The League of Women Voters of Massachusetts celebrates several major legislative victories during the 2019-2020 formal legislative session, which was extended through January 5, 2021, to deal with delays caused by the Covid-19 pandemic.
Three legislative priorities from our Day on the Hill lobby day were successful. The Student Opportunity Act bringing much-needed change to the foundation funding formula used to allocate educational funds in the state passed relatively early in the session, in November 2019. Another priority, provisions of the ROE Act, to codify and extend access to abortion rights in the state, was a nail-biter, passing the month before the session ended as part of the budget, prompted by increased concern that the U.S. Supreme Court might overturn federal abortion law.
A third priority, strong climate change legislation, passed the legislature at the last minute, only to be vetoed by Governor Baker after the session ended and that veto could not be overridden. But we are claiming the climate change bill setting a roadmap for progress by 2050 as a win, because the legislature took that bill up immediately after the 2021-2022 session started January 6, passed it, and sent it to Governor Baker with a veto-proof majority behind it. As of this writing, the bill awaits the Governor’s action and any needed legislative response.
Improved election laws are always a key League priority, and in the past session, we were pushing for a law permitting election day registration. The onset of the Covid-19 pandemic, however, shifted our election focus in the spring of 2020 to pandemic election reforms designed to make voting safer and more accessible. We supported, and the legislature passed in early July 2020, a bill that greatly expanded access to mail voting in the state, expanded in-person early voting hours, and eased the way for election officials to process mailed ballots early and recruit election workers from a broader pool of citizens. We think this law, making it easier and safer for people to vote, contributed to record voter turnouts in both the state primary and the Nov. 3 presidential elections. We will be working on a bill to make those reforms permanent and to implement same day voter registration this session.
The national awakening to the systemic racism in our country triggered by the murder of George Floyd at the hands of the Minneapolis Police led to a demand for police reforms and accountability in Massachusetts. The League became a partner in the efforts of the Black and Latino Legislative Caucus and others to pass meaningful police reforms as a start to addressing systemic racism. We are pleased that a first-step bill in making serious policing reforms passed in December. We have not finished with our work in racial justice.
The other bills that LWVMA supported and which became law in this past session would:
- Change zoning laws to approve zoning changes with a simple majority rather than a two-thirds majority; make it easier to build housing, especially the multifamily housing most needed across the state; provide $626 million in bonding to support all types of new housing; and provide $500,000 for menstrual products in shelters. These provisions from several bills we supported were included in the economic development bill.
- Create a commission to study ways to reduce racial inequities in maternal health and make recommendations for policies
- Lift the “cap on kids” that restricted benefits to families on assistance if another child was born
- Moratorium on evictions and foreclosures during pandemic emergency
- Require notification of sewage pollution in public waters
- Address sexual violence on higher education campuses
- Ban the sale of harmful flame retardants in the state
- Provide for “breakfast after the bell” in schools
- Provide level funding of $1.5 million for the Civic Project Trust Fund
- Establish penalties for female genital mutilation
- Require hands-free cellphone use while driving
Our legislative specialists will be looking at the bills which we supported but that were not enacted if they are refiled in this session. We will keep working on them; sometimes it takes a long time for a bill to become a law. Below are some of the areas we were following last session and will continue to work on, and we will add new bills as the specialists identify them.
- Affordable housing:Housing for low- and middle-income residents and rental support.
- Children and family issues:Address needs of children and families living in deep poverty; change how schools deal with meal debt; domestic violence training.
- Criminal justice reform:Continue to build on major legislation passed in the 2017-2018 session, including parole board reform, inmate visitation, and how the system deals with juveniles.
- Education:Follow implementation of foundation budget reform, support funding for higher education.
- Good Government:Guard electronic privacy, oppose facial recognition software, oppose Article V Constitutional convention.
- Gun control:Require data on guns used in crimes.
- Health care:Support single-payer health care, license midwives.
- Immigration:Safe Communities act, drivers’ licenses for immigrants.
- Meeting basic human needs:Increasing state match for Earned Income Tax Credit, protections for people experiencing homelessness and living in deep poverty.
- Transportation:Support ballot initiatives for regional transportation projects; bills to experiment with variable tolls and revenue based on vehicle miles; zero-emission vehicles.
- Water resources:Drought management measures; creation of water resource funds.
- Women’s issues:Sex education; availability of menstrual products.
In total, our Legislative Action Committee of 23 legislative specialists followed more than 160 bills during the 2019-2020 legislative session, submitting written testimony on all the bills and testifying in person at hearings on many of them. You can see a list of that legislation and our written testimony here.
To mobilize League members across the state to contact their own legislators in support of these bills, LWVMA sent out monthly Mass. League Action newsletters and separate Action Alerts when needed. We organized a lobby day in support of election day voter registration with our partners in the Election Modernization Coalition and participated in lobby days organized by other coalitions we work with, particularly on women’s issues and energy and environment issues.
A special thanks to the members of the Legislative Action Committee during the 2019-2020 legislative session: Nancy Brumback, chair, and Kathy Leonardson, Clare Gordon, Louise Haldeman, Palma McLaughlin, Colleen Kirby, Karen Mazza, Susan Loffredo, Tracy Brown, Pat Costello, Linda Freedman, Mary Franz, Launa Zimmaro, Loring Schwarz, June Michaels, Carolyn Lee, Jennifer Muroff, Sue McCalley, Janice Goodell, Valentina Pasquantonio, Lois Levin, Tanya Roy and Vedna Lacombe-Heywood. For the new session, we welcome Nancy Bettinger and Lucy Costa.