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SHNS | Bilingual Deal Nearing, Senators Plan D.C. Trip

By Michael P. Norton | State House News Service | November 14, 2017

If they wrap up work on Beacon Hill in time, including possible action on a bilingual education reform bill, seven Senate Democrats plan to travel to Washington D.C. on Wednesday for two days of lobbying with federal labor, education and energy officials.

Sen. Sal DiDomenico of Everett, who chairs the Senate Committee on Intergovernmental Affairs and serves as Ways and Means Committee vice chair, told the News Service about the trip plans Tuesday after speaking at a World Diabetes Day event.

DiDomenico also disclosed that a conference committee is nearing a deal with the House over legislation to overhaul bilingual education in Massachusetts.

"We're close to getting it resolved," DiDomenico said. "We hope that we can get it voted on by both branches by Wednesday."

Lawmakers in September kicked off a series of closed-door negotiations on legislation to allow Massachusetts schools more flexibility to teach English language learners. The House in June and the Senate in July passed different versions of bills (H 3740/S 2134) that would do away with key components of a 2002 ballot law requiring English-immersion instruction for public school students, including those who are not fluent in the language.

Backers of the bills, which are now before a six-member conference committee, have said the law is restrictive and has not helped some English language learners progress.

Sen. Sonia Chang-Diaz of Jamaica Plain and Rep. Alice Peisch of Wellesley co-chair the conference committee, which also includes DiDomenico and Sen. Patrick O'Connor of Weymouth, and Reps. Frank Moran of Lawrence and Kimberly Ferguson of Holden.

Senate Democrats who traveled to Washington, D.C. in May to lobby against potential federal spending cuts reported signs of hope after meeting with members of Congress and agency officials.

On Tuesday, DiDomenico said lawmakers planned to hold follow-up meetings with education officials and suggested broader opposition to education spending cuts. "Republicans don't want to cut education in Congress," he said.

Before the May trip, DiDomenico said the state relies on about $11 billion in federal revenue annually, and $1 billion to $2 billion is at risk based on President Trump's spending outlines, depending on decisions the Republican-controlled Congress will make.

Senators plan to leave for Washington on Wednesday, but could leave on Thursday, if necessary. DiDomenico said the bulk of their meetings are scheduled for Thursday and Friday.

DiDomenico said senators also plan to meet with Sens. Edward Markey and Elizabeth Warren and Congressman Richard Neal, as well as U.S. Treasury officials and officials in U.S. Secretary of State Rex Tillerson's office.

"We're meeting with high-level folks," he said. "We are getting access to decision-makers at these agencies."

The senators scheduled to make the trip are DiDomenico, Michael Brady of Brockton, Adam Hines of Pittsfield, Eric Lesser of Longmeadow, Linda Dorcena Forry of Dorchester, William Brownsberger of Belmont and Julian Cyr of Truro, DiDomenico said.