This is the post that “Into the Mud” was supposed to be the introduction to. You can read it first, but you don’t have to. Here’s the key line: “many, many of us have only the shakiest grasp of how government works and how to influence it.” Not surprisingly, we have a hard time evaluating a candidate’s qualifications for a particular office. So we get swept up by grand promises with nary a thought for whether the candidate has the ability to deliver on them. Demonstrated competence is widely seen as a liability. This makes me crazy, and look at the mess it got us into.
So I’m doing my bit to get some of the very useful nitty-gritty out there. Lucky for me, since I’m basically lazy, the guy my district (Barnstable Dukes Nantucket) had the good sense to elect to the state house of representatives makes this easy. State Representative Fernandes, better known as Dylan, has already made several trips to the Vineyard to hear from us and tell us what he’s up to. He’s also one of only about five members of the House (membership: 160) to be sending out a regular e-newsletter. (To get on the list, use the email address on his legislative web page.)
Dylan’s most recent visit, this past Tuesday, was billed as a “legislative update” and so it was. The focus was on bills that he’s sponsoring or co-sponsoring, but I learned a few things about how the state legislature works. For instance, nearly 6,000 bills have been filed in the current session (the 190th if you’re keeping track) of the state legislature. Since every bill has to go to a committee before it reaches the house or senate floor, this should give you an idea of why things do not happen overnight. Dylan noted that it can take on average four or five sessions before a bill garners enough support and attention to come up for a vote.
Another thing I learned, because Dylan had paid a call on the M.V. Chamber of Commerce earlier in the day, was that thanks to the current administration’s policies international travel to the U.S. is down as much as 14 percent. This has major implications for our region and for Massachusetts as a whole because both rely significantly on tourism. One challenge for our state is to dissociate itself from the hate crimes and general hostility to “foreigners” that seems rampant in some areas of the country. For more info on the national picture, see “US Tourism Experiences a ‘Trump Slump'” in The Guardian, or Google the keywords for more stories.
Here are capsule descriptions of some of the bills that Dylan is involved with. My not-so-hidden agenda is to suggest how many issues affect one little state house district (ours!) and emphasize that they’re dealt with step by step, not by giving stump speeches and promising the moon. For more details, including their bill numbers (I told you I was lazy), visit his web page.
- Along with 24 co-sponsors, Dylan has refiled a bill originally filed by his predecessor, Tim Madden, to study the causes and suggest remedies for ocean acidification (HD 2519 — see, maybe I’m not as lazy as I think). Because this has major implications for the commercial fishery, it’s supported by a coalition of business and environmental interests, not to mention the Woods Hole Oceanographic Institution (WHOI).
- A bill in support of the Paris Climate Agreements recommendations on greenhouse-gas emissions (HD 3089).
- A bill to establish a commission of academics, frontline practitioners, and legislators to review the literature on long-term treatment for heroin/opioid addiction and make recommendations for how the state should spend its money (HD 2386). The heroin/opioid epidemic is a huge issue on the Cape & Islands, and more data are needed on the effectiveness of various long-term treatment methods.
- A bill to make implicit-bias training mandatory for law-enforcement officers every three years (HD 1963). It’s currently optional. Studies have shown that such training is effective at reducing the biases that we often aren’t consciously aware of. Dylan noted that the island’s police chiefs are behind the bill. One attendee said that such training should be extended to teachers, social service workers, and others. Dylan agreed: “In my ideal world,” he said, “every government employee who interfaces with the public should have it.” This is a first step, and law enforcement is a good place to start because officers carry lethal weapons on the job.
- An act authorizing the town of Nantucket to impose a real-estate-transfer fee to support affordable and workforce housing (HD 3792). This fee would only be imposed on real estate changing hands for more than $2 million, but the real estate lobby is still dead set against it. The Vineyard, like Nantucket, is in the throes of a major housing crisis, and there’s considerable support here for doing something similar, so we’re all watching to see how this bill fares.
OK, is that enough civic education for one day?
No, wait, one more thing: Here are Dylan’s committee assignments. He got all the ones he asked for, unusual for a freshman legislator, but he also had compelling reasons for all of them. Lucky for us, the house leadership agreed. (“Joint” means that the committee includes members of both the house and the senate. On Dylan’s web page you’ll find links that explain what each committee does.)
- Joint Committee on Environment, Natural Resources and Agriculture
- Joint Committee on Mental Health, Substance Use and Recovery
- Joint Committee on Municipalities and Regional Government
- House Committee on Redistricting
And, as promised, here’s a photo of the resident malamute on the campaign trail last fall for both Dylan and our new state senator, Julian Cyr.
And see, this is why I am thinking one elects politicians to do political jobs…. 6,000 bills and none of them greenbacks!
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Being on a legislative committee could be a lot like being the agent’s assistant who gets to read the slush pile and decide what’s worth saving. 🙂
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