April 2, 2017

On Beacon Hill: Snow and ICE as Baker springs into D.C. spotlight

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Sam Doran / State House News Service

Ways and Means vice chairperson Sen. Sal DiDomenico talked to assistant vice chairperson Rep. Elizabeth Malia about a strict countdown clock that would measure three minutes of testimony per person at last Friday's budget hearing. The hearing was the main opportunity for advocates and other members of the public to testify on the fiscal 2018 budget bill.

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

When will it be safe to go outside again?

There are plenty of good reasons to stay inside and lock the front door, and an early-spring snowstorm is not the worst excuse to pull the blinds and wait for warmer days.

But state Rep. Michelle DuBois was not worried about her constituents driving on unsafe roads last week when she suggested they might want to hunker down in their living rooms and wait for the ICE storm to pass.

DuBois, a Brockton Democrat, caused an uproar when she used Facebook to alert her community to a possible Immigration and Customs Enforcement raid targeting undocumented immigrants. The internet siren came a day after U.S. Attorney General Jeff Sessions said cities would have to prove their compliance with immigration requests to qualify for federal Justice Department grants and funding opportunities.

DuBois, a second-term lawmaker, acknowledged that the raids were just a rumor at the time, and there’s no evidence to suggest it happened. But she thought the public deserved to be aware of the possibility.

“Please be careful on Wednesday [March] 29. ICE will be in Brockton on that day. If you are undocumented don’t go out on the street. If there is a knock on the door of your house and you don’t know who it is, don’t open the door,” she posted, quoting information she said she received from a “friend in the Latin community.”

That such a step taken by an elected official, who is sworn to uphold the law, would turn a few heads is to be expected. But Bristol County Sheriff Thomas Hodgson poured gas on the fire when he mentioned the Facebook post in testimony to Congress, during which he also said elected officials in so-called “sanctuary cities” that refuse to cooperate with federal immigration police should be arrested.

Hodgson is no stranger to controversy or media attention, but in many respects this was a coming-out party for DuBois, and it didn’t take long before her story was the talk of Fox News.

DuBois apologized for nothing and said she’d do it again if given the chance, suggesting she may have actually done ICE a favor by telling the agency members, if they were planning a raid, that the word was already on the street.

That argument, however, didn’t wash with Hodgson, who told Congress Dubois had undermined law enforcement and called on her to step down from office.

— Matt Murphy

State House News Service / Courtesy Governor's Office

Gov. Charlie Baker, shown here swearing in Supreme Judicial Court associate justice Elspeth Cypher, was named to a federal panel on opioid abuse.


  • With Trump opioid panel, Baker takes spot on national stage
  • Legislature to raise its pace after slow start
  • State to cover AP exam cost for low-income students
  • Video: Yukking it up at MassBio conference
  • GE, MassRobotics team up to boost industry


Presidential opioid panel springs Baker onto national stage

By Matt Murphy

The offer to serve on President Donald Trump’s new opioid commission presented Massachusetts Gov. Charlie Baker with an opportunity to serve in a space he has tried to avoid: the federal level.

The Republican governor, in his two-plus years in office, has been reluctant to step onto the national stage, even as he emerged as one of the more popular political figures in the country for his ability to govern in a deep-blue state.

The reward of being able to help address an addiction crisis that claimed more than 50,000 lives around the country in 2015, however, appears to have outweighed the political risk of associating himself with a president disliked by a great majority of Massachusetts voters.

“From my point of view, if I can help bring some of the things we’ve been able to accomplish here in Massachusetts onto a national stage so that, for example, we could have a nation in which you can’t graduate from medical school, dental school or nursing school without passing a course in opioid therapy and pain management, that would be a really good thing,” Baker told reporters last week.

Antonio Caban / State House News Service

Gov. Charlie Baker

Baker received the call to serve on the commission from New Jersey Gov. Chris Christie, who Trump tapped to lead the opioid panel that will make recommendations by October.

Christie played a major role in helping to elect Baker in 2014 when he was head of the Republican Governors Association, and Baker endorsed Christie’s presidential campaign before refusing to vote for Trump in November.

“He and I have talked about opioids and addiction generally a lot over the course of the past several years, and this is an issue that he’s done some very good work on in New Jersey and he takes very seriously,” Baker said of Christie, who will be term-limited out of office this year.

New Jersey recently enacted a law to limit initial opioid prescriptions to a five-day supply, following the model pursued by Baker and Bay State lawmakers in 2016, when they put in place a seven-day restriction. Baker initially called for a 72-hour limit.

