Month: July 2016

Senator Lesser Votes to Modernize Government for Cities and Towns

Senator Lesser voted on July 13th for S. 2410, An act modernizing municipal finance and government, which passed the Senate unanimously. This bill, introduced by Governor Baker, aims to update laws, many of which are decades old, relating to cities and towns. It seeks to cut red tape for municipalities, eliminate unnecessary bureaucracy, and reduce the burden of unfunded mandates.

“This bill will allow our cities and towns to work more efficiently and better serve our citizens,” said Senator Lesser. “It’s the 21st Century- our laws should reflect that. Modernizing must be a priority if we aim to make government work for people. ”

The sweeping legislation passed in the Senate today contains a number of improvements to the laws that govern the state’s relationship with cities and towns. It eliminates unnecessary oversight, makes it easier to regionalize certain services and updates outdated state laws.

The bill empowers cities and towns outside Boston to set their own quotas for liquor licenses. It reduces state oversight of municipal finances, including allowing deficit spending for cases of snow emergency. It further allows cities and towns to modernize certain services, like using electronic voter rolls rather than paper lists at polling stations.

The legislation repeals a law requiring the state to review the accounts of county treasurers, permits municipalities to deny local licenses and permits to any taxpayer who has neglected or refused to pay local taxes and who has not filed a good faith application for an abatement, permits municipalities to impose liens on property for unpaid fines, and allows cities and towns to require the use of direct deposit systems to pay employees, in addition to many other updates to municipal law.

Senator Lesser has worked on many initiatives aimed at modernizing and streamlining government. He co-sponsored the Innovative Communities Act; legislation that aims to encourage tech startups to partner with cities and towns on new ways to deliver services. Further, he published an op-ed last year on the importance of modernizing government.

The House and Senate will now work to reconcile the differences in the two bills before sending it to the Governor’s desk.

 

Representative Petrolati, Sen. Lesser Ensure Patrick Center Property Passed on to Belchertown

BELCHERTOWN – The Town of Belchertown will now own the John Patrick Center property located at 47 State Street. Senator Lesser was the lead co-sponsor of a bill filed by Representative Thomas Petrolati, which passed both branches of the legislature last week, ensuring that the Patrick Center and surrounding 5 acres of land were transferred from state control to the town of Belchertown. The Patrick Center property sits amongst schools and fields, including Mini-Fenway.

“Transferring this property from state control to town control ensures local residents have a greater say in the future of this important piece of land,” said Senator Lesser, “Our community will be able to tear down unused, dilapidated buildings and use this property for purposes that will improve the lives of our residents. I’m glad that Representative Petrolati and I were able to facilitate this transfer.”

Representative Petrolati remarked, “I am extremely pleased that Gov. Baker will sign this legislation into law, which will allow the Town of Belchertown to continue its economic development of the former Belchertown State School Property.  I have been working for many years and I have witnessed the significant impact and development these projects have had, whether directly or indirectly for every citizen of Belchertown.”

The property, which is currently owned by the Commonwealth of Massachusetts, was scheduled to be sold at auction by the Department of Capital and Asset Management and Maintenance in December of 2015. Prior to the auction, the Town of Belchertown expressed interest in purchasing the property given its location between several municipally owned buildings, parks, schools and the Senior Center. Representative Petrolati and Senator Lesser intervened on behalf of the town by filing legislation that would allow the property to be used for public purpose. Now that the bill has passed both chambers, the town will be able to purchase the property as soon as Governor Baker signs the bill into law.

Governor Baker is expected to sign the bill this week.

Senator Lesser Votes for Innovative Clean Energy Solutions

BOSTON- Senator Lesser voted on June 30th in favor of S.2372, An Act to Promote Energy Diversity, which passed the Senate 39-0. This omnibus energy bill will diversify the state’s energy portfolio by securing additional clean energy from wind, water and other sources, and help the Commonwealth reduce greenhouse gas emissions and prevent global warming.

“The Senate’s energy bill will make Massachusetts a national leader in clean, renewable energy, open our economy to new clean energy jobs, and reduce greenhouse gas emissions and the threat of global warming,” said Senator Lesser. “The elements of this bill aimed at promoting more wind-power, hydro-power, and home energy efficiency will create new jobs in Western Massachusetts and protect our environment.”

