NORTH ADAMS, Mass. — State Rep. Gailanne Cariddi says the state has taken a lead on national issues over the last session.
The legislative session finished up at the end of July and Cariddi said the highlights included working on the opioid scourge and passing an omnibus energy bill.
"I think the Legislature did a remarkable job of taking national issues and bringing them through the commonwealth's deliberative process to create some change for us in a positive way," the North Adams Democrat said.
"No. 1, the big thing that actually started a year ago was the continued effort on substance abuse and requiring detox and stabilization be paid for by insurers. We have not gone far enough on that because regionally I feel we need more assistance in stabilization, long-term stabilization."
The opioid bill strengthens the prescription monitoring program, increases education about opioid abuse, and enhances the number of rehabilitation beds. She cited a recent fining of a pharmacy chain for not checking the prescription monitoring program as an example of the type of moves the state is making to reduce the number of prescription narcotics hitting the streets.
"I think we've put another big dent in the whole issue of substance abuse," Cariddi said.
Locally, however, she says residents are inhibited by a shortage of reliable transportation. She is looking in the future to bring a Berkshire Regional Transit Authority "mini hub" to North County.
"If they had a little facility here where the buses would be here, the drivers would be here, they could provide more efficient transportation to local people," Cariddi said.
On the recent energy bill, Cariddi said the investment in off-shore wind will make a big difference in diversifying the state's renewable energy portfolio. The bill calls for some 1,600 megawatts of electricity generated from off-shore wind.
"It is definitely not like Cape Wind. Cape Wind was a different project because it sounded like the rate payers were going to pay for them. Not only were the rate payers paying for them, but you can see them just like you can see these [here]. People thought it was going to ruin Cape Cod. This is far and away from the visual impacts on Cape Cod and will help preserve the scenic beauty they have down there," Cariddi said.
She says there is still "controversy" locally around wind, which she still has concerns about. The citing of the mountains of Western Massachusetts as prime locations for wind turbines several years ago lead to strong opposition. But, by putting turbines off shore, the state will be able to improve the amount of energy coming from green sources.
"Massachusetts continues to be a leader in issues like diversification of and promoting clean energy sources. What I gather from the different sources, it is not just about diversification to make it different, it is toward a sustainable future for the commonwealth," Cariddi said.
Also for the environment, Cariddi said she helped pass legislation that requires gas companies to fix leaks in the distribution system.
"It absolutely makes no sense to me that they can let gas leaks, for 30 years, go on and on and on in the eastern part of the state where they have a lot more of that stuff and have the ratepayers pay for it when we could educate more plumbers, more construction people, to help fix those leaks for the long term," Cariddi said.
She also worked on laws that disallow natural gas pipeline builders from charging the ratepayers to pay for the infrastructure expansion.
Cariddi was vice chair of the Economic Development and Emerging Technology Committee — an assignment that comes with a full plate so no other committee appointments are made. It was through this committee that she filed what she calls the "TIF for small business" bill.
"While a business person and while very interested in economic development, my first thing is to try to help my district in economic development. One of the pieces of legislation I filed was to target various areas within the commonwealth that suffer from poverty, low employment rates, and also have unused or underutilized old structures to name a few, and try to incentivize businesses to those areas by putting what I call a TIF on fees and taxes on new businesses that move into the area," Cariddi said.
"To say the least, it was an uphill battle. While most elected officials automatically understand TIFs, tax increment financing, it was and has been a battle to transfer that to the state taxes and fees. I think probably because it doesn't incentivize a particular business segment. In the coming session, I am going to revamp what I feel is still a good idea and try to target it more toward incentivizing certain segments of businesses."
She is looking at targeting companies that could help move Northern Berkshire projects along — such as incentivizing industries that could help develop the Greylock Glen.
The committee also took a trip to Google headquarters in California, where she was able to meet with the leaders of technology businesses. The meeting was aimed to figure out what exactly Massachusetts needs to entice a technology company here.
"These companies have money to spend. But, they're targeted. They want to spend it to their advantage, obviously. So we are at this emerging technology committee level trying to make sure Massachusetts is positioned in a way to be able to help them take advantage of us," Cariddi said.
