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This Week in Massachusetts – June 22

Posted on June 22, 2023

Boston Globe: As the ‘Silver Tsunami’ Hits Small Businesses, Could Worker Co-Ops Be a Solution?

Since founding Dean’s Beans three decades ago, Dean Cycon has built his eponymous coffee company in his own humanitarian vision. The beans are organic and fair trade, the coffee bags tell the stories of the farmers he buys from, and the roasting facility has been powered by solar panels since 2006.

But, as his 70th birthday approached, Cycon knew he would need to consider the future of Dean’s Beans with someone else at the helm. A number of “progressive business people,” as he put it, approached Cycon to buy the business. But he suspected they cared more about profits than preserving the culture he had worked so hard to cultivate.

So Cycon decided to sell to buyers who were intimately familiar with the mission of Dean’s Beans: His employees, all 16 of them.

“They know Dean’s Beans. They’ve been working it and running it for years,” said Cycon, whose retirement on July 1 will officially make Dean’s Beans a worker cooperative. “They’re going to carry on.”

NBC Boston: These Two New England Cities are Ranked Top in the Country for Families

The northeastern region of New England has long been characterized by its quaint towns, bustling cities, robust healthcare and education offerings, as well as its scenic natural landscapes.

Making the top spot on Fortune’s 2023 ranking is Cambridge, Massachusetts, and taking second place is Portsmouth, New Hampshire.

The ranking analyzed several factors when it looked at nearly 1,900 communities across the country, including healthcare, education and resources for seniors. Other data that was factored in included affordability, walkability and the city’s well-being index.

“Fortune’s analysis resulted in a ranking of cities where people can weave themselves into the fabric of the community by accessing a myriad of resources in the town and surrounding areas,” the ranking said.

This year’s list included one community from each state in the country. Portland, Maine, ranked at number 15. South Burlington, Vermont, ranked at number 21. Norwalk, Connecticut, ranked at number 29. Cranston, Rhode Island ranked at number 38.

Boston Globe: Redistricting Drama Threw Boston City Council into Chaos. Enter Ruthzee Louijeune.

When a federal judge last month blocked Boston’s new political map, forcing the City Council to draw a new one, it was far from clear that the body could meet the challenge.

It had taken the divided group more than a month of bitter debate to agree on council district boundaries the first time. Now, the council — down one member and in the middle of its busy budget season — had to do it again, fast, or risk delaying Election Day and throwing the entire municipal election process into chaos.

Enter Councilor Ruthzee Louijeune. When she took over the process from another council committee in early May, her colleagues were bickering over everything from where precincts were placed on the map to who should be in charge of redrawing the lines. After two weeks, four map proposals, five marathon hearings, and countless personal attacks, Louijeune passed a new version of the map 10 to 2.

It was a remarkable show of consensus on a body with a reputation for infighting and disorganization, and a feat many feared would come too late if it happened at all. With legal concerns now appearing nearly resolved, the effort Louijeune led appears to have kept city elections on schedule.

Reuters: US Senators Urge Regulator to Change Guidance on Massachusetts Auto Law

Two U.S. senators on Thursday urged the National Highway Traffic Safety Administration (NHTSA) to reconsider its decision to tell automakers not to comply with a recently effective Massachusetts state “right to repair” law designed to allow customers access to vehicle data.

Massachusetts voters approved a 2020 ballot initiative to allow independent repair shops to access diagnostic data that newer cars can send directly to dealers and manufacturers to allow consumers to seek repairs outside dealerships.

NHTSA told 22 major automakers in a letter on Tuesday they must comply with a federal vehicle safety law and not with the Massachusetts law, which came into effect on June 1. It warned that a malicious actor “could utilize such open access to remotely command vehicles to operate dangerously, including attacking multiple vehicles concurrently.”

Senators Elizabeth Warren and Ed Markey, both Democrats of Massachusetts, said in a letter to NHTSA and the U.S. Department of Transportation that the agency’s decision “to give auto manufacturers a green light to ignore state law appears to favor Big Auto.”

