Rep. Ultrino, Legislature Approve Major Public Record Reform

BOSTON – Representative Steve Ultrino (D-Malden) joined his colleagues in the Massachusetts House of Representatives to pass the first major overhaul of the state’s public records law in over 40 years.

Last year, Representative Ultrino provided testimony in support of the public records bill, which he also co-sponsored, to the Joint Committee on State Administration and Regulatory Oversight. The final legislation was approved this week by both the House and the Senate.

This bill include updates on the fees and costs that government agencies can charge for public records that are requested as well as allowing municipalities to adjust the timeframe for them to produce the records. In addition to this, records access officers are allowed 15 days after the initial request to produce any of the records that were requested to the agency. The bill also gives courts the power to award reasonable punitive damages to people who were wrongly denied access to any public records.

“This new law reaffirms our belief that transparency and good government are fundamental parts of our democracy, and that our public records law should meet the needs of the 21st century,” said Representative Steve Ultrino. “The Internet Age has created more opportunities for citizens to interact with their government, and this law will ensure that governments are stepping up to the challenge.”

Rep. Ultrino Hosts Event to Promote Senior Housing Stability

MALDEN – Representative Steve Ultrino (D-Malden) joined community organizations and providers in hosting a forum addressing senior housing and homelessness concerns and sharing resources for Malden’s seniors.

“Many of Malden’s seniors have lived in our community for decades, while others are just getting to know our city,” said Representative Ultrino. “These people are our friends and neighbors, and they deserve services that fit their needs and allow them to continue to live with dignity.”

Representative Ultrino emphasized that helping seniors is a major priority for him in the legislature, citing his work on the recent FY17 House budget, as well as his service on the Legislature’s Joint Committees on Elder Affairs, Public Health, and Health Care Financing. He also is a member of the board of Monsignor Neagle, a low-income housing complex also in Malden.

The event, Building Elder Housing Stability, was held at the Malden Senior Center, where Malden seniors came to listen and ask questions to a panel which included Representative Steve Ultrino and representatives from organizations such as Action for Boston Community Development (ABCD), the Malden Housing Authority, Boston Medical Center, Mystic Valley Elder Services, and Mass Senior Action Council. The panel discussed issues surrounding senior mental health, homelessness, rising health care and prescription drug costs, and securing permanent housing.

The panel brought awareness to various resources that their organizations provide in regards to these issues. They also highlighted areas of improvement and ways in which providers and policymakers could better serve this growing population.

“With the expected rapid increase of the senior population in Massachusetts, it is important that we start to invest more in homecare and finding ways to help seniors now,” said Representative Steve Ultrino. “Mental health and housing costs both contribute to the growing elderly homeless population. We need to tackle both and provide the necessary resources in order better serve our seniors.”

 

Ultrino Joins Colleagues to Pass Bill Enhancing Support for Veterans and their Families

BOSTON – Representative Steve Ultrino (D – Malden) joined his colleagues in the Massachusetts House of Representatives in voting for recently passed veterans legislation with an emphasis on housing and long-term support.

The bill establishes the Office of State Veterans’ Homes and Housing which will advise the Department of Veterans’ Services and provide oversight for the Commonwealth’s two soldiers’ homes in Chelsea and Holyoke. It creates an Executive Director position to head the new office. The Executive Director will focus on long-term care and will be responsible for the coordinated implementation and enforcement of laws, regulations and policies.

“I am immensely proud and humbled that Massachusetts ranks first in the nation when it comes to military-benefit programs and services,” House Speaker Robert A. DeLeo (D-Winthrop) said. “It’s so important that we provide comprehensive services for military personnel both while they are on active duty and when they return home. The House recognizes the unique contributions that veterans can make to the economy and the fabric of our society and we want to support that in every way possible”

“Our veterans and active service members give so much to our community and to our nation, but too often they don’t receive the support they need once they return home,” said Representative Ultrino (D – Malden). “This legislation reaffirms Massachusetts’ place as first in the nation in veterans services, and makes real progress in our efforts to better serve our service members and veterans.”

