State Sen. Jo Comerford represents 160,000 people living in 24 cities and towns in the Hampshire, Franklin, Worcester district in the Massachusetts Legislature.
One year ago, in my first Dear Jo column, I wrote that a government that works for all demands active engagement and an unbreakable partnership between legislators and their constituents. Or more succinctly, government only works if we make it work. Together.
Today, these words ring truer than ever.
As we barrel into 2020, my second year of a two-year term, and one of the most high-stakes elections in our nation’s history, I thought I’d take stock of what’s ahead.
The Senate ended the year with a flurry of activity focused on everything from education to driving safety. We’ll jump-start 2020 with an early focus on a comprehensive climate bill for which I will continue to rely on constituent input and organizing. To receive early notice about this bill, email Sam Hopper, director of constituent engagement, at firstname.lastname@example.org.
I’m also working toward a similar jump-start to the legislation my team and I filed on behalf of constituents. While 25 of my sponsored bills have already passed favorably out of their respective committees (the first positive step in the process), there are many outstanding sponsored and co-sponsored bills that demand my advocacy. Check out the line up here. Let me know your priorities by emailing email@example.com.
Committee, caucus, commission work
As Senate chair of the Public Health Committee, Legislative Director Brian Rosman and I are also advancing a list of public health-related bills and issues. In 2019, the committee held 13 public hearings for the over 400 bills assigned to us. So far, we’ve reported out 72 bills, like a ban on flavored tobacco that is now law. (The full list is here.)
Since I’m Senate vice chair of the Higher Education Committee, I’ll also be tuned in to that committee’s priorities and my own bill, The Cherish Act, which mandates an aggressive reinvestment in public higher education and is supported by the presidents and chancellors of every commonwealth public higher education institution.
In the Food Systems Caucus, we will focus on increasing funding for the Healthy Incentives Program and opening new pathways for farmers. The Medicare for All caucus will work to move the commonwealth closer to universally affordable and accessible health care. And a state commission on vaping, which I’m co-chairing, will work to fight this epidemic beyond simply banning flavored tobacco products.
Pulling Boston west
In 2019, House colleagues and I held listening sessions as well as public forums on everything from water and sewer to food insecurity. I’m looking forward to continuing this work in 2020 with a spring of forums both here at home and in Boston to raise issues and voices critical to our region.
We’ll also continue our joint Legislative Listening Sessions and I’ll hit the road, visiting the 17 remaining libraries on our team’s democracy tour. More information here.
The Legislature will take up the fiscal 2021 budget this spring and likely one or more supplemental budgets. Budgets are largely about earmark and line-item spending, but they can also provide vehicles for policy change. Here again, my advocacy is driven by constituents. It takes all of us and it’s never too early to make your budget priorities known by emailing Chief of Staff Jared Freedman at firstname.lastname@example.org.
Perhaps the most intense work our Senate team does every single day is focused squarely on constituents. Cheers to District Director Elena Cohen who, along with Legislative Aide Ania Ruiz Borys and Sam Hopper, leads this work on behalf of individuals and municipalities.
In 2019, our office opened 366 constituent cases. Some cases require a quick response to make sure a constituent continues receiving medical treatment. Others are on a more painstaking arc, even though they are similarly urgent.
And while we’re laser focused on our commonwealth, in 2020 all of us, myself included, must double down at the federal level. For seven years, as executive director of National Priorities Project, I worked with state legislators across the nation to help them better understand the impact of federal spending and policy priorities on their states. Now that I’m inside our commonwealth’s government, this reality is ever more acute.
And, again, it’s up to all of us to act.
I’ll leave you with my favorite Seamus Heaney passage from his Cure at Troy:
History says, don’t hope
On this side of the grave.
But then, once in a lifetime
The longed-for tidal wave
Of justice can rise up,
And hope and history rhyme.
Wishing you and those you love a just and peaceful “tidal wave of justice” in 2020 where “hope and history rhyme.” Let’s make it so. Together.
Have a question for Jo? Submit yours to the Dear Jo column!