Boston Globe: With Commuters Staying Home, Transit Agencies Try to Reinvent Themselves

Rush hour is now anything but, at the Montgomery Street station in the heart of San Francisco.

Gone are the laptop-toting workers jostling into trains beneath the high-rise offices of lucrative tech companies. At 5:30 p.m. on a recent weekday, a woman hauling oversized shopping bags with three young girls easily secured several rows of seating.

Three years after the pandemic began, remote work endures as a way of life for many office workers, and few major transit systems in the United States have suffered worse than Bay Area Rapid Transit. The 131-mile network depends heavily on suburban residents who commute daily into San Francisco and less than other transit systems on local passengers trying to get across town.

Weekday ridership on BART is down to 32 percent of what it was before the pandemic began, punctuating a desperate moment for San Francisco. Without daily foot traffic, major retailers are abandoning downtown, and analysts believe the city core has yet to bottom out. Homeless encampments and open drug use have further discouraged visitors, while passengers have complained about safety and a lack of cleanliness.

WGBH: Massachusetts Needs more Housing. How Much Should be Affordable Versus High-End?

When Alexander Train walks around Chelsea, he sees a city becoming unaffordable for its residents. At a commuter rail station one May morning, the Chelsea community development director points down the block to a housing complex with hundreds of apartments with granite kitchen counters and stainless steel appliances fetching more than $2,500 in monthly rent — expensive for the historically working class city.

“Over the last ten years, there’s been about three times the amount of luxury housing built compared to affordable housing,” he said.

Train’s goal is to reverse that trend in Chelsea and build more mixed-income housing complexes to ensure there are affordable apartments for current residents to stay in the area. But in other Massachusetts towns and cities, officials say more expensive housing is exactly what they need to revitalize their downtowns and boost their local economies.

“We need folks to come into Fitchburg that have higher incomes,” said Liz Murphy, the Central Massachusetts city’s community development director. “We struggle to have those higher-end units for [them].”

Fitchburg and Chelsea’s conflicting priorities illustrate the complex challenges state officials face as they search for solutions to a housing shortage that has caused prices to surge and people to relocate to other states. There is no one-size-fits-all approach to development.

Telegram: New Contract Spells Out Raises for Worcester Teachers.

After months of negotiations, the Worcester School Committee voted to ratify teacher and paraeducator contracts with the Educational Association of Worcester at its meeting last week.

The contracts, which include retro pay for 2022-23, and a three-year contract that will expire in 2026, include, among other things, wage increases and longevity payment increases.

The retroactive agreement is from Sept. 1, 2022, to Aug. 31, 2023, for both teachers and paraeducators.

The three-year contract will begin Sept. 1, 2023, and run until Aug. 31, 2026, for both groups.

New Bedford Light: Teachers in New Bedford and across Massachusetts Could Lose Jobs Due to Expiring COVID Emergency Teaching Licenses

Thousands of teachers across Massachusetts are facing non-renewal of their contracts due to the expiration of emergency teaching licenses. In New Bedford, the primary driver of roughly 180 teacher non-renewals — a spike from the normal number of non-renewals — is the expiration of these licenses, which are no longer automatically reissued since the official end of the COVID-19 emergency.

During the pandemic, emergency licenses were created to ensure districts had a pathway to onboard and retain teachers while certification exams were not being administered. Only a bachelor’s degree was required to obtain an emergency license, and districts continued interviewing, vetting, and hiring as they saw fit.

Now, the thousands of educators who came into Massachusetts classrooms through this program — a more diverse group than Massachusetts teachers as a whole — must submit applications to extend their licensure status. Several thousand among this diverse, new crop of teachers are seeing their licenses expire and won’t be able to teach until their licenses are reapproved for extension.


Boston Herald: Suffolk DA Give Quarter Million in Seized Funds to Non-Profits

Suffolk County District Attorney Kevin Hayden announced Sunday his office had taken over a quarter-of-a-million in seized alleged drug money and given it to several local non-profit organizations.

