Archive for the ‘Policies’ Category

Longtime state Rep. Vinny deMacedo says he’s made a point of not changing

Monday, November 25th, 2013

By Alexander Hyacinthe, Patriot Ledger State House Bureau

BOSTON — UMass-Boston linguistics professor Donaldo Macedo is as liberal as they come. Born in Cape Verde, Macedo immigrated with his family to Dorchester in the 1960s, coming of age during the height of the civil rights movement, Vietnam War protests and his native country’s battle for independence from Portugal.

A linguist, he has penned books with famed lefties Noam Chomsky and Howard Zinn. So it is a surprise when he praises a Republican state representative who opposed gay marriage and abortion.

It is more of a surprise that the politician is his brother Vinny deMacedo, R-Plymouth. Donaldo has dropped the prefix that was accidentally added to his surname when he immigrated. His brother has kept it – another difference between them.

But political philosophy aside, Macedo believes in his brother.

“I think Vinny represents what a politician ought to be. At the end of the day, it’s not what you believe, it’s how you are in the world,” Macedo said.

Vinny deMacedo is an eight-term legislator and one of only 30 Republicans in the 160-member House. He is also a businessman who can be seen pumping gas or behind the counter at the gas station he owns in Plymouth.

His background, his family and his beliefs have made deMacedo a respected member of the House, known for his ability to work across the aisles, colleagues say.

“It gives him balance, and it gives him someone in the family to listen to on some issues,” said Sen. Marc Pacheco, D-Taunton, chairman of the Massachusetts Portuguese-American Caucus.

DeMacedo says it is family that has helped him stay grounded and open.

“Family is our bedrock. That’s what defines us,” deMacedo said. “My parents sacrificed everything on our behalf. I’m incredibly grateful for that.”

DeMacedo was born in Cape Verde but moved with his family to Kingston before he was a year old. His experience growing up in Massachusetts was different from that of his oldest brother, who was a teenager when his family moved to the U.S.

“Kingston was a community of about 5,000 people, when my parents moved there,” Donaldo Macedo said. “Vinny’s friends came from homes that were conservative. You didn’t get the immigrant experience that you would in Brockton, for example.”

As a child, Vinny deMacedo attended Sunday Catholic Mass with his mother. Later, he and another older brother, Olly deMacedo, joined a born-again Baptist church. Religions come with rules, but those rules never hampered deMacedo’s ability to understand the shades of gray.

“His posture, his moderance, his coherence will not allow him to be blindly locked into group-think that leaves him without independence of thought,” Macedo said.

Vinny DeMacedo, now a member of the Massachusetts Portuguese-American Caucus, made it a point as an adult to expose himself to the culture that he had left behind when his family came to the U.S.

Sen. Michael Rodrigues, D-Westport, also a member of the caucus, remembered traveling with deMacedo to Cape Verde to visit deMacedo’s family home.

“To see how proud and humbled he was to see the home. To see where his family came from,” Rodrigues said. “His family (history) tells a good story about what we’re about in America.”

Asked how he and his brother get along so well, Vinny deMacedo laughs.

“The reason that we have such a tight family is because we don’t talk politics at the table,” he said.

DeMacedo has voted against same-sex civil unions and has consistently opposed measures to increase taxes and governmental power.

Still, deMacedo says he sees himself in his liberal brother.

“I look at my brother, the things that he’s been able to accomplish,” deMacedo said, sitting in his office, which features a prominent portrait of him sitting with his wife and three children. “He’s got such a heart for people. I think in many ways I have the same attitude, but just from a different perspective. It’s a different philosophy, but the heart is the same.”

Family also led deMacedo into a business that has kept him accessible to his constituents. After graduating from New York’s King’s College in 1987 with a degree in business administration, he helped brother Olly run his car dealerships before buying a gas station from him in 1991. It was from here that he laid the foundation for his future political career.

“It was a full-service station, so I was outside talking to people and building relationships. When I first got elected, I received 70 percent of the vote in my part of town. I don’t think people were looking at me as a Republican or a Democrat. I was Vinny, the local guy at the gas station who was one of us,” deMacedo said.

