Category: Mass Live

Massachusetts House passes automatic voter registration

BOSTON — The Massachusetts House on Wednesday passed a bill that would establish automatic voter registration in Massachusetts.

That means anyone who updates their driver’s license at an RMV or applies for MassHealth, and is an adult U.S. citizen, would automatically have their name registered in the state’s voter database unless they choose to opt out.

“This is just another way to make it simpler … for people to vote,” said Rep. John Mahoney, D-Worcester, chairman of the Joint Committee on Election Laws. Mahoney said automatic voter registration could eliminate confusion at the polls and drive up youth participation in elections.

He estimated that voter turnout would increase by about 5 percent.

“We should be encouraging everyone to register to vote, to participate in our electoral process,” said Rep. Jay Livingstone, D-Boston, a co-sponsor of the bill. “Automatic voter registration just makes it easier for them to register to vote, and hopefully that will increase citizen participation in our elections.”

The bill, H.4667, passed the House 130-20. It now goes to the Senate for consideration, then to Gov. Charlie Baker.

Lawmakers have until the legislative session ends on July 31 to get the bill to Baker’s desk. Baker has not yet taken a position on the bill.

The bill would go into effect Jan. 1, 2020, in time for that year’s presidential election.

Advocates of automatic voter registration have pushed for the bill as a way to boost voter turnout by making it easier for people to register to vote.

Pam Wilmot, executive director of Common Cause Massachusetts, said there are about 700,000 U.S. citizens living in Massachusetts who are eligible to vote but are not registered.

Wilmot said voters who move frequently, young people and rural voters are the ones most likely to benefit, based on the experiences of other states.

Oregon blazes a path for Massachusetts on automatic voter registration

The former Oregon secretary of state says Oregon’s ‘motor voter’ law was a success.

Wilmot said automatic voter registration results in more accurate voter lists, since the system is better able to track when someone moves.

The bill would also require Massachusetts to join a national system in which states voluntarily compare databases to catch when someone moves from state to state.

“The new system mostly means more accuracy in our voting lists and a larger number of registered voters,” Wilmot said. “We believe that will also increase voter participation in elections.”

Mahoney said the bill would cost about $500,000 to implement the first year, for software and mailing costs, and $50,000 annually after that.

Galvin’s Democratic primary challenger, Boston City Councilor Josh Zakim, held a press conference outside the Statehouse on Wednesday in support of the bill.

Zakim noted that Massachusetts would be the 14th state to pass some form of automatic voter registration.

“It dramatically increases turnout and dramatically addresses issues of equity and access across demographics,” Zakim said. “It’s high time Massachusetts has it.”

“People often forget that the right to vote is a right, it’s not a privilege,” Zakim said. “We need to be doing everything we can to lower unnecessary barriers, make it more seamless.”

There are protections in the bill to allow domestic violence and sexual assault victims to keep their addresses confidential.

Secretary of the Commonwealth candidate Josh Zakim proposes weekend voting, same-day registration

BOSTON — Josh Zakim, a Democrat challenging Secretary of the Commonwealth William Galvin, on Tuesday proposed a series of reforms aimed at boosting voter turnout – including requiring weekend elections.

“As your secretary of state, I guarantee you turnout will increase,” Zakim said at a press conference outside the Statehouse.

Galvin, a Democrat, was first elected Secretary of the Commonwealth in 1994 and has won six successive four-year terms.

Galvin shot back that he has a record of accomplishing the things that Zakim, a Boston city councilor, is advocating. “It’s great to stand outside on the steps,” Galvin said. “Why don’t you come in and talk to the Legislature? He’s never been at a hearing for same-day (voter registration). I have a same-day proposal. … He’s never run an election or administered an election.”

Rep. Jay Livingstone, D-Boston, filed a bill Tuesday to require state primaries and presidential primaries to be held over two days, with voting on both Saturday and Sunday. The two days would be established because both days come with religious conflicts. His bill would also establish mandatory early voting for primaries so people could vote on weekdays.

Livingstone, who endorsed Zakim’s campaign, said he developed the idea together with Zakim, and after working in the Northern Mariana Islands, where election day was on Saturday. Livingstone said the goal is “to allow for more flexible schedules.”

“In Massachusetts, you would get a higher percentage of people voting if you had weekend voting, but then also early voting to go with that,” Livingstone said.

Zakim said he supports weekend elections. “In the last nearly quarter century since Secretary Galvin’s been in office, a lot has changed in our lives,” Zakim said. “People are busier, they have busier lives, they’re working longer hours, commuting further, and it’s not always easy for people to get to the polls on Tuesday. There’s no reason to have this arbitrary date be the only time you can vote.”

Galvin said Massachusetts already has weekend voting through the state’s early voting law, which was implemented for the first time in 2016. Galvin’s office provided grants to cities and towns to open the polls on weekends. But he said weekend voting may not work for every town because of the need to use public buildings, which are generally closed on weekends.

Zakim also supports same-day voter registration. A lawsuit pending before the Supreme Judicial Court challenges the state’s voter registration cutoff. Zakim criticized Galvin for appealing that lawsuit.

SJC to consider voter registration, campaign finance cases

The Supreme Judicial Court will consider a challenge to a Massachusetts law that requires voters to register at least 20 days before an election. It will consider a separate case challenging a law that prohibits businesses from making political contributions.

Zakim said he would withdraw the appeal and work with the Legislature on instituting same-day voter registration. “We should not be fighting these old-time delay tactics to continue to keep these barriers in place,” Zakim said.

Galvin in January offered a proposal for same-day voter registration, which would include electronically connecting each polling place so poll workers can check whether someone is registered or already voted elsewhere.

