The 2021-22 session of the Massachusetts Legislature brought some successes to peace and progressive activists and some disappointments.
The Work and Family Mobility Act, which would give Massachusetts drivers’ licenses to residents without legal immigration status, passed both houses of the legislature. MAPA testified and joined rallies in favor of the bill. It was vetoed by Governor Baker but the legislature overrode the veto and it was enacted in June. Opponents are trying to gather 40,000 signatures by Aug. 24 to put a veto referendum on the ballot. If their efforts are successful, the referendum will become a major political issue and we will need to organize to sustain the bill.
A measure to establish a five-year moratorium on building new prisons in Massachusetts passed the House, in the form of a provision within the government operations bond bill. The Senate approved a watered-down version of the provision, which was passed by both houses and sent to Gov. Baker, who vetoed it after the Legislature ended its formal sessions on July 31. Advocates are demanding the legislature convene a special session in September to override Baker’s veto. Use this information to call your legislators.
The Baker administration has sought to build a new women’s prison in Norwood to replace the aging Framingham facility, but advocates led by Families for Justice as Healing are calling for community-based decarceration instead. MAPA helped organize a Springfield to Boston walk in September to raise awareness of the issue.
In a big victory for the climate movement, a major bill to address climate change (H.5060), including clean energy, offshore wind development, and a ban on fossil-fuel hookups for newly constructed homes in 10 communities, was passed and signed by the Governor.
Once again, bills to establish a statewide Indigenous People’s Day and to ban racist school mascots faced entrenched opposition and did not pass the Legislature.
Peace and Justice Bills
The bill to establish a Special Commission Relative to the Existential Threat Posed by Nuclear Weapons to Massachusetts. (H.3688 / S.1555) reflects growing concern about nuclear war in the context of the Russia/Ukraine war, Taiwan crisis, and nuclear weapons buildups by the great powers. It was introduced by Rep. Lindsay Sabadosa and Sen. Jo Comerford.
In April, a poll revealed that 63% of Massachusetts adults – including 80% of those who identify as Democrats – support the establishment of a Citizens’ Commission to investigate and report on what measures may be necessary and appropriate to protect Massachusetts citizens from nuclear weapons.
The bill was approved by the committee on Public Safety and Homeland Security and referred to the Ways and Means Committee, but did not get a vote before the end of session.
The Taxpayers’ Right to Know bill (S.2828 / H.4718 ), sponsored by Rep. Carol Doherty and Sen. Jo Comerford, instructs the State Treasurer to prepare a yearly, easy to understand report to Massachusetts taxpayers on how the U.S. Congress and State Legislature spent their tax dollars in the prior budget year.
We believe that if citizens knew how their tax dollars were being spent – for example that more than half goes to Pentagon accounts – their views on budget priorities would change. The information would be provided in a simple and easy to understand format such as a pie chart.
The Committee on State Administration and Regulatory Oversight redrafted and approved the bill, but it died in Ways and Means.
Five other peace bills that we filed, on divesting from nuclear weapons, Back from the Brink, divesting from companies involved in the Yemen war, the Moral Budget, and travel conflict of interest, did not move out of their original committees.
Pro-military legislators filed a bill (H.4263/S.2365) to automatically register for the draft anyone who receives a driver’s license in Massachusetts. Selective Service has not drafted anyone in decades but retains the power to do so, and in Congress there are efforts to require young women, as well as men, to register for the draft. MAPA opposes draft registration. The state bill was approved by the Transportation committee but died in Ways and Means. Proponents tried twice to attach it as amendments to other bills, but due to opposition, particularly from Reps. Tami Gouveia, Mike Connolly, and Natalie Higgins, we were able to stop the amendments.
Pro-Israel legislator Steve Howitt tried twice to attach amendments enacting the International Holocaust Remembrance Association (IHRA)’s distorted definition of antisemitism, which is meant to suppress pro-Palestinian advocacy, to must-pass bills; fortunately, the amendments failed.
Progressives were able to pass important climate, drivers’ licenses for immigrants, and prison moratorium legislation. But the driver’s license bill may face a referendum, and the prison moratorium was watered down, then vetoed. Indigenous agenda bills did not move.
Of the seven peace bills MAPA filed, the nuclear weapons commission and the taxpayers’ right to know, were approved by their committees – a first for MAPA legislation in recent years and an indication that our ability to influence the legislature is growing. But neither of those got a floor vote and they died, for practical purposes, at the end of the legislature’s formal session.
MAPA will convene peace bills organizers in September for a lessons learned/ next steps session, to plan renewed efforts in 2023. Contact email@example.com if you would like to participate.