DeMacedo has worked hard to maintain that reputation.

“I remember one person saying that they worried I would go (to the State House) and change. I hope that looking back 15 years later, people can say that I didn’t change,” deMacedo said.

Rodrigues said that in politics, as in business, it is all about relationships.

“It’s a level of trust and comfort doing business with people. Vinny knows that,” Rodrigues said.

That interpersonal skill allows deMacedo to advocate for his party and constituents.

“People know where I’m coming from as a member of the minority party,” said deMacedo. “But I don’t diminish the importance of my job as a legislator representing my town.”

Crossing traditional party lines is an unavoidable part of that job in Massachusetts. He feels that he is seen as a moderate Republican, nothing like the far-right politicians that have dominated national headlines.

“I represent everyone, if you are Republican or Democrat. That doesn’t matter to me,” said deMacedo. “My job is working with constituents to help them through the maze of state government.”

The ability to see shades of gray instead of black and white is why his brother believes in him in spite of their political differences.

“Vinny still believes that you can make changes, he still believes that democracy works, he still believes in the greater good of society,” said Macedo.

Commercial fishermen fight striped bass bill

Monday, November 25th, 2013

By Gina Curreri, State House Correspondent, the Cape Cod Times,

BOSTON – The continuing war over striped bass has entered a new battle on Beacon Hill with a renewed effort to eventually make the lucrative catch off limits for commercial fishermen.

A bill filed by Rep. Walter Timilty, D-Milton, would limit commercial licenses to fishermen who could demonstrate they’ve caught and sold more than 1,000 pounds of striped bass annually over the last five years on record.

Fishermen who meet that standard would be allowed to keep their striped bass licenses until 2025, when commercial licenses for the fish would no longer be issued.

A group of some 10 concerned Cape and Island commercial fishermen, clad in fishing caps and sweatshirts, joined with Rep. Sarah Peake, D-Provincetown, on Wednesday to oppose the bill before the Joint Committee on Environment, Natural Resources and Agriculture.

“Let’s make no mistake about it. This bill exterminates the commercial fishery by 2025,” said Darren Saletta, a Chatham resident and founder of the Massachusetts Commercial Striped Bass Association.

Saletta and his group were pitted against members of Stripers Forever, a nonprofit group with a mission of conserving striped bass. The group unsuccessfully pushed for a commercial ban in 2010. Maine, Connecticut and New Hampshire ban commercial fishing of striped bass.

“We do not seek through this bill to further the economic harm that legitimate (commercial) fishermen are currently facing, but we want to get rid of people who sell a few striped bass to pay for the cost of their gas, bait and tackle,” Mike Spinney, a Stripers Forever policy coordinator, told the committee.

Under the bill, commercial fishermen who can demonstrate a legitimate reason for failing to reach the required 1,000 pounds could seek hardship relief from the state Division of Marine Fisheries.

Fishermen would not be allowed to renew a commercial license after two consecutive years of failing to land the required amount.

Proponents say the goal is to protect and conserve the species while allowing commercial fishermen to make a living off striped bass.

According to data from the state Department of Marine Fisheries, about 1,200 of the 4,000 striped bass permit holders report selling at least one fish annually.
Saletta said almost all fishermen obtain permits for many fish species as a precaution for the upcoming season.

“I check off several endorsements that I don’t necessarily catch fish on each year. I don’t know if it will be more profitable to fish for a different fish. That’s why you see all these inactive permits,” Saletta said.

William Killen, a Falmouth commercial fisherman for more than 40 years, said he fishes with two other men who have striped bass licenses even though he does all the reporting.

“They don’t want to be in a position where they can’t get a permit later on in life,” Killen said.

Killen said potential overfishing is an issue to be taken up with the state Department of Marine Fisheries, not the Legislature.

“They’ve (the department) done a tremendous job and they will continue to do so, and they’ll make decisions probably with a scalpel, not with a machete,” Killen said.

The department shut down the commercial striped bass fishery on Aug. 7 until the season opens in 2014 because the quota of about one million pounds was met.

