Progressives push legislative agenda
Priorities include safe communities, education funding
Progressive Massachusetts, a statewide grassroots organization, held its annual lobbying day April 3 at the State House, where more than 100 activists discussed their priorities for the state’s 191st legislative session.
“Especially since out of the White House we’re not going to see a lot of great policy for the next few years, it’s up to the states to show a lot of policy leadership,” said Jonathan Cohn, the chair of the organization’s issues committee, before attendees broke out to attend meetings with individual legislators.
The organization is supporting a variety of bills put forth by the state Senate and House of Representatives, with a range of issues including tax reform, education funding, mass incarceration, immigration and climate action.
State Sen. Jamie Eldridge, who also spoke at the event, said that individuals speaking with their representatives is one of the best ways to achieve statewide change, as it allows those representatives to understand exactly what their constituents want.
“To be progressive is actually representing the majority of the people in Massachusetts, representing the majority of people in your community,” Eldridge said. “Telling those personal stories … that’s really how you move elected officials.”
Rep. Liz Miranda of the 5th Suffolk District spoke in support of the Safe Communities Act, a bill that failed to pass last year and would decrease police involvement with Immigration and Customs Enforcement throughout the state. This year, it was filed by Eldridge in the Senate and in the House by Miranda and Rep. Ruth Balser of the 12th Middlesex District.
The bill would prevent police from inquiring about immigration status or notifying ICE that a detainee is about to be released, require them to inform detainees in their own language that they may decline an interview with ICE and otherwise end cooperation between law enforcement and the federal agency.
“We know that there’s a lot of anti-immigrant rhetoric coming out of the White House, but let’s be honest with ourselves: it’s also happening in our commonwealth,” Miranda said. “We think about Massachusetts as a safe place for all, and it’s currently not.”
Other legislators spoke as well, including Sen. Sonia Chang-Diaz, who is sponsoring the Promise Act along with Reps. Mary Keefe and Aaron Vega. The education bill would increase funding for public school districts across the state, especially high-need districts, by reworking the foundation budget, a formula established in 1993 that determines how much money each district needs to give its students an adequate education.
“There are a couple of things in the formula that, despite our efforts in 1993, we never got right,” Chang-Diaz said. “Those things are the components in the formula that have to do with educating low-income students and educating English language learners. We did recognize that we need to do more, but we didn’t know at the time how hard it was.”
Other bills supported by Progressive Massachusetts include the Fair Share Amendment, which would create an additional 4 percent tax on annual income above $1 million; bills that would guarantee affordable public higher education, early education and childcare; Medicare for All; a bill that would remove severe restrictions on inmate visitation for incarcerated people; the HOMES Act, which would allow the sealing of eviction records; abortion law reform; environmental action; and others.
Members of the public who visited their legislators on the lobbying day had myriad reasons to speak with them. Caraline Levy of Framingham was there to promote democratic reforms like ranked-choice voting and same-day registration, but she was most passionate about education funding through the Promise Act.
“In Framingham, we have a lot of children that are very poor, and the funding is providing unequal education,” Levy told the Banner. “We need to increase funding for poor communities.”
Esther Brownsmith of Medford, however, told the Banner she was there to support the Safe Communities Act.
“Right now in the current state of the country, immigrants are under a state of attack that’s unprecedented. We really need to start immigration reform in our state,” she said. “We’ve got the votes. It’s just a matter of getting leadership to move it forward.”