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Why Massachusetts Should Build With Safe Building Materials

In this episode, Gregg Lewis (Executive Vice President, Promotion Strategy and Communications, National Ready Mixed Concrete Association) sat down with Senator Paul Feeney and Representative Dan Donahue of the Massachusetts State Legislature. The group discussed H.2449 and S.1589 — An Act Relative to Safe Building Materials which would strengthen the building code and promote the use of non-combustible materials for a safer, more sustainable, and cost effective infrastructure in MA. No matter which state you live and work in, there is a lot to be learned from their discussion.

Gregg Lewis:
Welcome everyone to the fifth episode of Concrete Credentials for Season 2. I’m Gregg Lewis, and today I’m delighted to have as our guest, Senator Paul Feeney and Representative Dan Donahue from The Massachusetts House of Representatives. Senator Feeney and Representative Donahue are sponsors of an important piece of legislation currently working its way through the Massachusetts Legislature House Bill 2449 and Senate Bill 1589, an act relative to safe building materials would strengthen the building code by clarifying the use of light wood frame construction and promoting the use of non-combustible building materials. Gentlemen, welcome to Concrete Credentials.

Senator Paul Feeney:
Thank you, Gregg. Great to be here.

Representative Dan Donahue:
Yeah. Thank you, Gregg. Great to be here.

Gregg Lewis:
All right. So, I guess we ought to start off here with getting to know a little bit about the two of you and your districts and how you came to serve in the legislature. And Senator Feeney, if you don’t mind, I’ll start with you.

Senator Paul Feeney:
Sure. I think I took probably a non-traditional path to the state legislature. I’m in my third term representing the Bristol and Norfolk District here in Massachusetts, and truly blessed to represent the nine communities of my district. Look, I was a blue collar worker. I got out of high school, and had my eyes set on college, and my family really didn’t have the means at the time. And remember having a conversation with my dad who said, “Kid, I love you, but maybe you should go to work. We really don’t have the money for college.” So that’s what I did.

And for over 20 years, I was a telecommunications technician testing high bandwidth lines throughout Massachusetts and the Northeast. And that’s where I thought I was going to be for my entire career, but I got involved in my union, the International Brotherhood of Electrical Workers, and specifically doing a lot of the political and legislative work. So I found my niche in doing that and fell in love with government and being able to serve the people in my community as a local elected official, as a select board member. Worked for my state senator in my district as his chief of staff for a little bit.

And when the opportunity arose to run for the seat, I said, “I’m probably crazy for wanting to do this, but I think that we could use a blue collar perspective in the state senate.” And I ran, and luckily, as I said, I’ve been blessed to serve here for the last three terms. So, I enjoy it. And I think I bring a unique perspective to the job and being able to work with people like Representative Donny, who’s been a champion for so many years for the issues that work and people care about. It’s truly a blessing every single day. So love doing the job, and hope to be doing it for a long time.

Gregg Lewis:
Excellent. Really appreciate walking us through that little bit of an introduction, Senator. And Representative Donahue, I’ll give you a few minutes to do the same, if you would, please.

Representative Dan Donahue:
Yeah, no, absolutely. And again, it’s great to be here and to obviously be here with my co-sponsor, Senator Feeney, who’s obviously just been a great advocate and brings his perspective to the legislature, which we love working together on various issues, turning to labor issues, to this issue, to others. So, it’s always great to work with colleagues in the Statehouse. And I came actually to the Statehouse through local politics. I had grown up in the City of Worcester, which is the second largest city in New England, as we always like to remind everybody.

Might be a middle child complex we have as a community, but I represent the 16th Worcester district, which is about a fifth of the city, a southeast part of the city at an urban working class, heavy immigrant neighborhood with dense housing issues and a lot of the issues that come along with the post-industrial cities. And I grew up in that neighborhood. As I always like to joke, I bought a house next door to my parents. And I went to kindergarten further from my house. And I went to college. I went to Holy Cross, which was right up the street.

So I never really got out of the district in my entire life. But growing up, my father was a union organizer. My mother was a public school teacher. And we grew up talking politics and public service and going to neighborhood meetings and community meetings, and just had an incredible opportunity to see that a small group of determined constituents and determined people can really bring about a change and a difference to their own community. And after getting out of school, I got engaged in electoral politics.

I worked on Governor Deval Patrick’s campaigns and Lieutenant Governor Murray’s campaign. I was his political director for a couple years, and then had an opportunity to serve for the Mayor of Worcester, Joe Petty in his first term as his director of policy and assistant chief of staff, where I really got the opportunity to see the inside of government and how it works and how it serves constituent services and really fell in love with it. And there was a opening for my seat and unexpected resignation. I decided to throw my hat into that ring and have been in office for the last, geez, almost eight years now.

