Massachusetts Senate Passes DiZoglio NDA Ban

The Massachusetts Senate has passed legislation, sponsored by State Senator Diana DiZoglio (D-Methuen), to eliminate the use of taxpayer-funded nondisclosure agreements (NDAs) across state government.

NDAs are legal documents that require confidentiality to protect intellectual property or trade secrets. The recent #MeToo movement and incidents involving the likes of Harvey Weinstein, Steve Wynn, Larry Nassar and Roger Ailes, however, have shined a light on how these agreements have also been abused to hide the misdeeds of harassers and abusers by requiring the legal silencing of victims.

The executive branch has publicly refused to release information regarding the amount of tax dollars spent on NDAs through the Governor’s Office. Public records requests have been made to several state agencies and revealed numerous NDAs have been given to employees over the course of the last several years. However, there is no record of how much in taxpayer dollars was spent to fund them or why the agreements were executed.

While the Massachusetts Senate earlier this session passed a change, also sponsored by DiZoglio, to its Senate Rules banning the use of NDAs in its chamber, the Massachusetts House of Representatives, known to have given out at least 33 NDAs in recent years, has not adopted such reform and continues to support the use of these taxpayer-funded hush agreements.

Six states to date, including California, Tennessee and Washington, have outright banned NDAs as a condition of employment for all employees, public or private. Recently, Gretchen Carlson, the woman at the center of the #metoo movement known for taking down Fox News titan Roger Ailes, joined Senator DiZoglio and others for a rally at the State House to urge the Governor, the Speaker of the House, and members of the legislature to support NDA reforms by passing DiZoglio’s legislation out of committee.

The bill was subsequently sent to study but DiZoglio informed members of the legislature that she still planned to bring the issue up for debate on the Senate floor as an amendment to the Senate’s comprehensive economic development legislation.

“We are with you, @DianaDiZoglio,” said Carlson in a recent Tweet. “Thank you for leading the way in Mass to unmuzzle women forced to sign NDAs and using taxpayer’s dollars to continue the unjust practice!”

“The practice of using taxpayer funded hush agreements to silence employees and victims of abuse across our state government is a shameful one, and one that must be ended – not only to help those who have already been silenced but also to protect potential future victims from abusers who could be hiding in plain sight,” said DiZoglio. “NDAs don’t just silence victims – they perpetuate harassment and outright assault and place others at risk by keeping these offenses secret. In passing this legislation with a 38-1 margin, the Senate took a clear position on the need to ban this practice in the public sector. I am calling on the Speaker and the Governor to open their hearts to the plight of victims and employees who are asking for nothing more than to be able to speak their truth about potential abuse. We can’t end the silence by perpetuating the silence.”

Gov. Baker Signs DiZoglio Bill Allowing To-Go Mixed Drinks into Law

Gov. Charlie Baker (R-Swampscott) has signed into law legislation filed by State Senator Diana DiZoglio (D-Methuen) that will allow mixed alcoholic drinks to be sold with takeout and delivery orders in Massachusetts during the COVID-19 emergency.

Senate Bill 2812, An Act to expand take-out/delivery options in response to COVID-19, will make Massachusetts the latest state to permit the sale of mixed drinks with takeout and delivery. More than 34 other states, including Maine and Rhode Island, have already adopted such measures.

Earlier this year, beer and wine sales were permitted to be sold with takeout and delivery orders but, much to the frustration of local restaurants, excluded were mixed drinks.

“While many mom and pop establishments have been able to slowly reopen in recent weeks, they still face significant challenges in their efforts to retain employees and pay their bills,” said DiZoglio. “According to our local, family owned and operated restaurants, these measures could help them generate thousands of dollars a month and would greatly assist them in paying utility bills and rent. I am grateful to my colleagues in the legislature for their support and continued advocacy on the issue and to Governor Baker for signing it into law.”

State Funding Secured for Methuen Parks and Recreation Improvements

Included in a bond bill recently passed by the Massachusetts Senate is an amendment, sponsored by State Senator Diana DiZoglio (D-Methuen), for $230,000 toward parks and recreation improvements in the City of Methuen.

