By Brianna Aloisio, Public Affairs Associate
In recent years, as the Boston Foundation has built out our groundbreaking civic leadership strategy, our research and reports often raise public awareness about and attention to key issues. But driving real change requires more than just attention, it calls for collective action to make a difference. One way we seek to inspire that action is with our work in Public Affairs, working to connect our data and research and the voices of those fighting for change in Greater Boston with policy makers and other leaders.
Now that we are into the final quarter of 2020 in an unprecedented year for lawmakers as well as the rest of society, we’re taking a look at where things stand on a number of key issues. In a normal year, lawmakers would be focused on the November election and we would be unlikely to see any major new legislation. This year, however, could be very different.
Back in January, the Foundation’s lobbying focus was centered around much needed transportation and housing legislation, including the continuing effort to approve common sense zoning reforms in Gov. Baker’s Housing Choice proposal.
As March ignited the current “tri-pandemic” of health, economic and racial crises we have adapted by continuing our January priorities while adjusting to include relevant efforts to support and protect the populations we serve. In Transportation, Housing, Economic Development and Police Reform we continue to urge the legislature to act boldly, with equity and prosperity as their guide.
More specifically, we were pleased to see early on in the calendar year that the Governor moved to include climate and sustainability into his transportation plan. We have continued our support of the Transportation Climate initiative and have written to ask the legislature to include An Act Relative to Regional Transportation Ballot Initiatives. This bill would allow for municipalities to choose to earmark a certain amount of their sales or property tax revenue for transportation initiatives. We believe we must act to improve transportation statewide, but we must also give local communities the ability to address their specific needs.
In one of the most talked about bills put forth this legislative cycle, An Act Enabling Partnerships for Growth, we have spoken with our partners and listened to their ideas about what is most needed for our state. The Housing Choice bill, as mentioned before, should be included in this package. This bill would eliminate the two-thirds supermajority to change zoning codes and allow for more minority-owned businesses to grow and stabilize neighborhoods. Additionally, we urged the Legislature to pass language including the right to counsel so that tenants that face eviction are all equally represented. During this time, we have supported language to extend the moratorium on evictions, but we must go further in order to combat the housing crisis in Massachusetts. Too many take advantage of our most disenfranchised populations by creating more inequity and loss of opportunity. We also asked the Legislature to continue to support funding for the arts, especially since the arts and culture sector has been devastated by COVID-19. Finally, on this note, we also recently endorsed the Student Loan Bill of Rights which would be included in the Economic Development Bill as well. Under this bill, students would garner more protection from loans that historically have set them further from their educational futures in an unjust way.
And finally, as we continue to align with the needs of the community and adapt to the world, we are also speaking out against police brutality. An Act to Improve Police Officer Standards and Accountability would be a step to ensuring that Massachusetts does not become another household name for violence and injustice. We support data collection, new coalitions, training and investment in the institution of policing while also giving power to our citizens and eliminating qualified immunity.
As we look ahead to the final months of 2020, we hope lawmakers continue to hear our voice alongside those of the people and communities in most need—and we encourage them to act boldly. We hope the Legislature prioritizes a police reform bill and an economic development package, and finds ways to improve our transportation systems.
As one of many community voices, we are grateful for the chance to learn from our partners, be called upon by our colleagues, and to work alongside our lawmakers in order to achieve a more equitable and sustainable Boston.