Through a Community Reinvestment Grant program, 45 non-profit organizations were awarded up to $7,500 each, the “largest amount in Suffolk County CRG history.”

“I am extremely proud our office has been able to provide the most funding ever from this important program. The mission-driven work undertaken by all of these organizations is inspiring and important,” Hayden said in a statement.

According to the DA’s office, the program draws money from seized cash and assets taken during law enforcement activities and redirects it to organizations which help prevent youth violence or that treat substance abuse.

“Throughout my career as a prosecutor and a defense attorney, I have witnessed young people with promise veer onto dangerous paths due to lack of opportunity and guidance. We fail these children when our intervention starts in a courtroom. We achieve a more just and equitable legal system when we help communities provide interventions, services and opportunities necessary for youth to succeed,” Hayden said.

Health Care

Boston Globe: More Than 1 million Dropped from Medicaid as States Start Post-Pandemic Purge

More than 1 million people have been dropped from Medicaid in the past couple months as some states moved swiftly to halt health-care coverage following the end of the coronavirus pandemic.

Most were dropped for not filling out paperwork.

Though the eligibility review is required by the federal government, President Biden’s administration is troubled by how efficiently some other states are accomplishing the task.

“Pushing through things and rushing it will lead to eligible people — kids and families — losing coverage for some period of time,” Daniel Tsai, a top federal Medicaid official recently told reporters.

Already, about 1.5 million people have been removed from Medicaid in more than two dozen states that started the process in April or May, according to publicly available reports and data obtained by the Associated Press.

Florida has dropped several hundred thousand people, by far the most among states. The drop rate also has been high in other states. For people whose cases were decided in May, around half or more got dropped in Arkansas, Idaho, Kansas, Nevada, New Hampshire, Oklahoma, South Dakota, Utah, and West Virginia.

Worcester Business Journal: Long-Term Care Bill Emerges from Elder Affairs

A long-term care reform bill is on the move in the Legislature, and it could soon emerge in the House after Speaker Ron Mariano named it one of his early priorities for the session.

The Elder Affairs Committee on Thursday re-drafted and favorably reported legislation filed by its chairs, Rep. Thomas Stanley and Sen. Patricia Jehlen, that takes aim at both oversight gaps exposed during the COVID-19 pandemic and at a staffing crisis putting strain on many facilities.

The bill (H 3929) would equip the Department of Public Health with “new tools to monitor and take punitive action on facilities,” a committee spokesperson said, strengthening the department’s ability to suspend nursing home licenses, awarding it the power to examine management companies during suitability reviews, and allowing review of civil and criminal histories of nursing home license applicants.

Boston Herald: Nurses Rally to Change Hospital Closure Rules

Following dozens of hospital closures and while the state’s medical facilities continue to face challenges in keeping nurses at bedsides, advocates and medical practitioners told lawmakers that public health is placed at risk when corporations put profit over patients.

The Joint Committee on Health Care Financing, on Tuesday, held hearings on “An Act Relative to The Closing of Hospital Essential Services,” or S.736/H.1175, and “An Act Relative to Hospital Profit Transparency and Fairness,” or S.790/H.1179, two bills that advocates say are necessary to promote and protect public health in the Bay State.

“The hearing comes amid a healthcare crisis in Massachusetts created by hospital corporations prioritizing financial gain over patient safety and care access for years before and during the COVID-19 pandemic. Understaffing is causing nurses to flee the bedside and entire communities such as Leominster and Taunton are threatened by maternity and addiction treatment closures,” the Massachusetts Nursing Association wrote in a release ahead of the hearing.

According to the nursing association, since 2009 communities in Massachusetts have seen more than 40 hospitals and treatment units close despite the fact the state’s Department of Public Health had determined that the services they provided were “necessary for preserving access and health status in a particular service area.”

Mass Live: Vibra Hospital in Springfield Plans 87 Layoffs ahead of Shutdown

Vibra Hospital of Western Massachusetts plans to lay off all 87 employees by Aug. 15, as its population of 29 long-term patients moves to new quarters.

