Sarah Birnbaum

State House Reporter, WGBH Radio

Sarah Birnbaum is WGBH Radio’s political and State House reporter. When she’s not on the campaign trail, she loves telling stories about health care and education policy, and all the issues that come through the Legislature that matter to voters.

Before coming to Massachusetts, Sarah worked for CBS Network News in New York, where she covered stories ranging from the Virginia Tech shootings to the Clinton/Obama primaries to the Academy Awards. Her stories have been heard nationally on NPR and CBS Radio, and on stations throughout Massachusetts.

Sarah has a B.A. in art history and English literature from Stanford University.

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Politics & Government
5:09 pm
Thu July 24, 2014

State House Democrats Silent On Probation Conviction

As the probation verdict came down Thursday, the State House halls were silent.

When the jury returned with the verdict, there was no reaction from senators who were in the building debating a housing bill.

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Politics & Government
2:57 pm
Wed July 23, 2014

State Rep. Files Measure To Block State From Sheltering Undocumented Children

Today state Rep. Ryan Fattman, a Republican from Sutton, introduced a non-binding resolution on the House floor to stop Gov. Deval Patrick from sheltering immigrant children who have crossed illegally into the U.S.

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Local News
3:36 pm
Tue July 22, 2014

Police Argue For More Control Over Rifle, Shotgun Licenses

The Massachusetts State House dome.
Credit Fogster

  Chiefs of police are urging Massachusetts lawmakers to restore a provision to a gun bill that they say could keep rifles out of the hands of dangerous people. Right now, police can deny someone a license to carry a handgun – even if the person passes a background check. 

The Massachusetts House voted to give police the same discretion when it comes to licenses for rifles and shotguns. But the senate stripped that section out of the bill and gun control advocates are furious.

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Local News
5:09 pm
Mon July 21, 2014

Mass. Gov. Candidates React To Patrick's Stance On Child Immigrants

Candidates for Massachusetts governor are all over the place when it comes to Governor Deval Patrick's offer shelter a thousand children who were caught crossing into the U.S. illegally.

Charlie Baker, who touts himself as a moderate Republican, offered a carefully worded comment on the governor's plan to keep the kids at a military base in Chicopee or Bourne.

 "I think it’s incumbent on the states to be cooperative with the federal government on this issue given the humanitarian crisis that’s at hand," Baker said.  He laid out the conditions:

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Politics & Government
8:19 am
Fri July 18, 2014

State Senate Passes Stripped-Down Gun Bill

The Massachusetts Senate passed a wide-ranging gun bill Thursday, but not before stripping it of a key provision that would have given local police chiefs more discretion to deny licenses for rifles and shotguns.

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Politics & Government
6:28 pm
Wed July 16, 2014

Mass. State Senate Passes Abortion Clinic Safety Bill

With almost unprecedented speed, the Massachusetts Senate passed a bill Wednesday that was crafted after the Supreme Court threw out the state's so-called buffer zone law. 

The vote came just hours after the bill was cleared by committee, but the bill's passage will likely be followed by more legal action.
 

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Local News
4:11 pm
Tue July 15, 2014

Mass. Senate OK's Social Media Protection Bill

The Massachusetts Senate unanimously passed a bill on Tuesday that would make it illegal for employers to demand access to job applicants Facebook and other social media accounts as part of the interview process. 

State Senator Cynthia Stone Creem is the sponsor of the bill:

"It is not necessary to see someone’s pictures or Instagram before deciding whether to offer them a job, just as 20 years ago we would have cringed at the thought of an employer asking to look through our photo albums. Why is this any different?"

Politics & Government
8:04 am
Tue July 15, 2014

Legislators Write Buffer Zone Workaround Bill

This photo taken Dec. 17, 2013 shows anti-abortion protester Eleanor McCullen, of Boston, standing at the painted edge of a buffer zone outside a Planned Parenthood location in Boston.
Credit (AP Photo/Steven Senne)

Massachusetts Democrats say they've written a new bill providing clear access to abortion clinics, following a U.S. Supreme Court decision that found the state's "buffer zone" law unconstitutional.

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Local News
6:04 pm
Mon July 14, 2014

Beacon Hill Considers New Abortion Clinic Protection

Massachusetts Democrats say they've written a new bill providing clear access to abortion clinics, following a Supreme Court decision that found the state's "buffer zone" law unconstitutional.

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Local News
5:44 pm
Thu June 26, 2014

Mass. Poised To Have Highest Minimum Wage In The Nation

Massachusetts is poised to have the highest minimum wage in the country.

Governor Deval Patrick signed into law today a bill gradually raising the wage from $8 an hour to $11. Hundreds of union leaders, workers and activists cheered as Patrick signed the bill at the State House.

