Lawmakers: Treatment Laws Need to Reflect Recovery Realities

Rallying with people in recovery, their families and friends, and advocates for people who struggle with addiction, state lawmakers on Monday called for the state’s laws around treatment and recovery options to keep pace with developments in science and research. As part of the Massachusetts Organization for Addiction Recovery’s annual Recovery Day event, Sen. John Keenan of Quincy and Rep. Tami Gouveia of Acton spoke to a group of hundreds about the possibilities for recovery and the ways state government can try to respond to the opioid epidemic and the growing need for treatment options. Gouveia and Keenan each touted legislation that they said would help make treatment more accessible and give recovery a better chance of taking root by requiring private insurance companies to cover up to 30 days of addiction treatment. Under current law, they must only offer coverage for 14 days, which supporters say does not allow users enough time to complete detox programs and enter the next phase of treatment. “When a person in the early stages of recovery is ready for additional treatment but is told by an insurance company they won’t pay for it, that is just wrong,” Keenan said.

$1.5 Billion, Seven-Year Education Bill Will Have ‘Tremendous Impact’ for Haverhill Families: Vargas

Haverhill students are among those poised to benefit from a new $1.5 billion consensus school finance reform bill that House and Senate leaders rolled out Thursday that’s expected to hit the Senate floor in two weeks. Rep. Alice Pesich and Sen. Jason Lewis, the co-chairs of the Education Committee that has been working for months to develop the legislation, said a focus of the bill is providing resources to low-income students. “I think it’s fair to say that if this bill passes into law, we will have the strongest and most progressive education funding system in terms of how we reflect the needs of low-income students,” Lewis, a Winchester Democrat, said, according to the State House News Service. The bill, dubbed the Student Opportunity Act and unanimously endorsed by the Education Committee Thursday, would increase Chapter 70 aid to local schools by $1.4 billion, and House Speaker Robert DeLeo said it does not involve plans for additional taxes. All students in the state will see some benefit from the bill, Peisch said, though the school funding formula has always been intended to give more state aid to districts with greater need.

Department of Public Health Wants Information on Vaping-Related Illnesses

As federal officials investigate a multi-state outbreak of lung illnesses associated with the use of e-cigarette products, Massachusetts Public Health Commissioner Monica Bharel temporarily added possible cases of vaping-associated pulmonary illnesses to the list of conditions clinicians are required to report to the state. The State House News Service reports Bharel told the Public Health Council on Wednesday that she was using her regulatory authority to mandate that vaping-related illnesses be reported to the department for the next 12 months. Gathering that information will allow the department to provide case counts to the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention, help public health officials understand the magnitude of the situation in Massachusetts, and shape what steps the state takes next, Bharel said. More than 450 possible cases of lung illness associated with e-cigarette products had been reported to the CDC from 33 states—a list that does not include Massachusetts—and the U.S. Virgin Islands. Five deaths have been confirmed in California, Illinois, Indiana, Minnesota and Oregon.

Baker: Wait for Education Reform Bill May Stretch Into 2020

Republican Gov. Charlie Baker hinted in a new interview that a major education funding reform bill eagerly awaited on Beacon Hill may need to wait until next year. In an interview with WGBH’s Joe Mathieu that aired Monday, Baker said he believes the Legislature is working “in good faith,” but that making changes to the state's foundation budget formula is a significant challenge. “I do believe that there will be an Education 2.0 bill during this legislative session,” Baker said in the interview. "I don’t know if it will be by the end of this calendar year or by the end of the session. For purposes of the next school year, which starts a year from now, I think there will be a bill in place and I think it will basically address most of the issues that people have been talking about."

