Greetings from your State House,
Election Day 2022 and the beginning of the next session (the 193rd session of the Massachusetts Legislature) are fast approaching. This newsletter is packed with updates and ways to get involved. Remember: Democracy depends on you.
First: If you have questions about registering to vote or how or where to vote, please check out this information from the Secretary of State’s Elections Division.
Voting YES on #1 means voting for the Fair Share Amendment that would put a 4% tax on the income of individuals who earn over $1 million annually. The additional tax begins on the first dollar after the first million earned each year, once annual income reaches $1,000,0001. The funds from this tax would be dedicated to public education, public higher education, roads, bridges, buses, and trains. Get involved in the organizing here.
Voting YES on #4 means voting to keep the Work and Family Mobility Act which the Legislature passed and then passed again to override Gov. Baker’s veto. This law simply allows Massachusetts residents to obtain a driver’s license regardless of their immigration status. It’s a public safety, public health, and economic development win. Get involved in the organizing here.
Both of these campaigns are threatened by a rising tide of misinformation and xenophobia. It will take ALL of us to prevail – because an informed, engaged public is the only thing strong enough to win.
If you would like to receive updates from my Senate campaign, please take 45 seconds to complete this form.
Traditionally, during the last few months of the second year of a session (which is where we are), legislators spend time evaluating where progress was made, and where progress was delayed over the prior 18+ months, followed by researching, meeting, and planning for the next session.
Last session, the raging pandemic meant that we were still writing, deliberating, and passing bills at this time in 2020. Similarly this session, ongoing pandemic-related challenges, coupled with a pretty intense July (see our August newsletter here) has meant that there is a great deal of legislative work still poised to move. One main focus for our team is the economic development omnibus bill which didn’t make it over the finish line in late July. That bill has important provisions for our district which we’re watchdogging – including long-awaited and overdue contract raises for UMass Amherst faculty. We’re also still very much engaged with the next steps on the State Action for Local Public Health Excellence 2.0 bill which we filed and which passed both chambers but was returned unsigned by Governor Baker with some weakening amendments proposed.
As we continue to push for the bills that passed both branches but weren’t signed into law, other bills that did pass into law this session are already starting to bear fruit. The Next Generation Climate Roadmap bill that became law at the very beginning of this session included language I filed requiring the state to track emission reductions from carbon sequestration and to prioritize carbon sequestration solutions in the work to achieve net-zero emissions by 2050. It was beyond exciting to see the result of this work in the Clean Energy and Climate Plan for 2025 and 2030 (look on page 83). Public hearings for the 2050 (!) Clean Energy and Climate Plan are beginning soon, and you can find the dates of the hearings and sign up to attend here.
Another bill bearing fruit is the COVID recovery spending bill which we passed in late 2021, which allocated federal American Rescue Plan Act (ARPA) funds. This week, school districts were notified about funds being made available to schools for HVAC improvements, thanks to the $100 million from this legislation earmarked for improving air quality and environmental health in schools. The work to make all of our K-12 school buildings healthy learning environments, as well as to make the buildings more energy efficient, will continue thanks to a bill that Rep. Mindy Domb and I passed into law this session as part of the omnibus clean energy and climate bill. Further down in this newsletter, you can read about advances in regional passenger rail work thanks to the Transportation Bond Bill which was also signed into law.
Refunds for taxpayers and fighting inflation
At the end of July, it became apparent that the Commonwealth had taken in enough tax revenue to trigger a law called Chapter 62F. Chapter 62F is triggered when total tax revenues in a given fiscal year exceed an annual cap tied to wage and salary growth in the Commonwealth – the state is then required to return the difference to taxpayers. This month, the State Auditor certified that the state is required to return $2.94 billion to taxpayers. You can estimate the refund that you are due because of the 62F law, as well as find more information, here.
I’ve heard from constituents who are in favor of Chapter 62F, and some who are not. Personally, I’d like the Legislature to grapple with comprehensive tax reform which is progressive, meaning that those who need the money the most will see the biggest gains. And I worry about having less money for municipalities, housing, infrastructure, schools, and more. This conversation will absolutely carry into the next session, so stay tuned (and make sure to let me know your thoughts).
