Month: May 2018

Senate Passes Life Sciences Bill to Continue Investment in Cutting-Edge Industry Critical to State Economy

Bill extends tax incentives to life sciences industry and authorizes targeted investments in research and training facilities at UMass campuses across the state

BOSTON — The Massachusetts State Senate voted on Thursday to pass a bill extending the state’s investment in life sciences research and training to capitalize on the state’s national advantage in the sector responsible for thousands of jobs in the state.

The bill, S.2531, An Act providing continued investment in the life sciences industry in the Commonwealth, extends the state’s life sciences tax incentive program for another ten years, proposes millions of dollars in grants to community colleges and vocational schools to increase employment opportunities, and authorizes spending on initiatives to promote regional efforts to advance innovations in bio-manufacturing. The bill is based on the $1 billion, ten-year initiative launched by Gov. Deval Patrick in 2007.

“The biotech and life sciences industry has been a key component of Massachusetts’ economic progress over the last ten years. Now the challenge is to spread that growth across the state, to regions that have the manufacturing capacity but need the targeted investments to take advantage of this cutting-edge industry and gain access to the jobs of the future,” said Senator Eric P. Lesser (D-Longmeadow), Senate Chair of the Joint Committee on Economic Development and Emerging Technologies, which oversaw the bill. “The investments in this industry that we as a state made ten years ago have helped it flourish here in Massachusetts, and now we can’t afford to lose our national edge. Imagine the lost potential if we allow the next vaccine breakthrough, the next big discovery, the next lifesaving drug, to be developed elsewhere. This bill maintains our leadership in this critical industry and offers us tremendous opportunity to expand economic growth across our state.”

“The life sciences and bio-manufacturing industry are job creators and integral parts of Massachusetts’ innovation economy,” said Senate President Harriette L. Chandler (D-Worcester). “A decade ago, Massachusetts made a fantastic investment in life sciences. Today, the Senate seized the opportunity to spread growth and innovation across the Commonwealth and ensure that Massachusetts remains a national leader in the innovation economy.”

“We truly have a biotech and life sciences supercluster here in Massachusetts, and this bill will ensure we continue to grow and lead the way,” said Senator Karen E. Spilka (D-Ashland), Chair of the Senate Committee on Ways and Means. “People across the nation and the world depend upon the cutting-edge medical devices, pharmaceuticals and research under development here, and our investments today in innovation, education and workforce training are critical for our continued growth and success.”

The bill also authorizes spending for innovative new programs at the state’s UMass campuses, including:

  • a biotechnology and precision manufacturing research and training facility at UMass-Amherst
  • a center for nursing innovation at UMass-Boston
  • expansion and renovation of the center for advanced bio-manufacturing and digital health at UMass-Dartmouth
  • a joint proposal between UMass-Lowell and UMass Medical School to advance neuroscience workforce training, research and commercialization of medical devices

The bill will now be reconciled with a version passed by the House of Representatives before going to the governor for his signature.

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Lesser Amendment Increasing Funding to the State’s Boys and Girls Clubs Passes the Senate

BOSTON — On Thursday, the State Senate voted to approve a budget amendment proposed by Senator Eric P. Lesser that increases funding to the state’s Boys and Girls Clubs.

“I’m proud to support the clubs because of the good work they do in several of our communities, including Ludlow, Springfield and Chicopee,” Sen. Lesser said. “These clubs give young people the opportunity not only to succeed, but also to give back. Nearly half of teen members volunteer at least once a month, and nearly all of them graduate high school and go on to post-secondary education. These are the types of programs we should be supporting in our communities.”

Boys and Girls Clubs serve at-risk youth populations, providing a safe and supportive space to learn and become responsible and productive citizens. The Senate amendment increases funding to the Massachusetts Alliance of Boys and Girls Clubs to $1.7 million to enable the clubs to continue providing quality programming and facilities.

The funding will need to be agreed upon by the House before heading to the Governor for his signature.

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Lesser Amendment Supporting a New Splash Park in Belchertown Passes the Senate

BOSTON — On Thursday, the State Senate voted to approve a budget amendment proposed by Senator Eric P. Lesser that provides $75,000 in state funding for the construction of a new splash park in Belchertown.

The new splash park will be built in place of several tennis courts located near Chestnut Hill School which have fallen into disrepair. The park will redevelop land that is currently underutilized and unsafe for small children.

“There’s a lot going on in Belchertown!” Sen. Lesser said. “This new splash park creates yet another recreational opportunity for families to enjoy. I’m thrilled to support the Town in their efforts to boost property values and improve the quality of life for all residents with a safe new place for children to play.”

The funding will need to be agreed upon by the House before heading to the Governor for his signature.

