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PRESS RELEASE- Downing Outlines Legislative Priorities: Economic Development, Environment & Education- First in a Series of 3 Releases
February 06, 2007

BOSTONState Senator Benjamin B. Downing (D-Pittsfield) today outlined his legislative priorities regarding economic development, environmental affairs, and education reform.

 

“This year, the bill filing deadline in the Senate was one week after my swearing-in,” explained Downing.  “During that week I combed through hundreds of requests from colleagues, lobbyists and advocates to sign onto thousands of bills.  I am pleased to have chosen to co-sponsor approximately 40 different legislative initiatives focusing on policy areas which are of keen interest to my constituency in the Berkshire, Hampshire and Franklin District.”

 

ECONOMIC DEVELOPMENT INITIATIVES:

 

"Economic development is a competitive, team sport.  The communities of western Massachusetts must have all the resources possible to leverage our built-in advantages into jobs and opportunities," stated Sen. Benjamin B. Downing.

 

Establishing Pilot Artist Enterprise Zones

Establishes and regulates the implementation of pilot artist enterprise zones in Pittsfield and Fitchburg; prohibits the imposition of sales tax on on-location works of art in said zones; entitles qualified artists residing in said zones to modifications to income for profits and gains resulting from the sale of artwork; limits said modifications to $100,000 per year per artist.

  

Relative to Wireless Telephone Service

Directs the Department of Telecommunications and Energy to monitor the quality of wireless telephone services provided in Massachusetts by requiring semi-annual reports by the providers on the following: dropped calls, blocked calls, known coverage gaps, predicted street level signal strength, any other matters appropriate.   Any wireless telephone service subscriber who experiences at least 5 dropped calls in a 30-day time period may consider the wireless service provider to be in breach of contract and the subscriber may terminate his contract at no cost and pay any remaining charges at a pro-rata rate.  DTE has authority to enforce provisions of the Act.  Failure to comply with the Act shall constitute an unfair or deceptive practice under chapter 93A.

 

Improving the Earned Income Tax Credit for Working Families

This bill increases the amount that can be claimed under the state earned income tax credit from 15% to 20% of the federal credit, limits the credit claimable by non-residents to that amount that was earned within Massachusetts, requires the commissioner of revenue to create an outreach program to promote the earned income tax credit, creates a new crime for making it a fraudulent application for a refundable tax credit punishable by a fine of up to $100,000 and imprisonment of up to 5 years, and creates a joint task force between the commissioner of revenue and attorney general to investigate and prosecute cases of tax evasion and tax fraud.

 

To Further Encourage the Cleanup of Brownfields

Promotes the clean-up and re-development of Brownfields sites and encourages economic growth.  The legislative changes proposed in the bill would encourage owners with no past connection to a contaminated property to acquire and clean up the site.  These “eligible owners” would receive certain liability protections from the time they acquire a property as long as they abide by the strict clean-up standards and timelines outlined in the legislation.  In addition, they would be held harmless from any costs incurred by other parties prior to their ownership. 

 

Establishing Maximum Retail Milk Prices

Limits the retail price of milk to 200% of the price paid to dairy farmers; based on a New York State anti-price gouging law.  This bill requires the Commissioner of the Department of Agricultural Resources to maintain and publish information regarding the average net raw milk price and the maximum retail milk price.  This legislation also prohibits any person from selling or offering to sell fluid milk for an amount which exceeds the maximum retail milk price.

 

Establishing Retail Milk Dealer Fees

Generates new revenues for diary farmers by establishing a fee on milk retailers.  This bill allows the Department of Revenue to levy and impose a retail milk dealer fee at the established rate on the handling of milk sold at retail to final consumers for consumption off the handler’s premises in the Commonwealth.  The fee will be paid by the retail milk dealer making such sale to the final consumer. 

 

ENVIRONMENTAL INITIATIVES:

 

“Protection of and investment in the Commonwealth’s natural resources, as well as ensuring  access to public open spaces is crucial, not only for the health and welfare of our children today, but also to protect these gems for the children of tomorrow,” said Downing.

