NORTH ADAMS — Possibilities of violent uprisings in Massachusetts are not top of mind for most Berkshire County members of Massachusetts Legislature.
After supporters of President Donald Trump invaded the Capitol last week, the FBI warned “armed protests” were possible at all 50 state capitols. Gov. Charlie Baker said Tuesday, however, there were “no known threats” in Massachusetts.
The Statehouse, which has been closed to the public since March, is protected by a combination of state police, building security and rangers from the Department of Conservation and Recreation.
Berkshire lawmakers have largely avoided trips to the Statehouse since the coronavirus pandemic hit and lawmakers made sessions largely virtual. But they said the rise of violent extremists nationally will not dissuade them from going to Boston in the long run.
“There’s no question in my mind that COVID is a bigger threat as far as security at the Statehouse,” said Rep. Tricia Farley-Bouvier, D-Pittsfield, adding she’s confident Statehouse security is “appropriately prepared” to handle any potential threat.
“I’ve been there for controversial votes, in the aftermath of the Boston Marathon bombing, during sit-ins, protests and lockdowns,” Rep. Paul Mark, D-Peru, said in an email. “We swear an oath to defend and uphold the constitutions of Massachusetts and the United States, and threats to interfere with the democratic process are certainly not going to stop us from doing our jobs.”
Sen. Adam Hinds, D-Pittsfield, said he’s not personally concerned but feels for security staff who might be put in situations where they may be vulnerable.
He expects an “ongoing conversation” about how to ensure the building is protected while also seeking to keep it accessible.
“I love the spontaneous conversations when people just walk into my Statehouse office to lobby on a bill,” Hinds said. “And to see that go away due to the activities of a small group of people would be a shame as well.”
While Massachusetts, compared to other states, may have a smaller presence of violent far-right extremists, it is “not immune” to unwelcome encounters, Hinds said. Some of his fellow legislators “have had protesters wait for them outside of their home, harass them in public parks and engage in activity that has been frightening to them,” although Hinds has not experienced such incidents.
New sessionLawmakers said they’re currently focusing their attention on working to file bills for the new session ahead of a deadline that has been extended to the third Friday of February.
Part of that work includes strategizing responses to recent vetoes made by Gov. Charlie Baker on bills passed late in the previous session.
Baker, a Republican, on Thursday vetoed a climate bill that would have set a net-zero carbon emissions target for 2050. While he signed an economic development bill, he rejected some individual items, including a tax credit Hinds said would have freed up $100 million for rural business growth.
Baker also turned back an affordable housing requirement Hinds proposed for projects that receive a housing tax credit.
No Berkshire lawmakers indicated as of Friday that they would decline a pay raise available to them. The state constitution ties lawmakers’ pay adjustments, which are made every two years, to trends in statewide median household income.
Base pay for the 199 House and Senate members increased $4,280 this year to $70,536, a 6.46 percent increase. Lawmakers who chair or vice chair committees, or otherwise hold leadership positions, also get stipends, which increased under a 2017 law. That law also gave lawmakers travel allowance of $15,000 or $20,000, with the greater figure available to lawmakers who live further from Boston.
Two state lawmakers, in addition to our of the six statewide elected officials, declined raises as of Monday. Some also pledged to donate the increase to charity after accepting the raise, citing the pandemic’s economic toll.