Month: March 2017

Senator Lesser Welcomes German Delegation to Discuss Trade Ties between Germany and Massachusetts

While this meeting comes at a time of uncertainty in the transatlantic relationship, Massachusetts is open for business,” Sen. Lesser said

BOSTON— Senator Eric P. Lesser joined Senate President Stan Rosenberg, Senate Majority Leader Harriette Chandler, Senator Eileen Donoghue, Representative Lori Ehrlich and other House and Senate colleagues in hosting a German delegation to discuss Mass.-Germany trade ties on Monday.

The discussion touched on several issues, including collaborations that could be established between German and Mass. universities and clean energy companies. The delegation also asked questions of the Senate organizers about the Mass. economic landscape and about how the state’s government works.

Germany is the fourth-largest global destination for Massachusetts exports and German-based companies support about 18,600 jobs in the state — including those at Leoni Wire in Chicopee, part of Lesser’s district.

Lesser noted in his comments to the delegation that Mass. lawmakers could learn from the innovative vocational training programs for which Germany is well-known, and also described what makes Western Mass. a strong investment for interested German companies.

“While Germany is famous for its own automobile exports, Springfield was home to Indian Motorcycle and American Bosch,” said Senator Lesser, who serves as the Senate chair of the Joint Committee on Economic Development and Emerging Technologies. While this meeting comes at a time of uncertainty in the transatlantic relationship, Massachusetts is open for business.”

Lesser listed a well-educated workforce, growing advanced manufacturing, an innovative biotech industry and tourism as some of the leading business opportunities in the state.

Lesser organized the meeting along with his House counterpart on the Joint Committee on Economic Development and Emerging Technologies, Rep. Joseph F. Wager; Senator Donoghue and Rep. Ehrlich, Senate and House chairs of the Joint Committee on Export Development; and Senator Chandler.

“This was a great first meeting with the delegation and I believe that it is important to continue the conversation after today,” said Senate Majority Leader Harriette L. Chandler.  “Thank you to the delegation and the Chairs of the Joint Committee on Economic Development & Emerging Technologies and the Joint Committee on Export Development for paying attention to this matter. The meeting offered hope for mutual investment and collaboration. Massachusetts is committed to an open and engaged relationship with Europe and the wider world.”

“It was a privilege to meet with the delegation from Baden-Württemberg. Our states have much in common—from our cutting-edge industries to our world-renowned universities—so we can learn a great deal from one another,” said Senator Eileen Donoghue, who serves as the Senate chair of the newly formed Joint Committee on Export Development. “During this session the export development committee will explore new opportunities for Massachusetts to build mutually beneficial partnerships with places like Baden-Württemberg.”

Senate President Rosenberg spearheaded the creation of the Committee on Export Development, and noted that this was the first committee of its kind that he was aware of in a state legislature in the U.S.

“It’s very exciting to begin our work with all stakeholders to cultivate new markets in Germany for our export-ready products,” said Senate President Stan Rosenberg. “Massachusetts and Germany have strong economies grounded in higher education and which excel in innovations in technology. By working together, we can help grow a more efficient, greener economy that works better in both Massachusetts and Germany.”

The German delegation was from the state of Baden-Württemberg, in southwest Germany, which borders Switzerland and France and includes the city of Stuttgart.

Andreas Deuschle served as the head of the delegation and is Chairman of the Science, Research and Art Committee in Baden-Württemberg’s state parliament — essentially Lesser’s counterpart in his state’s parliament.

Theresia Bauer, Minister for Science, Research and the Arts, the equivalent of a state cabinet position, also attended, along with 16 members of the state parliament who serve on the Science, Research and Art Committee.

The German delegation’s trip was organized by German Consul General Ralf Horlemann and Innovation Officer Marte Kessler, who serve in the German Consulate in Boston.

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Senator Lesser Helps Rally Support for K-12 Arts Education with Letter to State Commissioner

“Arts education reduces the achievement gap,” Lesser said

BOSTON — Senator Eric P. Lesser, along with Senators Sonia Chang-Diaz and Adam Hinds, took the lead in supporting arts education, rallying 59 House and Senate colleagues to cosign a March 9 letter to the state Commissioner of Elementary and Secondary Education (ESE) lauding the Commissioner’s inclusion of arts education in its draft accountability and assistance plan for Grades K-12.

