I hope that you had a happy and healthy Thanksgiving.
The victory by a U.S. woman in the New York Marathon notwithstanding, October and November felt like a sprint. The Senate passed major and complex bills to help Massachusetts; district activities included major annual participatory events – Election Day and Veterans Day – and major economic-development announcements in Lowell and Tyngsborough.
Thank you for the opportunity to solve problems and expand opportunities for the people of the First Middlesex District. Please share questions, concerns, and ideas by calling my office at 617-722-1630, or by contacting me by email, Facebook, or Twitter.
Eileen M. Donoghue
First Middlesex District
My Handicapped Placard Bill Signed into Law
My bill to curb handicapped placard abuse, after unanimously passing the House and the Senate, was signed into law by Governor Baker on November 27.
The improper use of handicapped parking placards deprives disabled individuals from the parking spots that they need, robs municipalities of revenue, and disrupts parking availability on our municipal streets.
The Thanksgiving Project
I would like to thank the United Way for organizing an effort to distribute meals to more than 6,500 families before Thanksgiving. I am grateful to have had the chance to help out on the Saturday before the holiday.
Since 2009, the Thanksgiving Project has provided food to more than 25,000 people annually.
Congratulations to all the people and businesses that donated their time, money, and food to help to spread some holiday cheer so that more people can enjoy a holiday meal with their loved ones.
Honoring Our Veterans
I had the privilege of commemorating Veterans Day in Lowell with many veterans and their families.
In his second inaugural address, President Lincoln concluded, “With malice toward none, with charity for all, with firmness in the right as God gives us to see the right, let us strive on to finish the work we are in, to bind up the nation’s wounds, to care for him who shall have borne the battle and for his widow and his orphan, to do all which may achieve and cherish a just and lasting peace among ourselves and with all nations.”
This charge more than 150 years ago rings as true now as it did near the end of the Civil War.
Today, military service may seem remote to many Americans. While far fewer people have sacrificed for the wars in Iraq and Afghanistan than the legions of those who served in past wars, adequately addressing the needs of veterans and their families remains an imperative for me.
A day to remember and honor veterans is a concrete way of reminding us all of the enormous debt that we owe to veterans. I am proud to say that during my time on Beacon Hill, Massachusetts has acted aggressively to pass legislation to help veterans – and that the protections and benefits offered to our veterans are among the best in the nation.
I would like to thank all of the veterans and their families in the Commonwealth for their selfless service. You have acted for the highest ideals with the ultimate resolve. By our words and our deeds, we will seek to honor your service and your sacrifice, today and always.
State Funding for District Priorities
In 2016, as Senate Chair of the Joint Committee on Economic Development and Emerging Technologies, I helped craft a $1 billion economic development bill that included $500 million for MassWorks, which funds infrastructure improvements for job-creating projects in the First Middlesex District and throughout Massachusetts.
In October, both Tyngsborough and Lowell received some of these funds. The Lowell award will help to make priority roadway, streetscape, public parking, and public storage improvements in downtown Lowell as part of the Warren Street Improvement Project. UTEC, in partnership with MassDevelopment and the City of Lowell, will remove the island on Warren Street and reconfigure the traffic, creating 12 new angled public parking spots. This funding will unlock the development of a new, larger public venue space that will be known as The Green @ UTEC – creating and sustaining 25 jobs in the process.
The Tyngsborough MassWorks Infrastructure Program grant will support pump station upgrades.
Keeping our infrastructure modernized helps to attract and retain growing companies that provide good housing and jobs.
Bringing Jobs to Our Community
I joined city officials, community partners, members of the House of Representatives, and Lieutenant Governor Polito to celebrate the grand opening of the Kronos Incorporated global headquarters in Lowell. This state-of-the-art facility represents much more than a renowned company choosing Lowell as its new home – it represents the future of our city.
With a legacy of economic greatness dating back to the Industrial Revolution, in 2017 Lowell is a technological leader in the Commonwealth’s innovation-driven economy, thanks to companies like Kronos and UMass Lowell‘s renowned STEM programs. Kronos made the right choice in deciding to relocate to Lowell. I know that this decision will pay off for generations to come.
