News From The State House — December 14, 2021

Dear Cambridge and Somerville Constituents,

I hope this message finds you and your family doing well this holiday season despite the ongoing pandemic.

Indeed, the rise of the Omicron variant is just the latest concerning development in our 21-month struggle with COVID-19, but yesterday's announcement that the state will make available 2.1 million free rapid, at-home Covid tests was very welcome news — it's something I have long been advocating for and is long overdue.

Without further ado, here are the latest headlines from my State House office.

Town Hall Meeting with Congresswoman Ayanna Pressley Tomorrow Evening

Tomorrow, Dec. 15, from 7 to 8 pm, I will be the special guest of Congresswoman Ayanna Pressley at her next 7th Congressional District Virtual Town Hall Meeting.

Rep. Pressley is planning to discuss her work in Congress over the past year and take questions, and she's also asked me to give an update on the work we've been doing on Beacon Hill to distribute federal American Rescue Plan funds. In addition, she's asked me to focus on housing issues in particular, as well as the work we've been doing to enhance bike and pedestrian safety on state roadways.

For me, this is truly an honor. I am so incredibly proud and grateful for the work the Congresswoman is doing on our behalf, both in Washington DC and right here in our community. Please use this Zoom link to register for tomorrow evening's Virtual Town Hall.

Ribbon Cutting with DCR at Foss Park on Friday Morning

On Friday, December 17, Massachusetts Department of Recreation and Conservation (DCR) Acting Commissioner Stephanie Cooper will be joining me, Mayor Curtatone, Senator Jehlen, and Rep. Barber to celebrate the state's completion of the Foss Park Field Improvements.

The ribbon cutting event is open to the public and will begin at 10 am at Foss Park, 49 Fellsway West, at the corner of Broadway and McGrath Highway in Somerville. The weather is looking fairly warm and sunny — although that's just another reminder of the ongoing climate emergency.

The 14-acre Foss Park is located in the legislative district I represent and it abuts Rep. Barber's district. Over the past several years, it has been a top priority for our state legislative delegation to advocate for improvements to the park. We heard from several constituents, including many parents and coaches, who complained about the "dust bowl" conditions of the field while also calling for permanent field lighting and better drainage. The state's recently-completed upgrade includes a new, multi-use athletic field, field lighting, pathway upgades, and drainage improvements.

In addition, as a condition our support for a new, multi-sport turf field at Foss Park, we simultaneously advocated for DCR to abandon its plans for a turf field at the nearby Draw 7 Park along the Mystic River. This stance allowed us to balance Somerville's enormous need for additional recreational and athletic facilities with the need to ensure the most sustainable and resilient approach to open space, particularly along the river. DCR has now confirmed that they will move forward with designs for a natural surface at Draw 7 Park, complete with a living shoreline. Meanwhile, DCR is also working on renovations to the Latta Brothers Memorial Swimming Pool and Spray Deck at Foss Park.

For more information and updates about Friday's ribbon cutting ceremony, please see my State House blog.

MassDOT Breaks Ground on Raised Crosswalks and Advances ADA Upgrades at the Intersection of Routes 28 and 38 in East Somerville

Earlier this year, our community came together to push for numerous commitments from MassDOT to make road safety improvements in the vicinity of Route 28 (McGrath Highway) and Route 38 (Mystic Avenue) in Somerville, in an area that has unfortunately come to be known as the "Corridor of Death."

Some of these commitments, such as a new, signalized crosswalk at Blakeley Avenue, have already been completed. Others, such as a set of raised crosswalks at the Kensington Underpass, are now under construction. In total, the near-term work now underway represents about $2 million in immediate state investment — this is notable since the vast majority of the state's transportation spending goes through a much longer process involving federal matching funds.

Throughout the fall, our legislative delegation has been pushing MassDOT for further action and a public meeting for updates on all of the items in need of attention. I recently posted the most recent set of updates from MassDOT here on my State House blog.

Last week, we learned of another hit-and-run, this time at the intersection of Shore Drive and Mystic Ave in Somerville. While this particular location is not part of my legislative district, the incident nevertheless hits too close to home for everyone in our community. The good news is a safety upgrade and renovation project at that location is on schedule and is in the hands of the City of Somerville, with work expected this spring. But this incident is also a sober reminder that these roads have been too dangerous for too long and that more improvements are urgently needed.

In the wake of last week's crash, I was able to quickly organize a meeting with local advocates, city officials, state legislators, and MassDOT staff. It was a good opportunity for all of us to share concerns and gather updates. My office will continue working with our state legislative delegation, city officials and staff, local advocates, residents, and stakeholders to push for next steps to be completed as soon as possible – because one fatality or injury involving road traffic is one too many.

Governor Baker Signs $4 Billion COVID-19 Recovery Act, Including My Local Amendments

In late-October, I joined with my Cambridge and Somerville colleagues in the House to pass H.4219, An Act Relative to Immediate COVID-19 Recovery Needs. This $4 billion spending plan utilizes a portion of our federal American Rescue Plan Act (ARPA) funding along with a portion of the state's Fiscal Year 2021 surplus. From there, the bill moved to the state Senate where it was subject to further debate and amendment. Around the time of the Thanksgiving holiday, House and Senate negotiations started working in earnest on a final package. For the past ten days, that final bill has been siting on the Governor's desk — and yesterday, he finally signed it!

The COVID-19 Recovery Act addresses disparities exacerbated by the pandemic, aiming to facilitate recovery through one-time investments in housing, environment and climate mitigation, economic development, workforce, health and human services, and education.

One of the big highlights of the bill is a $500 million provision that calls for the state to issue bonus checks as a way to provide premium pay for low- and middle-income workers who showed up to work in-person during the COVID-19 State of Emergency.

