Massachusetts Daily Collegian

A free and responsible press serving the UMass community since 1890

A free and responsible press serving the UMass community since 1890

Massachusetts Daily Collegian

A free and responsible press serving the UMass community since 1890

Massachusetts Daily Collegian

Northampton High students host town hall for legislators

State legislators hope to create more transparency with constituents
Photo from event FB page

On Feb. 15, State Rep. Lindsay Sabadosa and State Sen. Jo Comerford appeared at Northampton High School to discuss how the residents of the first Hampshire district can be better represented at Beacon Hill.

The event was hosted by the Northampton High School Democrats and other student-run organizations. Over 200 constituents were in attendance.

Cherilyn Strader, a senior at Northampton High School and co-chair of the NHSD, introduced the two legislators.

“As soon as our legislators were elected, student groups began working to ensure that our community would have an opportunity to get to know our legislators and what work they hope to accomplish this session,” Strader said.

She praised both Sabadosa and Comerford for being the first women to hold their respective seats in office and urged them to discuss their goals and the importance of state-level government.

“We live in a country where it feels, sometimes, we don’t pay enough attention to state-level government. One of my goals is to change that,” Sabadosa responded.

In order to do so, she explained, it will have to be more understandable and transparent. “In fact, [Massachusetts has] a D+ rating for transparency,” according to the 2015 State Integrity Investigation.

She hopes to improve transparency by sharing how the government functions, discussing her proposed bills and “starting a serious conversation about revenue.”

Northampton Mayor David Narkewicz was in the audience, in addition to other local legislators, staffers and members of the greater district. Strader said, “I was personally surprised by how many faces I didn’t recognize.”

Following the introductions, the floor was opened for questions from students.

Noah Friedman-Cass, a sophomore at NHS and a representative for the NHS Student Union, said, “As students, we have experienced firsthand the effects of underpaid teachers in overcrowded schools. How will you fight to make sure NHS and other public schools receive the funding we need and deserve?”

Both legislators agreed that the best way to solve the issue is through tax reform. Comerford cited the millionaire’s tax, luxury real estate transfer tax and the capital gains tax as in need of reform.

Sabadosa emphasized the importance of healthcare for all in respect to this issue. “One of the greatest rising costs for your schools is healthcare,” Sabadosa said.

According to Sabadosa, it frustrates her that when she asks the state to direct more money toward the schools, the schools then give it right back to private insurance companies. “This is corporate welfare that should not be happening,” she said.

In response to a question from Riley Lerman, a junior at NHS, on how to make schools more inclusive for LGBTQIA+ students, Comerford stated the importance of funding programs that teach inclusivity in addition to passing and funding legislation on gender-neutral bathrooms.

Sabadosa added that in addition to legislation, we need our officials to represent the diversity of the state, including selecting and hiring people who are LGBTQIA+.

She said, “we need to make sure that we are not just passing legislation to potentially be inclusive, we need to actually be inclusive.”

The floor was also opened to questions from the general audience.

Strader stressed the importance of intergenerationality as one of her goals for the event.  As she told the Collegian, “we were able to show that the issues [students] are fighting for align hand-in-hand [with] the issues the broader community cares about.”

In response to a question from Jonathan Dowby, a Northampton resident, on the legislators’ obligation to the local community colleges, Comerford said that public higher education institutions are especially important at this moment when higher education is becoming so unaffordable.

“We know that many students who are currently low-income choose community college as the runway in,” she said. “I want to increase that runway by making it better funded.”

Josiah Bouricius of the Massachusetts Forest Rescue asked how the legislators “plan on shifting toward true green energy?”

Sabadosa referenced the carbon tax bill in her response, which would make fossil fuels more expensive and create an incentive to move toward greener energy.

Bouricius told the Collegian that he has been in contact with both of the legislators in regards to preservation and green energy bills, but this is the first time he has met them in person.

“It’s so great when we can see the people behind the emails,” Comerford mentioned before her response.

Bouricius told the Collegian, “it definitely helps the transparency.”

Strader also believed that the event strengthened the transparency between the legislators and their constituents, but it doesn’t stop here. Strader said, “our legislators have taken oaths to publish all their votes, have open office hours and have scheduled numerous listening sessions at Town Hall.”

Will Sennott can be reached at [email protected].

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