Specifically, the secured funds may be used toward expenses associated with upgrades to playground equipment at Veterans Park and Forest Lake, the installation of fitness trails in city parks, and other park and open space improvements across the City of Methuen.

“With COVID-19 continuing to prevent community members from congregating indoors, providing well-maintained open spaces for Methuen residents is more crucial than ever,” said DiZoglio. “During and beyond this emergency, this investment will help to ensure all generations, young and old, have vibrant and safe outdoor environments to enjoy. While the ultimate release of these funds depends on the approval of the Governor’s administration, securing them in the Senate is a necessary and important step in process. We are hopeful the administration will see the value in the city’s endeavors to invest in our parks and open spaces at a time when they are especially needed.”

“We would like to thank Senator DiZoglio for securing a $230,000 bond for parks and recreation improvements for the City of Methuen,” said Methuen Mayor Neil Perry. “With coronavirus still preventing people from congregating freely in enclosed spaces, providing safe and well-maintained open spaces for our residents is more important than ever before. We appreciate Senator DiZoglio’s continued advocacy for Methuen.”

State Funding Secured for Amesbury Public Schools IT Upgrades

Included in a bond bill recently passed by the Massachusetts Senate is an amendment, sponsored by State Senator Diana DiZoglio (D-Methuen), for $270,000 toward Amesbury Public Schools technology and infrastructure upgrades.

The secured funds may be allocated toward expenses associated with the purchase of Chromebooks and Chromecarts or comparable hardware, instructional software, online tools, books and streaming services, repairs to existing technology facilities, upgrades to communications and security systems, and the purchase of other education and classroom supplies and resources.

“The COVID-19 emergency has highlighted the importance of our information technology infrastructure, including in our public schools, where equitable access to education has proved challenging in light of the obstacles exacerbated by the pandemic,” said DiZoglio. “Amesbury Public Schools’ students and faculty would greatly benefit from these necessary upgrades to services they rely on. While the ultimate release these funds will be decided by the Governor and his administration, the Senate’s passage of these funds completes a necessary and important step in the process.”

“I am hopeful that the release of funds for this bond authorization will be expedited,” said Amesbury Mayor Kassandra Gove. “Between this authorization and the $50,000 school safety grant we’ve already received, we will be able to fund many of the technology requests that our schools have been making for years. These requests, which would have been nice to have before the COVID-19 outbreak, have become critical to the success of our schools. The pandemic has truly shown us how necessary these improvements are for our connectivity between schools and families, and to ensure that our students are receiving the best education possible whether they are physically in our buildings or not.”

COVID-19 Update & Resource Guide

COVID-19 Update & Resource Guide

Our team has put together this newsletter, including a compilation of resources and legislative updates around the COVID-19 pandemic. We will send additional information and updates moving forward, so please stay connected. If you need assistance or have any questions, please contact us at diana@dianadizoglio.com or 978-984-7747.

We will also often post updates related to COVID-19 on social media, so please stay connected here:

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Methuen Youth Innovation Project in the Works

The City of Methuen is among the few communities in the Merrimack Valley that is not home to a formal youth center or agency exclusively dedicated to providing services to its young people.

In response, State Senator Diana DiZoglio (D-Methuen) recently secured $200,000 in state funding toward a Youth Innovation Project in Methuen. The funds have been allocated to Inspirational Ones, a local nonprofit which, in collaboration with Methuen Public Schools and other partners, will initiate the pilot program, creating and implementing a curriculum model to identify and expand outside-the-box learning experiences and career opportunities, with a focus on engaging underserved youth. An essential component of the project is participation by a Youth Advisory Committee, whose members have been nominated by teachers and school staff and include representatives of that underserved population.

Originally, in addition to hiring an executive director and staff to provide programming, the goal was to utilize the funds in part to secure a physical facility in the City of Methuen. As the COVID-19 emergency reframes the way services can be delivered, the focus of the pilot phase has pivoted to embrace the new environment by finding partners with platforms that can provide effective online resources and intriguing virtual programming to introduce local youth to education and workforce paths that were previously inaccessible.

