Here’s where Jo is leading on issues that are vital to the Hampshire, Franklin, Worcester district.
Our team values constituent input. We encourage you to be involved in the legislative process by providing your feedback on bills you support or oppose.
Toward the Future
Senator Jo Comerford’s Legislation for the 2023 – 2024 Legislative Session
Government works best when we make it work together.
The start of this legislative session finds our Commonwealth and its residents entering what I believe will be a hopeful era, ushered in by bold new leadership in the Executive branch.
Starting in July 2022, my team and I began meeting with stakeholders to vet and research new bills that respond to emerging issues – while also refining critical bills from last session that haven’t yet passed.
Every bill has a story behind it – a human story that transcends the policy details turned into legalese. Taken as a whole, our 2023-2024 legislation reflects a mosaic of hopes and concerns of our region – permeated with a focus on equity and justice in its many dimensions.
Read on to learn more about the legislation we’ve filed on education; energy, environment, and agriculture; equity; families; health and health care; housing, infrastructure, and tax reform; rights, democracy, and transparency; and veterans.
These are bold, necessary, timely bills, filed on your behalf, which build upon the success and momentum we’ve gained together in past sessions – and move us toward a more just and equitable future for all.
Demonstrate Achievement without MCAS
An Act empowering students and schools to thrive, or the Thrive Act
The high-stakes MCAS test required for graduation in Massachusetts offers little benefit for students, instead laying bare and perpetuating inequities in our education system. Teaching to the test narrows curriculum and hinders students from developing advanced thinking and problem-solving skills. My bill (An Act empowering students and schools to thrive, or the Thrive Act) directs the Department of Elementary and Secondary Education to permit students to demonstrate the competency required to graduate high school without passing a standardized test like the MCAS. The bill also sets up a process to identify and work with schools needing comprehensive support and improvement and allows schools to work with their local community to develop an improvement plan.
Expand Access to Affordable Higher Education
An Act improving access to affordable higher education
Massachusetts has over 30 separate higher education financial aid programs. These overlapping programs are confusing to students and families and complicated and expensive to administer. Students may decide that it is too confusing or too challenging to navigate both the financial aid process and the application process, presenting a significant barrier to accessing higher education. My bill (An Act improving access to affordable higher education) directs the Department of Higher Education to improve our fragmented and overlapping higher education financial assistance programs.
Fund Special Education Fairly
An Act establishing a special education funding reform commission
The state’s formula for funding school districts assumes that every school district has the same percentage of students who access special education services, rather than accounting for the actual number of students in each district who access special education services. This means that students with disabilities can suffer from inadequate resources due to a funding formula that shortchanges many school districts. My bill (An Act establishing a special education funding reform commission) sets up a Commission to review the Commonwealth’s system for funding special education and make recommendations for a more equitable system that will provide adequate funding to local school districts to meet the costs of providing high quality education to students with disabilities.
Help Students Access Affordable Community Colleges
An Act improving access to affordable community college
Too many high school students are unaware of available financial aid and affordable higher education options. Additionally, a loophole in our financial aid system blocks students with tuition and fee waivers from using financial aid for courses taught at night or by outside experts. My bill (An Act improving access to affordable community college) directs the Department of Higher Education to develop and distribute materials, including an informational pamphlet and website, to high school juniors and seniors about affordable and accessible higher education and financial aid opportunities, particularly opportunities at public community colleges. The bill also ensures that all students are offered the opportunity to complete the free FAFSA form that is the basis for seeking college aid. The bill additionally allows students to use financial aid tuition and fee waivers for any course offered at a community college.
The Massachusetts constitution requires that we “cherish” public education, yet per-pupil state funding for public higher education has declined by over 30 percent since 2001. With incoming revenue from the Fair Share Amendment dedicated to reinvestment in higher education, my bill (An Act committing to higher education the resources to insure a strong and healthy public higher education system, or the CHERISH Act) seizes the moment by providing students with an affordable, high quality education. The bill provides a framework for debt-free college education for all by increasing student assistance to cover living expenses as well as tuition and fees. The bill also invests in a long-term sustainable infrastructure for higher education by providing funding for capital and debt costs for public institutions.
Rural School Aid
An Act to provide a sustainable future for rural schools
Rural schools face many structural challenges, including declining enrollments as the population ages, reductions in local tax bases, increased transportation and special education costs, and a state funding formula that favors schools outside rural regions. My bill (An Act to provide a sustainable future for rural schools) addresses these and other issues by providing focused assistance to rural school districts. The bill provides funding for creating regional schools, for school building construction and renovation, and for exceptional transportation and special education costs. The bill also supports shared services among regional schools and looks for ways to reduce their health care costs.
