Sen. Lewis Supports Passage of Genocide Education Bill

On July 30, the Massachusetts Senate with support from Senator Jason Lewis passed An Act concerning genocide education to improve the education of middle and high school students on the history of genocide and to promote the teaching of human rights issues.

“It is shocking how many young people today have never heard of the Auschwitz concentration camp, the Holocaust, or other heinous genocides perpetrated in the past,” said Senator Jason Lewis, Senate Chair of the Joint Committee on Education. “This important legislation will ensure that more students understand the history of genocide so that it never happens again. I’m grateful to Senator Michael Rodrigues for championing this legislation and to all of the educators and advocates who have worked to see this bill passed.”

According to a 2018 article in the New York Times, 41% of Americans and 66% of millennials do not know what Auschwitz is. This legislation would establish a Genocide Education Trust Fund to promote and educate middle and high school students on the history of genocide. The Trust Fund would ensure the development of appropriate curricular materials, as well as provide professional development training to assist educators in the teaching of genocide.

“The need for Holocaust and genocide education in K-12 schools could not be more urgent. Massachusetts now has an opportunity to use the power of education to address hate through this essential initiative,” said Robert Trestan, ADL New England Regional Director.

The bill requires each school district to annually file a description of their lesson plan and programs related to genocide education with the Department of Elementary and Secondary Education (DESE). The bill also establishes a competitive grant program to which schools and districts can apply for additional programming support.

The bill now moves to the Massachusetts House of Representatives for consideration.

Sen. Lewis Joins Unanimous Vote to Increase Higher Education Opportunities for Students with Developmental Disabilities

On July 27, Senator Jason Lewis joined colleagues in the Massachusetts Senate to support legislation that removes existing barriers for students with intellectual disabilities, autism spectrum disorders or other developmental disabilities so they can attend public institutions of higher education. The bill, which passed with bipartisan support, honors the spirit of the Americans With Disabilities Act (ADA), which was signed into law 30 years ago by President George H.W. Bush.

Under An Act Creating Higher Education Opportunities for Students with Intellectual and Developmental Disabilities, students would not be required to pass the MCAS, have a high school diploma, meet minimum requirements for academic courses, or take college entrance exams in order to access inclusive academic, social, and career development opportunities on college campuses with their peers. In addition, the bill also makes clear that strengthening access to higher education for students with disabilities is a goal of the Commonwealth’s higher education system.

“Everyone in Massachusetts deserves access to a high quality education, but currently there are numerous barriers preventing some students with disabilities from accessing higher education opportunities,” said Senator Jason Lewis, Senate Chair of the Joint Committee on Education. “The Inclusive Concurrent Enrollment Initiative at Middlesex Community College which serves a number of my constituents is a fantastic program, and I’m very pleased that this legislation will enable more students to enroll in programs like this across the Commonwealth.”

“We are proud that many community colleges are already experienced with inclusive concurrent enrollment programs, and know first-hand that participating students gain life skills and education that increase their ability to live more empowered, independent, and inclusive lives,” said Tom Sannicandro, Director of the Massachusetts Association of Community Colleges. “This bill creates a life changing opportunity by breaking down barriers to higher education for students with disabilities. We are happy to see the bill move forward to expand this critical program to more students in Massachusetts.”

Building on the success of the Massachusetts Inclusive Concurrent Enrollment Initiative (MAICEI) grant program, the bill codifies that program, which enables school districts and public institutions of higher education to partner together to offer inclusive concurrent enrollment initiative options for students with disabilities ages 18 to 22. Since 2007, over 1,200 students with disabilities have taken advantage of the opportunity to participate academically and socially in the life of participating colleges in Massachusetts through the MAICEI program.

In response to the challenges facing school districts and public higher education institutions during the COVID-19 pandemic, the Senate bill ensures no additional costs are placed on a school district beyond the existing obligations already required under state and federal special education law.

Furthermore, the bill also ensures that colleges are not required to bear any additional costs of providing individual supports and services for students with severe intellectual disabilities, severe autism spectrum disorders, or other severe developmental disabilities who attend the college through the MAICEI initiative.

The bill now heads to the Massachusetts House of Representatives for their consideration.

