20 highlights from the year that was 2023

DECEMBER 31, 2023

Dear Cambridge and Somerville Constituents,

As 2023 comes to close, I want to offer 20 highlights of my work and service in the rollercoaster year that was 2023.

Here's wishing you all the best in the new year — and may our democracy survive the 2024 presidential election!

1. The Community Path Extension opensI was happy, proud, and delighted to join with colleagues and community leaders to cut the ribbon on the Community Path Extension back in June. Thank you to everyone who worked tirelessly to bring this wonderful new amenity to the people of Somerville and Cambridge as part of the Green Line Extension project. Here I am pictured below at the ribbon cutting ceremony, and I am pointing toward East Somerville and East Cambridge, two neighborhoods that for many decades have been separated and walled off by highways and railroad tracks — now, finally connected in a bike- and pedestrian-friendly, humanistic way — thanks to the GLX Community Path Extension.

2. The Work and Family Mobility Act takes effectThis year, the Work and Family Mobility Act went into effect, making our state the latest to offer driver's licenses to all residents, regardless of immigration status. This is key to public health and safety and to racial and economic justice. It was perhaps the proudest vote I've ever cast in the legislature, because it is certain to save countless lives. Thank you to Somerville's Rep. Christine Barber for her leadership on this bill, which I also co-sponsored, and thank you to the voters for affirming it when it was challenged at the polls last November.

3. Pandemic-era eviction protections are made permanent. When the pandemic struck, the Massachusetts House led the way in passing the nation’s strongest eviction  and foreclosure moratorium, legislation I was very proud to introduce alongside Housing Chair Kevin Honan. Then, when Gov. Baker allowed the moratorium to expire, we passed Ch. 257, a temporary law stopping evictions for tenants seeking rental aid. This year, I'm very proud to report we voted to make this Covid-era law permanent, ensuring thousands of residents will have a better chance of remaining in their homes.

4. Free School Meals for All is passed into law permanently. When the House kicked off debate on the FY24 state budget back in April, our budget included funding to continue with universal free school meals in Massachusetts. As someone who benefited from free school lunch as a kid, I am delighted to report this provision was signed into law by Governor Healey, and we are now making this pandemic-era provision permanent.

5. No Cost Prison Calls passed into law. For too long, Massachusetts residents who were incarcerated in prisons or jails faced exorbitant fees for basic phone or video communications. Typically, this burden would fall on an incarcerated person's innocent family members, often straining ties between parents and children. I'm pleased to report that as of this year, we have made it the law that all of these communications will be free of charge.

6. House passes major gun control legislation. In October, I joined with my Democratic colleagues in the House in passing H.4135, An Act Modernizing Firearm Laws. This bill is a response to last year’s U.S. Supreme Court ruling in New York State Rifle & Pistol Ass’n., Inc. v. Bruen. It addresses the problem of ghost guns; strengthens the Commonwealth’s red flag laws; updates the definition of assault weapons; and limits the carrying of guns into schools, polling places, government buildings and the private residences of others.

7. House leads the way in upholding our Right To Shelter law. With an unprecedented influx of migrants to Massachusetts, Governor Healey was compelled to place a cap on our Emergency Assistance shelter program, limiting it to 7,500 residents. In turn, we found more and more unhoused families sleeping on the streets, at Logan Airport, or in hospital emergency rooms. In response, Speaker Mariano vowed to require that the Administration create emergency overflow shelter sites. Republicans did their best to block this requirement during last month's informal sessions — but I joined with my Democratic colleagues in showing up in force to get the bill over the finish line; it was the first time in anyone's memory that a quorum of the House was present for an informal session. In case you missed it, here I am discussing this effort on NBC10 Boston.

8. Governor Healey includes my Social Housing proposal in her $4.1 billion Housing Bond Bill. In October, I joined with Governor Healey, Lt. Governor Driscoll, Secretary Augustus, and Secretary Gorzkowicz for the launch of the Governor's "Housing Bond Bill" filing, a once-every-five-years bill that authorizes the Commonwealth's capital spending plans on housing and includes several major housing policy proposals. I am delighted that the Healey-Driscoll Administration has included language to establish a Social Housing pilot as part of the $275 million Sustainable and Green Housing Initiatives item in their $4+ billion housing bond bill filing. In fact, several of my top policy priorities for the bond bill have been included: the social housing pilot program and funding authorization, a local option real estate transfer fee to fund additional local affordable housing production, the legalization of accessory dwelling units (ADUs) across the state, and a change to the law to allow inclusionary zoning ordinances to pass by a simple-majority vote (rather than the current 2/3rds approval threshold). There's more about this on my State House blog.

9. Final renovations to Magazine Beach Park poised to move forward. The FY23 state budget included my amendment #517, delivering to Magazine Beach Partners, Inc. to support the final phase of renovation at Magazine Beach Par. Thank you to Rep. Jay Livingstone, MassDCR, and the City of Cambridge for your longtime efforts in support of this treasured resource at the edge of the Cambridgeport neighborhood.

