House Passes 2050 Roadmap Bill for Addressing Climate Change

Sets 2050 net zero greenhouse gas emissions limit and supports green programs for underserved populations

(BOSTON) – On July 31, 2020, State Representative Joan Meschino (D-Hull) joined her colleagues in the House to pass legislation building on the House’s continued commitment to address the effects of climate change by requiring the Commonwealth to achieve net-zero statewide greenhouse gas emissions by 2050.

“The science is clear: to avoid the devastation of climate change, greenhouse gas emissions must be reduced to net zero by 2050. This goal will only be met by a comprehensive planning process, which locks in key milestones now to get us there in 30 years. I filed the 2050 Roadmap Bill because we need a plan to achieve this goal,” said Representative Meschino. “I am excited that my colleagues and I in the Massachusetts House of Representatives came together and passed a roadmap for a clean and thriving Commonwealth with overwhelming support.”

For the first time, the legislation, An Act Creating a 2050 Roadmap to a Clean and Thriving Commonwealth (H. 4933), establishes the criteria in statute that define environmental justice populations. The legislation also increases support for clean energy workforce development programs, improves access to renewable energy and energy efficiency programs for low-income communities, and requires the state to increase its use of renewable resources for its electricity needs.

The legislation builds on the House’s long-standing commitment to effective and lasting climate change policy. The legislation includes the following provisions.

  • Sets a statewide net zero limit on greenhouse gas emissions by 2050. In addition, sets one of the most ambitious interim limits in the nation for 2030 and 2040 – at least 50 and 75 percent below 1990 emissions levels, respectively.
  • Defines environmental justice populations as those that fit into one of following criteria:
    • not more than 65 percent of the statewide annual median household income;
    • minorities comprise 40 per cent or more of the population;
    • 25 percent or more of households lack English language proficiency; or
    • minorities comprise 25 percent or more of the population and the annual median household income of the municipality in which the neighborhood is located does not exceed 150 percent of the statewide annual median household income.
  • Requires project developers to incorporate environmental and public health impacts in the planning and development of projects which affect environmental justice populations, and improves public participation in the review process.
  • Prioritizes incentives that benefit and increase equitable access to low-income and underserved populations in the state’s solar and energy efficiency programs, including weatherization and fuel assistance programs.
  • Allocates additional funding for clean energy, equity workforce programs.
  • Incorporates higher energy efficiency standards for a variety of common appliances including plumbing, faucets, computers and commercial appliances.
  • Increases the required total procurement of offshore wind power by an additional 2,000 megawatts.
  • Adopts several measures aimed at improving gas pipeline safety, including increased fines for safety violations and expedited timelines for repairing gas leaks.
  • Increases the required minimum percentage of the state’s renewable energy via updates to the Commonwealth’s renewable portfolio standard (RPS).

The bill is now in conference committee.

House Passes Legislation to Support Vulnerable Children and Families

(BOSTON) - Representative Joan Meschino (D-Hull) and her colleagues in the House passed legislation this week to support vulnerable children and families in the Commonwealth. The bill, H.4841, An Act relative to accountability for vulnerable children and families, reforms the Department of Children and Families’ (DCF) data reporting mechanisms, updates some of their practices, establishes a foster parents bill of rights, and evaluates the impacts of COVID-19 on services. 

Specifically included in the final bill were two provisions filed by Representative Meschino. The first, born out of H.148, An Act to provide notice to counsel of changes in a child’s or a young adult’s placement and other events, mandates that DCF notify a child’s attorney in the event of a change in placement, hospitalization, or if a 51A abuse and neglect report is filed that involves the child. These provisions seek to create consistent and meaningful legal advocacy to support children and young adults as they navigate the foster care system. The second provision, filed as an amendment that was accepted into the bill during last night’s debate, would require DCF to track and report the number of requests for translation services that are made annually. This would help ensure that non-English speakers are being given meaningful language access to DCF services.

“This legislation will help support the Commonwealth’s most vulnerable children, throughout and beyond the COVID-19 pandemic,” said Representative Meschino. “I am proud to have played a role in shaping this bill.”

