Why Criminal Justice Reform Matters: Watertown Hosts a Public Forum

In recent years, Massachusetts has made some progress on criminal justice reform, including the legalization of marijuana, the reduction of sentences for some drug related crimes, and raising the age of juvenile jurisdiction to 18. However, the work is far from finished, so to inform us of what is at stake and about pending legislation, Progressive Watertown, Progressive Newton, Jobs Not Jails, and Watertown Citizens for Black Lives cosponsored the public forum "Why Criminal Justice Reform Matters." It was held Saturday, May 6th, at the Belmont-Watertown United Methodist Church.

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Don't Mistake Weak Tea for Coffee: Doing Real Criminal Justice Reform

Governor Baker, along with the Massachusetts House Speaker DeLeo and Chief Justice of the Massachusetts Supreme Court, recently announced “An Act Implementing the Recommendations of the Massachusetts Criminal Justice Review”. Sounds like it will reform criminal justice in Massachusetts, doesn't it? Don't be fooled by the name-it falls far short of true reform. It may even be an attempt to undercut progressive efforts to bring about real change.

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Some Budging on the Budget--But Austerity Still Reigns

Last Tuesday, after only two days of debate, the House approved its budget for FY 2018 on a nearly unanimous vote of House 159-1. Republican Jim Lyons of Andover was the sole dissenting vote.

If some of the House’s most conservative Republicans are willing to vote for a budget, you know it’s not particularly ambitious. State House News Service described it as “the latest in a string of austerity budgets,” and they were right. Even though an additional $77 million was added during the amendment process (bringing the budget to $40.8 billion), the budget still entrenches a pattern of underinvestment in public transit, public education, and the vital social services that are the foundation of a thriving and equitable economy.

Budget season in the House tends to follow a particular script. Amendments from progressive representatives proposing new revenue or creative new ideas will be withdrawn, often without floor debate. Amendments from Republicans will be debated on the floor and then “sent to further study,” i.e., tabled indefinitely. And the leadership will decide behind closed doors which line item increases will get into the final budget, bundling them into large, omnibus amendments. Votes, including that on the final budget, will mostly be either party-line or (nearly) unanimous (with occasional splits in the Republican caucus or defections from the likes of Colleen Garry of Dracut or James Dwyer of Weymouth on the Democratic side).

This dynamic was largely on display last week.

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Budget 2017: What Does Beacon Hill Value?

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CUT TO THE CHASE: Take me to the SAMPLE SCRIPT! 

INTRO--How did we get here?

ACTION--Call your Reps: Sample Script

AMENDMENTS--

--Revenue

--Affordable Housing

--Education and Youth

--Legal Assistance; Jobs Not Jails

--Environmental Protection

--Public Health


Cutting Past the Bone: How did we get here?

A budget is a statement of values. And the recently released House Ways & Means Budget shows that too many on Beacon Hill are content with the status quo of austerity and underinvestment.

Massachusetts lawmakers have fallen prey to the pernicious conservative ideology that taxes--our collective investment in our values and priorities--are always politically toxic. Instead of substantive conversations about how we invest in the infrastructure, services, and institutions that make Massachusetts a great place to live and work, our legislators instead year after year refuse to raise revenue -- and leave the people of the Commonwealth begging for revenue crumbs of an ever smaller pie.

Yet, every legislator on Beacon Hill knows that Massachusetts has a revenue problem: when we do not take in enough revenue, we must cut budgets. Because of ill-conceived tax cuts over a decade ago (to the benefit of the wealthiest in MA), Revenue projections continue to fall short, leading to damaging cuts to vital services.

Those tax cuts have cost all of us over $3 billion each year. Each year! Our schools, the MBTA, roads, human services--think of what $3 billion a year could be doing to invest in job growth, education, public health, housing, transportation, and environmental protection.

Next week, when the House begins to vote on the budget, representatives will have the opportunity to take necessary steps to turn this around and to commit to the investments we need to make a Massachusetts that works for all.

Particularly, in the Age of Trump, where hostility to progressive values and policies is pervasive at the federal level, it’s more important than ever to make clear that the status quo is not working. Massachusetts needs to step up its game.

And to get legislators to start stepping up, we’re going to need YOUR help.

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Call/email your representative by Monday morning to urge them to support the following ten budget amendments. The sample script is below; more info on each amendment appears after.

