22 reasons to cheer at the end of the 2021-2022 legislative term

DECEMBER 31, 2022

As 2022 comes to an end, so comes the end of the 2021-22 state legislative term, a.k.a. the 192nd General Court of the Commonwealth of Massachusetts.

Goodness knows there have been some bleak and challenging times over these past two years — from the January 6th insurrection and the overturning of Roe v. Wade, to the Orange Line being in flames over the Mystic River and the Red Line now performing worse than ever before.

And yet, on these fronts and so many others — there’s also reason to be hopeful, especially here in Massachusetts.

In that spirit, I’d like to offer these 22 reasons to cheer as we countdown the new year and prepare to gavel out the 192nd General Court on Tuesday and gavel in the new term on Wednesday. I’m still working to move legislation in the final hours of the term — and I'm also looking forward to history being made when Maura Healey, Kim Driscoll, Andrea Campbell, and Diana DiZoglio are sworn-in to their new offices on Thursday. For now, please join me in celebrating these highlights from the 2021-22 legislative term.

1. Massachusetts finally wins tax fairness! As a Mass. native born in the year 1980, it seems all I’ve ever known has been wins for anti-tax, fiscal conservatives and losses for progressives like me who want tax fairness and bigger investments in public programs and infrastructure. Last month, all that changed, as the voters of Massachusetts approved the Fair Share Amendment. Effective starting tomorrow, a 4% marginal tax rate will apply on portions of personal incomes greater than $1 million annually, and the resulting revenue will fund investments in education and transportation (including the MBTA). Our state constitution has been interpreted to require a flat income tax, and so in order to amend the constitution, the Raise Up Coalition first had to gather tens of thousands of signatures, starting nearly a decade ago. Then, the legislature had to vote in two consecutive two-year terms to advance the constitutional amendment to the ballot. This process was not without roadblocks, however. In 2018, just as the question was about to go to the ballot, a lawsuit was filed by the Massachusetts High Technology Council and others to strike the question on a technicality. In the wake of this setback (which deprived the state of roughly $10 billion to maybe even $15 billion in potential revenue as the very wealthy have done better than ever in recent years), we had to re-start the constitutional amendment process in the legislature in 2019. For my part, I’m proud to have voted three times to put the Fair Share Amendment on the ballot, and this year, I joined with constituents in going door-to-door to make sure Cambridge and Somerville voters were informed about this opportunity to finally win tax fairness.

2. Massachusetts leads the nation in defending reproductive freedom and gender-affirming care. I was horrified, angry, and saddened by the US Supreme Court’s ruling in Dobbs v. Jackson Women's Health Organization. As the Trump Republicans engineered a takeover of our nation’s highest court, we had been warned this was probably coming, and yet, that didn’t make it any easier to learn that the right to abortion was lost after nearly 50 years. Thanks to our anticipatory efforts to codify and expand reproductive rights with the ROE Act in 2020, abortion has remained clearly legal here in Massachusetts. And yet, we had to do more in the wake of Dobbs. In July, I proudly voted to pass a comprehensive abortion bill that builds upon the strength of the ROE Act. The legislation, H.5090, An Act expanding protections for reproductive and gender-affirming care, provides legal protections to abortion providers, out-of-state patients,  and insurers; expands access to contraceptives, protects gender-affirming health care services, and helps ensure that women who face grave circumstances after 24 weeks of pregnancy are not forced to leave Massachusetts to access reproductive health care services. A full summary of the new law can be found on my State House blog.

