Dot lawmakers busy with their legislative initiatives

The new year brings with it a new legislative session at the State House, and already legislators who represent the neighborhood have filed bills in a fashion that is impressively diverse in quantity (State Rep. Martin Walsh filed over 100 bills, state Rep, Willie Mae Allen filed one) and topic. From toughening gun laws to protecting child witnesses, much of the proposed legislation could have an immediate impact on the neighborhood.

State Sen. Jack Hart filed about 75 bills, including several that would extend access to college scholarships to the children, siblings, and widowed spouses of servicemen and women killed in action. The legislation is being re-filed, and dates back to bills created in the honor of Army Sgt. Daniel J. Londono, the first Dorchester native killed in the ongoing Iraq War.

Another Hart bill would create new law enforcement tools to be used against perpetrators of gang violence, but the language of that bill is cloudy. Rosemary Powers, chief of Policy for Hart, said the specifics would be hammered out before it reaches committee.

Hart is also sponsoring legislation to make the South Vietnamese "Freedom" Flag the official flag of Massachusetts' Vietnamese community. The Boston City Council passed a similar ordinance in 2003, prompting a minor controversy and protests from the Vietnamese government. Broadening the ordinance to statewide recognition would be a triumph for the bill's primary promoter, the staunchly conservative Vietnamese Community of Massachusetts.

State Rep. Martin Walsh has filed over 100 bills, including two that would add safety training requirements to currently unregulated industries: Sheet metal workers and hard wood floor finishers. The sheet metal bill, which Walsh is now dubbing, "the Jim Kelly Bill," in honor of deceased City Councillor James Kelly, would create revenue and increase worker safety by requiring workers to apply for licenses.

"Right now it's not a licensed trade," said Walsh.

The bill relative to the floor finishing business, a major occupation among the Vietnamese voters that make up an increasing portion of Walsh' constituency, would work similarly.

Walsh is also the local sponsor of a national bill that would eliminate the electoral college. The bill, pending in 44 other states, would need to pass in all 50 states to shift the outcome of presidential elections to a count of the popular vote rather than a tally of electoral votes.

State Rep. Marie St. Fleur is sponsoring a bill to prevent the trafficking of illegal guns. The bill, filed in the Senate, would limit the number of weapons that can be purchased at one time, exclude felons from working at gun shops and require CORI checks on gun shop employees. Massachusetts gun laws are already stringent in relation to regulations in neighboring states, but the bill would also create stricter penalties for anyone who knowingly sells a gun to someone unlicensed for gun ownership.

St. Fleur also filed at least two education-related initiatives: an act that would increase the age of mandatory school attendance from 16 to 18 and a second urging the department of education to develop a new strategy to prevent students from dropping out of school.

In response to mounting concerns that mortgage lenders are targeting low income and minority homeowners in Boston, St. Fleur is filing a bill that would require lenders to make capital reinvestments in communities where their customers live..

State Rep. Linda Dorcena Forry filed four bills, the first pieces of legislation she has filed since winning a special election to replace then-House Speaker Tom Finneran in the spring of 2005. Among the legislation are bills to bring nutritious foods and physical activity in the school system and a bill that would restrict the sale of violent or offensive video games to minors.

"I'm sure we're going to get some response from the video game industry," said Forry.

Freshman state Rep. Willie Mae Allen eased into her new roll by filing one piece of legislation, a bill that would establish the third week of April as Youth Awareness Week. Programs associated with the honorary week would bring teens to the State House to learn more about the legislative process. Allen, 69, has told the Reporter in several interviews that engaging the youth of her district and grooming young leaders with an interest in the political process would be a priority of her tenure.

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