In addition to the 62F curveball, I’m focused on the negative impacts of inflation (coupled with supply chain and workforce challenges) on construction projects – like libraries, school buildings, and roads and bridges. I believe the state has a responsibility to help close the gaps in these kinds of projects. The latest news on soaring energy bills this winter is also worrisome, and I will be working to make sure heating assistance funds are there to meet the needs of those who can’t pay their bills.
Cheers for Elena and Jake
This summer, our team’s incredible District Director, Elena Cohen, wed the also incredible Jake Krain in a beautiful ceremony. A few weeks after their wedding, Elena and Jake met and cheered on Senator Elizabeth Warren who held a town hall gathering at Greenfield Community College.
Regional and statewide work
As I’ve written and spoken about in the past, part of our team’s time is spent on regional and statewide work, in addition to our work on behalf of individual cities and towns. Here are some highlights of where we’ve been focused.
Eversource in the region
You may have heard that Eversource has been planning to do what’s called a line clearing underneath a span of electricity towers stretching from Belchertown to Northfield. It will affect upwards of 370 acres of forest. In partnership with the western Mass state legislative delegation, our team is engaging to help make sure Eversource considers every alternative and avoids and minimizes impacts to the environment as much as possible. You can watch a recording of a conversation with Eversource and local municipal officials here.
We’ve written to you in the past about the relicensing of FirstLight Hydro Power which sits on the Connecticut River in Northfield. Relicensing of a hydro power facility like FirstLight is done by the Federal Energy Regulatory Commission (FERC), but approval from the state’s Department of Environmental Protection is also required. That’s why our office and others in the delegation have been meeting regularly over many months with state and local officials and advocates, as well as sharing information with federal colleagues. Our goal is to make sure environmental and other local concerns are fully considered in the process. Here’s more information about the process and a quick summary of what’s at stake.
Rail rail rail rail
Those of us who support increased rail access will remember that the western Mass delegation joined together to ensure that the Transportation Bond Bill included an authorization to borrow upwards of $275 million in support of – especially – West/East rail from Pittsfield, through Springfield, to Boston. I was delighted to join Attorney General Maura Healey and Mayor Kim Driscoll in Springfield earlier this month where they doubled down on their commitment to this work. The Senate President has appointed me to the Commission tasked in that same bill with determining the best governing authority for rail proliferation in the region. I can’t wait to begin that work in earnest.
I’m also focused on the Northern Tier or Route 2 Rail study, which is in full swing. The next step in the Northern Tier Passenger Rail Study process involves the development of potential service plans (also known as “alternatives”) for passenger rail service along the North Adams-Greenfield-Boston corridor.
The alternatives development process will take a two-phase approach. In Phase 1, the team will develop two alternatives to show the type of service schedules that could be achieved through a lower investment level and a higher investment level. A half-day public workshop will be held in early fall 2022 (likely October) to review the two initial service plan alternatives and evaluation framework. Feedback received will be used to develop four additional service plan alternatives as part of Phase 2. Please use this link to sign up for study updates.
Reproductive health care, access, and equity
In July, the House and Senate passed a new law in response to the overturning of Roe v. Wade to further strengthen access to reproductive and gender affirming care. As part of this work, the Senate President asked me and Senator Cindy Friedman to lead a reproductive rights working group charged with delivering recommendations to further strengthen reproductive health care, access, and equity. I’ve begun meeting with leading service providers and advocates and welcome your ideas and partnership. Please email me at firstname.lastname@example.org to set up a time to speak.
Weighing in on public lands
The Department of Conservation & Recreation (DCR) is accepting public comments on its management guidelines for public land. DCR officials have been holding public listening sessions as the agency begins a 10-year update of the 2012 Landscape Designations and Management Guidelines. (You can read the 2012 guidelines here.)
We’re engaging in this process and you can as well. In fact, this is the very best time for you to make your views and interests known. The deadline for comments (www.mass.gov/dcr/public-comment) is September 28.
