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    SMART is designed to support another 1.6 gigawatts of solar in the state.

    BOSTON -- Amid pent-up demand from the industry, Massachusetts on Monday opened the floodgates to a new solar incentive program known as SMART, designed to support another 1,600 megawatts of photovoltaic capacity across the state.

    The allocations, rolled out in 200-megawatt "capacity blocks," are expected to go fast, and early applicants will benefit from higher incentive payments. A web portal run by the Department of Energy Resources opened at noon, and for five business days will accept applications for the first round of fully-permitted, connection-ready projects, each with a top size of 5 megawatts.

    The Solar Massachusetts Renewable Target, or SMART, will pay a flat-fee tariff to owners of home or commercial solar facilities. It offers "adders" for community solar, for integrated battery storage, and for building on brownfields, landfills, and previously developed sites.

    "We're very concerned about land use, and want to make sure that as solar grows, we are doing it in the right way," said DOER Commissioner Judith Judson in a telephone interview.

    The program creates a stable investment climate, said Judson, who noted that SMART will replace solar renewable energy credits, or SRECs, production credits which are akin to commodities.

    "It was a volatile, market-traded program," said Judson. "National companies, or even an individual homeowner, didn't know what they would be getting from the SREC market. We've changed it to a predictable revenue stream."

    She said SMART will be good for ratepayers, and incentivize 1.6 gigawatts of solar at a cost that's $4.7 billion less, over the program's lifetime, than the previous 1.6 gigawatts built in Massachusetts. The state already has around 2.2 gigawatts of solar, ranking it 7th in the nation for installed capacity.

    The SMART program was slow in coming, and over the summer, advocates expressed frustration with various solar roadblocks, saying jobs within the clean tech economy were at stake. The DOER issued regulations to guide the SMART program 15 months ago, and in the meantime, proponents complained about the stalled launch.

    Judson said the program was sourced in bipartisan 2016 energy legislation, and developed over time with input from diverse stakeholder groups.

    "We were tasked to create a sustainable program going forward, and we're proud of that collaborative effort," said Judson. "So projects can be developed in the most cost-effective way."

    The program could even supplant net metering in some utility territories where solar projects remain stalled and on long waiting lists. Net metering lets solar owners sell electricity back to the grid, but its availability has been capped by the Massachusetts State Legislature.

    Michael Judge, the DOER's renewable energy division director, said that SMART will still let property owners enter agreements with third-party leasing companies to gain rooftop solar with zero upfront cost, if that's what they want to do. In the past, such third parties would own the SCRECs, and moving forward, they could claim the tariff payments.

    "But we've seen a trend, nationwide, to more ownership," said Judge. He said the state offers solar loans to low-income homeowners who wish to own their systems, and that private banks are now offering such capital loans as well.

    Judge said that solar owners who now have SRECs will get to keep them throughout the their ten-year life, and that the last SCRECS will expire in 2027.

    Judson said she is excited about an aspect of SMART that provides incentives for battery storage integrated with solar. Homeowners could store energy during the day when the sun is shining, and use it at night when they return from work. She said the batteries could light up a home during power outages, providing resilience as well as load-balancing on the power grid.

    Incentives for community solar -- where people who can't build their own rooftop solar may subscribe to a larger, centralized project -- are part of the program. There are added financial benefits for community solar projects that benefit low-income ratepayers.

    "We really want to make sure that all our energy programs are broadly available to all, regardless of income," said Judson.

    Asked if the incentives will be adequate to prevent solar developers from cutting down acres of trees to build their plants, Judson said the program will be evaluated soon after launch to make sure it is working as planned.

    "We're trying to take the lessons learned from SRECs and other programs, and apply them to the SMART program," said Judge.

    The two said Massachusetts remains a national leader when it comes to solar energy policy programs, and deployment.


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    At MGM, drug tests must be completed within three business days of accepting the employment offer. Candidates that did not meet company standards due to a drug test can reapply after 90 days

    SPRINGFIELD -- Marijuana might be legal for adults to possess, grow, consume and, starting only last week, to buy at retail shops in Massachusetts.

    But marijuana and its derivatives are still forbidden to employees at Teddy Bear Pools in Chicopee. President and CEO Ted Hebert said Monday that he'll continue random drug testing for his 90-or-so workers, and he'll keep dismissing those who test positive for marijuana.

    "We will continue doing drug testing. It's my liability," he said. "As an employer I have a responsibility and a liability."

    State law on marijuana has changed, but the law still allows employers to test employees for drug use. Workplaces are required to make reasonable accommodations for medical marijuana.

    Hebert's regime of pre-employment and at-work random drug testing also means he can get cheaper rates on insurance, he said. That's no small consideration for a business where workers drive trucks and operate heavy equipment.

    But saving money isn't his only consideration, Hebert said. He's also thinking of customers who have Hebert's employees come to their homes -- often when no one is there -- to work on pools and spas.

