Progressive Movement in the Legislature this Fall

With the Legislature ending its formal session for the year last week, it’s exciting to see the progressive victories that have happened over the past few months, and the momentum that is building in large part due to the work of liberal legislators, advocates and activists across Massachusetts. It’s important to remember and reflect upon these victories over the holidays, in order to prepare for upcoming legislation (gun control, unemployment insurance “reform,” election reform). When the Legislature returns to formal sessions in January, here are a few to consider:

  • Removing anti-immigrant language from the Affordable Housing Bond bill. 

While on its face this may seem like a small victory, I would argue that the Affordable Housing Bond bill that passed the Legislature was significant because it did not include anti-immigrant language pushed by Republican legislators that prohibited immigrants with different legal statuses from living in public housing. Sadly, over the past five years various anti-immigrant amendments have been inserted into different bills before the Legislature.

This summer, the Senate took up the House version of the housing bond bill that included anti-immigrant language and a majority of Senators voted against the amendment. This provided an opportunity to eliminate the language during the conference committee review of both bills, creating a bill that is solely focused on building affordable housing throughout the Commonwealth.  Hopefully, this is a transition to the Legislature passing pro-immigration legislation (in-state tuition, Trust Act) in the near future.

  • Progressives in the House stick together to improve Welfare bill

Right now in the Legislature, the challenge for progressives is coming together to have a significant influence on the details in the final welfare reform bill.  When we do stick together, like Senate progressives did during the revenue debate earlier this year, we have a stronger voice, and are more effective.

As the House of Representatives began to consider the welfare bill this fall, there was a concerted effort, thanks to both the Welfare Coalition and many House progressives to remove some punitive aspects of the original bill and add provisions that would provide more support for poor families seeking to become independent. Freshmen progressive legislators like Representatives Marjorie Decker, Mary Keefe and Jay Livingstone brought an impressive amount of energy and organizing to improve the bill.

  • The Senate passes a strong minimum wage bill

Senate President Murray has vocally expressed support for an increased minimum wage since the beginning of the legislative session.  However, it was never clear when the bill might be taken up. Backed up by over 260,000 Raise Up Mass signatures to raise the minimum wage through referendum, a clear signal was sent to the Legislature that progressives across Massachusetts were serious about boosting wages for working families. Once the announcement was made that the bill would be debated during the last week of formal session, progressive Senators Dan Wolf and Marc Pacheco worked quickly to focus on raising the wage for tipped workers to at least 50% of the new proposed minimum wage, both tied to inflation. I was extremely proud that the bill the Senate passed was almost identical to the ballot initiative, reflecting a bill that had been organized around for months.

Of course, this year in the Legislature there are examples where corporate special interests won the day.  But these examples of progress for working families are very encouraging, and bode well for the future. By better organizing, both inside and outside the State House, and making our voices heard, progressives across the state can have a positive impact on legislation that will benefit all Massachusetts residents.

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