Archives for August 2014

League Scores Big Wins in 2013-2014 Legislative Session

LWVMA saw major victories in the two-year legislative session that came to a close July 31.  Several bills that the League been advocating in favor of for years finally made it to the Governor’s desk and were signed.

Key successes came in the areas of election law and campaign finance reform, along with wins in such significant areas as gun control and access to women’s health clinics.

Here is a brief summary of some of those victories.  Detailed reports from our legislative specialists on these areas follow.

  • Election reform—Establishes early voting, online voter registration, post-election audits and pre-registration of teens.
  • Massachusetts Disclose Act—Requires timely disclosure of funding behind SuperPACs and listing of top five donors to groups buying ads in those ads.
  • Reproductive Health Care Access—Revises the rules governing protests at women’s health clinics after the U.S. Supreme Court overturned the state’s “buffer zone” law.
  • Gun Control—Brings Massachusetts into national background check system, requires background checks on private gun sales, and allows discretion by licensing authorities for rifle licenses.
  • Patient Safety—Permits hospitals, nurses and nurse-managers to decide the number of intensive care patients assigned to a nurse.
  • Transportation—“Active Streets” law encourages communities to consider “active” use by pedestrians and bicyclists in designing public street projects.
  • Meeting Basic Human Needs—The comprehensive welfare bill includes provisions increasing educational and training opportunities for low-income families.

Other bills we supported, including a bill to raise the dropout age from 16 to 18, and one to address the emergency shelter needs of unaccompanied homeless teens, remained in committee at the end of the session.

Many bills LWVMA supported that were not passed will be introduced again when the legislature convenes in January 2015, and we will continue working to get them passed.

Here are reports from our legislative specialists:

Education—Terry Yoffie:  Three bills, S.208/H.3290/H.523, would raise the age requirement for remaining in school from 16 to 18 and create intervention programs for vulnerable students earlier in their school years to prevent them from dropping out of school.  The bills were sponsored by Sen. Sonia Chang-Diaz, Rep. Edward Coppinger and Rep. Marty Walz, and remained in the Senate Ways and Means Committee at the end of the session.

The League has been supporting these bills since they were drafted. They would support our K-12 schools to help vulnerable students stay in school and enable access to programs geared toward their success.

Elections and Voting—Linda Freedman:  The League and our partners in the Election Modernization Coalition worked for the passage of a comprehensive voting reform bill, H.4072. It was signed by the governor on May 22, 2014.

This law is the culmination of years of efforts by the League and our partners to improve voter registration, validate election results and increase voter participation in elections.  It establishes early voting, online voter registration, pre-registration for 16- and 17-year-olds, post-election audits of voting machines and changes to “inactive voter” procedures.

It also sets up a task force for study of Election Day registration, cost of early voting, the need for additional sites and hours, and other election issues.   The Election Modernization Coalition will have a seat on the task force.

Equal Rights—Carole Pelchat:  On July 14, 2014, Sen. Harriette Chandler submitted An Act to promote public safety and protect access to reproductive health care facilities in response to the U. S. Supreme Court’s determination that the Commonwealth’s current buffer law was unconstitutional.  The elements of this bill were based on the information included in the Supreme Court’s decision as to actions that would be considered constitutional.

Basically, the bill allows law enforcement officials to order the immediate withdrawal to a distance of not less than 25 feet from the entrance or driveway to a reproductive health care facility of one or more individuals who have impeded access to or departure from that entrance or driveway.  This withdrawal is to remain in effect for those individuals for a period of eight hours.  The remainder of the law provides for fines and/or imprisonment for severity of impeding access.

LWVMA’s Legislative Action Committee and then the LWVMA board voted to support the bill July 16 and submitted testimony to the Joint Committee on the Judiciary July 17.

The bill was referred to the Joint Committee on the Judiciary on July 15, and a hearing was scheduled for July 16.  It was reported favorably by the Joint Committee and passed by the Senate on July 16.  It was received in the House on July 17 and debated and passed by the House July 23, with one amendment related to fines.  The Senate concurred with the bill as amended by the House on July 24.  The bill was signed by the Governor on July 30.