Sen. Lewis Joins Colleagues in Passing Major Economic Development & Housing Legislation to Help Support Recovery From COVID-19 Pandemic

On July 29, the Massachusetts Senate voted unanimously to support a sweeping economic recovery and development bill that provides much-needed support to businesses, invests in infrastructure, and creates new jobs. An Act to encourage new development and usher in a recovering economy (ENDURE Act) authorizes $455 million to provide relief to communities and stimulate economic development in an effort to help combat the devastating impacts of the COVID-19 pandemic.

This legislation includes provisions for small business competitive grant programs, housing production, local economic development projects, capital funding for vocational schools and community colleges, and investments in infrastructure. It also provides support for the tourism and cultural sectors and restaurant industry. Further, to promote equity and protect borrowers and workers across the Commonwealth, the ENDURE Act establishes a Future of Work Commission and creates a Student Loan Bill of Rights.

“Even as we continue to deal with the public health effects of the COVID-19 pandemic, the economic fallout is dramatically affecting our communities, families, small businesses, and workers,” said Senator Jason Lewis. “This vital legislation responds to this economic crisis by providing relief for small businesses, restaurants, tourism and cultural organizations; supporting workforce development, vocational education, and community colleges; and investing in community and housing development.”

The ENDURE Act capitalizes a wide variety of economic development, community development, and housing programs, including:

  • $35M for a Massachusetts Growth Capital Corporation matching grant program to community development financial institutions for small business loans and grants;
  • $10M for the expansion of the Massachusetts Manufacturing Innovation Initiative (M2I2)
  • $50M for the Technology Research and Development and Innovation Fund;
  • $20M for a Massachusetts Growth Capital Corporation small business grant program;
  • $20M for financial and capital assistance grants to restaurants impacted by the pandemic;
  • $10M for grants to promote marketing for in-state cultural and tourist activities during the pandemic;
  • $40M to redevelop blighted buildings;
  • $10M for regional and community assistance planning grants;
  • $28M for an Employment Social Enterprise Capital Grant Program;
  • $50M for local economic development projects;
  • $2M for an urban agriculture grant program;
  • $20M for grants to support the reopening of arts and cultural facilities impacted by the pandemic
  • $25M for transit-oriented housing developments;
  • $10M for climate-resilient affordable housing developments;
  • $50M for the neighborhood stabilization program;
  • $15M for vocational technical school expansion grants; and
  • $15M for community college high-demand workforce grants.

During the debate, Senator Lewis was successful in securing support for an amendment that provides $5 million in a matching grant program for Zoo New England, which operates the Stone Zoo in Stoneham and the Franklin Park Zoo in Boston.

The ENDURE Act gives greater protections to student loan borrowers in disputes with companies servicing their loans, requiring servicers to apply for licenses from the state, which the Commissioner of Banks could revoke if the servicer is engaged in abusive practices such as overcharging students or steering them into costlier repayment plans to make higher profits. Student loan servicers that break state licensing requirements or take advantage of students could be fined and forced to repay student borrowers under the bill.

This legislation also includes new protections for entrepreneurs by enforcing a ban on making bad faith assertions of patent infringement, a practice known as ‘patent trolling.’ Such claims often entangle new small businesses in costly lawsuits that hamper the companies’ productivity and sap their early seed-stage funds.

Other provisions and reforms included in this sweeping legislation include:

  • Zoning reform to address the critical need for housing development (by allowing municipalities to make zoning changes with a simple majority vote rather than requiring a two-thirds vote);
  • Authorizes an additional 2800 megawatts of offshore wind development;
  • Extends the state and local permits held by a real estate developer unable to proceed with the project due to COVID-19 disruptions for one year;
  • Allows farmer brewers and farmer distillers to sell, and provide samples of, their alcoholic beverages at agricultural events and farmers markets;
  • Mandates equitable opportunities in state contracts by expanding an affirmative marketing program that elevates hiring firms owned by women and people of color;
  • Reduces onerous and unnecessary regulations for hair braiders;
  • Excludes forgiven PPP loans from Massachusetts taxable income for the purposes of personal income taxes.

The House and Senate will now work to reconcile differences between their respective economic development bills before the final version is sent to Governor Baker for his signature.

State Legislature & Governor Announce Local Aid Funding Commitment

On July 30, the Massachusetts House and Senate together with Governor Baker announced that despite the fiscal crisis facing the state budget, municipalities and school districts will not face cuts in local aid or Chapter 70 school funding in Fiscal Year 2021 (which started on July 1, 2020).

Unrestricted local aid will be funded at a level no less than FY20. Chapter 70 school aid will be funded at a level no less than last fiscal year for each school district, plus the impact of inflation and any enrollment changes.

