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The Massachusetts House has approved a measure calling on school districts to implement a new teacher evaluation system and place performance ahead of seniority in deciding future layoffs.  WAMC’s Lucas Willard reports…

The legislation, which has already been approved by the Senate, resulted from a compromise struck between the Massachusetts Teachers Association and an advocacy group called Stand for Children that had proposed a statewide ballot question.

The organization has said it would be willing to drop the ballot initiative if the bill becomes law.

Obama Heads to MA for Fundraisers

Jun 25, 2012

President Barack Obama is stopping in Massachusetts to raise money for his re-election campaign and fellow Democrats.  WAMC’s Tristan O’Neill reports…

The president's first event on Monday is a small campaign round-table at Hamersley's Bistro in Boston's South End with 25 people. Tickets cost $40,000 per person.

Obama will later speak to 1,800 people at Symphony Hall in Boston. General admission started at $250 with top seats going for $2,500. A limited number of $144 tickets were available for younger supporters.

Massachusetts Set to Honor 2012 Teacher of the Year

Jun 18, 2012

Governor Deval Patrick and education officials are planning to honor Massachusetts' top teachers at a Statehouse ceremony.  WAMC’s Tristan O’Neill reports…

As part of today's event, awards will be presented to the 2012 Massachusetts Teacher of the Year, the 2012 Massachusetts History Teacher of the Year and winners and finalists of the 2011 Presidential Awards for Excellence in Mathematics and Science Teaching.

The Massachusetts House of Representatives will be taking up their version of a bill that aims to lower unnecessary health care costs in the coming years.

State representatives will begin debate Tuesday on their health care cost containment bill and its multiple amendments.

The House's bill is designed to even out disparities in the costs of hospital services by requiring hospitals that charge more than 20 percent above the state median price for a service to pay a 10 percent surcharge into a fund to help support hospitals serving the poor and most vulnerable.

Nearly 60 Massachusetts cities and towns are urging Congress to pass a constitutional amendment that would overturn the U.S. Supreme Court's ruling in the Citizens United case. WAMC’s Lucas Willard has more…

A total of 56 cities and towns from across the state have passed resolutions on the issue, with more expected to vote on similar resolutions in the coming weeks.

MA Group to Host Symposium on Problem Gambling

May 21, 2012

The Massachusetts Council on Compulsive Gambling will host a symposium on problem gambling to discuss whether western Massachusetts is prepared to deal with expanded gambling.

The council is preparing communities to address problems associated with gambling as the state awaits the arrival of casinos after legislation was passed to expand gambling in the state. The prevention, intervention and treatment of problem gambling will be discussed.

The Massachusetts economy added jobs for a fifth straight month and the unemployment rate in April fell to its lowest level in 3 ½ years.  WAMC’s Paul Tuthill reports…

The April unemployment rate in Massachusetts fell to 6.3 percent as the state added 2,500 jobs according to a report from the state office of Labor and Workforce Development. 

Led by the high tech sector, the state’s economy has been recovering from the Great Recession faster than the nation’s as a whole. The U.S. unemployment rate for April was 8.1 percent.

The Massachusetts budget proposed by the Senate Ways and Means Committee is winning praise from municipal officials. WAMC’s Lucas Willard reports…

Senate leaders say the spending plan for the fiscal year beginning on July 1 would boost local aid by $275 million over current year levels and provide full funding for unrestricted local aid. An earlier budget proposal by Governor Deval Patrick had made $65 million of unrestricted aid contingent on state revenues reaching certain benchmarks in the current year.

Massachusetts Attorney General Martha Coakley wants to toughen the state’s open meeting law. WAMC’s Paul Tuthill reports…

Coakley on Monday proposed a new regulation that would allow state and local governmental bodies to be punished if they act with "deliberate ignorance" of the law, which requires most meetings to be accessible to the public.

Under current regulations, public entities can be fined up to $1,000 for violating the law, but only if the violation is found to be intentional after a previous warning from a court or prosecutor.

Early Start and End to MA Asparagus Season?

May 14, 2012

The warm March brought an early asparagus crop to farms that are known for it in western Massachusetts.  WAMC’s Tristan O’Neill reports…

Now farmers are wondering if the cool spring will bring an early end to the season.

