Legislation would expand and preserve affordable Housing in Massachusetts
BOSTON— The Joint Committee on Housing yesterday advanced a $1.4 billion housing bond bill that would provide additional authorization for essential housing production and programs forlow-income and moderate-income residents in all regions of the Commonwealth.
“I am pleased to work with the Patrick-Murray Administration to continue sustaining bond-funded housing programs for Massachusetts families for generations to come,” said Senator Eldridge (D-Acton). “Continuing to invest in the preservation and expansion of affordable housing in the state has been a top priority for the Housing Committee this session and I am pleased to help advance this bill in the legislature to ensure that we continue to invest in a pipeline of housing initiatives and programs that address the most pressing housing needs of the Commonwealth.”
“The bond bill is an important piece of legislation that will re-authorize funds for the modernization, preservation, and production of affordable housing throughout the entire Commonwealth,” said Rep. Kevin Honan (D-Brighton). “Yesterday’s favorable committee recommendation is a big step toward ensuring that necessary capital improvements will be made to maintain the state’s public and affordable housing stock, and that important programs promoting community revitalization and economic development will continue to be funded.”
An Act Financing the Production and Preservation of Housing for Low and Moderate Income Residentswould authorize a $1.4 billion five year capital plan, expand the Commercial Area Transit Node Housing Program to include commercial space in mixed-use buildings and establish the Early Education and Out of School Time Capital Fund, a dedicated source of capital financing for early childhood education and out-of-school time facilities that serve high needs children. $500 million will be directed to public housing modernization that would bring public housing units online.
The bill would extend the low income housing tax credit at $20 million annually for five additional years. $80 million in grants or loans will be dedicated to the Housing Innovations Trust Fund that provides supportive housing for the homeless, domestic violence victims, seniors, veterans and individuals in substance abuse recovery. $55 million will continue to make investments in the Home Modification Program for blind and severely disabled homeowners to avoid placement into more costly institutional settings such as nursing homes.
An Act Financing the Production and Preservation of Housing for Low and Moderate Income Residents was originally filed as two separate bond bills sponsored by Senator Jamie Eldridge and Representative Kevin Honan (H 1127) and Governor Deval Patrick (H 3333). The two versions of the bill merged yesterday in executive session after a public hearing on both bills was held last month.
BOSTON—Senator Jamie Eldridge yesterday was awarded the ‘Clean Energy Champion’ Award by the New England Clean Energy Council (NECEC) for consistently taking the lead in advancing clean energy throughout the Commonwealth. The award recognized lawmakers for their efforts to drive the clean energy revolution in Massachusetts at the Second Annual Massachusetts Clean Energy Day hosted at the State House.
“I am extremely proud to receive this award and to have the opportunity to promote environmentally sensible policies that accelerate the growth of clean energy and power every region of the Commonwealth,” said Senator Eldridge. “The clean energy movement has undeniably taken root in Massachusetts through the rapid expansion of clean energy technologies, companies and projects that will create first-rate job opportunities and lasting economic growth for families in Massachusetts.”
Following the ceremony, numerous NECEC member companies representing every sector of the clean energy industry met with legislators, including Senator Eldridge, to express support for clean energy legislation and to accelerate the clean energy industry.
“Senator Eldridge, in his time in the House and Senate, has been a strong leader for clean energy and environmental policies,” said NECEC President Peter Rothstein. “His role as Vice Chair on the Global Warming and Climate Change Committee and Co-chair of the Green Economy Caucus has allowed him to take the lead on new legislation to help grow the industry and a clean economy for the Commonwealth.”
“Senator Eldridge and I have worked on many clean energy issues over the years and he is always a tireless and passionate partner in these endeavors,” said Representative Frank Smizik, also a recipient of a Clean Energy Champion award yesterday. “By working across both chambers, the legislature has made lasting progress in building a clean energy economy and bringing innovative businesses to Massachusetts.”
Last session, S 2395 An Act Relative to Competitively Priced Electricity was signed into law last August, which will strengthen Massachusetts’ commitment to clean, renewable energy sources and programs. It will lower the cost of electricity and promote investment in clean energy, ultimately benefiting the consumer, economy and the environment.
