Help end distracted driving

By BTD Commissioner Gina Fiandaca

Glancing at that new text message on your phone. Scrolling through satellite radio stations to find the right song. Adjusting your GPS to find a new route.  Any of these activities momentarily takes your attention away from driving – you are a distracted driver.

Every year, there are thousands of crashes caused by distracted driving. Many lives are lost and many more lives are dramatically changed from long-term injuries.

While many of us understand the danger of using our phones while we drive, we still do it. Today, I ask you to join me in pledging to ‘Just Drive’. Make this promise to yourself, to your family members, and to your neighbors:

-When you are driving, focus on driving and only on driving.

-When you’re a passenger, offer to help the driver. If he’s driving distracted, say something.

-Encourage your family members, friends, co-workers, and neighbors to drive phone-free.

Need help breaking your habits? Try putting your phone in a place where you can’t reach it while driving – the glove box, the back seat, or even the trunk. If you need to keep it nearby, turn off notifications, including any banners or noises from your messaging apps. Or, hand your phone to your passenger.

When you get in the driver’s seat, set up your navigation software before you put the car into drive. If you need to update your directions or check a map, pull into a parking spot where you can safely do so. If you have a passenger, ask her to help.

Traveling with kids or pets? Keep them safe and give them your full attention by pulling into a parking spot before addressing any situations.

If you’re not driving, offer to help out the person who is. Hold on to his phone or offer to handle directions for him. And if you are walking or bicycling, be sure to look up and watch for others around you.

The top priority in the City of Boston’s long-term transportation plan, Go Boston 2030, is increasing safety on our streets. We are working toward Vision Zero: eliminating fatal and serious traffic crashes by 2030. In the City of Boston’s proposed operating budget and capital plan, Mayor Walsh is dedicating even more resources to make our streets safer for everyone using them. Under his leadership, we’re proposing the following additions to the Boston Transportation Department:

-Two new transportation planners and two new transportation engineers to focus on designing and implementing key Vision Zero street improvements

-Up to four new maintenance & operations personnel to ensure that infrastructure added to improve street safety, such as pedestrian delineators and flex posts, are kept in a state of good repair.

-A new traffic signal engineer to manage and retime traffic signals to increase safety and reduce traffic congestion;

-Two new traffic signal mechanics to keep signals working as designed; and

-An increase of $700,000 to design and build high-quality bike infrastructure and new multi-use paths.

These proposed investments build on the existing investments we make in transportation safety as an everyday practice and through our major projects.

Our goal of eliminating serious and fatal traffic crashes cannot be accomplished without your help. Take the pledge to ‘Just Drive’ today.

Senate unanimously approves education-funding reforms

By Local State Sen. Sonia Chang-Díaz

Recently, I was thrilled to stand on the Senate floor as every single one of my fellow Senators voted in favor of passing deeply-needed reforms to our K-12 education funding system. The bill has now moved to the House.

The Senate’s decisive action was a critical step on the road to addressing a situation that has grown into a crisis for families, educators, and school districts all across the Commonwealth. Every day, students across Massachusetts walk into schools that don’t meet our basic aspirations for functional, equitable education. Their classrooms have become overcrowded or they lack critical social-emotional supports like counselors, wrap-around services, and academic tutoring. Resources like technology and books are in thin supply. And schools are categorizing as “extras we’ll have to do without” things that we know are actually foundational to success: teacher professional development, arts classes, preschool programs, and more.

These kinds of cuts and deficiencies face every district across our Commonwealth. And they have been accumulating for over a decade. For some districts, it has gotten so difficult that they are considering filing a lawsuit against the Commonwealth for failing to make good on our promise to give children a quality education.

If that weren’t enough of a wake-up call for us, there’s also this: Massachusetts has one of the worst achievement gaps in the United States – ranking 48th nationally for the achievement gap between affluent and poor students.

It wasn’t supposed to be this way, and we have the tools to fix it.

Twenty-five years ago, we found ourselves in a similar position. The gap between poor and affluent districts then was stark and school districts did sue the Commonwealth. But then something great and proud happened in Massachusetts. That lawsuit caught the legislature’s attention and inspired the 1993 Education Reform Act – which made a bold, righteous, and radically American promise.

With the Education Reform Act, we as a state said, “We will provide high quality public education for all of our children.” And all meant all. So we established a new budget, the Foundation Budget, to make sure every school district had the resources to follow through on that promise, regardless of zip code.

At first we did it—even though it was hard and required year-over-year discipline to appropriate the resources. But, lo and behold, it brought about amazing results.

Unfortunately, in the years since, we have done little to update the formula, and it’s now outdated. Our education system grew and evolved, and so has our economy (consider that the internet barely existed for most Americans in 1993!)—but our funding formula didn’t grow with us.