The Senate bill, authored by Sen. Benjamin Downing (D-Pittsfield), requires that electric distribution companies contract with offshore wind developments and hydropower providers. The bill requires that all distribution companies jointly and competitively solicit proposals for long-term contracts with offshore wind developers for up to 2,000 megawatts of aggregate nameplate capacity, and with hydropower providers for up to 12,450,000 megawatt-hours. This could mean up to  2 million homes powered by wind and up to 2.8 million homes powered by hydropower in Massachusetts.

The Senate bill further requires the Department of Energy Resources to establish a home energy rating and labeling system, which would score homes based on their energy consumption, costs and greenhouse gas emissions. When a home is listed for sale, the score would be disclosed and a home energy audit would be required. The score and audit would act like the miles-per-gallon measure on a car: allowing home buyers to make an informed decision about the energy efficiency of their homes.

An amendment sponsored by Senator Patricia Jehlen (D-Somerville), which passed the Senate unanimously, will ensure that taxpayer dollars do not go towards subsidizing natural gas pipelines. The amendment states that the Department of Public Utilities can’t force electrical ratepayers to subsidize new natural gas pipelines.

Another amendment, sponsored by Senator Jamie Eldridge (D-Acton), requires that road crews report and repair gas leaks when they encounter them during excavations and establish a longer-term plan of repair to ensure public safety.

The Senate’s bill will now be reconciled with the House version before being sent to the Governor.

Sen. Eric P. Lesser Introduces Link to Libraries President Susan Jaye-Kaplan to the Massachusetts Senate

BOSTON- On June 29th, Senator Lesser welcomed Susan Jaye-Kaplan, Stephen Kaplan and their granddaughters to the State House and introduced Susan to the legislature in brief remarks on the Senate floor.

Susan is the Co-Founder and President of Link to Libraries, a Hampden-based nonprofit which has donated almost 500,000 new books and 5,000 gently used books to local children and school libraries since 2008. Link to Libraries is the leading distributor of books to children in Western Massachusetts.

“Through Link to Libraries, I’ve read to children in Chicopee twice, and was thoroughly impressed and inspired by the work that Susan does,” Senator Lesser said. “I’m glad she was able to visit!”

Susan Jaye-Kaplan and her husband Stephen Kaplan live in East Longmeadow.

Legislature’s Final Budget includes Senator Lesser’s Feasibility Study on East/West Rail

BOSTON-  On Thursday, June 30th, the Massachusetts House and Senate voted to approve the FY17 budget, which includes a requirement for the Massachusetts Department of Transportation to conduct a feasibility study on high speed passenger rail access between Springfield and Boston. The budget passed 38-1 in the Senate and 150-3 in the House.

“I’m grateful to my colleagues for their support of this measure,” Senator Lesser said. “There is broad bipartisan consensus that East-West rail can create new economic opportunities and new jobs in all parts of the state. A thoughtful and thorough study is the first step towards making this project a reality.”

Jeff Ciuffreda, President of the Springfield Regional Chamber of Commerce, said, “I’m glad the legislature has made high-speed rail a priority. We have consistently felt that a train from Springfield to Boston has the potential to revitalize businesses in Western Massachusetts, and open up opportunities for our neighbors in Boston, as well.”

The budget directs the Massachusetts Department of Transportation to conduct a study to determine the costs and benefits of expanding rail service between Springfield and Boston. The measure also requires that the study outline any of the cultural or economic benefits that the Springfield area will see as a result of the rail link.

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.

Sen. Lesser Votes to End Blight of Abandoned Foreclosed Homes in Springfield

BOSTON- A measure co-sponsored by Senator Eric Lesser to allow cities to ensure proper maintenance of vacant and foreclosed properties passed the Senate yesterday. The bill allows cities to set up rules requiring foreclosing banks to post a bond at the time of foreclosure, operating much like a security deposit. The bond can be used by the city for basic maintenance of the abandoned building, should the bank fail to keep up maintenance of the building. The bank would be able to recollect the bond if it maintained the property.

“Our cities were hit hard by the housing crisis. This bill will prevent blight, protect property values, and hold banks accountable for the properties they take into foreclosure,” Senator Lesser told his colleagues just before the vote. “Banks must make sure their properties are following very basic health and safety codes, just like any other homeowner. This legislation matters greatly to the people of Springfield. It will help us make sure our neighborhoods stay safe.”