The Time Zone Commission Report
On November 1, the Special Commission to Study the Commonwealth’s Time Zone issued a final report of findings and recommendations for the Legislature’s consideration. Initially spurred by a citizen’s petition and passed by the Legislature as part of the 2016 economic development bill, the Special Commission engaged in a 10-month examination of this important topic, including extensive discourse with experts in fields of economic development, public health and safety, crime, transportation, broadcast media, and others.
Based on a research-driven analysis of what such a change would mean for those who live and work in Massachusetts, the Special Commission recommended that Massachusetts could make a data-driven case for moving to the Atlantic Time Zone (effectively observing year-round daylight saving time), contingent upon:
- Regional action. A change should only occur if a majority of other Northeast states (possibly including New York) also do so.
- Later school start-times. Any move should be accompanied by statewide standards for school start-times to mitigate safety issues and improve student performance, health and well-being.
- Public awareness. Any change must be accompanied by public awareness initiatives about transitions to and from daylight saving time.
This report represents an important step in an ongoing conversation. Please see the In the News section of this newsletter for just some of the media coverage of this topic.
Senate Passes Two Major Bills to Reform Health Care
With my support, the Senate on November 9 passed the HEALTH Act, which seeks to lower costs, improve outcomes, and maintain access for patients. The bill incorporates legislation that I filed that would eliminate the deceptive practice of surprise billing, which occurs when a patient goes to an in-network hospital, but ends up unknowingly receiving treatment from a doctor at that hospital who is out-of-network. Through no fault of the patient, this lack of transparency can result in astronomically high medical bills.
My Senate Bill 522 ensures that the financial burden of surprise billing does not fall on patients by setting a minimum rate that insurers must pay to out-of-network emergency providers and to out-of-network providers at in-network facilities. Doing so guarantees that patients do not pay more than they would have for care at an in-network provider and bars providers from pursuing payment from the patient beyond any applicable copayment, coinsurance, or deductible.
On November 14, the Senate took up contraceptive access, a matter not only of public health but also of economic security. Women should not have to make decisions related to their reproductive health and wellbeing based on their income or employment.
The Massachusetts State Senate unanimously passed an important piece of legislation that will protect and promote a woman’s access to preventative care and, once again, make our state a national healthcare leader. The ACCESS Bill, which I co-sponsored and which became law on November 22, mandates that all FDA-approved forms of birth control are available to women without being subject to a deductible, co-payment, or out-of-pocket expense.
In Massachusetts, women make choices for themselves
Senate Passes Climate Change Adaptation Management Plan
Given the serious impacts that global warming could continue to have on my Senate district, the Commonwealth, and our nation, I supported Senate action to establish a comprehensive adaptation management action plan in response to climate change.
A collaboration led by the Secretary of Energy and Environmental Affairs and the Secretary of Public Safety and Security would develop a comprehensive adaptation management action plan that would go into effect in 2018.
I hope that the House will follow the Senate’s lead on this issue because we need to try to mitigate the impacts of climate change as soon as possible.
Trooper George L. Hanna Memorial Award for Bravery
On October 5, distinguished police officers received the Trooper George L. Hanna Memorial Award for Bravery. From a routine traffic stop that turned violent, to rushing into harm’s way to save civilian lives, the ceremony recounted acts of bravery in harrowing detail. I am proud of three of Lowell’s finest police officers, Guillermo Rojas, Chase Suong, and Buntha Kieng, who received honors for their heroism in keeping residents safe. While their actions on one fateful day earned them this award, their actions every day make them heroes in our hearts every day.
The Legislature started a Trails Caucus to build a coalition of legislators advocating for a better connected and better maintained network of trails throughout the Commonwealth. Given the importance of well-preserved trails for economic development, the environment, and recreation, I have joined this new group and would encourage all newsletter readers to get out and explore some of the great trails that we have in Massachusetts. For example, the beautiful Nashua River Rail Trail begins in Ayer and goes through Dunstable, Groton, and Pepperell.