The new law includes an important provision to help expand net-metering programs in Massachusetts and double the net-metering cap, enabling more Massachusetts residents to invest in solar power and ultimately bolstering the clean energy industry. This provision is based on An Act Improving Neighborhood Solar and Net-Metering in the Commonwealth, filed last session by Senator Eldridge.
This session, Senator Eldridge filed the following bills to accelerate the growth of clean energy in Massachusetts:
S 1479 An Act Promoting the Use of Total Energy Impact Analysis would require that new construction or major renovation projects in state buildings measure the energy implications of all resources used.
S1584 An Act Creating a Grant Program for Municipal and Regional Energy Efficiency Managerswould authorize the green communities grant program to finance all or a portion of the salaries of municipal or regional green community officers, who could be hired by municipalities or through regional planning agencies to develop, coordinate, and monitor comprehensive energy use reduction plans and provide assistance to municipal staff, elected officials, the public, businesses, schools, and community.
S 1585 An Act Relative to Energy Efficiency Funds Generated by Municipal Lighting Plantsensure that all monies funneled into Forward Capacity Market, Regional Greenhouse Gas Initiative, and NOx Programs from municipal lighting plants be returned to such municipal lighting plants to be used in their own energy efficiency programs.
The New England Clean Energy Council is the lead voice for hundreds of clean energy companies across New England, influencing the energy policy agenda and growing the clean energy economy. The NECEC mission is to accelerate New England’s clean energy economy to global leadership by building an active community of stakeholders and a world-class cluster of clean energy companies.
NECEC is the only organization in New England that covers all of the clean energy market segments, representing the business perspectives of investors and clean energy companies across every stage of development. Council members span the broad spectrum of the clean energy industry, including energy efficiency, demand response, renewable energy, combined heat and power, energy storage, fuel cells and advanced and “smart” technologies. Our ranks also include venture investors, major financial institutions, universities, industry associations, utilities, labor and large commercial end-users.
LITTLETON—Senator Jamie Eldridge (D-Acton) and Representative James Arciero (D-Westford) recently attended a reception at the Littleton VFW Post 6556 Hall to honor the achievements of Staff Sergeant Thomas G. Nelson.
Staff Sergeant Nelson was awarded a Bronze Star for his distinguished service during World War II. The Bronze Star is awarded to service members who have committed acts of merit in a combat zone.
“I was extremely proud to honor Thomas for his courageous service during World War II,” said Senator Eldridge. “Thomas risked everything to protect our country on the front lines and I am extremely proud to count him as a constituent.”
“It was an honor to attend the reception on behalf of Thomas for his impressive service and achievement,” said Representative Arciero. “I am incredibly pleased and humbled to recognize Thomas’ act of bravery and service to our country.”
Boxborough’s selectmen are expected to consider Monday night whether to put a quick end to plans by the Cordish Cos. to bring a slot machine parlor and boutique hotel to town, or to allow the Maryland casino developer to draft a more detailed proposal before making a decision.
The company quietly “put its toes in the local water” at a Board of Selectmen’s meeting nearly three weeks ago, when it presented preliminary plans to turn the Holiday Inn on Interstate 495 into a boutique hotel, slots parlor with as many as 1,250 machines, and a restaurant and entertainment complex, according to chairman Leslie Fox.
“We asked people in town to let us know what they think, whether this should move forward,” Fox said.
Since then, the board’s e-mail box has been full, with Fox estimating that 90 to 95 percent of those writing are opposed to having slot machines in this quintessential New England small town.
“It’s ranged pretty much from ‘Are you out of your minds?’ to ‘Thank you for asking,’ ” he said.
And, while residents and officials in Boxborough and surrounding towns have voiced grave doubts about the proposal, one Boxborough selectman, Frank Powers, though still undecided, wonders whether it might be worth learning more about what the developer is offering.
“This is an emotional issue for a lot of people,” he said. “But the question at this point is not, ‘Should we build this?’ — the question is, ‘Should we investigate this and listen to what they have to say?’”
