Category: In the News

Sen. Lesser, Local Officials Announce 2019 Funding for the Zoo at Forest Park

SPRINGFIELD — Senator Eric P. Lesser joined other local elected officials and members of the Zoo in Forest Park’s board of directors today to announce the funds secured in the FY2019 state budget for the Zoo and its educational programming.

“Like many people across our region, I grew up visiting the Zoo at Forest Park. Today, I bring my daughters to experience it for themselves,” said Senator Lesser. “This funding will enable the Zoo to continue to provide its well-known educational programming like Zoo on the Go, care for the animals year round, and offer area youth internship opportunities. This is an important resource for our community and I am  proud to support it.”

“The Zoo in Forest Park provides our inner city and our low income communities with a unique experience to see, learn and appreciate the animals. It is incumbent that we work together to provide the funds to support the ongoing operations to keep the Zoo here in Springfield,” said Rep. Carlos Gonzalez.

State Reps. Bud Williams and Jose Tosado also attended.

“We are incredibly grateful to Sen. Lesser, Rep. Gonzalez and all members of the western Massachusetts legislative delegation for making this funding a reality,” said Sarah Tsitso, executive director of The Zoo in Forest Park & Education Center. “Our 124-year-old Zoo truly is a regional treasure, providing education and enrichment to generations of local families. The funding included in the 2019 state budget will support all 150 native and exotic animals that call our Zoo their home, enhance conservation and rehabilitation efforts, spur economic development through internships and job training, and provide educational programming for children and adults. This wonderful partnership with the state will impact more than 50,000 people in 2019, and provide opportunities for growth for The Zoo in Forest Park & Education Center.”

Zoo officials noted that the Zoo is an important economic driver for the region, especially as more visitors come to Springfield for attractions like MGM Springfield and the Dr. Seuss Museum.

The state funding will support the Zoo’s programming, including hands-on educational internships for veterinary students from local colleges, including UMass-Amherst, University of Connecticut, Westfield State University, Bay Path University, Springfield Technical Community College and Holyoke Community College.


Sen. Lesser Urges Trade Representative to Exempt CRRC from Trump Tariffs

“We are gaining, not losing, in our partnership with CRRC,” Sen. Lesser writes in letter

SPRINGFIELD — Senator Eric P. Lesser sent a letter to U.S. Trade Representative Robert E. Lighthizer Wednesday urging that he exempt the railcar manufacturer China Railway Rolling Stock Corporation (CRRC), which employs 120 at its Springfield plant, from punishing tariffs levied by the Trump administration.

In July, tariffs announced by the Trump administration on $16 billion of Chinese imports went into effect. Those tariffs on various parts and supplies used by CRRC could add 25 percent to its manufacturing costs.

CRRC is filing an application requesting the Office of the U.S. Trade Representative exempt the company from the tariffs.

“These tariffs are an unfair penalty on a company that is creating jobs in my Senate district, and I hope your office will take the necessary actions to exempt CRRC from these punishing tariffs,” Sen. Lesser’s letter reads, in part.

Sen. Lesser notes in his letter that CRRC employs 120 workers, with plans to hire 20 more by the end of the year, and that each worker earns an average salary of $65,000.

“These are good, high-paying manufacturing jobs,” Sen. Lesser writes.

The tariffs have been defended as a way to address the U.S. trade deficit with China. But CRRC, a Chinese-owned company, won the contract to build U.S. trains partly because there are no U.S. companies that manufacture railcars. CRRC also outbid its competitors for the contract to build railcars for Boston’s T, offering the state the most competitive price for the job.

“I understand that the administration is hoping to make American workers more competitive, but there is no U.S. company competing here because not a single U.S. company is making trains. It’s an entirely foreign market. These tariffs are an extra cost passed directly onto the taxpayer, who’s funding the construction of these railcars for the MBTA,” said Sen. Lesser.

“In other words, these tariffs are essentially a tax on commuters who live in some of our country’s largest metropolitan areas and use these transit systems in their daily lives,” he wrote in his letter, referencing the different subway systems CRRC has contracts to supply.

In addition to the MBTA, CRRC also has contracts to build subway cars for Chicago’s “L” system, Los Angeles’ Metro and Philadelphia’s SEPTA.

Read Sen. Lesser’s full letter here.


Sen. Lesser Attends Dedication of Granby’s New East Meadow School

GRANBY — Senator Eric P. Lesser joined a host of local officials, including Granby Superintendent of Schools Sheryl Stanton, School Committee Chair Emre Evern and School Building Chair Mark Bail, to dedicate the town’s new East Meadow School on Monday.

State Treasurer Deb Goldberg and state Reps. John Scibak and Solomon Goldstein-Rose also attended.

“This is a big day for Granby and for our students, who will now be able to learn in a brand new elementary school,” said Sen. Lesser. “This has been a long project, and a long priority of the town, and I’m glad the day has finally come to dedicate the new East Meadow School.”

Photo below:

Sen. Lesser and local officials cut opening ribbon at Granby’s East Meadow School.

Senator Lesser Votes to Pass Consumer Protections in Response to Equifax Breach, Student Debt Laws

BOSTON — The Massachusetts State Senate voted on Thursday to pass a credit protection bill that gives consumers more rights to protect their financial security in the wake of the 2017 Equifax data breach.

The breach exposed the personal data of 147 million Americans to the risk of identity theft. In response, Attorney General Maura Healey filed a lawsuit against Equifax alleging that the company knew or should have known that a serious security vulnerability existed but failed to patch or upgrade its software to eliminate it, according to a report.

The bill passed by the Senate, S.2455, An Act removing fees for security freezes and disclosures of consumer credit reports, requires credit agencies to provide five years of free credit monitoring to customers if their agency has been breached. It also makes credit freezes free and requires that consumers be notified and consent to their credit reports being pulled.

“Consumers need protections for the sensitive financial data they entrust to companies like Equifax. They should not be held responsible financially or otherwise when a data breach leaves them vulnerable to identity theft. This is a particular concern for the elderly, who rely on a limited income and expect their financial information to be secure with credit agencies,” said Sen. Lesser.

The Senate also passed S. 2266, An Act to prevent bureaucratic overreach in the collection of student debt, to protect students from losing their professional licenses because they had to default on their student debt.

Under current law, the Massachusetts Educational Financing Authority (MEFA) and the Massachusetts Higher Education Assistance Corporation – a former loan guarantor that now operates as American Student Assistance, a national nonprofit – can request that a borrower’s state-issued professional or occupational certificate, registration or license be suspended, revoked or cancelled for default on educational loans made or administered by either entity.

“Student loans are already the only type of loan that cannot be discharged in bankruptcy. To take away borrowers’ means of paying those loans back — by working under the professional licenses they earned with their education — is unfair and counterproductive. I am glad that the Senate took this step, following the Senate’s passage of the Student Loan Bill of Rights, to give needed protections to student loan borrowers,” said Sen. Lesser.

“Taking away a borrower’s ability to engage in their profession does not put them in a better position to be able to repay the loan,” said Sen. William N. Brownsberger, lead sponsor of the bill in the Senate.

2266 will now go to the State House of Representatives for consideration, while S. 2455 must be reconciled with a similar bill already passed in the House.