9 a.m. | The Public Service Committee accepts written testimony on a handful of bills including employment and duties for certain firefighters. Testimony can be submitted through Tuesday at 5 p.m.
10:30 a.m | U.S. Rep. Richard Neal joins health leaders and local and state officials to celebrate the opening of Valley Springs Behavioral Health Hospital. | 45 Lower Westfield Road, Holyoke
11 a.m. | A so-called "ice cream trail" is on the agenda for the Mass Dairy Promotion Board which also considers two dairy grants totaling $70,000 to fund the promotion of local dairy products. Virtual
Noon | Holyoke Soldiers' Home breaks ground on its $482 million long-term care facility with Gov. Maura Healey, U.S. Rep. Richard Neal and other officials in attendance. | Massachusetts Veterans Home at Holyoke, 110 Cherry St., Holyoke
State officials today will ceremoniously turn the page on a dark chapter for Massachusetts veterans and their families, celebrating the groundbreaking of a long-needed new dormitory at the Holyoke Soldiers’ Home where 76 veterans died in a COVID outbreak fueled in part by poor infection control at the aging facility.
Family of the service members who died during the pandemic say they want to see the attention on veterans’ services borne out of their personal tragedy continue. Officials have pledged to push forward.
“As the work begins, I’m grateful to the veterans, families and community members from across Western Massachusetts who have advocated for a new facility for so long,” said Sen. John Velis, chairman of the Senate Veterans and Federal Affairs Committee. Velis separately told MassLive it’s the stories of service members and their families that keep him motivated for continued reform.
Gov. Maura Healey, U.S. Rep. Richard Neal and state and local officials are expected to meet with family members before Monday’s midday groundbreaking.
Healey has so far made good on her campaign trail pledge to bring a renewed focus to veterans after the pandemic tragedy exposed the state’s failings. She elevated the office that oversees veteran services to a cabinet-level position, tapping as secretary Rep. Dr. John Santiago, a major in the Army Reserves. She has also re-established the Governor’s Advisory Council on Veterans’ Services. More recently, the $56 billion state budget she signed last Wednesday includes a 7 percent boost for veterans’ services.
The deadly outbreak at the outset of the pandemic in March 2020 is remembered as one of the most visible failures of Gov. Charlie Baker’s administration. As attorney general, Healey came down with a heavy hand, filing criminal charges against the home’s top managers.
She’s stopped short of direct criticism for Baker’s approach to veterans’ services but characterized the changes under her leadership as “important progress to improve the state’s support for and engagement with veterans and their families.”
State lawmakers and advocates alike agree the spotlight from the tragedies put investment in veterans’ services on a fast track. The new $483 million Holyoke dorm was funded in a $600 million 2021 bond bill that came amid intense scrutiny of the outbreak. The project, which also secured federal funding, will take five years. The new building incorporates modern infection control standards and less crowding of residents.
In Holyoke, veterans during COVID had been living five or so to a room, with a shared bathroom down the hall.
It’s one step toward rectifying the wrongs but advocates say problems still persist. A new facility in Chelsea that was supposed to open last fall is still under construction. Administrators in leadership positions during the pandemic when massive mismanagement at both facilities was uncovered are still on the state payroll as of the end of July, state data reveal.
Santiago says the state’s veteran population is shrinking. A pre-pandemic count put the Bay State veteran population at about 300,000, a number Santiago estimates has fallen to about 250,000 through mortality and outmigration. A new assessment is expected this fall.
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Size of tax revenue gap up to Legislature
After two years of billion-dollar surpluses, tax collections for the just-ended fiscal year came in $605 million under benchmark — setting the state up for a revenue shortfall, officials said. The revenue gap will land somewhere between $39 million and $177 million depending on how the Legislature decides to handle revenue collected from the new 4 percent income surtax on income above $1 million, reports Chris Lisinski for State House News Service. Starting July 1, revenue from the voter-approved levy will automatically flow into a separate account dedicated to education and transportation spending, but FY23 collections land in a bit of a gray area. About $138 million in surtax revenue was collected in FY23 — an estimate that could still grow with some filers waiting out extensions on their taxes. If lawmakers choose to sweep FY23 surtax revenue into the same account where all future surtax revenue will go, the gap would increase to $177 million.
