News from the State House, July 3, 2024

Dear Cambridge and Somerville Constituents —

June is typically a busy month for the state legislature, and this past month was no exception. As we prepare to celebrate our nation's Independence Day, I want to take a moment to share some of the highlights of my recent activity in the Massachusetts House of Representatives.

House Passes $4.1 Billion Economic Development bill, including support for Project Labor Agreements and four of my sponsored amendments

At the start of each gubernatorial term, the administration drafts a long term economic development plan. That plan is then translated into a bill, and the package that passed the House last week was the result of that process. This multi-year bond authorization, also known as the “Eco Dev Bill,” includes investments and policy initiatives that aim to bolster support for workers and businesses, particularly in life sciences, clean energy technology, and manufacturing. This bill also includes a major win for organized labor and the inclusion of four of my amendments to support the Cambridge and Somerville district I represent.

The bill includes a provision that authorizes public agencies and municipalities to use Project Labor Agreements (PLAs) if it is in the best interest of the Commonwealth and directs the Department of Labor Standards to promulgate regulations to increase the diversity of contractors in PLAs. PLAs are pre-hire collective bargaining agreements negotiated between unions and contractors to establish terms and conditions of employment for construction projects. An amendment I co-sponsored, supported by the Building Trades and the AFL-CIO and filed by Rep. Decker, was adopted in the final House version of the Eco Dev bill to provide additional clarity to relevant stakeholders where PLAs are deployed.

The Eco Dev bill also includes a variety of bond authorizations to support local initiatives. I'm pleased to report four of my sponsored amendments were adopted by the House:

  • $5 million for pedestrian access from Somerville's Inner Belt to the East Somerville Green Line Station, co-filed with Rep. Barber, to make the GLX accessible to a section of the city that's currently walled off from transit access.
  • $500,000 for the Science Club for Girls to support their educational programs in science, technology, engineering, and mathematics (STEM) for girls and gender-expressive youth.
  • $250,000 for Black History in Action for the design and construction of the Center for Black Exuberance at St. Augustine's in Cambridgeport to foster collective liberation practices through the arts, education, and public history.
  • $200,000 for East Somerville Main Streets for the continued promotion and development of the East Somerville neighborhood as a culinary and cultural tourism destination.

Unlike budget earmarks, bond authorizations require final approval from the Governor, so while I am celebrating the work we've done to advance these local priorities in this bill, we will also be following up with the Administration to advocate for the deployment of these bond funds in the fall. For a more in-depth recap of the bill, please see this post on my State House blog.

House Addresses Unfair Property Tax Enforcement 

Up until recently, if you fell behind on your property tax bill, local governments were allowed to do a foreclosure sale and take not only the amount of taxes you owed (plus interest and fees) but also all of the remaining equity of your property. This practice has come to be known as "equity theft." 

Last week, the House passed legislation to ensure state law confirms to the latest jurisprudence deeming this practice unconstitutional. When homeowners fall on hard times, it’s unconscionable that municipalities have been able to extract millions of dollars in value above and beyond any unpaid taxes. That’s why I was very pleased to vote for this bill to restore tax fairness and abolish the unfair process by which cities and towns seize equity from vulnerable homeowners. You can read more about the provisions of the bill on our blog.

Governor signs legislation to finally ban "Revenge Porn"

The House and Senate recently agreed to H.4744An Act to prevent abuse and exploitation, which has now been signed into law by Governor Healey. This law seeks to prevent abuse and exploitation, strengthen protections for survivors, and enhance education for young people about the dangers of sexting and deepfakes.

The new law adds Massachusetts to the list of states that have acted to prohibit image-based sexual assault – sometimes referred to as “revenge porn,” which is the non-consensual sharing of explicit images. The law extends to “computer-generated images,” such as “deepfakes,” which have recently caused alarm. It will also expand the criminal harassment statute to prohibit the distribution of sexual images without consent and increase the maximum fines for criminal harassment convictions.

Whenever we make changes to criminal statute, or update sentencing guidelines for new crimes, we are obligated to make sure we aren't exacerbating problems like the school to prison pipeline. Crucially, the law creates a diversion program for minors who share explicit images to teach them about the dangers of sexting. It allows minors charged with possessing or distributing nude images of other minors to be tried as juveniles in Juvenile Court, and it requires DESE to encourage school districts to implement age-appropriate instruction on media literacy skills for all grade levels. To read more about the new law, check out this blog post.

House Passes Parentage Act to support LGBTQ+ families, et al.

For many families, non-biological parents are their child’s parent in every way except being legally recognized as such. They provide consistent caregiving, financial, and emotional support, and they are recognized by the child as their parent. Parental rights and responsibilities are broad and include, for example, the ability to attend and make decisions during medical appointments, manage a child’s finances, participate in educational decisions, and provide authorizations for a child’s travel.  However, two groups of parents continue to face significant barriers in obtaining full legal recognition, namely LGBTQ+ parents, and parents who conceived using reproductive assisted technologies, like IVF. 

The bill we passed last month updates the Commonwealth’s laws so these common paths to parentage may be treated equally for all families, regardless of marital status. It also creates a new path to parentage for individuals who are “de facto” parents, and ensures that every child has the same rights and protections to parentage without regard to the marital status, gender identity or sexual orientation of their parents, or the circumstances of their birth. I was proud vote in support of this bill during Pride month as I believe is it is very important to update our parentage laws so that they are clear and equitable for all families, including LGBTQ+ families. You can read more about this bill on my blog.