Understanding the sacrifice that military personnel and their families make not only while on active duty, but also after returning home, the Massachusetts House has consistently provided a continuum of employment, health care, educational and housing support. Correspondingly, this bill increases access to housing authorities for disabled, elderly and potentially unemployable veterans through two provisions. It also updates existing law so that “Veterans Status” is a clearly protected employment category. Currently only active duty personnel are covered.

In addition:

  • Currently only children of Vietnam Era prisoners of war (POWs) are eligible for the Public Service Scholarship. This legislation would extend eligibility to all children of POWs;

  • To accurately reflect the realities of present-day military training, paid public-service leave would now apply to uniformed service officers under this legislation;

  • Extends a total property tax-exemption to service-connected blind veterans who have a 100% disability rating;

  • Fully abates any property taxes due by a surviving spouse following the death or MIA status of a soldier, sailor or member of the National Guard;

  • Extends the Veterans’ Long-term Care Commission and reworks the Post-Deployment Council, both of which were created through the 2014 VALOR Act and focus on housing and support services for veterans transitioning from active duty to civilian life.

The bill now goes to the Senate.

House Passes FY17 Budget

BOSTON – Representative Steve Ultrino (D-Malden) joined his colleagues in the Massachusetts House of Representatives to pass its FY17 budget which aims to provide opportunities for all residents through investments in multiple areas including local aid, enhanced support for early education and care (EEC), and programs to help those battling addiction and homelessness.

The spending bill, approximately $39.5 billion, highlights the House’s ongoing commitment to balancing fiscal prudence with targeted social service investments, a practice that has resulted in Massachusetts retaining its AA+ bond rating, the highest in the state’s history. The budget includes no new taxes or fees and reduces the Commonwealth’s reliance on one-time revenue sources. For the second year in a row, it does not withdraw any funds from the stabilization fund.

 “Through fiscal responsibility and thoughtful, forward-looking investments this budget supports citizens of all backgrounds, particularly the most vulnerable among us,” said House Speaker Robert A. DeLeo (D-Winthrop). “I am particularly proud of our investments in early education and care, elder affairs and substance addiction programs. I thank Chairman Dempsey, the House Ways & Means Committee and the members of the House for their outstanding work on this budget.”

“In another difficult budget year, we were able to make some key investments that will resonate in Malden and throughout the Commonwealth,” said Representative Steve Ultrino.

In addition to success with several of Representative Ultrino’s budget amendments, a full 48 of Representative Ultrino’s co-sponsored amendments were implemented in part or in full after this year’s budget debate, including amendments dealing with education, health care, homelessness, senior care, and more.

The budget extends the House’s longstanding reputation as a champion of municipalities. With increases in both local education funding and Unrestricted General Government Aid (UGGA), this budget raises local aid by $159 million from FY16. It provides $55 in per-pupil-aid, more than doubling last year’s expenditure, and fully funds Special Education Circuit Breaker.

Representative Ultrino also led the push in the House for full funded of the charter school reimbursement line item, a major source of aid to cities like Malden that has been chronically underfunded. Although funding traditionally falls short, this year’s efforts garnered historic support and attention from key organizations and more than fifty state representatives who signed on to the amendment.

“Representative Ultrino’s charter school reimbursement amendment was a key priority for the Massachusetts Association of School Committees,” said MASC Executive Director Glenn Koocher. “Representative Ultrino’s leadership on this issue has really strengthened our coalition, and I look forward to continuing to work with him as we strive for more funding for our cities and their schools.”

Recognizing the immense impact that high-quality EEC has on the lives of our residents – both children and adults – the budget makes targeted investments to support the EEC workforce while expanding access to high-quality programming. EEC investments include a $15 million rate reserve, continued support for expanding pre-kindergarten opportunities, and $2M to ensure access to quality EEC programming.

The budget also provides $18.6 million for Kindergarten Expansion Grants.

For the fifth year in a row, this budget increases funding for community colleges, state universities and UMass. It also provides:

-       $96.6 million for a state scholarship program which benefits Massachusetts residents attending both private and public colleges;

-       $4.75 million for the STEM Starter Academy, a House-created initiative for community college students which has shown notable early success;

-       $1.7 million to support inclusive higher education learning opportunities for students with disabilities between the ages of 18 and 22 years.

