A Day in the Life of a State Senator

I am often asked, when out in the district, what it is a State Senator “does.” It’s an understandable question. And especially when I’m talking to children in my district visiting the State House, it can be challenging to explain what it is I do for 70-80 hours each week!

Although we do our best to let our constituents know – through press releases and op-eds, through our email newsletters, and even through blogs like this – what we are working on, the fact is that most of what we do each day and week goes unreported.

A typical week for me is 6 or 7 days of work, often starting at 8am (or earlier!) in the morning and going till 9pm or later.  No complaints from me on that front – I love my job and feel honored to have the chance to represent the Middlesex & Worcester District in the State Senate. Every day is different, and there are so many important issues competing for my attention, as well the long-term organizing work that needs to be done to create lasting change in Massachusetts.

Tuesday was a particularly busy day here in the State Senate, and much good was accomplished. I thought I’d take this chance to give you a behind-the-scenes look into what it’s like to be a State Senator.

7:30am: Coffee in hand, I begin the day in the State House by sending notes to constituents I met with last week, and checking my email for requests and inquiries from constituents, assigning them to staff as needed.

On the docket for the day are a few key hearings, plus an all-important budget meeting with the Senate Ways & Means Committee, to prepare for.

9:30am: I speak to the Women’s Bar Association about one of my top priority bills, An Act Removing Barriers to Asset Development and Financial Stability for Low-to-Moderate Income Families. This bill would remove state-imposed barriers to asset development for low-to-moderate income residents of the Commonwealth who receive support through the Department of Transitional Assistance, promoting gainful employment and financial stability. This bill was put together through the work of the Asset Development Commission, which I chaired.

Jamie speaking to Women's Bar Association

Jamie speaking to Women's Bar Association

It’s a common sense bill that puts our state government in the position of supporting, rather than discouraging, low-income families as they try to build assets and climb out of poverty, and I’m grateful to the WBA for their support of the bill this session.

10:30am: The Committee on Municipalities and Regional Government, which I co-chair, is hosting a hearing on a number of local bills. But today is a particularly important day for the Committee: after many months of work, we have released the Municipal Relief Act, a package of legislative changes and local-option programs – big and small – designed to give our cities and towns the tools they need to operate more effectively and, ultimately, save money.

These are tough times for our cities and towns, with cuts to local aid coming at the same time as rising costs. This bill won’t make all of these problems disappear – but it will give municipal officials the tools they need to tackle these problems head on and govern as effectively as possible in this time of lean resources. Learn more here .

11:15:  – The Joint Committee on Economic Development is holding a hearing on the “An Act Promoting Economic Development Throughout the Commonwealth,” a reorganization of all the economic development agencies in Massachusetts. The room is packed with legislators, lobbyists, staff and media, all there to testify (or observe testimony) on this expansive, complicated legislation.

Jamie with Peter Lowitt, from the Devens Enterprise Coalition

Jamie with Peter Lowitt, from the Devens Enterprise Coalition

I’m there to testify on some things I’d like to see the bill include: corporate tax credit transparency language, which would allow us to determine which credits are working, and which aren’t; a greater focus on workforce training and economic development for low-income families and poorer areas of the state; and the creation of a state-owned bank to make sure that small businesses receive the loans they need to grow and create jobs.

I’m also there on a more local matter, to ask the Committee to leave the Devens Enterprise Commission (DEC) out of the reorganization, given that the DEC is more of a land use board rather than an economic development agency. This is an issue of great local importance to the towns of Ayer, Harvard, Shirley and the Devens Community, all of which I represent.

Read my testimony to the Committee.

Noon: I’ve got about an hour and a half before my next meeting, with the Senate Ways & Means Committee. This is enough time to go through some legislative updates with my staff, answer a few phone calls from local reporters, review the final documents before the budget meeting, and even grab a quick lunch at my desk. (Chicken Caesar salad wrap, from the Hi-Spot deli across the street.)

