The spread of the novel coronavirus (COVID-19) across the country is obviously a serious threat to our health and wellbeing. And none of us truly knows what “back to normal” is going to look like.
That said, there are clear priorities for moving forward that have emerged, and MASSPIRG, along with our sister PIRG organizations around the country, has launched several campaigns to address them, in partnership with public health and medical professionals, elected officials and civic leaders.
Together we are:
Working to protect democracy:
If ever we needed to feel that, as citizens, we have control over our democracy, it’s now. So we are working in coalition with other civic organizations to ensure greater access to voting. The continued spread of the coronavirus poses a real threat to our elections, not just through the primary and special election seasons, but all the way into November’s national elections.
Currently, Massachusetts isn’t set up to successfully run an election that includes large public gatherings, such as polling places, which present a public health risk during this pandemic. While some short-term solutions were passed by the Massachusetts Legislature in March, with provisions through June 30, we need to permanently establish election day registration, no-excuse absentee voting, and other universal vote-by-mail measures, which ensure safety and access to voting. Sens. Becca Rausch (Needham) and Cynthia Creem (Newton) have already filed legislation including some of these provisions.
It’s clear we are facing a massive public health challenge, yet even under this kind of duress there are special interests lurking and trying to take advantage of these stressful circumstances, together we can raise our voices, work with our leaders, and forge the path to a healthier tomorrow.
Massachusetts attorney general joins push for automatic vote-by-mail option due to pandemic
Attorney General Maura Healey joined a growing chorus on Thursday in the push for an automatic vote-by-mail system in the upcoming elections, citing the risk in-person voting might pose during a global pandemic.
"As we look ahead, we must address the inequities that this crisis has exposed," Healey tweeted. "That means mailing every voter a ballot for the 2020 elections."
A bill was filed earlier this month in the state Senate calling for voting by mail in the September primary and November general elections. It’s currently awaiting action in the Elections Committee.
Sen. Becca Rausch (D-Norfolk, Bristol, Middlesex) told Boston 25 News that her 2020 Vote-By-Mail Act is an attempt to rise to the needs of the moment.
"Even if we’re on the downside of the slope of the pandemic [in time for the September primary], people will still be rightfully concerned and fearful to go to the polls," Rausch said. "Free, fair and safely accessible elections are a cornerstone and a bedrock of our democracy. We cannot let, we must not let COVID-19 strip that away from us."
The House And Senate - There were no roll calls in the House or Senate last week.
To the exclusion of just about everything else, the COVID-19 pandemic was front and center on Beacon Hill for the third week in a row. Most legislators and staff are staying away from Beacon Hill and are working from home to comply with social distancing guidelines. The House and Senate held only informal sessions at which there can be no roll calls and it only takes one member to stop the proceedings if he or she disagrees with anything. The Democrats and Republicans worked together, as they did last week, and continued to cooperate and approved bills relating to COVID-19. This week, Beacon Hill Roll Call reports on several pieces of legislation relating to the COVID-19.
It’s also an election year so it’s time to take a look at how much money the incumbent senators have raised, spent and have on hand during the first three months of 2020. This week’s report also includes the fundraising numbers for the state’s 38 senators from the latest filing period of January 1 to March 31. The numbers are from the Office of Campaign and Political Finance. To get more information on any senator’s fundraising and expenditures, go to and click on “Browse registered filers and reports” and then type the name of your senator in the box that says “Filter by name” in the upper left-hand corner of the page.
Vote By Mail (HD 5026 And SD 2912) - Sen. Becca Rausch and Rep. Adrian Madaro have filed bills to permit voting by mail for all state primaries and general elections. Under the bill, which would be effective beginning with the 2020 election, the secretary of state would send every registered voter affiliated with a party a ballot by mail with a prepaid return envelope 18 days before the Sept. 1 primary election and the Nov. 3 general election. Voters who are unenrolled or independent would have to request a specific party ballot online or by mail at least 35 days before the Sept. 1 primary.
The instructions on how to complete and send in a ballot would be printed in English, Spanish, Portuguese, Chinese and Haitian. The bill still requires that voters have the opportunity to vote in person in their city or town. The measure provides that if the state of emergency declared because of COVID-19 is still in effect, the state must provide personal protective equipment for all poll workers. Another provision makes the November Election Day a legal state holiday except for public employees whose jobs relate to the operation and administration of elections.
“We’re facing a global pandemic that makes traditional in-person voting seriously concerning if not downright dangerous, so we must proactively pursue alternative voting methods,” Sen. Rausch said. “Mail voting already works in Massachusetts; we process thousands of mail-in absentee ballots every election with no issue,” Rep. Madaro said.
Opponents say that voting by mail opens the door to fraud and abuse. President Donald Trump is one of the most vocal opponents of voting by mail. “It shouldn’t be mail-in voting,” Mr. Trump said recently. “It should be you go to a booth and you proudly display yourself. You don’t send it in the mail where people can pick up—all sorts of bad things can happen … by the time it gets in and is tabulated.”
It was a defining moment of the COVID-19 epidemic: on April 7, Wisconsin residents went to the polls in face masks after their state Supreme Court refused to delay an election. One person carried a makeshift cardboard sign which read, simply, “THIS IS RIDICULOUS.”
Now, as Milwaukee’s health commissioner says at least seven individuals may have been infected during that day’s proceedings, there’s growing push to prevent similar scenes in Massachusetts this fall.
“The goal here is very simple: to afford every voter the opportunity to vote by mail, should they choose not to vote in person at a polling place,” said secretary of state Bill Galvin.
Some on Beacon Hill want to go bigger, however. The 2020 Vote By Mail Act filed by state Senator Becca Rausch (D-Needham) and state Representative Adrian Madaro (D-Boston) would send primary ballots to Massachusetts voters before September’s election, with unenrolled voters free to choose a Democratic ballot or a Republican one. Prior to the November general election, every voter would receive a ballot, period.
“It’s automatic to the absolute greatest extent possible in the Commonwealth,” Rausch said. “Prepaid envelopes. Instructions in multiple languages.”
Rausch’s bill would also provide protective equipment for poll workers; upgrade the state’s voting technology; and make election day a holiday.
“It’s going to be expensive, and we all know that revenue is in a difficult moment right now,” Rausch said. “That having been said, this is an investment that is worthwhile.”
State Sen. Becca Rausch, D-Needham, teamed up with Rep. Adrian Madaro, D-Boston, to file a bill to implement comprehensive voting by mail for all statewide elections in 2020.
The recent Wisconsin election and experiences in other states make clear that Massachusetts must act now to safeguard the right to vote during the unprecedented COVID-19 public health crisis, the legislators argue.
The 2020 Vote by Mail Act (SD. 2912/HD. 5026) would expand existing early voting procedures in Massachusetts by mailing ballots to registered voters for both the Sept. 1 primary election and the Nov. 3 general election.
For the general, every registered voter would receive a ballot. For the primary, every voter registered with a political party would automatically receive their party’s primary ballot; unenrolled voters would be able to request a primary ballot for any political party.
The legislation also maintains in-person voting options and requires that the state provide adequate personal protective equipment (PPE) for poll workers if the governor’s COVID-19 state of emergency is in effect, or as the circumstances of the pandemic may necessitate.
The vote by mail provisions of the bill would sunset at the close of 2020 and would not apply to future elections outside of this year.
Kennedy, Rausch push vote-by-mail program, but GOP leader blasts idea
U.S. Rep. Joe Kennedy III is pushing state lawmakers to adopt a vote-by-mail program for the fall elections in light of the coronavirus pandemic, but the head of the state’s Republican party is blasting the idea.
Meanwhile, state Sen. Becca Rausch, D-Needham, and state Rep. Adrian Madaro, D-Boston, have filed a bill to implement comprehensive voting by mail for all statewide elections in 2020.
Kennedy, who represents the 4th Congressional District, which includes Attleboro and much of the surrounding area, said residents should have the chance to stay home and vote by mail because the virus could still be lurking in the fall.
Rausch, who represents about half of Attleboro and several Sun Chronicle area towns, told North TV that the recent Wisconsin election and experiences in other states make clear that Massachusetts must act now to safeguard the right to vote during the unprecedented coronavirus public health crisis.
The 2020 Vote by Mail Act would expand existing early voting procedures in Massachusetts by mailing ballots to registered voters for both the Sept. 1 primary election and the Nov. 3 general election.
Every registered voter would receive a ballot for the general election. For the primary, every voter registered with a political party would automatically receive their party’s primary ballot; unenrolled voters would be able to request a primary ballot for any political party.
Statement: Needham Senator files vote by mail legislation for 2020 elections
Senator Becca Rausch (D-Needham) and Representative Adrian Madaro (D-Boston) filed SD. 2912/HD. 5026, An Act establishing vote by mail in 2020, a bill to implement comprehensive voting by mail for all statewide elections in 2020. The recent Wisconsin election and experiences in other states make clear that Massachusetts must act now to safeguard the right to vote during the unprecedented COVID-19 public health crisis.
