State Settles with Nevada Companies for ‘Heartbreaking’ and Illegal Practice of Leasing Dogs

Families that risked losing their adopted dogs to repossession are being reimbursed $126,000 after Attorney General Maura Healey’s office went after two Nevada companies for the practice which is illegal in Massachusetts. The reimbursements settle state claims against Credova Financial and Nextep Holdings that were filed in Suffolk Superior Court. Healey’s office said the companies violated the Massachusetts Consumer Protection Act and other state laws by originating and holding leases for hundreds of dogs. “Getting a dog can be a significant emotional and financial investment for many families, so when the dog is used as collateral in a lease, the end result can be expensive and heartbreaking,” said Healey. As part of the settlement, the companies will transfer full ownership of dozens of dogs to families, return any amounts collected since Jan.

Gov. Baker Expects Full Reopening by Aug. 1; Outdoor Mask Rule Easing Begins Friday

Never mind the light at the end of the tunnel. After Gov. Charlie Baker’s reopening announcement Tuesday, Massachusetts can now see the end of the tunnel itself. The governor told Bay Staters to mark their calendars for Aug. 1—by that date, Baker is expecting to have rescinded gathering limits, removed all industry restrictions and allowed 100 percent capacity again across all industries. “We hope that with more vaccines and a continued success in stopping COVID we can take this step earlier, but it will depend on everyone continuing to get vaccinated and doing the right things,” the governor said during his Tuesday press conference.

This Year’s High School Juniors Able to Skip MCAS Without Graduation Consequences

It’s official. This year’s high school junior class doesn’t need to take or pass MCAS tests to graduate, under a change approved this week by the Board of Elementary and Secondary Education. As WHAV reported at the beginning of the month, Education Commissioner Jeffrey C. Riley recommended the temporary change. It is one of a series of pandemic-influenced shifts the state has made within its standardized testing program since COVID-19 first shuttered school buildings last spring. Students are typically required to pass 10th grade English and math MCAS exams in order demonstrate competency in the two subjects and graduate.

Housing Organization Honors Rep. Vargas for Role in ‘Significant Zoning Reforms’

Haverhill state Rep. Andy X. Vargas and Lynn Sen. Brendan Crighton were honored last week for leadership on affordable housing, housing production and roles in passing, what were described as, “the most significant zoning reforms in a generation.”

Vargas and Crighton were awarded the 2021 Citizens’ Housing and Planning Association’s Housing Hero Award. “As the chief sponsor of housing production legislation last session in the House, Rep. Vargas helped pass the most significant zoning reforms in a generation, including multifamily zoning requirements for MBTA communities, abutter appeals reforms and Housing Choice,” said Rachel Heller, CEO of the Association. She added, “These provisions will create thousands of new homes across Massachusetts…”

The Citizens’ Housing and Planning Association is a Massachusetts housing advocacy and programming organization. Its mission is to encourage the creation and preservation of housing that is affordable to low- and moderate-income families and individuals and to foster diverse and sustainable communities through planning and community development. Vargas said he “wouldn’t be a member of the House today, were it not for my family being able to find safe, stable and affordable housing in Haverhill when I was 6 years old.

Mallory Strain Joins Rep. Andy Vargas’ Office as Legislative Aide

Mallory Strain recently joined the staff of Haverhill state Rep. Andy X. Vargas as legislative aide. Strain graduated from Suffolk University where she studied economics and government. “Mallory’s experience working with small businesses combined with her data analysis skills will greatly assist Haverhill, as my office continues to work with our community partners to develop a resilient post-pandemic economy,” said Vargas. Previously, Strain worked as a program assistant for Manomet, an environmental nonprofit headquartered in Plymouth. Manomet works with scientists, government and businesses to create a more sustainable environment.

Education Commissioner Riley Recommends No MCAS for This Year’s 11th Graders

This year’s 11th graders would not be required to take the state’s MCAS assessment under a plan Education Commissioner Jeffrey C. Riley expects to present to the Board of Elementary and Secondary Education for approval. Riley announced Thursday that he intends to recommend changes to the graduation requirements for the class of 2022 that would modify the competency determination for English and math so those students would not be required to take the test, a move the education department said was “in recognition of the missed testing opportunities when schools were closed last spring.”

State education officials previously announced a series of modifications to this year’s MCAS program, including shortening the tests for third to eighth graders and postponing the exams until a later point in the spring than they are typically administered. While the Baker administration and some advocacy groups have described the common assessment as a key tool for measuring learning loss experienced during the pandemic’s disruptions to schooling, others, including teachers unions and some lawmakers, have called for canceling the tests this year. Twenty-nine of the 40 state senators sent Riley and Gov. Charlie Baker a letter Wednesday asking this year’s tests be delayed until fall. The department also plans to extend the timeline for administering the tests for high school sophomores and third- through eighth-graders through June 11, and will offer remote administration of English and math exams for grades three through eight to accommodate families who have chosen to keep their kids learning remotely.

DiZoglio Files Bill Granting State Employees Pay Raises Matching That of Legislators

Sen. Diana DiZoglio says state workers should receive the same percentage raise as the one legislators gave themselves. The Senate admitted a late-filed petition Monday from DiZoglio that would raise the incomes of state employees whose collective bargaining agreements expired more than six months ago. DiZoglio’s bill would give those employees a pay raise “equal to the most recent amount received by the members of the General Court” under the 2017 law granting pay raises to House and Senate members. The Senate referred the matter to the Committee on Public Service for legislation relative to public employee income protection. The Senate meets again Thursday morning.

Gov. Baker Says All Residents 16 and Up Eligible for COVID-19 Vaccine April 19

More than a year into the pandemic, every adult in Massachusetts now has a date certain when they will become eligible to receive a COVID-19 vaccine. Gov. Charlie Baker cautioned as he unveiled the timeline Wednesday that it could still take several weeks of eligibility to secure a vaccine appointment, but the April 19 target to open up the process to all adults still marks a significant milestone. In a social media post, Haverhill Mayor James J. Fiorentini urged residents who are already eligible to receive the vaccine to not delay making appointments. “…Once the floodgates open, it will be much more difficult to get vaccinated. My advice: if you are eligible now, get vaccinated now,” the mayor said.