House Unanimously Passes Legislation to Help Protect Persons with Developmental Disabilities from Harm

BOSTON – This week, Representative Joan Meschino (D-Hull) and her colleagues in the House of Representatives unanimously passed legislation to create a registry of care providers who have harmed a person or persons with an intellectual or developmental disability. The bill’s purpose is to prevent those providers from being hired for programs funded or operated by the Department of Developmental Services (DDS).

The legislation, An Act to Protect Persons with Intellectual or Developmental Disabilities from Abuse, creates a registry of care providers against whom the Disabled Persons Protection Commission (DCCP) has made a final decision regarding “substantiated findings” of acts resulting in serious physical or emotional injury of a person with an intellectual or developmental disability.

“I was proud to vote in support of this bill to promote the safety and wellbeing of individuals with intellectual and developmental disabilities,” said Representative Meschino. “This legislation was thoughtfully developed to combat abuse, and will help give families across the Commonwealth peace of mind.”

The bill requires employers to consult the registry prior to hiring or retaining any person as a care provider, and prevents employers from hiring or retaining any provider who appears on the registry.  The employers include those with DDS licenses for day services, those that have contracts with DDS, and those receiving funding from DDS. Under the bill, DCCP imposes monetary fines or other penalties on any employer that fails to comply.  

The legislation balances these critical protections of the vulnerable with care provider rights.  The legislation includes robust due process protections for care providers with opportunities to appeal administrative rulings to a court of law.

The legislation builds on ongoing increased support for those departments serving adults and children with intellectual or developmental disabilities. From 2012 to 2020, DPPC funding has increased by 93 percent.

The bill will now go to the Senate for consideration.

Update: Massachusetts Legislature Enacts Historic Education Funding Bill

BOSTON – This week, Representative Joan Meschino (D-Hull) and her colleagues in both chambers of the Massachusetts Legislature voted unanimously to enact The Student Opportunity Act. This legislation, providing an unprecedented $1.5 billion new investment in Massachusetts K-12 public education system, ensures public schools have the resources to provide high-quality education to students across the state, regardless of zip code or income level. Assuming inflation, over the seven-year implementation timeline the bill will provide an estimated $2.2 billion in support of public schools.

The Student Opportunity Act provides significant support to school districts that serve English learners and high concentrations of low-income students. At the same time, all school districts across the Commonwealth will benefit from updates to the existing funding formula, along with increased state investments in vital education aid programs such as special education transportation, school construction and renovation, and the 21st Century Education Program. 

“The Student Opportunity Act will be a transformative investment in public education, in particular, for children living in poverty,” said Representative Meschino. “The legislation takes the first steps towards building equity in our K-12 education system and commits the Commonwealth’s support for all our school districts.”

The Student Opportunity Act fully implements the recommendations of the 2015 Foundation Budget Review Commission (FBRC) to support the “educational programs and services necessary to achieve the Commonwealth’s educational goals” as stated in the Commission’s mission. The bill provides an estimated $1.4 billion in new Chapter 70 aid over and above inflation when fully implemented over the next seven years. The bill modernizes the K-12 education funding and policy landscape in four areas:

  • Estimates 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).
  • Increases special education enrollment and cost assumptions to more accurately reflect district enrollment.
  • Increases funding for English learners (EL) and differentiates the financial support by grade level to reflect the greater resources required to educate our older EL students.
  • Addresses the needs of districts educating high concentrations of low-income students by:
    • Providing additional funding based on the share of low-income students in each district; districts educating the largest percentage of low-income students will receive an additional increment equal to 100 percent of the base foundation; and
    • Returning the definition of low-income to 185 percent of the Federal Poverty Level, as opposed to the 133 percent level used in recent years.

In addition to implementing the FBRC’s recommended formula changes, The Student Opportunity Act provides an additional $100 million in state financial support in several categories to help public schools and communities deliver a high-quality education to every student.  These fiscal supports include:

  • Increased foundation rates for guidance and psychological services in recognition of the growing need for expanded social-emotional support and mental health services;
  • Commitment to fully funding charter school tuition reimbursement, which provides transitional aid to help districts when students leave to attend charter schools, within a three-year timetable;
  • Expand the special education circuit breaker program, which reimburses districts for extraordinary special education costs, to include transportation as well as instructional cost, to be implemented over the next four years; and
  • Raise the annual cap on Massachusetts School Building Authority (MSBA) spending for construction and renovation by $200 million (from $600 million to $800 million), enabling more school building projects across the state to be accepted into the MSBA funding pipeline, which reimburses towns and cities for a portion of school building costs. 

In addition to new funding and other supports, The Student Opportunity Act establishes the 21st Century Education Trust Fund to provide districts and schools access to flexible funding to pursue creative approaches to student learning and district improvement.

In order to track and reproduce successful school and district-level programs and policies, the legislation calls on school districts to develop and make publicly available plans for closing opportunity gaps. These plans will include specific goals and metrics to track success. The bill includes language, to ensure that plans consider input from school committees and other stakeholders. In addition, the Secretary of Elementary and Secondary Education will collect and publish data on student preparedness in each district for post-graduate success in college and the workforce. 

Furthermore, The Student Opportunity Act establishes a Data Advisory Commission to help improve the use of data at the state, district, and school levels to inform strategies that strengthen teaching, learning and resource allocation. The legislation increases the scope of data collected and moves towards establishing targets for college and career success.

To support ongoing efforts to address education-funding challenges, the legislation also includes the following provisions:

  • Establishes a Rural Schools Commission to investigate the unique challenges facing rural and regional school districts with low and declining enrollment and make recommendations for further updates to help impacted districts and communities;
  • Directs the Department of Revenue (DOR) and the Department of Elementary and Secondary Education (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; and
  • Requires the Massachusetts School Building Authority to undertake a review of the current program, now in its fifteenth year, to ensure that capital reimbursements meet district needs.

The legislation requires the Foundation Budget Review Commission to convene at least every ten years to review the way foundation budgets are calculated and to ensure that the school funding formula continues to reflect the needs of school districts across the Commonwealth.

The legislation now goes to the governor for his signature.

Massachusetts Legislature Passes Distracted Driving Legislation

(BOSTON) – This week, Representative Joan Meschino (D-Hull) joined her colleagues in the Legislature to enact legislation to ban drivers from using hand-held electronic devices while operating a vehicle unless the device is in hands-free mode.

“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” as a device mode that engages in voice communication with and receiving audio without touching, holding or otherwise manually manipulating a mobile electronic device. Law enforcement officials will issue warnings to drivers for first offenses of the new law until March 31, 2020.  

Additionally, this legislation improves transparency in public safety by granting expanded access to traffic stop data.  It has been fifteen 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 public safety outcomes.

The bill will also:

  • Allow drivers to use mapping or navigation devices if the device is affixed to the windshield, dashboard or central console or integrated into the vehicle and only involve a tap or a swipe;
  • Exempt use of electronic devices in the case of an emergency and for first responders if the device is used as part of their duties;
  • Penalize drivers with $100 fine for the first offence, $250 fine and a safety course for the second offence, and $500 fine and an insurance 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 a jurisdiction 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 (EOPSS) 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 for his signature.

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.