Massachusetts, like New Jersey, is a state that has been hit particularly hard by opioid addiction. The Department of Public Health reported in February that 1,465 people died of unintentional opioid overdoses in 2016, with another 469 to 562 suspected opioid-related deaths.

There were 1,579 opioid overdose deaths in 2015 and 1,321 in 2014, according to DPH figures.

Given those statistics, it’s no surprise that combating the epidemic has become a centerpiece of the governor’s work. In addition to first-time prescription limits, Baker has worked with provider groups and the heads of medical schools to improve doctor training for pain management and prescribing practices.

“I view it as hopefully an opportunity to put onto the national stage some of the solutions we’ve been pursuing here in Massachusetts,” Baker said.

Trump signed an executive order March 29 establishing the President’s Commission on Combating Drug Addiction and the Opioid Crisis. The group, which includes several Cabinet secretaries, has been tasked with identifying existing federal funding to combat addiction, assessing the availability and accessibility of treatment, and evaluating federal drug abuse prevention programs.

The commission must make initial recommendations to the president in three months and produce a final report by October.


New raises haven’t kept Legislature from slow start

In other states, lawmakers are wrapping up their legislative sessions while in Massachusetts the three-month-old session has still barely begun.

Sam Doran (SHNS / file photo)

Senate President Stanley C. Rosenberg and House Speaker Robert A. DeLeo

Distracted by the goings on in Washington, D.C., and slow to begin tackling the massive workload before them, legislative leaders have let three of the two-year session’s 18 allowable months for formal sessions slip away without much to show other than a law raising their own pay and the salaries of judges.

Rare formal sessions are planned Wednesday. In the Senate action is likely on an overdue bill authorizing payments to cities and towns for local road repair projects.

The shadow of the fiscal 2018 budget is about to fall over the House, where Ways and Means Committee Chair Rep. Brian Dempsey is putting together his rewrite of Gov. Charlie Baker’s $40.5 billion fiscal 2018 budget.

A House official confirmed last week the House plans to take up the budget in April; specific dates were not available. By midweek, the Department of Revenue is expected to announce tax revenue numbers for March, which Administration and Finance Secretary Kristen Lepore has said could determine whether the administration will use its so-called 9c authority to further trim the current fiscal year’s budget.


Governor gets down to business at MassBio conference


State to cover AP exam cost for low-income students

The state will pick up the tab for low-income students taking Advanced Placement exams in science, technology, engineering and math subjects this year after the federal government stopped providing dedicated funding.

Lt. Gov. Karyn Polito announced Thursday at an Everett Chamber of Commerce breakfast that the STEM Advisory Council will cover the costs of upcoming tests for low-income Massachusetts students, with an allocation of about $326,000.

State House News Service / file

Lt. Gov. Karyn Polito

“We know this was a great concern for many educators, students and their families, and we are very happy that the STEM Advisory Council agreed to help,” Polito, the advisory council’s co-chairperson, said in a statement.

The one-time funding will be used to pay AP exam fees in biology, chemistry, physics, computer science, calculus and environmental science, and is expected to cover the costs for all low-income students taking the tests across the state, according to the Baker administration. Without federal money, the exams would otherwise cost low-income students $53 each, or $15 if their school subsidizes part of the cost.

Since 1998, the federal government had provided states with dedicated funding to offset the costs of AP exams for low-income students, according to the College Board, which administers the exams through which high school students can earn college credits. The Every Student Succeeds Act eliminates that program beginning this year, instead consolidating AP funding with 40 other educational programs into a new block grant.

— Katie Lannan


McGovern continues the Trump trolling

Healey trumpets Mass. leadership in LGBT rights


GE, MassRobotics spearhead network to give local industry a lift

The robotics industry in Massachusetts is targeted for expansion under a partnership announced Thursday between General Electric and MassRobotics, a network of companies, academic institutions and industry organizations.

Under the agreement, GE will partner with MassRobotics to host events and discussions about advanced manufacturing, 3D printing, connected devices, drones and artificial intelligence. MassRobotics plans to help assess and attract startups, research projects and other business opportunities. The partnership is also expected to help GE leverage area resources through its GE Digital Institute, or GEDI project.

MassRobotics is engaged with partners in Ireland, the United Kingdom, China, Singapore, Chile, France, Canada and the United Arab Emirates. “We are thrilled to welcome GE and its team to MassRobotics’ exceptional network of strategic partners and rapidly growing global ecosystem. GE and its unique commitment to MassRobotics is a significant value-add to our startups,” Fady Saad, MassRobotics cofounder, said in a statement.

— Michael P. Norton

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