Question about the survival of the species is driving the debate. An Oct. 31 benchmark assessment from the Atlantic State Marine Fisheries Commission reported that Atlantic striped bass are not being overfished. The probability that female striped bass will be overfished increases through 2016, but declines after that.

“Does that mean everything is all rosy with the striped bass? Not necessarily, but eliminating the commercial catch isn’t going to do anything to help the rebound,” Peake told the committee, citing problems with a decrease in herring and menhaden, which striped bass eat.

“I’ve been to 24 (Atlantic States Marine Fisheries Commission) meetings, and not once has a person from Stripers Forever been there to speak up in support of conservation measures for the herring or the menhaden,” Peake said. “I respectfully question their motives in filing these bills.”

Peake also testified on Wednesday for her bill that would allow coastal communities to charge differential mooring fees for residents and nonresidents.

“In essence, this bill would allow communities to charge less for residents than nonresidents. Nonresidents don’t pay their excise tax to that home port community,” Peake said.

Her bill would reverse a 2004 state law that banned different mooring fees on the basis of residence.

The committee is reviewing and expected to report on this and 20 other bills, six of which address the conservation and tagging of striped bass.


Lawmakers work to move STEM to STEAM in schools

Tuesday, November 5th, 2013

By Gina Curreri, State House correspondent, the Cape Cod Times

 

Lawmakers are looking to add arts education to the state’s STEM curriculum, arguing that artistic values and creativity also are required to excel in the innovation economy.

“I think many times art teachers feel sort of pushed aside,” said Rep. Sarah Peake, D-Provincetown, who is co-sponsoring a bill with Rep. Kay Khan, D-Newton, to add an “A” for arts to STEM — the acronym for the national imperative to prepare students with a curriculum stressing science, technology, engineering and math education.

“If art becomes part of the STEM framework, a greater priority and focus has to be put on all the creative arts across the board, whether it’s painting, theater or creative writing,” she said.

The bill would create a commission to study the possible curriculum change.

The Joint Committee on Education is reviewing Peake’s bill.

Dan Springer, the visual arts department chairman at Dennis-Yarmouth Regional High School, supports the STEM to STEAM movement. He said Dennis-Yarmouth administrators already have begun to create a curriculum where course material would be taught across disciplines.

“We’re actively trying to find a way to do it and obviously having the support of the Legislature would make this a lot easier,” Springer said. “We’re hoping to sit down and really work on some links with initially math and science and eventually history and English.”

A science lecture on balance and fulcrums could be taught alongside an art course where students build their own sculptures that balance on a fulcrum, Springer said.

“Because we’re a very interdisciplinary school in general with a big art and especially music program, I don’t anticipate a lot of protest. It’s really just about coordinating,” he said.

Jody Craven, who teaches jewelry and metals classes at Nauset Regional High School in North Eastham, said his students have crafted perfume bottles, necklaces, hammers, pins and key rings, learning to cast, weld, solder and oxidize metals — techniques that require linking their math and science knowledge to art.

“Some people might say jewelry making is not relevant to a student’s education, but what they get is problem-solving skills they couldn’t learn in a math course alone. It teaches them how to make a transfer from theoretical problems to actual real-world problems,” Craven said.

Arts education isn’t required of students at Barnstable High School, but Carl Lopes, the school’s visual arts director, said a STEM-to-STEAM program would require adjustments to the curriculum but would be financially feasible.

“I don’t see much of an added cost because all of the schools on the Cape already incorporate art into the curriculum in some way and know that’s important,” said Lopes, a member of the Cape Cod and Islands Art Educators Association. “We have some great programs. It’s just a mecca for the arts out here, and our schools back that Cape arts and tourism culture.”

In 2001, Barnstable laid off 52 school employees, Lopes said Barnstable is lucky the cuts are always across the board, and not only in the arts department, “which happens, unfortunately, a lot of other places.”

Lopes said a majority of the public educational system is stuck in a mind-set that shuns the arts despite the influx of image-driven media, innovation and design jobs that are available today.

“We don’t know what jobs students in kindergarten now will have years from now, but once you learn to think creatively, you can apply that to any subject matter,” he said.

