My checklist for Beacon Hill

Greater abortion access, police reform top priorities

WHILE A FEW remaining ballots have yet to be tallied, this much is certain: For the second time, and by a margin of two to one, Massachusetts voters overwhelmingly rejected Donald Trump’s hateful agenda, signaling their political support for a more compassionate, just, and equitable society.

Despite unprecedented threats to voting rights, including attacks on the US Post Office, the American people and our electoral system prevailed. Despite a devasting pandemic, Bay Staters cast their ballots in record numbers—thanks in part to a temporary but remarkably successful expansion of vote-by-mail. And the message from Commonwealth voters could not be clearer: “No to four more years of racist, sexist, xenophobic, and anti-LGBTQ policies; yes to a brighter future, with liberty and justice for all.”

Massachusetts voters have made their wishes clear. Massachusetts elected leaders now have a unique opportunity—and duty—to deliver on that promise.

Lawmakers can start by protecting and strengthening access to reproductive health care. The rushed appointment of Amy Coney Barrett to replace Justice Ruth Bader Ginsberg on the US Supreme Court renews the urgent need to safeguard access for rich and poor families alike. Massachusetts legislators—and Gov. Charlie Baker—must ensure that people are no longer forced to fly across the country or navigate the court system during a pandemic in order to get the reproductive medical care they need.

Beacon Hill has made some promising moves on this front. As of last week, both the House and the Senate have passed budget amendments to strengthen abortion access and ensure that families facing an unviable pregnancy due to a fatal fetal diagnosis can obtain necessary medical care. In addition, senators voted down a separate anti-abortion amendment by an overwhelming margin. Leadership in both chambers deserves praise for their efficient stewardship of these crucial measures. The budget conference committee should report out the strongest possible version, and Baker should heed the will of voters and sign the measures into law without delay.

Next, lawmakers should pass a strong police accountability bill, with oversight measures that have real teeth. This means a robust licensing system and an independent review board with the power to launch its own investigations and decertify errant police officers. It also means ending the disastrous legal doctrine known as qualified immunity. A bill covering these matters has been delayed in conference committee since the summer, while growing stories of police misconduct are revealed. It’s good news that lawmakers have promised to deliver on these much-needed police reforms—and not a moment too soon. November 25 marks the six-month anniversary of George Floyd’s killing. Justice delayed is justice denied.

Finally, the Massachusetts Legislature must take steps to protect immigrants in the Bay State. From the early days of the Muslim ban through the ongoing atrocities of family separation and the war on asylum-seekers, the Trump administration used the machinery of government to inflict cruelties on immigrant families throughout Massachusetts and the nation. Despite passage of welcoming resolutions in dozens of Massachusetts cities and towns, lawmakers on Beacon Hill have yet to pass meaningful protection for immigrant families in the Commonwealth.

It’s time for a law to provide a driver’s license to all qualified drivers, regardless of immigration status. This would ensure that everyone on the road is licensed and insured, which would enhance safety for everybody. Everyday interactions with local police shouldn’t fuel a deportation pipeline.

As we look to a post-Trump future, Massachusetts must blaze a trail for the rest of the nation, building a model of society that respects the will of the voters by ensuring equality and justice for all. It will take conscious effort to undo the damage to our public institutions and our democracy, but Baker and Massachusetts lawmakers can play a leadership role in righting many of those wrongs, particularly for the most vulnerable members of our Commonwealth.

The Commonwealth has had better leaders than most. But we would do well to note where other states have overtaken us. There is nothing stopping Massachusetts from further securing our democracy by making the recent voting accommodations permanent and passing Election Day Registration, ending the War on Drugs, or ensuring that all drivers are licensed.

Meet the Author

Carol Rose

Guest Contributor

About Carol Rose

Executive Director, ACLU of Massachusetts

About Carol Rose

Executive Director, ACLU of Massachusetts

The Trump years taught us that we must secure and defend civil rights and civil liberties, or risk losing them. The voters of Massachusetts have voted their values. This is the time for bold action by our elected leaders.  The future of freedom depends on it.

Carol Rose is the executive director of the ACLU of Massachusetts.