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Berkshire Lawmakers Gearing Up For 2014


In 2013, Massachusetts saw a 3-cent tax hike on gas and the reinstatement of tolls on the westernmost portion of the Mass Pike. Democrat Smitty Pignatelli represents the 4th Berkshire District. He says he understands the state’s need to raise revenue to fund its $500 million transportation finance package, but is hoping for some relief for his travel-dependent constituents. Pignatelli has filed a bill that would establish a discounted annual rate for frequent Pike travelers, similar to ones in place on other sections of the highway.

“I think it has generated a lot of support from my colleagues across the state,” Pignatelli said. “It’s not just a Berkshire County issue. We have senators and representatives from Worcester and Cape Cod. So I think its generating some good broad-based, bipartisan support and I hope that if we can get a hearing after the new year we’ll be able to plead our case and hopefully keep it moving through the process.”

2013 also saw more than 60 pieces of gun-related legislation filed by Massachusetts lawmakers along with five formal hearings and more than 30 community forums on the topic. Pignatelli authored a bill to set up voluntary firearm turn-in programs.

“After the tragedy in Newtown, CT, I had people in my district who had been life-long gun owners who wanted to just get rid of their guns,” Pignatelli said. “And where do you go? There is no program in place right now that would allow anybody to voluntarily turn in a gun and make sure it is disposed of properly.”

Pignatelli is unsure what will be included in the state’s gun legislation, which is expected to come together in the early part of 2014. But, he says, now is the time to act.

“At the end of the day, if we’ve done nothing, shame on us,” Pignatelli said. “I think we’ve got to do something. There’s only so long you can study things and gather input before we have to do something. I hope that we do something very soon after the new year begins.” 

Democratic State Representative Paul Mark of the 2nd Berkshire District chairs the state’s legislative Subcommittee on Student Loans and Debt, which held seven public hearings across the state in 2013.

“So what we want to do is, by about March is we want to issue a report that would have some recommendations with specific ideas that can be applied right here in Massachusetts by the state legislature,” Mark explained. “I’d like to then follow up on that with some bills that we are going to file. I’d like to get some bills filed this session, if not, we’ll tee them up and we’ll have them ready to go when we come back in January 2015.”

Mark says a program similar to one proposed in a bill sponsored by Pignatelli, which would create a loan repayment program for social workers, could be part of the solution in addressing rising student debt.

“I’m thinking physicians, especially in some of the rural towns, could use programs like that to help them pay for their education and encourage them to come out to rural areas like this and provide services that we all need,” said Mark.

Meanwhile, Democratic State Representative Tricia Farley-Bouvier of Pittsfield has said she will continue to work on establishing a vocational school at Taconic High School that could ensure a manufacturing workforce pipeline in the Berkshires. 

“There’s a great need for vocational and career-tech education in Berkshire County,” Farley-Bouvier said. “We need to do a better job in fulfilling those needs.”

Jim is WAMC’s Associate News Director and hosts WAMC's flagship news programs: Midday Magazine, Northeast Report and Northeast Report Late Edition. Email: jlevulis@wamc.org
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