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Senate Passes Bill to Expand Language Opportunities for Students

July 7, 2016

Seal of Biliteracy

Today, the Massachusetts Senate unanimously passed legislation that updates the existing statute relative to English language education in public schools to encompass the latest and best practices serving English Language Learners (ELLs).

An Act for language opportunity for our kids, also known as the LOOK Bill, removes the current mandate requiring schools to use Sheltered English Immersion (SEI), or English-only programs, as the default ELL program model, thereby giving schools the flexibility to establish programs based on the unique needs of their students.

“This bill empowers parents and schools to develop high quality educational opportunities for English Language Learners, so that language is not a barrier to future success,” said Senate Committee on Ways and Means Chair Senator Karen E. Spilka (D-Ashland). “Further, the legislation includes my bill to create a new State Seal of Biliteracy to encourage more students to study a foreign language, expanding future career opportunities and promoting global trade. In our global economy, knowledge of other languages and cultures is a true asset.”

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Senate Passes Bill Creating Higher Education Opportunities for Students with Disabilities

July 7, 2016

Today the Massachusetts Senate passed legislation to improve the lives of many individuals with intellectual and developmental disabilities by enabling them to attend college with their same-aged peers in an inclusive setting.  The bill, originally sponsored by Senator Barbara L’Italien (D-Andover) opens the doors of our state colleges and universities to students who have been historically denied access to higher education, and held back to complete additional years of high school, because their disability prevented them from obtaining a high school diploma.

“Like all Massachusetts students, students with disabilities deserve access to the academic, social and workforce training benefits of higher education. This bill reinforces the legislature’s commitment to inclusion and opportunity for people of all ages and abilities, helping students develop skills, live independently and transition to adulthood,” said Senate Committee on Ways and Means Chair Senator Karen E. Spilka (D-Ashland).

The bill also codifies the very successful Inclusive Concurrent Enrollment Initiative Grant program, which allows high school students aged 18-21 with intellectual and developmental disabilities to participate in an inclusive college course and the student life of college as part of their high school special education.  Thirteen colleges and universities already partner with nearly 70 school districts statewide to offer the program, and now it will be available statewide for the rest of the residents of the Commonwealth.

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Senate Passes Omnibus Energy Bill

July 5, 2016

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The Massachusetts State Senate last week voted to engross an omnibus energy bill to diversify the state’s energy portfolio by procuring additional clean energy resources to replace aging power plants that are going offline and move the Commonwealth closer to its emissions reduction goals under the Global Warming Solutions Act.

“This is a bold, aggressive and smart plan to diversify the state’s energy portfolio and help us meet our moral and legal commitments to clean energy under the Global Warming Solutions Act,” said Senate Committee on Ways and Means Chair Senator Karen E. Spilka (D-Ashland). “This bill is designed to foster open, competitive bidding and encourage economic development and innovative clean energy technologies, and it is a tremendous step forward in our efforts to protect our environment and ensure a sustainable future.”

The bill, S. 2372 – An Act to promote energy diversity, requires electric distribution companies, in consultation with the Department of Energy Resources (DOER) to solicit long-term contracts for at least 2,000 megawatts of offshore wind by 2027. The bill calls for successive, staggered solicitations to keep costs down through competition. Additionally, distribution companies would be required to purchase a minimum of 12,450,000 megawatt-hours of clean energy from hydropower and other Class 1 resources such as onshore wind, solar, anaerobic digestion and energy storage.

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Legislature Passes Balanced Fiscal Year 2017 Budget

June 30, 2016

The Massachusetts Legislature today enacted a $39.146 billion state budget for Fiscal Year 2017 that invests in key areas related to local aid, education, children’s health and safety, housing, health and human services, workforce training and economic development. The budget reflects a conservative tax revenue outlook and focuses on opportunities for savings while preserving key programs and services.

“This budget reflects our belief that we must be responsible stewards of taxpayer dollars, while keeping the Commonwealth moving forward on the path to resilience, especially during a time of fiscal uncertainty,” said Senate Committee on Ways and Means Chair Karen E. Spilka (D-Ashland). “We honor our commitment to increased K-12 education funding, preserve investments for our most vulnerable residents, including our youngest children, and continue to direct resources to address the opioid crisis. This budget also significantly increases local aid to help cities and towns address community needs. Despite the challenges of lower than anticipated revenue, I am proud to say that the conference committee worked swiftly and collaboratively to produce a timely budget that preserves critical services, allows for strategic reductions and makes modest investments in our shared future.”

