The Download: Politics, Ideas, and Civic Life in Massachusetts
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CommonWealth Beacon Download. Politics, Ideas, & Civic Life in Massachusetts.

New from CommonWealth Beacon

OPINION: David Ropeik, a former television reporter and Harvard instructor, says a recent  commentary by three members of Greater Boston Physicians for Social Responsibility on radioactive air pollution from the shuttered Pilgrim nuclear power plant is way off the mark. He said ionizing radiation is a very weak carcinogen, even at very high doses.

WAKING UP: THC-infused hemp products showing up at restaurants, liquor stores, and smoke shops are finally getting attention on Beacon Hill, Bhaamati Borkhetaria reports. Agencies are promising new guidance on how to deal with the products and lawmakers are planning an oversight hearing. 

JUDGE CONFIRMED: Gabrielle Wolohojian wins confirmation as a Supreme Judicial Court justice on a 6-1 vote, Sam Doran of the State House News Service reports, with the lone dissenter calling Gov. Maura Healey’s former romantic partner an “insider nominee.”

House looks poised to punt again on sex ed bill

February 29, 2024


After about a decade of disinterest in a law aimed at modernizing and codifying sex ed standards, House leadership seems poised yet again to wave it away. Instead of viewing newly updated state sex ed guidelines as a sign of momentum, as advocates do, House Speaker Ron Mariano suggests that it is in fact a new reason to slow-walk the Healthy Youth Act for a fifth time.

“Given that it has been less than a year since [the Department of Elementary and Secondary Education] adopted the new guidelines, it is important that we give school districts adequate time to implement them, rather than rush to potentially amend or codify them into law,” Mariano said in a statement Monday.

Proponents have expressed mystification, and frustration, about the House’s continued resistance to the bill. Former Senate president Harriette Chandler, who supported the bill during her time in office, repeatedly called the long delay “a disgrace” last month on a local cable show she hosts while talking with bill sponsor Rep. Jim O’Day.

“They changed the entire framework through DESE, finally,” O’Day told Chandler, emphasizing that the last time the sexual health guidelines were updated was in 1999. “Here we are now in 2024, where we at least have a good, solid, well-rounded, medically accurate, age-appropriate, evidence-based [standard],” he said. 

O’Day said the new guidelines, which mirror Healthy Youth Act priorities, indicate that Gov. Maura Healey backs the bill’s goals in principle. 

“So we now have that framework, but that’s all we have,” O’Day said.

The Codcast

This week on The Codcast, John McDonough of the Harvard T.H. Chan School of Public Health and Paul Hattis of the Lown Institute talk to CommonWealth Beacon's Bruce Mohl about what went wrong with Steward Health Care, and possible paths out of the current situation.


The state finally acted after 25 years to update its guidelines, recommending medically accurate, age-appropriate programs. But the proposed law doesn’t just codify the new standards. It would also require data collection on what sexual education programs are being taught across the Commonwealth and impose a requirement that the state guidelines be updated at least every decade.

Proponents of the bill say a shortcoming of the new state education department guidelines is that they are not curriculum mandates. 

As Sen. Sal DiDomenico, a bill sponsor, noted last week, Massachusetts schools that choose to offer sexual health classes could still emphasize abstinence-only or scientifically inaccurate instruction. The Healthy Youth Act still lets schools opt not to teach sex ed and allows parents to opt their children out, but it creates a floor for the quality of instruction that is offered.

During earlier unsuccessful attempts at passage, proponents said school and parent flexibility had been a sticking point in legislative debate. Several senators say they are unclear about the rationale for another delay.


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Despite the recent rush to protect reproductive health options following the Supreme Court’s 2022 decision overturning Roe v. Wade, Beacon Hill can still be “sex shy.” 

O’Day noted six years ago that some legislators worried that the bill would encourage youth sexual behavior. "There are some of my colleagues who are still skittish about this issue," he said in 2018. "It blows my mind. But it is what it is.”