Powers said he has done his own research and found that property values don’t necessarily drop around these kinds of developments, and crime doesn’t always go up.
“I’m not arguing the case for why we should’’ proceed with the project, he said, “I’m not arguing that at all, but personally, at this point I’m leaning toward getting more information.”
Joe Weinberg, managing partner at Cordish, wrote in an e-mail to the Globe that the company believes a majority of residents support exploring the redevelopment project’s benefits, which he said include a “significant increase in revenues to the town,” and the addition of 1,500 construction jobs and 750 permanent job to the local economy.
“We’ve heard repeatedly from town residents they believe, at a minimum, the town should conduct a thorough review of the project, negotiate a formal host community agreement, then allow all of the citizens to exercise their right to make the final decision in the state mandated local referendum,” he wrote.
In addition, Weinberg wrote, the company has committed to hosting several open houses at the property over the next several months, following up on one that was held at the property last week.
“We received a very positive reception from a majority of town residents who visited our open house,” he wrote.
At the same time, while some residents are e-mailing selectmen, others are e-mailing each other in an effort to get organized in case they need to mobilize in opposition should the plans be allowed to move forward.
“We just don’t want the town to get into this kind of business,” said Hugh Fortmiller, who is among the group of opponents. Casino developers “have no models of a small town like ours taking on this kind of venture. . . It would change the whole character of our town.”
The 2011 law creating the Massachusetts Gaming Commission allows the agency to award up to three regional casino licenses and one slots-only license statewide. Cordish is one of four companies competing for the slots parlor license.
Before the gaming licenses are approved, however, there is a lengthy process that gives local executive boards the authority to reject proposals outright, or enter into a negotiated agreement with developers that would likely include paying for any negative impacts. If an agreement is reached, the community’s residents would then have to endorse it in a general election before the developer’s application would be considered by the state commission.
While the law gives host communities the power to say no, surrounding communities that would be affected could receive some compensation, but have no say in whether it is built.
And in Boxborough’s case, officials in the bordering towns of Acton, Harvard, and Stow said they had no idea this plan was even being proposed.
“I’m feeling a little blindsided,” said Harvard’s Board of Selectmen chairwoman, Lucy B. Wallace, who like many of the other officials contacted first heard of the proposal by reading about it in the Globe.
“The news has just started bubbling up around town, but I can’t imagine it is something the town would embrace,” she said, adding that she had already received one call in opposition to allowing slot machines so close to Harvard.
She said among her concerns would be “drunk drivers leaving there and driving on our winding little roads.”
In Acton, Board of Selectmen chairwoman Janet K. Adachi was also surprised by the news, and while she hadn’t had time to confer with her board, she said she was personally opposed to putting this type of development at the Holiday Inn site.
Aside from an array of other issues that would have to be studied, Adachi said, traffic along already busy Massachusetts Avenue (Route 111) would pose an obvious stumbling block to a proposal of this size.
“I’m not going to opine about what Boxborough should do, but I don’t think we would want to have this kind of a business or operation in our town,” she said.
Even state Senator Jamie Eldridge, an Democrat from Acton who also represents Boxborough, said he had known nothing about Cordish’s plans before reading the news reports.
While stressing the decision about whether to move forward rests with the people of Boxborough, Eldridge said he would oppose the plans.
“At the state level I led the fight in the Senate against the casino bill,” he said. “This is a poor form of economic development.”
Eldridge said traffic, crime, low-paying jobs, the toll that casino developments take on small businesses in the area, and the drain that gambling takes on social programs are all things Boxborough would need to consider.
“While the developer paints a rosy picture of what benefits the project could bring, I can talk about the opposite side,” he said. “I think that is the most critical role I could play.”
The Board of Selectmen is expected to discuss the issue during a meeting starting at 6 p.m. Monday in the Blanchard Memorial School gymnasium . The meeting will adjourn no later than 6:45 p.m., officials said, in order not to conflict with the start of annual Town Meeting, which begins at 7 p.m. in the school gym.
Courts, legislators look to rein in a practice they say causes behavioral problems but state prison officials call an essential tool
By Milton J. Valencia
Neil Miller is still haunted by the seclusion, the disorientation, the darkness.