Now, our school districts are buckling under the weight of two decades of deferred maintenance.

In 2015, I co-chaired a bipartisan commission of experts to examine how to fix our aging funding system. That Foundation Budget Review Commission (FBRC) found that health care and special education costs have far surpassed assumptions built into the original formula. The FBRC also found that the original formula drastically understated the resources necessary to close achievement gaps for low-income students and English Learners.

In all, we found that Massachusetts is underestimating the cost of education by over $1 billion every year.

The FBRC commission members unanimously endorsed a few simple and effective recommendations to address this accumulating crisis: modernize the English Learner and low-income components of the formula to provide critical services and align with best practices, realistically account for districts’ health care and special education costs, and establish a Data Advisory Task Force to better analyze school-level funding data to better inform future policy decisions.

These simple recommendations were endorsed unanimously by the bipartisan members of the commission. They all agreed on the urgency of this problem and on the road map for addressing it.

Ever since then, I have pushed my colleagues in the Senate and House to pass these simple policies into law and to put in place a public schedule-setting process by which we will phase them in. That’s the bill I filed at the beginning of this session, and that’s the legislation the Senate unanimously passed last week.

The promise of a quality education is not just the one we made to our districts as elected officials. And it’s not just the one we made to our children as responsible and caring adults. It is a promise that runs to the heart of who we are in Massachusetts.

The lawsuit against the state in 1993 – the one that prompted the Education Reform Act – called the state to task for failing to live up to our constitutional responsibility to public education. In the pivotal passage, the Massachusetts constitution demands we “cherish” our public education system. That is the only place the word “cherish” appears in our constitution. This is a legacy of our Commonwealth, a sacred responsibility handed down to us.

Our classrooms have been suffering death by a thousand paper cuts for years, and it’s long past time we right this wrong. Schools and families shouldn’t have to lawyer up to get a quality education for their children.

I’m proud the Senate is doing its part to make good on our obligation to every child in Massachusetts. If this bill is passed by the House and signed by the Governor, we will re-commit, in our generation, to the essential work of providing every child with a quality education – and ensure that “all” really still means all.

Promoting Public Health for Our Youth

By Local State Rep. Jeffrey Sanchez

On May 16, the House took a major step to protect Massachusetts youth from the health risks of tobacco and nicotine addiction. I am proud to support this legislation, which prohibits the sale of tobacco and vapor products to anyone under the age of 21.

Massachusetts has a history promoting public health and tobacco prevention. In 1998, Massachusetts was the first state to legislatively divest the state pension fund from tobacco investments. That same year, the Massachusetts Attorney General required warning labels on cigar packaging. In 2004, we passed the comprehensive smoke-free workplace law.

The effort to raise the age for tobacco purchase started here in Needham in 2005, which became the first community in the United States to increase the age from 18 to 21. Those efforts proved successful: a report found that the rate of smoking among high school students in Needham decreased by nearly 50 percent from 2006 to 2010.

That model has since spread throughout Massachusetts. Now, nearly 70 percent of the Commonwealth’s population lives in the 171 communities where 21 is the minimum age to purchase tobacco products. Today’s legislation increases the sales age for tobacco products to 21 in every community in Massachusetts, thereby preventing young people from starting to smoke.

Overall, our efforts to curb tobacco use have proven successful. In 2015, 15.9 percent of Massachusetts high school youth reported currently using any tobacco products compared to 23.9 percent in 2009, according to the Department of Public Health.

However, the use of vapor products, like e-cigarettes, vape pens, and Juuls pose a new public health threat, particularly among youth. High school youth reported using these devices nearly 9 times more than adults (23.7 percent versus 2.6 percent), sometimes even in classrooms.

While vapor products don’t contain many of the cancer-causing by-products contained in cigarettes, they still pose a serious health risk. A review published by the National Academies of Sciences, Engineering and Medicine determined that most e-cigarette products contain and emit a variety of potentially toxic substances, such as aldehydes and metals. Further, the nicotine contained in these products has long-term health consequences, including an increased risk for heart attack.

We understand that vapor products may be helpful for adults looking to quit smoking. The House’s legislation aims to prevent youth from nicotine addiction in the first place by increasing the minimum legal age for the purchase and sale of vapor products to 21. Our bill amends smoking laws to ban e-cigarettes and vaping devices in areas where tobacco products are already banned. It prohibits the use of vapor products in schools, at school events, or on school buses, and requires child-resistant packaging for nicotine substances.

When I grew up, high schoolers were all too frequently the targets of cigarette advertising. In my neighborhood, many fell victim to the lies peddled by big tobacco: “it’ll cure your asthma” and “it helped me lose weight.” Today’s legislation is a step toward protecting the public health of our youth in the face of a new nicotine industry, and builds on our commitment of a healthy Commonwealth.

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