The 2020 Vote by Mail Act would expand existing early voting procedures in Massachusetts by mailing ballots to registered voters for both the September 1 primary election and the November 3 general election. For the general, every registered voter would receive a ballot. For the primary, every voter registered with a political party would automatically receive their party’s primary ballot; unenrolled voters may request a primary ballot for any political party. The legislation also maintains in-person voting options and requires that the state provide adequate personal protective equipment (PPE) for poll workers if the Governor’s COVID-19 state of emergency is in effect, or as the circumstances of the pandemic may necessitate. The vote by mail provisions of the bill will sunset at the close of 2020 and will not apply to future elections outside of this year.
Senator Rausch said, “Free, open, and accessible elections are a central pillar of our democracy. We’re facing a global pandemic that makes traditional in-person voting seriously concerning if not downright dangerous, so we must proactively pursue alternative voting methods. We do this by expanding a process we already know to be viable in our Commonwealth. Under the 2020 Vote by Mail Act, every registered Massachusetts voter will receive a ballot that they can cast safely and securely, without jeopardizing their health or anyone else’s, knowing that their ballot will be counted.
COVID-19 must not strip us of our right and ability to vote; we must protect our elections, especially in times of crisis. We cannot afford to wait and see how the rest of this pandemic period unfolds.”
Elected officials may be mindful of the coronavirus pandemic, but the horse race always continues in an emergency, one way or the other.
Stephanie Murray at Politico reported on newly-released campaign finance reports from the beginning of the year through March 31, and says Rep. Joe Kennedy III holds a financial advantage over Sen. Ed Markey in their primary contest.
But Election Day is always on everyone’s collective mind. On Thursday, US Reps. Ayanna Pressley, Jim McGovern, Katherine Clark, and Kennedy urged the Legislature to pass a vote-by-mail bill for the 2020 election, and for $4 billion in federal funding to increase voting by mail and election security nationwide.
State Sen. Becca Rausch and state Rep. Adrian Madaro have filed a bill that would send every registered voter a ballot by mail with a prepaid return envelope for both the primary and the general election.
With continuing uncertainty about how long the coronavirus pandemic will keep Bay State residents battened down, two lawmakers are looking ahead to the fall elections and proposing a solution. The legislation, filed by Sen. Becca Rausch, D-Needham, and Rep. Adrian Madaro, an East Boston Democrat, would have ballots, with prepaid return envelopes, mailed to every registered voter for the Sept. 1 primary and Nov. 3 general election. For the primary, enrolled voters would receive the ballot of their party but independents would have to request a specific party ballot at least 35 days before the primary.
Under the proposal, polling places would still be open so people could vote in person if they chose to.
This vote-by-mail idea follows the lines of how absentee ballots are handled now, but it would expand the option by putting the ballots in the mailboxes of more voters.
If health concerns about the coronavirus persist into September, this legislation would provide a viable option to ensure registered voters can vote without risking their health and that of others. The idea -- which is still only in the discussion stage -- could be a problem if ballots mailed to voters' home addresses ended up in the hands of people other than the intended recipients. But the concept of voting by mail works well in other states, so Massachusetts could study the best practices elsewhere and make a system that guarantees the right to vote while preventing voter fraud as much as possible.
Massachusetts Senate approves bill to lower signature requirements as Supreme Judicial Court hears ballot access case
State senators Thursday voted to lower the signature requirements candidates need to make the ballot in certain races while a bipartisan group of office-seekers asked the Supreme Judicial Court for even greater relief as COVID-19 renders traditional canvassing efforts impossible.
The bill would lower the number of signatures required for U.S. Senate candidates from 10,000 to 5,000, and from 2,000 to 1,000 for congressional candidates. Governor’s Council and some county offices would be reduced from 1,000 to 500. It did not change the due dates for nomination papers: April 28 for district and county offices, and May 5 for federal and statewide candidates.
The state said eliminating the signature requirement could overload the ballot. Secretary of State William Galvin instead suggested the 50% reduction in the Senate proposal, to extend the deadline for county and district candidates to match federal candidates, and to allow a “limited form of electronic signatures.”
Seeking to minimize public health risks for the September and November elections, state Sen. Becca Rausch, D-Needham, and state Rep. Adrian Madaro, D-Boston, filed a bill to mail ballots to all registered voters for both elections, while still allowing in-person voting — with personal protective equipment for poll workers.
'The Status Quo Is Not Going To Save Us': Mass. House Delegation Calls For Universal Mail-In Ballots In 2020
Five members of the Massachusetts congressional delegation called on state leaders to pass a universal vote-by-mail law in advance of fall elections during a press conference Thursday.
“We know the status quo is not going to save us,” Rep. Ayanna Pressley said. “Even before this pandemic, far too many people were disenfranchised.
“As we continue conversations about expanding access [to voting], we need to continue conversations about holding our ground now,” she added.
The group, which also included Rep. Joseph Kennedy III, Rep. Jim McGovern, Rep. Katherine Clark and Rep. Lorie Trahan, called on Beacon Hill to pass legislation that would automatically send mail-in ballots to all registered voters in the state ahead of the November general election.
Pending legislation by Sen. Becca Rausch and Rep. Adrian Madaro filed Wednesday was not directly referenced. That bill would require the secretary of state to send primary ballots to voters enrolled in a party and allow unaffiliated voters to request a ballot for the party of their choice for the Sept. 1 Senate primary. The bill would require the state to issue a mail-in ballot to all registered voters for the Nov. 3 general election.
Coronavirus pandemic prompts Massachusetts lawmakers to file vote-by-mail bills
The latest Beacon Hill bills created in response to the coronavirus pandemic would allow early voting by mail ahead of the state primary and general elections if the state of emergency remains in effect.
Senate Majority Leader Cynthia Creem’s bill, S.D. 2911, would enable a voter could ask a local election official for a mail-in ballot as an early voter due to COVID-19. Under the bill, all early voting ballots would need to be received by the town clerk before polls close on Election Day.
Sen. Becca Rausch and Rep. Adrian Madaro filed legislation, S.D. 2912, that would send mail-in ballots to voters and personal protective equipment to poll workers if the coronavirus pandemic has not passed. The bill required that a mail-in ballot be postmarked by Election Day and get to a city or town clerk within 5 days of the election.
POLITICAL NOTEBOOK: Rausch lets it ride in absentee voting debate
The reliability of public transportation in Massachusetts has been raised as an issue in debates about revenue, economic development and reducing carbon emissions, to name a few.
But on Wednesday, freshman state Sen. Becca Rausch, D-Needham, found another way to broach the sometimes-touchy topic. She pointed to T service as she pitched her colleagues on a proposal to allow no-excuse absentee voting in Massachusetts elections.
“Many people have difficulty getting to the voting booth,” the Needham Democrat told the Election Laws Committee. “Consider, for example, the unreliability of our public transit system. If the T is late, and someone is trying to get home from work to get to the voting booth and the T can’t get them there on time, they don’t get to vote, and that seems like a terrible reason to strip someone of their right to use their voice and their vote.”
Rausch was testifying in support of state Rep. Michael Moran’s proposed constitutional amendment that would bring no-excuse absentee voting to Massachusetts, where voters are currently allowed to cast absentee ballots in only limited circumstances.
Paul Heroux: What keeps me up at night during this crisis
It’s the middle of the night, 3 something in the morning, and I feel like letting folks know what I’m thinking about in the middle of the night. What keeps this mayor up?
I worry about what’s going to happen with our first responders in the police and fire departments. Are they going to get sick? Will they have enough supplies? Will they be able to effectively do their job?
I also take comfort in the fact that we have good people working in city government. I am surrounded by a very competent group of folks in the health department and personnel office. My office staff has been amazing. We also have very good department heads throughout the rest of city government, all working together, and we are all on the same page. We have a good economic development director who is already planning for what is going to come next to help our local businesses bounce back. She’s also trying to help businesses navigate their way through the governor’s order to stop working and stay at home.
The two state senators, Paul Feeney and Becca Rausch, and two state representatives, Jim Hawkins and Betty Poirier who represent the different parts of Attleboro, have also been very responsive.
Peter Gay: Local, state officials outshine Washington in time of crisis
NBC and the Wall Street Journal conducted a poll of registered voters measuring the confidence they have in government leaders to handle the coronavirus outbreak.
Seventy-five percent said they had confidence in their state government, 72% said the same about their local government, 62% felt the same way about the federal government and just 48% said they had that kind of confidence in President Trump.
Gov. Charlie Baker certainly took the lead by addressing residents the night of March 15 announcing the closing of schools, bars and restaurants.
I witnessed firsthand local leaders and elected state officials representing North Attleboro and Plainville working tirelessly for the benefit of the people they serve.
A special hour edition of “North Atttleborough This Week” currently running on our Community and Government channels and streaming on our website, details the local impact of the coronavirus and actions local officials have taken.
The newscast features in-depth interviews with Town Manager Michael Borg, Public Health Nurse Anne Marie Fleming, Town Council President Keith Lapointe, Town Council Vice President Justin Pare, School Superintendent Scott Holcomb, state Rep. Betty Poirier and state Sen. Becca Rausch.
Timeframe for COVID-19 flexible municipal governance bill: ‘Short order’
Lawmakers are looking to agree in “short order” on a bill facilitating governance flexibility in cities and towns during the coronavirus crisis and could consider other legislation over the longer term to “fill in the blanks,” according to a House chairman.
