Looking back on two years of progress

Dear friends,

With Labor Day behind us and schools throwing open their doors, the summer has finally come to a close. So too, has the 2015-2016 legislative session, which ended, as it almost always does, with a flurry of activity. In the final days of session, we passed landmark economic development, energy, and pay equity bills that will strengthen Massachusetts’ families, businesses, and communities.

I’d like to explain the benefits of those bills, but I also want to take a broader view and share what my legislative colleagues and I were able to accomplish during the 189th General Court. Please read on to learn what we’ve done to promote environmental sustainability, make college more affordable, combat addiction, create economic opportunity, and make Massachusetts a more equitable place to live and work.

As my third term in the Senate winds down, I am just as motivated as ever to solve problems and expand opportunities for the people of the First Middlesex District. It is an honor to work with all of you to fulfill the promise of our communities. If you have any questions, concerns, or ideas, please do not hesitate to contact my office at 617-722-1630.

Sincerely,

Eileen M. Donoghue
State Senator
First Middlesex District

As a state senator, my primary responsibility is to represent and assist the people of the First Middlesex District. It is essential that I maintain close relationships with the residents of Dunstable, Groton, Lowell, Pepperell, Tyngsboro, and Westford. Throughout this legislative session I have enjoyed attending more than 300 events in our communities. My staff and I have read and responded to more than 3,000 letters, and we have resolved more than 100 issues between constituents and state agencies. It’s these interactions that help me understand the needs, values, and opinions of the people I serve.

Economic development legislation

As the Senate chair of the Joint Committee on Economic Development and Emerging Technologies, I dedicated much of my time over the last two years to crafting the economic development bill that was recently signed into law.  The bill authorizes more than $1 billion in bonding for strategic investments in infrastructure, job creation, workforce development, housing production, and the revitalization of gateway cities. The programs funded may be complex, but the concrete impact they’ve had on our communities is easy to appreciate.

Lowell’s Hamilton Canal District and Westford’s Abbot Mill are being developed with support from MassWorks infrastructure grants. Nashoba Tech, Greater Lowell Tech, and Middlesex Community College have purchased and installed state-of-the-art equipment with funds from the Workforce Skills Capital Grant Program. Former industrial sites cleaned up through the Brownfields Redevelopment Fund are scattered throughout our communities. Innovative co-working spaces have popped up across Lowell with help from the Transformative Development Fund.

I’m proud that we were able to provide new funding for these successful programs. They’re going to expand economic opportunity around the state for years to come.

Massachusetts has dedicated more than $470 million to economic development in Lowell over the past five years. In May I gave a presentation to the City Council to explain how that investment has benefited our community. You can view the full presentation on my website by clicking here.

Targeting the opioid epidemic

Addressing the opioid epidemic was one of the legislature’s top priorities over the last two years. There’s more work to do, but we’ve made important strides. Our landmark legislation will reduce the number of pills on the street by requiring pharmaceutical companies to launch drug take-back programs, limiting initial opioid prescriptions to a seven-day supply, and strengthening the Prescription Monitoring Program.

We also created a program that enables cities and towns to purchase the lifesaving drug Narcan at discounted rates. We invested tens of millions of dollars in new treatment beds. And we gave law enforcement officers the tools they need to arrest and prosecute criminals who are trafficking fentanyl, a deadly synthetic opioid responsible for hundreds of fatal overdoses.

As the legislature’s changes take effect, I hope to see Massachusetts’ staggering overdose numbers crest and eventually fall. In the meantime, we’ll keep working to ensure that our criminal justice and health care systems treat addiction as a disease, not a crime.

In June the Lowell delegation, Secretary of Housing and Economic Development Jay Ash, and Kronos Incorporated CEO Aron Ain celebrated the company’s move to Cross Point and its $40 million investment in the facility. Innovative companies are flocking to Lowell thanks to our careful investments in economic development, workforce training, and higher education. Let’s keep it up!

More 2015-2016 Accomplishments

Pay equity

In July the legislature passed the most robust pay equity law in the country, and we did it with the support of the business community. The bill’s main purpose is ensuring that women receive equal pay for equal work, but it will also benefit men. The legislation bans the practice of asking job applicants for salary histories and allows employees to discuss their wages. These important changes empower all workers, regardless of gender.

Encouraging college savings

The economic development bill included my proposal to create a state income tax deduction to match contributions to college savings plans, up to up to $1,000 for single filers and up to $2,000 for married couples. With student debt ballooning out of control—the average borrower who graduated in 2012 owed more than $29,000—incentivizing families to save for college is an economic imperative.

Transgender rights

In 2011 Massachusetts passed a law banning discrimination based on gender identity in housing, lending, employment, and education. It did not include protections against discrimination in public accommodations—places like stores, restaurants, and movie theaters. In July we closed that loophole, guaranteeing transgender individuals full equality under the law.

Renewable energy

The legislature took bold steps toward creating a more sustainable, more diverse, and more affordable energy portfolio in 2016. We passed a bill requiring utilities to solicit contracts for 1,600 megawatts of offshore wind and 1,200 megawatts of hydropower and other renewable sources. We also approved compromise legislation to lift the net metering cap, which will allow the solar industry to continue growing and creating jobs.

Higher education

The Senate passed two of my higher education bills, one to increase transparency around financial aid and the other to further align community college workforce programs with economic development goals. Each has been recommended as a way to alleviate the student debt crisis. Unfortunately neither bill passed the House, but they both have momentum heading into the next legislative session.

Promoting business

The Senate unanimously passed my bill creating the MassMade program, which would promote the commonwealth’s businesses and connect them to potential customers. There are plenty of Massachusetts residents and businesses who want to buy local and support the state’s economy, and this program would help them do it. I plan on refiling the bill next year.

The state released its new capital investment plan on May 19, and it included some fantastic news for Lowell. The state allocated $31.5 million for the new Lowell Judicial Center in the Hamilton Canal District, $13.1 million for UMass Lowell’s Pulichino Tong Business Building, and $4.7 million for Middlesex Community College’s Academic Arts Building, formerly known as the Rialto Building. The official groundbreaking for the Judicial Center is next week!