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On Beacon Hill: Birds of a feather?

Recap and analysis of the week in local, state and federal government from State House News Service and Sun research.

BOSTON — An estimated 51 million Americans were projected to travel more than 50 miles to celebrate Thanksgiving this year.

A fair number of those hit the Massachusetts highways newly confident, if they didn’t know before, that if they could escape the traffic for just a few miles those reduced speed limits posted in work zones along the route were merely “suggestions” and nothing that could legally stop them from getting to their turkey faster.

Gov. Charlie Baker made that point clear while standing in front a giant bank of monitors showing pockets of traffic starting to form Tuesday afternoon as he announced a package of highway safety initiatives he hopes legislative leaders will move to their front burner.

The ability to legally enforce reduced speed limits in work zones was one. But it wasn’t the talker.

Just this past February, Baker was on the radio when he said he thought texting while driving was the real danger on the roads. “I’m not sure I believe that the talking thing is,” he explained.

The governor, however, is no longer willing to take the risk that he could have been right, citing the volume of fatal car crashes that can be attributed to distracted driving and advances in technology and pricing that have made hands-free devices more accessible than ever. Those free hands, advocates hope, can stay gripped to steering wheels.

Baker called on the Legislature to deliver to his desk a bill before next summer that would make Massachusetts the sixteenth state to ban the handheld use of cellphones while driving. (Every other state in New England, except Maine, and New York have already done so.) And just like that, a driving safety bill climbed up the ladder of issues to watch for in 2018.

The governor’s new point of view changes some of the Beacon Hill politics over the long-filed bill, ratcheting up pressure on the House.

“I’m very pleased to see his comments,” Sen. Mark Montigny told the News Service. “But the only thing that should change the political dynamic is 15 years of death and destruction on the highways.”

Montigny, of New Bedford, still remembers vividly having to settle in 2010 for a ban on texting while driving. The Legislature wasn’t ready then to go all the way, and Montigny almost voted against his own bill because, as police would later complain, he believed the texting ban to be virtually unenforceable if people would still be allowed to handle their devices to phone a friend.

In the Senate, a hands-free bill already won approval in June, and because of Baker, Montigny has been imbued with new hope. “I’m glad the governor’s on board,” he said.

The pressure now shifts to the House as the lone holdout on a topic that from an experiential standpoint resonates with most voters/drivers. House Speaker Robert DeLeo said he would be speaking with his Transportation Committee Chair Rep. William Straus in the “near future” about how to proceed.

In the meantime, Baker had bills sitting on his desk that merited his attention, and the signing spree started Monday with an elaborately staged ceremony to make the contraception “ACCESS” bill law.

“This is a great day in the commonwealth of Mass.,” the governor declared from a podium set up in the rarely used State House library, flanked by leaders of the House and Senate, Attorney General Maura Healey, Treasurer Deb Goldberg, the head of Planned Parenthood and more.

Sam Doran / State House News Service

Lawmakers, including Senate Majority Leader Harriette L. Chandler, right, looked on as Gov. Charlie Baker signed the ACCESS bill into law last week.

Don’t be surprised if this image makes it into campaign literature next year, the governor standing front and center as the state’s almost exclusively Democratic power brokers, plus the governor, delivered a message to President Trump’s Washington that birth control would remain free and covered in Massachusetts no matter what happens to Obamacare.

This is shaping up as a fascinating election year — Baker trying hard to stay in good graces of State House Democrats, his opponents trying just as hard to Velcro him to Washington Republicans.

— Matt Murphy

ALSO ON THE AGENDA

  • Economy, State Police scandal keep Worcester in spotlight
  • Warren on GOP tax plan, Healey raps Trump on Haiti/TPS
  • AG finds Baker opioid bill lacking
  • Governor signs overhaul of English language learning

Sun Spots with Hitch [Vol. 217]: The real elephant in the room for state GOP

Sure there are red states and blue states, even a couple purple states, but Massachusetts is a commonwealth with very particular political tastes.

We like to dish out our own special blend of legislative action, often with a powerfully Democratic State House making sure a Republican governor toes that thin blue line. Indeed, Baker is charged with cooking up an intricate menu of compromises at every turn, which leaves most of his party on the outside looking in.

Hitch, for one, is hungry for a full-grown GOP.

Mariano: Michael Gaffney was right and wrong

“Michael Gaffney is leaving the City Council. It is fair to say that he is one of a kind. I can’t think of another local elected official with whom to compare Gaffney. … Michael Gaffney is universally disliked by his colleagues at City Hall. I think he likes it that way.”

Sina-cism: Voter turnout more than a numbers game

The low turnout for Worcester’s Nov. 7 municipal election — only 15.24 percent of the city’s 106,939 eligible voters cast a ballot — has restarted the hand-wringing over electoral apathy, and rekindled the debate over how to broaden participation in democracy.

Chris Sinacola

Chris Sinacola

It’s obviously not a very popular debate. Most Worcester residents couldn’t care less about turnout, since 84.76 percent of voters couldn’t find their way to a polling place at any time during the 13 hours such places were open on Election Day. The rest of the voting-age population isn’t even registered.

The good news for those who believe that voter turnout must be increased by any means possible is that three researchers from Worcester State University this fall produced “A Study of ‘Eligible’ Voters in Worcester, Massachusetts.

‘Healing Fibers’ exhibit: Between cultural appropriation and activism

The “Healing Fibers” exhibit on a recent Saturday night was a place to hear the silent cries of those who do not have a voice. The artwork displayed all incorporated fibers in some way, and highlighted the event’s theme of indigenous culture and activism using various perspectives from history, philosophy, aesthetics and politics.