Rep. James O’Day, co-chairman of the Municipalities Committee that is reviewing emergency legislation filed by Gov. Charlie Baker, said the governor’s bill aimed to take a narrow view of some immediate needs and “I don’t think that’s a bad idea.”
“I think we’re looking to just make sure we have the essential pieces of a governance bill that we can feel comfortable with, that our communities will be able to work around,” O’Day told the News Service on Wednesday in a phone interview. “I’m hoping that we can get this done in short order and it’s at least a good framework where folks feel mostly comfortable about what it’s looking for us to accomplish.”
O’Day said he expected to meet with co-chair Sen. Becca Rausch to discuss the bill and said whether other committee members wanted to meet to talk about it would be a “personal decision.” An electronic poll will be the method for voting on the bill in committee, he said.
As state and municipal officials, we are calling on you to issue an order to Shelter In Place by the end of the day today, Wednesday, March 18, 2020.
Physicians tell us COVID-19 is at least 10 times more contagious than the flu, and that as many as 1 out of every 5 people who are infected will contract a serious pneumonia that will require hospitalization. Epidemiologists have suggested that Massachusetts could see 10,000 cases or more by the end of this month.
It is essential that the spread of the virus be suppressed to protect the ability of healthcare providers to handle the influx of new patients and safeguard public health and safety.
We urge that you follow the example set by the City of San Francisco and other communities in the Bay Area, where a Shelter In Place order was issued for some 7 million residents on March 16. New York City has also advised that its 8 million residents should be prepared to Shelter In Place in the very near future.
By “Shelter In Place,” we mean people must be asked to stay home except for essential needs. Vulnerable populations must stay home. Everyone should stay home except to get food, care for a relative or friend, get necessary health care, or go to an essential job. Going outside for walks is permissible, but there can be no congregating in groups and there can be no interaction with playground structures of any kind.
Furthermore, we recognize that by calling for this order, we have an obligation to take all necessary actions to provide shelter for people who need space to quarantine or are experiencing homelessness. Given the nature of COVID-19, congregate settings may not be appropriate. We urge you to use your power to make dorm rooms, hotel rooms, vacant properties, and temporary structures available to all who are in need of shelter.
We thank you for your urgent attention to this emergency situation and look forward to continuing to work in partnership with you as we do everything possible to maintain the capacity of our healthcare system and prevent loss of life in the days and weeks ahead.
The International Center of Ethics, Justice and Public Life hosted a panel, “Voting and Democracy in 2020 and Beyond,” on Monday, March 9 in Rapaporte Treasure Hall. The panelists were Boston city councilor Lydia Edwards, Massachusetts State Sen. Becca Rausch ’01 and Ethics Center Board chair John Shattuck. Scheduled panelist and mayor of Framingham Yvonne Spicer was unable to attend due to complications relating to COVID-19. Former Rep. Jay Kaufman ’68, MA ’73 (D-MA) moderated the event.
Rausch highlighted key points of voting rights infringement. Unfortunately, one prevalent method of voter suppression is clerical error, she said. If the registration information of a voter is inputted incorrectly, that voter is not allowed to vote because there is no capability to register or reregister a voter on the day of the given election. Rausch noted that there is active legislation in Massachusetts to allow same-day voter registration.
Advocate says there aren’t enough resources for public health protection
Coronavirus headlines dominate the public’s attention. Worldwide cases exceed 105,000, with more than 3,500 deaths, including 19 in the U.S., and the World Health Organization urged governments to “pull out all the stops” to fight the disease.
The headlines put a spotlight on an existing problem in Massachusetts, according to one public health advocate – not enough funding for local public health departments to tackle big public health issues, like coronavirus, and smaller ones, including restaurant inspections that protect the public against food-borne illness.
A pending bill at the statehouse calls for $1.7 million in state funding to ensure local public health workers have access to essential training; creation of grant programs so towns can share public health resources; and brings local departments more in line with 21st Century public health standards.
The bill is sitting in the Senate Ways and Means Committee after receiving support from House lawmakers and the Joint Committee on Public Health.
“We have very real public health concerns in Massachusetts,” said state Sen. Becca Rausch, D-Needham, a bill co-sponsor who sits of the Joint Committee on Public Health. “I hope the bill will come to the floor, and I hope we can pass it.”
Top docs offer look inside Mass. coronavirus preparations
The Massachusetts health care system “sprung into action” after a new coronavirus was identified, according to an emergency preparedness specialist at a Boston hospital.
Dr. Paul Biddinger, the chief of emergency preparedness at Massachusetts General Hospital, gave two separate updates at the Statehouse last week, first addressing reporters and the public after meeting with Gov. Charlie Baker and other officials, and then later testifying before lawmakers.
In both instances, Biddinger said the state’s hospitals and public health system have been preparing for infectious disease outbreaks since 2002 and 2003, learning lessons about pandemic planning, travel history and personal protective equipment from high-profile ailments like the H1N5 bird flu, SARS and Ebola.
State Sen. Becca Rausch, D-Needham, who serves on the Public Health Committee, asked Biddinger about the “sustainability of the emergency preparedness system,” noting that the outbreak could last “for quite a while.”
“None of us has a crystal ball, but I think we expect at least a couple of months of some phase of this operation, and sustainability’s an important question, because frankly, we’re all a little tired already,” Biddinger replied.
Senate Democratic leaders got stuck at a flashing red light and will now need to proceed with caution when they return to a bill authorizing traffic enforcement cameras that was tabled mid-session Thursday.
The controversial legislation will not resurface for at least another week. In the interim, it is unclear if Senate President Karen Spilka can get the members of her party who were tepid about the bill to come around before advancing.
At one point during Thursday’s debate, 14 Democrats defected from leadership to join with Republicans in support of an amendment that would have scaled back permanent approval for some communities to install cameras with a three-year pilot program...
The legislation (S 2553) would create a local option for municipalities to install automated red light or school bus cameras that would photograph traffic violations. All fines would be directed to the car’s owner, regardless of who was driving, and would top out at $25, though municipalities could only use the revenue to pay the costs of installing and operating the systems.
Before a parliamentary motion halted consideration of the bill Thursday evening, the bill had already drawn significant dissent from both Republicans and Democrats in a chamber where legislation often sails through unanimously or along party lines. Senators raised concerns about privacy violations and the efficacy of camera enforcement during two hours of stop-start debate and private negotiations.
Letter to the editor: Needham’s MLK Day celebration
Needham’s annual Martin Luther King, Jr., Day celebration, held on January 20, 2020, was inspiring and moving. Over 200 people filled the Pollard auditorium and together we honored Dr. King and his legacy while still recognizing we have a lot of work left to do.
This event, coordinated by the Needham Diversity Initiative, Inc., was co-sponsored by the Needham Diversity Initiative, Needham Public Schools and its METCO program, Needham Human Rights Committee, and Needham Clergy Association.
We are grateful to our presenters and performers who made this event so meaningful: our emcees, Needham Public School students Ally Zaff and Owen Woo; musical performances by the Bellevue Community Church (via video), Plugged In Teen Band, Eliot School Children’s Chorus, Temple Beth Shalom Youth Choir, and Brother Dennis Slaughter and friends; dance performance by the NHS Bomb Squad; words by David Summergrad, State Representative Denise Garlick, State Senator Becca Rausch, Select Board Chair John Bulian and Revs. Daryn Bunce Stylianopoulos and Maddie Foster, members of the Needham Clergy Association; and the many other volunteers who participated in group events. We also appreciate Kim Marie Nicols for her signing and Andriy Malesh and Danny Lubie for their technology and AV skills.
Beacon Hill Roll Call - The Massachusetts Legislature, week of Feb. 10-14, 2020
IMPROVE DELIVERY OF MENTAL HEALTH SERVICES (S 2519)
Senate 38-0, approved and sent to the House the “Mental Health ABC Act,” aimed at making major changes in the mental health care system in Massachusetts. Supporters said the bill removes barriers to and expands access to mental health care, boosts the industry’s workforce and strengthens the quality of coverage.
They noted that some Massachusetts residents have for years experienced great difficulty accessing some mental health services - leaving many without the treatment they so desperately need. They cited a 2018 report indicating that more than one-half of fully insured adults who sought mental health care services reported difficulty finding them.
In 2000 and 2008, the Legislature approved state laws that require health insurance companies to provide mental health benefits at the same level as other medical conditions. Supporters of this year’s bill said that enforcement of the laws has been challenging and many people are still denied coverage for mental health treatment that is just as critical to managing their health as treatment for conditions such as diabetes, cancer or heart disease. They pointed out that this new legislation includes quicker evaluation and resolution of parity complaints, greater reporting and oversight of insurance companies’ mental health policies and penalties for insurance companies that do not comply with the law.
BOLSTER TRANSPARENCY (S 2519)
Senate 37-0, approved an amendment requiring that a report on several pilot programs in the mental health bill be written in nontechnical, readily understandable language and be made available to the public by posting the report on the Department of Higher Education’s website. Important pilot programs in the bill include programs to increase mental health workforce diversity, increase the number of psychiatric mental health nurse practitioners at community health centers, increase student access to behavioral health telemedicine and increase access and improve quality of cultural competency in the delivery of mental health care.
