of whose seven current members are Baker appointees.

“Among inmates and correctional officers — we’re concerned about both — the positive cases continue to climb,” Barrett says. “We think it’s quite significant that the Court has issued polite but pointed advice on how to speed up the pace of releases.”

Barrett and his co-signers point to the Supreme Judicial Court’s April 3rd decision on a lawsuit brought by the Committee for Public Counsel Services, the state’s public defender agency. “We agree,” the Court wrote in the decision, “that the situation is urgent and unprecedented, and that a reduction in the number of people who are held in custody is necessary.”

Says Barrett, “Even as the Court acknowledged significant limits to its own authority over the situation, it went on, in unusually clear terms, to advise the Governor’s Parole Board, and I quote, to ‘use every effort to expedite the several stages of this process as far as reasonably possible so as to reduce the over-all number of incarcerated inmates as quickly as possible.’ We agree with the Court, and we want the Governor to act.”

The legislators acknowledge the logistical and health challenges involved with screening inmates for release. “But, like the Justices,” they write, “we believe your Parole Board, your Department of Corrections, and the county Sheriffs of the Commonwealth can and must move faster.”

The legislators add, “As a follow-up to the Court’s action, the Special Master’s Weekly Report of April 21 is revealing, and we are concerned. Neither the Department of Corrections nor the County Sheriffs provide the Master facility-specific numbers on weekly releases pre-pandemic. Without baselines to facilitate comparisons, we cannot know whether the authorities are heeding the Court’s admonition to expedite releases. Please use the power of your office to obtain the necessary information.”

The County Sheriffs report to the Special Master that, as of April 21, 97 inmates and 86 staff within their institutions have tested positive. The Department of Corrections tells the Special Master that 117 inmates and 71 staff have tested positive. Five DOC inmates have died.

“We are mindful of the horrendous situation in Chicago,” the legislators continue. “The city’s Cook County Jail has emerged as one of the largest known sources of infection in the nation. This has ominous implications for Massachusetts, where 70% of the prisoners in Mass. DOC facilities eat and sleep within 6 feet of one another.”

Among specific actions recommended by the legislators, they ask Baker to instruct the Parole Board to shorten the processing time involved in releasing inmates already granted parole, to expedite hearings on other inmates who are eligible for parole, and to expedite the release of inmates in county houses of correction who are within 60 days of competing their minimum sentences.

“Whatever their original offenses, and whatever their original sentences, inmates throughout the Commonwealth are now in danger of suffering the ultimate penalty,” the letter concludes. “The correctional officers with whom they come into contact run the same drastic risk. For the sake of both communities, we respectfully ask that you take the steps we enumerate in this letter.”

Senate votes to improve mental healthcare For Immediate Release

Senate votes to improve mental healthcare

Bill expands access to mental healthcare, boosts workforce, and strengthens quality of coverage

(BOSTON – 02/14/2020) The State Senate unanimously passed the Mental Health ABC Act, a comprehensive bill aimed at reforming the mental healthcare system in Massachusetts.  Senate Bill 2519, An Act Addressing Barriers to Care for Mental Health, serves as the first step toward developing a more integrated system of mental healthcare delivery to better meet the needs of individuals and families.

Massachusetts residents have historically experienced difficulty accessing mental health services due to health inequities and persistent barriers to care — leaving many without the treatment they need and deserve.  According to a 2018 report by the Blue Cross Blue Shield Foundation of Massachusetts, more than half of a representative sample of fully-insured adults who sought mental healthcare services reported difficulty finding services.

“You only need to visit a Massachusetts prison to realize that parity between physical healthcare and mental healthcare is cruelly elusive,” said local State Senator Mike Barret.  “It’s time to rebalance our out-of-balance system. Thank you to my neighbor and colleague Senator Cindy Friedman for her championship of this legislation.”

The Mental Health ABC Act seeks to increase access by removing barriers to timely quality care, providing the state with more effective tools to enforce existing mental health parity laws, and investing in the mental and behavioral health workforce pipeline.  The legislation builds on progress made through state mental health parity laws passed in 2000 and 2008, and the Paul Wellstone and Pete Domenici Mental Health Parity and Addiction Equity Act of 2008 at the federal level.

The bill is driven by the recognition that mental health is just as important as physical health for every resident of the Commonwealth — and reflects the Senate’s overall goal of improving access to mental healthcare for all.  The Senate has prioritized efforts in the current legislative session to improve the delivery of mental health services in the following ways: appropriating record funding levels for mental health services in the FY20 budget; creating and funding a $10 million Behavioral Health Outreach, Access and Support Trust Fund; ensuring that health insurer’s provider network directories are accurate and up-to-date by eliminating so-called ‘ghost networks’; and protecting clinicians from unreasonable retroactive claims denials, or ‘clawbacks’ of payments for services, from insurance providers.