    Hebert, 68, said he's also concerned for the well-being of the people who work for him.

    "I've got great employees and I care about them," he said. "I'm old. I've seen it. I know what drugs can do to somebody."

    If a Teddy Bear Pools employee tests positive, Hebert said he dismisses them, but allows them to come back for a new test after 30 days. If they pass, he may rehire them.

    He's not alone. Saverio Mancini, director of communications at MGM Springfield, said the resort casino is still a drug-free workplace and will continue its pre-employment drug screening program.

    At MGM, drug tests must be completed within three business days of accepting an employment offer. Candidates that do not pass can reapply after 90 days, Mancini said.  

    But employment lawyer Marylou Fabbo, a partner at Springfield-based Skoler, Abbott & Presser, said some of her clients have either stopped drug testing outright or stopped testing for marijuana. They fear testing for marijuana would eliminate too many prospective employees from their hiring pool.

    "I think that's what the majority of companies are doing, to be honest," she said.

    Employers are allowed, under the law, to test both before and during employment, Fabbo said. It's a message she's been repeating in seminars at meetings and with clients since the marijuana referendum passed in Massachusetts in 2016.

    "A lot of employers want to know if this changes anything in marijuana policy at the workplace. Really it does not," she said. "Employers are still free to make employment decisions based on recreational marijuana."

    That includes choosing not to employ anyone who uses it, even if the use is outside work hours.

    "You are not protected if you are using recreational marijuana," she said. "Employers don't even have to employ people if they test positive."

    The presence of metabolized THC in urine can persist for up to three days following a single use, according to the Mayo Clinic. But the chemical can persist for up to five days for those who use marijuana four times a week, 10 days for daily users and as long as 30 days for those who use more than once a day.

    Fabbo says the law does protect those who use medical marijuana. Employers may be required to make reasonable accommodations for those whose doctors have recommended marijuana for them and who have a certification through the state.

    Those accommodations become difficult, she said, in jobs where people have to drive.

    At Springfield's Peter Pan Bus Lines, random tests are administered to bus drivers, other employees with commercial driver's licenses, and workers with safety-related jobs.

    All employees go through pre-employment drug screening whether they drive or not.

    Drivers are also tested following accidents in some circumstances.

    Chris Crean, the company's vice president of safety and security, said federal rules on drug testing and commercial vehicles are strict. And they haven't changed under the state's marijuana legislation.

    "But that doesn't mean it won't change down the road," he said.


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    Selectmen said they plan to file the needed paperwork later this week at Hamdpen Superior Court in Springfield.

    HAMPDEN -- Selectmen voted last week to reopen their lawsuit against the Hampden-Wilbraham Regional School District.

    At issue is a controversial student reorganization plan -- an idea both communities rejected at recent Town Meetings. 

    A telephone message left with Superintendent of Schools Albert Ganem Jr. on Monday was not immediately returned.

    To date, the town has spent $50,000 litigating the case while the school district has spent $90,000. With the lawsuit back in play, the legal costs are expected to grow.

    Selectmen said they plan to file the needed paperwork to resume the lawsuit later this week at Hamdpen Superior Court in Springfield.

    Minnechaug Regional High School in Wilbraham now houses grades nine to 12. The reorganization plan calls for adding grades seven and eight. The plan also included closing Thornton Burgess Middle School in Hampden, which was completed in June.

    But other aspects of the plan have stalled since the school board approved it on Oct. 19, 2017.

    Back in the summer, the town and school district said they settled the matter out of court.

    Court documents said that settlement was contingent on Hampden Town Meeting voting to amend the regional school agreement and essentially giving their OK to the school's reorganization plan. Hampden and Wilbraham rejected the plan during special Town Meetings in October.

    Hampden selectmen allege the school board ignored stipulations in the regional agreement that require the community's consent. They objected to the closure of the Burgess school and the plan for seventh and eight graders in Hampden to attend the high school in Wilbraham.

    The complaint says: "In 1994, the regional school Agreement establishing HWRSD was amended by voters in each town to become a K-12 regional school district. However, the amended Agreement preserved the rights of elementary and middle school students in grades K through 8 to attend school in the town in which they reside."

    The reorganization plan includes the following:

    • Close Burgess school for 2018
    • Create a K-8 Green Meadows School for 2018-19
    • Add grade eight to Minnechaug Regional High School by 2019-20
    • Finalize plans for grade reconfiguration in Wilbraham by 2021-22
    • Add grade seven to Minnechaug Regional High School by 2022-23
    • Close a building in Wilbraham for 2022-23

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    More snow is on the way for some residents in Massachusetts Tuesday morning, with up to eight inches possible.

    More snow is on the way for some residents in Massachusetts Tuesday morning, with up to eight inches possible. 

