Speech in Support of S2963, An Act relative to justice, equity and accountability

in law enforcement in the Commonwealth

Thank you,

The conference committee report before us today represents another step forward in our efforts to re-think and reform our criminal justice system. And I hope all of my colleagues will join me in supporting it.

For a second consecutive legislative session we, with our House counterparts, are putting forth a comprehensive legislative package that recognizes that we can make our criminal justice system fairer and more just while maintaining the safety of the public.

I credit all the conferees for their impressive work but must single out my good friend from Belmont who has been at the helm for both of these major legislative accomplishments. We all know how hard he works and how inclusive he is in his approach, and for that I offer him my heartfelt thanks.

And to the Gentlelady from Boston I thank you for your passion, perspective and steadfast commitment to these important issues.

And of course, thank you Madam President for your unwavering support and guidance on these issues for which you have always championed.

I am so proud that this report maintains so many of the priorities from the bill I filed with Representative Liz Miranda last June in response to the egregious stories of excessive force being used to police black and brown communities across the country.  

This report includes our proposed commonsense requirements to employ de-escalation tactics before using physical force, limit any force to what is proportionate to the situation, and imposes similar limitations on the use of deadly force.

It includes our prohibition on the use of chokeholds and places new restrictions on the use of no-knock warrants and the use of tear gas and other dehumanizing crowd control methods.

It includes a duty for officers to report or intervene when they witness the excessive use of force – a provision that I believe will have an important impact on creating a culture of responsibility.

And it ensures accountability, transparency, and independence in the investigation of complaints against police.

I must also thank the conferees for maintaining two of my other priorities:

A moratorium on the government's use of facial recognition and other biometric software, which is flawed, overly intrusive and results in racially disparate outcomes. Inclusion of this provision will send a strong message in support of civil liberties and racial justice.

 

And an important technical change to our expungement law. While I believe there is more to do on this subject, this change will enable more emerging adults to be eligible to expunge criminal records acquired before they turned 21. We all know that any conviction can have devastating lifelong consequences on employment prospects, and expanding the eligibility criteria will provide meaningful new opportunities for many.

Change is always hard, and it has taken the work, commitment, and a new perspective from many of us to get to this point.

This bill and its many provisions in support of racial justice and equity has the potential to create significant positive cultural change in our society.

In my original speech during the Senate debate I quoted Ida B. Wells, a noted African American journalist who led an anti-lynching crusade over a century ago. She said:

“There must always be a remedy for wrong and injustice, if we only know how to find it.”

And what we are doing today is I believe a significant step forward in our search for racial justice.

There are many who believed that this bill goes too far and many who believe it didn’t go far enough and for that reason it’s just perfect.  There were many who believed that the voices for justice that we heard so clearly months ago would fade from our memory.  But I, along with all of us, heard the voices of the black and brown community then, and we acted.  And today we collectively act again.

Once again, I thank the Senate President for her willingness to embrace this moment in history and focus the Senate on these difficult issues. And again, thank you to Senator Chang-Diaz and Senator Brownsberger for bringing this conference committee report to fruition.

I urge your support for the conference committee report

Thank you.

Speech in Support of Amendment #180 to the FY21 Budget - The Roe Act

Thank you so much.

 

We know what we are debating today.  It isn’t new.  The noise around a woman’s right to choose has grown so loud that we don’t even hear the words properly any more. 

 

The Roe v. Wade Supreme Court decision was and is about the right that a woman, any woman has, to make a choice about her own body.  How can we see this discussion about reproductive freedom as anything but a statement that women have equal freedom with men to make decisions about their own individual bodies.  Decisions they may make with their health care providers, who have scientific, factual information and training.

 

What on earth are we in government doing when we take up legislation that restricts this freedom? How do we think this is a legitimate purpose of government, to stand in between a woman and her choice?

 

Justice Ruth Bader Ginsburg once said “the decision whether or not to bear a child is central to a woman’s life, to her well-being and dignity. It is a decision she must make for herself.”

                                               

This is not a decision for a politician to make for his or her constituents. We should not be interjecting ourselves into the most intimate conversations between a doctor and patient. In doing so, we undermine the trust in that relationship and a woman’s right to make her own choices about her health and future. Our state laws need to reflect that deference and clearly demonstrate that we trust and respect women to make these decisions for themselves.   

                                             

In the wake of Justice Ruth Bader Ginsburg’s passing, the United States Supreme Court lost a crusader for a woman’s right to abortion access. And, her successor, Justice Amy Coney Barrett, simply does not a support a woman’s right to choose.

 

Since the appointment of Justice Barrett, no less than hundreds of my constituents have come to me alarmed about the future of Roe v. Wade and the implications for women in Massachusetts.

                                                                                                 

And, they are right to be alarmed. Roe v. Wade and everything it represents is under increasing attack, a coordinated and targeted attack that began all the way back in 1973, when Roe was decided. And, like too many states, our current abortion statutes in Massachusetts are appallingly outdated. Although we receive certain protections through legal precedent, we should not fool ourselves into thinking that this precedent is immune to future legal challenges. Only by codifying abortion access into statute can we ensure that women in Massachusetts will remain protected regardless of federal court action.

