DiZoglio Calls for State Audit into Massachusetts Vaccine Distribution

State Senator Diana DiZoglio (D-Methuen) is continuing to call on Governor Charlie Baker (R-Swampscott) to address concerns and answer questions around Massachusetts’ rollout of the COVID-19 vaccine. Should the Governor’s Administration not comply, DiZoglio has requested State Auditor Suzanne M. Bump conduct an audit to obtain answers.

In a letter to Bump dated February 18, DiZoglio notes the concerns she has heard from residents around transparency and accountability in the vaccine rollout process. Among the areas DiZoglio is seeking answers on is the selection of vendors the Governor’s Administration has tasked with distributing the vaccine.

According to DiZoglio, when her office inquired the state Department of Public Health whether there was a Request for Proposal (RFP) process involved, their response was “since vaccination distribution is a federal process, we do not have a role in that.”

“My question wasn’t about allocation to the state,” said DiZoglio. “It was about allocation within the state. We still need answers from the Governor. All of the vendors appear to be private companies. The public deserves to know the Administration’s rationale for selecting these vendors and how much taxpayer money is going to these companies. This applies to the venues and pharmacies the Administration is working alongside as well – what is their rationale for selecting certain sites over others and how much funding are they receiving? Moreover, is there a supplier diversity component being implemented?”

DiZoglio’s effort comes in advance of this Thursday’s first oversight hearing of the Legislature’s Joint Committee on COVID-19 and Emergency Preparedness and Management.

“I am tremendously grateful for the formation of the Joint Committee on COVID-19 and Emergency Preparedness and Management and its capable leadership’s commitment to probing the Administration’s plans through oversight hearings, and believe the Auditor’s office, with the many resources it has, is uniquely qualified to push for and help us obtain these particular answers more swiftly, working alongside the Legislature‘s efforts to provide much needed, continued oversight,” said DiZoglio.

DiZoglio Vaccine Pre-Registration Bill Gets Boost After Federal Lawmakers Call on Governor to Establish System

Massachusetts’ federal legislative delegation is calling on Gov. Charlie Baker (R-Swampscott) to launch a pre-registration system for the COVID-19 vaccine, a push that comes on the heels of State Senator Diana DiZoglio (D-Methuen)’s filing of SD709, An Act relative to COVID-19 vaccination pre-registration.

In a letter penned by U.S. Representative Katherine Clark and co-signed by U.S. Senators Elizabeth Warren and Edward Markey and U.S. Representatives Lori Trahan, Seth Moulton, Ayanna Pressley, Jim McGovern, Stephen Lynch, Bill Keating and Jake Auchincloss, the lawmakers express their concerns over the state’s vaccine rollout and lack of the sort of pre-registration system that has been launched in other U.S. states, such as Florida, New Jersey and West Virginia.

“We remain deeply concerned that the absence of a centralized pre-registration system for vaccine appointments has contributed to a slow and inequitable deployment of vaccines in Massachusetts, a trend that will only be exacerbated by increased demand as appointments open up to future eligibility groups,” wrote the lawmakers. “We therefore implore you to act with the requisite urgency to develop and implement a centralized, accessible system for all Massachusetts residents to pre-register for COVID-19 vaccinations, confirm eligibility details, and receive notification when an appointment becomes available at a convenient location.”

“Our federal delegation led by Congresswoman Clark has hit the nail on the head,” said DiZoglio. “A centralized, accessible system would provide our communities the ability to pre-register for COVID-19 vaccinations, confirm eligibility details, and receive notification when an appointment becomes available at a convenient location. I am so grateful to our federal legislative delegation for throwing their weight behind the call to establish a pre-registration system in Massachusetts. Our voices are only going to continue to get louder until the Governor acts. If he won’t budge, it is our responsibility to take up this measure and lead in the Senate by passing this legislation immediately.”

Massachusetts Sewage (CSO) Notification Bill Signed into Law

Under legislation recently signed into law by Governor Charlie Baker (R-Swampscott), a statewide sewage discharge notification system will be established to alert residents when such discharges make public rivers and beaches unsafe.