    The National Weather Service issued a winter weather advisory for communities in Western Franklin and Hampshire Counties which will remain in effect until 10 a.m. Tuesday. 

    Following snowfall overnight, another burst of snow is expected Tuesday morning. Snow accumulations are expected to range from around two inches in lower elevations to six to eight inches at elevations above 1,500 feet, the National Weather Service reports. "Plan on slippery road conditions including snow covered roads. The hazardous conditions will impact the morning commute."

    For most in Massachusetts, moderate to heavy rain hit Monday and continued overnight into Tuesday without transitioning into snow. 

    Several schools have announced closures or delays for Tuesday. 


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    Eagles Sports Bar is now 'Seven Sports Bar and Grill.'

    EASTHAMPTON -- "Eagles Sports Bar" is now "Seven Sports Bar and Grill."

    The city's Licensing Board approved the name change on Monday without a word of public discussion. Owner Naresh Patel was not present, and lawyer Tim O'Leary represented Patel in the brief proceeding.

    Patel, a local businessman, bought the former Whiskerz Pub in August, and re-branded it as Eagles Sports Bar in a tribute to the Easthampton High School sports teams.

    Following the meeting, O'Leary declined to comment on the reason for the name change, but said Patel supports youth and high school sports with his time and money, and is a dedicated volunteer who cares deeply about the community.

    Patel bought the bar, restaurant, and building at 71-77 Cottage St. from Eugene "Joe" Bernier, who ran Whiskerz Pub for 16 years.


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    The U.S. military says three American service members have been killed in a roadside bombing in Afghanistan's eastern Ghazni province.

    The U.S. military says three American service members have been killed in a roadside bombing in Afghanistan's eastern Ghazni province.

    The military says three other service members were wounded when an improvised explosive device detonated on Tuesday near the city of Ghazni, the provincial capital. One American contractor was also wounded.

    The identities of the American casualties were not provided, pending notification of their families.

    Lt. Ubon Mendie, a spokesman for the U.S. forces, says the wounded service members and contractor were evacuated and are receiving medical care.

    There was no immediate claim of responsibility for the attack.

    The Taliban have an extremely active presence in Ghazni province and attempted to take over the capital in August. Ghazni was the only province that didn't hold parliamentary election in October. 

     

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    Marisol Vazquez of School Street was charged with armed assault with intent to murder. The victim, who was seriously injured, is expected to survive.

    SPRINGFIELD - Police arrested a 45-year-old city woman after she allegedly stabbed a female on School Street Monday afternoon.

    Marisol Vazquez of School Street was charged with armed assault with intent to murder, Ryan Walsh, spokesman for Springfield police, said.

    The victim, who was seriously injured, is expected to survive.

    The stabbing, reported by a caller,  occurred shortly after 3:45 p.m. near the area of School and Union streets. Officers who initially responded found the woman who was rushed to Baystate Medical Center with serious injuries, Walsh said.

    Police arrested the suspect shortly after the incident.

    This is a developing story. Additional information will be posted as soon as it is available.


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    The shooting, picked up by the ShotSpotter system, occurred about 5:40 p.m. Monday at State and Andrew streets, Ryan Walsh, spokesman for Springfield police said.

     

    SPRINGFIELD - Police are investigating a shooting on State Street early Monday night that injured a man.

    The shooting was picked up by the ShotSpotter system at about 5:40 p.m. at State and Andrew streets, Ryan Walsh, spokesman for Springfield police said.

    Responding officers did not find a victim at the scene.

    A short time later an adult male arrived at Mercy Medical Center in a private vehicle for treatment of non-life-threatening injuries.


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    Two other occupants of the car were injured when the vehicle in which they were traveling left Dell Road and crashed into a tree at about 7:45 p.m. The crash occurred near Route 8A.

    HEATH -- The woman killed Sunday in a one-car crash Sunday has been identified as Autumn L. Walsh, 20, of Buckland.

    The Northwestern District Attorney's Office released her name Tuesday morning.

    Two other occupants of the car were injured when it left Dell Road and crashed into a tree at about 7:45 p.m. The crash occurred near Route 8A.

    The crash is under investigation.


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    Springfield Mayor Domenic J. Sarno said he will veto an ordinance that wold establish the city as a "welcoming community" for immigrants,

    SPRINGFIELD -- Mayor Domenic J. Sarno said Tuesday that he will veto an ordinance that would establish the city as a "welcoming community" for immigrants, including those living here without legal permission, saying it is part of the City Council's continuing effort to make Springfield a "sanctuary city."

    "My concerns have always been for the health and public safety of our residents and business community and not to create a liability issue of our city employees to neglect their sworn duties to follow the letter of the law," Sarno said.

    On Nov. 19, the council gave first-step approval to the ordinance that, if passed, would ban city employees from asking about a resident's immigration status unless required by state or federal law. The ordinance also prohibits targeting any medical, educational or faith institution for providing refuge to immigrants and their families.

