Legislation

Ehrlich: Tax credit will earn income for state

By BRIDGET TURCOTTE

BOSTON — State Rep. Lori Ehrlich (D-Marblehead) believes a budget recommendation she co-sponsored for Fiscal Year 2018 will benefit working families and domestic abuse survivors.

The bill draws on legislation filed by Ehrlich and Rep. Marjorie Decker (D-Cambridge), making nonresidents of the state ineligible to claim the Earned Income Tax Credit.

According to the Department of Revenue, there are more than 20,000 nonresidents who earn income tax in the state and claim the state EITC each year. With the former federal match rate of 15 percent, these claims have been estimated to cost more than $6.5 million in revenue each fiscal year. At the new match rate of 23 percent, the cost would be about $10 million in revenue each year, according to House Ways and Means estimates.

“This credit is a scarce state resource available to assist struggling working families, so it makes little sense that we are allowing people who do not live in Massachusetts to claim the credit,” Ehrlich said in a statement.

The changes also clarify eligibility for taxpayers who live in Massachusetts for part of the year and expands access to the survivors of domestic abuse by allowing them to claim the credit while filing their taxes as “married, filing separately.” In the past, an individual could not claim the EITC unless taxes were filed jointly with a spouse.

Wheelabrator Saugus being taken to court

By supporting the changes, Ehrlich said the state takes the lead by enabling victims of domestic violence, who courageously flee their batterers.

The proposed budget also included a $150,000 allocation for Self Esteem Boston, a nonprofit that supports Lynn-based Project Cope, an organization that helps women in transition through homelessness or recovery from substance abuse.

The amendment was previously filed by former Rep. Gloria Fox but filed by Ehrlich in this session.

Self Esteem Boston provides essential psychological counseling and training for women in recovery from substance abuse problems.

During budget deliberations last month, the House of Representatives approved an amendment made by Ehrlich to dedicate $50,000 of the $40 million budget to clean up the odorous Pilayella algae on King’s Beach and Long Beach in Lynn.

Ehrlich called the funding crucial for combating the algae and its odor, which is a quality of life issue.


Bridget Turcotte can be reached at bturcotte@itemlive.com. Follow her on Twitter @BridgetTurcotte

Blueprint could help close ‘achievement gap’

COURTESY PHOTO
Legislators want to help increase third grade reading proficiency rates.

By STEVE FREKER

MALDEN — A group of  state senators have launched what they believe is a strategic blueprint to raise reading proficiency in third graders statewide, and enhance their lives overall.

Two local legislators, Sen. Jason Lewis, D-5th Middlesex, Malden, and Sen. Sal DiDomenico, D-Everett, Cambridge,  are among the Senate’s Kids First working group, commissioned last October by Senate President Stanley Rosenberg, D-Amherst.

To dramatically increase third grade reading proficiency rates and support the whole child, the Senate’s Kids First initiative has established four broad areas to focus specific strategies: Access, Quality, Readiness, and Integration.

“I am proud of the comprehensive vision put forth in the Kids First blueprint,” said Lewis.  “In it, the Senate makes a vital commitment to the fundamental integration of services in critical areas including mental health and social-emotional learning.  

“The social-emotional learning component of Kids First is essential to strengthening the critical thinking, communication, and interpersonal skills of our young people.  Kids First will serve as an invaluable guide, and it was a privilege to serve on the working group.”

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Lewis said the Kids First working group invited experts in diverse fields including early childhood development, health, education, housing, and nutrition, among others, to share their knowledge through questionnaires, meetings, and presentations.

Kids First announced it has tackled the challenges of the fact 40 percent of Massachusetts third graders are not reading at that grade level, with the number sharply rising to 60 percent among low-income students.

According to the Kids First report, the lack of reading proficiency creates “a growing achievement gap” for the future and action is needed immediately. The group proposes to reduce by half the number of third graders lacking grade level proficiency by the year 2027.

DiDomenico, chairman of the Kids First initiative, said the plan laid out in Kids First is not meant as a blueprint for a series of legislative initiatives or any piece of legislation in particular.  “It is offered as a statement of the Senate’s vision for children and a statement of budgetary priorities in the years to come,” DiDomenico said.

Swampscott means business on licenses

By GAYLA CAWLEY

SWAMPSCOTT Town officials have requested an increase in all-liquor licenses in Swampscott, which they hope will attract new businesses.

“We’re hoping that we can receive a few additional licenses, so we can continue to focus on economic development and bringing additional investments to Swampscott,” said Town Administrator Sean Fitzgerald.

