Coverage of Massachusetts from New England Public Radio, NPR, and other NPR stations.

Would Hartford Gain From A Boston Train? Advocates Are All Aboard

Sep 7, 2021

When Gov. Ned Lamont announced in June that the state would spend $8 billion to $10 billion to (modestly) improve travel times on the busy (if pokey) New Haven Line, the reaction was generally favorable. Most understand that the rail connection to New York City is vital to Connecticut’s economy and quality of life, and the faster the better.

A sign, in rainbow colors, welcoming refugees.
Ra Dragon / Creative Commons

Refugee resettlement agencies are rushing to find resources for people who will be arriving from Afghanistan.

In a file photo from January 2017, Governor Charlie Baker was joined by Chief Justice Roderick Ireland, and others in the signing of an act designating the Hampden County Superior Court as the Roderick L. Ireland Courthouse.
Alastair Pike / Office of Governor Charlie Baker /

Springfield's Roderick J. Ireland Courthouse, renamed just a few years ago for the first African American justice appointed to the Massachusetts Supreme Judicial Court, is on the minds of the city's legislative delegation. With the building falling into further disrepair, lawmakers want Governor Charlie Baker to step in and assist.

The Hampden County Hall of Justice.
File Photo / The Republican

Almost every member of Springfield's legislative delegation signed onto a letter to Massachusetts Gov. Charlie Baker asking that he issue an emergency order to rehabilitate or rebuild the Roderick Ireland Courthouse, which has fallen into such disrepair that the Hampden district attorney has removed his staff. 

Ipswich resident Matthew Cullen said he knew he wanted to go to college since his early teens.

“My friends and brother and sister went off to college, and I said, ‘Why can’t I?’ ” Cullen told lawmakers in a recent public hearing for the Massachusetts Joint Committee on Higher Education.

Cullen has Down Syndrome. At first it didn’t seem like college would be in the cards for him. In Massachusetts, high school students typically must pass the state standardized test, called the MCAS, and get a regular high school diploma in order to enroll in higher education institutions.

Baystate Health CEO Mark Keroack.
Screenshot / NEPM

Ahead of Labor Day weekend, the CEO and president of Baystate Health, Dr. Mark Keroack, is cautioning travelers about the coronavirus. He said 95% of U.S. counties are in the CDC's "red zone," with high rates of COVID-19 transmission.

Driver Benefits, Happy Hour Among Certified Questions For 2022 Massachusetts Ballot

Sep 1, 2021
Massachusetts Attorney General Maura Healey.
Jesse Costa / WBUR

Sixteen initiative petitions were given the green light Wednesday to continue advancing towards the 2022 statewide Massachusetts ballot.

An invasive insect, the caterpillar Lymantria dispar.
Didier Descouens / Creative Commons /

Very hungry caterpillars have been killing mighty oak trees across southern New England for years.

The Northeast sees a lot of different insect invaders, says Audrey Barker Plotkin. She's a scientist with Harvard Forest.

Some trees will die because of insect defoliation, but Plotkin learned in her recent multiyear study why some oaks have more resilience.

Massachusetts Board Agrees To Early Education Mask Policy

Sep 1, 2021
A child wears a protective face mask.
Nenad Stojkovic / Creative Commons /

Teachers, staff and many students at Massachusetts day care centers and after-school programs will be required to wear masks indoors after Labor Day.

Physician assistant Sarah Vacca with Amy Jewitt and her daughter, Summer.
Karen Brown / NEPM

Primary care has been under stress for years. It’s a medical field with high demands and relatively low incomes, at least among doctors.

Gov. Baker Urges Massachusetts Lawmakers To Move On Climate Projects

Aug 31, 2021
Massachusetts Gov. Charlie Baker, at center, with State Sen. John Velis, at right, arriving at a press conference in Easthampton on Aug. 31, 2021. At far left is Energy and Environmental Affairs Secretary Kathleen Theoharides.
Don Treeger / The Republican /

Available federal resources create an opportunity for Massachusetts to undertake "transformational" work on climate and environmental issues, Gov. Charlie Baker said Tuesday as he again pitched his plan for spending a portion of the state's American Rescue Plan Act allocation.

Some Massachusetts lawmakers are pushing for increased oversight of the state Department of Correction and a possible hearing before the Legislature following violence last year at the state’s maximum security prison. A federal lawsuit is expected to be filed soon over allegations that include brutal beatings of prisoners and the use of attack dogs.

Worcester Public Schools welcomed back students Monday after what has been a long year and a half for parents of school children.

From remote learning and mask mandates, to a return to classrooms with some public safety precautions, the uncertainty of the pandemic weighed heavily on some families as the new school year began.

For Worcester parent Brandy Mehlhouse, the choices and challenges facing students and their guardians were at times overwhelming.

Massachusetts Governor Charlie Baker visits a classroom in Gloucester in March 2021.
Nancy Lane / Boston Herald / Pool / State House News Service

Over the summer, Massachusetts Governor Charlie Baker's administration was urging residents to get vaccinated. Then came a vaccine mandate for state employees, and a message encouraging private businesses to do the same.

Ace Mejia, one of the influencers trying to help Worcester, Massachusetts, boost vaccination rates among the city's youth.
Michael Bonner / The Republican /

The city of Worcester is launching a program to use social influencers to increase COVID-19 vaccination rates among the city's youth.