Tourism officials on the stump

Thursday, October 10th, 2013

By Carol Kozma, State House correspondent

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State Rep. Cory Atkins, D-Concord, chairwoman of the House Committee on Tourism, Arts and Cultural Development, looks at items with Diane Burnette, director of the Johnny Appleseed Visitor Information Center, during a coffee stop at the visitor center on Route 2 in Lancaster Friday. SENTINEL & ENTERPRISE / BRETT CRAWFORD

State lawmakers traveled through three local tourism districts Friday, meeting with business owners to learn about the tourism industry’s needs.

The Joint Committee on Tourism, Arts and Cultural Development organized the tour, “so we can see how their businesses are, what their challenges are, what is working and what is not working,” said committee chairwoman state Rep. Cory Atkins, a Democrat from Concord.

Lawmakers visited the Johnny Appleseed, Franklin County and Mohawk Trail tourism councils.

Issues ranged from a need for better water infrastructure to encourage and speed development, to a need for more marketing of tourist attractions.

“We will try to do our best to address those issues when we come back to the Statehouse,” Atkins said.

 

State Rep. Chris Walsh, left, talks with state Rep. Stephen DiNatale as David McKeehan, center, president of the North Central Massachusetts Chamber of Commerce, chats with Suzanne Farias, general manager of the DoubleTree Hotel in Leominster and chairman of the Johnny Appleseed Trail Association Board.

The day began with a public hearing in Turner Falls where David McKeehan, president of the North Central Massachusetts Chamber of Commerce, compared the $11 million the Massachusetts tourism office has to spend to New York’s $60 million budget. McKeehan said New Jersey spends $25 million on tourism and Connecticut budgets $27 million to fund the tourism industry.

“We have a very efficient and attractive state in terms of tourism, but we could use additional resources,” McKeehan said in a telephone interview.

McKeehan said he also hoped to connect local businesses along Route 2 with the tourism industry.

“Obviously, we have to be as effective with the dollars we get as we can be,” he said.

Although Atkins said the Massachusetts spends closer to $13 million on tourism, she agreed the state will have to increase funds to the tourism-and-arts sector — the third-largest industry in the state.

“Every dollar we invest in it, we get $40 back,” Atkins said.

Suzanne Farias, general manager of the DoubleTree Hotel in Leominster, and board chairwoman of the Johnny Appleseed Trail, said a Howard Johnson hotel along Route 2 was turned into the Johnny Appleseed Visitor Center 16 years ago, and 165,000 people come through the building every year.

“At least we have planted that seed. There is so much displayed in the visitor center, mostly produced by our area,” Farias said in a telephone interview. “What we are doing, is giving them (commuters) a reason to get off the highway.”

Farias told lawmakers she wants to market the tourism industry to traveling sports teams who spend more than one day in the area, and hopes lawmakers will think of the tourism industry when discussing the budget.

“When it comes to the budget, spending some money to make some money is very important here,” Farias said.

Al Rose who owns Red Apple Farm in Phillipston with his wife, Nancy, employing more than 100 people, said that there is a growing awareness of the region as a destination stop.

Rose said he was happy lawmakers came to support the tourism industry.

“This is a part of Massachusetts that often gets missed because of the highway and the other attractions,” Rose said in a telephone interview. “It’s comforting to know we are all in this together.”

New bill targets underage pot smokers

Friday, October 4th, 2013

By Gina Curreri, State House correspondent, Cape Cod Times

pot

BOSTON – Anyone under 21 caught with an ounce or less of marijuana would face immediate arrest, 90-day driver’s license suspension, drug rehabilitation and probation under a proposed change in state law.

On Tuesday, sponsors of bill S923 before the Legislature told the Joint Committee on Mental Health and Substance Abuse at the Statehouse that for those under 21, smoking pot should be considered as serious as drinking alcohol.

“What we’re trying to do is create a parallel system for marijuana,” said Sen. Bruce Tarr, R-Gloucester, one of the bill’s sponsors. “We are perilously close to a situation where young folks don’t understand the adverse consequences of use of this substance.”

Rep. Randy Hunt, R-Sandwich, serves on the committee but had no questions or input at the hearing. He could not be reached by phone for comment Tuesday afternoon.