Town Meeting members on Monday will be asked to authorize the Board of Selectmen to petition the General Court for special legislation allowing the board to issue eight additional all-liquor licenses.

“This article would provide additional business opportunities in our commercial districts, such as Humphrey Street and Vinnin Square, where eating establishments would like to operate with a liquor license,” the warrant article reads. “The 14 existing licenses are currently granted in full.”

The town’s newly updated Master Plan calls for some strategic focus on Humphrey Street, Vinnin Square and the railroad station neighborhood, in terms of revitalizing some of the businesses and restaurant opportunities, Fitzgerald said. He said the increase would bring the right investments to Swampscott, and would bring a robust business quarter in those areas.

Fitzgerald said a few weeks ago, the Board of Selectmen issued the town’s last all-liquor license, which encompasses alcohol, mixed drinks, beer, wine and cordials. The town also offers beer and wine licenses, and a temporary beer and wine license, he said.

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Last week, a restaurant applied for a liquor license that the town doesn’t have, Fitzgerald said. He said the increase would be an opportunity to bring new investments or new opportunities to Swampscott that would be lost to another community that has the licenses available.

He said existing restaurants in town may want to apply for the additional liquor licenses, but the primary focus is on attracting new businesses to Swampscott. In addition, Fitzgerald said as officials look at ways to reduce the town’s overall residential tax rate, finding ways to increase the commercial tax rate will be part of that discussion.

If the article is approved by Town Meeting, Fitzgerald said the town would work with the legislative delegation, and the increase would have to advance to General Court for a vote by the legislature. Over the years, he said the legislature has seen fit to grant communities additional licenses.

Naomi Dreeben, chairwoman of the Board of Selectmen, said the full liquor licenses are given out by the state based on the population in the town. Swampscott has 14, based on about 14,000 residents. She said the board is asking for an exception because “this is the kind of business that can succeed in Swampscott.” Restaurants would really like to have full liquor licenses, she added.

“The businesses that we want to encourage are interesting eateries,” Dreeben said. “We need the liquor licenses to bring those to town.”

Gayla Cawley can be reached at gcawley@itemlive.com. Follow her on Twitter @GaylaCawley.

 

Local reps vow to fight cuts to vets

ITEM PHOTO BY OWEN O’ROURKE
“There are uncertain times,” state Rep. Daniel Cahill (D-Lynn) said.

By THOMAS GRILLO

LYNN — As the Trump administration cuts health and transportation programs to local veterans, the region’s elected officials said they are ready to combat the White House.

“This came out of nowhere,” said Dennis Magnasco, U.S. Rep. Seth Moulton’s veterans liaison. “We plan to fight it.”

In a recent email from the U.S. Department of Veterans Affairs to adult day health care providers, the memo said the budget for these services has been exceeded this year and services must be trimmed.  

At the annual legislative event at the Pondview Lodge, lawmakers stressed the importance of adult day health services.

Elders are provided transportation, a hot meal, therapeutic activities, nursing care and a chance to socialize with friends.

“It’s much more cost effective than having to go to a nursing home,” said Frank Romano, president of the Essex Group Management Corp., the Rowley-based firm whose family business provides elder care. “No one wants to go to a nursing home.”

Adult day care costs an average of $25,000 annually compared to nearly $86,000 for nursing home care, according to the National Adult Day Services Association.

Providing for elders is essential given that 10,000 people turn 65 daily in the U.S, Romano said.  

State Sen. Thomas McGee (D-Lynn) said the service provides needed relief for families. He noted that lawmakers are working on the state budget services for elders and adult day care.

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State Rep. Daniel Cahill (D-Lynn) noted that lawmakers everywhere are facing tough choices.

“These are uncertain times,” he said. “But in Massachusetts we seem to be staying the course in making wise investments in our elders and hopefully our partners in the federal government will see this is money wisely spent.”

State Rep. Donald Wong (R-Saugus) said his mother is 89 and his siblings take turns caring for her.

“Seniors are the invisible people,” he said. “But we must have the insight to assist them. They looked after us and now it’s our turn to look after them.”

State Rep. Brendan Crighton said his grandmother suffered from Alzheimer’s, but at the time his family didn’t look to the option of adult day help.

“Having that support system would have made it a lot easier,” he said.

Mayor Judith Flanagan Kennedy said the city’s senior center has been able to add a part-time social worker that has made a difference.

“My 85-year-old mother lives alone in the house where I grew up,” she said. “She gave up her license to drive a few weeks ago. I was happy she did that on her own, so I didn’t have to have that talk with her. She recognized there was something wrong when I pointed out she missed a red light. The services offered here are of great benefit to elders.”