 “Raising the minimum wage is about bringing a little relief to the working poor many of whom can do jobs we cannot live without.  An who by the way will recycle that money right back into the economy.”

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Local News
5:14 pm
Wed June 25, 2014

DeLeo: Casino Ban Would Strain Budget

Massachusetts speaker of the House Bob Deleo says lawmakers would have to patch a multi-million dollar hole in the state budget if voters choose to repeal the casino law in November.

“We would have to make some difficult decisions in terms of cuts. That’s one of the issues I thought about this morning actually,” DeLeo told reporters Wednesday. 

The state is banking on $54 million in casino licensing fees and $20 million in slot parlor money in the budget for the fiscal year that begins July 1.

“We’ve already started to use it and depend upon it.”

Local News
10:29 am
Tue June 24, 2014

Mass. Court: Casinos Issue To Go To Voters

Massachusetts' highest court says voters can decide the fate of the state's casino gambling law.

The Supreme Judicial Court ruled Tuesday that a question calling for repeal of the 2011 law can be on the November ballot.

The ruling overturns Attorney General Martha Coakley's finding that the proposed ballot question is unconstitutional because it would cause casino developers to lose property without compensation.

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Local News
3:13 pm
Mon June 23, 2014

Gubernatorial Candidate Evan Falchuk Has Enough Signatures For Ballot

Evan Falchuk
Credit falchuk2014.org

Independent candidate for Massachusetts governor Evan Falchuk has collected enough signatures to make it onto the November ballot.

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Local News
5:37 pm
Thu June 19, 2014

Bill Would Require Welfare Recipients To Search For Work First

The Massachusetts Senate later this week is expected to vote on a welfare reform plan. The House has already approved the bill. 

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Politics & Government
5:15 pm
Tue June 17, 2014

New England Governors Meet To Stem Opioid Abuse

Five New England governors met today to discuss a regional strategy for fighting the surge in heroin and opioid addiction.

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Politics & Government
9:50 am
Mon June 16, 2014

Post-Convention Question: Can Coakley Rain On Grossman's Parade?

Massachusetts state Treasurer Steve Grossman reaches into the crowd from the stage to thank supporters at the state Democratic Convention on Saturday, June 14, 2014 in Worcester, Mass.
Credit (AP Photo Stephan Savoia)

The analysts predicted this would happen, but that doesn’t make it anymore unusual: Treasurer Steve Grossman won the party’s formal endorsement for governor at the state Democratic convention in Worcester.

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Politics & Government
1:26 pm
Fri June 13, 2014

MGM Springfield Awarded State's First Casino License

Rendering for the proposed MGM International Casino in Springfield.

MGM Springfield has been officially named the winner of the state’s first casino license, capping a more than two year process.

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Politics & Government
5:28 am
Fri June 13, 2014

Time For Mass. Dems To Step It Up, Or Drop Out

The Democratic candidates at a Boston Herald debate earlier this week.
Credit Twitter/Joe Battenfeld

On Saturday, 6,000 Democratic activists will meet in Worcester for the state convention to endorse a candidate for governor.

Just how important is that endorsement to the outcome of the race?

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Local News
4:52 pm
Thu June 12, 2014

Mass. May Soon Have The Highest Minimum Wage In The U.S.

Top Massachusetts House and Senate leaders finalized a deal on Thursday that would give Massachusetts the highest state minimum wage in the country.

The plan would raise the minimum wage over the next three years from $8 to $11 per hour. Full-time work at that rate translates to about $21,000 a year. This is a signature issue for Senate President Therese Murray, who says low-wage workers deserve to be valued: 
"We're paying attention to the fact that even though they work hard, they're not making it in Massachusetts and hopefully this will help them."

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Local News
5:54 pm
Wed June 11, 2014

Mass. House Poised To Pass $100 Million Bill To Spur Business Growth

The Massachusetts House is poised to pass a bill that would spend $100 million to spur business growth.

The wide-ranging bill would fund computer science education in public schools.  It would award grants to clean up plots of land contaminated by hazardous materials.  And it would create a new tax credit for angel investors, in the hopes of making it easier for entrepreneurs to raise money for Massachusetts startups.

Representative Joseph Wagner, of Chicopee, is a sponsor of the bill.

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STATE HOUSE
4:46 pm
Tue June 10, 2014

Mass. Democratic 'Rivals' Stay Friendly In Final Debate Before Convention

The five Democrats vying for the support at the Mass. Democratic Convention this weekend debated on Tuesday at the Boston Herald.
Credit Twitter/Joe Battenfeld

The five Democratic candidates for governor of Massachusetts faced off today in a final friendly debate before the convention. 

At one point, Juliette Kayyem accused front-runner Martha Coakley of trying to avoid blame for ruling that a proposed ballot question to repeal the casino law is unconstitutional.