Recognizing that education and economic development are intrinsically paired, the budget enhances the House’s focus on bolstering job opportunities for residents of all skillsets in diverse regions of the Commonwealth through programs including:

-       Invests $2 million in the Big Data Innovation and Workforce Fund, to promote the big data and analytics industries, provide tools for related career development and explore how analytics can help address problems of public concern;

-       MassCAN: $1.7 million to establish and enhance widespread, progressive computer science curriculum in public school through a public-private matching program;

-       Provides $2 million for technical grants for small business;

-       Provides $3 million in grants for an urban competitive grant program;

-       Talent Pipeline: $1.5 million to encourage young innovators to get a head start on their futures by matching stipends for interns at innovation start-ups, and to provide mentoring opportunities for new entrepreneurs;

-       Continues to fund the Massachusetts Manufacturing Partnership, a program that continues to show results in closing the skills gap, and provides $1.5 million for the precision manufacturing workforce development fund.

Since FY12, the Legislature has increased funding for substance addiction services by more than 65% and passed two landmark bills to help address this public health epidemic. This year’s budget makes notable investments for behavioral health, including new funding of more than $28 million for the Bureau of Substance Addiction Services and $13 million for the Department of Mental Health. These investments include:

-       $2 million for 46 new transitional support services beds, boosting the state’s capacity by more than 13 percent;

-       $2 million for new supportive case management services that will benefit 500 families;

-       Funding for 45 substance addiction treatment beds at Taunton State Hospital;

-       $1.5 million to expand district attorney trafficking and heroin diversion programs;

-       A $3 million pilot for Medication Assisted Therapy in emergency rooms.

In additional to behavioral health and substance addiction initiatives, the House’s budget features numerous provisions to support Massachusetts’ most vulnerable citizens including: 

-       Increases the Department of Children & Families’ budget by more than $23 million. A portion of this funding will support new and recently hired employees;

-       Increases the Department of Developmental Services’ budget by $45 million;

-       Boosts funding for Family Respite Services to assist an addition 3,000;

-       Provides more than $30 million for domestic violence and sexual assault prevention and treatment programs;

-       Increases the Councils on Aging formula grant to $10 per individual, per year.

The House has a longstanding history of enacting effective programs to combat homelessness. As of March 31, 2016, Massachusetts’ shelter population fell below 4,000 for the first time since August of 2013; and the number of families in hotels and motels has dropped by more than 1,500. This year the House continues to enhance its efforts by:

-       Providing more than $155 million for the Emergency Assistance Family Shelter Program;

-       Since FY10 funding for the Massachusetts Rental Voucher Program (MRVP) has increased by more than 300%. This year MRVP is funded at $100 million which will result in 375 new vouchers;

-       Funding the HomeBASE program at $31.9 million.

MassHealth remains the largest expense in the Commonwealth’s budget. Notably, this legislation contains MassHealth spending growth to 5 percent from FY16 while maintaining member benefits and eligibility. It provides the Health Safety Net with a $15 million transfer and institutes a five-year Delivery System Reform Incentive Program to maximize federal funding as the state moves toward an accountable-care-organization model of health care delivery.

The budget will now go to the Senate.

House Approves $200 million for Local Infrastructure Needs

BOSTON – Representative Steve Ultrino (D – Malden) joined his colleagues in the House of Representatives to pass legislation that includes a $200 million bond authorization for Chapter 90 funding to help municipalities like Malden complete road, bridge and infrastructure improvement projects.            

“Chapter 90 funds are essential to providing stability and spurring economic growth in Massachusetts,” House Speaker Robert A. DeLeo said. “That growth starts on the local level. The funding in this bill and the House’s focus on transportation reform are resulting in sustainable, lasting changes.”

“Chapter 90 is an important source of local aid,” said Representative Brian S. Dempsey (D-Haverhill), Chair of the Joint Committee on Ways & Means. “The $200M in funding authorized by the House of Representatives will be delivered early in the construction season and allow many vital municipal road projects to move forward.  Today’s vote demonstrates the House’s commitment to the cities and town’s we represent and ensures they have the needed resources for safe, high-quality roads.”