A 2008 state referendum decriminalized possession of an ounce or less of marijuana making it a civil crime with a fine of $100.

Anyone under 18 caught with a small amount of marijuana is supposed to enter a drug awareness program and do community service, but that doesn’t always happen, Walpole Deputy Police Chief John Carmichael told the committee.

“No adolescents in my history have gone through that program for drug awareness,” Carmichael said. He believes teens know they don’t have to carry identification and can lie to police about their name when receiving a citation.

Carmichael noted that a person under 21 could be arrested for possessing a single beer but would walk free with the equivalent of less than an ounce of pot in his or her pocket.

Under the proposed bill, minors would be offered pretrial diversion to mandatory substance abuse treatment, which not all courts offer, or they would be charged with a crime that will be sealed upon successful completion of probation.

“We know that initiation to substance abuse begins typically between ages 11 to 22, and the earlier the age of onset, the more likely that individual might experience drug problems later on in life,” Carmichael said.

Mary Minott, coordinator of a substance abuse prevention program in Brookline, testified that decriminalization of pot has “really taken the teeth out of any sort of diversion program,” because kids are not penalized for avoiding treatment.

Smoking marijuana under the age of 25 is problematic because the brain develops throughout adolescence and into early adulthood, said Lon Sherritt, director of data management at the Children’s Hospital Center for Adolescent Substance Abuse Research in Boston.

Sherritt explained that tetrahydrocannabinol, or THC, the active ingredient in marijuana, mimics the naturally occurring neurotransmitters in the brain that affect working memory, decision-making, judgment and brain connections.

“This bill could sincerely help Massachusetts protect our most precious resource, which is, of course, our youth,” Sherritt said.

Although nobody testified against the bill on Tuesday, some urged that treatment is the better route, rather than taking teens to court.

“We’re talking about something that’s more of a medical issue, and we’re treating it with the criminal justice system. I worry about the direction we’re going with this, not the intent,” said Rep. Paul Heroux, D-Attleboro.

Beverly resident Paul Kusiak, who put two sons through drug rehabilitation, wants parents and children to be more informed.

“A lot of parents feel that drinking alcohol, smoking pot, is not a big deal and a rite of passage,” Kusiak said. “I’m here to share that not everyone gets through it. My kids certainly didn’t.”

DiNatale files bill for food labels

Tuesday, October 1st, 2013

By Carol Kozma, State House correspondent, Sentinel & Enterprise

When Sheila Lumi asked farmers what they thought of genetically modified organisms at the Fitchburg Farmers Market, she discovered that, like herself, they knew very little about the subject.

“A lot of people heard about GMOs,” said Lumi, who manages the farmers market, during a phone interview. “They know what it stands for and that, you know, the food is being genetically altered, but not enough to talk about it.”

Legislation that would require the food industry to label genetically modified products have sprouted in many states, including Massachusetts.

State Rep. Stephen DiNatale, D-Fitchburg, filed one of five bills on the issue. He said people will need to learn more on the subject before any bill passes.

“GMOs have been around for quite a while,” DiNatale said. “(But) I don’t think people know what GMOs are.”

DiNatale sees benefits in GMOs, which were developed to resolve famine issues by producing drought- or disease-resistant crops. But he is also aware of controversial studies that claim GMOs may be harmful.

His solution is to require producers to label foods that are genetically modified.

“I am not so concerned about coming down on one side or another, whether (a GMO) is beneficial or harmful,” DiNatale said. “Until the science is worked out, I think we should at the very least provide that knowledge to the consumer.”

DiNatale said the fact that he has not been contacted by any opposition means there is more work ahead. Both constituents and legislators have little understanding of what GMOs are, and he expects big corporations might oppose the bill because of the costs of labeling.

Calls to Monsanto, an international company that develops genetically modified agricultural products to support farmers, went unanswered. The company opposes GMO labeling, according to its website:

“We oppose mandatory labeling of food and ingredients developed from GM seeds in the absence of any demonstrated risks, as it could be interpreted as a warning or imply that food products containing these ingredients are somehow inferior to their conventional or organic counterpart.”

