The State Senate has passed a major voting reform bill to expand voting access, making permanent COVID era initiatives like mail-in ballots and expanded early voting.
“At a time when states like Texas and Georgia are making it tougher to vote, Massachusetts is going the other way and expanding access,” said local Senator Mike Barrett. “This is deeply satisfying news. I’m proud of the Massachusetts State Senate.”
When it comes to early voting, the bill requires two weeks (including two weekends) of in-person early voting for biennial state elections and municipal elections held on the same day. It would allow municipalities to opt in to early voting in person for any municipal election not held concurrently with another election.
For vote-by-mail, the bill requires the Secretary of the Commonwealth to send out mail-in ballot applications to all registered voters in July of every even-numbered year.
Barrett says he’s pleased that the Senate included a same-day registration provision, which allows individuals to register to vote during early voting periods or on the day of a primary or general election. Twenty other states, Barrett says, already use same-day registration.
Importantly, given the range of new measures, the bill instructs the Secretary of State to conduct a comprehensive public awareness campaign to highlight the new voting and registration options.
The bill expands access to voting in other ways as well.
Currently, people held in correctional facilities on misdemeanor convictions or as they await trial are eligible to vote. The Senate bill ensures that individuals who are incarcerated, who are currently eligible to vote, are provided with voting information and can exercise their right to vote in state primaries and general elections. An amendment adopted during debate ensures that people who are incarcerated are notified of their right to vote upon release and given the opportunity to fill out a voter registration form.
The Senate unanimously approved a provision to streamline ballot access for U.S. service members overseas by allowing them to cast their vote electronically.
For local officials, the bill provides flexibility to accommodate the increased election logistics of each town in the state. For example, Barrett says, the bill allows election officials to pre-process mail-in and early voting ballots in advance of election day.
The VOTES Act now advances on to the Massachusetts House of Representatives for further consideration.
“Under the environmental justice policy in the new biomass regulations, which are set to take effect this week, future biomass facilities could be located and be eligible for incentives in just 10 to 11 percent of the state — a stretch of communities west of the Connecticut River and along the Connecticut border, a strip of coastline that runs through Cohasset, Scituate and Marshfield, and small shreds of various other towns.
“Sen. Mike Barrett, the co-chair of the TUE Committee, said the bills Livingstone and the Springfield lawmakers supported seemed like it ‘simply makes formal what the Baker people already conceded informally, which is that there is not to be any additional biomass built in Massachusetts.’
“’If we’re going to create a map by administration regulation that bars biomass for 89 percent of the state, I think this is a de facto admission that biomass should no longer be part of a clean energy portfolio for Massachusetts,’ Barrett said. He added, ‘All we’re being asked to do is to formalize something that has already become an informal rule. And in so formalizing this new policy against biomass, we would be protecting a handful of remaining towns that don’t qualify for environmental justice protection.’”
Sen. Michael Barrett questioned why the administration had chosen not to fund certain climate projects, such as a modernization of the electric grid that will be necessary as the state transitions to more electric heating of homes and businesses.
“I don’t sense a consistent theme of trying to get a two for one hit, or trying to make sure mitigation, averting future climate problems, is always part of an adaptation policy,” Barrett said.
“You can’t have utilities in charge of an all-out push to electrify,” said Senator Mike Barrett, a Lexington Democrat who was the lead author of the state’s 2050 climate law. “Mass Save is probably not going to be the quarterback to bring us to the emissions reductions Super Bowl as it’s currently constituted.”
Sen. Michael Barrett, who co-chairs the committee, told Woodcock that it sounded to him like DOER was taking a position that “is somewhat supportive of current biomass, but distinctly unenthusiastic and bearish about additional biomass.”
“Why don’t we formalize what seems to be the informal and unofficial thrust of these proposed new regulations? Why leave 35 out of 351 municipalities in the crosshairs?” Barrett asked, referring to a request O’Connor included in his letter that Woodcock support legislation that would make all new in-state biomass ineligible for state incentives.
Lawmakers called on the Baker administration to restrict woody plants altogether, saying those 35 towns could be “targeted” for incentivized biomass production.
Electric customers in Massachusetts who switched to a competitive electric supplier paid $426 million more than they would have had they stayed with their utility company from July 2015 to June 2020, Attorney General Maura Healey’s office said in a recent report.
