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New England News

Gov. Baker Showcases Area Initiatives In Western Mass Visit

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WAMC
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Governor Charlie Baker, Lt. Governor Karyn Polito and several of Baker’s cabinet secretaries were in western Massachusetts Friday for a series of tours, meetings and grant announcements in each of the four western counties. 

Baker’s schedule of appearances highlighted his administration’s campaign to combat the opioid epidemic, underscore the importance of military bases to the state’s economy, and showcase an innovative public school.  He also addressed local concerns about the future of the state-owned nursing home for military veterans in Holyoke.

The visit to Greenfield, where Behavioral Health Network recently opened 64 new treatment beds with the help of state funding, afforded Baker a chance to call on the state legislature to act when it returns to session in January on the opioid bill he filed in October.

" This is a monstrous crisis," said Baker. " Since November, when the legislature heard our original bill over 100 people in Massachusetts have died of an opioid overdose. I don't know how much more of a crisis you can have than that."

Baker’s bill has been criticized by some legislators who say it infringes on civil liberties by allowing hospitals to involuntarily hold drug addicts for treatment and by limiting the number of pain pills doctors can prescribe.  The governor’s efforts won praise from Springfield Mayor Domenic Sarno.

" Courage move by Governor Baker on the opioid crisis," said Sarno.

Baker, Polito, and Sarno spoke with reporters after the governor’s regular cabinet meeting, which was held in the state office building in downtown Springfield. 

During the news conference, Baker said the announcements this week that three top officials are quitting their jobs at the Holyoke Soldiers Home has his administration’s “full attention.”

Baker said he was not aware of any dispute between the local managers of the Soldiers Home and his administration over the way the facility is being run, or financially supported.

" We've increased state funding pretty much across the board for vet's programs and organizations since we took office, " Baker said. " But, we'll take a look at the funding and see if it needs to be dealt with."

Also Friday, Baker took his first tour as governor of the Westover Air Force Reserve Base in Chicopee to highlight the economic impact of the state’s military installations.  Westover is scheduled to lose half its fleet of C-5 cargo jets and several hundred jobs next year.

" The simple truth is there is a lot of stuff that goes on in Massachusetts that is not just Massachusetts centric when it comes to our military. There is a lot of work that goes on here that would be very hard to replicate anywhere else in the country and it is important we continue to press that case," said Baker.

Baker visited several classrooms in a Springfield middle school and participated in a discussion with the school’s leadership, teachers, and local education advocates. The city’s struggling middle schools were reorganized last year and put under a public-private governance model called the Springfield Empowerment Zone.

Empowerment Zone Chairman Chris Gabrielli said the schools have autonomy and have adopted innovative approaches, much like charter schools.

"In the end it should not be about governance models. Parents don't really understand fully who runs the school, they just want to know can the school do the smart right thing to help their kids succeed," he said.

Baker, who is a big proponent of lifting the cap on charter schools in Massachusetts, said what he saw and heard about during his visit to the Duggan Middle School is “ really good stuff.”

Lt. Gov. Polito traveled to Berkshire County Friday to sign “community compacts” with officials from eight cities and towns. The compacts are agreements to implement best municipal governance practices in return for technical assistance from the state.

At another event, the state’s Secretary of Energy and Environmental Affairs, Matthew Beaton announced a series of grants for municipal parks projects. 

$400,000 was awarded to Springfield for renovations to South Branch Park, which was damaged by the June 2011 tornado.

Mayor Sarno announced the park will be named in honor of Marine Gunnery Sergeant Thomas Sullivan, the city native who was killed last July by a terrorist gunman in Tennessee.

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