Some Bonds of Affection for Western Mass in House Committees?…
On Thursday, following commonwealth’s upper legislative chamber’s announcement, the Massachusetts House of Representatives released committee assignments for the 193rd General Court. For the 413, the changes ranged from minimal to dramatic. There were only three House retirements, one partly due to the region’s loss of a seat, mitigating perhaps wider transitions.
Still, several Western Mass reps scored chairs and co-chairs on committees, to say nothing of vice-chairs and spots on influential committee. That includes spot on the House’s main spending body, Ways & Means. However, one of the legislature’s key joint committees, Bonding, Capital Expenditures and State Assets, now has a Western Mass leader. West Springfield Rep Michael Finn shall be the House chair.
“You’re really allowed to paint with a really broad brush. You can meet with as many folks as you want,” Finn said. “It’s going to give me an opportunity to really look at state finances in a way that I haven’t before.”
In addition to overseeing the state’s capital assets, the Bonding Committee writes the 3-4 big bond bills the legislature puts together each term. That will allow Finn to leverage his position obtain funding for needs in Western Massachusetts, but also influence priorities statewide.
“That’s going to be one of the exciting challenges is figuring out to use the position to get what we need,” he continued.
Finn attributed his elevation to the work he was able to do as the chair of the Children, Families and Persons with Disabilities Committee last term.
Finn joins North Adams Rep John Barrett, Amherst Rep Mindy Domb, Pittsfield Rep Tricia Farley-Bouvier, and Springfield Rep Angelo Puppolo in snagging new chairs. Puppolo, like Finn, had chaired a committee last term. The others had either no gavel or a vice-chair of a joint or House committee.
In the legislature each chamber does have its own committees. However, most legislation falls under the jurisdiction of joint committees with members from each house.
Puppolo moved over from co-chair of the Joint Export Development Committee to chair the House’s Intergovernmental Affairs Committee. Barrett will chair the House’s Ethics Committee, a thorny job that usually enjoys leadership’s trust. Farley-Bouvier will co-chair Advanced IT, Internet and Cybersecurity Committee. That may become useful as the Berkshires fills broadband gaps and tries to capitalize on remote work.
Domb will co-chair the Tourism, Arts & Cultural Development Committee. Her Senate co-chair will be Paul Mark, her former House colleague, now a senator from Beckett.
In a statement, she looked forward to the committee’s brief, noting the importance of the arts to the region and the legislature’s support during the worst of COVID-19.
“Tourism, arts and culture play a critical role in economic development in my district, western Massachusetts and the commonwealth. They also fuel personal development, contribute to mental and physical health, and connect us as individuals and communities,” she said. “I’m looking forward to learning more about how the sector sees their role and the challenges they face.”
While the leadership of some prominent committees did not change, more faces from the 413 will be on them. Most notably, House Ways & Means will now also feature Holyoke Rep Pat Duffy and Springfield Rep Orlando Ramos. They join Sunderland Rep Natalie Blais and Springfield Rep Bud Williams who already sit on the panel. Duffy will also sit on four other panels, including the Higher Education and Veterans joint committees. The latter oversees the Soldiers Home in Holyoke. Ramos has three other committees spots, including seats on Bonding and the Racial Equity, Civil Rights & Diversity Committee.
Ramos’ appointment stands out amid his challenge to Domenic Sarno in this year’s mayoral contest in Springfield. Both he and Duffy are former legislative aides—Ramos to a senator, Duffy to her predecessor Aaron Vega. That background might help they secure funds for their districts despite still being too junior for chairs or vice-chairs.
The GOP is only fairing slightly better in the House than the Senate, but the caucus is large enough to have multiple House members on committees. Indeed, not only Democrats have a presence on Ways & Means. The ranking member shall be Warren Republican Rep Todd Smola for another term. Westfield Rep Kelly Pease joins the panel term. Elsewhere, Southwick Rep Nicholas Boldyga moved over to Ranking Member of the House Intergovernmental Affairs Committee opposite Puppolo.
Williams and fellow Springfieldian Carlos Gonzalez retain their co-chairs from last session. Gonzalez co-chairs the Public Safety & Homeland Security Committee. He played a key role in the police reform from a few years ago and will likely be reviewing its progress soon.
Williams remain the House co-chair of the Racial Equity Committee. In addition, his colleagues on the Massachusetts Black and Latino Legislative Caucus elected Williams the organization’s chair for this term.
“These are exciting times,” Williams said in a statement last week. “I am prepared to lead the MBLLC with anticipation of the challenges that await us in the 193rd Session and look forward to working collaboratively with our new members as always, to bring about effective change in policy.”
Other reps will continue as deputies on key committees. For example, Lenox Rep William “Smitty” Pignatelli retains his vice-chair on House Rules, which governs House procedure. Longmeadow Rep Brian Ashe kept his vice-chair on Bills in the Third Reading, the gatekeeper to the House floor.
Elsewhere, Easthampton Rep Daniel Carey got a vice-chair on House Post Audit and Oversight, also a plum panel. Northampton Rep Lindsay Sabadosa shall be a vice-chair for the Joint Committee on Municipalities and Regional Government. Its sprawling jurisdiction includes home rule petitions. That could be an opportunity for Sabadosa to lobby colleagues her priorities as they appeal to her for their petitions. Blais, whose district includes some of the region’s best farmland, shall be a vice-chair on the new Joint Agriculture Committee.
Like Duffy and Ramos, the freshmen this year are too junior for any leadership posts on committees Nonetheless, Chicopee Rep Shirley Arriaga and Belchertown Rep Aaron Saunders received starts consistent with their interests as candidates.
Arriaga will serve on the Emergency Preparedness & Management, Housing, Public Safety & Homeland Security and Veterans joint committees. Saunders received seats on the House Human Resources panel and the joint committees on Cannabis Policy, Labor & Workforce Development and Public Service.
Power remains concentrated in House leadership. However, in recent years the Speaker, now Ron Mariano, has tried to spread committee assignments across the whole of the state. That has kept Western Mass in the room on many policy debates despite its declining share of state population.
Still, the region has lost several near-lifers in its House delegation. Such members could have a hand in almost all policy debates either as leadership. Alternatively, in now-retired Rep Joseph Wagner’s case, thanks to multiple and varied committee chairmanships, over time he became the Forrest Gump of countless state policy debates.
These losses in seniority will make crucial chairs with such wide berth like Finn’s, working in concert with other senior members of the delegation. Certainly, this could smooth out a plan to replace the Hampden County Hall of Justice in Springfield.
Finn himself is also looking to schedule meetings with the heads of colleges like UMass, in Amherst and not, to game out their long-term needs. Some ways to help the 413 will come by working out the needs of other regions. He expects one bond bill this session will include hefty investments in the chronically imploding Massachusetts Bay Transit Authority. With a bit of logrolling, investments in the regional transit authorities could follow, too. He also expects a big bonding push around housing.
“To have a voice from Western Mass in the room when those decisions are being made is going to be really important of Western Massachusetts,” he said.