Support Farm to School Programs
An Act establishing farm to school grants to promote healthy eating and strengthen the agricultural economy
Providing fresh, locally grown agricultural products to schools strengthens local farms and fisheries while promoting healthy communities by increasing the availability of nutritious food. The successful “Farm to School” grant program provides all students with access to nutritious, high-quality, locally grown food so they are ready to learn and grow. The program also provides an important financial boost to the Commonwealth’s food system, creating new jobs and strengthening the local economy. My bill (An Act establishing farm to school grants to promote healthy eating and strengthen the agricultural economy) permanently establishes a robust Farm to School Grant Program by codifying the program into state law.
Support Higher Education for Women of Low Income
An Act to expand access to the higher education endowment matching program
The Care Center in Holyoke provides completely free two-year college education for young mothers and low-income women. The program successfully removes barriers that young women face in traditional college settings, enabling them to use their education to make extraordinary contributions to their families, their communities, and the Commonwealth. Scholarships and grants cover tuition and books, as well as transportation, child care, and meals. However, this unique program is not eligible for the state’s endowment matching funds program available for public higher education institutions. My bill (An Act to expand access to the higher education endowment matching program) provides these matching funds to assist the Care Center in building up its college endowment and continuing to uplift young women.
Energy, Environment, and Agriculture
Accurately Track Methane Emissions
An Act making methane accounting truthful helps, or the MATH Act
Methane has more than 80 times the warming power of carbon dioxide (CO2) over the first 20 years after it reaches the atmosphere. Even though CO2 has a longer-lasting effect, an estimated 25% of global warming is driven by human-caused methane emissions. Yet, Massachusetts’ emissions estimates use inaccurate factors when it comes to accounting for methane emissions, leading to a dramatic undercount of the state’s methane and total emissions. This inaccurate accounting leads to insufficient policy. My bill (An Act relative to making methane accounting truthful helps, or the MATH Act) requires the use of scientifically accurate warming impact factors for methane emissions and requires regular, accurate updating of greenhouse gas emissions estimates.
Address Carbon Pollution in Building Materials
An Act incorporating embodied carbon into state climate policy
The building sector is a major consumer of energy and driver of greenhouse gas emissions. In addition to a commitment to energy efficient or net-zero energy buildings, the Commonwealth must also reduce embodied carbon in building materials, and operational carbon emitted as a result of operating the building. My bill (An Act incorporating embodied carbon into state climate policy) creates a state-wide body to oversee the roll out of best practices in measuring and tracking carbon, help boost carbon counting literacy for all those engaged in the building sector, and change building codes with a goal of reducing the carbon embodied in buildings and carbon emissions.
Advance Equity in Agriculture
An Act promoting equity in agriculture
The state has an obligation to set agricultural policy that ensures that all Massachusetts residents have equal opportunity to farm. We know people of color are significantly underrepresented among Commonwealth farmers, but we do not have the data, understanding, or plans needed to promote increased diversity and opportunity. My bill (An Act promoting equity in agriculture) establishes a Commission on Agricultural Equity to develop recommendations for supporting investments, policies, and practices that promote racial equity in agriculture in the Commonwealth.
Align Energy System Planning with our Needs
An Act reforming energy system planning for equity and climate transformation (RESPECT Act)
Under current law, energy system planning is done almost exclusively by electric and gas utilities. This inherent conflict of interest results in utilities pursuing their own short-term financial interests while ignoring equity and environmental justice concerns. My bill (An Act reforming energy system planning for equity and climate transformation – the RESPECT Act) separates the planning function from the ownership of utilities. The bill delegates energy system planning to an accountable agency that would consider affordability, equity, climate requirements, and environmental justice goals for all fuels in all plans.
Encourage Food Donations
An Act encouraging the donation of food to persons in need
Food insecurity levels across the Commonwealth remain high, but approximately 900,000 tons of food still end up in Massachusetts landfills every year. My bill (An Act encouraging the donation of food to persons in need) facilitates the donation of food by extending liability protection in existing law to allow for direct donations of food from individuals or organizations, and allows for a tax credit of up to $5,000 for the donation of food to non-profit organizations.
Ensure Regional Equity in Quabbin Watershed
An Act relative to the Quabbin watershed and regional equity
The communities surrounding the Quabbin Reservoir steward an invaluable resource that provides pristine water to millions of people in eastern Massachusetts. Yet under current law, these Quabbin watershed communities may not use this water, and receive minimal compensation for their efforts and sacrifice. My bill (An Act relative to the Quabbin watershed and regional equity) provides for modest payments to Quabbin watershed communities for local municipal needs, water infrastructure, and non-profit organizations providing health, welfare, safety, and transit services. The bill also provides for more representation of Connecticut River Valley interests on the MWRA Board.
