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This Week in Massachusetts – July 18

Posted on July 18, 2023

Boston Globe: What’s It Like Getting to and from Logan Airport during the Sumner Tunnel Closure?

Getting to Logan Airport can be a hassle on the best of days, given the city’s notoriously snarled traffic and frequent MBTA disruptions.

Now, with this summer’s closure of the Sumner Tunnel in full swing, officials have warned that catching a flight could become an even more difficult task.

Given the traffic backups the closure is likely to cause leading to and from the airport, Massport has pleaded with people not to drive, going as far as saying that anyone headed to Logan during the shutdown should tack on an additional two hours, just in case.

So what, exactly, can travelers leaving the city expect if they’ve got a flight in the near future? What’s the fastest, most convenient, or even most pleasant way to arrive at your terminal on time?

We sent four reporters on a mission to find out. One took a Blue Line train, another the Silver Line bus, and another opted to head there by ferry. A fourth person simply hopped in an Uber.

Each set off from the Boston Globe office on State Street in the middle of rush hour on a Thursday morning, at exactly 8:34 a.m. They set their stopwatches, and off to Terminal A they went. Once there, they turned around and headed back.

Boston Globe: Meet Denise Chisholm, Fidelity’s Guru of Quant Research

Talk to Denise Chisholm long enough about anything related to financial markets, and she is likely to relate it back to historical data.

As director of quantitative research strategy at Fidelity Investments, she does not invest a single dollar at the company, which had $4.2 trillion of assets as of March 31. Yet her work informs, to varying degrees, the views of its 150 portfolio managers who run 450 or so mutual funds and exchange-traded funds.

Chisholm predicts the odds of an asset’s price rising or falling in the future but does not analyze individual stocks and bonds. Instead, she sifts through Fidelity’s enormous pools of data, including the one dubbed “T3K” that is a curation of the top 3,000 stocks going back to the early 1960s. This is essentially what makes her a “quant” — and also geeky and probability-based, in her own words. Then she incorporates other non-quant indicators, like investor sentiment, earnings growth, valuation, and macroeconomics. This mosaic-like approach to dissecting data is what sets her apart from the handful of other market strategists at Fidelity.

“I’m looking for three or four really high-octane, high-probability indicators that all point in the same direction, such that if one leg of this three-legged stool were to fall off, you’ve still got two to stand on,” Chisholm said in an interview.

State House News: House Ramps Up Pressure on Gun Bills, Senate

Representatives will gather in closed-door meetings next week to hold “candid discussions” about a 140-page gun reform bill that Speaker Ron Mariano wants to win House approval by the end of the month.

With the omnibus bill idling amid a House-Senate procedural dispute and national gun safety groups applying new pressure on legislative leaders, Mariano’s office scheduled a pair of private events for representatives and staff to talk about the proposal.

Mariano told reporters on Thursday that his goal is to win House approve for the omnibus bill (HD 4420) before lawmakers take a traditional break in August. Asked about how the House plans to navigate a procedural disagreement with the Senate that has stalled the bill’s early progress, Mariano said, “I’ll look at the different options that are at my disposal” and try to pick one.

He wouldn’t specify what those options entail.

“There are three or four of them,” Mariano said. “I’m not gonna go through them all right now.”

Rep. Michael Day, the bill’s author and co-chair of the Judiciary Committee, said the goal of the closed-door meetings is to clarify misconceptions and confusion as gun owner advocates mount intense opposition. He said the discussions would rebut claims that the bill is a “total scrapping of the current system.”

Boston Herald: Boston Tightens Parking Procedures for City Councils Amid Kendra Lara Fallout

Amid revelations that Councilor Kendra Lara “regularly” drove to work at City Hall with a revoked license, new policies are being implemented that will require councilors to provide valid documentation to park in city-owned garages.

City Council President Ed Flynn said elected officials who do not submit an application form that requires proof of a valid driver’s license, vehicle registration, and insurance information by end of day on Friday, July 21, “will have their access denied to the executive garage by Property Management.”

Enforcement will begin on Monday, July 24, Flynn wrote in a Friday evening email to his fellow councilors that was obtained by the Herald.

The changes are the result of a meeting Flynn held this week with Property Management Division Commissioner Eamon Shelton, Chief of Operations Dion Irish, the City Council’s central staff director and his own team, he wrote.

“We discussed the City of Boston and Property Management’s current review of parking policies in both the Donnelly and executive garages, and the critical need to maintain consistency for all employees and elected officials in terms of the application process,” Flynn wrote to his fellow councilors.

