Month: June 2016

Senator Lesser visits Western Mass Farms with Boston Public Market Leadership

GREATER SPRINGFIELD- Senator Eric Lesser visited four farms on Monday as a part of an initiative to bring Western Massachusetts agriculture to the up-and-coming Boston Public Market. After spending the morning at Meadowbrook Farm in East Longmeadow, Senator Lesser visited Austin Brothers Valley Farm in Belchertown, Red Fire Farm in Granby, and ended the day at Randall’s Farm & Greenhouse in Ludlow. Sen. Lesser organized the tour with Boston Public Market managers and buyers in an effort to build a lasting connection between Western Massachusetts agriculture and the prosperous business of this new market.

Boston Public Market opened in July 2015 and drew half a million visitors in its first three months. Located just above Haymarket station in Boston, the market offers thirty-nine vendors a chance to sell their locally produced foods and grow their brand. According to CEO Cheryl Cronin, the Market’s top priority is the higher quality and value of locally-grown food. While visiting Western Massachusetts’ farms with Senator Lesser, Cronin was enthusiastic about bringing in goods from all four of these family-owned farms.

The farms that Senator Lesser visited sell their products to local food stores, Big Y, Wegman’s, and local farmer’s markets. Collaboration with the Boston Public Market could increase their sales and help connect Western Massachusetts agriculture to markets in Greater Boston.

Senator Lesser has championed local agriculture during his time in office. He voted in May for funding for agricultural education, pest management and land preservation, allowing licensed farmers to distribute raw milk off their premises, and more. Sen. Lesser also voted in May to support a budget amendment creating a property tax exemption for farmers’ markets, and is a supporter of the Commonwealth’s Go Local programming. With this Boston Public Market initiative, the Senator hopes to continue promoting Western Massachusetts’ family farms across the state.

Senator Eric P. Lesser Urges Department of Unemployment Assistance to Aid IBEW Strikers

BEACON HILL – Senator Eric Lesser spearheaded the effort in the Senate to encourage the Department of Unemployment assistance to act regarding the claims filed by Verizon workers of the International Brotherhood of Electrical Workers (IBEW). Senator Lesser, alongside 51 other Senators and Representatives, signed onto a letter requesting that the Department act quickly to reimburse the workers who bravely stood up for better wages and working conditions.

Nearly 40,000 Verizon employees were out on strike from April 13, 2016 through May 27, 2016, making it the largest workers strike in recent history. The workers were successful: Verizon has made significant changes, including adding over 1,000 new east coast jobs, reversing outsourcing practices, ensuring pay raises, and safeguarding bonuses, pensions, and healthcare. However, during the 45 day strike, many workers filed unemployment assistance claims with the DUA to replace lost wages that their families depend on. The DUA is still in the process of determining the eligibility of these claims.
The letter, authored and circulated by Senator Lesser, called for swift and positive action for the affected workers. “For the 3,000 men and women of the Massachusetts IBEW, this determination is more than just a yes or no decision; it is a matter of putting food on the table and paying the rent,” the Senator wrote.
Representative Paul Mark (D- 2nd Berkshire District) organized the House of Representatives to support the initiative. “IBEW/CWA union members in our region took on a gigantic, multinational corporation in a fight to protect American jobs and prevent the erosion of workplace benefits they have earned over time,” said Representative Mark. “This letter sends a clear message to DUA that many legislators support those efforts and feel that the striking workers are entitled to unemployment assistance benefits, and that DUA needs to issue a decision in a timely manner.”
The case law of Massachusetts suggests that workers are entitled to “out-of-work” eligibility and benefits, since the strike did not substantially curtail Verizon business operations. A copy of the letter is above.

Senator Eric P. Lesser visits Manufacturing Training Program Funded by his Amendment in the State Budget

SPRINGFIELD- On Friday morning, June 10th, Senator Eric P. Lesser visited the Manufacturing Training Program at the Lower Pioneer Valley Educational Collaborative (LPVEC) and met with students directly benefitting from the program. The program was launched this year, funded in part by an amendment sponsored by Senator Lesser in last year’s state budget.

“It was rewarding to see the funding my colleagues and I secured being put to good use,” Lesser said. “We know that there’s a growing gap between vacant positions in high-tech manufacturing and the skilled graduates necessary to fill them. This program aims directly at that challenge, and will keep more of our young people here in Western Massachusetts at high-paying jobs close to home.”

The funding allowed the LPVEC to set up a machine technology program for students in grades 9-12 and serves the school districts of Agawam, East Longmeadow, Hampden-Wilbraham, Longmeadow, Ludlow, Southwick-Tolland-Granville and West Springfield.

