Frustrated House Waited for Horse Racing/Simulcast Bill All Night

Frustrated House Waited for Horse Racing/Simulcast Bill All Night

Live horse racing and simulcasting took a topsy-turvy ride over a period of 48 hours last week, when the Sport of Kings became illegal in the Commonwealth for the first time in generations.

All of it came as a result of the State Legislature’s run up to the end of its two-year Legislative session on Tuesday and into Wednesday (July 31 and Aug. 1) night Ð and it was a frustrating end for Speaker Bob DeLeo, who said they waited all night for the Senate to send back an approved Racing Bill.

It was considered a non-controversial, annual renewal, but it was a wait that proved fruitless and frustrating for the Speaker.

When the bell sounded to end the session, racing hadn’t been done, and that technically made it illegal Ð something with dire consequences for Suffolk Downs and Plainridge Race Course, both of which had major racing events last week.

“We were waiting for it to come back from the Senate so we could vote on it,” DeLeo said this week. “It never made it back to the House for a final vote so that there would be no disruption in racingÉI have to say, it was very frustrating to be waiting all night for the legislation to come back and it never did. I know that things get lost. I appreciate that, but we’re talking about people’s livelihoods and people who rely on that paycheck. I thought it was important that got done and that’s why we moved so quickly to get it straightened out the next day on the governor’s desk to sign by mid-day.”

Indeed, by Thursday afternoon, racing had been restored, and DeLeo said that was because he and his team moved immediately all night long to make sure it passed.

It didn’t stop the talk, however, about why Senate President Karen Spilka hadn’t taken up a matter so important to Speaker DeLeo’s district in a session that ended with a bit of animosity between the two bodies Ð particularly on the failure to pass an education funding and health care bill by the end of session.

Some inside sources have said that it was retribution from Spilka to DeLeo for not passing certain things that were important to her Ð essentially, they said, making racing a pawn in a larger political spat.

DeLeo played that down, however, this week, saying only, “We were just awaiting the documents from the Senate.”

Spilka told the State House News Service last week that racing was simply one of many bills that failed to pass before the session’s end.

“Just like every single year, we don’t always get to everything,” she said to State House News.

Suffolk Downs COO Chip Tuttle said he was glad to see that the matter was quickly resolved, which meant that it didn’t disrupt Suffolk’s weekend of live racing Saturday and Sunday.

“We want to thank the House, Senate and Governor for addressing this today and we’re looking forward to two great days of racing this weekend,” he said late on Thursday.

But Suffolk, Plainridge and Raynham didn’t get there without sweating it out for a period of many hours when their product has suddenly become unauthorized.

On Wednesday morning, the Massachusetts Gaming Commission (MGC) put out a letter of direction to Suffolk Downs, Plainridge Park and Raynham Taunton Greyhound Park.

The letter said that the Commonwealth’s legislation for live racing and simulcasting had expired on July 31 at midnight and no action had been taken to renew or replace it.

“As of today, there is not statutory authorization for live horse racing or simulcasting in the Commonwealth,” read the letter. “Please be advised that until further notice from the Gaming Commission, simulcasting in all forms under any license at your facilities is suspended. Further, live racing at Suffolk Downs and Plainridge Park is also suspended until further notice.”

The MGC added the item as an emergency agenda item for its meeting on Aug. 2, in Springfield, but as they got to the matter, DeLeo had straightened everything out.

Getting it fixed was the main point of the matter, DeLeo said this week.

“Suffolk did have a very big live racing weekend coming up, but for meÉwe have a number of people who live and work in my district who quite frankly live paycheck to paycheck and can’t afford even one day without that paycheck,” he said. “That’s very important and that’s why the very next day we worked to get it passed on signed by the governor.”

The Racing/Simulcast legislation doesn’t sunset again until July 31, 2019.

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School Funding Meltdown:Legislature Fails to Pass Education Funding Fix

School Funding Meltdown:Legislature Fails to Pass Education Funding Fix

The last second ticked off the clock on Beacon Hill Tuesday night, and when the score was settled, education funding for Gateway cities like Chelsea was the big loser.

School Supt. Mary Bourque and Chelsea’s State Sen. Sal DiDomenico voiced extreme disappointment on Wednesday that the Legislature could not come to a compromise on fixing education funding – an issue that has dogged Chelsea, Everett and Revere in particular for the last three years. The compromise committee, made up of members of the House and Senate, failed to reach a compromise between their separate bills, essentially killing the plan that would bring more dollars to Chelsea.

