April Opportunities for Action
Information and Action During Coronavirus Emergency
As so many of you are doing, LWVMA has adapted to the reality of the coronavirus epidemic. We have postponed our 100 th Birthday Gala at the end of May, and are looking at possibilities to reschedule. We are also planning a series of virtual events focused on our history and our mission. Stay tuned for details about how to attend from home. Our LWVMA Council is planned for June 13, but we are exploring options if we are unable to meet in person by then.

LWVMA Co-Presidents Mary Ann Ashton and Judy Zaunbrecher hosted a call last week for local League leaders to update them about developments related to municipal and special state legislative elections, as well as opportunities for volunteering for Census work while at home. We reviewed some of the tools available to help local League members keep doing their work. The slides and webinar recording are available here .

Legislature Focused on Emergency
The State House is closed to the public, and legislative staff and most legislators are working remotely. The emergency bills are being passed in “informal sessions,” which do not require a full vote by members on the floor (though any single member can block passage of a bill under those circumstances). For at least the month of April, we expect that the legislature will be focused on bills to address the specific needs created by the coronavirus emergency, and then legislators will begin to deal with the budget and the changes that will be needed in the face of an expected revenue shortfall due to the crisis. For those reasons, LWVMA advocacy will be limited for the near future; most of the bills we are following will not be considered any time soon.  

Our direct legislative advocacy right now involves working with our partners in the Election Modernization Coalition to address legislation to permit local elections and special legislative elections to happen this spring, and to assure that adequate systems are in place for the Sept. 1 primary election and Nov. 3 general election. See update below on election legislation.

Some of the other coalitions LWVMA works with are taking emergency-related actions and we are participating in those.

LWVMA has signed on to a letter asking Governor Baker and corrections officials to reduce the prison and jail populations as much as possible and to allow free telephone, email and videoconference calls for those who are not released. We have also signed on to a letter to Immigration and Customs Enforcement (ICE) officials and county sheriffs to release those currently detained and to stop local immigration enforcement operations and arrests. Thanks to Colleen Kirby, criminal justice reform specialist, and Jennifer Muroff, immigration specialist, for their work.

Climate change advocates, including our specialist, Launa Zimmaro, continue to build alliances and plan for strong action on the climate front. As with the coronavirus, failure to act is not an option. 

The ROE Act coalition, working on the abortion access bill, is offering a virtual ROE Act Town Hall to discuss the legislation and path forward Tuesday, April 7, at 6:30 p.m. Register here to participate.

The Massachusetts Coalition against Gun Violence asks you to contact Governor Baker’s office and urge him to clarify and enforce his decision to classify gun stores as non-essential businesses which should remain closed during the pandemic. Allowing gun stores to be open is a threat with increased risk of death from domestic violence, suicides, and unintentional shootings given the current stress, anxiety, and isolation. Call 617-725-4005 or email the Governor.

Update on Local Elections
Most of the towns in Massachusetts hold spring elections for town offices and school committees. On March 23, the House and Senate passed and the Governor signed a bill allowing the postponement of those local elections without the need for a court order. Here is a summary of the bill, S.2608, from our legislation tracking service: Authorizes municipalities with an election scheduled to take place before May 30, 2020 to postpone the election to a date on or before June 30, 2020; allows elected officials whose term was set to expire to continue to serve until the new election; requires public notification of the election postponement; sets the voter registration deadline at 10 days before the new election date; allows previously submitted absentee ballots to be counted for the new election; expands absentee ballot eligibility to all those who are taking precautions related to COVID-19; expands early voting by mail for municipal elections held on or before June 30, 2020 to all eligible voters. 

The Senate special elections to fill vacancies in the Second Hampden & Hampshire and Plymouth & Barnstable districts are scheduled for May 19. The House special elections to fill vacancies in the 37th Middlesex and Third Bristol districts are scheduled for June 2.

Update on Town Meetings
The legislature is still working on a bill dealing with municipal operations, including holding town meetings. The bill has passed the House and been sent to the Senate. Here’s a partial summary of the bill, H4598, from our tracking service: Grants municipalities greater flexibility to conduct business during the ongoing public health emergency; allows for town meetings to be postponed for 30 days, including past a statutory cut-off of June 30th; additionally allows the calling of a recess and continuation of a town meeting during any weather-related, public safety or public health emergency, and for up to 5 days after its termination; authorizes use of at least half of the monthly appropriation from the most recent budget for each month in which an emergency prevents adoption of a subsequent annual budget; additionally authorizes use of a municipality's “free cash” during the COVID-19 state of emergency; authorizes and regulates amortization of deficit amounts incurred due to the COVID-19 state of emergency. Amends various provisions related to the billing and collection of local taxes, including real estate taxes during the COVID-19 state of emergency; extends the deadline for filing of income tax returns and submission of payments until July 15, 2020. Those provisions may change as the bill proceeds.  

Information on Emergency Legislation
MassTrac, the legislation tracking service we subscribe to, is offering a public blog, blog.instatrac.com, updated daily, on the status of COVID-19-related legislation. You can access the information through the blog links. 

Holding League Annual Meetings and Remote Meetings
LWVMA is researching the options for local Leagues to hold annual meetings to elect officers and approve budgets remotely or to postpone them. We will be sending out guidance as soon as we can.

LWVMA is offering our second Zoom account for local Leagues to use to hold meetings remotely. Please contact Brynne Gorman if you want to use that account. She will be organizing the meeting requests, and asks that one person in each local League be delegated to deal with those Zoom meetings.

2020 Census—It's here now!
Census Day is still April 1. Check the self-response rate in your area using the Census Response Rate Map, updated daily at 3 pm. 

