Greetings from your State House,
Oh my friends, in any other email to you, I’d dive head-first into updates. But not today. Not after Uvalde, Buffalo, Milwaukee, Laguna Woods – racist, gun-related tragedies – too many to name, even just this year.
Before going any further, I need to say that there are no words to describe the sorrow and rage felt by so many of us as we heard that more children and caregivers had been murdered. When we understood that government had failed – again and again and again – to keep them safe.
Common-sense gun laws have been an urgent priority of mine since I was a Campaign Director at MoveOn. In league with prophetic folks like U.S. Senator Chris Murphy, I helped to lead a national campaign to win an executive order by then President Barack Obama to close the “private sale loophole” which allowed guns sold privately at gun shows to be sold with very little oversight. (Please see the P.P.S. for an action step.)
Just about one week ago, I offered remarks at an annual awards evening honoring young peacemakers in Franklin County. I talked about the Buffalo murders and the horrors of this time – and urged the young leaders to be anti-racist changemakers. You can read my remarks here.
I promised the young people that I will work harder to be “more worthy of [their] generation. I will fight harder, buoyed by [their] example and the urgency of this moment.”
And so I will.
Everything all at once
This is a time in the legislative calendar where everything happens all at once. It’s like the Superbowl, March Madness, and the World Series at the same time.
Read on for budget, climate bill, maternal health equity, MCAS, flag and seal, COVID, and library tour news.
I endeavored to capture the mounting urgency of this time in a jam-packed Town Hall my team and I held earlier in the month. You can watch it here.
In memory and in honor of David Stevens
I joined with Senators Pat Jehlen and Becca Rausch to adjourn the first night of budget debate in honor of David Stevens, an absolute giant of a human being who passed away due to cancer on April 28. You can watch the video and read the text of our closing here. I extend my deepest condolences and love to David’s beloved husband, Jeff Rankin, as well as to David’s family and his large circle of close friends and colleagues.
Senate Budget Week
Earlier today I voted YES on the Senate’s $49 billion state budget blueprint for the coming fiscal year, which begins July 1. I kicked off budget week with a short intro video. You can watch it here.
Though budget debate happens over a one-week period, it is the culmination of months of work with constituents, advocates, and Senate leadership – making the strongest possible case for our top priorities. And then fighting like hell to win.
That work and advocacy, as well as healthy state revenues, meant that the budget that came to the floor for debate was already quite strong. Like the House, the Senate picks priority areas. Some overlap with the House’s priorities, others are unique. In this budget, the Senate is strong on public higher education, public health, local aid to cities and towns, PILOT payments (which are “Payments In Lieu Of Taxes” to reimburse municipalities for state-owned land), and early education and childcare, all of which were among my top asks in budget meetings.
Now that the Senate budget is completed, the House and Senate will meet in what’s called a Conference Committee where I’ll be fighting to keep the best of the House’s budget (like the House’s commitment to affordable housing and funding for services for survivors of sexual assault and abuse) and the best of the Senate’s in the budget that goes to the Governor’s desk.
Here’s a summary of the amendments I secured for our district and for state-wide priorities:
- Amendment 834: Directs $20 million in surplus Fiscal Year 2022 revenue to the Community Preservation Act Trust Fund to be distributed to CPA Communities. I spoke to the importance of this Amendment here.
- Amendment 911: $1 million for pay increases for Juvenile Court Investigators
- Amendment 48: $100K in continued funding for the Healthy Soils Program
- Amendment 558: $1 million in additional funding for the Equitable Approaches to Public Safety (EAPS) Grant Program which supports community-based crisis response work. A video of my remarks on this amendment is here.
- Amendment 269: Enables Franklin County CDC and rural CDCs to access microlending grants
- Amendment 67: $625K in funding for UMass Extension to support agricultural and environmental research. Please checkout my participatory floor speech here.
- Amendment 1075: $60K for Grow Food Northampton for leasing farmland to marginalized communities
- Amendment 1070: $100K for a generator for the Montague Water Pollution Control Facility
- Amendment 1072: $10K for fire safety equipment for the Town of Royalston adding to very strong work by Rep. Susannah Whipps
- Amendment 1049: $35K for the Trauma Informed Hampshire County Initiative out of the Collaborative for Educational Services
- Amendment 1050: $10K for the Town of Northfield’s 350th Anniversary
- Amendment 1067: $100K for a new senior center to serve residents of Deerfield, Sunderland and Whately
- Amendment 1073: $40K for the Town of Wendell for road and highway equipment
- Amendment 1074: $100K for the Town of Orange to demolish an unsafe building that caused the closure of part of West River Street
- Amendment 1076: $25K for supportive housing services for women veterans at Cathy’s House in Winchendon
- Amendment 1102: $20K for homelessness prevention in the North Quabbin region
I also supported provisions and an amendment that make key advances in reproductive equity and gender-affirming health care, including:
- An appropriation of $2 million to improve reproductive health care access and to support abortion funds here in Massachusetts, like the stellar work being led in western Massachusetts by Abortion Rights Fund of Western Massachusetts. And more money on top of that for family planning led by critical organizations like Tapestry.