The legislation addresses the needs of at-risk children and families through five major initiatives:

Measuring the Impact of COVID-19. The public health pandemic has exacerbated concerns regarding all children across the Commonwealth, particularly those served by DCF. Since the declaration of the state of emergency on March 10th, reports of abuse and neglect have alarmingly decreased 51%, while home removals have dropped 60% over the same period of time. 

In order to best understand the effects of the state of emergency related to COVID-19, this legislation requires DCF to report on various aspects of the child welfare and education system during the state of emergency. Specifically, the bill requires:

  • DCF to report monthly to the Legislature on changes in child abuse and neglect cases;
  • DCF to implement a public information campaign to improve awareness of child abuse and neglect during the public health crisis;
  • DCF to report on efforts to support the foster care system;
  • DCF to analyze the effect on virtual and video technology on services during COVID-19;
  • Department of Elementary and Secondary Education (DESE) to work with DCF to provide an analysis of active remote learning participation rates during the COVID-19 crisis, including participation rates of children with open DCF cases; and 
  • DESE to coordinate with DCF to develop a statewide plan to ensure effective and ongoing engagement relative to remote learning, including guidance and best practices for engaging the most vulnerable and at-risk students and families.

Quality Improvement. The House of Representatives remains committed to ensuring accountability related to critical incidents that result in a fatality or near fatality, while also reviewing those critical incidents that are highlighted by systemic weaknesses. 

This bill installs certain safeguards, including requirements for DCF to review the case transfer policy to improve protocols for complex cases, and create a managerial review in reunification decisions. It also requires social services programs to communicate more promptly with social workers conducting client and collateral checks.

Foster Parents’ Bill of Rights. Concerns of uncertainty regarding the rights of foster parents and the responsibilities of DCF related to training and processes have been intensified by COVID-19. This bill requires DCF to create a Foster Parents’ Bill of Rights outlining the relationship between the department and foster parents. A clear articulation of the rights of foster parents and the responsibilities of DCF will increase confidence and trust and is designed to retain and recruit foster families.    

Strengthening the Integrity of the Office of the Child Advocate. The Office of the Child Advocate is statutorily required to ensure the highest quality of services and supports are provided to safeguard the health, safety, and well-being of all children receiving services across the Commonwealth. This bill requires the Child Advocate to report any findings of critical incident reports that result in the death of a child due to a reasonable belief that a state agency failed in its duty to protect a child, jointly and simultaneously, to the governor, attorney general, speaker of the house, and senate president before the agency in question.

Data Reporting Initiative. In response to serious events and concerns about children in DCF care, the Legislature has historically directed DCF to complete various reporting requirements; however, the agency has neglected to fulfill its statutory requirements to complete all reports. This bill updates and streamlines DCF reporting requirements to ensure the delivery of timely and relevant data in both a comprehensive annual report and robust quarterly reports. In addition, DCF is required to detail actions it has taken to provide culturally competent services to children and families and report on transition planning, fair hearings, reports made to the Ombudsman, and a detailed accounting of services provided through contracted agencies.

The bill now moves to the Senate.

House enacts legislation to fund investments in municipal roads and bridges

BOSTON - This week, Representative Joan Meschino (D-Hull) joined her colleagues in the House to enact a bill authorizing the Commonwealth to borrow $200 million for improvements to municipally-owned roads and bridges dispersed through Chapter 90 grants. These grants reach each of the Commonwealth’s towns and cities directly, continuing the strong tradition of partnership between the state and local communities. 

The Chapter 90 program entitles cities and towns to receive reimbursements on eligible municipal projects. The funds are designated for capital improvement projects- the construction, preservation, or improvement of roads and bridges. This legislation will help ensure that our municipal infrastructure can continue on its path to a state of good repair.

“I’m proud to see the legislature continue to invest in important local infrastructure,” said Representative Meschino. “These funds are critical for every city and town across the Commonwealth.”

The bill also authorized the continued oversight of the Massachusetts Bay Transportation Authority (MBTA) by the Fiscal Management Control Board for another year.

The legislation now returns to the Senate for enactment. 

