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STATE CAPITOL BRIEFS – WEDNESDAY, FEB. 18, 2015

STATE HOUSE NEWS SERVICE

UMASS AMHERST REVERSES COURSE ON IRANIAN STUDENTS

The University of Massachusetts Amherst on Wednesday reversed its two-day old policy banning international students from Iran from some graduate engineering and natural sciences programs, announcing a revision that officials said would still comply with federal sanctions law by developing individualized programs for Iranian students. The new revised policy, according to UMass, was developed in consultation with the State Department. “This approach reflects the university’s longstanding commitment to wide access to educational opportunities,” said Michael Malone, vice chancellor for research and engagement. “We have always believed that excluding students from admission conflicts with our institutional values and principles. It is now clear, after further consultation and deliberation, that we can adopt a less restrictive policy.” The 2012 Iran Threat Reduction and Syria Human Rights Act required the State Department to deny visas to Iranian students wishing to pursue studies in the U.S. related to energy, nuclear science, nuclear engineering or related fields. UMass Amherst said it would develop individualized study plans “as appropriate” based on a student’s projected coursework to accompany an offer of admission for applicants from Iran. On Monday, UMass Amherst announced it would stop accepting students from Iran to certain engineering and science programs to comply with federal law, but the move was protested by The National Iranian American Council. – Matt Murphy/SHNS

MBTA OUTLINES SERVICE RESTORATION SCHEDULE

Sounding cautionary notes, MBTA officials are aiming to re-open the Braintree section of the Red Line and the Green Line’s Boston College spur on Monday. The agency released the information in a Wednesday evening announcement that also said service between JFK/UMass station in Dorchester and North Quincy on the Red Line will likely resume on Friday, Feb. 20. The E Line of the Green Line, which runs above ground by the Longwood Medical area, Northeastern University and the Museum of Fine Arts, could also re-open on Friday. Trolley service between Ashmont Station in Dorchester and Mattapan Square is slated to be available on Feb. 27. The restoration plan comes as commuters struggle with delays, cancellations, erratic commuter rail schedules and shuttle buses meant to replace the loss of rail service. Transportation officials have blamed aging equipment and historic amounts of snow that have encased above-ground tracks. “The goals we identified today will hinge on a number of factors, including weather conditions, and while we are making progress on recovering tracks and stations, we are also working hard to get train counts up,” General Manager Beverly Scott said in a statement on Wednesday. “This will not be an easy task but our dedicated employees are working day and night to deliver the level of service the people of Massachusetts deserve.” Red Line service has been available from Ashmont Station to Alewife. The Orange Line, the Silver Line, the Blue Line, and the Green Line’s C and D branches are currently open. Inmates have been deployed as diggers along the snow-covered tracks on the Red Line and the National Guard has worked to clear the tracks on Green Line routes. – Gintautas Dumcius/SHNS

BAKER TO PUBLISH OPIOID TRACKING DATA

Gov. Charlie Baker on Thursday plans to announce initial steps he will take to fight the opiate abuse crisis in Massachusetts, prying his attention for least a moment from the budget, snow and transportation issues that have consumed his first weeks in office. Baker plans to publish what his office is describing as the first public release of county data tracking data on opioid prescriptions and overdoses. The information will be published at mass.gov/opioids will detail the number of individuals receiving opioid prescriptions from different prescribers and individuals who are filling those prescriptions at different pharmacies. Just before the first blizzard rolled into Boston in late January, Baker and Lt. Gov. Karyn Polito said they had hoped to announce steps the governor planned to take to address prescription drug abuse through executive action that did not require Legislative approval. “We recognize the Legislature has done a lot of work on the substance abuse and treatment end of it, but the prevention end of it there’s more work to be done and we certainly want to implement some of the things they already put into law,” Polito told the News Service. Though additional snow storms delayed the announcement, Baker plans to hold a private meeting on Thursday with Health and Human Services Secretary Marylou Sudders, Hope House Operations Director Paul Yates and a Hope House client at the Boston treatment center followed by a press conference at 1:30 p.m. – Matt Murphy/SHNS

BAKER ELEVATES DIVERSITY HIRING, CONTRACTING

Gov. Charlie Baker signed an executive order on Wednesday evening elevating the Office of Access and Opportunity into the governor’s office as a signal that his administration will put a premium on diversity in policy, hiring, and state purchasing. “We believe by elevating this office we create a unique opportunity to put our stamp on our efforts to enhance diversity and increase participation among all communities and the success of the Commonwealth and to make sure we bring prosperity and opportunity to parts of the Commonwealth that have not benefited from the success of the past few years,” Baker said at a press conference where he signed the order. Baker was joined by Lt. Gov. Karyn Polito, Veterans’ Services Secretary Francisco Urena, members of the Black and Latino legislative caucus, and community leaders. Baker said the office, which was created in 2010 by former Gov. Deval Patrick and located within the Executive Office of Administration and Finance, will be run by a new deputy chief of staff who has not yet been hired. The person will report directly to chief of staff Steven Kadish. Rep. Russell Holmes, a Mattapan Democrat and chair of the Black and Latino Caucus, said he looked forward to working with Baker to improve the diversity of vendors used by the state for purchasing and contracting. Baker said the state purchases $5 billion to $7 billion in goods annually. Sen. Linda Dorcena Forry, a Dorchester Democrat, listed many of the things she said the office has already accomplished in four years. “This is such an important step because it’s sending a message from the top that diversity is important when it comes to women, that diversity is important when it comes to people of color and diversity is important when it comes to veterans returning home,” Forry said. – Matt Murphy/SHNS

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