Family of Late Yarmouth Officer Gannon Pushes for Bill to Allow Emergency Treatment of Injured Police K-9s

Over the sound of police dogs panting, Denise Gannon asked lawmakers to look at two pictures. She held up one that showed her son, the late Yarmouth police officer Sean Gannon, and his K-9 partner Nero. She said the other, which she passed to a court officer to distribute among Public Safety and Homeland Security Committee members, showed Nero after he was wounded in the 2018 shooting that killed Sgt. Gannon and had to wait hours to receive emergency veterinary care. “If Sean would have seen that, as any K-9 officer would, he would have been devastated, because they live not only as working partners but as their family members," Denise Gannon said Thursday, according to the State House News Service.

Vargas Touts ‘Restoring Faith in Democracy’ at State House Ranked Voter Choice Day of Action

Haverhill state Rep. Andy Vargas was among the Beacon Hill policymakers and activists who met at the State House Tuesday to celebrate progress on ranked choice voting efforts and highlight bills that would allow municipalities to enact the voting reform at the local level, and legalize the process statewide. “There could not be a more important time in American history since the civil rights era for democracy reform issues,” Vargas told the State House News service when speaking about the importance of education reform. Ranked choice voting would allow voters to rank multiple candidates in order of preference. Then when the election is tallied if no candidate gets a majority of the vote, an instant runoff occurs. In the runoff, the candidate with the least amount of votes is eliminated and those ballots are then redistributed to the voters’ highest-ranked remaining candidate.

Trahan, Minicucci Among Local Leaders to Offer Merrimack Valley Gas Disaster Recovery Update Tuesday

About 10 months after gas explosions and fires rocked the Merrimack Valley, more than 70 percent of the impacted locally-owned small businesses have returned to their pre-gas emergency levels of operations, business and civic leaders are expected to announce at a press conference Tuesday. The State House News Service reports Lawrence Mayor Daniel Rivera and Congresswoman Lori Trahan will join Sen. Barry Finegold, Rep. Christina Minicucci, local officials and community organizations to provide an update on business recovery efforts in Lawrence, Andover and North Andover. Gas explosions and fires leveled homes and businesses in the three towns on Sept. 13, forcing evacuations and months of repairs. Rose and Dove Gift Shop, which will host Tuesday’s 10 a.m. press conference, was closed in the immediate wake of the gas emergency, was without heat for months and then saw its entrance blocked for weeks due to construction.

Towns Get $$$ For Climate Change Planning

Seventy-one percent of the state’s 351 cities and towns have now received state grants to identify and address their climate change vulnerabilities, the Baker administration announced last week as it awarded municipalities $12 million, including nearby Merrimac. Sixty-five communities received a total $1.7 million through the Municipal Vulnerability Preparedness Program for a planning process to identify vulnerabilities and “priority actions,” while $10.3 million was distributed among 34 communities that have already completed the planning process and are ready to implement resilience projects. The planning grants ranged in size from $15,000 each for Douglas, Dudley, Hadley, Hamilton, Maynard, Medway, Merrimac, Norfolk and Templeton to $102,000 for Fitchburg. The action grants include a recommended $1.5 million for resilience preliminary design, technical analysis and pre-permitting at Boston’s Moakley Park; $960,000 for Mattapoisett’s Pine Island Pond Watershed lands project; $1 million for Millbury’s Armory Village Green infrastructure project; and $150,000 for reforestation and tree resilience in Concord. A bill filed by Gov. Charlie Baker that would raise the real estate transfer excise tax to fund municipal climate change products had a hearing before the Revenue Committee last week, while the Telecommunications, Utilities and Energy Committee held a hearing on a similar bill filed by House Speaker Robert DeLeo that would gather its funds through bonding.

Senate Approves Hands-Free Cellphone Bill 40-0 in Distracted Driving Victory

For the third consecutive session, the Massachusetts Senate has approved legislation requiring hands-free use of all mobile devices while driving, but this time the House and Gov. Charlie Baker are on board too. The State House News Service reports senators voted unanimously 40-0 this week to approve the bill, which bans the use of phones and similar technology behind the wheel save for a single tap or swipe to enable a hands-free mode. They had passed similar legislation passed twice before, but those bills died in the House. The House approved its own version of similar legislation 155-2 last month. The two bills have some differences, most significantly regarding collection of racial and ethnic data at traffic stops to track for bias, that leaders will need to reconcile in order to move a bill to the governor's desk.

Vargas Files Bill to Remove Religious Exemption from School Vaccinations Including Measles

A week after this year’s second case of measles in Massachusetts was diagnosed, Haverhill’s state Rep. Andy Vargas filed a bill that would remove the religious exemption for vaccinating schoolchildren. State law requires children who are entering school to be immunized against diphtheria, pertussis, tetanus, measles and poliomyelitis, unless a physician certifies that a vaccine would endanger the child's health or unless the parent or guardian offers a written statement that vaccination or immunization conflicts with their “sincere religious beliefs.”

According to the State House News Service, a bill Vargas filed on Friday would strike the language about religious belief, allowing only medical exemptions. “As a Catholic myself, I fully respect everyone’s right to practice their religious beliefs, but nobody has the right to infect another person’s child,” Vargas said in a statement. “We must keep in mind the common good. We have a duty to protect the most vulnerable members of our society.”

Amid large outbreaks of measles both nationally and internationally, the Department of Public Health confirmed late last month that a child in greater Boston had been diagnosed with measles on May 24.

Senate Allocates $1.5M for Civics Education Championed Locally by Vargas, Campbell, DiZoglio

Six months after the governor signed a law implementing new statewide civics education requirements, the Senate moved Wednesday to dedicate $1.5 million in next year’s budget to help implement the new curriculum. Senators, including Sen. Diana DiZoglio, voted 39-0 in favor of a fiscal year 2020 budget amendment allocating $1.5 million to the Civics Project Trust Fund, which was created under the new law to help districts implement civics courses and assignments. State House News Service reports Harriette Chandler, who sponsored the amendment and last session’s bill, said the money was a “down payment on the civics education of Massachusetts” that will help educate and engage future leaders. Such civics education has been championed locally by Merrimack Valley legislators DiZoglio, Andy Vargas and Linda Dean Campbell, among others. “These projects require good teacher training and in-depth curriculum,” Chandler said on the Senate floor.

Mass. House Passes Hands-Free Bill 155-2; Police to Issue Warnings Instead of Fines Until Start of 2020

State representatives invoked the memories of people killed in distracted driving crashes on Wednesday before voting 155-2 to pass a bill banning motorists from using handheld cellphones and electronic devices behind the wheel, the State House News Service reports. Reps. Peter Durant and David DeCoste voted against the bill. Massachusetts in 2010 banned drivers from texting and emailing while driving, but stopped short of a full ban on hand-held use to make phone calls. Since 2010, many drivers have continued to text while driving or read emails or even surf the internet, leaving everyone vulnerable to preventable crashes.