State Rep. Tricia Farley-Bouvier hugs supporters at Framework on Thursday night.
PITTSFIELD, Mass. — About a decade ago, the city of Pittsfield became well aware of the impact that teenage pregnancy has on a community.
The city had reached a high in the number of births among teenage women and it brought on an array of challenges, from poverty to social issues to that child having trouble learning in school.
"We know in Pittsfield that we have had a very high rate of teenage pregnancies and we know what impact that has on the young person, on that child growing up, on the neighborhood, on the school system, and on the whole community," said state Rep. Tricia Farley-Bouvier, who at that time was sitting on the City Council.
"We know the younger a young woman is when they get pregnant, the more chance there is that they live in poverty for the rest of their life."
Now serving in the state Legislature, she remembered those days while working on what is known as the "ACCESS Bill." The bill is considered a way to prevent Massachusetts from the impacts of any rollbacks on health care coverage for contraceptives made on the federal level. It mandates that insurance covers contraceptive options without a co-pay.
"If a young person can get 12 months of contraception then they stick with it more. And then it is more effective in reducing unexpected pregnancies," Farley-Bouvier said.
The law grew out of the Progressive Caucus, which Farley-Bouvier is a member of, and passed easily in both the House, the Senate, and signed by Gov. Charlie Baker.
But Farley-Bouvier says if it weren't for the women holding elected seats, it wouldn't have happened despite nearly all of the men on Beacon Hill agreeing with it.
"It wouldn't have been a priority. It wouldn't have been a priority because for women, it tends to be more of a priority and it impacts our lives more," she said.
And that is what representative government is all about, she said. The government should reflect the population and represent them in Boston, she said.
In this case, Farley-Bouvier was the only woman legislator in the four Western Massachusetts counties able to have a say in the bill. She said the makeup of the state Legislature is far from reflecting the people.
"This month I am celebrating six years in the Legislature. When I took office, with Deval Patrick there, six years ago I was one of six woman legislators from Western Massachusetts. Today I am one of one. There is one woman legislator from the four Western Massachusetts counties," she said.
This month marks six years from when she won the special election, taking the seat from Christopher Speranzo who left for a lifetime appointment in Berkshire Superior Court. She ran unopposed in the following two elections and won a contested race in 2016.
And she has no plans to leave. She wants to continue to represent the city in Boston.
"I decided to stay in this position as state rep. because I want to every day be thinking about Pittsfield," Farley-Bouvier said.
At a gathering at the newly opened Framework on Thursday, Farley-Bouvier praised the "team" that is working on behalf of Pittsfield and said she is driven to continue to represent the residents of the city.
"Yes this job can be a little tiring. Sometimes it can be a little frustrating, sometimes it can be a little disheartening. But your being here is literally feeding me. Your supporting me, knowing that we all have this team and we are doing it together, means a great deal to me," Farley-Bouvier told the crowd numbering around 75.
Farley-Bouvier currently sits on Ways and Means and Labor and Workforce Development committees. The Democrat said she has a lot of work on her plate to help better the city.
"We are working on things such as the Berkshire Innovation Center. We are going to see if we can fund that gap soon. We are working like hell on this parking garage. That one is hard but we are going to keep at it. We are working hard to close the skills gap when it comes to our workforce because that is what we hear from employers," Farley-Bouvier said.
When it comes to workforce development, Farley-Bouvier said the county's skills gap is vitally important to address, but it has actually dropped in priority among businesses. Taking its place is the opioid epidemic.
"The number one issue for employers is the opioid crisis. We've been hearing that for years around social services, around poverty, around criminal justice. Now it is the No. 1 issue for employers. We've been working hard to bring as many tools to the table around the opioid crisis," Farley-Bouvier.
"First and foremost, an addiction is a disease and it needs to be treated as a public health crisis."
Another piece of legislation working its way through the process is criminal justice reform, which she says will help tackle that issue by repealing minimum sentences.
The reform further limits the use of solitary confinement, which she feels is inhumane, and will allow juvenile offenses to be expunged from records under certain circumstances -- ensuring that a stupid mistake someone makes when they are young doesn't haunt them forever.
State Sen. Adam Hinds says the representative has helped him learn the ropes after taking office at the start of this year.
"When a young person makes a mistake, it shouldn't follow them for the rest of their lives ... Sometimes they are knuckleheads. Sometimes they just made a mistake. It doesn't make them a hardened criminal but sometimes the criminal justice system does," Farley-Bouvier said.
But successes on Beacon Hill don't come from solitary efforts, it comes from teamwork. State Sen. Adam Hinds is considered part of that team working on behalf of Pittsfield. He sees Farley-Bouvier as not only a strong representative for the city, but a mentor to helping the newly elected senator learn the ropes. He said the two are in contact every day to work on various issues.
"I've been on this job for 11 months. It is a steep learning curve. You are going from zero to 100 and doing that with somebody who is able to take you under her wing and say 'we're going to run over here, we're going to yell now, don't yell now, yell again.' That's a bit what it is like working with Tricia because there is no one who is fighting harder on Beacon Hill than Tricia Farley-Bouvier," Hinds said.
Hinds wasn't the only elected official to attend the event. State Rep. John Barrett, D-North Adams; City Councilors Peter Marchetti, Peter While, Earl Persip, and Nicholas Caccamo; and School Committee members Kathleen Yon, William Cameron, Cynthia Taylor, and Dennis Powell were all present. Former representatives Sherwood Guernsey and Thomas Wojtkowski also were on hand.
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