As 2019 ends, now is a good time to review some of the work the Legislature has done this year, the first half of the two year 191st legislative session. We have accomplished a lot so far. Not only did the landmark education bill — just signed into law this past week — open new doors for low-income communities and families, but in other ways we also provided important protections to some for our most vulnerable populations. Fortunately, I was able to play a role in a number of major policy debates that led to these successful outcomes. As I reflect on the year and our achievements, particularly at a time to give thanks and count blessings, I am extraordinarily grateful for the opportunity to serve as your State Representative. And it is important to note that none of these accomplishments are possible without your activism and participation, and I appreciate the many of you who weigh in with a call, an email or encouragement in person when I see you around town.
Conversion Therapy Ban
In March, I voted “Yes” for An Act Relative to Abusive Practices to Change Sexual Orientation and Gender Identity in Minors. I was proud to co-sponsor and cast my vote for this LGBTQ+ and human rights legislation, also known as the “Conversion Therapy Ban”, which now prohibits state-licensed mental health professionals from subjecting children to conversion therapy practices under the pretext of changing their sexual orientation and/or gender identity. Those subjected to the widely discredited practice of conversion therapy are at high risk of depression, anxiety, and even suicide. We needed to end this practice and I am pleased that we did. You can read more about it here.
Lift the Cap on Kids
On that same day back in March, we also took a vote on An Act to Lift the Cap on Kids. Massachusetts had a misguided “family cap” law, which cruelly denied cash assistance to children conceived while — or soon after — the family received other public assistance. The Lift the Cap on Kids bill removed this so-called “family cap”. You can read more here.
Title X Funding
Earlier this year, we also passed legislation that will make available $8 million to reproductive health centers in Massachusetts. This measure will help offset the loss of funding from the federal government, stemming from the Trump Administration’s misguided and cynical cuts to the Title X program. Title X programs focus on serving those that live at, or below, 250% of the federal poverty level. These funds will go to family planning services, education, counseling, exams, STD and STI testing, and cancer screenings. You can read more here.
Distracted Driving Bill
We’ve heard far too many tragic stories of fatal accidents caused by distracted driving. This is why it is so important that we passed Distracted Driving Bill with vast bipartisan support! This bill is important for public safety and will save the lives of drivers and pedestrians alike. This legislation prevents any operator of a motor vehicle from using a cellular phone, or any Internet-connected handheld device, to compose or read an electronic message and to access a mobile application while driving (except to activate, deactivate or initiate hands-free navigation). I also am pleased that the bill strengthens data collection to prevent racial bias in policing. We do not want to increase law enforcement stops that will result from this law to disproportionately impact minority communities. You can read more here.
Around Veterans Day, I attended a veteran’s breakfast in Belmont. It was another reminder of the service those men and women provided to protect our country and why protecting their rights and providing services for them is critically important and necessary. The House of Representatives passed two pieces of legislation recently for our veteran community. The first establishes a program for continuing education at UMass Medical School to train public higher education counselors about the symptoms of conditions like post-traumatic stress disorder (PTSD). The second bill establishes a commission to design a memorial in the honor of Deborah Sampson. The Revolutionary War hero who dressed like a man to fight in the Continental Army, she was the only woman to receive a full military pension in the Revolutionary War.
In a significant step forward in environmental policy, the House passed the GreenWorks Bill that will provide $1.3 billion in infrastructure funding projects to fight climate change and greenhouse gas emissions across the state. $1 billion of the money will establish a ten-year grant program to fund clean energy initiatives, energy efficiency, and climate change resiliency projects. You can read more here.
Student Opportunity Act
The House and the Senate came to a final agreement on the Student Opportunity Act and the Governor signed it into law. This historic legislation is truly an enormous breakthrough and will invest $1.5 billion in the Commonwealth’s public education system over the next seven years and make a series of additional positive changes that benefit public education. A significant victory for public education, this measure a is once-in-a-generation effort making transformational investments in our K-12 public education system. Following the findings of the Foundation Budget Review Commission in 2015, the Student Opportunity Act adopts four principal recommendations: 1) increase funding for districts with high concentrations of low-income students; 2) increase the assumed in-district special education enrollment rate; 3) adjust the calculation formula used for English language learners by including additional funds on top of the base rate for each student; and 4) adjust the projected costs of employee healthcare to rising costs statewide. You can read more about it here.
Funded at $42.7 billion, the House budget makes major strides forward in education, housing, environmental protection, substance use disorder services, health care, and other areas while also adding more than $200 million deposit into the Stabilization Fund – the Rainy Day Fund – bringing the fund’s balance to more than $2.5 billion to safeguard the future of vital programs and services in the event of an economic downturn. You can read more about it here.
As for my district, I am happy to say that we were also able to secure funding for many local projects in Arlington, Belmont, and Cambridge. In the last budget:
In Arlington, we received $56,000 for the Arlington Historical Society for maintenance, refurbishment, and replacement of critical assets at the Jason Russell House and the Smith Museum, and $100,000 for a new playground at Lussiano Park.
In Belmont, we secured several key line items requested by town government leaders. Specifically, the budget contains $80,000 for tree removal for trees weakened by the emerald ash borer, an invasive insect; $50,000 for mold mitigation for a municipal building; and $100,000 for a new traffic signal for the intersection of Sycamore and Lexington Streets where a tragic fatality occurred.
And in Cambridge, we obtained $85,000 for the operation of the Food for Free Committee, Inc. in the Cambridge Weekend Backpack Program, which sends food home on the weekends to families in need, as well as $50,000 for Phase II of the Magazine Beach Renovation Project. $100,000 was allocated for a corridor study of Route 16 from Cambridge to Medford and $50,000 for road safety and traffic enforcement on Fresh Pond Parkway between Huron Avenue and Brattle Street in Cambridge.