Twenty-eight other states saw a total of 95 GMO-related bills filed in 2013, said Doug Farquhar, director of the Environmental Health Program of the National Conference of State Legislatures, which provides research to legislatures around the country.

“We saw a little explosion of GMO labeling (bills),” he said.

Connecticut is the only state to have passed a labeling law; however, four other states including a bordering state must also pass a labeling law before it takes effect.

Lumi, the Fitchburg market manager, said although she does not necessarily oppose GMOs, she prefers natural foods until she understands how GMOs might affect people.

“I don’t want to feel like I am part of a science experiment,” she said. “It’s like, let’s eat and see what happens 10 years from now.”

Taxing Tobacco Now a National Addiction

Monday, August 26th, 2013

By Emily O’Donnell and Allison Thomasseau

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It seems one of the few things the Legislature and Gov. Deval Patrick could agree on in the debate over the state’s 2014 fiscal year budget was the dollar-a-pack increase in the tobacco tax – the fifth time the tax has been increased since 1992.

Beacon Hill isn’t the only place where politicians agree on tobacco levies. Forty-seven states have raised cigarette taxes a combined 105 times since 2002. Only California, Missouri and North Dakota have avoided the temptation, according to the Campaign for Tobacco Free Kids.

Raising tobacco taxes is an easy political choice: there is little opposition and plenty of support. But as Massachusetts grows more dependent on tobacco revenues now approaching $1 billion a year, the use of a sin tax to balance the books raises questions about who pays, where the money goes and how long it will last.
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Tax Addiction-States Becoming More Dependent on Tobacco Levies

Monday, August 26th, 2013

By Cole Chapman and Brooke Singman

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Massachusetts lawmakers’ growing reliance on tobacco taxes to help balance the state budget is part of a national trend that has grown with each flutter of the country’s economy.

“To some extent you could say states became addicted to tobacco revenue,” said Scott Harshbarger, the former Massachusetts attorney general who helped negotiate the 1998 Tobacco Master Settlement Agreement that brings Massachusetts an average $250 million until 2025.

Cigarette tax revenues, along with the settlement money, brought in about $815 million last year, according to the Department of Revenue. That figure is expected to rise another estimated $165 million – for a total of $980 million – under the dollar-per-pack increase passed in this year’s legislative session.
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Who Smokes and Who Pays?

Monday, August 26th, 2013

By Deedee Sun and Lindsey Reese

chart 1 recent trend

As smoking rates among Massachusetts citizens fell from 28 percent to 14 percent between 1986 to 2010, the cost of tobacco taxes has been borne more by a group least able to afford it.

According to research and polls, the poor and the less educated smoke at a higher rate than those with higher incomes and more schooling. As a result Massachusetts’ ever increasing tobacco tax has become increasingly regressive.

“You’re really asking people who are already at the lower end in terms of wealth to be shouldering an additional burden of taxes to fund projects that really should be funded by the government,” said Dr. Michael Siegel of Boston University’s School of Public Health.

A 2008 Gallup poll of more than 75,000 individuals across the nation found that smoking rates rise as income drops. Those at the bottom fifth of the income bracket are more than twice more likely to smoke than those in the top fifth.
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State issues marijuana guidelines

Sunday, March 31st, 2013

March 31, 2013 By Emily O’Donnell, The Sun Chronicle

BOSTON – The state Department of Public Health issued 45 pages of draft regulations on Friday establishing rules for the sale and use of medical marijuana, including a proposed list of maladies and a 10-ounce limit on legal possession of the drug.

The regulations would allow patients with a “debilitating medical condition” to receive a 60-day supply of marijuana, and encouraged patients to send a caregiver to pick up the supply if necessary in lieu of growing pot at home.

The list of conditions include HIV/AIDS, hepatitis C, ALS, Crohn’s disease, cancer, glaucoma, Parkinson’s disease or multiple sclerosis, but would allow for additional ailments based on input from doctors and patients. The draft regulations allow a qualified patient up to 10 ounces for personal use. In states such as California, patients are allowed up to 8 ounces; in Washington the limit is 24 ounces.

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