10. Over $20 million in new funding secured for major renovations to Draw Seven Park in Somerville. I am grateful to the Healey-Driscoll Administration and proud of our legislative efforts to secure over $20 million in new funding for improvements to Draw 7 Park in Somerville, including a resilient, living shoreline, enhanced stormwater management, and a shared-use river path. I am particularly grateful to the Mystic River Watershed Association, DCR, city officials and local residents who made their voices heard throughout this process, resulting in an extraordinary design that will turn a dilapidated lot into a stunning new amenity for our community.

11. Additional funding secured to strengthen the Amelia Earhart Dam. Earlier this month, at the same event where we celebrated the new funding for Draw Seven Park in Somerville, we also celebrated funding we've secured to raise up and harder the adjacent Amelia Earhart Dam, which protects tens of thousands of local residents from flooding during severe storms. On both Draw Seven Park and the Dam, I look forward to working with all concerned to continue addressing our open space needs and climate vulnerabilities.

12. Standing up for Tax Fairness. In April, the House debated a tax cut package that combined benefits for families and seniors with tax breaks for big corporations and the very wealthy — at an estimated cost of $1.1 billion per year once fully implemented. While there were several items in the bill that I supported — such as a new child and dependent tax credit and increases to the senior circuit breaker and the earned income tax credit — there were two items in particular that I found difficult to justify — a 58% cut to the tax rate on short-term capital gains income, and a change in tax apportionment factors for multi-state corporations. Watch my 13-minute dissent on the House Floor, posted here on my YouTube.

13. House adopts my budget amendment to support the Cambridge H.E.A.R.T. program. I'm pleased to report the House has included my budget amendment to the FY24 budget to support HEART Cambridge's unarmed emergency response in the City of Cambridge. Thank you to Speaker Mariano, Chair Michlewitz, and to all of my colleagues for supporting this community-led alternative to policing.

14. House adopts my budget amendment to support a Somerville Green Jobs program. I'm also pleased to report the House adopted my amendment to the FY24 state budget to help launch a Green Jobs program for non-traditional students in the City of Somerville. Thanks again to Speaker Mariano, Chair Michlewitz, and to all of my colleagues for supporting this promising initiative.

15. MassDOT moves forward with plans for a "road diet" on McGrath Highway. Two and a half years ago, I led our legislative delegation in calling on MassDOT to make numerous improvements to McGrath Highway (Rt. 28) as part of the planning for the McGrath Highway resurfacing project. We called for new bike lanes with physical separation and other safety and physical infrastructure improvements. MassDOT responded by committing to put McGrath Highway on a "road diet" and further committing to physical separation and protection for new bike lanes, along with numerous other safety and physical infrastructure improvements. I am pleased to see MassDOT is following through on its commitment to put the McGrath Highway on a "road diet." There's more about this here on my State House blog.

16. Cutting the ribbon on bike and pedestrian infrastructure improvements in Inman Square. In October, I was honored to have the chance to help cut the ribbon on the spectacular new bike and pedestrian infrastructure improvements now found throughout Inman Square, including the repositioning of Vellucci plaza. This was an opportunity for all of us to honor the memory of Amanda Phillips, a local resident who was tragically struck and killed by an automobile at this intersection in 2016. We also celebrated the legacy of the great Al Vellucci and recognized the loss of trees necessary for this project to move forward. Pictured above in a photo by Phyllis Bretholtz, I'm speaking at the Inman Square firehouse on the day of the event.

17. Cutting the ribbon on multimillion renovation of the Rivermark apartments in Cambridgeport. In October, I was proud to join with my colleagues in government and in the advocacy community to celebrate upgraded affordable housing at the Rivermark apartments. The multimillion dollar renovation will ensure this property can stay affordable, comfortable, and sustainable for its residents for many years to come.

18. Cutting the ribbon on multimillion renovation of the Harry S. Truman Apartments in East Cambridge. Similarly, I was also delighted to join with colleagues this fall to celebrate the completion of renovations to the Truman Apartments in East Cambridge, which provide many of our seniors with an affordable, stable place to live within our very expensive city. Pictured below, we are cutting the ribbon on a beautifully renovated building!

19. Winning concessions from the Healey Administration regarding the repairs to the Squires Bridge. Back in July, the MBTA announced that the GLX to Union Square would shut down for 42 days to allow for a repair of rusty steel beams at the Squires Bridge. While the repair work was needed, the plan for the GLX diversion was lacking in detail, so I reached out to the Governor and asked that they send the plan back to the drawing board. The Governor agreed, resulting in a re-fashioned project that was executed this fall, with less interruption for our community. There's more about this here in Cambridge Day.

20. In-state tuition is made available to all students, regardless of immigration status. For my entire adult life, "in-state tuition" was long-considered a far off goal for the immigrant justice movement. And yet, I am very pleased to report that in this year's state budget, we passed in-state tuition for all students, regardless of immigration status, and Governor Healey signed it into law.

Well, there you have it, 20 highlights from the rollercoaster year that was 2023. As we head into another pivotal, consequential year, I am more motivated than ever to stand up for our values in the legislature and to deliver results for our community.

Here's wishing you and your loved ones a happy new year!

Yours in service,

Rep. Mike Connolly