FOR IMMEDIATE RELEASE – July 26, 2017
CONTACT: Rep. Natalie Higgins, Natalie.Higgins@mahouse.gov, 978-602-3772
Diverse education stakeholders set aside differences to push for Foundation Budget reforms
BOSTON – A wide array of education leaders from across Massachusetts gathered at the State House on Tuesday to testify in favor of Foundation Budget reforms before the Joint Committee on Education. The bill, An Act Modernizing the Foundation Budget for the 21st Century (S.223), introduced by Senator Sonia Chang-Díaz (D-Boston), would implement the recommendations of the bipartisan Foundation Budget Review Commission (FBRC) to update the state’s 24-year-old education funding formula.
The hearing follows months of advocacy by educators, school officials, parents, and students from the heart of Boston to the hills of Western Massachusetts. More than 40 school committees across the state have passed resolutions supporting the reforms, and in April, diverse stakeholder groups met in a packed room together at the State House to push for the legislation.
“The consensus shown today in support of fixing the FBRC is unprecedented,” said Senator Sonia Chang-Díaz, Education Committee Chair and sponsor of S.223. “It’s not every day you see the Boston Teachers’ Union, the Boston Superintendent’s office, and Boston School Committee on the same side of the table, let alone Democrats for Education Reform and the teachers unions.”
Speaking to the members of the Joint Committee on Education, Pat Murphy, President of the Massachusetts Association of School Committees, said: “We need to do this, and we need to do this now. As you’ve seen today, we have a broad political coalition ready to support you in getting this done. Our children cannot afford to wait.”
“Municipalities across Massachusetts budget an average of 20% above Net School Spending, so we do not have many examples of how the Foundation Budget Formula is impact our school districts,” said Representative Natalie Higgins. “Unfortunately, we are seeing the inadequacies of the Foundation Budget play out in the Leominster School District right now. After three consecutive years of budgeting less than 1% over Net School Spending, at the end of the 2016/17 school year our district was facing nearly 200 staffing cuts, additional cuts to programming, and extracurriculars, if we maintained a Net School Spending Budget. Rising health insurance costs, special education needs, and transportation costs are devastating our school districts, and gateway cities like Leominster deserve a funding formula that works for our students.”
Established by the 1993 Education Reform Act, the Foundation Budget was designed to ensure every Massachusetts student was provided a quality education. However, the formula has failed to keep up with rising fixed costs like health care and special education that have outpaced initial estimates. It also underrated what it actually takes to educate English Language Learners and students living in poverty. The FBRC found these combined costs have led the Commonwealth to underestimate the cost of education by $1-2 billion every year – reinforcing the achievement gap between wealthy and low-income districts, and forcing many districts to cut critical classroom services or to divert funding from other local investments like public safety, transportation, and affordable housing.
Sen. Chang-Díaz added, “This hearing showed that if we are serious about providing quality education to all children, regardless of zip code, we can’t continue to wait as our schools lose more and more of what makes them successful. It’s long past time we right this wrong and pass these reforms.”
For Immediate Release Contact: Natalie Higgins, 978-602-3772
July 21, 2017 Natalie.Higgins@mahouse.gov
Legislature Passes Pregnant Workers Fairness Act
Establishes essential protections and prohibits discrimination against pregnant individuals
(BOSTON) –Representative Natalie Higgins (D-Leominster) joined her colleagues in the Massachusetts Legislature recently to pass the Pregnant Workers Fairness Act which guarantees reasonable accommodations and safety measures for pregnant workers. The legislation makes it illegal for an employer to discriminate against, refuse to employ, or terminate an individual due to pregnancy or a condition related to pregnancy, including lactation or the need to express breast milk for a nursing child.
“This is a proud day for Massachusetts and reinforces our dedication to protecting our residents - especially as events in Washington threaten the safety and security of women,” said House Speaker Robert A. DeLeo (D-Winthrop). “By bringing diverse stakeholders to the table we drafted a consensus-based bill that can be implemented smoothly and stand the test of time. I want to sincerely thank the advocates who courageously shared their stories; they are heroes who have made Massachusetts a more just and safe place.”
“No expecting mother should have to choose between a healthy pregnancy and a paycheck,” said Senate President Stan Rosenberg (D-Amherst). “This legislation would ensure that women’s medical needs are addressed without imposing undue burden on employers throughout Massachusetts.”
“I am a proud advocate for women’s health and the protections in this legislation build a safer and more inclusive workplace,” said Representative Paul Brodeur (D-Melrose), House Chair of Committee on Labor and Workforce Development.“This bill represents the best of the legislative process. Everyone had a seat at the table and collaborated to produce the strongest policy”
“I believe it is imperative that we provide pregnant workers, 40% of whom are the primary breadwinner of their household, the certainty that they are able to keep their jobs without detriment to the health of their pregnancy,” said Senator Joan Lovely (D-Salem). “This piece of legislation would ensure that employers are fair to pregnant workers so that they may continue to work while pregnant and provide the best life possible for themselves and their families.”