It’s going right by, but the opportunity to work in various different levels throughout the building and also be on the ground in the district, working with your constituents. And I think like the Senator said, it’s an incredible privilege and honor to get to serve your neighbors, the people you grew up with, people you know. And then also deal with the small stuff that comes our way every day, but also deal with larger policy issues that affect all residents, the Commonwealth, such as this legislation.

Gregg Lewis:
Thank you for that. Look, I applaud you both for your service to your communities and its State of Massachusetts. It’s clear to me, just hearing you set up the little bit of background that obviously you’re both great leaders and willing servants. And we need more folks like you out there in government. So, hats off to both of you. To get into the program here, I’m sure both of you are well aware the mid-rise construction market has really taken off. That’s true in Massachusetts. It’s also true in many places across the US.

How would this piece of legislation impact that market and the future of construction in Massachusetts? And I’m going to start, Representative Donny, here with you, if you don’t mind, and then we’ll let Senator Feeney follow up.

Representative Dan Donahue:
Yeah, absolutely. I think you hit the nail on the head. We’re seeing an explosion of growth of construction throughout Massachusetts. Housing’s always been a big issue in the Commonwealth, but we’ve seen this growth in this mid-rise, high density housing throughout the Commonwealth, Massachusetts. And this bill’s really focused on safety is the primary way I got involved in this legislation, and I think the most important part of it. The idea is to provide safe housing to individuals throughout the Commonwealth. And as we see this growth in light wood frame construction, we want to make sure that that construction is safe.

That it’s not looking at any fire hazards while it’s being constructed or while dwelling in the units. And do we need to increase protections in the building code that ensure that when light frame construction is done, it’s done correctly with sprinkler systems, with more information for local fire departments, or are we also looking at non-combustible materials and incentivizing their use throughout the industry? Just to make sure that we have that safe housing for the long term.

Gregg Lewis:
Excellent. Appreciate that. Senator Feeney, what are your thoughts?

We’ve seen this growth in high density housing construction, and I think we’re seeing it not only here in the Commonwealth, but across the country. And for us in Massachusetts, it’s something that both the representative and I encourage. We’ve been talking about making sure that we increase our housing stock throughout the Commonwealth on an exponential level, so that we can ensure that we have enough units for our population growth.

Senator Paul Feeney:
Look, I echo what the representative said. I think he’s spot on here. We’ve seen this growth in high density housing construction, and I think we’re seeing it not only here in the Commonwealth, but across the country. And for us in Massachusetts, it’s something that both the representative and I encourage. We’ve been talking about making sure that we increase our housing stock throughout the Commonwealth on an exponential level, so that we can ensure that we have enough units for our population growth.

And when we talk about affordability, this is all part of it. But really when we talk about an increase in construction and especially this type of construction, we want to make sure, as the representatives said, that we’re doing everything we can to put protections in place, not only for the long term to make sure that the tenants are safe in these dwellings for generations to come, but really at the construction phase as well. You heard from the both of us in our intro that we come from working families. It’s important to us that we’re making sure that worker protections are in place in all these projects.

And that’s really what our aim here is, is to make sure that we’re safe, not only through the construction phase, but for generations that come for the people that are going to be residing in these units. And to do that, we had to take a deep dive, and to really look at the IBC, to look at our local codes, to make sure that we were empowering firefighters in our communities and across the Commonwealth. And to ensure that we actually address the code in a way, in statute, that would not only mandate that we use safer materials and that we make sure that we have operational fire sprinkling systems throughout the project.

But really to ensure that this isn’t just left up to the whim of a developer, but that it is codified. So some of the things that we do in this law … And again, it’s not easy. Certainly the representative and I think I can speak to them. We learned something new about the industry every single day that we talk about this legislation. And it’s important for us to hear from stakeholders on that. But when we took a look at our own statute in Massachusetts, we have a Chapter 149 in our Mass general laws regarding light wood frame construction and fire prevention.

And we said, “Look, we can make sure that we have a safer market and safer construction conditions by doing things like requiring the use of non-combustible materials or fire retardant wood during construction.” Making sure that our fire petitions have a fire resistance rating of at least one hour. That’s an important piece to this. Horizontal assembly installed between floors separating dwelling or sleeping units. Again, making sure that their fire resistance rating is at least one hour. And these are some of the things that we started to hear from firefighters in our own communities and across the Commonwealth was that this was important to them.