“I’m very pleased that despite the severe economic recession brought about by the pandemic and the enormous fiscal challenges facing our state government, we will not be cutting local aid or Chapter 70 school funding for our communities,” said Senator Jason Lewis, who serves as the Senate Chair of the Joint Committee on Education. “Most municipalities and school districts have been bracing for state budget cuts so this should be very welcome news. It reflects the high priority that I and my colleagues place on our strong partnership with our cities, towns, and public schools.”

This local aid commitment for FY21 will give our communities more budgeting certainty, and represents the minimum level of state aid that they can expect for the current fiscal year. If sufficient federal coronavirus relief funds are made available to states by Congress or if economic conditions improve more quickly than expected, the state Legislature will work to increase local aid and Chapter 70 funding when it debates a full-year FY21 budget this fall.

Municipalities and school districts have also received almost $1 billion in federal and state assistance to address costs related to the pandemic response.

Senators Unanimously Approve Commission to Revise or Redesign Mass. Seal & Motto

The Massachusetts State Senate on Tuesday passed legislation that would establish a commission to study and redesign the Massachusetts state seal and motto in an effort to make it more inclusive and historically representational.

The legislation, Resolve establishing a special commission relative to the seal and motto of the commonwealth (S.1877), will create a commission to study the state seal. Many people, particularly members of Native American communities, find the seal offensive and unwittingly harmful, and others feel it perpetuates a misunderstanding of indigenous culture and history. The commission will be tasked with making recommendations for a revised or new seal and motto for the state. The state seal and motto are featured on the Massachusetts flag and other official insignia.

“COVID-19 and Black Lives Matter demonstrate that the social issues of Black, Indigenous, and People of Color are entwined as the collective challenge to social structures solidifies,” said Jean-Luc Pierite, President of the North American Indian Center of Boston and a member of the Tunica-Biloxi Tribe of Louisiana. “Today’s vote in the Massachusetts Senate affirms that we can reconcile the identity of social systems while advocating and establishing needed change.”

“This bill provides a chance to begin a conversation about our history and reimagine what a truly inclusive state seal and motto can look like,” stated Senate President Karen E. Spilka. “The Senate will never waver on its commitment to making our Commonwealth welcoming for all, and so I am proud to see this proposal for a commission to study our seal and motto move forward. I would like to extend my gratitude to the many advocates who have continued to raise this issue, and to Senators Lewis and Comerford for their work and collaboration on this issue.”

“Our collective symbols of identity matter, and if they marginalize some of our fellow residents and perpetuate harmful stereotypes, they should be replaced,” said Senator Jason Lewis, Senate chair of the Joint Committee on Education and lead sponsor of the resolve. “I want to thank former Representative Byron Rushing, former Executive Director of the Massachusetts Commission on Indian Affairs John ‘Slow Turtle’ Peters, and many other Native advocates and allies for championing this legislation for many years.”

The current state seal, adopted in 1898, prominently features a Native American figure. Historical records show that figure is a composite based on a portrait of a Native American chief from the Chippewa tribe —which is primarily located in Montana and the Dakotas, not Massachusetts. Above his head is an arm holding a colonial-era broadsword believed to be the sword of Myles Standish, a Plymouth Colony military commander known in part for killing Native Americans. The Native American holds a downward pointed arrow that has been interpreted as signifying the pacification of the native population.

Indigenous activists in Massachusetts have advocated for decades for a change to the Massachusetts seal, which is viewed by many as racist and over-generalizing. The original version of this bill was filed in 1985 by former State Representative Byron Rushing, a prominent Boston civil rights leader, and has been filed in some form in every session of the Massachusetts Legislature since then.

The commission will include:

  • Five members appointed by the Commission on Indian Affairs who are descendants of tribes with a historical presence in the commonwealth;
  • Four members appointed by the governor with relevant cultural and historical expertise;
  • The executive director of the Massachusetts Commission on Indian Affairs or a designee;
  • The executive director of the Massachusetts Historical Commission or a designee;
  • The executive director of the Massachusetts Foundation for the Humanities or a designee;
  • The executive director of the Massachusetts Cultural Council or a designee; and
  • The House and Senate chairs of the Joint Committee on State Administration and Regulatory; Oversight.

The commissioners will be appointed within 60 days of the bill becoming law and will make a final report by October 1, 2021.

The legislation now moves to the Massachusetts House of Representatives for consideration.

