Lawmakers Address Major Issues Facing Region at Annual “State of the Cape”

DENNIS – The most pressing issues facing the Cape and the Islands were in focus Friday as part of the annual “State of the Cape” forum in Dennis.

The event, hosted by Cape Cod Broadcasting and the Cape Cod Community Media Center, featured the full Cape and Islands legislative delegation, who gave their thoughts on how to best address local and regional issues.

On hand were State Senators Julian Cyr (D-Truro) and Vinny deMacedo (R-Plymouth) and State Reps. Tim Whelan (R-Brewster), Will Crocker (R-Centerville), David Vieira (R-Falmouth), Sarah Peake (D-Provincetown), Randy Hunt (R-Sandwich), and Dylan Fernandes (D-Woods Hole).

The legislators discussed a variety of topics, such as major transportation issues, the opioid epidemic, and criminal justice reform.

One of the topics that generated the most discussion was workforce development on the Cape.

Many business owners are struggling to find employees for the summer season. In the past, Cape businesses have relied in the influx of foreign workers who come to the region via the H-2B Visa Program, but many were shut out of the process this year due to changes made to the lottery system by the Trump administration.

Historically, the Cape had seen roughly 3,000 workers come to the region via the program each year. There are roughly 30,000 workers who receive visas nationwide.

Rep. Vieira said Cape business owners have been advising Gov. Charlie Baker on the importance of raising the cap on H-2B visa workers, who has in turn been lobbying the Trump administration on the matter.

The lawmakers agreed that the lack of affordable housing presents a major challenge to keeping potential employees in the region.

“We have to keep our young people here on Cape Cod,” said Rep. Whelan, who said his two daughters now live over the bridges. “Our greatest export to the rest of the state is our young.”

Sen. deMacadeo said the recent lane restrictions at the Sagamore Bridge proved that many people who work on Cape Cod don’t actually live on the Cape, as there were major delays every day coming on the Cape during the morning commute and significant delays leaving the Cape at the end of the work day.

The lawmakers addressed some of the major environmental issues facing the region, particularly climate change and the impacts that the March storms had on the Cape and the Islands.

The legislators touted the $1.4 billion environmental bond bill recently filed by the Baker administration that aims to provide capital funding for a series of coastal resiliency efforts across the state.

“We all recognize that climate change is happening and is happening right before our eyes,” Rep. Whelan said.

“A lot of places that we love on the Cape will not be here in my lifetime,” Rep. Fernandes said, expressing his concern over climate change and coastal erosion issues.

The fatal shooting of Yarmouth Police Sgt. Sean Gannon was on the minds of everyone at the forum.

Many of the lawmakers wondered how a criminal with 125 previous charges in Massachusetts was out on the streets. Rep. Whelan called for a review of the criminal justice system in Massachusetts.

Rep. Crocker said the delegation acted to allocate additional funding for police training in Massachusetts after hearing an emotional plea from Yarmouth Police Chief Frank Frederickson at a vigil for Gannon in the days after the shooting.

“We moved very quickly in both the House and the Senate to get our police training up to snuff. We were 49th in the country, that’s not going to happen again.”

The event was carried live on CapeCod.com and Channel 98 on local television.

By MATT MCCARTHY, CapeCod.com

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