    The ordinance proposal drew a large crowd to City Council chambers including advocates from groups including the Pioneer Valley Project, The Resistance Center for Peace and Justice, and the American Civil Liberties Union.

    The council could consider final passage at its next regular meeting on Monday, with the threat of the veto.

    Sarno has said multiple times that Springfield is not a sanctuary city. Such communities provide some degree of safe haven for people who may have entered or stayed in the country without legal authority.


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    Most Massachusetts voters believe that mass media coverage and President Donald Trump's rhetoric have contributed to recent violence, including bombs mailed to prominent Democrats and a mass shooting at a Pittsburgh synagogue, a new poll suggests.

    Most Massachusetts voters believe that mass media coverage and President Donald Trump's rhetoric have contributed to recent violence, including bombs mailed to prominent Democrats and a mass shooting at a Pittsburgh synagogue, a new poll suggests.

    The University of Massachusetts Amherst released a survey this week that asked more than 700 registered state voters, divided into two groups, about the effect they believe the president's rhetoric, as well as new outlets' coverage have played in recent high-profile violent acts.

    About half, or 49 percent, of those asked about mass media's impact on violence, said they "somewhat" or "strongly" agreed that news outlets played a part in incidents like the attempted mail bomb attacks and Pittsburgh mass shooting

    Just under a quarter of respondents, by contrast, disagreed that mass media led to such incidents, while 26 percent said they "neither agree nor disagree."

    An even greater number, 61 percent, of those asked about the president's rhetoric, meanwhile, said they believed his remarks attacking critics and news outlets have contributed to recent violence, including 47 percent who "strongly" agreed.

    Three in 10 respondents said they "somewhat" or "strongly" disagree with such assertions, while 9 percent offered that they "neither agree nor disagree."

    Raymond La Raja,  a political science professor and associate director of the UMass Poll, said the findings suggest that voters "believe that the president, through his rhetoric, is doing the exact opposite of his constitutional mandate to protect them."

    "They see him as fomenting disorder and violence," he said in a statement.

    Trump trashes media as 'fake, fake disgusting news' at Pa. campaign rally

    LaRaja noted that views of the president's rhetoric "are heavily colored by whether voters supported him," with 91 percent of those who voted for Democratic nominee Hillary Clinton saying they believe his words incite violence, compared to only 10 percent who cast ballots for Trump in 2016.

    Three-quarters of Trump voters, meanwhile, blamed the mass media for recent violence, the poll found. Just 34 percent of Clinton voters agreed.

    Tatishe Nteta, an associate professor of political science and director of the UMass Poll, offered that the poll's findings suggest Republicans, as a whole, were also more inclined to attribute recent violence to the media. 

    "They view the mass media in a negative light and believe that the media, more than the president, is responsible for the recent spate of violence in the country," he said in a statement.

    More than two-thirds, or 68 percent, of Republicans attributed recent violence to mass media, compared to 56 percent of independents and 34 percent of Democrats.

    The UMass Poll surveyed 750 registered Massachusetts voters online via YouGov from Nov. 7 to 14. It has a margin of error of plus or minus 4.1 percent. 


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    The Graduate Employee Organization is charging that the University of Massachusetts is giving a platform to hate speech by allowing Sean Spicer to speak on campus and plans to protest prior to his Tuesday night talk.

    AMHERST -- The University of Massachusetts Graduate Employee Organization is planning a protest prior to former White House press secretary Sean Spicer's talk on campus Tuesday night, accusing the university of giving a platform to hate speech.

     

    Spicer has been invited to speak by University of Massachusetts College Republicans. The talk, at 6:30 p.m at the Fine Arts Center, will focus on his time in President Donald J. Trump's administration and his book, "The Briefing: Politics, the Press, and the President."

    The GEO rally will be held outside the Student Union beginning at 4:30 p.m.  

    Spicer's appearance comes in "the wake of a series of attempts at harassing and intimidating black people and people of color on campus," a press release from the GEO said.

    In the release, the organization cited a number of incidents on campus including concerns about racial profiling after a caller reported a black man who seemed agitated as he entered Whitmore Administration Building. 

    Officers placed the building on lockdown and questioned the man, who turned out to be UMass employee Reginald "Reg" Andrade, who has worked on campus for 14 years.

    They also mentioned the anti-black threats at the Melville dorm, as well as white supremacist propaganda posted in Herter Hall.

    Given that climate, "we cannot stay silent as the University gives hate speech a platform," the release said. 

    The organization argued that Spicer's appearance is not a matter of "freedom of speech, or the pretense of a 'marketplace of ideas,'" but puts at stake "people's bodily autonomy, physical safety and ability to continue to work and study at UMass Amherst."

