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BOSTON -- As allegations of misogyny and sexual harassment swirl both inside and outside of the Massachusetts Statehouse, female lawmakers from the Lowell and Fitchburg areas said leaders on Beacon Hill should take tough and swift action against harassers on a zero-tolerance basis.
Though none of the representatives and senators interviewed by the Sentinel & Enterprise said they have personally been victims of sexual harassment during their time in the Statehouse, they said they take issues of sexism in the workplace seriously.
Dialogue surrounding a culture of misogyny on Beacon Hill began when The Boston Globe published a column last month highlighting the stories of a dozen anonymous women who said they were victims of sexual misconduct in and around the Statehouse.
State Sen. Anne Gobi of Spencer said she was "very disturbed" to hear the stories of misconduct.
"The Statehouse should be a place that people can feel safe coming to work, and when that's compromised at all, it's not good for the Legislature, it's not good for the state," said Gobi, whose district includes Ashburnham, Ashby, Spencer and Winchendon.
State Rep. Natalie Higgins of Leominster, a former rape crisis counselor, said this kind of atmosphere is present "in every social situation where we have any kinds of hierarchy" -- and the Statehouse is no exception.
Read the rest of the article at: http://www.sentinelandenterprise.com/news/ci_31490474/womans-voice-needs-be-heard#ixzz55Waa9QBC
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GARDNER -- The North Central region's legislative delegation donated $300 to Mount Wachusett Community College's on-campus food pantry Tuesday ahead of the Thanksgiving holiday.
"We were talking about the issue of hunger and it was Rep. (Natalie) Higgins out of Leominster who suggested this was something we could do together," said state Rep. Jon Zlotnik. "This entire delegation is tied to the Mount either here or at the Devens campus so it seemed like a natural fit."
The Food for Thought Campus Pantry serves MWCC students. The pantry will be giving out 80 holiday meals this Thanksgiving in a partnership with MWCC's Student Government Association. These 80 meals are made up of 1,200 donated items amounting to 955 pounds of food.
Read the rest of the article at: http://www.sentinelandenterprise.com/news/ci_31478703/lawmakers-pitch-mwcc-food-pantry#ixzz55Wb5HMMg
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Contacts: Natalie Higgins, firstname.lastname@example.org, 978-602-3772
November 17, 2017
Legislature Passes Bill to Expand Language Opportunities for Students
BOSTON – Representative Natalie Higgins (D-Leominster) joined her colleagues in the Massachusetts Legislature to pass bipartisan legislation that updates the existing statute relative to English language education in the Commonwealth’s public schools. An Act relative to language opportunity for our kids, also known as the LOOK bill, promotes research-based best practices for programs serving English learners (EL).
Since the year 2000, the number of EL students in Massachusetts has doubled to more than 90,204 students, or 9.5 percent of the student population. While statewide graduation rates for students have risen over the past ten years, the achievement gap between EL students and their peers persists.
“Every student has unique needs, and it is our obligation to foster an environment where they are afforded an education tailored to them,” said House Speaker Robert A. DeLeo (D-Winthrop). “Massachusetts’ education system is the best in the nation, and I believe that this legislation will enhance our standing while ensuring that education is indeed, the great equalizer.”
“I would like to thank the primary sponsors of the legislation, Chairman Sánchez and Senator DiDomenico, for insisting that we address the needs of the growing English language learner population in the Commonwealth and my fellow conferees for their hard work on reconciling the two versions of the legislation,” said Representative Alice Peisch, House Chair of the Joint Committee on Education (D-Wellesley). “The legislation permits districts to choose English Learner programs that best fit the needs of their students, while ensuring those programs will be of the highest quality. This combination of flexibility and high-standards will allow all students to achieve a level of English proficiency so that they can access the academic success for which Massachusetts students are known.”
“The state’s one-size-fits-all approach has failed our English language learners,” said Representative Jeffrey Sánchez, Chair of the House Committee on Ways & Means (D-Boston). “Through flexibility and accountability, the LOOK bill creates a system where students are able to learn English and succeed academically throughout the Commonwealth.”
“I’m pleased that at the conclusion of this conference committee we’ve arrived at a bill that we believe will better serve the English language learners across the Commonwealth,” said Representative Frank Moran (D-Lawrence). “This bill works to rectify a situation that has seen our public schools fall short in educating these particular students. I want to thank my colleagues on this committee for their hard work to find a solution for these students.”
“This is a much needed piece of legislation which will provide our English learners, their families and our schools with options, not a one size fits all approach,” said Representative Kimberly Ferguson (R-Holden). “We often speak of the need for flexibility and local control, and this bill provides that all while keeping much of the framework set forth in Chapter 71A in place.”
