FOR IMMEDIATE RELEASE
Contact: State Representative Natalie Higgins, Natalie.Higgins@mahouse.gov
January 26, 2018
House Takes Action to Finance the Production and Preservation of Affordable Housing
(BOSTON) – Representative Natalie HIggins joined her colleagues in the House to pass a $1.7 billion housing bond bill to support low and moderate income housing throughout the Commonwealth. The legislation recapitalizes funding for a variety of programs and extends several housing and economic development tax credits.
“With the passage of this bond bill, we renew our commitment to affordable housing,” said House Speaker Robert A. DeLeo. “I thank Chairs Sánchez, Honan and Cabral and my colleagues in the House for backing a bill that supports many proven programs. I’m particularly proud of the provisions that support housing for those with disabilities and improve facilities used for early education.”
“Successful housing finance is a patchwork of state programs, grants, and partnerships,” said Representative Jeffrey Sánchez, House Chair of the Joint Committee on Ways & Means. “Our bill ensures that the state is able to hold up its end of the deal. But beyond the numbers and spreadsheets, these programs help ensure people can have a place to call home.”
“This bond bill will authorize $1.7 billion dollars over the next five years for the production and preservation of affordable housing, smart growth development, and much needed public housing capital improvements,” said Representative Kevin Honan, House Chair of the Joint Committee on Housing. “These are critical investments at a time where our dependence on federal funding is uncertain. Housing is the cornerstone of our society and our economy and the provisions of this bill are the tried and true affordable housing tools that are at our disposal.
“Housing prices are climbing and affordable housing options are dwindling throughout the Commonwealth. We must make timely investments and address the issue head-on, especially for our most vulnerable population,” said Representative Antonio F.D. Cabral, House Chair of the Joint Committee on Bonding, Capital Expenditures and State Assets. “This legislation is a smart step that will ensure the sustainability of our state’s affordable housing stock.”
This legislation prioritizes numerous programs that support vulnerable residents including:
The bill also gives DHCD the option to purchase certain housing units designed for community-based DMH housing at appraised value, to preserve affordable housing, within 120 days of the authorization of affordable restrictions.
This bill continues the House’s 2013 landmark creation of the Early Education and Out of School Time Capital Fund, furthering its commitment to high quality early education and care programming. This $45 million reauthorization provides facility improvement grants for early education and out of school time programs serving low income children.
The legislation authorizes $400 million for the Affordable Housing Trust Fund. This program provides flexible funding to create and preserve affordable housing, ranging from transitional homes for homeless to homeownership programs. It also authorizes $600 million for Public Housing Renovation to help modernize and rehabilitate public housing including updates like the abatement of lead.
Other programs include:
The bill features numerous tax credits designed to incentivize building, development and investment for a range of projects. Credits include:
The bill now goes to the Senate.
Originally published at: http://www.leominsterchamp.com/articles/remembering-dr-kings-legacy-50-years-later/
In his 1963 “I Have a Dream” speech, Dr. Martin Luther King, Jr. said, “Our lives begin to end the day we become silent about things that matter.”
I have been reflecting a great deal on the work and legacy of Dr. King, with the 50th anniversary of his assassination. I was not alive during his lifetime, but his passion and his commitment to social justice is universal and inspired many of my mentors. His work, his writings, and above all, his calls to action, continue to move us today.
I am writing this column in the midst of a federal government shutdown when politics seems to get more polarized every week, and just about everyone seems to be frustrated by government. Growing up in a working-class family, that never really felt the government was accessible to them or worked for them, motivated me to get involved in politics and public service.
I joke with our Congressman, Jim McGovern, nearly every time that I’ve seen him this past year, over not being envious of his job. I am lucky because in Massachusetts state politics almost every issue we work on, every bill we pass, is done with bipartisan support.
Yet, we are not immune to these polarizing attacks from the outside. For the second time in my first year in elected office, a dark money group has sent misleading and often just plain false mailers across the city. But I welcome these opportunities to have those hard conversations and talk about real problems and real solutions.
In Dr. King’s 1963 Strength to Love sermons, he said: “Darkness cannot drive out darkness, only light can do that. Hate cannot drive out hate; only love can do that.” I hope that in these tough times we can all gather together and have these difficult conversations. I hope to have more community forums like the ones I hosted this summer, and I would love to hear your ideas on how to create more community spaces to share experiences, concerns, and solutions at the state, local, and federal level.