Sen. Lewis Delivers Remarks on Legislation to Change the State Seal

Senator Lewis delivered the following remarks during the July 28, 2020 formal session of the Massachusetts Senate during the debate on S.1877, Resolve establishing a special commission relative to the seal and motto of the commonwealth:

Thank you Madam President. I rise to enthusiastically speak in support of a Resolve establishing a special commission relative to the seal and motto of the commonwealth.

I’d like to start by acknowledging that the land upon which the State House stands is the ancestral land of the Massachusett tribe.

Most residents in our state are probably familiar with our state flag. They no doubt recognize the white field, blue crest and gold figure. But few people stop to consider the meaning of this image — our state seal which we display as the official emblem of our Commonwealth on our flag and in many other places.

Our state seal has changed a number of times over the past 400 years. The current state seal was designed by Edmund Garrett and adopted in 1898. The Native American figure is a composite of features based primarily on a representation of a Chief of the Chippewa Indians. The Chippewa lived mainly in the upper Midwest, and not in Massachusetts. According to Garrett, this figure was selected because he was considered “a fine specimen of an Indian.” Above his head is an arm holding a colonial-era broadsword believed to be the sword of Myles Standish, a military commander for the Plymouth Colony known in part for killing Native Americans. The Native American figure holds a downward pointed arrow that has been interpreted as signifying the pacification of the native population.

This imagery on our state seal and flag has long been viewed by indigenous people and others as racist, symbolizing white supremacy and ethnic cleansing perpetrated against the indigenous peoples of this region. Massachusetts and Mississippi are the only two states with flags that contain racist imagery. Recently, the Mississippi legislature voted to remove the confederate imagery from their state flag.

This year is the 400th anniversary of the Plymouth landing, and I believe that we have a responsibility to tell the story of our history truthfully. Part of an honest reckoning with our history is to replace images and symbols that perpetuate harmful racist stereotypes, whether intentionally or unintentionally.

I’m proud to have joined with Senator Comerford and Representatives Sabadosa and Elugardo in filing this legislation to revise our state seal and flag.

The special commission created by this bill would be composed of people with relevant historical and cultural expertise, including Native Americans from tribes with a historical presence in Massachusetts. The commission would be tasked with recommending a revised or new design for our state seal, which would then need to be approved by the state legislature. State law requires the flag to display the seal, so any new seal would also mean a new flag. The goal would be to ensure that our state seal and flag reflect and embody our Commonwealth’s commitment to peace, justice, liberty, and equality for all. The process undertaken by this commission would be inclusive and thoughtful, hopefully fostering a healthy dialogue, particularly in our schools, about our state’s history.

Former State Representative and civil rights leader Byron Rushing first filed a version of this legislation in 1985. He was inspired by the advocacy of a class of elementary school students in Amherst. I expect you’ll hear more about these students and their school from Senator Comerford shortly. In the 1990s, John Peters worked with Rep. Rushing to build support for this change to the state seal. Mr. Peters – known as Slow Turtle – served as the Executive Director of the Mass Commission on Indian Affairs, a position his son Jim Peters now holds. Slow Turtle was a state and national leader in fighting for Native American rights and justice.

My interest in this legislation came about through my relationship with Rep. Rushing, whom I considered a mentor when I served with him in the House of Representatives. As many of you know, I grew up in South Africa when it was under the racist and oppressive apartheid regime. Back in the 1980s, Byron was one of the local leaders that pushed Massachusetts to become the first state to divest from South Africa, a strategy that ultimately helped bring about the end of apartheid.

Passing this legislation today in the Senate, and hopefully seeing it signed into law in the near future, would be a fitting tribute to Byron’s decades-long campaign for human and civil rights in Massachusetts and beyond.

In closing, I want to thank you Madam President for your strong support for advancing this legislation. I am also very grateful to the Senator from Northampton, who is a leader in our state on issues affecting indigenous people, as well as the Senators from Taunton and Salem.

We also would not be taking up this bill today without the tireless advocacy of indigenous leaders from multiple tribes, Native American organizations and their allies. In particular, I would like to thank:

  • Jean-Luc Pierite of the North American Indian Center of Boston
  • Mahtowin Monro, the co-leader of United American Indians of New England
  • Faries Gray, Sagamore of the Massachusett Tribe
  • Jim Peters, Executive Director of the Mass Commission on Indian Affairs
  • David Detmold, from Change the Mass Flag
  • The Massachusetts Human Rights Coalition
  • Massachusetts Peace Action, and
  • The Network for Social Justice in my hometown of Winchester

Madam President, our collective symbols of identity matter, and if they marginalize some of our fellow residents and perpetuate harmful stereotypes, then they should be reconsidered and replaced.

