House Passes Historic Education Funding Bill

Massachusetts House Introduces Child Wellness initiative

(BOSTON) – Last week, Representative Joan Meschino (D-Hull) and her colleagues in the Massachusetts House of Representatives voted unanimously to pass legislation supporting the health and wellness of children across the Commonwealth. This bill is one part of a multi-tiered initiative to address the specific needs of children and adolescents in an integrated fashion. 

An Act Relative to Children’s Health and Wellness is part of the comprehensive, session-long House Children’s Wellness Initiative, which aims to break down silos of service to better address the complex health and wellness needs specific to the Commonwealth’s 1.4 million children. The effort seeks to make access to healthcare easier for vulnerable populations, eliminate barriers to care and formulate data-driven recommendations to improve service delivery and system coordination. The initiative supports a holistic approach that provides services early and often – ensuring that children grow up to be healthier, happier and more productive adults. 

The first bill in this initiative creates a foundation for better access to services and more data to inform future policy.  The legislation seeks to address child wellness in the following eight areas:

  1. Requires the Department of Children and Families (DCF) to report on efforts to improve the foster care system in the Commonwealth, including steps it is taking to provide increased coverage in underserved regions, share relevant medical history with foster parents, and provide access to mental health supports and timely information on children in DCF custody who have died from abuse or neglect.  The report is due by October 15, 2019.
  2. Secures healthcare benefits for foster children until the age of 26, making it easier for this vulnerable population to access the MassHealth benefits they are entitled to, at minimal cost to the Commonwealth. It codifies the practice for Massachusetts in the event of change on the federal level to the Affordable Care Act. 
  3. Requires insurance companies to maintain accurate and accessible provider directories for health plans. The provision directs companies to make the directories available without requiring users to create a new online account or profile. The directory must be updated frequently to ensure the information is correct. Insurance companies must take steps to make the directories user-friendly for individuals with disabilities and limited English proficiency. Establishes a task force to develop recommendations to ensure the accurate electronic posting of directories headed by the Commissioner of Insurance. 
  4. Creates childhood behavioral health centers of excellence via a pilot program that designates three regional centers to act as clearinghouses to connect families, providers, and educators to services and training opportunities. Requires the Executive Office of Health and Human Services to report on progress and impact after one year of implementation.
  5. Requires the Heath Policy Commission to conduct analysis within the next year of children with medical complexity to analyze costs and population characteristics of this group in order to develop recommendations about how to serve this unique population.
  6. Establishes a task force to study pediatric behavioral health screening tools
  7. Creates a special commission to examine the pediatric workforce to address pediatric provider availability and adequacy. The Commission would recommend strategies for increasing the pipeline of pediatric providers and expanding access to practicing providers.  
  8. Charges a 17-member special commission to review the Department of Public Health’s School-Based Health Center Program for the purpose of strengthening, improving, and considering ways to replicate best practices across the state. 

The bill now goes to the Senate.

House Unanimously Passes $1.3 Billion for Community Climate Resiliency Projects

This week, Representative Joan Meschino (D-Hull) voted with her colleagues in the Massachusetts House of Representatives to pass legislation investing $1.3 billion to help cities and towns across Massachusetts to fund infrastructure projects aimed at fighting climate change and reducing greenhouse gas emissions. 

The legislation establishes a $1 billion, 10-year grant program – known as GreenWorks – to fund clean energy, energy efficiency, and climate change resiliency measures that cut greenhouse gas emissions, fortify infrastructure and reduce municipal costs. The legislation also invests $325 million in other municipal green projects

“Ensuring that municipalities have access to funds for mitigation, adaptation, and resiliency is crucial as we combat climate change,” said Representative Meschino. “The investments GreenWorks makes in every town unlocks their potential to lead the way.”

Modeled after the state’s MassWorks program, GreenWorks funds projects that improve climate preparedness and resiliency, promote or produce clean energy or energy efficiency, build energy storage facilities, implement measures included in Massachusetts’ statewide climate adaptation strategy or otherwise help mitigate the impacts of climate change or reduce carbon emissions.

The Massachusetts Executive Office of Energy and Environmental Affairs will accept applications annually and administer the program, which is to be funded through the issuance of bonds.  In addition, the legislation makes targeted investments of $325 million in energy infrastructure, including:

  • $100 million for investments in municipal microgrid energy systems
  • $125 million for electric vehicles in municipal or regional transit authority fleets
  • $20 million for the hiring of sustainability coordinators to develop and manage municipal projects resulting for the GreenWorks program 
  • $50 million to establish the Green Resiliency Fund to offer low-interest loans for municipalities when pursuing GreenWorks projects
  • $30 million for the Massachusetts Department of Energy Resources’ MOR-EV electric vehicle rebate program 

The bill, which passed the House unanimously, will now go to the Senate.

