Fentanyl test strip shows the sample is negative for the deadly chemical. (Mass.gov)

Happening Today:

10 a.m. | State and federal officials will get together to assist with school lunch service and speak with students about their experiences with universal free school meals. Massachusetts is one of a handful of states that has continued the pandemic-era policy. House Democrats included $161 million of newly-available surtax revenue in their fiscal 2024 budget to fund the program. Gov. Healey and Senate leaders have indicated that they would rather continue to fund the program on an as-needed basis. | Tour of Triton Regional Middle & High School, Newbury

11 a.m. | Gov. Maura Healey gives remarks at Combined Jewish Philanthropies Face Jewish Hate public awareness campaign launch. | TD Garden, North Station, Boston

1 p.m. | Gov. Maura Healey hosts a reception celebrating Jewish American Heritage Month in the governor's ceremonial office. Energy and Environment Secretary Tepper, Treasurer Deb Goldberg and Senate Majority Leader Cindy Creem plan to attend. | Room 360

2 p.m. | Sen. Sal DiDomenico joins Rep. Andy Vargas, Cindy Long of the U.S. Department of Agriculture, and Project Bread for a roundtable celebrating the work that the legislature, schools, and anti-hunger organizations have done in Massachusetts ensuring robust access to school meals. The roundtable includes several other representatives, advocates, and experts from across the state. | House Members Lounge

Fentanyl has found its way into nearly every illicit drug bought on the black market, pushing the number of deadly overdoses up in Massachusetts.

The Bay State saw a nearly 10% bump in the number of fatal opioid overdoses in 2021 — with fentanyl playing an increasing role, state health data show. The deadly synthetic opioid was present in a record 94% of fatal overdoses from January to June of last year, the most recent months for which data is available. 

The U.S. Centers for Disease Control and Prevention and most public health agencies endorse distributing fentanyl test strips to people who use drugs, to help detect the presence of the deadly chemical. But the practice is illegal in 42 states and the District of Columbia — including Massachusetts, where the lifesaving strips are classified as illegal drug paraphernalia.

A group of lawmakers led by Rep. Smitty Pignatelli is looking to change that policy amid a worsening crisis. 

Pignatelli has filed a bill (H2009)l that would create a three-year pilot program to study legalizing the strips. An identical bill (S1081) was filed in the Senate by Sen. Susan Moran.

Two bills (H 1736/S 926), which Pignatelli said he supports, would legalize the strips immediately. They were filed by Rep. David Rogers and Sen. Cynthia Creem, respectively.

Boston health officials in late February issued a warning about laced cocaine after a spate of overdoses in Nubian Square containing what Public Health Commissioner Dr. Bisola Ojikutu described as the “highly dangerous” additive. About half of last year’s fatal overdoses in Massachusetts included cocaine.

It scares the hell out of me,” Pignatelli said.

Though preliminary data for 2022 suggest a slight dip in fatal overdoses from the prior year, Pignatelli said the numbers “have obviously gotten a lot worse” — especially when talking about fentanyl.

Now that the coronavirus pandemic is finally sliding into the rearview mirror, the Lenox Democrat said it’s “time to refocus” efforts on the long-simmering opioid epidemic.

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Online lottery, tax-cap law among thousand-plus Senate budget amendments

Among the 1,049 amendments filed to the Senate’s fiscal 2024 budget, is a push to digitize state lottery sales and prevent changes to a once-obscure tax cap law, with the largest number pertaining to health and human services, writes Chris Van Buskirk for The Boston Herald. Senators are scheduled to debate the budget starting May 22, which will likely take several days.

The Boston Herald

Massachusetts poised to massively expand probate and family court system

A massive expansion of the state’s Probate and Family Court system, which officials say is swamped with increasingly complex cases, is in the works, reports Matt Stout for The Boston Globe. House and Senate lawmakers both tucked language into their state budget proposals that would add eight judges, pushing the number of probate and family justices to 59. Inclusion in both chambers’ budget plans basically certifies it to reach the desk of Gov. Maura Healey.

The Boston Globe

Former Gov. Charlie Baker’s son charged with drunken driving 

Former Gov. Charlie Baker’s son is facing legal troubles once again. Andrew “A.J.” Baker, 29, is accused of drunken driving. First, the former first son was accused of groping a woman on a Jet Blue flight, though charges were never filed in connection with the 2018 sexual assault allegations, WBZ reported. The younger Baker’s latest legal troubles come after he was arrested for operating under the influence on Saturday night by Lynnfield police.

The Boston Herald | WBZ

Homelessness in Western Mass. hits 5-year high

The number of people experiencing homelessness in western Massachusetts has hit a five-year high, new data show, and advocates are pointing the finger at housing prices. More than 3,300 people did not have housing as of January 2023, a new report from Western Massachusetts Network to End Homelessness reveals. Rents are up in the western part of the state, just as they are everywhere else in the region, and a lack of housing — coupled with an influx of migrants and refugees in need of support — has crunched resources.


Pentagon leaker was prepping for race war: reports

Videos and chat logs have revealed the Massachusetts Air National guardsman Jack Teixeira made preparations for a violent social conflict, fueled by his racist thinking and a deep suspicion of the government he served, reports a three-reporter team at The Washington Post. The 21-year-old is accused of leaking a trove of classified military intelligence on the group-chat platform Discord and is facing charges.

