Legislators get new committee assignments; Comerford to co-chair joint panel on pandemic response

  • The Massachusetts State House in Boston

Staff Writer
Published: 2/15/2021 7:02:35 PM

NORTHAMPTON — The state Legislature is creating a new joint committee expected to oversee the state’s pandemic response, and one of its leaders is from Hampshire County.

Sen. Jo Comerford, D-Northampton, will be the Senate chair of the new committee, the Joint Committee on COVID-19 and Emergency Preparedness and Management, Senate President Karen Spilka announced Friday as part of her assignments for the legislative session.

“I can imagine the charge of the committee is twofold,” Comerford said Monday. “The first charge is what are we doing now that works and doesn’t work and what must the state do better? The other is what must we do immediately to ensure that we are ready, and much more ready that we were previously, the next time a disaster of this kind strikes? And there will be a next time.”

The oversight committee will be like “a watchdog with a forward-moving purpose,” Comerford said.

“My initial take of the authorizing language, again which isn’t formalized yet, my initial take is it’s going to give us very broad powers of oversight and that means we can ask a lot of very hard questions. We can convene hearings and ask for testimony. We can write reports, we can write recommendations.” She added, “I think it would be safe to imagine that the committee will take up the vaccine rollout.”

Last week, Hampshire County legislators were named members or leaders of committees focused on issues including the environment, higher education and health care.

Rep. Dan Carey, D-Easthampton, was named vice chair of the new Committee on Advanced Information Technology, Internet and Cybersecurity.

“Government works best when it proactively addresses the issues of our time, and this new joint committee is crucial as we address both the benefits and burdens of fast changing technology,” Carey wrote in a statement.

Carey is also on the Committee on Mental Health, Substance Use and Recovery, where he plans to focus on the opioid crisis, the Committee on Election Laws and Committee on Environment, Natural Resources and Agriculture.

Rep. Mindy Domb, D-Amherst, is vice chair of the Committee on Environment, Natural Resources and Agriculture, and a member of the Committee on Higher Education, Committee on Revenue, and Committee on COVID-19 and Emergency Preparedness and Management Committee.

“I think that we have a responsibility, actually, to indicate how prepared and how not prepared the state was for COVID-19,” Domb said of the COVID-19 committee, “and what are the lessons that we’ve learned for future public health efforts and future emergency preparedness efforts.”

She added that the Committee on Environment, Natural Resources and Agriculture is one of the busiest committees. “I’m very honored and I’m humbled by the fact I was nominated to be a vice chair in my second term.”

Rep. Natalie Blais, D-Sunderland, is vice chair of the Committee on Children and Families, as well as a member of the Committee on Transportation, Committee on Ways and Means, and Committee on Tourism, Arts, and Cultural Development.

Rep. Lindsay Sabadosa, D-Northampton, is part of the Committee on Health Care Financing, Committee on Transportation, Committee on Cannabis Policy, and Committee on Bonding and Capital expenditure and State Assets. “I very much look forward to the start of hearings after bill filing and to learning everything that I can on my new committees (health care financing and bonding) while continuing the good work of last session on transportation and cannabis,” Sabadosa wrote to constituents in a recent email newsletter.

Comerford is also serving on a number of other committees, including the newly created Committee on Racial Equity, Civil Rights and Inclusion, and she is chair of the Committee on Public Health.

“It’s been very, very clear during this pandemic,” she said, “this is the year to completely transform our public health system.”

Greta Jochem can be reached at gjochem@gazettenet.com.

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