Some Nantucket residents and a prominent conservative lawyer are suing the federal government over its approval of the offshore wind farm Vineyard Wind. The lawsuit contends the project off Martha's Vineyard will harm critically endangered North Atlantic Right Whales.

Massachusetts School Mask Mandate Now In Effect

Aug 26, 2021
A student in a kindergarten class raises her hand at Barbieri Elementary School in Framingham, Massachusetts, in spring 2021.
Jesse Costa / WBUR

Students and staff at Massachusetts public schools are now required to wear masks indoors, under a policy Elementary and Secondary Education Commissioner Jeff Riley officially put forward Wednesday.

The Massachusetts Board of Elementary and Secondary Education meets Tuesday with education commissioner Jeffrey Riley.
Screen shot / State of Massachusetts

Updated Aug. 24, 2021

The Massachusetts education commissioner has been granted authority from a state board to mandate masks in public schools. 

Higher Ed Racial Equity Plan To Launch In Massachusetts With Campus Surveys

Aug 23, 2021
Holyoke Community College.
Holyoke Community College / Creative Commons

Massachusetts higher education officials are working to develop a 10-year strategic plan setting racial equity goals and objectives, with a survey of students, faculty and staff across public colleges and universities coming this fall as an early step in the process.

Vaccine administration in a file photo.
Caitlin O'Neil-McKeown / U.S. Air Force

Last week, Massachusetts Governor Charlie Baker signed an executive order mandating COVID-19 vaccination for some 42,000 state employees. The order says they must be vaccinated by mid-October or face consequences, which could include losing their job.

Downtown Pittsfield, Massachusetts.
Nancy Eve Cohen / NEPM

The latest U.S. census data shows the population is continuing to decline in Pittsfield, Massachusetts, and in Berkshire County overall. But the decline is slowing — and diversity is increasing.

Massachusetts Secretary of State William Galvin gestures to a county-level map showing the 2020 census results.
Sam Doran / State House News Service

Western Massachusetts is lagging the rest of the state in population growth, according to the latest U.S. census numbers. In a visit to Springfield this week, Secretary of State Bill Galvin brought attention to the region's stagnant or declining population.

In Shift, Massachusetts Education Commissioner Seeks School Mask Mandate

Aug 20, 2021
Mass. Department of Elementary and Secondary Education Commissioner Jeff Riley, who appeared at a Rockport school press conference in February 2021.
Nicolaus Czarnecki / Pool / The Boston Herald / State House News Service

The Massachusetts education commissioner is seeking authority to mandate that students ages 5 and up, staff and educators in public K-12 schools wear masks indoors through Oct. 1, a measure that will come before the Board of Elementary and Secondary Education for a vote Tuesday.

Dealers and gamblers wearing face masks at the MGM Springfield casino.
Hoang 'Leon' Nguyen / The Republican /

MGM Springfield continues to miss its hiring goal for women, and is now placing some blame for it on the pandemic. The question came up Thursday during a Massachusetts Gaming Commission meeting.

Gov. Baker Mandates Vaccination For Executive Branch Massachusetts Workers

Aug 19, 2021
Massachusetts Gov. Charlie Baker in July 2021.
State House News Service

Updated 4:01 p.m.

About 42,000 Massachusetts state employees will need to be fully vaccinated against COVID-19 or have secured a medical or religious exemption by Oct. 17, or face the risk of consequences including losing their jobs, under an executive order Gov. Charlie Baker signed Thursday.

Walking Trail Floated To Highlight Mandela’s 1990 Boston Visit

Aug 19, 2021
Festivities, including music and speeches for Nelson Mandela's first visit to Boston, Massachusetts following his release from jail in South Africa.  Event held at Boston's Hatch Shell along the Charles River on June 23, 1990.
Paul W. / Creative Commons /

The commission created in 2016 to look into ways to commemorate Nelson Mandela's 1990 visit to Boston has filed its interim report, indicating that it favors an approach similar to the popular Freedom Trail that would connect three locations Mandela visited in the city.

Massachusetts Secretary of State Bill Galvin (left) and Springfield Mayor Domenic Sarno in Springfield walk to a press conference.
Adam Frenier / NEPM

Massachusetts Secretary of State Bill Galvin said action needs to be taken to grow the population of the western part of the state. He made his comments Wednesday during a visit to Springfield.

Devantee Jones-Bernier was spending an afternoon at a friend’s apartment in Worcester when police banged on the door, looking for drugs. They found marijuana in the unit, where several people had gathered, but not on the 21-year-old college student. Police took his iPhone and $95 in cash.

The district attorney’s office charged him and seven others in May 2014 with drug offenses, but later dismissed them against Jones-Bernier and all but one person. Despite that, law enforcement officials held onto his money and phone.

The Holyoke Soldiers' Home.
Mike Plaisance / The Republican /

A class action civil rights lawsuit has been filed in federal court in Springfield against five former administrators at the state-funded Holyoke Soldiers' Home.

Archaeologist Ann Morton discusses the Mohican archeological dig with volunteers Bradley Pitts and Rick Wilcox in Stockbridge, Massachusetts.
Nancy Eve Cohen / NEPM

The Stockbridge-Munsee Band of Mohicans wrapped up their second archeological dig in the Berkshires this summer with a discovery that could shift thinking about the tribe's history in the region.