 

Relative to Establishing Massachusetts Land Conservation Incentives

Encourages private land owners to set aside or donate ecologically valuable land to the Commonwealth or certain conservation organizations by offering tax incentives.  Amends various provisions relative to the Massachusetts oil and hazardous material release prevention and response act; establishes a five year statute of limitations for actions brought by the attorney general; mandates commencement of said actions within five years of discovery of environmental violations; regulates the assessment of civil administrative penalties for said violations; requires the assessment of said penalties within five years of discovery of environmental violations; defines discovery as obtaining actual knowledge of said violations.

 

Relative to Recycling Discarded Electronic Products

Requires manufacturers to be financially responsible for collection and recycling of their discarded electronic products, and sets up a system to reimburse participating cities and towns for their costs in collecting discarded electronic products.

 

Establishing the Open Space Preservation Fund

Distributes funds from the retail milk dealer fees to all licensed producers to foster various green and agrarian cultural purposes.  This bill establishes the Open Space Preservation Fund, to be administered by the Department of Agricultural Resources.  The purpose of this fund is: a) To compensate existing dairy farmers for providing the public benefit of preserving open space from development pressure; b) To compensate existing dairy farmers for providing the public benefit of providing working landscapes in the Commonwealth; c) To compensate existing dairy farmers for providing the public benefit of fostering agro-tourism in the Commonwealth; d) To compensate existing dairy farmers for providing the public benefit of preserving agrarian traditions and rural culture in the Commonwealth.

 

Relative to Sustainable Farming Protection

Legislation protects farmers and homesteaders in Massachusetts by ending the Commonwealth’s participation in the NAIS (National Animal ID System), which purports to track animals for disease management purposes.  NAIS will be ineffective for protecting public health because it only tracks disease outbreaks after the fact and does nothing to assist producers with disease prevention through sustainable husbandry practices.  NAIS favors large-scale confined animal feeding operations and imposes extra burdens and higher expenses on small pasture-based farms, where animals are raised in the healthiest way. 

 

Relative to the Protection of our Natural Bodies of Water

This bill creates a new fund of $2 million, known as the Invasive Aquatic Plants Control and Prevention fund that would be administered by the Department of Conservation and Recreation’s Lakes and Ponds Program to fund a grant program benefiting municipalities which will support methods of controlling harmful Aquatic Invasive Species that are damaging lakes and ponds across the Commonwealth.

EDUCATION INITIATIVES

 

"I haven't met one teacher or parent, who isn't concerned by the size of classes.  Teachers are unable to connect with students in a meaningful manner and parents are left wondering if their child is just one among many.  I will work to reduce class sizes by supporting efforts to recruit & retain teachers and increase funding throughout our public education system," pledged Downing.

 

Relative to Early Education and Care

Provides the newly created Department of Early Education and Care with the tools and supports necessary for it to meet the challenges it faces ensuring access to high quality child care for all our children. 

 

To Ensure Educator Excellence

Provides consistent, rigorous standards, sufficient supports, and effective accountability for educators in Massachusetts.  Long-term goals of the legislation are to improve overall student achievement, graduate educator candidates who are prepared for proficient teaching, retain high-quality veterans and develop novices into skilled, committee teaching professionals, strengthen school leadership for student achievement by advancing the role of teachers as instructional leaders, provide the process of supervision and evaluation with more substance and rigor, and to integrate the knowledge bases of professional practice into all ten personnel processes influencing educator quality.

 

An Act to Amend Regional School Transportation Funding

Directs the Board of Education to develop for FY09 a method to include mandated regional school transportation as defined in Section 16C of Ch. 71 of the General Laws as a category of aid under Ch. 70 funding.  Method adopted shall also include a provision to include prior years’ regional transportation aid as “base aid.”  Board of Ed shall develop method and file legislation with Clerk of Senate by Nov 30, 2007. 

 

Relative to the Membership of the University of Massachusetts Board of Trustees

Mandates that at least 4 members of the Board be residents of the 4 most Western counties in the Commonwealth:  Berkshire, Franklin, Hampshire and Hampden.

 

To Provide Health Education in Schools

Inserts health education, as defined by the Mass Comprehensive Health Curriculum Frameworks and as required by the Supreme Judicial Court, into the core curriculum for public schools. Scholl districts would be required to teach age-appropriate health education in grades K-12. 

 

In the near future Downing expects to author legislation focusing on broadband access in Western Massachusetts, linking agricultural and human service nutrition programming, as well as policy changes to existing civil service statutes. 

 

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