SAMPLE SCRIPT

I’m ___ from ___ . I’m calling to urge Rep __ to support budget amendments that support a strong Commonwealth. While these amendments would make a difference in the short term, I also want to urge my rep to fight for MORE REVENUE in the long term, including taxes on the wealthiest in Massachusetts.

Please support:

  • Amendments 42 and 43, which increase badly needed revenue
  • Amendments 780 and 382, which support housing assistance
  • Amendments 1003 and 1172, which invest in children and youth
  • Amendments 822 and 1182, which invest in equitable justice
  • Amendment 1196, which helps protect our environment
  • Amendment 151, which supports women’s health and family planning

Please share my concerns with the Rep. I will be paying attention to how s/he votes on these issues. Thank you.

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Budget Amendments

Revenue

Amendment #42 (Rep. Denise Provost): Income Tax Rate Freeze.

This amendment would freeze the personal income tax rate at 2016 levels. From 2012 to 2016, we had four automatic income tax rate cuts, resulting in almost a billion dollar reduction in state revenue. These income tax reductions disproportionately benefit the super-rich, rather than working- and middle-class families: indeed, 20% of the rate reduction tax cuts go to the top 0.05% of Massachusetts residents.

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Amendment #43 (Rep. Denise Provost): Educational Opportunity for All.

This amendment would subject any private institution of higher learning that has an endowment fund with aggregate funds in excess of $1 billion to an annual excise of 2.5% of all monies in aggregate in said endowment fund. The fund will be used exclusively for subsidizing the cost of higher education, early education, and child care for lower-income and middle-class residents of the commonwealth.

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Affordable Housing

Amendment #780 (Rep. Paul Donato): MRVP funding

This amendment would restore funding for the Massachusetts Rental Voucher Program to $120 million from $100 million. This will increase the number of vouchers available, help preserve affordable housing developments, and restore the program to its 1990 funding level.

Amendment #382 (Rep. Mike Connolly): MRVP Improvements

This amendment makes technical changes to the way Massachusetts Rental Voucher Program funds are allocated, making the program more useful to people from a range of incomes in today's very expensive housing market.

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Education & Youth

Amendment #1003 (Rep. Alice Peisch): Early Educators Rate Increase

This amendment would increase the funding for the Early Education Rate Reserve, which increase reimbursement rates for subsidized early education and care providers, to $20 million from $15 million.

Amendment #1172 (Rep. Paul Brodeur): Youthworks

This amendment would increase the funding for the Youthworks program, which provides skills and training to young people through state-funded employment, to $13.5 million.

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Legal Assistance & Jobs Not Jails

Amendment #822 (Rep. Ruth Balser): Massachusetts Legal Assistance Corporation

This amendment would increase funding for the Massachusetts Legal Assistance Corporation, which ensures that low-income residents of Massachusetts have access to legal information, advice, and representation, to $21 million.

Amendment #1182 (Rep. Mary Keefe): Job Training For Ex-Prisoners and Court Involved Youth

This amendment would increase funding for crucial programs to combat recidivism and create opportunities from $250,000 to $2 million.

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Environmental Protection

Amendment #1196 (Rep. David Rogers): Department of Environmental Protection Administration and Compliance

This amendment would increase the operations budget for DEP from $24.4 million to $30 million. Recent budget cuts have forced staff reductions of 30% at DEP, crippling its ability to protect our to ensure clean air and water and enforce environmental laws. Given looming cuts to the EPA on the national level, we cannot afford such cuts anymore.

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Public Health

Amendment #151 (Rep. Carole Fiola): Family Planning

This amendment would fund the family planning services line item at $5.8 million. Family planning funding helps providers offer a wide range of affordable preventative series, including critical screenings for breast, cervical, and other cancers; birth control and STI testing; and treatment for both men and women. With such vital services under the attack on the national level, it’s vital that Massachusetts push forward.

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College Students Work to Put a Price on Carbon, All of Us March

Off the coast of New England, warming waters may have led to the collapse of the cod fishery that gave Cape Cod its name. In our daily lives, however, the effects of climate change have been harder to notice. The average temperature and precipitation patterns have changed even here in Massachusetts, but such shifts are masked by day to day and yearly variations. To change that perception, and to build support for carbon pricing, several student organizations from local colleges and universities hosted a viewing of the episode “Priceless” of National Geographic’s “Years of Living Dangerously” (season 1 is available here) and an expert panel discussion afterwards. 