Attleboro area state senators back mental health parity bill
A bill passed by the state Senate will help bring mental health coverage closer to that for physical health and encourage more people to enter the mental health profession, state senators who represent the area said Friday.
Sens. Paul Feeney, D-Foxboro, and Becca Rausch, D-Needham, said they often hear from constituents who complain about long waits to get mental health care or providers will not accept their type of insurance.
Feeney said officials at Sturdy Memorial Hospital also tell him that people in need of mental health services have to stay in its emergency room while waiting for a bed at a psychiatric hospital to open up.
“This bill is based on a concept that mental health is just as important as physical health,” Feeney said.
Part of the bill requires providers to report back to the state on coverage so it can be determined if they are complying with existing laws.
Other sections create pilot programs designed to encourage more people to go into the mental health field, such as psychiatric nurse practitioners.
Rausch said she got an amendment adopted that requires state agencies handling those pilot programs to report the results on their websites to ensure accountability.
She said she also spoke on the Senate floor on the need to allow screening for postpartum depression after miscarriages.
Should Massachusetts require diaper changing stations in all new and renovated public buildings?
YES - Becca Rausch, State Senator, Needham Democrat
If you’re a parent out with your young child, chances are you will need to change a diaper. (Let’s be real — maybe several diapers.) Unfortunately, it’s hard to find a diaper changing station outside of a women’s bathroom. What’s a dad to do? What about families with two dads? What about gender non-binary parents? We’re long past the time when only mothers change diapers. Massachusetts can and should do better.
That’s why I filed S.75, An Act providing for diaper changing stations in public buildings. It’s a short and simple bill that will solve a big, messy problem and make a real difference to Bay Staters and visitors alike. Plus, making this improvement can cost as little as a few hundred dollars per building.
The bill calls for gender-neutral, fully accessible diaper changing stations in all new or substantially renovated buildings that are open to the public. The legislation requires a sanitary place for all caregivers to change diapers regardless of gender or ability, while also deconstructing the notion that only women do the duty of childcare.
Currently, diaper changing stations exist in many (not all) public women’s restrooms. This is great, but it’s not enough. Too often, parents and caregivers who don’t use women’s restrooms must change their babies’ diapers on a dirty floor (including the men’s room floor), on top of a bar, or in some other ridiculous location, or wait to change a soiled diaper. That’s not acceptable.
Attleboro area legislators backing controversial immigration bill
The Legislature will hold a hearing Friday on a bill that critics contend would make Massachusetts a “sanctuary state” for illegal immigrants, a charge supporters reject.
The bill is co-sponsored by 49 legislators including three who represent the area: state Rep. Jim Hawkins, D-Attleboro, and state Sens. Becca Rausch, D-Needham, and Paul Feeney, D-Foxboro.
Lawmakers deny the bill will create a “sanctuary state” and say it would more clearly separate the work of local police from that of federal immigration authorities.
The bill will go before the Joint Committee on Public Safety and Homeland Security.
The proposal reads, in part: “No officer or employee of a law enforcement agency, while acting under color of law, shall question persons, including victims and witnesses of crimes, about their immigration status unless state or federal law requires the inquiry, provided that judges and magistrates may make such inquiries as are necessary to adjudicate matters within their jurisdictions.”
Hawkins said Tuesday that city and town police departments have “scarce resources” and immigration work should be the responsibility of federal authorities, not local police.
He said the bill would not make Massachusetts a sanctuary state, explaining that “sanctuary” means protecting immigrants who have committed crimes. The bill is about victims and witnesses of crimes.
Rausch said the bill deals with civil matters and does not inhibit authorities from dealing with people who have violated criminal laws.
The Massachusetts Senate recently passed S.2459, An Act relative to healthy youth, commonly known as the Healthy Youth Act, by a vote of 33-2. This bill will ensure that Massachusetts schools electing to provide their students with sex education use age-appropriate and medically accurate curriculum that covers a comprehensive range of topics. The legislation also calls for sex education to be inclusive and appropriate for students regardless of gender, race, disability status, sexual orientation and gender identity.
State Sen. Becca Rausch, D-Needham, who voted in favor of the bill, said, “young people need and deserve safe spaces in which to learn and ask questions about all potential health outcomes of engaging in sexual activity and strategies for reducing risk. Setting a comprehensive, inclusive tone with age-appropriate and medically accurate information about consent, sexual activity, gender and healthy relationships is central to reproductive health and justice, an issue of great importance to so many people I represent.”
Currently, when Massachusetts public schools provide their students with health education that covers sexual activity, there is no guarantee that the information provided is age-appropriate or medically accurate.
Rausch is lone vote against distracted driving bill
State Sen. Becca Rausch was the lone vote against a distracted driving bill Wednesday, saying she was concerned about potential racial profiling at traffic stops.
Rausch, D-Needham, said she “wholeheartedly supports” provisions in the bill that will ban the use of handheld electronic devices such as cellphones while driving. But she felt important safeguards were stricken from the final version of the legislation.
“I really wanted to get to yes on this,” she said.
Her concern, she said, is that a provision in the Senate version of the bill that called for records of all traffic stops be sent to the Department of Public Safety for analysis was removed by a conference committee.
The purpose of gathering that data, she said, would be to see if there are ethnic and gender biases in who gets stopped while driving.
It was replaced by a requirement that only stops that result in citations be forwarded to the state.
“It did not contain a robust data collection provision,” she said
On May 10, 1996, Captain Joseph R. Fandrey, a Needham native, died when two helicopters collided during a training exercise in North Carolina. On Saturday, the bridge on Highland Avenue spanning Route 128 was named in his honor, and a brief ceremony was held to commemorate the occasion.
To begin, 98.5’s Mike Riley welcomed the crowd and spoke of the Fandrey family’s history of charitable work in honor of Joseph, including an annual golf tournament in June that has raised over $150,000. After Fandrey’s cousin, Moira Costigan, sang the National Anthem and “Amazing Grace,” Needham Select Board member Daniel Matthews spoke of how “Joe and his family were, and are, part of the fabric of our community.” Francisco Urena, a Marine from the Massachusetts Secretary of Veterans Affairs, used his time to make sure the crowd took time to remember the other thirteen servicemen that died in the crash, while a fellow Catholic Memorial graduate, State Senator Mike Rush, noted that Foundry epitomized the school’s motto as a man of “poise and class.”
Rep. Denise Garlick, Sen. Mike Rush and Sen. Becca Rausch then showed off the official law that named the bridge in Fandrey’s honor, and Fandrey’s nieces and nephews unveiled the sign that would adorn the bridge. A priest blessed the sign for safe travels, and the Marine Corps Hymn ended the ceremony.
Lawmakers Consider How To Curb 'Hot Spots' Of Low Vaccination Rates
If her young children are ever at extra risk for contagious diseases because their school's vaccination rate dips too low, Massachusetts state Sen. Becca Rausch wants to know.
The same goes for Rep. Maria Robinson, also a mother.
"All communities have the right to know if they're at risk of contracting one of these deadly diseases that many of us had believed to be completely eradicated, and yet we're seeing pockets pop up all over the country," she said.
Robinson, Rausch and others spoke at a State House press conference this week on behalf of a new bill that would bolster the state's vaccination system. It would require all schools to report their vaccination rates to the state — reporting is currently voluntary — and to notify families if their rate falls short, among other provisions.
With yet another Disneyland measles scare in the news this week, the bill aims to address worrisome trends at both the state and the national level.
Massachusetts has one of the highest vaccination rates in the country, with 96% of kindergartners fully immunized, but vaccine exemptions based on religion are on the rise, with just over 1% of kindergarten students claiming a religious exemption.
State wrestles with rejection of vaccines (Editorial)
More and more parents are responding to injections with rejections.
A June story by WGBH in Boston reported that religious exemptions to vaccinations for Massachusetts kindergarten kids have reached an all-time high. Of 920 children exempted, 80 percent were for religious reasons with the rest for medical reasons.
A bill with the state Legislature would shift decisions about exemptions from local authorities to the state. The new law would also make doctors more involved and require parents be told if their children are attending “elevated risk” schools with low vaccination rates.
This is bound to produce passion on both sides. People claiming religious principles fear that forced government intervention conflicts with their First Amendment right of freedom of religion. But parents of children whose immune systems have been weakened by illness, as one example, fear that exposure to non-vaccinated kids puts their own children at risk.
This debate takes place during the worst national measles outbreak in decades. Currently, the state medical exemption requires a doctor’s documentation, but for religious grounds, a family only need to supply a written declaration of rejection based on their beliefs.
Bill would give state more control over school vaccine exemptions
In the wake of the worst national measles outbreak in decades, Massachusetts lawmakers will consider a bill that would move authority for approving vaccine exemptions out of the hands of local schools and into the hands of state officials.
The bill would create a standardized process for parents to exempt their children from vaccines, get doctors more involved in the process, and require the state to notify parents when their child is attending a program deemed “elevated risk” because of low vaccination rates.
“The whole structure of the bill is designed to encourage conversations, make sure people are thinking about immunizations in a fully informed way,” said Sen. Becca Rausch, D-Needham, who sponsored the bill along with Second Assistant Majority Leader Rep. Paul Donato, D-Medford.
