July in the City

Amazing what you can learn in the State House. Especially during the holiday week.

Make that holiday weeks. Meaning, slow. Inertia taking over. Waiting for the budget. Dealing with bond packages. And not much else.

There was Lobster Day. Free chowder for all comers. A chance to learn things about the diet, habitat, and habits of lobsters. Did you know that the lobster's teeth are in its stomach? That lobsters can grow to be three feet long? That only two out of every 50,000 eggs grow to legal size?

There are 54 ports in Massachusetts that have commercial lobster trap fisherman. And Massachusetts lobster dealers are the main suppliers of lobster to the world market.

If you think lobster is an expensive treat. Think about this. Each lobster trap costs $50. It's another $5 for the rope for the trap, $5 to $25 for each buoy, and anywhere from $10,000 to $200,000 for the lobster boat.

We've learned about more things than lobster this month, however. A sample follows.

Sick? Need a prescription? No insurance? Merck says to call them. 800/727-5400. Or go to www.merck.com <http://www.merck.com> to get information about their free Merck medicines.

Bis, pronounced Biz. Amazing little patch of plastic that goes on your forehead. It's hooked up to a machine that measures the amount of sedation-how awake or how under you are-during surgery. Made in Massachusetts by Aspect Medical Systems and demonstrated on MedTech day in the State House. They provided a neat CD about the program which I will pass along to the next physician that renders me unconscious.

The State House Bookstore will give me, free of charge, one of each publication that the State puts out. Like, well, regulations for plumbers, the racing commission, respiratory care, youth services. Or, Supplemental Requirements for Hazardous Waste Management Facilities, Establishment of Exempt Areas for Old King's Highway Regional Historic District Commission, or Minimum Sanitation Standards for Food Establishments. Stuff like that. If you want one, ask me now. Remember, I just get one of each.

I gained new respect for the Westfield Post Office this month. I actually received a letter from a constituent addressed only to "Representative Hahn." No first name, no address, no city, no zip code. How do they do this, she asked, her dark eyes flashing?

Charter schools, opponents say, suck money out of local school systems. Advocates point out that the school district gets state money for every student in the town or city (Chapter 70 funds), plus reimbursement for charter school students. Thus, the losses are minimal. In Westfield, the local net cost to pay for 11 of our 6,467 students to go to a charter school is $3,302. That's total, not each. In effect, we're paying about $300 to educate each of those who choose to go to a charter school. If they stayed in the district it would be about 20 times as much-and we wouldn't get the state reimbursement.

While we're on the subject, let me add that charter schools are public schools. And demand is high. Currently there are 11,000 students on waiting lists for a spot in the state's 42 charter schools. More than 15,000 students are enrolled.

Finally, I know not why, some census figures have appeared on my desk this week. Old census figures. Really old.

In 1790 the population of Westfield was 2,204. That was up from 1765 when there were just 1,324. Considering Westfield was incorporated in 1669, it was a fairly slow growth period. And, it got even slower, declining to 2,185 in 1800, and 2,130 in 1810.

Each decade, Westfield increased, to 2,668, 2,940, 3,640, and 4,010 by 1850. A mark of the times-in 1860, the census noted that Westfield had 5,055, with only 14 "colored." By 1900 Westfield had 12,310 people and 20,962 by 1950, half of what we have now!

Don't forget-if you're planning a visit to Boston on a weekday this summer, call my office if you'd like to arrange an official tour. It's an enjoyable hour or two. And, of course, it's free.

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