Today, I hope the Senate will take another step forward for racial justice, and when a vote is taken I ask that it be by a call of the yeas and nays. Thank you.

Sen. Lewis Joins Colleagues in Passing Legislation to Invest $18 Billion in Massachusetts Transportation Infrastructure

The Massachusetts State Senate recently passed major legislation to invest nearly $18 billion in the Commonwealth’s transportation infrastructure in the coming years, in order to make the state’s roads, bridges, and public transit systems more reliable and accessible to all residents.

“I’m pleased that the Senate has passed this vital legislation that will make many improvements to our transportation infrastructure,” said Senator Jason Lewis. “I was particularly pleased that I was able to secure a successful amendment to increase funding for our state’s Complete Streets program, which provides technical assistance and funding to municipalities in order to enable safe mobility access for all users, including pedestrians, bicyclists, motorists and transit riders of all ages and abilities.”

This transportation bond bill authorizes funding for highways, local roads, bridges, MBTA, regional transit authorities, rail improvements, electric vehicle grants, and other transportation projects and programs.

In addition to securing $50 million for the statewide Complete Streets program, Senator Lewis was also successful in securing $5.2 million in local transportation earmarks for our district (local earmarks are authorized by this legislation but the funding does not become available until it is released by the Governor).

The legislation also includes numerous transportation policy initiatives, including efforts to address traffic congestion; allowing regional ballot initiatives to fund local transportation projects; improving data collection from transportation network companies; improving the bidding process for public construction projects; evaluating the potential for mileage-based revenue collection as an alternative to the current system of toll roads and gas taxes; increasing the productivity, equity and environmental sustainability of bus and rail services; and establishing regulations for scooters and e-bikes.

The bill will now be reconciled with similar legislation passed by the Massachusetts House of Representatives before it is sent to Governor Baker for his signature.

Updates from Sen. Lewis on School Reopening

As the Senate Chair of the Education Committee, I am receiving many questions, concerns and feedback about the state’s plan for re-opening public schools this fall. Students, parents, teachers, administrators, school committee members and others are understandably feeling anxious and uncertain about the best way forward.

The Massachusetts Department of Elementary and Secondary Education (DESE) has directed all school districts to prepare for three possible options for this fall: (1) all students and teachers back in-person in schools, (2) all students learning remotely, or (3) a hybrid model that combines some in-person learning with some remote learning or different models for different age students or special populations of students.

To assist school districts in preparing these plans, DESE has developed a number of guidance documents. These documents have been prepared by DESE staff in consultation with a stakeholder working group that has been meeting since May. The working group has included extensive input from public health experts and pediatricians.

I expect that DESE will continue to produce additional guidance and resources over the coming weeks. To read more about DESE protocols and guidance, and to stay up to date on new information, please visit COVID-19 Information and Resources – Student and Family Support (SFS).

DESE has requested that all school districts submit their initial plans for each of the three possible options to the Department by the end of this month. Final decisions will be made in August at the local level for each school district, and are expected to take into consideration a variety of local factors and conditions, including most importantly the spread of the virus in each community.

The Commonwealth has made various state and federal funding sources available to school districts and municipalities for COVID-related expenses, technology, etc. However, the state legislature has not yet been able to pass a full-year FY21 budget, including how much money will be provided to districts in Chapter 70 school funding or other education programs. This is due to ongoing uncertainty about the level of state tax receipts and whether additional federal dollars will be forthcoming for states, municipalities, and school districts. The funding available for schools will be a critical factor in determining if and how schools can safely re-open this fall.

Please contact my office at Jason.Lewis@masenate.gov if you have further questions or want to discuss this in greater detail.

More Information on the Reform, Shift + Build Act & Qualified Immunity

I am writing today to help clarify the provisions of the Reform, Shift + Build Act, the police reform bill the Senate passed on Tuesday.

I believe that the vast majority of our law enforcement officers are dedicated public servants who are charged with doing extremely challenging and important work to keep our communities safe. I have great respect and appreciation for our police officers and their families.

