2021 priorities for the Legislature
The Black Mass. Coalition, a group of nearly a dozen Black- and Indigenous-led organizations that convened to develop a blueprint for achieving equity in Massachusetts, is closely monitoring updates regarding the departure of House Speaker Robert DeLeo. This closes a significant chapter in our Commonwealth’s legislative history.
Our coalition members have worked tirelessly to champion equity in key areas such as transportation, infrastructure, housing, small business development, climate change and cannabis. With the devastating effects of COVID-19 on communities of color and the racial reckoning currently transforming our nation, we will redouble our efforts to advance our priorities in these areas in 2021 and beyond.
A spirit of cooperation is critical to addressing the economic and public health crises facing our Commonwealth as a whole and communities of color in particular. Recent victories, such as creating greater access to capital and state contracts for minority-owned businesses, staving off an eviction crisis and winning moderate policing reforms, are key examples of what can be accomplished when the voices of the marginalized are heard.
We appreciate the spirited public discourse taking place on who the next Speaker should be and the composition of their leadership team, as well as the House’s policies, procedures and conduct. We believe these conversations will strengthen our democracy and the Legislature’s ability to deliver for the people we represent.
The Black Mass. Coalition calls on the next Speaker to commit to ensuring that their staff and leadership team will be more inclusive — representing the Commonwealth’s racial and ethnic diversity — and provide greater opportunities for service on key committees by members of the Black and Latino Legislative Caucus.
We also call upon the new Speaker to commit to working on the following items during their tenure:
1. Cannabis: In 2016, the voters of Massachusetts affirmed their desire to see an equitable recreational cannabis industry exist. Several years later, we have not met this obligation in full and the racial disparity between those who are able to participate and those who are still awaiting their opportunity grows ever wider. House leadership must commit to passing legislation that removes barriers to participation for communities historically harmed by the War on Drugs.
2. Climate change: A clean and safe future is one of the most urgent, existential matters of our lifetime. Massachusetts must continue to be a leader on the issue of climate change and set an example for the rest of the nation.
3. Housing: The COVID-19 pandemic has disproportionately affected Black and Indigenous people in the economic fallout, which impacts the housing security of our communities. At a time when we are called to remain in place, homelessness is a death sentence. House leadership must pass bold housing protections, including an eviction and foreclosure moratorium, mortgage deferment for homeowners and small landlords impacted by COVID-19, more funding for rental arrearage programs, and rent control.
4. Indigenous demands: This year, the Massachusetts Senate unanimously passed S.2848 to provide “for the creation of a special commission relative to the seal and motto of the Commonwealth.” The move is a milestone in a decades-long debate to address colonial violence towards Indigenous nations memorialized in the current seal. House leadership must pass this bill, along with bills proposing a prohibition on Native mascots and protection for Native heritage through repatriation of sacred objects.
5. Small business development: Black- and other minority-owned businesses were already in a precarious position prior to the COVID-19 pandemic. With close to 20% of all Massachustts-based minority businesses reporting closures since the summer, it is imperative that the Legislature do everything it can to save existing businesses and give them the tools to thrive post-pandemic. House leadership must support budgetary items that grant financial relief to our businesses, as well as legislation that removes barriers to state contracting and sets adequate supplier diversity goals and accountability measures.
6. Transportation: People of color rely on public transportation. Many cannot afford a personal vehicle or regular reliance on ridesharing. Equitable access to a healthy public transportation system is key to economic vitality of communities. House leadership must work to ensure the Commonwealth adequately invests in public transit infrastructure.
We look forward to working with the next Speaker and all lawmakers to advance our shared priorities in the next legislative session and beyond.
This letter is jointly signed by the Black Economic Council of Massachusetts, Boston Ujima Project, City Life/Vida Urbana, Families for Justice as Healing, King Boston, North American Indian Center of Boston and Young Abolitionists.