Dear Friends and Neighbors,
I hope this letter finds you and your loved ones well. Traditionally, in August of an even-numbered year, the House of Representatives transitions from full formal sessions to informal sessions. Informal sessions are scheduled every 72 hours, in accordance with the Massachusetts Constitution. The rationale for holding only informal sessions is that even numbered years are election years, and in a campaign season we preclude the opportunity for individuals to use the legislative process for political gain or post-election to allow “lame duck” seated Representatives to make policy decisions. During informal sessions, non-controversial business of the House is considered, because it only requires one Representative in opposition to prevent a bill from moving forward.
The 191st General Court, as the 2019-2020, Legislature is called, was scheduled for formal sessions from January 2019 until July 31, 2020. As you may know, because of COVID-19 and its impact on the needs of the people of our Commonwealth, my colleagues and I have voted to extend the session for issues related to the state budget, COVID-19, and the resolution of unfinished business, such as bills passed in both chambers and awaiting reconciliation. In 2019, the House of Representatives passed significant pieces of legislation into law, including but not limited to, education funding reform (the Student Opportunity Act), the distracted driving ban, and an end to the discriminatory practice of conversion therapy.
The legislative momentum was replaced by the urgent need to focus on the devastating public health and economic impacts of the COVID-19 pandemic.
The Emergence of COVID-19
In March 2019, as Vice Chair of the Ways and Means Committee, I hosted a committee hearing on the health and human services budget in Needham Town Hall. The Health and Human Services (HHS) secretary and leaders of agencies attended and testified on the HHS budget, which comprises more than half of the state’s overall budget. Testimony focused on the human services workforce, prescription drug pricing, and public health.
One year later on March 9, 2020, I hosted a similar hearing, but the discussion almost entirely focused on the emerging novel coronavirus. My colleagues and I questioned the Secretary of Health and Human Services Marylou Sudders and Public Health Commissioner Monica Bharel for more than 3 hours of the 7-hour hearing. In her testimony, Commissioner Bharel cited there were only 8 cases of COVID-19 in the Commonwealth, and our state public health lab was increasing its capacity to process 50 test per day. As of writing, we are witnessing 111,371 cases and 8,438 deaths of the Commonwealth’s residents.
Governor Baker issued a State of Emergency the next day on March 10, and what followed quickly became a public health crisis and economic crisis that remains intense and unrelenting. Healthcare workers, despite a lack of appropriate and sufficient personal protective equipment or guarantee of safety and sick days, have stepped up to care for our grandparents, parents, brothers, sisters, friends, and loved ones who have become afflicted with this insidious, dangerous and at times deadly disease. From support staff to direct care workers, healthcare workers place themselves and their families at risk of contracting a virus few experts truly understand. Business owners closed their doors, sacrificing years and even decades of work in the name of public health while essential workers at grocery stores, pharmacies, and restaurants adapted to entirely new protocols and still unforetold risk.
Legislating in a COVID-19 World
As your State Representative, my staff and I continued working to provide assistance to hundreds of constituents filing for unemployment for the first time in their lives and connected hundreds of individuals to housing, food, and other critical resources. I worked with colleagues and stakeholders to secure personal protective equipment, ensure the state developed a response to care for our vulnerable individuals in congregate care facilities, and secure enhanced rates to help human services providers weather the storm and continue providing critical services. And our summer internship program for college students from Needham, Medfield and Dover went virtual for the first time ever.
Unable to meet in person, the House of Representatives met in informal session, where the objection of one lawmaker could derail legislation. Through this method, we approved a moratorium on evictions and foreclosures so people could stay in their homes, provisions to strengthen local and regional public health which I sponsored, legal protections for health care workers, relief for municipalities, MCAS relief, and an extension of the state tax filing deadline to July 15.
Knowing that we could not work in informal session for the entirety of the crisis, House Speaker Robert A. DeLeo appointed me to a five member House COVID-19 Working Group, where I serve as the liaison for all of my colleagues in the House of Representatives to the Command Center. We manage a daily questionnaire with the Administration’s Command Center, a weekly conference call with Secretary Sudders and all members, a robust repository of guidances, advisories and communication related to the State of Emergency, and hold periodic briefings on key issues like food access, life science advances, vaccine development, and unemployment assistance. Most importantly, the Working Group developed an intricate system that was fair and equitable to allow all 160 members of the House to participate remotely in full formal session with debate, deliberation, and recorded votes.
