Thursday, April 26, 2018

Senate Votes to Send $200 Million to Cities and Towns for Road Repairs

Today, I was happy to vote to support releasing $200 million dollars in so-called “Chapter 90” funding for local road and bridge repairs, continuing the legislature’s strong commitment to supporting cities and towns.

The legislation authorizes $200 million for infrastructure improvements in municipalities across the Commonwealth and follows a longstanding formula which factors in a community’s population, miles of road, and employment rates. Municipalities in the district I represent will receive more than $6 million for this construction season.


State House Blossoms in Bloom

Three weeks ago in anticipation of the cherry blossoms that arrive in April in front of the State House I posted two photos of the cherry trees that line the General Hooker entrance. The trees outside my office window appeared to be crystalized in snow and ice. Today, the transformation is complete and those same trees are radiating in peak beauty; their blossoms are in full bloom.


Wednesday, April 25, 2018

Pushing to Close the Special Education Funding Gap

Providing effective funding for education is a top priority, and tomorrow the Senate will have an opportunity to advance that goal.

Currently, the Special Education Circuit Breaker program, which reimburses local school districts for the costs of Special Education, is falling short of its 75% reimbursement rate. The Department of Elementary and Secondary Education estimates that the rate of reimbursement presently is 68%. Filling the funding gap is projected by DESE to require an additional $16.5 million in funding.

Earlier this month the House of Representatives, in an effort spearheaded by legislators representing the Triton Regional School District, amended a supplemental budget to add funds toward the goal of closing this gap.

Tomorrow, the Senate will consider this supplemental budget, S2481, and I have offered an amendment, #6, to close the gap completely. This far 11 Senators from both parties have co-sponsored the amendment. Hopefully we will be able to work together to respond to this major cost issue for local schools all across the state.


Tuesday, April 24, 2018

The Jammin' Airmen in Gloucester

The Air Force Airmen of Note, a touring band of 18 talented jazz musicians, performed a stellar free and open to the public concert of music at Gloucester High School last night at the GHS Auditorium. What a pleasure it was to watch and listen to this ensemble of the United States Air Force.

Created in 1950 to carry on the tradition of Major Glenn Miller's Army Air Forces dance band, the Airmen of Note is one of the last touring big bands in the country. Hosted by GHS Music Director Dan Fleury the Notes spent a portion of their day in Gloucester jamming with student members of the GHS Docksiders.


Friday, April 20, 2018

Earth Day News: $3 Million in State Funding for Coastal Communities to Combat Climate Change

Today, I had the pleasure of welcoming to Gloucester Energy and Environmental Affairs Secretary Matthew Beaton for the announcement of Governor Charlie Baker’s commitment to release $3 million in funding for coastal communities to address climate change and water quality issues.

Confronting the challenges of climate resilience requires us to find the resources now to plan and take action. Doing so will make a real difference for the future, and these modest grants will pay large dividends in the years to come. Hopefully local officials will seize upon this great opportunity to partner with state government to chart a course toward sustainable communities and infrastructure.

The $3 million in funding is linked to two grant programs that promote climate change resilience and coastal water quality. Municipalities and eligible non-profit organizations will be able to receive grant awards and help partner with the state to combat and prepare for the future.


What's Brewing?

Quite a lot at the True North Ale Company in #Ipswich. I was invited to visit this state of the art 15,000 square foot facility by owner and Chief Executive Officer Gary Rogers. He gave me a tour of the taproom, bottling room, and brewing operations and talked about their line of products including IPAs, ales, and lagers. True North’s Chief Financial and Administrative Officer Rory Laughna joined us and is in the photo with Gary and me.


Tuesday, April 17, 2018

Road and Bridge Repair Funds For Cities and Towns

One of the more pressing responsibilities that your home town engages in is keeping roads in good order – springtime potholes are a great reminder that we are now in construction and repair season for roads and bridges.

Recently, the Senate voted to approve $600 million in funding for road projects over the next three years of construction seasons. As part of that Senate action we turned onto several innovative paths to long-term savings and near-term planning gains for the state and municipalities.

