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Three Western Mass. Legislators Tapped To Head New Committees On Beacon Hill

Three state lawmakers from western Massachusetts have been chosen to lead new committees in the new session on Beacon Hill.

Pittsfield Democrat Adam Hinds has been appointed the lead the state Senate's Special Committee on Reimagining Massachusetts: Post Pandemic Resiliency, which will focus on what the state could and should look like after the pandemic.

Hinds said one topic that's been coming up is changes to downtown commercial real estate.

"Do we have more housing in the place where commercial real estate might have been? The acceleration in the trend toward online shopping has pretty significant impacts on our main streets," Hinds said Monday. "Making sure we're doing all we can and need to do to protect our local small businesses is another theme that comes up regularly."

Hinds said he and other committee members plan to travel the state — in-person or virtually — to understand the regional differences in the impact of COVID-19.

Sen. Jo Comerford of Northampton is the Senate leader of the new Joint Committee on COVID-19 and Emergency Preparedness and Management.

Comerford said the committee will be looking deeply at what the state's COVID response was and is projected to be.

"It's our moral and ethical responsibility to meet this crisis by preparing for the next one — to make sure we learned the very painful lessons that we learned during COVID and we implement the policies not to make the same mistakes twice," Comerford said.

Some lawmakers have called for Governor Charlie Baker to roll back his offer to give shots to people who drive the elderly to vaccination sites. But Comerford said she sees pros and cons to the companion program.

"So I'm glad for the elders who will be able to get the vaccine because they have a companion who will take them, who might not otherwise have felt compelled," she said, "but I'm sorry that we continue what is a sort of a kneejerk, less planful, less thoughtful, less equitable response that we need and deserve in the commonwealth."

Among the unintended consequences, Comerford said, was that the program will use up some of the state's limited doses of the vaccine, further delaying shots for essential workers.

Hinds said the rollout of companion vaccination program was less than ideal.

"It opened the door for abuse and allowing people to skip the line," he said. "We need to do all we can to make sure those 75 and above are getting access to the vaccinations. [The program] is another example of how we've seen the policies shift from day to day and week to week. We need to do better."

Meanwhile, Rep. Bud Williams of Springfield will chair the new Committee on Racial Equity, Civil Rights and Inclusion for the House. Sen. Sonia Chang-Diaz of Jamaica Plain will be Williams' Senate counterpart.

Their committee will oversee a review of existing laws and proposals, a study of the impacts of existing laws, and whatever legislation the committee advances "so that the legislature can craft policy to begin to dismantle systemic racism and promote equitable opportunities and outcomes for all residents," the speaker and Senate president said when they announced the new committee.

This report contains information from State House News Service.

Before joining New England Public Media, Alden was a producer for the CBS NEWS program 60 Minutes. In that role, he covered topics ranging from art, music and medicine to business, education and politics.
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