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Category: Front Page News

New Legislation Will Increase Voter Participation Advocates Urge Swift Passage

BOSTON – Senator Cindy Creem and Representative John Lawn have filed legislation that the Election Modernization Coalition heralded as the most comprehensive next step for Massachusetts elections. Read the bill summary here.

The legislation, “An Act Fostering Voting Opportunities, Trust, Equity, and Security,” or “the VOTES Act” would make permanent many of the short-term reforms implemented for elections during the COVID-19 pandemic, including allowing all eligible voters to request a mail ballot and expanding early voting options. The VOTES Act also: establishes same-day voter registration; ensures that eligible voters who are incarcerated are able to request a mail ballot and vote; and creates a risk-limiting audit system to replace Massachusetts’ dated method of post-election audits. Risk-limiting audits are considered “the gold standard” and have already been implemented in ColoradoGeorgia, and Rhode Island. The legislation would also require the Secretary of Commonwealth to implement Automatic Voter Registration as passed by the Legislature in 2018,  to better streamline voter registration 

The Election Modernization Coalition is comprised of longtime advocates who championed early voting, online voter registration,  Automatic Voter Registration, and the legislation passed in the summer of 2020 to respond to the COVID pandemic. According to the Coalition, the Creem-Lawn Bill comes at a critical moment. After months of misinformation and disinformation about the nation’s elections, outright attacks on US democracy, and a movement for racial justice that once again highlighted existing racism and racial inequity in the nation, this legislation offers concrete solutions that are badly-needed in the Commonwealth. 

The Coalition and bill sponsors held a press conference today. Watch the recording here.

House bill is available 
here .

Senate bill is available 
here.

Read the Coalition’s full press release 
here.

LWVMA Scores Legislative Wins on Pandemic Election Changes, Education Funding, Policing Reforms, Abortion Access, Climate Crisis

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.

2/3/2021

January 2021 Scharfman Grant Awarded to LWV Falmouth

LWV Falmouth received a Lotte E. Scharfman Citizen Education grant in January 2021 for their “Be a Voter”–Voter Art Campaign! The Voter Art Campaign was designed to inform, inspire, encourage and remind the public to register and cast their votes and to educate them about the methods of voting and the various deadlines.

The campaign consisted of several elements:

  • The creation of a vibrant three-paneled non-partisan mural. Each panel was 8ft long by 4ft wide. The public was invited to take part in painting the bold images. The event day also included the display of information about voting to reinforce the messages represented in the art that was being painted. The finished mural remained on prominent display on the busy high street in Falmouth for the month leading up to Election Day.  The Public Painting Day was held on October 10th. The mural remained on display until November 4th.
  • The creation of a high school Voter Art competition. All high school students in the area were invited to create a piece of non-partisan Voter Art that would call their peers and the wider community to register and cast their votes. The students were encouraged to research the history of voting and ways to vote in order to inform their work and become better educated about voting.The finished artwork was displayed and promoted via Instagram, Facebook and at a dedicated exhibition. The competition ran from September 8th through to October 20th. The artwork continued to be displayed through to November 4th.
  • The creation of a public exhibition of the Voter Art at the Falmouth Art Center. A call for art was also extended via press coverage, email blasts and promotions through the art center, to the general public to join the local high school students in creating a piece of art work to inspire the community to register and vote in the upcoming election. The student and public works of art were displayed at the Falmouth Art Center for two weeks prior to the Presidential Election. The exhibition was open to the public and free of charge and was also available virtually through the Falmouth Art Center’s online gallery. The exhibition ran from October 23rd through to November 4th.
  • The creation of a comprehensive media campaign. The media campaign amplified the impact of the different elements of the Voter Art initiatives at every stage: from recruiting participants to paint the mural, to securing a great turn out for the community painting day, through celebrating the students art work, to covering the collaboration between the artist and the LWV of Falmouth. Because of the original and visual nature of the different project elements, we were able to secure extensive coverage.

These initiatives were entirely new and both complemented and expanded the ongoing citizen education work of the Voter Services committee which included a Candidates Night.

Congratulations to the LWV Falmouth!

League Climate Specialist Contributes to Study on Legislation Influencers

Launa Zimmaro, Massachusetts League of Women Voters’ indefatigable legislative specialist on climate change and energy, was contacted two years ago by Timmons Roberts, Professor of Environmental Studies and Sociology at Brown University and Executive Director of the Climate Social Science Network team. Launa was asked about the League’s lobbying on behalf of environmental/climate change bills for the Brown University team’s examination of the influence of a variety of advocacy groups.  Because Launa had provided both oral and written League testimony to the Massachusetts legislature on major climate bills, the team was interested in those lobbying efforts.

The study, released this month, examines why legislation in Massachusetts to combat climate change and promote clean energy frequently stalls, despite major public support.  A Brown press release with the 12 major findings of the report is here.  The full study is here. You can also learn more at the new Climate Social Science Network site, www.CSSN.org

The study recommends improving the Massachusetts legislative process in regard to climate change bills with “far greater transparency on committee and floor votes, better reporting on lobbying and committee inputs, better controls on utilities, and broader engagement by renewable energy companies in climate policy.”

This week Launa is once again leading the charge to pass the comprehensive climate bill the League and others fought hard for last session that was vetoed by Governor Baker. The bill, An Act creating a next-generation roadmap for Massachusetts climate policy, was just refiled and legislative leadership has moved to pass it again with a veto-proof majority.

Launa has been a member of the Concord- Carlisle League since 2008, is a former director of LWVMA, and joined the LWVMA Legislative Action Committee in 2009, specializing in the environment and energy.