Month: May 2016

Sen. Eric Lesser’s Legislation Studying Feasibility of Springfield-Boston Rail Service Unanimously Passes Senate

Sen. Eric P. Lesser’s legislation requiring the Massachusetts Department of Transportation to conduct a study on the feasibility of passenger rail access between Springfield and Boston has unanimously passed the Massachusetts Senate in a 39-0 vote.

“Today’s vote is a testament to the broad bipartisan support for regular, fast east-west rail service. I’m grateful for this unanimous vote in the Senate and look forward to seeing this project continue to move forward,” said Sen. Lesser, who is also a member of the Legislature’s Joint Committee on Transportation. A full transcript of Sen. Lesser’s remarks is below.

The study will include examination of projected costs, as well as the economic, social and cultural benefits that Springfield-Boston passenger rail will bring to the Greater Springfield region and the Commonwealth as a whole.

In March 2016, this same bill was given a positive recommendation by the Legislature’s Transportation Committee.

“We cannot have a functioning Commonwealth if all the growth, if all of the job opportunities are focused in the eastern part of the state,” Sen. Lesser said in his speech on the Senate floor.

“In an era of increased connectivity, east-west rail will help spur new economic growth in Springfield, the entire Western Massachusetts region, and indeed in the Commonwealth as a whole. Projects such as this one are vital to our economy and have the potential to more easily connect people to jobs, educational institutions and areas to live and to raise a family.”

Speaking in favor of the bill on the Senate floor, Transportation Committee Chairman Thomas M. McGee said:

“Expanding rail service continues to be one of the number-one priorities that we as a Commonwealth need to work on, in a bipartisan way, to make sure we are making a transportation system that works for everyone.”

Currently, the fastest existing passenger rail link from Springfield to Boston, Amtrak’s Lake Shore Limited, only runs once a day and takes 135 minutes. Improvements to the existing infrastructure could mean trains running at 70 mph or higher, cutting travel times down to 90 minutes, with multiple departures per day.

Recent discussion of east-west rail comes at a crucial point for transportation development in Western Massachusetts.

An $83 million renovation of Union Station is expected to be completed by the end of this year, which will serve as a new transit hub, combining North-South and East-West rail with regional and intercity bus service.

In addition, the reconstruction of the “Knowledge Corridor” and the pending completion of the New Haven-Hartford-Springfield rail project will bring a steady flow of rail passengers through Springfield. Downtown Springfield is also expected to attract thousands of new visitors due to upcoming openings of the MGM Springfield casino and the Dr. Seuss Museum, along with the establishment of both the Springfield Cultural and Innovation Districts.

 

***TRANSCRIPT***

Thank you Mr. President, and through you to the members. To my distinguished friend and gentleman from Gloucester, let me assure you this is a train you will want to be on.

Today I rise in support of Amendment 1142, the Springfield to Boston High-Speed Rail Feasibility Study.

This amendment calls for the Massachusetts Department of Transportation to conduct a study on the feasibility of passenger rail access between Springfield and Boston. It was previously passed in our budget last year, and I am thankful for the leadership of our distinguished friend from Lynn, the Senate Chair of the Joint Transportation Committee, for giving a favorable report of this bill of out his committee.

This study will examine the projected capital and operating costs, ridership levels and right-of-way issues that would come with a project like this.

Just as importantly, it will also examine the resulting economic, social and cultural benefits to the Greater Springfield region and to the Commonwealth as a whole.

I’m proud that east-west rail has had the bipartisan support of members of this body as well as members of the House. And that again, as I mentioned, has received that favorable report from the Transportation Committee.

I firmly believe, Mr. President, that in an era of increased connectivity, east-west rail will help spur new economic growth in Springfield, the entire Western Massachusetts region, and indeed in the Commonwealth as a whole.

Projects such as this one are vital to our economy and have the potential to more easily connect people to jobs, educational institutions and areas to live and to raise a family.

