Building on our success last session in passing 11 bills through the House, we kicked off the new year by filing 26 bills and cosponsoring 240 more in the first month of the new session. We wrote bills focused on protecting our environment, expanding access to housing for those most in need, and breaking down barriers to voting, among many other issues. Our bill protecting coastal communities from the Trump administration’s offshore drilling plan was announced through a coordinated effort with coastal legislators from across the country, and is already getting a lot of attention. If passed in each coastal state, our legislation will act as a blockade against offshore oil and gas exploration.
A new session means new committee assignments, and I was honored to be appointed to committees that prioritize sustainability and move Massachusetts to a renewable energy future. The greatest issues facing my generation, future generations, and our coastal towns are climate change and sea level rise, and I will have a front-row seat in addressing it on the Committee on Telecommunications, Utilities and Energy, and the Committee on Global Warming and Climate Change.
The House of Representatives has been off to a quick start passing legislation aimed at keeping our roads safe and protecting women and our LGBTQ community. We have all witnessed drivers with their heads down reading their phones, and not paying attention to the road. Between 2014 and 2016, the number of crashes caused by distracted driving in Massachusetts rose 170 percent. The House took action to address this by nearly unanimously passing comprehensive legislation to ban handheld cell phone use while driving, which will hopefully lead to safer roads and fewer accidents.
We will not sit by as the Trump administration strips critical funding from women’s reproductive health and family planning. In the aftermath of the Trump Administration’s cut to Title X money, we passed legislation providing $8 million to preserve women’s access to care. Healthcare is a right, reproductive healthcare is a right, and we will continue to do everything in our power to protect Massachusetts residents from the Trump administration’s rollback of women’s rights. By banning gay conversion therapy for minors in Massachusetts, a practice aimed at changing children’s sexuality, we sent a clear message to LGBTQ youth: There is nothing wrong with you, and our state will not be home to cruel and destructive practices that promote self-hate.
Over four long days and late nights of negotiations, the House of Representatives wrapped up a $43 billion budget that invests in our most vulnerable residents and the natural environment. I am a member of the Progressive Caucus, and we secured our three budget priorities, which included significant boosts in funding for early childhood education (increasing rates by $20 million), state parks ($46 million), and legal aid to low-income residents ($24 million). Later this session we will debate updating the education funding formula, but in the meantime, we invested $5.1 billion in Chapter 70 school aid, an increase over last year by $236 million. Right before the budget, we filed and passed legislation for the Martha’s Vineyard Airport to make much-needed capital improvements and equipment upgrades.
The nine towns across our district use Community Preservation Act funds to build affordable housing, restore historic sites, and preserve open space. For the first time in 20 years, the House budget increased CPA funding by allocating an additional $36 million for these important local projects. I secured an additional $225,000 in local aid to fund district programs that improve access to healthcare and boost water quality and economic development through shellfish propagation. Including this budget, I have brought home $550,000 for shellfish propagation over the past three years for our region.
Our office has been busy promoting our legislation at the State House. We hosted briefings on our legislation on craniofacial disorders with Island residents. To build support for our electric bike legislation, we organized a demo day for riders to learn more about e-bikes and bike safety. As part of an effort to preserve the critically endangered right whales, we partnered with the New England Aquarium to host an informational session on efforts to protect these remarkable seasonal visitors.
I deeply value transparency and community engagement, and we held three town hall-style events in Falmouth and on the Vineyard and Nantucket to hear what’s
on your mind. Know that our office is here for you, and you can reach out anytime at 617.722.2430 or firstname.lastname@example.org.
Rep. Fernandes is in his second term representing Falmouth and the Islands in the House of Representatives.