An Act promoting awareness of sewage pollution in public waters, sponsored by Senator Pat Jehlen (D-Somerville) and co-sponsored by Senator Diana DiZoglio (D-Methuen) alongside House sponsors Representatives Denise Provost (D-Somerville) and Linda Dean Campbell (D-Methuen), was introduced in response to pollution issues that for decades have plagued the Commonwealth’s public waters, namely discharge from combined sewer overflows (CSOs).

A recent report released by the nonprofit Environment America found that “each year in the U.S., swimmers in oceans, lakes, rivers and ponds suffer from an estimated 57 million cases of recreational waterborne illness.” It also found that “an analysis of fecal indicator bacteria sampling data from beaches in 29 coastal and Great Lakes states and Puerto Rico reveals that 386 beaches – nearly one of every eight surveyed – were potentially unsafe on at least 25 percent of the days that sampling took place last year.”

“As many know, we’ve done a tremendous amount of work as a region to highlight this issue – to the point of kayaking the entire 117-mile-long length of the Merrimack River to help raise awareness,” said DiZoglio, following her remarks at the legislation’s bill signing ceremony. “This legislation is long overdue to keep the public informed about sewage overflows into our beloved Merrimack River and all waterways across the Commonwealth. It is just one step and we have much more work to do but we must celebrate this significant step in the right direction that was able to be accomplished through teamwork. Thank you to all residents and advocates who have been pushing for years for this. Your persistence and determination made this happen. Thanks to Governor Baker for signing this important bill into law.”

DiZoglio Calls on Baker to Improve Vaccine Accessibility in the City of Methuen

State Senator Diana DiZoglio (D-Methuen) is calling on the Baker Administration to bolster vaccine availability and accessibility in the City of Methuen.

In a letter, sent to Governor Charlie Baker and Health and Human Services Secretary Marylou Sudders on February 15, DiZoglio outlined the concerns she has heard from Methuen residents around lack of access to the COVID-19 vaccine.

Last week, the City of Methuen received 100 doses of the vaccine. It was then informed it would receive no doses from the state this week. According to DiZoglio, her office was advised by the state Department of Public Health (DPH) that the low dose number was the result of a federal vaccine shortage. However, the state continues to distribute significant numbers of doses to pharmacies across Massachusetts.

“The City put in great work and time to establish a vaccine distribution center, per the request of your Administration, that accommodates social distancing and long lines,” said DiZoglio in the letter. “Pharmacies do not have such space to ensure social distancing. The allocation makes no sense.”

DiZoglio argues the federal supply issue raised by DPH is not the issue – rather it is about “effective allocation between vaccine providers.”

“People, especially in the current vaccination group, should be able to conveniently turn to their local municipal provider,” said DiZoglio. “The mass vaccine sites that have been established can be physically difficult to get to and maneuver.”

In her letter, DiZoglio also raised questions and concerns over which specific vaccines have gone out and to whom. The vaccine produced by Pfizer requires a different type of freezer refrigeration than the vaccine by Moderna and its parts must be reconstituted prior to inoculation.

“Municipalities can store the Moderna vaccine but are generally unequipped to store the Pfizer, which hospitals and pharmacies are better equipped to store,” said DiZoglio. “To the extent allocations are made, the state must take this into account. It is critical that we know how much of each vaccine is going out and to whom.”

On February 12, the Belfer Center for Science and International Affairs at the Harvard Kennedy School gave the Commonwealth of Massachusetts an ‘F’ grade for its rollout, based on a ranking among all 50 states on key metrics, including vaccines distributed as a share of the adult population and as a share of the doses available to be delivered in the state.

“The City of Methuen is not alone in facing these significant challenges,” said DiZoglio. “Cities and towns in the Merrimack Valley and across the Commonwealth have expressed frustration over the vaccine rollout, with legislators offering countless letters to the Governor’s Administration, many of which I have either written or signed on to. Our most vulnerable residents have been incredibly patient. It is beyond past time the Administration finally gets with the program, as so many other states have been able to do and provides our communities with the support they desperately need.”