“We are excited to be a member of this partnership and have selected nine Methuen High School students with varying backgrounds, experiences, and interests to serve on the Youth Advisory Committee,” said Brandi Kwong, superintendent of Methuen Public Schools. “It is critical to have the student voices as a part of the decision making as they are the ones who will benefit from the programs. The Youth Advisory Committee will help guide the work to serve our youth. As a school district, we work to provide a wide breadth of experiences for all of our students, but it is wonderful to have community partners who want to work with our students and expand their experiences outside of school. We are looking forward to a positive and long-lasting partnership.”

“When we founded Inspirational Ones, it was to create impact at the community level through youth engagement,” said Susan Leger-Ferraro, founder of Inspirational Ones. “We are committed to bringing innovations for school to career opportunities back to my hometown of Methuen, in collaboration with Superintendent Kwong. It was in the early childhood program at Methuen High that I did my first internship in education. It is an honor to give back, as I believe it is all of our responsibility to strengthen our youth, who are our workforce for tomorrow.”

“Now more than ever during this COVID-19 emergency, youth in our community who are stuck at home, separated from their peers, are in need of vital services to keep them connected,” said DiZoglio. “The goal of this project is to provide them with that connectivity, as well as the mentorship opportunities and social and emotional learning to inspire them to pursue their unique talents and reach their goals.”

“I am so excited to be a part of this youth innovation project that will give the youth the opportunity to expose themselves to a variety of careers and experiences as well as explore their interests with others,” said Brooke Tardugno, a Methuen High freshman.

“I believe this project is exactly what our community needs,” said Natalie Harkins, a Methuen High sophomore. “It is a great opportunity to bring people together and truly connect with one another. I’ve already reached out to people to see if they’d be interested in participating and they all agree it’s an amazing opportunity.”

“I’m excited to introduce a new way to engage youth in our community,” said Molly Beeley, a Methuen High junior. “I think the Methuen Youth Innovation Project will offer our generation a unique and personal connection and will open a new door of opportunities for all of Methuen’s youth.”

“It is truly a blessing to be a part of this project,” said Lukas Karagiorgos, a Methuen High junior. “The Methuen Youth Innovation Project is not only a great way for students and kids from our community to hang out and connect, but also an opportunity to give them the tools and resources they need to succeed in the future. One of our main goals as a student led board is to give all students a voice and allow them to have representation in their education and community issues.”

DiZoglio Small Business Bills Advance Out of Committee

Two bills filed by State Senator Diana DiZoglio (D-Methuen), both aimed at helping small businesses during the COVID-19 emergency, have been voted favorably out of the legislature’s Joint Committee on Community Development and Small Businesses and advanced to the Senate for further consideration.

One bill, S. 2643, An Act establishing a Massachusetts Paycheck Protection Program (PPP) for businesses ineligible for the comparable federal PPP, is designed to assist small businesses ineligible for the federal PPP.

Not all small businesses who are unable to conduct business through the COVID-19 emergency are eligible for federal loan and grant opportunities like the PPP, established in the recent CARES Act. The federal PPP creates a type of emergency loan that effectively turns into a grant when used to maintain payroll through June and expands the network beyond SBA so that banks, credit unions and local lenders can issue the loans. The creation of a comparable Massachusetts PPP loan to grant program is designed to address this inequity by incentivizing federally ineligible MA small businesses to not lay off workers and to rehire laid-off workers that lost jobs due to COVID-19 disruptions.

“I urge the Governor’s Administration to put a plan in place to allow these small businesses to operate again with strict safety measures,” said DiZoglio. “I ultimately filed this bill as a last resort for the many businesses who remain closed and entirely ineligible for any type of loan or grant assistance from the federal government. These are local families who pay taxes and employ our neighbors. They’re going under and we need to do all we can to keep them afloat.”

