What Do Massachusetts and Kazakhstan Have In Common?

The Patrick Administration has estimated that, if current criminal justice policies are not changed dramatically, the Commonwealth of Massachusetts will have to spend $2 billion over the next ten years, to build 10,000 new prison units.  We already have one of the highest rates of incarceration in the world – on par with French Guiana and Kazakhstan.  There are so few resources, and so many barriers to successful re-entry, that most prisoners released from DYS, county jails, and prison recidivate within 3 years.

Other states – including New York, Washington and Texas – have overhauled their criminal justice systems using practices that are proven effective, and so reduced their prison populations that they have closed entire prisons, saving taxpayers billions of dollars.

What reforms make sense?

Hear John Larivee of Community Resources for Justice and Cassandra BensahihEPOCA at our Policy Conference.

Register now while there is still space.

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Making Sense of Beacon Hill

Ever wonder what actually goes on at the State House –- or how your elected representatives vote on the issues you care about?

Unfortunately, much of what actually goes on is rather opaque. Each legislative session, thousands of bills are filed and assigned to a committee. But, many never have a hearing. And, committee meetings are not open to the public –- nor are committee votes recorded.

And even when a bill is not relegated to “study” –- where bills go to die -– they may never receive an up or down vote.  Leadership plays the key role in determining which legislation actually moves forward — and which dies by running out the clock.

And bills that do come up for a vote?  The vast majority are voice-voted, which means there is no roll call –- no actual record of where your particular elected official stood.

From time to time, a roll call vote is requested an elected official and leadership accedes. But most of the time, legislators say they are under tremendous pressure not to “buck leadership” and their colleagues in making such demands. And  – roll call votes are not organized in a convenient or easily accessible way.

Let’s say you learned that a roll call vote had been taken on an issue of importance to you.  How would you know how your elected official had voted?

Many online news services like Beacon Hill Roll Call report the votes from a given week –- but they don’t archive these so if you miss the vote you’re interested in, you’re out of luck.

Or, suppose someone from a neighboring district is now running for higher office and you want to know how they voted?  Well, the process of finding out is so complicated – involving several different sources in malegislature.gov that your head would spin just hearing about it

Progressive Massachusetts believes that government functions best and residents have the highest possible confidence in their representatives when the work of the legislature is fully transparent -– and easily accessible to the public.

And that is why, today, we are publishing a record of key roll call votes taken in the last legislative session (2011-2012).  And we will be tracking, compiling and publishing future roll call votes this legislative session.

Check out how your representative -– or any other representative, for that matter, actually voted:

Make your own judgment about how progressive you think they are.

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Want to VOTE in April’s US Senate Primary

The Primary, for the US Senate Special Election, is NEXT MONTH — April 30.

It is your first opportunity to vote Ed Markey for US Senate — if you are registered to vote by April 10, Wednesday.

Have you recently moved? Did you turn 18 recently? Register before April 10! 

Remember, you must be either a registered Democrat OR unenrolled/”independent” in order to vote for Ed Markey on April 30, on the Democratic primary ballot. If you are registered, say, as a Green Party member, you will NOT be able to vote on April 30 – unless you change your affiliation by April 10! 

You can download voter registration forms, print them out, and mail or drop them off to your town hall. Do it now — don’t let it slip your mind!

from MA Sec. of State: The Massachusetts Mail-In Voter Registration Form can be used to register to vote in Massachusetts, to update registration information due to a change of name, make a change of address, or to register with a political party. Note: After filling out this form, you must print it, sign it and send it to your local election official.

Download the Forms:

For registering to vote in other states, please use the National Voter Registration Form.

Interested in doing a voter registration drive? Connect with Progressive Mass!

Don’t forget to ask the high school students in your life — are they (or their friends) 18? Are they registered to vote? 

More resources at our Ed Markey campaign page:progressivemass.com/markey

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Government Of the People, By the People, For the People

Last year we witnessed major threats to our democracy dominate the headlines.  Conservatives attempted to suppress the vote – particularly in communities of color – by enacting voter ID laws and limiting early voting days, polling locations and polling machines.  Progressives fought back and one some key battles but on election day many stood for hours to exercise their most basic right.  Here in Springfield, three polling locations were shut down mid-day because they ran out of ballots.

But the biggest headline of all was an outgrowth of Citizens’ United.  Sheldon Adelson personally donated tens of millions of dollars.  The Koch Brothers spearheading an enormous number of tea party candidates.  Ultimately, many progressives and Democrats won with a superior ground game, but not before more than $6 billion dollars had been spent much of it on negative advertising.