With a process for remote voting in place, the House has addressed the needs of our constituents and worked to stabilize and sustain the Commonwealth’s services. We passed critical bond bills, which require a formal roll call vote, to fund the state’s technology infrastructure and to bridge the gap between the end of the fiscal year on June 30 and the July 15 tax filing deadline, while approving legislation to improve data reporting and address the racial disparities of COVID-19.
Attention Turns to Another Public Health Crisis: Racial Equity
On May 25, our country, already reeling from the lives lost due to the coronavirus, bore witness to deep, systemic racial inequities with the murder of George Floyd. Responding to this moment, and the rallies, protests, and vigils that have continued in the months after, the House debated and passed An Act relative to justice, equity and accountability in law enforcement, which makes significant structural reforms to law enforcement in Massachusetts by implementing changes to training, establishing certification of law enforcement officers, and providing for continued assessment of the role of race in our state institutions.
Prior to the pandemic, I had been tasked with leading the House’s Caring Collaboration for Vulnerable Children and Families to improve outcomes for those involved with the Department of Children and Families, whose population is disproportionately comprised of people of color. The work took on renewed importance at the onset of COVID-19, as reports of child abuse and neglect dropped more than fifty percent, likely due to limited interaction with mandated reporters like educators, coaches and early education providers at the onset of remote learning and closure of childcare center. Family visits went virtual and foster parents were tasked with continuous care, all while DCF continued to reunify families at a similar pre-pandemic rate. With this renewed directive, I authored the House of Representatives resulting legislation, An Act ensuring accountability for vulnerable children and families,which passed the House unanimously to address the needs of children and families through five major initiatives: measuring the impact of COVID-19, improving the quality of agency operations, establishing a foster parents’ bill of rights, strengthening the integrity of the child advocate, and reforming data reporting.
The final weeks of July were intense and included legislation expanding telehealth coverage and mandating insurance coverage for COVID-19 emergency and inpatient services, landmark legislation establishing a roadmap to achieve net zero carbon emissions by 2050, and a $450 million economic development and job creation bill that includes housing reform.
The Commonwealth is still facing unprecedented public health and fiscal challenges, including as much as a $6 billion drop in revenue this fiscal year. With that uncertainty, and out of an abundance of responsibility to our constituents, my colleagues and I have voted to suspend the rule and continue formal sessions beyond July 31 so we can address critical issues related to the health, safety, and economic well-being of the Commonwealth
Looking at the Months Ahead
There are many priorities we must address – including reconciling the differences with the Senate on law enforcement and racial equity reform, clean energy, healthcare, and economic development legislation. I am cognizant of the many issues that have renewed importance during this pandemic, including the Safe Communities Act, Family and Mobility Act, and ROE Act, and I will continue to work with the lead sponsors of these bills to build support and advocate for their passage. Meanwhile, I am actively engaged with members of our Federal delegation and I ask you to join me in demanding the federal government provides aid to the states in this public health and economic crisis. The US Senate should agree to critical state aid that was included in the HEROES Act passed by the US House of Representatives in May so we can avoid devasting budget impacts from our grim revenue outlook, which will impact our Commonwealth’s ability to meet the needs of our residents.
Just as it is important we remain vigilant and continue to follow CDC guidelines around hygiene, wearing a face covering, and social distancing, I will continue to be accessible to anyone who needs assistance and will continue publishing the Tuesday/Thursday reports to ensure you receive the most up to date, accurate information. As a reflection of the past year and a half, I have included links to my website recapping the legislation we have passed.
I wish you and your loved ones, friends and neighbors, hope, health, strength, and resilience.
Yours in service,
2019-2020 Legislative Accomplishments
Signed Into Law
- Student Opportunity Act: Provides $1.7 billion in new funding for public education over the next seven years.
- Hands Free Driving: Prohibits the use of handhell devices like mobile phones while driving, unless using for GPS or enabling hands-free mode.
- Conversion Therapy Ban: Prohibits the discriminatory and discredited practice of conversion therapy among youth.
- SAPHE Act: Legislation I filed to support collaboration between local boards of health to deliver high-quality and efficient public health services.