Boston Globe: Wu’s Affordable Housing Plan Pushes Forward, but Resistance Remains

Mayor Michelle Wu’s plan to boost affordable housing requirements in new construction cleared a big hurdle last week.

But what it might mean for the city’s roiling housing crisis largely depends on who you ask, with housing advocates asserting her changes don’t go far enough while developers warn they will stifle new production.

Either way, Wu’s move to require 17 percent of most new buildings to be set aside at income-restricted affordable rents — up from the current 13 — with another 3 percent set aside for Section 8 voucher holders, passed the Boston Planning & Development Agency, and will now head to the City Council.

Wu’s plan would be the latest in a series of tweaks to the city’s Inclusionary Development Policy, or IDP, since it was established by then-mayor Thomas M. Menino in 2000, but the first since 2015. One of the largest programs of its kind in the country, IDP is credited with creating more than 4,000 affordable units and generating more than $200 million in fees for city housing funds.

But amid Boston’s pre-COVID building boom and spiraling housing costs, housing advocates, and Wu herself, have long called for the city to do more. And upon taking office as mayor Wu said she would study an increase to 20 percent, before settling on 17 with 3 percent of units set aside for Section 8 voucher holders.

Spectrum News: State Lawmakers Cautioned about Biases in AI Systems

Technology’s new frontiers present unique regulatory challenges for government systems that often lag behind the rates of change in fast-developing tech sectors.

But some in the state Legislature are trying to orchestrate a response. Several bills before the Joint Committee on Advanced Information Technology, the Internet and Cybersecurity seek to get the ball rolling, as artificial intelligence (AI) becomes more advanced every day.

“The problem we face with AI today is that it’s being used broadly in society to replace human decision-making with little to no rules about testing these systems for accuracy, effectiveness or bias. And that has real tangible harms,” Caitriona Fitzgerald, deputy director at the Electronic Privacy Information Center, told the committee at a public hearing on Thursday.

Fitzgerald supports a Rep. Sean Garballey and Sen. Jason Lewis bill (H 64 / S 33) that would create a commission to study the use of automated decision-making by government agencies.

Last fall, EPIC released a report on the use of AI by government agencies in Washington, D.C., that found computers were assigning children to schools, and making decisions about policing resources and medical care.

Boston Globe: New Boston City Council Map Appears Set after Lawsuit Resolves

Boston’s political map appears set for this fall’s elections after a resolution was reached this week in a long-running federal lawsuit from neighborhood groups that had challenged boundaries drawn by the City Council last fall.

In a document filed Friday in federal court, attorneys for the groups and residents who sued the city last year over its new map of City Council districts agreed “not to challenge” the new version of the map passed by the council and signed by the mayor in May. The city had “fully complied with” a court order to redraw the map, the attorneys wrote, and “the case is appropriate for dismissal.”

The unremarkable three-page legal document effectively caps an explosive, months-long saga over where Boston city councilors should draw the boundaries between council districts.

As part of the once-in-a-decade redistricting process that follows the US Census, a divided Boston City Council spent many bitter weeks last fall debating an earlier version of the map. But the new boundaries were challenged in court soon after, with some neighborhood groups and residents arguing the council had broken the law by using race as a predominant factor in the mapmaking process.

In May, US District Judge Patti Saris ruled that the council had likely used race in an improper manner in drawing the new boundaries. That left councilors scrambling to redraw the map of City Council districts in time to keep this fall’s municipal elections on schedule.

Herald News: Tourism Study Shows Fall River has Potential

The city made available this week a $50,000 preliminary data study on the current state of tourism in Fall River and potential next steps to improve economic development and expand cultural tourism.

During a meeting on Friday, Mayor Paul Coogan officially released a 31-page report containing a two-year strategic tourism development plan. The study was paid for with $670,000 in American Rescue Plan Act funding awarded to One SouthCoast Chamber and managed by the for-profit organization, Viva Fall River.

“We are laying the foundation of where we go from here,” said Coogan said of the research and tourism initiative by his administration. “Taking all of these things and seeing what works and what doesn’t and guiding us going forward.”

University of Massachusetts’ Charlton College of Business Dean John Williams, whose background includes doing intensive data collection, research and planning in the tourism industry in New Orleans, said his experience working in tourism shows Fall River’s potential is great.

EXTERNAL: Commonwealth Magazine: How to Put an End to Bus Bunching

Anyone who rides a high-frequency bus route regularly has probably seen a “bus bunch,” which is two or more buses on the same route driving together in a group. Bus bunching may appear to be a random fluke, but in reality, it is a visible symptom of a bus system that is unreliable, makes poor use of its limited resources, and fails to provide high quality transit service that people need and deserve.