DiZoglio Bill Calls for a COVID-19 Preregistration System in Massachusetts

Under a new bill filed by State Senator Diana DiZoglio (D-Methuen), the Commonwealth of Massachusetts would be required to provide for pre-registration regarding the COVID-19 vaccine.

Senate Docket 709, An Act relative to COVID-19 vaccination preregistration, tasks the state’s Department of Public Health with establishing a centralized system for residents to pre-register. Vaccines would be distributed to persons based on which phase they fall under.

DiZoglio’s bill comes on the heels of rampant frustration among Massachusetts residents with the state’s rollout of the vaccine, in particular the Commonwealth’s vaccine website, which has left many spending hours in search of an appointment, only to hit a dead end.

Should the bill be signed into law, it will join several U.S. states, including Florida, New Jersey and West Virginia, that have produced a vaccine preregistration tool for residents to utilize. Moreover, several municipalities in Massachusetts, including the Towns of Cohasset and Hingham, have proceeded with similar preregistration systems at the local level.

“We need to get ahead of this pandemic instead of continuing to chase after it,” said DiZoglio. “The vaccine rollout has been less than ideal but we can ensure that the frustration experienced by the first group of eligible recipients is not replicated during subsequent phases of the vaccine distribution plan. We can do that by giving all Massachusetts residents the opportunity to establish eligibility and preregister for the vaccine instead of spending time and energy trying to schedule appointments whose availability is determined by the vaccine supply chain. A centralized state-level preregistration system would provide residents a way to effectively hold their space in line and alert them to available appointments as their vaccination eligibility phase opens.”

DiZoglio Calls on Baker Administration for Accessible and Equitable COVID-19 Vaccine

State Senator Diana DiZoglio (D-Methuen) is calling on the Baker Administration for clearer communication and increased information as residents across Massachusetts struggle to obtain access to the COVID-19 vaccine.

In a letter, dated January 27 and sent to Governor Charlie Baker and Health and Human Services Secretary Marylou Sudders, DiZoglio noted she has heard from many residents who expressed concerns around the rollout of the vaccine.

“Our communities need to know where, when and how they can receive this vaccine,” said DiZoglio in the letter. “That is simply not the case right now.”

DiZoglio noted particular concern around the state’s COVID-19 vaccine website, which residents have described to her as a “dead end” in their efforts to obtain an appointment. Moreover, much to the frustration of residents without internet access, the Commonwealth does not presently offer a phone line that can be called to make a vaccine appointment. DiZoglio called on the Administration to establish such a hotline as soon as possible.

Also raised by DiZoglio were concerns around who is receiving the vaccine first.

“I have heard from many in my community who are rightfully perplexed and frustrated by the Administration’s prioritizing of young, healthy medical researchers – most of who are working remotely – over at-risk seniors, who have been waiting patiently on the sidelines for the vaccine,” said DiZoglio. “Seniors in other New England states – Connecticut, Maine, New Hampshire and Vermont – have been receiving the vaccine while researchers, many of who have nothing to do with COVID-19 or patient care at all, are ahead of the line in Massachusetts.”

According to the latest data from the U.S. Centers for Disease Control and Prevention, Massachusetts ranks 37th in the nation in administration of the COVID-19 vaccine.

Merrimack Valley Lawmakers Secure Natural Gas Pipeline Safety Measures in Energy Bill

A major climate policy bill approved by the Legislature contains significant provisions to address natural gas safety, thanks in large part to efforts in the Senate by the Merrimack Valley delegation.

The actions respond to the tragic 2018 Merrimack Valley explosions which took the life of Leonel Rondon, an 18 year old who died after a chimney from a house explosion collapsed on the car he was in. The gas explosions resulted in a string of injuries from fires, and other disruptions after Columbia Gas over-pressurized natural gas lines. Tens of thousands of North Andover, Lawrence and Andover residents were displaced from their homes and places of work.