At the same time, I think we must recognize both the long history and many recent examples of police violence and bias directed at people of color, including in Massachusetts. For example, see the report released just last week by the Department of Justice (link) about their investigation into the narcotics bureau of the Springfield Police Department.

I was proud to support the Reform, Shift + Build Act, which I believe will increase police accountability; shift the role of law enforcement away from surveillance and punishment; and begin to dismantle systemic racism.

This bill (S.2820) includes a number of major reforms:

  • A ban on chokeholds and other use of deadly force
  • Requires the use of de-escalation tactics when feasible
  • Creates a duty to intervene for officers who witness abuse of force
  • Limits qualified immunity defense for officers whose conduct violates the law
  • Expands and strengthens police training in de-escalation and intervention tactics
  • Creates a Police Officer Standards and Accreditation Committee to standardize the certification, training, and de-certification of police officers
  • Requires greater communication, planning, and deliberate de-escalation in order to avoid the use of tear gas or other chemicals during protests or similar events
  • Creates a state police cadet program to increase diversity in our officer ranks
  • Authorizes the Governor to select a colonel from outside the state police force and grants the colonel greater disciplinary powers
  • Imposes a moratorium on the use of facial surveillance technology
  • Requires greater transparency and civilian authorization for police seeking to acquire military equipment
  • Calls for the development of new evidence-based intervention models to reduce arrests
  • Reduces deployment of school resource officers and the sharing of student personal information with police
  • Expands access to records expungement for young people
  • Shifts funding from policing and toward community investment through the Strong Communities and Justice Reinvestment Workforce Development Fund
  • Bans racial profiling and requires racial data collection and reporting
  • Requires police training on the history of slavery, lynching and racism
  • Creates a permanent African American Commission to advise the legislature and the executive branch on policies and practices to address discrimination against African-Americans.

Some constituents have raised understandable concerns about making changes to qualified immunity for police officers (and other public employees), and fears that police officers might be held unreasonably liable for even minor mistakes reasonably committed while doing their job.

Fortunately, I can assure you that this is not the case. The bill passed by the Senate would only conceivably allow a police officer (or other public employee) to be held liable for violating a person’s civil rights in the most egregious circumstances – where a police officer has clearly and unreasonably broken the law and violated a person’s constitutional rights with their conduct. The problem that this legislation seeks to address is that the current legal interpretation of qualified immunity has become so broad that it is almost universally encompassing, even in cases where clearly anyone – especially a reasonable police officer – would condemn the actions of the offender. The Senate bill does not do away with qualified immunity.

I should add that the change to qualified immunity applies to all public officials and employees, including state legislators like myself, and not just police officers.

The following information may add additional helpful context:

  • Police are protected from liability: there are existing limits on liability for police officers and the use of force (link) that are unchanged by the Senate bill.
  • Police are protected from personal liability: a study finds that 99.98% of civil judgments against police officers are paid by the employing agencies (link).
  • Current MA civil rights law needs reform: discussion of how technicalities have so broadened qualified immunity as to be almost impossible to protect a victim’s constitutional rights (link).

It is also important to note that the language modifying qualified immunity in S2820 is virtually identical to a bill filed at the beginning of this legislative session by Representative Mike Day. This bill had a public hearing last year, and was released with a favorable recommendation by the Judiciary Committee earlier this year. Virtually no opposition was voiced to the Rep. Day bill.

Lastly, I want to address another misconception that some have expressed about S.2820. This bill does not change or limit collective bargaining rights or due process of local public sector employee unions, including police unions. Rather, it creates a separate statewide process (with appropriate due process protections) in order to certify police officers, and in rare cases of serious misconduct, to decertify them. Massachusetts is one of only a handful of states that does not currently have such a process for licensing police officers.

I am a strong supporter of unions and collective bargaining rights. Labor unions helped build the middle class in this country, and they provide essential protections and benefits for workers in both the public and private sectors.

I look forward to working with my colleagues in the House of Representatives and the Baker administration to hopefully see these crucial reforms passed into law very soon.

We have much more work to do together to address racial disparities in our criminal justice system, housing, healthcare, education, environmental policies and many other areas. I am committed to continuing to fight for greater economic, social and racial justice in our communities and Commonwealth.

Anyone with further questions or a desire to discuss any issues in greater detail should feel free to contact me and my team at Jason.Lewis@masenate.gov.

