In the Arena: Sponsor’s remorse over Native American mascot ban bill?

Published: 6/8/2017 3:56:07 PM

What does it say about a piece of legislation when one of its primary sponsors regrets filing it?

Second Hampshire state Rep. John Scibak, D-South Hadley, admitted this week that he’s sorry he bowed to pressure from certain constituents when filing House Bill S.291, which, if approved, would bar Massachusetts schools from using Native American imagery in logos or mascots.

“There were a few people who felt pretty strongly about it and with the (legislation) filing deadline looming in January, I put it in,” Scibak said. “In retrospect, I kind of wish I hadn’t.”

Scibak says he doesn’t have a dog in the logo fight, but is concerned that the bill might be a bit of an overreach.

“I’m always a little bit leery of any bill which removes local control,” Scibak said. “But another problem is, where do you draw the line?”

Scibak says one need look no further than Amherst for an example of such a PC conundrum.

“Amherst College wanted to remove the Lord Jeff as the school’s mascot because of its association with Lord Jeffrey Amherst,” Scibak said of the British general who is best known for suggesting a plan to eliminate Native Americans using smallpox.

“You heard a lot of talk about the mascot, but I didn’t hear anyone talking about changing the name of the town,” Scibak added.

On the other hand, passage of a state bill might head off the kind of divisive debates like the one still happening in the Gill-Montague Regional School District over that school committee’s dumping the Turners Falls Indian logo for as-yet-unnamed replacement.

“This might end some of those fights, but it has to pass first,” Scibak said. “And I’m not sure it will.”

Isaac’s green adventure

Is Greenfield Town Council Vice-President Isaac Mass becoming an environmental activist?

Survey says, “no,” but never let it be said that Mass is one to let a political opportunity slip by.

The ink wasn’t even dry on the press release announcing President Trump’s withdrawal from the Paris Climate Accord before Republican Mass issued a missive of his own calling for a zoning amendment to allow solar development in Greenfield to occur “by right” rather than by a special permit from the Zoning Board of Appeals, which is how the current law reads.

“We make people come to a meeting and spend money notifying their abutters and get their neighbors worried over nothing,” Mass said.

“At the end of the day, the ZBA makes no changes not recommended by the building inspector,” Mass added. “Why force people who are trying to save the planet to jump through an extra hoop?”

One of the authors of the current law, former Town Council President David Singer, said there is a good reason why they didn’t go the “by right” route.

“We felt it was important to offer a measure of protection for people who might not want to have a big solar array pop right up next to their property,” Singer said.

It remains to be seen whether Mass will have the votes to get the ordinance changed, but I would assume the progressive wing of the council would be on board with any idea that increases the town’s green profile, even if it means handing Isaac a political victory to do it.

Cash crunch causes 

The commonwealth of Massachusetts remains mired in a cash crunch, a portion of the blame for which — according to at least one Democrat — can partially be laid at the feet of our current president.

First Franklin District State Rep. and House Ways and Means Committee Vice-Chair Steve Kulik said analysts believe one of the reasons tax receipts are down is because investors are waiting to see how President Trump’s tax cut plan shakes out.

“There has been a lot of talk about a pretty large cut in capital gains and other rates, and its possible people are holding off (on filing) until a final plan is approved,” Kulik said.

Kulik said another cash buster has been lost sales tax revenue from people shopping online rather than in brick-and-mortar stores.

“That’s been a big one,” Kulik said. “So if people ever needed another reason to shop locally, they have a chance to help their merchants and the commonwealth at the same time.”

Joking aside, Kulik says if revenues don’t rebound and the cuts in Trump’s proposed budget get enacted, the commonwealth isn’t going to have anywhere near the cash needed to backfill funding for many federal programs on which the poorest among us have become pretty dependent in past years.

Simply put, it looks like the commonwealth is about to get wiped both ways, and it’s not going to take long for the impact to be felt in town and city halls where “doing more with less” is already a way of life.

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