Good Governance—Carolyn Lee:  The Massachusetts Disclose Act, mandating timely reporting of campaign contributions and the funders of advertising, passed on the last day of the session.  H.4366 was the culmination of a four-year effort begun immediately after the Citizens United decision.  In the 2012 legislature, it passed the Senate and died in the House. This session, many groups including LWVMA came together to work with the legislative committee on a compromise bill that would be strong and would pass.

The Disclose Act will require SuperPACs to reveal the sources of their funding no more than seven days after making an expenditure, such as placing a television ad. The reporting deadline changes to within 24 hours for the 10 days before an election.  In addition, groups placing television, print and internet ads must list their top five donors in the ad and include the website of the Office of Campaign and Political Finance, where voters can find a list of all contributors.

The bill doubles the amount of money individuals can contribute to campaigns for state offices and the legislature, from $500 to $1,000, the first increase in decades.  Corporations, labor unions and special interests would be required to disclose expenditures in statewide, county or local races.

Health Care—Judy Deutsch:  LWVMA supported H.1008/S.557, An Act related to patient safety, which passed this session.  However, the final bill was not as originally written and as we supported it.  It originally included these provisions:  the number of patients that would be assigned to one nurse in different hospital units; the establishment of patient/nurse ratios to ensure that there are sufficient nurses to care for the patients,  and that failures to adhere to the legislated ratios will be reported to the Attorney General.

The Mass Nurses Association (MNA) said it promoted the original bill because it would prevent there being a lack of nurses sufficient to give quality care to patients, sometimes too few to save patients’ lives.  But finally, the MNA supported the bill that was passed — one that gave the hospitals, nurses and nurse-managers the right to decide whether one or two Intensive Care Unit patients would be assigned to one nurse.

It is expected that new versions of three other health-related bills we supported —S.515/H.1035 An Act for improved Medicare for all, S.572/H.1053 An Act to ensure effective cost control, and H.2008/S/1081 An Act relative to certified professional midwives — will be introduced in the next legislative session.

Meeting Basic Human Needs—Clare Gordon:  The comprehensive welfare bill (Chapter 158 of 2014, An Act to foster economic independence, S.2211) was finally passed in July after similar bills were passed by the Senate and House in November 2013. This bill included measures from two bills supported by the League for several years.

The first League-supported measure, S.35 and H.114 An act regarding pathways to family economic self-sufficiency, advocated increasing educational and training opportunities for low-income persons, especially those receiving “cash assistance” from the state (Transitional Assistance for Needy Families, Supplemental Nutrition Assistance Program, etc.).

Measures from that bill incorporated into the Chapter 158 Welfare bill are:

  •  A comprehensive “pathways to self-sufficiency program” will include job readiness, life skills development, English as a second language, and many supportive services.
  •  The outcome of the program for individuals will be tracked and reported.

In addition, the Budget passed for 2015 includes over $11 million in the relevant training line, a huge increase over recent years.

S.37 and H.93, An act promoting financial stability and asset development, encouraged policies that make it possible for low-income persons to move out of poverty as recommended in the Asset Development Commission Report of 2009.

Incorporated into the Chapter 158 Welfare bill were the following measures:

  • Every Department of Transitional Assistance office will have an educational program that provides information on available jobs and low cost educational opportunities.
  •  Education at four-year institutions and vocational training will count toward TAFDC work requirements.
  •  The vehicle value limit is raised to $15,000 from $5000.
  •  The work-related expense deduction is $150 per month.
  •  Recipients are allowed to save beyond the $2500 asset limit in special regulated accounts.

The bill to foster economic independence also contains a host of measures to contain fraud, regulate EBT (Electronic Benefit Transfer) cards and, limit what they can buy, as well as vastly increasing the reporting requirements of the Department of Transitional Assistance, measures that LWVMA neither supported nor opposed.