Legislature Advances Fair Share Act

During a constitutional convention this week, Representative Joan Meschino and her colleagues in the Massachusetts Legislature voted to move forward an amendment to the Massachusetts Constitution to generate revenues for transportation and educational investments, by placing an additional 4 percent tax on annual taxable income in excess of $1 million. 

The revenue generated – estimated by the Department of Revenue at as much as $2.2 billion annually – would fund repair and maintenance projects for roads, bridges or public transportation as well as funding for public education. 

“Investments of this scale in transportation infrastructure and education would deeply benefit the communities of the 3rd Plymouth District,”said Representative Meschino. “This initiative began as a ballot measure, making it worthwhile to take this step to give voters an opportunity to make a decision on this issue.”

The income level would be adjusted annually to reflect any increases in the cost of living by the same method used for federal income tax brackets. This would ensure that, over time, the additional 4 percent tax would continue to apply only to the highest earning individuals in the Commonwealth. The tax would apply to all tax years beginning on or after January 1, 2023. 

The full legislature must approve constitutional amendments in two consecutive legislative sessions, before the question appears on the ballot for voter approval. The vote that took place during this week’s constitutional convention was the first of the two needed votes. The next vote must be taken during the 2020-2021 legislative session. If approved during that second session, the amendment would presented to voters for consideration on the ballot in 2022.

House Passes Employee Rights Legislation

Representative Joan Meschino (D-Hull) along with her colleagues in the Massachusetts House of Representatives this week passed legislation to protect public sector employees’ rights following the U.S. Supreme Court’s Janus v. American Federation of State, County & Municipal Employees (AFSCME) ruling.

An Act relative to collective bargaining dues (H.3854) enables Massachusetts employee organizations to charge a non-member for the reasonable costs associated with legal representation in a grievance procedure.

“This legislation – which builds on the House’s long-standing support of labor – sends a clear message that Massachusetts will work to secure protections for the working men and women of the Commonwealth,” said House Speaker Robert A. DeLeo (D-Winthrop). “This bill represents a consensus position not realized from last session, and I thank Chair Brodeur for his hard work to move this issue forward.”

“I’m proud of the House for coming together this week to support laborers across the Commonwealth,” said Representative Meschino. “This legislation is important to support working class families with representation in the workplace to fight for fair wages and benefits.”

Additionally, the bill will:

  • Provide new hires with an opportunity to learn about the benefits and available services;
  • Protect worker organizations from coordinated outside attacks by empowering them to set policies regarding dues and membership;
  • Ensure that employee organizations are able to provide confidential legal advice and other communications by providing up to date employee contact information; and
  • Enable employee organizations to conduct meetings at scheduled times at the workplace provided they pay for any associated rental or maintenance fees.

In the Janus decision, the U.S. Supreme Court upended decades of well-settled law on labor practices when it ruled that agency service fees charged by public employee organizations to non-dues paying workers were unconstitutional.  Unlike its private sector counterparts, public sector labor unions are obligated to offer all employees, regardless of union membership, full and fair representation in all collective bargaining activities, employee discipline or grievance proceedings, and arbitration processes.  Despite this, the Janus decision curtailed the ability of public employee organizations to recoup the costs of representation from non-dues payers.

 The bill will now go to the Senate.

2050 Roadmap Bill Gets Broad Support at ENRA Hearing

BOSTON - Legislators, advocates, and Massachusetts residents came together this Tuesday, May 14, 2019, to support H.832, An Act to Create a 2050 Roadmap to a Clean and Thriving Commonwealth, filed by Representative Joan Meschino (D-Hull), at a hearing before the Joint Committee on Environment, Natural Resources, and Agriculture.

The 2050 Roadmap bill seeks to align the Commonwealth’s existing carbon emissions reduction goals pursuant to the Global Warming Solutions Act of 2008 (GWSA) with the most updated climate research.  The 2050 Roadmap would reset the Commonwealth’s carbon emission reduction goal to “net-zero” by the year 2050 and requires the administration to conduct a backcast analysis that will lead to the development of a statewide plan to reduce carbon emissions across multiple sectors, including areas such as energy, transportation, and home heating efficiency.  Through a transparent and iterative process, the bill seeks to create an intentional and equitable plan to reduce carbon emissions, and the accountability for its implementation. The 2050 Roadmap creates a much-needed people-centered framework for Massachusetts to achieve its carbon emissions reduction goal and create a clean environment and thriving economy.