    The organization cited Spicer's support for the travel ban barring Muslims from select countries and "his role in espousing alternative facts for the Trump administration" as reasons the UMass Amherst administration should "think more critically when presented with the decision of giving him a platform."

    In a statement, UMass spokesman Ed Blaguszewksi wrote "student organizations at the university regularly invite people to speak on campus about many topics, and speakers convey a variety of viewpoints.

    "Student groups invite presenters in the spirit of free speech and the open discussion of ideas, and the university supports their right to do so."


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    A Hampshire County grand jury has indicted eight Western Massachusetts residents on 51 charges in connection with the March 10 death of Daniel Cruz, whose body was found burning in a field in Hatfield. Watch video

    NORTHAMPTON -- A Hampshire County grand jury has indicted eight Western Massachusetts residents on 51 charges in connection with the March 10 death of Daniel Cruz, whose body was found burning in a field in Hatfield.

    The charges in the murder of Cruz, 44, of Northampton, include murder and other charges related to the concealment of his murder, and/or the subsequent police and grand jury investigation, according to the Northwestern district attorney's office. 

    Those indicted on Monday are:

    • Nerkin Omar Morales, 22, of Northampton, was indicted on a charge of Murder, as well as several other charges.
    • Pedro J. Soto-Rodriguez, 21, of Northampton, Mercedes N. Diaz-Wright, 22, of Northampton, Alondra E. Gil, 23, of Northampton, Chelsea T. Rodriguez, 22, of Northampton, Kimberly A. Perez, 26, of Springfield, and Matthew M. Ross, 24, of Northampton, were all indicted on a charge of Accessory After the Fact to Murder, as well as several other charges.
    • Joshua T. Ealy, 20, of Northampton, was indicted on a charge of Perjury related to the grand jury investigation in this case.

    Diaz-Wright, Perez and Ross were arrested Tuesday morning by members of the Massachusetts State Police Detective Unit assigned to the Northwestern District Attorney's Office, the Northampton Police Department, the Violent Fugitive Apprehension Section of the Massachusetts State Police, the Northwestern District Attorney's Anti-Crime Task Force, the Springfield Police Department and the Agawam Police Department.

    Here is the full list of the 51 indictments, according to the DA's office:

    NERKIN OMAR MORALES: Murder, Burning Personal  Property, Withhold Evidence from Criminal Proceeding, Conspiracy (two counts), Improper Disposition of a Human Body, Intimidation of a Witness, Unlawful Possession of a Firearm as an Armed Career Criminal, Use of a Firearm in a Felony, and Discharging a Firearm within 500 Feet of a Dwelling.

    PEDRO J. SOTO-RODRIGUEZ: Accessory After the Fact, Burning Personal  Property, Withhold Evidence from Criminal Proceeding (two counts), Conspiracy (two counts), Improper Disposition of a Human Body, and Intimidation of a Witness.

    MERCEDES N. DIAZ-WRIGHT: Accessory After the Fact, Burning Personal  Property, Withhold Evidence from Criminal Proceeding (two counts), Conspiracy (two counts), Improper Disposition of a Human Body, Intimidation of a Witness, Unlawful Possession of a Firearm, Unlawful Possession of Ammunition without Identification Card, Misleading a Police Officer, and Subornation of Perjury.

    ALONDRA E. GIL: Accessory After the Fact, Burning Personal  Property, Withhold Evidence from Criminal Proceeding, Conspiracy (two counts), and Improper Disposition of a Human Body.

    KIMBERLY A. PEREZ: Accessory After the Fact, Burning Personal  Property, Withhold Evidence from Criminal Proceeding, Conspiracy (two counts), and Improper Disposition of a Human Body.

    CHELSEA T. RODRIGUEZ: Accessory After the Fact, Burning Personal  Property, Withhold Evidence from Criminal Proceeding (two counts), Conspiracy (two counts), and Improper Disposition of a Human Body.

    MATTHEW M. ROSS: Accessory After the Fact.

    JOSHUA T. EALY: Perjury.

    This is a developing story that will be updated with further reporting from Hampshire Superior Court of the arraignments scheduled this afternoon of Diaz-Wright, Perez and Ross


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    Infrastructure spending and protecting pre-existing health care conditions are among the top priorities for Rep. Richard Neal, who will take over the powerful Ways and Means Committee when Democrats assume control of the House of Representatives.

    Infrastructure spending and protecting health insurance for pre-existing health care conditions are among the top priorities for Rep. Richard Neal, who will take over the powerful Ways and Means Committee when Democrats assume control of the House of Representatives.

    Speaking with Boston business leaders Tuesday, Neal said he recently spoke with Steven Mnuchin, President Donald Trump's treasury secretary.

    "They're on board with infrastructure," Neal said.

    "Now whether or not that changes given the vagaries of opinion at the White House in the next few minutes," infrastructure spending is something Trump has previously supported, up to $1.5 trillion, according to Neal, a Springfield Democrat.

