EVENING BRIEFS: NO BUDGING ON UMASS | SECURING AGAINST HATE | PATS WRITE LETTERS
5/23/19 6:36 PM
- UMASS OBJECTIONS TO TUITION FREEZE FALL FLAT IN SENATE
- SENATE BACKS BIG INCREASE FOR NON-PROFIT SECURITY
- PATRIOTS PLAYERS URGE ACTION ON ED $$$ BY AUGUST
- TEEN DATING VIOLENCE PREVENTION GETS BOOST FROM SENATE TO $1MIL
UMASS OBJECTIONS TO TUITION FREEZE FALL FLAT IN SENATE
Throughout three days of budget debate, the Senate has decided to stand by language prohibiting student cost increases at the University of Massachusetts, with the outcome to ultimately be settled in talks with the House. Both branches funded the five-campus system at $558 million, about $10 million shy of the level UMass officials say they need to freeze in-state undergraduate tuition next year. The Senate, however, rolled out a budget precluding tuition or fee increases for in-state undergraduates next year. That language will remain unchanged in the Senate's final budget. "I think the Senate has said what it's going to say on UMass, and we'll take it into conference," Senate Ways and Means Chairman Michael Rodrigues told the News Service. UMass President Marty Meehan has said the Senate's freeze language would force millions of dollars in cuts at the Amherst, Boston, Dartmouth and Lowell campuses. Sen. Jo Comerford, a Northampton Democrat whose district includes UMass Amherst, said she understands "the complexity of this issue." "What I keep saying to my colleagues is that I couldn't be prouder to represent UMass Amherst," Comerford told the News Service. "UMass has 8,300 jobs in my district, it's one of our major regional employers, it drives our economy and I'm excited to work with my Senate colleagues going forward on strengthening our relationship with UMass." Comerford filed and withdrew an amendment that would have increased funding for UMass and state colleges and universities by a combined $62 million. The amendment represents the first year of implementation of a broader public higher education funding bill that Comerford said was "the first bill I pushed send on in my career." Comerford said filing the amendment and discussing it on the floor gave her an opportunity to bring awareness to public higher education funding. - Katie Lannan/SHNS
SENATE BACKS BIG INCREASE FOR NON-PROFIT SECURITY
The Senate voted unanimously Thursday to direct $600,000 towards a state grant program that helps religious and nonprofit facilities "at risk of terrorism and violent threat" improve their security. All 40 senators went on record supporting the grant funding that nonprofits like churches, synagogues, mosques, community centers and more can use to pay for security upgrades like video cameras, remote entry systems, stronger doors and shatterproof glass. The state provided $75,000 for such grants in the fiscal year 2018 budget and then expanded that amount to $150,000 last year. The amendment adopted Thursday would direct $600,000 to the grant program. "The debate and unanimous vote from the Senate is a clarion call to action across the Commonwealth," Aaron Agulnek, director of government affairs for the Jewish Community Relations Council of Greater Boston, said. "Our houses of worship, community centers and infrastructure must be safe, secure and open. This funding is a strong step towards that goal, but we must do more to challenge the motivation for all forms of hatred. Education and respect, not fortification, is our ultimate hope." The number of hate crimes -- including crimes motivated by race, religion, ethnicity and more -- reported to the state increased by almost 10 percent to a 10-year high in 2017. Though the issue is not exclusive to any single religion, the Anti-Defamation League said last month that 2018 was "the second highest year for anti-Semitic incidents in Massachusetts on record," with 2018 ranking second only to 2017. The Senate's unanimous vote came after six senators spoke on the floor about the threats and hatred their communities have endured. Senate Minority Leader Bruce Tarr, a member of the Senate since 1995, said he has "never been prouder" of the Senate than he was hearing senators talk about the amendment. "Hate lives in darkness, it thrives on concealment and it preys on fear. Do you know what happened here? People brought the reality of the threat we are faced with right into the daylight and said, 'Here is it and we are going to stand up to it.' That is something to be incredibly proud of," Tarr said. "We owe a debt of gratitude to our colleagues who brought forth the amendment and shared their passion and gave us the opportunity to do what it right." - Colin A. Young/SHNS
PATRIOTS PLAYERS URGE ACTION ON ED $$$ BY AUGUST
A group of New England Patriots players who have been advocating for education funding reform in Massachusetts urged state lawmakers on Thursday to move a bill out of committee next month and pass it into law before they take their summer break in August. Defensive captain Devin McCourty, cornerback Jason McCourty and safety Duron Harmon last week took lawmakers on a tour of a Lynn elementary school. On Thursday, they wrote to members of the Education Committee, with support from special teams captain Matthew Slater, outlining their takeaways and asking for quick action. "Please do not delay this opportunity for our poorest students to see their full measure of justice and opportunity," wrote the trio, all members of the nonprofit Players Coalition. Several proposals before the Education Committee seek to rewrite the state's school funding formula to better account for the major cost drivers of employee health care, special education, and teaching English language learners and low-income students. Senate Chair Jason Lewis told the News Service last week the committee is aiming to report out a bill in June. The players suggested a blended approach, recommending the committee develop a bill that includes full implementation of all five recommendations made by the Foundation Budget Review Commission in 2015 "as outlined in the PROMISE ACT," filed by Sen. Sonia Chang-Diaz, along with a "5 year implementation schedule has proposed in House Bill 576," filed by Rep. Paul Tucker. That timeline must include "100% funding for low-income students to place them on an equal playing field," the letter said. "We must not reduce investments in poor children in the name of expediency," the letter said. "Additionally, the bill should require all of the rates be introduced at the same pace – meaning that no students are told, yet again, to wait." - Katie Lannan/SHNS
TEEN DATING VIOLENCE PREVENTION GETS BOOST FROM SENATE TO $1MIL
After rejecting a Republican sponsored amendment to boost funding for teen dating violence prevention, the Senate on Wednesday night adopted a similar amendment filed by Sen. Becca Rausch to make $1 million available next year to promote healthy youth relationships. The Rausch amendment increased funding for the program from $150,000 to $1 million in the fiscal 2020 budget bill being debated this week. That total exceeds the $650,000 appropriated by the House in its version of next year's budget. The amendment passed on a unanimous roll call vote. Hours earlier, Sen. Diana DiZoglio had withdrawn a similar amendment, and Republican Sen. Dean Tran's proposal to also increase funding to $1 million was rejected. The amendment directed the Department of Public Health to partner with domestic violence and sexual assault service providers to develop evidence-based prevention strategies. Funding from the program would be prioritized for schools and communities where the majority of students are eligible for free or reduced lunch, and at least one program must be established in a municipality with a population of 25,000 or less. The votes took place on the same day Gov. Charlie Baker rolled out a new social media public awareness campaign targeting youth to promote healthy relationships. - Matt Murphy/SHNS
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