State law allows students to get medical and religious exemptions from vaccine requirements. Today, each school sets its own process for how a parent can obtain an exemption. The state collects data about immunization rates in schools, but reporting is voluntary. In 2018, more than 400 schools did not report their immunization rates.
Under the bill, H.4096/S.2359, the Department of Public Health would create a standard process for obtaining an exemption, and guardians would have to apply through the DPH, not through their child’s school.
NEW THIS MORNING: RAUSCH AND DONATO TO FILE VACCINE BILL — State Sen. Becca Rausch will file a new bill with Rep. Paul Donato today, with the aim of standardizing immunizations requirements across the state. The bill also seeks to streamline the application process for vaccine exemptions.
“Currently, Massachusetts has no consistent process for obtaining or approving immunization exemptions. Multiple communities have fallen below medically established immunization rate thresholds necessary to protect the general population from certain infectious diseases," according to a release from Rausch’s office.
The bill, called the Community Immunity Act, would streamline immunization requirements and exemption processes for child care centers, schools, summer camps, colleges and universities. It also calls for "the creation and use of statewide medical and religious exemption application forms," and the Department of Public Health would process those applications, rather than individual schools or school districts.
Racing, simulcasting safe at Plainridge until January
A midnight compromise in the Legislature means Plainridge Park Casino can continue horse racing for the rest of its season, but the measure failed to settle a related dispute between the House and Senate over taxes.
Legislation allowing harness racing and simulcasting at Plainridge was set to expire Thursday because of a stalemate on Beacon Hill.
Rather than contend with contentious issues surrounding the matter, the Legislature, at about midnight Wednesday, merely extended existing language until Jan 15, 2020.
That meant Thursday’s scheduled meet at Plainridge off Route 1 in Plainville was all set to go.
A frustrated state Rep. Shawn Dooley, R-Norfolk, said he was glad racing was allowed to continue but could not understand why the Legislature waited until literally the last minute to deal with the issue.
State Sen. Becca Rausch, D-Needham, who, like Dooley, represents the towns around Plainridge, said she was glad the temporary measure got passed on time to keep racing going.
Lawmakers want more repairs to South Attleboro train station
The MBTA is planning to renovate some of the South Attleboro commuter rail station, but the intended work falls far short of what local lawmakers want.
The lawmakers want something done about deteriorating steel on stairways and an overhead walkway that commuters use. One of the three stairways is closed.
The stairs and walkway allow commuters to get from the station parking lot over a road and railroad tracks to the outbound boarding platform.
State Rep. Jim Hawkins, D-Attleboro, pointed out the metal in the stairs and walkway is rusted and rotted to the point where there are holes big enough to put a hand through. He questioned whether the stairs are safe.
One stair has a hole more than a foot long.
The local legislative delegation wrote to the MBTA in May to say they have received numerous complaints about the station from constituents who ride the train.
Aside from Hawkins, the delegation includes state Rep. Betty Poirier, R-North Attleboro, and state Sens. Paul Feeney, D-Foxboro, and Becca Rausch, D-Needham.
Legislature approves $1 million for anti-teen violence programs
A $1 million amendment to the state budget should provide more programs to counter the rising number of sexual assaults and other violence among teenagers, according to state Sen. Becca Rausch.
Rausch, D-Needham, who sponsored the amendment, said reports of violence among teens who are dating have been increasing while state funding to address the problem has declined in recent years.
“The numbers on this issue are staggering,” Rausch said via email. “Nearly 1.5 million teenagers nationwide experience physical abuse from a dating partner every year. One in 10 high school students has been purposefully hit, slapped, or physically hurt by a dating partner.”
Business owners affected by 2017 strip mall fire in Framingham have advice for Natick merchants
Nancy Kelley is determined to rebuild her business.
She lost her dance studio, which operated from 7 Pond St. for 35 years until Monday’s fire destroyed eight businesses on one downtown block. Fire Chief Mike Lentini told the Daily News last week that the source is “undetermined,” and may never be known.
“I’m getting there. I will find another place,” Kelley said.
Kelley prefers to stay in Natick, despite saying that rents are expensive. Jill Hourihan also wants to stay in town.
On Friday, some business owners met with state Rep. David Linsky, D-Natick; Senate President Karen Spilka, D-Ashland; state Sen. Becca Rausch, D-Needham; and other state officials to discuss access to resources and counseling.
“They were very proactive taking up our cause, and trying to take care of us,” said Hourihan.
Attleboro area lawmakers get local priorities included in state budget
A new state budget approved by the Legislature this week includes $43.1 billion in spending, but to local lawmakers it is often the little things that matter most.
And this year those little things added up to a lot as increased state revenue allowed for a free flow of amendments and earmarks that contributed to a $1.6 billion increase in spending.
“Every member got everything they wanted. It was very, very unusual,” state Rep. Betty Poirier, R-North Attleboro, said Wednesday.
In tougher fiscal times, she said, lawmakers really have to fight to get amendments added to the budget for their district, but not this year.
The budget passed 158-0 in the House and 39-1 in the Senate.
The spending includes larger than usual increases in state aid to cities, towns and school departments.
State Sen. Becca Rausch, D-Needham, got $50,000 for North Attleboro schools for a hands-on science and technology facility. She filed the amendment at the request for former school committee member Adam Scanlon.
Sen. Rausch co-creates bill providing meaningful rights to the homeless
State Sen. Becca Rausch, D-Needham, and state Rep. Liz Miranda, D-Boston, recently testified before the Joint Committee on Children, Families and Persons with Disabilities in support of the Act of Living (S.76/H.150), the first-year legislators’ new bill that aims to provide meaningful civil rights for people experiencing homelessness and combat discrimination based on housing status in Massachusetts.
“Massachusetts should lead on many things, but the largest increase in homelessness is not one of them,” said Rausch, whose district locally includes Franklin, Millis, Norfolk, North Attleborough Plainville, and Wrentham.
“This is a complicated problem stemming from an intertwined set of social system failures, including our current crises in housing and transportation, as well as ongoing mistreatment of members of the LGBTQ community,” she continued. “While our Commonwealth does not have meaningful and comprehensive solutions to the root causes of homelessness, we as a Legislature must do everything in our power to ensure the safety, dignity, and civil rights for our community members stuck on our streets. I am so proud to sponsor the Act of Living, a critical and timely bill to recognize and codify the humanity of our community members, regardless of whether or not they have a fixed and permanent address.”
Activists met at the State House to celebrate progress on ranked choice voting efforts and highlight bills that would allow municipalities to enact the voting reform at the local level, and legalize the process statewide.
Sen. Becca Rausch of Needham, the Senate sponsor of the local option bill, said lawmakers should not get in the way of communities that want to make the switch.
“At minimum, we as a legislature, should provide an easy path forward for our towns and cities to say ‘yes, we want ranked choice voting for our community,’” she said. “That is the minimum that we should be doing.”
She also said that while some critics say ranked choice voting is too complicated, even her young children like to rank their favorite pastas and cheeses.
“If my kids can do it, the voters can do it also,” Rausch said.
THE HOUSE AND SENATE. Beacon Hill Roll Call records local senator's votes on roll calls from recent sessions. There were no roll calls in the House or Senate last week.
$484,875 FOR GRANTS TO COUNCILS ON AGING (S 3)
Senate 39-0, approved an amendment increasing funding for Councils on Aging by $484,875 (from $16,740,125 to $17,225,000.) Sen. Becca Rausch (D-Needham), the amendment's sponsor said the money will fund innovation grants to municipal Councils on Aging and will benefit seniors statewide.
"Our collective moral compass is set, at least in part, by whether and how we respect our elders," said Rausch. "Not only do our elders want to age in their chosen communities, but also ... this approach to aging builds community, reduces costs, enriches lives and improves health outcomes by notably reducing isolation."
MetroWest lawmakers team up to combat climate change, focus on large buildings
Large building owners may soon be required to be more transparent and cognizant about the amount of energy their buildings consume as a way to better combat climate change.
A new bill filed by state Sen. Becca Rausch, D-Needham, and state Rep. Maria Robinson, D-Framingham, would require property owners of all buildings that contain at least 15,000 square feet of space to adhere to new reporting requirements and energy efficiency standards.
The bill, An Act Establishing Building Energy Performance Standards S. 2011, recently received a favorable report by the Joint Committee on Telecommunications, Utilities and Energy and is now being reviewed by the Senate Committee on Ways and Means.
The goal of the bill is two-pronged, Rausch told the Daily News.
Not only will large building owners be required to provide to the state accurate yearly energy reports - which will be available to the public online - they will also need to follow new energy efficiency standards that will be set by the state Department of Energy Resources.
“We have to take action now to address climate change,” she said. “This is not a full-scale comprehensive solution, but it is a step in the right direction.”
Just more than a year after the Legislature created a medical parole program under which terminally-ill or permanently-incapacitated inmates could be released from prison, a cadre of senators are speaking out against the Baker administration's draft regulations for medical parole and the "emergency" process being used to put them in place.
Eight senators signed a letter to Public Safety Secretary Thomas Turco on Monday with "serious concerns" that the Executive Office of Public Safety and Security and Department of Correction's recently published emergency regulations for medical parole will make it nearly impossible for the program to be as effective as lawmakers had hoped when they passed a major criminal justice reform bill last year.