“Once again, the Massachusetts Legislature has acted boldly to advance the cause of civil rights, women’s rights and equal opportunity,” said Representative David Rogers (D-Cambridge), House sponsor of the bill. “The Pregnant Workers Fairness Act, a bill I introduced, makes clear that women seeking a reasonable accommodation from their employers for certain conditions or needs related to their pregnancy must be treated fairly. I thank Speaker DeLeo for his strong leadership and the ninety-nine of my House colleagues who co-sponsored this legislation as – together – we send a powerful message about equal opportunity in our Commonwealth.”
“A woman who is pregnant is no less equal and no less valued as a member of the workforce,” said Senator Jason Lewis (D-Winchester), Senate Chair of the Joint Committee on Labor and Workforce Development. “The protections included in this legislation are commonsense and simply prevent mistreatment of pregnant employees. I’m very pleased to see this bill earn support from workers and employers alike.”
Reasonable accommodations may include time off to recover from childbirth; more frequent, longer paid or unpaid breaks; procuring or modifying equipment or seating; obtaining temporary transfer, job restructuring, or lighter duty; and private non-bathroom space for expressing breast milk, among others.
The law prohibits employers from taking the following actions against an employee who is pregnant or has a condition related to the employee’s pregnancy:
The bill directs companies to engage in a collaborative, good faith process with employees and prospective employees to determine effective and reasonable accommodations. In specific instances, employers may require documentation pertaining to the need of accommodation from appropriate health care or rehabilitation professional. This does not apply to accommodations for more frequent restroom, food or water breaks, seating, and limits on lifting over 20 pounds.
The bill has an effective date of April 1, 2018. It now goes to the Governor’s desk for his signature.
For Immediate Release Contact: Natalie Higgins, 978-602-3772
July 21, 2017 Natalie.Higgins@mahouse.gov
Legislature Passes Comprehensive Marijuana Legislation
Facilitates implementation of ballot question while safeguarding public health and consumer protection
(BOSTON) – Representative Natalie Higgins joined her colleagues in the Massachusetts Legislature recently to pass a bill that fully implements consumer access to adult-use marijuana while creating a robust public health and safety framework.
This legislation maintains the personal use provisions outlined in the 2016 ballot initiative. Adults 21 and older can use marijuana and possess up to one ounce in public and ten ounces at home. They may possess six plants per person but no more than 12 plants or ten ounces per residence.
“This bill reflects a commitment to legalizing adult-use marijuana while upholding our duty to ensure safety and effective management,” said House Speaker Robert A. DeLeo (D-Winthrop). “In addition to the rigorous product testing and security measures, I believe that the independence of the Cannabis Control Commission will allow this new industry to be implemented in a safe manner that works for all residents, not just the marijuana industry.”
“This bill is a balanced approach to adult use of marijuana in Massachusetts. We have kept the tax rate low to abolish the illicit market while implementing rigorous safeguards to protect public health and safety,” said Senate President Stan Rosenberg (D-Amherst). “In addition, we have included meaningful provisions to ensure that communities who have been disproportionately impacted by the war on drugs will be able to participate in the cannabis industry and provided an easier path for local farmers and local small businesses to participate. I am hopeful that this bill will be model legislation for other states who are contemplating legalization.”
“In November, nearly 1.8 million people voted to legalize adult use of marijuana, but every resident of the Commonwealth has a stake in its successful implementation,” said House Majority Leader Ron Mariano (D-Quincy). “A total tax rate of up to 20 percent is necessary to help regulate this new industry and to address inevitable challenges, primarily the increased exposure of marijuana to young people. The black market will be searching for new customers and this bill calls for increased funding for early intervention services and public awareness campaigns, and provides significant barriers to prevent children of our communities from being indoctrinated into this market by advertising campaigns aimed to attract them.”
“We have protected the right of adults to grow, possess and use marijuana. To give them access to a safe, legal supply, the bill removes barriers to the development of a legal market,” said Senator Pat Jehlen (D-Somerville) Senate Chair of the Joint Committee on Marijuana Policy. “It protects the rights of medical marijuana patients, and gives opportunity to farmers and to people who have been harmed by the War on Drugs. This bill increases public health and safety protections, and specifies ways to prevent products from appealing young people. The tax rate remains among the lowest in the country, and the same as in Oregon, often seen as successful.”
