As we kick off the holiday season on the Vineyard, I hope this State House update brings you cheer!
In a democratic society, education is one of the most powerful tools to expand opportunity and lift people out of poverty. The right to education is enshrined in the Massachusetts Constitution. The section, which is one sentence but over 160 words long (Adams was not the most succinct), tasks the Massachusetts Legislature with the duty to support and cherish the education of its citizens. In 1993, Massachusetts passed revolutionary education reform that catapulted our schools to the top of the nation in performance and outcomes.
Since the 1990s, a lot has changed in our schools. Twenty-five years later, the once revolutionary formula now persistently underfunds the cost of educating low-income students and English-language learners, as well as special needs children, and fails to compensate for the rise in prices of healthcare and technology. Last month the legislature revamped that old funding formula, and infused $1.5 billion in new funding for our schools. This is a generational investment in our children and the future of the commonwealth.
At a time of profound income inequality in our country, the labor movement built our middle class, ushering in an era of unprecedented prosperity in America. Today, income inequality has risen to heights not seen since before the Great Depression. The erosion of workers’ rights by Congress and conservative courts have contributed to the stagnation of wages and millions of people being left behind. Last year, the U.S. Supreme Court rendered the “Janus decision,” upending decades of labor practices by declaring union agency fees unconstitutional. Over the summer, we passed legislation restoring union rights and their ability to collectively bargain. When the governor vetoed the bill, we overrode his veto with bipartisan support this fall.
We live in a post-global-warming climate. We must adapt to this new normal while working to end our reliance on fossil fuels. The legislature passed a billion-dollar bond bill that funds coastal resiliency while also providing funding to cities and towns to curb greenhouse gas emissions through microgrids, electrifying vehicle fleets, and establishing a low-interest loan program for clean energy projects. It’s not just municipalities that will benefit; we voted to fund the “MOR-EV” program, extending state tax credits to residents buying electric vehicles.
After nearly three years of advocacy alongside Sen. Julian Cyr for our state’s first legislation on ocean acidification, the commission we created to address it held its first meeting in Woods Hole. Carbon dioxide from fossil fuels and water runoff have caused our ocean to rapidly acidify, especially around the coasts. The effects are devastating to ecosystems and marine life, particularly shellfish, which cannot grow shells if the water becomes too acidic. The Special Legislative Commission, comprised of policymakers, scientists, shellfishers, and representatives from environmental agencies, will study ocean acidification and make recommendations to mitigate its effects and protect our ocean environment. I was honored to be appointed co-chair of the commission.
North Atlantic right whales are on the brink of extinction. Only 100 reproductive females remain. Like with almost all ecological disasters, we only have to look inward to the root cause of the problem. In the 1800s we hunted the right whales to near extinction, and today, boat strikes and fishing lines batter and ensnare these massive seasonal visitors to death. Massachusetts is leading the nation in reducing lines and mobilizing aerial patrols to steer vessels and fisheries away from the whales, but we need federal action and funding to guarantee protection. We partnered with the New England Aquarium and the International Fund for Animal Welfare to pass a resolution through the House of Representatives calling on Congress to pass the federal SAVE Right Whales Act. We even brought a 45-foot life-size inflatable right whale to the State House, which hopefully won’t be the last right whale left.
Cell phone use while driving is dangerous and, too often, deadly. Between 2014 and 2016, the number of crashes caused by distracted driving in Massachusetts rose 170 percent. The House and Senate passed comprehensive legislation banning handheld cell phone use while driving. The legislation has been a priority for safe driving advocates and the families of those who lost loved ones because of distracted driving. This legislation, which was signed into law by the governor last week, aims to keep drivers focused on the road and save lives.
I want to wish everyone good health and joy this holiday season! If our office can ever be of service to you, please reach out. My email is email@example.com and our number is 617-722-2013.
Dylan Fernandes is a Falmouth Democrat, who represents Martha’s Vineyard in the state House of Representatives.