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Thursday, May 16 Legislative and Public Health Updates

Dear friends,


I am writing to you today with legislative, public health, and Cambridge updates.


I’m so excited to share that Kaego NDIweka started as a legislative aide in my office this week. It was a busy week, but she’s hit the ground running!



Table of Contents

  • Legislative Updates

  • Public Health Updates

  • A Glimpse at the Past Week

  • Recent Press

  • Cambridge Updates

  • Services and Resources

 

Legislative Updates


Information Technology Bond Bill

On Wednesday, the House passed an information technology bond bill, An Act to provide for the future of information technology needs of Massachusetts, also known as the FutureTech Act. The bill authorizes $1.23 billion in bond spending and utilizes an additional $400 million in anticipated federal funding to bolster critical information technology projects across the Commonwealth. The initiatives included in the bill aim to modernize the Commonwealth’s information technology infrastructure, enabling agencies to operate with enhanced efficiency while also upgrading cybersecurity efforts.


Health Care Reform Bill

Today, the House voted on the most significant healthcare reform bill since 2012. You can read this Boston Globe op-ed by Speaker Ron Mariano and House Chair of the Joint Committee on Health Care Financing John Lawn explaining the need for reform and highlighting the Legislature’s responsibility to ensure that what happened with Steward Health Care never happens again.


I will be sharing more with you about the importance of the bill and why it matters next week. Stay tuned for more information! 

 

Public Health Updates


New COVID-19 Variants Rise to Prominence, Likely Resulting in a Summer COVID Wave

According to data from the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC), new COVID-19 variants known as KP.1.1 and KP.2, collectively called “FLiRT” variants, have become the dominant strains in the United States. KP.1.1 and KP.2 cases have swiftly increased over the past few weeks, outpacing the previously dominant JN.1 variant responsible for the wave of COVID-19 infections this past winter. Currently, the FLiRT variants make up about 35% of new COVID cases across the United States. Disease experts predict KP.2 could help drive an uptick in COVID cases this summer due to several new mutations that allow it to be more immune evasive and capable of bypassing immunity people have due to prior infections or vaccination. Current data does not indicate that KP.2 will result in more severe illness than other strains that have risen to dominance or result in a significant shift in symptoms. If you feel sick, remember to take a COVID test and stay home if possible. If you must go out in public, wear a mask to reduce the risk of spreading the virus. Learn more about protecting yourself and others from getting sick, through testing, treatment, and other preventative measures here.


Preliminary CDC Data Indicate a Moderate Decrease in Opioid Overdose Deaths Nationally

The Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC) released preliminary data this week indicating that rates of fatal drug overdoses dropped by about 3% in 2023. This is the first time overdose death rates have fallen since 2018. Data show that deaths due to heroin and synthetic opioids, like fentanyl, fell to 74,702 in 2023, a decrease of 1,564 deaths compared to 2022. This decline is significant since fentanyl, a synthetic opioid about 100 times stronger than morphine, drove the sudden increase in opioid-related overdoses across the United States in 2021, resulting in over 100,000 people dying because of an overdose that year. In Massachusetts, overdose fatalities dropped from 2,691 to 2,384 in 2023, an 11.4% decrease, a substantially more significant drop than the national average. The decrease in fatal opioid overdoses can be partially attributed to the Food and Drug Administration approving naloxone, also known by the brand-name Narcan, a drug used to reverse drug overdoses, for over-the-counter use in 2023 and increased access to fentanyl test strips. Overall, these data show that efforts made to rein in overdose deaths are a step in the right direction. However, CDC officials recognize that there is still a staggering number of fatal overdose deaths occurring and that much more work needs to be done, especially as patterns of drug use continue to shift toward incredibly potent and dangerous synthetic chemical drugs. 


I am proud to be one of the lead sponsors of An Act relative to preventing overdose deaths and increasing access to treatment (H.1978), alongside my colleagues Representative Dylan Fernandes and Senator Julian Cyr, which would establish a 10 year pilot program for overdose prevention centers (OPCs). The bill would require local authorization and approval by the local board of health; include civil and criminal protections for staff, clients, and operators; and would require data collection to inform public health efforts and prevent overdose deaths in the Commonwealth. The bill was reported favorably out of the Joint Committee on Mental Health, Substance Use and Recovery, and is now in the House Committee on Ways and Means.