“We’re leaving another generation of kids behind by not addressing the issue now,” said Sen. DiDomenico, who had helped to pass a comprehensive funding revamp bill in the Senate earlier this year. “The districts that lost the most are the ones that need the most help. It was our responsibility to step up for communities who are continuously doing more with less and in these circumstances we have failed them. I was willing to go the extra mile to make that happen. To not be able to make a deal is extremely disappointing. We can’t keep kicking the can down the road. This bill would have seen substantial funding increases to our low-income communities like Chelsea and Everett – indisputably.”

Supt. Bourque said she was very angry when she heard the news that there hadn’t been a compromise.

She said that the time for waiting and watching for the state to take action is over.

“I just think it’s unconscionable that we aren’t putting student first and foremost in the budget,” she said. “We’re concerned about the economy and this is the next generation that will bolster that economy. It’s extremely short-sighted of our leaders to do this.”

She said that there should have been a compromise, as there were so many people willing to work out a solution, including Gov. Charlie Baker – who is a Republican.

“The House and Senate bills were so close in many ways,” she said. “It only required leaders to compromise at a certain point and they didn’t. It’s going to call on all of us for stronger advocacy moving forward. That’s what you’re going to hear from us. We have balanced our budget for this year. We made the difficult cuts this year and last year. We cut $2.7 million last year and $3.1 million this year. The greater implications and my concern is for the fiscal year 2020 budget. The situation will be much more difficult and we’ll be facing a third year of cutting $3-$4 million. Where do we cut? We’re already at class sizes of 30 students. We’ve eliminated all of our after-school programs.”

For those looking for answers within the inside baseball of the State Legislature, one clue came from a statement by Sen. Sonia Chang-Diaz, who was the lead sponsor of the Senate’s wide-ranging education reform fix.

In a statement on Wednesday, Chang-Diaz indicated that the House leadership was not willing to compromise. She said the House put forward their “deal,” and with time the Senate agreed to that deal – only to be told that the House was rejecting its own deal.

“This bill shouldn’t have been difficult to negotiate,” she wrote in a statement. “[The Senate] offered multiple versions of major concessions – on structure, on content, on money. I have only good things to say about the House conferees, who I believe really wanted to get to a deal. Yet, in the end House leadership rejected all our offer, moved the goal posts, and then killed the bill completely – stunningly, by rejecting one of their own proposals. I’ve seen a lot in my 10 years in [the State House], but I’ve never seen so many rationalizations and double-standards employed to avoid doing what’s right for kids.”

Chelsea has made numerous difficult cuts over the past two years especially. They have cut librarians, special education teachers at the middle school level and have not replaced positions.

Sources indicated that the compromise bill could have delivered along the lines of $10 million to Chelsea.

Other sources in line with Chang-Diaz’s comments said that the meltdown in the education funding fix came from the top of both houses.

Talk on Beacon Hill now is that the relationship between the Senate and the House – in particular their two leaders – is at an all-time low.

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Horse Racing, Simulcasting Suspended as Legislature Fails to Act

Horse Racing, Simulcasting Suspended as Legislature Fails to Act

Live racing and simulcasting has been suspended at Suffolk Downs and all other horse tracks and betting facilities in the state due to the fact that the State Legislature did not act to renew the Simulcast Bill before the end of its formal session at midnight on July 31.

The renewal has been routine for several years.

The news came out of Beacon Hill early Wednesday morning that horseracing and simulcasting had suddenly become illegal in Massachusetts overnight. It seemed like fantasy, but soon the news was solidified.

In order for horse tracks like Suffolk Downs to operate live racing and simulcasting, the annual bill has to be renewed by the House and Senate by July 31. The Legislature did not do that this year.

There were few comments from legislators on the matter, but Suffolk Downs had its placard off Wednesday morning, a placard that usually advertises simulcast betting on Saratoga races for that day.

Later in the morning, the Massachusetts Gaming Commission (MGC) put out a letter of direction to Suffolk Downs, Plainridge Park and Raynham Taunton Greyhound Park.

The letter said that the Commonwealth’s legislation for live racing and simulcasting had expired on July 31 at midnight and no action had been taken to renew or replace it.

