|Senator Paul Mark Talks Legislative Priorities with NAACP|
|By Brittany Polito, iBerkshires Staff|
04:50PM / Monday, February 06, 2023
PITTSFIELD, Mass. — State Sen. Paul Mark joined the Berkshire NAACP's first meeting of the year last week to talk about his legislative priorities for this term.
He detailed the importance of advocacy for Western Mass, justice in the criminal legal system, and civic education among other regional and statewide issues.
"You can be the greatest speaker and you can have the best education but if you aren't able to go to the State House, get together with your colleagues, get to know them, convince them why your area matters and make sure that you heard the messages from the people you represent and that you're sharing that with your colleagues. The great speeches don't make a difference," he said.
"You have to be part of the process and you have to be really involved and as a rep that's what I tried to do. I tried to always be present and accessible in my district."
A former six-term representative of the 2nd Berkshire District, Mark defeated conservative opponent Brendan Phair in the 2022 general election.
He now represents 57 cities and towns in Berkshire, Hampshire, and Franklin counties. Due to redistricting, the county lost one seat in the House of Representatives and a voice on Beacon Hill.
"We expected that the Census was going to show a 4 percent decline in population and we beat those expectations. We were able to make sure that we got everyone that we think was eligible to be counted in our county to report, to take part in the census, and we only had declined closer to 2 percent," Mark explained.
"But while we beat our expectations, the bad news for us was the state of Massachusetts grew at a rate of about 5 percent and the city of Boston and the surrounding area grew closer to 11 percent and so when they take the total population of the state, they divide that population by 40 on the Senate side and 160 on the House side and they come up with the population numbers for all the representative and senate districts."
At first, there was a proposal to eliminate the Berkshire's Senate district completely, combining the Northern Berkshires with Northampton and Amherst and the Southern Berkshires with Westfield and Agawam.
This was not a happy proposal for county leaders and when Mark made his run for Senate, he made that clear.
"Whether you're in Pittsfield or any of the other 56 cities and towns in this district, you're going to have a chance to make your voice heard with me," Mark said.
"I'm always going to be available and I'm always going to be putting all of my best efforts into making sure that I hear what's going on and then I take what I know, what I've learned, and the tools I have, and I bring them down to Boston to make sure that we get our voice heard and we get all the resources and opportunity that we deserve in this county."
He will have a fixed office at 773 Tyler St. and roving office hours throughout the county.
NAACP members queried Mark about his stance on An Act Relative to Inmate Phone Calls, which would provide no-cost calls to incarcerated people, and An Act Establishing a Jail and Prison Construction Moratorium, which prohibits the building of new prisons or jails for five years.
Mark explained that he voted for the no-cost calls and thinks that the moratorium makes a lot of sense.
"There's plenty of prison space out there," he said, adding that the state would not want to create an incentive by building a new facility and feeling like it has to be filled.
It was pointed out the former Berkshire district attorney took part in a research project with Duke University that collected data to analyze criminal care outcomes and racial bias and found significant racial disparities.
When asked how he will work to look at race equity in criminal justice reform, Mark said the Legislature has done a lot of work but has much more to do.
He attended the NAACP's rally against police brutality in Park Square on Sunday that responded to the fatal beating of Tyre Nichols by police in Memphis, Tenn.
"We saw what's been going on the last week, that conversation never ends, that conversation can never end and we always need to be continually proactive and continually thinking about, what's the next step, what's the next barrier we break through," he explained.
"How do we make sure that every person in this state when they encounter any kind of interaction with the court system or law enforcement, that they're treated the same, that they're treated on a level playing field, and that they have that same access to actual justice."
Mark is a visiting professor at Massachusetts College of Liberal Arts, teaching criminal law and civil rights. From that experience, he is impressed with the students' take on activism.
"What I'm really hopeful about is the way that the younger generation sees civil rights, both in terms of equity and in terms of 'how should I be treated by the government,' for lack of a better word, is leap years ahead of where we think it is," he explained.
"And the potential of that, I think, is going to lead to a lot of change in the coming years. I think it's not lip service, and it can't be lip service because people aren't going to put up with it anymore."
He is joining the Criminal Justice Reform Caucus to make sure he is involved in that conversation and that the voices of the Berkshires are heard.
Mark also supports efforts to raise the age of juvenile jurisdiction, clarifying that this is not about being "soft on crime" but giving younger offenders proper rehabilitation.
There have been three standouts in Park Square this month for nationwide issues: for the Jan. 6, 2021, insurrection, reproductive rights, and police brutality.
The defense of democracy has come up with each of these issues, with speakers urging others to use their voices and vote to stand against injustice.
Mark found it important to be a part of the effort that ensures civic education in the schools to make sure that students know what each level of government is and their role as citizens.
As that curriculum has been implemented, he teaches a class once a year at MCLA that trains teachers and future teachers on civics education.
"Sometimes the local level, especially the city or town level, can have the most direct impact in your actual lives," he explained.
"And so we think about the president and the president this and the president that, but the select board or city council or the mayor can really be someone that you interact with, and again, has a direct impact on the day-to-day things that happened in your life."
Housing also came up in conversation, specifically in regard to An Act Promoting Housing Opportunity and Mobility through Eviction Sealing (HOMES) and rental housing price caps.
"The short and sweet is that evictions fall disproportionately heavy on people of color in the commonwealth, like wildly heavy on people of color," member Kamaar Taliaferro said.
"And it creates an additional hurdle and burden to trying to secure housing so once you have that on your record, it becomes really really easy for landlords to say, 'sorry, no thank you.'"
Mark believes this is a good idea and pointed out that there is an effort in the Legislature to require legal counsel for a person going into foreclosure or Housing Court.
He also recognizes that areas seeing 10 percent to 20 percent rent increases over one year are not sustainable and will not allow the population to keep affording to live there.
"I think like with electricity and gas prices there is a lot of passion right now about these things," he added.