Riding the idea circuit

Judges once “rode the circuit” from courthouse to courthouse to dispense justice. The practice has largely gone the way of the horse-drawn plow, but Massachusetts legislators and state officials continue to see the merit of crisscrossing the state to hear constituents’ ideas.

That practice will bring legislators to Melrose on May 15 to hear residents’ concerns about climate change, global warming and clean energy. The Senate Committee on Global Warming and Climate Change’s mandate is to do more listening than talking. The comments the committee receives will give legislators an opportunity to work on enhancing Massachusetts’ status as a leader in energy efficiency.

The key question legislators will put before Melrose residents is, “Do you think the state legislature should monitor or regulate energy use and related issues to help keep Massachusetts healthy, sustainable and strong?”

State Sen. Thomas M. McGee and legislative colleagues hit the road this year and asked residents across the state to define their concerns about transportation and other topics. Commonwealth Conversations traveled to Lynn and Peabody in April.  Previous Commonwealth Conversation tours helped build legislative consensus on expanding the state’s earned income tax credit and on crafting a college savings plan.

Legislators are elected by constituents who expect results from them. But crafting and passing legislation on Beacon Hill also means striking a balance between interests stretching from the Berkshires to Southeastern Massachusetts to Cape Ann.

McGee has consistently advocated for a clear vision that equates transportation improvements across Massachusetts and the United States with long-term economic improvements. His vision received reinforcement Tuesday night when state transportation officials brought their own road show to Lynn to hear residents’ views about increased pedestrian and bicycle access across the city.

A first glance at local roads suggests motorized vehicles have won the battle for supremacy, leaving little or no room for bicyclists and pedestrians. But streets laid out a century, in some cases, two centuries ago cannot sustain increased vehicle traffic forever. Increasing safe opportunities to move on two feet and two wheels may shift the transportation balance to a variety of modes including increased public transportation.

The greatest benefit of putting legislators and state officials out on the road to hear what people have to say is not the new law or programs that are the product of listening tours. The real lasting benefit is the opportunity to have Massachusetts residents use legislators as a sounding board for how each and every person in the state can help improve its quality of life.


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