February 2017 Column: About MA government and how to get involved
When I was campaigning for state representative last summer I frequently got asked “State Rep? What’s that?” I would usually explain it by saying “It’s what Ellen Story does,” which more people understood.
In the last 1 ½ months since I’ve taken office, we’ve had an incredible number of people reaching out and one of the most common questions I get is “What can I do now?” This activism is all the more intense given the horrible policies the federal administration is proposing, from the travel ban on down, and the wonderful women’s marches and rallies in support of immigrants that are energizing people across the country.
Therefore, I’ll give a little explanation of the state-level process, my role and how you can be involved.
What is a state representative anyway? The main role of the state’s 160 state representatives (and 40 senators) is to create and revise the laws of the commonwealth, which happens on a two-year cycle; and to set the budget, which happens every year. Each representative represents about 41,000 people and within the House, there is a leadership structure to put certain members in charge of coordinating business.
The speaker of the House assigns members to committees and decides what bills we will take up when. A small team advises and assists the speaker, and committee chairs organize bills into groups so that all bills can have a public hearing and then be revised and recommended (or not) to the full House or sent to another committee. Committee assignments were made just last week, and I’m on Higher Education; Housing; and Tourism, Arts, and Cultural Development (also the House committee on Personnel and Administration, but it’s the joint committees that deal with legislation).
I want you to support a bill. How do I contact you about that? Let’s look at an example. My fellow new Rep. Juana Matias introduced the “Safe Communities Act” which would protect immigrants and others from potential Trump policies. If you want me to support it (which I do), the easiest way is to send an email – all legislators have official emails listed on the Legislature’s website (malegislature.gov) – saying “I’d like to make sure you’re supporting the Safe Communities Act” and include its House or Senate docket number, HD3052/SD1596.
Also make sure to include your home (or college) address anytime you’re contacting a legislator so they know you are a constituent. You can also find our Statehouse phone numbers on the website and call to leave a message with our staff. Or, if you want to make a bigger impression, you can write a handwritten letter or schedule an in-person meeting. You can also show up at my office hours, which are posted on SolomonGR.com.
In the first three weeks of January, we introduced bills for the 2017-2018 session – I introduced four of significance; others introduced 70 or more. There are over 6,000 total. Then there was a two-week period where we got tons of e-mails/calls/etc. asking us to “co-sponsor” each other’s bills. Co-sponsorship requests are a good way to make legislators aware of bills that you find important, at the beginning of the session, though co-sponsorships themselves don’t mean much.
I really like your energy jobs bill. How can I help it pass? If your legislator is already supporting a bill, one way to influence the process is through committee hearings. You can come to the Statehouse for a scheduled hearing, or you can submit written testimony by email ahead of time. Either way, explain why the bill is good for Massachusetts (we could create thousands of jobs through clean energy manufacturing) and “urge the committee to give HD1948 a timely and favorable recommendation” or something like that.
What can I do to best protect people in Massachusetts from Trump? I finally have an answer for that question. The biggest problem for Massachusetts is going to be the loss of federal funding.
Therefore, consider joining the campaign to pass the Fair Share Amendment in the 2018 election, which will be critical in keeping our health care, education, and human services afloat in Massachusetts over the next four years. Solomon Goldstein-Rose, of Amherst, is the Democratic state representatives from the 3rd Hampshire District.