In 2011, the Springfield City Council passed an ordinance to address the problem of abandoned and foreclosed properties. It required banks to post a bond with the city after they took a house into foreclosure, which would then be used to fund basic maintenance of the home until a new owner or occupant were found. If the bank maintained the property, they would be able to recollect their bond after selling the house.

Banks fought this responsibility in court. In 2014, the Supreme Judicial Court (SJC) struck down Springfield’s ordinance, citing state law as pre-emptive of the city’s ordinance. This decision has left the city struggling to maintain these abandoned properties. A similar court case is still pending in Worcester, where the city remains unable to enact their own similar ordinance because of the SJC decision.

This measure, authored by Senate Majority Leader Harriette Chandler (D-Worcester) and co-sponsored by Senator Lesser, ensures that cities are empowered to enact ordinances that require cash sureties. It will allow Springfield and Worcester, in addition to other Gateway Cities recovering from the housing crisis, to re-instate their ordinances to require that foreclosed properties are kept up.

The bill now goes to the House of Representatives for consideration.

Senator Lesser Helps Develop, Pass New Legislation for Ride-Sharing Apps, like Uber and Lyft

BOSTON- Senator Lesser was a member of the Senate working group that authored new legislation for the ride-sharing industry, which passed the Senate yesterday. The bill, S.2371 .An Act Relative to the Ride for Hire Industry protects both drivers and riders, ensuring safety for those who use the apps and establishing a strong framework for companies and drivers moving forward.

“This bill strikes a balance between innovation and public safety, and will serve as a model for the rest of the country,” said Senator Lesser. “I heard about the importance of ride-sharing apps at Millennial Engagement Roundtables across the Commonwealth. I’ve seen firsthand the benefit they provide to the economy in Western Massachusetts, where we rely heavily on cars to get around. Massachusetts is leading thoughtfully and creatively with this proposal.”

Ride-sharing apps, like Uber or Lyft, allow people to connect with drivers offering rides through a cell phone app. Drivers use their own cars and make their own hours, and users are able to call a ride from the GPS-enabled phone application. When a car is arriving, the app user is notified of the make, model and license plate number of the vehicle and is provided with a name, cell phone number and photo of their driver. The cost of the ride is dependent on demand at the time the ride is called.

Uber, one of the most common ride-sharing companies, had 1,000 drivers and 17,000 riders in Western Massachusetts as of February 2016. Ride-sharing apps are growing as a form of transportation in Western Massachusetts, where consumer choice is confined by the small number of taxis and the limited reach of the P.V.T.A.

These apps better connect the Western Massachusetts economy, a top priority for Senator Lesser. Ride-sharing app use is most prevalent around the 5 college area, downtown Springfield and Bradley Airport. These companies are making it easier to travel between communities in Western Massachusetts, and easier to connect to the rest of the region.

The Senate’s proposal acts to protect public safety. The bill requires that ride-sharing apps provide background checks of their drivers to the state, overseen by the Department of Public Utilities. It requires that drivers are at least 21 years old, that they are not registered sex offenders, haven’t been convicted of certain crimes in the last seven years, and have no major traffic violations in the past three years. It ensures inspection of vehicles, requires decals be visible on automobiles, and imposes a fine for using someone else’s driving certificate.

Further, this legislation increases consumer protection and ensures that the industry is transparent and held accountable. Under the bill, ride-sharing apps are prohibited from raising fares in a state of emergency and must clearly display fare estimates ahead of time. It also includes accommodations for disabled riders and ensures that customer service is available to app users.

Additionally, this bill ensures that cities and towns are able to manage the transition to this new technology. The proposal requires a ten cent surcharge per ride on ride-sharing apps that cannot be passed down to the rider. These funds will go directly to municipalities to support necessary transition spending, road repairs, and other transportation-related investments in the cities and towns served by the apps.

Sen. Lesser aided in the development of this bill in his capacity as Vice Chair of Financial Services and co-chair of the Millennial Engagement Initiative. He was an active member of the Senate’s working group, alongside Ways & Means Chair Karen Spilka, Financial Services Chair Jamie Eldridge, Judiciary Chair Will Brownsberger, and Intergovernmental Affairs Chair Linda Dorcena Forry. The working group drafted the bill after taking into account the input received from constituents, transportation companies and other stakeholders. At a ten-hour hearing in September, Senator Lesser heard the concerns of ride-sharing app drivers and users, taxi companies, tech experts and public safety officials, which were incorporated into the final version of the bill.