H.135, An Act providing housing and support services to unaccompanied homeless youth, provides for a continuum of voluntary housing options and wraparound support services to homeless youth not able to live with their families, services not currently available. H.135 is currently in House Ways and Means. (During recent months there has been concern that such services not be confused with housing for refugees/unaccompanied immigrants from Central America.) A similar bill will probably be filed in the next session.

S.1317, An Act improving the earned income tax credit for working families, would increase the Massachusetts addition to the federal earned income tax credit from 15% to 20% and mandate outreach to eligible workers. LWVMA has supported the increase for many years because of the high cost of living in the state. S.1317 is in Senate Ways and Means.

Public Safety—Carolyn Lee:  In the aftermath of the Newtown, CT, shootings, more than two dozen bills were introduced in the legislature in the area of gun control. LWVMA joined the Massachusetts Coalition to Prevent Gun Violence, and worked with the coalition to lobby the legislature. Members of local leagues testified at five hearings around the state in support of strong legislation; we made an impact.

Eighteen months later, in the final hours of the 2014 session, H.4376 was passed and the governor has signed it. This bill was the result of serious compromises on both sides of the debate and some last-minute changes.

The bill brings Massachusetts into the National Instant Background Check System (NICS) that enables rapid and more accurate determination of whether a person is deemed suitable to possess a gun license.  Background checks on private sales are now also required. The bill mandates collection of data on all guns used in crimes or that cause injuries. This data then becomes available in a database for analysis. This is something the NRA has successfully fought at the federal level for ages, and Massachusetts is now the first state to mandate that data collection and analysis. The gun trafficking laws are updated and trafficking three or fewer guns is now a crime. Unfortunately, the mandate of data collection on bulk purchases of guns was pulled at the eleventh hour.

The bill enables limited discretion by the licensing authorities in the issuance of long gun licenses (FID cards), and unfortunately changes the existing law to limit discretion for handguns.  In both cases, the licensing authority must first obtain the concurrence of a district court before denying a license. The good news here is that there are now more conditions specified as legitimate reasons to deny a license.

There are many elements surrounding school safety and around suicide prevention also included in the bill. There will be further work to do getting all aspects of this bill implemented successfully.

Transportation—Robin Roberge:  H.3091, An Act relative to active streets and healthy communities, passed with League support.

“Active streets” are streets designed to allow for more trips to be taken via active transportation such as walking and cycling. This law encourages cities and towns across Massachusetts to routinely include appropriate active streets design elements in locally funded road projects. Communities that are certified by this program by adopting certain policies and procedures would be eligible to receive a modest amount of additional local transportation funding, thereby incentivizing these actions.

Governor Patrick Endorses Yes On 2, Urges Voters to Update Bottle Bill

DSC_7164September 24, 2014— Governor Deval Patrick today enthusiastically threw his support behind the effort to update the Bottle Bill and pass Question 2 on the November 4 ballot. Governor Patrick endorsed STOP Litter: YES on 2, the grassroots campaign to add water bottles and sports drinks to the existing five-cent bottle deposit law. The Governor joined environmental and civic groups in supporting YES on 2, including the League of Women Voters of Massachusetts, represented by co-president Anne Borg.

Governor Patrick has championed a range of environmental causes throughout his time in the corner office, including climate change action and making the state a leader in clean energy. Patrick said a Yes vote on Question 2 would go far to clean up Massachusetts.   “When I first ran for governor, we emphasized the need for friends to talk to friends, and neighbors to talk to neighbors to spread our message and help grow our campaign. I urge supporters of YES on 2 to do the same, to tell everyone that YES on 2 will increase recycling, clean up our parks and save cities and towns money,” said Patrick. A yes vote on Question 2 on the November ballot will update the successful 32-year-old Bottle Bill, and put the five-cent deposit currently on soda and beer bottles on bottles of water, iced tea and sports drinks. Any unclaimed deposits will go to a state fund earmarked for recycling and environmental purposes.

