Massachusetts Senate to Revisit Idea of Free Community College for All in Next Budget

The idea of free community college for everyone is coming back to Beacon Hill as the state Senate begins preparing its budget wish list. Senate President Karen E. Spilka said Wednesday. “Keep your eyes peeled,” for free community college funding in the Senate’s version of the budget that begins next July 1. Making community college free for every Massachusetts resident could cost the state about $170 million annually, according to a new report by Boston Consulting Group on behalf of the Massachusetts Association of Community Colleges. The report was rolled out to reporters Wednesday alongside Spilka, Senate Ways and Means Chairman Michael Rodrigues and Higher Education Committee Chair Sen. Jo Comerford.

Education Committee Hears Testimony Today on Hamilton Bill to Require Student Financial Literacy

The legislature’s Joint Committee on Education plans to hear testimony today on a bill filed by Methuen Rep. Ryan Hamilton to make financial literacy a high school graduation requirement. The hearing takes place today, Jan. 10, at 1 p.m., at the State House, Hearing Room A-2. More than a dozen students have registered to testify in support, along with several banks, financial education providers, numerous educators and others. Appearing Monday on WHAV’s “Win for Breakfast” program, Hamilton said students may not be prepared for the decisions they will soon have to make.

State Awards Merrimack River Watershed Council Ecological Restoration Grant

The Merrimack River Watershed Council Tuesday was formally awarded $21,500 as part of nearly $1 million in grants for ecological restoration projects throughout the state. The award by the Department of Fish and Game’s Division of Ecological Restoration will support the early stages of locally driven, high priority restoration project implementation, such as culvert replacements and dam removals, to restore, what the state called, “degraded aquatic ecosystems and increase climate resilience within the northeast and north central regions of the state.”

“Ecological restoration offers transformational benefits for both climate resilience and biodiversity. These priority actions will reduce flooding, improve water quality and reconnect and restore critical habitats for fish and wildlife,” said Fish and Game Commissioner Tom O’Shea. “As climate change brings increasing challenges, these projects and partnerships will support Massachusetts’ ResilientMass planning efforts to ensure the Commonwealth is prepared to withstand, adapt to and rapidly recover from extreme weather events.”

The Regional Restoration Partnerships Program pays for projects and partnerships to help Massachusetts prepare for the impacts of climate change, address public safety concerns, improve habitat and water quality and restore important ecosystems throughout the state. The Merrimack River Watershed Council partnership also supports urban stream revitalization and outreach within the environmental justice communities of Lowell and Lawrence, including increasing connection to local rivers for all ages.

Hersey Becomes Acting Register of Deeds After O’Brien Steps Down for Health Reason

Dorothy Hersey was named acting register of the Southern Essex District Registry of Deeds Jan. 1 following the resignation of John L. O’Brien because of illness. Secretary of State William F. Galvin appointed Hersey who has served as first assistant register since 2019 and first came to work for the office 19 years ago. As WHAV reported in 2016, O’Brien revealed he suffers from Lewy body dementia with Parkinsonian symptoms. He said he would continue serving until he reaches “the point where I could not perform my duties and responsibilities.” He said he revealed the diagnosis “to put a face to a disease that has affected millions of people and without a cure will only affect millions more.”

O’Brien was elected 47 years ago, but got his start in politics as the Ward 6 Lynn city councilor when he was elected at age 19 in 1971. “I had hoped to be able to finish my term, which expires in January of 2025, but I realized that my health, particularly my diagnosis of Lewy body dementia, would no longer allow me to fulfill my responsibilities as register of deeds as I would want to do and as the people of Essex County deserve,” he said last week in a statement.

Auditor DiZoglio Issues Report, Showing 41% More Investigations, Finding $12.3 Million in Fraud

State Auditor Diana DiZoglio Wednesday released her first annual fraud report, pointing out $12.3 million in public assistance fraud through last June and other findings. DiZoglio’s office of Bureau of Special Investigations annual report summarizes investigations of fraud, abuse and illegal acts involving public assistance benefits throughout the state. This year, the bureau completed 5,100 fraud investigations, a 40.8% increase from the prior fiscal year. “For many residents across the state, public benefit programs provide access to everyday essential items—such as food and medical supplies. It is through the efforts of our fraud examiners that we continue to help ensure public benefit programs operate with transparency, accountability and equity,” said DiZoglio.

‘Millionaire’s Tax’ Money Brings Extra Road and Sidewalk Money to Haverhill, Other Communities

Haverhill and area communities are receiving big boosts in state aid for roadway and transportation projects with additional money coming from last year’s voter-approved “Fair Share” amendment, commonly known as the “millionaire’s tax.”

Haverhill, which already receives about $1.5 million from the state in road aid—known as “Chapter 90”—is set to receive another $769,765 from the $100 million statewide allocation. Gov. Maura Healey said Friday in a press release the state is not putting any strings on the money. “This funding is particularly impactful because we are empowering cities and towns to decide how to use it to address their unique needs. We are grateful to the legislature for making this funding available and look forward to seeing how the municipalities will use it to strengthen their communities,” she said. Haverhill Mayor James J. Fiorentini told WHAV Saturday morning that while he is pleased the city is receiving the extra money, he would have preferred the state to make the allocation an ongoing part of the Chapter 90 formula.

Supplemental State Budget Provides $15 Million in Local Disaster Aid Sought by Finegold, Payano

Disaster aid coming to area communities impacted by last summer’s flooding was among the benefits coming from last week’s final approval of a $3.1 billion state supplemental budget. As WHAV reported last month, Sens. Barry R. Finegold and Pavel M. Payano thanked their colleagues for supporting $15 million in aid for local communities, but the amount was held in limbo when legislators debated a separate provision putting $250 million more into the state’s strained emergency shelter system. “I’m thankful for the $15 million earmarked for municipalities affected by storms and natural disasters in 2023, offering crucial support to communities grappling with the aftermath of heavy rainfall and flooding. My heartfelt thanks also go to Sen. Finegold, Senate (Minority Leader Bruce E.) Tarr and Sen. (John J.) Cronin for their steadfast advocacy in response to these disasters,” Payano said in a statement.

State Awards $15,000 to Haverhill’s Riverfront Cultural District

Haverhill’s Riverfront Cultural District was one of 54 areas awarded state grants last week to “encourage the development and success of the cultural districts and foster local cultural preservation.”

The Riverfront Cultural District, which covers Washington and Wingate Streets in downtown Haverhill, is administered by Creative Haverhill. It received $15,000 during a ceremony by the Massachusetts Cultural Council at Gloucester Stage Company. The grants are intended to encourage the development and success of the cultural districts and foster local cultural preservation. “Using creativity as a foundation, our cultural districts have proven themselves as drivers of economic activity within communities,” said Massachusetts Cultural Council Executive Director Michael J. Bobbitt. “With this investment, we’re not only supporting the creative and cultural sector, but the communities that host cultural districts as they continue to leverage their unique character to attract visitors and support economic growth.”

Cultural Districts may use the money for marketing and promotion; capacity building, artist or vendor fees, creative community placemaking or public art, collaborative cultural policy or strategic planning and data collection and/or reporting.