During his more than 10 years as a prisoner, Miller spent weeks, months, and once even two years in solitary confinement units, where inmates are kept for as many as 23 hours a day.
“It’s a mental game in there,” Miller, now 46, said recently, still reflecting the anger and acting out that repeatedly got him sent to what prisoners call “the hole.” “You’re fighting with your own sanity, trying to keep yourself together.”
He was eventually vindicated by new DNA evidence and freed — but not before the time spent alone in a cell had taken its toll.
The use of segregation units — where roughly 500 of the state’s 11,000 prisoners are held in Massachusetts on any given day — has come under increased scrutiny over the last year, with state and federal court rulings limiting their use. State legislators have proposed regulating them further.
The Department of Correction defends what it calls special management units, saying they are needed to keep unruly inmates in order.
“We have to be realistic when we’re running these prisons … Segregation is a necessary tool in a prison environment,” said Luis S. Spencer, the department’s commissioner of correction.
The growing divide over their use in Massachusetts mirrors a national trend. Prisoner-rights advocates, legislators, and even corrections commissioners in other states are increasingly denouncing the use of solitary confinement, while others defend the practice as an essential part of prison management.
“There really is a seismic shift going on in both the public attitude and corrections practice,” said David Fathi, director of the American Civil Liberties Union’s National Prison Project, which has researched the effects of segregation. “I think there has been a growing awareness of the extremely damaging effects of solitary confinement.”
Massachusetts officials maintain that prisoners are kept in the units only as long as needed and that department staff check their records multiple times a week to determine whether it is time to return them to the larger prison population.
But the protocol is often contradicted by the department’s own data. Recent data compiled by the Prisoners’ Legal Services, a Massachusetts prisoners advocate group, show that inmates in some short-term units are being held far longer than initially intended.
Inmates at the units at the Souza-Baranowski Correctional Center in Shirley had been held an average of 139 days at one point in September 2012. One prisoner had been there for 662 days.
At MCI Cedar Junction in Walpole, inmates had been in the specialized management units an average 114 days, with one inmate having been there for 430 days.
A Globe review of one day in early March found that 492 of 619 segregation units in prisons across the state were filled. The department’s long-term disciplinary segregation unit in Walpole was at capacity, with 125 prisoners.
“We have to make sure people don’t stay any longer than they need to be, it shouldn’t be long-term, and there should be guidelines on what [an inmate] has to do to get out of there,” said Leslie Walker, of Prisoners’ Legal Services. “It’s literally lock them up and throw away the key — at a very expensive cost.”
The use of segregation is as old as the American judicial system. Though the units differ from one facility to the next, prisoners in a typical solitary confinement-like setting are locked in a cell for all but an hour a day; during that time they are allowed to exercise or shower.
Food is brought to them. They have a pad and pen, though on rare occasions they may have a radio or television. For the most part, they are by themselves.
In Massachusetts, prisoners can be sent to the units for a variety of reasons. In “administrative segregation,” inmates are held in the units until the department can determine a safe place for them.
Inmates involved in fights or other infractions can be sentenced to short-term “disciplinary segregation” for up to 15 days, though the sentence can be increased for multiple infractions.
Also, the department has a 125-bed Department Disciplinary Unit in Walpole, where prisoners can be sentenced to solitary confinement cells for up to 10 years for serious infractions. Miller was sent there for repeated fights with corrections officers.
State Senator James Eldridge, Democrat of Acton, who has two state prisons in his district, sponsored a bill recently that would significantly limit the use of solitary confinement to only the most necessary occasions.
The Department of Correction would then have to demonstrate the need for the continuing placement of the inmate in the unit and would have to offer structuring programs and mental health examinations. The inmate would have opportunities to challenge the segregation.
“There’s very little review of the prisoners put into solitary confinement, and we need proper oversight over what I believe is cruel and unusual punishment,” Eldridge said.
As recently as November, the courts have affirmed that segregation constitutes a punishment, even if an inmate was being placed there for his own protection. In that case, the Supreme Judicial Court upheld the rights of an inmate who had been in segregation for 10 months.
