In light of the devastation the pandemic caused in 2020, the region’s legislators are gearing up for a productive 2021.
But where the work begins depends on who’s answering the question.
For state Sen. Joan Lovely, D-Salem, the top priorities are found in public schools, on the roads and rail systems, and in courtrooms confronting sex crimes against children, to name a few.
Lovely said, “2020 has been very hard on everybody. We’re hearing from the restaurant community, tourism community. People are hanging on just by their fingers. We’re trying to make grant dollars available, but some aren’t going to survive this.
“I believe by summertime we’re going to be vaccinated, and we’ll have a lot of this behind us,” she said. “The sleeves are rolled up, so let’s continue to work.”
State Rep. Thomas Walsh, D-Peabody, added mental health to the list of issues to tackle.
“That really has come to the forefront because of so many people being out of work, or being quarantined,” he said. “Even our school-aged children have been dealing with a lot of anxiety, and we need to continue focusing on making sure they get the services they need.”
Both Lovely and Walsh identified issues related to sex crimes when discussing their priorities for the year. Lovely spoke about ending the statute of limitations on such crimes, noting that the average report of a crime comes when a victim is 48 years old — a lifetime of trauma still being experienced long after the crime had been committed.
“Ninety percent of issues go unreported,” Lovely said. “People don’t want to talk about the sexual abuse of children. When I have these conversations with people, they just shut down and say, ‘it doesn’t happen in my world.’ But it does.”
Walsh added that he wants to give those in the hotel industry training on spotting signs of human trafficking.
“There are roughly four or five states in the country that currently have training for staff members,” Walsh said.
Several local legislators also spoke about transportation, especially as it relates to rail. As it stands, the needs legislators must address remain unknown given how the pandemic has impacted the system.
“Before the pandemic, the trains were very busy and crowded,” said state Rep. Jerry Parisella, D-Beverly. “As people do start to get back to work, we have to make sure we have a reliable transportation system. I know there’s going to be cutbacks at the T and in Beverly, with five commuter rail stops. ... We want to make sure the T can ramp up to meet demand.”
The housing crisis is another issue several local legislators are still working to address.
“We don’t have affordable housing — and when I say ‘affordable,’ that’s workforce housing,” Lovely said. “I have two kids that live with me as they’re launching themselves. They both have high degrees and good jobs, and we support each other, but we see a lot of families going back to family living, multiple generations living together because they can’t afford to live apart.”
A lot of that hinges on getting to the “new normal” officials have referenced throughout the year. For state Rep. Paul Tucker, D-Salem, that also means higher education.
“We need to do a really deep investment in the trades and in higher ed,” Tucker said. “All of these are inter-related. If you make investments in trades, you put people to work. If you put investments into higher ed and community colleges, those folks that have the opportunities to go to higher education then change their opportunities to get into the workforce at a higher level as well.”
Getting the North Shore through that will take work from all corners of Beacon Hill, Tucker said. But he added that he believes the table is set up for a strong rebound to follow a rough 2020.
“Everybody’s ready to pull together,” he said, “and really begin with a strong 2021.”