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Senators discuss their legislative agendas

Date: 1/8/2016

GREATER SPRINGFIELD – The three state senators representing communities in Hampden County all see a busy legislative session ahead for both them and their colleagues.

Reminder Publications spoke to state Senators James Welch, Eric Lesser and Donald Humason Jr.

For Welch, discussion on public record reform and the state’s budget will be two of principal issues the Senate will address in the early part of 2016.

As the chair of the Health Care Finance Committee, he plans to conduct a series of hearings throughout the region on the cost of prescription medication.

“Prescription drug costs are a really big issue,” Welch said. He added he views it as an economic issue for Western Massachusetts residents.

He also noted large pharmaceutical companies are moving into the eastern part of the state, providing a boost to the economy of the Commonwealth that may not be felt here.

The first such hearing is tentatively scheduled for Jan. 19 in Springfield.

He said the hearings would not be a vehicle to “bash” big pharmaceutical companies, but a way to start addressing the issue.

Lesser believes that besides the budget, the Senate would see discussions about legislation regarding substance abuse, energy issues including allowing more solar into the Commonwealth, pay equity and climate change.

“Lingering in the background,” Lesser said is a “big debate on charter schools.”

For Lesser he will continue his focus on four areas of legislation: substance abuse, job training for the manufacturing sector, transportation and tourism and arts. The senator sees links between all four areas that contribute to the “economic health and well being” of the state and its residents.

One of the bills Lesser supported has allowed municipalities to purchase Narcan, the drug that can counter the effects of a drug overdose, at an affordable standardized rate.

He sees the potential of east-west rail service coupled with the advent of the north-south commuters rail serviced between Springfield and Hartford, CT, as an economic engine for the region’s tourism and arts economy.

He noted the Tourism and Arts Committee, of which he is the Senate chair, would be conducting hearings in Springfield on Jan. 25.

Humason expressed a concern that so much attention will be placed on the creation of a state budget that some issues might be set aside to the second half of the year.

“A lot of things we want to get done may get pushed aside,” he said.

He believes the philosophy of many legislators will be one of being fiscally conservative. Humason explained the economy of the state has improved but is still “fragile,” and the Commonwealth must live within its means.

He said for Massachusetts to be seen better by rating agencies being careful about spending is still necessary.

“In the eyes of Wall Street we are still spending more than we should,” he said.

Humason said he agreed that substance abuse issues as well as energy policies would be among the top topics concerning the Senate.

A local issue to which Humason is paying close attention is the recent resignations of the leadership of the Holyoke Soldiers Home. Humason has been speaking to Gov. Charlie Baker about the situation.

“I’ve been trying to work with Gov. Baker so he can understand the seriousness [of the situation]. There are all sorts of issues he may not know,” Humason said.

The advocacy of the Soldiers Homes falls on Humason and State Rep. Aaron Vega and the two men have been working together, he said.

“The needs to take care of our soldiers never go away,” Humason noted.