Berkshire Rep. Farley-Bouvier Previews New Legislative Session
A Berkshire politician is preparing for a new session on Beacon Hill.
On Wednesday, all 200 members of the Massachusetts state legislature – 40 senators and 160 representatives – were sworn in for its 191st session.
“And I think the day is particularly exciting for the new members in the House – we have 25 new members of the House, so it’s the first time they’re being sworn in," said Democratic State Representative Tricia Farley-Bouvier. "And they bring big groups of their families and supporters and the chamber, the House chamber, is packed to the gills – the galleries are packed, people are watching out in the hallways in monitors. So it’s quite the festive atmosphere.”
Farley-Bouvier represents the Third Berkshire district –most of the city of Pittsfield. After winning a special election in 2011, the former Pittsfield city councilor is now entering her fourth full term in office after an uncontested run this past fall. She also finds herself in a leadership position, as chair of the House Progressive Caucus.
“We are a very large group of legislators who care about such things as social justice, economic justice, and environmental justice,” she told WAMC.
Farley-Bouvier says those issues often overlap, citing an environmental justice bill.
“We look to assure that it’s not the poor people who suffer the effects of – for example, there are some cities who – the asthma rates for children are so much higher who live in the poor neighborhoods because they have industry right next to them,” said the state rep.
Similarly, she says the caucus would like to increase investment in renewable energy to create jobs.
“That is shown most tellingly through the offshore wind projects that are being developed now off the southeast Massachusetts coast line," said Farley-Bouvier.
In the realm of economic justice, Farley-Bouvier says her caucus is taking on issues that affect the daily lives of state residents. Citing its track record in helping raise the state’s minimum wage, she says the group is now tackling wage theft.
“You would be stunned to learn how much wage theft happens, and that happens particularly in the restaurant industry and in construction, and so we want to look at ways to protect workers from that,” she told WAMC.
As far as her district is concerned, Farley-Bouvier is also a member of the Gateway Cities Legislative Caucus.
“So a Gateway City is a post industrial city of a certain size, economic level, income level, English language learning level, and education level,” she explained.
Pittsfield was one of the state’s 11 original Gateway Cities, alongside Springfield, Worcester, Holyoke, New Bedford, and others. The list has since expanded to 26. The Massachusetts Institute for a New Commonwealth – a public policy nonprofit – describes Gateway Cities as suffering from a loss of manufacturing jobs and facing “stubborn social and economic challenges” due to lack of new economic investment. Those interests set a parallel track of legislative priorities for Farley-Bouvier," who says that she “really [believes] early education is the secret sauce when it comes to addressing poverty.”
Then there are her own legislative goals. One is the Campus Sexual Assault Bill – or, the Campus Safety Bill.
“One in five women are sexually assaulted during their college years – that’s a stunning number and a very frightening number, and we need to do more to address that issue," she said.
It’s an issue that puts Farley-Bouvier and her allies up against the federal government, with Education Secretary Betsy DeVos proposing changes to how colleges enforce federal civil rights laws “that emphasizes protections for the respondent and protects the schools – really putting in harm’s way the victim," said the state rep. "And so instead of being a victim centered approach, it’s really there – the regulations are to protect that person who is being accused of the assault. So we have to work within federal laws – that’s the job of the state – but we can do everything we can to protect the students of Massachusetts.”
Farley-Bouvier, who says she works closely with the state Department of Children and Families, says she’s also working on bills concerning foster care. She says the opioid epidemic has led to an influx of children in the foster system.
“It’s not the first thing people think of when it comes to the epidemic, but an entire generation is being put at risk because their parents aren’t able to care for them," Farley-Bouvier told WAMC. "So we have to do everything we can to support the department and at the same time hold them accountable for their actions and the decisions that they make.”