Sen. Mike Barrett, the committee co-chair, said that the findings presented by the attorney general and executive branch “really raise serious questions for those who would argue that we continue with current practice.”
“As time has gone on, both sides have had an opportunity to be heard and it’s probably time — just expressing a personal opinion — that we act on this question,” Barrett said.
Sen. Michael Barrett, the committee co-chair, said that the findings presented by the attorney general and executive branch “really raise serious questions for those who would argue that we continue with current practice.”
“This is not the first session in which she’s raised these issues. As time has gone on, both sides have had an opportunity to be heard and it’s probably time — just expressing a personal opinion — that we act on this question since all sides have been given an opportunity in the past sessions to make their points and to offer their perspectives,” Barrett said.
Sen. Michael Barrett brought up the recent dispute between the administration and Legislature over who should have final say over how ARPA funding gets spent, a back-and-forth that was ultimately settled in the Legislature’s favor.
Theoharides said she had no issue with the Legislature wanting to play a role in how the funding gets spent or objection to lawmakers exercising their authority to appropriate the stimulus funding.
The Department of Conservation and Recreation (DCR) announced Wednesday evening that open water swimming will be permitted once again at Walden Pond following a letter sent by Senator Mike Barrett (D – Lexington), Representative Ken Gordon (D – Bedford), and 48 of their colleagues asking that DCR reconsider its decision to ban the practice.
The new guidance from DCR requires that swimmers follow the updated Open Water Swim Rules & Best Practices for Walden Pond to ensure that experienced swimmers may navigate the open water while still prioritizing safety for all swimmers, lifeguards, and beachgoers. The new rules allow open water swimming only before and after lifeguard shifts between Memorial Day and Labor Day and during all park operating hours after Labor Day. This restriction enables lifeguards to focus without distraction on the safety of those in the designated swimming area, many of whom are inexperienced swimmers.
State Sen. Jason Lewis — who is also an open water swimmer — said he and State. Sen. Michael Barrett are gathering legislators’ signatures on a letter to the DCR, which asks that the swimming ban be lifted and other safety measures be issued instead, such as a requirement that swimmers wear colorful buoys that make them easier to see.
Walden Pond “has been one of the most cherished open water locations for Massachusetts swimmers for decades,” Lewis said. He suspects dozens of House and Senate lawmakers will sign the letter, and he hopes to send it to state officials by the end of the day Tuesday.
Massachusetts legislators are calling on Bay State officials to repeal the sudden ban on open-water swimming at Walden Pond, while pitching safety measures to help prevent drownings.
“We shouldn’t be taking away safe recreational opportunities,” state Sen. Jason Lewis told the Herald on Tuesday, as he worked with state Sen. Michael Barrett on a letter addressing the Walden Pond ban.
“We shouldn’t be pursuing swimming bans and draconian fines,” Lewis said, adding that the state Department of Conservation and Recreation should instead be “expanding water safety measures.”
Hundreds of passionate Walden Pond swimmers have been contacting State House lawmakers after DCR announced last week that open-water swimming is no longer allowed at the Concord pond.
A sweeping law signed by Republican Gov. Charlie Baker with muted pandemic fanfare back in March officially took effect late last week, 90 days after the bill signing.
Supporters say it’s now time to get down to the nitty-gritty of making sure the state meets the lofty goals of the law — like creating a net-zero greenhouse gas emission limit by 2050.
The law triggers an initial series of changes throughout 2021 and 2022, according to Democratic Sen. Mike Barrett, co-chair of the Committee on Telecommunication, Utilities and Energy.
If passed, new legislation proposed by Sen. Michael Barrett and a Waltham resident, could establish a special commission to unearth the history of state institutions like the Fernald School for people with developmental and mental health issues.
Advocates who testified before legislators on June 21 said progress toward equity and inclusion in the commonwealth depends on a deeper understanding of those who lived through the time in the 19th and 20th centuries when state institutions served as sites for medical experiments involving residents that today are recognized as violations of human rights.
“We live in a time of historic reckonings,” said state Sen. Mike Barrett, a longtime advocate for people with disabilities. “With respect to Massachusetts citizens with developmental and mental health challenges, and as regards our better understanding of human rights and humane treatment, the past can be a guide, but only if we truly know it. This commission will add impetus to the acknowledgement and restoration of these hidden Massachusetts lives, to the same degree and in the same ways that we’re able to know about the lives of everyone else.”