“As of today, there is not statutory authorization for live horse racing or simulcasting in the Commonwealth,” read the letter. “Please be advised that until further notice from the Gaming Commission, simulcasting in all forms under any license at your facilities is suspended. Further, live racing at Suffolk Downs and Plainridge Park is also suspended until further notice.”

The MGC added the item as an emergency agenda item for its meeting today, Aug. 2, in Springfield.

The news complicated things tremendously for Suffolk Downs, which had planned and proceeded with a weekend of live racing for Aug. 4 and 5. That event is now in great doubt as there is no law allowing live racing in the state.

Reportedly, many of the horses and support personnel had already begun the trek up to Massachusetts from other states for the live races.

Many were left to ask why it had happened without warning.

There were no official comments on Wednesday from the Legislature, but numerous sources near the situation indicated it revolved around a growing rift between the leadership of the House and Senate.

It was believed by those sources that when a very important priority item for the Senate leadership didn’t pass the House – the gender equity bill – then the Senate in turn blocked the action on the renewal of the Simulcasting Bill.

One course of action to fix the matter is to address it during an informal session this week. However, during an informal session, rather than with a roll call vote of everyone, only one objection to any matter by any member can kill it under the rules of the body. That makes restoring the bill even more difficult, especially if there is a political rift between the two houses.

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DiDomenico’s Legislation Included as Key Component of Youth Tobacco Bill

DiDomenico’s Legislation Included as Key Component of Youth Tobacco Bill

Last week, Sen. Sal DiDomenico (D-Everett) and his colleagues in the Massachusetts Senate passed comprehensive legislation to reduce youth access to tobacco and nicotine products. The bill raises the minimum legal sales age for all tobacco products to age 21 and adds vaping products to the smoke free workplace law.

Also included in the omnibus bill is language from Sen. DiDomenico’s bill to prohibit the sale of tobacco and nicotine delivery products in pharmacies and other health-care institutions. In 2014, CVS Pharmacy announced that it would stop tobacco based sales in their local pharmacies, and at least 160 Massachusetts communities have also banned tobacco sales in their local pharmacies. This legislation would require all other pharmacies to follow suit.

“It’s no secret that tobacco and nicotine use remains one of the leading causes of preventable illness and death across our nation, so it only makes sense that our health care institutions and pharmacies end the practice of carrying these harmful products,” said Senator DiDomenico, Assistant Majority Leader of the Massachusetts Senate. “I would like to thank Public Health Committee Chairman Jason Lewis for making this a top priority and including this as a key provision of this critical piece of legislation.”

Tobacco use and nicotine addiction remains the leading cause of preventable illness and premature death in Massachusetts, responsible for more than $4 billion in annual health care costs to the Commonwealth. Youth are particularly susceptible to nicotine addiction, with 9 in 10 cigarette smokers begin using before age 18.

While youth smoking has declined considerably in the last two decades, youth use of other addictive tobacco products like e-cigarettes is increasing sharply. While nicotine delivery products like e-cigarettes may sometimes help some nicotine-addicted adults to stop smoking traditional cigarettes, they present a significant new threat to the health and wellbeing of young people who have not previously used tobacco products.

“Raising the legal sales age for tobacco is an incredible public health achievement that will save lives, prevent addiction and ensure a healthier future for generations of Massachusetts youth,” said Senate President Harriette L. Chandler (D-Worcester).  “This legislation protects young adults whose minds and bodies are still developing, and is a proven strategy for nicotine addiction prevention. I am proud that the Senate has voted to approve this bill.”

“Massachusetts has long been a leader in protecting and strengthening public health,” said Senator Jason Lewis (D-Winchester), Senate Chair of the Joint Committee on Public Health and the bill’s lead sponsor in the Senate. “This comprehensive legislation will once again put the Commonwealth at the forefront of preventing youth addiction to tobacco and nicotine products, in order to improve health, save lives, and reduce healthcare costs.”

To directly target youth use, this legislation increases the legal sales age for tobacco products from 18 to 21. This is a proven and effective strategy to reduce youth tobacco use because it removes legally purchased tobacco products from high school social networks. The Institute of Medicine projects that increasing the age from 18 to 21 will reduce overall tobacco use in a population by 12% – the equivalent of 150,000 Massachusetts tobacco users.

Youth use of e-cigarettes has also grown alarmingly, becoming a pervasive presence in our high schools. The provisions in this bill build upon the regulations promulgated in 2016 by Attorney General Maura Healey, and ensure that the places that are tobacco free will also be vape free, including schools, restaurants and workplaces.