Lawmakers including Sen. Jamie Eldridge were quick to jump on news of the revenue gap as ammunition in what should — and shouldn’t — be included in a coming tax relief package. On Twitter, he said it’s one reason why lawmakers shouldn’t consider a switch to single sales factor corporate taxation, which critics say largely benefits the wealthiest.
COVID making a comeback in Massachusetts
Coronavirus is on the rise once again in Massachusetts. WBUR reports that the amount of virus in Boston-area wastewater has increased since late June — reaching its highest levels in many months. The rate of people testing positive for COVID-19 has reached a six-month high at 9 percent, state data reveals — and that doesn’t account for rapid tests taken at home. For most people, the virus is less severe than it used to be but experts say the immunocompromised and others at high risk should remain vigilant.
Making the rounds: Kamala Harris hits Martha’s Vineyard
Vice President Kamala Harris visited Martha’s Vineyard over the weekend, attending two reelection fundraisers for the 2024 campaign on Saturday. Her first appearance was a fundraiser at the private residence of Maria Harleston before she traveled to the Martha’s Vineyard Regional High School gymnasium to address roughly 400 attendees at the grassroots fundraising event. Tickets at the second event ranged from $50 to $10,000, local media reported. This is the vice president’s second trip to Massachusetts in as many months. Last month, she spoke at the NAACP convention in Boston.
Hiring spree: Executive branch numbers swell as Gov. Healey staffs up
Gov. Maura Healey expanded her cabinet and created new positions across agencies to help meet the state’s climate goals and keep up with other administration priorities. The Globe’s Matt Stout says the hiring spree has trickled down throughout the executive branch, where the departments under the governor’s control have gained hundreds of new employees since the Democrat took office in January. In total, the executive branch gained 1,700 workers over the last fiscal year, the largest one-year spike in at least a decade. The Department of Transportation alone has grown by nearly 12 percent and now tops 4,000 employees. There are 43,627 people working under the governor as of June — nearly 700 more than when Healey took office in January.
Architects of 2014 gun reform urge lawmakers to pull trigger on new House bill
Ten years after then-Speaker of the House Bob DeLeo spearheaded a massive gun reform package seeking to curb violence in the wake of the Sandy Hook massacre, he says it’s time for an update. DeLeo — an op-Ed to CommonWealth Magazine with Jack McDevitt, former Gun Violence Reduction Task Force chairman — points to ghost guns as an example of new technologies not envisioned a decade ago. The pair throw their support behind the House’s pending gun reform bill, calling it “the most comprehensive firearm violence prevention legislation since the 2014 statute.” The bill has been sidelined til after lawmakers return from their August break after a procedural disagreement between House and Senate leaders stopped the bill from moving forward.
State climate goals set low bar for getting cars off roads
Cars, trucks and buses on Bay State roads are among the biggest culprits when it comes to carbon emissions in Massachusetts, yet despite lofty net-zero climate goals, the Bay State’s target for reducing driving is less ambitious than those of other states, reports Taylor Dolven for The Boston Globe. Massachusetts aims to reduce the number of miles driven per household by just 3 percent from 2015 to 2030. Minnesota, by contrast, seeks a 7 percent reduction in that same time. Colorado’s goal is 8 percent. Washington wants 16 percent. In California, the goal is 20 percent. Transportation is the biggest carbon producer in Massachusetts, accounting for 37 percent of total emissions, the state estimates.