- Lift the Cap on Kids (Legislature overrode Governor’s veto): Repeals the family cap, which would otherwise deny welfare benefits to children born after a family starts receiving benefits.
- Modernizing Tobacco Control: Bans flavored e-cigarette and vaping products, including mint and menthol, and imposes taxes on the sales of e-cigarette and vaping products.
- Nicky’s Law: Creates a registry of care providers who harm a person with intellectual or developmental disability and prevents those providers from being hired by the Department of Developmental Services (DDS).
- Labor Rights (Janus) (Legislature overrode Governor’s veto): Enables Massachusetts employee organizations to charge non-members the reasonable costs associated with representing them legally through the grievance process, in response to the Supreme Court’s ruling in Janus v. AFSCME,
- Title X Funding: Allocates $8 million for family planning services to replace federal funding lost due to the President’s gag rule.
- FY20 Budget: Provides $42.7 billion to fund state operations and major investments in education, the environment, substance use disorder services, health care, and other areas while depositing record totals into the state’s rainy day fund.
- Children’s Wellness: Extends healthcare coverage to age 26 for foster children and requires health insurance company to frequently update provider directories.
- College Stability: Enables the state to more closely monitor the financial health of Massachusetts private colleges and universities and provide transparency and security to students and families in the Commonwealth.
- IT Bond Bill: Authorizes $1.7 billion in spending for the improvement of state information technology equipment and related projects in Massachusetts.
COVID-19 Response Signed into Law
- Rent and Foreclosure Moratorium: Places a moratorium on all non-criminal evictions for residential and commercial tenants and foreclosures during the COVID-19 state of emergency.
- Vote by Mail: Guarantees your right to vote in person or by mail after completing an application mailed to your home in both the primary and general elections this Fall.
- Long-Term Care and Elder Housing Facilities COVID-19 Data Reporting: Enhances COVID-19 data reporting at elder care facilities, soldiers’ homes, and houses of correction and creates a task force to mitigate health disparities for underrepresented and underserved communities in the wake of the pandemic.
- Unemployment Insurance Improvements: Provides additional Unemployment Insurance (UI) relief to low-income families, non-profit institutions and employers.
- Support for Schools and Homeless During COVID-19 Crisis: Waived the MCAS requirement and provided flexibility to state housing programs to assist those experiencing homelessness.
- Municipal Relief: Provides cities and towns the authority to postpone and reschedule certain municipal elections and related activities.
- COVID-19 Supp Federal Reimbursement: Authorizes spending to facilitate federal CARES Act funding to reimburse communities hard-hit by COVID-19. This legislation also designated Juneteenth as an official state holiday.
- Virtual Notarization: Authorizes notary publics to perform notary actions using video conferencing during the COVID-19 public health emergency.
- Restaurant Support: Eases outdoor dining restrictions and expands alcohol takeout options to include beer, wine, and mixed drinks.
- Tax Deadline: Extended the state tax filing deadline from April 15 to July 15.
Different Versions Passed in House and Senate
- Justice, Equity and Accountability in Law Enforcement: Makes significant structural reforms to policing in Massachusetts by implementing changes to training, establishing certification of law enforcement officers, and providing for continued assessment of the role of race in our state institutions.
- 2050 Roadmap: Requires the state to develop a plan to address climate change over the next thirty years and makes other critical changes to promote renewable energy in Massachusetts.
- Economic Development: Provides $459 million in bond funding for job creation and economic development projects.
- Health Care: A tailored piece of legislation to support the health of individuals and the strength of our healthcare system during the COVID-19 pandemic through telehealth and other supports.
- Accountability for Vulnerable Children and Families: Passed as part of my work leading the House’s Caring Collaboration for Children and Families, this improves accountability and outcomes for children and families.
Passed by House and Awaiting Action in Senate
- Transportation Revenue: Invests up to $600 million annually in an immediate and critical infusion of transportation funding.
- GreenWorks: Authorizes $1.3 billion in bonding to help cities and towns across Massachusetts fund infrastructure projects aimed at fighting climate change and reducing greenhouse gas emissions.
- Racial Inequities in Maternal Health: Creates a special legislative commission to make recommendations that reduce or remove the kind of racial inequities that result in women of color dying of pregnancy-related causes at more than double the rate of white women.