Mandating that we have a fire watch warden be present during the entire construction phase. That’s non-construction hours, overnights and on the weekends, and really authorizing the state fire marshal to establish and promulgate rules and procedures to meet these requirements. So, we take a pretty comprehensive approach to this, and we codify a lot of this in the legislation. And hopefully at the end of the day, we can get much of this written into law and passed by the legislature, signed by the governor, and make sure that we’re keeping these projects safe.

Gregg Lewis:
So, I’m going to go back to you, Representative Donahue. And I understand that there was a significant fire there in Worcester a few years back. For you, did that event initiate your interest in addressing building safety and sponsoring this legislation?

Representative Dan Donahue:
Yeah, no. Absolutely. Unfortunately, the City of Worcester has had too many unfortunate in the line of duty deaths with our firefighters over the last couple years. And Worcester’s an interesting city compared to maybe others in the Northeast where primarily our housing stock is all wood balloon frame construction, the traditional three-decker that we’re notorious for. And so just paying attention to how the city’s been growing the last couple of years. And when I was in the mayor’s office, we saw some developers in some redevelopment of our downtown curb for the first time, honestly, in 40 years.

And it was a lot of excitement around the fact that we’re building high density housing, that we are bringing in new people. And I can just remember driving around and looking at the buildings going up, and they’re all made out of wood. And you’re talking dozens and dozens of apartments on top of each other. And it just got me thinking like, “Well, this is interesting that you have this type of framing occurring in major downtown area, when rest of the older buildings are all built out of non-combustible materials; bricks, and stone. And then unfortunately across the state, we saw a couple of large scale fires in some large light frame wood housing developments going on.

Thankfully, most of those occurred before they were ever occupied. So, it was all happening during the construction phase, but we had a large fire in Waltham in Dorchester. There was also one in Weymouth. And you saw these fires go up, and they weren’t just the quick put-out. They were huge alarm fires. Days to put out at the Waltham fire burn for quite a while. And you got some interest in the City Council of Waltham coming out in support of legislation like this.

And the City of Worcester has also come on support like this, because you see these fires, thank God the housing wasn’t being used yet. They were still in construction, which is still dangerous for our construction workers. But it just made you think about the future, as far as investing in public safety. It’s not just thinking about getting these buildings done and having the developer save some money. But in the long term, building out non-combustible materials has been shown to actually be cheaper in the long term.

And so instead of … And in Worcester, place like this, we seem to incentivize developers with tax incentives and tax breaks to basically do these jobs as cheap as possible. And in the long-term, the developers aren’t going to be living in that building for the next couple generations. And how do we ensure that our firefighters, decades from today, and our families who are living in these houses are still safe for the long-term? So it made me think about, is there a legislative fix? Is there something we should be learning about? And is this something that we should be doing? And working with my staff and with Senator Feeney’s staff, we helped to develop some of this legislation.

Gregg Lewis:
So, as a follow up to that, what does this legislation address in terms of public safety specifically? Can you talk a little bit about that?

Representative Dan Donahue:
Yeah. So as far as public with safety, it really focuses on … Well, first off, as I said about the fires that are being constructed, as they’re being constructed. So ensuring that if we are looking at light frame construction, that we are ensuring that there’s a fire marshal on duty. We don’t want to see these large, huge scale construction fires that we’ve already experienced here in the Commonwealth and that we’ve also seen across the country as well. So ensuring that that’s there. Ensuring that if there is light wood frame construction, that our firefighters know about it.

A lot of the buildings that we’ve seen go up as well, they might not look like they’re made out of wood on the inside, which is interesting. You see new styles of facades that are put on these buildings. So ensuring that there’s placards on the buildings, so they know when they’re walking in, “Well, this isn’t …” It may look like it’s all from the outside, but there’s not the density or the non-combustible materials that you might expect. So more public information around those issues. And then ensuring that there’s sprinkler systems that can make through it. That there’s firewalls.

So just ensuring that we’re locally keeping our building code as strong as possible, whether light frame is being used or whether we’re using non-combustible materials.

Gregg Lewis:
Awesome. So at the top of the podcast here, Senator Feeney, you mentioned your work with the International Brotherhood of Electrical Workers. You were obviously a member of that group and an eventual leader of that union. Can you speak to some of the union support that this legislation has and how this legislation supports those types of working class jobs?

Senator Paul Feeney:

Sure. And in listening to the representative talk just a moment ago, I’m thinking about some projects in my own district. He talked about newer style construction. I’m just thinking, I have a gateway city that I represent in Attleboro, which is in Southeastern Massachusetts. And I’m thinking about the podium construction, where you have concrete pads on the bottom floor. It looks seamless on the outside. And I’m just thinking about a couple of projects that are going up right now in my own district and how you would never even know that it’s wood construction above the second floor.