“The Chapter 90 appropriation will allow the Commonwealth’s cities and towns the means to address the important road and bridge improvements necessary to serve the unique needs of each municipality,” said Representative William M. Straus (D- Mattapoisett), Chair of the Joint Committee on Transportation. “I am pleased to see it move forward.”

“This state funding provides support to cities like Malden trying to undertake vital infrastructure projects,” said Representative Ultrino. “In an era of tight budgets, every penny counts, and this money will fund some of the much-needed roadwork in our city.”

Ultrino, House Vote for Substance Addiction Legislation; Governor Signs into Law

BOSTON – Representative Steve Ultrino (D – Malden) joined his colleagues in the Massachusetts Legislature to pass substance addiction legislation that enhances intervention, prevention and education efforts, including the creation of a framework to evaluate and treat patients who present in emergency rooms with an apparent overdose. The bill was signed into law by Governor Charles Baker on Monday.

This new practice, which will be covered by insurance, is designed to ensure the proper assessment and discharge of patients who seek voluntary treatment. If a patient refuses treatment, information on health and community resources will be provided. This framework reflects the 2012 University of Miami Medical School findings that voluntary treatment is more effective and affordable than involuntary commitment.

“We are in the midst of a public health crisis that is draining vitality from our hometowns, extinguishing lives and stealing souls,” said House Speaker Robert A. DeLeo (D-Winthrop).  “Our focus on workable solutions, consensus-building and legislation that complements our budget investments has set a foundation for continual improvement. I wholeheartedly thank my colleagues for their creative, unassuming and compassionate commitment to paving a path for the recovery of thousands of our loved ones, and in fact, a path for our wounded Commonwealth.”

“The opioid crisis has reached epidemic levels across New England, particularly in Malden and its surrounding communities,” said Representative Ultrino. “This legislation is a major step forward in our battle against substance abuse, providing support to health care providers, public safety officials, and families struggling to overcome addiction.”

The bill limits first-time opiate prescriptions to seven days for adults and all opiate prescriptions for minors to seven days, with exceptions for chronic pain management, cancer, and palliative care. Practitioners must now check the prescription monitoring program (PMP) each time they prescribe any opiate and correspondingly note that in the patient’s medical records.

From its discussions with numerous stakeholders and recovery groups, the Legislature recognizes the importance of empowering individuals as they grapple with addiction. As a result, this bill establishes a non-opiate directive form, allowing patients to include a notation in their records that they shall not be offered opiates. It also provides the option of a “partial fill” which allows patients, in consultation with their doctor, to request a lesser amount than indicated on the script; however, this language is permissive and pharmacists may use their discretion.

In an effort to build upon current prevention efforts, the legislation updates current law - which requires all public schools to have a policy regarding substance abuse education - by directing schools to report their plans to the Department of Elementary and Secondary Education (DESE).  DESE will then consult with the Department of Public Health (DPH) to provide recommendations that will assist schools and ensure they are providing effective and up-to-date education. Additional education materials will be provided to all student-athletes. 

Schools will be required to conduct an annual verbal substance abuse screening in two grade levels. These screenings are subject to appropriation and include an opt-out provision for students and parents. Additionally, school districts implementing alternative substance use screening policies may opt out of the verbal screening tool requirement.

To ensure that unused medications are safely collected and disposed of, this legislation requires manufacturers of controlled substances in Massachusetts to participate in either a drug stewardship program or an alternative plan as determined by DPH.

Over the past few years, the Legislature’s efforts related to substance addiction have focused on behavioral health and the prevalence of co-occurring disorders. This legislation requires the Health Policy Commission to conduct a study on access to dual-diagnosis treatment in the Commonwealth for children, adolescents and adults. To help ensure parity between behavioral and physical health care, the legislation also requires insurance companies to report annually on their denied claims.

This bill also:
•        Requires that contact information for all insurers be posted on the bed-finder tool website and updates the law to ensure the site is available 24 hours a day;
•        Requires that patients being discharged from substance addiction receive information on all FDA-approved medication-assisted therapies;

•        Ensures civil-liability protection for individuals who administer Narcan;
•        Updates the training guidelines for all practitioners who prescribe controlled substances;

This legislation follows a 65.2% increase in substance addiction funding since FY12 and the landmark substance addiction law passed in 2014 which, for the first time, mandated detox and stabilization coverage. The two bills are intended to complement each other and reflect a consensus-driven approach.

