House Redistricting Plan Leaves Haverhill with Two Reps.; Seats Held by Mirra, Minicucci Omit City

There has been considerable attention on Haverhill being split between two state Senate districts, but the focus shifts to its House delegation—and loss of two seats—as the legislature takes up the plan today. As draft maps stand now, Haverhill will be split between two representatives, leaving only expanded area seats currently occupied by Reps. Linda Dean Campbell and Andy X. Vargas. Seats now held by Reps. Lenny Mirra and Christina Minicucci will no longer have precincts in Haverhill.

Haverhill Coalition Slams Senate Plan, Says it Favors Lawrence Candidates ‘Stockpiling’ Chances

The group that originally proposed adding nine House districts and four Senate districts where people of color represent the majority of the population has come out against splitting Haverhill between two Senate districts. At a public hearing of the Special Joint Committee on Redistricting, the Drawing Democracy Coalition, including a Haverhill advocate, said it believes the proposed map risks diluting the voting power of minorities in Haverhill, Brockton and Boston. “Haverhill Latinos will become diluted in what appears to be a deliberate attempt to de-stabilize Latino representation in Haverhill proper. Haverhill should stand on its own as the growing diverse population it is,” said Graciela Trilla, secretary of the Latino Coalition of Haverhill, an ELE director/lead teacher at Hill View Montessori Charter Public School and co-head of school at Wisteria Montessori. “Latinos finally have a strong base in numbers and presence in Haverhill with receptive political leaders, only to be split, diminished, diluted and rendered voiceless in our own municipality, as well as rendering us inconsequential in the Merrimack Valley as the ugly smaller cousin of Lawrence and Methuen.

Baker Signs Vargas Bill Into Law, Ending Pupil Shaming Over Lunch Money Debt

A bill to end the shaming of students without lunch money, championed by Haverhill Rep. Andy X. Vargas, was signed into law last week by Gov. Charlie Baker. As WHAV reported in August, Vargas hailed the bill that would prohibit schools from publicly identifying students who owe meals, serving an alternative meal, denying a student a meal as a form of discipline, disposing of an already served meal because of a student’s lack of money or unresolved debt, keeping a student or a sibling from attending or participating in non-fee-based extracurricular activities, field trips or school events solely because of the student’s unresolved meal debt. “With this bill, we will feed more kids, eliminate meal debt shaming and stigma, and maximize federal resources for schools across the Commonwealth. With the historically high percentage of economically disadvantaged students across the state, it makes sense to lock in this data now, which the federal government recognizes for at least the next four years,” Vargas said in a statement. The Massachusetts Law Reform Institute was among those celebrating the new legislation that addresses the challenge children and families living in poverty face when it comes to unpaid school meal debt.

Redistricting Splits Haverhill Into Two Senate Districts; Vargas Says Plan Weakens City Voters

A proposed state Senate redistricting plan, presented Tuesday, would break off a portion of Haverhill and add it to a new district also comprised of the whole of Lawrence and Methuen. The proposal creates a majority non-white district that has been described as “dragon-shaped.” The Haverhill “head” portion would have its southern border along the Merrimack River and its “neck” includes the industrial portion of Bradford to make its narrow Methuen connection. To the north, the Haverhill portion would conclude in the Acre and end at Main Street to the east. While intended to encourage a minority seat, Rep. Andy X. Vargas, who has been eyeing a run for state Senate, said it may actually take away his opportunity. “You don’t have to be a math genius, but obviously this makes it more difficult for a Haverhill candidate to win a Senate seat,” he told WHAV.

Merrimack Valley Leaders Urge Senate Not to Split Gateway Cities in New Voting Districts

Local leaders and most of the area’s legislative delegation are calling on state Senate leadership not to split individual gateway cities, such as Haverhill, Methuen and Lawrence, between any future Senate districts. Leaders reacted to, what they called, “motivations” to “create a majority citizens voting age population district of one demographic.” New legislative districts are being considered following U.S. Census findings that the Massachusetts population has grown and shifted between communities. “We understand that there are several principles at play in the redistricting process including equity, minority representation, fairness and ‘keeping communities whole.’ We agree with these principles, which is why we write today with great concern for any proposed plan that could split the Gateway City of Haverhill and dilute the voices of our constituents,” Mayor James J. Fiorentini and all members of the Haverhill City Council wrote in a letter dated last Wednesday. Rep. Andy Vargas released the letter Friday. As WHAV reported previously, the Drawing Democracy Coalition proposed adding nine House districts and four Senate districts where people of color represent the majority of the population.

