Congratulations progressives! Today is huge day for the Raise Up Massachusetts coalition. Our constitutional amendment to create a Fair Share tax to fund transit and public education has its legislative hearing today, the first step towards winning a vote of 25% of the legislature in a constitutional convention, and was made possible through the work of hundreds of activists, including our members and the Blue Mass Group community, who helped collect over 155,000 signatures last fall.
With this milestone, and the second year of the 189th legislative session beginning, it’s a good time to update the Blue Mass Group community about what we’ve been working on, and what we’re gearing up for in the year ahead.
Organizing on Our Progressive Priorities
We have been advocating on our progressive platform, through community organizing and legislative organizing. We continue to call on the Massachusetts Legislature, Governor Baker, and all state elected officials, to stand up and fight for core principles of our shared prosperity agenda:
Quality, affordable health care covering all medically necessary treatment
Affordable and decent housing in a safe and vibrant neighborhood
A job that pays a living wage and is close to safe and affordable transportation
An equitable tax system that raises sufficient revenue to invest in our commonwealth
A fair and efficient criminal justice system that works to ensure public safety and strong communities and the effective use of public funds
On our updated Legislative Agenda, you can find a list of current bills that take on parts of this platform. There’s even a print-out you can use to leave with your legislators, the next time you see them at your DTCs, volunteer events or lobbying at the state house.
Commensurate with our growing work and membership, and in dialogue with our members activists, we have also expanded our progressive platform to more specifically incorporate social justice, good government and citizenship, infrastructure and environment work.
Taking Measure of Legislative Progress
At the halfway mark of this session, I wish we could say that the Legislature has taken on all of these issues with great energy and urgency, but instead it’s a mish-mash of efforts.
While there have been amazing organizing efforts to pass solar legislation, comprehensive criminal justice reform, and further address income inequality, progress on these fronts has stalled. Some notes:
Solar/Net Metering Bill
Unfortunately, this bill passed the house with a litany of terrible measures that would undo much of the Patrick administration’s tremendous advances on clean energy. Governor Baker, meanwhile, has thrown his support behind building multiple natural gas pipelines. How, in Massachusetts of all places are we letting utilities National Grid and Eversource, and the big business trade association, AIM, write our energy policy/solar legislation, with a green light from House Ways and Means Committee chairman Brian Dempsey? Though he is generally deeply conservative, as the chief House architect of the groundbreaking, progressive Green Communities act in 2007 and 2008, he should know better. I wish I could explain what happened.
Criminal Justice Reform
The House and Senate have successfully passed the repeal of the RMV sanctions law that takes away the driver’s license of anyone convicted of a drug offense, for up to five years. However, more comprehensive criminal justice reform, such as repealing mandatory minimums for certain drug crimes, remains stalled: Governor Baker, Speaker DeLeo and Senate Pres. Rosenberg have justified delaying action while the Council of State Governments (CSG) begin a one-year study of the state’s criminal justice system.
We are encouraged that the Fight for 15 legislation to increase the minimum wage to $15/hour for any company that has more than 200 employees, including fast food restaurants, has been reported out of the Joint Committee on Labor and Workforce Development. The Senate is beginning to show interest, but the house has remained mostly silent on the issue.
As noted at the start, Raise Up Mass’s work to pass the millionaires’ tax by 2018 to support education and transportation is moving us forward. However, Speaker DeLeo and Governor Baker have explicitly stated that there will be no new taxes or fees (while, somehow, raising MBTA fares is excluded from this promise) during this legislative session.
Public Records and Transgender Rights
To round out the disappointments of the first half of the session, the House has also been disappointing on Transgender Accommodations (failing to have taken it up so far) and “sunshine” issues like Public Records reforms. The Public Records bill that passed in the House is deeply flawed; we are looking to the Senate to return with a much stronger bill, so that a productive bill can emerge from conference committee.
No Time to Let Up
With the end of the formal session on July 31, progressives throughout the state need to advocate even harder to pass key legislation in each of these issue areas. We are continuing to do this work, in our coalition and alliance work and through the on-the-ground activism and organizing by our terrific chapters, on these and other priorities.
(You should take a look at some of what they’re doing, check out some chapter blog updates, here)
We can’t do it without your support
In just a few years since our founding, we are well on our way to becoming a powerful, statewide, multi-issue members-based grassroots organization focused on advocating for core progressive policies, by issue organizing, holding elected officials accountable, and helping elect more progressive to public office across Massachusetts.
We believe strongly that for the agenda to remain people-powered, we must be grassroots- (not big money) funded. So please, consider allying with our other members in our progressive work by becoming a contributing member, and join our winter fundraising reception Saturday, January 23rd in Newton!
Finally, I’m very excited to report we have been working hard on our Scorecard, look for it next week! (We’ll have a preview at the party on Saturday, too. See our past scorecards at: progressivemass.com/scorecard)
Thanks for all of your engagement and activism, and I look forward to allying with you to in making 2016 a good year for progressive change in Massachusetts!