“Making Government Work for You” Workshop Draws Big Crowd

September 18, 2017/Arlington, MA–Nearly 100 people filled the First Unitarian Universalist Church in Arlington to learn some of the finer points of changing laws and public policies from featured speakers Colleen Kirby, criminal-justice legislative specialist for the League of Women Voters of Massachusetts, and the 4th Middlesex (MA) District’s newly elected state senator, Cindy Friedman.

Kirby told a story of how one man’s outrage at seeing birds hunted in a public area prompted his advocacy and eventual success in protecting the birds. The story was an example of steps to take to change policies:

1. Identify the problem and its parts.

2. Join a group, even a small one, to explain the problem to others.

3. Learn about the issue and identify the end result desired.

4. Develop relationships with all interested parties.

5. Form coalitions to more broadly inform others in workshops and forums and via their networks.

6. Be prepared for unexpected changes to public and political priorities.

7. Show public support (through protests, press visibility), so politicians have to respond and act.

Kirby then provided an overview of the usual, complex two-year process by which bills may become laws in Massachusetts, but noted “it’s not working that way this year.” Because 5,000 to 6,000 bills may be filed by the end of January at the beginning of the process, it’s impossible for all legislators to learn about all of them.

In the current cycle, the state Legislature has instead grouped some of the bills to take a more systematic approach to addressing various aspects of interacting issues. Kirby stressed that the best way for advocates to lobby for an issue is to become a resource for your own legislator, educating and informing her or him through your testimony at hearings and in phone calls or personal appointments. Additionally, forming coalitions broadens statewide support for your issue, because people in other legislative districts will know what to say about it to their own legislators.

In her discussion of criminal justice reform, Sen. Friedman applauded the House bill’s antirecidivism measures but explained why the Senate’s more-comprehensive omnibus, or “package,” bill would do even more good. It would: allow for civil violations (rather than criminal charges) for some arrested for possession of drugs; reform the bail process; eliminate mandatory minimum sentencing; limit the use of solitary confinement; permit medical releases for prisoners needing end-of-life care; allow more-flexible rules about fines and fees, so the indigent can actually pay for penalties but avoid additional financial harm; and for juvenile justice, raise the age for “adult” crime.

Sen. Friedman outlined her “personal tips” for how to work effectively with legislators. Phone calls are more effective than e-mails or letters, and calling your own legislators with a clear message very important. Little time exists for legislators to talk with other people who are not their constituents. To reach a legislator from another district, form coalitions, so that constituents from that district can accompany you to lobby their legislator.

In concluding, she recommended patience with our highly effective but imperfect democratic process: “Progress is slow by design. Imagine if all 5,000 bills were enacted one after another like this. There would be chaos.”

LWVMA Opposes Mandatory Minimum Sentencing Provisions in Gov. Baker Bill

September 8, 2017–The League of Women Voters of Massachusetts supports efforts to address the opioid epidemic in Massachusetts, but we do not support the provisions in Governor Baker’s bill to add to existing mandatory minimum sentencing in the case of a drug sale leading to death.

The Massachusetts Sentencing Commission has been thorough in its examination of the sentencing guidelines in Massachusetts and has found that conventional drug enforcement and treatment of offenders is most effective in reducing drug consumption or drug-related crime. The Commission is currently working on reforming and updating these guidelines. We are concerned that Governor Baker’s provision will increase drug overdose deaths if some people fear reporting an overdose.

During this time of increasing deaths due to opioids, we want to encourage everyone to report overdoses so that the most lives are saved. We applaud Governor Baker’s concern over this crisis, but we fear the mandatory minimum sentencing provision will slow progress.

LWVMA Statement on Charlottesville and Boston Rallies

Boston, MA/August 18, 2017–As our nation grapples with the terrifying and tragic events in Charlottesville, and as the City of Boston braces for a “Free Speech Rally” on the Common tomorrow, the League of Women Voters of Massachusetts (LWVMA) must speak out.  For almost 100 years, the League has been a nonpartisan defender of democracy.  While we cherish the individual rights of free speech and assembly, we feel a special responsibility to make our voice heard when those rights are used to incite hate and violence, and when they serve as tools to divide our nation rather than unite us as a free people.

