Happy New Year to you and yours! As we turn the page on 2020 and my first term in the Massachusetts House of Representatives, I wanted to share some of my accomplishments on Beacon Hill and uplift some glimmers of hope that have emerged amid the past year’s challenges. It has been inspiring to see so many people--from impromptu mask-makers to heroic health care workers, and from compassionate food bank volunteers to determined teachers--working tirelessly and unselfishly to overcome the myriad of hardships 2020 threw our way. It is humbling to see our community exhibit such generosity, and we all know someone who has gone above and beyond in these difficult times. These heroes are the true “Silver Lining” of 2020.

Although the timeline is uncertain, it appears that we are turning the corner in our fight against COVID-19. Over the course of a few weeks, we received promising news about multiple vaccines (including the Moderna vaccine, which was developed right here in Massachusetts) and subsequent approvals by the FDA. More information about the vaccine rollout in our state can be found here. As vaccine distribution accelerates, our priority should remain protecting one another and safeguarding our public health: although there’s light at the end of the tunnel, I urge you to remain vigilant over the next few months, continuing to practice social distancing and avoiding gathering with those outside of your bubble. 

Join me for my first virtual Office Hours of 2021! Next Tuesday, January 12th, I will be talking to constituents like you from 5:00 - 6:00 PM. You can sign up and submit questions ahead of time here. Hearing from you helps me do my job better, and your input and thoughts are critical to informing my work on Beacon Hill.

Despite the unique financial constraints of 2020, the Legislature passed one of the most progressive budgets in recent memory, with an emphasis on supporting services that have provided instrumental relief against Coronavirus. Among these are significant investments in housing, food security, education, health and human services, and of course, public health infrastructure. Some highlights include:

  • $50 million for Residential Assistance for Families in Transition (RAFT), as well as emergency changes to the RAFT program to increase the maximum amount of rental assistance that a household can receive from $4,000 to $10,000 and allow eligible households facing a housing crisis to access both RAFT and HomeBASE. More details about RAFT assistance can be found here
  • $180 million for Emergency Assistance Family Shelters.
  • $135 million for the Massachusetts Rental Voucher Program (MRVP).

Food Security
  • $30 million for the Massachusetts Emergency Food Assistance Program.
  • $13 million for the Healthy Incentives Programs.
  • $1.2 million for Project Bread to support the Child Nutrition Outreach Program and the Food Source Hotline.

  • $307.7 million for community colleges.
  • $15 million for Head Start grants.
  • $4.8 million for the STEM Starter Academy to support underrepresented students in STEM fields at community colleges.

Health and Human Services
  • $501.1 million for adult services for autism and disabilities.
  • $94.8 million for children’s mental health services.
  • $36.4 million for early intervention services.

Public Health Infrastructure
  • $10 million for grants to support local boards of health to combat COVID-19.
  • $1.7 million for the State Action for Public Health Excellence (SAPHE) program to support a more effective local and regional public health delivery system.
  • $1 million for a COVID-19 Vaccine Distribution Plan program, focused on equitable vaccine distribution.

Economic Development
  • $94 million for Regional Transit Authorities (RTAs).
  • $46 million for adult basic education services.
  • $17.5 million for community development financial institutions.

I believe that all health care decisions should be made between a patient and their doctor. For that reason, I was pleased to support the inclusion of language similar to the ROE Act when it came to the House floor for a vote. Although the Governor originally returned the measure with amendments, I stood firm alongside my colleagues in the House and rejected these changes that would have weakened the intent of the bill. The Legislature overrode the Governor’s veto, and the bill is now law, providing critical protections in ensuring safe, accessible, and equitable abortion care in the Commonwealth.
Earlier this year, we witnessed the urgent and compelling nationwide protests and calls for justice following the murder of George Floyd at the hands of law enforcement. In response, the House and the Senate overwhelmingly passed significant police reform legislation. After four months of negotiations, the conference committee delivered its compromise version of the long-anticipated bill, An Act relative to Justice, Equity and Accountability in Law Enforcement in the Commonwealth.

The General Court approved the compromise legislation in response to the pressing need to begin to dismantle systemic racism in policing. Not surprisingly, the Governor returned the original bill the Legislature passed with changes of his own. You may have read that the initial bill was unable to garner a 2/3rds majority when the measure passed the House of Representatives by a still-significant margin in November. Thus, lacking the votes to override the Governor, we were compelled to compromise in order to make progress and have a chance at passing meaningful legislation this session. 
In this context, I have mixed feelings about the bill. While it was unable to do everything the Legislature wanted it to, it is still a real step forward on a number of important issues. Moreover, I believe some progress is better than no action at all. The bill makes some major changes; for instance, it:

  • Creates a Peace Officer Standards and Training (POST) Commission, which is a civilian-led board with oversight of officers, which will certify them and have the authority to decertify those facing complaints of misconduct or certain other violations;
  • Bans racial profiling, chokeholds, and tear gas at large demonstrations; and
  • Restricts the use of no-knock warrants where a child or a person over age 65 is home, unless that child or older person is at risk.