Many local and state organizations have endorsed Yes on 2, including Sierra Club, Mass Audubon, Environmental League of Massachusetts, League of Women Voters of Massachusetts, and MASSPIRG. The Updated Bottle Bill has also been endorsed by 400 small businesses, and 209 cities and towns passed resolutions in favor of it. Updating the Bottle Bill will save cities and towns approximately $6.7 million a year—or an average of $1 per person in our state—in litter pick up and trash disposal costs. It also will mean less waste going to landfills and incinerators.

 

“STOP Litter: YES on 2” Campaign Launches, Vows to Field Winning Grassroots Effort

For First Time, Water, Sports Drink Bottles Would Be Under 5-cent Deposit Law

BOSTON—Augustyes-on-2 21, 2014—Vowing to mobilize the largest grassroots effort of the campaign season by energizing people who walk in our parks and along our city streets, play sports on our ball fields, and fish in our streams, the “STOP Litter: YES on 2” campaign today launched its effort to update the container deposit law, also known as the Bottle Bill. The proposed update would include plastic water and sports drink bottles, a major source of litter, within the successful 5-cent deposit program.

“We know the voters want to say, ‘stop the litter’ from these plastic bottles. Almost 200,000 of them signed petitions to put this question on the ballot. Voting yes on Question 2 will let their voices be heard. It’s been 32 years since the Bottle Bill was passed and it needs updating,” said Phil Sego, of the Massachusetts Sierra Club, one of a coalition of groups supporting the YES on 2 campaign.

A yes vote on Question 2 on the November ballot will update the original Bottle Bill to expand the container deposit system to include non-carbonated beverages like water, iced tea, juice, and sports drinks, which were not on the market when the original bill was passed in 1982. If passed, this update would decrease litter, increase recycling and save cities and towns money in litter pick-up and trash disposal.

“The voters know, it’s clear and simple: the best way to reduce litter is by voting yes on 2,” said Jack Clarke, Mass Audubon Director of Public Policy and Government Relations, another YES on 2 coalition member. “An updated Bottle Bill would go far in reducing litter on our Little League fields, in our parks, on our streets and floating in our streams and ponds,” Clarke added.

According to a Boston Globe poll released on August 15, 62 percent of likely voters support expanding the law, echoing the public support level shown over the past 10 years.

Right now, Massachusetts lags behind California, New York, nearby Connecticut and Maine, which have all updated their versions of the Bottle Bill.

The campaign launched today with its new website: http://yeson2ma.org/wp/.

Activists are planning a range of events, including local cleanup efforts to show the “before-and-after” effect expected with a winning yes vote, informational meetings, door-to-door canvassing and video testimonials from those who use open spaces for recreation, exercise, and neighborhood gatherings.

Soon, “STOP Litter: YES on 2” signs, door hangers, flyers and online messages will be seen across the state.

Members of the coalition supporting the STOP Litter: Yes on 2 campaign include: League of Women Voters of Massachusetts, MASSPIRG, Environmental League of Massachusetts, Mass Audubon, the Massachusetts Sierra Club and more.

 

LWVMA Campaign Finance Project and Toolkit

The LWVMA Campaign Fincfsc tagline now for saleance Study Committee was created soon after the 2013 LWVMA Convention approved a study of this issue (May 2013). It has members representing 18 Leagues across Massachusetts. After conducting interviews and researching the topic, the Committee prepared materials for educating our members and the general public.

Money and Politics Toolkit

These tools were developed by the Campaign Finance Study Committee of the League of Women Voters of Massachusetts. To contact the Committee, email moneyinpolitics@lwvma.org.

The Democracy in the Balance presentation is available in a full, 30-minute version, which is the recommended version to use. Each presentation can be viewed as a powerpoint show (.ppsx), with an accompanying script, or as a narrated version, available as a YouTube video. Brief guidelines for use are also included.

30-Minute Presentation: Democracy in the Balance

Presentations are currently under construction. Please check back again shortly.

Supplementary Material

 

LWVUS Convention 2014!

