By Dylan Fernandes
Right before Christmas, I underwent a six-hour surgery to remove a foot-and-half-long and nearly three-pound benign tumor from my left thigh. I would be missing public events for several weeks, so although I had never talked publicly about my disease, I felt it necessary to let residents of our district know about it. I was not prepared for the overwhelming outpouring of support and hundreds of emails, cards, and care packages — it meant a lot to me. I was up and crutching around the State House the first week of January, and never missed a vote. Undergoing a major procedure made me appreciate the fragility of life and the urgency of making a difference while you can. So we are hitting the ground running (and crutching) in 2018.
Failed “tough on crime” policies of the 1990s, the criminalization of poverty, and racial discrimination have caused the United States to hold the largest prison population in the history of the world. There are more black men in the criminal justice system today than there were slaves at the height of slavery. As the federal government doubles down on these reckless policies, Massachusetts is taking a smarter, fairer, and more equitable approach by passing comprehensive criminal justice reform. I could devote entire newsletters to detailing the many progressive reforms contained in this legislation, which include ending mandatory minimums for many drug offenses, diversion programs for people with substance use and mental health disorders, juvenile justice, and much more. The rest of America often looks to our state for innovative policies, and this criminal justice package is truly nation-leading reform.
When it come to gun violence, it is clear that “thoughts and prayers” are simply not enough: Lawmakers must act. Two weeks ago, I rallied at the State House in support of a bill I am cosponsoring on extreme-risk protection orders, which strengthens laws allowing for the temporary removal of guns from individuals who pose an extreme risk to society or themselves. Massachusetts has the lowest gun death rate in the nation because of our common-sense gun safety laws, but we can do more to prevent suicides and mass shootings.
Lack of affordable housing is eroding our year-round communities — teachers, firefighters, hospital workers, and many other working families are unable to find a home in our district. We are working to change that, which is why I was proud to vote for a $1.7 billion housing bond bill. The bill includes $400 million for the Affordable Housing Trust Fund, which will go toward matching funds for towns constructing new housing, employers providing workforce housing, and first-time homebuyers. A key provision of that bill was an amendment sponsored by Rep. Sarah Peake and co-sponsored by myself, expanding the Community Investment Tax Credit (CITC), which provides a 50 percent tax credit for donations to Community Development Corporations that support workforce and affordable housing.
The Cape and Islands are home to the oldest population in the state, and demographic trends project that our region will be getting older. According to healthcare experts, Massachusetts will see a 25 percent increase in the number of people with Alzheimer’s disease over the next decade, with an estimated 150,000 people having Alzheimer’s by 2025. We must have a plan in place to ensure that every Alzheimer’s and dementia patient has adequate access to treatment and care. I voted to pass “An Act Relative to Alzheimer’s and Related Dementias in the Commonwealth,” which develops a comprehensive plan to address the disease, and establishes the Alzheimer’s Disease Advisory Council. It sets new training standards for elder protective service workers and establishes a continuing education requirement for physicians and nurses that focuses on how best to diagnose and treat those with Alzheimer’s and dementia.
From Equifax to Target, it seems like every week we hear about a new data breach where millions of Americans have their information stolen. Government must do a better job of keeping pace with technology and protecting consumers. I voted to pass H4229, which makes freezing your credit accounts free, enables you to freeze your account online or over the phone, and mandates credit agencies or businesses provide a year of free credit monitoring after a breach. This will save consumers money and help prevent scammers from opening lines of credit under your name.
We must preserve and protect the beautiful ocean that connects our district. Among other disastrous policies, the Trump Administration is advocating for cutting the vital Sea Grant Program and opening our coastal waters up for oil and gas exploration. I filed a resolution in the House, signed by 22 of my colleagues, calling on the administration and Congress to fully fund the Sea Grant program, which provides vital water quality monitoring, shellfish propagation, and environmental stewardship programs to the Cape and Islands. Last week, I rallied with the Sierra Club at the Bureau of Ocean Energy Management hearing to speak out against the Trump Administration’s plan to open up oil and gas exploration on our shores.
I am grateful to be back on my feet post-surgery, traveling the district and representing you at the State House. We are always here for you; give us a call anytime at 617-722-2430, ext. 6, or send me an email at email@example.com.