Baker signs housing bill

^ Governor Baker signs $ 1.8 billion dollar housing bond bill

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The year’s legislative session ends soon. What session it has been ! A list of the laws enacted completes just about everybody’s bucket list of priorities:

— $ 15/hour minimum wage, in steps, of course, but getting there by 2023. Along with this reform comes a reduction in the sales tax from 62.5 percent to five percent as well as elimination of time and a half pay for overtime.

— paid family leave

— the “Red Flag” law by which a person shown to be dangerous can be denied possession of weapons. (this has already been a feature of c. 209 A restraining orders)

— so-called “conversion therapy’ banned (conversion is a kind of angst and intimidation by which gay kids are supposedly shocked to become “straight”)

— addition of an “X” gender option to the state’s driver license. (still pending in the House)

— a $ 1.8 billion dollar bond bill to fund workforce and affordable housing construction : you can read the entire story here :

— a $ 2.2 billion bond bill to fund climate adaptation :

$2.2 BILLION FOR CLIMATE ADAPTATION AND ENVIRONMENTAL PROTECTION (H 4599) —House 143-3, approved a bond bill allowing the state to borrow up to $2.2 billion for climate change adaptation, environmental and natural resource protection, and investment in recreational assets.

— a Clean Energy Bill, enacted by the Senate (note : Governor Baker has his own proposal, which I will post below):

CLEAN ENERGY (S 2545) — Senate 35-0, approved and sent to the House a clean energy bill that supporters say will prepare Massachusetts for the inevitable problems that will come with climate change.

Provisions include increasing the percentage of renewable energy that must be purchased by retail electric suppliers from an additional 1 percent annually to 3 percent annually; requiring the state to adopt statewide greenhouse gas emissions limits for the years 2030 and 2040; helping the state achieve its greenhouse gas emission by establishing compliance mechanisms for the transportation, residential, commercial and industrial building sectors; lifting the cap on solar net metering; authorizing additional hydropower and offshore wind; and implementing statewide energy storage goals.

— a major Criminal Justice Reform bill :

Criminal Justice reform

Final enactment of the state’s FY 2019 budget remains: the legislature has its budget ( ) and Governor Baker has his : The two budgets aren’t the same, as one would expect, and reconciliation may take up all of this session’s remaining time. I shall discuss the budget in my next column.

Almost all of the above reforms were approved unanimously or by overwhelming, bipartisan numbers. Even the conversion therapy ban, which I expected would arouse controversy, was approved 137 to 14 by the House and will surely be enacted at least that overwhelmingly by the Senate. As for the “Grand bargain” bill that included the $ 15/hour minimum wage and sales tax reduction, it was voted 119 to 24 in the House and 30 to 8 in the Senate. Let’s note that this is no new development. Since Governor baker’s election, almost all major legislature has been enacted by nearly unanimous numbers. Consensus governance, it is.

Consensus government works. Reforms enacted by all or almost all concerned tend to last , which is what one wants reforms to do. A reform isn’t much good if it’s enacted narrowly over the objections of a large number who oppose it. It’s all too easy for reforms enacted thus to be overturned when the objectors come to power. We see the consequences of narrowly enacted reform in what’s been happening in Washington since the Obama years. It is imperative that reforms win the approval of more than a bare majority. In Massachusetts we have that. It’s highly unlikely that the reforms enacted during this legislative session — or the three before it — will be overturned. People who live in Massachusetts can plan their lives accordingly without worry that tomorrow everything will change.

I mentioned above that Governor Baker has his own clean energy initiative going on. He has plenty of other initiatives in place, for example these : workforce development in “gateway” cities; workforce housing all across the state, from Amherst to Lynn; SkillsCapital initiatives at all levels of education, awarded to communities all over the state; incentives for our biomedical and biotechnology industry; upgrades to the state’s Department of Conservation and Recreation. Then there’s this:

Massachusetts is proud to be the 2nd state to join ’s network, and our bill will help to ensure that our seniors who have raised families + contributed in so many ways here are able to live out their years in the communities that they know best.

Baker in Lynn

^ Governor Baker at the completion of Gateway North Apartments in Lynn. Mayor Tom McGee on the left.