Representing 3,000 members in over 100 Massachusetts communities, LWVMA strongly and unequivocally condemns racism, bigotry and violence.  With one voice, we reaffirm our commitment to these core, democratic values: promoting social and economic justice, securing equal rights for all, and combating discrimination and poverty.

We applaud Massachusetts Governor Charlie Baker and Boston Mayor Marty Walsh for taking a coordinated and clear stand against hateful rhetoric, intimidation, and violence and for reminding us all, in Boston and the Commonwealth, of what we stand for: civil rights, equality, unity in our diversity, love, and justice for all.  As Boston readies for tomorrow’s rally, let us all keep these greater goals in mind and work together to achieve them.

The League of Women Voters of Massachusetts Board and Staff

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. 

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.

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

LWVMA Supports Safe Communities Act—April 5 Lobby Day

The League of Women Voters of Massachusetts supports the Safe Communities Act, a bill to protect the civil liberties of all Massachusetts residents, ensure due process rights to people detained for civil immigration violations and ensure police and other local/state law enforcement agencies do not participate in immigration enforcement.

Please join us on Wednesday, April 5, at the State House for Immigrants’ Day, a lobby day in support of this bill, sponsored by the Massachusetts Immigrant and Refugee Advocacy (MIRA) organization. Find information about the bill here.

We will be advocating on behalf of the 1 million foreign-born residents of the Commonwealth and talking to our legislators about why they should support the Safe Communities Act and other pro-immigration legislation.

The event begins at 9 a.m. at the State House and lobbying will go until 2 p.m. There will be keynote speakers in the Hall of Flags from 10 to 11 a.m., after which we encourage you to meet with your legislators. There will be a rally outside the State House 1 to 2 p.m.

To register with MIRA click here and for information on Lobby Day click here. Please also email Immigration Specialist Karen Price to let LWVMA know you are coming. MIRA advises everyone to make an appointment in advance with your legislators. You can find your legislators’ contact information here.

The Safe Communities Act is sponsored in the Senate by Sen. James Eldridge (S1305) and in the House by Rep. Juana Matias (H3269) and has over 90 co-sponsors.

Recent executive orders make all noncitizens fair game for immigration enforcement and threaten to withhold federal funding from jurisdictions whose police refuse to detain any individual identified as suspicious by Immigration and Customs Enforcement.

Complying with these federal detention requests damages the relationship between police and noncitizen community members and their allies, and takes up police time that should be used to enforce state criminal law. It also taxes local financial resources, since cities and states are expected to foot the bill for detention. The Massachusetts Legislature has the means to protect its immigrant population from these federal-state immigration enforcement partnerships by passing the Safe Communities Act.

LWVUS has come out strongly in support of such efforts at the state and local levels. In a 2017 statement it said: “The League supports cities, towns, counties and states that make a decision not to cooperate with federal deportation and enforcement actions that include non-criminal undocumented immigrants.”

LWVMA Co-sponsoring Criminal Justice Reform Forum March 25

LWVMA Is pleased to co-sponsor a forum on criminal justice reform, “The Politics of Justice: Comprehensive Criminal Justice Reform in Massachusetts,” along with the Leagues in Arlington and Winchester.

The forum will be Saturday, March 25, 12:45-5:00 p.m., at the First Parish Unitarian Universalist Church of Arlington, 630 Massachusetts Ave. in Arlington Center.   You can preregister here.

Speakers will include:

  • Sen. Will Brownsberger on the Council of State Governments omnibus bill
  • Middlesex District Attorney Marian Ryan on restorative justice
  • Idris Abdullah of Teens Leading the Way on juvenile justice
  • Sen. Ken Donnelly on mental health issues and pretrial reform
  • Cassandra Bensahih of Jobs Not Jails on the Justice Reinvestment Act
  • Rahsaan Hall of the ACLU‑MA’s Racial Justice Program on the racial implications of this season’s proposed legislation.

There will be also time for networking and action opportunities, and Bill Gardiner, Colleen Kirby and Rep. Dave Rogers will offer an optional 30-minute workshop on interacting effectively with legislators.

This forum is organized by the Mass Incarceration Working Group and co-sponsored by 25 organizations.  Questions?  Email end-mass-incarceration@firstparish.info.