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'Tons to do, and we're just going': New western Massachusetts lawmakers settle in on Beacon Hill

 State Rep. Aaron Saunders (right) of Belchertown, Massachusetts, handles a phone call in the House "bullpen" Monday while Rep. Jenny Armini (background) writes at her desk.
Sam Doran
/
State House News Service
State Rep. Aaron Saunders (right) of Belchertown, Massachusetts, handles a phone call in the House "bullpen" Monday while Rep. Jenny Armini (background) writes at her desk.

Two new state legislators from western Massachusetts say they've learned a lot during their first week on the job.

They say they've received the usual "onboarding" items — like learning how to file a bill, to navigating the halls of the Statehouse.

New lawmakers also share temporary office space all together, in an area known as "the bullpen" until their permanent offices are ready.

State Rep. Aaron Saunders of Belchertown said that's helped him get to know his colleagues also new to the job.

“But then also get to learn about their perspectives and priorities," Saunders said, "has been one of the unexpected benefits of this first week."

Both Saunders and fellow freshman state Rep. Shirley Arriaga of Chicopee said that almost immediately after being sworn into office, they started hearing from constitutes and others.

"I opened my email for the first time, and I had 200 emails already there, just waiting. So the work is there, tons to do, and we're just going,” Arriaga said.

Arriaga said there’s even been a learning curve trying to figure out the best time to commute back to her home in Chicopee.

"If you time it just right, it can be an hour and a half, and if you don't, it can be almost three hours," she said. "So far, we're OK. I think the longest commute I've had so far has been two hours."

As they both settle in, the news representatives are focusing on some early priorities. For Saunders, one priority is making sure western Massachusetts gets a fair cut of money from the so-called Fair Share Amendment. Passed by voters in November, it adds a surtax on income over $1 million.

“Our region overwhelmingly supported Question 1," he said. "And when we talk about equity, regional equity ought to be at the top of the list for consideration."

Arriaga, an Air Force veteran with Westover Air Reserve Base in her district, said among the things she wants to focus on is legislation to further assist her fellow veterans.

Arriaga replaced a longtime lawmaker, Joseph Wagner, in the House. Saunders took over for Jake Oliveira, who was elected to the state Senate after a single term in the House.

Adam joined NEPM as a freelance reporter and fill-in operations assistant during the summer of 2011. For more than 15 years, Adam has had a number stops throughout his broadcast career, including as a news reporter and anchor, sports host and play-by-play announcer as well as a producer and technician.