Bills submitted by the Governor, by Legislative Leadership, or in response to a media-enflamed crises can go from idea to law very quickly. The many thousands of other proposals have to wind their way through a very complicated and multi-stage process. Almost every proposal has to go through several different committees and at least one public hearing. Committee chairs have to decide which of the submissions to prioritize, balancing demands from leadership, other committee members, and their own constituency. Opponents have to be negotiated with and compromises reached. The vast majority of bills are either “sent to study” or simply never reported out of Committee and therefore never receive an up/down vote by the full House or Senate membership. Even for those bills that pass the crucial “get out of committee with a positive recommendation” milestone, very little gets settled until a deadline hits or until the two-year session comes to an end, at which point a proposal either is voted up or down or has to start all over again from the very beginning in the next two-year Legislative session. It’s slow, seldom fully transparent, and often quixotic.
But it all starts with the initial submission of a proposed Act by a lead sponsor. Here are some of the submissions for the just-starting 188th General Court – the Massachusetts Legislature. Without significant public pressure, few of them are likely to pass and those that do are likely to be significantly revised along the way. If you feel that any of these are worthy of support (or opposition), please contact the sponsoring legislator, or your own representative, or the associated Advocacy Group.
This blog focuses on bills endorsed by the Mass Public Health Association (MPHA) and the state-wide ACT Fresh Coalition that MPHA helps lead (and to which LivableStreets Alliance serves as a Leadership Team member). Building on Massachusetts’ long history of national leadership on public health issues, MPHA and its legislative allies have recently won the nation’s first Prevention and Wellness Trust Fund, strong regulations to improve school nutrition, and a state Food Policy Council.
ACT Fresh’s current legislative agenda includes issues ranging from Active Transportation to improving access to healthy food. Subsequent postings will cover proposals endorsed by Mass Bike, Walk Boston, and Transportation For Massachusetts (T4Mass).
HOW TO GET YOUR LEGISLATOR TO LISTEN
- Know the number and name of the bill, at least two reasons why you support (or oppose) it or how you think it could be improved, and what you want the Legislator to do.
– Contact an appropriate Advocacy Group if you aren’t sure about any of this.
- Find out who represents you along with her phone, address, and email by checking this website and entering your own residential address or the representatives first/last name.
– Call his office, ask to speak to the Legislator. If he’s unavailable ask to speak to (in the stateSenate) the Legislative Director or (in the state House) the Legislative Aide who handles the issue.
- Explain why you are calling and ask to be kept informed of any activity relating to the bill or the larger issue it addresses.
–If the Legislator is a co-sponsor of a bill you support, thank her; if she’s not, ask her to consider becoming one. Be explicit about what other actions you want the Legislator to do (e.g. talk to the Committee Chair or chamber Leadership, propose an amendment, vote for it, etc.)
- Ask for and write down the name and email of the person you speak with.
- After the conversation, follow up with an email (CC: to an advocacy group that’s active around the issue) thanking the Legislator (and the person you spoke to) for their previous actions and for taking your input seriously, then repeating the gist of your conversation – adding any new details that you may not have had time (or forgotten) to previously mention.
– At an appropriate later time (from days to months), call again to see how things are progressing.
ADVANCING HEALTH EQUITY THROUGH TRANSPORTATION POLICY
1. An Act Relative to Active Streets and Healthy Communities (S68/H3091) Introduced by Senator Harriette Chandler (D-Worcester) and Representative Jason Lewis (D-Winchester). Also endorsed by the Metropolitan Area Planning Council (MAPC), Mass Bike,and Walk Boston.
Legislative co-sponsors include: Representatives Atkins, Balser, Coakley-Rivera, Ehrlich, Fox, Gordon, Hecht, Henriquez, Hogan, Kaufman, Keefe, Khan, Lawn, McMurtry, Provost, Rosa, Sannicandro, Schmid, Scibak, Sciortino, Silvia, Smizik, Stanley, Swan, Vega, Chris Walsh, Walz, and Senators Brownsberger, Candaras, DiDomenico, Eldridge, Montigny, and Michael Moore.
The negotiations that allowed the state Transportation Department to issue its then-innovative Highway Design Guide exempted municipalities from following these and some other state rules on road projects funded by Chapter 90 state aid and local funding. While not ending that loophole, this bill provides a small recognition and monetary incentive to encourage cities and towns to routinely include complete streets design elements such as accommodations for walking and bicycling in local projects. In addition to increased functionality, safety, and health benefits, this will help meet the state’s goal of tripling the mode share of non-Single Occupancy Vehicle travel.
The legislation authorizes MassDOT to certify a municipality as an “Active Streets Community,” making them eligible for some increased transportation funding, if they have:
* adopted an approved complete streets bylaw, ordinance, or administrative policy that sets specific 5- year goals for increases in walking, bicycling, and public transportation;
* described how, and by whom, the policy will be implemented, including submission of annual progress reports;
* established a review process for all private development proposals to ensure complete streets components are incorporated into new construction.