Instead of voting year-after-year on the so-called Chapter 90 road funds – which often means cities and towns have to wait to see what the Legislature will release for funding, we voted on a three year plan to add greater certainty. We also voted to set our bond terms from a traditional 30 year commitment to be ten years less – 20 years. This one change will result in savings of about $50 million over the life of the borrowing overall.

The release of these funds will come when the House and Senate finish negotiating a final version of the bill.


Monday, April 16, 2018

Marathon Monday and a Fitting Tribute to George Demeter and Demeter Day

A few days ago in a Senate Session I had some very special guests in the Senate chamber to join me as we recognized the many contributions of an astonishing man - George Demeter.

George Demeter, an immigrant from Greece in the early 1900’s attended Boston Latin School, Harvard College and served in World War II in France. He was best known as the first Greek-American elected to serve in the Massachusetts House of Representatives in 1932. He also authored Demeter’s Manual of Parliamentary Law and Procedure, a manual well regarded by those experts in the parliamentary rules as a great source to those who seek to conduct meetings of groups of people in a fair, orderly manner to successfully reach goals while maintaining group harmony.

The rules of Parliamentary Procedure, which in some form date back thousands of years, are at the very heart of our democratic principles: where decisions are made by majority rule, only after the ability to debate…. and the rights of those with minority views are respected. I had the honor of recognizing outstanding individuals who exemplify the very meaning of service-based organizations in celebration of Parliamentary Law Month and George Demeter Day. I felt privileged to welcome representatives of the George Demeter Unit of the National Association of Parliamentarians, the Boston Chapter of the Order of the American Hellenic Educational Progressive Association, which is the largest Greek-American organization in the world, and the Hellenic Bar Association.

Demeter was heavily involved with the American Hellenic Educational Progressive Association (ORDER of AHEPA, serving as the organization’s 2nd Supreme President and the founder of the Boston chapter, Athens Chapter # 24. George is also recognized as the individual, who in the 1930’s, introduced the ancient Greek tradition of crowning the Boston Marathon winners of the race with an olive wreath from Greece.

Photo of George Demeter crowning Boston Marathon winner Johny Kelley. Between 1934 and 1950, Kelley finished in the top five 15 times. Demeter said, "Kelley is the embodiment of American sportsmanship."

IN ATTENDANCE at the State House event:
* Peter Senopoulos, President George Demeter, Mass Unit of the National Association Parliamentarians,
* Kendra O’toole, President of the New England Association of Parliamentarians,
* Frank Fotis, President of the Boston Chapter of the Order of Ahepa,
* Euripides Dalmanieras, President of the Hellenic Bar Association,
* Connie Prescott, Niece of George Demeter.


Friday, April 13, 2018

Criminal Justice Reforms Made Law Today - Additional Reforms Proposed

Today, Governor Charlie Baker signed into law two pieces of legislation, and filed a third, that reforms many components of our criminal justice system. These bills are a result of years of examination, input, and bipartisan collaboration.

As one of six members of the conference committee which wrote the final bill, An Act Relative to Criminal Justice Reform, I am grateful for the work of the Baker administration, my colleagues in the House and Senate, and the efforts of so many people across the state. Clearly, more reforms and safeguards are needed and I appreciate that Governor Baker has filed additional legislation today, An Act Building on Criminal Justice Reform, to take further steps towards a justice system that serves our needs.

These bills create a balance of opportunities for treatment and rehabilitation while enhancing public safety by treating those who would threaten it with serious consequences. Many important goals championed by the Republican Caucus are included in the new laws - protecting the public, supporting our law enforcers, strengthening penalties for distributing dangerous drugs such as Fentanyl and Carfentanil, greater accountability and oversight of forensic evidence and its analysis, and supports for those who have been victims of sexual assaults.

The legislation makes modifications to the criminal justice system that will empower police officers to crack down on the opioid crisis by holding drug traffickers more accountable. In addition, there are several adjustments to mandatory minimum sentences, increased potential fines for corporate manslaughter, and changes that shield juvenile arrests from public police logs.

