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Garballey vote for automatic voter registration

Derek Keenan, an aide to state Rep. Sean Garballey, Democrat of Arlington, provided the following news release July 6: 

Sean Garballey

Rep. Sean Garballey and fellow members of the House have passed a bill establishing a system to automatically enroll citizens of the Commonwealth to vote, through routine dealings with various state agencies. This automatic enrollment aims to ease the process of voter registration and encourage political participation.

“The cornerstone of our Democracy is the right to vote, and the implementation of automatic registration will greatly increase civic participation in our state,” Garballey said in a  news release. “This is an important day for Massachusetts. As many as 70,000 new voters can now join us in this fundamental process.”

Voting is not only a fundamental right, but many would argue it is a fundamental responsibility of our citizens, the release said. Democratic government is predicated on civic participation and the belief that there is an intrinsic benefit of having as many participants in government as possible.

According to the secretary of the Commonwealth, as of February 2017, approximately 45 million registered voters in Massachusetts and nearly 2.5 million eligible voters are not registered.

One of the main criticisms of the voter-registration process is the difficulty of registering; voter registration can be a complex, multistep process, which discourages potential voters. This bill reduces the complex nature of the process, increasing registration.

Garballey filed the bill establishing online voter registration, which he says has improved democratic participation by registering hundreds of thousands to vote in the Commonwealth.

Routine dealings with MassHealth and the Registry of Motor Vehicles will now double to enroll voters, as an opt-out form of registration. This differs from the current opt-in system in which eligible voters have to actively seek enrollment.

This bill aims to ensure that an eligible voter would have to actively seek to become unenrolled. The process will happen automatically, with local clerks mailing party registration forms with the option to stay unenrolled. Not taking action would register the person as “unenrolled,” with no party affiliation.

$43 million has been set aside for the effort and is expected to cost about $250,000 per year after initial implementation.

Turnout is expected to increase by about 5 percent in elections. Massachusetts has one of the highest voter-turnout figures among the states at 75 percent in the 2016 election. However, in nonpresidential election years, turnout in Massachusetts isn’t as high. Increasing the number of registered voters will increase turnout and help Massachusetts reach more consistently high turnout figures.

The process is slated to become ready ahead of the next presidential election. The measure has gone to the Senate.

Garballey vote backs paid family, medical leave

Derek Keenan, an aide to state Rep. Sean Garballey, Democrat of Arlington, provided the following news release July 6: 

Rep. Sean Garballey joined his colleagues in the state Legislature in creating a framework for paid family and medical leave, signaling Massachusetts as a national leader on improving the rights of workers.

Employees in Massachusetts can now be granted leave to care for ailing family members as long as 12 weeks. Personal medical leave will be granted up to 20 weeks, without exceeding a combined 26 weeks of paid leave per year.

Covered workers could take family leave to care for a child after the child’s birth, adoption, or placement in foster care; to care for a seriously ill family member; or to address needs arising from a family member’s active duty military service. Workers could also take medical leave to address their own medical conditions.

“Workers in the Commonwealth can now be reassured that an illness or injury to themselves or a loved one will not cause them to lose employment due to an extended or unanticipated absence,” Garballey said in a July 6 news release. “No worker should have to fear losing pay on top of dealing with the stress of being a caregiver to themselves or a family member.”

States with programs regarding paid leave have shown almost no dip in productivity, the release said. In fact, studies championed by the National Partnership for Women and Families show that in California, New Jersey, and Rhode Island, it is proven that paid leave improves children’s health and helps workers provide for their family. The statistics also show that families are less likely to rely on programs like SNAP and that paid leave was beneficial for businesses and productivity.

A newly created Department of Family and medical Leave is to be overseen by the Office of Labor and Workforce Development. The legislation, since signed by Governor Baker, will eliminate the need for a proposed ballot question on the issue. In addition, the legislation raises the minimum wage over the next five years to $15, and to $6.75 for tipped workers.

Garballey bills advance: special needs, first responders, workplace injuries

Derek Keenan, an aide to state Rep. Sean Garballey, provided the following news release May 25:  

Bills filed by state Rep. Sean Garballey, Democrat of Arlington, addressing health coverage and educational access have in the final stages of the legislative process. They include:

-- H.634, An Act creating higher-education opportunities for students with intellectual disabilities, autism and other developmental disabilities:

This legislation, filed with Speaker Pro Tempore Patricia Haddad, would allow individuals with intellectual disabilities, autism and other developmental disabilities to access state colleges and universities to gain skills necessary to work and live independently in the community as adults. If enacted, the bill would put into effect key recommendations of the legislative task force on college inclusion.

