By Cromwell Schubarth

Don't look for big changes in what comes out of the U.S. Senate's small-business committee when Sen. John F. Kerry (D-Mass.) takes over as chairman from Sen. Christopher "Kit" Bond (R-Mo.).

But a glimpse of a new emphasis on the panel is expected to be aired by Kerry today in a speech in Boston, where the Small Business Administration is hosting an annual awards luncheon.

Bond, after taking control from Sen. Dale Bumpers (D-Ark.) in 1995, focused on problems in the SBA and regulatory reform. The faults of President Clinton and his SBA chief, Aida Alvarez, were often criticized.

Kerry is expected to prioritize his own small-business agenda of assisting small high-tech, minority- and women-owned firms. Bush administration budget cuts in these areas will likely be high on his target list.

For now, though, he's emphasizing a wish to work with members of both parties.

"I look forward to the opportunity to pick up the mantle of chairman where Sen. Bumpers and Sen. Bond left off, with the same spirit of bipartisanship," Kerry said last week.

"I'm not here to defend unresponsive bureaucracy or bash business," he said. "We also need to remember that small-business issues should never be pigeonholed. Health care, technology, energy and work force issues are small-business issues, and I'll work with the small-business community to find common ground on these and other issues."

Damon Dozier, a former small-business committee aide to Kerry, says the panel has long been known for its bipartisanship. "You have to keep in mind that most things that come out of that committee are by unanimous consent of all its members.

"Most difficulties and disagreements get worked out by staff behind the scenes," says Dozier, who is now director of government affairs for the National Small Business United advocacy group in Washington.

Having a Senate chairman from Massachusetts should be good for small businesses in the region, says Julie Scofield, executive director of the Smaller Business Association of New England.

But, she adds, "an awful lot of legislation that affects small business doesn't go through that committee, like taxation."

Scofield says Kerry's work as minority leader on the committee has already helped the state.

Kerry has been a champion of such things as the Small Business Innovation Research grant program, which helps small firms take their ideas to market.

"Massachusetts companies got more of that money than any other state, because of the concentration of technology companies and colleges here, and because of the senator's work," Scofield says.