The second bill, S. 2564, An Act to support MassMakers, is comprehensive legislation DiZoglio wrote following over a year’s worth of dialogue with entrepreneurs, business owners, and business and community leaders. It touches upon a variety of issues, including the establishment of a Massachusetts Main Streets Office, a MassMakers web portal to assist aspiring start-ups and scale-ups, microbusinesses, and the empowerment of the state’s Supplier Diversity Office. It has been endorsed by the Retailers Association of Massachusetts and the Black Economic Council of Massachusetts, as well as several local Chambers of Commerce.

“The importance of a healthy small business economy to job creation and growth in Massachusetts cannot be overstated,” said DiZoglio. “Our small business community has told us what they need – increased connectivity, streamlined regulation and service delivery, access to knowledge and opportunity, and empowerment to succeed. This bill is a significant step in the right direction regarding these issues.”

Of particular note during the COVID-19 emergency are provisions in the bill that establish an online, one-stop shop MassMakers web portal for Massachusetts small businesses.

This web portal would:

1. Provide access to information and toolkits to support and assist small businesses, during not only the pandemic but also our economic recovery and in the years to come.

2. Identify Massachusetts small businesses with a “MassMakers” logo and their local products and services as “MassMade.”

3. Help connect local, small MassMaker businesses with local consumers by providing a “Supply Mass, Buy Mass” interactive searchable database for shoppers to find what they need – locally – instead of having to rely on giants like Walmart and Amazon.

“Due to the shutdown and need for social distancing, people are flocking online for the bulk of their purchases and the online giants like Amazon are thriving,” said DiZoglio. “Many of these online sales, however, are sending our Massachusetts purchasing dollars to out-of-state companies who happen to be established or connected enough to have access to advertising and the ability for online sales. During a time when much of our small business community is literally prohibited from making in-person sales, retail giants like Walmart continue to be able to make both in-person and online sales.”

DiZoglio Files COVID-19 Emergency Veteran Relief Bill

On Tuesday, April 28, State Senator Diana DiZoglio (D-Methuen) filed new legislation, An Act providing COVID-19 emergency financial relief for veterans, to provide one-time emergency financial relief grants to Massachusetts veterans suffering demonstrable financial loss due to COVID-19.

Under chapter 115 of the Massachusetts General Laws, which covers veterans’ benefits in the Commonwealth, the Department of Veterans’ Services (DVS), in partnership with local Veterans’ Service Officers (VSOs), administers a program of financial assistance for food, housing, fuel, clothing and medical care for veterans and their dependents with limited income and assets. This legislation supplements that aid as COVID-19 has created financial distress for Massachusetts veterans well beyond the scope of chapter 115.

In addition, social distancing has created obstacles to readily accessing chapter 115 benefits. Part of the process of applying and qualifying for chapter 115 benefits includes being interviewed by VSOs. With municipal buildings closed and access to VSOs more limited, the bill is designed to provide quick-turnaround financial breathing room for veterans as they navigate other resources provided by the state and the federal government.

DiZoglio also filed the bill to acknowledge constraints municipalities are facing with respect to their local budgets due to COVID-19 as they try to plan for the 2021 fiscal year. Chapter 115 benefits are funded 25% by cities and towns. The bill authorizes the Secretary of DVS to create regulations for the timely and effective implementation of the bill. By streamlining the process for these emergency grants through DVS, the goal is to have these funds distributed more rapidly than the process under chapter 115 can currently provide, while avoiding placing additional financial burdens on the municipalities.

“This is a bill that will not only provide our veterans with much needed emergency aid but also start a long overdue conversation about how our veterans are currently accessing benefits and how we can make this system more efficient and effective in its service to those who served us,” said DiZoglio. “All of us should make it our duty to show gratitude to all service members, to those now in uniform and to those who served this nation in the past. Let’s support the brave men and women who have served to keep us free by passing this important legislation.”

“Veterans have proven particularly vulnerable in this crisis,” said Haverhill resident and Vietnam veteran Ralph Basiliere, who originally contacted DiZoglio about the issue and pointed to a similar proposal that already passed in Minnesota. “Efforts to aid them are desperately needed.”