3. Offshore Wind and Climate Bill passed into law. On July 21, I voted to pass H.5060, An Act driving clean energy and offshore wind. This legislation is designed to ensure that Massachusetts regains its status as the national leader in offshore wind. The bill also includes a major priority of mine — a provision that would allow cities like Cambridge and Somerville to require fossil fuel-free designs for certain kinds of new buildings. Other highlights of the bill include requiring owners of large buildings — such as offices, apartment buildings, hospitals, and universities — to disclose their energy use each year. The bill also requires all cars sold in Massachusetts to be electric vehicles by 2035, boosts EV accessibility and infrastructure, institutes a timeline for the MBTA to achieve an all-electric bus fleet, and offers assistance for regional transit authorities (RTAs) to adopt electric buses. The bill boosts grid-readiness for green energy growth, removes biomass from the renewable portfolio standard, creates the Clean Energy Investment Fund to research emerging technologies and the Offshore Wind Industry Investment Program & Trust Fund to fund job training in the wind sector and incentivize the creation of local offshore wind jobs. To be sure, I trust scientists who are warning we are currently experiencing the start of a mass extinction event that's driven by manmade climate change. I find some hope in the fact that Massachusetts has passed a major climate and energy laws in each of the past four legislative terms. That’s a streak I am determined to see continue in the new session, where I think we need to have a particular emphasis on various aspects of solar energy policy. More information about the Offshore Wind bill can be found on my State House blog.

4. Work and Family Mobility Act passed into law over the Governor's veto and affirmed by the voters. In June, I voted to pass H.4085, An Act relative to work and family mobility. This will allow all qualified Massachusetts residents, regardless of immigration status, to apply for standard Massachusetts driver’s licenses using valid documents. We passed this legislation over the veto of Governor Baker, and without a doubt, this is the biggest legislative step forward for immigrant justice in our state in recent memory. We know driving is a key tool of economic mobility, particularly in this time of ongoing crisis in the areas of housing affordability and transit service. Having a driver’s license is often necessary for people to get to work, drive their kids to school, seek medical attention, and participate in their community. Not long after the passage of this law, there was a right-wing effort to repeal the law via ballot referendum. Fortunately, and thanks in large part to our organizing efforts in Cambridge and Somerville, that effort failed, and the newly passed act remained the law.

5. The VOTES Act makes vote by mail and early voting permanent. In June, I voted to pass H.4539, An Act Fostering Voting Opportunities, Trust, Equity, and Security commonly known as the VOTES Act. The law will make several permanent changes to Massachusetts’ election procedures, including: allowing voters to vote by mail without an excuse; expanding early voting options; making sure that eligible voters who are incarcerated are able to request a mail ballot and vote; ensuring that the Commonwealth joins the 30-state Electronic Registration Information Center (ERIC) to keep voter registration rolls up-to-date, and more. The bill also cuts the voter registration deadline in half — from 20 days before an election to 10 days before an election.  During debate on the VOTES Act, I was proud to vote in support of a floor amendment to allow for Same Day Voter Registration, but it was unfortunately rejected.

6. Redistricting produces a record-number of majority-minority districts across the Commonwealth. Every ten years, the Constitution requires us to redraw legislative districts to adjust for population changes. Because the 26th Middlesex District includes several major areas for new housing development like Assembly Row and Kendall Square, our district was over the statutory population limit and had to be adjusted. I had two main goals for this process, statewide and locally: 1) to support the effort to maximize representation for communities of color through the creation of more majority-minority opportunity districts, and 2) to keep the 26th Middlesex District geographically coherent for the people of Cambridge and Somerville while at the same time honoring our shared communities of interest. I am delighted to report that I was able to work with House Leaders and progressive advocates to ensure both of these objectives were met. The new maps increase the number of majority-minority districts from 20 to 33, and the new map for the 26th Middlesex district maintains the historic East Cambridge neighborhood (after an initial draft had proposed splitting the street grid into two districts). More information about the redistricting process and its results can be found on my State House blog.

7. Child Marriage is banned in Massachusetts. In July, in an outside section to the FY23 State Budget, Massachusetts became just the 7th state to ban child marriage. Many people are stunned to learn that child marriage is still legal in most of the country. Between the years 2000 and 2018, almost 300,000 children in the United States were married before their 18th birthday. I’m proud to have been a co-sponsor in this effort to ban this archaic practice here in our Commonwealth.