“Through comprehensive, people-centered planning, the 2050 Roadmap provides a legislative framework to advance the Commonwealth’s climate goals, which will build on the existing green economy, improve public health outcomes, and empower vulnerable populations across the Commonwealth,” said Representative Meschino.

The bill is a top priority for over a dozen advocacy groups, who came together at Tuesday’s hearing to testify in support of the bill.

“Massachusetts always follows the science, and climate science has changed. It’s clear that we need to reach zero emissions by 2050, and to get there we need an ambitious but workable plan - the 2050 Roadmap this bill requires,” said David Ismay, a Senior Attorney at Conservation Law Foundation. “This is about bold action, new infrastructure and quality jobs - about making sure that, as we reduce our carbon pollution, we’re doing it fairly and cost-effectively for the benefit of everyone in the state.”

“Since the passage of the Global Warming Solutions Act (GWSA) in 2008, new scientific evidence compels greater action to avoid the worst impacts of climate change,” said Eric Wilkinson, General Counsel and Director of Energy Policy at Environmental League of Massachusetts. “This bill is a comprehensive and necessary revitalization of the GWSA. Getting to net zero greenhouse gas emissions by 2050 is an imperative, and this bill will get us there. ELM is grateful for the leadership of Rep. Meschino and all of the co-sponsors on this issue. “

The bill is before the Joint Committee on Environmental, Natural Resources, and Agriculture, and now waits to be reported out of committee.

Bill Allowing Candidates to Use Campaign Funds for Childcare Gets Broad Support at Hearing

BOSTON - May 17, 2019 - Legislators, advocates, and candidates for elected office testified yesterday at the State House on behalf of S.408/H.639, An Act supporting parents running for public office, filed by Representatives Joan Meschino (D-Hull) and Mike Connolly (D-Cambridge), and Senator Pat Jehlen (D-Somerville).  The bill would update state campaign finance laws to allow candidates running for public office to use campaign funds for childcare expenses incurred on the campaign trail.

Segments of our population continue to experience barriers to candidacy for public office which leads to a less diverse representation in the Commonwealth.  Current state campaign finance laws allow candidates to use campaign funds for a wide variety of expenses, including meals with constituents and lodging accommodations.  Yet campaign finance laws do not include an expense as basic as childcare services. Campaigning is time-consuming. At the hearing, supporters argued that the absence of childcare on the list of acceptable campaign expenses prevents qualified candidates from running for office, forces candidates to drop out of an election, or makes campaigning all the more challenging.    

Lee Erica Palmer, a Somerville School Committee member, inspired the legislation.  She experienced mounting childcare costs while campaigning for local office. “I committed over 500 hours of my time in 2015 to campaign-related meetings, events, and door-to-door canvassing. As a single, low-income parent, I certainly could not afford 500 hours of paid childcare.  However, even with family and friends assisting, I still had to pay for approximately 250 hours of babysitting out of my own pocket over the course of the year, itself an extremely difficult expense.”

A challenge for all parents, advocates argue that paying for childcare while running for office affects women, and women of color in particular.  According to a 2011 survey, “in families where both adults are working (generally in high-level careers), women are roughly six times more likely than men to bear responsibility for the majority of household tasks, and they are about ten times more likely to be the primary childcare provider.”

Francia Vieda Wisnewski, a former candidate for State Representative, said “when my children were younger, I wouldn’t have even considered running for office even though I wanted to run. I simply couldn’t have afforded the additional childcare that I would have needed.”

Senator Jehlen echoed Wisnewski’s sentiments: “Between canvassing, fundraising, and meetings, campaigns require a commitment of many hundreds of hours. Childcare costs can quickly add up. For me, if I didn't have a friend who could take care of my kids when I first ran for school committee, I couldn't have knocked on every door in Ward 2 twice.”

“If we believe representation matters in public office, then we need to break down barriers to entry for underrepresented groups. That’s why we filed this legislation to make childcare an allowable campaign expense,” Representative Connolly said. “I’m proud to be working with so many colleagues to make this concept a reality in the Commonwealth.”

“We should strive for more socio-economic, gender, and inter-generational diversity across elected offices in Massachusetts. This bill provides an important mechanism to encourage more representative candidate pools by building equity into our election system,” said Representative Meschino.

Nina Kimball, Chair of the Massachusetts Commission on the Status of Women, said, “An Act Supporting Parents Running for Public Office is a simple and straightforward bill that, if passed, would eliminate a major barrier that keeps competitive candidates – women, mothers, working parents – from running or makes their candidacy unfairly difficult, and would actively promote a more diverse and representative state legislature.”