Ward 1 Councilor Wayne Lozzi said he has spoken to families that have benefited from the adult day program.

“We need to work with our legislators to see these good programs continue,” he said.


Thomas Grillo can be reached at tgrillo@itemlive.com.

 

       

 

City seeking student sanctuary

By BRIDGET TURCOTTE

LYNN — The School Committee adopted a policy to protect students from U.S. Immigration and Customs Enforcement (ICE).

“It would be bad if we turned our backs on these kids,” said Oscar Ross, who has a daughter in Lynn Public Schools who dreams of being both a police officer and a cook. “If we don’t give them the chance to be what they want to be.”

Mary Sweeney, a retired teacher, said that during her career, students had to worry about getting their homework done.

“I never faced situations of kids being deeply afraid,” said Sweeney. “I think with the issues of immigration and ICE — it’s a reality.”

The panel voted unanimously to adopt a policy that affirms the schools are safe and welcoming sanctuaries for all students, regardless of their immigration status. The document said the resolutions are intended to ensure that all Lynn Public Schools students have the same right to a free, public education and will be treated equally.

“The mission of Lynn Public Schools is to maintain a multicultural school community dedicated to the realization of the full intellectual, physical, social and emotional potential of its students,” reads the resolution. “The city is enriched and strengthened by its diverse cultural heritage, multinational population, and welcoming attitude toward newcomers.”

Committee member John Ford pointed out that while he agreed with where the resolutions were coming from, he believed they were only reaffirming what the district already does. Superintendent Dr. Catherine Latham agreed.

“I believe we have welcoming schools and that our teachers are wonderful and welcoming,” said Latham. “We have not had a case where ICE has come into our schools.”

She added that she believes ICE is restricted from taking immigrants into custody at schools and churches.

“Rather than us saying we already do that, we’ll be able to say that we have a policy for that,” said committee member Donna Coppola. “I think it would be a huge reassurance to our students. Let’s be upfront and be what we are — a proud community — and show others that we care.”

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Latham and committee members expressed concerns about a resolution included in the original draft that prohibited federal immigration law enforcement officers, or personnel assisting them, from entering a school building.

“I worry about training teachers not to allow law enforcement to come into the building,” she said.

Mayor Judith Flanagan Kennedy added that she was “very uncomfortable” with the section of the resolution because it should be recognized that federal law supersedes local law.

“It seems to me that it’s not a valid exercise of a city’s rights in the presence of federal government,” she said.

The panel amended the resolution to state that law enforcement can enter the building, but must remain in the main office until his or her credentials are verified and the superintendent is notified. The vote will be subject to final approval of the language.

Under the policy, the district will not inquire about, record, or request information intended to reveal the immigration status of a student or their family members. They will not disclose private information without parental consent, and staff will refuse to share all voluntary information with immigration agencies to the fullest extent permissible by the law.

All requests for information from a student’s education record will be immediately forwarded to the School Department’s attorney. The motion also noted that the district does not ask for immigration status when families register children for school.

A letter will be sent to parents and staff summarizing the resolutions in simple language. A list of all available resources, including community-based organizations and legal service organizations, will be provided to each student and made available at each school. It will be translated when necessary. Teachers will be trained on the policy before the start of the school year, when they become familiarized with all other policies.

In the next 90 days, Latham will be expected to develop a plan for training teachers, administrators and other staff on the new policy and best practices for ensuring the wellbeing of students, who may be affected by immigration enforcement actions. The plan will be implemented within five months.Legis

A copy of the resolution will be submitted to the Massachusetts Attorney General and to Lynn’s federal, state, and local legislative representatives.


Bridget Turcotte can be reached at bturcotte@itemlive.com. Follow her on Twitter @BridgetTurcotte.

 

GOP health care bill collapses day of vote

PHOTO BY THE ASSOCIATED PRESS
President Donald Trump is pictured March 24 in the Oval Office.

By THE ASSOCIATED PRESS

WASHINGTON — Speaker Paul Ryan says the collapse of the House Republican health care bill means former President Barack Obama’s health care law will be around for the foreseeable future.

The Wisconsin Republican addressed reporters minutes after GOP leaders abruptly shelved the legislation, averted likely defeat for the bill. But it still dealt a damaging setback to President Donald Trump, Ryan and an entire party that has long said it wants to annul Obama’s statute.

Ryan says pulling the bill was “a setback, no two ways about it.”

The speaker is chiding Republicans who refused to back the legislation for being too inflexible. He says lawmakers must be “willing to give a little to get something done.”

Many conservative and moderate Republicans opposed the legislation.