House Passes Midwife Coverage, Birth Center Access Legislation

Last year, the Department of Public Health released a report with a sobering conclusion: Massachusetts is in the midst of a worsening maternal health crisis, punctuated by widening racial disparities in fetal and maternal morbidity. The report showed that maternal morbidity nearly doubled in the state over the last decade and that Black women were 2.3 times more likely than white women to experience labor and delivery complications.

Access to adequate and equitable maternal health care is also severely lacking in Massachusetts, further exacerbated by eleven maternity ward closures across the state since 2010. Two freestanding birth centers, Cambridge Birth Center and North Shore Birth Center, have also been closed, leaving only one birth center in Massachusetts (Seven Sisters in Northampton). Massachusetts ranks 35th out of 44 states for share of births in birth centers. (Fortunately, the Cambridge Birth Center will now reopen following renovations). 

Thankfully, the policy solution is in sight. Studies have shown that access to licensed midwives leads to lower mortality rates in both mothers and infants, reduced C-section rates, and increased breastfeeding rates, and that midwifery care reduces racial inequities in maternal health outcomes. 

That is why I was very proud to join with my House colleagues to pass legislation to improve maternal health outcomes by offering greater choices and ensuring compassionate care during one of life’s most transformative moments, the birth of a child. With the passage of this omnibus bill, we reaffirm our commitment to supporting families, enhancing healthcare options, advancing maternal and fetal health outcomes, supporting those who experience pregnancy loss, promoting access to doulas, and reducing racial disparities across our Commonwealth.

You can read more about the provisions in the bill on my State House blog.

House takes action to confront the Opioid Epidemic

Earlier in June, I was proud to vote in support of legislation to address the ongoing opioid epidemic, what has affected too many people in Cambridge, Somerville, and across the state in a devastating way. The House bill will license and mandate insurance coverage of recovery coaches. The bill also mandates coverage of overdose reversal drugs and increases the number of locations where such drugs are dispensed, and protects frontline workers and harm reduction organizations who provide services like drug checking and needle exchanges from civil liability or from being criminally charged for possession of drug paraphernalia or other related crimes. For a full bill summary, please see the blog.

In 2023, there were 2,125 confirmed and estimated opioid-related overdose deaths, according to the latest data published by the Department of Public Health (DPH). In 2023, there were 232 fewer confirmed and estimated deaths than 2022. While I am glad to see a downward trend we have to keep tackling this crisis head on. I continue to reiterate my support for further interventions such as Supervised Injection Sites (also known as Overdose Prevention Centers) and am grateful to see local progress on these interventions as well.

Senate version of Housing Bond Bill Includes an authorization for a Social Housing Pilot Program and other key priorities, but leaves out the Local Option Transfer Fee

Last week was also a big week for housing policy in Massachusetts, this time on the Senate side. In my last newsletter and in a recent blog post, I highlighted progress the House made on many of my priorities, including an authorization for a Social Housing pilot program, Accessory Dwelling Units (ADUs) by right, Tenants’ Opportunity to Purchase, and others. As is usually the case when the House and Senate take up the same bill, there are differences both minor and significant. If you are interested in reading the full text of the Senate version of the bill, click here.

To start, both bills legalize ADUs by right, authorize funding for a Social Housing Production Pilot Program, and make significant and historic investments in our established state housing programs.

That said, the Senate bill does not include the Tenants' Opportunity to Purchase language that the House included. However, the senate bill does include a provision that would allow cities and towns to implement inclusionary zoning by a simple majority vote of their governing body. This is a priority I’ve worked on for several years. When the House took up Governor Baker’s Housing Choice bill in 2020 to lower the voting threshold city councils and town meetings needed to make zoning changes, I pointed out the inherent inequity of making it easier to facilitate denser development with a simple majority vote while still maintaining a higher, more difficult threshold to enact local affordability provisions, such as inclusionary zoning.

Additionally, the Senate version of the bill includes provisions to seal eviction records and allows sealing for cases that are dismissed or where tenants win their cases. Lastly, the Senate bill bans brokers’ fees, requiring that these fees be paid solely by the party that contracted with them and not by renters for whom such fees can come as a surprise. 

With all this progress, I’m nevertheless disappointed to report the Senate version of the bill also excluded a local option real estate transfer fee. Earlier this spring, Speaker Mariano indicated an openness to supporting the transfer fee in the House bill, but as debate on the bill drew closer, he changed direction and said he didn't think it had enough support to pass the House. It's a frustrating outcome for Cambridge and Somerville officials who have been pushing for this option for years. The transfer fee has support from municipalities across the state and was popularamong residents, too. It had the support of the state’s largest employer, many in the business community, and even the support of many real estate agents. Yesterday, I met with coalition partners to debrief the outcome and plan next steps in our effort to secure even more funding for local affordable housing programs.

Well, if you've made it this far in my newsletter, thank you once again for being an informed and engaged constituent. Please do not hesitate to reach out if you have any questions or concerns about these items or any other matter.

Here's wishing you and your family a happy and safe Fourth of July weekend!

Yours in service,

Rep. Mike Connolly