Sunderland farmer Michael Wisserman tells The Republican of Springfield he wasn't fooled when the temperature hit the 80s in March. He knew cool weather was coming.

So even though he was harvesting in April, a full month earlier than normal, now he wonders if the season can last its usual length, into late June.

Officials in Springfield Massachusetts have announced plans to hire a professional consultant to help negotiate with would-be casino developers.   WAMC’s Paul Tuthill reports…

The mayor’s office announced Thursday that it will seek bids from firms experienced in representing municipalities with gaming industry projects.  Bids will be accepted for a month.

It’s another sign Springfield officials are anxious to see a resort casino built in the city to bring jobs and revenue. The Springfield City Council recently named a casino siting advisory committee. 

WAMC

With the start of the 2012 Atlantic hurricane season less than a month away, hundreds of people attended a hurricane preparedness conference Wednesday in central Massachusetts.  WAMC’s Paul Tuthill reports…

The director of the National Hurricane Center, Bill Read urged hundreds of public safety officials not to be in denial when they see a forecast that has a hurricane tracking to New England.

Read said since 1990 hurricane tracking errors, 48 hours from landfall, have been cut in half. But forecasting a storm’s intensity remains tricky…

About 200 people are expected to lose their jobs when TD Bank closes a customer call center in Springfield at the end of the year.

The workers learned at a meeting Tuesday night that the 24/7 customer support center will close in December as part of a decision to consolidate call centers to locations in Maine, New Jersey and South Carolina.

The branch at the location will remain open.

Bank spokesman Jimmy Hernandez tells WWLP-TV it was a difficult decision and did not reflect job performance.

A survey of tornado survivors finds many with unmet needs as the one year anniversary of the natural disaster in western Massachusetts approaches.  WAMC’s Paul Tuthill reports…

Eight days of canvassing by disaster response volunteers in tornado impacted neighborhoods of Springfield found dozens of people who still need help ranging from major roof repairs to replacing household appliances and furnishings.

Steven Abdow, a board member of Springfield Community Together, the FEMA organized long term recovery group, said the unmet needs are estimated to cost $1 million…

The Patrick administration has released an additional $520,000 in tornado relief funds for Western Massachusetts.  WAMC’s Paul Tuthill reports…

Most of the money is for home repairs in the nine communities hit hardest by the June 1st natural disaster, according to the announcement from the Department of Housing and Community Development.

The panel overseeing the Massachusetts’ new gambling law is weighing a plan to pre-qualify potential casino developers in the state. WAMC’s Lucas Willard reports…

Under the proposal discussed by the Gaming Commission on Tuesday, a would-be developer would have to demonstrate that it has sufficient financial backing and a track record in the gaming industry before it can begin negotiations with a host community.

A spokeswoman for the five-member commission said the panel would study the idea further before deciding whether to adopt it.

Massachusetts OKs Small Hike in Health Insurance Rates

May 1, 2012

State insurance regulators have approved a 1.2 percent quarterly increase in small group health insurance rates in Massachusetts.  WAMC’s Tristan O’Neill reports…

The state Division of Insurance also said Monday that two of the state's largest insurers — Tufts and Fallon — actually plan to lower rates for the three-month period beginning July 1.

EPA to Hold Hearing on Cleanup of Attleboro Plant

Apr 30, 2012

Environmental officials have scheduled a hearing to discuss the next steps for the cleanup of a former chromium plating site in Attleboro.

The U.S. Environmental Protection Agency and Massachusetts Department of Environmental Protection are evaluating the site for inclusion on the National Priorities List for cleanup.

Republican U.S. Sen. Scott Brown and likely Democratic challenger Elizabeth Warren are releasing several years of tax returns.  WAMC’s Tristan O’Neill reports…

Brown made his federal and state returns for the tax years 2006-2011 available for inspection by reporters on Friday. Warren was expected to release four years of returns later Friday.

In the most recent tax year, Brown and his wife, Gail Huff, reported total income of $510,856 and paid federal taxes of about $125,000 after a refund. They also contributed more than $16,000 to charity.