The letter reads, in part: “We congratulate our ESE leaders for the outstanding educational achievements that place Massachusetts students among the top achievers not only nationwide, but across the world. However, maintaining our educational reputation means adjusting to complex and rapidly changing times. Recognition of the value of arts education re-asserts our leadership in student creativity and innovation.”

“Developing accountability for arts education is in line with our state’s tradition of global and national leadership in education. By legislative initiative, Massachusetts provided the first public school arts education in the nation in 1870 — an economic imperative then as it is today,” the letter also states.

“The arts are pivotal to developing the creative, ambitious students that Massachusetts is known for. Research has shown that the arts also improve students’ attention, resulting in better outcomes on a variety of subjects, and fosters community by increasing school pride. I am proud to support the arts and will continue to work to ensure they remain a pillar of our curriculum here in Massachusetts,” said Sen. Lesser.

“Arts education reduces the achievement gap,” he added.

Many members of the Western Massachusetts House and Senate delegation joined Lesser in signing the letter, which also praised the state’s efforts as part of the Every Student Succeeds Act (ESSA) signed by President Obama in 2015.

The goal of ESSA was to improve upon the controversial 2002 No Child Left Behind Act and ensure that every student has access to a well-rounded education.

Lesser has also introduced legislation to encourage civics and media literacy education, which, like the arts, have been cut from school curricula in recent years.

“We should make sure that we are not just preparing students for careers, but that we are also teaching them to think critically about the society we live in and the information we are receiving,” Lesser said.

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Senator Lesser Applauds CRRC Plant’s $137.5M Contract with Philadelphia Transit System

“These are the kinds of projects that carry on Springfield’s reputation as a manufacturing hub,” Lesser said

Springfield — Senator Eric P. Lesser cheered an announcement Thursday by Springfield’s CRRC railcar plant that it had secured a deal to build 45 train cars for SEPTA, Philadelphia’s transit system, for $137.5 million.

Since being built to produce train cars for the MBTA, CRRC has also announced a deal to manufacture 64 subway cars for the Los Angeles mass transit system.

“These are the kinds of projects that carry on Springfield’s reputation as a manufacturing hub. I am proud that Springfield continues to attract this level of serious investment because of the talent and skills we have here,” Lesser said.

CRRC executives have said that officials from Atlanta’s mass transit system, MARTA, have toured the Springfield plant, and they are looking into building a second facility in New York to build train cars for New York City’s subway.

CRRC’s Springfield plant is expected to begin manufacturing railcars for MBTA next year. CRRC executives have said the plant will hire more than 150 production workers in Springfield, each paying $55,000 to $60,000 a year.

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Senator Lesser Announces High School Essay Contest

SPRINGFIELD — Senator Eric P. Lesser sent a letter Friday to high school principals in the First Hampden and Hampshire District announcing his first annual essay contest for high school students and calling for student submissions.

In 300-500 words students are asked to describe a community issue and an idea they have to fix it.

The deadline for submission is April 21, 2017 and essays can be submitted electronically to Sen. Lesser’s District Director, Joel McAuliffe, at Joel.McAuliffe@masenate.gov.

Winners will receive a classroom visit by Sen. Lesser, a citation from the Massachusetts State Senate, and a State House tour.

The contest is an effort to promote and teach our young people about the civic process, Sen. Lesser writes in the letter.

“My hope is that, in an era of increased cynicism and frustration with the political process, this will energize our young people and help them understand the power they have to make a difference in their community,” Sen. Lesser wrote.

Sen. Lesser has also introduced legislation to encourage school districts to implement news media literacy and civics education, which have been cut from school curricula in recent years.

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It’s time for a student loan bill of rights in Massachusetts

In Masslive 3/17/17

A college degree has never cost so much. Since the Baby Boomers were students, the price of a diploma has shot up more than 1,000 percent. As a result, it’s becoming impossible for middle class families to pay for higher education without taking on substantial debt. In Massachusetts, the average student loan debt has increased by nearly 75 percent over the past decade, from $17,000 to more than $29,000.