Free Civil Legal Services for Massachusetts Crime Victims
The Massachusetts Legal Assistance Corporation announced in October that it received a two-year, $8 million grant from the Office for Victim Assistance to increase access to civil legal services for victims of violent and economic crimes in Massachusetts.
This funding will increase access to these services for the most vulnerable victims of child abuse, domestic violence, sexual assault, and elder abuse—as well as to victims of non-violent crimes like fraud, financial abuse, or theft. Services are free and accessible to children, elders, non-English speakers, and people with disabilities. Referrals are also made to other social service providers to meet each client’s individual and long-term safety needs.
In the News
Time Zone Press
Rage, rage against the dying of the light (Boston Globe Editorial)
Sentinel & Express: One issue all 151 reps in House could agree on
October 27, 2017
It’s rare when a legislative body unanimously agrees on anything. We’d say perhaps mom and apple pie, but we’re sure we’d get some pushback even on that.
But such a unique moment occurred at the Statehouse on Wednesday, when all 151 House members present voted in favor of a bill sponsored state Sen. Eileen Donoghue to exact penalties on those motorists who illegally use handicapped-accessible parking placards. The state reps did offer a few amendments that must be reconciled with the Senate before the bill can be delivered to Gov. Charlie Baker for his signature.
The House vote mirrored one by the Senate, which had previously passed the Lowell Democrat’s bill, also by unanimous consent.
Donoghue’s bill would give the Registry of Motor Vehicles the authority to investigate whether someone falsely acquired a handicapped-accessible placard for their car, and revoke the placard if they did. It also lets the RMV ask for documentation that would verify whether someone needs access to handicapped parking.
The bill also provides for fines on those who lie on an application for a handicapped placard — $500 on the first offense and $1,000 for a second offense.
This legislation would also benefit injured veterans, an often-ignored demographic group when it comes to accessibility.
Of course, this measure not only aims at cracking down on the odious practice of the able-bodied taking parking spaces reserved for the elderly or physically impaired, it also contains a bottom-line component.
According to a report in The Sun of Lowell on Thursday, in February 2016 Inspector General Glenn Cunha found that 325 vehicles in Boston displaying placards belonged to someone other than the car’s owner, including instances in which drivers used the placard to park for free at metered spots near their workplace.
The Inspector General’s report concluded that when someone abuses a handicapped-accessible parking placard for daily weekday parking, the annual cost to the city of Boston is about $2,280.
That loss of state revenue was reinforced by state Rep. William Straus, a Mattapoisett Democrat who spoke in favor the bill. He said the lost parking fees from misused placards are estimated to total millions of dollars in Boston alone. If you multiply that revenue loss throughout the state, those lost receipts amount to a considerable sum.
We concur with state Rep. James Miceli, a Democrat who represents Wilmington and parts of Tewksbury, who said such a bill is “long overdue.”
We also agree with state Rep. Dave Nangle, a Lowell Democrat, who said this bill’s clear sailing through the Legislature reflects its lack of controversy. Can you imagine any legislator standing up to oppose such a morally just proposition? We can’t.
The bill’s a no-brainer. Pass it and send it along to the governor’s desk.
Boston Globe Letters: State seeks to protect students from unscrupulous for-profit schools
The article “Student borrowers caught in limbo” (Page A1, Oct. 2) shows that students at for-profit schools need protections. Schools deceive or defraud students, recruiting them with false promises or enrolling them in programs for which they are ineligible. With inadequate systems in place to protect students from unscrupulous for-profit schools, students find themselves deep in debt, without a degree, and with no relief available.
Accordingly, State Representative Jennifer Benson, Attorney General Maura Healey, and I filed a bill creating a fund to reimburse students for economic losses suffered from a for-profit school’s discontinuation of an educational program, failure to fulfill contractual obligations, or failure to comply with state or federal law. For-profit schools would support the fund through small annual assessments.
Given the troubling signs coming out of Washington, we must act to create a Student Tuition Recovery Fund. Massachusetts students are counting on us.
State Senator Eileen M. Donoghue
The writer represents the First Middlesex District.