You see 5-over-2 type construction in a couple of these projects. And so I thought that was an interesting thing to point out and certainly something we’ve been hearing from firefighters. From the worker perspective, as I said earlier on in the show, I was a telephone worker. So, I never got into construction sites too much. And I would sit in office and test circuits. That was I think the most dangerous job that with condition that I have would be if I potentially fell off the chair or got a paper cut. But I certainly see that many in the construction industry face all sorts of safety issues every day.

I’m working on legislation right now that has to do with trench safety. We’ve had a couple of very tragic accidents here in the Commonwealth, Massachusetts over the last few years where workers have died in trenches, working with organizations to make sure that we’re increasing safety on roadside construction. It’s something that we’ve been focused on here in Massachusetts for a while. And this is right along those lines, making sure that we’re keeping workers safe on the job. One of the things that I heard a couple of our opponents talk about recently was that the reason why they oppose this and want to keep the status quo is because it allows them to limit the trades on the job.

Which for somebody like me is one of the exact reasons why I would be involved in this. Limiting the trades and cutting down on some of the workforce that are on these jobs I don’t think is helpful, especially as we battle through this pandemic and an initial economic downturn to make sure that we’re building back better. But at the same time, when we do have workers on the job, we want to keep them safe. So that’s why we’re starting to see a large coalition of unions and trade organizations and others that are coming together. Still a work in progress.

As we go through the legislative process, this session, we’re trying, as we always do, meet with stakeholders, build coalitions. So far, we’ve heard from the brick layers that are involved in this, the iron workers here in Massachusetts, the operating engineers of the Teamsters, plasterers and cement masons. So really, any trade that would be part of this construction, part of these projects have come along to say, “What can we do to help?” And have joined our coalition. Sprinkler fitters certainly have an interest in this as well.

So we’re starting to see them come on board and make sure that they’re a part of the process. They’ve submitted testimony to the relevant joint committees that are considering this legislation and have become a part of our efforts going forward. And I think we’re going to start to see even a lot more trades and unions become a part of this as we move forward. Now, I’ve certainly heard, not from the statewide organization just yet, but from many of my local firefighters as well that are with us on this legislation.

And like I said, I think as we move forward through the process, we’re going to start to see a lot more unions and organizations become a part of this. Because as we look at fire science, number one, but as we look at the data that we get from some of the tragedies that we’ve seen as we start to look at what it means, not only for costs, which is certainly an important part of this, but really for me, as we look at safety, we know that we can do this safer.

We know that by passing this law, by making sure that we’re regulating these combustible materials and actually incentivizing the use of non-combustibles, or at least if we’re going to use combustibles, by making sure that they meet certain standards, we know that we can do this safer. So I think that’s a powerful, powerful incentive for a lot of these pro-worker trade groups and unions to get involved.

Gregg Lewis:

I appreciate that. And you both come at this from slightly different perspectives, but at the end of the day, it’s about keeping our people safe. Whether it’s people on a job site, people responding to a progression of a project under construction or completed, and then the people going to sleep on the fourth or fifth or sixth floor of a building that’s built of combustible materials. Some of this I think just makes sense. And I appreciate you all taking the lead on moving this forward.

The next question I think really is for both of you. So, we’ll take it one at a time here. Obviously, Massachusetts recently passed one of the first and I think most comprehensive climate change bills in the country and perhaps even the world for that matter. And I’ll start with you, Senator Feeney. Can each of you though talk about your own work and getting that legislation passed?

Senator Paul Feeney:
Sure. I appreciate the question. This was something that really dominated our previous legislative session of course pre-pandemic, when we had to triage a lot of the issues we were dealing with, with COVID-19. But both the house and the senate came together in a bicameral, bipartisan way to look at what Massachusetts can do to be part of the solution on climate change. And as you said, we passed landmark legislation earlier in the session, the next generation climate roadmap bill. So, we really took a comprehensive approach to it.

We looked at things like our transportation sector. We looked at our buildings. We looked at what we can do in the Commonwealth to make sure that our own public sector fleets are as clean and green as possible. We really took a comprehensive approach to it. And we understood that that was just a start. Obviously, our goal, like many states across the country, is to get to net zero by 2050. That’s an important part of what we can do as a Commonwealth, but that’s just a goal. So, what we also did in the legislation is we set certain benchmarks and metrics along the way.

But it does no good to just have this goal in front of us if we’re not actually making meaningful change throughout the years to hit that goal. And one of the things that we discussed as we were passing this legislation is that we don’t know what we don’t know. And every single day, you learn something new and we figure out different ways that we can actually be better and make sure that we’re doing what we can to be clean and green. And this is a part of it. I was involved, when we looked at the climate change bill, in making sure that we had protections for workers who would have to try transition from their current job to perhaps a job in the green energy sector.