Facilitate Efficient Transportation of Materials
An Act facilitating cost efficient transportation
Rural towns are unnecessarily burdened by the cost of hauling their recycling, as multiple trips are required due to weight limits imposed on trucks. Larger trucks can safely carry more materials and will save towns from these expensive and unnecessary costs. My bill (An Act facilitating cost efficient transportation) allows tandem trucks operating on approved public roads to weigh up to 99,000 pounds if they have a permit, reducing the need for multiple trips.
Invest in Natural and Working Lands
An Act investing in natural and working lands
When trees are cut down or a parcel of farmland is developed, it doesn’t just affect biodiversity, local food systems, and public and environmental health, it also reduces our ability to fight climate change now and in the future. Although we must prioritize the protection of the Commonwealth’s natural and working lands to prevent runaway global warming, Massachusetts does not currently have any sort of ‘no net loss’ requirement in place. My bill (An Act investing in natural and working lands), gives the Commonwealth the mission to preserve our forests and farmlands. It ensures that state agencies work to prevent the development of such land while allowing for economic development and respecting local land use and planning authority. The bill also requires the Commonwealth to value forest lands and farmland for the totality of the services they provide, including their work in the fight against climate change.
Protecting Farms and Food from PFAS Contamination
An Act protecting our soil and farms from PFAS contamination
PFAS chemicals build up in our bodies and never break down in the environment – they are “forever chemicals.” Very small doses of PFAS have been linked to cancer, reproductive and immune system harm, and other diseases. When PFAS is introduced to soils used for growing crops, it contaminates the food grown in that soil and can then get passed on to people consuming those products. This happens most frequently by the application of fertilizers made from treated wastewater, or sewage “sludge.” My bill (An Act protecting our soil and farms from PFAS contamination) calls for testing of sewage sludge, warning labels on products containing PFAS, and funding to help farmers access alternatives to these products.
Promote Hemp Growing and the Hemp Industry
An Act promoting the growing and use of hemp and hemp products
Despite the increased popularity of hemp and CBD in nutrition supplements and personal care products, current Massachusetts law restricts the growing and use of locally-produced hemp. My bill (An Act promoting the growing and use of hemp and hemp products) allows Massachusetts farmers to grow hemp products on land that is under an agricultural preservation restriction and also allows Massachusetts grown hemp to be made into CBD products. The bill also allows land with hemp crops to be considered farm land for tax purposes, and sets up a licensing system for hemp growers.
Promote Solar Power Over Parking Lots
An Act promoting solar energy canopies on large parking lots
Parking lots provide an untapped resource for generating solar power without disturbing natural landscapes. Solar canopies over parking lots not only provide clean renewable energy, but also provide shade, improve parking lot lighting, and protect vehicles and drivers from adverse weather conditions. My bill (An Act promoting solar energy canopies on large parking lots) establishes an incentive program to encourage the development of solar energy canopies over commercial parking lots, in the form of reduced or deferred taxes, payments, or other financial or regulatory incentives.
Protect Ratepayers from Utility Rate Hikes
An Act protecting consumers from unreasonable utility rate increases
The Department of Public Utilities consistently allows utilities in Massachusetts to make higher profits off of consumers than utilities in other states. My bill (An Act protecting consumers from unreasonable utility rate increases) protects electricity and gas consumers by eliminating automatic annual rate hikes and limiting the return on equity that utilities can earn to no more than the average of neighboring states.
Remove Cap on Fossil Fuel Free Demonstration Projects
An Act expanding access to the fossil fuel free demonstration project
In 2022, Massachusetts approved an historic law allowing up to ten municipalities to prohibit the use of fossil fuels in new construction. Banning new fossil fuels hook-ups is a necessary first step towards weaning ourselves off of polluting and unhealthy gas, oil, and other fossil fuels. These ten slots filled up quickly, and there’s now a waiting list of cities and towns ready to take strong action to meet the Commonwealth’s goal of net zero carbon emissions by 2050. My bill (An Act expanding access to the fossil fuel free demonstration project) opens up this local option for any municipality that wants to implement a ban on the use of carbon-polluting fossil fuels in new construction and meets the affordable housing criteria required by the original law.
Strengthening Our Food System
An Act strengthening local food systems
Despite their essential role in the Commonwealth’s food system, many farmers struggle to keep their farms and businesses afloat. My bill (An Act strengthening local food systems) makes a number of reforms to state law to support farms and farmers including establishing a state food system coordinator position, launching a program to provide hands-on training to new farmers, permitting farm stands to be included as agricultural land for tax purposes, and creating other initiatives to help strengthen the state’s food systems and help farmers remain competitive and viable.