Even nationally, the US Bureau of Prisons agreed in February to conduct for the first time a comprehensive assessment of its use of solitary confinement, following a congressional hearing last year on the human rights and fiscal and public safety implications of the units.
“I think over the past year, there’s been a lot more scrutiny and discussion over, ‘is this the proper way to treat human beings,’ ” Eldridge said.
Studies have increasingly shown that prisoners’ mental illness — often an undetected, underlying factor in behavior problems — worsens in solitary confinement settings. Advocates speak anecdotally of inmates trying to keep themselves sane by writing on toilet paper, or talking to birds.
Prisoners with no history of mental illness can develop one in the units, government and academic studies have found. And prison officials are finding that the costs of running solitary confinement units are sometimes outpacing the associated benefits of their use.
Stuart Grassian, a Massachusetts-based psychiatrist who has conducted research on the units here and nationwide and who has testified at trials as an expert on prisoner segregation, said the lack of stimulation within the units can create or exacerbate a prisoner’s health problems, leading in some cases to delirium, which often goes untreated.
“You end up in a vicious cycle,” said Grassian. “What becomes very clear is solitary confinement is very, very toxic to anyone, and the people who end up there are typically the people who are least capable of tolerating it.”
Recognizing the effects of long-term segregation, a federal judge last year ordered the state Department of Correction to maintain alternatives to solitary confinement for inmates who were diagnosed with a certain classification of mental illness, part of a settlement the department reached with prisoner advocate groups following an alarming number of prisoner suicides.
By all accounts, the new units have been successful: New data show that since the 29 units were created, 82 percent of the inmates who were sent there did not engage in behavior necessitating the use of force following their release; 94 percent did not assault a staff member; 67 percent did not engage in a violent action toward another inmate; 30 percent incurred no disciplinary report. Those numbers reflect improvement over the behavior of inmates who did not go through the program.
“These are alternatives to segregation,” said Larry Weiner, the Department of Correction’s assistant deputy commissioner of clinical services. “We gauge what their mental health needs are, and we try to classify them according to their mental health needs.”
Beyond the 29 units, however, Massachusetts has been more reticent in creating similar programs for inmates who do not meet the mental illness threshold the state has set, even though the inmates may have underlying behavioral problems that have not been addressed.
Spencer, while maintaining that the segregation units remain an important tool, said he would explore other programs if state resources would allow.
A Globe review found that other states have been increasingly creating widespread alternatives to segregation, even for inmates who do not have a classified mental illness, by providing inmates with programs outside the cell to improve their behavior.
Mississippi, for instance, reduced the number of prisoners in segregation by 75 percent, resulting in a 50 percent reduction in violence. In Illinois, officials last year closed a super-maximum-security prison, saying it was needless and would save costs.
“You need to look at how people are getting into segregation,” said Joseph Ponte, commissioner of the Maine Department of Corrections and a former superintendent at the prison in Walpole who has been acclaimed for reforms in his department.
For inmates who have no history of mental illness, the Maine department works to resolve behavioral problems by offering enhanced education, job training, or even anger management programs — any alternative to housing prisoners in a cell for 23 days with no outside communication.
“We try to see if we can develop an individual treatment for the prisoner,” Ponte said, acknowledging that, for years, “You’d have an inmate in segregation for 30 months, on a basic write-up.”
Jose Bou, 37, of Springfield, a former prisoner, said he saw firsthand how a solitary confinement-like setting could be counterproductive. A decade ago, he was sent to a maximum-security prison because he was facing a lengthy sentence under mandatory guidelines for drug convictions, and he was placed in a cell for 21 hours a day.
“It was segregation, and isolation, a different world,” he said. “When they open those doors, that anxiety, you can cut it with a knife. It’s like a balloon that’s ready to pop.”
Later, he was housed in a minimum-security prison in Norfolk, where he was able to attend college classes and earn a degree. Today, he works as a youth counselor in Springfield.
“Had I not gone to Norfolk, who knows the type of person I would be in society,” he said.