What comes out of those discussions is a focus for Massachusetts on industries to attempt to attract — such as medical technology.
"No government is ever going to be able to do these type of things. You have to have a public/private partnership in moving forward on the technology stuff," Cariddi said.
Another bill she filed in her first session has gotten a little further in the process. That is looking at telemarketing and is intended to strengthen the Do-Not Call List by penalizing companies for violating it, put the responsibility on the companies to stop the annoying calls after being told to stop.
"Hopefully is going to be the year for it. I seem to be building support with people in leadership about it. It will be the fourth time it has been filed and this will be my fourth term. Somebody told me in my very first term that for major pieces of legislation that is really going to do anything, it takes about eight years to get it through. I'm looking at that crest right now," Cariddi said.
Another aspect of the bill is that it requires charitable solicitors to disclose how much of the money is actually going to the charity. Right now the caller needs to ask, but even then the solicitor has loopholes to avoid disclosing the actual amount going to the charity.
"Right now in Massachusetts, it is a farce. Documents filed with the attorney general can state that a company, when asked that question, can say 100 percent of the money is going to the charity when in fact, on the very same page, they state to the attorney general that may 1 percent, 2 percent, 10 percent, are going to the company," Cariddi said.
That bill had some back and forth on the committee level, and at one point came out and was recommitted, and eventually made it to the final step before a vote. But, with a scurry of activity at the end of the session, the bill never went to a vote.
"It got close again, into third reading. But, the end of this session was different than the other experiences I have had in other sessions. The time frame was very much crunched and they were trying to get out huge bills," Cariddi said.
She also said she was active in repealing a law that automatically triggered a five-year revocation of a driver's license of someone convicted of a non-violent drug offense, even if a motor vehicle was not involved. Further, it required a $500 re-installment fee to get the license back after those five years. In Berkshire County, cars are important for people to get to work and the fine is costly to families of low and moderate incomes, she said.
The end of the session was particularly frantic with the legislators working throughout the final weekend. In the budget, the governor made hundreds of vetoes the Legislature overrode.
"The veto part through the budget, it seemed as though every one of my local requests for funding was vetoed by the governor. Some people might call those local requests, earmarking. I call them helping my constituents. The money the legislation is able to put aside for the [Northern Berkshire] Community Coalition every year — $100,000 — was vetoed. The money that we target for Gallery 51, the MCLA storefront, $75,000 was vetoed. The money for, on a bigger scale, the Bay State Games, which is a huge economic boost in the middle of winter for organizations out here, was vetoed. That's another $100,000," Cariddi said.
All of that Cariddi was able to get reinstated. She was also able to secure $150,000 for the educational task force, which is looking at finding a new educational model for the county in the face of declining population.
"I try to help out other representatives, too. So say Tricia [Farley-Bouvier] had $25,000 for the [Berkshire] Carousel, some money for a drug house in Pittsfield, Berkshire Youth Development Commissions, all of those things that Boston doesn't know about but we know these projects work here," Cariddi said.
However, all of those programs aren't safe. Revenue figures continue to lag and Cariddi is concerned about mid-year cuts to the budget, which typically are aimed at those exact programs.
This session she was also happy with funding for higher education when it comes to internships and dual enrollment.
"We were able to again fund the dual enrollment program which helps people here because we have the state college right here. That incentives high school students who are on their way to completing their high school diploma to take college courses at the college," Cariddi said. "I also think that there is another program called the internship incentive program. It is a state dollar for dollar match for businesses that offer internships to the students."
She added more money was allocated to early education as well. On the other side of demographics, she said the state was able to increase the formula for spending at council on aging to provide more money per individual in the program.
Cariddi is running unopposed this election and is now planning her work for the next session. She has a couple bills specifically eyed for hospitals and she also hopes to encourage more services to be brought to North County. One bill would require community hospital boards to meet with the public annually to discuss the state of the hospital and another adds an educational component for fiduciary responsibility that hospital board members would have to take.
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