“For my family, my inability to utilize my campaign funds to pay for necessary childcare meant that my female partner and I needed to sacrifice her career so that I could run or sacrifice my daughter’s quality of care. In this day and age, when fathers want to fully participate in caring for our children, we must ensure that we have the support to pay for necessary childcare and not be in the untenable and unfair position of asking and expecting our female partners to sacrifice their own economic and career opportunities,” said Owen Zaret, candidate for City Council, Easthampton.

It is time for Massachusetts to take action.  Nationally, the FEC has already ruled that campaign funds may be utilized for the provision of childcare, so those running for federal office are already able to use them as such. Six states (Alabama, Arkansas, Texas, Wisconsin, Kentucky, and Louisiana) have also enacted regulations to allow for state and local level candidates to use funds for childcare.   

The bill is before the Joint Committee on Election Laws, and now waits to be reported out of committee.

House Passes Distracted Driving Legislation

BOSTON - May 17, 2019 - State Representative Joan Meschino joined her colleagues in the House of Representatives to pass legislation banning drivers from using hand-held electronic devices in vehicles unless the device is in hands-free mode.

“Distracted driving is a factor in too many dangerous and fatal motor vehicle accidents, and the House is proud to take this step to move this policy forward for Massachusetts – making our roads safer and protecting our drivers, passengers and pedestrians,” said House Speaker Robert A. DeLeo (D-Winthrop). “I want to thank Chair Straus for his diligence and hard work, and Leader Wagner, Chair Michlewitz, members of the Black and Latino Caucus, and my colleagues in the House who were instrumental to this process.”

“This measure will increase roadway safety in Massachusetts,” said Representative Meschino. “Distracted driving endangers other drivers, cyclists, and pedestrians; I am proud that the House took action on this issue.”

The bill defines hands-free devices as those that engage in voice communication and receiving audio without touching, holding or otherwise manually manipulating the device.  Law enforcement officials have the ability to issue warnings to drivers until Dec. 31, 2019, before the law goes into effect on Jan. 1, 2020. The bill will also:

  • Allow drivers to use mapping or navigation devices if the device is affixed to the windshield or integrated into the vehicle and involve a single tap or a swipe;
  • Exempt use of electronics in the case of an emergency and for first responders when the devices is used as part of their duties;
  • Penalize drivers with fines $100 for the first offense, $250 for the second offense and $500 for third and subsequent offenses;
  • Bolster existing law by creating compliance measures, requiring the inclusion of race on the uniform citation, and extending this practice to all jurisdictions;
  • Invest $300,000 towards data collection and analysis;
  • Require jurisdictions – if data suggests those jurisdictions may be engaging in racial profiling – to collect data on all traffic stops for a one-year period; and
  • Create a public awareness campaign informing and educating the dangers of using technological devices while driving and the obligations of drivers under this bill.

The bill will now go to the Senate for consideration.

House passes legislation to fund investments in municipal roads and bridges

BOSTON - May 10, 2019 - This week, Representative Joan Meschino (D-Hull) joined her colleagues in the House to pass a bill authorizing the Commonwealth to borrow $200 million for improvements to municipally-owned roads and bridges 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 approved 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 our most important infrastructure,” said Representative Meschino. “These funds are critical for every city and town across the Commonwealth.”

The bill also authorized borrowing for federally-aided highway projects and rail and transit projects to ensure continuity in the Department of Transportation’s capital program.

The legislation now moves to the Senate for their consideration.

House Passes Balanced Budget with Targeted Investments in Education, Housing, Environment

BOSTON – Representative Joan Meschino (D-Hull) joined her colleagues in the Massachusetts House of Representatives this week to pass its budget for Fiscal Year 2020 (FY20), which invests in programs and services across the Commonwealth. Funded at $42.7 billion, the House budget makes major investments in education, housing, substance use disorder services, health care, and other areas while projecting a more than $200 million deposit into the Stabilization Fund – bringing the fund’s balance to more than $2.5 billion to safeguard the future of vital programs and services.

“This fiscally responsible budget balances the needs of communities, families, and individuals across the Commonwealth with smart investments that boost local aid, support our healthcare system, strengthen education, and protect the environment,” said House Speaker Robert A. DeLeo (D-Winthrop). “I am proud of the work we have done to further our ongoing efforts to combat the opioid crisis and invest in high-quality early education and care. I believe these investments will have a lasting positive effect on the lives of Massachusetts residents for years to come. I want to thank Chair Michlewitz for his diligence and hard work, and my colleagues in the House who were instrumental to this process.”

“This budget represents yet another year of meaningful investments to support the Commonwealth’s residents,” said Representative Meschino. “I was proud to advocate for the line items my constituents cared about most.”