In the Massachusetts Legislature, ambivalence and substantive objection can have the same effect. Without buy-in from the speaker, the bill may wither without a House vote for a fifth time, as proponents scratch their heads trying to decode Mariano’s resistance.

“To be honest we don’t truly know,” said Jamie Klufts, co-chair of the Healthy Youth Coalition, when asked why Mariano seems reluctant to move the bill forward. “We just hope to have the opportunity to speak with him and other House leadership to make sure they know that this bill matters so much right now.”

The Senate’s only scheduled business on Thursday is taking up the Healthy Youth Act once again. Asked by reporters on Monday if she was confident about its chances in the House, Senate President Karen Spilka said only that “there’s confidence that it will make it out of the Senate.” 


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More from CommonWealth Beacon

UNICORN: In a September letter to state officials, the chair of the Milton Select Board calls the Mattapan trolley line a “unicorn” that doesn’t meet the guidelines of the MBTA Communities Act. State officials disagree. 

NOT SO DIFFERENT: To Michael Jonas, the pitch from US Sen. Elizabeth Warren’s new Republican challenger, John Deaton, sounds a lot like Warren’s. 

OPINION: Alan Sager of the BU School of Public Health says Massachusetts has some hard lessons to learn from the Steward debacle, one of them being “trusting profit-making in health care is like believing in the tooth fairy.”

In Other News


  • Democratic leaders of the House are considering ways to rein in the state’s explosion of spending on emergency shelter services, largely driven by the migrant crisis from crossings at the country’s southern border. (Boston Globe)


  • An ally of Boston Mayor Michelle Wu on the city council blocked consideration of a resolution calling for a city-sponsored program offering admission at city museums to Boston Public Schools students to be expanded to include all students in the city. The initiative does not cover thousands of students at public charter schools, private schools, or those enrolled in the Metco program. (Boston Herald

  • Embrace Boston, the nonprofit behind the sculpture honoring Martin Luther King and wife Coretta Scott King, released a report on the city’s history of slavery and systemic racism. (WBUR)


  • After GBH News reported that Steward-owned St. Elizabeth’s Medical Center hadn’t paid a promised $150,000 to a nonprofit that runs a food voucher program, the hospital finally cut a check.


  • State Auditor Diana DiZoglio has shelled out more than $360,000 from her campaign account, most of it for paid signature gathering, to support her effort to put a question on the November ballot authorizing her office to audit the Legislature. (Boston Herald)


  • Boston Fed president Susan Collins expects interest rates to go down later this year, acknowledging the reduction is taking longer than anticipated. (Wall Street Journal)


  • A special meeting called to address an epidemic of violence at Brockton High School was abruptly ended as tempers flared in a clash between Mayor Robert Sullivan and the district’s school superintendent, who was put on leave by the school committee. (Boston Globe)

  • Bay Path University, based in Longmeadow, plans to acquire Cambridge College, a financially struggling private institution based in Boston. (New England Public Media)


  • A controversial proposal to place a bus lane down the center of Boston’s Blue Hill Avenue, part of a project to remake a corridor that runs from the Grove Hall area to Mattapan Square on the Milton border, is moving ahead under the Wu administration. The overhaul is set to cost $44 million, with $15 million coming from federal funds. (Dorchester Reporter)


  • A new state traffic citation study found Black and Hispanic drivers were more likely than white drivers to be criminally charged, arrested, and searched statewide in 2021 and 2022. (Worcester Telegram)


  • Boston Globe columnist Kimberly Atkins Stohr calls on the Globe and New York Times to restore the position of public editor that both papers once had. In this time of widespread frustration with the press, she said, the role of the ombudsperson, who independently referees coverage issues on behalf of readers, has “never been more needed.”  

  • Harvard University’s Nieman Lab asks, “Is The New York Times’ newsroom just a bunch of Ivy Leaguers?” Somewhat is the answer they come up with after reviewing reporter biographies available on the Times website.


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