Out and about in August and September
The following are the highlights of where my team and I have been:
I joined a truly uplifting gathering at 5 Franklin Street in Northampton where Dr. Jessica Bossie and colleagues led neighbors and community allies on tours of a building being renovated to house individuals who are currently houseless.
In moving remarks, Dr. Bossie thanked a number of stakeholders and supporters, including Northampton’s CPA committee which made a major investment in the property.
I was grateful to have directed $128,500 in a state budget earmark for this valuable work — inspired by Dr. Bossie’s vision and thanks to counsel from Pamela Schwartz of the Western Mass Network to End Homelessness.
I was delighted to join Grow Food Northampton’s film screening of Roger Sorkin’s new film about regenerative agriculture, Farm Free or Die, and share thoughts along with Roger, Alisa Klein, Congressman Jim McGovern, Mayor Gina-Louise Sciarra, Gaby Immerman, Lilly Lombard, and others to talk about the ways that the state and federal governments could better support farms, farmers, and sustainable farming.
One of the first bills I passed was legislation to begin a Healthy Soils program here in Massachusetts. I worked with colleagues to ensure there was $100,000 available for that program in this year’s state budget. This work will help farmers increase soil health while also increasing carbon sequestration.
I learned about this work from farmers and advocates in our district – like I learn about so many other critical issues. I’ll continue to fight for this in the months ahead.
Thanks to NOFA/Mass and the MA Food System Collaborative for leading the way on low and no till farming.
I spent a morning touring the Greenfield and Orange sites of the Community Health Center of Franklin County. I’m so inspired by the work of its staff, providers, board, and volunteers.
The CHCFC has been serving our region since 1997 and offers the following services: medical, dental, behavioral health, office-based addition treatment, sexual and reproductive health services, diabetes education, community outreach, transportation, and more. Providers see upwards of 7,400 people from Franklin County and the North Quabbin.
Sen. Pat Jehlen, Rep. Jim Hawkins, and I spoke before a Board of Elementary and Secondary Education meeting in Malden where raising the minimum MCAS passing bar score was on the agenda.
In part, we were there to deliver a letter signed by 98 legislators in opposition to this harmful proposal. (You can read the letter here.)
We weren’t alone. We were joined by educators and caregivers – all in opposition. The Board received 229 comments on the proposal, only four of which were in favor.
It just wouldn’t be August if western Mass folks weren’t out on the road with Congressman Jim McGovern — our tireless friend and food and farm security champion — on another one of his epic FARM TOURS.
I was so glad to join Jim and many amazing colleagues to learn from farmers at two Northampton stops: the beautiful Grow Food Northampton and the beautiful Pie in the Sky Berry Farm.
I joined Rep. Mindy Domb at a UMass Inclusive Learning dinner to celebrate the Massachusetts Inclusive Concurrent Enrollment Initiative (MAICEI) and the Diverse Range of Inclusive & Versatile Educational Experiences (DRIVEE) programs.
This session, I worked with program participant Max Callahan (pictured) who led the work and Director Mark Sena (also pictured) on what we called the “Blue Envelope Bill” that would help facilitate positive interactions with police officers for people on the autism spectrum by creating a state-issued blue envelope to carry car registration documents. The blue envelope would also include guidance for the officer on how best to engage.
Max sought help from UMass police chief Tyrone Parham (also pictured) who sent a survey focused on whether or not this bill would be useful to all the western Massachusetts police chiefs. Chief Parham received more than 50 responses calling for the bill’s passage which Max brought into meetings we set up with Transportation Committee leadership.
The bill didn’t pass this session, but next session we’re filing this again and plan to win as a team with Max in the lead!
Rep. Natalie Blais and I (and many, many neighbors) volunteered at Stone Soup Café’s annual Harvest Supper, dishing out delicious and nutritious food made with love and local ingredients. The Greenfield Common was a joyous place to be.
Thank you to Stone Soup’s staff, board, supporters, and volunteers. It was so great to be among you.
I had the great honor of speaking to the dedicated staff, educators, and school committee members of the Pioneer Valley Regional School District at their annual (and fabulous) kick off.
So I wrote a love letter to educators. (It’s available through this link. When I spoke, I edited a bit on the spot to cut for time, but you’ll get the idea.)