2. Transportation Investment Act (S1646/HD3119), Introduced by Senator Katherine Clark (D-Melrose) and Representatives Tricia Farley-Bouvier (D-Pittsfield) and Carl Sciortino (D-Medford). Also endorsed by Transportation for Massachusetts (T4Mass).
Legislative co-sponsors: Representatives Andrews, Ashe, Brady, Coakley-Rivera, Conroy, Devers, Garballey, Gobi, Hecht, Kaufman, Keefe, Khan, Kulik, Lewis, O’Day, Provost, Sannicandro, Schmid, Scibak, Silvia, Smizik, Stanley, Swan, Toomey, Vega, Chris Walsh, and Senators Barrett, Brownsberger, Candaras, DiDomenico, Jehlen.
In a representative democracy, even one as imperfect as ours, getting approval to raise the money needed for a major initiative usually requires shaping overall package so that the benefits are shared among a very broad range of constituencies. This sometimes results in a mish-mash of activities and projects that aren’t all equally aligned with larger public policy goals. This type of politics is not necessarily a bad thing; it tends to spread resources more widely than might otherwise occur. But, still, it would be even better if the choice of spending priorities within each “distribution channel” was influenced by the degree to which they will contribute to state-wide objectives.
This is, in fact, the purpose of the proposed Transportation Investment Act. If passed, proposed transportation investments costing over $15 million would be selected based on their level of support for state policies such as increasing economic development in Environmental Justice (EJ) Neighborhoods and Gateway Cities; reducing greenhouse gas emissions and travel times; increasing pedestrian, bicycle, and transit mode share; and dealing with long-term operational/maintenance as well as initial construction costs.
The Act would also require that federal funding be equitably distributed state-wide among the 13 regional transportation funding bodies and that Gateway Cities and EJ communities be given funds to pay for the design of projects eligible for federal money – or for Complete Streets projects, Transit-oriented Development, and other local-priority investments. The Act would also eliminate using capital or loan funds to pay for operating costs, which our state’s currently inadequate levels of transportation funding necessitates resulting in enormously inflated long-term expense.
ZONING REFORM FOR HEALTHY COMMUNITY DESIGN
3. An Act to Support the Planning and Development of Sustainable Communities (H1859) Introduced by Senator Daniel Wolf (D-Harwich) and Representative Steven Kulik (D-Worthington). Also endorsed by the Massachusetts Smart Growth Alliance and the City Solicitors and Town Counsel Association.
Legislative co-sponsors: Representatives Andrews, Atkins, Benson, Binienda, Cabral, Cantwell, Cariddi, Coakley-Rivera, Cutler, DiNatale, Dykema, Ehrlich, Finn, Garballey, Gobi, Gordon, Gregoire, Hecht, Honan, Kafka, Kaufman, Keefe, Khan, Kocot, Koczera, Lawn, Lewis, Linsky, Madden, McMurtry, Murphy, Nangle, Peake, Provost, Rogers, Rogers, Rosa, Roy, Schmid, Scibak, Sciortino, Silvia, Smizik, Story, Straus, Swan, Turner, Vega, Chris Walsh and Senators Barrett, Brownsberger, Chandler, Donoghue, Eldridge, Jehlen, Michael Moore.
Cities and town set their own zoning, but the general rules describing what kinds of zoning choices are allowed is controlled by the state. Unfortunately, Massachusetts has one of the most convoluted and inadequate Zoning Enabling Acts in the nation. While not a complete overhaul, this bill will help cities and towns improve neighborhoods by requiring that they plan with the public’s health in mind, limiting practices that promote sprawl, improving communication between planning and local health authorities, and providing priority funding and technical assistance for places that meet high standards. Smarter zoning codes can promote healthy community features like mixed commercial-and-residential districts that encourage walking and biking; preservation of open space that promotes active recreation; improved access to healthy food choices; and reduced exposure to pollution. These are features that help make our communities inclusive and prosperous.
STRENGHENING THE PREVENTION AND WELLNESS TRUST
4. Closing “Other Tobacco Products” Tax Loophole to Invest in the Prevention and Wellness Trust – (S1312/H2593), Introduced by Senator Harriette Chandler (D-Worcester) and Representative Jonathan Hecht (D-Watertown). Also endorsed by Tobacco Free Mass.
Legislative co-sponsors: Representatives Andrews, Atkins, Balser, Brady, Brodeur, Cariddi, Coakley-Rivera, Conroy, Decker, Ehrlich, Farley-Bouvier, Gregoire, Heroux, Holmes, Kafka, Kaufman, Khan, Kocot, Kulik, Lawn, Lewis, Linsky, Provost, Rogers, Sannicandro, Scibak, Sciortino, Silvia, Smizik, Story, and Senators Brownsberger, Candaras, Chang-Diaz, Jehlen, Spilka.
