Legislature extends session deadline
Caucus members cite unfinished business
Although the Legislature was scheduled to wrap up its business on Friday, July 31, the House and Senate agreed on July 29 to extend the session. With no set end date in sight, legislators have more time to revisit bills, amendments and reports that are pertinent to the COVID-19 crisis criminal justice reform priorities members of the Legislative Black and Latino Caucus have been pushing over the last five years.
“This session extension does not affect the urgency of enacting the Reform, Shift + Build Act; I am confident that our colleagues in the House share our commitment to acting on this matter by the end of the week,” Senate President Karen E. Spilka said in a statement.
There are several key components of the Reform Shift + Build Act that legislators are now looking to pass, and the Massachusetts Black and Latino Legislative caucus is currently refocusing its efforts.
Rep. Liz Miranda of the 5th Suffolk district told the Banner that it is important that legislators stay in session as long as it’s necessary.
“I wrote a bill and worked with my colleagues in the Black and Latino Caucus over six weeks to really get us to look at use-of-force guidelines,” she said. Miranda is also backing Rep. Russell Holmes’ push for a police standards and accreditation committee.
“We as a caucus know that there’s still work to be done in that space,” she said.
In addition to those bills, Miranda is also pushing for the ROE Act, which extends abortion rights in Massachusetts and removes some barriers to access. The Safe Communities Act is another priority. It focuses on making sure that police officers in Massachusetts do not engage in immigration enforcement activities.
The House also unanimously voted to pass a bill on a maternal inequities commission centered on health care for Black women, which Rep. Miranda sponsored.
“For me, as a Black woman and one of only three in the whole State House, I want to make sure that [the House and Senate] come to some agreement,” she said.
Rep. Nika Elugardo of the 15th Suffolk district also supports the session extension, given that there is “COVID legislation on top of regular legislation,” she said.
“My intention is … to take a look and see especially what went through the Senate that we haven’t taken up in the House,” she told the Banner.
The most important piece, Elugardo said, is the emergency housing bill, which provides protections for tenants and landlords across the state past the eviction moratorium. Elugardo also wants to pass the Healthy Youth Act this year, a bill that regulates sex education in schools. She is also a supporter of the ROE Act and mentioned the Student Opportunity Act, which provides a substantial increase in state education funding.
“We’re looking forward to making good on the Student Opportunity Act promise as soon as we’re able,” she said, but without the state budget being finalized, that won’t be possible.
The caucus also wants to move forward with legislation that allows people residing in Massachusetts to acquire a drivers’ license regardless of their immigration status. Demonstrators from the Cosecha movement camped in front of the State House for 13 days demanding licenses for undocumented immigrants. Their encampment closed on July 29, but caucus members plan to work on this legislation through the new session extension.
When House Speaker Robert DeLeo filed an order to suspend Joint Rule 12A, the rule stating the session ends July 31, he said in a statement that it was because the pandemic “does not abide deadlines.”
Also calling for an extension was a new group called Beacon BLOC, a coalition of Black State House staffers who got the attention of the speaker and Senate president through a letter the week of July 20.
“Leadership of both branches have publicly stated their commitment to combating racism and listening to those most impacted by it. That commitment has yet to be realized, and as the days left in formal session continue to wind down, we question the likelihood of the Legislature sending a comprehensive bill that centers the needs of Black residents to the Governor’s desk before the July 31st end of formal session,” the letter reads.
Both the Senate president and House speaker responded and were able to commit to meetings with Beacon BLOC, and members of the MBLLC voiced their support for the group.
“If you’re a woman, or if you’re of color, you don’t even see yourself in the physical space where you work,” Rep. Miranda said of the State House.
For now, members of the caucus who are in conference committees are working on joint legislation, and most, she said, are deciding how to respond to the extension in their respective districts.
“It’s also a well-deserved respite to take a breather and see the work that we have ahead,” she said, “because the racial justice conversation is just beginning.”