Check out Public Campaign’s historic video and then come hear Nick Nyhart, President and Founder speak at our Policy Conference.

He will be joined by John Bonifaz who is spearheading the effort to overturn Citizens’ United – and Brenda Wright of Demos who recently wrote an amicus brief calling on the Supreme Court to uphold the pre-clearance clause of the Voting Rights Act.

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Massachusetts State House Flunks

Connect and Learn More at our MARCH 24

PROGRESSIVE POLICY CONFERENCE

The Sunlight Foundation, a nonprofit, nonpartisan organization that “uses the power of the Internet to catalyze greater government openness and transparency” today released its Transparency Report Card grading how well state legislative information is made available to the public.  And no surprise — Massachusetts got a failing grade – an “F”.

Read more about it here.

Sunlight only evaluated the data a legislature provided — its completeness, timeliness, ease of access, machine readability, use of commonly owned standards and permanence.  There are other issues of transparency and accountability that must be addressed if our State House is to be truly responsive to the needs of our residents:

  • The rules of the legislature should promote the open airing of issues and spirited debate on the future of the Commonwealth.  Hearings on vital issues should be held and bills should come for an up and down vote, particularly when a majority of legislators support them.
  • Rules of parliamentary procedure should be legally enforceable.
  • Legislation designed to address problems facing the Commonwealth should move through the State House with all deliberate speed.   Legislation should be vetted carefully but excessive study and delay designed merely to avoid decision-making and action should be eliminated.
  • The power of leadership to appoint committee chairs or to use assignments to punish and reward should be limited.

Progressive Massachusetts is committed to pushing for many of these reforms. And we are committed to providing progressive voters an easier means to stay abreast of developments in the State House, because right now, for an ordinary citizen hoping to check in on the State House — it ain’t easy.

Currently, it is possible — but maddeningly difficult — to find up-to-date information on legislation’s passage through the legislative process, making it challenging for an everyday concerned citizen to be an advocate on bills important to her/him. There can be several critical moments in a bill’s passage through the process, too, when citizens could weigh in, but when that is can be difficult to know.

It’s also very difficult for an average citizen to assess their legislators’ record and positions. Many voters do not realize that theycannot learn how their representatives voted on a bill — because most of the time, legislators’ votes are not recorded individually. The only time there’s a record of an individual legislator’s vote is when there is a roll call vote.  These roll call votes are only taken when a legislator calls from them, which happens infrequently, and the record of these votes are not easy to find. And, looked at without context, their meaning can be difficult to discern.

As we continue to push for reforms,Progressive Mass will try to bring some measure of accessibility and transparency to the process, using those pieces of information that are available:

  • We will track key progressive legislation and provide updates on their movement through the legislative process and highlight critical moments when citizen advocacy has greater impact and urgency. 
  • We will be reporting all key roll call votes in the upcoming session, giving voters a way to measure their legislators’ commitment to progressive values.
  • We will be posting (soon!) a tally of past roll call votes on key bills in the last session, again providing context for voters to assess legislators.

Stay tuned. There’s lots of work to do to raise the State House’s failing grade.

Are these resources useful to you? 

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Team Needham goes to the State House

A report on the “Our Communities” lobby day, from the Needham team of citizen activists that has been working with Progressive Mass on investing in our communities. Read more of their adventures in advocacy.

'Campaign for Our Communities' Advocacy Day

Yesterday, a tightly packed carpool of Needhamites joined nearly a thousand other citizens at the State House to meet with our legislators and ask them to support raising substantial  new revenue — to invest in our kids and schools, our families and services that help them, our transportation and infrastructure — and to raise it fairly.

To see so many people make the effort to come out to the State House to engage with their representatives was inspiring. THIS is democracy. Citizens literally making their voices heard!

But here’s what is worrying: in the face of such strong public will (confirmed by polls), obvious dire need and expert support — it’s not at all clear that our legislators are listening. (Which means we have to keep speaking up, louder and in greater numbers!)

We’ve got lots to say about Tuesday, what we heard and what we learned… read more below!

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Demand a Plan for Sensible Gun Control

Over the last week, gun control advocates have won their first victories when the Senate Judiciary Committee voted to make the already illegal practice of buying a gun for someone else — known as a straw purchase — a felony and to expand the use of background checks to private gun sales (closing the gun show loophole).