Uptick in Calls to State’s Problem Gambling Helpline, Many for Tech Support for Sports Betting Apps

On Wednesday, the state’s Department of Public Health (DPH) released the Fiscal 2023 Massachusetts Problem Gambling Helpline Data Report, which saw an increase in overall call volume and referrals compared to the previous year. In 2016, DPH established the Office of Problem Gambling Services to mitigate the potentially harmful effects of gambling. The helpline, funded by DPH, provides support for individuals seeking treatment and resources for gambling and related harms. From July 2022 through June 2023, the helpline received 1,672 more calls, a 121% increase from the previous year. One-third of these calls included non-helpline calls, which were related to technical assistance for sports wagering mobile platforms. The report indicated that the highest call volume occurred from February to June 2023 (2,069 calls), which could be attributed to the launch of sports wagering in Massachusetts last year. Additionally, calls for referrals to treatment services increased by 41%, and calls from individuals in recovery increased by 230%. DPH emphasized that “there is no evidence to support that the increase in call volume and referrals is a direct result of an increase in problem gambling in the Commonwealth,” but rather reflects improvements in helpline services and increased advertising for available resources, which promote the helpline.


FDA Approves Self-Test Collection Kit for HPV

The FDA approved a kit that allows women to collect their own vaginal sample for human papillomavirus (HPV) screening on Wednesday. According to the CDC, HPV is the most common sexually transmitted disease and, while it usually goes away on its own, is the cause of almost all cervical cancers. In fact, cervical cancer is most common in women who are rarely or never screened for HPV. The newly-approved kit will allow women to swab themselves in privacy in a doctor’s office, clinic, or pharmacy setting before the sample is sent for analysis. Most primary care providers do not test for HPV - women are usually screened by a gynecologist during a pelvic exam. However, many women do not undergo pelvic exam procedures due to limited access to health care, social and economic barriers, past traumatic experiences, and cultural concerns. The American College of Obstetricians and Gynecologists recommends that individuals with a cervix between the ages of 21 and 29 have a Pap test every three years or at least an HPV test every five years starting at the age of 25. 


Report Shows Abortions Nationwide have Increased, Despite State Bans

According to a new report released by The Society of Family Planning’s WeCount project, the number of abortions in the U.S. has continued to climb in the 18 months following the Supreme Court’s reversal of Roe v. Wade. Although the Court’s majority decision in Dobbs v. Jackson Women’s Health Organization concluded that no fundamental constitutional right to procuring an abortion exists in June 2022, researchers have found that there has been a slight but steady increase in the number of abortions per month.14 states had total abortion bans in place during the time of the research, but researchers believe the increase in abortions across the country is due in part to telemedicine expanding access to medication abortion. Thanks to telehealth and the passage of abortion shield laws like that in Massachusetts, doctors, nurse practitioners, and midwives licensed in shield law states are able to prescribe and send abortion pills to patients in states where access to abortion procedures is severely limited. Mifepristone, one of two drugs used in medication abortions, was approved by the FDA in 2000 and has been shown to be both safe and effective in medication abortion regimens. Medication abortion accounts for over half of all abortions, and 19% of abortions in the U.S. are facilitated by telehealth. However, a challenge to the FDA’s approval of mifepristone in the Supreme Court threatens to bar the distribution of the drug and disrupt the rise in abortion telemedicine  More information about mifepristone can be found here.

 

A Glimpse at the Past Week




It was great to have constituents stop by my office for Alzheimer’s Association lobby day at the State House last Thursday. The wellbeing of those with Alzheimer’s and their families and caregivers continues to be a priority for the Joint Committee on Public Health. As House Chair of the Committee, we have reported out favorably An Act to strengthen our public health infrastructure to address Alzheimer’s and all dementia (S.2683) and An Act to strengthen the direct care and dementia workforce (H.2245). I appreciate the continued advocacy of the Alzheimer’s Association. 



Last Thursday evening, I was honored to be the keynote speaker at Mayor E. Denise Simmons’ Women in Public Service Night at Cambridge City Hall. I spoke about my journey in public service, from being the youngest woman elected to the City Council to my tenure as State Representative for Cambridge, and all the powerful mentors I have had along the way. It was inspiring to hear from so many incredible women about their own work as public servants on both the city and state levels. 


I want to give a special shout-out to Mayor Simmons for her story slam, which brought together women sharing their moving experiences as public and political figures. Events like this are one of the things I love that are particular to the Mayor and her ability to build community.


Pictured on the far right of me in the first photo is the first out lesbian elected to the Cambridge City Council, and a trailblazer I look up to, Katherine Triantafillou. 



Last Friday, I spoke at the launch of a new Cornell University Climate Jobs Institute report, “Building the Clean Energy Commonwealth,” at IBEW 103 in Dorchester. It always brings me such joy and hope to be in attendance with AFL-CIO MA President Chrissy Lynch. Ten years ago, we started conversations as working moms worried about climate change and workers impacted by the transition to green energy and wanted to ensure labor standards were included in climate policy. Over the past decade, we have worked to create a green-blue coalition that centers labor protections, workers, and good climate policy. 