                          

Some members have argued that this budget debate isn’t the right vehicle to advance this amendment. To them, I say we cannot let process get in the way of protecting women’s reproductive rights. This is an issue that will benefit women across Massachusetts, whether they be rich, poor, black, white, or brown. Are we to tell these women that we do care about protecting their bodily autonomy, but this just isn’t the right vehicle?

Since Justice Ginsburg’s passing, we are left with a conservative balance in the U.S. Supreme Court. And, it is naïve to expect this conservative majority will defer to precedent when it comes to attacks on Roe.

Our constituents recognize this, which is why they are demanding that the Legislature take action to enshrine these protections as soon as possible. The House already included a similar amendment to their budget. It’s time for us to seize this moment and get this amendment passed.

                                           

Notably, today’s amendment revises the outdated language in our existing statute and enshrines many important protections to maintain abortion access in Massachusetts, such as:

  • Removing the 24-hour waiting period between scheduling and accessing an abortion;

                                                                                                    

  • Affirming the right to a safe and legal abortion by allowing abortions after 24 weeks

 

  • Explicitly allowing for abortions, before 24 weeks gestation, to be performed by physician assistants, nurse practitioners, and nurse midwives, which is already common practice, but is not in the current statute;

 

And, I hate to act out of fear, but given the increasingly conservative direction of our federal court system, we really do have to act swiftly to make sure nothing remains on the books that could be used in the future to restrict abortion access. We owe it to our constituents who elected pro-choice legislators, in hopes that in such a moment, we would take a stand to protect their civil liberties. This is such a moment and we need to get this done.

Speech from S2800 - An Act to reform police standards and shift resources to build a more equitable, fair and just commonwealth that values Black lives and communities of color (July 9, 2020):

Thank you,  

As many of you know, I have advocated for reforms to our criminal justice system since I arrived in the Senate, and we have had many successes including limiting mandatory minimum sentencing, reducing drug sentences, CORI reform and of course last session’s comprehensive criminal justice reform bill.

Change is always hard, and it took the work, commitment, and a new perspective from many of us to enact those reforms. 

The bill before us today requires something even more difficult, by asking us to change our perspective on what public safety means, and what we can do to further the goal of equal treatment. This bill has the incredible potential to go beyond simply amending our laws and will hopefully help us succeed in creating significant positive cultural change in our society.

Ida B. Wells, a noted African American journalist who led an anti-lynching crusade over a century ago once said:

“There must always be a remedy for wrong and injustice, if we only know how to find it.”

And that is what we are doing today.

We need to find a remedy for egregious harms that are systemic in our culture. The life stories our Black and Brown communities are sharing can no longer be brushed aside across the country or here in Massachusetts.  We have had the statistics for a long time, and now we have the videos. We cannot turn away.

 

Today, we are beginning with a re-working of our current model of policing.  But our work can’t and won’t stop here- environmental justice, health care, housing and education – are all areas where public policy can and must remedy the ‘wrongs and injustices’ we see embedded in our culture.

 

The bill before us today is a significant step.

I have heard recently from so many dedicated, hardworking, and incredibly thoughtful men and women, who have chosen to work in public safety - which we all know is a difficult, demanding, and dangerous profession.  They are working every day to protect us and manage with compassion and fairness the many individuals they come in contact with, and the different crises they confront.  They see the need for more mental health professionals to help them do their work with the homeless, the drug addicted and others.  But they are working in a system that does not give them all the right tools, or sufficient training, and that does not always weed out those who are not qualified by temperament to become officers. We can change this. 

 

I am pleased that the bill being released today contains many of the provisions of the bill I originally filed with Representative Miranda only a few weeks ago.  It includes our proposed commonsense requirements to employ de-escalation tactics before using physical force, limit any force to what is proportionate to the situation, and prohibit the use of deadly force unless there is a demonstrable and imminent threat to human life.

 

Our bill creates a duty for officers to report or intervene when they witness the excessive use of force, which, frankly, I believe will be a great relief to so many officers who know that these rules will now back them up if they have to intervene. We create independent oversight and investigation of complaints, along with clear rules on accountability and transparency.  

 

This bill also includes changes to our expungement laws so more emerging adults can petition to expunge their criminal records acquired before they turned 21.  We all know that any conviction can have devastating lifelong consequences on employment prospects, and this will provide meaningful new opportunities for many.

 

And it adds another of my priorities, a moratorium on the government’s use of facial recognition technology – sending a strong message in support of civil liberties and racial justice.

 

Many Senators have contributed important items in this bill, and I know amendments will add more. At the end of the day, I believe we will have taken a significant step forward in our search for racial justice.

 

Of course, we would not be here today without the Senate President’s willingness to embrace this moment in history and focus the Senate on these difficult issues, and I thank her for that.  And I want to also thank Senator Brownsberger, Senator Chang-Diaz and Senator Rodrigues for their incredible work in crafting this package today.

 

I urge your support for this bill, and I hope it is passed to be engrossed.

 

Thank you.

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