There are exciting – and oh so moving – things happening at Pioneer and in the communities of Northfield, Bernardston, Leyden, and Warwick.
I was proud to recognize five communities in our Senate district that were awarded Municipal Vulnerability Preparedness (MVP) Planning and Action Grants.
MVP grants offer strategic climate resilience and infrastructure funding to municipalities. It’s one of the most effective state grant programs and it’s constantly pushing innovation, moving now to tackle water/sewer resilience.
I’m grateful to the Baker-Polito Administration as well as the tenacious Secretary Beth Card (pictured speaking), who leads the Executive Office of Energy and Environmental Affairs, for their leadership, and I’m grateful for my legislative colleagues who joined me in prioritizing this funding.
More below about how this funding will be used in each of these communities. And visit https://senatorjocomerford.org/tag/state-funding-information-sessions to learn more about how to access this funding and all state grants.
- Hatfield: awarded $283,900 to develop a Climate Smart Comprehensive Plan to articulate key adaptation and resilience actions.
- Montague: awarded $80,000 to incorporate climate resiliency and robust public engagement into their existing Comprehensive Plan.
- Northampton: awarded $921,300 to create climate resilient housing with a very small carbon footprint for its most climate-vulnerable populations.
- South Hadley: awarded $162,000 to continue to pursue design and implementation projects along Buttery Brook and the Queensville Dam, including wetland restoration and improved conservation and climate resilience.
- Whately: awarded $304,778 for the Hitchcock Center to install energy resilient infrastructure and offer environmental programming for youth.
The amazing Samantha Hamilton and I helped kick off the academic year for the rising generation of Commonwealth public policymakers engaged at the UMass Amherst School of Public Policy. I shared nine lessons I’ve learned about getting policy done – and I talked about a rugby scrum and mud. Read on here.
Health and Human Services Secretary MaryLou Sudders, her team, and I toured the laboratories at UMass Amherst dedicated to waste water surveillance. Waste water is rapidly emerging as a sophisticated, highly-nuanced way of tracking all manner of concerns – from COVID-19 to EEE to polio to opioids. I’ve been engaging with Secretary Sudders, Senate colleagues, and district communities in expanding access to free waste water testing as part of my work as Senate Chair of the COVID-19 and Emergency Preparedness and Management and Public Health Joint Committees – and I’m deeply grateful for the Secretary’s staunch leadership. (And yes, I believe all data collected from waste water surveillance should be made public.)
I was grateful to spend a little time with the tireless and caring staff of Community Action at their Vernon Street preschool. The Vernon Street school campus serves kids who are Head Start eligible.
Community Action’s dogged leadership and staff have long helped me focus on early childcare. Our conversations ranged from the connection between early care and later success to the connection between available child care and a robust workforce pipeline.
Bonus: I was able to read If you give a mouse a cookie to a room full of 3 and 4 year olds, and I took home some truly spectacular art.
I promise to continue to prioritize education – pre-K to higher ed – as we head into the next session.
I delivered remarks on breaking down legislative silos at the UMass Amherst Elaine Marieb Center for Nursing and Engineering Innovation’s first annual symposium on nursing and engineering innovation. The Center is leading absolutely thrilling, ground breaking work to improve patient care thanks to the partnership between nurses and engineers. I was delighted to join Chancellor Subbaswamy, Deans Sanjay Raman and Allison Vorderstrasse, Center directors Professors Giuliano and Sup, and incredible participants. Here’s what I discussed.
I was deeply honored to welcome Mass Cultural Council’s Executive Director Michael Bobbitt, MassDevelopment’s President and CEO Dan Rivera, and Massachusetts Office of Travel and Tourism Executive Director Keiko Matsudo Orrall to Northampton and Amherst for a day-long tour of two vibrant arts communities.
There’s no replacement for getting state colleagues to tour the region and meet the people leading critical and visionary work.
I’m grateful to Donnabelle Casis, for sharing her extraordinary work and speaking about the founding of the incredible Florence Night Out (happening September 24!) and to the David Ruggles Center for History and Education for a moving historic walking tour of downtown Florence.