The Cornell report details how Massachusetts can move towards its climate goals while utilizing union labor. You may recall that I have filed legislation that would ensure a just transition to green energy for those who work in the fossil fuel sector, several provisions of which are cited as recommendations in the report. These bills would ensure that clean energy projects have workforce standards – including paying prevailing wages and utilizing state-certified state apprenticeship programs – and that fossil fuel workers are supported in the transition through the creation of Just Transition offices. 


I am proud to be the House sponsor of these bills and appreciate the advocacy and support of labor from many different sectors throughout Massachusetts. It was great to be joined by so many friends in government and labor, including Senators Elizabeth Warren and Ed Markey, President Lynch, and IBEW 103 Business Manager Lou Antonellis.


On Wednesday, I was honored to be the keynote speaker at the Massachusetts American College of Obstetricians and Gynecologists (MA-ACOG) Advocacy Day. From reproductive care to maternal health, obstetricians and gynecologists are on the frontlines of primary and preventative care, providing essential comprehensive health care in all stages of life. 


I am proud that Massachusetts has been a leader in protecting access to reproductive health and gender-affirming care. The residents I addressed are the future of reproductive care in the Commonwealth and beyond, and I appreciate their willingness to learn how to apply their medical expertise to legislative advocacy.

Members of 1199SEIU stopped by my office on Wednesday afternoon to discuss their legislative priorities. They shared with me the need for stronger workplace safety measures, fair wages, and staffing reforms so they can continue to provide essential care to their patients. I am grateful for the work they do every day in hospitals, nursing homes, rehab facilities, and beyond. 



Thursday morning, I attended the Cambridge Chamber of Commerce Inspire Awards. It was great to celebrate a few of Cambridge’s remarkable women in business and to hear Secretary of Economic Development and my friend Yvonne Hao give the keynote address. 

 

Recent Press

Alison Kuznitz, State House News Service 


Certified professional midwives (CPMs) would gain a pathway to become licensed in Massachusetts under a redrafted maternal health care package (H 4566) that was reported out favorably by the Committee on Public Health and the Health Care Financing Committee, which last week shipped it to the House Ways and Means Committee.


The bill would allow midwifery care to be covered by MassHealth, remove regulatory and staffing barriers to operate birth centers in Massachusetts, require postpartum depression screenings for new parents during visits to pediatrician offices, and expand access to lactation support, among other policies.


Rep. Marjorie Decker, co-chair of the Public Health Committee, said there’s a “lot of strong interest” in Speaker Ron Mariano’s office to advance the House bill.


“Ultimately, this is a really exciting opportunity to advance a number of maternal health bills that have been vetted for some time and with the support of the speaker, who’s really been a strong supporter for me over the last year and a half in developing this omnibus bill,” Decker told the News Service.  “I think what’s before us is the opportunity to advance some really good legislative work that’s been uplifted by my colleagues.”

 

Cambridge Updates 


The Cambridge Youth Council is holding its 4th Annual Fundraiser to raise money for the Cambridge community. 


This year, funds will be distributed evenly among six organizations doing critical work to support immigrant communities in Cambridge: Adbar Ethiopian Women’s Alliance, Found In Translation, Massachusetts Alliance of Portuguese Speakers, New England Bangladeshi American Foundation, Pathway for Immigrant Workers, and Rian Immigrant Center. If you wish to donate, you can do so here

 

Cambridge Public Health Helpline Supports Residents with COVID-19

To speak with someone, call the confidential COVID-19 Hotline at 617-933-0797. Learn more here.


Intimate Partner Abuse Prevention Helpline

This initiative is designed to prevent intimate partner violence by fostering accountability and change in people who harm or may harm their partner. You can find more information at 10to10helpline.org or by calling 877-898-3411.


Overdose Prevention Helpline

The Massachusetts Overdose Prevention Helpline is a virtual spotting/overdose detection service for people who use drugs. Learn more at massoverdosehelpline.org or access it by calling 800-972-0590. 


De Novo Center for Justice and Healing

De Novo is a Cambridge-based nonprofit that provides free civil legal assistance and affordable psychological counseling to people with low incomes. You can learn more about their services at denovo.org.


MassLegalHelp.org is a resource to help Massachusetts residents learn about their legal rights. The website does not offer legal advice or answer individual questions but has a page about options for finding a lawyer. It does provide resources for those facing legal issues, such as a landlord refusing to make repairs, appealing the denial of SNAP benefits, and questions about getting a CORI sealed.

As always, please contact me with questions or concerns at Marjorie.Decker@mahouse.gov.

 

Sincerely,  

Marjorie



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