Hinds' early work unveils platform of social, economic issues

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PITTSFIELD — The four tightly-packed pages of priorities span 10 categories ranging from the economy to veterans services.

State Sen. Adam Hinds, D-Pittsfield, has distilled months of feedback from constituents into a guide to organizing his priorities as a freshman senator.

"As we're deciding where to put our time and energy and how to prioritize ... it was important to me that we had a framework for action," said Hinds, senator for the Berkshire, Hampshire, Franklin and Hampden senate district.

Hinds took office in January after winning the seat held for 10 years by former state Sen. Benjamin B. Downing, who declined to seek re-election in November.

The agenda makes it easier to identify actions to take and bills to file or support, he said.

And prioritizing is key. Hinds has received more than 800 calls, letters and emails from constituents identifying bills that they support or oppose, according to a press release from Hinds' office.

Western Massachusetts has specific challenges to handle during this 2017-18 legislative session, including population decline, a lack of infrastructure in the areas of transportation and broadband, and a need for economic growth, Hinds said.

"I view it as my job, making sure that [everyone] is abundantly clear that we are confronting a unique set of challenges in the western part of the commonwealth," he said. "It is in everybody's interest to rectify those."

Since taking office, Hinds has filed eight bills. Of the eight, Hinds drafted four, and four were sponsored by Downing in previous legislative sessions. The deadline for legislators to submit "timely" bills for consideration was Jan. 20.

Hinds also co-sponsored 77 proposals filed by legislators in both the Senate and the House of Representatives, according to the release. These largely relate to two of his major priorities: supporting working families and addressing income inequality, he said.

The state Legislature is poised to tackle school funding, the state opioid epidemic and potentially criminal justice reform this session, he said.

One of the bills Hinds drafted relates to criminal justice in particular. The bill would mandate that offenses that have been pardoned be expunged from Criminal Offender Record Information (CORI) reports, which consist of an individual's records relating to criminal charges, arrests, judicial proceedings and other such elements of the legal system.

The other bills concern school bus safety, income-eligible child care and LGBTQ representation in the Massachusetts Commission Against Discrimination.

Hinds filed "An Act relative to income eligible child care," to help eliminate the "benefits cliff" for working families, he said. Current state Early Education and Care regulations allow households to receive a child care subsidy if they make at or below 50 percent of the state median income, and maintain that voucher until they make over 85 percent of the state median income at reassessment. The bill would increase the upper limit to 90 percent of state median income to help upwardly mobile working families who depend on financial assistance for safe and quality child care.

Hinds' bill regarding school bus safety was filed in response to an incident in Hampshire County last year in which a child was killed after getting caught in a school bus door and dragged.

Hinds' bill would require school buses to be equipped with a device to ensure riders have fully cleared the passenger side door before it shuts.

He also refiled Downing's prior bill regarding volunteer ambulance service. The law requires two EMTs to respond to calls, which can delay response times in small towns with volunteer ambulance services, Hinds said. The bill would adjust this requirement to allow volunteer ambulance service providers performing basic life support to staff an ambulance with one EMT and one EMS first responder.

Hinds also refiled bills that direct the state to study the availability of vocational education, allow licensed farmer-distillers to sell their products at farmers markets in the state, and require insurance adjusters working for any insurer in the state to be licensed.

In addition to all the correspondence his office has handled from constituents thus far, Hinds will continue his "Speak Up Western Mass" public forums across the district. He plans to host at least 10 public forums in rotating locations each year.

The next forum will be from 2 to 4 p.m. Feb. 27 at the Lanesborough Public Library.

Inclusive political conversations like these public forums are important in light of the current nationwide political climate, Hinds said.

"The political process is increasingly contentious and divisive," he said. "A genuine public discourse is one that happens face-to-face with people who may not agree with you all the time."

Reach staff writer Patricia LeBoeuf at 413-496-6247 or @BE_pleboeuf.


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