Greetings! It’s spring, and the State House is abuzz with legislative briefings, bill signings, and budget amendments (more on that in my next newsletter).
From talking STEM education and community development in the district to debating education reform and charter schools in the Senate’s RISE Act and hosting a Trans Visibility Panel in the State House, our office has been busy fighting for some transformative legislation with the needs of the Second Suffolk District at heart. Keep reading for a look at what our office has been up to so far this year.
It has been an action-packed start to 2016, and that momentum only deepens my commitment to my constituents. As always, my staff and I are here to help. Whether you're interested in getting more involved around the neighborhood (perhaps at one of our office hours?) or have questions about a piece of legislation, please don't hesitate to reach out to my office.
S. 2203, RISE Act (An Act Enhancing Reform, Innovation and Success in Education):
Early in 2016, Senate President Stan Rosenberg charged a Senate working group with the task of crafting an education reform bill that deals with the question of the charter school cap, but that also does right by all public school students in the Commonwealth. After countless hours of work and meetings with stakeholders and interested parties, the Senate working group (comprised of Senators Karen Spilka, Dan Wolf, Pat Jehlen, and me) released An Act Enhancing Reform, Innovation and Success in Education, or RISE Act.
Above all, this bill supports 100% of public school students in Massachusetts -- the 4% of students currently enrolled in charter schools and the 96% of students enrolled in the traditional core system. The RISE Act puts forth tens of thousands of new seats in innovative classrooms -- some in charters, some in district schools -- targeted to districts struggling the most. It also lays the groundwork for replication of best practices, both among charter schools themselves and between charter and district systems. And, critically, it includes funding reformsthat will affect every public school in Massachusetts for the better.
[I was happy to host a Twitter Town Hall on the RISE Act as a means for exchange and dialogue. Click here for highlights of that interactive event.]
After hours of floor debate, the Senate passed the RISE Act on April 7th. It now awaits action in the House. During the floor debate, I was compelled to speak on one amendment in particular. You can find those remarksand others on my YouTube page. Although I opposed this amendment (and it was adopted in the Senate) I voted for the final bill because of the critical reforms it contains, and because Senate passage is the first step in a multi-step process for fixing the status quo.
If you’re interested in learning more about my office’s work on education policy, please respond to this email saying you’d like to be added to our “Education Alert” newsletter list.
The Justice Reinvestment Act (JRA):
I’m thrilled to share that two key elements of my omnibus criminal justice reform bill, the Justice Reinvestment Act, recently saw movement through the Massachusetts legislature.
On March 30th, Governor Baker signed An Act relative to motor vehicle license suspensioninto law, repealing a law subjecting individuals convicted of a non-violent drug offense to automatic license suspensions.
Access to a driver’s license is a gateway for obtaining and maintaining employment, seeking medical services, including addiction treatment, transporting children, and participating in the local economy -- all things that help keep them on a pathway to success. For those struggling to get back on their feet, the arbitrary burden of losing their license -- in addition to the penalties that already come with a drug conviction -- is an unnecessary and unreasonable barrier. This law now reverses that wrong-headed policy.
On March 10th, the Senate passed legislation raising the dollar-values thresholds separating felony larceny and other property offenses from misdemeanors (from $250 to $1,500), putting Massachusetts in line with other states. As we continue to build toward comprehensive criminal justice reform, this bill will help break down the barriers of a ‘tough on crime’ era that’s long been shown an expensive failure. In raising the threshold for what’s considered a felony, we make the penalty more proportionate to the crime and do right by both Massachusetts taxpayers and ex-offenders trying to get back on track.
89% of Bay Staters support major criminal justice reform, like repealing mandatory minimums, and movement on these two bills represents progress on that goal. Still, faced with a hugely expensive mass incarceration system, it is imperative that both progressives and conservatives do right by taxpayers and keep working on comprehensive criminal justice reform.
If you’re interested in learning more about my office’s work on criminal justice reform, please respond to this email saying you’d like to be added to our “CJ Reform Alert” newsletter list.
S. 735, #TransBillMA (An Act Relative to Transgender Anti-discrimination):
According to a recent Fenway Healthsurvey, 65% of transgender people living in Massachusetts reported experiencing discrimination in an area of public accommodation. That’s why I filed S.735, An Act Relative to Transgender Anti-Discrimination -- a bill providing equal access to public places regardless of gender identity.
In an overwhelming show of support #TransBillMA has received a full-court press from legislative leaders, advocates, faith community members, all five of Boston’s professional sports teams and the Greater Boston Chamber of Commerce. I also published an op-ed, “#TransBillMA: Making Transgender Equality a Mass. Reality”with Huffington Post Queer Voices on this vital piece of legislation. Senate President Stan Rosenberg and Attorney General Maura Healey have been exceptionally vocal supporters of this bill, and have helped unify external support from public safety officials across Massachusetts.)
On April 26th, Senate President Rosenberg and I co-hosted a Trans Visibility Panel at the State House in hopes of raising awareness among our colleagues on the need for transgender equal rights. We hosted six wonderful panelists – including Harvard Swim’s Schuyler Bailar, who is the first NCAA D1 transgender man to compete in any sport. He was kind enough to find time for us between his appearances on both Ellen and 60 Minutes.
This bill is simple, because equal rights are simple. However, it is immensely important for people who live their lives every day without public accommodations protections in grocery stores, restaurants, museums, nursing homes, etc., because of their gender identity. And the stories we’ve all heard recently about other states’ discriminatory legislation makes it even more pressing. The bill is scheduled for the Senate floor on May 12th.
Other Key Updates:
Both the Senate and House passed legislation reforming how the state handles public records. The legislation, originally sponsored by Senator Jason Lewis, is the first update to the public records law since the early 1970s. This bill limits the amount that state agencies and municipalities can charge for production of the records, requires state entities and encourages municipalities to post online many commonly requested public records, and requires punitive damages up to $5,000 if a court determines the government entity did not act in good faith.It currently sits in conference committee.
Energy and Environment
The Legislature passed an amended version of S. 1979, An Act Providing for the Establishment of a Comprehensive Adaptation Management Plan in Response to Climate Change. The legislation incrementally raises the net metering cap for solar energy by a total of 6 percent – 3 percent for private facilities and 3 percent for public facilities – which will allow solar projects currently in the development pipeline to move forward. While this bill’s passage is a step in the right direction, there is much more work to be done. Renewable energy access is a major concern for our neighborhoods in Boston, both because there are significant environmental consequences of inaction and because there are important economic opportunities created by investing in sound energy policy.
On January 28th, the Senate passed S. 2092, An Act relative to 2030 and 2040 emissions benchmarks. This bill helps the Commonwealth continue reducing greenhouse gas emissions and develops a long-term, comprehensive adaptation management action plan to address the consequences of climate change in the Commonwealth. It currently sits with the House Committee on Ways and Means.
Substance Abuse Prevention
The Legislature enacted substance addiction legislation that enhances intervention, prevention, and education efforts, including the creation of a framework to evaluate and treat patients who present in emergency rooms with an apparent overdose. This legislation follows a 65.2% increase in substance addiction funding since FY12 and the landmark substance addiction law passed in 2014 which, for the first time, mandated detox and stabilization coverage by health insurers.
On January 25th, the Roxbury Trust Fund bill (S. 1058) was passed by the Senate and sent over to the House for their consideration. S. 1058 will grant the RTF the legal authority to pursue sources of funding beyond the proceeds generated by the initial legislation from the redevelopment of Parcel 18. This legislation provides a simple fix that will enable the RTF to be flexible and continue its dedicated service to the greater Roxbury community for years to come.