And finally, this : extension of the Green Line, long promised, finally begun. The ground-breaking photos you can see here : DgkD8woW4A

Finally, there’s this : the Governor’s clean energy and electricity rate reform bill :

If you the reader are saying to yourself, “wow, he makes the Governor look awfully good,” my answer is “no. It’s not i who are doing this, it’s the legislature. By enacting the legislation it has, and by overwhelming margins, the legislature has made it easy for Governor Baker to put his signature to these bills and to “look good,” because he knows that the vast majority of voters like the bills he is signing and therefore like him. Baker is, of course, a politician. He depends upon voters to re-elect him. It is common sense that he would sign legislation that a strong majority of voters like. And isn’t that what governance by electeds is about ?

There are some activists who are impatient with , or dissatisfied by, consensus reform. I get that, and so do our electeds. Neither they nor i have any problem with activists pushing for even further reform. Someday those reforms may attract majority support and amend to meet objections. that’s what democratic government is about. Yet for now, the consensus that we in Massachusetts enjoy is worth celebrating.

—- Mike Freedberg / Here and Sphere




^ is this a picture we want to see more of ? I say “no”

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Whether the Immigration and Customs Enforcement (“ICE”) division of Homeland Security should remain, or be abolished, is now up for discussion. Several candidates for Congress have asked for it to be defunded. Congressman Marc Pocan of Wisconsin is filing legislation to abolish it.

Clearly the actions of ICE operatives, under the vicious, bigoted, and scatter-shot directives of our current President, have aroused enormous opposition. In my mind, this opposition is fully justified. ICE people are harassing immigrants, arresting many, incarcerating some. They’re stopping people driving on highways up-country. They’re intimidating people on Greyhound buses. They’re arresting perfectly legal residents, and word is that they plan to seek the revocation of some who are naturalized citizens. Then there;s the tearing apart of migrant families seeking asylum from deadly enemies in their countries of origin. There is, in these actions more typical of dictatorships than of a democracy, more than enough here to support every level of opposition a voter can express.

I fully share this opposition to what ICE people are doing. What, then, do I propose we do by way of legislation ?

Immigration and Customs Enforcement was established by Sections d and E of the 2002 Homeland Security Act. Some of us at the time objected to this legislation on freedom grounds; Senator Rand Paul (R-KY) has continued to object to much of it. The Homeland Security Act remains the sharpest limitation upon ordinary freedoms this country has enacted since World War II. There is much in it, besides what it has done to immigration, that intrudes upon personal privacy. Surveillance of individuals is made possible — albeit with some, but not much, measure of due process — and of our communications. None of this prevented Russian hackers from diverting and tainting our elections, nor has it stopped Congress people from defending Russian hacking. The Homeland Security Act — as could easily have been forseen — has now become a political bat with which to beat up on one’s opponents. If any legislation is to be abolished, it should be the Homeland Security Act.

As for its immigration and customs enforcement sections, my recommendations would be these :

( 1 ) require ICE personnel to seek a “just cause” warrant from an immigration judge prior to any field action, said warrant to specify the actions intended and the reasons

( 2 ) no enforcement action by ICE’s customs personnel can take place except within five (5) miles of a border. No ICE actions can involve entering buses, trains, or aircraft. No ICE actions can occur in or outside a courtroom or government office.

( 3 ) persons with legal residence, of whatever kind, are wholly exempt from ICE action.

( 4 ) customs personnel have no power to detain entrants for more than 48 hours, and such detainees must be given a written explanation of the express reasons for such detainer. Said writing must also include a statement that the detainee has the right to seek legal counsel and to make up to three phone calls for that purpose.

( 5 ) under no circumstances can family members traveling together be separated.

( 6 ) detainees for up to 48 hours must be provided a bed, basic food and drink, and quiet.

( 7 ) penalties for persons violating any of these sanctions shall include fine and possible loss of job. Such violations may be civil in nature, but aggravated violations, or violations by a person already under sanction may be prosecuted criminally. All ICE personnel must be bonded.

The above list seems basic; likely you may think of others. I do not support abolishing ICE altogether except in the context of repealing the entire Homeland Security Act. We must recognize that the only justification of enabling the Homeland Security Act was the feeling that our nation was at war. Maybe it was at war in 2002 — even that assumption can be justly disputed — but our nation cannot declare itself permanently at war with bands of pirates, which is what ISIS and its straggler successors amount to. We went to war with pirates once : 1804k, when our navy sailed to the Libyan coast and destroyed the flock of pirates then hurting international trade. We did not declare the entire nation at war then, and I see no need to do so now. The FBI and CIA are quite capable of identifying almost all ISIS types and stopping them before they activate. In any case, by far the bigger terrorist danger to public peace arises from home grown mass shooters.

