Regional News

News from the region from New England Public Radio, NPR, and other NPR stations.

Connecticut public education is to get $1.1 billion from the federal rescue package. Governor Ned Lamont said he wants to use “a fair amount” of the money for summer school and children’s mental health services.

Health care advocates and immigrants rights groups are urging Connecticut lawmakers to expand the state’s Medicaid program eligibility to undocumented immigrants.

Proposed legislation in the state human services committee would allow anyone who meets state residency and income thresholds to enroll in HUSKY Health plans, regardless of citizenship status. 

One year ago, Gov. Charlie Baker ordered all schools and child care centers closed for three weeks, in hopes of slowing the spread of the new coronavirus.

In the next month, more students are scheduled to return to classrooms for the first time in over a year.

Massachusetts Elementary and Secondary Education Commissioner Jeffrey Riley spoke with WBUR’s Morning Edition. Highlights from this interview have been lightly edited for clarity.

Interview Highlights

On the hardest part of the past year for him as a parent

Massachusetts Gov. Charlie Baker stands in a classroom of elementary students.
Nancy Lane / State House News Service / Pool / Boston Herald

President Joe Biden wants states to open vaccine appointments to all adults beginning in May. Massachusetts Governor Charlie Baker has said that’s a great goal — but first, he said, the feds have a lot of work to do.

Lucio Perez, at a ceremony marking his departure from sanctuary in an Amherst, Massachusetts, church, on March 13, 2021.
Jill Kaufman / NEPM

After more than three years, a Springfield, Massachusetts, man who faced deportation and found sanctuary in a church has reunited with his family.

The W.E.B. Du Bois Library at the University of Massachusetts Amherst in Amherst, Massachusetts.
Kevin Gutting / Daily Hamphire Gazette /

A UMass Amherst official said, as the weather gets warmer, the university is working to ensure students avoid large gatherings and limit the spread of COVID-19.

Vaccine Supply Boost Needed To Fulfill Promise Of Eligibility Push

Mar 12, 2021
Two vials of Pfizer's COVID-19 vaccine.
Jesse Costa / WBUR

President Joe Biden's new call for states to make every resident eligible for vaccines by May 1 is "absolutely doable" in Massachusetts, Gov. Charlie Baker said Friday, while cautioning that the federal government must increase the shipment of doses to accomplish universal vaccinations.

U.S. Sens. Chris Murphy and Richard Blumenthal of Connecticut joined House Speaker Nancy Pelosi Thursday to support the passage of stricter gun laws.

Essential workers infected by the coronavirus want Connecticut’s workers’ compensation system updated to meet their needs.

Mass. Gov. Baker 'Dismayed' At Teachers' Union Over Vaccines

Mar 11, 2021
Massachusetts Gov. Charlie Baker speaks to the media on March 10, 2021.
John Tlumacki / Boston Globe / Pool / State House News Service

The Baker administration and the largest teachers' union in Massachusetts continue to butt heads over bringing students back to school and vaccinating teachers.

Connecticut is now the eighth state to have a law that prohibits discrimination against anyone because of the way they choose to wear their hair. Governor Ned Lamont signed the CROWN Act into law at a ceremony in Hartford on Wednesday.

A COVID-19 vaccine.
Pat Greenhouse / Boston Globe / Pool / State House News Service

Some public housing authorities in western Massachusetts are planning to have COVID-19 vaccination clinics for eligible residents.

Massachusetts To Launch New COVID-19 Vaccine Pre-Registration System Friday

Mar 10, 2021
Vaccination for COVID-19 takes place at the Eastfield Mall in Springfield, Massachusetts.
Hoang 'Leon' Nguyen / The Republican /

Massachusetts will launch a new vaccine pre-registration system on Friday for its mass vaccination sites, transitioning away from the single-day bulk appointment drop that for weeks has left residents racing to secure slots.

On the edge of the Reggie Lewis Center’s indoor track turned mass vaccination site, Emily Rice barely seems to notice the hundreds of people getting inoculated in front of her. Instead, she’s focused entirely on the tiny vial between her fingertips. In her other hand, she eases the plunger back on a syringe, drawing 0.3 milliliters of the Pfizer vaccine into its chamber.

Massachusetts Labor Chief Estimates 'Permanent Job Losses' At 250,000

Mar 10, 2021
In this file photo from before the pandemic, Rosalin Acosta, Massachusetts secretary of Labor and Workforce Development, met with Westfield High School students in January 2020.
Jim Kinney / The Republican /

The Baker administration is hopeful that a new identification process for unemployment claimants will help Massachusetts clear out a backlog of hundreds of thousands of workers seeking jobless aid.

