The Donoghue Digest: Winter Edition

In the District

Lowell’s New Mayor and City Council Begin Terms

With Representative David Nangle and other colleagues from Beacon Hill, I attended the swearing-in ceremony for Mayor Samaras and Lowell City Council members.

I look forward to working with all new and returning Councilors to make Lowell an even better place to live and work.

Taking Care of Our Veterans

I joined my dear friends Joe Dean, Terry Stader, and Eric Lamarche – Veterans Service Officers from Dunstable, Westford and Lowell – at the Massachusetts Veterans’ Service Officers Association Annual Legislative Luncheon January 24.

Those who vigorously defend our nation allow us to enjoy our liberties and freedoms. Today, and every day, we must honor our veterans’ sacrifices by living for others – doing what we can, regardless of whether we wear a uniform, to keep and to protect the United States.

To honor their contributions, we must continue to take care of our veterans. Doing so represents a small debt of gratitude for the bravery and sacrifices that they have exhibited.

Celebrating MLK Day

I had the distinct pleasure of speaking at the 20th annual Passing the Ball celebration hosted by the Lura Smith Fund where members of the community came together to honor the life of Dr. Martin Luther King Jr.

In these turbulent times, where we continue to face problems with an anachronistic racist tint, Dr. King’s legacy remains as steadfast and important as ever. We must continue his work to acknowledge, confront, and overcome the racism that persists in our society.

As Dr. King himself said 50 years ago, “And I’ve seen the promised land. I may not get there with you. But I want you to know tonight, that we, as a people will get to the promised land.”
Let us all strive to get there together and especially focus on bringing the most vulnerable in our society along with us.

Lowell Community Health Center Expands

I proudly joined Manager Murphy and Representative Golden when Lowell Community Health Center announced that it would now provide dental and vision care.

Unfortunately, many economically disadvantaged families lack access to dental or vision coverage that can result in critical health conditions not being properly addressed, only to lead to more expensive and serious health issues down the line. By addressing such health issues early on, Lowell Community Health Center will assist those in need while also reducing the number of uninsured visits to the emergency room.

I appreciate Lowell Community Health Center doing exemplary work in providing individuals and families in the Greater Lowell Area with access to quality, affordable, and convenient care.

On Beacon Hill

Evaluating the State of the Commonwealth

The annual speech that Gov. Baker delivered on the State of the Commonwealth struck the right tone:  The State of the Commonwealth is strong, but I believe we can and must do better.

I agree with Gov. Baker and U.S. News and World Report that Massachusetts is indeed the best state in the nation to live, work, and raise a family. And I applaud his call that office-holders should “understand that what we do … is tied to something bigger than partisanship.”

While I appreciate the Commonwealth’s replacement and repair of 80 bridges, we still face challenges with inadequate structures like the Rourke Bridge in Lowell.  While investments in MBTA expansions like those underway in Somerville and those touted in the South Coast look exciting, the T still struggles to provide Lowell commuter line riders with reliable daily service and seems a long way away from providing, as Gov. Baker said, “the public transportation system that the people of this Commonwealth deserve.”

I look forward to working with the Baker-Polito Administration, as well as my colleagues from both parties and in both chambers, to realize the potential of Massachusetts. I am especially excited about two of the priority items that the Governor identified, namely, improving our economy and closing the opportunity gap in education.

Protecting the GIC

Given the importance of health care to the people and finances of the Commonwealth, the abrupt announcement by the Group Insurance Commission (GIC) that beginning on July 1 Tufts Health Plan, Fallon Community Health, and Harvard Pilgrim Health Care could no longer cover 200,000 working families and retirees greatly distressed me.

After hearing from numerous constituents who have expressed understandable concerns about the negative consequences that this change in coverage will have on their lives, I cosponsored legislation filed by Senator Friedman requiring the GIC to provide its members and the Legislature with ample notice before implementing any change to its coverage plans.

This 90-day notice will allow GIC members to provide the commission with valuable feedback on any proposed changes to their health insurance and prevent thousands of families from being blindsided by any sudden contractual changes in their coverage.

As a member of the Senate Committee on Ways and Means, I attended and asked questions at an oversight hearing to discuss the wrong-headed GIC decision.  Specifically, I voiced my serious concerns about the substance and communication of this decision to both the GIC’s executive director and the Commonwealth’s Secretary of Administration & Finance Mike Heffernan, who also serves as a GIC Commissioner.

While I am pleased that the day after the hearing the GIC voted to withdraw its decision, I will continue to push for aggressive oversight of the GIC to ensure that it will do what is right for the dedicated people who serve the Commonwealth.