Other provisions included in the bill include new authority granted to the Department of Public Health to regulate new, emerging tobacco products and language requiring the Center for Health Information and Analysis to study the current tobacco cessation benefits offered by commercial insurers, MassHealth, and the Group Insurance Commission.

Many cities and towns have enacted policies to reduce tobacco use and nicotine addiction that go beyond current state and federal laws and regulations, creating a patchwork of different laws across the commonwealth that can confound retailers, distributors, consumers and public health officials. This legislation will provide a uniform statewide set of rules that protect youth and simplify the interaction between our state and local laws.

The bill now returns to the Massachusetts House of Representatives, where the bill has formerly been engrossed, for enactment.

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DiDomenico Delivers for Chelsea in FY19 Budget

DiDomenico Delivers for Chelsea in FY19 Budget

Sen. Sal DiDomenico and his colleagues in the Massachusetts Senate recently passed a $41.49 billion budget for Fiscal Year 2019, including targeted investments to create opportunities and ensure access to the tools that individuals, children and families need to succeed in the economy and in their communities. This budget invests in key areas related to education, local aid, health and human services, housing, and tools for low income families.

“After careful deliberation, the Senate has passed a thoughtful budget that both reflects the shared priorities of our chamber and addresses the pressing needs of our communities,” said Sen. DiDomenico, Assistant Majority Leader of the Massachusetts Senate. “This budget includes key investments in many of my top priority items that will have a positive and direct impact on Chelsea, and I am happy to report that all of my amendments providing additional resources for our community were adopted to the final Senate budget. I would like to thank Senate Ways & Means Chairwoman Karen Spilka and Senate President Harriette Chandler for all of their great work to craft a budget that will undoubtedly help to move our entire Commonwealth forward.”

The budget invests significantly in education for people of all ages and backgrounds and focuses particularly on elementary and secondary education, including $4.91B for the Chapter 70 education formula, its highest level ever. This funding allows for a minimum aid increase of $30 per pupil for every school district across the state and 100% effort reduction to bring all school districts to their target local contribution. Under the Senate budget, Chelsea would receive $77.4M in Chapter 70 funds- $4.3M more than they received in state funding last fiscal year.

Additionally, this budget takes much needed steps to offset the cost to some school districts-like Chelsea and Everett- of educating economically disadvantaged students and allows these districts to more accurately count their students. In recent years, many Gateway City school districts have faced dire budget gaps due to a 2015 change in the way the Department of Elementary and Secondary Education (DESE) calculates low-income or “economically disadvantaged” students. This count plays a key role in the Chapter 70 formula that determines the amount of funding school districts receive from the state.

As a result of this change, only students who are registered for social welfare programs like SNAP and Medicaid are categorized as economically disadvantaged, missing thousands of additional low-income students who are not accessing social services. However, under the Senate budget, communities will be allowed to choose their preferred method of counting economically disadvantaged students, thereby ensuring that Chelsea is able to count all of their students.

“I am thrilled that this change has been included in the FY19 Senate budget,” said DiDomenico. “This is a solution that I have long been advocating for, and I am confident this will have a major impact on the amount of Chapter 70 funding schools in my district will receive and will go a long way towards remedying the fiscal challenges that our local schools have been facing.”

As Assistant Majority Leader of the Massachusetts Senate, Sen. DiDomenico was able to secure a number of amendments providing additional funding for his local communities. In total, the Senator secured an additional $100K for the Chelsea community:

  • $25,000 CONNECT, a financial opportunity center in the city of Chelsea
  • $75,000 for a youth social worker in the Chelsea Public Schools

This budget also invests in programs and advances policies to encourage self-sufficiency and economic mobility for low income families, providing them with the tools to secure their essential needs and develop skills to join the workforce. Policy changes include:

  • Sen. DiDomenico’s bill to eliminate the family cap- a failed and outdated policy that denies Department of Transitional Assistance benefits to children conceived while the family was receiving assistance.
  • An increase in the child clothing allowance to $350 per child- a $50 perchild increase over FY18- to help families secure their basic needs
  • An increase in the Earned Income Tax Credit (EITC) state match to 30% of the federal credit

Other top priority items for Sen. DiDomenico that were included in the Fiscal Year 2019 Senate Budget and will benefit Chelsea residents are:

