October 20, 2021

topicofthetown

Design your heritage

With deadline looming, Legislature sets new rules to push ahead on Soldiers’ Home bond bill

By COLIN A. YOUNG

A partial agreement on joint legislative rules filed Wednesday evening could clear a path for the bill to finance the construction of a new veterans’ home in Holyoke as a deadline for taking advantage of federal matching funds looms.

The bill (H.64) Gov. Charlie Baker filed in February to authorize $400 million in bonding for construction of a new Holyoke Soldiers’ Home had been in a legislative limbo this week. Baker has said the bill would have to be passed by April 1 in order to secure federal funding through a Veterans Administration grant program for up to 65 percent of the project costs. The governor has said that a “major reconstruction of the campus is necessary for the health, safety, and comfort of future generations of veterans and staff.”

The Joint Committee on State Administration and Regulatory Oversight gave the bill a hearing last week and reported an amended version of the bill favorably on Monday. Now it is biding its time in the House clerk’s office since there is still no Joint Committee on Bonding, which would be the bill’s next natural destination for further review.

At about 7 p.m. Wednesday, Sen. Joan Lovely and Rep. Claire Cronin announced their conference committee that formed Monday had struck an accord (S 39) to create the slate of joint committees and to define the role of the Joint Committee on Bonding, Capital Expenditures and State Assets. That agreement could be adopted by the House and Senate when they each meet Thursday.

“We are pleased to expedite from the Joint Rules Conference Committee the creation of all the Joint Committees so the important work of the session may continue in earnest. We look forward to continuing to work together to resolve the remaining differences,” Cronin and Lovely said.

The Legislature would need to act quickly if it intends to pass the Holyoke Soldiers’ Home bill into law by April 1, as Baker has said is necessary. The governor’s office said Wednesday that the bill would need to be enacted on or before April 1 in order to give the Division of Capital Asset Management and Maintenance enough time to complete design development documents by Aug. 1.

Legislators agreed this session to create a Joint Bonding Committee, rather than standing committees in each branch, and to form three other new joint committees but their plans are tied up in a dispute over transparency amendments to the joint rules. The other committees are the Joint Covid-19 and Emergency Preparedness and Management Committee, the Joint Committee on Racial Equity, Civil Rights and Inclusion, and the Joint Advanced Information Technology, the Internet and Cybersecurity.

Related content: