As we move into the fall, I want to provide you with an update as I join my fellow legislators back to the Statehouse after an August break from formal session. This past month I have been busy attending events centered around educational initiatives, healthcare technologies, employment goals, and, of course, joining my fellow committee members in holding hearings to receive testimony and additional information concerning bills before each committee. September has been a great kickoff to a busy formal session!
Around the District
One of my favorite aspects of representing the 37th Middlesex District is being able to attend various events around the district and getting to know my constituents.
The Lunenburg School Committee held a meeting to discuss H.1862, An Act Supporting Municipal Fiscal Stability through a Special Education Stabilization Fund. This bill provides an opportunity for school districts to better manage the unpredictable nature of special-education costs. Specifically, this bill would give municipalities the option of establishing a stabilization fund that could be used to help pay for unexpected and unbudgeted out-of-district special-education costs, including tuition and transportation. These expenses can present significant challenges for school budgets. This legislation offers our cities and towns another tool they can use to improve their fiscal stability. If the town of Lunenburg opted to start this stabilization fund, any time the School Committee looked to expend money, a Town Meeting would need to be called. I found this to be a productive and informative meeting with the School Committee.
I also had to opportunity to attend the Ayer-Shirley Regional High School groundbreaking ceremony. As I stated at the ceremony, "Anything that is great has teamwork behind it. If something is worth doing, it's worth pulling together to make it happen." The project was certainly a joined effort of the Ayer-Shirley Regional School Committee, superintendent, the administration, the Massachusetts School Building Authority, school, town and state officials, parents, students and many more. Providing an updated and sustainable environment for our children to receive an education is essential for the future of our communities. It was inspiring to hear firsthand the stories behind making this vision a reality.
Workforce and Education Initiatives
One of my top goals as a state representative is to get Massachusetts back to work by supporting education and workforce training. Both education and job creation were the focus of events I attended in September. In the beginning of the month, I attended the Massachusetts Workforce Investment Board Meeting. It is always beneficial to hear the objectives, potential deliverables and next steps of the Massachusetts Workforce Investment Board Committees. Their goals range from building a framework that provides a system of care awareness for skill upgrades linked to academic and work-based learning, to implementing and evaluating statewide career readiness certificate programs. It is necessary to constantly discuss what we are doing as a commonwealth to provide access to jobs and basic skills training. I take pride in being on the front line to assist in implementing these goals!
I was also invited to attend A Day in the Life of an Early Educator at the Busy Bee Preschool with my colleague, Sen. Jen Flanagan. At Busy Bees, I received a tour of the day-to-day activities of early educators who provide high quality early education to children, from infants to 5 years of age. The tour was followed by a round-table discussion about House Bill 477, An Act to Improve Quality in Early Education Centers, of which I am a co-sponsor, with the Massachusetts Early Childhood Educators Union, parents, teachers and other educator activists from the area. As the former chairwoman of the Lunenburg School Committee, I have seen firsthand that education from an early age is essential in the development of both social and educational skills for the children. It is clear that kids who go to quality preschool programs school higher on their third-grade reading MCAS, and when they do that, it's a domino effect; they're more successful throughout their educational experience. It was exciting to visit a place that would be extremely influenced by this legislation.
It is a great way to begin a school year by joining the region's top youth advocates in promoting and advancing the mission of keeping all students healthy, safe and well. I attended the annual Superintendents and Chiefs Breakfast hosted by the Middlesex District Attorney Marian Ryan, in partnership with Middlesex Partnership for Youth Inc. to discuss these initiatives.
Healthcare Finance Committee
As vice chairwoman of the Healthcare Finance Committee, I try to attend as many events as possible relating to the health-care industry. Recently, I was able to join the MA Tech Hub Caucus at the Verizon Innovation Center to focus on the intersection of health care and technology. The event helped remind us that the field of health care will always be relevant and constantly evolving. It is essential to keep in mind that our top priority is to offer the best quality care for patients, while reducing costs. Affordable patient care is contingent on innovation in health-care technology. Additionally, I attended the Heywood Healthcare Legislative Breakfast to join their conversation around progress, future opportunities among the Heywood Healthcare Family, and learned of their community health initiatives.
Mid-September the committee held a public hearing at the Statehouse, where we heard testimony on legislative subjects such as health-care costs, mandate costs and quality measures. The committee will continue to have public hearings throughout the coming months. I would encourage anyone who would like to share their opinion or advocacy for bills that come before the committee to stay up to date on upcoming hearing agendas (which can be found at malegislature.gov/Committees/Joint/J24) in order to attend in person or send in a letter of testimony.
At the Statehouse, my staff attended a Biotech Caucus Event: Biosimilars in Massachusetts. This was a panel that provided an opportunity for legislators and staff to hear an expert panel discuss what important factors should be considered when crafting sound biosimilar policies. This was an informative event that my staff found extremely useful as we move forward with issues relating to biosimilars.
As Oct. 1 was quickly approaching, I felt it was important to hold a briefing on the Affordable Care Act and its anticipated impact on residents of the commonwealth. As vice chair of the Healthcare Finance Committee, I joined Chairman Walsh, Health Care For All and the Health Connector in hosting two legislative briefings on the Affordable Care Act. During these briefings, we were able to discuss what the Affordable Care Act is and how it will help the constituents our fellow legislators serve. Most importantly, we were able to discuss how Massachusetts residents can get health insurance, assistance in paying for it, and how to assist constituents navigating through this new federal law. Both briefings were extremely successful, and I anticipate legislators and their staff are prepared to help our affected constituents with this transition.
Additional Committee Update
The Joint Committee on Public Service, which I am a member of, held a public hearing in September that focused on legislation for retirement issues, civil service and pension funding, among others.
The Joint Committee on Telecommunications, Utilities and Energy also held two public hearings in September. The first hearing focused on utility, reliability and service quality bills. The second hearing focused on bottle bills.
State House Events
The seasons are changing, and that means we must be prepared for any disasters to come. At the beginning of the month, I attended a Unitil pre-winter briefing for legislators, hosted by Sen. Jen Flanagan. We discussed the various resources available in the event of another disastrous winter storm and the plans Unitil will implement should there be residents within our districts affected by storm conditions. It is great to be prepared before the season arrives.
First and foremost, I want to discuss the recently repealed sales tax on technology services due to the high volume of constituent concerns I received. At the onset of the computer software sales tax, the Legislature sought input from the business community and consulted various trade groups. Through input from the industry, and excluding some elements of the governor's original bill, I voted in favor of the modified transportation bill, which included the sales and use taxes to computer software services. However, as you know, once implemented, there was an extensive amount of backlash from the tech industry, including the business community and various trade groups, of which originally provided favorable input of the tax to the Legislature. As the tax became very controversial, I want to emphasize that my top priority is to ensure the commonwealth's tech industry remains competitive in the industry across the country and the world. After careful consideration, I decided to vote to repeal the tax.