Community talks education, immigrants’ rights, climate change with state senators

By Alvin Buyinza

(Judith Gibson-Okunieff/ Daily Collegian)

A panel of Massachusetts state senators held a town forum in the Student Union Ballroom discussing the political and environmental changes residents of Western Massachusetts wished to see in the future on March 28.

Attending the event were Senators Joseph Boncore, Julian Cyr, Sonia Chang-Díaz, Patricia Jehlen, Adam Hinds, Bruce Tarr, Stan Rosenburg, Michael Rodrigues, Jamie Eldridge, Eric Lesser, Jim Welch, Jason Lewis, Thomas McGee and Donald Humason.

During the forum, residents of Western Mass. were allowed two minutes of speaking time to voice their concerns and demands for changes in current or future legislatures.

Some of the most prominent concerns voiced at the forum were related to national governments. Mathew Maxwell, a Northampton resident advocated for the senate bill 365 which calls for the financial transparency in presidential elections.

“For the first time in the modern era, citizens of the Commonwealth were forced to cast their ballot without the financial instruments of all the candidates known,” said Maxwell. “Voting is our most scared right and obligation, and citizens of the Commonwealth deserve to do it in the most fully informed manner.”

Patrick Burke, president of the Hampshire Franklin Central Labor Council, spoke about his concerns related to law enforcement and immigration.

“We as Massachusetts, as a progressive state, a state that has been welcoming to immigrants, has to take a stand,” Burke said.

He cited the Safe Communities Act, a bill filed in January by the Massachusetts state senate: “The Safe Communities Act simply ensures that our state is following the law and ensuring constitutional rights, not putting police resources into areas of federal law enforcement where it does not belong.”

Others such as Rebecca Shannon, member of the League of Women Voters (LWV), spoke about persisting environmental changes that needed to be addressed.

“Putting a price on carbon pollution is an essential part of an effective plan to address the accelerated advanced of climate change,” Shannon said.

On the behalf of the LWV, Shannon also addressed the need for protection of low-income households in the possible transition to renewable energy.

Along with Shannon, audience members like Mary Joe also advocated for the need of carbon pricing in the Western Mass. for low-income families.

“Because Western Massachusetts has a higher percentage of low-income people, there will be more money in Western Massachusetts’ economy,” Joe said.

In terms of local businesses, Jim Lescault, the executive director of Amherst Media, spoke on senate bill 1857, which calls for the support of resources from community access television. Lescault specifically touched on the Amherst Media’s lack of support from many cable companies in terms of getting high definition and channel scheduling.

“We’re looking to the state to please help us right now move forward and give our communities what they deserve,” said Lescault.

Timmy Sullivan, a freshman at the University of Massachusetts and recent UMass SGA vice-presidential candidate, advocated for free university tuition through support of the “Finish Line” grant, a grant that would provide one free year of school after a student’s first year at any community college or state university, as well as through the “Fair Share Amendment,” an amendment that seeks to raise revenues for public education, and collective bargaining agreements.

Sullivan also asked for the panel to fully invest in college campuses by funding all campus budgets and adjunct and non-tenure track faculty with pay equity.

Protection of immigrant students was another concern for Sullivan.

“I come before you today as a student and a member of the Commonwealth and a believer. I believe that investing in students, that investing in young people is not just an investment in education but in our future and the lives of every single of this Commonwealth,” Sullivan said.

Alvin Buyinza can be reached at [email protected]

Editors Note: In an initial version of this report, it was stated that the Safe Communities Act was “passed” in January by the Massachusetts State Senate. This has been corrected to “filed.”