Use Current Science and Protect Public Health in Mosquito Management
An Act establishing an ecologically-based mosquito management program in the Commonwealth to protect public health
Our current mosquito management system, based on a statute enacted in 1918, is woefully out of date. The structure is fragmented, does not reflect current scientific understandings, and provides no opportunity for public input. The system looks to widespread pesticide spraying as the primary response to mosquito-related concerns. My bill (An Act establishing an ecologically-based mosquito management program in the Commonwealth to protect public health) creates a state mosquito management plan that prioritizes education, monitoring, and habitat modification and allows pesticide use only for disease control. The bill prohibits aerial spraying of pesticides and completely bans the use of chemicals containing PFAS. The bill also allows residents to opt out of spraying, with beekeepers and organic farmers opted-out by default.
Abolish Racist School Mascots
An Act prohibiting the use of Native American mascots by public schools in the Commonwealth
Indigenous leaders in the Commonwealth and the Indigenous Legislative Agenda are calling for an end to public school mascots that make caricatures of Native American words, symbols, and culture. My bill (An Act prohibiting the use of Native American mascots by public schools in the Commonwealth) ends the practice of allowing schools to have team names, logos, or mascots that refer to Indigenous people or use inappropriate symbols. It also bans mascots that denigrate any racial, ethnic, gender, or religious group.
Allow Gender-Neutral Bathrooms
An Act establishing gender-neutral bathrooms
Sex-segregated restroom facilities fail to accommodate the needs of every person, posing special difficulty to transgender and gender nonconforming students. Research shows that nearly two-thirds of transgender students avoid school bathrooms because they feel unsafe or uncomfortable. My bill (An Act establishing gender-neutral bathrooms) directs changes to the state building code to allow gender-neutral bathrooms in renovations or new construction.
Honor Indigenous People
An Act establishing an Indigenous Peoples Day
Indigenous people in the Commonwealth and across the United States have been working to provide accurate information to the public about Christopher Columbus, the impact of colonization, and the injustices perpetrated against Native Americans. My bill (An Act establishing an Indigenous Peoples Day) directs the Governor to join 19 other states in declaring the second Monday in October as Indigenous Peoples’ Day to acknowledge the history of genocide and discrimination against Indigenous peoples in our Commonwealth and nation, and to celebrate the thriving cultures – past and present – of Indigenous peoples and their tribal nations.
Make Trails Accessible for All
An Act expanding access to trails for people of all abilities
Outdoor trails help connect people with nature, inspire healthy activities, and protect natural places – while also fostering livable and welcoming communities. Too often, people with disabilities are not able to access public trails and the many benefits that come with this access. My bill (An Act expanding access to trails for people of all abilities) establishes a state policy to maximize equitable access to trails, outdoor spaces, and outdoor recreational activities for people of all abilities. The bill establishes a working group consisting of state agencies, representatives of groups focused on disability access, conservation organizations, and others to review current access status and make recommendations on how to best implement effective access policies and procedures. The working group will hold public hearings and issue annual reports.
Provide Effective Peer Respite Alternatives for Mental Health Care
An Act establishing peer-run respite centers throughout the Commonwealth
Peer respites provide effective alternatives to conventional mental health interventions for people experiencing a mental health crisis. Peer respites serve people whose needs are not met in traditional mental health clinical settings. My bill (An Act establishing peer-run respite centers throughout the Commonwealth) provides for a peer respite center to be established in each county, including at least two targeted for the members of the LGBTQIA+ community. The centers will be staffed and managed by trained people who identify as members of the LGBTQIA+ community and have lived experience in the mental health system.
Right to Non-Binary Gender Identification
An Act relative to gender identity on Massachusetts identification
People should have the right to identify by their preferred gender on all state documents and forms. My bill (An Act relative to gender identity on Massachusetts identification) requires the Registry of Motor Vehicles to allow a non-binary option on drivers licenses, enables parents and caregivers to choose a non-binary option on their child’s birth certificate, allows adults to change the gender on their birth certificate, and directs the state to develop a plan to provide a non-binary option on all state forms where a gender choice is required.
Assist Local Communities with Foster Student Transportation Costs
An Act fairly reimbursing local school transportation of foster children
When a foster child gets placed with a family outside their original city or town, it is often best for the child to remain at their original school. The district where the child attends school is required to pay for the child’s transportation. There are limited federal funds available to cover the cost, and under federal law the state is supposed to make up the rest. However, the state does not make these payments, leaving local school districts with an unreimbursed cost of around $4 million. My bill (An Act fairly reimbursing local school transportation of foster children) directs the state to reimburse schools for any foster student transportation costs not covered by federal funds.
Foster Children Bill of Rights
An Act establishing a bill of rights for children in foster care
Every child in foster care is endowed with the rights inherently belonging to all children. In addition, because of the temporary or permanent separation from birth parents and other family members, children in foster care require special safeguards and resources. My bill (An Act establishing a bill of rights for children in foster care) codifies the rights of children in foster care into state law.
