I write amid the waning days of summer to give you a sense of what’s ahead this fall. Our team has so much to share that you’ll find this newsletter packed with links so you can explore what interests you.
With so much happening in our state, nation, and world, these are high stakes times. Our team is heading into the fall energized to drive necessary progress on your behalf.
In the State House
The legislature returns to formal sessions after Labor Day with a long to-do list that includes a close-out supplemental budget (which is the final budget for the last fiscal year), the allocation of over $5 billion in ARPA (the federal American Rescue Plan Act recovery bill) funds, once-a-decade redistricting legislation, and much more.
Our team has developed a focused list of ARPA priorities including public health, public higher education, municipal buildings and infrastructure, green and healthy school buildings, and more. We’ve spent July and August making these priorities known to Senate leadership, and I expect more public hearings on ARPA funds in the coming weeks.
In the Public Health Committee
As you might imagine, the Public Health Committee has been busy. We charged out of the gate at the beginning of the legislative session, holding hearings on children’s and women’s health, environmental health issues, local and regional boards of health, and multiple hearings on vaccines including one focused on pediatric vaccinations and school health which we held at the Boston Museum of Science on July 26 (pictured below).
We used August to take a deep dive into the 197 bills we’ve already heard and the testimony we received. This fall, we’ll hear and consider 182 additional pieces of legislation tackling issues as diverse as death with dignity, health equity, and gun violence.
In the COVID-19 and Emergency Preparedness and Management Committee
Similarly, there hasn’t been a dull moment in this COVID-focused committee. After starting off with multiple oversight hearings on the vaccine rollout, including two where Governor Baker testified, we spent the remainder of the winter and spring hearing from every single one of the Commonwealth’s regional emergency preparedness and public health coalitions. These hearings, as well as documents provided to the Committee by the Administration have given the Committee an unparalleled view of emergency management operations throughout the state and the Baker Administration’s response to COVID-19. Strengthened with this knowledge and stacks of testimony and documents, the Committee is now at work on a set of focused recommendations to help ensure the state is more prepared the next time we face a crisis.
Upcoming event highlights
On September 7, thanks to the incredible organizing of Families for Justice as Healing and many other groups, I’ll join a statewide walk in support of a moratorium on the construction of new prisons and jails in the Commonwealth. The walk kicks off in Springfield. Please sign up here so that we can march together.
On September 10, I’m joining House colleagues to welcome Massachusetts Cultural Council’s fabulous new Executive Director Michael Bobbitt for a tour of our region. We’ll start in Northampton at the David Ruggles Center, the Academy of Music, A.P.E. Gallery, 33 Hawley Street, and Historic Northampton before winding our way to Amherst, via major cultural sites, for a gathering, and then up to Shea Theatre in Montague. We’ve invited Michael so that he can fall in love, like we have, with our region’s arts and culture hubs.
On September 14, I’ll be testifying on two bills I introduced at a hearing of the State Administration Committee. The bills are:
- S.2029 – An Act advancing equity for rural communities receiving state grants, which directs state agencies administering grant programs to give preference to rural communities, particularly those that intend to use funds to regionalize or share services, and to grant applicants that serve rural communities.
- S.2031 – An Act advancing taxpayers’ right to know, which requires an information statement be mailed to all taxpayers showing the allocation of their federal and state tax revenue.
These bills are quite disparate and they reflect the broad agenda we’re working to advance. There will be many more fall hearings on bills we introduced and you can check here for details: https://senatorjocomerford.org/events/. (We also try to get the word out by email and on social media.)
On September 16, I’m joining UMass Amherst Chancellor Subbaswamy to host Senate President Karen Spilka and her team on the UMass campus for tours and discussions with students and faculty focused on the future of public higher education.
On September 17, with Representatives Blais, Carey, and Domb, Community Involved in Sustaining Agriculture (CISA), and the Massachusetts Food System Collaborative, I’ll host legislative, regional, and state colleagues for a four-stop farm tour focused on this session’s food and agriculture legislative and budgetary priorities.
On September 20, I’ll join fellow Commissioners on the Racial Inequities in Maternal Health Commission for a public meeting and listening session with a focus on greater Boston. Public Meeting at 4:00 p.m.; Listening Session at 5:00 p.m. Please spread the word: http://bit.ly/rimh920.
Summer event highlights
We partnered with Representative Natalie Blais, the Franklin Regional Council of Governments (FRCOG), and Massachusetts Department of Transportation (MassDOT) to host a community meeting focused on the exciting Northern Tier Passenger Rail Study. We were delighted to have state and local officials spanning the entirety of Route 2 on the call. Stay tuned for updates as the study kicks off in October!
We partnered with Congressman Jim McGovern, Clean Water Action, and MassPIRG on a comprehensive PFAS briefing, looking at the dangers of this toxic chemical and my legislation to ban it from a host of consumer products. If you missed it, please check out Turn Off The Tap: It’s Time To Ban PFAS In Massachusetts.