Miller, who spent far more time in solitary confinement, including at the disciplinary unit in Walpole, said he was not so lucky.
He was not supposed to be in jail in the first place. At 23 years old, he was sentenced to 25 to 45 years for the rape of an Emerson College student in 1989. It was not until 2000 that DNA evidence confirmed his innocence and he was released.
He acknowledges he was angry, leading to repeated fights with corrections officers and other inmates that resulted in his segregation. But he never recovered, either, he said, and still suffers from anger and drug and alcohol abuse.
“I was a loner in there,” he said recently. “I wouldn’t say I’m better. People come out a different way, you’re not going to come out the same way. It’s just too much separation, seclusion, for anybody to have to bear.”
Committee hearings, community clean-ups, updated Bottle Bill Q&A focus of week
BOSTON—Senator Eldridge (D-Acton) participated in a series of committee hearings and community-based service projects this week to celebrate Earth Day, joining millions of citizens across the country answering the call to safeguard the environment for future generations.
Preserving the environment is an issue I care strongly about, not just on Earth Day, but every day,” said Senator Eldridge. “In order to strive for continuous progress, awareness and, most importantly, action, I am recognizing Earth Day with a week of environmentally-friendly events to encourage citizens to answer the call to help lead a change in preserving our environment.”
The Environment, Natural Resources, and Agriculture Committee on Earth Day ruled favorably on S.359 An Act Relative to Plastic Bag Reduction, legislation filed by Senator Eldridge that would prohibit the use of plastic carryout bags in large retail stores. Communities such as Brookline and Manchester by the Sea both approved a plastic bag ban underscoring the dangers of plastic bags that litter coastlines, consume billions of gallons of petroleum to produce, contaminate the soil with toxic chemicals and kill millions of animals each year that swallow or choke on discarded plastic bags.
The Senate Committee on Global Warming and Climate Change, on which Senator Eldridge serves as Vice-chair, held an oversight hearing in honor of Earth Day on the progress that Massachusetts has made in tackling climate change, including a review of the 2008 Global Warming Solutions Act, the Green Communities Act, and the issue of carbon pricing. Working with Senator Michael Barrett (D-Lexington), Senator Eldridge was successful in passing an amendment to the transportation finance bill that requires the Department of Revenue (DOR) to study how to implement a carbon tax in Massachusetts.
On Wednesday, April 24th, Senator Eldridge addressed the 5th Annual Green Difference Awards reception at the State House organized by Green Schools on environmental and energy policy, and was proud to recognize Lincoln-Sudbury Regional High School for receiving a Green Schools award for their environmental stewardship.
Senator Eldridge will carry forward the spirit of Earth Day today by leading a Q&A session on the updated Bottle Bill with Acton-Boxborough Regional High School students and will participate in Acton Cleanup Day on Saturday to pick up litter from the streets, streams, and neighborhoods of Acton, an event he founded in 1995.
To learn more about Senator Eldridge’s environmental legislation for the 2013-2014 session, please visit www.SenatorEldridge.com, or contact his legislative aide and environmental liaison Kelsey Smithwood at Kelsey.Smithwood@masenate.gov or (617)-722-1120.
Committee hearings, community clean-ups, updated Bottle Bill Q&A focus of week
BOSTON—Senator Jamie Eldridge (D-Acton) participated in a series of committee hearings and community-based service projects this week to celebrate Earth Day, joining millions of citizens across the country answering the call to safeguard the environment for future generations.
“Preserving the environment is an issue I care strongly about, not just on Earth Day, but every day,” said Senator Eldridge. “In order to strive for continuous progress, awareness and, most importantly, action, I am recognizing Earth Day with a week of environmentally-friendly events to encourage citizens to answer the call to help lead a change in preserving our environment.”
The Environment, Natural Resources, and Agriculture Committee on Earth Day ruled favorably on S.359 An Act Relative to Plastic Bag Reduction, legislation filed by Senator Eldridge that would prohibit the use of plastic carryout bags in large retail stores. Communities such as Brookline and Manchester by the Sea both approved a plastic bag ban underscoring the danger of plastic bags that litter coastlines, consume billions of gallons of petroleum to produce, contaminate the soil with toxic chemicals and kill millions of animals each year that swallow or choke on discarded plastic bags.