“I am truly grateful to Senator DiZoglio for advocating for our veterans,” said Amesbury Mayor Kassandra Gove. “The Amesbury Veteran Services Office has remained open throughout the COVID-19 outbreak, working closely with our veterans to ensure that they continue to receive these important benefits and have access to information and resources. In past times of economic hardship we have seen an increase in applications for Chapter 115 benefits, and as we continue to make sure that we are taking care of everyone in our community, this bill is a great step forward to help more veterans. This bill not only expands on Chapter 115 for veterans, but it also ensures that our community receives reimbursements faster, which is important for everyone in these uncertain financial times.”

DiZoglio Unveils Comprehensive Small Business “MassMakers” Bill

: From left to right, Jon B. Hurst, president of the Retailers Association of Massachusetts; State Senator Jason Lewis (D-Winchester); Dougan Sherwood, president of the Greater Haverhill Chamber of Commerce; State Senator Diana DiZoglio (D-Methuen); and Andrew Firmin, vice president of the North Andover Merchants Association.

: From left to right, Jon B. Hurst, president of the Retailers Association of Massachusetts; State Senator Jason Lewis (D-Winchester); Dougan Sherwood, president of the Greater Haverhill Chamber of Commerce; State Senator Diana DiZoglio (D-Methuen); and Andrew Firmin, vice president of the North Andover Merchants Association.

State Senator Diana DiZoglio (D-Methuen) has unveiled comprehensive new small business legislation, Senate Docket 2812, An Act to support MassMakers.

DiZoglio, who serves as chair of the legislature’s Joint Committee on Community Development and Small Business, was recently joined at the State House by business leaders as she discussed the details of the MassMakers Act, which has been designed to assist small businesses by recognizing their unique challenges and providing tools to help them succeed.

Among the topics addressed were the establishment of a Massachusetts Main Streets Office, a MassMakers web portal to assist aspiring start-ups and scale-ups, microbusinesses, and the empowerment of the state’s Supplier Diversity Office.

The introduction of the MassMakers Act comes on the heels of listening tours that DiZoglio has hosted over course of this session to hear the concerns of the small business community in Massachusetts.

“The importance of a healthy small business economy to job creation and growth in Massachusetts cannot be overstated,” said DiZoglio. “This bill is the culmination of a year’s worth of dialogue with entrepreneurs, business owners, and business and community leaders. They have told us what they need – increased connectivity, streamlined regulation and service delivery, access to knowledge and opportunity, and empowerment to succeed. This bill is a big step in the right direction regarding these topics.”

Created through the MassMakers Act is a Supply Mass/Buy Mass interactive network that connects Massachusetts businesses shopping for supplies and services with other MA businesses who provide those goods and services – making it easier to shop local.

The bill creates a MassMade designation to bolster recognition of those businesses that produce or manufacture within the Commonwealth. Recognition is the first step in promoting awareness of the beneficial ripple effect that shopping local has throughout Massachusetts cities and towns.

Under this bill, Small Business Saturday will become Friday, Saturday & Sunday to expand awareness & opportunities to shop local over the holidays. Alongside this effort, the Office of Business Development is directed to develop, evaluate and recommend other policies that will encourage keeping consumer dollars close to home.

Another provision in the bill establishes an office of Mass Main Streets to oversee coordination, promotion and revitalization of downtowns and commercial districts by connecting resources across municipal lines. Every state in the U.S. has an office of main streets. It’s time Massachusetts fills this gap in serving our small business community.

“It should be a priority of the Commonwealth of Massachusetts to protect, promote and preserve Main Streets in 351 cities and towns across the state,” said Jon B. Hurst, president of the Retailers Association of Massachusetts. “Main Streets were born in New England, as was the concept of Main Streets state offices to work with local non-profits and the national office of the National Trust for Historical Preservation. Yet Massachusetts hasn’t had an office or focus since the 1980s to properly work with national and local campaigns. It’s hard work to keep our Main Streets viable in the age of the smartphone and it’s time to make it a priority for our future generations.”

