Around Town

Senator Velis updates the district

Hello Everyone! 

I am very excited for all of the local businesses that were able to safely re-open this week as part of Governor Charlie Baker’s Phase II reopening plan! I hope you all will consider visiting a few in our district to welcome them back to business. 

On Tuesday I was thrilled to be appointed to several committees that will be leading and developing policy as a part of the solution to these uncertain times. A week after my election I met with Senate President Spilka who asked me about the committees I was interested in joining, in which I didn’t not hesitate to tell her how I wanted to be apart of committees that were going to lead the recovery effort here in Massachusetts. I explained to her I have never been the type of person to just sit on the sidelines but rather be exactly where the action is. While I was on the campaign trail, I promised you all that this district would have a seat at the COVID-19 recovery table, which I feel my position on these committees will make good on that promise. I will be serving as a member of the: 

Joint Committee on Labor and Workforce Development as Vice Chairman.

Joint Committee on Economic Development and Emerging Technologies, 

Joint Committee on Mental Health, Substance Use, and Recovery, 

I am incredibly humbled and honored that the Senate President chose to appoint me as Vice Chairman of such an important committee like the Joint Committee on Labor and Workforce Development so soon after election. As Vice Chairman I will be working directly on legislation that impacts our businesses and employees. With our workforce changing and evolving to meet the times, a focus of mine in this committee is to ensure that this change to our workforce is both safe to employees but do-able for businesses. Small businesses in particular have been decimated by the pandemic, everyday I receive absolutely heartbreaking calls from small business owners inquiring when they will be able to reopen their doors. I will ensure that the voices and concerns of these small businesses are heard at all levels of our government. In addition to the calls I receive from small businesses I have been receiving a continuous flow of calls from constituents in need of assistance with the state’s unemployment program as well as constituents who are receiving alerts about fraudulent claims in their names. My office has been working day and night to best help resolve these issues in any capacity that we can. As Vice Chair, I will be working to make sure we have proper safeguards in place to protect employees and businesses from these fraudulent claims while also working to make sure the state’s unemployment program is able to best assist those who are experiencing financial hardships. I have been seeing and hearing how difficult these past few months have been for so many people in the district and I promise will do everything in my power as State Senator to ease these pains and work to pass legislation that will aid Western Massachusetts’ economic recovery.

The Joint Committee on Economic Development and Emerging Technologies will also be another committee where I will be working to help our economy. This committee is specifically going to be extremely important as many businesses, that are able, have been asking employees to work remotely, which will be highly dependent on available and new technology. Within the district, our hill towns have begun getting access to Broadband internet which I will work to ensure the state’s commitment to not only establish internet access throughout all areas of Massachusetts but also improve the broadband access in the district. I recently spoke with community members in the town of Tolland this week on this specific cornerstone which has become even more essential than it already was due to COVID. I will also be working closely with the Economic Development Council of Western Massachusetts and many other groups in the district to ensure that they can continue their excellent work of supporting local businesses.  It is crucial  to me that with this committee we are continuously looking for ways to generate a stronger regional economy not just during COVID but long after.

Western Massachusetts has been one of the hardest hit areas by the Opioid Epidemic and as a member of the Joint Committee on Mental Health, Substance Use, and Recovery I will work tirelessly to ensure that those struggling are able to access treatment. I have seen countless times the pain and angst in someone who is struggling with addiction’s eyes who desperately need the resources to help them in their fight. Nothing tears at my heart more than when I speak with loved ones or a family member of someone who is struggling with addiction who do not know how to best help their loved one overcome this devastating disease. Addiction is a disease of isolation, which these past few months have only exacerbated by forcing people apart. This is also true for all those struggling with mental health disorders, as not having the typical access of meetings with doctors in person and not seeing those they care about can be detrimental to how an individual manages their mental health. The closure of the Providence Behavioral Health Center in Holyoke has sent many families my way who are heartbroken and scared by the lack of access to behavioral health treatment facilities in Western Massachusetts. That is why on this committee I will work not only to bring back access to treatment resources in Western Massachusetts but also look to find ways to mitigate the lack of behavioral health specialists. Please know if you or someone you know is struggling with their mental health or substance use you can reach out to my office to be put in contact with local resources! 
While working in all these committees and in general in the Senate, will be no stranger to reaching across the aisle and collaborating with my Republican colleagues just like I had done in the past as a House Representative to the 4th Hampden District. One of my very first calls after I was elected was to Senator Bruce Tarr, the Senate Republican Minority leader. On the call I made it abundantly clear to him of how excited I was to work and collaborate with him on many different issues as a State Senator. Anyone who knows me and my politics knows that I view reaching across the aisle to work together and comprise essential in the legislative process. In fact, I believe it is one of the most important things we need to do not only here in the  Commonwealth, but as a Nation. 

In the Senate we have been working mostly remotely like many of you however, that has not stopped us from debating and passing legislation for the people of the Commonwealth! Specifically, on Thursday we passed the Chapter 90 bill, which will allocate $300 million to municipal road and bridge maintenance programs. The bill passed by the Senate differs in several areas from the bill in the House of Representatives. Most notably this Senate bill does not include taxation on gas or fees like the bill in the House of Representatives which I had voted against back in March. This portion of the Chapter 90 bill was crucial to me to not burden consumers with a gas tax while working to responsibly provide needed funding to our local communities to improve their infrastructure. This is also very exciting as both the House and Senate have approved an additional $100 million be allocated to Chapter 90 than in previous years. Additionally, we also passed S.2757, which focuses on how the state handles the mosquito borne illness EEE, the current system in places is ineffective where aerial spraying is limited to the cities and towns that opt in. This bill will instead allow the state to deploy a systematic mosquito control response to help prevent human contraction of the illness. 

  This week I have also been very busy all across the 2nd Hampden and Hampshire district attending events and meetings with community leaders. On Monday and Tuesday, I was honored to attend events at Barnes Air National Guard Base to celebrate Col. Tom Bladen becoming the next Wing Commander of the base and the promotion of Brig. Gen. Peter Green III. I was also able to join the ribbon cutting ceremony of Family Pizza in Chicopee with Mayor Vieau to welcome them back to business! In addition to these fantastic events, I have been meeting with Mayors and Select Boards as part of my listening tour of the district including Mayor Humason of Westfield, Mayor LaChapelle of Easthampton, and Mayor Vieau of Chicopee. Some of the issues we discussed was how essential access to child care is right now as people begin to go back to work, which is easier for some to have to access in our communities rather than others, an issue I will continue to keep a close eye on this issue for the district. I have really enjoyed being able to sit down with these city and town leaders to get a firm grasp on the issues and needs of each community in the district.

 I look forward to joining Mayor Sapelli to celebrate the Agawam High School Class of 2020 at their graduation ceremony over the weekend. With the school year coming to an end, I want to thank all of the hardworking teachers, teacher aides, and school administrators who have continued to provide students across the district a quality education despite the difficulties COVID presented them.

As always please do not hesitate to reach to my office with any issues or concerns. I can be contacted at (413) 572-3920 or at my email [email protected]

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