BOSTON—Senator Sonia Chang-Díaz (D-Boston) has filed her agenda for the 2013-2014 legislative session, submitting bills focused on district priorities, including education, equitable jobs access, violence prevention, and election reforms.
“In filing bills, my philosophy has always been to listen to the residents of my district and create a legislative agenda based on their concerns and priorities—working in coalition with grassroots advocates, innovators, experts, and community organizations,” said Senator Chang-Díaz. “I’m very proud of the bills my office will be fighting for over the next two years.”
Chang-Díaz’s legislation includes:
An Act relative to dropout prevention and recovery: Massachusetts has the best public schools in the nation but continues to face a deep achievement gap: the Boston Public Schools and other districts across the state have annual dropout rates three times the average state rate and higher. This bill calls on parents, teachers, administrators, community members, and the state to be a part of the solution in keeping all of our students on a path to graduation. It improves systems for identifying students who may be at-risk of dropping out; creates the Massachusetts Graduation Coach Initiative, matching at-risk students with caring adults tasked with helping to guide them to success in the school system; and raises the mandatory school attendance age from 16 to 18.
An Act reviving the Foundation Budget Review Commission: Put into law as part of the Education Reform Act of 1993, the Commission was established to make certain that the foundation budget, which is meant to ensure that each community has the funding it needs to educate its students, was reviewed and, as necessary, recalculated on a regular basis. The Commission was required to report every two years. However, since 1993, the Commission has only produced two reports, the last time ten years ago. Under this amendment, the Commission would convene to fulfill its duty to examine the foundation budget and report back to the legislature next year.
An Act regarding higher education opportunities for high school graduates in the Commonwealth: Sometimes called the Massachusetts DREAM Act, this bill provides equal access to higher education for undocumented Massachusetts students who are paying taxes in the Commonwealth, are in the process of becoming U.S. citizens, have attended a Massachusetts high school for at least three years, have received a high school diploma (or its equivalent), and have already been accepted to a public college or university. However, the students would not be eligible for public financial aid, scholarships, or loans.
WORKFORCE AND ECONOMIC DEVELOPMENT
An Act relative to equity in public contracting in honor of Bruce C. Bolling: Filed in the spirit of the work of the late Boston City Council president, this bill expands the reach of the equitable jobs access bill passed into law in 2012. The bill makes explicit the Commonwealth’s commitment to lowering unemployment rates in distressed communities and uses both transparency and competition to help ensure projects funded by taxpayer dollars are creating local jobs and promoting workforce diversity.
An Act relative to economic stability for displaced service workers: When a property manager changes contractors for janitorial, maintenance, security or passenger services, the workers are often dismissed from their work by the incoming contractor with no advanced notice and for reasons unrelated to their work performance. This bill would ensure that service workers would be able to retain their jobs regardless of a change in contractor for at least a transition period of 90 days. (Contractors would still be able to terminate a worker for cause.)
An Act to modernize voter registration and jury pool lists: The bill will help address the long lines we saw at polling stations throughout Boston and across the state this past November, and save millions in taxpayer dollars by improving government efficiency. Currently, Massachusetts is the only one of the 50 states that uses the outdated municipal census system to update our voter registration and jury pool lists. This bill would enable the U.S. Postal Service, the Registry of Motor Vehicles, and other state databases to be used to automatically update the addresses of voters who have moved within the Commonwealth and update our jury pool list. The projected cost savings to the taxpayer of this change is roughly $5.5 million annually. The bill also creates a searchable website for voters to check their voter registration status and their polling location before they wait in line at the polls. Finally, this bill also recognizes the legitimate role that non-profit and advocacy organizations play in our civil society by adding them to the list of entities that may obtain registered voter information from the Secretary of State, strictly for the purposes of civic engagement, public policy advocacy, and political advocacy. Such groups would be charged a fee for information to help cover the costs of administering the state’s voter information systems.
An Act Relative to Equal Access in Hospitals, Public Transportation, Nursing Homes, Supermarkets, Retail Establishments, and all other places open to the public (also known as the Equal Access Bill): This bill adds "gender identity" to existing state non-discrimination laws for public accommodations. Last year, Massachusetts outlawed discrimination against transgender residents in employment, housing, and credit. This bill helps ensure transgender members of our community have full and equal access to public places, such as emergency rooms, buses, restaurants, and grocery stores. Excluding transgender people from these protections, while including them in others, is confusing—for transgender people and businesses alike. This bill will give business owners clarity about their legal obligations.
An act to improve the collection and analysis of data relative to traffic stops: This bill will prohibit racial profiling of motorists. The bill requires routine collection of data about traffic stops to help law enforcement better understand and fix racial disparities and, when law enforcement has access to relevant technology, the regular reporting of collected data to the Registry of Motor Vehicles and the Executive Office of Public Safety and Security for independent analysis. The bill will also create an advisory committee to monitor and support law enforcement agencies in their continuing efforts to prevent racial disparities in policing.
An act regarding the prevention of illegal trafficking and gun violence among youth in the Commonwealth: This bill limits bulk purchases of guns by disallowing licensed dealer from selling more than 15 guns to licensed owners in one calendar year. It also closes loopholes in our gun laws by requiring that lost or stolen weapons be reported to either the Department of Criminal Justice Information Services or the local police department, and by making it a duty for anyone receiving a weapon through a gift or bequest to be licensed and registered to possess it or transfer ownership to someone who is duly licensed. (Senator Chang-Díaz is also co-sponsoring Representative Linsky’s omnibus gun control bill, HD2678.)
An Act to invest in our communities: Boston has seen a 60 percent decrease in local aid over the past 12 years—money that goes to support our schools, parks, and public safety. This bill, supported by over 100 community groups and advocacy organizations, as well as the Boston City Council and several other municipalities around the state, would restore the state income tax to 5.95 percent and set the tax rate on investment income to 8.95 percent. It also includes significant exemptions to protect low- and middle-income taxpayers and seniors. The package is projected to raise approximately $2 billion a year when fully phased in. By asking everyone—particularly those who can best afford it—to do their share, we can make our state a better place for families and create a strong foundation for future economic growth. In FY 2010 (the most recent year for which national data is available), total state and local taxes paid in Massachusetts as a share of total personal income was below the U.S. average.
An Act improving the fairness of our tax laws: This bill closes several loopholes in our tax code, including by equalizing the tax rate on cigarettes and other tobacco products.
COMMUNITY DEVELOPMENT AND ENVIRONMENT
An Act to facilitate the growth of innovative food enterprises in the Commonwealth: Filed on behalf of Boston Mayor Tom Menino, this bill would set up a food innovation trust fund, subject to appropriation, that would provide a dedicated source of financing for local food and farming entrepreneurs, particularly those operating in or serving distressed communities in Massachusetts, both urban and rural.
An act relative to preventing discriminatory land use and permitting decisions: This bill provides that government entities may look at legitimate government concerns when determining land use decisions but that they may not reject affordable housing developments simply on the basis that they will attract persons with lower incomes to a community. An Act promoting healthy communities and the environment: Some communities in the Commonwealth are disproportionately burdened by environmental hazards such as excessive air pollution, water pollution, hazardous waste and noise. This bill seeks to ensure equal protection of residents in such communities by increasing the threshold for environmental review and public notification and input in areas with disproportionate levels of health impact (such as asthma or cancer) or existing pollution, and promote public health and environmental quality in all communities.