When a bunch forms, what was supposed to have been two or more trips with regular intervals between buses becomes what is essentially a single, supersized trip with large, irregular intervals between the bunch and vehicles coming before and after it. Artificially reducing the number of trips on a given bus route in this manner forces passengers at stops before and after the bunch to wait longer for the next bus.

In addition, within each bunch the delayed vehicle in front is typically overcrowded, while the bus that caught up to the delayed vehicle is largely empty. As a result, when bus bunching occurs, the T functionally runs fewer trips with more vehicles, some of which remain largely empty. This forces passengers to endure long and unpredictable waits for delayed and crowded buses, which is no way to run a public transit system.

What causes bunching on high frequency routes? There are two main underlying issues: delays and poor management. Every bunch starts with a bus trip that is delayed, which typically occurs due to traffic or passengers taking a longer-than-expected time to get on and off the bus. Whenever a bus is delayed, it picks up two sets of passengers: those who arrived on time for the bus and had to wait, and riders who would otherwise have missed this bus and gotten on the next one. Because the delayed bus is carrying more passengers than it normally would, the ride slows down further since more people are getting on and off the bus.

Health Care

Boston Globe: Making Drugs Locally is Key Focus of the Life-Sciences Industry.

In the 1980s, a boosterish television ad, spliced with cameos from Larry Bird and Seiji Ozawa, invited out-of-state manufacturers to “make it in Massachusetts.” That was before the state became better known for brainiacs huddled in labs than workers toiling on assembly lines.

Now, the state’s chase for factory jobs is being updated for the biotech era. As the industry continues to expand, drug makers and state officials have set their sights on biomanufacturing — the production of prescription medications, especially cutting-edge therapies developed locally — as the next phase of the life sciences boom.

That means thousands of well-paying jobs for entry-level workers, and a faster and more reliable supply of drugs for biotechs.

Aided by local tax breaks and state grants tied to job creation, at least 10 new plants have recently opened, expanded, or are under construction across the state. They range from a facility in Bedford where California firm Ultragenyx is making gene therapies to a plant being built by Chinese drug maker WuXi Biologics on the site of the former Worcester State Hospital. Several others are in planning.

Boston Herald – Biden Cracks Down on Affordable Health Insurance

(Editorial) – Barack Obama earned his place in Bartlett’s during the Obamacare debate with his famous fib, “If you like your doctor, you’ll be able to keep your doctor.” Now it turns out that Joe Biden uttered a similar whopper when he told an Iowa audience in 2019 that, under his health care agenda, “if in fact you have private insurance, you can keep it.”

The Biden administration recently announced a crackdown on what progressives describe as “junk” health insurance coverage. Democrats have long sought such an edict because these bare-bones private plans tend to attract younger, healthier adults who prefer not to pay more expensive premiums on the Obamacare exchange.

But if the goal is to limit the number of uninsured Americans, why take away this option? The answer is that Obamacare hasn’t turned out to be as affordable as promised.

Recall that the Affordable Care Act initially demanded that all adults sign up for health insurance coverage under the threat of financial penalty. The aim was to force younger, healthier adults into the system so they could subsidize coverage for those who needed more care. But Congress eventually eliminated the penalty and generous subsidies for Obamacare insurance, passed as part of the Inflation Reduction Act last year, will expire in 2025.

“Hence, the administration is trying to drive more young, healthy people back into the exchanges,” The Wall Street Journal noted last week.

These low-cost plans can be attractive to younger workers who don’t have access to insurance through work. They’re cheaper, in part, because they are unburdened by federal regulations demanding that policies include a host of mandated coverages — pediatric and maternity care, for instance — that consumers may not need. They have higher deductibles and provide enrollment flexibility, unlike policies offered on the exchanges.

Budget and Taxation

CBSNews: House Speaker Mariano on Taxes and Senate President Spilka

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State House News: DOR: Senate Tax Relief Rises to $845 Million in Out Years

The competing House and Senate tax relief proposals might not be quite as far apart, at least in terms of total financial impact, as the public was led to believe.

Senate Democrats said throughout the rollout and approval of their package that it would not increase much beyond a fiscal year 2024 bottom line of nearly $590 million, in contrast to the House-approved bill that would start at a similar figure and rise to nearly $1.1 billion annually as additional tax relief measures are phased in over several years.

