Guns, smoking, and getting young voters involved

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With another hectic Vineyard summer in full swing, I hope you can take a moment to relax and read about some of our work at the State House.

Massachusetts has the lowest gun death rate in the nation because of our common-sense safety laws. Recently we took another strong step forward with the “Red Flag” bill, of which I am a co-sponsor, that empowers law enforcement to remove firearms from those who pose an extreme risk to themselves or others. Nearly 20 years ago, the Columbine school shooting shocked the nation, but today it isn’t even among the top 10 deadliest shootings of the past two decades. This legislation will help prevent mass shootings by allowing police to remove guns from those a judge deems a danger to themselves or society. Mass shootings often command the most attention, but two out of three gun deaths are suicides. This bill will help reduce suicide deaths by allowing law enforcement to remove guns from individuals whose family members see significant cause for concern.

Smoking rates have dropped steadily over the past few decades, and the House of Representatives is working to steepen that decline by passing legislation to raise the age of purchase for tobacco products from 18 to 21 statewide. If passed by the Senate and signed into law by the governor, this bill will save lives. Studies have consistently shown that the earlier smoking starts, the more likely one is to become addicted. Kids often turn to older friends as a source of cigarettes. Raising the tobacco-buying age to 21 ensures that high schoolers will not be able get tobacco products from their 18-year-old peers.

Over the past year, young people have proved that when they get involved in politics, they transform the debate. However, in the 2014 midterm elections, young people aged 18 to 29 turned out to vote at a rate of 20 percent. If we are serious about strengthening our democracy, educating our young people on the importance of participation should be a top priority. In May, I spoke with students from MVRHS about getting involved in public service, and in June, I was proud to vote for legislation that ensures all students in Massachusetts receive a comprehensive education in civics. The bill goes far beyond just learning the three branches of government — it includes training on participation, the electoral process, and news literacy. Over the past two years, we’ve all learned the importance of the latter. Educating the leaders of tomorrow is one of the best investments we can make.

We must break down barriers to voting so we can better engage young adults in our democracy. In 2016 there were 850,000 eligible voters in Massachusetts who were not registered. Each one represents a voice that didn’t get to weigh in on one of the most consequential elections of our lifetimes. Last month, I voted in favor of automatic voter registration, a bill that I co-sponsored, that ensures all eligible voters are registered in Massachusetts unless they choose to opt out of registering.

In the FY19 budget, I was proud to secure nearly a quarter-million dollars for our district to fund shellfish propagation, substance misuse and mental health treatment, and water-quality improvements. A few additional budget highlights include lifting the “Cap on Kids,” which increases the amount of state aid that children in low-income families can receive, a $750,000 increase for the Massachusetts Legal Assistance Corporation, which provides legal counsel to those who can’t afford an attorney, and a $5 million increase for the early educator fund that enables our schools to recruit high-quality teachers and pay them a competitive salary.

Single-use plastics are overflowing our landfills and devastating our ocean ecosystems. Our obsession with unsustainable and disposable plastic has created a floating island three times the size of France in the Pacific Ocean. A recent study of North Atlantic shellfish estimated that seafood lovers could be eating up to 11,000 pieces of microplastic a year. We need to reduce our footprint, practice sustainability, and reflect on the world we are leaving to our children and grandchildren.

We can lead locally by banning single-use plastics right here in our district. While the Vineyard has already taken great strides banning single-use plastic bags, there is more to be done. Two towns in Massachusetts have already banned single-use plastic water bottles, a step that only a handful of communities nationwide have taken. Love for our ocean is why so many of us choose to live in our unique district and raise families here. We should take the lead in preserving it.

It is an honor to serve you and our beautiful district. As always, reach out anytime to dylan.fernandes@mahouse.gov or 617-722-2430, ext. 6.