Addressing Income Inequality

LWVMA Supports Pay Equity for Women

The League of Women Voters of Massachusetts supports House bill 1733 and Senate bill 983, an Act to Establish Pay Equity.  Since its inception almost 100 years ago, the League of Women Voters has worked for equal rights for women.

While Massachusetts is now among the top states for women workers when it comes to earnings, labor force participation, and the percentage of women in leadership and professional positions, it still ranks only 22nd on the projected year that it will close the gender wage gap−2058.1

The inequity in wages is significantly greater in low-wage jobs, which are principally held by women from minority communities, which translates into lower family income and more poverty in families with women working in these jobs.

These bills mandate that “no employer shall discriminate on the basis of gender in any way” related to wages for like or comparable work; require job evaluation plans; and restrict potential employers regarding asking for an applicant’s salary history.

These bills also include components including minimum rate of pay in job postings; the stipulation that a lesser pay rate than that posted for the position is unlawful; and that employees cannot be restricted or punished for discussing salary.

The League believes these bills will go a long way toward freeing women in the Massachusetts workforce from actual or perceived wage discrimination practices.

Click here for LWVMA testimony.

Click here for the bill and sponsors for H1733.

Click here for the bill and sponsors for S983.

1 http://www.iwpr.org/publications/pubs/the-gender-wage-gap-2014-earnings-differences-by-race-and-ethnicity

LWVMA Supports In-State Tuition for Undocumented MA Students

The League of Women Voters of Massachusetts supports House bill 1061, the so-called “Education Equity” bill.  This bill would allow students who are not citizens and not legal permanent residents to pay in-state tuition and receive state-funded financial assistance at public institutions of higher education if they otherwise qualify. The bill addresses issues of immigration, education, income inequality, and equal opportunity.

As the U.S. Congress grapples with the larger issue of immigration, through this bill Massachusetts has an opportunity to enable undocumented immigrant youth to become more productive members of society, as many other states have done including California, New York, Connecticut, Florida, Texas.

At UMass Amherst, for Massachusetts residents, full time undergraduates pay $14,171 in annual tuition and fees, while out-of-state students pay $30,5041. At a community college such as MassBay, Massachusetts residents pay $184 per credit while non-residents pay $3902.

Right now, young people already in the US, educated K-12, and qualified to enter college are forced to pay out-of-state tuition at Massachusetts public colleges and universities. This bill gives them access to the tuition and financial aid available to their fellow graduates.

1https://www.umass.edu/bursar/sites/default/files/Fall%202015-Spring%202016%20ugrad%20full%20time%20fee%20sheet_0.pdf
2http://www.massbay.edu/tuition-fees/

Click here for LWVMA testimony.

Click here for the bill and sponsors.

Watch the LWVMA Forum on Income Inequality

https://lwvma.org/citizen-education-fund/forums/

Why is Criminal Justice reform a legislative focus in 2017/18

In the 1970’s and 1980’s the League of Women Voters of Massachusetts developed strong positions on our courts and corrections systems (1972-74, 1983-85), however since then our rate of incarceration has more than tripled.  Nationally, we incarcerate nearly 1 of every 100 adults in prison or jail, which is 5 to 10 times higher than other democracies.  And this burden falls disproportionately on young minority men, the impoverished, the mentally disabled, or those with drug and alcohol addictions.  This increase was not due to more criminality in the public but was due to policy changes.  It is our responsibility to undo these policy failures and now is the time.

In 2015, Governor Charlie Baker, Chief Justice Ralph Gants, House Speaker Robert DeLeo, Senate President Stan Rosenberg, and Lieutenant Governor Karyn Polito invited the Council of State Governments to study our criminal justice system in Massachusetts and report on recommendations for legislative changes in January of 2017. Although the focus is on reducing recidivism there are many other aspects of reform that need to be addressed to be comprehensive.  The League is likely to support the proposed legislation that comes out of this process, but we will also need to continue to support legislation that is not included in the CSG bill.

In the 2015/16 legislative session, the Commonwealth passed new opioid legislation which focuses on treating opioid addiction primarily as a health issue rather than an issue of criminality. The League of Women Voters of Massachusetts supported legislation so that driver’s licenses are not automatically suspended for any drug offense not related to driving.  Fixing this law enables these returning citizens to become productive members of society.  We need to continue to assist our most vulnerable individuals in their steps to lead productive lives once their appropriate debt to society has been paid.

This session the League will continue to support bills to eliminate mandatory minimums, to increase the felony larceny level from $250 to a more reasonable level (like $2500 as in Texas), for pretrial and bail reform, for restorative justice, for presumptive parole, to restrict segregation or solitary confinement, and to expunge the records of persons falsely accused and juveniles.  We are also considering supporting legislation addressing the overuse of fines and fees, so we don’t have “debtor’s prisons”, and medical release of the seriously ill or elderly.

If you would like to learn more about criminal justice reform nationally or in Massachusetts, we have compiled a list of resources for all levels of interest.  If you are new to the issue and want an overview, check out the books listed in (1) or watch a program or listen to a podcast in (2).  To see the data for yourself or keeping up with the latest information, use the sources in (3). For more in depth reporting on Massachusetts, see the resources in (4).  And for in depth reporting on specific topics you can start with some of the information in (5).  And if your local League would like to learn about these bills, Colleen Kirby would be happy to give an informal talk on what we are focusing on for the 2017/18 session.

Did you know?  Facts about criminal injustice in Massachusetts
By Colleen Kirby, LWVMA criminal justice legislative specialist

These facts about the criminal justice system in Massachusetts illustrate the need for reform.

  • Two-thirds of Massachusetts residents prefer that fewer people are sent to jail instead of building new prisons.
  • Of the 23,000 people in the Massachusetts correctional system, 5,000 are held awaiting trial and many cannot be released because they cannot afford to pay bail.
  • Massachusetts confines individuals for longer stays now than for similar offenses in 1990.
  • Only Massachusetts and Arkansas segregate individuals in solitary confinement for up to 10 years for disciplinary infractions. Most states limit solitary to months.
  • From the state’s own prison data, as of January 2015, 95% of males incarcerated were serving a sentence longer than three years, yet one-third had not committed a violent offense.
  • The average cost per year is $53,040.87 to house a prisoner in Massachusetts.
  • 97% of all Massachusetts prisoners are eventually released.
  • People of color make up roughly 20% of the Massachusetts population yet comprise on average 77% of drug offenders sentenced to mandatory minimums each year, despite the fact that all races use drugs at the same rate.
  • One in 100 American adults are locked up, and our incarceration rate is about ten times higher than that of most European countries. Of the 2.3 million people in prison and jail today, nearly 40% of them are African-AmericanOne in 15 black children and one in 42 Latino children has a parent in prison, compared to one in 111 white children.

If you or your League wish to take action on criminal justice reform, please contact Colleen Kirby and Carolyn Lee at specialists@lwvma.org.

Here are some organizations in addition to LWVMA working on criminal justice reform in Massachusetts.