Access to college improves the rates of employment, wages, self-determination skills and independent living for adults with severe disabilities. This legislation removes barriers, allowing individuals with intellectual disabilities to participate in college courses and campus life if they have not passed MCAS. 

“This legislation aims to open the doors to higher education for a population historically excluded from our state colleges and universities,” Garballey said in a May 25 news release.

“This bill removes barriers, such as MCAS, so that students can utilize existing resources to fully participate in campus life, and audit classes if they have not met course prerequisites. Research has shown that adults with ID are three times more likely to find paid employment after participating in college.”

-- H.529, An Act promoting continuity of care for multiple sclerosis treatment:

Currently, individuals with MS have 15 treatment options to manage the disease, via disease-modifying biologic medication or therapy. These complex medications are made with biotechnology, using a microorganism, human, plant or animal cell.

Patients often find their preferred medication through trial and error, and when the correct one is found, it is important that the treatment is continued. The severity of the MS or partial paralysis can result from stopping the correct treatment.

The 15 available options cost from $50,000 to $80,000 per year.

As some insurance plans do not cover all options, this bill would require carriers to insure medication already being taken by a patient.

“Oftentimes, MS patients find themselves in a battle with insurance companies over which drugs will be covered, even after years of trial and error. This legislation ensures that the individual can continue taking a drug that has been deemed agreeable to their health, once it has already been prescribed and taken,” said Garballey.

-- H. 3236, An Act creating autism teams in hospitals:

With the goal of expanding knowledge of autism and other disabilities, this bill allows the Department of Public Health to provide specialized training on autism for those in the medical field, to create an autism “team” that will be available in health-care settings. These teams would include designated, specially-trained professionals who would receive continuing education and act as a bridge for communication between hospital staff and patients with autism. The team will be available when a patient with autism or other disabilities enters the ER or needs testing, and will draw upon their knowledge of the special circumstances and difficulties that patients with autism may face, in order to increase communication between patients and medical personnel.

“Having these specialized teams in hospitals will help ensure a higher standard of care for patients with autism and other disabilities, and encourage a deeper understanding of the disorder for all medical staff in the Commonwealth,” Garballey stated.

-- H. 526, An Act providing for certain health insurance coverage:

The bill mandates coverage of enteral formulas for home use. These are forms of supplemental nutrition that provide critical aliment for individuals suffering from certain diseases. Enteral formulas have been shown to benefit people with Crohn’s Disease, certain cancers and severe food allergies. Without this supplemental nutrition, patients could suffer from malnourishment, which could eventually lead to physical disability or death. A physician must deem the formula a medical necessity via a written order in order for a patient to receive coverage.

“This bill will help hundreds of people in the Commonwealth to receive coverage for essential medical care and lift a heavy financial burden for those already suffering from an illness,” says Garballey.

“Since the beginning of my career in the House of Representatives, I have made it a priority to enhance the lives of those affected by illness and disability. Those battling an unfortunate diagnosis or disability should not have to go it alone, and I will continue to ensure the Commonwealth helps and protects the care and opportunities of those who need it most.”

-- H. 1455, An Act relative to Parkinson's disease disability and death in firefighters:

In an effort to raise awareness of the prevalence of Parkinson’s Disease within the firefighting profession, this bill, filed jointly with Rep. John Velis of the 4th Hamden District, requires that any health conditions caused by Parkinson's be recognized as having been suffered in the line of duty, unless a preponderance of evidence shows otherwise.

“Our men and women in uniform are frequently exposed to toxic chemicals when responding to fires, and this creates a unique health hazard that is not only specific to the profession, but can cause major health problems down the road,” explains Garballey. “We aim to increase public awareness of these risks through recognition of these hazards.”

-- H. 1006, An Act providing benefits for permanent functional loss and disfigurement under the Worker's Compensation Act:

The Joint Committee on Labor and Workforce Development has favorably reported H. 1006, An Act providing benefits for permanent functional loss and disfigurement under the Worker's Compensation Act, bringing it out of committee in order for the legislation to be passed this session.

The current law provides up to $15,000 to victims of disfiguring, work-related injuries, provided they are on the “face, neck or hands.” House Bill 1006 will strike this body-part specific language and update the figure to “30 times the average weekly wage in the Commonwealth.”

“An injured worker may have a debilitating injury go uncovered because the injury is not visible. This is morally wrong. One can only imagine the physical pain burn victims go through, not to mention the mental anguish of your injury not covered by law because it is on your back, or legs,” Garballey said.