During the past year, the Study Committee focused its efforts on bringing this national issue to the 2014 LWVUS convention, with the goal of garnering support and action with League members across the nation. As part of LWVUS Program Planning for this convention, LWVMA asked local Leagues throughout the US to recommend a review of the LWV position on campaign finance in light of U.S. Supreme Court decisions over the last 40 years. Recognizing the strong concern throughout the nation, local Leagues responded and the LWVUS board adopted our recommendation as part of the recommended 2014-16 Program, which was adopted by the convention delegates. Becky Shannon introduces LWVMA ResolutionTo reinforce the urgency of taking action on these issues, the LWVMA and the CFSC submitted a Resolution for Convention 2014 that expressed the need for a fast-tracked and dynamic study and review of the LWV Position on Campaign Finance, coupled with the proposed study of the Constitutional amendment process and the review of the redistricting process for Congressional districts, that will propel concrete, action-oriented outcomes. The resolution was approved by the convention delegates. There were two opportunities to join LWVMA for discussion of grassroots advocacy for campaign finance reform and the LWVMA resolution. Click here for a flyer. LWVMA distributed 700 buttons, 100 people attended the June 6 caucus, and 200 attended the June 9 workshop where the toolkit materials were presented. Caucus (LWVMA)button for convention 3 in “Money and Politics: Price Tag on Democracy” Friday, June 6, 8:00 pm – 10:00 pm Workshop (LWVUS) for toolkit training “Money and Politics” Monday, June 9, 3:30 pm – 5:00 pmworkshop room cl

League of Women Voters’ Election Guide Features Responses From All Primary Candidates

BOSTON 8/13/14—All 20 candidates for statewide offices on the Democratic and Republican party primary ballots have answered questions posed by the League of Women Voters of Massachusetts.

Their responses are presented in a Primary Election Voters’ Guide to Statewide Offices now available on the League’s website, www.lwvma.org.

The candidates for governor answered questions on economic development, education, transportation, climate change and health care. Candidates for lieutenant governor, attorney general, secretary of state, treasurer and auditor answered questions specific to those offices.

Following the Sept. 9 primary election, the League will update the voters’ guide and add responses from any independent candidates who qualify for the ballot in the general election Nov. 4.

Voters can use the guide to read each candidate’s responses to all the questions or to read all the candidates’ responses to a particular question.

“We hope voters across the Commonwealth will use this voters’ guide to help make informed choices as they go to the polls on Sept. 9,” said Anne Borg, co-president of the League of Women Voters of Massachusetts. “We are pleased to be able to provide this information and thank all the candidates for their willingness to participate in the guide.”

The League of Women Voters is a non-partisan political organization which encourages informed and active participation in government and works to increase understanding of major public policy issues.

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Improving Elections

High School Voter Registration project 2012

Registering high school students to vote 

Improving the electoral process and educating voters are goals that are central to LWVMA’s mission.

During the current legislative session (2017-18), the League and its coalition partners are advocating strongly for an important, common-sense electoral reform:  Automatic Voter Registration.  We will also continue to push to expand early voting and to implement Election Day registration, the reform that has been shown to have the greatest impact on voter participation.

Our legislative advocacy this session builds on our significant achievements in recent years:

In 2014, after many years of lobbying by LWVMA and its Election Modernization Coalition partners, Massachusetts took a major step to modernize its voter registration and election processes when a far-reaching election reform bill became law.

At a time when too many states are making it more difficult for citizens to register and to vote, Massachusetts should be proud to be moving in the opposite direction.

Specifically the 2014 law implemented:

These are significant improvements, but there is more work to be done.  We will continue fighting hard in 2017-18 to bring the Massachusetts electoral system into the 21st century.

June 2017

Governor Patrick Signs Gun Control Bill

Updated:  August 14, 2014

Yesterday, Governor Deval Patrick signed An Act Relative to the Reduction of Gun Violence into law.  The League of Women Voters of Massachusetts is a member of the Massachusetts Coalition to Prevent Gun Violence, which worked toward passage of this bill.

Posted August 1, 2014: Legislature Passes Gun Control Bill

In the final hours of the legislative session, both the House and Senate passed a bill strengthening Massachusetts’ gun laws.