As a result, even the most responsible student loan borrowers find it hard to stay afloat, especially in the face of a dysfunctional system that protects banks and loan servicers instead of students and their families.

Last fall, as just one example, ACS Education Services, a federal student loan servicer, was accused of charging excessive late fees and flooding borrowers with harassing debt collection calls.

Right now, the Consumer Financial Protection Bureau is pursuing Navient for steering borrowers into costly repayment plans, supplying wrong information about their loans and ignoring borrowers’ requests for help.

There is a disturbing pattern here. Too many students don’t know what their rights are when it comes to borrowing loans to pay for school. Banks and servicers often make the terms as confusing as possible and take advantage of students with deceptive practices. Once students fall behind, they don’t know where to turn for help.

That’s why State Rep. Natalie Higgins of Leominster and I introduced the Student Loan Bill of Rights. This law, modeled after a successful effort in Connecticut, will give students and their families new rights and protections as they navigate the loan repayment process.

First, the bill will create a Student Loan Ombudsman to defend the interests of students. This appointed official will be a one-stop customer service shop so students can clearly understand their rights and responsibilities. In a system filled with advocates for the banks, there will finally be a dedicated advocate for students and their families.

Second, the bill will enhance oversight of student loan servicers. It will create new standards to prevent abusive practices like misleading students and harassing them with late-night debt collection calls.

Third, the law will empower the Commissioner of Banks to investigate loan servicers who break the rules — and to deliver results.

Finally, the Student Loan Bill of Rights will give the state new power to fine servicers who break the rules. It can also require servicers to repay students who have been taken advantage of.

There is much more we have to do, of course. It is essential to lower the cost of higher education, especially at our community colleges, state colleges, and universities. We also need more support for vocational and technical training, and we need to expect our universities — both public and private — to do a better job controlling costs.

But protecting students’ rights in the borrowing process is an important step. At a time when the Federal Government is failing to act, we have an obligation in Massachusetts to step forward and protect our students and their families.

It’s time for a student loan bill of rights.

Senator Eric P. Lesser is chairman of the Joint Committee on Economic Development & Emerging Technologies, vice chairman of the Joint Committee on Financial Services, and leads Millennial Outreach for the State Senate. He represents the First Hampden & Hampshire District in Western Massachusetts.

In Case You Missed It: SEN. ELIZABETH WARREN BACKS HIGH-SPEED RAIL CONNECTING SPRINGFIELD, WORCESTER AND BOSTON

“I am glad we have the support of Sen. Warren for this project that would transform the Commonwealth,” Lesser said

WORCESTER — Sen. Elizabeth Warren on Thursday pledged to push Capitol Hill leaders for infrastructure investments and offered her support for high-speed rail linking Springfield to Boston, backed by Sen. Eric Lesser.

“We need a train that runs from Boston to Worcester to Springfield,” Warren said during an “office hours” event at the Worcester Public Library, Masslive reported.

“I am glad we have the support of Sen. Warren for this project that would transform the Commonwealth,” Lesser said.

Both Warren and Lesser have called on President Donald Trump to make the investments in infrastructure projects that he promised during the campaign, Masslive noted.

“It starts out looking promising,” Warren said of Trump’s proposal. “The problem is where he’s gone with it. What he’s describing is a lot of tax breaks, rather than real money going into infrastructure projects.”

In January, Lesser sent a letter to Trump urging him to include funding for a Boston-Springfield rail line in his infrastructure plan.

Warren joins a growing list of high-profile regional leaders who are backing east-west rail in Massachusetts, adding momentum to Lesser’s proposal for a feasibility study of the project.

Connecticut Gov. Dannel Malloy sent a letter to Massachusetts Gov. Charlie Baker in January urging him to support enhanced rail service from Springfield through Worcester and onto Boston. Lesser traveled to the Connecticut State House earlier this month to meet with Malloy, Lt. Gov. Nancy Wyman, Connecticut Senate Majority Leader Bob Duff and other Connecticut officials to receive an update on the state’s plans to establish New Haven-Hartford-Springfield rail service and discuss the importance of Lesser’s Boston-Springfield rail proposal to the economies of both their states.

