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Pignatelli, Barrett Explain Their 2019 Legislative Goals

The Massachusetts State House in Boston

Today marks the deadline for Massachusetts legislators to file bills for the new session on Beacon Hill. WAMC spoke with two Berkshire County state representatives about what they’re bringing to the table.

State Representative Smitty Pignatelli has represented the 4th Berkshire district – the Southwest corner of Massachusetts – since 2003. The Democrat says he joined reps from around the state in refiling a bill about dental therapists “which will provide a mid-level practitioner for dentists throughout the state," he told WAMC. "This year, we’re going into the new session with an agreement with the Mass Dental society which is very beneficial. I think this is going to pay huge dividends and try to get services to the nearly 300,000 children that never saw a dentist last year. So, from veterans to the disabled community, to the seniors, I think this is a very good comprehensive healthcare bill.”

He’s also filed a bill that would require all Massachusetts first responders to carry Narcan, a medication that can reverse opioid overdoses "to try to diminish the number of overdose deaths in Massachusetts," said Pignatelli. "We’ve seen the number go down dramatically in the state, but still it’s going down because we have Narcan available to us. And yet, some of our first responders do not even carry it currently.”

Other acts he’s sponsoring include assurances of prompt access to health care, a bill of rights for people experiencing homelessness, and – pertinent to Pittsfield’s protracted 2018 city council debates – an act that would “increase competition and reduce costs for constructing water treatment plants.”

In the Berkshire 1st – the Northwest corner of the state – Democratic State Representative John Barrett is entering his second full session on Beacon Hill. One bill he’s sponsored concerns “equitable regional transit authority funding.”

“Right now, 16 percent of the sales tax paid in Massachusetts go to the support of the MBTA in Boston," said Barrett. "The legislation I’m proposing is basically going to say that we’re going to get 1 percent of that statewide for the regional transit authorities, and that will be a good chunk of money. It seems silly that we continue to contribute to the MBTA and the costs associated with the Big Dig when, in fact, most of that’s been paid off. And now I think it’s time that we pay attention to regional transit authorities and making sure that our residents out here get the transportation that they are entitled to.”

Another bill Barrett has sponsored is about holding telemarketers to task for misleading tactics. He calls it the Spoofing Bill.

“They’re using someone else’s phone number to reach other people, and making it appear as though it’s coming locally, an area code that they recognize," said the state rep. "Many of the people that are doing it, as far as I’m concerned, that is identity theft and of course, as we know, there’s a lot of fraudulent type of activity going on when people are contacted.”

He’s also signed on to a bill originally presented by Gailanne Cariddi, the Democratic representative whose death in 2017 triggered the special election that returned Barrett to public office. It concerns the creation of a women's rights history trail throughout Massachusetts.

“It’s not only to honor her, but also many of the other trailblazers that were involved in women’s rights and the history of it involving it – especially in light of the fact that Susan B. Anthony’s birthplace was here in the town of Adams,” he told WAMC.

Barrett adds that education funding, environmental preservation, and healthcare are high on his list of priorities in 2019.

Josh Landes has been WAMC's Berkshire Bureau Chief since February 2018, following stints at WBGO Newark and WFMU East Orange. A passionate advocate for Western Massachusetts, Landes was raised in Pittsfield and attended Hampshire College in Amherst, receiving his bachelor's in Ethnomusicology and Radio Production. His free time is spent with his cat Harry, experimental electronic music, and exploring the woods.
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