Eversource to Buy Columbia Gas Massachusetts for $1.1 Billion; Deal Comes After Guilty Plea

Eversource Energy has reached an agreement to buy the Massachusetts natural gas assets of Columbia Gas for $1.1 billion, a deal announced hours after federal prosecutors ordered Columbia Gas to cease Bay State operations and pay a $53 million fine in connection with organizational failures. Federal prosecutors on Wednesday announced Columbia Gas agreed to plead guilty to federal pipeline safety act violations in connection with the explosions that rocked Lawrence, Andover and North Andover on Sept. 13, 2018, killing one person, injuring 22 others and damaging more than 130 homes and businesses. The deal between Eversource and NiSource, the parent company of Columbia Gas, could more than double the number of natural gas customers Eversource has in Massachusetts, from 300,000 to about 630,000. Columbia Gas currently serves 60 communities in Massachusetts, including the Brockton and Springfield areas.

DiZoglio Bill Promotes Local Business, ‘MassMakers,’ with Web Portal, Holiday Promotion

Sens. Diana DiZoglio and Jason Lewis and Jon Hurst of the Retailers Association of Massachusetts plan to speak at a press conference this afternoon in support of a new DiZoglio proposal to support local businesses. DiZoglio’s bill, known as an Act to Support MassMakers, aims to assist small businesses, in part by establishing a Massachusetts Main Streets Office and a MassMakers web portal. The portal seeksl to assist aspiring start-ups and scale-ups, micro-businesses. Among other things, the bill also requires the governor to annually proclaim the first Friday, Saturday and Sunday following Thanksgiving Day as “Local is the New Black Weekend,” to “promote awareness of the vital role that local businesses play in the economy and general welfare of the Commonwealth throughout the year.”

“Our small businesses are the economic engines of our communities and essential to job creation and growth,” said DiZoglio.

Mass. State Police Add Dozens of Patrols As Distracted Driving Warnings Begin

State Police plan are deploying “dozens of additional patrols” to Massachusetts roadways as a new distracted driving law kicks into effect. Motorists can expect to see troopers more frequently, particularly during busy commuting times, Massachusetts State Police Col. Christopher Mason said at a Thursday press conference highlighting the imminent implementation of the law that Gov. Charlie Baker signed in November. Some cruisers will carry two troopers, allowing one to serve as a “spotter” for motorists who do not comply with the new restrictions on virtually all handheld cellphone use behind the wheel. “Our goal is for you to get home safely to the ones that you care about and the ones that care about you,” Mason said.

Merrimack Valley Rep. Nangle Pleads Not Guilty to Fed Corruption Charges

A Merrimack Valley legislator, Rep. David Nangle of Lowell, plans to fight the more than two dozen federal fraud charges unveiled against him yesterday, and in the meantime, House leaders are not saying how they plan to respond. House Speaker Robert DeLeo said in an afternoon statement that the allegations are “serious and troubling and, if true, represent a significant betrayal of the public trust.” However, he did not say whether Nangle will retain his leadership and committee posts while awaiting trial or whether the House plans to open its own investigation into Nangle’s supposed campaign finance violations and gambling debts. “I was shocked and disappointed to learn of his indictment this morning,” DeLeo said in a statement. “Rep. Nangle has been a friend and colleague for over 20 years. Never once during that time did I have an inkling that he had a gambling problem, much less a gambling problem as extensive as what has been reported today.”

Asked if the House Ethics Committee had launched an inquiry or if Nangle would continue to receive his public salary—$66,257 annually with another $30,000 stipend for serving as second division chair in the House—a DeLeo spokeswoman declined to comment beyond the speaker’s statement.

DiZoglio Lends Support to Bill Providing Undocumented Immigrant Driver’s Licenses

To overcome a veto from Gov. Charlie Baker, supporters of legislation that would make it possible for undocumented immigrants to receive standard driver’s licenses would need to amass two thirds majority support for their bill in both branches. Last week, supporters cleared that threshold at the committee level in the first test of the bill’s strength. After Senate Transportation Committee Chairman Joseph Boncore’s staff declined to release how his committee’s members voted on the bill, or even the total vote, the House chairman, Rep. William Straus, released both the total and the breakdown to the News Service, following a request for the information. The committee approved the bill on a 14-4 vote, with Sen. Diana DiZoglio of Methuen, among those in favor. All four votes against the bill came from Republican lawmakers—Sen. Dean Tran of Fitchburg, and Reps.

Haverhill Mayor Fiorentini Among 20 Mayors Endorsing Sen. Markey Re-Election Bid

Haverhill Mayor James J. Fiorentini is wading into the expected Democratic party battle between incumbent Sen. Edward Markey and challenger Congressman Joseph Kennedy III. Fiorentini joined 20 mayors yesterday endorsing Markey in the Sept. 1 Democratic primary. Markey touted his work at the local level across the state and his connections with the mayors and residents and voters. The endorsement comes as little surprise since the mayor invited Markey to participate in his recent inauguration

“As we work to improve the lives of every resident across our Commonwealth, we are grateful to have such a strong partner at the federal level advocating for our communities,” the mayors said in an endorsement letter.

Merrimack College Taps Former North Andover Town Manager Maylor as VP

Less than a year after he started in the job, state Comptroller and former North Andover Town Manager Andrew Maylor said Tuesday he is resigning next month to become vice president and chief business officer at Merrimack College. The college said Maylor will be a key part of the campus’s next strategic plan. He plans to resign as comptroller effective Feb. 21 and begin his career in academia Feb. 24.

Group with Haverhill Ties Drops State Education Lawsuit; Will Monitor Student Opportunity Act

The group of parents, students and advocates who sued the state last summer alleging unconstitutional disparities in public school funding said they’re dropping that lawsuit, describing themselves as “pleased” with the legislature’s education finance overhaul and Gov. Charlie Baker’s plan to implement the first year of it. Haverhill parent Ted Kempinski, a Haverhill High School history teacher with three children in the city’s public school system, and another Haverhill family were among several plaintiffs in the case that alleged chronic underfunding that unfairly leaves wide swaths of students behind compared to their peers. In June—months before the Senate or the House took up a bill rewriting the funding formula with a focus on costs associated with special education, teaching low-income students and English learners and employee health care—the group from Haverhill, Lowell, Chelsea, Chicopee, Fall River, Orange and Springfield filed a Supreme Judicial Court lawsuit against state education officials. Since then, both legislative branches unanimously passed and Baker signed a bill that commits the state to $1.5 billion in new K-12 education funding over seven years. Next year’s budget will be the first to contain the new money, and the $44.6 billion fiscal 2021 spending plan Baker filed last week includes $355 million associated with the law.