- And Amendment 388, which protects providers and patients in Massachusetts from legal repercussions in other states when they provide or receive reproductive health care services and/or gender-affirming health care services in the Commonwealth, creates a statewide standing order for pharmacists to dispense emergency contraception, and prevents Massachusetts courts or law enforcement from assisting efforts initiated in other states to enforce their state laws against reproductive or gender-affirming health care services. I spoke to my unwavering support of Amendment 388 here.
On May 15 in Northampton (below), I spoke to the urgent need for Massachusetts to go Beyond ROE, with deep appreciation for Reproductive Equity Now, the ACLU, and Planned Parenthood.
YES on Work and Family Mobility!
The Work and Family Mobility Act, which would make drivers’ licenses available to all residents, without regard for immigration status, is now on the Governor’s desk. This legislation has been a priority for me and most importantly for immigrant communities for many years. It passed the House and the Senate with veto-proof majorities in both chambers and is now awaiting the Governor’s signature. This victory is powered by years of skilled and tenacious grassroots advocacy. Below is a picture of some of those courageous advocates in the State House in February 2020. I joined them as they protested to promise my unwavering support. Following that is a circa 2019 photo with me and an amazing group from the Pioneer Valley Workers Center.
Massachusetts will become the 17th state to provide the ability to drive to all residents when the bill becomes law.
Driving Climate Action Forward
Last month, the Senate passed our second major climate bill this session. Here’s a pretty extensive blog post summarizing the bill and the policies I added through amendments.
The climate bills passed by the House and the Senate are now being reconciled by a conference committee before a final bill is sent to the Governor. The omnibus clean energy bill passed by the House included legislation I filed with Rep. Natalie Blais to modernize our power grid to allow for the 21st century clean energy revolution that we know is needed. If we want renewable energy to flow to and from homes and buildings, if we want battery storage, our grid must be able to support those goals. The Senate’s omnibus bill included yet another piece of legislation that I filed, this one with Rep. Blais and Rep. Mindy Domb, to address the Single Parcel Rule and to expand equitable access to rooftop solar.
Pictured below is a press conference launching the Senate’s clean energy bill.
Working with UMass Clean Energy Extension, pollinator advocates, architects, environmental health experts, The Nature Conservancy, and to address a problem that officials in Royalston flagged for me, I scored four solid amendments:
- Requiring that any state solar incentive program offer additional incentives for solar installations that achieve a rigorous Pollinator-Friendly certification.
- Striking the current $100,000 maximum project cost for municipal energy efficiency improvements under the DOER’s Green Communities grant program.
- Requiring an assessment of K-12 school buildings statewide for energy efficiency and environmental health factors. The amendment requires the Department of Public Health, the Department of Elementary and Secondary Education, and the Department of Energy Resources, in consultation with the Massachusetts School Building Authority, to assess and report publicly on strategies to implement green and healthy school standards. The amendment draws from S.1382, An Act for healthy and green public schools, which I filed with Rep. Mindy Domb.
- Ensuring the Commonwealth’s next solar incentive program improves upon the current SMART solar program. As the state considers the successor solar incentive program to the current SMART program, the amendment ensures the new program will align with high-level climate roadmapping and emissions reduction goals, give priority to solar projects on the built environment, support towns in grappling with solar expansion and local land use regulations, and avoid and minimize negative impacts on natural and working lands.
Racial Inequities in Maternal Health
Over the past 15 months, I’ve had the honor of co-chairing the Special Commission on Racial Inequities in Maternal Health, born out of a bill we passed out of the Public Health Committee last session. The Commission released a blistering report, presenting compelling evidence on the pressing inequities facing birthing People of Color – especially Black people – in the Commonwealth. You can read it here.
Deep gratitude to the Commissioners who served on this commission as well as the tireless constituents who spoke during the Commission’s western Massachusetts listening session. Count me in to help support your work and address the report’s urgent recommendations.
Library Tour Resumes!
Join me and District Director Elena Cohen this spring for the 2022 Library Tour! We’ll be visiting 15 libraries throughout the Hampshire, Franklin, Worcester district from June to September.
This tour is a continuation of our first library tour, which began in 2019, but ended prematurely due to the pandemic.
We’ll be celebrating the vibrancy of our region’s libraries and the critical role they play in our communities. Each visit will include opportunities for constituents to hear about my legislative work, ask questions, and join in conversation about pressing issues affecting their communities.
You can view details of each visit here. You can also find information on Facebook here.
In the wake of an historic pandemic – where brutal, long-standing inequities were exposed along race, ethnicity, and class lines – the state has proposed to make it harder for students – many of whom were disproportionately hurt by COVID – to get a high school diploma by arbitrarily raising the passing score for MCAS tests.
