Rep. Velis’ weekly update

Hello Westfield! Hope you all had a great week and a safe snow day.

Although the snow prevented us from having a formal session on Wednesday, it was still a big day in the State House. Every 2 years, at the start of session, the House and Senate agree on a deadline for the vast majority of bills to be moved out of their original committee assignments under what we call “Joint Rule 10.” The deadline ensures that there is enough time for bills to make it through both chambers before session ends in July. That deadline was this past Wednesday.

With more than 6000 bills filed between the two chambers, the committee chairs often have to prioritize only a few bills every session. Unfortunately, that means that many of the bills we would like to take up will have to wait until next session, but there are also many great pieces of legislation that will now be moving onto the next phase of the legislative process. Of course, not every bill that made it out of committee will get passed- there are still many steps to go after being initially released from committee.

This week, I wanted to highlight a few of the bills I sponsored that did make the cut. The first bill, which was passed out of the Joint Committee on State Oversight and Administration almost a year ago, is called the Honor and Remember Act. It would designate the Honor and Remember Organization’s flag as the official state flag of remembrance for our armed service members who have been killed while serving. The flag is red, white, and blue, with a large gold star in the center to represent the sacrifice of our brave service members and the gold star families that have lost a loved one. If the bill does pass, it will mandate that the flag be flown over the State House on Memorial Day, Independence Day, Veterans’ Day, and several other special days that honor our military members and their families. It would also fly continuously over our State Veterans’ cemeteries.

The Second Bill, which I have talked about on many occasions, is the Firefighters with Parkinson’s Act. As a refresher, this bill would extend accidental disability benefits to firefighters across the Commonwealth who are forced to retire because they are diagnosed with Parkinson’s Disease. Firefighters who retire with heart or lung conditions already receive these benefits because we know that the job is a major contributing factor to their conditions. Accidental disability benefits include a larger pension and an annuity for their survivors if the firefighter dies as a result of their disease. With more and more research pointing to a link between firefighting and Parkinson’s, it’s our responsibility to make sure that they can provide for their families after retirement. I am extremely proud of this bill and of Greg Heath, the Westfield firefighter who brought it to my attention and has worked tirelessly to get it out of committee.

The next bill moved favorably out of committee would establish a commission to study the financial abuse of elders in Massachusetts. Elder abuse is a despicable crime and, unfortunately, one that is on the rise. One of the most overlooked types of abuse is financial abuse, or the exploitation of elders to make money. Financial abuse can include the internet scams and predatory refinancing programs we all hear about, but it can also include exploitation by friends and family members. There have been cases of elders selling their houses to predatory friends or caregivers for significantly less than market value, not out of generosity, but because they were misled by said friend. It can also occur when an elder gives power of attorney to a less-than-trustworthy family member. While some cases of abuse are obvious, many go unnoticed and unreported, which is why I filed this bill. I would very much like to see an in-depth report and much-needed policy solutions come out of this commission, if passed.

Finally, the last bill of mine to make the cut would allow Veterans to use the PVTA for free to travel to and from their doctor’s appointments at the VA. While the VA does have limited shuttle service, there are still many Veterans who struggle to make it to their appointments. For homeless or elderly Veterans, especially, this can pose a real issue. It’s a commonsense measure to provide them with free public transportation for these appointments, and I’m glad it is moving forward.

That’s it for this week, folks. As always, if you have any questions or concerns, please do not hesitate to contact my office at (413) 572-3920 or [email protected]. Have a wonderful weekend!

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