Strengthen Foster Care
An Act establishing the Massachusetts foster care review office
Some 10,000 children are in placements outside their homes and in state custody due to complex issues facing their birth families. Foster care reviews are required every six months to provide oversight and make sure that each child’s service plan is safe and appropriate. Currently, these reviews are performed by the state Department of Children and Families, which also oversees the foster care system, creating a conflict of interest. My bill (An Act establishing the Massachusetts foster care review office) transfers responsibility for foster care review to a new external and independent body, the Foster Care Review Office, and allows for chronic, systemic issues with the system to be addressed.
Stop Confiscation of Federal Benefits for Children in Foster Care
An Act protecting benefits owed to foster children
As has been a longstanding practice, Massachusetts intercepts monthly Social Security payments and veterans benefits paid to foster children whose parents have died or have become disabled, using the funds to offset the state’s cost of foster care. Some $6.8 million was diverted in 2016. My bill (An Act protecting benefits owed to foster children) reverses this policy and directs state officials to preserve these funds for the child to use as they transition to adulthood and independent living. This bill also establishes a reporting and accounting system to track the receipt and use of these funds.
Health and Health Care
Accessible Home Care for Seniors and People with Disabilities
An Act supporting equal access to community care for elders and the disabled
Providing care to people in their homes and communities reduces strain on our nursing homes and allows people to receive care where they are most comfortable. But current law makes seniors and people with disabilities ineligible for home care if their income goes just a penny above the income limit, a policy often called the “cliff effect.” My bill (An Act supporting equal access to community care for elders and the disabled) allows eligible people to receive MassHealth home and community-based care even if their income is over the program income limit, if they pay a premium equal to their income above the limit.
Allow Spouses to Serve as Caregivers
An Act allowing spouses to serve as caregivers
Current state policy penalizes seniors and people with disabilities who wish to employ their spouse as their caregiver. My bill (An Act allowing spouses to serve as caregivers) reverses that policy and directs MassHealth to recognize and compensate spouses as caregivers if requested by the patient – just as other relatives are already permitted to serve as paid caregivers.
Death with Dignity
An Act relative to end of life options
As Senate Chair of the Public Health Committee for four years, I had the opportunity to thoroughly research medical aid-in-dying and listen deeply to Commonwealth residents. The Committee heard harrowing stories from people whose relatives suffered during their last days and about the need to provide a voluntary medical option for terminally-ill people to control the timing and manner of their death. My bill (An Act relative to end of life options) allows someone who is terminally ill to choose a dignified, peaceful death by requesting medication from a doctor that may be self-administered at a time of their own choosing, should suffering become unbearable. This bill safeguards patients and medical professionals, affords dying people autonomy and compassion during the most difficult time, and protects potentially vulnerable people from coercion.
Disclose Menstrual Product Ingredients
An Act relative to menstrual product ingredient disclosure
Menstrual products are used by millions of people in the Commonwealth, with the average menstruating person using nearly ten thousand of these products over their lifetime. There is growing concern about chemical exposure from certain components and additives in menstrual products. Current federal Food and Drug Administration guidelines do not require manufacturers of menstrual products to disclose their ingredients, limiting the ability of researchers to understand such exposure and the ability of consumers to make informed choices. My bill (An Act relative to menstrual product ingredient disclosure) requires ingredient disclosure on any menstrual product sold within the Commonwealth.
Ensure Full Coverage for Infectious Disease Care
An Act to strengthen the control of contagious or infectious diseases in the Commonwealth
The COVID pandemic taught us that quick, effective action is critical to preventing the spread of infectious disease. Patients should be able to quickly get care for infectious diseases without insurance company prior authorization paperwork or added deductible or copay costs. My bill (An Act to strengthen the control of contagious or infectious diseases in the Commonwealth) provides that when the Department of Public Health designates a contagious disease as being of heightened public health importance, insurers cannot charge cost-sharing payments like copays or deductibles and cannot require patients to obtain pre-approval, also known as prior authorization, to get the care they need.
Expand Access to Birth Centers
An Act updating the regulations governing licensed birth centers in Massachusetts
Birth centers are a homelike setting providing skilled midwifery care for low risk pregnancies. There are 400 such birth centers across the United States, but recent closures of hospital-affiliated birth centers in Massachusetts have reduced the already limited access to this birth option for families here. Currently, Massachusetts has just one birth center operating, even though birth centers are a proven model for improving birth outcomes while reducing health care costs. My bill (An Act updating the regulations governing licensed birth centers in Massachusetts) directs the Department of Public Health to promulgate updated regulations that are consistent with the licensed practice of midwives and physicians and national standards to maximize safety and expand access to birth options. This approach is consistent with the recent reports from the Commission on Racial Inequities in Maternal Health and the Health Policy Commission which highlighted the benefits of birth centers and recommended addressing regulatory barriers to scaling up birth centers.
