We’re All Decking the Halls

While you’re shopping and decorating, and getting ready for the holidays, the legislature is doing the same.

It’s our winter recess and, although House sessions continue, they are informal sessions from now until year’s end.

That means that nothing controversial or dealing with money can be considered. There are no votes. And any one person can stop action on any pending piece of legislation.

We’re still worrying about things like the health care crisis and how to reimburse our hospitals adequately, Medicaid costs, MCAs results, the economy, all of the usual things.

But we also have time to think about other things.

Like "Bidis." Pronounced "beedies." What are they? I had to ask. And found out they are small, flavored, filterless cigarets from India, popular among teens. Easier and cheaper to buy than cigarets, adolescents like their taste.

I think they sound disgusting. Shredded tobacco rolled in dried tendu leaves and tied with string, they’re flavored–chocolate, vanilla, cherry, licorice, menthol and mango.

But with more nicotine, more carbon monoxide and more tar than regular cigarets.

The question before the House: Should we ban them? Legislation has been introduced, but we haven’t decided.

Statistics. We have time to look at some of them, too.

For example, in my district (Westfield and Montgomery) there are 5,639 residents enrolled in MassHealth–like welfare health insurance, state-funded for the poor.

For example, my new district (Westfield only) for 2003 forward, has 40,072 people in it.

For example, there were 1,355 reports of abuse of the disabled in the third quarter of last year. The category of abuse includes people with Alzheimer’s, cerebral palsy, head injuries, mental illness, multiple sclerosis, to name a few, and the most cases of alleged abuse were against the mentally retarded.

Of all those reports, some 154 were handed over to the State Police for criminal investigation–15 of them from Hampden County. The charges included assault and battery, rape, larceny and even one death.

If you think someone vulnerable is being abused, call the hotline at 800/426-9009.

Roll calls. In the first six months of the session there were 111 votes in the House. I had a 95.4 percent voting record. I missed 5 roll calls, all on the same day. The day I was in Westfield to accept a million dollar state grant for rehabilitation of the Westfield Hotel on Meadow Street.

So-called "affordable" housing might be more expensive than you thought. The state has notified Westfield that we are Housing Certified. That means that we will receive a priority for discretionary grant funds because the city is taking steps to increase the supply of housing. For 2000, Westfield increased ownership units by 40–with 39 of them in the "affordable" range of $90,000 to $259,999.

The median home value for Hampden County, with 441,799 people, and including the urban areas of Springfield, Chicopee, Holyoke and Westfield, is $119,854, according to census figures.

Statewide, the estimated median home value is $192,483. The national average is $120,496.

Moose. They’re present on virtually all of the state’s highways. So watch for them. If you hit one, you’re more likely to die than if you hit a deer. Their legs are longer, so they are more likely to crash into your windshield. The impact of an animal that size makes a real impact.

One more statistic. More than half of all Massachusetts traffic deaths are alcohol-related.

And there’s time to learn some things.

Like Doric Hall in the State House is named for the 10 tall columns there. Doric being the design. It’s the room where Governor John Andrew passed out guns and ammunition to men who volunteered to fight in the Civil War. It’s the same room where the main doors are opened on only three special occasions: when a head of state visits-including the President of the United States, when a Governor leaves office and the new Governor enters, and when a Massachusetts regiment returns from war with its colors.

Or, did you know, that State Representatives must live in the district for at least a year before election? Or that Senators only have to live in the district the day they’re elected, but that they have to have lived in the state for five years? Election day 2002 is November 5th.

Black squirrels. So common in Westfield! Rare enough in Boston to warrant a photo in the Beacon Hill Times.

Being a State Representative is a great chance to learn a little about a lot of things. Or, a lot about little things. Thanks for letting me be your State Representative. I appreciate it.

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