"We believe that these proposed regulations will negatively impact the application and availability of this important program and will significantly reduce its potential to not only reduce costs, but also reduce the burden placed on corrections facilities and staff, and to ultimately provide a more appropriate setting for seriously incapacitated and dying inmates to reside," Sens. Patricia Jehlen, Jamie Eldridge, Cynthia Creem, William Brownsberger, Julian Cyr, Jo Comerford, Cindy Friedman and Becca Rausch wrote to Turco.
Legislators seek funding for more Framingham, Franklin commuter rail parking
Finding a parking spot after 7 a.m. on weekdays at some commuter rail stations along the Framingham-Worcester and Franklin lines can be dicey.
Noreen Reilly-Harrington faces that challenge every day.
She typically takes the 7:23 a.m. train from Southboro into Boston, where she works as a psychologist at Massachusetts General Hospital. There are often only a handful of spots available when she pulls into the Southville Road lot, but the parking situation is much different a mere half-hour later.
Eldridge, state Sen. Becca Rausch, state Reps. Carolyn Dykema, David Linsky, Danielle Gregoire, Kate Hogan and Carmine Gentile are among the legislators who signed the letter.
“It’s a major issue for the district,” Eldridge said.
Eldridge and Dykema, D-Holliston, said there have been significant investments in the commuter rail system, including additional trains, the past several years, but a lack of parking is a major obstacle for commuters.
“We strongly believe that having adequate parking is a key component in the development of a successful public transit system, and one that will result in a decrease in traffic congestion and pollution on our roads,” legislators wrote in the letter. “Creating more parking spaces at stations also promotes economic development in our communities. We want our commuter rail system to be a more viable transportation option for constituents and to do so requires us to make more parking available at commuter rail stations.”
The Joint Committee on Telecommunications, Utilities and Energy on Thursday issued a favorable report on a bill filed by a pair of first-year MetroWest legislators that would create energy-efficiency standards and reporting requirements for large buildings.
The bill, filed by state Sen. Becca Rausch, D-Needham, and state Rep. Maria Robins, D-Framingham, was reported out to the Senate for further action.
“Time is running out to meaningfully address climate change, and building efficiency standards are a critical part of the comprehensive set of solutions we need,” said Rausch in a statement. “I’ve heard from folks in my district and across the Commonwealth that they want real action to protect our environment and stimulate related job and economic growth.”
Sen. Rausch and Rep. Robinson Secure Key Vote on Building Energy Efficiency Bill
Senator Becca Rausch (D-Needham) and Representative Maria Robinson (D- Framingham), two first-year legislators, filed a new bill to address climate change and energy consumption, and advanced the bill out of the legislative committee process within their first six months in office.
On June 27, the Joint Committee on Telecommunications, Utilities and Energy issued a favorable report on S. 2011, a bill to create energy efficiency standards and reporting requirements for large buildings. The bill was reported out to the Senate for further action.
“Time is running out to meaningfully address climate change, and building efficiency standards are a critical part of the comprehensive set of solutions we need,” said Senator Rausch. “I’ve heard from folks in my district and across the Commonwealth that they want real action to protect our environment and stimulate related job and economic growth. Like so many fellow parents, I want all of our children to have a livable, enjoyable planet in 50 years. It’s my responsibility as a Senator to make progress here.”
“This bill is aggressive but extremely practical in providing both environmental and economic benefits,” said Rep. Robinson, a Democrat who serves Framingham.
Easthampton officials are appealing to state lawmakers to let the city of 16,000 decide whether to adopt ranked choice voting and extend the mayor's term from two to four years.
City officials, including Mayor Nicole LaChapelle, urged the Municipalities Committee to advance a bill (S 2229) that would place both reforms on the city ballot in November. The ranked choice system would apply to mayoral and precinct-based city council elections.
In such a system, voters rank candidates in order of preference. If one candidate receives 50 percent of the first-choice votes cast, the candidate is declared the winner. If not, an instant runoff occurs in which the candidate who received the least number of votes in the prior round is eliminated and all the ballots are recounted based on voters' highest-ranked remaining candidate. The process is repeated until one candidate receives at least 50 percent of the total.
Speaking to ranked choice voting, LaChapelle wrote to lawmakers that the reform would enhance the relevancy of prospective candidates "whose demographic is not represented in city government."
The two voting reforms were approved May 16 by the Easthampton City Council after arriving as recommendations from the city's Charter Review Committee.
The Committee on Municipalities and Regional Government immediately voted in favor of the bill. Committee co-chair Sen. Becca Rausch said she was "particularly excited" to see the ranked choice voting measure before the panel since she is a sponsor of a bill (S 420) to allow the voting reform to be adopted locally without requiring state approval.
Needham Resident Georgina Arrieta-Ruetenik Honored as Unsung Hero
Georgina Arrieta-Ruetenik of Needham was named a member of the Massachusetts Commission on the Status of Women's 2019 class of Unsung Heroines. Senator Becca Rausch (DNeedham) nominated Arrieta-Ruetenik for this recognition because of her behind-the-scenes activism and commitment to serving the community of Needham. Arrieta-Ruetenik was honored with 130 other Unsung Heroines for her outstanding service in a ceremony on Tuesday, June 18, 2019, in the Great Hall at the State House in Boston.
"I am incredibly grateful for Georgina's endless dedication to our town and her deep commitment to justice," said Senator Rausch. "She has an enormous heart and an infectious smile, which she shares all over town. Through her community service, activism, and leadership, she has provided tremendous support to countless Needhamites. Women like Georgina make our community stronger, and Needham is a better place because of her."
Army showcases its tech, from exoskeletons to assault rations
In an era when technology advances more rapidly than ever and innovative ideas no longer come solely from the large corporations that have long partnered with the military, the U.S. Army is working in Natick on new technologies to optimize performance, readiness and lethality to ensure its soldiers will be ready to fight and able to sustain peak performance on the battlefield.
One scenario military officials described: A group of soldiers jumps out of an airplane, then has to march several miles carrying an average of about 120 pounds of gear from the drop zone to another location where several days of combat might await them. How can the Army ensure that its soldiers will be in fighting shape when they arrive, rather than being worn out?
Beginning next week, the Army will field test bionic boot exoskeletons -- essentially a battery-powered propulsion system built into combat boots -- that reduce the human energy necessary for walking, a technology that could help soldiers preserve energy and give them greater endurance. Army officers hope the field tests at Fort Drum in New York will help them determine if the technology will be able to provide the anticipated 25 percent reduction in walking effort and 15 percent increase in soldier foot speed.
The bionic boot exoskeleton was one of a number of advancements being worked on at the U.S. Army Combat Capabilities Development Command Soldier Center in Natick on display at the State House on Wednesday. Senate President Karen Spilka, Sen. Becca Rausch and Rep. David Linsky hosted the first “Soldier Technology Day” in seven years to showcase the center’s work.
Citizens abuse the Open Meeting Law and public records requests in order to overwhelm and harass local officials, lawmakers said Monday.
"Many towns in the Metrowest region have been inundated with hundreds of frivolous Open Meeting Law and public records law complaints which has created disruption in town offices and an unnecessary waste of taxpayer money responding to those complaints," said Rep. David Linsky of Natick.
At a public hearing of the Joint Committee on State Administration and Regulatory Oversight, Linsky joined Sen. Becca Rausch of Needham and town officials from Natick to advocate for a bill to adjust the requirements in the Open Meeting and public records request laws.
The bill (H 2740/S 1899) would allow cities to reject a complaint or request if the complainant has filed more than five times in the last year or it is "unduly burdensome." It establishes a process for the complainant to petition the attorney general's office to appeal that decision.
Rausch said the intent of the bill is to streamline the process, and allow municipalities to refuse overwhelming requests.
"In order for our governmental bodies to represent and respond to all the appropriate public records requests we have to improve the way to weed out the frivolous and harassing requests," she said.
As abortion bans hit several states, what are Mass. legislators doing?
As abortion bans roll across several states, Massachusetts lawmakers worry about conservative judges on the Supreme Court and the security of Roe v. Wade. Legislators are working on state abortion protection collectively called the ROE Act.
What is the ROE Act?
Currently a pair of bills is in the Massachusetts Legislature. The Senate version is called An Act to Remove Obstacles and Expand Abortion Access. R – Remove, O – Obstacles, E – Expand.
In a not-so-subtle reference to the landmark 1973 abortion access ruling by the U.S. Supreme Court, Roe v. Wade, the House billcontains a similar acronym.
The bills aim to put language from the 1973 decision into state law, expanding state abortion law.
“Particularly at this moment in our national history, as we continue to see several states chipping away, effectively nullifying the ability of pregnant people to control their bodies, and with the current makeup of the Supreme Court and the other things going on at the federal level,” said state Sen. Becca Rausch, D-Needham, one of the bill’s sponsors, “particularly states like Massachusetts must step up and lead in this space now, more than ever before.”
Melrose Leaders Ask Committee To Approve 'City Council' Change
MELROSE, MA — If you want any 'Board of Aldermen' shirts of coffee mugs for posterity, you better hurry. Melrose officials on Tuesday asked the Municipalities and Regional Government Committee to approve their charter change renaming the antiquated Board of Aldermen to City Council.