Vanity Fair | The Washington Post

Change of gender: Bill would allow transgender residents to change name, sex on marriage licenses

Transgender Bay Staters could soon find it much easier to change their name and gender on marriage licenses. The practice is already allowed for birth certificates, drivers’ licenses, social security cards and other vital records. A state law filed by Sen. Barry Finegold would now allow marriage licenses to be updated too.

The Eagle Tribune

Going green: How Massachusetts will wean its electric grid from fossil fuels

By the end of the decade, 92 percent to 100 percent of electricity produced for the Massachusetts electrical grid must be carbon-free under state law. Currently, about 59 percent is, reports Sabrina Shankman for The Boston Globe. Bridging the gap “will be a monumental task,” she writes as the state pushes forward. Massive offshore wind farms, thousands of new solar projects, sprawling transmission lines, and intrastate energy collaborations all must be completed on schedule.

The Boston Globe

You can’t sit here: Many still feel ‘unwelcome’ at metro area beaches

Many people of color, those with disabilities, and non-native English-speaking people feel “unwelcome and uncomfortable” on the string of public beaches that line the coast in and around Boston, a new report from the Metropolitan Beaches Commission found. Recommendations include calls for stronger leadership from the state Department of Conservation and Recreation and significant investments to address an “enormous backlog” of maintenance projects that also compromises equitable access to beaches, reports Michael P. Norton for State House News Service. The commission relied on 18 months of data gathered from the people of Boston, the region’s beachfront communities, and experts on environmental justice, disability resource infrastructure, and public education and communication.

State House News Service

Missing out: Census rejects claims big cities undercounted

Boston is among population hubs seeking a recount of sorts, claiming it was undercounted in the 2020 Census. But a claim in Memphis resulted in a loss of three residents, and the trend is for for such appeals to generate similar disappointing results for the cities that files them, reports WBUR. Some successes have come from challenges to totals of “group quarters” — dorms, jails and nursing homes. That could help Boston, where the city claims undercounts happened in dorms and prisons.


First came sports betting, now comes the backlash

After a massive nationwide push to legalize sports desks — a wave that crashed over Massachusetts last year — states are now dealing with the aftermath. The New York Times reports on the regulatory headaches facing some regions that moved to legalize.

The New York Times

Boston mayor would unite Dorchester precincts in her version of redistricting

Mayor Michelle Wu would situate Dorchester’s Ward 16 entirely within District 3 in the map she released from her office on Friday evening. The mayor shared her thoughts on redrawing the City Council’s nine district seats days after a federal judge nixed a previously enacted map. Wu urged councilors to take up the map, or an amended version, at the next City Council meeting on Wednesday to allow for “sufficient review and potential rejection or amendments before the May 30 deadline,” she wrote in a letter to the Council. Officials are looking to avoid election delays in the city election year.

Dorchester Reporter

Mass General Brigham changes new mask policy following protests

The state’s largest healthcare organization, Mass General Brigham, has updated part of its new mask policy following protests and complaints from patients who said it violated disability protection laws, reports Cassie McGrath for The Boston Business Journal. When the COVID-19 public health emergency ended on May 11, many hospitals around Massachusetts dropped universal mask mandates. A section of MGB’s updated policy that said patients can no longer ask staff members to wear a mask, now reads “there are circumstances when masking is an appropriate medical intervention,” following protests from interest groups.

Boston Business Journal

Amherst union demands resignation after trans bullying allegations

The union representing teachers and staff in Amherst schools voted over the weekend to call for the resignation of Assistant Superintendent Doreen Cunningham and to demand an investigation into the leadership of district Superintendent Michael Morris. The calls for change are the latest fallout from a controversy at the regional middle school, where three school counselors were placed on leave amid allegations–first raised in a student newspaper–they bullied trans students.

MassLive | Daily Hampshire Gazette

Salem council votes to stop enforcing bans on magic mushrooms  

The Salem City Council has voted to make enforcing laws prohibiting possession and distribution of psychedelic mushrooms the lowest priority for local law enforcement, a move that essentially decriminalizes psilocybin, Dustin Luca of the Salem News reports. The council voted unanimously in favor of a resolution drafted with the help of the city’s police chief.

The Salem News

In Great Barrington, pot-shop impact fees are the $6 million question

Some Great Barrington cannabis shops have stopped making impact fee payments to the town, citing a tweak to state law that requires communities to demonstrate negative impacts in order to continue to collect the 3 percent surcharge. The Berkshire Eagle’s Heather Bellow reports $6 million worth of the fees have been collected to date and that the question of whether shop owners should receive refunds is likely to be decided in court. 

The Berkshire Eagle

Woah, too low: Rehoboth limits low-flying helicopters to protect horses 

Voters at Town Meeting in Rehoboth have adopted a new bylaw that requires helicopters flying low over the community to obtain a permit from the town–a measure sparked by horses being spooked by the buzzing aircraft.

The Sun Chronicle

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MASSterList editor Erin Tiernan is an award-winning reporter who brings a decade's worth of experience covering state and local politics from the halls of the State House to city streets. Her work can be found in The Boston Herald, The Patriot Ledger, MassLive and Wicked Local. She was the New England Newspaper and Press Association's 2019 Reporter of the Year.