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Lesser Amendment Creating a Security Grant Program for Nonprofits at Risk of Terror Attack Passes the Senate

BOSTON — On Thursday, the State Senate approved a budget amendment proposed by Senator Eric P. Lesser that creates a $150,000 fund to provide security enhancements to nonprofit organizations that are at risk of terror attack and hate crimes.

Hate crimes and vandalism have been on the rise in Massachusetts and across the country in the past two years. The FBI has reported a high rate of reported hate crimes in Massachusetts based on race, ethnicity, religion and sexual orientation.

Last summer, the New England Holocaust Memorial was vandalized twice in three months, and bomb threats were called into Jewish Community Centers across the state, including in Springfield.

In Belchertown, copies of the Ku Klux Klan’s Klansmen newspaper were distributed multiple times over the past year.

“It is disturbing that we have to address issues like this at all. But it is a fact that these incidents have been increasing, not decreasing, in our communities. This funding will help protect our families and vulnerable communities, but it is my sincere hope that our values of respect and dignity for every human being will win out in the end,” said Sen. Lesser.

The funding must now be agreed to by the House of Representatives before heading to the Governor for his signature.

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Lesser Amendment Supporting Improvements to the Athletic Field at Minnechaug High School Passes the Senate

BOSTON — On Thursday, the State Senate voted to approve a budget amendment proposed by Senator Eric P. Lesser that provides $75,000 in state funding for enhancements to the athletic field at Minnechaug High School.

The resurfaced turf field will replace the existing field. The state funding will be in addition to an appropriation made by the Town of Wilbraham at its annual Town Meeting earlier this year.

“I’m proud to support Minnechaug Athletics and the Town of Wilbraham in this endeavour,” Senator Lesser said. “This funding will supplement the ongoing efforts on the part of the School Department and Town as they work to ensure that both the school community and broader community have access to a well-maintained playing surface.”

The funding must now be agreed to by the House of Representatives before heading to the Governor for his signature.

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Lesser Amendment Supporting the Construction of a New Service Dog Memorial and Dog Park in Chicopee Passes the Senate

BOSTON — The State Senate voted to approve a budget amendment proposed by Senator Eric P. Lesser that provides $75,000 in state funding for the construction of a Service Dog Memorial and Dog Park to be located on Westover Road in Chicopee.

The park will be the first in this Chicopee neighborhood, providing recreational space for residents. It will also include a unique memorial to service dogs. The project is a redevelopment of land that has been unused for decades.

“This park will be a great addition to the Chicopee community, making good use of land in a neighborhood that has long needed community green space,” Sen. Lesser said. “The beautification of this land will boost property values and serve as a place for our community to gather, for families to relax — and for dogs to enjoy, too.”

The funding must now be agreed to by the House of Representatives before heading to the Governor for his signature.

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Lesser Amendment to Fund Bilingual Exhibits at Dr. Seuss Museum Passes Senate

BOSTON — On Thursday, the State Senate voted to approve a budget amendment sponsored by Senator Eric P. Lesser that allocates $100,000 to fund bilingual exhibits at Springfield’s Dr. Seuss Museum.

“The success of the Dr. Seuss museum has surpassed expectations and shattered attendance records at any of the Springfield Museums. This exciting new addition to the City’s museums is quickly becoming its must-see attraction. Thanks to this funding, our entire community and all our region’s visitors will be able to enjoy the words of Springfield’s iconic native son,” said Sen. Lesser.

The Amazing World of Dr. Seuss Museum is the first museum of its kind dedicated to the best-selling children’s author in the world, located in his hometown. Dr. Seuss’s work has been translated into 20 languages.

The funding will be used to complete an ongoing effort to translate exhibits at the museum so that the entire community, which includes many native Spanish-speakers, and tourists will be able to interact with and enjoy the museum.

The amendment will be included in the Senate version of the budget, which will be negotiated with House members before a final budget proposal is sent to the Governor’s desk.

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Lesser Amendment Increasing Funding for the Mass. Emergency Food Assistance Program Passes the Senate

BOSTON — On Thursday, the State Senate voted to approve a budget amendment proposed by Senator Eric P. Lesser to increase funding to the Massachusetts Emergency Food Assistance Program (MEFAP), which buys produce from local farms, including many in Western Massachusetts, to stock the state’s food banks.

The amendment funds the program at $18 million, an increase over the $17.5 million allocated to the program last year.

“This is a vital program for our communities, and I am thrilled the Senate supported an increase in funding this year. Not only does MEFAP provide fresh, healthy food to our residents in need, but it also helps to support the many farms that partner with MEFAP to deliver this food to our Food Banks across the state,” said Sen. Lesser.

MEFAP provides nearly 21 million meals for those in need, and spends millions of dollars each year on fresh vegetables from local farms, making it an important state investment in the Commonwealth’s agricultural economy in addition to essential nutritional assistance for the hungry. Local farms rely on this income and use the investment to grow their businesses and, ultimately, feed more residents.