Why should I have to take  a passport with me to drive into Canada ? Or vice versa ? For 200 years Canada and our nation have existed side by side peacefully. I used to drive to Montreal, crossing a border as I did, and having it be no difficulty ata ll. The so called border passes through the middle of cities. Why should it be weaponized ? i say let’s extricate ourselves from such thinking.

The southern border is more problematic, because all kinds of desperate people enter from Mexico. I do support a vetting process for entry from the south. Yet almost everyone who enters from our south comes to live a peaceful life, even to prosper: and most do. The Mayors of El Paso and Brownsville in Texas both say that the border they straddle is no problem at all; indeed, El Paso is one of the safest cities in our nation.

It is high time to end the state of war mentality that has given rise to the current ICE persona. ICE must be given drastically new, legally observant, judicious regulations to live by. If it continues on its present path, however, abolition won’t just be the outcry of a few. It will be the common wisdom.

—- Mike Freedberg / Here and Sphere






^ those who come t,o us seeking our national ideals and promise are as much American as anyone already here.

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The ideals that  created the American nation are not temporary or local but universal and lasting. If this were not so, people from all over the world would not come to us to be part of us, nor would their coming be a constant coming over decades, centuries, as they have been and are.

We are the Promised Land. There have been other such promised lands, the one written about in Exodus most famously but hardly only that. Throughout recorded history, people have sought better lives in newly founded places. It was common, for example, in the early Middle Ages, for peasants, merchants, and vagabonds of all kinds to leave lands of baronial oppression seeking new cities. Robert Hughes, i n his tome Barcelona, cites the 10th century constitution of Cardona, then a newly founded hill town 100 miles west of the big city, as it invites everyone who wants to come, to come and be part of the new city. And what made Cardona made 100s of similar settlements all over Europe. Thus the welcome offered by America had precedent. What was unique about us was not the welcome but the limitless vista. America would be a city on a hill, as John Winthrop described it in a s1630 speech — a new Cardona –but not for long only a city: an ent8ire continent beckoned, a newly discovered continent at that. The vista of America was endless, its welcome boundless.

It took courage to come here. Many arrived with nothing. Death by disease took many, wars with Indians killed more. Slavers brought millions of captives to the South to toil in chains. Others landed in Montreal and walked the 250 miles through wild beast forests to work for pittances in the Lowell textile mills. Millions arrived from southern and eastern Europe, or from Asia, to find themselves persecuted, legally or otherwise. After the Korean and Viet Nam wars , hundreds of thousands of refugees came. Other hundreds of thousands arrived from Europe after World War II. More recently, millions have arrived here from Central and South America, or from Haiti, or from Iraq. Yet always they come. Not to other nations so much, but to America. We should rejoice that they come to us and not to elsewhere.

Every immigrant community that has come to America has built it, enriched it, helped it prosper, and confirmed its ideals, which as we all now know are so eloquently expressed in Emma Lazarus’;s poem engraved on the Statue of Liberty’s pedestal. Yet there is more: almost all those who have immigrated here have done so because our foundational documents contain every human being’s basic rights: all people are created equal, all are entitled to life, liberty and the pursuit of happiness, and, inscribed in the preamble of the Constitution, a governmental covenan56t that “provides for the General Welfare.” Civil rights for all : is that so hard an ideal to grasp ? Yet its radicalism has made enemies of some, who because immigrants, like all of us, are not perfect, have decided that immigrants are a bad thing.

American ideals probably can never be fully achieved. People simply aren’t perfect enough to master their condition, situation, daily life, destiny. Yet to look at where we fall short of our ideals and proclaim that falling short proof t.hat our ideals are a bad joke, or a lie, or a bad thing, is to assure that failure will rule rather than striving to do better.

Myself, I prefer to commit to the striving. I commit to welcoming all immigrants who want to strive with us. Failure may happen, but it must never be final. America itself can never be final. The common saying that “America’s best days lie ahead” is how we declare our triumph over pessimism: a pessimism which America ideals  contradict and chide. Those who fear immigrants fear American ideals. Plain and simple.