  • $3.8 million for the state’s pediatric palliative care network to ensure there is no wait list for these critical services so children and their families have the extra care and support that they need;
  • $319.3 million to fully fund the Special Education Circuit Breaker;
  • $100 million to reimburse school districts for costs incurred when students leave to attend charter schools;
  • $8.7 million for Childcare Resource and Referral Centers to boost salaries and decrease caseloads for caseworkers helping parents, childcare providers, employers and community groups navigate the state’s early education landscape;
  • $4 million for Youth-At-Risk Matching grants, including support for YWCAs, YMCAs and Boys & Girls Clubs;
  • $33.4 million for adult basic education services to improve access to skills and tools necessary to join the workforce;
  • $10.3 million for summer jobs and work-readiness training for at-risk youth;
  • $16 million for the Massachusetts Cultural Council to support local arts, culture and creative economy initiatives;
  • $16.2 million for local Councils on Aging to strengthen programs and services in senior centers in communities across the state;
  • $142.9 million for a range of substance abuse treatment, intervention and recovery support services, including funding to open five new recovery centers; and
  • $18.5 million for Residential Assistance for Families in Transition (RAFT), including $3 million to expand eligibility to include persons with disabilities, seniors, unaccompanied youth and individuals.

A Conference Committee will now work out the differences between the Senate budget and the version passed by the House of Representatives in April. Fiscal Year 2019 begins on July 1.

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The Big Deal:DiDomenico Shepherds Big School Funding Fix Through Senate Budget

The Big Deal:DiDomenico Shepherds Big School Funding Fix Through Senate Budget

If the world of education funding has been a massive break over the past three years, then Sen. Sal DiDomenico is the technician who showed up just in time this year with the parts to fix it.

DiDomenico reported this week that the Senate Budget proposal – which has now moved to the House and needs agreement there – contains a once-and-for-all fix to the education funding formula that has wreaked havoc on communities like Chelsea for the past three years.

“This is a big deal,” he said on Tuesday. “This is the fix that is going to solve all our problems that we’ve been dealing with over the last several years with school funding…This was the simple fix we’ve been hoping to get for a long time and there was hesitation to do it. I want to thank Senator Karen Spilka for doing this change. It’s a big deal for Everett and Chelsea and 14 other communities in the state. It’s a major policy shift and a major win for our communities.”

The fix in the budget is quite simple in that it restores the method of counting low-income – now known as economically disadvantaged – students through the use of free and reduced lunch applications. Three years ago, the federal government and the state government adopted a new way of counting such students using federal benefits as an indicator. However, many low-income and immigrant families do not qualify for federal benefits, and thus are not counted despite being impoverished.

That leaves the local communities on the hook, and it has been daunting. All the while, the state has been hesitant to restore the old counting method using free and reduced lunch forms. The first step to change that has now passed the Senate and could become law if the House and Gov. Charlie Baker also adopt it.

The matter is an outside section that passed in the Senate Budget last week.

DiDomenico said he has begun reaching out to allies in the house, including State Reps. Joe McGonagle (D-Everett), Dan Ryan (who represents Chelsea) and State Rep. RoseLee Vincent (who represents Revere and Chelsea) – as well as Speaker Bob DeLeo.

DiDomenico said he believes that the governor will be open to looking at the change if it makes it past the House and to his desk.

“I believe at the end of the day he’ll be receptive to it,” he said.

If approved, the change would begin in Fiscal Year 2020 – which would mean funding would roll in locally in September 2019. School Districts would begin counting in the new fashion, however, this fall – with a deadline of Oct. 1, 2018. That would secure the new funding allocation – which is the old funding method – by the 2019-2020 school term.

“We wouldn’t have to worry about how our students are being counted ever again,” he said. “I can’t underestimate how important this is. This is everything for the School Department right now…I want to thank all of the administrators and teachers for the hard work they’ve been doing while they’ve gotten less than their fair share of funding.”

DiDomenico said it is a major priority for the Senate, and he believed that would help get it into the final budget later this spring.

MORE GOOD NEWS IN EDUCATION FINANCE

Last week, Senator Sal DiDomenico and his Senate colleagues unanimously voted to pass a monumental education reform bill to update the state’s 25-year-old funding formula.

The bill was highly-touted by superintendents such as Chelsea’s Mary Bourque, and was sponsored by Sen. Sonia Chang-Diaz, with DiDomenico as a co-sponsor.