    Addressing the New England Council at the Boston Harbor Hotel, Neal pointed to the multibillion dollar Big Dig project and how much the megaproject transformed Boston's waterfront as an example of federal spending.

    "People object to federal spending in general, they tend not to object to it when specific," he said. 

    Neal continued: "The wise investment of public purse is really important. And I think on the infrastructure side...we've really fallen behind."

    Neal recalled his frequent travels between Washington, D.C. and Connecticut's Bradley International Airport, the second largest in New England.

    "When they say, 'Well, your assignment is Gate 35A,' I think purgatory," Neal quipped.

    "Our roads, bridges, highways, our airports, water and sewer, broadband investments," he added. "Those are the things we all ought to be able to agree on as members of the American family."

    Neal, McGovern poised for powerful roles in Democrat-led US House of Representatives

    Mnuchin has asked him how he intends to pay for it, and Neal said he responded by saying he is aiming for a bipartisan press conference to announce the infrastructure bill, an effort to head off dueling party-line announcements that would have Democrats announcing the spending and Republicans saying they would block it.

    "The optics will be designed early on, and we'll do this shoulder to shoulder, without even air between us," Neal said. "But we have to do it." 

    Other "quick wins" Neal is looking to put on the political board include "enshrining" health insurance for people with pre-existing conditions. That will be one of the first things the Ways and Means Committee will do, "if not the first," Neal said.

    US Rep. Richard Neal dismisses President Donald Trump's claim GOP will protect individuals with pre-existing conditions

    He also pledged to protect Medicare, the federal health insurance program largely for people ages 65 and over. 

    Neal brought up Baystate Medical Center in Springfield and UMass Memorial Medical Center in Worcester, big employers 50 miles apart in the western and central parts of the state. Half of their revenue comes from Medicare, he said.


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    Szynal will replace Natalie Blais, who was elected to the Massachusetts Legislature.

    GREENFIELD -- Diana Szynal has been hired to lead the Franklin County Chamber of Commerce, the organization announced. She will replace executive director Natalie Blais, who is headed for Beacon Hill.

    Szynal, a former member of the Hatfield Board of Selectmen, was longtime district director for the late Rep. Peter Kocot of Northampton. She recently ran to fill Kocot's vacant seat in the 1st Hampshire House District, but lost in the Sept. 4 Democratic primary to Lindsey Sabadosa of Northampton.

    Blais, of Sunderland, is leaving her post to replace 1st Franklin District Rep. Stephen Kulik, D-Worthington, who is retiring. Blais prevailed in September's seven-way Democratic primary, and faced no Republican challenger.

    Szynal and Blais worked together when Blais was an aide to U.S. Rep. John Olver, and then to U.S. Rep. James McGovern, and have begun meeting to ensure a smooth transition at the chamber.

    During the campaign, Szynal emphasized her practical knowledge of the local economy, familiarity with the ways of government, and awareness of the needs of small towns. On Facebook, she said she is "honored and excited" to start her new job.


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    A lawsuit filed in Hampden Superior Court alleges Linsenmeir was denied medical treatment following her Sept. 29 arrest on a warrant.

    SPRINGFIELD -- The mother and sister of a Vermont woman memorialized in an obituary that won broad news coverage for its sensitive, candid look at the opioid crisis are suing the Springfield Police Department and the city for records about her final days. 

    The suit, filed Monday in Hampden Superior Court, says the department is "likely in possession of audiovisual recordings" showing that it failed to provide medical care for Madelyn Ellen Linsenmeir, who family members said struggled with drug addiction.

    "Plaintiffs are aware of this refusal because it occurred, at least in part, during a phone call from Madelyn and an SPD officer to Madelyn's mother, Maureen Linsenmeir," the suit says.

    City police arrested Madelyn Ellen Linsenmeir on warrants on Sept. 29, according to the department's log. She died Oct. 7 at a Springfield hospital. 

    In the suit, Maureen Linsenmeir and a second plaintiff, Madelyn Linsenmeir's sister Maura O'Neill -- both of Vermont -- ask the court to order the release of records family members have requested from the department.

    Springfield City Solicitor Edward Pikula declined comment on the suit Tuesday, saying it will be reviewed.

    Madelyn Linsenmeir's death received national and international attention for an obituary, written by sister Kate O'Neill, that described her battle against opioid addiction and offered a poignant, humanizing portrait of her life.

    It also offered a call to action to change a system that "seems to have hardened itself against addicts and is failing them every day." 

    "If you work in one of the many institutions through which addicts often pass -- rehabs, hospitals, jails, courts -- and treat them with the compassion and respect they deserve, thank you," read the obituary, published by Seven Days and the Burlington Free Press. "If instead you see a junkie or thief or liar in front of you rather than a human being in need of help, consider a new profession."