Currently, the fasted existing passenger rail link from Springfield to Boston is Amtrak’s Lakeshore Limited. It only runs once a day and it takes 135 minutes.

But what’s important about this is there already are tracks. So this project is much more attainable than some detractors may claim. The right of way already exists; the tracks are there.

What we need to do is marshal the political support in the Legislature and across the Commonwealth to move this plan forward and to make it a reality.

A robust feasibility study is the first step in that direction.

As you know, Mr. President, our discussion of east-west rail also comes at a critical point for transportation development in Western Massachusetts, and frankly in the Commonwealth as a whole.

Right now in Springfield we have an $83 million renovation and opening of a new Union Station, which is expected to be completed by the end of the year and will serve as a new regional transit hub, combining north-south and east-west rail with regional and intercity bus service.

In addition, the reconstruction of the Knowledge Corridor and the pending completion of New Haven-Hartford-Springfield rail service from Connecticut will bring a steady flow of passengers into the Springfield area.

And I would just like to underscore the potential economic impact for our region of reestablishing the Greater Springfield area as the crossroads and the logistics and transportation intersection of New England.

That was our traditional role, that was our traditional center, and those are good, high-paying middle class jobs.

It’s also worth noting, this comes at a time of increased focus and attention on the development of downtown Springfield, which is expected to attract thousands of new visitors in the coming years with the opening of the Dr. Seuss Museum, the new casino facility and of course the improvements to Court Square and the cultural and innovation districts that are slated for completion in the coming years.

I’d also like, Mr. President, to address a broader point about this project and about the potential for east-west rail.

It has been a stated priority of this Chamber since our session convened a year and a half or so ago that we wanted to take on income inequality.

We know that that is an important and essential task for us to be tackling. Indeed, much of what we focused on in this year’s budget is aimed at income inequality and making sure all the people of our Commonwealth have equal access to opportunity.

A growing component of that, Mr. President, is regional inequality.

And we cannot have a functioning Commonwealth if all the growth, if all of the job opportunities are focused in the eastern part of the state, are concentrated in the Boston area.

We have an obligation as a Chamber and as a body to make sure that growth, that innovation, that opportunity is spread to all corners of the Commonwealth, and that everyone can participate.

That, Mr. President, is why I support this amendment and encourage its passage.

And it’s why I believe it’s important that we not only address the immediate needs of maintaining our transportation system, but also think strategically about expanding that system and making those wise investments we need to make to keep all areas of our Commonwealth growing together.

I respectfully ask that when a vote is called we do so by a call of the yeas and nays.

***END OF TRANSCRIPT***

/ In Press Release / By Ryan Migeed / Comments Off on Sen. Eric Lesser’s Legislation Studying Feasibility of Springfield-Boston Rail Service Unanimously Passes Senate

Lesser Amendment Calling for One Year Moratorium on “Rattlesnake Island” Plan Passes Senate

Sen. Eric P. Lesser’s amendment to the FY17 Budget calling for a one-year moratorium on the Baker Administration’s plan to raise venomous Timber Rattlesnakes in the Quabbin Reservoir passed the Massachusetts Senate this afternoon.

“The people of Western and Central Massachusetts have justifiable concerns about breeding venomous snakes at the Quabbin Reservoir. I’m glad my colleagues joined me in recognizing the public safety concerns of this plan,” Sen. Lesser said.

“I look forward to continuing to ensure the Quabbin is protected, and that the community which knows this region best is properly engaged in decisions about its future.”

In addition to establishing a one-year moratorium, the amendment also calls for the Division of Fisheries and Wildlife to establish a working group by July 31, 2016 to examine the “Rattlesnake Island” plan and to submit its updated recommendations to the House and Senate Chairs of the Legislature’s Joint Committee on Environment, Natural Resources and Agriculture no later than December 31, 2016.