The Senate Committee on Global Warming and Climate Change, on which Senator Eldridge serves as Vice-chair, held an oversight hearing in honor of Earth Day on the progress that Massachusetts has made in tackling climate change, including a review of the 2008 Global Warming Solutions Act, the Green Communities Act and the issue of carbon pricing. Working with Senator Michael Barrett (D-Lexington), Senator Eldridge was successful in passing an amendment to the transportation finance bill that requires the Department of Revenue (DOR) to study how to implement a carbon tax in Massachusetts.
On Wednesday, April 24th, Senator Eldridge addressed the 5th Annual Green Difference Awards reception at the State House and was proud to recognize Lincoln-Sudbury Regional High School for receiving a Green Schools award for their environmental stewardship.
Senator Eldridge will carry forward the spirit of Earth Day today by leading a Q&A session on the updated Bottle Bill with Acton-Boxborough Regional High School students. Senator Eldridge on Saturday will participate in Acton Cleanup Day, an event he started in 1995, to pick up litter from the streets, streams and neighborhoods of Acton.
To learn more about Senator Eldridge’s environmental legislation for the 2013-2014 session, please visit www.senatoreldridge.com or contact his legislative aide and environmental liaison Kelsey Smithwood at email@example.com or (617) 722-1120.
In a week of heroes, State Sen. Mike Barrett and State Sen. Jamie Eldridge (D-Acton) welcomed another: Jacob Landis, age 24. On “Jacob’s Ride,” Landis is biking across America, hitting every Major League ballpark — from Fenway to Dodger Stadium — to raise $1 million for cochlear implant access and affordability.
“Because Medicaid and private insurance pay so little for surgery and post-op treatment,” Barrett says, “families can end up owing tens of thousands of dollars.” Barrett, Senate Chair of the Joint Committee on Children, Families and Persons with Disabilities, adds, “Kids do better when they receive implants early on, but when parents have to pay out-of-pocket, surgeries can be prohibitively expensive.”
The cochlear implant has revolutionized treatment for the hard of hearing: it’s the first medical device engineered to replace one of the five human senses. Unlike hearing aids which amplify sound, implants bypass damaged parts of the ear and send substitute signals to the brain. Eldridge has re-filed a bill to ensure that surgery and subsequent therapies for children are covered by all insurance plans.
Given their many environmental drawbacks, plastic bags are on the way out in America. Massachusetts can hasten that day by becoming the first state to ban the use of plastic bags at large retail stores.
Lawmakers on the joint Environmental, Natural Resources and Agriculture Committee on Monday advanced legislation banning the bags at retail stores larger than 4,000 square feet. Plastic bags are essentially forever, and they pack landfills, clutter streets and defile waterways. They are a legitimate danger to coastlines, as washed up plastic bags can kill seals, turtles and other marine creatures that consume them or are caught in them.
Senator James Eldridge, an Acton Democrat, made reference Tuesday to the Great Pacific Ocean Garbage Patch, a floating dump created by manmade products, many of them plastic bags. Not surprisingly, Manchester-by-the-Sea is one of two Massachusetts communities to ban plastic bags (Brookline is the other), and Nantucket Island also has banned them.
According to Roxanne Zak of the Sierra Club, speaking to State House News Service, only 5 percent of the more than 1 billion plastic bags thrown away by Americans are recycled annually. Removing the resin in plastic bags makes it expensive to recycle them, as does the food waste that tends to cling to them. While paper bags are preferable, their use should be reduced and can be if shoppers bring their reusable shopping bags with them.
The legislation exempts small retailers and the bags grocery stores and bakeries use to avoid creating a hardship for businesses competing with massive chains, but ideally they will discontinue the use of the bags before it becomes necessary at some future date to expand the legislation. Like too many products created for the sake of convenience, plastic bags are useful for a few moments before becoming eyesores and threats to marine life for centuries. The Legislature should approve their ban this session and Governor Patrick should sign the ban into law.