'Moby-Dick': A state classic?

Wednesday, February 07
BOSTON — Herman Melville's classic "Moby-Dick" may soon be required reading for anyone who wants to call themselves a true Bay Stater.

And while you're reading that whale tale, perhaps you can snack on a roll of Necco Assorted Wafers, made right in Revere.

Both could soon become official emblems of the state of Massachusetts along with squash, the necktie and Guthrie's Battleground syrup, made by folk singer Arlo Guthrie at his Washington home in the Berkshires.

Of the 6,262 new bills filed this year by state legislators tackling serious issues from gambling to sex offenders, at least a dozen are, shall we say, of the lighter fare variety.

And who could argue against the squash as the official state vegetable? Though these might seem like a silly waste of time for elected politicians working on the taxpayers' dime, some legislators say they are just doing it for the children.

In fact, many of the bills were filed simply to give local school children a chance to watch the legislative process in action.

State Rep. Christopher Speranzo, D-Pittsfield, filed the bill to make "Moby-Dick" the official book of the commonwealth after visiting a fifth-grade civics class at the Egremont Elementary School in Pittsfield.

Melville wrote the American literary classic at his Arrowhead home in Pittsfield. The bill is co-sponsored by all 86 fifth-grade students and teachers at the school.

"I'm hopeful to have them come down for the hearing and let them follow the committee process. I can think of no better way to explain the legislative process and teach them about civics than this," Speranzo said.

Similar bills filed as part of a class project include one from state Rep. Barbara L'Italien, D-Andover, to make the necktie the state's official men's accessory.

State Sen. Marc Pacheco, D-Taunton, is working with the Taunton Catholic Middle School to make the Cape Cod quahog Massachusetts' official shellfish.

"I don't think enough government is being taught in our public schools. These aren't just frivolous bills, and I don't think they bog the process down at all," said state Rep. William "Smitty" Pignatelli, D-Lenox.

Pignatelli filed a bill to make Guthrie's Battleground syrup, tapped by Guthrie himself, the state's official maple syrup.

Guthrie has been an ardent supporter of Pignatelli in the past, and the Guthrie Center has done a lot to promote culture and the arts within his district, Pignatelli said.

"I will guarantee you this will be the sweetest bill to ever pass in the Statehouse," he said.

David Guarino, spokesman for House Speaker Salvatore DiMasi, said all bills are treated equally and will be forwarded to committees for full hearings over the course of the next session.

As one of his last acts of office, former Gov. Mitt Romney signed a slew of last-minute bills including one naming the garter snake the state's official snake.

Other curious legislation that could find its way into law this year include bills prohibiting the use of chain-link basketball nets, swearing by police officers and the possession or sale of spray paint to a minor.

One legislator wants godparents to have their own holiday, right alongside mothers and fathers. And another seeks to create a commission to study the heritage of the cranberry.

These bills won't solve poverty or fix health care. But this is still government at work.


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