More on the bill:  

The Mental Health ABC Act provides the state with better tools to implement and enforce mental health parity laws, which require that insurance coverage for mental health benefits be equal to and no more restrictive than coverage for physical health benefits.  Mental health parity has been codified in federal and state law for decades, but enforcement of the law has been challenging.  As a result, inequities persist and patients are often denied coverage for mental health treatment that is just as critical to managing their health as treatment for conditions such as diabetes or heart disease.  As such, this legislation includes quicker evaluation and resolution of parity complaints, greater reporting and oversight of insurance carriers’ processes and policies related to mental healthcare coverage, and penalties and alternative remedies for when an insurance company does not comply with the law.

Every day throughout the Commonwealth, adults and children arrive in emergency departments in the throes of acute mental health crises requiring immediate treatment in an appropriate setting.  Due to complex and restrictive medical necessity and prior authorization review processes imposed by insurance companies, many patients experience barriers, and delays, in treatment – creating a dysfunctional system that allows insurance companies to have more leverage in determining a patient’s course of treatment than healthcare providers.  As such, the bill mandates coverage and eliminates prior authorization for mental health acute treatment for adults and children experiencing acute mental health crises, effectively placing treatment decisions in the hands of the treating clinician in consultation with the patient rather than an insurance company.

In an effort to address the mental health workforce crisis that often limits patient access to care, the bill creates a pilot program through the Department of Higher Education aimed at creating a workforce pipeline to encourage and support individuals from diverse backgrounds to work toward careers in mental health.  In addition, the bill creates an interim licensure program for Licensed Mental Health Counselors so that they can be reimbursed by insurance for their services and be eligible for state and federal grant and loan forgiveness programs, increasing the number of licensed providers able to serve patients.

The bill also calls for an academic study conducted by the Office of Health Equity to review the availability of culturally competent mental healthcare providers within networks of both public and private health care payers, as well as to identify potential barriers to care for underserved cultural, ethnic and linguistic populations and the LGBTQ community.  The bill further directs an interagency health equity team under the Office of Health Equity to improve access to, and the quality of, culturally competent mental health services.

The bill creates a Psychiatric Mental Health Nurse Practitioner Fellowship Pilot Program in community health centers to offer additional support and training to psychiatric nurse practitioners who agree to work in community settings with underserved populations.  The program will be designed to encourage these professionals to continue working in a community setting where mental health providers are sorely needed.

Currently, mental health and primary care providers are reimbursed at different rates for the same service.  The bill seeks to level the playing field for reimbursement to mental health providers by requiring an equitable rate floor for evaluation and management services that is consistent with primary care.

The Mental Health ABC Act takes meaningful steps to improve access to care by prohibiting insurers from denying coverage for mental health services and primary care services solely because they were delivered on the same day in the same facility.  This will remove a significant financial barrier to the integration of primary care and mental health.

Additionally, the bill requires emergency departments to have the capacity to evaluate and stabilize a person admitted with a mental health presentation at all times, and to refer them to appropriate treatment or inpatient admission.

This bill authorizes the DPH, the Department of Mental Health (DMH), and the Department of Elementary and Secondary Education (DESE) to collaborate on authorizing three pilots for tele-behavioral health services in public high schools in the Commonwealth.  This pilot is based on an existing and successful model between a hospital and several school districts in western Massachusetts.

Finally, the bill directs the DMH to consider factors that may present barriers to care—such as travel distance and access to transportation—when contracting for services in geographically isolated and rural communities.

Through debate today in the Senate, the following are some of the sections added by amendment to the bill:

  • A pediatric mental healthcare task force.
  • Inclusion of veterans and aging adult populations for considerations in the cultural competency study.
  • An amendment to study the further screening of adverse childhood experiences (ACEs).
  • A comprehensive behavioral workforce commission.
  • An expedited admission protocol for children under 22 who present in an emergency department with mental health needs.
  • An examination of ways to ease communications, within the context of privacy laws, between healthcare providers.

The Mental Health ABC Act now moves to the House of Representatives for consideration.

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MASSACHUSETTS STATE SENATE APPROVES NEXT GENERATION CLIMATE POLICY For Immediate Release

MASSACHUSETTS STATE SENATE APPROVES NEXT GENERATION CLIMATE POLICY

(Boston – 01/30/2020) The Massachusetts State Senate on Thursday advanced three bills that boldly tackle the contributing factors of climate change, chart one of the most aggressive courses of action against global warming in the country, and pave the way for a clean energy future for all of its residents.

An Act Setting Next Generation Climate Policy and two companion bills — one dealing with electrifying fleets and another updating energy efficiency standards for appliances  —  passed overwhelmingly and with bi-partisan support.

“I am proud of the Senate for acting quickly on this legislation which takes a historic step in our fight to reduce harmful emissions that hurt our planet and our residents,” said Senate President Karen E. Spilka (D-Ashland). “I commend Senator Barrett for his diligence in crafting a thorough legislative package that takes concrete steps to combat climate change by providing 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 climate leadership.”

“The Next Generation Climate package that the Senate passed today will allow the Commonwealth 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 (D-Westport). “These bills will help us achieve net-zero carbon emissions by 2050 and transform our energy delivery system to benefit our climate and future generations. I applaud Senate President Spilka and Senator Barrett for their leadership on this issue, and I thank my colleagues in the Senate for their collaboration in confronting perhaps the most important issue of our time.”