Thanks to the Bombyx Center for Arts & Equity for helping to lead the day and hosting a discussion with members of the Florence arts community, as well as providing a wonderful backdrop for Mass Cultural Council’s presentation of the 2022 Cultural Facilities Fund (CFF) Grant Awardees.
Congratulations to the following organizations from the Hampshire, Franklin, Worcester district and three cheers for CFF bringing in a total of $765,000 in funding for our Senate district:
- Bombyx Center for Arts & Equity
- The Eric Carle Museum of Picture Book Art
- Historic Northampton
- Jones Library
- Northampton Community Arts Trust
- Shea Theater Arts Center
Thanks also to the ArtsHub of Western Mass for hosting an energizing conversation with the western Mass creative community at the Eric Carle Museum.
An enthusiastic crowd of good folks gathered for the Children’s Advocacy Center of Franklin County and the North Quabbin’s Hope and Healing Breakfast held annually at Greenfield Community College. I was so glad to attend along with Rep. Whipps. Thanks to a strong partnership with House colleagues and District Attorney David Sullivan, I’ve prioritized a range of funding for the CAC’s of Hampshire County and Franklin County and the North Quabbin so that they can carry on and expand their work to prevent and address child sexual assault and abuse.
Chief of Staff Jared Freedman traveled to Polar Park in Worcester for the annual Massachusetts Manufacturing Awards, which is part of a day-long celebration of our state’s manufacturing industry. I was thrilled to nominate Worthington Assembly, Inc with Rep. Natalie Blais. Worthington Assembly is a quick turn electronics manufacturer in South Deerfield. In addition to its excellent manufacturing work they are known for being a great employer, with a flat organizational structure which prioritizes autonomy for employees.
Last Saturday was all about Amherst, beginning with a celebration of the Amherst Farmers Market’s 50th anniversary celebration, continuing with a library tour stop (see above), and ending with a really moving reading of banned books sponsored by the Jones Library. So glad to join Rep. Mindy Domb and town officials for the day.
On Sunday, I joined long time friends and colleagues in a celebration of the life and work of Dr. Marty Nathan. Marty’s legacy is as powerful and lasting as it is vast. I offered a window into just some of the work Marty led and was enthralled as many others shared stories of her impact. You can read my remarks here and see the video of the memorial celebration here.
This week, I hosted students from UMass Women into Leadership, UMass Women of Color Leadership Network, and UMass School of Public Policy at the State House. We toured the Senate Chamber and the Senate President’s office and we discussed strategies for representing a rural district and how and why to run for public office. May these powerful leaders some day fill the State House!
Elena and I had pretty wonderful library tour stops in Hadley, Petersham (top), New Salem (middle), Winchendon (bottom), Ashburnham, Athol, Amherst. In addition to drawing attention to the critical role of libraries in society, it has also been a chance to have an open dialogue with folks from all over our region. Thank you to the librarians, library trustees and volunteers, and local officials for hosting us.
Thanks to an invitation from Congressman Jim McGovern, next week I’m headed to the White House Conference on Hunger, Nutrition, and Health that he’s leading.
I’m also ramping up work on the two ballot questions I mentioned at the top of this newsletter, along with supporting some statewide candidates and House and Senate colleagues in tight races. If you would like to receive updates from my Senate campaign, please take 45 seconds to complete this form.
I’ll be sure to report back on the conference and all our continuing work in the October newsletter.
Congratulations to Senator Adam Hinds
My good friend and colleague, Senator Adam Hinds, has been chosen to lead the Edward M. Kennedy Institute as its next CEO. I will miss collaborating with him for our region and I also know that he’s off to exciting and necessary work.
Sending our love to you,
Jo, Rachel, Elena, Brian, Cameron, and Jared
P.S. The library tour concludes in Greenfield, Deerfield, and Sunderland on September 24. (I’m going to be pooped!) More information here. The Republican published a sweet article about why the heck we chose to meet with constituents in their local libraries. You can access it here.
P.P.S. Don’t miss the 24th Annual North Quabbin Garlic and Arts Festival (October 1-2). Come for some of the best music, entertainment, food, and art, in the North Quabbin region.
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