Other components include protections for witnesses and their families, tougher penalties for repeat operating under the influence offenders, mandatory minimums for assault and battery on a police officer and for serious bodily injury as well as linking state drug classifications to emergency federal drug scheduling.


Thursday, April 12, 2018

Marathon Wreath Ceremony at the State House Later Today

Looking forward today to hosting W/ Senator Karen Spilka & Representative Carolyn Dykema, the Consulate General of Greece and the Alpha Omega Council as they present handmade olive branch wreaths, made in Marathon Greece, that will crown each of the first place winners of the Boston Marathon on Patriots' Day.


Wednesday, April 11, 2018

Merrimack Valley Planning Commission

I was happy to attend a joint meeting of our legislative delegation along with members Merrimack Valley Planning Commission and the Mayors, Managers and Town Administrators from 15 member communities. We met at the Northern Essex Community College’s Haverhill campus and discussed recent developments in the House and Senate, local priorities, and how we can continue to work collaboratively on behalf of those we serve.


Mass Department of Transportation: Weight Restriction Now Lifted On Route 133 Bridge In Essex

The Massachusetts Department of Transportation (MassDOT) has announced that it has lifted a weight restriction put in place in February for vehicles crossing the Route 133 (Main Street) bridge over the Essex River, meaning that five-axle vehicles up to 36 tons are now permitted to use the bridge, in addition to three-axle vehicles up to 25 tons and two-axle vehicles up to 20 tons. Therefore, passenger and commercial vehicles that meet statutory weight limits can utilize this bridge structure.

Overweight trucks that would already require an overweight permit should follow the standard permitting procedure. These overweight vehicles may be impacted and prevented from traveling across this bridge.

In February, the bridge was weight restricted after an inspection determined that action was needed due to the conditions of the external bridge beams. MassDOT crews and contractors then carried out repair operations on the bridge, and last week, installed traffic barriers on the outside edges of the travel lanes over the bridge to move traffic away from specific areas.

These measures have enabled the weight limit to be revised so the bridge can continue to safely carry vehicles that meet legal weight limits. MassDOT is also in the preliminary design stages for a project to replace this bridge, and funding and design specifications regarding this project are currently being developed.

New roadway signs notifying the public of these revised weight restrictions have been put in place in the area of the bridge. These signs clarify that the revised weight limit is as follows:
• Two-axle vehicle: 20 tons
• Three-axle vehicle: 25 tons
• Five axle vehicle: 36 tons.

Electronic message boards notifying drivers of the revised restrictions have also temporarily been placed on Route 133 near Route 128 in Gloucester and on Route 1A in Rowley.


School Funding Effort Gains Momentum

My office sent the following press release that describes my efforts to secure financial support for public education.

Boston- An effort to increase school funding for next year being led largely by the legislative delegation representing the Triton Regional School District is gaining momentum on Beacon Hill, as the time for the House and Senate to debate the Fiscal Year 2019 state budget draws near.

Recently, Senate Minority Leader Bruce Tarr (R- Gloucester) and Senator Kathleen O’Connor Ives (D- Newburyport), joined with House colleagues Bradford Hill (R- Ipswich) and Lenny Mirra (R- West Newbury), to draft a letter seeking specific budget requests for the next year’s spending document. They include:
• Full Funding of Regional School Transportation – full funding of the account to provide the statutory 100% reimbursement,
• Minimum “Per Pupil” funding of $100 per student,
• Major progress toward funding the recommendations of the Foundation Budget Review Commission, particularly those relating to health insurance and special education enrollment,
• The Circuit Breaker for Special Education funding to achieve a 75% reimbursement rate,
• Substantial funding for the “Pothole” account for schools facing unforeseen circumstances or extreme fiscal distress.

“Education funding remains a critically important component of our state budget, the delegation and those that signed the letter believe that we should support our students and our schools so that they can succeed,” said Senator Tarr. “Before taking on new initiatives we should fund these essential elements first.”

