Pandemic has kept legislators busy

To the Editor:

Our community has faced tremendous loss over the last few months. Loss of jobs, loss of income, loss of time with others, and, most devastatingly, loss of life. Residents of our district have been creative and resilient in the face of an unprecedented pandemic. We will pull through. 

Our office has never been busier. We handled countless constituent issues and helped hundreds of our community members secure unemployment benefits. If you are struggling to get onto unemployment or know someone who is, let me know at dylan.fernandes@mahouse.gov. We want to help. 

The past several months at the State House have been remarkably productive, and I want to share a few of the highlights. 

We have known the science behind global warming since the 1980s, but have failed to adequately address it for 40 years. That’s changing. We passed legislation putting the commonwealth on track to reach net-zero emissions by 2050. We doubled down on offshore wind procurement, mandating 3,200 megawatts of deepwater offshore wind in the coming years, which will power 2 million homes. The clean energy economy will create thousands of jobs in the state, and we created a jobs program to connect workers with these opportunities.

There has been significant movement around electrification of cars, buses, and trains, but ferries in Massachusetts have not made any real commitment toward electrifying fleets. I amended the climate bill with language instructing the state to study electrifying ferry fleets and create a framework for ferry systems in Massachusetts to transition to battery power.

Speaking about ferries, we saved our district from paying tens of millions of dollars for the Steamship Authority’s deficits. Following months of work by our offices, we teamed up with Senator Julian Cyr to pass legislation that takes our port communities off the hook for Steamship Authority deficits created by COVID. The SSA enabling act, established over 60 years ago, indemnifies the SSA from losses by mandating that the state cover operational deficits and the port towns pay back the state. The Islands are each on the hook for 35 percent, while the three port towns of Falmouth, Hyannis, and New Bedford are on the hook for 10 percent each. Unique among transportation companies in Massachusetts and the country, the SSA receives no state funding, and has operated without a deficit since 1962. The COVID crisis has caused a roughly $25 million loss at the SSA, and we passed legislation ensuring that our district does not have to cover it. The Vineyard, Nantucket, and Falmouth residents are already navigating financial uncertainty as a result of the pandemic, and cannot afford to take on the Steamship Authority’s deficits.
The murder of George Floyd sparked one of the largest social movements in American history. I marched alongside Cape and Islanders of all ages, calling for change. The House of Representatives followed the Black and Latino caucuses’ lead and put together a bill addressing police accountability and systemic racism. The legislation establishes a certification process for police officers, creates an independent and empowered oversight board, restricts use of force like chokeholds, and creates a number of commissions to investigate structural racism in government. Though they failed to pass, I voted in support of amendments to ban the use of tear gas and allow communities to restrict the use of military-style weapons from being used by police departments.
Since February, the legislature has been working to improve the commonwealth’s response to the COVID-19 crisis. We passed legislation mandating telehealth coverage for primary care services, behavioral health, and chronic disease management. We strengthened legal protections for healthcare workers, and expanded the scope of practice for nurse practitioners. The legislature also worked to implement protections for businesses and individuals to mitigate financial losses during this already difficult period. We pushed back tax deadlines, canceled the MCAS, and passed a series of bills to help the restaurant industry address its unique challenges. The government’s most fundamental role is to protect the health and well-being of its citizens, and we will never lose sight of that.
To respond to financial losses as a result of the pandemic, we passed legislation providing more than $450 million in state funding to spur economic growth. The bill also facilitates housing development and legalizes sports gaming. I negotiated $250,000 in funding for a wastewater treatment project for Island Housing Trust, allowing the group to move forward on the construction of 20 affordable units on Martha’s Vineyard.
This crisis is unprecedented, and we have a lot more work ahead. In a rare but imperative move, we are extending the legislative session through the election. Let’s get to work.

 

Dylan Fernandes, state representative

Falmouth