And across the country, we have to be mindful of that, that there are people that are employed in this industry. And to just say, “Okay, we’re going to flip the switch someday, and good luck. Find yourself another job after spending a career in one particular position,” it just didn’t make much sense to me. So, we started to talk about just transitions and making sure that not only are we training people, but that we’re providing the same benefits in the green energy sector, if that’s where they were going to be moving to.

So I was involved in crafting that side of the legislation, in making sure that we had that bridge to the newer technologies. Massachusetts, we’re investing heavily in wind. We’re investing heavily in photovoltaic. We’re investing heavily in geothermal. We’re investing heavily in all sorts of different green energy. Well, if we’re going to do that and we’re going to have a workforce ready to go, then that workforce should be here, trained, local and well compensated. So it was quite a process, and a lot of people played a large role in that. And many of us work to get that done.

And I think you’re right. It’s model legislation for our country and something that we’re going to be talking about and working on for a long time.

Gregg Lewis:
Absolutely. Representative Donahue, your thoughts on the climate legislation, your part in it?

Representative Dan Donahue:
Yeah, no. No, absolutely. I think we were all very proud of being able to get that piece of legislation through, particularly looking at some of the changes we were seeing at the federal level at the time. And I want to thank Senator Feeney too for focusing in on some of the workforce aspects of it, because I think what was interesting about this bill was that it really was a holistic approach. We weren’t looking at just changing one aspect of our climate legislation. We were focus focused on justice for low income communities, wind power, solar power, looking at the whole issue as one.

And how do we move ourselves forward and really hold ourselves accountable by setting those benchmarks? To meet those benchmarks, it’s going to be difficult. And we’re going to have to make some changes to how we’re living in the current times. And I think we need to continue to have those conversations. We have the roadmap. We have the foundation laid here, but what are we going to do for the next couple years to move it forward?

Gregg Lewis:
So there’s a follow-up, I guess, to this question that relates us back right to the safe building materials bill. And that is, as it relates to the climate change bill, that particular legislation and the building sector obviously may contribute to achieving net zero goals as outlined in that legislation. But how do you all see that part intersecting those two bills from a net zero standpoint?

Representative Dan Donahue:
So I think this bill is definitely a part of the solution. I think, as we were saying before, we’re taking a comprehensive look at everything. And one thing is, how do we create innovation as far as whether we’re looking at the green energy sector or we’re looking at other ways of transportation, modeling our communities. It’s all about a comprehensive look, and this bill’s part of it. We can use this to move away from traditional light frame construction and look at more resilient, more climate-friendly, more innovative options.

We’re Massachusetts. We love to hold ourselves in high regard as innovators and as the first ones to get to a lot of different issues. And I think that there’s more than just traditional building materials that we might be considering in the future. And that this bill could help to incentivize some of that construction. And then on top of it, I think we’re looking at … I think it’s about one third of all energy costs in Massachusetts throughout the Commonwealth are through buildings. As we enter into the nice fall weather here in the Commonwealth, it’s the ups and downs.

We have very hot summers and we have very cold winters. And building materials like concrete just have a higher insulation value to them. They keep us cooler in the summer and they keep us warmer in the winter, when there’s other building materials out there that are safer materials that can help to increase that insulation. And really looking at our build environment is really important, because also if we’re going to be looking at … One of the reasons we want to incentivize more multi-unit housing is to make sure that people are able to use public transportation more.

That they’re able to walk, live in more livable communities, ride their bicycles, things like that. So we want to make sure that we can still incentivize multi-unit housing, but maybe do it in a way that’s greener, cleaner and more safe for the future coming around. So, I definitely think there’s many ways that we can do this. I look at place like the city like Worcester or other gateway cities in the Commonwealth, average housing age in Wooster I believe is somewhere around the 1920s. So, most of our housing isn’t insulated. Most of our housing was never designed for air conditioning, was never designed for cars even.

So as we’re looking forward to replacing some of this existing housing, how do we make sure we’re doing it in a safe, but effective way that’s going to really combat the energy usage in the state?

Gregg Lewis:
Well, you hit the nail on the head there I think. Senator, what is your thought about the intersection of these bills?

Senator Paul Feeney:
I think the representative said it all. Certainly, the insulation factor, we’ve seen. We’ve seen energy escape through light wood frame construction buildings, and it doesn’t do when you have concrete. So, I think that’s a big part of this when we talk about the construction, when we talk about hitting the certain metrics that we’ve now imposed on municipalities and developers across the Commonwealth. This is a solution to that. And the same thing, I think there was always this misnomer on the sequestration of carbon when it comes to lumber and what that means.