Pushback on rent control ballot question
A conservative group is mounting an early challenge to an effort to repeal a statewide ban on rent control, arguing the proposed question violates two constitutional provisions that govern whether ballot questions can make it before voters in fall 2024, reports Chris Van Buskirk for The Boston Herald. The Fiscal Alliance Foundation submitted comments in opposition to a proposed ballot question filed by Rep. Mike Connolly that would scrap a portion of state law banning rent control and replace it with new language allowing municipalities to regulate residential evictions, rents and fees, brokers’ fees, and the removal of housing units from the rental housing market. The Alliance in a letter to the attorney general says the question violates areas of the state Constitution that prohibit ballot questions that create takings of property without just compensation and proposals that address multiple unrelated policies in the same question.
New cannabis regs aim to pave way for on-site consumption, boost diversity
An overhaul of the state’s cannabis regulations that would make it possible for people with criminal records to work in pot shops and take another step toward on-site consumption and cannabis cafes is almost complete. In the first regulatory rewrite since legal cannabis sales started in 2018, the Cannabis Control Commission is also looking to ramp up oversight on agreements between marijuana businesses and municipalities that have been a bone of contention, reports Sam Drysdale for State House News Service. The commission will hold a public hearing on Sept. 8 before voting on the draft regulations.
Re-do: Ranked-choice voting targets Boston after statewide ballot failure
Proponents of ranked-choice voting are mounting a re-do. This time they’ve set their sights lower, targeting the city of Boston rather than a statewide change, reports Alyssa Guffey for The Boston Globe. A 2020 ballot question asking to use ranked-choice voting in state elections was opposed by 55 percent of Massachusetts voters despite endorsements from top elected Democrats, including then-Attorney General Maura Healey. But Boston voters overwhelmingly supported Question 2, with about 62 percent marking yes. The campaign will hold a rally on Wednesday but says it’s waiting til after the upcoming city election to push the proposal with the city council. If passed locally, it would need legislative approval too.
Tobacco farms hit hard by floods
Recent flooding has hurt at least 75 farms of all types and affected more than 2,000 acres of crops, resulting in at least $15 million in damages, according to state estimates. For MassLive, Aprell May Munford writes the floodwaters have been particularly devastating for the state’s few remaining tobacco farmers.
Failure of bus routing tech developed by ex-BPS admin forces 4-day closure of Kentucky schools
A Kentucky school district has canceled four days of school through Tuesday due to the failure of a new bus routing system based in large part on software from a Waltham company. Adam Gaffin of Universal Hub writes the software company CEO, John Hanlon, was formerly COO at Boston Public Schools,
Police say spate of break-ins targeting South-Asian immigrants
A string of break-ins in more than a dozen towns from Hudson to North Attleboro appear to be racially motivated, police said. Russ Reed for WCVB reports the latest — two in Hudson — follow a pattern police have identified of break-ins targeting homes of South-East Asian immigrants using a ladder to access a second-floor window.
Amherst reparations group wrapping up recommendations
With its final report due in a matter of weeks, the group formed in Amherst to recommend a way
forward on potential reparations for black residents is sharpening its focus on funding of housing and youth programs as pathways of correcting historic inequities dating back to slavery. Scott Merzbach of the Daily Hampshire Gazette has the details.
State will pay $7 million to settle with victims of Oxford ‘house of horrors’
The state’s child welfare agency has agreed to pay $7 million to settle a lawsuit brought by four foster children who were sexually and physically abused after being placed in the home of an Oxford couple that came to be dubbed the ‘house of horrors.’ The settlement, announced Friday, settles a 2019 lawsuit against the Department of Children and Families and employees who the plaintiffs said ignored complaints that the home was unsafe.
On the move: Amid removal calls, Charlemont Indigenous statue finds new home
From Route 2 to Route 66. An imposing Native American statue that has greeted visitors to Charlemont on Route 2 since the early 70s is on the move following weeks of talks about whether it should be removed after some indigenous people called it offensive. The Recorder’s Chris Larabee reports the display outside the Native and Himalayan Views souvenir shop has been sold to the owners of another roadside attraction–along Route 66 in Oklahoma.
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