“I am proud to stand with my colleagues to give parents and local schools districts more flexibility to help their students be more successful by utilizing the programming most effective for their individual needs,” said Representative Higgins.
This bill expands on the current mandate requiring schools to use Sheltered English Immersion (SEI) as the default English learner program model by giving schools the flexibility to establish programs based on the diverse needs of their students. Under this legislation, school districts can maintain current SEI programming or choose to implement an alternative instructional program that meets federal and state standards.
This bill supports parental choice and involvement by expanding the role of Parental Advisory Councils and allowing parents the flexibility to choose programs that best meet their child’s needs.
To better identify and assist English learners, this legislation requires greater tracking of academic performance and enhanced review of programs. Furthermore, this legislation directs the Department of Elementary and Secondary Education to develop additional guidelines and supports for school districts.
Recognizing bilingualism and biliteracy as valuable strengths for students in a 21stcentury world, this legislation establishes a state Seal of Biliteracy. The seal will be awarded by participating school districts to students who have attained a high level of proficiency in English, and one or more foreign languages.
This bill will now move to the Governor for his signature.
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Contact: Natalie Higgins, email@example.com, 978-602-3772
November 17, 2017
House Passes Comprehensive Criminal Justice Reform Legislation
(BOSTON) – Representative Natalie Higgins joined with her colleagues in the House to pass comprehensive criminal justice reform legislation that will lead to a more equitable system by supporting our youngest and most vulnerable residents, reducing recidivism, increasing judicial discretion, and enhancing public safety.
“This landmark legislation will make our criminal justice system significantly more equitable while enhancing public safety through a series of workable, real-world solutions,” said House Speaker Robert A. DeLeo. “I am proud of the unprecedented reforms we’ve made to support our youngest and most vulnerable residents, particularly children facing adversity and individuals of all ages battling addiction. I am grateful for the dedication and insight of Chairwoman Cronin, and I thank Chairman Sanchez, Leader Mariano and Chief Justice Ireland for their guidance.”
“The reforms made in this bill address all aspects of the criminal justice system from a person’s first contact with the criminal justice system, up until an individual leaves the system and re-enters society,” said Representative Claire Cronin, Chair of the House Committee on the Judiciary. “We have updated and improved our laws, made the system more equitable, and are giving people opportunities to rebuild their lives, while also ensuring public safety. This comprehensive and workable bill will have a meaningful impact on the criminal justice system.”
“Growing up in Boston, many of my childhood friends felt the impacts of an unjust criminal justice system,” said Representative Jeffrey Sánchez, Chair of the House Committee on Ways & Means. “These bills focus on treating people as individuals, rather than the product of broad-based policies. Through a number of practical and progressive reforms, the House has taken steps to improve the criminal justice system, so people can make the most of opportunities and end the cycle of incarceration.”
“Our objective with this legislation is to reduce recidivism by removing the many obstacles facing justice-involved individuals after they have served their time,” said Majority Leader Ronald Mariano. “Individuals in our communities deserve a chance to effectively transition back into productive members of society, and this bill eliminates roadblocks toward achieving that goal. We believe these changes will be instrumental in encouraging folks that mistakes of their past will not serve as a life sentence.”
“This is a reform plan for the real world,” said Chief Justice Roderick L. Ireland, Distinguished Professor of Criminology and Criminal Justice at Northeastern University. “This bill provides judges with enhanced discretion and allows people to reclaim their lives after their debt to society is paid. I commend Speaker DeLeo and the Massachusetts House for their meaningful work on a very complex issue.”
For the first time in the history of Massachusetts, this legislation would establish a process for expunging criminal records. Courts will now be able to expunge certain juvenile and young adult (18-21) records, and records in cases of fraud or where an offense is no longer a crime. The legislation also bars third-party data companies from disseminating expunged records.
This legislation reflects a balanced, modern, smart-on-crime approach to sentencing. It eliminates mandatory and statutory minimum sentences for many low-level, non-violent drug offenses. At the same time, it bolsters the House’s multi-tiered approach to the opioid epidemic by creating the nation’s strongest law for trafficking Carfentanil and by strengthening the Fentanyl trafficking law. The legislation also toughens penalties for repeat offenders convicted of operating under the influence (OUI).
As part of the House’s focus on combating the opioid epidemic and providing healthcare parity, this legislation requires district attorneys to create pre-arraignment diversion programs for military personnel, veterans, and individuals with addiction or mental health issues. It removes the age restriction to participate in a diversion program, as they are currently only available to defendants 22 and under. The bill also establishes restorative justice as a voluntary pre-arraignment program.