The State House News Service reported State Rep. Paul Brodeur, State Sen. Jason Lewis and President of the Board Jennifer Lemmerman made their case before the committee. Patch was first to report Lemmerman was pushing for the change this year for the first time since a failed attempt in 2016. The Board approved the home rule petition in April, sending it to the state.
Melrose is the only municipality in Massachusetts with a Board of Aldermen after Somerville switched to a City Council earlier this year. Woburn still has aldermen, but they make up a city council. Several other nearby cities have made the switch in recent years, including Newton, Everett and Chelsea.
State House News reported action could be taken on the bill quickly. Sen. Becca Rausch, who co-chairs the Municipalities Committee with Rep. James O'Day, said the bill was "time-sensitive."
Norfolk County Register of Deeds William O’Donnell stated that he was delighted with the swift action taken by the Massachusetts Legislature’s Joint Committee on Municipalities and Regional Government to favorably discharge legislation (H.1789) that would place Automatic External Defibrillators (AED) in Norfolk County governmental buildings.
“An AED is a lightweight, portable device that delivers an electric shock through the chest to the heart,” said O’Donnell. “The shock can potentially stop an irregular heart beat (arrhythmia) and allows for a normal rhythm to resume following sudden cardiac arrest.”
O’Donnell, along with bill’s lead sponsor State Rep. Denise Garlick, D-Needham, and co-sponsor State
Sen. Paul Feeney, D-Foxborough, recently spent time testifying before the committee about the importance of this legislation.
“I want to first thank lead sponsor Rep. Garlick and the other co-sponsors of the legislation for their support and advocacy,” said O’Donnell. “I also want to thank the co-chairpersons of the Joint Committee on Municipalities and Regional Government, Sen. Becca Rausch, D-Needham, and Rep. James O’Day, D-West Boylston, for scheduling an early hearing on the legislation and for their actions to quickly and favorably report out the bill. Their prompt action is greatly appreciated by the supporters of the legislation.”
Pending Gov. Charlie Baker’s approval of the fiscal ’20 budget, officials in Holliston and Sherborn will soon hire a new sustainability coordinator to serve both communities.
State budget proposals in both the House and Senate include a $50,000 line item to fund the salary of the new coordinator for the first year, to be paid jointly by Sherborn and Holliston.
State Reps. Carolyn Dykema, D-Holliston, and David Linsky, D-Natick, and state Sen. Becca Rausch, D-Needham, filed the amendment to the budget.
For Holliston, the new coordinator’s duties are to be determined. But the overarching goal is for the town to have a designated person tasked with overseeing the town’s many green initiatives and projects, designed to help reduce the town’s carbon footprint and energy costs, according to Selectman John Cronin.
State Sen. Becca Rausch has earmarked $50,000 in the Senate version of the state budget for creating a hands-on math and science activity space at North Attleboro High School.
She got the money added to the budget during debate Tuesday evening.
“An innovative and experiential education is crucial for our students’ success in the digital age,” she said in a statement. “This will be a tremendous opportunity for students to express their creativity and learn invaluable skills such as 3-D printing, coding, problem solving, and teamwork.”
The Martin Elementary School library already has a facility known as a Makerspace, but it is geared toward younger students.
State Sen. Becca Rausch, D-Needham, will hold her next “Fourth Fridays” office hours on Friday, May 31 from 1-2:30 p.m. at the Plainville Public Library conference room, 198 South St./Rte. 1A, Plainville.
State Sen. Becca Rausch, D-Needham, will hold her next “Fourth Fridays” office hours on Friday, May 31 from 1-2:30 p.m. at the Plainville Public Library conference room, 198 South St./Rte. 1A, Plainville.
During these office hours, held on the fourth Friday of every month, residents from any part of the Norfolk, Bristol, and Middlesex district are welcome to meet Rausch and her staff and share their opinions on state issues.
Rausch has also slated her summer Fourth Fridays office hours from 10:30 a.m. to 12 p.m. in the following locations: June 28 at Sherborn Town Hall (room 105), July 26 at Wellesley Town Hall (Juliani Room), and Aug. 16 in North Attleborough (location to be announced).
Rausch also typically spends Mondays and Fridays taking scheduled meetings in the district and encourages residents to contact her office at 617-722-1555 to arrange a meeting with her or a staff member. Residents can also check Twitter (@BeccaRauschMA) for real-time updates on the senator’s activities, and Facebook (Senator Becca Rausch) for additional updates.
Additional Fourth Fridays in-district office hours are as follows: Franklin, Sept. 27; Natick, Oct. 25; Wrentham, Nov. 22; Norfolk, Dec. 20 and Needham, Jan. 2020.
Rausch’s office will announce additional Fourth Fridays information as it becomes available.
About half of the $42.7 billion Senate budget proposal is consumed by spending in just three areas — health care, pensions and debt service — leaving some senators worried about underinvestment in other priority areas like transportation, housing and the environment.
Spending on MassHealth, the health care program that serves 1.8 million seniors, children and low-income residents, totals $16.55 billion, or about 38 percent of the budget, Senate Ways and Means Committee Chairman Michael Rodrigues said during remarks on the first day of fiscal 2020 budget deliberations.
Sen. Becca Rausch filed and withdrew an amendment that sought to raise the corporate tax rate from its current 8 percent to 9.5 percent, which she said would yield an estimated $375 million for the state.
"What would you put on your $375 million wish list?" the Needham Democrat asked her colleagues, ticking off possibilities like slashing public transit rates in half, restoring MassHealth dental benefits, funding full-day kindergarten statewide, expanding broadband service and providing home care workers to every elderly person who needs one.
Rausch said she withdrew her amendment "in deference to this body's commitment to work on revenue this session," wishing luck to Pittsfield Sen. Adam Hinds as he leads a Senate working group that's expected to develop tax policy recommendations for the 2021-2022 legislative session.
Home delivery: Analysis shows most non-nurse midwives work in populated areas
When non-nurse midwives lobbied Alabama lawmakers for licensure, they promised to help close the distance between pregnant women and their maternity providers — a gap that’s widening as rural hospitals and obstetric units close across the United States.
“They had ladies walking the statehouse with their babies in tow,” said Alabama state Sen. Larry Stutts, who opposed the legislation. “They said they were going to provide obstetric care in underserved areas of the state.”
The bill passed in 2017, and Alabama began licensing non-nurse midwives in January of this year.
But none of the newly licensed practitioners are located in so-called maternity care deserts.
They’re all based in well-served areas.
The situation isn’t unique to Alabama.
Consumer protection and increased access to healthcare is the focus, according to Rausch, the bill’s co-sponsor, with Rep. Kay Kahn (D-Newton).
“I love this bill, because it increases access to healthcare and birthing options,” Rausch said.
With 8 Hearings In One Day, How Can Massachusetts Lawmakers Do Their Jobs?
The reliability of public transportation in Massachusetts has been raised as an issue in debates about revenue, economic development, and reducing carbon emissions, to name a few.
On Wednesday, Sen. Becca Rausch pointed to T service as she pitched her colleagues on a proposal to allow no-excuse absentee voting in Massachusetts elections.
"Many people have difficulty getting to the voting booth," the Needham Democrat told the Election Laws Committee. "Consider, for example, the unreliability of our public transit system. If the T is late, and someone is trying to get home from work to get to the voting booth and the T can't get them there on time, they don't get to vote, and that seems like a terrible reason to strip someone of their right to use their voice and their vote."
Rausch also urged lawmakers to consider parents who need to coordinate childcare and workers with multiple jobs.
Rausch testified in support of Rep. Michael Moran's proposed constitutional amendment (H 78) that would bring no-excuse absentee voting to Massachusetts, where voters are currently allowed to cast absentee ballots in only limited circumstances.
Voters are eligible for absentee ballots if they will be unable to vote in person because of an absence from their hometown, physical disability or religious belief. Massachusetts also allows early voting in biennial state elections, during which voters do not need to provide an excuse to cast their ballot during a window of time before Election Day.
Supporters of early voting have described it as a way to expand access for voters who face obstacles casting their ballot in traditional polling hours.
Mass Lawmakers Support Range of Bills to Aid Women, Children
WELLESLEY – State Rep. Carolyn Dykema, D-Holliston, likes to ask crowds if they know when the Massachusetts Statehouse first provided a restroom for women legislators. When she says, “1991,” it is not uncommon for the crowd to gasp.
“For those of you who are young, that may seem like a long time ago. For those of us who are not young, that does not seem like a long time ago,” said Dykema, who represents Holliston, Hopkinton, Southborough, and a part of Westborough. “We are breaking new ground every day.”
Dykema and a group of politicians who represent communities in the suburbs west of Boston spoke at a legislative breakfast held by the MetroWest Commission of the Status on Women Monday morning at the Dana Hall School. The lawmakers who spoke gave insight on the legislation they are championing in support of women and children. Speakers included Rep. Jack Lewis, D-Framingham; Sen. Becca Rausch, D-Needham; Sen. Jamie Eldridge, D-Acton, Rep. Carmine Gentile, D-Sudbury, and Rep. Jeffrey Roy, D-Franklin.