And we’ve found certainly over the last few years that being able to go in and clear, cut and produce the amount of lumber that we need for this increased construction really doesn’t benefit us a whole heck of a lot. And when we look to innovative materials, there are other materials out there certainly to this day. But as the representative said, we pride ourselves in Massachusetts. I think our number one chief export is educated people. And it’s important for us to be able to incentivize that and say, “Look, there’s another way that we can look at this. If we regulate these combustible materials in the construction of these projects, well, where else can we look? What other materials are out there?”

And we’ve seen the tremendously smart people from MIT and others here in the Commonwealth, Massachusetts that are working to develop safer materials that will really lead us down the road where we want to be when it comes to getting to net zero by 2050. So I think the bills do align. As I said earlier when I was talking about the next generation climate roadmap bill, we understood at the time that we passed that, that there was going to be new information, there were going to be new and innovative way for us to reach those goals as we moved along in the process.

And certainly as the representative and I meet with stakeholders for this bill, we’ve found that we can actually help. That we can get to a place where we are doing our part when it comes to construction materials. And I think that’s good government. That’s what we should be doing.

Gregg Lewis:
Yeah. I appreciate both of you and your obvious command of these issues and how they interrelate. Obviously, you’re sitting in the right seats there in the legislature. I guess what we ought to do is drill down a little bit deeper and shift to the nitty gritty details of the legislation to safe building materials legislation specifically, and where it currently stands in the legislative process and what the next steps are. So Senator Feeney, if you want to give your perspective on that, and we’ll let Representative Donahue follow you on that.

Senator Paul Feeney:
Certainly. I think a lot of the times when we talk about legislation to the general public, we need to demystify the process. You get different committees and certainly different parts of the legislative process that don’t always make sense. For us, we get into this legislative bubble and you get really wonky when you talk about this stuff. But to break it down to its simplest terms, the bill was filed. Representative Donahue and I companioned pieces in both the house and the senate, exact same bill. We just filed it in each branch, respectively.

The bill was then referred to a committee. So right now it’s before the committee on public safety and homeland security. That committee is a bicameral committee. It’s a joint committee made up of both members of the house and the senate, bipartisan, both the majority and minority party Democrats and Republicans in the legislature. They had a public hearing on this bill on June 9th. And both the representative and myself submitted testimony. We heard from many stakeholders throughout the Commonwealth that offered testimony on the bill. The committee then takes all that testimony.

They consider it. They have discussions amongst themselves. They meet with staff members of the committee to make sure that they’re doing a deep dive and vetting the constitutionality of these things and making sure that whatever we do passes legal master, which we’re pretty confident that this legislation does. And then they will consider it in an executive session and decide whether or not that this bill should actually be moved out favorably to see the light of debate in the house and the senate.

If it should be amended, sometimes the committee will say, “Look, we like what you do here, but we need to change this around and maybe amend this a little bit,” based on the testimony they heard. That’s all part of the process. They could then take that amended bill and then move that to the house and the senate. But that’s where it stands right now. So the bill is under consideration. The committee has had a public hearing on this. The public has certainly weighed in and stakeholders have previously, and now we wait to see what the decision is of the committee.

But for us, it’s really an active time. We’re spending a lot of time educating our colleagues. Both the representative and I make sure that we have a bill summary that we can then get to all of our colleagues in the house and the senate, so that they understand what we’re trying to do here. And then things like this. Making sure of that we’re educating the public, so that they can become a part of the process and reach out to their own representative and say, “Hey, I heard these two guys on this podcast, Feeney and Donahue. And I like the bill that they’re doing. Can you please support it?” So we’re in that phase right now, making sure that we’re building support, not only in the committee itself, but throughout the entire legislature. And hopefully, we’ll see some movement on it soon.

Gregg Lewis:
Anything to add to that, Representative?

Representative Dan Donahue:
Yeah, no. That’s a perfect description of our process. And the one thing I guess I would add is that unlike many other states, the Commonwealth operates as a full-time legislature. And we have a two-year cycle. So our session lasts for two years. So there’s time for this bill. There’s time to have conversations to debate it. And once we continue to work with it … And the senator and I have also reached out to … We have well over I think 30 co-sponsors for the bill, which is representatives and senators who give their initial support to the bill when it’s first continue to build that coalition on the inside of the house and the inside of the senate is always a very important part of it as well.

I always like to say that it’s always two levels. There’s the politics of the bill and of getting it together, but then there’s always the internal politics of the building and making sure the two of us have been working great as a team to educate more members, so they understand the issues. And also to hear their questions and concerns and figure out what the next steps are. But it was really nice to have a hearing so early in the session. And we did have a very similar piece of legislation reported out of the committee during our last session.