“When I was growing up, my father owned and operated a small wholesale and retail chocolate business, and I saw firsthand the challenges that small business owners face in starting and running their businesses,” said State Senator Jason Lewis (D-Winchester). “Small businesses need our support because they lead the way in revitalizing our downtowns and invigorating our local economies. I’m excited to support the MassMakers Act, and pleased that the bill includes legislation that I filed to create the Massachusetts Office of Main Streets, which will coordinate local, state and federal efforts to support and promote our local downtowns.”

The MassMakers Act creates a MassMakers Portal, a one-stop shop interactive web portal for aspiring and established businesses in the Commonwealth. Conceptually modeled after the successful Haverhill Business Portal, the goal of the MassMakers Portal is to provide a single entry pathway from aspiration to realization, whether the dream is to start a new business or to take the next step and scale up an existing business.

“What I love about this legislation is how it aligns with what is happening in conversations at the local level, both publicly and privately,” said Dougan Sherwood, president of the Greater Haverhill Chamber of Commerce. “There are states all over the country coming into our markets to try and take our business. This legislation goes right to the heart of problems impacting us and supporting local businesses when they need it the most.”

“Small businesses provide vibrancy and financial stability for our communities,” said Andrew Firmin, vice president of the North Andover Merchants Association. “Having a one-stop portal will provide them an opportunity to locate all of the info they need in an easy and understandable manner.”

Currently, a review of the impact of rules and regulations on small businesses is only required of state agencies once every 12 years. Less than 40% of small businesses survive past 10 years, however. It’s imperative that these reviews are conducted in a timely fashion to see what’s working and what’s not to assist small businesses. The MassMakers Act synchronizes the impact review with the development of the economic development policy required during the first year of each new administration so that the review can inform the governor’s economic plan.

Also created under the legislation is the H⇧RE MASS program to give students and adult professionals with valuable trade skills the knowledge they need to start their own businesses. H⇧RE MASS would provide mentorship and create real, tangible pathways to success. A complement to the existing MassHire program which connects businesses with potential employees, H⇧RE MASS takes employees and connects them with the opportunity to become employers.

The MassMakers Act also defines the term “microbusiness” – the smallest of our small businesses – and charges the Office of Business Development and others to examine micro-lending for microbusinesses to promote increased opportunities for access to seed money and ongoing capital. Small businesses can employ hundreds and still be considered small businesses in MA. Microbusinesses operate more like mom and pop shops and they need special considerations and their own designation if we are to create opportunities specific to their success.

The MassMakers Act also seeks to empower the state’s Supplier Diversity Office – which is tasked with promoting minority, women and veteran-owned businesses but has struggled in recent years due to inadequate funding and staffing – to fulfill its mission by reinstating it as its own agency under Housing and Economic Development. The MassMakers Act further reaffirms the state’s commitment to diversity, equity and inclusion by incorporating diversity and inclusion plan requirements in government contracts for goods and services similar to the current Massport Model.

Haverhill’s Hartell Johnson Honored at State House

Hartell Johnson 2

In honor of Black History Month and the Commonwealth’s commemoration of the work of prominent African Americans in Massachusetts, state legislators recently nominated local advocates, community leaders and business members for recognition during Black Excellence on the Hill Day.

Hartell Johnson of Haverhill was nominated by State Senator Diana DiZoglio (D-Methuen) for the occasion, in honor of her work in the Merrimack Valley.

A former vice president and current member of the Greater Haverhill League of Women Voters, Johnson has served on the City of Haverhill Cultural Council and Community Affairs Advisory Boards and, for more than a decade, has worked as a business analyst at Fresenius Medical Care. She was a candidate for Haverhill City Council in 2017 and is on the board of directors at Haverhill’s Zinnia Montessori School.

“Hartell embodies so much of what makes the Merrimack Valley and its communities great,” said DiZoglio. “An unwavering advocate for stronger educational opportunities for students, improved economic development and enhancing cultural affairs, she is a true force for positive change in the City of Haverhill.”