“Our member districts have supported this new program with significant local funds, but state-of-the-art equipment is expensive,” said Andrew Churchill, LPVEC Executive Director.  “We are very grateful for this additional state support, which ensured that our students will graduate ready for our region’s cutting-edge manufacturers.” The grant from the state budget went towards advanced machinery that will be used to train eleventh and twelfth graders, as well as tools that are necessary to keep the shop running.

There are 214 manufacturing companies whose principal place of business is located in school districts served by the LPVEC, creating opportunity to directly link students to job opportunities close to home. There are currently more than 44,000 advanced manufacturing job vacancies in Massachusetts. Manufacturing accounts for 94% of the Commonwealth’s exports.

Lesser, who is Senate Chair of the Joint Legislative Manufacturing Caucus, is continuing to fight for manufacturing funding as the FY2017 budget is finalized in Boston. He also published an op-ed last year on the widening manufacturing skills gap in Massachusetts, especially in the Pioneer Valley.

Sen. Eric P. Lesser, Rep. Brian Ashe Greet Center School Students at the State House

BOSTON- Senator Eric P. Lesser and Representative Brian Ashe welcomed students from the Center School in Longmeadow to the State House on Wednesday, June 8th, 2016.

“It was a pleasure to see students from Center School in Boston,” said Senator Lesser. “Even though I’m a Blueberry graduate myself, I’ve always had a soft spot for Center’s wonderful community of educators, parents and students.”

“This is the 8th year I have hosted the 5th grade class from Center School and it is a day I always look forward to.  I hope they had as much fun as I did,” stated Representative Ashe.

Senator Lesser Votes to Ban Fracking in Massachusetts

BOSTON- Senator Eric Lesser voted with the Senate last week to ban hydraulic fracturing in Massachusetts.

The bill creates a moratorium on hydraulic fracturing until 2026, and establishes hydraulic fracturing fluid as a pollutant. Hydraulic fracturing or “fracking” is the process of drilling and injecting fluid into the ground at a high pressure to fracture shale rocks to release natural gas.

“In Western Massachusetts, we pride ourselves on our natural beauty and our protected public space. That’s why today I voted to ban the practice of hydraulic fracturing in Massachusetts,” said Senator Lesser. “It’s a dangerous practice with public health and environmental impacts not clearly understood. Simply put, it doesn’t belong in our Commonwealth.”

Public health experts have raised concerns about the effects fracking has on local water sources, as well as the large quantity of water used to extract the natural gas. Experts are particularly concerned about the potential of these fluids to leak into local well water and cause negative health effects.

Additives such as sand, acids, and other chemicals are mixed into the water to help generate the fractures and keep them clear for gas flow. These mixtures present threats of aquifer and surface water contamination, along with the increased mobilization of harmful, naturally-occurring compounds seated in the formation, such as methane. Other concerns include the risks of induced seismicity and the continued emissions of greenhouse gases from the fracking process.

The bill now goes to the House for consideration.

Senator Lesser Speaks at “Partners in Prevention,” Emphasizes Keeping Teens Drug-Free

WILBRAHAM- Senator Lesser delivered a speech on Friday to parents, public health officials, community leaders, students, and school administrators at the “Partners in Prevention” conference hosted by the Hampden-Wilbraham Safe and Healthy Students Coalition. The event was designed to educate participants about preventing teen substance abuse.

“Teenagers are especially vulnerable to the dangers of addiction, but by working together, we can prevent substance abuse before it happens,” Senator Lesser said. “Our communities have been hit hard- but it’s up to us to hit back.”

Adolescents are especially vulnerable to addiction, and in 2015, 10% of Massachusetts opioid-related deaths were people under 24. Nationally, 1 in 8 teens reports using opioids for nonmedical purposes. Further, Hampden County has been especially affected by the opioid epidemic. The county saw 734 opioid deaths between 2010 and 2015.

Senator Lesser has sponsored legislation to close the pharmacy shopping loophole, and sponsored legislation to create a bulk purchasing program for naloxone, the anti-overdose drug. Both measures were passed into law last year.

Because of these new laws, pharmacies now have to report to the Prescription Monitoring Program within 24 hours rather than 7 days. This allows for faster identification of “pharmacy shopping” and more effective overdose prevention. The Narcan bulk purchasing plan allows cities and towns to buy the anti-overdose drug in bulk, lowering prices and better equipping first responders to reverse the effects of overdose.