“Last November, voters chose to have safe and regulated access to adult use marijuana”, said Representative Mark J. Cusack (D-Braintree), Chair of the Committee on Marijuana Policy. “Our task has been to ensure that we implemented and regulated this new marketplace with common sense consumer protections and public safety measures. This important, bipartisan legislation does just that. It gets it right for the consumers, right for the industry and above all, it gets it right for the people of Massachusetts."
“As a supporter of marijuana legalization, I think this is a good bill. I also think that this is a bill that even opponents of marijuana can support. It will make the market safer and stronger,” said Senator Will Brownsberger (D-Belmont).
“I am grateful to have worked with my fellow conferees to ensure that the necessary structure and safeguards are in place to safely and effectively regulate this new, legal marketplace,” said Representative Hannah Kane (R- Shrewsbury).“While our marijuana excise tax is the 2nd lowest in the nation, it still provides sufficient revenue to cover our direct and indirect regulatory costs, with additional funding available to cover substance abuse prevention and treatment, public safety and public health campaigns relative to legalization. Likewise, our first in the nation requirement to prohibit TV, radio, billboard, print or internet advertising and marketing for marijuana unless proven that at least 85% of the audience is over 21 years of age, based on reliable, up to date audience composition data, will make a real and substantive impact on what our youth see and hear in terms of marketing marijuana, and we know that less exposure for youth to marijuana messaging means less youth use.”
“I am pleased to hear my colleagues in the legislature accepted the marijuana conference committee report. As a committee, we reached the best possible compromise for the Commonwealth of Massachusetts, following the passage of Ballot Question 4. I am content with the work of the committee members and staff, as well as the final product,” said Senator Richard Ross (R-Wrentham).
The compromise legislation sets a tax rate that balances local and state revenue while curbing the black market. The structure outlined below aims to ensure that the costs associated with this new industry are self-financed and to incentivize local adoption. Medical marijuana remains untaxed.
In an effort to support the Commonwealth’s municipalities and allow for the creation of local bylaws and ordinances, this legislation includes compromise language regarding local control.
To promote strong oversight and accountability for the regulation of adult-use marijuana, this legislation creates an independent five-member Cannabis Control Commission (CCC) which will be housed under the Office of the State Treasurer. The CCC will be charged with overseeing the application and licensing process, including a review of the integrity of licensees, their financial stability and qualifications both during the application process and on an ongoing basis. It will promulgate regulations for the implementation, administration and enforcement of adult-use marijuana, and will make regular inspections of licensees.
The CCC will study participation and, if needed, adopt diversity licensing goals to provide meaningful participation of communities disproportionately affected by cannabis prohibition and enforcement and development training programs to achieve impactful industry participation by minority individuals, women and veterans. This legislation removes the head start for businesses already licensed for medical marijuana so that all individuals and businesses have a fair shot at entering this industry. The CCC will be required to encourage participation by farmers and small businesses, including providing lower priced licenses and the ability to form cooperatives to small cultivators.
The composition of the CCC reflects the broad expertise and autonomy necessary to regulate this new industry including appointees with expertise in public health, public safety and corporate management. These appointments will be made by the governor, attorney general, treasurer, respectively.
This legislation prioritizes consumer safety and public health. As such, this bill includes the strongest testing standards in the nation and gives the CCC oversight of testing laboratories. It requires all labs to be independent from marijuana establishments and mandates alignment with pharmacy standards for purity. While the legislation maintains the personal use provisions, it also adds liquor license penalties for sales to people under 21 including social host language.
Under this legislation, the CCC will consult with the Department of Public Health (DPH) and the Department of Agricultural Resources (MDAR) to establish standards for the cultivation, processing, manufacturing and distribution of marijuana, including guidelines for food products.
The CCC will also establish standards for packaging, potency or dosing limitations, seed to sale-technology and security for cannabis licensees. Requirements include:
Given the difficulty of detecting if someone is driving under the influence of marijuana or other narcotics, this legislation establishes a special commission to conduct a comprehensive study and make recommendations regarding enforcement.
Under this legislation, the medical marijuana program will be updated and brought under the auspices of the CCC. This consolidation will help ensure a timely launch by streamlining oversight and leveraging existing experience and resources.
For the first time, industrial hemp will be statutorily recognized as an agricultural product that may be cultivated, possessed, processed, bought or sold, and researched. MDAR will oversee industrial hemp as an agricultural product. Any person growing industrial hemp must be licensed by MDAR.
The bill will be sent to the Governor for his signature.