Tobacco use is the leading cause of preventable death in Massachusetts. More than 8,000 of our residents lose their lives to tobacco each year, and tobacco-related illnesses cost us more than over $4.3 billion annually. We know that making tobacco more expensive reduces its use – especially among teenagers who are just starting. However, while cigarette tax rates have increased, a loophole has exempted small cigars, smokeless products, and loose tobacco. These products – often candy-flavored – have become increasingly popular among youth, and the tax loophole makes them both cheaper and more attractive. Both the House and Senate bills would close this loophole and raise taxes on “other tobacco products” to the same rate as cigarettes, while dedicating the funds to the Prevention and Wellness Trust Fund to invest in proven community prevention programs. The Senate bill would also raise the cigarette tax by $1.25.
INCREASING CHILDRENS’ PHYSICAL ACTIVITY
5. Physical Activity and Physical Education for Healthy Kids Act – (S246/H478), Introduced by Senator Thomas McGee (D-Lynn) and Representative Jeffrey Sánchez (D-Jamaica Plain). Also endorsed by the American Heart/Stroke Association and Boston Children’s Hospital.
Legislative co-sponsors: Representatives Atkins, Balser, Cantwell, Coakley-Rivera, Conroy, Decker, Devers, Fennell, Forry, Fox, Garballey, Garry, Gregoire, Haddad, Hecht, Henriquez, Hogan, Kafka, Kaufman, Khan, Lewis, Madden, McMurtry, Murphy, Provost, Rogers, Rosa, Sannicandro, Scibak, Sciortino, Silvia, Smizik, Stanley, Story, Chris Walsh, and Senators Brownsberger, Candaras, DiDomenico, Donoghue, Eldridge, Jehlen, Knapik, Rush, Spilka.
Regular physical activity helps young people control weight, improve health, and increase academic achievement. However, less than half of Massachusetts high school students meet recommendations for physical activity and the number of students participating in regular physical education (PE) has decreased dramatically in the last 20 years. If passed, this bill will:
- Require that students in K-8 receive a minimum of 30 minutes a day of physical activity through PE, recess, classroom energizers, or other activities.
- Prohibit schools from using physical activity as a punishment or withholding opportunities for physical activity as punishment.
- Require an evaluation of current Physical Education standards, practices and instruction.
- Establish a nutrition and physical activity best practices database that includes successful programs and policies implemented by local school districts.
A FRESH FOOD FINANCING INITIATIVE
6. An Act to Expand Access to Healthy Foods – (S380/H168), introduced by Senator Michael Moore (D-Millbury) and Representative Linda Dorcena Forry (D-Dorchester).
Legislative co-sponsors: Representatives Atkins, Cariddi, Coakley-Rivera, Conroy, Decker, Gordon, Hecht, Holmes, Khan, Kocot, Lewis, Malia, Rosa, Sciortino, Silvia, Smizik, Story, Vega and Senators DiDomenico, Eldridge, Rodrigues, Spilka, Welch, Wolf.
This legislation, based on recommendations of the Massachusetts Grocery Access Task Force, will provide funds and technical assistance to support a variety of methods of making healthy food available in urban and rural “food deserts.” It also supports local farmers markets, workforce development programs, and public education programs about healthy eating. The Task Force is a public-private partnership composed of leaders from the grocery industry, economic development, public health, and civic sectors.
PROTECTING FIRST RESPONDERS
7. Public Health Volunteer Responder Bill – (SD1375/HD396), introduced by Senator Richard Moore (D-Worcester) and Representative Denise Garlick (D-Needham). Also endorsed by the Coalition for Local Public Health.
Legislative co-sponsors: Representatives Arciero, Beaton, Bradley, Boldyga, Calter, Cantwell, Conroy, Cutler, DeMacedo, Ferguson, Frost, Harrington, Hecht, Hill, Hogan, Howitt, Humason, Khan, Koczera, Jones, Kuros, Lawn, Lewis, Peterson, Poirier, Provost, Scibak, Sciortino, Silvia, Smola, Stanley, Winslow.
Volunteers are essential for the provision of public health services during emergencies as well as for more routine public health responses, such as vaccination clinics. Local Medical Reserve Corps (MRCs) have been instrumental in recruiting, credentialing, training, and ensuring proper oversight of volunteer personnel who are ready to answer the call and assist their communities in time of need. However, volunteer recruitment and retention efforts have been hampered by the fact that volunteers remain liable in some circumstances when called to service, creating gaps in response capacity. This bill would address this by providing liability protection for volunteers acting under the direction of state or local public health authorities.
Thanks to Maddie Ribble (MPHA) for feedback on a previous draft.
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