BOSTON — Gun control and transportation funding will be among the key issues facing the Massachusetts Legislature in the coming months, legislative leaders said Wednesday as a new two-year session formally got under way.
House Speaker Robert DeLeo and Senate President Therese Murray, who were easily re-elected to their leadership posts by the huge Democratic majorities in their chambers, outlined their priorities after House and Senate members were sworn in by Gov. Deval Patrick.
Democrats outnumber Republicans by a more than 4-1 margin in the House and hold 36 of the 40 seats in the Senate, where Sen. Bruce Tarr of Gloucester, will remain the minority leader.
Rep. Brad Jones, who was re-elected by members of his party as House Republican leader, urged Democrats to “think twice” about any statewide tax increase, saying it would hurt the state’s chances of sustaining an economic recovery.
Both DeLeo and Murray referenced the fatal shootings of 20 children and six adults at Sandy Hook Elementary School in Newtown, Conn., and they promised to explore ways to toughen gun laws and keep weapons out of the hands of the mentally ill.
While acknowledging that gun control is primarily a federal issue, DeLeo said Massachusetts can be part of the solution.
“Accordingly, I want to bring together members of our House and outside experts to study the dangerous intersection of guns and mental illness in schools and throughout society,” DeLeo said. He named Jack McDevitt, associate dean of Northeastern University, to work with lawmakers on the gun issue.
Murray, a Plymouth Democrat, told senators that horrifying crimes like the massacre in Connecticut have become far too common and said she has held initial talks with Patrick and DeLeo about legislation “that will protect the residents of Massachusetts without demonizing the mentally ill.”
DeLeo, a Winthrop Democrat, told House members the state’s transportation infrastructure faced a financing gap in the billions of dollars in the coming years. While not offering specific solutions, DeLeo declared that the burden of paying to upgrade the state’s transportation system should not be borne by any one region of the state over another, and that the safety of roads, bridges and public transit be paramount.