Senate Signs Off on Haverhill Petition to Elect Council and School Committee Mostly by Ward

The Massachusetts Senate Thursday approved Haverhill’s home rule petition, requiring candidates for City Council and School Committee a year from now to run mostly by neighborhood. The bill, sponsored in the state Senate by Sen. Diana DiZoglio, was previously passed by the House after being presented by Rep. Andy X. Vargas in that branch of the legislature. Legislation calls for the City Council to expand to 11 members with seven city councilors elected by ward with four others elected at-large. The school Committee will have seven ward members, three citywide representatives and the mayor as tiebreaker. It also reduces School Committee terms from four to two years.

Haverhill Commuter Rail Line to Play Role During Month-Long Orange Line Subway Closing

The Haverhill commuter rail line will play a role in helping to offset impacts of the MBTA’s decision yesterday to close down the entire Orange Line subway for a month. The rail line, which picks up and drops off passengers at Oak Grove, Malden Center and North Station, is being suggested as an option. On the south side, the Needham and Providence Line trains will also stop at Forest Hills, Ruggles, Back Bay and South Station. Gov. Charlie Baker and his top deputies said Wednesday they believe the “unprecedented” step will allow crews to complete as much overdue maintenance work as they would in five years of weekend- and evening-only closures. “None of this stuff that’s happened is acceptable, and that’s part of the reason why we’re going the distance we’re going to here,” Baker said, addressing a sea of reporters and cameras near the maintenance yard at Wellington Station.

Gov. Baker Signs ‘School Meals for All’ Law, Championed Locally by Rep. Vargas After Fed Inaction

Gov. Charlie Baker put his signature last Thursday on a one-year extension of School Meals for All, championed by Rep. Andy X. Vargas and Sen. Sal DiDomenico. Project Bread and the Feed Kids Coalition hailed the new law that ensures 400,000 students will continue to have access to school meals despite federal inaction. Massachusetts is the fifth state to guarantee access to free meals this coming school year. “This is a moment in time when all our eyes have been opened to the vast disparities faced by the children of Massachusetts when accessing the resources needed to be healthy and learn. While the road to equity is long and complex, this extension of School Meals for All is a straightforward and significant step in ensuring students are ready to learn next year,” says Project Bread CEO Erin McAleer.

Gov. Baker Agrees with Soldiers’ Home Bill Pushed by Rep. Campbell, but Seeks Delay

A little more work is required before a bill, championed by Rep. Linda Dean Campbell, takes effect to improve oversight of the state’s soldiers’ homes. Stressing his support for the goals of the underlying measure, Gov. Charlie Baker on Saturday returned to lawmakers a bill reshaping oversight and management at state-run soldiers’ homes with an amendment giving the executive branch a bit more time to implement the reforms.

“These amendments permit critical planning and implementation work to begin immediately while allowing the next administration to make its appointments for these newly constituted offices and the Veterans’ Homes Council,” Baker said. Campbell and Sen. Mike Rush, both veterans, prevailed last Thursday in their calls for “a clear chain of command” to oversee state veterans’ homes. Campbell expressed her unhappiness with the bill that emerged from the House last February by voting “present” rather than yes or no. A House and Senate conference committee sided with Campbell and Rush on the bill which is intended to prevent another tragedy like the COVID-19 outbreak that took dozens of veterans’ lives in 2020 at the Holyoke Soldiers’ Home.

Rep. Campbell’s Committee Prevails on Soldiers’ Home Reforms After COVID-19 Deaths; Bill Goes to Baker

Rep. Linda Dean Campbell and Sen. Mike Rush, both veterans, prevailed Thursday in their calls for “a clear chain of command” to oversee state veterans’ homes. Campbell, as WHAV reported first last February, was unhappy with a weakened version of their bill which was intended to prevent another tragedy like the COVID-19 outbreak that took dozens of veterans’ lives in 2020 at the Holyoke Soldiers’ Home. A House and Senate conference committee this week sided with Campbell and Rush. “Our legislative investigation dug deep into both the immediate and underlying causes of this tragedy and concluded it was a perfect storm that had been brewing for years—COVID just broke the dam,” said Campbell. “Accountability and authority must permeate governance reform at our Soldiers’ Homes.

$52.7 Billion State Spending Plan Goes to Gov. Baker; Includes Vargas’ Free School Meals Plan

Both the state House and Senate have signed off on a compromise $52.7 billion annual spending plan Monday that includes Rep. Andy X. Vargas’ priority for free meals for all school children. Vargas took to Twitter Sunday night to celebrate that budget negotiators preserved one of his priorities, universal free school meals for all school children across Massachusetts at a cost of about $115 million. “A huge win that provides economic relief for public school parents, removal of social stigma, and most importantly—less hungry kids and better academic outcomes! So hyped and grateful,” the Haverhill Democrat tweeted. Senate officials agreed universal free school meals provide “immediate relief to working families by saving them up to $1,200 every year.”

Gov. Charlie Baker has up to 10 days to review the budget and send back amendments and vetoes.

With Key Legislative Elections Decided in September, Forums Taking Place Wed. and Thurs.

Election of several state legislators, including a new minority majority Senate district, will be decided in September since there are no opposing party challengers to require November balloting. That means Methuen Community Studios and Lawrence Community Access Television plan what may be the only candidate forums this Wednesday and Thursday. Methuen Community Studios Executive Director Karen L. Hayden explained the urgency. “My biggest concern is that people are not aware that the primary election on Sept. 6 is their only chance to vote on this.

House Economic Development Bill Includes $400,000 for Haverhill’s Dutton Airport Redevelopment

Plans to redevelop the former Dutton Airport into Haverhill’s newest business park received an unexpected boost last week when the state House of Representatives approved setting aside $400,000 for public portions of the project. As WHAV reported last week, Rep. Andy X. Vargas secured $8 million to pay for public portions of Lupoli Companies’ $160 million downtown housing and retail development plan, and $300,000 for local economic development recovery efforts. Vargas told WHAV Friday that before the House recessed, it approved another Vargas amendment for Dutton Airport redevelopment. The economic development bill still must be approved by the Senate and Gov. Charlie Baker. At a Haverhill City Council meeting in May, Haverhill Economic Development and Planning Director William Pillsbury Jr. gave an overview of plans.