Text to 9-1-1 is now an option in an emergency

By Michael P. Norton, State House News Service

Calling 911 is the quickest way to summon help in an emergency, but Massachusetts residents can now do so by text, too.

On Dec. 14, a system was deployed across Massachusetts to ensure that text messages sent to 911 would be routed to emergency call centers based on information provided by the texter's service carrier. On Wednesday last week, state officials formally announced that the lifesaving system upgrade is now available to everyone. 

The State 911 Department, in a fact sheet, called the Text-to-9-1-1 system “one of the most exciting changes for accessibility to emergency services in more than 20 years.

“Having the ability to contact a 911 call center by text could help those being held against their will or victims of domestic violence unable to make a voice call,” Frank Pozniak, State 911 Department director, said in a statement. “Text to 911 also provides direct access to 911 emergency services for the deaf, hard of hearing and speech-impaired, which is a service that these communities did not have access to until now.”

Users of the texting approach should enter 911 in the “To” field of their mobile devices – the same process for sending regular text messages – and try to include the address and town where they are texting from, information about the nature of the incident, and any other details about their precise location. 

Officials say making a voice call to 911 remains the most efficient way to get emergency services. 

State clears 2 new cannabis stores

By Colin A. Young, State House News Service

The seventh and eighth recreational marijuana stores in Massachusetts have been cleared to open as early as this Saturday, the Cannabis Control Commission said Tuesday.

Regulators issued notices to commence operations for the Temescal Wellness of Massachusetts retail locations at 10 Callahan Dr. in Pittsfield and at 252 Coolidge St. in Hudson. Both locations already operate as medical marijuana dispensaries and can begin selling non-medical marijuana on Saturday.

According to CCC documents, both stores were granted provisional licenses Sept. 20. The Hudson store was initially inspected by CCC staff on Oct. 16 and the Pittsfield store was first inspected on Oct. 18. Both received final licensure on Dec. 13.

The first non-medical pot shops in the Bay State opened on Nov. 20 and a total of five have opened to consumers, in Leicester, Northampton, Salem, Wareham, and Easthampton. Another store in Great Barrington is expected to open Friday.

Late last month, CCC Chairman Steven Hoffman said the CCC is in a “rhythm” now that could result in four to eight new retail stores coming online each month.

The commission will meet Thursday and is expected to vote to authorize two more final licenses for Temescal Wellness, allowing the company to grow up to 10,000 square feet of cannabis and also to produce marijuana products at its facility at 141 SW Cutoff in Worcester.

Getting from final licensure to commencing operations has taken roughly three to five weeks for the other businesses that have opened. The CCC on Thursday is also slated to vote on eight provisional licenses, including one for a Mass. Alternative Care retail store in Chicopee.

Police investigating body found off Pemberton Point

Chief John Dunn reports that the Hull Police Department is investigating after the body of an adult male was found in the waters off Pemberton Point today [Wednesday, Jan. 2].

Hull Police were called to a location off Main Street, near the commuter boat pier, shortly after noon. Officials located the body of an adult male believed to be in his 30s. He was pronounced dead at the scene.

The initial investigation indicates that the incident is not suspicious, Dunn said.

This is an active and ongoing investigation. Additional information will be released as it becomes available, he said.



Small tax-break on tap for Mass. workers in 2019

By Michael P. Norton
State House News Service

 While there's growing talk of a possible national recession, Massachusetts workers are about to receive a $175-million income tax break and there's now a possibility that the 5 percent tax rate that voters approved in 2000 will actually happen in 2020.

As the weekend got underway Friday, the Baker administration quietly announced that all of the necessary economic triggers had been hit and the income tax will fall from 5.1 percent to 5.05 percent on Jan. 1.

In August, Revenue Commissioner Christopher Harding certified that fiscal 2018 revenues had easily outpaced the state's 2.5-percent trigger, and tax revenue growth in four consecutive three-month periods, the most recent one ending this month, was positive enough to force the rate reduction.

The tax relief means $84 million less for the state budget over the last half of fiscal 2019. Its impact over a full fiscal year is $175 million.

While the slight rate cut may not make a huge difference in take-home pay for workers, its $175 million annualized value exceeds the total $160 million increase in aid to local public schools this fiscal year and nearly equals the $200 million in this year's budget to combat the opioid and heroin epidemic.

In a press release issued Friday, Gov. Charlie Baker and Lt. Gov. Karyn Polito applauded the tax rate reduction.

“A strong economy and careful management of the Commonwealth’s finances have created the conditions for Massachusetts taxpayers to get a much-deserved break,” Baker said. “We are pleased that next year we will see taxpayers be able to keep more of their hard-earned money.”

“Next year the income tax rate will be the lowest it has been in decades, which will provide welcome relief to workers across the Commonwealth,” Polito said. “Massachusetts taxpayers deserve the boost that this rate reduction will deliver.”

Michael Heffernan, Baker's budget chief, called the reduction "a nice break for taxpayers."

In his first bid for governor in 2010, Baker made reducing the income, sales, and corporate tax rates to 5 percent a central theme of his campaign. After losing that year to Gov. Deval Patrick, Baker placed less emphasis on tax relief in his two successful campaigns for governor in 2014 and this year.

5 percent possible in 2020

Income-tax rate reductions did not occur in 2013 or 2017, but the former 5.3 percent rate fell in 2012, 2014, 2015, and 2016.

In 2002, with Rep. John Rogers serving as House Ways and Means chairman under former Speaker Thomas Finneran, the Legislature pushed through a $1.1 billion tax bill over former Gov. Jane Swift's veto. That law froze at 5.3 percent the income tax rate, which voters in 2000 had ordered to be cut to 5 percent.

The 2002 tax law also cut the personal exemption from $4,400 to $3,300 for individuals and $8,800 to $6,600 for couples. Those exemptions were restored to their previous levels in the ensuing years, and triggers have slowly ticked the income tax rate back closer to 5 percent, but not quite there yet.

If triggers force the income tax back down to 5 percent on Jan. 1, 2020, another area of taxation addressed in 2002 will be back on the table.

State law currently requires that in the tax year after the income tax reaches 5 percent, the charitable giving deduction, which was in effect for tax year 2000 but subsequently suspended, will be restored.