A legislative update 


To the Editor:

Whether it’s a blessing or a curse, one thing is for certain: We live in interesting times. How we respond to the challenges we face will impact our lives and those of future generations. Government must play the leading role in addressing the challenges facing us, and ultimately, it is on all of us to take collective action.

Unprecedented crisis has also created unparalleled opportunities. The $5 billion funding allocated to the state to improve health and the economy is the largest amount of money the commonwealth has received from the federal government since the Great Depression. After extensive public engagement on how to spend the funds, the House appropriated $3.82 billion in relief to support residents and resilience across the state. We invested over $900 million into economic development and relief for small businesses, over $780 million into health, $750 million for Massachusetts workers, $600 million into housing development and assistance, $350 million to address the climate crisis, with $100 million for port infrastructure, and $230 million for education. And because this money should be spent in an accountable way, we allocated $5 million to create a public database to track exactly where each dollar is being spent. 

As the housing crisis on the Vineyard worsens, more Islanders face homelessness every year and, until recently, had to choose between camping in the State Forest and faith-based warming shelters in the winter. As part of the legislature’s economic relief package, I secured $300,000 in funding which, along with generous support from Island communities, will assist Harbor Homes in establishing the first permanent, year-round homeless shelter for women on the Vineyard. Additionally, $400,000 was recently released to the town of Tisbury in partnership with Island Housing Trust for a denitrification system for the Kuehn’s Way housing project. 

The words we use are powerful in signifying to our community what our values are. We passed legislation through the House that makes the West Tisbury and Chilmark select boards gender-neutral. The simple change from “board of selectmen” to “select board” advances gender inclusivity for all West Tisbury and Chilmark residents. 

Massachusetts is a deeply unequal state. The pandemic exacerbated many pre-existing inequities, with economic gains during 2020 flowing disproportionately to rich residents. Despite the massive wealth gap, Massachusetts law dictates that the ultra-wealthy pay the same income tax rate as our poorest residents. Earlier this year, we overwhelmingly passed the “Millionaires Tax,” also known as the “Fair Share Amendment,” which creates a 4 percent tax on the portion of a person’s income above $1 million. This new revenue will generate nearly $2 billion every year for high-quality public education and transportation. The amendment will be on the ballot for voters to approve in November of next year. 

Increasing temperature change, sea level rise, and catastrophic weather events underscore the need for bold climate action. Last March, I voted to pass the largest climate bill in Massachusetts history. The state is now on a pathway to net zero emissions by 2050 that will expand deepwater offshore wind and improve energy efficiency in buildings. While the governor vetoed the bill, not once, but twice, the Democratic legislature overrode his veto, and will continue to fight to protect our environment and residents from the impacts of climate change. 

To hit our new climate goals, 100,000 homes must transition to electric-powered heating each year. But last year, only 461 were converted. This is in large part because Mass Save, our state’s energy efficiency program, continues to encourage residents to use fossil fuels. It has failed to promote efficient electric heating and cooling. Senator Sonia Chang-Díaz and I led a letter signed by 28 of our colleagues to Mass Save, urging changes. Many of our requests were included in its new 2022–24 plan, including increases in incentives, eligibility for gas customers to receive rebates, and equity provisions. 

Every woman, regardless of zip code, deserves the right to safe and affordable abortion access. Yet the fate of Roe v. Wade has been threatened like never before, as the conservative Supreme Court failed to strike down Texas’s archaic restrictions to abortion, and is taking up arguments this winter that could effectively overturn the 1973 ruling. Whatever happens nationally, we will ensure that here in Massachusetts women continue to have the right to abortion. We enacted the ROE Act, which codifies the right to choose, and removes outdated language that breaks down barriers to access that have disproportionately impacted women of color or those with lower incomes. 

As Republican-controlled states across the country continue to pass laws making it harder to vote, here in Massachusetts, we’re expanding voting rights. When the pandemic began, we quickly implemented new policies to allow voting by mail and early voting for all residents. These were widely successful, and in 2020, our state saw its highest voter turnout rate since 1992, with 76 percent of eligible voters casting a ballot. When the state of emergency ended, we extended these provisions, and are now working on legislation to make these permanent fixtures of Massachusetts voting. 

As we approach the year’s end, we have much more work to do at the State House. I hope you view our office as a resource to you, and I encourage you to reach out to me anytime at dylan.fernandes@mahouse.gov, or 508-257-1174‬


Dylan Fernandes, state representative