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For too long, policy and advocacy have focused on equality as being the standard-bearer of anti-racist policy. Instead, today we know that we must focus on equity.
Moreover, a large portion of the bills we file, and those that we cosponsor seek equity and justice in areas such as public health, housing, economic development, transportation, and more.
Below you will find a list of bills that we sponsored and cosponsored along with short descriptions. Remember, some of these deal with the effects of systemic racism, while others get at the root causes of systemic racism. We find both to be important.
Note: this is not a comprehensive list of everything we're working on or everything we support, but rather the policy priorities we've played a heavy role in.
Breakfast before the first classroom bell poses several barriers for students. Transportation issues, tardy buses, overwhelming cafeteria lines, the small window of time to make the line and eat food prior to the first bell ringing, and the powerful stigma that “really poor kids are the only ones who eat breakfast in the cafeteria.” We know that school nutrition policies have a disparate impact on students of color and breakfast before the bell creates additional barriers. Breakfast After the Bell provides breakfast in the classroom after the starting bell for the first period or homeroom. Studies show that breakfast participation rates increase by as much as 82% when schools do this. Under Breakfast After the Bell, every kid has the opportunity to start their day off with a nutritious meal without any problematic stigma attached to it. In turn, when our kids get a chance to eat breakfast, they also start to perform better academically. It’s a clear win for kids and schools.
MA school nutrition systems present barriers to accessing food and even allow districts to call district attorneys or debt collectors for school meal debts. Students that might qualify for free meals don't have the parent support available to fill out paperwork. Many of these students are students of color.
Our bill would take steps to reduce unpaid meal debt and boost federal revenue coming into schools. It will also ban policies that shame and stigmatize children when it comes to unpaid meal debt. The bill would leverage federal dollars to make every school district with over 50% low-income students to provide universal free breakfast and lunch. Learn more & advocate.
For far too long, Massachusetts schools have relied too heavily on local property taxes determining the quality of education students received. Fixing the state's education funding formula (Chapter 70) was a top priority for Rep. Vargas when he joined the legislature in 2017. As a member of the Joint Education Committee, Rep. Vargas fought to ensure that low-income school districts received additional funding per pupil. In 2019, the Student Opportunity Act was signed into law. Now we must advocate to ensure that the implementation of the bill, follows the intent– equitably funding our schools and dismantling the notion that zip-code determines quality of education.
Rep. Vargas has been working on civics education legislation since he was a youth activist at Haverhill High. Project-based civics education is often reserved for AP and honor students, while low-income students in other classes are more likely to be asked to recite the Bill of Rights by memory or memorize other historical documents. 8 years after he started working on civics education, Rep. Vargas was now a member of the House and helped pass landmark civics education legislation, ensuring access to project-based civics for all students. Following the passage of the bill, Rep. Vargas also helped establish the Civics Education Trust Fund to ensure that low-income districts had the funding and support to implement the bill.
Criminal Justice / Public Safety
Parole is one of the first milestones in a prisoner’s journey towards re-entering society as a productive member. In 2011 changes in the Parole Board membership and procedures made it much more likely than before that prisoners would have their paroles denied or revoked unfairly. In fact, the percentage of parole-eligible inmates released from prisons plunged from 58 percent in 2010 to 39 percent in 2011. Our bill will reform the parole board by making its membership and procedures more just, effective, and transparent. The bill would increase the membership on the board from seven members to nine to allow for a more diverse and effective representation of expertise. At least three members of the board will be required to be experts in the field of psychiatry, social work, or substance abuse disorder. It also mandates evidence-based practices to drive parole decision-making.
In the wake of Parkland and school shootings across the country, much of the policy focus was on hardening schools and investing in school security. Black and brown communities have been experiencing gun violence in neighborhoods for decades, without the kind of media attention that school shootings receive. As a result, we led the charge to create a $10 million grant program within the Department of Public Health (DPH) to address gun violence from a public health leans in communities most affected across the Commonwealth. We're now closely following the implementation of that grant.
The Black and Latino Caucus is in the middle of crafting an omnibus bill that among other things would create a licensing/certification board for police officers. Please check back here for more info.
The Commonwealth of Massachusetts is in the midst of a housing crisis. The low level of housing stock, combined with a high demand, has caused housing prices to skyrocket and become unaffordable. Massachusetts has its own history of redlining and de facto segregation that still has effects to this day. This is manifested in projects that are only "allowed in certain neighborhoods or cities" and in the antiquated rule that a local legislative body must have a supermajority to advance development. Our bill would remove the supermajority needed to reform zoning laws to make it easier to produce housing in all communities set a housing production goal of 427,000 units by 2040, comparable to Massachusetts’s projected housing demand, set an affordable housing goal of 20%, with 10% for very low-income individuals. It also requires communities served by the MBTA to establish multifamily zoning as of right around public transportation.
Often times the housing conversation focuses heavily on rents, but we think access to homeownership is just as important, if not more. Research has proven that homeownership is one of the best ways to address the racial wealth gap. The Black & Latino Caucus meets quarterly with Governor Baker and homeownership has been a core priority which resulted in a $60 million investment in homeownership, particularly in communities of color.
Co-Sponsored Legislation (under construction)
HD5128 An Act to Save Black Lives & Transform Public Safety
H3810 An Act relative to police education and training
H3922 An Act relative to environmental justice communities
H4108 An Act establishing a hate crimes grant program
H3566 An Act promoting housing opportunity and mobility through eviction sealing (HOMES
H4448 An Act to reduce racial disparities in maternal health
H2681 An Act ensuring equitable representation in the Commonwealth
H3012 An Act relative to work and family mobility
H1538 An Act relative to unregulated face recognition and emerging biometric surveillance technologies
H1755 An Act to establish a commission to study substance use disorder and treatment disparities in the minority community
H4780 An Act relative to Medicaid coverage for doula services
H4622 An Act to provide short-term relief for families in deep poverty
H3376 An Act relative to diversion to substance use disorder treatment for non-violent drug offenders
H4295 An Act prohibiting discrimination based on natural hairstyles
S2503 An Act ensuring safe drinking water in schools
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