Legislature Approves Fall Elections Bill

This week, Representative Joan Meschino (D-Hull) and her colleagues in the House and Senate voted to approve the final conference committee report on a bill to help support safe elections in Massachusetts this Fall. H4820, An Act relative to voting options in response to COVID-19, expands the options for both mail-in voting and early voting in person for the 2020 state primary and general election. It additionally provides for public health safeguards for in-person voting, accessibility to voting options for persons with disabilities, equity in access to polling places, early tabulation of ballots by the clerks, and no-excuse early voting by mail for elections through the end of 2020. This legislation protects voters and the integrity of our democracy by ensuring that all voices in the Commonwealth are heard despite the unprecedented challenges of COVID-19.

“The right to vote is one of our core democratic foundations,” said Representative Meschino. “The legislature established critical steps to ensure that no resident is disenfranchised by the pandemic.”

Per the final bill:

  • All registered voters will receive an application to vote early by mail for this Fall’s primary and general elections. Voters will also be able to apply to vote early by mail through an online portal to be developed by the Secretary of State.
  • Early voting by mailed-in ballots come with a blank envelope for privacy and a self addressed postage pre-paid envelope to be returned by mail, drop box, or in person.
  • Absentee voting will be permitted for all who are taking precautions related to COVID-19.
  • In consultation with the Commission of DPH, the State Secretary will craft emergency regulations requiring public health safeguards for in-person voting, including social distancing of voters and election officers, face coverings and PPE, frequent use of sanitizers, and sanitary use of marking pens.
  • There will be 7 days of in-person early voting before the September 1 primary, and 14 days of in-person early voting before the November 3rd general.
  • Voters will still be able to cast a ballot at the polls on election day. 
  • Early voting by mail will be allowed for any city or town elections held at the same time as the primary or general or on or before December 31, 2020.
  • The bill provides for accessible voting options for persons with disabilities in compliance with the Americans with Disabilities Act and national standards. 
  • Municipalities will be required to evaluate and report any disparate adverse impact on polling place accessibility on the basis of race, national origin, disability, income, or age in order to change a polling location.

The bill now goes to the governor for his signature.

House Passes Bill to Address Racial Inequities in Maternal Health

BOSTON - Representative Joan Meschino (D-Hull) joined her colleagues in the House this week to pass a bill aimed at eliminating racial inequities in maternal health. An Act to reduce racial inequities in maternal health will create a special legislative commission to make recommendations that reduce or remove the kind of racial inequities that result in women of color dying of pregnancy-related causes at more than double the rate of white women. The commission will gather information and raise awareness of this systemic societal problem, in addition to reporting on barriers to equitable maternal care and best practices for remedying inequities.

“As the legislature considers issues of racial justice, this focus on maternal health will help lift up women of color, for whom the burdens of racial and gender discrimination have shaped inequities in health care,” said Representative Meschino. “The commission created in this bill will put forward life-saving solutions for all mothers across the Commonwealth.”

The 25-member commission will investigate and report on: 

  • Best-practices by other states or grass-roots organizations to reduce or eliminate racial inequities in maternal health or severe maternal morbidity, including, among other approaches, culturally competent and affordable doula services;
  • Accessibility and affordability of birthing centers, maternal medical homes, and doula care and the diversity and cultural competency of maternal health care providers;
  • Barriers to accessing prenatal and postpartum care;
  • How historical and current structural, institutional and individual forms of racism affect maternal mortality as well as potential solutions, such as bias training in hospital facilities and birthing centers;
  • Available data relating to maternal mortality and morbidity.

The bill now moves to the Senate.

House Passes Measure to Provide More than $1 Billion in Federal Reimbursement for COVID-19 Needs

BOSTON – This week, Representative Joan Meschino (D-Hull) and her colleagues in the House of Representatives passed a supplemental budget to facilitate allocation of federal CARES Act funding to reimburse communities hard-hit by COVID-19.

The spending measure follows the April passage in Congress of the federal CARES Act, which provides federal reimbursement funds for the state to expend on items related to COVID-19. The supplemental budget directs funds to address vital needs including personal protective equipment, field hospitals and contact tracing. 

“The House allocation of federal COVID-19 funds is about more than reimbursing the state and our communities for COVID-19 costs,” said Representative Meschino. “It is about shaping investments in public health initiatives and supporting our front-line workers who keep us healthy and safe throughout the pandemic and beyond.”