So I’m pretty confident that the committee’s going to give a favorable report to this bill when that vote time comes.

Gregg Lewis:
So, the legislative process itself obviously requires input from individuals, voters, taxpayers, and so forth as to what you do. And of course, the concrete industry is a local industry, regardless of where you’re talking about, and certainly in Massachusetts. I’m curious how you think the concrete industry and other construction industry groups, trade groups … How might they help support you and your efforts to pass this legislation? Start with you, Representative Donahue.

Representative Dan Donahue:
Yeah. I think there’s a lot that can be done. Legislation doesn’t move and it doesn’t get passed by itself. It needs the support. I always like to say the squeaky wheel gets the grease. And I don’t think that’s ever more true than in the legislature sometimes. There’s so many … You talk about concrete industry is everywhere. There’s already mixed plants throughout the Commonwealth, I know throughout the country as well. But we see that I think talking locally with either your local association, the state association, or talking with your local city council …

One of the biggest supports that I’ve had so far is working with our state association and I’m actually even working with local municipalities that have experienced … I think I said the City of Waltham, the City of Worcester send resolutions to the Statehouse saying, “Hey, we’re, two larger communities. And we want something like this passed.” And then even just speaking to contractors they may be working with or with developers, and just a listening support or hearing their feedback or hearing some issues that they might experience.

One thing with legislation too is we might not have the exact right idea right now. And it’s always good to hear from more and more organizations and more groups about what could be a way to fix it. And supporting us in any other way if there’s future hearings for the bill or if there’s times to write letters to committee members or to reach out to your own reps is really important. And also I think one thing that’s been really interesting working on legislation like this is that we’ve actually seen this push, not just here in Massachusetts. But you’ve looked at LA city councils looking at some similar moves.

New Jersey’s been looking at similar legislation. So it’s always nice for us in the Commonwealth to hear from people outside of Commonwealth, so that we’re not all just focused on what’s happening here. And it can be very informative for us to hear from associations across the country that can help to inform what we’re doing on the local level. So to keep that connection going I felt even on different pieces of legislation, other than this, has always been a very helpful way for a legislator to make sure we’re making the best decisions possible.

Gregg Lewis:
Excellent. What do you think, Senator?

Senator Paul Feeney:
So, as the representative said, we are a full-time legislature, which means we always aim to be available and accessible. And a full-time legislature, a little different than other states. Many of us have regular office hours, and I always encourage people and advocates on any issue, take advantage of that. Look to see if your representative is available, whether it’s through email, through personal meetings. Obviously through the pandemic, there’s been a lot of virtual meetings. Reach out. Call their offices.

And I know it’s the last thing that that folks want to do when you’re in an industry, and you’re working all day, and you’re trying to figure out how to make ends meet and pay the bills and keep people employed and get developments rolling and to have to deal with the red tape local bureaucracy and getting things moving and making sure that you have inventory. The last thing people want to do is reach out to their representative or senator, but you do have a voice. Use it.

And whether you are in the industry as a worker, if you own a company, if you are involved in any way, a family member of somebody that’s in the industry, and this is an important bill, and you like what we’ve had to say, and you like what you’re hearing, reach out. Reach out. There are 160 state representatives. There are 40 state senators. Every single person in the Commonwealth has a voice and should use it and reach out. Like I said, whether it’s through email office hours, telephone calls to the office, whatever it may be.

We’re available, we’re accessible, and it helps. Because a lot of the times, what we start to see, Greg, is both the representative and I, we’re in this. We are the ones that are having these conversations daily. We’re talking to our colleagues, but it’s great to see when it starts to go the other way. So instead of the rep and I reaching out to our colleagues in the legislature, maybe a rep or a senator got four or five, six phone calls from the district. And then they reach out to us and they say, “Hey, we’re starting to hear about this bill from people in our district. What is this? And how can I support you?”

And you start to see that. When bill start to get momentum, that’s when you to see. So the only way you can do that is to speak up and reach out. And I think that that really does move the ball. As the rep said, if there are other hearings, if there are other opportunities for people to weigh in and testify, certainly take advantage of that, but you don’t have to wait for that. You can put together a letter and take 10 minutes to fire off an email. And the more of those that the members of the legislature get, the better off we are in being able to move this legislation.

Gregg Lewis:
Great. Important reminder, it’s representative government. We’ve all got a stake in it and need to show up and participate. I appreciate your thoughtful description of that process and how our industry can and should get involved in this. Obviously, a fair number of our listeners are part of the industry. And we know that they’re listening and hopefully getting this message as well. As we wrap up the session, and I appreciate all the time you guys have set aside for us today, I’d like to … Typically I ask our or guests if there’s a question or something that they would like to touch on that we didn’t ask specifically.