All are expected to be relocated to the new Valley Springs Behavioral Health Hospital in Holyoke from the partnership of Baystate Health and LifePoint.

Vibra filed a required Worker Adjustment and Retraining Act notice last week with the Massachusetts Executive Office of Labor and Workforce Development .

The 1400 State St. hospital and its Pennsylvania owners first announced plans to close in 2017, but the date kept getting pushed back, as the state lengthened its contract.

In 2021, Baystate and partner LifePoint Health announced that the new Holyoke facility – then in its planning stages – would expand by 30 private rooms to accommodate patients that Vibra cared for, then and now, under a contract with the Massachusetts Department of Mental Health.

Vibra officials, both in Springfield and Harrisburg, did not return calls seeking comment on the closing.

The Massachusetts Nurses Association represents 15 of the employees losing their jobs at Vibra, said Joe Markman, a union spokesman. He said Monday that Vibra no longer has a contract with the state and the union is working to keep its members working at the hospital with a new vendor.

Budget and Taxation

Boston Globe: Business Leaders Wonder Why Senate’s $600 Million Tax Bill Doesn’t offer more Tax Relief to Businesses

During a speech recently at the Greater Boston Chamber of Commerce, state Senate President Karen Spilka rattled off the tax breaks her leadership supports: doubling credits for low-income seniors, increasing a tax deduction for renters, providing more money for housing development in mid-sized cities.

Then, after she wrapped up her speech, chamber chief executive Jim Rooney asked a question that must have been on the minds of nearly everyone in that room at the City Winery: What about businesses? Spilka responded that her colleagues wanted to focus instead on individuals and “working families.”

The back-and-forth came on the morning before the Senate was scheduled to debate and approve its tax relief package. The business community prefers an alternative backed by the House of Representatives to the one put forward by Spilka and her team. That’s primarily because the House would also cut the state’s short-term capital gains tax from 12 percent to 5 percent and adopt a “single sales factor” approach for corporate taxes that is calculated by a company’s Massachusetts revenue alone, without including the number of employees and the amount of property it has here in the calculations.

Then there’s the scope and timing of the plans. The Senate took a more cautious approach to overall tax relief by proposing a package that is roughly half the size, on an annualized basis, of the House’s plan — about $600 million versus $1.1 billion. Of note, the Senate leadership crafted its proposal after the state reported an unexpectedly steep decline in tax collections in April.

Gazette Net: Spilka hints at future Senate policy priorities

The Senate is looking to tamp down soaring prescription drug costs, Senate President Karen Spilka said during a business breakfast Thursday where the Ashland Democrat also talked about other legislative priorities for the slow-starting two-year session.

“I hope this time — the third time — is the charm, as the saying goes,” Spilka said, referencing unsuccessful legislation in the prescription drug area in the last two sessions. “And we will provide the Health Policy Commission with the most effective enforcement tools to ensure a successful cost containment across the health care system, including drug prices.”

The Senate also seeks to strengthen oversight of pharmacy benefit managers and pharmaceutical manufacturing companies as the HPC looks to “better analyze” health care cost trends.

State House News: A Year Later, Tax Relief Bills Again Up For Negotiation

The fate of tax relief will now rest with a legislative negotiating committee after the Senate on Thursday stamped its unanimous approval on a nearly $590 million package.

Both branches have voted this session on increasing tax breaks for renters, seniors and parents, lessening the taxpayer impact of the estate tax, and boosting the earned income tax credit that supports lower-income families. Depending on how quickly House and Senate leaders can iron out differences, a final proposal could be headed to Gov. Maura Healey’s desk as soon as this summer after the topic has been in the spotlight for more than a year.

But first, a tricky bargaining process looms for Democrats who must bridge significant differences, a challenge they did not rise to in 2022. The Senate plan is roughly half a billion dollars smaller than the House’s in the long run, and differs markedly from both the House bill and one offered by Healey.

Senate Democrats rejected a Republican proposal to weave a short-term capital gains tax cut into their bill, which would have brought it into alignment with both Healey and the House’s push to reduce that rate from 12 percent to 5 percent.

“This is a matter of economic competitiveness. It’s one that this bill is deficient without,” Minority Leader Bruce Tarr said about the short-term capital gains tax change.

Dot News: Wu Rejects Council’s Cuts to City Departments, including Boston Police

Mayor Michelle Wu on Friday rejected the City Council’s proposed cuts to Boston Police and a host of other city departments, including veterans’ affairs and the Boston Public Library.

Councilors voted 7-5 earlier this week on a $4.2 billion operating budget that included $53 million in amendments, boosting some accounts but cutting from others, including $31 million from the police and $900,000 from veterans services. Councillors Frank Baker, Ed Flynn, Gabriela Coletta, Michael Flaherty and Erin Murphy opposed the cuts.

In a letter to the City Council on Friday, Wu said the cut to police was “illusory,” because the city is “obligated to cover salary and overtime expenses incurred by the department.”

Cuts to public works and transportation departments would lead to “holding positions vacant and delaying hiring for critically needed positions in both departments to fill potholes, upgrade crosswalks, plow snow, and ensure our street infrastructure is safe,” Wu’s letter said.

“As the City’s elected officials, we have a collective responsibility to protect core City functions,” she added.

Veto overrides require eight votes out of the 12-member Council. The body, which stands at 13 members when at full strength, is down a councillor due to Kenzie Bok’s departure for the top job at the Boston Housing Authority.


Commonwealth Magazine: Big Decisions Loom on Offshore Wind

Every couple of days a picture surfaces out of New Bedford showing ships bringing in the giant parts needed to assemble Vineyard Wind, the nation’s first commercial-scale wind farm.

The eye-catching images are a reminder that offshore wind is coming, but of late the news about the fledgling industry suggests the rollout is going to be a lot slower than predicted. Four major offshore wind developers in Massachusetts and New York say their signed contracts to deliver electricity are no longer adequate to secure financing for the projects given the runup in interest rates, inflation, supply chain disruptions, and the war in Ukraine.

The shifting economic winds are having a cascading effect. The developers say they need more money to build their wind farms, which is putting regulators in a very awkward situation. States need the wind farms to have a chance of meeting their climate change goals, but giving in to the demands of the developers could set a dangerous precedent and translate into much higher prices for electricity ratepayers.

It’s a high-stakes, high-cost situation with no easy answers – and no obvious bad guy to take the fall for a major economic shift that has set the offshore wind industry on its heels. “The world really did change and now everything is different,” said Evan Horowitz, executive director of the Center for State Policy Analysis at Tufts University.

The Gardner News: City Receives State Grant for Bike Trail – Where is the Trail Expanding?

The City of Gardner was recently awarded $500,000 from the Commonwealth’s MassTrails Grant program to fund a portion of the extension of the North Central Pathway Bike Trail to eventually connect the towns of Hubbardston and Winchendon through Gardner via bicycle and walking infrastructure.

This portion of the funding will cover the third phase of this initiative, by extending the trail from the Greenwood Memorial Pool, through Crystal Lake Cemetery, to Park Street.

The $500,000 awarded to Gardner was the highest award possible and was only awarded to five communities.

“This is the third year in a row that the city has received this funding from the commonwealth and we are already starting to see the benefits of this project come together,” said Gardner Mayor Michael Nicholson. “Extending these trails, paths, and travel lanes increase the recreational opportunities Gardner can offer and give our residents and visitors a new way to travel around the City and our region.”

“I am excited to see how our residents and visitors take advantage of this new extension and the project as a whole,” said Mayor Nicholson. “Gardner is growing and we have had an unprecedented amount of interest in our City over the last three years. Projects like these help connect that growth and progress across our City and our region, while giving people more ways to enjoy what we have to offer. I’d like to thank State Representative Jon Zlotnik, Governor Healey, Lt. Governor Driscoll, and all of our state partners for their continued support of the Chair City.”

Boston Herald: Eversource Power Surge in Waltham Leads to Fires, Outages

An Eversource power surge sparked fires and outages across Waltham on Monday, causing issues on the road with traffic signals being impacted.