State Representative Steve Ultrino Running for Re-Election

“I am running for re-election to continue to fight for the city I love.”

MALDEN – State Representative Steve Ultrino (D – Malden) will seek a second term in the Massachusetts House of Representatives serving the 33rd Middlesex District, which includes most of Malden.

“Two years ago, I decided to run for State Representative because I believe our city deserves a champion for working-class families,” said Representative Ultrino. “Over the last fifteen months, it’s been my privilege to advocate for Malden at the State House. I am running for re-election to continue to fight for the city I love.”

Representative Ultrino touted a number of accomplishments made during his first term, including state investments in the FY2016 budget for Malden schools, parks, and community organizations. The FY16 budget also funded programs aimed at addressing the opioid epidemic, and included an increase in the Earned Income Tax Credit (EITC) that has helped thousands of working families living in poverty in Massachusetts.

“I was proud of the money we were able to secure in last year’s budget, but there’s still a lot of work left to do,” said Representative Ultrino, who said he expects to push for increased funding this year for seniors, schools, and local resources. Last year, he led a successful effort in the House to increase funding for Expanded Learning Time grants, of which Malden has been the oldest and one of the largest recipients.

Representative Ultrino serves on the Committee on Elder Affairs, the Committee on Public Health, the Committee on Health Care Financing, and the Committee on Tourism, Arts and Cultural Development. He also serves on the board of the Massachusetts Economic Empowerment Trust Fund. Representative Ultrino was elected by his colleagues to serve as president of the House’s freshman class, which includes 22 state representatives serving their first terms.

A lifelong Malden resident, Representative Ultrino served as a City Councilor for two years and a School Committee member for eight years prior to serving in the Legislature. He was a teacher at Malden Catholic High School, headmaster at Saint Mary’s Prep in Winchester, and Director of Education for the Middlesex County Sheriff’s Department.

Ultrino Urges MBTA Against Proposed Fare Hikes, Suggests Expanded Reduced Fare Program

MALDEN – Just days after the Massachusetts Bay Transportation Authority announced plans to end late-night weekend service, Representative Steven Ultrino (D – Malden) sent a letter to the MBTA urging them to oppose proposals to increase fares by up to 10%, and to expand its reduced fares program to include families living in poverty.

“Thousands of Malden residents rely on the MBTA to get to work every day, and these drastic fare increases would create a significant obstacle to many working-class individuals who are trying to work, pay rent, and take care of their families,” said Representative Ultrino of his letter.  “Ultimately, the MBTA needs a funding increase.  Improvements are necessary and have to be made.  But that cost should not have such an outsized impact on working class families and commuters.”

 In the letter, Representative Ultrino spoke out against the fare hikes, which far exceed the 5% increases that riders have tolerated in past years.  Representative Ultrino also recommended that the MBTA’s Reduced Fare Program — a program that provides lower fares for the most vulnerable members of the community — be expanded to include families and individuals making 100%-200% of the Federal Poverty Line.

Representative Ultrino’s letter expressed great concern for the lower income residents of Malden and other surrounding municipalities, saying that a family of four living at 100% of the Federal Poverty Level relying on public transportation in Boston spends 24% of their annual income on transportation costs.

“As it stands, 7.9% of workers in my district who rely on the MBTA for transportation live at or below the poverty line,” wrote Representative Ultrino. “Any fare increase for such a family would lead to even more difficult choices between transportation, rent, food, and other necessities.”

The MBTA’s proposed fare increases are an effort to help remedy major structural budget deficits, though projected revenue gains would not significantly ameliorate the MBTA’s financial troubles.   Representative Ultrino recommended the MBTA partner with anti-poverty organizations like Action for Boston Community Development (ABCD) to help determine who would be eligible for his suggested expansion of the Reduced Fares Program and also to raise awareness and participation amongst eligible commuters.

