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/

Reforming Criminal Justice System

Reforming Massachusetts’ Criminal Justice System
Is a Matter of Fairness and Addressing Income Inequality

LWVMA is following an unusually large number of criminal justice reform bills in this legislative session.  While we have strong positions on criminal justice reform that were developed in the 1970s and 1980s and have supported reform bills in the past, those bills have rarely, if ever, passed in the legislature.

But this session is different.  Awareness is growing, both nationally and on the state level, of the need to address the issue of mass incarceration, its effects, and the entire way our criminal justice system works. There is a sense in the legislature, and among groups that closely follow it, that legislators in this session will quite likely step up and pass reforms. Lobbying by groups like LWVMA will influence how significant the reforms will be.

Taking action on these bills is part of our action priority for Addressing Income Inequality, since these reforms will go a long way in allowing people convicted of crimes and their families to support themselves and become productive members of society going forward.

Two LWVMA legislative specialists, Colleen Kirby and Carolyn Lee, are following the progress of several of the criminal justice reform bills that have been introduced.  You can reach them through specialists@lwvma.org.

Below are articles summarizing the bills LWVMA is supporting, and describing the need for reform. LWVMA testimony on these bills is posted here.

Criminal Justice Reform and the Bills LWVMA Supports

By Colleen Kirby, LWVMA criminal justice legislative specialist

A year ago, I asked my legislators, Sen. Ken Donnelly, Rep. Sean Garballey and Rep. David M. Rogers, which bills they were focused on in this legislative session.  All three told me about the criminal justice reform bills they were working on.

I started digging into the situation in Massachusetts and what is happening nationally on this issue. I learned that, of the 23,000 individuals behind bars in Massachusetts at the state and county level, 5,000 are being held before they have a trial.  Like most Americans, I was unaware of the injustices our society inflicts in the name of public safety. Once you are deemed a “criminal,” even after you have served your sentence, it can be difficult to get a drivers’ license, get a job, get housing, be a volunteer, obtain a job license, or qualify for student loans, which in turn makes it very difficult to live a decent life and provide for your family after you have served your sentence.  And that’s when I found that I could help with this legislation by becoming a legislative specialist for the Massachusetts League.

National trends show a dramatic increase in the number of people put in prison since the 1970s.  Although Massachusetts has one of the lowest incarceration rates in the country, it is still excessively high relative to the world.  In fact, Massachusetts incarcerates eight times as many African-Americans (5% of our population) and six times as many Hispanics (7% of our population) as white individuals, a gross disparity.

The League of Women Voters of Massachusetts has supported numerous criminal justice reform bills over the past 40 years.  Many of the positions on this issue we developed in the 1970s and 1980s are just as relevant today.  There are several bills the League is supporting that addresses these issues in the current legislative session.

S.1812H.3039 An Act relative to motor vehicle license suspension.  This bill repeals the mandatory license suspension and mandates expunging the suspension from the driving records for those previously convicted of drug offenses not related to operation of a motor vehicle.  Without a drivers’ license, it is difficult to go to work or school, and this bill will rectify that situation.  S.1812 was passed as amended by the Senate and is now S.2014.

S.844 An Act updating the definition of felony larceny.  Currently, people can be charged with a felony, which can carry a five-year prison term, if they commit a crime that causes damage of $250, and this bill updates that limit to $1,300.  It has been a long time since this trigger amount has been updated, and it does not seem appropriate that stealing one phone could trigger a felony conviction.

S.71H.1313 An Act promoting restorative justice practices.  Many communities have developed police partnerships to implement community-based restorative justice programs that can be used as an alternative to incarceration and are proven to increase victim satisfaction and decrease repeat offenses.  This bill would set up an office to help more communities implement these programs.

S.786H.1620 An Act to eliminate mandatory minimum sentences related to drug offenses.  Nationally, there is a movement to end mandatory minimum sentences.  Individuals in Massachusetts serving mandatory minimum drug sentences are disproportionately persons of color, and these sentences appear to be more stringent than those for violent offenses. Mandatory minimum sentences can result in suspension of driver’s license, denial of public housing and student loans, and makes it excessively difficult to compete in the job market.  It is also more difficult for prison officials to engage these inmates in productive activity.  This bill would remove mandatory minimums for non-violent drug crimes and give the judge discretion to confer sentences.  It is widely supported by judges, sheriffs and police officials.

S.802H.1584 An Act reforming pretrial process.  Massachusetts holds 5,000 individuals awaiting trial every day, which prevents them from going to work or school, attending job training, going to mental health or substance abuse programs, or taking care of their families. This bill which would create a Pretrial Services Division to develop a risk assessment tool, collect and analyze data, provide training in its appropriate use, and provide programs to pretrial detainees through the Office of Community Corrections to cut down on holding individuals in jail before trial.  It would also do away with the two-tier bail system so that no one stays in jail solely due to inability to pay.

S.1255H.1475 An Act to reduce recidivism, curb unnecessary spending, and ensure appropriate use of segregation.  In Massachusetts it is legal to hold mentally ill, pregnant, juvenile, deaf and blind prisoners, and prisoners in protective custody in segregated (solitary) confinement.  This can mean isolation in a 60-to-80 inch cell for up to 23 hours a day.  Massachusetts also allows individuals to be segregated for disciplinary issues for up to 10 years.  This bill cuts down on the use of solitary confinement, provides for oversight by mental health professionals, and provides for re-entry training for those who have been held in solitary.  It contains a provision for individuals to earn their way out of segregation through positive behavior.

S.729 An Act relative to parole eligibility. This bill increases incentives for prisoners to participate in programs that are likely to reduce recidivism, such as work, training, or life skills programs, by increasing time off for good behavior and by decreasing the time before an individual becomes eligible for parole.

H.1270 An Act relative to the expungement of records of persons falsely accused and juveniles.   This bill provides for erasing records of individuals who have been cleared of all charges due to false accusations and for youths so that after a sentence has been completed, it does not impede a person’s future.

If you would like to learn more about these issues, please contact Colleen Kirby at specialists@lwvma.org.  And please contact your state Senator and Representative and urge them to support these bills.

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.