On May 10, Sen. Lesser joined the Legislature’s Joint Committee on Environment, Natural Resources and Agriculture at an oversight hearing on the state’s plan to build a venomous Timber Rattlesnake colony on Mount Zion in the Quabbin Reservoir.

In late March, Sen. Lesser submitted a letter to Executive Office of Energy and Environmental Affairs Secretary Matthew Beaton requesting a freeze in further plans to breed venomous rattlesnakes on Mount Zion in the Quabbin Reservoir, pending further legislative input.

The letter was co-signed by Quabbin-area legislators, including Senator Anne M. Gobi (D-Spencer), Chair of the Joint Committee on Environment, Natural Resources and Agriculture, and Representatives Thomas Petrolati (D-Ludlow) and Todd M. Smola (R-Warren), all of whom represent areas surrounding the Quabbin Reservoir.

The Quabbin Reservoir is the largest inland body of water in Massachusetts, and is one of the largest man-made public water supplies in the United States. The area surrounding the Reservoir serves as a popular recreational area that supports hiking, snowshoeing, hunting and fishing.

Sen. Eric P. Lesser Files Bipartisan Legislation Calling for One Year Moratorium on “Rattlesnake Island” Plan

Sen. Eric P. Lesser has filed an amendment to the FY17 Budget calling for a one-year moratorium on the Baker Administration’s plan to raise venomous Timber Rattlesnakes in the Quabbin Reservoir, or in any other area of the Commonwealth where Timber Rattlesnakes are not presently documented.

The amendment also calls for the Division of Fisheries and Wildlife to establish a working group by July 31, 2016 to examine the “Rattlesnake Island” plan and to submit its updated recommendations to the House and Senate Chairs of the Legislature’s Joint Committee on Environment, Natural Resources and Agriculture no later than December 31, 2016.

“There are significant concerns about the public safety aspects of this plan and its effect on public access to the Quabbin Reservoir. A one-year moratorium, along with the creation of a working group that solicits input from local community members, is both necessary and prudent given the many unanswered questions that local residents have about this proposal,” Sen. Lesser said.

On May 10, Sen. Lesser joined the Legislature’s Joint Committee on Environment, Natural Resources, and Agriculture at an oversight hearing on the state’s plan to build a venomous Timber Rattlesnake colony on Mount Zion in the Quabbin Reservoir.

During that hearing, Executive Office of Energy and Environmental Affairs Secretary Matthew Beaton apologized for the agency’s lack of public engagement and announced a working group that would study the impact and make an unbiased recommendation to the Baker Administration. Sen. Lesser’s Amendment will codify that commitment into law.

In late March, Sen. Lesser submitted a letter to Secretary Beaton requesting a freeze in further plans to breed venomous rattlesnakes on Mount Zion in the Quabbin Reservoir, pending further legislative input.

The letter was co-signed by Quabbin-area legislators, including Senator Anne M. Gobi (D-Spencer), Chair of the Joint Committee on Environment, Natural Resources and Agriculture, and Representatives Thomas Petrolati (D-Ludlow) and Todd M. Smola (R-Warren), all of whom represent areas surrounding the Quabbin Reservoir.

The Quabbin Reservoir is the largest inland body of water in Massachusetts, and is one of the largest man-made public water supplies in the United States. The area surrounding the Reservoir serves as a popular recreational area that supports hiking, snowshoeing, hunting and fishing.

/ In Press Release / By Ryan Migeed / Comments Off on Sen. Eric P. Lesser Files Bipartisan Legislation Calling for One Year Moratorium on “Rattlesnake Island” Plan

Sen. Eric Lesser Votes with Senate to Pass Transgender Anti-Discrimination Bill

Sen. Eric P. Lesser voted with the Senate to pass legislation he co-sponsored that prohibits discrimination against transgender individuals in public accommodations such as sports arenas, gas stations, movie theaters, bars, public restrooms and shopping malls.

“I’d like to ask each and every person here: Where do you want your vote recorded in the story of our nation’s founding ideals, that all men and women are created equal?” Sen. Lesser said in his speech on the Senate floor.