Lesser has reintroduced a bill in the Massachusetts State Senate to require the Massachusetts Department of Transportation to move forward with a feasibility study of Boston-Springfield high-speed rail after the same bill passed both the House and Senate last year before being vetoed by Gov. Baker.

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Senator Lesser Meets with Belchertown Select Board

BELCHERTOWN — Senator Eric P. Lesser attended Monday’s Belchertown Select Board meeting to update town officials on his work in the State Senate and hear Board members’ concerns and counsel.

Their wide-ranging discussion covered transportation, housing, environmental management and development at the Patrick Center and Lampson Brook properties, among other topics.

“These meetings with local officials are very helpful in setting local priorities and carrying them forward to my work in the State Senate. I am grateful to the Belchertown Select Board for taking the time to meet with me and discuss the important issues Belchertown is facing. I look forward to continuing our work together on behalf of the residents of Belchertown,” Lesser said.

Lesser and the Select Board also discussed the Rattlesnake Review Working Group, which is deliberating over the sites chosen by state wildlife officials to repopulate timber rattlesnakes in the state. Sites under review include Mount Zion in the Quabbin Reservoir. The working group is expected to make its recommendation to the seven-person Massachusetts Division of Fisheries and Wildlife board by May.

Select Board members voiced their frustration that the public has not been able to offer input in this process. At a March 1 meeting of the working group, the public was allowed to attend but not to speak.

“Our hope is that this process will continue as transparently as possible and we would like to see the public be able to comment before the working group makes its recommendation,” Lesser said.

Lesser’s meeting with the Select Board was part of his regular meetings with local leaders of the nine communities he represents to keep them apprised of his work in the State Senate and find out how he can further assist these communities.

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Senator Lesser Speaks about the Future of Work at SXSW Conference in Austin

AUSTIN, TEXAS — Senator Eric P. Lesser participated in a panel discussion on the “gig economy” and the future of work Sunday at the South by Southwest (SXSW) conference in Austin, Texas.

The discussion addressed how independent work affects public policy, and what policymakers can do to prepare workers for the new work environment.

“We know technology is scrambling the old way of doing things: how we work, how we travel, how we get healthcare, and every other facet of our lives. Luckily, Massachusetts has some of the smartest people, some of the most innovative companies, and a dynamic economy that gives us the chance to take advantage of these trends,” Lesser said after the event.

But the new flexibility in the workday has come with no social safety net, Lesser noted.

“All this change has its costs. How will we ensure there are enough good jobs in an era of automation? How will we keep healthcare affordable as costs explode? How will we open new connections with the world around us while also preserving what makes each community special and unique? Perhaps most importantly, how will we make sure places like Western Massachusetts benefit from the new economy just as much as places like Cambridge?” he said.

In the panel discussion, Lesser called on business and government to collaborate.

“Be engaged in public policy. Be part of the conversation with public officials. You’ll be surprised by the level of eagerness from elected officials,” he said.

During the last legislative session, Lesser helped write and pass a bill regulating ride-sharing services like Uber and Lyft. The companies welcomed the new regulations because, as their spokesmen said at the time, they helped ensure the companies’ services were recognized as legitimate businesses.

Lesser is the new Senate chairman of the Committee on Economic Development and Emerging Technologies and has also been involved in technology issues through his work to engage millennials in state politics.

Lesser’s panel also included Stephane Kasriel, CEO of the online freelancing platform Upwork, and Tekedra Mawakana, vice president of government relations for eBay. It was moderated by Linda Moore, president and CEO of TechNet, a technology policy institute.

SXSW is an ideas conference and festival begun in 1987 that brings together the tech, film and music industries and features a range of professionals and thought-leaders in various fields including business and government. This year’s program included a talk on cancer research by former Vice President Joe Biden and an opening speech by U.S. Sen. Cory Booker (D-NJ).