A section of the William Stanley Business Park, part of the former General Electric property, in Pittsfield, Massachusetts.
Nancy Eve Cohen / NEPM

The Baker administration announced funding on Tuesday to prepare sites for industrial and commercial development. Nearly two-thirds of the $3,184,000 from MassDevelopment's Site Readiness Program is going to communities in western Massachusetts.

A dose of the Moderna vaccine for COVID-19.
Jesse Costa / WBUR

A spokesperson for Berkshire County's two hospitals said the region's success in COVID-19 vaccination has been all about collaboration.

Norton Juster, who wrote "The Phantom Tollbooth," has died at 91.
Joyce Skowyra / NEPM

The well-known children's book author Norton Juster has died at age 91. Juster started out as a New Yorker, but spent the last few decades of his life in western Massachusetts.

A view of MASS MoCA in downtown North Adams, Massachusetts.
Shannon Young / The Republican /

Updated at 11:43 a.m. on March 9 

Staff at the Museum of Contemporary Art in North Adams, Massachusetts, announced Monday they're taking steps toward forming a union, citing reasons like inequitable working conditions and low salaries.

Jorge Rodas (left) and Lucheyla Celestino, sophomores at Amherst College, talked last fall about their experience living in the bubble the college has created in response to COVID-19.
Carol Lollis / Daily Hampshire Gazette /

One year ago Tuesday, Amherst College announced it was sending students home early for spring break and that they shouldn't come back. Classes would go remote, the college said, to prevent the spread of the coronavirus among students, their families and the local community.

Massachusetts Gov. Charlie Baker visits to West Parish School in Gloucester, where students have been learning in person for more than 100 days.
Nancy Lane / Boston Herald / Pool / State House News Service

For months, Massachusetts Governor Charlie Baker has been trying to get school districts to allow kids back for in-person learning. On Friday, a state board voted to give Education Commissioner Jeff Riley some more power to make that happen. 

A model of the coronavirus in a doctor's gloved hand. March 11, 2021, marks one year since the World Health Organization declared a global COVID-19 pandemic.
Daniel Foster / Creative Commons

As we look back at this week's top stories, our guests reflect on the impact of the past year. Thursday, March 11, marks one year since the World Health Organization declared a global pandemic because of COVID-19.

The race for governor of Massachusetts has begun — even though Election Day is still more than a year and a half away. The incumbent, Republican Charlie Baker, hasn’t said if he’ll seek a third term, but Democrat Ben Downing is already running.

The 39-year-old former state senator, who announced his candidacy in the 2022 gubernatorial race last month, has defied the political odds once before, and is hoping that his early start can help him do it again.

There’s a small business inside a big warehouse in an industrial area of Worcester.

Walk inside, and you’ll see scrawls in neon magic marker all over the walls — rants against cancer, against Donald Trump, against COVID.

And you’ll hear the sounds of pent-up pandemic frustration being let out.

This is a place where you go to break things. Where you’re supposed to bash and crush and pummel. It’s called Smash It 2.

Customer Danielle Blanchard has brought a bag full of stuff to smash to smithereens.

Gov. Ned Lamont has announced he will lift capacity restrictions for most businesses in Connecticut on March 19.

With New Mass. Police Reform Law In Place, Conversations Continue At Local Level

Mar 5, 2021
Springfield, Massachusetts, police and detectives at the scene of a shooting in 2017.
Patrick Johnson / creative commons /

More than two months after Massachusetts Gov. Charlie Baker signed a police reform law inspired by nationwide and local protests over the police killing of George Floyd, conversations on many of the same issues contemplated in that sweeping legislation are happening on the municipal level.

A for-rent sign.
Mark Moz /

A new housing study of the greater Springfield area shows just how prevalent housing instability is in the area. The problem is especially acute for people of color.

The Housatonic Rest of River Municipal Committee met behind closed doors in Lee, Massachusetts.
Nancy Eve Cohen / NEPR

The Massachusetts Attorney General's office says by meeting in closed sessions last year, officials in five Berkshire towns did not violate the open meeting law. But the AG's office did rebuke several of the towns over related issues.

Pesticide Limitation Seen As Victory In Bee Protection Movement

Mar 4, 2021
Dept. of Agricultural Resources / State of Massachusetts

New state regulations in Massachusetts will limit the use of neonicotinoid pesticides, products that advocates for years have been pushing to restrict as a way to protect bees.

A day after President Biden and other public officials ramped up pressure to vaccinate teachers, Gov. Charlie Baker announced that teachers, school staff and early childhood educators will be able to sign up for the COVID-19 vaccine starting Thursday, March 11.

Baker said there will be specific days at state mass vaccination sites for educator appointments, and that he will release more information about that soon.