    A call home

    According to the suit, Madelyn Linsenmeir, 30, texted her family on Sept. 28. "I am really sick," she wrote. Other messages followed: "I am just in a lot of pain;" "can't eat, sleep;" "chest Hurst;" "my knee is so swollen i can't even walk."

    On Sept. 29 Springfield police arrested her on a probation-related warrant from Vermont. She had lived in Burlington at different times, the suit said.

    She was later transferred to the custody of the Hampden County Sheriff's Department, and was held at the Western Massachusetts Regional Women's Correctional Center in Chicopee.

    On Oct. 4 she was rushed from the jail to the hospital, where she was admitted to the intensive care unit. She died three days later. 

    But shortly after her arrest, the suit says, she had called her mother.

    "On information and belief, the call was made during the booking process, which the SPD routinely records," the suit says. 

    According to the suit, Madelyn Linsenmeir told her mother she was not receiving medical attention.

    "As the conversation progressed, the police officer refused to provide medical attention and even made a sarcastic comment to Maureen after Maureen expressed concern that Madelyn was being denied care," the suit says.

    The suit says the police department also has other records relating to Madelyn Linsenmeir's arrest and detention. 

    "Madelyn's family is urgently seeking such records to better understand the events leading to her hospitalization and death," the suit says.

    The police department and city have failed to respond to the family's request for records, it says.

    When Linsenmeir's death became the subject of widespread publicity, it generated conversation about opioid addiction.

    In the suit, the family writes, "release of the requested records would serve the public interest by supporting Madelyn's family in their public advocacy for the humane treatment of opioid users and for increased access to medications and medical care for people suffering from opioid use disorder."

    Lawyers for Madelyn Linsenmeir's mother and sister are Matthew R. Segal and Daniel L. McFadden of the American Civil Liberties Union Foundation of Massachusetts; Elizabeth Matos and David Milton of Prisoners' Legal Service of Massachusetts; and Luke Ryan, a Northampton attorney.


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    Springfield City Council President Orlando Ramos has accused Mayor Domenic J. Sarno of contempt toward diversity and immigrants in his opposition to a proposed ordinance to create Springfield as a welcoming community for all immigrants, regardless of their legal status.

    SPRINGFIELD -- City Council President Orlando Ramos on Tuesday accused Mayor Domenic J. Sarno of "constant contempt" toward diversity and immigrants in response to the mayor's threat to veto the council's ordinance to create Springfield as a welcoming community for all people regardless of legal status.

    "If Mayor Sarno chooses to veto the Welcoming Community Trust Ordinance, the City Council will override his veto and make it law," Ramos said in a prepared response to the veto. "The intent of this law is to ensure that everyone in our city is treated like a human being regardless of where they come from."

    Sarno said Tuesday that the ordinance, which received first-step approval from the council on Nov. 19, is intended to make Springfield a sanctuary city.

    The ordinance, if passed, would ban city employees from asking about a resident's immigration status unless required by state or federal law. The ordinance also prohibits targeting any medical, educational or faith institution for providing refuge to immigrants and their families.

    "My concerns have always been for the health and public safety of our residents and business community and not to create a liability issue of our city employees to neglect their sworn duties to follow the letter of the law," Sarno said.

    The ordinance itself states, "A city official shall not inquire as to an individual's immigration status unless required by federal or state law."

    If there is a veto, it would take at least nine votes -- a two-thirds majority of the 13-member City Council -- to override the veto.

    "Mayor Sarno's constant contempt towards diversity and immigrants is especially concerning considering the fact that he is the mayor of one of the most diverse cities in the Commonwealth," Ramos said. "Despite the mayor's rhetoric, I'm hopeful that the city of Springfield will not be perceived as anything other than a welcoming city."


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    While doing holiday shopping at the Natick Mall over the weekend, Neang Peov decided to buy some Massachusetts Lottery scratch tickets. The result, a $4 million prize.

    A Lowell couple now has some more cash to do holiday shopping if they want. 

    While doing holiday shopping at the Natick Mall over the weekend, Neang Peov decided to buy some Massachusetts State Lottery scratch tickets. The result, a $4 million prize. 

    "Neang Peov and her husband Bunrith were eating lunch in the food court at the Natick Mall when Neang saw the Happy Corner store and decided to buy some Lottery tickets, including a '100X'instant ticket," according to the Massachusetts State Lottery. "While still at the mall, she scratched her ticket and found out that she had won a $4 million prize." 

    The couple headed to the Lottery headquarters Monday to claim the prize. Neang Peov is the second $4 million prize winner in the scratch ticket game. 

    Peov chose the cash option and received a one-time payment of $2.6 million. She plans on using the winnings to pay off their mortgage and invest in retirement. 

    Happy Corner will receive a $40,000 bonus for selling the ticket.


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    Paul Manafort reportedly met with WikiLeaks founder Julian Assange in secret at the Ecuadorian Embassy in London before joining Donald Trump's 2016 campaign, a British newspaper has alleged.