Back when the pandemic started, there was so much talk about how essential workers were the real heroes — and it's true. So I'm pleased to say this program will give us a chance to show our appreciation for the lower-income workers who showed up and put their lives on the line to keep the world running while many of us isolated at home.

The checks will be between $500 and $2,000 each. Once the number of recipients is determined, then the final dollar amount will be calculated. The Baker Administration has vowed to get going on the distribution process right away, and we in the legislature will be keeping a close eye on it. As a progressive, I see this element of the bill as a big victory (because for a long time, I've been advocating for direct cash payments to our most vulnerable residents as simply being good public policy).

The bill also includes four of my district amendments, i.e. items for which I was the lead sponsor, directing a total of $200,000 to the Margarett Fuller House in the Port, the East End House in East Cambridge, the Massachusetts Alliance of Portuguese Speakers based in the Wellington-Harrington/Inman Square area, and the Welcome Project in Somerville.

I am so proud and honored to be able to directly support all of these vital community-based organizations that are doing the work of serving some of our most vulnerable residents here in Cambridge and Somerville.

In addition, I also advocated to House Leadership in support of local amendments filed by my colleagues that also made it into the final bill, including items filed by Sen. Jehlen to support the Somerville Community Land Trust and to further advance the designs for sound walls along I-93; an amendment filed by Rep. Barber to further advance designs for sound walls; an amendment filed by Rep. Uyterhoeven to support the work of the Community Action Agency of Somerville, and amendments filed by Sen. DiDomenico to support the Cambridge Economic Opportunity Committee, Transition House, the Cambridge Nonprofit Coalition, and the Food For Free Committee.

Forward Progress for the Green Line Extension — Trains Are Now Being Tested Along the Tracks in Somerville and Cambridge

On December 3 at 8 am, the Green Line Extension began Light Rail Vehicle Testing, moving new trains from the new Vehicle Maintenance Facility in Somerville to the new Lechmere Station in Cambridge and then over to Union Square Station in Somerville.

The GLX testing and commissioning phase is expected to last for several months to ensure the new branches are safely integrated into the rest of the legacy system. The trains will start by moving very slowly, then they will be loaded with weight to simulate passengers, etc. Meanwhile, a vast array of equipment and technology will also be tested. For all of us advocating for better transit in Cambridge, Somerville, Medford and beyond, the images of new Green Line trains pulling into the new Union Square Station were a beautiful sight to behold!

It's amazing to think that five years ago, Gov. Baker pulled the plug on the GLX project and we had to fight to save it and the Community Path Extension, which is also now on the way.

Now, not only is the completion of the GLX coming into view, but Cambridge and Somerville are also getting their entire combined $75 million contribution waived and returned in full from the state — a just outcome our legislative delegation has advocated for from day one.

The movement of new trains along the GLX tracks is the project’s most significant milestone to date. It marks an achievement made possible by a dedicated workforce totaling nearly 1,000 employees who have worked tirelessly, despite the complicated working conditions posed by the COVID-19 pandemic. Thank you to everyone who worked to make this milestone possible! 

There's more about this posted here.

Calling on Moderna and Pfizer (and the Biden Administration) to Support Global Vaccine Equity

Earlier this month, I stood with Free the Vaccine - Boston, National Nurses United, Cambridge City Councilor Quinton Zondervan, and other local advocates to reiterate my call for Moderna and Pfizer (both located within the 26th Middlesex District) to release their intellectual property and do more to end vaccine apartheid around the world.
To be sure, I am grateful for all the scientists, researchers, and other professionals who worked to create these lifesaving vaccines as well as the frontline healthcare workers who have administered the doses.
But when it comes to these giant pharmaceutical companies, we must remember that they are profiting handsomely from technology that was advanced using public funding. So it’s altogether reasonable for the Biden Administration to now use all of the tools and powers at their disposal to ensure that we put public health ahead of private profits and free the vaccine for the entire world. Our collective future depends on it!
There's more about this here in the Cambridge Chronicle.

My Testimony in Support of our Solar Neighborhoods Bill

Last week, I was proud to testify in support of legislation I filed with Rep. Jack LewisSenator Jamie Eldridge, and Environment Massachusetts to require rooftop solar on new construction.

Our bill would require solar panels to be installed on the roofs of newly constructed homes, apartments, and office buildings, with different energy production standards per building type, allowing for exemptions if a roof is too shaded for solar panels to be effective.

A report from the Environment Massachusetts Research & Policy Center found that requiring rooftop solar panels on all new homes built in Massachusetts would add more than 2,300 megawatts of solar capacity by 2045, nearly doubling the solar capacity that has been installed in Massachusetts to date.

With time running out for our planet, there's no time left to lose!

There's more coverage of our work on this bill via State House News Service and 7News:

My Testimony in Support of the Safe Communities Act

The unfortunate truth is we endured four years of Trump's racist and xenophobic antics without passing any major legislation to protect immigrants here in Massachusetts.

Our failure to act will go down as a shameful chapter in the history of the Commonwealth. But just because Trump is gone does not mean the urgency has subsided. That's why I recently submitted written testimony to the Joint Committee on Public Safety and Homeland Security in support of the Safe Communities Act, legislation that would greatly enhance overall public safety by making it clear that our state and local law enforcement officers shouldn't let immigration status get in the way of their service to the community.

Thank you to lead sponsors Senator Jamie Eldridge and Reps. Liz Miranda and Ruth Balser for their work on this necessary bill, which I am proud to co-sponsor. My testimony is posted here on my State Rep. Facebook page.

Thank you for being an informed and engaged constituent of the 26th Middlesex District. As always, please do not hesitate to reach out to me or my staff directly with any questions or concerns.

Yours in service,

Rep. Mike Connolly