Chicopee Rep. Joseph Wagner to lead Holyoke Soldiers’ Home bill talks

Hampden County

HOLYOKE, Mass. (State House News Service) – The Legislature appointed six lawmakers Thursday to negotiate the differences between House and Senate versions of legislation financing the construction of a new Holyoke Soldiers’ Home.

The branches passed their respective versions (H 3701 / S 2442) in unanimous votes in April and the bill now heads to a six-member panel to iron out the differences, and such panels almost always choose to deliberate in private. The House conferees are Second Assistant Majority Leader Joseph Wagner, Bonding Committee Co-Chair Danielle Gregoire, and Rep. Donald Berthiaume. The Senate appointed Ways and Means Committee Vice Chair Cindy Friedman, Bonding Committee Co-Chair Paul Feeney, and Sen. Ryan Fattman, the ranking minority member of the Bonding and Veterans’ Affairs committees.

Lawmakers and Baker administration officials have stressed the importance of timely passage of the bill in an effort to secure as much as $260 million in funding from the federal government. An application with full design plans of the facility is due on Aug. 1 to federal officials.

The two versions both call for $400 million in bonding to build a new facility in Holyoke but the Senate tacked on an extra $200 million for veterans’ services around the state for a total of $600 million in authorized borrowing. The bills differ on project labor agreement stipulations with the Senate adding language ensuring contractors meet diversity employment goals.

The Senate bill also creates an Access, Inclusion, and Diversity Committee that would meet monthly to implement and monitor diversity, inclusion workforce, and enterprise goals. The access committee would receive reports from the project owner, contractors, and subcontractors regarding work hours, diversity, inclusion, and progress toward participation goals for minority, women, and veteran workers.

The branches included the project labor agreement language in their bills over the objections of non-union companies.

Senator Velis sent 22News the following statement:

Today a conference committee was appointed to reconcile differences between the Senate and House’s versions of the Holyoke Soldiers Home’ Bond Bill.

As we saw during each Chambers debate, support for the $400 million needed to reconstruct the Soldiers’ Home facility is clear and resounding. There is no reason that the other differences between the bills cannot be resolved swiftly. 

 Let us not forget that it is politicians who send service members into harms way. The least we can do as politicians is ensure they are taken care of when they come home. It is critical that we get this bill to the Governor’s desk and secure federal reimbursement for this project. We cannot let something this important fall through the cracks.

Senator Velis

“The Senate joined the House in draping union-only project labor agreements in the flag of inclusion and diversity, but this was pure politics to remove competition and create a monopoly for the shrinking pool of organized labor,” said Jason Kauppi, president of the Merit Construction Alliance. “It is now a sad fact the Massachusetts Legislature has endorsed job discrimination against a majority of the state’s construction workforce that is nonunion and against minority- and women-owned construction companies who choose to be nonunion.”

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