Established by the 1993 Education Reform Act, the Foundation Budget formula was designed to ensure every Massachusetts student was provided a quality education. However, in the 25 years since, little has been done to update the formula, hampering districts’ efforts to provide every student with the quality education they deserve.

“Today, too many of our students are receiving their education in schools that face crushing fiscal challenges,” said DiDomenico. “Our teachers and administrators do everything they can to provide their students with the best possible education, to lift them up, and put them on a path to success.  Yet that job has become increasingly difficult, as year after year, schools have been forced to make difficult cuts as a result of state funding that fails to keep up with their needs. I am very proud to support this bill that will help to ensure that all of our students, regardless of their zip code, have access to the high quality education that they deserve.”

In 2015, a bipartisan commission was convened with the purpose of reviewing the Foundation Budget and making recommendation for potential changes to the formula. Consequently, the Foundation Budget Review Commission (FBRC) found that health care and special education costs have far surpassed assumptions built into the original education formula. It also found that the original formula drastically understated the resources necessary to close achievement gaps for low-income and English Language Learner students.

“While Senate Bill 2506 represents a seven-year fix to the Foundation Budget for school districts across our State it also represents far more,” said Supt. Mary Bourque. “Senate Bill 2506 more importantly represents who we are as a Commonwealth and what we stand for and what we value. The passage of this bill says that children and their education, children and the opportunities we can provide, children and their future are important to us; we prioritize our children and their education. Senate Bill 2506 is about defining and supporting the future of our Commonwealth; but most of all, passage of Senate Bill 2506 is simply the right thing to do!”

In all, the bipartisan commission estimated that Massachusetts is currently undervaluing the cost of education by $1-2 billion every year. This has forced deep cuts to classrooms and critical programs, and resulted in one of the worst achievement gaps in the nation. In recent years, schools in the Commonwealth’s Gateway Cities have been especially hit with crushing budget shortfalls, with two of the Senator’s communities— Everett and Chelsea— being some of the school districts that have been most severely impacted.

The bill would implement the recommendations of the FBRC and begin updating the Chapter 70 education formula to more accurately and equitably distribute state resources to the Commonwealth schools.

The vote follows months of advocacy by education stakeholders across Massachusetts. More than 50 school committees across the state have passed resolutions supporting the reforms, and Brockton Public Schools announced earlier this year that they are preparing to sue the Commonwealth for failing in its constitutional obligation to properly fulfill funding.

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After Long Process, DiDomenico Affirms ‘Strong Relationship’ with Sen President-Elect Spilka

After Long Process, DiDomenico Affirms ‘Strong Relationship’ with Sen President-Elect Spilka

After a long process, Sen. Sal DiDomenico allegedly fell a few votes short of gaining the Senate Presidency, a process that completed last week when State Sen. Karen Spilka corralled the 21 votes needed to secure the presidency.

It was announced publicly in a press conference on Thursday, March 22.

While no one was keeping score on the outside, and few on the inside were talking, it was believed by those watching closely that DiDomenico had as many as 19 votes just within the last month.

Sen. DiDomenico would not comment on the process within the Senate this week where he had tried to make a run for Senate President.

However, he did say publicly that he will still be the assistant majority leader in the Senate – a post he was recently promoted to and will keep under the new leadership.

He also said there is no bad blood between himself and Sen. President-elect Spilka after the long process.

“Before this process Speaker-elect Karen Spilka and I were close friends as we will continue to be,” he said. “We have worked well for some time as a result of me being the vice chair on her Ways and Means Committee. There is no bad blood or animosity between us. There comes a point in time when you have to bring the body together and move forward. I thought this was the right time to do that.

“Now that this process is over and we have a new senate president elect, I support Karen 100 percent and will do everything I can to support her as senate president,” he continued. “Our relationship is as strong as it always has been.”

Sen. DiDomenico did not want to comment any further on his role in the new leadership team, but affirmed the strong relationship between himself and Sen. Spilka.

“I look forward to serving under Senate President-elect Spilka and being an integral part of her team,” he said.

Observers had been worried that, as typically happens, the senator that comes out on the short end of the bargain gets relegated to the back of the room. Many thought that if Sen. DiDomenico lost, he might also lose all of the power and responsibilities he has worked towards since being elected and coming into leadership roles under former Sen. President Stan Rosenberg.