8. Access to medicine is improved by curtailing step therapy. Last month, procedures to better regulate the practice of so-called STEP therapy became law, with the passage of H.1311, An Act Relative to Step Therapy and Patient Safety. Step therapy is when patients are required to try using cheaper drugs in their recovery before "stepping up" to pricier medications. The new law requires insurance providers to approve or deny step therapy exemption requests within three business days, or 24 hours in an emergency, meaning faster access to the more expensive drugs. Allowing speedier exemptions to the step therapy process is a win for patients who would otherwise have to go through a lengthy authorization or review process. Patients will be eligible for an exemption from the step therapy process if the cheaper drugs would harm them, if they have already tried and failed to improve on the drugs, if the treatment would be ineffective or if they're already stable using their preferred medication. Obviously, much more needs to be done to improve the health care system and ensure universal access — I believe we need Medicare For All, for example. Right now, this is important progress for healthcare and equity in Massachusetts.

9. Universal School Meals extended in Massachusetts. As part of the FY23 State Budget, universal free school meals will be extended through the 2023 school year. Universal free school meals in Massachusetts have been an enormous success over the past two school years. In March 2022, lunch participation was 42.3% higher for school lunch over pre-pandemic (March 2019) participation rates in schools not previously able to provide universal school meals. Statewide this means an additional 53,744 students will be eating lunch daily, free from the barriers of the old rules of the National School Lunch Program. As someone who benefited from free lunch throughout my time in K-12 school, I will continue fighting for an end to childhood hunger by making this program permanent. More information about the campaign can be found on the Project Bread website.

10. Passing the Cannabis Equity Law. In July, I voted to pass S.3096, An Act relative to equity in the cannabis industry, to encourage and facilitate participation in the cannabis industry for communities disproportionately harmed by marijuana criminalization. The bill creates a Social Equity Trust Fund, and it also strengthens the host community agreement process and clarifies procedures for permitting social consumption sites.  Fully dismantling the failed war on drugs means more than just legalizing previously illegal controlled substances. In order to fully enact justice for communities disproportionately harmed, we need to direct resources toward those communities so they can realize the economic benefits of this newly regulated industry, where inequities have persisted since the beginning. This law takes important steps forward to accomplish this goal.

11. Passing the Mental Health ABC Act. In July, I voted to enact the final version of H.5151, the Mental Health Addressing Barriers to Care (ABC) Act, a comprehensive bill that continues the process of reforming the way mental health care is delivered in Massachusetts. This bill aims to ensure people get the care they need when they need it and is driven by the recognition that mental health is as important as physical health. The final conference report introduces a wide variety of reforms to ensure equitable access to mental health care and remove barriers to care by supporting the behavioral health workforce. More information about the new law can be found on the Massachusetts Chapter of the National Association of Social Workers webpage.

12. The Crown Act is passed into law. In July, I joined with colleagues in voting to enact the final version of H.4554, An Act prohibiting discrimination based on natural and protective hairstyles, commonly known as the Crown Act. The Crown Act prohibits discrimination based on natural hairstyles and hair texture, and helps to ensure that people of color and others are able to wear their hair in a way that is authentic and true to themselves without fear of discrimination or bias. This issue came to light when then 15-year-old Black students at a charter school in Malden, Deanna and Mya Cook, were punished for wearing extensions, while white students hadn’t been punished for violations of hairstyle regulations. With the passage of the Crown Act, Massachusetts has become the 18th state to ban hair discrimination.

13. Standing up for Transparency and Rules Reform. In April of 2021, the House debated both the rules for our chamber (House Rules) and the rules governing both chambers (Joint Rules). During this debate, I spoke up in support of reforms that included making all committee votes public, ensuring Reps and the public have 72 hours to read a bill before a vote, reinstating a term limit for the Speaker of the House and extending good pandemic-era provisions. While the first three priorities did not pass in full, there were nevertheless some improvements to the rules. On committee vote transparency, the “no” votes, i.e. the votes against advancing a bill, are now to be listed by name on the legislature’s website. The other positions, i.e. “yeas,” abstentions, and members not voting, will be listed as an aggregate tally. Representatives now receive summaries of bills before they come to a vote; informal sessions of the House are now broadcast via livestream, and the public has been able to testify virtually at committee hearings.