A conference committee reached a compromise on language giving police chiefs discretion to turn down some requests for a firearms identification permit for rifles, though with a district court’s approval.  The bill brings the state into compliance with the national background check system and requires a background check for private gun sales.

The final version of the bill, H.4376, passed by a vote of 122-29 in the House and 37-3 in the Senate.  Gov. Deval  Patrick is expected to sign it.

“The League of Women Voters of Massachusetts salutes the legislature for passage of this bill, which reinforces Massachusetts’ position as a leader among states in keeping its citizens safer from gun violence.  We applaud the impact this law may have on a reduction in domestic violence,” said Anne Borg, co-president.

The Massachusetts Coalition to Prevent Gun Violence, of which the League is a member, released this statement when the bill was reported to the floor:  “Stop Handgun Violence and The Massachusetts Coalition to Prevent Gun Violence are pleased with the gun violence prevention bill that emerged from the Senate and House Conference Committee last night. It meets many of the goals that the Massachusetts Coalition to Prevent Gun Violence and Stop Handgun Violence set out to accomplish. Key provisions of the bill bring the Commonwealth into compliance with the Federal NICS background check system, require background checks for private gun sales and give police chiefs greater discretion in issuing rifle and shotgun licenses. The bill also advances suicide awareness and prevention in the Commonwealth through a multifaceted approach and ensures collection of important data to inform future policymaking efforts.”

Carolyn Lee and Terry Yoffie, LWVMA legislative specialists, served as our representatives to this coalition and spearheaded our efforts on this bill.

8/1/2014

Senate Passes Gun Control Bill With Amendments

Updated:  July 18, 2014

Yesterday, the Senate passed its own version of the gun bill. While there are strong dimensions of the bill, the bill includes a problematic amendment.  You can read the full text of the bill here. The Massachusetts Coalition to Prevent Gun Violence, of which LWVMA is a member, has issued the following statementl:

“The Massachusetts Coalition to Prevent Gun Violence is disappointed by the Senate’s actions today, which significantly weaken the gun violence prevention legislation passed by the House. Removing discretion from police chiefs makes it more difficult to keep rifles and handguns out of the hands of those who pose a risk of suicide or domestic violence, in addition to the public at large.

While there are some good provisions in the bill, particularly the inclusion of background checks for private gun sales and the ability to trace guns used in crimes, our Coalition cannot support the Senate’s version of the bill as drafted. We hope that police chief discretion – an important public safety provision that has the overwhelming support of the public, Chiefs of Police, the Speaker’s taskforce and the House – will be restored in conference. We look forward to working with the conference committee to achieve a final bill that will continue Massachusetts’ national leadership on this critical issue.”

Posted Jul 10 ,2014

A revised gun control bill passed the Massachusetts House July 9 by a 111-37 margin. It now goes to the Senate. The League urges its members and other supporters of stronger gun control to contact their Senators and ask them to support this bill and to strengthen it. The Senate will have to act on the bill before the legislative session ends on July 31 for it to become law.

The bill, now numbered H.4278, contains versions of four the provisions advocated for by the Massachusetts Coalition to Prevent Gun Violence, of which LWVMA is a member. Among those provisions are participation by Massachusetts in the National Instant Background Check System; the ability of police chiefs and other licensing authorities to reject applications for a firearms identification card allowing the owner to carry rifles but requiring a written statement for such a rejection; a requirement to trace and report firearms used in a crime; and increases in the penalties for some crimes committed with firearms.

The bill also requires development of a school safety framework by the Department of Elementary and Secondary Education and requires school districts, subject to appropriations, to employ a school resource officer to provide law enforcement and security services; to develop plans to address the mental health needs of its students and faculty; and to have access to two-way communication devices for communication with police and fire departments during emergencies.

The bill allows private firearms sales between individuals to be conducted on a state website rather than requiring they be conducted in the presence of a licensed dealer, though such a website and an enforcement mechanism does not now exist.

It does not place any restrictions on the number of guns an individual may purchase in a month, a provision the Coalition is seeking to have added in the Senate.

Both the Coalition and the Massachusetts arm of the National Rifle Association indicated their support for the House-passed bill.