“I am proud to have introduced this bill and will fight for it to pass this session, in order to protect these unfortunate workers, recognize their wounds and provide just compensation to help them heal.”

Garballey bill passes, aims to curb pharmacy sales 

Derek Keenan, an aide to state Rep. Sean Garballey, provided the following news release: 

The state House of Representatives has passed a tobacco omnibus bill, including a bill filed by Rep. Sean Garballey that aims to bar health-care institutions, such pharmacies, from selling any tobacco or vapor products.

"An Act to Protect Youth from the Health Risks of Tobacco and Nicotine Addiction" also seeks to prevent people younger than 21 from purchasing tobacco products and eyes a ban on "vaping" from the workplace.

"It’s time to stop big tobacco from taking advantage of our vulnerable youth and protect their future health, the Arlington Democrat said in a May 18 news release. "Raising the age of purchase, coupled with decreasing access to these products, will go a long way in reducing the number of new smokers."

Tobacco and nicotine use remain a leading cause of preventable illness and premature death in the Commonwealth, with more than $4 billion spent annually in Massachusetts on smoking-related health-care costs, the release says. In 2012, the U.S. surgeon general reported that 90 percent of smokers try smoking before age 18 and 75 percent of teen smokers continue to smoke into adulthood.

Studies show the most effective way to lower smoking rates is to prevent teenagers from trying tobacco in the first place; the Institute of Medicine released a 2015 study that found that increasing the minimum age of legal access to tobacco products to 21 years old will prevent or delay initiation of tobacco use by adolescents and young adults.

Since 2005, 170 Massachusetts cities and towns have already raised the legal age to purchase tobacco to 21. Five states have also passed similar legislation, and Garballey hopes Massachusetts will be the sixth.

"It is imperative for the public health of our Commonwealth that we follow the ever increasing amount of research that shows tobacco use rates go down when the products become harder to obtain by youth," he said. "I am grateful to my colleagues who supported my bill that stops health-care institutions from selling tobacco products."

The legislation would take effect Dec. 31, 2018. If this bill becomes law, Massachusetts would become the first state in the nation to prohibit pharmacies from selling tobacco products.

The bill has gone to the Senate for consideration.

Parts of House budget that make Garballey most proud

Derek Keenan, an aide to state Rep. Sean Garballey, sent the following overview about the House budget: 

The state Senate has made public its $41 billion fiscal 2019 state budget, and after the House passed its own plan, Rep. Sean Garballey aims to explain what it pays for.

"As a member of the House Committee on Ways and Means, I am pleased that many of my priorities for Arlington, Medford and the Commonwealth were included," he said in a May 7 news release. "This budget increases Chapter 70 local aid for Massachusetts public schools, increases the special-education circuit breaker and increases funding for those with developmental disabilities.

"Additional priorities of mine which were adopted in this year's budget include lifting the "cap on kids," which prevents families from receiving TAFDC benefits [Transitional Aid to Families with Dependent Children] for certain children and a $100 million investment in the Massachusetts Rental Voucher Program in order to continue to fight homelessness in the Commonwealth."

The Democrat representing Arlington and West Medford provided these high points of the $41 billion package, adopted April 26:

The high points

-- Budget amendments Garballey filed that were adopted by the House include appropriations for the Massachusetts Inclusive Concurrent Enrollment Initiative to support higher-education opportunities for those with intellectual disabilities, securing a bed-hold protection policy for Mass Health nursing home residents and funding for an incentive program for community-college workforce training.

-- Garballey also secured funding for Lussiano Park at the Thompson school, the West Medford Community Center and supported Rep. Dave Rogers's amendment that provides funding for the Jason Russell House and Smith Museum.

-- He led the initiative to fully fund the recommendations of the Foundation Budget Review Commission, securing the support of over 85 of his colleagues in the House who co-sponsored his amendment. The 2015 Foundation Budget Review Commission found that health-care and special-education costs have far surpassed assumptions built into the original foundation budget formula. Garballey was able to work with his colleagues and secure an increase of $39 million from last year's budget to address increasing teacher and faculty health-care costs.

-- The budget increases unrestricted general government aid and local education, funding by $220 million over fiscal 2018 and $54 million over the governor's budget proposal. It provides what the release calls an unprecedented $4.9 billion in Chapter 70 education funding, including an increase of $39 million from fiscal 2018 to address increasing teacher and faculty health-care costs, as recommended by the Foundation Budget Review Commission. Additional education and local-aid allocations include:

* $300 million for Circuit Breaker Special Education reimbursement;

* $90 million for Charter School Reimbursement; and

* $63.5 million for Regional School Transportation reimbursement.