Fight Pancreatic Cancer
An Act to reduce incidence and death from pancreatic cancer
Pancreatic cancer is the second deadliest type of cancer in Massachusetts, with 1,110 estimated deaths in 2022. In 2019, I served on a Special Commission to Study Pancreatic Cancer, which was created to identify areas of unmet needs in pancreatic cancer prevention, diagnosis, and treatment, as well as to provide recommendations for additional legislation or support to meet these needs. My bill (An Act to reduce incidence and death from pancreatic cancer) establishes a comprehensive pancreatic cancer initiative within the Department of Public Health to provide coordinated pancreatic cancer prevention, screening, education, and support programs.
Meet Demand for Certified Nurses’ Aides
An Act expanding access to the certified nurses’ aides certification process
Massachusetts is facing an extreme shortage of healthcare workers in the wake of the COVID pandemic. Although we need more certified nursing assistants, our system for testing and licensing certified nurses’ aides (CNAs) has been a barrier to addressing this labor shortage, particularly when it comes to licensing immigrants who face language barriers in passing the test. We have immigrants in western Massachusetts who want to work as CNAs – and nursing homes that want to hire them – the only barrier is the testing process. My bill (An Act expanding access to the certified nurses’ aides certification process) directs the Department of Public Health to provide testing in multiple languages to Certified Nurses’ Aides applicants, allowing them the opportunity to join and strengthen the healthcare workforce as licensed professionals and providing more opportunities for patients to be served by CNAs who speak their native language.
Protect Patients’ Bodily Integrity
An Act prohibiting nonconsensual intimate examinations of anesthetized or unconscious patients
There is growing concern regarding the practice of performing pelvic and other intimate exams on unconscious patients without the patients’ consent. My bill (An Act prohibiting nonconsensual intimate examinations of anesthetized or unconscious patients) prohibits doctors, medical students, and other health care providers from performing intimate pelvic, prostate, or rectal exams on an anesthetized or unconscious patient without first obtaining written informed consent, unless the exam is required for the patient’s care.
Protect Patients and Operating Room Staff from Toxic “Surgical Smoke”
An Act protecting patients and health care workers from exposure to surgical smoke
“Surgical smoke” is the term for the vapor produced by the destruction of tissue by lasers or electrosurgical devices during surgery. The surgical smoke can contain toxic gasses and vapors such as benzene, hydrogen cyanide, and formaldehyde, as well as dead and live material, including blood tissue particles, bacteria, and viruses. It’s a serious risk to nurses, surgeons, and other operating room personnel who inhale the contaminates. My bill (An Act protecting patients and health care workers from exposure to surgical smoke) requires all hospitals and freestanding ambulatory surgical facilities to use smoke evacuation systems to protect against exposure to these toxic contaminants and plumes.
Reducing Barriers to Gender-Affirming Care
An Act relative to trans-inclusive health care access
Gender-affirming care is health care. Yet right now, insurance coverage for gender-affirming care services are subject to additional prior authorization requirements that create barriers to patients who are trying to access this care. My bill (An Act relative to trans-inclusive health care access) requires insurance companies to cover gender-affirming care upon receipt of one letter from a qualified mental health professional, aligning state law with the accepted World Professional Association for Transgender Health standard and reducing unnecessary administrative burdens on individuals seeking this care.
Reduce Youth Suicide
An Act supporting student mental health
The state’s 2019 Youth Risk Behavior Survey found that 17.5 percent of high school students seriously considered suicide during the previous year, with 14.8 percent making a plan and 7.3 percent attempting suicide. For middle school students, 11.3 percent seriously considered suicide and 5 percent attempted suicide. My bill (An Act supporting student mental health) directs that newly printed school ID cards for public school students in grades 7-12 and students in public colleges and universities include the 988 Suicide and Crisis Lifeline. The 988 Suicide and Crisis Lifeline directs all callers to trained call takers who are available to provide free, confidential emotional support.
Local and regional public health officials are on the front line of protecting the public, yet they work within a fragmented and under-resourced system. My bill (An Act relative to accelerating improvements to the local and regional public health system to address disparities in the delivery of public health services) sets statewide practice and training standards and provides funds to ensure that everyone in the Commonwealth has access to a core set of public health protections.
Support New Parents and Families
An Act to support families
Under current Massachusetts law, the birth of a substance-exposed newborn child triggers an automatic obligation for health care providers to report the birthing parent for suspected abuse or neglect. This is required even if the pregnant individual was taking prescribed medication for addiction treatment. By conflating prenatal substance exposure with child abuse, these reports stigmatize people receiving medically-recommended treatment and harm the birthing parent and child. My bill (An Act to support families) updates the law to center the best interests of the child. Providers would no longer be required to file reports automatically by the singular fact of prenatal substance exposure.
