by Jonathan King, Cole Harrison, and Alec Neilly
The Massachusetts Peace and Justice Network has again partnered with progressive legislators to develop seven bills that were filed in the Mass. Legislature in January and February, the beginning of a new, two-year legislative session. (Mass. Peace Action is a founding member and organizer of the network.) The bills address a range of issues, including nuclear weapons, the war in Yemen, Pentagon spending vs. a Moral Budget, divestment from weapons manufacturers, corruption, and lack of transparency.
Why the State Legislature?
All politics is local, as the saying goes. Issues of national and global significance – such as war and peace, climate change, and pandemic response – are expressed and fought over not only in Congress, but also in local arenas such as state legislatures. Some 30 percent of the Massachusetts state budget comes from the federal government, so federal priorities inevitably are reflected in our local spending. The amount and allocation requirements of federal funds have a significant effect on what we are able to accomplish in our state. At the same time, local governmental bodies, especially if their efforts are nationally coordinated, can sometimes have an impact on federal lawmakers and policy.
Recognizing these realities, Mass. Peace Action three years ago began to direct more of our efforts toward influencing the state legislature. We helped organize the network, which decided to push a suite of nine bills addressing peace and justice issues. (In Massachusetts, all bills must be assigned to a committee and must receive a hearing. Any citizen has a right to testify.) While only one of our bills – to change the state flag and seal – was enacted into law, the process of public hearings and diverse testimony educated the legislators, and in some cases the public, about all of our issues.
This year we are back with a new set of bills, described below. Cole Harrison, executive director of Mass. Peace Action, is coordinating the overall effort.
Nuclear Disarmament Initiative
The Massachusetts Peace & Justice Network is introducing a three-part Nuclear Weapons initiative to protect Massachusetts citizens from the threat posed by nuclear weapons. The three parts are as follows:
RESOLUTIONS RELATIVE TO THE EXISTENTIAL THREAT POSED BY NUCLEAR WEAPONS TO THE COMMONWEALTH OF MASSACHUSETTS: Officially congratulate the 51 countries which have signed the Treaty on the Prohibition of Nuclear Weapons as well as commend the state and local authorities which have supported the treaty and Back from the Brink platform.
Lead Sponsor: Sen. Jo Comerford
Advocate Coordinator: Ira Helfand
AN ACT RELATIVE TO THE DIVESTMENT OF STATE PENSION FUNDS FROM NUCLEAR WEAPONS: Divest state pension funds from corporations involved in the manufacture or maintenance of nuclear weapons. #DivestNuclearWeapons
Lead Sponsors: Rep. Mike Connolly, Sen. Jamie Eldridge.
Advocate Coordinators: Jonathan King
RESOLVE PROVIDING FOR AN INVESTIGATION AND STUDY BY A SPECIAL COMMISSION RELATIVE TO THE EXISTENTIAL THREAT POSED BY NUCLEAR WEAPONS TO THE COMMONWEALTH OF MASSACHUSETTS: Establish a citizen’s commission to research and recommend actions for the state to take to better protect its citizens from nuclear weapons.
Lead Sponsors: Rep. Lindsay Sabadosa, Sen. Jo Comerford
Advocate Coordinators: Timmon Wallis & Vicki Elson
AN ACT RELATIVE TO PENSION DIVESTMENT FROM COMPANIES SELLING WEAPONS TO THE KINGDOM OF SAUDI ARABIA: Divest state pension funds from companies selling weapons to Saudi Arabia. #DivestFromRaytheon
Lead Sponsors: Rep. Nika Elugardo, Sen. Pat Jehlen
Advocate Coordinator: Paul Shannon
Budget & Taxes
AN ACT TO ESTABLISH A COMMISSION TO REPORT ON THE MORAL BUDGET TO REVIVE, REPAIR AND REBUILD OUR ECONOMY: This Act calls on Congress to pass a federal MORAL BUDGET that creates millions of jobs, invests in infrastructure, moves towards single-payer healthcare, makes college free, expands housing, makes corporations and those with high incomes pay their fair share, and reduces military spending. This Act also forms a commission to report on the impact this re-prioritized budget would have on Massachusetts.
Lead Sponsor: Rep. Jay Livingstone, Sen. Paul Feeney
Advocate Coordinators: Jonathan King, Andrea Burns, Massachusetts Poor People’s Campaign
AN ACT PROVIDING FEDERAL AND STATE BUDGET INFORMATION TO RESIDENTS OF THE COMMONWEALTH: Send Massachusetts residents a summary of where their tax dollars have gone each year in an effort to educate citizens on how their money is being spent.
Lead Sponsor: Rep. Carol A. Doherty, Sen. Jo Comerford
Advocate Coordinators: Jonathan King, Amar Ahmad
Ethics & Transparency
A MEASURE TO REDUCE THE INFLUENCE OF MONEY IN STATE POLITICS: Ban travel paid for by lobbying interests for Massachusetts legislators.
Lead Sponsors: Rep. Maria D. Robinson, Rep. Erika Uyterhoeven
Advocate Coordinators: Amar Ahmad, Jeff Klein
What Comes Next:
The life of a bill is long, and this process needs public support and advocates to make sure the legislators know the people want peace!
- Feb 19, 2021 – All bills for the 2021-2022 session must be filed with a lead sponsor from the state house or state senate (preferably both).
- March 27, 2021 (tentative date) — Mass. Peace & Justice Network public meeting to discuss the bills and organize work to support them.
- Each bill is assigned to a committee.
- Each committee has a hearing concerning each bill.
- Advocates attend hearings to testify to the committee the importance of the bill.
- The committee approves or rejects each bill by February 2022.
- Bills that are passed by committee may come to the floor of each chamber for a vote and must be signed by the governor.
—Jonathan King is Board co-chair, Cole Harrison is executive director, and Alec Neilly is a peace advocate at Mass. Peace Action.