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Entries, updates on issue organizing and information, legislative action, and other material related to our Progressive Platform and Legislative Agenda

Massachusetts House Votes Down Proposals to Help Renters, Promote Affordable Housing

When Governor Charlie Baker sent an economic development bill to the MA Legislature, he included his "Housing Choices" legislation, which had been stalled as a standalone bill. The "Housing Choices" bill addresses one aspect of Massachusetts's affordable housing crisis: the fact that new construction is relatively rare in the suburbs due to the prevalence of single-family zoning. If you can only build one housing unit per lot, it makes it more difficult to respond to a growing population or growing demand. Currently, zoning changes (such as those that would approve multifamily housing construction) require a 2/3 approval from local government. Baker's bill, which the MA House retained in their economic development package, would lower that to a simple majority.

The need for more supply, though, is just one part of the problem. There is no guarantee that the new supply would be affordable, nor that the new supply would not push up rents for current tenants, thus running the risk of displacement. There isn't even a guarantee that any new housing will be built at all (it's a removal of a barrier rather than promise of new construction).

That being said, as an MIT researcher recently noted in CommonWealth Mag, all this means is that we need to think comprehensively when we approach the affordable housing crisis: we do need zoning reform, but we also need stronger protections for existing tenants. Tenant protections will not address the need for supply: only new construction can. Zoning reform will not address displacement: you need tenant protections for that. This was also an essential takeaway of the book Golden Gates by Conor Dougherty on the housing crisis in San Francisco.

Unfortunately, the MA House voted down efforts at striking such a balance.

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Here's How Your State Rep Voted on Police Reform

Late Friday evening, the MA House passed its police reform bill, following the Senate's passage of the Reform - Shift - Build Act the prior week. Like the Senate bill, it creates a certification/decertification body for police officers, something almost every other state already has, and strengthens regulations around the use of force.

While the bill went slightly further than the Senate bill on the use of force and had stronger regulations on the use of facial surveillance, it barely touched the issue of qualified immunity (the legal doctrine that shields abusive police officers from lawsuits and denies victims their fair day in court), dropped language limiting and regulating the acquisition of military equipment, and failed to include the Senate's stronger language on reducing the school-to-prison pipeline or on a Justice Reinvestment Fund (which would invest sums equivalent to DOC savings into opportunities for impacted communities). And neither bill goes as far as necessary to truly limit the scope of policing, i.e., shifting functions away from police departments and to trained social workers and other non-armed professionals (We don't need armed police to show up when someone has a mental health episode).

The final vote on the bill was 93 to 66 (see roll call below). The House and Senate will now have to work to come up with consensus language.


Over the course of Wednesday, Thursday, and Friday, the House considered 221 amendments and had far more floor debate than is usual for the top-down chamber. Indeed, many votes were far closer than the lop-sided votes that are so common.


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The House Can Strengthen Its Police Reform Bill

Yesterday, the MA House released its police reform bill, and needless to say, we’re disappointed. Although there are some improvements on the Senate bill (stronger language on facial surveillance and chokeholds), the House punted on reforming qualified immunity, weakened language on reducing the school-to-prison pipeline, eliminated the Justice Reinvestment Fund, and dropped a whole section devoted to controlling the transfer of military equipment to police forces.

The House will be voting THIS WEEK, so your state rep needs to be hearing from YOU that you want a stronger bill. We’ve outlined some key amendments below. (Click here to contact your reps.)

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