U.S. Senator Brown, Warren to Release Tax Returns

Apr 27, 2012

Republican U.S. Senator Scott Brown and likely Democratic challenger Elizabeth Warren are planning to release several years of tax returns.  WAMC’s Tristan O’Neill reports…

The two campaigns said they'll make the returns public today. 

The decision to release the returns followed more than a week of negotiations during which both campaigns haggled over when to unveil the returns and how many years to release.

Both campaigns are also hoping to use the information in the returns to take political jabs at each other.

Former Massachusetts State Treasurer Timothy Cahill, who is facing corruption charges, was in court briefly Wednesday.  WAMC’s Paul Tuthill reports…

A pre-trial conference in Cahill’s case was postponed for a month at the request of Jeffrey Denner, Cahill’s new lawyer, who told the judge he needed time to get up to speed.  There was no change in the September date for Cahill’s trial.  

Cahill told reporters in Boston after the brief hearing that he is confident his legal team will prove he did nothing wrong. 

Two new reports suggest the long downturn in the real estate market in Massachusetts may be over.  WAMC’s Paul Tuthill reports…

Home sales rose by more than 19 percent in March compared to a year ago, according to a report issued Tuesday by the Warren Group, a Boston company that tracks real estate data.  With a total of 3,205 homes sold across the state, it was the best March since 2007.  The spring before the recession hit, home values sunk and unemployment rose. 

The Massachusetts House has begun debate on a proposed $32 billion state budget by rejecting a cut in the state sales tax.   WAMC’s Paul Tuthill reports…

A proposal to reduce the Massachusetts sales tax to 5 percent in three phases was sent off to a study committee by an overwhelming and mostly partly line vote of 119-37. 

MA House to Begin Debate on $32B Budget Plan

Apr 23, 2012

Massachusetts House lawmakers are scheduled to begin debate on a nearly $32.3 billion state budget plan for the fiscal year beginning July 1.

Lawmakers will begin working their way through 870 proposed amendments to the spending plan on Monday.

The budget unveiled earlier this month by the House Ways and Means Committee relies on $522 million in one-time revenues, including a $400 million withdrawal from the state's so-called Rainy Day fund.

It calls for spending $14 million less than the budget proposed in January by Governor Deval Patrick.

Federal prosecutors are recommending a 25-year prison sentence for a Massachusetts man convicted of conspiring to help al-Qaida.

Former MA Treasurer Cahill Faces Arraignment

Apr 4, 2012

Ex-state treasurer Timothy Cahill and two former aides are scheduled to appear in court to face ethics charges.  WAMC's Tristan O’Neill reports...

Cahill will be arraigned later today at Suffolk Superior Court.

He’s facing public corruption charges for his alleged role in orchestrating an advertising campaign for the state lottery, funded with taxpayer dollars. Prosecutors said the television ad was really intended to boost Cahill's failed 2010 campaign for governor.

MA Senate to Resume Work on Energy Cost Bill

Apr 2, 2012

The Massachusetts Senate is planning to renew work on a wide-ranging bill aimed at controlling energy costs in the state while also promoting the growth of renewable power sources.  WAMC's Tristan O'Neill reports...

Senators considered about 30 amendments to the bill last week before putting off further debate until Thursday.

A former Springfield Massachusetts police officer has been ordered by a judge to serve 18 months in jail for pummeling a man on the face with a flashlight after a traffic stop.  WAMC's Paul Tuthill reports…

Judge Maureen Walsh, said Jeffrey Asher had failed to uphold his oath to protect and serve all when in November, 2009, he assaulted Melvin Jones III, who sustained numerous broken bones and was left partially blind in one eye.

Connecticut Regulators: Preliminary OK to Utility Deal

Mar 27, 2012

Connecticut utility regulators have given preliminary approval to a settlement with the state that would help clear the way for Northeast Utilities to purchase Massachusetts energy company NStar for $4.9 billion.  WAMC's Tristan O'Neill reports...

The Connecticut Public Utilities Regulatory Authority said Monday it believes the deal is good for ratepayers. It expects to give final approval next week after allowing the parties time to raise any final issues.