    Paul Manafort reportedly met with WikiLeaks founder Julian Assange in secret at the Ecuadorian Embassy in London before joining Donald Trump's 2016 campaign, a British newspaper has alleged.

    The Guardian reported Tuesday that the former Trump campaign manager, who has become a subject of Special Counsel Robert Mueller's investigation into Russian meddling in the 2016 campaign, visited Assange in 2013, 2015 and in the spring of 2016 -- the time during which he became an important player in the Republican presidential hopeful's White House run. 

    According to the newspaper, "a well-placed source" said Manafort visited Assange around  March 2016. Months later, WikiLeaks released thousands of Democratic emails that were reportedly stolen by Russian intelligence officials. 

    Clinton campaign's diversity concerns, rankings among emails in latest WikiLeaks release

    Manafort, who joined Trump's campaign in late March 2016, has denied involvement in the email hacking and called the claim "100 percent false," The Guardian reported.

    His lawyers declined comment on the alleged visits, the newspaper said. They did not immediately returns messages from The Associated Press.

    Assange's Ecuadorian lawyer Carlos Poveda said The Guardian's report was false, The Washington Post reported.

    WikiLeaks, meanwhile, slammed The Guardian's reporting on Twitter as "100 percent fake," adding that it's "willing to bet The Guardian a million dollars and its editor's head that Manafort never met Assange."

    Manafort was named the Trump campaign's chairman and chief strategist in May 2016.

    He left his post in August 2016 after facing criticism, in part, for his past work for pro-Russian Ukraine oligarchs.

    The Guardian's report came just one day after Mueller's office, in a court filing, accused Manafort of lying to federal investigators -- breaching a plea agreement he made with the special counsel in September.

    Manafort's lawyers rejected the accusation, offering that Manafort believed he has "provided truthful information," according to reports.

    This is a breaking news story and will be updated.


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    Recreational marijuana sales begin last week at two stores in Massachusetts, the first to open on the East Coast.

    Recreational marijuana sales began last week at two stores in Massachusetts, the first to open on the East Coast.

    Customers gathered outside the stores before the sun rose on Tuesday, quickly forming hours-long lines. Anticipating the buzz around the first shops, both dispensaries hired detail police officers to be positioned at the shops.

    Cultivate is paying $21,010 per week for a Leicester Police detail around its Main Street store.

    NETA in Northampton is paying the city police $18,207 for traffic detail around the Conz Street dispensary.

    At a heated town meeting Monday night, Leicester Police Chief James Hurley said the owners of Cultivate have "paid the entire bill" for the police presence at the facility.

    Every weekday in Leicester, Cultivate pays $2,255 for three police officers with three cruisers with operating lights to patrol the area. On weekends, that rate increases to $3,245 per day. The dispensary is open from 10 a.m. to 8 p.m., seven days a week.

    "You're not paying anything out of pocket for the police here," Hurley said to a crowd of about 100 people gathered for an emergency meeting Monday after the shop's first week of recreational sales.

    The town collects a 10 percent surcharge off of the detail rate, Hurley said. This means Cultivate pays the town $180 per weekday and $270 per weekend, or $1,440 per week for use of its police force.

    Northampton Police Captain John D. Cartledge said the department has three officers at NETA per day, working a traffic detail at a cost of $2,601 per day. The dispensary is open from 8 a.m. to 10 p.m. daily.

    NETA pays an administrative fee of $260 per day, or $1,820 per week, to the city of Northampton, Cartledge said.  

    Massachusetts law requires people working security detail be paid time and a half, even if a business uses a private vendor. 

    On Nov. 20 Cultivate and NETA became the first shops on the East Coast to sell recreational marijuana. This came more than two years after voters passed a ballot initiative legalizing marijuana in 2016.

    In the first day of operations, customers spent $440,011, according to the Massachusetts Cannabis Control Commission. 

    Leicester residents are frustrated with the influx of traffic that came with recreational buyers and cannabis tourists since the Cannabis Control Commission greenlighted the store last week.  

    People who live on Main Street in Leicester say they haven't been able to drive and one woman said she spotted people urinating in her yard.

    Town leaders and Robert Lally, the chief operating officer of Cultivate, stressed that once more shops open less attention will be on Leicester, a small town in Worcester County.

    Lally said the business "had no idea" they'd be the first to open, right before the Thanksgiving holiday.

    Three other shops are close to opening -- INSA in Easthampton, Pharmacannis in Wareham, and Alternative Therapies Group in Salem.

    INSA CEO Mark Zatyrka told the The Republican that its 122 Pleasant St. location is likely to start selling marijuana and marijuana-related products in two to three weeks.

    The Salem News reported on Nov. 20 that Alternative Therapies Group's recreational pot shop could be open in about a month.


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