Housing, Infrastructure, and Tax Reform
Allow Local Option Fee on Sales of Luxury Homes to Build Affordable Housing
An Act granting a local option for a real estate transfer fee to fund affordable housing
Homelessness and a lack of affordable housing remain major crises in Massachusetts. Cities and towns need funds to support the development of affordable housing in their communities. My bill (An Act granting a local option for a real estate transfer fee to fund affordable housing) allows cities and towns to levy a local fee on the transfer of luxury houses, with the money generated put into that municipality’s affordable housing trust fund.
Fair Reimbursement to Rural Cities and Towns
An Act to reform payments in lieu of taxes for state-owned land
The state “PILOT” (payments in lieu of taxes) program is supposed to reimburse municipalities for loss of tax revenue due to tax-exempt state-owned land within their borders. Within the Hampshire, Franklin, Worcester district, cities and towns steward thousands of acres of protected forest, recreational areas, and properties that house public universities and other state facilities. Yet a 2020 Auditor’s Report confirmed what many have long known: the state dramatically shortchanges western Massachusetts cities and towns, by millions. Changes made in 2016 disproportionately reward affluent urban and suburban communities in eastern Massachusetts. My bill (An Act to reform payments in lieu of taxes for state-owned land) rebalances the formula for distributing PILOT funds based on the recommendations in the Auditor’s report. It will result in fair reimbursement to western Massachusetts cities and towns to make up for lost revenue due to state-owned land in our region.
Help Low Income Workers
An Act improving the earned income credit for working families
The Earned Income Tax Credit (EITC) assists 400,000 low- and moderate-income households in Massachusetts. It has been proven to lift families out of poverty and increase employment by encouraging people to work. This, in turn, boosts recipients’ long-term earnings and improves health outcomes. My bill (An Act improving the earned income credit for working families) increases the state supplement to the federal credit, expands age eligibility, and allows people without a social security number to qualify.
Improve Road Safety and Save Lives
An Act prohibiting video recording or broadcasting while driving
Driving safely requires a driver’s full attention. Recording a video while driving is inherently dangerous, yet in recent years, there has been an increase in video blogging, or “vlogging,” while driving. My bill (An Act prohibiting video recording or broadcasting while driving) bans a driver from recording or broadcasting video of themselves while driving. It addresses a loophole in our current law to make sure that drivers focus their attention solely on the road and their driving. This bill honors Charlie Braun, a gifted and beloved musician and community leader who was tragically killed when he was struck by a car while riding a bike in Northampton. Tragically, the driver’s attention was diverted by a FaceTime video call while she was driving.
Make All Schools Healthy and Green
An Act establishing a Green and Healthy Schools working group and implementation plan
Too many students and educators are forced to spend their days in sub-substandard school buildings that are unhealthy places to work and learn. The pandemic brought more visibility to this long standing crisis. During the 2021-22 session, we passed legislation I filed calling for a comprehensive assessment of school buildings’ energy efficiency, ventilation, and other environmental and health concerns. My bill (An Act establishing a Green and Healthy Schools working group and implementation plan) directs the state government to develop an accountable plan for implementing and enforcing green and healthy school standards for all schools by 2050 so that students can learn and our educators can teach in an environment that is healthier and more conducive to learning.
No New Prisons and Jails
An Act establishing a jail and prison construction moratorium
Massachusetts must reduce the number of people incarcerated in jails and prisons, address the root causes of incarceration, and invest in community-based alternatives to prison. My bill (An Act establishing a jail and prison construction moratorium) imposes a 5-year moratorium on the construction or expansion of jails, prisons, and other correctional facilities.
Protect Homeowners’ Equity When Facing Tax Foreclosure
An Act protecting equity for homeowners facing foreclosure
When homeowners fall behind in their property taxes, cities and towns can foreclose on and take ownership of the entire property. Municipalities are then free to sell the property, keeping all of the profits – even if the amount far exceeds the back taxes owed. My bill (An Act protecting equity for homeowners facing foreclosure) ends this process of taking all equity from those facing tax foreclosures. The bill provides that any equity remaining beyond the tax debt will be paid to the homeowner. The bill also improves the notice system to warn taxpaying homeowners that they may lose their home due to unpaid taxes.
Protect Homes of Deceased MassHealth Members
An Act protecting the homes of seniors and disabled people on MassHealth
MassHealth, the state’s Medicaid program, demands repayment after death from the estates or families of low-income people who received Medicaid health care services after age 55. Over 90 percent of these repayments to MassHealth come from the sale of the family home. My bill (An Act protecting the homes of seniors and disabled people on MassHealth) limits the estate recovery program so that repayment is only sought where it is required by the federal government. This bill also strengthens advance notice requirements and expands hardship waiver criteria.