“Do we really want to be on the side of saying we don’t care, that we turn a blind eye to that expanding story of rights in our state? I would encourage everyone to look inside themselves and ask why we’re here, why we ran for office, why we took that oath. We did that to do something, to help people, to expand that story.”

In Massachusetts, all four professional sports teams, the Boston Chamber of Commerce and dozens of other businesses including MassMutual support transgender anti-discrimination laws and policies. Nationally, nearly 70 percent of the nation’s leading Fortune 500 companies have nondiscrimination policies in place that explicitly cover gender identity, according to the Human Rights Campaign.

If signed into law, the bill would make Massachusetts the 18th state in the nation to ban gender identity-based discrimination in public accommodations, including the New England states of Connecticut, Rhode Island and Vermont.

The House is considering its own version of a similar bill, which if passed would need to be reconciled with the Senate version before heading to Gov. Baker for signature into law.

The Senate also passed a bill Thursday mandating the inclusion of gay, lesbian, bisexual, queer or transgender individuals as members of the state’s nondiscrimination regional advisory boards.

Sen. Eric Lesser Votes to Grant Property Tax Relief for Volunteer Firefighters and EMTs

Sen. Eric P. Lesser voted with the Senate to pass a bill allowing Massachusetts cities and towns to grant a property tax exemption for residents who serve as volunteer, call, or auxiliary firefighters or EMTs.

“Our volunteer firefighters and EMTs make significant sacrifices to keep all of us safe,” Sen. Lesser said. “Granting them property tax relief is a tangible way for our Commonwealth to acknowledge these sacrifices and all the positive work they do for our communities.”

The deduction may reach a maximum of $2,500, but allows the total to be added to any other tax abatement or exemption the taxpayer is otherwise qualified for.

Approximately 8,000 men and women serve as volunteer firefighters.

Senator Lesser Joins Legislative Hearing on Future of Quabbin Rattlesnake Project

Sen. Eric P. Lesser joined the legislature’s Joint Committee on Environment, Natural Resources, and Energy at a May 10 oversight hearing on the state’s plan to build a Timber Rattlesnake colony on Mt. Zion, an island in the Quabbin Reservoir.

During the hearing, Secretary Beaton apologized for the agency’s lack of public engagement and announced a working group that would study the impact and make an unbiased recommendation to the Baker administration.

“Right now, local residents feel like this plan is just another example of decision makers in Boston not being sensitive to the needs of local communities,” Sen. Lesser said.

The hearing, which was attended by more than 200 people, featured testimony from experts and several state officials responsible for developing and implementing the project, including Secretary of the Executive Office of Energy and Environmental Affairs Matthew Beaton, Department of Fish and Game Commissioner James Peterson, and Division of Fisheries and Wildlife Director Jack Buckley.

“Secretary Beaton’s commitment to slowing the process down and taking a hard look at the impact of this proposed plan on local communities is helpful. We need to understand how this plan will impact the local tourism economy and the health and safety of residents,” Sen. Lesser said.

“The Quabbin Reservoir is an important tourism and recreation destination and our residents rely on it being safe and accessible.”

In late March Sen. Lesser submitted a letter to Executive Office of Energy and Environmental Affairs Secretary Matthew Beaton requesting a freeze in further plans to breed venomous rattlesnakes on Mount Zion Island in the Quabbin Reservoir, pending further legislative oversight.

The letter was co-signed by Quabbin-area legislators, including Senator Anne M. Gobi (D-Spencer), Chair of the Joint Committee on Environment, Natural Resources and Agriculture, and Representatives Thomas Petrolati (D-Ludlow) and Todd M. Smola (R-Warren), all of whom represent areas surrounding the Quabbin Reservoir.

The plan to breed venomous Timber Rattlesnakes on Mount Zion Island was introduced by the Massachusetts Division of Fisheries and Wildlife, and has been met with concern from local residents.