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When Candidates Are on a Listening Tour, Give Them Something to Listen To

TL;DR: Start thinking about what you want in a progressive governor, and start questioning and pressuring candidates and prospective candidates before committing.


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One year from now, Democrats across the state will have elected delegates to go to the state party convention where gubernatorial candidates will vie with each other for the party’s endorsement.

The primary field is not settled yet—there’s some time to go, and candidates may yet emerge.

But, already, candidates and prospective candidates have begun listening tours--speaking at local caucuses, at house parties, at activist events.

When the field is settled, Progressive Massachusetts will invite all candidates to fill out our detailed candidate questionnaire, as we did in 2014. (questionnaires from past races are here.)

We will ask tough questions about where they stand on the key elements of our Progressive Platform--shared prosperity, racial and social justice, open government and strong democracy, and sustainable infrastructure and environmental protection--and the Legislative Agenda that seeks to translate principles into policy.

And once they fill out those questionnaires, YOU--our grassroots members--will get to vet them and get to decide whom we endorse.

No smoke-filled rooms, just grassroots democracy.

But, the member endorsement is still a way off.

In the interim -- what can you do to strengthen the field and ensure the boldest progressive platform is being talked about at every coffee, every house party? 

SOME IDEAS --  

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Is Beacon Hill Ready to Stand up to Trump?

If you're like us, your inbox has been swamped over the past few months with rallies and action alerts about how to fight the reactionary Trump-McConnell-Ryan agenda coming out of Washington.

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Massachusetts is in position to be a leader in the resistance against Trump's agenda--and a beacon of progressive policy for the rest of the country.

Although our Republican governor, Charlie Baker, is not going to stand up to Trump as much as he should, Attorney General Maura Healey has been at the forefront of fighting for civil rights and environmental protection, among other issues, in the Age of Trump.

And Massachusetts has the third largest Democratic supermajorities in the country, with 34 out of 40 senators and 126 out of 160 representatives. In theory, then, whether or not Baker is willing to fight Trump, the Legislature has the votes to do so.

But...

The Legislature, as our scorecards (and brand new scorecard page) show, routinely fails to live up to the ideal of what one might hope for from a Legislature this overwhelmingly blue.

Trump has created a sense of urgency among progressive voters. Based on statements on policy and priorities, we have yet to see that same urgency from the State House.

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Watertown Hosts a Public Forum: What is the Role of the Media in a Democracy?

If you’re angry that Trump spewed lie after blatant lie during the election and yet somehow won, you’re not alone. As a candidate and now as President, Trump has consciously eroded trust in traditional news sources by wildly calling any unfavorable coverage “fake news”. Meanwhile actual fake news has some people convinced that Clinton was responsible for the murders of dozens of people, and that a pedophile ring was being run out of a pizza restaurant (also connected to the Clinton campaign, of course). Yes, really. During this election we’ve witnessed the alarming movement of conspiracy theories from the fringe to the mainstream.

Short of grabbing our Trump-befuddled friends and family members by the shoulders and shaking some sense into them, what can we do to fight this disinformation campaign? What can we do to prevent ourselves from being taken in by half-truths and outright lies, and what can the responsible journalists do to stop their propagation?

To get to some answers, Progressive Watertown hosted the public forum "What is the Role of the Media in our Democracy?” last Sunday, April 2nd.

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The Democratic Platform Process: Make it Progressive, Make Sure They Act on It

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Many of our activist member volunteers work with the Democratic party, a fundamental principle of our point of view is that the Democratic party—especially in Massachusetts—needs to be pulled, and sometimes pushed, to the left. While  the Democratic ideals are on the whole worthwhile, the actual practice of governing has not yielded progressive policy:

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2017 MassDems Platform Hearing Tools for Progressives

Fight for a strong Platform. But Remember: a Platform needs an Agenda to realize its vision. Elected MassDems can live up to their platform by passing the bills on our Legislative Agenda

Before digging in to our MassDems platform recs, please read our note on the limitations and opportunities of the Dems platform process--and what we need to do as next steps: progressivemass.com/demplatform


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