But a new analysis produced by the Healey administration’s tax experts bucks that narrative, suggesting the total revenue hit to the state under the Senate bill would rise more than 60 percent over the first five years of implementation.

The Department of Revenue estimated the revenue impact of the Senate-approved tax plan at $519 million in fiscal 2024 and $845 million in fiscal 2029, an increase driven largely by expanded credits to encourage housing development.

DOR sent a trio of analyses, acquired by the News Service, to lawmakers negotiating a final tax relief bill after representatives involved requested more information about the Senate plan. In addition to breakdowns of each bill, the revenue department said it is unable to produce a clear financial estimate stemming from a tax-filing change designed to limit avoidance of a new surtax on high earners.

Gloucester Times: House Adds Housing Production Measure to Spending Bill

The Massachusetts House came around on the idea of expanding a tax-credit program designed to encourage much-needed housing production, just not in the legislative vehicle that Gov. Maura Healey and the state Senate originally envisioned.

Representatives on Thursday approved a mega-amendment to a fiscal 2023 spending bill that would lift the annual cap on the Housing Development Incentive Program (HDIP) from $10 million to $30 million, and also allow the Executive Office of Housing and Livable Communities to issue up to $57 million in one-time credits.

Rep. Carole Fiola said those changes would make development of market-rate and affordable housing more feasible.

Healey and the Senate each sought to increase HDIP credits in their tax relief bills, albeit with slightly different figures, while the House did not seek any HDIP changes in its version of the legislation. The final tax relief measure remains tied up in private conference committee negotiations.

The House approved the mega-amendment that was crafted by Democrats behind closed doors 152-3, then approved the underlying $693 million spending bill 154-0.

Advocates from the think tank MassINC and mayors have been working on the HDIP measure, said Rep. Antonio Cabral, who predicted a backlog of developments could move forward if the amendment became law.

Energy and Environment

MassLive: State, Federal Leaders Seek Relief for Flood-Soaked Farmers

A significant amount of political firepower packed itself into a nondescript field on Honey Pot Road on Saturday to look at acre upon acre of crops destined to be plowed into the ground.

U.S. Sen. Elizabeth Warren, D-Mass.; U.S. Rep. James McGovern, D-Worcester; state Secretary of the Executive Office of Economic Development Yvonne Hao; state Commissioner of Agriculture Ashley Randle; state Sen. Jo Comerford, D-Hampshire/Franklin/Worcester; and state Rep. Daniel Carey, D-2nd Hampshire District, gathered around farmer Willard McKinstry and his son Will as they explained how for a full two days more than 4 feet of flood waters from the nearby Connecticut River inundated their 63 acres of corn, squash, kale, collards, tomatoes and cucumbers. Now, they must plow the whole farm under.

“Nothing is going to save it,“ the older McKinstry said.

It is not just McKinstry’s, but the Four Rex Farm and other family farms up and down the Connecticut River Valley that are in the same boat. The McKinstrys also farm acreage in Chicopee and Granby and have a newly built farmstand in Chicopee. But the Hadley fields have been in the family since 1963 and are a mainstay of their operations.

NBC Boston: Tornado Touched Down in Massachusetts on Sunday Morning

The National Weather Service has confirmed that an EF-0 tornado touched down in central Massachusetts on Sunday morning.

The tornado touched down just before 11 a.m. in North Brookfield, west of Worcester, and had a path of 2 miles in length and 250 yards, estimated about 80 miles per hour as it whirled through the area.

There were no injuries or damage to homes reported.

The only damage it caused was to trees in the area, with the most concentrated damage along Ryan Road.

Video from the scene showed trees ripped up from the ground and power lines dangling in the streets. Cleanup will likely take a while.

Darin Anderson is the town’s deputy fire chief and said fire personnel were checking out flooding when they saw the tornado come through.

“It was pretty scary for a few minutes,” he said. “They noticed it really getting pretty dark. Noticed that the tops of trees were actually starting to do a circle, a rotation, and a lot of debris up in the area.”

WGBH: Obsolete Dams put Massachusetts at Risk for Flooding Similar to Vermont

With flooding in Western Massachusetts, Vermont and New York following recent torrential downpours, experts say thousands of obsolete and often crumbling dams across Massachusetts put the state at risk. That risk only grows, they say, as climate change makes severe storms more common.

“A lot of these dams are really old,” said Cathy Bozek of the U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service. “A lot of them were built to power old mills [and] factories, and they’re not being used anymore. They’re obsolete dams, and many of these dams are not being maintained. They are in unsafe condition and are subject to failing during heavy storms.”