The Quabbin Reservoir is the largest inland body of water in Massachusetts, and is one of the largest man-made public water supplies in the United States. The area surrounding the Reservoir serves as a popular recreational area that supports hiking, snowshoeing, hunting and fishing.

Sen. Eric Lesser Hosts Tourism Committee Hearing at UMass

Sen. Eric P. Lesser, Chair of the Joint Committee on Tourism, Arts and Cultural Development, hosted a Hampshire County listening tour May 9 at the UMass Fine Art Center.

“The Pioneer Valley is home to some of our state’s most cherished cultural attractions and institutions, supporting thousands of jobs and attracting tens of thousands of visitors. I’m proud to represent this vibrant region and to make sure we receive our fair share of support from Beacon Hill,” Sen. Lesser said. “I’m glad the Committee visited to see first-hand and to hear directly from Pioneer Valley residents.”

The listening tour was part of a statewide series headed by Sen. Eric Lesser and Rep. Cory Atkins, committee co-chairs. Legislators from the committee and representatives from the Massachusetts Cultural Council, the Massachusetts Office of Travel and Tourism, and the Hampshire County Regional Tourism Committee joined community members, artists and local business owners to discuss the economic impact the arts, culture and tourism have on Hampshire County, and Western Massachusetts more broadly.

Tourism is the third-largest revenue-producing industry in the Commonwealth. In 2014, domestic and international visitors spent $19.5 billion in the state. Statewide, the tourism industry has grown 20 percent during the last decade and employs 132,000 people.

Visitors spent nearly $146 million in Hampshire County alone and support 870 jobs. An additional 3,300 jobs in the county are dependent on tourism spending.

Sen. Lesser Opens Baby Animals Exhibit at Forest Park Zoo

Sen. Eric Lesser visited the Forest Park Zoo Saturday, May 7 to celebrate the addition of new animals during its annual Baby Days Weekend event.

“I have many fond memories of visiting the Forest Park Zoo as a child, and I also take my daughter Rose here so that she also can experience it,” Sen. Lesser said. “The Zoo is a valuable asset to our community and I congratulate the Forest Park Kiwanis Club and all the community members who helped make this event happen.”

Baby Days Weekend is annual event highlighting the new animals born at the zoo. Preschool and Kindergarten students from Springfield and their families are admitted to the zoo at reduced cost to see the new animals and learn about how animals care for their young. Students also receive books, school supplies and library cards. This year’s event will also be a celebration of Kiwanis Club of Springfield’s 100th Anniversary.

Located in Forest Park, the Zoo features exotic and indigenous animals representing a large variety of species found throughout the world and in North America.

Sen. Eric Lesser Votes with Senate to Pass Bill to Promote Local Food, Sustainable Agriculture

Sen. Eric P. Lesser voted with the Senate today to pass a bill aimed at promoting locally grown food and agriculture in Massachusetts.

“Western Mass is home to hundreds of family farms producing healthy, local food,” Sen. Lesser said. “This bill will do a lot to help farms produce and sell local foods while also promoting sustainable agriculture.”

There are 7,755 farms in Massachusetts that together produce $492 million in agricultural products. Massachusetts farms provide employment to nearly 28,000 workers in the Commonwealth.  80% of Massachusetts farms are family owned.

Providing a boost to Massachusetts Dairies, the bill allows licensed farmers to distribute raw milk off their premises, including through Community Supported Agriculture (CSA) agreements. Massachusetts will join sixteen other states to allow raw milk distribution including Connecticut, Vermont, Maine and New Hampshire. When produced from organic, grass-fed cows, raw milk can contain enhanced levels of nutrients and digestive enzymes in comparison to pasteurized milk.

In addition, the legislation creates a seasonal program to allow farmers’ markets to operate on state-owned land. It also allows farmer brewers and distillers to sell their goods at agricultural events and farmers markets.

The bill passed the Senate will now head to the House for consideration.