And so I’m going to give you guys that same chance. And we’ll start with you, Representative Donahue. Something that you’d like to close with that we didn’t get a chance to cover so far?

Representative Dan Donahue:
Yeah, no. I think just for us, just want to thank you for taking the time to talk with us about the bill. And it’s been great to chat at again with the senator and for the two of us to describe what’s happening inside the building. But I think that the biggest thing is just that I think this discussion needs to happen now. I think if you look at the construction industry right now, particularly in the Commonwealth, we’re roaring ahead to meet housing needs that the Commonwealth has been struggling with for years.

And we need to make sure that there’s sustainable and safe housing that’s being produced as well as combining this with the goals of the climate roadmap bill. I don’t think this is a conversation that really necessarily needs to wait. I think it needs to happen more in the short-term. So, helping to drive some of the urgency around it I think is pretty important. I think sometimes we get caught up thinking further down the road, but I think this is something that we need to be considering in this session and as soon as we can.

Because we want to make sure that every dollar we’re spending, every incentive we’re putting out there, that we’re thinking long-term about sustainability and safety for the future. But I want to thank you again for having us on.

Gregg Lewis:
Thank you. Senator Feeney, closing thoughts?

Senator Paul Feeney:
Sure. And likewise, Greg, I want to thank you. I think this is an important discussion. I really appreciate the work that you are doing to highlight these bills and other issues throughout the industry. But thank you. Thank you for giving us the opportunity to come on and talk about this legislation and the ins and outs and nitty gritty about how we get these bills passed. But I just want to reiterate again that it really does come down to people reaching out, becoming a part of the process here. Don’t at all be intimidated by reaching out to your state rep or state senator to let us know how you feel. We want to hear from you.

And certainly on this issue, we want our colleagues to hear from you. So please make sure you do that. Look, we learn something new every day, as I’ve said a few times here. And that is us personally, as legislators, and as the Commonwealth, as a collective, certainly as an industry, you are not where you were 10, 15, 20 years ago, even five years ago. There’s innovation. There are things that you learn, whether it’s better methods and procedures, different materials, different processes. We live and grow as a society.

And certainly this is one of those issues that I think highlights that. We know that back in the mid-2000s, the building code was relaxed. And we were in this mode where we were looking at incentivizing more wood frame housing. We said, “Look, it’s cheaper and it’s quicker. And let’s just go and do this. And we can build out our housing throughout the country by doing this.” We’ve learned from that. We’ve gotten better at this. We understand that that probably wasn’t the way to go. And I really want to highlight …

Earlier, we talked about devastating fire in Waltham. And one of the local elected officials in the Waltham, Massachusetts came out and said that that 2009 amendment to the IBC was a mistake. Flat out came out and said it was a mistake to allow for more light frame construction. And they sent the resolution. Now Waltham City Council sent the resolution saying, “Look, we blame wood construction for this apartment complex fire.” And that’s just one of those issues where it was a tragedy.

But as we move along and we start to learn more and more, and we can start to rethink things, we don’t want to get mired down into, “Well, status quo, this is the way we’ve always done things. This is the way we’re going to continue to do things.” You have to be bold. You have to take the information that we have, take the data that we have, look at the tragedies that we’ve experienced and break it down to its simplest terms, which is, we can do this safer. And the way we do this safer is to regulate the combustible materials, regulate these construction jobs, make sure that we’re providing safety on the jobs for these workers, make sure that we’re keeping firefighters protected, make sure that we’re keeping tenants protected.

And the way we do that is to simply change our statute, codify these changes, so that we’re keeping people safe on the job and for generations to come. Sounds easy to do. Sometimes legislation, getting a pass is a challenge, but I’m really, really hopeful that if we get everybody involved in this going forward, both the representative and I can be successful in getting this passed through the legislature hopefully this cycle and really making a difference here in the Commonwealth, Massachusetts.

Gregg Lewis:
Thank you for that. And boy, this has really been impactful, I think, your leadership, your desire to innovate and educate and lead your state in the right direction as it relates to not only fire safety for contractors and homeowners and first responders. But also understanding and willing to communicate around the intersection of that and the issue of climate legislation. So, thank you both for your leadership and careful work there in Massachusetts. Thank you also to our Concrete Credentials listeners. We appreciate listening in. Hope you enjoyed that and look earned as much as I did. And we look forward to reaching out and talking to you again here in the not too distant future.

Senator Paul Feeney:
Thank you. Appreciate it.

Representative Dan Donahue:
Yeah. Thank you for having us.