I had the honor of joining the Massachusetts Teachers Association and Citizens for Public Schools, to co-host an event focused on resisting this faulty proposal.
The federal government mandates standardized testing, but does NOT mandate that testing be high stakes. That a single test be given the power to determine whether or not a student gets a diploma – regardless if that student has passed all requisite coursework – is just wrong.
Let’s be clear, more and more states are deciding against what the Baker Administration is doubling down on. Very soon we’ll be alone on a sad, cold, puritanical island.
Through the passage of the Student Opportunity Act, the Legislature has made it clear that the state can and should provide more resources for teaching and learning, and for the very cohorts of students who struggle to pass MCAS.
We must continue to invest in our schools’ excellence rather than set a rigid bar that will only foreclose on many of our childrens’ futures and leave far too many behind.
- Share this video to help raise awareness.
- Write your legislator and tell them you want to END high stakes testing (thanks to a toolkit from CPS)
- Raise your voice with the Board of Education and tell them not to raise the bar (thanks to a toolkit from MTA)
State Grant Forum and Work to Channel the Full Support of Our Office
A big part of what my team and I are charged with is bringing home state dollars for our people and communities. Sometimes that looks like budget negotiations and sometimes that looks like advocacy around state grants.
To crack open state funding for our communities, District Director Elena Cohen worked in partnership with Regional Planning Agencies, Rep. Natalie Blais, western Massachusetts Senators, and state colleagues to organize a pretty fabulous series of information sessions. They’re still ongoing and we’ve recorded all of them. You can find all the information here.
Our team also never stops working with state agencies to urge their support of business, nonprofits, cities, and towns. On Tuesday, Elena testified before the Massachusetts Department of Transportation on key infrastructure projects. You can read her testimony here and ALLLLLL the other support letters we write here.
Much as we’d all wish otherwise, COVID is still very much in our midst. I culled a significant number of current resources and information for Senate colleagues and wanted to pass this along to you via this blog post.
Infant Formula Shortage
Thanks to Public Health Committee House Chair, Marjorie Decker, I co-hosted a briefing on acute infant formula shortages. This Facebook post has important information, but let me say this: If you are unable to access formula or if you have information on shortages, please email me immediately and I’ll jump in to help (firstname.lastname@example.org).
The Commonwealth’s Flag and Seal
For decades our region led the way on work to change the state’s racist flag, seal and motto. I’m delighted to let you know that the Special Commission looking at this issue has voted unanimously to replace the flag, seal and motto.
On Facebook, I shared a statement from Leverett resident and Commission co-Chair Brian Boyles, Executive Director of Mass Humanities.
Out and about
I joined Rep. Natalie Blais to speak about our work at the Deerfield Climate Forum.
I chopped a lot a lot a lot of onions as a volunteer at the incredible Stone Soup Cafe.
I toured the Franklin County YMCA and had some fabulous conversations with young constituents.
I joined Reps. Natalie Blais and Dan Carey to speak at the Mass Municipal Association’s western Massachusetts meeting on local infrastructure. The picture above makes it look like I’m ready to do battle for our towns. And I am.
I joined Congressman McGovern’s advocacy to stop the closure of the VA Medical Center in Leeds and, with House colleagues, hosted a regional roundtable focused on addressing veteran suicide.
I had a breathtaking meeting with The Brick House Community Resource Center and Montague Catholic Social Ministries on early child care, youth services, jobs, transportation, health care, and the Work and Family Mobility Act. The next day I proudly voted YES on the bill!
As usual, I try to fill every minute while I’m in Boston. Delighted to speak, amid this week’s budget debate, with colleagues, at a rally for a local public health bill I’ve filed with Reps Hannah Kane and Denise Garlick.
I was also humbled to receive the Massachusetts Environmental Health Association’s annual award for my work in public health.
Sending our love to you,
Jo, Elena, Rachel, Brian, Cameron, and Jared
P.S. I have the real privilege of supporting Tapestry and Cutchins Programs for Children & Families, Inc. in the same month!
Please check out the truly stunning items available for auction via Tapestry’s annual event. (I have three items up for auction and I’d love your support!)
And, if you’re inclined, please support me “dancing” into the glamorous roaring 20s as part of Cutchins’ 2022 Dancing with the Local Stars: Silent Auction and Fundraiser Dinner. You can vote for my team here. Big love to teammates Tara Brewster and Noel St. Jean.
P.P.S. When I was organizing with MoveOn, we knew at the time that – while an executive order would offer the protections we needed – it could be undone by the next White House occupant. And so it was by Donald Trump. That’s why Congress must act NOW after generations of delay to strengthen gun protections in LAW. My friends at MoveOn are building a campaign to ask Congress to not recess until it acts on gun safety. Here’s a petition you can sign and share.
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