14. Passing An Act to Reduce Traffic Fatalities. This summer we enacted, H.5103, An Act to reduce traffic fatalities. This bill requires motorists to keep a safe distance from pedestrians, bicyclists, mobility device users and other vulnerable users such as those riding skateboards and scooters, among others. I was proud to be involved with the original working group that drafted the first version of this bill back in 2017. The bill requires certain medium and heavy-duty trucks that are leased or purchased by the Commonwealth to be equipped with lateral protective devices (i.e. side guards), convex and cross-over mirrors, and back up cameras as well as standardized reporting of crashes involving a cyclist. The bill also gives municipalities the ability to petition for a reduction in speed limits on certain state highways. Different versions of the bill passed both chambers and those differences were reconciled and sent to the Governor's desk in September. However, the Governor sent the bill back to us with changes, so both chambers took action this week to send a revised version to his desk, where it's now pending approval.

15. Investing an additional $1 billion the state's affordable housing programs. Thanks to an influx of federal pandemic-relief funds and a large state surplus, the legislature was able to allocate an additional $1 billion in various affordable housing programs over the course of the past two years. These allocations include: $65 million for Homeownership Assistance; $115 million for the CommonWealth Builders Program; $115 million for rental housing production; $150 million for Supportive Housing; $150 million of public housing renovations; $20 million for the Immigrants and Refugees Housing Reserve; $300 million for affordable housing production; $50 million for the Equitable Developers' Fund, and $25 million for Low-Threshold Housing to better address homelessness. In addition, we extended basic eviction protections for tenants seeking rental assistance. While we know there's so much more to do on housing policy, we can nevertheless be proud of the way our Commonwealth prioritized making bigger investments in affordable housing production and preservation over the past two years.

16. Opening the Green Line Extension. Earlier this month, the full Green Line Extension was opened for passenger service. The opening marks the culmination of decades of advocacy by local residents in support of expanded public transit. Connecting the Environmental Justice community of East Somerville to the Green Line will help take cars off the road, further reducing environmental burdens in our region. In addition, this project will deliver the Community Path Extension and incorporate work from local artists. The $2.3 billion project extends the Green Line approximately 4.7 miles along two branches: the Union Square Branch, which opened back in March, and the new Medford Branch. Seven new stations in total have been constructed, along with a new vehicle storage and maintenance facility in Somerville and the purchase of 24 new trolleys to augment the existing fleet. With the new Medford branch open, Green Line E Branch trains will terminate at Medford/Tufts station and D Branch trains will terminate at Union Square station. B and C Branch trains will continue to terminate at Government Center station. Gov. Baker has practically forced Cambridge and Somerville to kick in a total of $75 million for the project — but I am proud to say we advocated to ensure our cities will get a full refund. That's a silver lining on a project that has been difficult for abutters and has further exposed the ongoing affordable housing emergency. Going forward, we will advocate for the E Branch to be extended all the way to Rt. 16, and someday, we hope to extend the D branch to Porter Square. For now, I'm celebrating the biggest expansion of the MBTA in my lifetime!

17. Bus Network Redesign is amended to better reflect our community's concerns. In November, MBTA staff presented the second draft of the Bus Network Redesign to the Board of Directors for their initial approval. I have been deeply involved in this process, advocating for the preservation and improvement of necessary services for the people of the 26th Middlesex. This redesign touches virtually every bus route in Cambridge and Somerville, and there were a number of changes to consider. The second draft addressed most of the concerns Cambridge and Somerville residents had with the first draft, with a caveat being that it still makes some uncertain assumptions about future GLX service. I continue to assert that the MBTA needs to allow us time to gather data and learn from new travel patterns relative to the GLX before considering any cuts to local service. For a full overview of the changes and links to my detailed advocacy efforts, check out this blog post.