The House has a longstanding legacy of supporting the Commonwealth’s most vulnerable children, particularly those facing trauma and adversity. Accordingly, this bill raises the minimum age of criminal responsibility from seven to ten and decriminalizes a first offense misdemeanor if the punishment is a fine or imprisonment for not more than six months. The legislation establishes a Juvenile Justice Policy and Data Commission, which will make the state eligible for additional federal funding, and a Childhood Trauma Task Force to study and recommend gender responsive and trauma-informed approaches to treatment of youths in the juvenile justice system. The bill also extends Good Samaritan protections to alcohol incapacitation for individuals under 21.
Following reforms in 2010 and 2012, this legislation again updates the Commonwealth’s criminal offender record information (CORI) system to help individuals secure gainful employment and housing:
This legislation updates the Commonwealth’s bail system and enhances judicial discretion by requiring a judge to take a person’s financial resources into account when determining bail. Fines and fees could be waived if they would make it impossible for an individual, their immediate family or their dependents to meet basic food, shelter and clothing needs.
The legislation sets a limit on how long an inmate can be held in segregation (solitary confinement) without review and bans segregation for pregnant women and juveniles. It also creates a Segregation Review Board to ensure appropriate oversight of the use of segregation. Additionally, the bill creates a process and establishes an independent board for terminally ill inmates to petition for medical parole.
The legislation raises the threshold for larceny to qualify as a felony from $250 to $1,000. It also creates the crime of solicitation that is tied to the severity of the underlying crime.
The legislation also establishes a sexual assault evidence kit tracking system, modeled after a bill filed by Representative Natalie Higgins and Representative Carmine Gentile. “We know that many survivors of sexual violence do not immediately report their assaults to the police, and this legislation will ensure that they have the peace of mind of knowing where their evidence kit is when they are ready to report their assault to the police,” said Representative Higgins. “Massachusetts has been leading the effort to reduce the rape kit backlog and this is a crucial next step to continue that progress.”
The bill passed the House 144-9. The vote follows unanimous passage of a separate criminal justice bill on Monday (commonly referred to as the Council of State Government bill) designed to complement the House’s comprehensive bill. The CSG bill allows individuals to earn early release by participating in recidivism-reduction programs.
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Representative Natalie Higgins highlighted the "unimaginable sacrifices" veterans and their families make in the name of guarding the nation's freedoms.
"I'm so thankful for all of your sacrifices to make our community safe and to guarantee that we are free here in Massachusetts and the rest of the country," she said.
Read the rest of the article at: http://www.sentinelandenterprise.com/news/ci_31448298/day-remember-salute#ixzz55WbOyRXk
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November 10, 2017
Contact: Representative Natalie Higgins, 978-602-3772
House Passes Legislation to Protect Women at Risk of Losing Birth Control Coverage
Underscores economic impact of contraception coverage
BOSTON - Representative Natalie Higgins (D-Leominster) joined her colleagues in the Massachusetts House to pass legislation to ensure that Massachusetts women have access to no-copay contraception. This action follows the Trump Administration’s decision to weaken critical provisions of the Affordable Care Act related to women’s health and preventive care.
This compromise bill requires insurers to cover contraceptives and contraceptive services in Massachusetts, including education, counseling and follow-up treatment, without any out-of-pocket cost to the patient. In an effort to contain healthcare costs, the bill only requires insurers to cover one version of a drug or device free of charge, if a therapeutic equivalent (generic drug) is available, unless otherwise directed by a patient’s doctor.
“All women deserve the right to affordable, reliable and safe contraceptive care,” said House Speaker Robert A. DeLeo (D-Winthrop). “This is not only a health issue, but one of equity as well. Being able to make decisions about contraception is one of the most influential factors in whether women complete their education and achieve their career goals. I’m proud that Massachusetts did the right thing in the face of shameful decisions on the federal level.”
“Amid an environment of fear and uncertainty out of Washington, I’m proud that Massachusetts is standing up for the right to access to no-copay contraception,” said Speaker Pro Tempore Patricia A. Haddad (D-Somerset), co-sponsor of the bill. “Now, more than ever, we need to stand up to safeguard choices and opportunity for women.”
“Women should have access to contraception,” said Chairman John W. Scibak (D-South Hadley), co-sponsor of the bill. “But, this is not just a women’s issue. It’s a men’s issue, a family issue, and a societal issue. I’m proud that Massachusetts is doing the right thing and guaranteeing that women can exercise their choices and have free access to oral contraceptives.”
“The number one issue I hear about from constituents is access to reproductive healthcare,” said Representative Higgins. I believe this is one of the most important issues we’ll take on this session. We cannot afford to roll back these protections, regardless of what is going on at the federal level.”
In its October 2017 report, the Center for Health Information and Analysis (CHIA) notes that “increasing the dispensing period of contraceptives to a year facilitates access and may lead to a more consistent contraceptive use.” Understanding that consistency is critical to effective use of contraceptives, this bill allows patients to pick up a twelve-month supply of medicine subsequent to an initial three-month prescription.