Important input for the bill was also gathered at Senator Lesser’s Millennial Engagement Roundtables. Senator Lesser hosted roundtables across the Commonwealth in his capacity as co-chair of the Millennial Engagement Initiative, speaking with millennials in Holyoke, Amherst, Springfield, Westfield,  Fall River, Lawrence and Quincy about issues important to them. Ride-sharing applications serve as an essential form of transportation for many young people in the Commonwealth.

The bill now goes to the House-Senate conference for consideration.

Senator Lesser Welcomes Dianne Doherty to the State House for Celebration of Unsung Heroines

BOSTON- On June 22rd, Senator Eric Lesser welcomed Dianne Doherty of Longmeadow to the State House as she received the 2016 Unsung Heroine Award from the Massachusetts Commission on the Status of Women. Senator Lesser nominated Ms. Doherty for this prestigious award, which honors the extraordinary contributions that Massachusetts women make to their communities.

“It was an honor to host Dianne Doherty and her daughter, Lisa, at the State House,” said Senator Eric Lesser. “Dianne is an unstoppable force for good in Western Massachusetts. Her contributions to our community, over so many years and causes, are inspiring.”

Dianne Doherty is a Western Massachusetts institution and a pillar of the community. She currently works as a Senior Business Advisor at the Small Business Development Center at the University of Massachusetts, based in Springfield. She previously served as President and CEO of Doherty-Tzoumas Marketing, a full service advertising and public relations firm based in Springfield. Prior to that she was Executive Director of Downtown Marketing, an organization whose mission was to promote downtown Springfield.

Active in civic affairs in the Greater Springfield area, she is a founder of the Women’s Fund of Western Massachusetts, an endowment to support women and girls, based on the values of the International Women’s Conference in Beijing. Dianne serves on the boards of the Pioneer Valley Plan for Progress, Bay Path College, The Community Foundation of Western Massachusetts and Tech Foundry, a local company providing IT training to deserving area youth. She is a board member of Digital Divide Data, a US based Social Enterprise which offers employment and education to disadvantaged youth in Cambodia, Laos and Kenya.

Dianne and other honorees spent the day at the State House, where they were lauded for their accomplishments, presented with a State Senate citation commending them for their efforts within their community, and met with Senator Eric Lesser to discuss issues of importance to Western Massachusetts.

[Pictured: Dianne Doherty, Senator Eric Lesser, Lisa Doherty]

Senator Lesser Votes to Strengthen Animal Welfare Laws

BOSTON—This Tuesday, Senator Eric P. Lesser voted to strengthen animal welfare laws in Massachusetts. The Senate passed a bill to strengthen restrictions on breeders to ensure that pets are well cared-for and healthy, in addition to bills that would protect pets left in hot cars or abandoned when families move.

“These measures will help prevent animal cruelty and prevent mistreatment of defenseless animals,” said Senator Lesser. “Any society is measured by how it treats those without the ability to protect themselves, and I believe these protections will do much to protect our pets, breeders, and pet owners.”

This legislation applies safety and breeding standards to protect pets and pet owners. The bill prohibits the sale of puppies and kittens younger than eight weeks old, increasing the likelihood that they will grow to be healthy dogs and cats, and outlines a process for a veterinarian to declare an animal suffering from a significant adverse health condition “unfit for purchase.”

Further, the Senate has acted to apply civil penalties to those who leave their pets unattended for extended periods in hot cars. The bills passed also require that landlords or foreclosing owners check for abandoned pets soon after a property is vacated, and immediately notify animal control or police officers if any animals are found.

The bills now go to the House of Representatives for consideration.

Senator Lesser Meets with Seniors, Law Enforcement Officials at Annual S.A.L.T. Picnic

GRANBY- Senator Lesser attended the annual S.A.L.T. picnic, which brings together seniors and law enforcement officers in Granby to build relationships and share a barbeque lunch with raffle prizes.

“I’m always glad to speak with our law enforcement officers and our seniors, two groups who have done so much for our communities,” said Senator Lesser. “It was also fun to draw the raffle!”