The incredible story of Augustine Kanjia continues … Tragedy Falls on Our Doorstep

We had become very popular with the brewing and sales of our “omolé,” Sierra Leone’s answer to moonshine. My grandmother had made it her priority so we could build our big, new house and I could attend school.

Augustine Kanjia

It had nine rooms, but we occupied only three so far. It had hardly any concrete; it was made of mud. Rats could easily dig through to make themselves at home, too.

It was past time for the completion of our house, and for me to focus solely on school. The rainy season was fast approaching, and we were very close to finishing. At the same time, it was difficult going to the bush for the omolé during the rains, but Soba Peppah, my grandmother, knew we needed it, so we fought hard. Police interference was overwhelming, but we knew how to avoid it.

Until it came to our doorstep.

The trade became popular. Retailers popped in and out of our unfinished house. But the more who came, the sooner we could finish. My grandmother said she would buy cement to plaster the outside, but that was farfetched. She only did the inside of the rooms that mattered to her. Many people came to rent. She also brought in people who had appalling stories like ours.

One day, one of our customers, who purchased for her own daily consumption, came and bought a lot of omolé and left.

Not long after, it was a surprise when she was seen struggling to cross Kanjia Street to zoom into our house. She barely made it. Upon arrival at our house at 3 Senessie St., she fell and died. She’d vomited blood. Our neighbors shouted aloud, “Omolé don killam,” meaning in English, “She was killed by omolé.”

Augustine’s last chapter:  School and Home Collide  Or scroll down to catch up on earlier posts in the remarkable tale.

The Quad [Nov. 15]: Four things to know from Anna Maria, Worcester State, Assumption and Clark

Have campus news you or your college or university organization would like to share? Let us know by emailing it to info@worcester.ma. Be sure to send a link to the full release on your site or Facebook page so we can include it and point Sun members your way.

Anna Maria hosts Clothesline Project

Anna Maria College will host the Clothesline Project from 9 a.m. to 6 p.m. tomorrow.

This project was started in 1990 by a group of women from Hyannis to create awareness regarding the issues and lack of support for women who were victims of domestic violence.

Throughout the day, T-shirts will be hung on a clothesline in the college’s Bishop Flanagan Center telling the victims’ stories. Since the project’s inception in 2011, more shirts have been added to the collection totaling over 300 shirts filled with stories of Anna Maria individuals who wanted to show their stories and show their support.

Editorial: Work cut out for next City Council

Some say this municipal election is not very exciting. We don’t necessarily agree — because there are so many exciting things ahead for our city.

The next Worcester City Council will help see the city through the next phase of all the downtown changes, and it is a critical phase indeed, when it’s all supposed to start coming together — more residents, workers and visitors in the city core together creating the “feel” of an interesting, fully functioning urban center.

No blueprint can do this. No construction crane can create it.

It falls largely on leaders with vision, good sense, and a spirit of cooperation to make the myriad “smaller” decisions that fill in the gaps, and bring in the life, once the money and concrete has been poured for most of the big-ticket choices.

The delicate task for the next City Council — and for the constituents who elect them and sometimes offer suggestions to them — is to be sensitive to what’s missing in the downtown development operations.

On Beacon Hill: Bumping heads

Recap and analysis of the week in local, state and federal government from State House News Service and Sun research.

BOSTON — Trace amounts of bad blood were left spattered on the pages of a budget bill passed by the Legislature last week, and it wasn’t just the cornstarch remnants of a Halloween costume gone awry.

House and Senate Ways and Means Chairs Rep. Jeffrey Sanchez, D-Jamaica Plain, and Sen. Karen Spilka, D-Ashland, managed to put aside their differences after weeks of stalemate and come to an agreement over legislation allocating the $129 million needed to shut the book on fiscal 2017, which ended four months ago.

The bill signed by acting Gov. Karyn Polito Friday made Massachusetts the first state in the country to ban bump stocks — devices used to accelerate a gun’s firing rate — since the Las Vegas mass shooting a month ago. And it included $3 million for a youth violence prevention program that Sanchez had made a priority even before a 16-year-old was gunned down in his Jamaica Plain neighborhood.

The path to yes, however, was fraught with private backbiting and public statements of frustration that caused the comptroller’s office to miss its annual statutory Halloween deadline to file critical financial reports.

The Democratic infighting contributed to Massachusetts not filing year-end financial documents on time for the second time in three fiscal years.

Sanchez’s statement after the agreement was reached seemed to try to clear the air, thanking Spilka for being a partner in the legislation. But the idea that this was nothing personal, just business, was a hard one to swallow after weeks of bickering through the media.

Sen. Michael Barrett, D-Lexington, did little to alter the narrative of tension between the branches when he took an unsolicited swipe at the House hours before they were set to debate a bill that would commit Massachusetts to the goals of the Paris Climate accord.

Barrett equated the bill to “running in place,” and said more was necessary if the state was to be a leader in combating climate change. Rep. Dylan Fernandes, the freshman Falmouth Democrat and sponsor of the Paris bill, didn’t disagree with Barrett, but said he never pretended that his bill was anything more than what it was: a statement of principle to the “climate deniers” in Washington.

Gov. Charlie Baker held vigil for the budget through Tuesday, and then hopped a jet to Palm Springs, California, for the rest of the week for a little down time with his wife before the sprint to the playground. Perhaps they were able to discuss his re-election plans.

An extended holiday recess for legislators looms after Nov. 15.

— Matt Murphy

Courtesy Sen. Moore's office

Sen. Michael O. Moore

ALSO ON THE AGENDA

  • Health care, criminal justice and special elections
  • Warren and Sanders tag team on taxes; McGovern, in defense of Dreamers
  • Moore bill aimed at curbing campus sex assault passes Senate
  • Murray, first female Senate president, honored with official portrait
  • Amid sexual harassment furor, Bump suggests legislative code of conduct