Support Local Municipal and Public Safety Buildings
An Act Creating a Municipal and Public Safety Building Authority
Municipal buildings, like town offices, fire stations, police stations and highway facilities are critical to the operations of the municipality and the maintenance of roads and other infrastructure. Yet, many small towns in western Massachusetts and around the state do not have the tax base or borrowing ability to build new or upgrade their aging or inadequate municipal or public safety buildings. My bill (An Act creating a Municipal and Public Safety Building Authority) creates an independent public authority, similar to authorities that help finance municipal school buildings and libraries, to provide matching funds for local municipal and public safety buildings.
Tax Benefits for All Farms
Proposal for a legislative amendment to the Constitution relative to agricultural and horticultural lands
Currently, the state Constitution recognizes the importance of agriculture by allowing farm land to be taxed based on its value as agricultural or horticultural land, rather than as commercial or residential land. However, farms must be at least five acres to qualify under this provision. My constitutional amendment (Proposal for a legislative amendment to the Constitution relative to agricultural and horticultural lands) allows smaller-sized farm parcels to qualify. This change would benefit urban farmers who often pay exorbitant property taxes, new farmers who often cannot find or afford large parcels of farmland, and existing farmers who want to expand production to smaller parcels.
Rights, Democracy, and Transparency
Expand State Job Opportunities
An Act relative to state employment postings
We must have equal opportunity in hiring practices. The state falls short of this goal because there is no requirement that open state jobs be posted publicly online. My bill (An Act relative to state employment postings) directs state officials to create a single, comprehensive online system to list all job openings for positions with state agencies.
Help Drivers with Autism Spectrum Disorder
An Act facilitating better interactions between police officers and persons with autism spectrum disorder
For drivers with Autism Spectrum Disorder, being stopped by a police officer can be particularly challenging. Law enforcement officers or other first responders may also have had little or no training in best practices for communicating with people with Autism Spectrum Disorder. My bill (An Act facilitating better interactions between police officers and persons with autism spectrum disorder) creates a voluntary program to make available special “blue envelopes” that hold the driver’s license, registration, and insurance cards, as well as specific instructions for the officer on the driver’s diagnosis, intentions, impairments, triggers, and contact information. In Connecticut, a similar voluntary program has been shown to reduce stress, facilitate better communication, and improve safety.
Stand Against Nuclear Weapons
Resolve providing for an investigation and study by a special commission relative to the existential threats posed by nuclear weapons and climate change to the commonwealth of Massachusetts
A Resolution to embrace the Treaty on the Prohibition of Nuclear Weapons and move the U.S. back from the brink of nuclear war
Enough nuclear weapons currently exist to end human life on earth forever. The United Nations has moved to address this existential threat, and although the United States continues to produce and stockpile nuclear weapons, our Commonwealth can and should be part of the solution. My resolution (A Resolution to embrace the Treaty on the Prohibition of Nuclear Weapons and move the U.S. back from the brink of nuclear war) declares the Commonwealth’s support for the Treaty on the Prohibition of Nuclear Weapons and directs the legislature to take action towards the elimination of all nuclear weapons. I have also introduced a Resolve (Resolve providing for an investigation and study by a special commission relative to the existential threats posed by nuclear weapons and climate change to the commonwealth of Massachusetts) which creates a commission to explore ways to protect the residents of the Commonwealth from the threat of nuclear weapons and to work towards the total elimination of these weapons from all countries.
Support Rural Communities
An Act advancing equity for rural communities receiving state grants
Many rural Massachusetts municipalities have small tax bases and flat or declining populations, which can result in less state funding and leave local officials to maintain municipal infrastructure on a shoestring budget. State grant programs thereby become a unique lifeline for small and rural municipalities. My bill (An Act advancing equity for rural communities receiving state grants) directs state agencies administering grant programs to give preference to rural communities, particularly those that intend to use funds to regionalize or share services.
Keep Veterans’ Services Local
An Act providing for timely reimbursement of cities and towns for veterans’ benefits
Local veterans’ service officers provide critical, often life-saving resources to veterans living in communities across the Commonwealth. My bill (An Act providing for timely reimbursement of cities and towns for veterans’ benefits) directs the state Department of Veterans’ Services to more quickly reimburse municipalities, so that municipalities can more easily support veterans and not be financially burdened awaiting reimbursement.
Recognize Veterans’ Public Service
An Act extending veterans retirement buyback opportunities
Many veterans continue their public service by going into teaching or other public employment. We should count all instances where veterans have served the public when we consider their retirement benefits. My bill (An Act extending veterans retirement buyback opportunities) increases the number of years spent working in public service that veterans can apply to their retirement credit from four years to ten years and increases the credit for national guard or active reserve service.