Elements of An Act Creating a Next-Generation Roadmap for Massachusetts Climate Policy addressing natural gas safety include:

• Requiring the Department of Public Utilities to issue new regulations relative to training and certifying utility contractors;
• Instructing the Department of Public Utilities to set standards for maintaining gas distribution maps and records;
• Directing gas companies to report “disruptions in the provision of electronic data” as a service quality metric;
• Adding whistleblower protections for utility employees who report violations of law by their employers;
• Increasing penalties for failure to restore service after emergencies;
• Raising the cap on civil penalties for gas pipeline safety violations, allowing for fines in excess of those set by federal law;
• Requiring all written complaints regarding gas service to be investigated and responded to in a timely manner, and directing the DPU to establish a publicly-accessible database of such complaints; and
• Strengthening gas company plans to address aging and leaking infrastructure, by setting interim targets for reducing gas leak rates and authorizing the DPU to levy fines for non-compliance.

“I am so grateful that among other important measures, this bill increases penalties for failure to restore service after emergencies; requires new regulations around training and certifying utility contractors; extends whistleblower protections to utility employees who report violations by their employers, and creates a database in which all written complaints around gas service will be made public,” said Senator Diana DiZoglio (D – Methuen). “There remains much work to be done but these are nonetheless key steps in our efforts to prevent future incidents.”

“The tragedy, hardship, suffering and economic damage that North Andover, Lawrence, and Andover have endured because of the gas explosions of September 2018 compel us to take effective action to prevent such events from ever happening again,” said Senator Bruce Tarr (R – Gloucester). He added that “we must not fail to learn from what has happened and do everything possible to make our natural gas system safer. Our legislative members from the House and the Senate have worked in a bipartisan and focused way to achieve that goal.”

“This crucial legislation will hold public utility companies accountable, strengthen safety standards, and help prevent natural gas disasters in the future,” said Senator Barry Finegold (D – Andover). “The Columbia Gas explosions devastated our community. A young man lost his life, families spent months homeless, and many suffered significant financial hardships. I look forward to continuing to work with local, state, and federal officials to increase regulatory oversight of the natural gas industry and help the Merrimack Valley recover from the Columbia Gas tragedy.”

The federal National Transportation Safety Board last year, in a 73-page report, stated “weak engineering management that did not adequately plan, review, sequence, and oversee the construction project” was a factor that disrupted the gas distribution system.

Members of the Merrimack Valley delegation called for oversight hearings of Columbia Gas immediately following the incident. At a 2019 hearing of the Joint Committee on Telecommunications, Utilities and Energy, the lawmakers stressed the important role the Legislature should play with state regulators to make sure these and similar operations are safe, effective and efficient.

The members stressed that while the bill contains important measures to increase safety, they will be seeking additional measures for that purpose in the new legislative session. With the support of the House of Representatives and final passage in the Senate, the bill now moves to the desk of Governor Baker for his consideration.

Methuen Youth and Community Center Project Gets $200K Boost in State Budget

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Included in the Senate’s Fiscal Year 2021 Budget is an amendment sponsored by State Senator Diana DiZoglio (D-Methuen) for $200,000 toward the Methuen Youth and Community Center project.

Over the past year, DiZoglio has made the establishment of a formal youth and community center in the City of Methuen one of her top priorities, culminating in a 159-mile March Across Massachusetts this fall to raise awareness and support for the project. DiZoglio has noted that Methuen is among the few communities in the Merrimack Valley that does not have such a center like many surrounding cities and towns.

The local nonprofit Inspirational Ones, in collaboration with Methuen Public Schools and the City of Methuen, is initiating the project, 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 the Youth Advisory Council MY (Methuen Youth) Voice, whose members have been nominated by teachers and school staff and include representatives of that underserved population.

In October, the Methuen School Committee voted to approve the former Pleasant Valley School building on Pleasant Valley Street as the location for a Methuen Youth and Community Center.

“We still have quite a ways to go – however, these critical funds will bring us one step closer to making the dream of a Methuen Youth and Community Center a reality,” said DiZoglio. “Together, we will provide our youth with mentorship opportunities and social and emotional learning to inspire them to pursue their unique talents and reach their goals.”

Beyond this FY21 funding, DiZoglio earlier secured another $200,000 in state funds to initiate the program and $1 million in a recent economic development bill toward the capital campaign. The previous $200,000 is currently at work in coordination with MPS, while the $1 million bond and $200,000 secured in this current budget will need final release by the Baker Administration.