 

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Senator Lesser Tours Springfield’s Northstar Pulp and Paper Company, Sees Their New Equipment in Action

SPRINGFIELD — Senator Eric P. Lesser toured Northstar Pulp and Paper Company in Springfield Friday to view the company’s new equipment purchased with a grant from the Massachusetts Department of Environmental Protection (DEP). Lesser also discussed with company leadership and employees how the equipment will support the company’s work and how further public-private partnerships can contribute to the state’s business environment.

In July 2016, the Massachusetts DEP awarded Northstar a grant of up to $90,000 under the Commonwealth’s Recycling Business Development Grant (RBDG) program to help companies expand their recycling operations.

Northstar used the funds to purchase Sterling Elutriators and Bunting Magnet Systems, which upgraded two formerly existing plastic manufacturing lines to process post-consumer material. The new equipment grinds and cleans old plastic products to prepare for recycling.

Lesser serves as the Senate Chairman of the Joint Committee on Economic Development and Emerging Technologies, which oversees industrial development and environmental technologies, among many other issues.

“Northstar is the green economy in action, and a leader in innovation here in Western Mass. I’m glad I was able to see some of the great work they are doing — including the impressive new equipment they have, thanks to a Recycling Business Development Grant. This grant allowed them to open a new recycling line, expand their business, and help create new jobs in Springfield, all while promoting recycling and environmental sustainability,” said Senator Lesser.

“I enjoyed showing Senator Lesser the progress that we have made recycling post-consumer plastics with the help of the Massachusetts Business Development Grant.  I believe that we had some fruitful discussions of how we can use these public-private partnerships to improve the recycling markets of Massachusetts. I appreciate the level of support we have received from Senator Lesser, the State of Massachusetts and the Mass DEP, which has allowed us to expand our ability to convert post-consumer rigid plastics into valuable commodities,” said Aaron Goodman, Northstar’s Chief Operating Officer.

Northstar is a paper, plastic and metal recycling company looking to improve their capacity to produce quality post-consumer plastic regrinds. Using the grant funds, Northstar will purchase and install three separate methods for reducing ferrous contamination within their finished product. The company intends to target plastic pallets, which are generally hard to manage because they are often contaminated with dirt and fiber, and frequently have metal or fiberglass reinforcement bars.

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Senator Lesser and Representative Wagner Welcome MassDevelopment Bond to Renovate Chicopee’s Sunshine Village

Chicopee — Senator Eric P. Lesser and Representative Joseph F. Wagner of Chicopee both cheered MassDevelopment’s announcement last week that it had issued a $2 million tax-exempt bond on behalf of Sunshine Village Inc., a Chicopee human services nonprofit.

Sunshine Village is using bond proceeds to make interior and exterior renovations to its Davis and Casey buildings, including redesigning the front entryway and installing new windows and mechanical, engineering and plumbing systems in the Davis Building; and installing new insulation, painting and flooring in the Casey Building.

The organization is also using proceeds to reconfigure its parking lot; install new lighting, signage and walkways; and buy office equipment and furnishings. Westfield Bank purchased the bond.

“I am grateful to MassDevelopment for its continued investment in Western Mass, specifically in Chicopee with this bond. Sunshine Village is a cornerstone of our community, and those who attend its programs will tell you they look forward to going every day. The bond money issued on behalf of Sunshine Village will help make needed renovations to ensure that this vital program can continue into the future,” said Sen. Lesser.

“Sunshine Village does exceptional work improving the daily lives of those with developmental disabilities through community engagement, therapeutic programs, and employment services,” said Rep. Wagner.  “This financing will allow for an improved learning environment for both individuals and professionals. MassDevelopment continues to be an excellent partner with the City of Chicopee.”

Lesser and Wagner are the Senate and House chairmen of the Joint Committee on Economic Development and Emerging Technologies.

Sunshine Village, Inc. was founded in 1967 with a mission to improve the lives of people with disabilities, including people on the autism spectrum. With its main campus on Litwin Lane in Chicopee, the organization also offers programs throughout the Pioneer Valley, including in Chicopee, Westfield, Three Rivers and Springfield. The nationally-accredited agency serves more than 425 adults through programs that include community and life engagement programs and employment services.

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