“When you go after banks or use the role of the Attorney General for something good, you always say 'I did this.' On this issue it’s 'we, 'my office.'"

This is as feisty  as the debate got. The "rivals" even posed for a group selfie outside the studio. 

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POLITICS
4:41 pm
Mon June 9, 2014

Big Week For Mass. Democrats

What happens on Saturday at the Massachusetts Democratic Convention in Worcester will affect the outcome of the Governor's race.

Though Attorney General Martha Coakley has continued to enjoy a big lead in the polls against rival Democrats, her campaign is lowering expectations for Saturday's convention results.

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Local News
5:25 pm
Thu June 5, 2014

Mass. Considers Deer Hunting On Sundays

The Massachusetts House of Representatives has passed a bill that would allow deer hunting with bow and arrows on Sundays during deer hunting season. 

Eleven states don’t allow hunting on Sundays- all original members of the 13 colonies.

In Virginia, there’s no hunting on Sunday, except for raccoons until 2am. In Maryland, no hunting on Sunday, except among other things, for using raptors to hunt game birds.

And Massachusetts? No hunting at all. 

State Representative Paul Frost, a Republican from Auburn, is a sponsor of the bill:

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Local News
4:13 pm
Wed June 4, 2014

Mass. Towns Must Create Emergency Plans For Pets

In preparation for hurricane season, Massachusetts passed a new law that requires cities and towns to come up with emergency evacuation and sheltering plans for pets.
 

Leighton Jones is with the American Red Cross of Massachusetts. He said the law will help protect people as well as animals:

"People won’t evacuate their homes if they aren’t able to take their pets with them. Many people, myself included, consider their pet as a member of a family," he said. 

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Local News
5:33 pm
Tue June 3, 2014

Hundreds Pack State House Gun Control Hearing

Credit Credit Thad Holmes via NPR

Massachusetts House Speaker Bob Deleo’s sweeping gun bill drew opposition from both sides of the issue Tuesday. 

The largest auditorium in the State House was packed with hundreds of people: both gun control supporters and opponents.

Representative George Peterson, a Grafton Republican and gun rights supporter, objected to a section in the bill that would give more discretion to police chiefs to deny licenses for shotguns and rifles:
 

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Local News
5:11 pm
Tue June 3, 2014

What You Need To Know About DeLeo's Economic Development Bill

House Speaker Robert DeLeo
Credit AP Photo

Massachusetts House Speaker Bob Deleo unveiled an economic development bill today Tuesday designed to boost the tech sector. The bill sets up a potential clash with the governor, who proposed an economic development package in April. 

Governor Patrick wants to eliminate noncompete agreements, which are contracts that employees must sign when they start a job saying they won’t go to work for a competing company for a year or more after leaving.

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Local News
5:46 pm
Mon June 2, 2014

Mass. AG Sues Fannie Mae, Freddie Mac

A foreclosure sign
Credit MapScience / Flickr

Massachusetts Attorney General Martha Coakley is suing federal mortgage giants Fannie Mae and Freddie Mac.  

In the lawsuit, Coakley says Fannie and Freddy are breaking a state law by refusing to sell homes to charities which buy foreclosed properties and sell them back to the original owners.   

Elyse Cherry is the CEO of Boston Community Capital.  She says her organization has helped about 500 families stay in their homes, but Fannie Mae and Freddy Mac refuse to work with them.

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Local News
5:16 pm
Thu May 29, 2014

Convicted Killer Joe Donovan Makes His Case Before Parole Board

The Massachusetts Supreme Judicial Court and the U.S. Supreme Court have recently ruled that automatic life sentences without parole for juveniles is unconstitutional.

In 1992, a Massachusetts 17-year-old was sentenced to life in prison without parole after he was convicted of murdering an MIT student.  On Thursday, at age 38, Joe Donovan is the first inmate to go before the parole board since the ruling. 

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Local News
1:29 pm
Wed May 28, 2014

Report: DCF Not Responsible For Jeremiah Oliver's Death

An independent group that examined the state Department of Children and Families says the agency should not be held responsible for the death of a 5-year-old Fitchburg boy. 

The department of children and families already admitted that  the social workers assigned to Jeremiah Oliver’s case skipped home visits and didn’t realize the boy had gone missing. 

But the Child Welfare League of America, in its final report released Wednesday, said the case raised a number of significant issues and that the agency, along with other adults, failed to protect Jeremiah Oliver.

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Local News
4:34 pm
Tue May 27, 2014

DeLeo Gun Critic Hits Greater Power To Local Police

Massachusetts House Speaker Robert Deleo unveiled a bill Tuesday that imposes stricter regulations on gun use and ownership. 

Massachusetts already has some of the strictest gun laws in the country but Speaker Deleo says they can still be tougher:

"In the face of continued absence of federal leadership, leaders in state government have to step up wherever we can."

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