Rep. Farley-Bouvier Discusses Budget, Driver’s Licenses, Holyoke Soldiers’ Home
Tricia Farley-Bouvier is the 3rd Berkshire District State Representative, representing much of Pittsfield, Massachusetts for the past decade. The Democrat is co-chair of the Massachusetts House Progressive Caucus and Vice Chair of the House Committee on Steering, Policy and Scheduling. She spoke with WAMC about the state budget for fiscal year 2022, which begins Thursday, the bombshell Boston Globe investigation connecting Governor Charlie Baker’s administration to the deadly COVID outbreak at the Holyoke Soldiers’ Home, and more.
FARLEY-BOUVIER: My biggest concern all along was ensuring Chapter 70 money, and that is the K-12, the money that we set aside for K-12 education, and to be able to get the funds promised in the Student Opportunity Act. And I'm happy to see that that we are fulfilling our promises.
WAMC: What else in the budget are you excited to see?
Well, you know, I'm excited to see that we are starting, this is – I'm going to really emphasize the word “starting” – further invest investments in early education and higher education. I'm excited to see that people are, my colleagues are really prioritizing housing.
I'm interested in your thoughts on housing, given how extreme the market’s become out here in Berkshire County, and certainly in Pittsfield. What are your thoughts on this? I mean, on one hand, there's a lot of money coming into the area. On the other hand, I'm sure cost of living concerns must be on your desk.
Well, the last thing we want to do is push more people out of their current housing, to exacerbate the issue of homelessness. And that just destabilizes families, right? We know that to be true. And so, with the investments that we have, we need to be investing in the full spectrum of housing, from workforce housing, to market rate housing, to supportive housing. And that's something I think we're going to see significant investments in as we spend and allocate the federal funds coming through the state to communities.
Looking at Pittsfield, you see the state investing millions in the Tyler Street corridor and the Morningside neighborhood, Mill Town Capital building market rate apartments- Again, what are your thoughts on that balance between the concerns about cost of living and gentrification with the infusion of capital into parts of Pittsfield that maybe haven't seen that in a long time?
Right, so first of all, I want to just remind everybody that when we say the state made the investment, you know, the state, the commonwealth, is all of us. So all of us have made the investment in Tyler Street, the Tyler Street transformative development initiative, that whole corridor has been designated that. And we need to remember that it's an investment all of us are making, and then all of us need to benefit from it. And so in that, again, I'll go back to, we need to be able to invest in a full spectrum of housing, from supportive housing through affordable housing through market rate housing. But I think it's exciting what's happening in the Tyler Street area, but we just have to keep a very close eye on how we balance that out.
Getting back to the budget, what is not in the budget that you wish was in the budget for the coming year?
You know, I have a grave concern about early education and childcare, and really the whole care economy. And so we need to really look at how we pay people who take care of other people, whether it's people taking care of small children, or people who are taking care of people with disabilities, or certainly, our frail elders, and we need to decide that we value care. Because by doing that, not only is it the right thing to do, but we are investing in our whole economy. Because then, if people are well taken care of, then you know the family can then go to work. And we know that there's a big worker shortage right now.
I wanted to ask you about the Boston Globe's reporting on the Holyoke Soldiers’ Home and the involvement of the Baker administration in this series of events that led to the horrific situation we saw unfold last year. Their reporting through their Spotlight office says that the state's official report fails to connect the dots on some of the Baker administration's relationships to key figures in that process. As a state legislator, what were your thoughts on that reporting? And do you feel like the Baker administration needs to be further held responsible for their involvement in the tragedy that happened there last year?
So I absolutely believe that the administration has to take full and complete responsibility for what happened. And then further really understand what happened. And I guess I'm going to focus on the superintendent that was hired that was very clearly with a political hire. And it was exactly and specifically against a law that the legislature put into place that said that the person running that home had to have medical experiences, specifically experience running a nursing home. And that didn't happen, and the consequences for it were tragic, and I guess predictable. So that's the exact reason we passed the legislation to say that we had to make sure it was a, a medical administrator needed to be running that home, just like we would do with any nursing home. Right? We would never just put a political appointee in charge of nursing.
Beyond what you just mentioned, are there other legislative efforts that can be put in place to prevent the kind of political appointments helped precipitate the situation in the Holyoke Soldiers’ Home?
Well, there is an effort in place to move the Soldiers’ Home, both Soldiers’ Homes from the Department of Veterans Affairs to the Department of Health. And so that'll be interesting to see how that debate goes forward. And it's certainly- There's a coalition of people who have been really working hard and professionally to make real changes at the Soldiers’ Home. And this is one of their number one is to make sure that we move it from Veterans Affairs to Department of Public Health.
Tricia, let's talk about your efforts around the Driver's License For All Bill. Can you spell out exactly what the bill would offer folks in Massachusetts and why you've made it a priority?
Sure. So, the Work and Family Mobility Act I filed again this session, and it would, if, when it's passed into law would allow – and I like to use the word require – all drivers in Massachusetts to be able to apply for and obtain a standard driver's license. Right now in Massachusetts, we have two levels of driver's license, the REAL ID driver's license, and the standard driver's license. And this way, we will ensure that every driver in Massachusetts is trained, licensed and insured.