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Senate Passes Bill to Regulate Transportation Network Companies

June 29, 2016

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Today, the Massachusetts Senate passed legislation to regulate Transportation Network Companies (TNCs), including Uber and Lyft. The bill, S.2371 An Act regulating Transportation Network Companies, creates a strong regulatory framework for operatives and drivers to be administered by the Department of Public Utilities (DPU). It would also subject drivers to strict background checks, set rules for insurance requirements and require drivers to be certified.

“Massachusetts is a hub of innovation and entrepreneurship, and we want to foster an environment where great ideas and new technologies can flourish,” said Senate Committee on Ways and Means Chair Senator Karen E. Spilka (D-Ashland). “Transportation network companies use innovative technology to provide a useful service, yet they currently operate without any municipal or state oversight to ensure public safety and consumer protection. This bill takes decisive action to oversee and regulate these companies, while allowing them to continue to thrive and innovate here in Massachusetts.”

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Senate Passes Bill to Protect Puppies and Kittens

June 28, 2016

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Today, the Massachusetts Senate unanimously passed legislation to improve several areas of current law dealing with the sale and treatment of dogs and cats. S.2370 An Act relative to protecting puppies and kittens, filed by Senator Karen Spilka, ensures that puppies and kittens are bred and sold in safe and healthy environments and strengthens the Massachusetts “Puppy Lemon Law” to give pet owners more options if they unknowingly purchase a sick pet.

“As an animal lover, pet owner and occasional small scale breeder, I am deeply aware of the emotional challenges for families when a pet falls ill, as well as the need to protect the health and safety of young animals,” said Senate Committee on Ways and Means Chair Senator Karen E. Spilka (D-Ashland), lead sponsor of the bill. “This bill is the result of extensive discussion with both breeders and animal rights activists to protect consumers and puppies and kittens across the Commonwealth.”

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Senate Passes Bill to Support Veterans, Servicemembers and their Families

June 16, 2016


veteransVeterans HOME Act continues long-standing commitment to veterans

Today the Massachusetts State Senate unanimously passed Senate Bill 2325, An Act Relative to Housing, Operations, Military Service, and Enrichment, the Massachusetts HOME Act. This legislation expands on the commitment the Massachusetts Senate has to our veterans, servicemembers and their families by providing benefits and services.

The passage of the Valor Act I 2012 and Valor Act II in 2014 helped Massachusetts become the number one state in the nation for providing for our veterans.

“I am proud that Massachusetts leads the nation in support for our veterans when they return home,” said Senator Karen E. Spilka (D-Ashland). “This bill provides additional housing, employment, education and other benefits and assistance for veterans and their families, to honor their service to our nation and show our gratitude for the sacrifices they have made to keep us safe.”

Focusing on housing and long-term support, the passage of the Veterans HOME Act continues the strong reputation that Massachusetts has as a leader  in understanding the sacrifice that military personnel and their families make not only while on active duty, but also after returning home.

To increase access to housing for veterans, the bill grants veterans preference in admission for scattered site housing units where no low-income family housing was developed.  The bill also requires housing authorities to exclude amounts of disability compensation paid by the federal government for the purpose of computing rent of a disabled veteran.  In addition, the bill gives eligible veterans a preference in housing for the elderly and persons with disabilities in all communities, not only the community in which the veteran resides.

To honor the service of veterans and their families, the bill provides a property tax exemption for the surviving spouse of any soldier, sailor, and member of the National Guard or veteran who, during active duty service, suffered an injury or illness which was the proximate cause of death.  The bill also gives veterans who have a 100% disability rating for service connected blindness a property tax exemption.

Other provisions of this Act include:

  • The expansion of the Public Service Scholarship to children of any military or service person missing in action and children of prisoners of war;
  • Allows employees of the Commonwealth who are members of the armed forces reserves and are ordered to service for more than 30 consecutive to be paid the regular base salary reduced by the amount received as base pay for military service. It also preserves the seniority or accrued leave time;
  • Allows cities and towns to appoint a veterans agent for 3 year terms instead of the current 1 year term;
  • Establishes the Office of Veterans Homes and Housing within the Department of Veterans Services to oversee the Soldiers Home in Chelsea and in Holyoke;
  • Creates a post-deployment commission to study ways to improve services to veterans who have been deployed overseas;
  • Adds veteran status as a protected class under the statute prohibiting discrimination in employment.

The bill will now be reconciled with the version passed by the House of Representatives before being sent to the Governor for his signature.