However, with DiDomenico affirming his positive relationship with Spilka this week, many believe that he will come out unharmed after the process finishes out.

As for the ascension, there is currently no consensus between Sen. President Harriet Chandler and Sen. President-elect Spilka about when she might take office.

Some postulated it could come on July 1 after the end of the current fiscal year.

Others thought it could come at the end of December.

During a press conference last week, Spilka indicated they had not yet ironed that out.

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Sen DiDomenico Elevated to Senate Assistant Majority Leader

Sen DiDomenico Elevated to Senate Assistant Majority Leader

State Sen. Sal DiDomenico took yet another step up the leadership ladder last week, getting two major promotions within the legislative body.

First, DiDomenico (D-Everett) was elevated to the position of Assistant Majority Leader by Senate President Harriette L. Chandler (D-Worcester). In addition to this new leadership post, Senator DiDomenico will also now serve as Chairman of the powerful Senate Committee on Bills in the Third Reading, as well as Vice Chairman of the Senate Committee on Intergovernmental Affairs.

Previously, Senator DiDomenico served as Vice Chairman of the Senate Committee on Ways & Means, and with this new enhanced leadership role and committee assignments, the Senator will still remain a member of this important budget writing committee.

“It is an honor and privilege to be chosen by Senate President Harriette Chandler to serve as Assistant Majority Leader in the Massachusetts Senate,” DiDomenico said. “I look forward to continue serving on her leadership team in this expanded role and working with my colleagues to advance legislation that will have a positive impact on the people of the Commonwealth.”

The announcement of Senator DiDomenico’s promotion came along with the announcement of Senate President Chandler’s full leadership team for the remainder of the 2018 session. The new team is highlighted by the appointment of Senators, including DiDomenico, to Senate leadership positions and new committee assignments.

“As we continue to fight for the future of Massachusetts families, the Massachusetts Senate has never had more energy or purpose than it has today,” said Chandler. “This team is dynamic, experienced, diverse in viewpoints, and represents the best of our goals as Democrats and legislators. In making these decisions, it was critical to me to bring together a team of fresh, strong voices, as well as some of our most respected, long-serving members.”

These appointments follow a unanimous Senate vote earlier this month affirming Chandler as the Senate President for the remainder of the 2018 session. Chandler was initially appointed Acting Senate President in December.

Senator DiDomenico’s full legislatives titles and committee assignments are now as follows:

  • Assistant Majority Leader of the Massachusetts Senate
  • Chairman of Bill on the Third Reading
  • Vice Chairman of the Senate Committee on Intergovernmental Affairs
  • Senate Committee on Ways & Means
  • Community Development and Small Business
  • Consumer Protection and Professional Licensure
  • Financial Services
  • Labor and Workforce Development

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Senate Passes Bill to Expand Language Opportunities for Students

Senate Passes Bill to Expand Language Opportunities for Students

The Massachusetts Senate unanimously passed legislation that updates the existing statute relative to English language education in public schools to encompass the latest and best practices serving English language learners (ELLs) and to recognize the value of bilingualism as a skill essential to improving career and college readiness and competiveness in the global economy.

An Act for Language Opportunity for Our Kids (S.2125), also known as the LOOK Bill, removes the current mandate requiring schools to use Sheltered English Immersion (SEI), or English-only programs, as the default ELL program model, thereby giving schools the flexibility to establish programs based on the unique needs of their students.

“By allowing parents and local school districts the flexibility to choose the most effective programs to cater to the specific needs of their students is not only good public policy, but also what is best for our students to be successful,” said Senate President Stan Rosenberg (D-Amherst).  “We live in a global community, and we must be able to adapt to the changing needs of our communities in a thoughtful and constructive way.  This bill achieves that purpose.”

“To ensure that every child in the Commonwealth receives the high quality education that he or she deserves, we must rethink the way we approach educating our English language learners,” said Sen. Sal DiDomenico (D-Everett), the lead sponsor of the bill. “By allowing for flexibility to implement new English learning programs, increasing parental involvement, and recognizing that multilingualism is a valuable asset in today’s global economy, this bill takes crucial strides to guarantee that every student receives a fair opportunity at educational success.”

“Language should never be a barrier to a student’s academic success,” said Senate Committee on Ways and Means Chair Karen E. Spilka (D-Ashland). “This bill empowers parents and schools to develop high quality educational opportunities for our English Language Learner students. It also encourages biliteracy, recognizing that knowledge of other languages and cultures is a true asset in our global economy.”