We should be proud of the example Massachusetts sets for the rest of the nation. We advance thinking laws, to protect and move our communities forward. I am looking forward to the rest of the 2017-2018 Legislative Session where we’ll be taking up issues around health care access and affordability, the opioid crisis, and protecting working families, just to name a few.
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. Also please drop into my open office hours Monday at the Leominster Public Library from 5:30-7 p.m. and Friday at the Leominster High School from 7-8 a.m.
Originally published in http://www.leominsterchamp.com/articles/mcgovern-kennedy-visit-two-schools-in-leominster/
Congressmen Jim McGovern and Joe Kennedy III recently joined state Rep. Natalie Higgins in addressing the senior class at Leominster High School about their work in their respective legislative bodies, the importance of public service, and how students can make a difference in their communities.
McGovern and Kennedy then toured Sky View Middle School and spoke on the Leominster Public Schools getting a 21st Century Grant for fiscal 2018-20 of $375,000 (with $125,000 received each year) for Sky View to run an after-school program and a five-week summer program. Students are provided with snacks, homework help, activities targeted towards minimizing academic achievement gaps, and transportation home at no cost to families. Around 40 students in Grades 6-8 participate.
Originally published at: http://www.leominsterchamp.com/articles/end-of-year-reflections-and-lessons-learned/
I was warned that my first session in the House of Representatives would speed on by, but somehow I thought my years working in and around the building would help slow down the pace. Boy, was I wrong! This first year passed in a flash, and I am so thankful for my monthly column in the Leominster Champion to give me a moment to reflect on the accomplishments and challenges and share my experience with you all.
My first priority was establishing as many points of contact in Leominster that I could. That started with opening my district office in the Gallagher Building (24 Church St., Room 29), and setting up my weekly office hours. As promised, I hold twice weekly office hours outside of the normal 9-5 workday. Monday evenings from 5:30-7 I can be found in Room 204 at the Leominster Public Library. Our Friday morning hours from 7-8 are in Leominster High School’s Media Center. I also host three special “Senior Hours” a month at the Leominster Senior Center with the Golden Agers, Sunset Towers and LaPierre East. I also want to give a special shout out to the teams at theLeominster Champion, Leominster Access Television (Comcast 99/Verizon 33), and WPKZ Radio 105.3FM for my monthly segments.
Then, this summer, we went back to meeting you at your doors, to spread the word about a series of Community Conversations we organized around some highly-requested topics: Education, the Economy, the Environment and Health Care. Thank you to everyone who attended in person and watched online. If you’re interested in checking them out, they are still available on my Facebook page and website, RepNatalieHiggins.com. This spring, we are working on organizing two more conversations on issues you’ve requested: Veterans and Transportation.
And, of course, there is all of the work at the State House with my legislation, committee work, and the state budget. I originally filed eight bills, all focused on increased access and affordability for public higher education and protections for survivors of sexual and domestic violence. And if that wasn’t enough to keep track of, I have filed five more bills at the request of Leominster residents and co-sponsored more than 350 additional pieces of legislation.
But the real “bread and butter” of any state rep’s office is constituent services. This is why I decided to run for state representative — to help Leominster residents better navigate state systems and advocate for solutions to the problems they face. I know many of you have gotten a chance to meet my legislative aide, Taylor Landry, who’s also a Leominster native. Between Taylor and I, we’ve worked on more than 100 constituent cases already this year, from housing and homelessness to health care access, unemployment to the RMV, and so many more in between. Please call my office if you think we could help. While we cannot assist with every issue, we usually can connect you with the right resources. You can reach my office at (978) 227-5278 and Natalie.Higgins@mahouse.gov.
I look forward to getting to know you all better in 2018. Merry Christmas and Happy Holidays!
Representing Leominster -- Episode 8 -- Guests City Councilor Gail Feckley & State Representative Jon Zlotnik
Here's a short excerpt:
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
Here's a short excerpt:
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
FOR IMMEDIATE RELEASE
Contacts: Natalie Higgins, email@example.com, 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.
FOR IMMEDIATE RELEASE
Contact: Natalie Higgins, firstname.lastname@example.org, 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.