Lawmakers get assignments



  • Comerford STAFF FILE PHOTO

Staff Writer
Published: 2/22/2019 11:16:07 PM

New and returning legislators received their committee assignments recently, and over the next year, they’ll be discussing everything from where redistricting lines should be drawn in Franklin County to public health and transportation, higher education and arts and culture development.

Rep. Paul Mark, D-Peru, said he was once again appointed as chairman of the House Committee on Redistricting, his second session in that position. 

“As a House (committee) chair, I’ll serve only on that committee,” said Mark.  

He said the U.S. Census will be completed in 2020 — it is taken every 10 years — and redistricting, according to the numbers the Census generates, will happen shortly after the results are in. Redistricting is the process of drawing new congressional and state legislative district boundaries. 

“We’ll spend time guessing at what the numbers will be, so we can start planning for redistricting,” Mark said. “Once the true numbers are in, we only have a short time to do so, so it makes sense to start now.”

Mark said the committee will support the efforts of the U.S. Census, making sure it’s done fairly. He said the committee will also make sure federal law is followed.

“Then, we’ll draw the lines,” he said. 

When the 2020 census data is available, the state will draft new district maps, as it did in 2010. Massachusetts’ U.S. representatives and state legislators are elected within those districts, with federal law mandating that districts must have close to equal populations and cannot discriminate according to race or ethnicity.

Following the U.S. Census 10 years ago, Massachusetts allocated nine congressional seats, he said. The state’s House of Representatives is made up of 160 districts, while the state Senate is made up of 40.

“Some lines will change after the census is completed,” said Mark. “We’ll try to predict, before it happens, where those lines will be drawn. We’ll be looking for feedback, and we’ll be doing a lot of planning.”

Mark said it is important that when this is done, each district’s voice is preserved.

“This is about access to democracy,” he said. “It’s important we get the most accurate census numbers — that they’re not diluted and that seats aren’t lost because the census wasn’t filled out properly,” he said.

“I’ll start asking for ideas from all members,” he said. “I have a couple returning and a couple new members.”

Mark said in 2010, Massachusetts was one of a few states not sued over the census numbers.

“We were praised as a model for the rest of the country,” he said. “We engage the public, and that’s important. We plan to meet that challenge again.”

Rep. Natalie Blais

Rep. Natalie Blais, D-Sunderland, said she is “really excited” about her committee assignments, saying they are a “good fit for me and the district.”

Blais, who worked as a staffer for former Congressman John Olver and current Congressman Jim McGovern, as well as for Vermont Sen. Bernie Sanders and for the UMass-Amherst chancellor, left her position as executive director of Franklin County Chamber of Commerce to pursue her new position of state representative of the 1st Franklin District.

She will be serving on the Joint Committee on Transportation, the Joint Committee on Tourism, Arts and Cultural Development, the Joint Committee on Municipalities and Regional Government and the Joint Committee on Public Service.

As a member of the Joint Committee on Transportation, she said she will work to advance roadway and bridge work, to increase Chapter 90 highway funding for towns, to push forward the state’s Small Bridge Program and to expand rail service.

“Transportation is a critically important issue for western Massachusetts,” Blais said. “People who choose to live in such beautiful areas of the state deserve access, just as much as those in the eastern part of the state — if anything, they need more.”

Blais said she will be working with regional transit authorities to come up with what’s best for her district.

“Talk in Boston tends to revolve around the MBTA,” Blais said. “I have an opportunity to shine a light on western Mass.”

When it comes to tourism, arts and cultural development, Blais said she will also shine a light on her district’s creative economy.

“Tourism, arts and culture are significant drivers of the economy here,” she said. “I’m already having conversations with my new colleagues about what we have to offer — outdoor recreation, shopping, food, beverage. They’re all real experiences that are hard to find elsewhere.”

Blais said this appointment gives her the opportunity to tell her district’s “story” as it resonates with people across the entire state. She said she’ll also be looking at the same issues statewide.

She said the Franklin County Chamber of Commerce is one of 16 regional tourism councils in the state, and she hopes more will be created.

“New York is investing serious money to attract tourists from Massachusetts,” she said. “We need to invest to highlight what we have here in Massachusetts to keep people here and draw others.”

Blais said that Sen. Adam Hinds has held committee hearings in the Berkshires to discuss issues related to tourism, arts and culture, and she hopes to do the same in her district throughout the year. She said her work on the Joint Committee on Municipalities and Regional Government will be a good fit for her and the district as she works with planning agencies and towns on issues like zoning and special laws, while her work on the Joint Committee on Public Service will include matters of salaries of civil servants, retirement and collective bargaining.

Sen. Jo Comerford

Sen. Jo Comerford, D-Northampton, said she spoke with the Senate president about her priorities, some of which are revenue, the environment, health and economic development, and was placed on many of the committees she had hoped.

“My appointments are of great interest to my consituents,” Comerford said.

Comerford will chair the Joint Committee on Public Health. She said its work will be all about the physical and emotion well-being of the state and all of the public health issues that affect its residents.

She said topics will range from the environment and food and job security to racial, gender and gender identity issues as they pertain to health.

“It’s all about the quality of life for all people in Massachusetts,” she said. “We’ll be taking a broad stance and then narrowing in on the issues.”

Comerford said she has filed bills that will eventually make their way before the committee, including one that incentivizes doctors, nurses and other health professionals to practice in rural parts of the state.

She said the committee will begin by looking at all of the bills before it, and then figuring out the major themes.

Comerford will serve as vice-chair on the Joint Committee on Higher Education. “It makes sense with GCC and UMass being located in western Mass.,” she said. “A lot of our work will have to do with funding.”

The Joint Committee on Revenue is another she will serve on this session.

Comerford will also serve on the Joint Committee on Mental Health, Substance Use and Recovery, where she said she will be working closely with the Opioid Task Force of Franklin County and the North Quabbin Region.

“We need to reduce opioid use and related deaths,” she said. “The task force is doing some ground-breaking work. It’s so important to Franklin County.”

The senator will also serve on two Senate committees: Global Warming and Climate Change, as well as the Senate Committee on Post Audit and Oversight.

“So many of my constituents are concerned withclimate change,” she said. “It’s a critical issue, and I’ll have a seat at the table.”

She said Post Audit and Oversight is the only committee with subpoena power in the Legislature.

The committee oversees the development and implementation of legislative auditing programs.

“We look at performance and accountability, and we investigate issues that could harm or are harming our constituents,” Comerford said.

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