It was the second power surge in the city within a year, following October’s similar incident when there were dozens of emergency calls.

On Monday, the city reported that Eversource had experienced a power surge that was affecting various areas of Waltham. Officials told residents to use caution while traveling throughout the city.

“This morning, Waltham Firefighters responded to reports of multiple fires in Waltham due to a power surge,” the city wrote in an alert. “Street lights and Traffic signals have been effected and may be out for some time.

“If you have experienced a power outage, it is recommended that you do not reuse power strips/surge protectors,” the city added. “It will take an undetermined amount of time to restore proper function of those utilities.”

Eversource reported that the utility company responded to a power outage in Waltham just before 8:30 a.m., impacting about 6,000 customers. System operators were able to restore power to all but a few customers within an hour.

Diversity, Equity and Inclusion

Boston Globe: Americans Mark Juneteenth with Parties, Events, Reflection

Americans across the country last weekend celebrated Juneteenth, marking the relatively new national holiday with cookouts, parades and other gatherings as they commemorated the end of slavery after the Civil War.Top of Form

Bottom of FormWhile many have treated the long holiday weekend as a reason for a party, others urged quiet reflection on America’s often violent and oppressive treatment of its Black citizens. Still others have remarked at the strangeness of celebrating a federal holiday marking the end of slavery in the nation while many Americans are trying to stop parts of that history from being taught in public schools.

“Is #Juneteenth the only federal holiday that some states have banned the teaching of its history and significance?” author Michelle Duster asked on Twitter, referring to measures in Florida, Oklahoma and Alabama prohibiting an Advancement Placement African American studies course or the teaching of certain concepts of race and racism.

The holiday commemorates June 19, 1865, when enslaved people in Galveston, Texas, learned they had been freed — two years after the Emancipation Proclamation was issued during the bloody Civil War. For generations, Black Americans have recognized Juneteenth, but it only became a federal holiday two years ago.

GBH News: Life After Prison – State Leaves Prisoners Waiting for Education

Some 3,100 state prisoners — more than half of all those incarcerated in Massachusetts prisons — were waiting to get into academic, vocational or technology classes last fall, records show. About 850, or just 15% of prisoners, were actually enrolled in a class. And instead of boosting programs, the state Department of Correction is moving away from in-person classes and relying more on online learning.

Gazette Net: Northampton Organizations Eye Ways to Address Mental-Health Challenges among LGBTQ+ Youth

The city of Northampton might seem like the ideal place for queer-identifying adolescents to grow up — after all, it was historically dubbed the “Lesbianville” of the United States by the 1992 National Enquirer tabloid.

During the pandemic, however, LGBTQ+ youth in the city were not immune to the rise in mental illness seen around the country.

“Everybody’s supportive in Northampton High School. All the teachers teach queer things, it’s great,” remarked an 18-year-old student at Northampton High School who identifies as nonbinary and whose name is being withheld to protect their privacy. During the pandemic, though, “I just felt disconnected from my friends around me because I could never see them. I think my friends felt the same way.”

Massachusetts is one of the states with the largest population density of people identifying as LGBTQ+, according to a 2018 analysis of Gallup data by the Williams Institute. Northampton in particular might be considered a safe haven for LGBTQ+ identifying young people; in 2022, the Human Rights Campaign gave Northampton a full score of 100 on its municipality equality index, which measures the amount of legal support a city provides LGBTQ+ identifying residents. In comparison, nearby Amherst and Springfield scored only 75 and 74, respectively.


Inside Higher Ed: Governor Appoints Panel ‘to Promote Representation in Education’

Massachusetts governor Maura Healey, a Democrat, has appointed a panel to consider what the state should do if the Supreme Court, as expected, bans affirmative action.

The Advisory Council for the Advancement of Representation in Education will work to assure that “Massachusetts will always be open, welcoming, and inclusive of students of color and other students typically underrepresented in higher education.”

Healy is also making MEFA Pathway, an online college- and career-planning resource, available for free to all current students in Massachusetts through a comprehensive outreach campaign.