— Mike Freedberg / Here andm Sphere






Much was made, in the media yesterday, of Governor Baker’s supporting Senator Warren’s bill to protect states’ marijuana legalization and procedures thereunder. Ten other governors joined the letter that Baker participated in, but t.he headline didn’t indicate that the support was not merely Baker’s. The reason is obvious : Baker and Warren both seek re-election this November but belong to different political parties. The media believe that you, the reader, find this agreement across party lines to be news. Perhaps it IS news, given the partisan polarization that the media assures us is the current norm and which message cynical politicians seek to advantage to themselves; but what if the Baker and Warren agreement on this matter is the norm, and polarization isn’t ? What then ?

I would assert that in Massachusetts, at least, the norm is agreement on major issues by leaders who belong to different political parties; and that disagreement is the exception.  There are sufficient examples of such exceptions to trouble many complacency we may feel; the matter of full civil rights for transgender people divides more or less on partisan lines. Yet even on “transgender rights,” the partisan disposition is not absolute. Enough Republicans join with almost all Democrats in support that even “trans rights” adhere to consensus. Most every issue that Massachusetts voters think about enjoys similar consensus. If that were not so, we would not see our legislature enacting most bills unanimously or almost. Which is not to say that opposition does not find its way into legislative discussion. Opposition would certainly arise in the House, were Speaker DeLeo not determined to allow a floor vote only on bills that enjoy overwhelming support. The House includes so,me two dozen “progressives” who profess an agenda on which there i sno consensus at. all, in many cases no majority even. The House also includes about two dozen Republicans who oppose almost every bill that DeLeo judiciously declines and even many that he does allow to a floor vote. Yet when those votes are actually taken, few of either House group vote Nay. The Senate plays disputation differently. Progressives get a floor vote on much of their agenda, and it usually commands a majority, only to succumb to the House’s priorities. Thus consensus is maintained.

So far, t.he voters of Massachusetts seem to like consensus. Those laws t.hat it achieves acquire a kind of absolute legitimacy thereby, which assures them respect broad enough to insulate them from challenge; and the voters thus feel that their say in the matter has been listened to and taken into account. Thus the support that Baker is giving to Senator Warren’s bill to reverse the Attorney General’s decision to have the Department of justice enforce Federal marijuana laws notwithstanding state legalizations.

Some of us would say “country over party,” which works in several contexts; but that’s not the tack here. The agreement between Baker and Warren plays out on a different field, a classic American one : the powers that Amendment Ten of the Constitution reserves to the states. (I understand that by bringing up this topic I am digressing from my main theme, but hear me out.) Exactly which powers the Amendment means, it does not say. It’s not clear, either, what powers the Constitution grants to the Federal, government. Many such powers appear implied by the grants made expressly, and always we are realizing implied powers that we had not anticipated.  At the Ratification convent,ions of 1787-88 there was nothing like consensus about this issue, and the divisions expressed there continue to this day an d are often the rubric by which this state or that one have abused people’s basic civil rights despite express Constitutional protections. For Massachusetts, whose voters ave almost from the beginning looked to Federal power t.o promote and defend  the most idealistic guarantees of civil rights, not to mention the most sweeping Federal regulations of commerce, the matter of state powers has always seemed a dodge — an excuse for particularist state governments to abuse Federally guaranteed rights. Massachusetts voters’ right to legalize marijuana sale and to enjoy the fruits thereof invokes the states’ rights cry; but it also defends commercial law. It is doubly particularist, and those who — like this writer — support expansive Federal power over commerce as well as civil rights guarantees should understand that by supporting Baker and Warren, we are making an exception to our usual policy rule. “Country over party” does not apply here, neither leg of it, the partisan or the national.

So back we come to the practice of consensus. The divisions that have always pressured American politics about state authority versus Federal power can stop much reform, and have often done so. It is no minor achievement that Baker supports Warren’s bill. It is an act of consensus crucial both on its own footing and as an example to electeds going forward to address issues far more liable to division : think immigration, in which arena states have scant authority and the people even less, to effect reforms badly needed if the promise of our nation, as the best hope and dream of immigrants from everywhere, are to be achieved by those who need the law’s help NOW.

—- Mike Freedberg / Here and Sphere