The spending bill includes, among other items:

  • $350 Million for personal protective equipment costs across the Commonwealth;
  • $139 Million for increased rate add-ons to congregate care providers;
  • $94 Million for incentive pay for human service employees;
  • $85 Million for field hospitals and shelters;
  • $44 Million for Community Tracing Collaborative;
  • $81.6 Million for child care needs during the pandemic and re-opening;;
  • $500,000 to create an Early Education and Care Public-Private Trust Fund to establish an infrastructure to foster public-private and philanthropic efforts in support of childcare providers.

The bill also establishes Juneteenth Independence Day on June 19th as a state holiday in Massachusetts, marking the day in 1865 when Union general Gordon Granger read federal orders in Galveston, Texas, that all previously enslaved people in Texas were free as a result of the Emancipation Proclamation, which had been signed over 2 years prior.

“I want to thank Representative Bud Williams and our colleagues in the Massachusetts Black and Latino Legislative Caucus for their advocacy to make Juneteenth a state holiday,” said Representative Meschino.

The bill now moves to the Senate.

House Passes COVID-19 Elections Bill

BOSTON- On June 4, 2020, Representative Joan Meschino (D-Hull) joined her colleagues in the legislature to pass legislation to expand voting options in the Commonwealth this Fall, in response to COVID-19. The bill, H.4768 An act relative to voting options in response to COVID-19, takes the necessary precautions to ensure that every Massachusetts resident can exercise their right to vote in the state primary and November general election, while prioritizing public health and safety. 

“The right to vote is one of our core democratic foundations,” said Representative Meschino. “The House established critical steps to ensure that no resident is disenfranchised by the pandemic. ”

The legislation will require the secretary of state to mail all registered voters an application to request a ballot to vote early by mail in the state primary and November general elections this Fall.  Applications with instructions will be mailed by July 15, 2020 for the September primary.  The bill also revises the rules for absentee voting to include any person taking COVID-19-related precautions.  

In addition, the legislation expands in-person early voting for the state primary and the November general election, maintains the ability to vote in-person on election day, and requires the implementation of public health safeguards to maintain proper social distancing and sanitization at polling locations.

An Act relative to voting options in response to COVID-19 also provides for early voting by mail for any city or town election held at the same time as the primary or general election this year. 

Amendments were passed during Thursday’s debate to shorten this year’s voter registration deadline from 20 days to 10 days prior to the election, to provide accommodations for vote-by-mail for persons with disabilities, to evaluate impacts on equity when changing a polling location, and to allow ballots postmarked by election day and received by 5:00 PM on November 6, 2020, to be counted in the general election.

Now the legislation goes to the Senate for consideration.

State Representative Joan Meschino represents the communities of Hingham, Hull, Cohasset, and North Scituate.  Rep. Meschino and her Legislative Aide can be reached at the State House at 617-722-2320 or by email at Joan.Meschino@MAHouse.gov.  To learn more about Rep. Meschino’s constituent services and legislative work, please visit www.JoanMeschino.com.

 

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House Passes Bill to Support Commonwealth’s Restaurants

BOSTON – Representative Joan Meschino (D-Hull) joined her colleagues in the House this week to pass legislation to provide more tools to the restaurants of Massachusetts in the wake of the COVID-19 pandemic.

The legislation entitled An act addressing challenges faced by food and beverage establishments resulting from the COVID-19 pandemic (H.4767) aims to assist a sector that has been hit hard by COVID-19. The measures passed are intended to help restaurants weather the economic crisis in the wake of the pandemic. The package eases outdoor dining restrictions, expands alcohol delivery options to include mixed drinks, extends takeout options to February 2021, waives interest on late meals tax payments and caps the amount that can be charged by a food delivery service.

In 2019, the House created the Restaurant Promotion Commission, which is being repurposed as the Restaurant Recovery Commission. The bill builds on the House’s general focus on restaurants and previous action to permit alcohol delivery with meals as well as its focus on restaurants as an anchor on main streets. 