Aiding the vulnerable

The House budget continues its commitment to ensuring the well-being of children and families by lifting the cap on children receiving benefits for low-income families, supporting early childhood metal-health and behavioral-health efforts and ensuring children have access to high-quality early education and care. The budget invests in those who work with our children by increasing rates for early education providers.

The House budget includes $8.5 million to establish workforce development for early education and care to coordinate professional development and higher-education opportunities in conjunction with Massachusetts' community colleges. Highlights include:

-- Lifting the "cap on kids' that prevents families from receiving Transitional Aid to Families with Dependent Children benefits for certain children.

-- $2.5 million for continued support for early childhood mental-health consultation services.

-- $20 million to support high-quality EEC programs though provider rate increase.

Homelessness, housing

Access to safe, adequate and affordable housing provides the foundation from which families and individuals can lead successful lives. To this end, the House has made investments in permanent housing solutions and efforts to eliminate homelessness. Since 2013, shelter caseload has decreased dramatically, and the number of families living in hotels and motels has decreased to nearly zero. This year, the House continues these efforts by:

-- Providing $100 million for the Massachusetts Rental Voucher Program);

-- Funding the Residential Assistance for Families in Transition Program at $17 million;

-- Allocating $32 million for the HomeBASE program; and

-- Creating a new $5 million rapid rehousing program for homeless individuals.

Addressing opioids

The opioid epidemic is a public-health crisis that continues to take lives at an alarming rate. Recent data show that previous investments have made an impact: The number of opioid-related deaths decreased in 2017. However, hospitals, police departments and EMTs report an ever-rising number of overdoses, underscoring the need to invest in treatment and recovery. To help those in need, the House budget includes:

-- $139 million for the Bureau of Substance Addiction Services which will help create five new recovery centers across Massachusetts;

-- $5 million for diversion programs to direct people into community-based treatment programs;

-- $4.9 million for step-down recovery services;

-- $1 million for the purchase of Narcan for first responders and an expansion of the Municipal Naloxone Bulk Purchase Trust Fund to allow non-profit organizations that contract with the Department of Public Health to access Narcan at a significant discount.

Education, economic development

Recognizing that education and economic development are intrinsically paired, the budget enhances the House's focus on bolstering opportunities for residents of all skill sets through programs, including:

-- $12.8 million for summer jobs for at-risk youth;

-- $2 million for technical assistance grants for small business;

-- $2 million for Massachusetts Manufacturing Partnership, a program that continues to show results in closing the skills gap;

-- $104 million for the Commonwealth’s higher education scholarship and financial aid line item; and

-- $4.75 million to support STEM programming in community colleges through the STEM Starter Academy, which has shown incredible early success by connecting students with employment opportunities.

MassHealth

MassHealth is the single largest investment that the Commonwealth makes in its most vulnerable residents. In addition to MassHealth funding, which provides health insurance for almost 2 million residents, the budget ensures funding for crucial health and human services, including:

-- Increases funding for the Department of Mental Health by $97 million over fiscal 2018;

-- $989 million to continue reforms that protect children at the Department of Children and Families;

-- Increases the Councils on Aging formula grant from $10 to $12 per individual, per year;

-- $100,000 to establish the Office of Health Equity, which will look at factors like housing and culture to coordinate efforts and eliminate health disparities; and

-- $4.2 million for veterans outreach centers.

Public safety, judiciary

The House budget includes funding for public safety and the judiciary, including investments to implement the recently signed criminal-justice reform law:

-- $3 million for a new community-based reentry program;

-- $2.5 million to expand the specialty court to increase access to specialized services for defendants with substance use disorder, mental health, and trauma;

-- $20.75 million for civil legal aid to provide representation for low-income individuals;

-- $7 million for Shannon Grants, a competitive grant program to individual municipalities to address heightened levels of gang violence.

In the light of recent news about the State Police, the House budget recommends a three-tiered approach to address the future of that police agency. The proposed updates will monitor the agency, help develop best practices and prevent issues from occurring in the future.

Last, the House budget makes important investments in environmental programs. These funding levels will help ensure that state parks, environmental protections programs and the state's Office of Climate Change and Adaptation have the funds necessary to hire inspectors, permit writers, park rangers and scientists.


This news summary, which includes Rep. Garballey's view of the budget, was published on Friday, May 11, 2018. 

Town of Arlington to LGBTQIA+ students: You belong
 

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