MEFAP funding is responsible for a fourth of the food that is distributed by the Food Bank of Western Massachusetts. A significant number of food recipients are elderly and nearly a third are children.

This is the second year that Sen. Lesser was the lead Senate sponsor on the budget amendment introduced to increase funding for MEFAP. State Representative Ann-Margaret Ferrante of Gloucester was the lead House sponsor.

The amendment will be included in the Senate version of the budget, which will be negotiated with House members before a final budget is sent to the Governor’s desk.

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Lesser Amendment Creating a Commission on Crumbling Concrete Foundations Passes the Senate

BOSTON — On Thursday, the State Senate voted to approve a budget amendment proposed by Senator Eric P. Lesser to create a commission on the crumbling concrete foundations affecting homeowners in several towns throughout Western Massachusetts.

The commission will identify the extent of how many homeowners across the state are affected, the financial impact for cities and towns and how lawmakers can assist homeowners.

Many homeowners in Western and Central Massachusetts have come forward to notify officials that the foundations of their houses are crumbling. Investigative reports in Connecticut, where the problem first surfaced, have linked the faulty concrete to a quarry owned by JJ Mottes, a company that closed in 2017.

The concrete from that quarry was contaminated with pyrrhotite, a mineral that reacts with water and air, causing concrete to crack and fissure.

Now, there is no company to hold accountable and home insurance companies refuse to pay for repairs because language inserted into their policies only covers full collapse, not the risk of collapse.

“People are stuck in a terrible situation. They are being told that their most precious asset — the home they saved for and built equity in — now has no value,” said Sen. Lesser. “We need to figure out how extensive this problem is in our state, how many homes are affected, so that we can begin to provide relief and assistance to homeowners.”

The amendment is one of two included in the Senate budget to address the issue of crumbling concrete foundations.

The other, introduced by Sen. Anne Gobi of Spencer, creates a reimbursement program for homeowners who need to test their foundations for contaminated concrete, which can cost thousands of dollars.

“I am glad to join with Senator Lesser to bring increased attention to this horrific problem.  This Commission will be instrumental in assessment and finding workable solutions to the complex problems that have been created for so many homeowners,” said Sen. Anne Gobi (D-Spencer).

Both amendments will be included in the Senate version of the budget, which will be negotiated with House members before a final budget proposal is sent to the governor’s desk.

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Lesser Amendment to Study High-Speed East-West Rail Passes Senate Fourth Year in a Row

Includes extension from Springfield to Pittsfield

BOSTON — For the fourth year in a row, the State Senate unanimously approved a budget amendment sponsored by Senator Eric P. Lesser to study a high-speed rail line between Boston and Springfield on Thursday.

For the first time, the amendment includes an extension of the rail link from Springfield to Pittsfield.

Although the Massachusetts Department of Transportation announced in January that it had included the study in its draft 2018 State Rail Plan, Sen. Lesser introduced the amendment again this year as an “insurance policy” to ensure that the study gets completed.

“Massachusetts has one of the strongest economies in the country right now, but that economic growth is not being shared across all our regions. Western Mass has waited too long for serious state investment, serious state consideration of this project, which could transform our region and unlock our full potential,” said Sen. Lesser.

“You cannot overstate the importance of connecting every region of the Commonwealth by passenger rail, thereby ensuring residents, visitors and people doing business in Massachusetts have ready access to major economic centers,” said Sen. Adam G. Hinds (D- Pittsfield).  “Investments in the Commonwealth’s transportation infrastructure are critical to ensure our region’s ability to grow and thrive. We need this feasibility study now, in order to determine how best to link Pittsfield to Springfield to Worcester to Boston by rail.”

As in past years, Western Massachusetts senators from both political parties spoke in favor of the amendment, urging their colleagues to support it.

“The prospect of commuter rail service for our communities is a step closer to reality with the passage of this amendment. It is imperative that a high speed rail study is undertaken in order to understand the needs and possibilities of our region. I appreciate the leadership of Senator Lesser on this amendment and look forward to working together on the project moving forward,” said Sen. Anne Gobi (D-Spencer).

“This study is part of a collaborative effort by the delegation from Western Massachusetts to ensure that the residents of the region have the access to transportation infrastructure they deserve. The feasibility study will give us the vital information we need to assess that the full impact, costs, benefits, and timeline of bringing high speed rail to our region,” said Sen. Don Humason (R-Westfield).

“For Western Massachusetts to be able to continue to prosper, this feasibility study is key to this mission and will a first step to connect our region with other economic hubs in the Commonwealth which has so many benefits to local businesses, job seekers, and visitors.” said Senator James T. Welch (D- West Springfield). “ And with the opening of the MGM Casino in August, the time to take this first important step is now. ”

The amendment will be included in the Senate version of the budget, which will be negotiated with House members before a final budget proposal is sent to the governor’s desk.

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