18. New multi-use athletic field, drainage, and lighting installed at Foss Park in Somerville. The City of Somerville holds the distinction of being the most densely-populated place in New England. And yet, the fact remains that the Commonwealth of Massachusetts is the largest landowner in the city. This presents unique challenges for our community, especially at Foss Park. For years, youth soccer, Pop Warner, cheerleading and other groups complained about the terrible state of the "dust bowl" at Foss Park and lamented the fact that there was no lighting to allow for evening activities. That's why I've been so determined to advocate to DCR for major upgrades. Last year, we cut the ribbon on a new athletic field, field lighting, pathway upgrades, drainage improvements and additional tree plantings. For the full Foss Park announcement, check out my State House blog.

19. Funding for final phases of Magazine Beach renovation in Cambridgeport is approved. As part of the redistricting process, Cambridgeport was recently added to the 26th Middlesex. The provided me with a great opportunity to partner with outgoing-Cambridgeport Rep. Jay Livingstone to support the incredible work of Magazine Beach Partners in renovating and restoring this incredible natural resource for the benefit of all local residents. In the FY23 State Budget, my amendment to help fund the final phases of renovation was adopted. Meanwhile, significant additional funds were recently committed by the City of Cambridge. Combined, this means MBP is now on track to work with DCR to fully complete the ten-year renovation of the facilities in the not too distant future. More information about the work ahead can be found on the Magazine Beach Partners website.

20. Funding allocations approved for Mystic River projects.  In October, I joined with the Resilient Mystic Collaborative and other state and local officials to celebrate an important step forward in our joint efforts to protect coastal cities along Mystic River from sea level rise and extreme coastal storms. The announcement highlighted more than $23 million in funding allocations for the future of the Amelia Earhart Dam, Draw 7 Park, and the Island End River. For more information about this work and the progress we've made so far, check out this story in the Somerville Times.

21. Road Safety Improvements made at the intersection of Rt. 28 and Rt. 38 in East Somerville. Last year, in the wake of tragedy, our community came together to push for numerous commitments from MassDOT to make road safety improvements in the vicinity of Route 28 (McGrath Highway) and Route 38 (Mystic Avenue) in Somerville, in an area that has unfortunately come to be known as the "Corridor of Death." Some of these commitments, such as a new, signalized crosswalk at Blakeley Avenue, and a raised crosswalk at the Kensington Connector, have now been completed. In addition, many of the ADA accessibility upgrades in the area have also been completed. More work is planned and necessary in the years ahead, but for now, it’s worth highlighting the fact that road safety in this infamous area has been significantly improved over the course of the past year.

22. Over $1.3 million in additional funding secured for community-based nonprofits and planning projects in the 26th Middlesex. Recently, I wrote to you with a recap of the $1.3+ million in additional funding I secured for Cambridge and Somerville nonprofit organizations and local planning projects. These funds were the result of 14 amendments I was able to pass as part of five major pieces of legislation. The additional funding will support the work of providing shelter to the unhoused, combating poverty and hunger, empowering immigrants, using art to transform young people’s lives, uplifting LGBTQ+ students, reducing carbon emissions, and creating more livable and walkable communities. If you missed this announcement, a full recap is available here on my State House blog.

Well, there you have it. 22 reasons to cheer at the end of the 2021-2022 legislative term! If you've made it this far into my email, clearly you care about policy and community as much as I do. My resolution for 2023 is to write shorter emails! More importantly, I am very much looking forward to going back to the State House next week to continue representing our values and our community in the legislative process. Thank you, as always, for the opportunity to do this work.

Here's wishing you and your family the very best in 2023.

Yours in service,

Rep. Mike Connolly