The legislation also mandates no-copay coverage for emergency contraception with a prescription.
Access to preventive healthcare and affordable contraception continues to have a significant impact on the economic stability of women. Contraceptives make up about 30 to 44 percent of out-of-pocket healthcare spending for women. Since 1960, it is estimated that about one-third of the wage gains made by women are the result of access to birth control.
FOR IMMEDIATE RELEASE
November 10, 2017
Contact: Representative Natalie Higgins, 978-602-3772
House Passes Legislation to Support and Honor Military Veterans
(BOSTON) – Representative Natalie Higgins joined her colleagues in the House of Representatives to pass two bills to support Massachusetts’ veterans. These bills build upon the Commonwealth’s legacy as the first state in the nation for the number of programs and services it offers to military personnel, veterans and their families.
“I am immensely proud that Massachusetts ranks first in the nation when it comes to military-benefit programs and services,” House Speaker Robert A. DeLeo said. “This legislation sends a message to our heroes and their families that we appreciate their bravery, sacrifice and service. While these two bills are small steps, the House is continuing its work in providing critical and well-deserved supports.”
"We wanted to put these important bills out before Veterans Day to honor those who have served as a small token of our appreciation,” said Representative John J. Lawn, Jr., Chair of the House Committee on Veterans and Federal Affairs.
“Our veterans, soldiers and their loved ones make sacrifices each and every day to serve and protect our communities, and for that I am so thankful,” said State Representative Natalie Higgins. “I am proud to stand with my colleagues and pass these two pieces of legislation as we honor them on Veterans Day.”
Under legislation passed by the House, every municipality in the Commonwealth will now designate one parking space at its town or city hall as “veterans-only parking.”
The House also took action to enable municipalities to more easily collect donations for their Veterans Memorial and Patriotic Celebration Funds. This legislation allows cities and towns to include a check-off box on municipal tax or motor vehicle excise tax bills through which residents can pledge donations to be used for the creation and restoration of monuments and other activities that honor the contributions and sacrifices of local veterans.
Originally published at: http://www.leominsterchamp.com/articles/leominster-continues-to-lead-the-way-in-manufacturing/
While we were all picking out our Halloween costumes in October, I also wanted to give a shout out to our Leominster manufacturers in honor of Manufacturing Month.
Throughout the month, I’ve gotten to tour some impressive local manufacturing businesses and even take an educational “field trip” to South Carver to learn more about Massachusetts cranberry farming and processing.
Leominster has played (and continues to play) a particularly influential role in manufacturing in Massachusetts and nationwide. While Leominster started out as a small farming community, our economy quickly shifted towards manufacturing at the beginning of the 19th century, thanks to accessible transportation routes and a strong workforce.
By the 1850s, Leominster and the surrounding communities were home to many industries, including paper mills, piano makers, and comb manufacturers. Most notably, comb manufacturing quickly grew to 24 different manufacturers cropping up in Leominster by 1853.
With the introduction of plastics, Leominster continued to lead the way, eventually became the “Pioneer Plastics City.” Leominster became home to the Viscoloid Company (which later merged with the DuPont Company), Foster Grant, Tupperware, Standard Tool Company, Selig Manufacturing Co. Inc, C.E. Buckley, Inc., and the Whitney Carriage Company. And no one can forget that the plastic pink lawn flamingo was invented in 1956 for Union Products, with the original design by Don Featherstone. I proudly have my Leominster pink lawn flamingos in my Leominster and Boston offices.
Manufacturing still remains a major player in our local and regional economy, accounting for one-quarter of all jobs in both Leominster and across North Central Massachusetts. Our region actually has the highest concentration of manufacturers in Massachusetts, as many other regions have seen manufacturing jobs disappear.
We should be proud of the training our own Center for Technical Education and Innovation provides our students. Just this month, thanks to a Skills Capital Grant application prepared by Machine Technology Instructor Steve McNamara and his wife Erin, CTEi was awarded a grant of $492,000 to continue necessary updates to program equipment. This will help round out the additional investment of $150,000 CTEi has already made in the program.
With such a promise of our past and present in the manufacturing industry, I am excited to continue to help connect the dots between our schools, our local Chambers of Commerce, and our area manufacturers to ensure Leominster remains an area leader. Many of these partners are already looking to ways to set the bar even higher, and to foster the growth of clean and renewable energy technology. There is so much more room for this Gateway City to grow and provide even more meaningful, high-quality, and well-paying jobs for Leominster residents.
Thank you for taking the time to read this month’s column. If you have any questions, or need to get in touch with me and my office, email me at Natalie.Higgins@mahouse.gov or call (978) 227-5278.