Letter to MBTA Against Fare Hikes

March 2, 2016

Chairman Joseph Aiello
MBTA Fiscal and Management Control Board
10 Park Plaza, Suite 3910

Boston, MA 02116

Dear Chairman Aiello and Members of the Board,

I write on behalf of the residents of Malden to urge the Board to reject the two fare increase proposals under consideration, which far exceed the more predictable and bearable 5% increase that riders have endured over the last several years.  I also urge the Board to protect and expand the MBTA’s Reduced Fare Programs for the most vulnerable residents of the Commonwealth, especially if the Board adopts such drastic fare increases.

The MBTA is considering these proposed increases to help remedy major structural budget deficits, but the projected revenue gains from either of these fare proposals does not significantly ameliorate the MBTA’s financial woes.  What is significant about these proposals, however, is the impact they would have on MBTA’s riders, and on working-class individuals and their families throughout the Greater Boston area.

As it stands, 7.9% of workers in my district who rely on the MBTA for transportation live at or below the poverty line, according to an analysis of the 2010-2014 American Community Survey.  The suggested increases in fares would have a drastic impact on these working class families in Malden and in other communities in the Greater Boston area.  Households in Boston average 445 public transportation trips annually, resulting in a total cost of $592, according to the Housing and Transit Index.  This $592—for a family of four living at 100% of the Federal Poverty Level—represents 24% of the household’s annual income.  Any fare increase for such a family would lead to even more difficult choices between transportation, rent, food, and other necessities.

The MBTA already has a system in place for assisting middle and high school students, senior citizens, and those with disabilities to afford transportation.  I recommend expanding this program to families and individuals making 100%-200% of the Federal Poverty Line, similarly to how other public transportation authorities operate across the country.  As the majority of lower-income riders rely on rapid transit and the bus, this program would be most effective by providing fare relief for rapid transit and bus riders.  I also recommend that the MBTA partner with anti-poverty organizations like Action for Boston Community Development (ABCD) to determine who would be eligible for the expanded Reduced Fares Program and to raise awareness and participation amongst eligible commuters. 

I urge you to reject any fare increase proposal above 5%, and to adopt the proposed expansion to the MBTA’s Reduced Fares Program to help alleviate the disproportionate burden felt by individuals and families in poverty that rely on the MBTA to get to work.

Sincerely,

Steven R. Ultrino, Ed.D.
State Representative
33rd Middlesex District

Ultrino, House Vote for Bill Protecting Minors from Dangers of Indoor Tanning

BOSTON – State Representative Steve Ultrino (D – Malden) joined his colleagues in the Massachusetts House of Representatives to pass legislation that prohibits individuals under the age of 18 from using a tanning bed. Tanning beds are classified in the most dangerous group of cancer-causing agents by the World Health Organization, and this change reflects the Food and Drug Administration’s (FDA) recommendations regarding tanning devices.

“We all know that melanoma, which is becoming increasingly prevalent, takes loved ones from us too often and too soon,” said House Speaker Robert A. DeLeo. “As public officials we have a responsibility to protect minors, particularly when it comes to their health. I believe this law will help save lives and I thank Representatives Sanchez, Hogan and Decker for their hard work on this issue.”

“This bill is a logical step to help prevent cancer in children and to keep them safe and healthy,” said Representative Ultrino.  “I am proud to vote for this bill and I applaud those who helped write and advocate for this bill.”

While the bill only came before the full House for passage last week, it has been debated in both the Public Health Committee and Health Care Financing Committee over the past several months.  Representative Ultrino, who is a member of both committees, voted to pass the bill through each committee and had been following its progress closely.

“The research is clear – tanning devices cause cancer. By supporting this bill to protect our kids from the UV radiation emitted by these devices, Massachusetts lawmakers are working to prevent future skin cancer diagnoses and save lives,” said Marc Hymovitz, Massachusetts director of government relations for the American Cancer Society Cancer Action Network.  “We applaud members of the House and Senate for voting overwhelming in favor of this legislation.”

“Research overwhelmingly shows that indoor tanning significantly increases the risk of skin cancer,” said Representative Jeffrey Sánchez, Chair of the Joint Committee on Health Care Financing. “This legislation is an overdue move to limit our children’s exposure to a known carcinogenic product.”

The bill also requires that tanning device operators be over the age of 18, but does not change the age permissible for other employment at tanning salons.

The bill now goes to the Governor’s desk.