Gateway City Residents Priced Out of Commuter Rail: Report

As policymakers eye ways to get more people on public transit to ease traffic, a new study says many potential riders can’t afford to get on board the state’s 400-mile commuter rail network. According to the State House News Service, the Massachusetts Institute for a New Commonwealth report urges policymakers to make a more equitable commuter rail fare framework “priority number one,” describing a shift away from strict distance-based fares as vital to ensuring that future development in gateway cities, mostly located far from Boston, produces equitable outcomes and does not displace low-income households. In many Massachusetts cities, low-income riders are effectively priced out of using commuter rail, unable to afford, for instance, the $12.25 fare for a one-way ride to Boston from Worcester. The MBTA, run by the Baker administration, sets fares for the commuter rail system, which is operated by Keolis under a contract with the transit authority. Researchers said fare discounts implemented by U.S. transit agencies have been limited to bus and subway systems.

Specifically, the 14-page report urges the state to consider experimenting with means-tested fares, lowering fares for reverse commuters, reducing fares for off-peak travel, and developing a standard definition of transportation equity and applying it consistently to all planning and policy studies.

Senator Still Focused on Baker’s Knowledge of RMV Woes; Calls for ‘a Lot More Hearings’

A key state senator is calling for “a lot more hearings” to probe the Registry of Motor Vehicles scandal as he renews scrutiny on Gov. Charlie Baker’s insistence that he only learned about years of systemic problems in the wake of a fatal crash. Sen. Eric Lesser told WCVB in a Sunday interview that the committee has much more work to do to continue its legislative inquiry. The panel held a seven-hour oversight hearing in July but did not meet publicly in August. Lesser said he wants the investigation to look closely at the Baker administration's role in the Registry’s failure for years to process out-of-state driving violations that should have resulted in license suspensions. “One of the things I’m particularly interested in finding out is: what did the governor know, and when did he know it, about the issues at the RMV, about the, frankly, gross mismanagement?” Lesser said during the interview.

Correction Officers Push for Right to Carry Firearms

Massachusetts correction officers are appealing to lawmakers to pass legislation they say will help them protect themselves and their families from threats associated with their jobs. According to the State House News Service, Norwell Republican Rep. David DeCoste’s bill would include state and county corrections officers in Massachusetts under the provisions of the Law Enforcement Officers Safety Act. The federal law allows qualifying active and retired law enforcement officers to carry a concealed firearm in any jurisdiction regardless of state or local laws, with certain exceptions. “I know all of you, my colleague from Salem, my colleague from Fall River, with law enforcement experience, understand that over the course of a 30-year career, many of these men and women make enemies,” DeCoste told the Public Safety Committee on Wednesday, referring to retired police officers Rep. Paul Tucker and Rep. Alan Silvia. “It is a good idea to allow them at least the option to carry a firearm after they’ve retired and while they’re on duty, in order to protect themselves.”

Kevin Flanagan, the legislative representative for the Massachusetts Correction Officers Federated Union, told the committee his union’s approximately 4,000 members have an “extremely difficult job.” He said one officer was “violently attacked and sliced in the head several times” at the Souza-Baranowski Correctional Center Tuesday and is recovering well after receiving stitches.

Vargas, Campbell, Minicucci Endorse Markey for 2020 Sentate Re-Election Bid

As U.S. Rep. Joe Kennedy III continues his now-public debate over whether to challenge for U.S. Sen. Edward Markey’s seat in 2020, a majority of the state Legislature— including local state Reps. Andy Vargas, Linda Dean Campbell and Christina Minicucci—are backing the incumbent. Markey announced endorsements from 116 Democratic state lawmakers on Tuesday, one day after Kennedy confirmed he’s been exploring a primary challenge and filed the fundraising paperwork necessary to launch one. “I am humbled to have the support of so many friends and colleagues across Massachusetts for re-election, and I pledge to fight for them and all communities in the Commonwealth every day,” Markey said in a statement. “The people of Massachusetts have always been at the forefront of the challenges of our time—universal health care, same-sex marriage, earned sick time, equal rights—and I want to continue leading those fights in the United States Senate.”

The list of supporters for Markey includes both House Speaker Robert DeLeo and Senate President Karen Spilka, among others.