“We’ve written the strongest climate statute in the nation,” said Senator Mike Barrett (D-Lexington), Senate Chair of the Utilities and Energy Committee and the bill’s chief author.  “The bills started out strong. Then they got better as debate went on.  More protection for low and moderate income families.  Special sensitivity to the climate challenges facing small towns and rural areas.  Retraining for people who may need to change jobs as we green the economy. In the fight against climate change, this lifts Massachusetts to the next level. My thanks to President Spilka and Chairman Rodrigues for conducting a model of the lawmaking process.”

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 six priorities: reliability of supply, affordability, public safety, physical and cyber security, equity, 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 MBTA 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.

During debate on the Senate floor, the bill was strengthened through amendments that, among others, requires regional equity in carbon pricing and ensures equity is a component of The Department of Public Utilities mission statement.

The bills now go to the House of Representatives for consideration.

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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.

Legislature Gives Clean Energy a Boost Press Release

BOSTON – On the last day of July, in the closing hours of the Legislature’s two-year session, negotiators for the Senate and House hammered out agreement on a bill that will boost electricity from solar and wind, get a better handle on natural gas leaks, and create “clean peak” incentives for driving down energy use at the busiest times, when the costliest and dirtiest electric power turns on.

“An Act to Advance Clean Energy” was worked out by a six-member negotiating team led by State Sen. Mike Barrett (D-Lexington) and Rep. Tom Golden (D-Lowell).  It drew the unanimous support of the Senate and every vote but one in the House of Representatives. 

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Mass. Senate Takes on Opioid Crisis Press Release

With the support of area state senator Mike Barrett (D-Lexington), Massachusetts Senate has passed major legislation to tackle the opioid crisis.  Provisions of the bill increase access to medication-assisted treatment (MAT), explore tools to reduce harm and save lives, expand education and prevention efforts, and address the high rates of co-occurring conditions of substance use disorder (SUD) and mental illness.

The legislation draws on extensive new research into evidence-based best practices and accents collaboration among healthcare researchers and clinicians, hospitals, behavioral health providers, law enforcement officials, patient advocates and individuals with lived experience, to develop policies to address the opioid epidemic.

“There’s help here for addicted people whether in the community, the emergency room, or in prison,” Sen. Barrett said.  “Whether they’re in long-term recovery or the immediate throes of an overdose, we’re bringing a determined effort and the latest thinking to every link in the addiction chain.”

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Massachusetts Senate Passes Automatic Voter Registration (AVR) Press Release

BOSTON – Local State Senator Mike Barrett (D-Lexington) joined his colleagues in the Massachusetts Senate to pass legislation meaning eligible voters will be automatically registered to vote when receiving services from the RMV, MassHealth, and other state agencies.

This means that the burden to register voters now falls upon the state, instead of individual citizens, and it will allow hundreds of thousands of eligible citizens who are currently not registered to have their say at the ballot box.

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State Senate says Community Access TV should go HD Press Release

BOSTON – Local State Senator Mike Barrett (D-Lexington) joined his Senate colleagues to pass a bill requiring cable companies to provide High Definition (HD) capability to Community Access channels and to include detailed programming information in viewers’ electronic guides.

The bill means that community TV will be on the same playing field as bigger channels. It allows local media stations access to Electronic Programming Guides and channel signal quality that is comparable to pay stations — now and in the future.

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From a $15 dollar minimum wage to a ban on ivory, the State Senate takes action Press Release

BOSTON – State Senator Mike Barrett (D-Lexington) joined his Senate colleagues this week to pass bills raising the minimum wage, creating a paid leave program, banning the sale of ivory and rhino horn products, and putting an end to the practice known as wage theft.

A “grand bargain” bill — a product of months of deliberation between lawmakers, activists, and business groups — raises the minimum wage to $15 per hour, establishes a paid family and medical leave program, and creates a permanent sales tax holiday.

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MA State Senate makes history, votes carbon pricing Press Release

In passing a major clean energy bill today, the Massachusetts State Senate voted to authorize the most comprehensive carbon pricing program in the country.  Its author, State Sen. Mike Barrett (D-Lexington), told his colleagues, “In taking a fresh run at combating climate change, you’re putting Massachusetts state government at the forefront — right where our constituents want it to be.”

The action made history, in that the Senate became the first legislative body in the U.S., either federal or state, to approve revenue-neutral fees as a carbon pricing option.  If the policy survives intact after debate in the Massachusetts House and is signed into law, the Commonwealth will also become only the second state, after California, to extend the concept of carbon pricing to transportation.

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A Year After Trump Nixed Paris, Senator Pushes a Novel Response Press Release

On the first anniversary of the Trump Administration’s decision to withdraw the United States from the Paris Agreement, State Senator Mike Barrett (D-Lexington) is promoting innovative legislation that would change Massachusetts tax forms and let taxpayers direct voluntary contributions, over and above their regular payments, to poverty-stricken countries hit hardest by climate change.

The full title of Barrett’s bill is An Act enabling taxpayer donations to the Least Developed Countries Fund (LDCF), an initiative of the U.N. Framework Convention on Climate Change.


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