Representative Meschino was able to secure funding for several key priorities for the 3rd Plymouth District, including full funding for state aid for public libraries and the Division of Ecological Restoration.  She also secured $30,000 for municipal safety in Hingham, and $20,000 for the summer trolley in Hull.

The House furthered its commitment to cities and towns in the budget, by increasing Unrestricted General Government Aid (UGGA) by nearly $30 million and providing $5.1 billion in Chapter 70 education funding as part of a $236 million increase for investments in schools over Fiscal Year 2019.  In addition, the budget includes a $16.5 million reserve for low-income students while the Joint Committee on Education continues its work on this issue. It also addresses the need for integrated student health and wellness supports, providing $2 million to establish the Supporting Health Alliances Reinforcing Education (SHARE) grant program to address non-academic barriers to school success.  The budget also expands the role of the Office of the Child Advocate to oversee integrated coordination of education and health programming. Additional education allocations include:

  • $328 million for Circuit Breaker Special Education reimbursement;
  • $113 million for Charter School Reimbursement; and
  • $73.8 million for Regional School Transportation reimbursement.

The House budget continues its commitment to ensuring children have access to high-quality early education and care (EEC). The budget invests in those who work with children by increasing rates for early education providers by $20 million and supporting continuing education opportunities with community colleges. The House budget also includes additional investments into Head Start grants and quality improvement measures in core EEC programming.

The House budget represents some of the biggest increases seen in a generation when it comes to housing and homelessness funding. Access to safe, adequate, and affordable housing is essential and provides the foundation from which families and individuals can lead successful lives. This year, the House continues these efforts by providing:

  • $110 million for the Massachusetts Rental Voucher Program (MRVP);
  • $72 million for Public Housing Subsidies;
  • $7.2 million for Alternative Housing Voucher Program; and
  • $53.4 million for Homeless individual shelters.

The budget continues the Legislature’s commitment to fight the opioid epidemic – a public health crisis that has touched nearly every household across the Commonwealth. To help those in need, the House budget gives all EMS and ambulance companies access to discounted naloxone, making it more available for use in the field. In addition, the budget includes:

  • $143.9 million for the Bureau of Substance Addiction Services, which will help create five new recovery centers across Massachusetts;
  • $49.4 million for the Substance Use Disorder Trust Fund; and
  • $1.5 million increases for Massachusetts Access to Recovery Services.

The House budget includes funding for public safety and the judiciary, including investments to implement last session’s criminal justice reform law. The budget includes:

  • $8.8 million for a new community-based re-entry program;
  • $24 million for civil legal aid to provide representation for low-income individuals; and
  • $10 million for Shannon Grants, a competitive grant program to individual municipalities to address heightened levels of gang violence.

The House calls for over $282 million in spending for environmental programs. These funding levels will ensure that state keeps up with the needs of its parks and environmental protections programs. These investments include:

  • $46 million for State Parks and Recreation;
  • $61 million for the Department of Environmental Protection; and
  • $1.5 million for Watershed Protection.

In the area of labor and economic development, the House budget invests in programs that provide job opportunities for residents to participate in the Commonwealth’s thriving economy. These investments include:

  • $ 38.1 million for Adult Basic Education Services;
  • $500,000 to establish a specialized prevailing wage and construction investigatory and enforcement unit within the Attorney General’s office;
  • $14.5 million for summer jobs for at-risk youth; and
  • $4.8 million for the STEM Starter Academy, to support underperforming students at community colleges interested in pursuing STEM subjects.

MassHealth is the single largest investment that the Commonwealth makes in its most vulnerable residents. This program provides health insurance for the frailest amongst us: the homeless, the recovering, mothers with children, and the working poor. In addition to funding this key safety net program, the budget also ensures funding for crucial health and human services agencies and providers including:

  • $109.8 million to continue reforms that protect children at the Department of Children and Families;
  • $35 million increase in the supplemental rates for nursing homes across the Commonwealth and an emergency task force aimed at helping to bring stability to the industry;
  • $17.9 million towards the Councils on Aging to help senior citizens; and
  • Fully funds the Lift the Cap on Kids initiative that removes barriers that prevent families from receiving Transitional Aid to Families with Dependent Children (TAFDC) benefits for certain children.

For the first time in nearly 20 years, the budget will be increasing the Commonwealth’s contribution into the Community Preservation Act, which will ensure that over $36 million more will be distributed to projects all across the Commonwealth and will help raise the state’s match up to 30 percent for investments in open space, affordable housing and historic preservation.

The budget will now go to the Senate.