STATE REPRESENTATIVE NATALIE HIGGINS AND SENATOR JEN FLANAGAN ANNOUNCE PASSAGE OF HOME RULE PETITION FOR LEOMINSTER TO PAY UNPAID BILL
For Immediate Release Contact: Natalie Higgins, 978-602-3772
July 21, 2017 Natalie.Higgins@mahouse.gov
State Representative Natalie Higgins and Senator Jen Flanagan Announce Passage of Home Rule Petition for Leominster to Pay Unpaid Bill
Boston: State Representative Natalie Higgins and Senator Jen Flanagan, both of Leominster announced this week that a home rule petition filed for the City of Leominster for an unpaid bill has passed by both houses of the Legislature and sent to Governor Baker’s desk to be signed into law. Representative Higgins and Senator Flanagan filed SB1132 in order to allow the City of Leominster to pay D-E Corporation money owed from 2014.
Leominster’s Office of Emergency Management hired D-E Corporation in November 2014 to repair the agency’s heating system, at a cost of $33,000. However, there was no bidding process, citing an emergency with the fast approaching winter. As a result, Leominster only paid the first $9,999, as state law stipulates that all municipal projects costing more than $10,000 must be sent out to bid. This left D-E Corporation with an unpaid bill of nearly $23,500. The bill was filed by Representative Dennis Rosa and Senator Flanagan in the 2015-2016 session, but expired in the House when the session ended. Additionally, in 2014, the Massachusetts Legislature passed a home rule petition to allow payment of an unpaid bill of $77,000 to S.J. Mullaney Engineering Inc. for work completed in 2013.
“I am happy to get this legislation through the House of Representatives for D-E Corporation so that they can receive their full payment from the City of Leominster,” said Representative Higgins. “It is not D-E Corporation’s fault that the proper protocols were not followed. Small businesses like D-E Corp. and S.J. Mullaney Engineering Inc. should not have to wait nearly three years for their payment from a municipality. In the future, I hope the city of Leominster sends out these projects to bid when required by state law.”
See video: http://wwlp.com/2017/07/13/bill-calls-for-one-year-of-free-public-college-in-massachusetts/
By Elisha Machado Published: July 13, 2017, 6:50 pm Updated: July 14, 2017, 11:08 amBOSTON (WWLP) – Although costs to go to college in Massachusetts continue to rise, state funding has declined since 2001.
Students are calling on lawmakers to support a bill that gives students one year of free public college in Massachusetts. They told 22News free college should be a right.
Higher education funding per student has been cut by more than 30 percent since 2001. But it continues to become more expensive to go to college in Massachusetts.
UMass Amherst student Isabella Epshtein told 22News that high tuition and fees have forced some of her friends to take on multiple jobs or even drop out.
“They’re leaving unable to achieve the careers that they want to, but be struggling with debt for a very long time,” said Epshtein.
Lawmakers are considering a proposal to provide low-income students with one full year of tuition and fees at Massachusetts public community colleges, state colleges and universities.
States with more college-educated workers have stronger, higher-wage economies, according to the Massachusetts Budget and Policy Center. But for many low-income residents, this opportunity to access higher-wage jobs and move out of poverty remains out of reach.
“Students and families are the ones who are now paying and shouldering the heavy burden,” said Zac Bears, Executive Director of Public Higher Education Network of Massachusetts. “We need to move back to a place where everyone can afford to go to college because what we’re doing is pricing people out. ”
“We’re forcing our students to figure out, do I pay for my class and my text books or do I put food on my table, and we should not have that in the United States and definitely not in Massachusetts. Public higher education is a right,” said State Rep. Natalie Higgins, (D) Leominster.
But critics question if the state can afford to pay for residents’ college education.
The proposal is under review by the state’s Higher Education Committee and still has a long way to go before it can become law.
Representing Leominster -- Episode 4 -- with Guests Representative Stephan Hay & City Councilor Mark Bodanza
Here's some great coverage of the push for debt-free public higher education, including Representative Higgins' Finish Line Grant (H3000)!
By Alban Murtishi
State lawmakers want to give some Massachusetts residents the opportunity to attend one year of public college for free.
The proposal comes in the form of the Finish Line Scholarship Program bill, which was introduced by State Representatives Sean Garballey, of Arlington, and Natalie Higgins, of Leominster.
The scholarship would cover the entire cost of tuition and fees for one year of a public college in a program leading to an associate's or bachelor's degree. However, it would only be available to residents whose family income is less than twice the median family income in Massachusetts.
A hearing for the bill was scheduled for Joint Committee on Higher Education for Thursday. The bill still has many hurdles to overcome before a free year of college becomes a right.
The bill calls for the Department of Higher Education to set guidelines for eligibility, which could include grades and the student's academic plan for degree completion.
"We're forcing our students to figure out, do I pay for my class and my textbooks or do I put food on my table, and we should not have that in the United States and definitely not in Massachusetts. Public higher education is a right," Higgins told 22News.