“The restaurant industry has been hit hard by the pandemic,” said Representative Meschino. “The House put together a bill with innovative measures to alleviate some of the economic strain on our local establishments, while keeping health and safety measures at the forefront of the state’s response.”

The legislation:

  • Streamlines the Alcohol Beverage Control Commission (ABCC) approval process for outdoor seating by replacing the formal approval process with the requirement for restaurants to notify ABCC of the change and to place on file with the ABCC the outdoor seating plan;
  • Provides a municipality with a temporary option to suspend some relevant local zoning laws on outdoor seating if cities and towns wish to do so; 
  • Waives interest and late penalties for restaurants on their meals tax payments until December 2020;
  • Allows restaurants to sell “cocktails to-go” with take-out food until February 2021; and,
  • Caps commissions for on-line restaurant delivery services at 15%. 

The bill will now go to the Senate.

Legislature Passes Bill to Provide Relief and Improve Access to Unemployment Benefits

(BOSTON)- Representative Joan Meschino (D-Hull) joined her colleagues in the Massachusetts Legislature to pass a bill that will provide additional Unemployment Insurance (UI) relief to low-income families, non-profit institutions and employers. 

An Act Providing Additional Support to Those Affected by the Novel Coronavirus Through the Unemployment Insurance System builds on UI legislation already signed into law waiving the one-week waiting period to receive benefits. 

The components of the bill are as follows: 

Protection for Employers. Employers who participate in UI pay contributions based on their layoff experience. Like other forms of insurance, employers that are more likely to have workers use unemployment compensation are asked to pay more in the system. The system does not anticipate a situation where employers across a number of sectors have been forced to significantly reduce their workforces due to situations outside of their control. This bill prevents layoffs related to coronavirus from negatively impacting employer’s future UI contributions. 

Extending Unemployment Benefit Period. The number of weeks of unemployment compensation available in Massachusetts is tied to unemployment rates around the state. This trigger did not anticipate a situation, however, in which unemployment grows rapidly in a very short period of time. This bill ensures that the 30-week benefit period is triggered by a significant uptick in weekly unemployment claims. 

Lifting the Cap on Dependency Allotment. This bill eliminates the 50% cap for the dependency allotment providing additional benefits to low-income families. This increase will be in addition to the $600 per week benefit add-on provided for in the CARES Act for all workers eligible for state or federal benefits. This provision is effective for 18 months after the end of COVID-19 emergency and the end of enhanced federal benefits.

Currently, UI recipients are entitled to an additional $25 per week for each child in the family, capped at 50% of a recipient’s base allotment. The result is that workers with particularly low allotments, such as low wage workers, can easily be capped out of receiving these additional amounts. 

Non-Profit Contribution Grace Period. Presently, many non-profits self-insure for unemployment claims. This means that when layoffs in the sector occur, non-profits pay the cost of those benefits dollar for dollar at the next billing period. This bill provides a 120-day grace period for non-profits to make these contributions. This delay will allow the state to review additional changes that are warranted, to mitigate the impact on non-profits. The CARES Act provides 50% reimbursement for self-insured benefit payments during the COVID-19 crisis. 

The legislation now moves on to the governor for consideration.

House Passes Bond Bill to Strengthen State’s IT Infrastructure

BOSTON – The Massachusetts House of Representatives voted this week to pass legislation authorizing over $1.6 billion in spending for the improvement of information technology equipment and related projects in Massachusetts. Stronger IT infrastructure is critical for the state’s COVID-19 response.

The House voted for the IT financing package – which also contains key funding for food security -- using its remote voting procedures for the COVID-19 emergency.

The plan includes $650 million in IT needs, including $40 million in education grants to public schools to enhance remote learning environments and services. It also:

The capital plan also includes the following:

  • $30 million in municipal grants for proper safety equipment for first responders; 
  • $100 million for capital projects at Health and Human Services facilities to better handle providing amenities throughout the pandemic;
  • $41 million for food infrastructure and security for the most vulnerable populations;
  • $10 million for software/hardware upgrades at community health centers;
  • $5 million for SNAP Gap development.           
  • Grants to cities and towns for a number of needs, including expanded access to broadband, library construction, ADA compliance, and other generic capital needs our municipalities might have.

The bill will now go to the Senate.