The letter, addressed to the Chairman of the House Committee on Ways and Means Jeffrey Sánchez (D- Jamaica Plain) and Senate Ways and Means Chair Karen Spilka (D- Ashland), has garnered the support of more than 50 members of the House and Senate who have signed it along with the members of the Triton delegation. These signers represent communities across Massachusetts.

The timing of that support is critical since both Committees on Ways and Means are presently preparing budget proposals for debate in the House later this month and in the Senate in May. The request builds on the Fiscal Year 2019 budget proposal of Governor Charlie Baker, which increases Chapter 70 School Aid by a minimum of $20 per pupil, and funding for the recommendations of the Foundation Budget Review Commission for health insurance by $24.3 million.


Thursday, April 5, 2018

Time is Right for Humane Treatment of Animals

For those of us dedicated to advancing protections for the well-being of animals we have been experiencing some important gains lately. In March, the Senate unanimously adopted my PAWS II bill which expanded upon the victories of the original PAWS bill that I filed in response to the contemptible Puppy Doe case. PAWS is an acronym for protecting animal welfare and safety.

This week, I was delighted that my bill, S.489, an act Protecting Research Animals, was given support by the Committee on Environment, Natural Resources and Agriculture. This bill will facilitate relationships between research laboratories and non-profit rescue organizations so that animals are given a chance of life after the lab with a Massachusetts family. More than 60,000 dogs and nearly 20,000 cats are used for animal experimentation in the US. Because nearly 96% of the dogs used are beagles this legislation is often called the "Beagle Bill".

Last weekend, I visited the Massachusetts School of Law at Andover​ for the 12th Animal Rights Day. There was as much as excitement at the event as there were amazing animals. I met Lilly the Hero Pit Bull​, she successfully pulled an unconscious woman away from railroad tracks as a freight train drew rapidly closer in Shirley, Mass. Lily was seriously injured by the train wheels, cut, broken and weakened she recovered with the help of a great team at Angell Animal Medical Center​. In the photo Lilly is with me, owner David Lanteigne, Professor Diane Sullivan, and Dean and Professor of Law at the Massachusetts School of Law, Michael Coyne. There were beagles, Rocky the rooster from Nevins Farm, a police dog demonstration by the Massachusetts State Police, and lots of well informed people working together.


Wednesday, April 4, 2018

Criminal Justice Reform Bill Adopted

This bill represents a collaborative effort which creates a balance of opportunities for treatment and rehabilitation while enhancing public safety by treating those who would threaten it with serious consequences.

As one of six members of the conference committee, I wanted to make certain that the bill achieves many important goals in protecting the public, including those championed by the Massachusetts Senate GOP Caucus, such as supporting our law enforcers, strengthening penalties for distributing dangerous drugs such as Fentanyl and Carfentnyl, greater accountability and oversight of forensic evidence and its analysis, and supports for those who have been victims of sexual assaults.


Monday, April 2, 2018

Masconomet Regional High School Cheerleading Team

At today’s Senate session I had the pleasure of introducing the members of the Masconomet Regional High School Cheerleading Team to my colleagues and those attending the session. We are all proud of the many accomplishments they have achieved recently.

They placed third in Division 2 at the Massachusetts School Administrators Association Cheerleading State Championship, placed 7th among teams from Massachusetts, Connecticut, Oklahoma, and Nevada at the Junior and Senior High School National Championship in Dallas, Texas, and they were the “Go Be Great” recipients for their philanthropic efforts as recognized by the National Cheerleaders Association. The team raised funds for the Care Dimensions “Walk for Hospice” and The American Foundation for Suicide Prevention “Out of Darkness” walk.

Members of the team were joined today by their coaches - Elizabeth Walsh and Tara Helms. With Boxford Selectwomen Mary Anne Nay.


Thinking About Spring

Today, the view from outside my State House office window showed there was snow sitting on the branches and boughs where soon cherry blossoms will be.


Sunday, April 1, 2018

Happy Easter!

I would like to wish everyone a wonderful and happy Easter that is celebrated with family and friends. May the holiday bring you and your loved ones many blessings.