Massachusetts House Speaker Robert A. DeLeo says that, in the wake of the Newtown, Conn., school massacre, he wants to bring together the members of the state House with outside experts to study the “dangerous intersection of guns and mental illness in schools and throughout society.”
“As we mourn the lives that fell there, we grapple with solutions. While much of this hopefully will take place on the federal level, I believe that we must do whatever we can on the state level as well,” the Winthrop Democrat said, noting that he had asked Northeastern University criminology expert Jack McDevitt to help lead the effort.
DeLeo’s comments came this afternoon in an address during an inaugural session of the House, which is beginning a new session today. Lawmakers gathered under the long shadow of the Probation Department scandal, which has raised questions about whether some lawmakers may have benefited from the agency’s allegedly rigged hiring system.
Amid the pomp and circumstance typically associated with the inaugural session, Governor Deval Patrick swore the members in, saying, “I look forward to working with each and every one of you to do the people’s business.”
DeLeo did not detail any specific proposals to address gun violence in his address. The slaughter of innocents at the Sandy Hook Elementary School last month shocked the nation.
DeLeo spoke in more detail about the state’s transportation financing problems, saying that the state faces a financing gap of billions of dollars over the next 25 years to keep roads, bridges, and tunnels in good repair and that the MBTA has an estimated operating deficit of $130 million in the current fiscal year.
DeLeo said he was “frustrated by the depth of the financial troubles within our transportation system. The root causes, in most cases, predate the sitting governor and those in this Chamber — going as far back to the financing of the Big Dig and before. But it’s our job to fix problems, not to dwell on how we got there.”
While again not discussing specifics, he said the Legislature should follow several guiding principles in addressing the transportation funding problems: The state must consider all opportunities for efficiencies; the burden of paying for the system must be borne equitably by different regions of the state; and roads, bridges, and tunnels must be maintained in “good and safe condition.”
He also said he had heard from the business community about increasing unemployment insurance rates and that he would ask that the House once again freeze unemployment insurance rates and ask members to study ways to reform the system.
Looking back to the past session, he touted the passage of legislation to contain health care costs, change the way municipal workers purchase health insurance, and boost the economy.
“My friends and colleagues, we face serious responsibilities. This session they involve dealing with fiscal problems throughout our state government and our transportation system, protecting existing jobs and creating new ones and healing in the wake of tragic events in neighboring states,” he said. “My fellow representatives, I assure each and every one of you that we are up to these tasks—and that once again, we, as a House, will rise to the occasion and leave Massachusetts in a better position than when we started.”
DeLeo had been reelected as speaker earlier in today’s session by a 128-29 vote.
In a roll call that concluded at about 12:30 p.m., each member called out their pick for the post. Bradley Jones Jr., leader of the body’s vastly outnumbered Republicans, was the second-place finisher.
When DeLeo’s name was called, he spoke up loudly and said, “Robert A. DeLeo votes for Bob DeLeo,” sparking laughter and applause from the members.
Jones, in his remarks, called for a focus on jobs and the economy. “This should be the opening sentence and not the closing paragraph of this session,” he said.
Rather than tax increases to raise needed revenues, the North Reading lawmaker said, the answer was “broadening the base.”
He said Republicans have “constructive ideas and innovative approaches.”
“We must not be afraid of coming into this magnificent chamber and engaging each other in debate,” he said, but he also said, “While our differences serve to define us, we must not let them divide us.”