With Senators Sonia Chang-Díaz, Cindy Creem, Adam Gomez, and Becca Rausch and Representatives Mindy Domb, John Lawn, Tram Nguyen, Chynah Tyler, and Bud Williams, I helped organize the support of nearly 80 state colleagues for the passage of the John Lewis Voting Rights Act and the For the People Act and then flew to Washington, D.C. with Senator Rausch (we’re pictured below) to deliver the signatures, joining 150 state legislative officials from 30 states for a day of action. It’s impossible to take the organizer out of the legislator (thank goodness). Thank you to constituents Beth Lev and Joyce Rosenberg who inspired me to take up this work. It’s critical that we protect the greatest superpower any of us has: The right to cast a vote.
I was invited by Senator Mike Barrett to testify at the hearing of the Telecommunications, Utilities, and Energy Committee focused on pending biomass energy regulations. (You can listen to my remarks via this link.) That experience prompted me to focus the July ‘Dear Jo’ and ‘My Turn’ columns on biomass in a piece titled What Gets Defined As Renewable Energy?.
With my Public Health Co-Chair, in a letter to The Boston Globe, I urged Governor Baker to take steps to protect our school communities: Governor Baker Needs To Announce Covid-19 Mandates For Schools.
In the August ‘Dear Jo’ and ‘My Turn’ columns I wrote about Getting Real About Racial Health Equity with deep gratitude to the Women of Color Health Equity Collective, the Western Massachusetts Health Equity Task Force, the Public Health Institute of Western Massachusetts, Dr. Frank Robinson, and more.
More of my testimony, letters, and advocacy these last weeks, here: https://senatorjocomerford.org/category/testimony-letters-reports-statements/.
Heads up on food security matters
Stop and Shop customers can now use SNAP for online purchases. Information in English.
Stop & Shop ahora acepta pagos con tarjeta EBT de clientes del SNAP de Massachusetts para compras en línea con retiro y entrega. Información en Español.
The wildly popular Food Security Infrastructure Grant is back! Applications open soon. Contact me if you want to be notified (firstname.lastname@example.org).
Out and about
We had a fabulous time cheering Florence Olympic scholar athlete Gabby Thomas at 33 Hawley in Northampton for her first Olympic race. Cheers to Gabby’s mom Jennifer Randall and special thanks to Northampton Open Media, Sarah Buttenwieser, and so many others (listed here), for making this gathering happen. Congratulations to Gabby for winning a bronze medal in the 200 meter Olympic final!
District Director Elena Cohen and I joined municipal and state colleagues in Deerfield and Warwick to survey storm damage. Many communities in our district were hit hard by summer storms. Our team is grateful to all the municipal officials across the district who are grappling with the real-time impact of climate change.
I was honored to participate in the hope-filled library groundbreaking in Greenfield, the culmination of a nine-year community-led effort. Congratulations, Greenfield!
I was delighted to join Senator Anne Gobi, Representative Susannah Whipps, Massachusetts Department of Fish and Game Commissioner Ron Amidon (pictured), Mount Grace Land Conservation Trust, and state and federal colleagues, as well as Bobby Curley and the incredible organizers from the North Quabbin Trails Association (NQTA) in Orange to mark the signing of a landmark Trail License Agreement between Mass Wildlife and NQTA.
I had the honor of joining Congressman Jim McGovern, Representatives Susannah Whipps and Natalie Blais, and so many state and regional colleagues on the Congressman’s annual farm tour. I joined stops in Gill at the beautiful Upinngil Farm and in South Deerfield at the beautiful Atlas Farm. Conversations ranged from both farms’ commitment to food security and access to the impact of state and federal funds and programs. We’re lucky to have Jim McGovern’s leadership at the national level. Thanks to the Congressman and his team.
Sending our love to you,
Jo, Elena, Sam, Brian, Cameron, and Jared
P.S. Many of you know that I spent a lot of years in the peace movement and working on foreign policy and budget matters at the national level. What’s happening in Afghanistan is wrenching. As a state legislative official, I don’t have a direct relationship with our nation’s foreign policy and international relations, but I did join state legislative colleagues on a letter, led by Westfield Senator John Velis, to federal colleagues calling for the safe evacuation of Afghan allies. You can read the letter here: https://senatorjocomerford.org/joint-letter-to-federal-colleagues-regarding-safe-evacuation-of-afghan-allies/.
P.P.S. While I didn’t lead with pandemic-related news, I need to close with it. Please mask up, get vaccinated, and take appropriate precautions. COVID-19 cases are ticking up significantly due in large part to the Delta variant. Our region’s positivity rates are also ticking up. If you need support with rent, food, utility bills, employment, accessing a vaccine, do not hesitate to reach out to email@example.com and our team will jump in to help.
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