Easing the Burden of Student Debt

On January 18 by a unanimous 39-0 vote, the Massachusetts State Senate passed my bill that would enable prospective college students to plan for their financial futures more effectively by requiring Massachusetts colleges and universities to provide a uniform financial aid shopping sheet that clearly indicates cost, grant amount, graduation rate, loan default rate, and expected monthly loan payments after graduation.

The Consumer Financial Protection Bureau and the U.S. Department of Education developed the shopping sheet, which thousands of universities nationwide employ. My bill represents an inexpensive solution that, starting in the 2019-2020 academic year, would help students find the colleges that will graduate them on time and with as little debt as possible—critical factors given our knowledge-based economy and the increasing costs of earning a degree. I look forward to working with my colleagues in the House of Representatives to make this commonsense legislation into law.

As Vice Chair of the Joint Committee on Higher Education, I appreciated the opportunity to participate in the Student Debt Working Group co-chaired by Massachusetts Attorney General Maura Healey and the Greater Boston Chamber of Commerce.

After months of input and collaboration from higher education, business, and non-profit leaders, the working group crafted a comprehensive report of recommendations that will help borrowers with repayments. I am proud that the report highlighted my bill encouraging employer student loan repayment and will continue to advocate for this important bill in the Legislature.

Incentivizing employers to offer repayment assistance as an employee benefit not only assists debt-straddled graduates, but also helps local companies attract and retain young talent. A survey conducted by American Student Assistance revealed that nearly nine out of 10 young people said they would commit to a job for five years in return for help with their student loans.

Growing Massachusetts Exports

The Joint Committee on Export Development, which I co-chair along with Representative Lori Ehrlich, held its first hearing of 2018 on January 16 with an impressive group of witnesses from the federal and state governments, along with representatives from the business community and academic sector. We received a number of sensible suggestions on low-cost steps the Commonwealth could take to increase its exports and to open up new international markets for our goods and services.

The Committee will consider these recommendations, and will next meet in public session at an upcoming hearing focusing on the ongoing North American Free Trade Agreement (NAFTA) talks and their potential impacts on Massachusetts.

I also enjoyed moderating a December 8 town hall forum on U.S. export policies as part of the Massachusetts Export Center‘s Export Expo. Paula Murphy of the Export Center and her team put together a thoroughly engaging event that featured Richard Ashooh, Assistant Secretary of Commerce for Export Administration; Peter Cazamias of the Small Business Administration; and Deputy Assistant U.S. Trade Representative Christina Sevilla.

Spreading the Word about the Import of Adult Basic Education

I had the honor of speaking at a State House event on adult basic education, which represents a critical investment in Massachusetts’ future.

I recall an amendment I cosponsored to the Fiscal Year 2014 budget that would have increased funding for Adult Basic Education to $32 million, an amount sadly greater than the Fiscal Year 2017 figure for this account.  Budgets reflect our priorities, and Massachusetts should do more to help adult basic education.

The Commonwealth depends on its knowledge-based workforce to power its economy. While some in Washington believe in providing tax breaks for the wealthy rather than investing in programs for the needy, we in Massachusetts can and must do better. We need to make smart investments so that more people can realize their potential and fill the vacant jobs that serve as a drag on our growth.

Thirty years ago, the Princeton economist Alan Blinder wrote, “There is an appealing philosophy of economic policy that combines hard-headed respect for economic efficiency with soft-hearted concern for society’s underdogs.”

Investing in adult education appeals to both our heads and our hearts. I look forward to fighting for making greater investments in adult basic education in the future and hope that readers who agree with this goal will contact their state representatives to support it as well.

Promoting Civics Education

I had the honor of joining students from Lowell’s Robinson Middle School and Stoklosa Middle School as part of Discovering Justice’s Evening of Mock Trials at the Lowell Juvenile Court.

As a mock trial juror, I enjoyed the impressive presentations made by these amazingly dedicated, bright, and talented young minds who will be our future leaders.

While organizations such as Discovering Justice do a wonderful job of giving students, especially those in underserved communities throughout Massachusetts, firsthand experiences that will encourage them to engage more directly in our society, we must do more to teach young people about the importance of civic responsibility.

For this reason, I have filed An Act Promoting Civics Education, which would establish a comprehensive civics curriculum in all public schools that teaches students the functions of government, the responsibilities of citizenry, and media literacy, while also implementing service learning projects.

In the News

Defining Online Gaming and Legalizing Fantasy Sports   

Two newspapers editorialized in favor of this bill within a week of my filing it.

Please click on the titles below to read “Important to regulate fantasy sports contests” in the Newburyport Daily News and “Fantasy sports bill is good bet for all” in the Lowell Sun.