Over the last three months, so many of you have written, called, and emailed to express what bills need support this legislative session. In addition to the progressive legislation I authored, I selected many of my colleagues’ bills to co-sponsor because of their significance to you and because they will make Massachusetts a more fair and prosperous state.
The bills outlined below form an aggressive agenda to affirm the civil rights and dignity of all Massachusetts residents and to protect our environment despite the recent federal efforts.
In response to the uncertainty in Washington, two important bills we should pass this session are An Act to Protect the Civil Rights and Safety of All Massachusetts Residents (Safe Communities Act), filed by state Representative Juana Matias and state Senator Jamie Eldridge, and An Act relative to Advancing Contraceptive Coverage and Economic Security in Our State (ACCESS), filed by state Representatives Patricia Haddad, John Scibak and state Senator Chandler.
The Safe Communities Act (H3269/S1305) protects the civil rights of all our residents, regardless of their status. It prohibits state agency cooperation with any federal registry that profiles people based on religious affiliation and country of origin. The bill also prevents the deputization of local law enforcement for immigration enforcement. It preserves due process rights for immigrants detained in state prisons and county jails.
The ACCESS Act (H536/S499) eliminates co-pays on all FDA-approved categories of birth control. It eliminates the use of “medical management” techniques, which delay or prevent access to the most effective contraceptives. If Washington is determined to roll back access to family planning services and insurance coverage for women, Massachusetts can continue to be an aggressive leader in protecting our health.
The fight to further civil rights also has to extend to criminal justice reform. I co-sponsored An Act for Justice Reinvestment, filed by both state Senator Sonia Chang-Diaz and state Representative Mary Keefe because it builds on the work of CORI reform. Additionally, I co-sponsored state Senator Eldridge and state Representative Ruth Balser’s legislation, An Act Promoting Humane Conditions of Confinement and Enable Safe Re-entry, which reforms conditions inside our jails and prisons.
The Justice Reinvestment Act (H2308/S791) is an omnibus reform bill. It ends mandatory minimum sentences for drug crimes, creates a medical parole mechanism for the Commonwealth for terminally ill or permanently incapacitated people who are incarcerated, and raises the felony threshold for larceny from $250 to $1500. The bill changes some of the sentencing parameters for certain drug crimes, furthers reform of the CORI system to allow for more sustained and successful re-entry, and directs the Commonwealth to track cost savings from sentencing reforms and invest them in a trust fund dedicated to community education and workforce training.
The Humane Confinement Act (H2248) changes one of our cruelest correctional practices. Solitary confinement isolates prisoners from any human contact for 22 to 24 hours a day. Solitary sentences were designed as a last resort. Currently, they can span decades. The bill protects vulnerable groups from unnecessary placement in solitary confinement, including those with severe mental illness, pregnant women, LGBTQ prisoners, youth, deaf and blind prisoners, elderly prisoners, and prisoners who are otherwise like to deteriorate due to a disability.
To decrease our carbon footprint and protect our air and water, we must seek creative and comprehensive energy standards and solutions. I co-sponsored An Act creating 21st Century Massachusetts Clean Energy Jobs filed by state Senator Pacheco. Additionally, a constituent who has experienced the burden of not being able to access her original birth certificate brought An Act Granting Equal Access to Original Birth Certificates to All Persons Born in Massachusetts, to my attention. I co-sponsored state Representative Garballey’s bill, which seeks to restore adoptees’ basic identity rights.
The 21st Century Clean Energy Jobs Act (S1880) is an omnibus energy bill that mirrors language passed by the state Senate last session. It calls for the procurement of up to 4,000 megawatts of offshore wind generation and up to 12,450,000 megawatt-hours of hydroelectricity. It includes a number of other progressive energy solutions: elevating the annual renewable portfolio standard (RPS) increase from 1% to 3% and developing an RPS standard for municipal light plants, requiring the development of 2025 and 2030 energy storage goals, prohibiting the approval of pipeline projects on Article 97 land, eliminating the cap on net metering, requiring the development of a comprehensive energy plan for the Commonwealth, and setting 2020 and 2030 greenhouse gas emissions benchmarks.
Granting Equal Access to Original Birth Certificates to All Persons Born in MA (H1163) allows adoptees born between July 17, 1974, and January 1, 2008 access to their original birth certificates. 'Original identity' includes vital information such as who gave birth to the adoptee. The passage of this bill would ensure that all adopted individuals will have the same basic rights as adoptees before and after these 'gap' years in the Commonwealth.
The 319 bills I sponsored or co-sponsored form an aggressive and progressive agenda that I intend to pursue this session. The bills highlighted here and in my previous column represent the core of that agenda. Between your advocacy and mine, I am hopeful progressive laws will pass over the next 18 months.
In the coming months, I encourage you to attend a hearing and submit testimony for the bill(s) most important to you. You can track hearing dates and legislative action here: https://malegislature.gov/Events/Hearings.