College Students Renew Call for Passage of Rep. Mirra’s Proposed Mental Health Commission

An organization representing Boston-area undergraduates is marking Mental Illness Awareness week by asking top lawmakers to pass Rep. Lenny Mirra’s bill creating a commission on suicide prevention and mental health crisis management. They first seek to make sure that panel would take college students’ needs into account. The Boston Intercollegiate Government, a coalition of undergraduate student governments, testified at a July hearing in support of Mirra’s bill, but the proposed legislation remains before the Mental Health, Substance Use and Recovery Committee. BIG’s chairman, Dennis Wieboldt III of Boston College, and assistant director of governmental affairs, Zachary Greenwald of Northeastern University, wrote to House Speaker Ronald Mariano and Senate President Karen Spilka Thursday, reiterating the group’s call to pass an amended version of the bill. “Massachusetts has a very large population of college-aged students.

Students Back Rep. Vargas Bill to Establish Hunger-Free College Campuses

College students who have faced food shortages asked legislators to approve a bill filed by state Rep. Andy X. Vargas to establish a Hunger-Free Campus Initiative, backed by grants. Vargas, who filed the bill with Rep. Mindy Domb and Senate President Emerita Harriette Chandler, said 37% of public college and university students in Massachusetts are food insecure. He urged his colleagues to think of food insecurity as an “infrastructure problem.”

“It’s a systems-level problem, a logistical problem that we can solve, and this bill lays the groundwork for that,” the Haverhill Democrat said. One student would fill his backpack to the brim when he could borrow someone else’s account to access the dining hall, The Open Door advocacy director Sarah Grow told lawmakers Thursday. He’d freeze the haul to have meals for later but would worry about getting caught or that other students would catch a whiff of all the food in his bag.

Rep. Campbell and Sen. Rush Present Bill to Overhaul Soldiers’ Homes After COVID-19 Deaths

Sweeping legislation to overhaul operations of the state’s soldiers’ homes is moving ahead, steered by local state Rep. Linda Dean Campbell and state Sen. Mike Rush, chairs of the former Special Joint Oversight Committee on the Soldiers’ Home in Holyoke COVID-19 outbreak. The legislation addresses the 14 key findings and recommendations in the Special Joint Oversight Committee’s report that addressed longstanding and immediate issues at the Soldiers’ Homes that led to the 77 deaths from the COVID-19 outbreak at the Holyoke Soldiers’ Home in 2020. “This legislation defines comprehensive reforms for systemic and critical governing deficiencies that were present before the COVID-19 outbreak occurred and that created the perfect storm for this preventable tragedy,” said Campbell. “Governing deficiencies included no clear lines of chain of command, accountability and responsibility, among others.”

The legislation calls for elevating the secretary of Veterans’ Services to a cabinet-level position and removing the Department of Veterans’ Services from within the Executive Office of Health and Human Services; creating a statewide Veterans’ Homes Advisory Council to provide continuity, predictability and stability across all state-operated veterans’ homes and ensure the highest quality of care; creating local bodies to serve as community advocates for each home; establishing a consistent, transparent process for the appointment of each superintendent and deputy superintendent; requiring each superintendent be a licensed nursing home administrator; requiring a full-time specialist in infection control and emergency preparedness at each home; requiring annual performance reviews for all leadership positions; establishing a clear chain of command from superintendent to the executive director of Veterans’ Homes and Housing to the secretary of veterans affairs to the governor; among other measures. The proposal also requires regular situation reports to state officials during emergencies; regular meetings between the executive director of veterans’ homes and housing and the leadership at each home; add an ombudsperson and an emergency hotline to allow residents, their families and staff to communicate concerns and time-sensitive issues more easily, with whistleblower protections in place; direct the Department of Public Health to conduct inspections of each home twice per year; ensure mental health resources are made available to staff who worked at the Holyoke Soldiers’ Home during the outbreak in 2020 and that such resources are made available in the event of any future emergency; and more.