Rausch said women and girls in the state and nation are in the midst of building an “inclusive” challenge to the Old Boys Club: the New Girls Network.
“It’s highly indicative of how we as women legislate and build bridges to achieve goals,” said Rausch.
Rausch Leading Charge on Legislation to Help the Homeless
BOSTON — Lois Lee is a doctor at Boston Children’s Hospital. In 2010, she started seeing more and more families with children coming to the emergency rooms at nights, but the children were often not very sick.
Lee found out these families had no other safe place to sleep. They were forced there under a policy to prove their eligibility for state-funded shelters by staying in places not meant for human habitation, such as emergency rooms.
“From 2010 to 2016, the total payment for emergency department visits was nearly $200,000, but most of this was not for any medical care,” Lee said. “This was just how much we charge for the emergency department. But this money counts as health care spending (instead of housing), and we all know that health care spending has been going up and up and up. It seems that it doesn’t make any sense.”
In order to prevent and end homelessness, state lawmakers are joining the Massachusetts Coalition for the Homeless in a series of key measures advocating equality and justice for homeless people.
Lawmakers’ fiscal 2020 budget priorities are to increase funding for housing and homelessness prevention resources, as well as address the needs of unaccompanied, homeless youth and young adults by raising funding for rapid rehousing from $3.3 million to $5 million.
“Homelessness in the commonwealth increased 14 percent in 2018,” said Sen. Becca Rausch, D-Needham. “That’s compared to 0.3 percent increase nationally. We have a real problem here: 22,500 people live here without a fixed, safe, nighttime residence. To me, that is unacceptable.”
A bill being considered on Beacon Hill would require presidential candidates to disclose the four previous years of their federal income tax returns 60 days before the primary election, and move the midterm primary date up a few months, from September to June.
“Tax returns provide important information to voters about the character of candidates running for the Oval Office, for the highest office in our country,” Sen. Rebecca Rausch told the Herald. “Until relatively recently, every presidential candidate has done that of both major parties, so the disclosure of tax returns would provide greater insight into who the candidate is and what they value.”
Rausch filed the legislation, titled An Act to Promote Good Democracy in Primary Elections. She noted that the tax return requirement doesn’t apply to independent presidential candidates because Massachusetts only holds primaries for the two major parties.
Rep. Robinson Files Legislation To Add Commuter Rail Rider Representation on MBTA Board
FRAMINGHAM – State Representative Maria Robinson (D-Framingham) and Senator Becca Rausch (D-Needham) have filed legislation to add two members to the MBTA’s Fiscal and Management Control Board (FMCB) who will specifically represent the perspective and needs of riders.
The bill, SD.2333, is a targeted response to the MBTA Board vote on March 11 to increase subway and commuter rail fares by six percent, despite significant opposition from state and local lawmakers and MBTA ridership.
“The needs of riders, and particularly the needs of commuter rail riders, have been ignored for too long,” Senator Rausch said Tuesday. “Representative Robinson and I agree; this legislation is an important first step to building a reliable and equitable public transit system. Increasing fares drives riders away when we should be encouraging usage. Supporting and improving ridership should decrease traffic congestion and reduce environmental impacts. When it is more expensive and less reliable to take the commuter rail into Boston than it is to drive, we all lose.”
Ranked-choice voting could change Massachusetts elections
Imagine being recalled from office and then immediately re-elected.
The idea sounds far-fetched, but it could happen in Fall River where the mayor, who faces 13 counts of federal criminal charges, could be recalled by voters, but still have enough support to win the same-day recall election.
The scenario is possible because Mayor Jasiel Correia II is one of several candidates slated to run in the recall election, meaning he could win with less than 50 percent of the vote, even if a majority of voters might not want him in office.
The dynamic highlights what a growing number of Massachusetts residents believe is a problem in American elections -- vote-splitting. And to solve it, there’s a mounting effort to implement a new approach called “ranked-choice voting.”
State Sen. Becca Rausch, D-Needham, has introduced separate legislation that would give municipalities the choice to implement ranked-choice voting at the local level. Supporters of Rausch’s and Lewis’ bills, which both await a scheduled hearing, are optimistic they could pass this legislative session. And if not, Friedman is bullish voters will want to make the decision themselves.
“If the Legislature doesn’t act, we’re considering taking this to the 2020 ballot,” he said.
Local delegation's committee assignments and legislative priorities are set
Attleboro-area legislators say they are pleased with their committee assignments for the 2019-2020 session, adding they will enable them to pursue their top priorities.
Sen. Becca Rausch, D-Needham, prioritized reproductive health, civil rights and anti-discrimination in her first Senate term.
According to Rausch, the reproductive health agenda offered pregnant women an affirmative right to access abortion and abortion-related health care services, and protecting that right against undue interference.
As part of her agenda, Rausch filed the bill that would require all presidential primary candidates to disclose four years of federal income tax returns, and move the state primary date from September to June.
In addition, Rausch also sponsored anti-discrimination legislation, including a bill to promote efficiency in co-parent adoptions. She said it is unjust for certain parents, such as parents in same-sex marriages, spend extra money affirming their parental rights.
Rausch wants state primary elections moved to June
State Sen. Becca Rausch has filed legislation that would move state primary elections from September to June.
Rausch, D-Needham, said she believes the earlier date would be better for voters and encourage a higher turnout.
The September primaries come immediately after people end their summer vacations and are getting their children back to school.
And many were likely not paying close attention to politics during the summer because they were on a “mental vacation,” said Rausch, who in this area represents half of Attleboro and all of North Attleboro, Wrentham, Plainville and Norfolk.
State Senator Rausch: June primary would benefit Massachusetts Voters
Last year’s Sept. 4 primary election was about two weeks earlier than is typical for Massachusetts, moved up so that it would not conflict with Jewish holidays. But despite the alteration, it was still the sixth-latest primary election in the United States.
Senator Becca Rausch wants to change that.
The first-term legislator filed a bill that would move the state primary up to June, and she says that the switch would help voters become better engaged and would allow the general election to be more competitive — not to mention the convenience of avoiding the scheduling pitfalls that come in September.
“The primary date right now is very challenging,” said Rausch, a Needham Democrat who unseated former Sen. Richard Ross of Wrentham last November. “I think we saw those reasons pop up in 2018 in a pretty obvious way.”
State Sen. Becca Rausch, D-Needham, has already filed a wide-ranging legislative portfolio for her first state Senate term.
“I made a commitment to my constituents,” said Rausch. “They want bold leadership from their state senator. I am less than a month into the session and I am already delivering on that pledge to generate positive change.”
“As we commemorate the 46th anniversary of Roe v. Wade, I am particularly proud to have filed SD.2200, the Pregnant Persons’ Health Act, which would generate significant reproductive justice advancements in Massachusetts, including vesting in pregnant persons an affirmative right to access abortion and abortion-related health care services and protecting that right against undue interference,” said Rausch.
State Sen. Becca Rausch, D-Needham, and state Rep. Lindsay Sabadosa, D-Northampton, filed a bill protecting members of the State House community from workplace harassment in the wake of allegations of sexual assault against state Rep. Paul McMurtry, D-Dedham.
“Every place of work should be free from sexual harassment and assault; the State House is certainly no exception,” stated Rausch. “When any member of the House of Representatives assaults, harasses, demeans, or disparages a member of the State House community, that member disrespects every colleague in the community, diminishes the voices of every voter who cast a ballot in a legislative election, and affronts every constituent in the Commonwealth.”
Becca Rausch is set to begin her first term in January as State Senator, representing the Norfolk, Bristol and Middlesex District, which includes part of Attleboro. Hear from her in the DoubleACS Daily News!
Left, Right Calling for Roll Call Votes in Massachusetts Legislature
The conservative Massachusetts Fiscal Alliance is calling on more state legislators to follow the lead of four incoming left-of-center Democrats who have pledged to support taking more roll call votes on Beacon Hill.
“We challenge all of the newly elected legislators, Republican and Democrat, to have the same courage as these four lawmakers and take the #TransparencyPledge. The incoming class has a chance to make history. Let’s hope they choose to,” said Paul Craney, spokesman for the Massachusetts Fiscal Alliance, in a written statement Tuesday.
The Transparency Pledge states: “I pledge to stand for roll calls and to advocate for greater transparency and accountability within the Massachusetts Legislature. Elected leaders should be on record, supporting or opposing proposals on Beacon Hill.”
A roll call vote records how each legislator voted and makes it public. The presiding officer of the state Senate or state House of Representatives can call for a voice vote, in which members call out their vote in unison, and the legislator chairing the session decides if yea or nay carried the vote.
Voice votes are common on run-of-the-mill procedural votes that don’t usually have much import, such as whether to adjourn. But many legislators prefer voice votes even on substantive matters, particularly if they are controversial, so that they don’t have to be on the record about it.
State Senator-elect Becca Rausch (D-Needham) took the Transparency Pledge on August 21 and invited other candidates to do so. She encountered it during a six-month program she participated in called Emerge Massachusetts, which trains women running for public office.
“This is not — to me and to many others, this is not a partisan issue. This is about good governance and strong democracy and an engaged electorate,” Rausch said during an interview on New England Cable News on Monday.