Op-Ed: Make your voices heard

By Local State Rep. Jeffrey Sánchez

The first few months of the legislative session in the Legislature are marked by high energy as we file bills and debate the budget, where I am fighting for homelessness assistance, arts funding, early education programs, and youth jobs among other priorities. It is also time to focus on legislative priorities for the rest of the session.

This session will be all about building on our successes and sending a clear message to Washington. As House Chair of the Joint Committee on Health Care Financing, I am committed to ensuring that we continue universal health coverage for all Massachusetts residents. Right now, 97 percent of the population has health coverage and women continue have access to copay-free contraception. I also continue to push hard for legislation that encourages affordable housing, workforce development programs that train and create opportunities, and protections for immigrants. I continue to be driven to promote a progressive agenda that makes our neighborhoods stronger and healthier.

Immigration became a flashpoint in the election, and the harmful rhetoric has incited fear in our communities. There is increased pressure to protect the immigrant populations that contribute to our neighborhoods and our economy. I have actively engaged and challenged the Baker administration and co-sponsored the Safe Communities Act to ensure that state and local police forces do not become de-facto immigration enforcement officers and that Commonwealth’s dollars are not spent to further an agenda rooted in fear and discrimination.

Speaker Robert DeLeo recently appointed me to serve on the House Federal Policy Working Group, which was formed to create legislative solutions to protect our values in Massachusetts in the face of Trump administration policies. At our first meeting, we voted to fast track legislation that would essentially block state law enforcement from participating in a federal program to train local officers as immigration enforcement agents. We also discussed legislation to protect internet privacy in response to Congress repealing protections against internet providers selling browser histories and other customer data. This is something that many constituents have contacted me about, so I look forward to working with the group on this topic. This group will be closely monitoring policies that seek to weaken so many of the progressive policies we have all worked on throughout the years.

At the same time, it is important that we not forget the unique issues facing our communities of Jamaica Plain, Mission Hill, Roslindale, and Brookline: access to affordable housing, quality public education for all students, and workforce/job training and elder services. For this reason, I have proposed several bills that address these problems.

I recently testified in support of my bill, Language Opportunities for Our Kids (LOOK). The LOOK bill would increase the flexibility and quality of education programs for English language learners. ELL students continue to fall behind their non-ELL classmates. In fact, only 64 percent of ELL students graduate high school. This bill would ensure ELL students can reach their full potential.

On the topic of criminal justice reform, we are at an important time and I agree that reform is needed. With this in mind, we must examine all aspects of the system to make sure we get it right. I worked on criminal justice in the House in 2010 and 2012, focusing on CORI reforms and reducing mandatory minimums. Those debates almost fell apart because emotions ran high, and we have seen recently that CORI reform wasn’t as successful as intended.

There are a lot of ideas out there, and no one bill is the silver bullet. I’m interested in several proposals, such as raising the felony larceny threshold, allowing early release for good behavior, and increasing access to programming. When individuals leave prison with no preparation or family to provide support, we are setting them up for failure. I am participating in this discussion with my colleagues to make sure we support these individuals, prevent re-entry into the prison system, and keep our communities safe for all people.

I continue to advocate for programs that fund affordable housing, such as the MassWorks and Brownfields grants that have been vital in the redevelopment of Jackson Square. I co-sponsored a $1.7 billion bonding bill to fund the Affordable Housing Trust Fund, Housing Stabilization Fund, Housing Innovation Fund, and other housing programs. In addition, I signed on to a bill that ensures stable rents by offering tax credits to landlords that rent at below-market rates.

Boston is a city vulnerable to rising sea level, and our neighborhoods continue to have high asthma rates. Sound science and clean air, water, and energy are vital to our planet, so I signed on to various bills to ensure the Commonwealth protects our natural resources and public health. This includes legislation that would prohibit utilities from charging ratepayers for the cost of gas leaks and legislation that would increase the Renewable Portfolio Standard to require a greater percent of the energy produced in Massachusetts to be sustainable. I also signed on to a bill that would require new pipelines, such as the Spectra pipeline in West Roxbury, to undergo a process that considers public health impacts prior to approval.

I would first like to thank those who have engaged me. Since November’s election, I have been able to listen to the entire district through phone calls, emails, surveys, one-on-one meetings with individuals and advocates, and the numerous community meetings and events I’ve hosted. There are many diverse opinions and I will continue to listen to everybody in Jamaica Plain, Mission Hill, Roslindale, and Brookline.

These legislative priorities are guided by you. I have my own experiences growing up in Mission Hill and living in this district and city my entire life. I have been honored to meet with you and your groups, receive and return your calls, emails, and hold active meetings in the community.

I truly appreciate the feedback many of you continue to give. This summary is by no means extensive or final. I continue to research topics and actively engage with individuals, stakeholders, and government agencies in order to improve our communities. The nuts and bolts of policy research are not always glamorous, but it is a cornerstone in my approach, and I owe it to you to be informed as I work on legislation and other initiatives. The next year and a half promise to be exciting and will present challenges. In spite of the rhetoric in DC, we will continue to foster a Commonwealth that stands up for our shared values. I look forward to continuing this movement forward with you.

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