Mayors Against Illegal Guns, founded by Boston Mayor Tom Menino and New York City Mayor Michael Bloomberg (also from Massachusetts), is at the forefront of the fight.  Check out their latest video announcing broad-based support for sensible gun control.

Then come to our Policy Conference on March 24th.

Jake Sullivan, who serves in Mayor Menino’s Office of Intergovernmental Relations and is his primary liaison to Mayors Against Illegal Guns, will be talking about all aspects of gun violence and gun control as well as progressive solutions like those advocated by David Linsky which Progressive Mass is supporting and tracking.

Chelan Brown, CEO of AWAKE, runs the premier non-profit organization in Springfield that deals with youth involved in gangs.  She will share the amazing story of how street workers build trust, reduce violence and remove illegal guns.

Demand a plan for sensible gun control.

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Health Care At the Policy Conference

Health care has been center stage in the national and state level debate for more than four decades.  With the passage of the Affordable Care Act, modeled on our own system here in Massachusetts, and the Supreme Court’s landmark decision upholding the individual mandate, you might have thought debate on health care exited stage left.

But we continue to be plagued by rising costs and uneven quality of care.  Last year, the Massachusetts State House passed legislation that would allow health spending to grow no faster than the state economy overall through 2017. The legislation also includes provisions to reduce malpractice lawsuits, enhance public health, and increase transparency for consumers by requiring providers and insurers to provide up-to-date information online about the cost of procedures and tests.

Health care will once more be front and center at our Policy Conference.   Moderated by Board Member, Ari Fertig, our panel will include Ben Day, Health Care Now, Brian Rosman, Health Care for All, and Don Berwick, Former Administrator, Medicare/Medicaid and Candidate for Governor, 2014. 

Check out how Health Care Now describes single payor.

Read about Don Berwick’s assessment of health care

Join the discussion.  Sign up to attend our Policy Conference

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Join our Virtual Lobbying effort!

Couldn’t be at the State House in person on lobby day? 
You can still take 5 minutes, make 2 calls and a huge difference.

Grassroots works…but we have to act together to be loud enough!

On March 12, citizens from across the Commonwealth headed to Beacon Hill to tell their legislators to support new revenue, raised fairly/progressively, that is adequate enough to restore 10+ years of budget cuts, the MBTA shortfall, and improve education. There are two plans on the table right now, the Governor’s and “An Act to Invest in Our Communities.” Both reduce the overall regressivity of our tax system; both raise around $2billion, providing enough new revenue to invest in our services, transportation and education–not just the latest fiscal emergency. Meanwhile, the Speaker has said he’ll offer a much smaller revenue plan… which will not cover our community investment needs.

Despite economists’ endorsementpublic support and the Governor’s leadership, legislators just may miss this moment, passing a weak revenue package that will keep our services and infrastructure struggling to stay operational, let alone invest in them for the future.

WE NEED YOUR VOICES. Please call or email your State Representative and State Senator today. And, we need your leadership as advocates and community organizers to get others to do the same.

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Economists Endorse Governor’s New Revenue Plan

Investing meaningfully today in education and transportation will significantly improve our economic tomorrows.

–Barry Bluestone, economist

Raising revenues now will help us fulfill our responsibility to future generations.

–Paul Toner, MTA

As reported in the Boston Globe today, 57 local economists are declaring their support for the Governor’s progressive revenue proposal. Much like “An Act to Invest in Our Communities,” the Governor’s plan makes our overall tax system less regressive, and raises sufficient revenue to not only put out the fires of fiscal crises (MBTA), but also to invest in education and other services that have suffered years of budget cuts due to ill-conceived tax cuts in the 1990s.

It makes sense. You cannot create a solid foundation for the future if you do not invest in building it! An education is the best investment for economic potential, individually, and it is also true for our state’s larger economy. Transportation is tightly linked to economic growth, too (see today’s Christian Science Monitor story). And the services we perform together as a community (policing, infrastructure, health care, special education, food assistance, more) help keep our families strong; further cutting them adds further burden on families and continues to stunt our economic growth.

It’s not just economists who understand this; a recent Boston Herald poll shows that more Bay Staters approve of the Governor’s plan than those who do not. With expert opinion and popular support — it’s time now for the Legislature to get on board. Join us in taking action — make an easy phone call or email, and join us Tuesday, March 12, at the State House to tell your legislators: Invest in our communities!

Find out more and start organizing in your town in support of Our Communities!

Read an excerpt from the Globe article, below:

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