As a result of alterations made by the Governor as part of his amendments returned with the bill, it now:

  • Gives joint responsibility of setting use-of-force standards to the state’s municipal police training committee and the independent oversight commission (the original legislation would have had the POST Commission set the use-of-force standards); and
  • Changes the definition of bias-free policing, allowing officers to take into consideration someone’s race, ethnicity, gender, and other aspects of one’s identity if it is relevant to the crime.

While not perfect, this legislation is a significant step forward. Indeed, it is a start, but is in no way the last word on the issue. I especially want to acknowledge the significant efforts undertaken by the Massachusetts Black and Latino Legislative Caucus as well as the Association of Black Citizens of Lexington throughout the development and consideration of this legislation. 
In the 192nd session of the General Court, I look forward to continuing to collaborate with my colleagues in the Legislature and my constituents to ensure that all are treated fairly within the criminal justice system. 

From the beginning of this session, bold climate legislation has been one of my top priorities. After months of negotiations, the General Court overwhelmingly passed S.2995, An Act Creating a Next-Generation Roadmap for Massachusetts Climate Policy. It now goes to the Governor’s desk for his consideration, and he has not indicated if he plans to make the legislation law. You can ask Governor Baker to sign this critical bill by sending him a note here.

When this ambitious legislation becomes law, Massachusetts will once again be the national leader in confronting the devastating effects of climate change.

Among other provisions, this bill:

  • Establishes a statewide net zero limit on greenhouse gas emissions by 2050 and mandates emissions limit checkpoints every five years to ensure progress toward that goal. It also sets limits for specific sectors of the economy, including transportation and construction.
  • Codifies environmental justice provisions into law, defining environmental justice populations and providing new tools and protections for affected neighborhoods.
  • Requires an additional 2,400 megawatts of offshore wind procurement.
  • Sets appliance energy efficiency standards for a variety of common appliances, including plumbing, faucets, computers, and commercial appliances, among others.
  • Increases the Renewable Portfolio Standard (RPS) by three percent each year from 2025 to 2029, resulting in 40 percent renewable energy by 2030.
  • Establishes $12 million in annual funding for the Massachusetts Clean Energy Center in order to create a pathway to the clean energy industry for environmental justice populations and minority- and women-owned businesses.
  • Adopts several measures aimed at improving gas pipeline safety, including increased fines for safety violations and regulations related to training and certifying utility contractors.
  • Prioritizes equitable access to the state’s solar programs by low-income communities 
  • Establishes an opt-in municipal net zero energy stretch code, including a definition of net zero building.
  • Provides solar incentives for businesses by exempting them from the net metering cap to allow them to install solar systems on their premises to help offset their electricity use and save money.
In a year that has stretched our public health system to its limits, the Legislature recognized the need for comprehensive health care reform. Amid the surging pandemic, the House and Senate passed An Act promoting a resilient health care system that puts patients first, which was signed into law by the Governor on January 1st. This landmark legislation is a major step forward in providing adequate health care for patients during the current crisis and beyond. 

The new law includes the following key provisions:

  • Requires insurance coverage of telehealth services, including behavioral health care.
  • Expands the scope of practice for Advanced Practice Nurses and Optometrists.
  • Increases disclosures around provider costs and network status to protect consumers from surprise medical bills.
  • Removes barriers to accessing urgent care centers for MassHealth members.
  • Extends insurance coverage and access to COVID-19 testing and treatment.
  • Directs a study and report of the impacts of COVID-19 on the health care system.

As I close out my first term as your State Representative for the 15th Middlesex District, there is plenty to reflect on. I am incredibly grateful for those who have taken the time to provide guidance and feedback to me along the way. As expected, these two years in office have been a learning curve, but I have found that one of my most helpful tools in navigating the job is input from constituents. I benefit from learning about which issues matter most to you because it gives me a local perspective on complex topics. For that reason, I encourage you to share your ideas on possible legislation and policy for the upcoming session using this short survey or by responding to this email with your thoughts.

Finally, although this is not a state level issue, I wanted to update you on some developments at the Federal level. A few weeks ago, Congress finally agreed on a COVID-19 relief package after House Democrats had passed various versions of a bill as far back as May. It is not perfect nor nearly adequate, and there is more work that must be done to protect the American people, but this relief effort includes many essential allocations, such as: 

  • Enhanced unemployment insurance benefits through the Federal Pandemic Unemployment Compensation (FPUC) program, providing an additional $300 per week to supplement all state and federal unemployment benefits;
  • One-time direct payments of $600 for individuals making up to $75,000 and $1,200 for couples making up to $150,000, as well as an extra $600 per eligible child dependent;
  • Extends the CDC rental eviction moratorium through January 31, 2021
  • $284 billion for the Paycheck Protection Program (PPP) and extends PPP through March 31, 2021
  • $69 billion for COVID-related health care spending, including vaccine procurement and distribution, testing and contact tracing, community health and health care provider support 
  • $54.3 billion for Public K-12 schools
  • $25 billion for a new rental assistance program, helping families who are struggling to pay upcoming rent or have accruing back rent
  • $14 billion for transit agencies to cover substantial COVID-related revenue shortfalls
  • $13 billion to combat food insecurity across the country
  • $10 billion for child care providers
Representative Michelle Ciccolo | Website