Jamie preparing for the budget meeting with staff

Jamie preparing for the budget meeting with staff

1:30: Today I have my annual budget meeting with Senate Ways & Means Chair Steven Panagiotakos. This is my chance to lay out my budget priorities for the year, explain why they are important to my district and the Commonwealth, and press my case. My staff and I spent weeks preparing for this meeting – deciding which priorities I want to push for, and then laying out the case for why these programs and priorities are particularly deserving of support.

In this tight budget climate, I’m well aware that very few programs, if any, will see increases in funding; in most cases I’m asking that the programs at least receive level funding from last year.

My main budget priorities going into this meeting are:

1) Protecting local aid (including Chapter 70, lottery aid and regional school transportation) to cities and towns.

2) Maintaining funding for vital social safety net services (programs to help the homeless, low-income families, at-risk children, those with disabilities, the elderly).

3) Advocating for a fair, adequate and stable tax system that will raise sufficient revenue to support our state’s goals and priorities.

4) Promoting budget transparency and accountability, particularly around the issue of tax credit transparency, so that we can be sure that every penny of the public’s money is being spent effectively.

5) Preventing deeper cuts in spending on environmental protection, stimulating economic development, and investing in transportation.

2:30: The Judiciary Committee is hearing one of my bills, The Massachusetts Civil Rights Restoration Act. This bill would restore the right of an individual to bring a claim where a governmental policy or activity has the effect of unlawfully discriminating on the basis of race, color, national origin or sex. It’s a complicated legal concept, but the end result of the bill would be to allow citizens to bring claims of discrimination against the government in cases where policies have led to systematic, indirect discrimination, particularly in areas of environmental justice, transportation and housing.  I’ve worked closely with ACE, an environmental justice group based in Roxbury, to highlight this legislation.

I join State Representative Byron Rushing, the lead sponsor in the House, to testify before the committee on why this bill is important. Read my testimony here.

Jamie testifies with Rep. Byron Rushing at Judiciary Committee Hearing

Jamie testifies with Rep. Byron Rushing at Judiciary Committee Hearing

3:30pm: Earlier today, the Education Committee reported out a bullying-prevention bill, using a bill I filed last January as a framework. The bill prohibits bullying, including cyberbullying, on school grounds and would require schools to develop a bullying prevention and intervention plan. It’s a comprehensive, prevention-oriented piece of legislation, designed to end the tragic cycle of bullying we’ve seen in the Commonwealth’s schools for years, leading to tragedies like those in South Hadley, Springfield and too many other communities.

I work with my staff to review what’s included in the final bill, and put together a press release on the bill for local papers, which you can read here.

5:00pm: After a few more phone calls, it’s time to catch the train back to Acton. Since my accident last fall, I’ve spent a lot more time riding the Commuter Rail. It’s a good way to do my part to reduce carbon emissions and traffic congestion, plus it gives me some time to relax. That said, it can be a long commute, and I look forward to gaining the extra 10 minutes once the double-tracking project from Fitchburg to Boston is complete. Securing the funding for the project is something I worked on for years with my predecessor, Senator Pam Resor, because we knew it would benefit thousands of constituents who commute to Cambridge and Boston and back every day.

6:30pm: It’s a rare meeting-free evening for me tonight. (In a typical week, I have evening meetings most weekdays, and sometimes on Saturday or Sunday night.) It’s a chance for me to catch up on paperwork: review staff memos, read the papers, and get some writing done as well.

And so ends a day – and night! – in the life of a Massachusetts State Senator.  This particular day involved more meetings at the State House – and fewer in the district – than usual, but it was the sort of jam-packed schedule I’ve gotten used to over the past years. There’s so much going on in the State Legislature and the district that my mind tends to race at night, thinking about what else needs to be done. (To the amusement of my staff, who sometimes joke about the emails they receive from me late, late at night or in the early morning.)

I love the work I do, and hope to continue to have the opportunity to do it for many years to come.

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