“The current one-size-fits-all model has proven a failure over the past decade plus at teaching education – period,” said Sen. Sonia Chang-Díaz (D-Jamaica Plain), the Senate Chair of the Joint Committee on Education. “For the sake of our ELL students, our school budgets, and our workforce, we need to do something different. S.2125 will empower parents and trust educators to make informed decisions about appropriate tactics for a 6-year-old with some English exposure versus a 12-year-old who has received little formal schooling. And in this precarious moment for our country, the bill recognizes that bilingualism is a strength—not a problem to be cured.”

For some children, moving into an English-only program too soon has proven to stunt academic growth and major implications on future educational success. This has become a growing problem as the number of ELL students in Massachusetts continues to rise. Since the year 2000, the number of ELL students in Massachusetts has doubled to over 90,204 students, or 9.5% of the student population. Last year, 90% of school districts had at least one ELL student and 19% of districts had 100 or more ELLs.

While overall graduation rates for students have risen in the past 10 years, the achievement gap between ELL students and their peers has not significantly changed. In 2016, the dropout rate for ELL students was 6.6 percent, the highest rate of any subgroup of students and three times higher than the rate for all students. Additionally, only 64% of ELL students graduated from high school, as compared to 87% of all Massachusetts students.

In an effort to reverse these trends, the LOOK bill removes the current mandate requiring Sheltered English Immersion (SEI) as the one-size-fits-all default ELL program model in order to better accommodate the diverse needs of the Commonwealth’s students. Under the bill, school districts may choose from any comprehensive, research-based instructional program that includes subject matter content and an English language acquisition component.

The bill also encourages a high level parental choice and involvement in selecting, advocating, and participating in English learner programs, and requires greater tracking of ELL students’ progress to better identify and assist English learners who do not meet benchmarks.

This legislation also seeks to recognize the value of bilingualism and biliteracy as a skill essential to improving career and college readiness and competitiveness in today’s global economy by permitting school districts to adopt the state seal of biliteracy to recognize high school graduates who have met academic benchmarks, as determined by DESE, in one or more languages in addition to English.

The bill will now move to a conference committee, where negotiators will reconcile the differences between the House and Senate versions of the bills.

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City Will File Another Lawsuit if ‘Sanctuary City’ Legislation Becomes Law

City Will File Another Lawsuit if ‘Sanctuary City’ Legislation Becomes Law

By Seth Daniel

The United States House of Representatives passed an immigration bill in June that includes harsh penalties for self-declared Sanctuary Cities like Chelsea, and even though it has a long way to go in passing the U.S. Senate to become law, City Manager Tom Ambrosino said he would be ready to go back to Federal Court to fight it.

“I’m hoping the Senate does not go ahead with that,” he said. “If the Senate does go ahead and it is signed by the president, I expect we’ll look at at filing another lawsuit for violation of the 10th Amendment. Hopefully, the Senate will be more reasonable. I’m going to worry about legislation that passes the House.”

The law that passed the House deals with many issues, but when it comes to Sanctuary Cities, it takes away all grant money from cities that self-declare as a Sanctuary City – as Chelsea does. That would likely mean steep losses for the Community Development Block Grant (CDBG), for public safety grants (police and fire) and for grants to the Public Schools.

Ambrosino said he doesn’t envision the law clearing the Senate and isn’t too worried about that happening, but did say if the Senate happened to approve the legislation, Chelsea would look at another lawsuit.

The City filed a lawsuit earlier this year with Lawrence when President Donald Trump issued his executive order penalizing Sanctuary Cities. That order was also challenged by several other municipalities, and a stay of the order was granted by a Federal Appeals Court in California. That stay also applied to Chelsea’s case, making the executive order moot.

However, the new legislation does take away one of the key arguments in Chelsea’s original case – that being the executive order actions weren’t authorized by legislation.

However, Ambrosino said he and the City’s lawyers still believe a 10th Amendment violation would be grounds for another suit if need be.

“Obviously, the fact that legislation exists would make that argument go away, but there are other arguments we made and one is that legislation would violate the separation of powers in the 10th Amendment.”

No new action has taken place on the House Bill since it passed in late June, but City officials are keeping close tabs on the Senate’s actions in relation to the Bill.

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