Here’s how you can help:
  • Complete your census form today! And encourage friends, neighbors, and family to do the same. It takes less than 10 minutes online.
  • Contact your state legislators and ask them to publicize the Census.
  • Work with your local elected officials and libraries to promote the Census online.
  • Reach out to hard-to-count populations by distributing flyers through food and meal distribution programs (meals on wheels, school lunch distribution, food banks).  
  • Ask assisted-living facilities how residents will be counted and how you can help.
  • Post messages on social media. 

Sign up for the LWVMA 2020 Census group to receive updates and new ways to help get out the count. Contact Brynne Gorman to join. Check out the LWVMA 2020 Census Toolkit.

Volunteer to Phone Bank to Increase the Count. MassCounts is launching phone banks every Tuesday from 11 a.m.-1 p.m. and Thursday from 5-7 p.m. to call residents of census tracts with the lowest self-response rates. Please sign up to join a virtual phone bank. You'll need a computer and a cell phone; a 15-20-minute training and a script are provided.

Federal Voting Legislation and LWVUS Actions
LWVUS and other voting rights advocates are urging Congress to act now to assure access to the polls for pending primary elections and for the Presidential election in November. While Massachusetts Senators and Representatives support such efforts, please email Senators Warren and Markey and your own Congressperson to indicate your support of action to protect our elections so they can let their colleagues know these bills are important.

The LWVUS press release is here. Below is information from Virginia Kase, CEO, on March 23:

Over the weekend, the League joined voting rights partners in calling for measures to be taken to protect our democracy. This includes the expansion of early voting and no-excuse absentee mail-in ballots, including providing funding for mailing ballots to every American in a crisis, and funding for the Election Assistance Commission. We have also supported provisions to protect our communities, public health, and workers by providing paid sick and emergency leave, providing flexibility in Supplemental Nutrition Assistance Program (SNAP) assistance, providing emergency unemployment compensation, and requiring flexible and affordable health provisions from private insurers. 

As we continue to learn more about the impact of the COVID-19 outbreak on democracy, we will update our resources document on the League Management Site with tools for Leagues to utilize during this pandemic. Two new resources we’d like to highlight are our Guidance for Voter Registration Activities During COVID-19 and How to Use LWVUS Positions for Advocacy in Light of COVID-19

Continue to check this page on the League Management Site as we add additional guidance in the days and weeks ahead. We’ve included a running list of resources created by LWVUS at the bottom of this page.  

Here is Virginia’s comment after the stimulus bill was passed March 26:
This week, the Senate passed the Coronavirus Aid, Relief, and Economic Security Act (CARES Act) and we expected the House to pass it Friday (3/27). While we’re pleased Congress came together to provide the American people with desperately needed relief, the bill fell short of the $2 billion in election funding needed to safeguard the right to vote in the upcoming November election. We will be calling on Congress to prioritize elections in the next round of stimulus. You can read our full statement here.  

Next week our Advocacy team will lead a webinar: COVID and the League: Continuing our Work in Unprecedented Times. The COVID-19 pandemic is affecting everyone's lives, but that doesn't mean that our work stops. Join LWVUS staff for a conversation around recommendations for policy, advocacy, grassroots engagement, and communications during this unprecedented time. Register for the webinar here.  

Be a Judge!
This year’s student video contest, the Teen Voting Rights Challenge, asked high school students throughout the Commonwealth to make a 30-second video answering the question “Should 16-Year-Olds Have the Right to Vote?” We’ve extended the deadline for submissions to our video contest until April 30.  

We need judges for this contest. All the work is done in May from your own computer on your schedule. You will receive a link to all the videos and information on how to rank them. If you want to be a judge, email Taylor Grenga.

Legislation Progress Update
Actions taken in March on bills we support.
Bills in line for a House vote when regular business resumes:
H1781 - An Act providing for the establishment of sustainable water resource funds
H3075 - An Act relative to congestion relief in East Boston, a variable-toll pilot program
H3661 - An Act relative to the reduction of certain toxic chemicals in Firefighter Personal Protective Equipment
Bills reported favorably out of committee:
H2434 - An Act improving the earned income credit for working families
S1646 - An Act improving the earned income credit for healthier families 
S764 - An Act relative to sexual violence on higher education campuses
Bills receiving an extension for reporting out of committee:
S408 - An Act supporting parents running for public office, to 6/1
S1694/ H2653- An Act relative to regional transportation ballot initiatives, to 4/10
S76/ H150 - An Act relative to the safety, dignity, and civil rights of persons experiencing homelessness, to 5/1
H1214/ S741- An Act committing to higher education the resources to ensure a strong and healthy public higher education system, to 4/30
H1948/ S1332 - An Act relative to out-of-hospital birth access and safety, to 5/1
H1154 - An Act to reduce drug costs through transparency, to 5/1
H410 - An Act relative to healthy youth, to 5/1
H1194/ S683 - An Act establishing Medicare for all in Massachusetts, to 5/1
H4434 - An Act to promote student nutrition, to 5/1
H1949 - An Act to reduce racial disparities in maternal health, to 5/1
H1959 - An Act to increase access to disposable menstrual products in prisons, homeless shelters, and public schools, to 5/1
How to Contact Your Legislator:   You can find phone numbers, email addresses and office addresses on the legislature’s webpage for your Senator and Representative.  Go to   www.malegislature.gov  and click on the Legislators tab.  If you don’t know who your legislators are, click  here .
The LWVMA Action Newsletter is distributed to all LWVMA members. Anyone can request the Action Newsletter by clicking  here . Please review this Newsletter for articles of interest to your League and include them in your local Bulletin.
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