Constituents speak with Rep. Gailanne Cariddi on Sunday at the PNA.
ADAMS, Mass. — Budgets, gun violence and tax proposals are the hot topics on Beacon Hill this session.
State Rep. Gailanne Cariddi on Sunday indicated that the Legislature's taking a cautious approach to those controversial issues, especially guns, and is seeking feedback from constituents on what direction the state should take.
"What we're trying to focus on more in the legislative process is to prevent gun violence," the First Berkshire Democrat told nearly 40 members of the Maple Grove Civic Club at the PNA. "There's a huge billboard on the MassPike [entering Boston]. It's got a running total of how many children just in the past year that have been killed and it's in the thousands."
The state already has strict gun laws, she noted. "One of the issues is to let our representatives in Congress know there should be some federal tuning up of the laws out there."
Cariddi said state Rep. David Linsky, D-Natick, has already filed a lengthy bill seeking to close loopholes, requiring mental health background checks and mandatory liability insurance.
Several of those attending expressed concern over new fees, such as insurance for firearms, and how it would affect the Berkshires.
Cariddi said she was cognizant of the concerns in Berkshire County.
"We have a lot of hunting and we have a lot of people with ownership of guns here," she said. "My focus is on prevention."
House Speaker Robert DeLeo is commissioning a task force to take a broad and comprehensive look at current laws, restrictions on types of firearms, mental health issues and violence prevention, she said.
"He assured me it's going to be a very slow and comprehensive process," said Cariddi, who added, "We can't just talk about these issues, we have to have the money."
As for money, the Legislature has received Gov. Deval Patrick's 2014 budget but his ideas for generating some $1.9 billion in revenue are being closely looked at.
The proposal tries again to end the sales tax exemption on candy and soda and raises tax on cigarettes. It also raises the income tax rate and doubles the personal exemption, but eliminates 44 exemptions and credits, including credit for children under age 12, tuition credit and septic system repair credits.
Cariddi said the overall tax reduction should be beneficial to most in North Berkshire, where the per capita income hovers around $37,000.
"But what do you want to take back?" she asked. "[The governor] says that hears people want more and better education, rail and public transit. ... I want to know if you guys want to pay more for it."
Some 5,000 bills have been filed so far this term, including for raising the minimum wage to $10 and later to $12 and controversial one to tax motor vehcle mileage. Cariddi cautioned that all the bills are proposals at this point and will be steered to the appropriate committees in the coming weeks.
Gregory Charon thanked the club for a $1,500 donation for the summer basketball program.
While most of the comments revolved around gun and spending issues, Joseph Nowak was concerned about support for agriculture.
Nowak, a member of the Agricultural Commission, said the state's elimination of funding for fair prizes and improvements have hurt the Adams Agricultural Fair, the only fair in the Berkshires.
Cariddi said she couldn't guarantee anything but if Nowak submitted a specific request she'd try to get it. More importantly, there's a move to put more focus on agriculture.
"I think it's about time we make agriculture it's own committee again, maybe naming it Agriculture and Fisheries," she said, to reflect the eastern end of the state as well. "It's in the very beginning stages. It's an idea that's out there."
Cariddi's starting her second term on the Joint Committee on Environment, Natural Resources and Agriculture. But she's been given a new role as vice chairman of the Joint Committee on Municipalities and Regional Government and has taken on the Joint Committee on Transportation (last term she was on Tourism, Arts and Cultural Development.)
In other business,
The club presented a $1,500 check to Gregory Charon for the Dana Labbee Basketball program. Charon said the program has 195 kids who pay for free and expects to add another 25-30 with the deveopment programs for young children.
"We really, really appreciate it and the kids do, too," said Charon.