To learn more about the Methuen Youth and Community Center project, please visit https://www.facebook.com/MarchAcrossMass or www.InspirationalOnes.org by clicking on Youth Innovation Program.

Old Pleasant Valley School Building Approved for Methuen Youth and Community Center

The Methuen School Committee has voted to approve the former Pleasant Valley School building on Pleasant Valley Street as the location for a new Methuen Youth and Community Center.

The vote, taken during the School Committee’s meeting on October 26, comes on the heels of State Senator Diana DiZoglio (D-Methuen)’s efforts to establish a formal youth center in the City of Methuen. DiZoglio, who recently marched 159 miles across Massachusetts to raise awareness and support for the project, has noted that Methuen is among the few communities in the Merrimack Valley that does not have such a center like many surrounding cities and towns.

The local nonprofit Inspirational Ones, in collaboration with Methuen Public Schools and the City of Methuen, is initiating the 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 the Youth Advisory Council MY (Methuen Youth) Voice, whose members have been nominated by teachers and school staff and include representatives of that underserved population.

“I am so grateful to Mayor Perry, Superintendent Kwong and the entire School Committee for their thoughtful deliberation of how to best support the youth in this endeavor,” said DiZoglio. “They had a great discussion and we are lucky to have such a great group of people who genuinely care decide to help make the vision of a Methuen Youth and Community Center a reality. We are so thankful!”

“This is such an important step toward the long-awaited goal of having a Youth Center in Methuen,” said Methuen Mayor Neil Perry. “The dream has been ongoing for decades. Senator DiZoglio, the City of Methuen, and the School Committee are committed to making it a reality. Methuen is full of young people and families who deserve such a facility. We are driven to create a Youth Center in which we all can take pride.”

“This vote for a Youth Center at the Pleasant Valley School site is a tremendous step forward for the young people of Methuen,” said Brandi Kwong, superintendent of Methuen Public Schools. “We have long needed such a facility to provide recreational and educational options for families. The School Department is pleased to be part of this initiative and looks forward to bringing it to fruition. I want to thank Senator DiZoglio for her persistence and vision of MY Voice – Methuen Youth Voice and Community Center, Mayor Neil Perry, and the School Committee for their commitment to a youth center that will be enjoyed by so many for years to come.”

“The Greater Methuen community has leadership that invests and believes in the power of our youth,” said Susan Leger Ferraro, founder of Inspirational Ones. “We are beyond excited to begin this innovation with MY Voice leadership pioneering the way! Thank you to Mayor Perry and the School Committee for demonstrating the power of community to open doors for a unified future.”

Newburyport Brewing Company Awarded Manufacturer of the Year

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Newburyport Brewing Company has been recognized by State Senator Diana DiZoglio (D-Methuen) as part of the Legislature’s 5th Annual Manufacturing Month Awards, honoring manufacturers across the Commonwealth.

Newburyport Brewing Company is a craft brewery dedicated to brewing high-quality craft beer products for local and regional consumers. Co-founded in 2012 as Massachusetts’ first all-can and keg craft brewery by two local Newburyport entrepreneurs, musicians, and home brewers – Chris Webb and Bill Fisher – Newburyport Brewing aims to capture the essence of the City of Newburyport’s quaint seaside character across a line of handcrafted ales.

During the COVID-19 emergency, they have expanded their outdoor seating and live music space, with a variety of entertainment scheduled each week.

“Local businesses like Newburyport Brewing Company are the backbone of our economy and essential to job creation and growth,” said DiZoglio, a member of the legislature’s Manufacturing Caucus. “I was honored to nominate this great company, an exceptional example of American ingenuity, for this recognition. Now more than ever, they need our support as they work to get through this unprecedented and challenging time. I encourage folks to check out their fantastic space.”

“We are extremely honored to receive this award and we thank Senator DiZoglio for recognizing us,” said Chris Webb, co-founder of Newburyport Brewing Company. “It’s all about supporting local in this time and Bill Fisher and I greatly appreciate this award.”