Sen. Lewis Joins Senate Colleagues in Passing Sweeping Policing Reform and Anti-Racism Bill

Senator Jason Lewis joined colleagues in the Massachusetts State Senate to pass 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 (S.2800). Known as the Reform, Shift + Build Act, the comprehensive bill is designed to increase police accountability, shift the role of law enforcement away from surveillance and punishment, and begin to dismantle systemic racism.

“The overwhelming majority of our law enforcement officers are dedicated public servants who are charged with doing extremely challenging and important work to keep our communities safe,” said Senator Jason Lewis. “But we must also recognize both the long history and many recent examples of police violence and bias directed at people of color, including in Massachusetts, and this legislation is a major step forward in advancing racial justice and greater accountability and equity.”

 The Reform, Shift + Build Act strengthens the use of force standards in a number of ways. It bans chokeholds and it also bans other deadly uses of force except in cases of imminent harm. The bill also requires the use of de-escalation tactics when feasible; creates a duty to intervene for officers who witness abuse of force; limits qualified immunity defense for officers whose conduct violates the law; and expands and strengthens police training in de-escalation, racism and intervention tactics.

In response to national and state-level calls for change, the bill clarifies and rebalances the understanding of a qualified immunity defense. Under the legislation, the concept of qualified immunity will remain, as long as a public official, including law enforcement, is acting in accordance with the law. The bill also makes clear that nothing in this bill impacts or limits existing indemnification protections for public officials.

The Reform, Shift + Build Act creates a Police Officer Standards and Accreditation Committee (POSAC)—an independent state entity composed of law enforcement professionals, community members, and racial justice advocates—to standardize the certification, training, and decertification of police officers.  The POSAC includes 6 law enforcement members, both management and rank-and-file officers, 7 non-law enforcement members and 1 retired judge. All non-law enforcement members will have experience with or expertise in law enforcement practice and training, criminal law, civil rights law, the criminal justice system, or social science fields related to race or bias.

The POSAC will receive all misconduct complaints, investigate complaints involving serious misconduct, and maintain a disclosure database. It will also prohibit nondisclosure agreements in police misconduct settlements and establish a commission to recommend a correctional officer certification, training, and decertification framework.

To increase diversity in the workforce, the bill creates a State Police cadet program. It also allows the Governor to select a colonel from outside the State Police force and gives the colonel a greater ability to apply discipline. Further, the bill imposes a moratorium on the use of facial surveillance technology by government entities while a commission studies its use and creates a task force to study the use of body and dashboard cameras by law enforcement agencies.

To shift the balance of law enforcement techniques away from force and punishment, the bill seeks to demilitarize the police force by requiring transparency and civilian authorization for military equipment acquisitions. It also seeks to expand community-based, non-police solutions to crisis response and jail diversion by developing new evidence-based intervention models.

A key component of the bill addresses the school-to-prison pipeline by making school resource officers optional at the discretion of the superintendent and preventing school districts from sharing students’ personal information with police except for investigation of a crime or to stop imminent harm. The bill also expands access to record expungement for young people by allowing individuals with more than one charge on their juvenile record to qualify for expungement.

The bill establishes the Strong Communities and Justice Reinvestment Workforce Development Fund to shift funding from policing and corrections towards community investment. Controlled by community members and community development professionals, the fund will make competitive grants to drive economic opportunities in communities most impacted by excessive policing and mass incarceration.

Finally, the bill seeks to begin dismantling systemic racism by banning racial profiling, requiring racial data collection for all police stops and requiring reporting and analysis. It also introduces a police training requirement on the history of slavery, lynching and racism, and creates a permanent African American Commission. A primary purpose of the commission will be to advise the legislature and executive agencies on policies and practices that will ensure equity for, and address the impact of, discrimination against African Americans.

The Senate adopted a number of amendments to strengthen the bill. One establishes a Latinx Commission, based on the existing Asian-American Commission and the African American Commission created in the current bill, to bring more underrepresented voices to the table and ensure equity in policymaking. Another prohibits decertified law enforcement officers from becoming corrections officers, while a further amendment eliminates statutory language offensive to the LGBTQ+ community.

One notable amendment creates a Commission on Structural Racism, which seeks to map out the systems impacting the Department of Corrections (DOC) mission using a structural racism lens. This commission will propose programming and policy shifts and identifying legislative or agency barriers to promoting the optimal operation of the DOC. It also creates a roadmap for the legislature to establish a permanent publicly funded entity to continue this work.

The Reform, Shift + Build Act now moves to the Massachusetts House of Representatives for consideration.