Of the roughly 3,000 dams in Massachusetts, about 1,300 are large enough to be listed in the National Inventory of Dams kept by the U.S. Army Corps of Engineers. Of those, 328 are ranked as having “high hazard potential.”

“Which means that loss of life and significant damage to homes, buildings, infrastructure is likely if the dam fails,” Bozek said. “An additional 643 are ‘significant hazard’ rated. And that means that there may not be loss of life, but it can cause significant economic loss, environmental damage and disruption of lifeline facilities.”

In Vermont’s capital, Montpelier, officials said early Tuesday morning that the nearby high-hazard Wrightsville Dam was close to capacity. Overflowing had “never happened since the dam was built so there is no precedent for potential damage,” City Manager William Fraser warned. The water level ultimately subsided, but the city was still left with extensive destruction: many businesses and Montpelier’s City Hall are closed while they recover, and one man died.

Lynn Journal: Beach Commission Addresses Coastal Climate Change Impact

State and local leaders discussed the impact of climate change on beaches from Hull to Lynn as part
of the state’s Metropolitan Beaches Commission’s initial public hearing on Tuesday morning.

The meeting was expected to be the first of many to address flooding, sea level rise, and erosion along the metropolitan coastline.

“Our goal is to start the conversation from the goal of the Metropolitan Beaches Commission to prioritize the resilience and protection of metropolitan beaches from Nahant to Nantasket,” said Chris Mancini, the Executive Director of Save the Harbor, Save the Bay.

Mancini said there are three main questions that are the focus for the communities during the initial stages of the beach commission hearings. Those include actions that are working now in the communities to address climate issues at the beaches, what are the gaps that need to be addressed, and what thecommunities would most like to see preserved along their beach and waterfronts.

Salem News: North Shore Communities Encouraged to Electrify School Buses

Local communities could electrify school buses in their districts thanks to newly available grant money.

Sen. Elizabeth Warren sent letters last month to Peabody, Danvers, Marblehead, Gloucester and Rockport, along with 28 other municipalities in the state, calling on them to apply for grants from the EPA Clean School Bus Grant Program (CSB), according to a statement from Warren’s office.

Letters were also sent in support of this to the Massachusetts Municipal Association and Massachusetts Association of School Superintendents.

The program has about $400 million to give out to communities across the country so they can start making the switch from diesel to electric school buses. The CSB was created through the bipartisan Infrastructure Investment and Jobs Act, signed by President Joe Biden in November 2021, to replace diesel school buses, public buses and train engines with electric power.

Warren said this move will help reduce pollution from fossil-fuel powered vehicles that can harm children’s’ health.

Diversity, Equity and Inclusion

WBUR: After Affirmative Action Ban, One Small Massachusetts College Plots a Course to Maintain Racial Diversity

Since the Supreme Court’s decision to end race-conscious college admissions, many college leaders have voiced concern about eliminating a powerful driver of increased racial diversity on campuses.

The court’s decision was quite clear: Schools may no longer consider the race of a student in making admissions decisions, even as just one factor among many. But the decision did carve out one notable exception: students may still discuss how race shaped their individual life experiences and identities.

This summer, admissions officers at selective institutions around the country may be compelled to overhaul their processes — likely digging deeper into applicants’ lives, inviting them to share experiences that are inextricably tied to their racial or ethnic identities.

One Massachusetts college has a head start when it comes to designing a thorough, individualized admissions process.

The Olin College of Engineering in Needham is one of the state’s most selective institutions, with an acceptance rate of just 18%.

The Hill: Asian American Lawmakers Split over End to Affirmative Action

The end of affirmative action, which followed a lawsuit brought by an organization that said Asian American and white students were being discriminated against, has highlighted the starkly differing viewpoints of Asian American lawmakers.

While some are warning Asian American and Pacific Islander (AAPI) students will face additional challenges in applying to elite institutions, others are celebrating the end of what they say were discriminatory practices.

The Supreme Court’s rulings last month against Harvard University and the University of North Carolina at Chapel Hill, backed by six conservative justices, are expected to dramatically change how college admissions work, effectively ending race-conscious considerations.

Rep. Judy Chu (D-Calif.) expressed discomfort with how the cases essentially pitted different Americans of color against one another, with advocates for ending race-conscious admissions arguing the policies benefited Black, Latino and Native Americans at the expense of Asian Americans.

Chu said she was “deeply distressed” by the court’s decision, noting Asian Americans are not a monolithic group, and the decision would hurt certain Asian Americans and other minority Americans “systematically denied equal opportunity in education.”