Voters could register, vote on same day under new bill from elections chief

Massachusetts could register and vote within the same day, under a bill the state’s elections chief is proposing.

Galvin said he has always supported same-day voter registration, as long as money is set aside to pay for it.

Zakim said he believes the state can ensure voting security the same way other states do, by requiring same-day registrants to show photo identification and proof of residency. Zakim estimated that allowing same-day voting registration would cost the state $1.5 million.

Massachusetts held early voting for the first time in 2016, and Zakim wants to expand that. He also wants to allow any voter to cast an absentee ballot. Current law requires someone requesting an absentee ballot to state that they will be out of town on Election Day or they have a disability or religious reason why they cannot vote on Election Day.

1 million Mass. voters cast ballots during early voting

Secretary of the Commonwealth William Galvin said at least 1,030,000 Massachusetts residents voted early, representing around one-third of the projected total voter turnout for Tuesday’s election.

“Who are we to say to someone you have to have a legitimate excuse not to be here?” Zakim said. “If you have a right to vote, we should be doing everything we can to make it easier, not putting up these barriers.”

Galvin said no-excuse absentee voting already exists, since the state’s new early voting law lets people vote early by mail.

Zakim called the proposals “commonsense voting reforms” that have all been implemented in other states.

Although some proposals have been introduced before in the Legislature, Zakim said he thinks having a more activist secretary of state pushing for the reforms could make a difference. “When we have a secretary who is reluctant at best to support many of these issues, that’s an important signal to many of other elected officials,” Zakim said.

Galvin responded that unlike Zakim, he knows how to work with lawmakers. “If you’re serious about these things, you go to hearings, participate in the process,” Galvin said. “I am serious. I have actually achieved such things as early voting, online voter registration because I know how to work the Legislature and make my case, which is why I’m here.”

Zakim also criticized Galvin for setting the date of the 2018 state primary for the Tuesday after Labor Day. Galvin said he chose that date with public input to avoid conflicting with Jewish holidays. Zakim says that will depress turnout.

Massachusetts state primary set for Tuesday, Sept. 4, 2018

The primary will be held the day after Labor Day.

Massachusetts lawmakers are currently considering implementing automatic voter registration, in which people are automatically enrolled to vote when they complete a transaction at the Registry of Motor Vehicles.

Oregon blazes a path for Massachusetts on automatic voter registration

The former Oregon secretary of state says Oregon’s ‘motor voter’ law was a success.

Galvin is expected to come out in favor of that effort at a press conference scheduled for later this week.

Zakim supports the proposal.

Proposal in wake of Longmeadow DPW worker’s death would extend death benefit to family of additional public employees


Cindy J. Cowles listens during a meeting Monday, May 1, 2017 at the Longmeadow Police Station about the railroad crossing where her brother, Warren P. Cowles — shown in photo at left — was killed in a collision with a train in March.(Greg Saulmon / The Republican)

Greg Saulmon | gsaulmon@repub.comBy Greg Saulmon |
Email the author | Follow on Twitter
on May 01, 2017 at 8:31 PM, updated May 01, 2017 at 8:39 PM

LONGMEADOW — A state senator will introduce a proposal to extend a death benefit for family members of first responders killed on the job to additional public employees.

State Sen. Eric P. Lesser, D-Longmeadow, spoke about the proposal Monday, ahead of a meeting with town residents about the railroad crossing where Department of Public Works foreman Warren P. Cowles was killed.

“He died in the line of duty,” Lesser said of Cowles, who was plowing snow for the town when his truck was hit by a northbound Amtrak plow train on March 14. The crossing where he was killed, at Birnie Road and Tina Lane, has been the site of several previous crashes and fatalities.

'Fix this': Family, neighbors of Warren Cowles urge safety upgrades at Longmeadow railroad crossing

‘Fix this’: Family, neighbors of Warren Cowles urge safety upgrades at Longmeadow railroad crossing

Efforts by the town to install new safety measures at the crossing have been underway, in fits and starts, since at least 1981.

Lesser said he would introduce his proposal in the Senate during the state’s upcoming budget discussions.

It will build off a bill first introduced by State Rep. Jay D. Livingstone, D-Boston, last year.


Livingstone’s proposal was referred to the legislature’s Committee on Public Service in January.

Lesser expressed optimism that the effort will gain traction. “I think circumstances have changed,” he said.

Gov. Charlie Baker in March signed a bill in March doubling the death benefit for first responders from $150,000 to $300,000. Currently, the benefit is available to the family of any firefighter or police officer — full-time or reserve — as well as public prosecutors, municipal or public emergency medical technicians and correction officers killed in the line of duty.

Livingstone’s bill expands the coverage to “any public employee working for state or county government, a Massachusetts public higher education institution, a municipality, public school department, or public school district or public authority who, while in the performance of his/her duties and as a result of incident, 8 accident or violence, was killed or sustained injuries which were the direct and proximate cause 9 of his/her death.”

As written, Livingstone’s bill set the benefit at $150,000. Lesser said he anticipated updating the amount to reflect the new law signed by the governor in March.

If the effort is ultimately successful, Lesser said he will push to apply the benefit retroactively to Cowles’ family.

Lesser and State Rep. Brian M. Ashe, D-Longmeadow, convened a meeting about the crossing Monday night at Longmeadow’s police station. Nearly 20 town residents, as well as family members and friends of Cowles attended.

The meeting was planned, Lesser said, to give the legislators a chance to hear more about the concerns residents have about the crossing.

“This is personal as well as professional for all of us,” Ashe said as the meeting got underway, noting that he knew Cowles from his time as a member of the town’s Select Board.

“It’s too late for me, but I can help protect others,” said Cowles’ sister, Cindy J. Cowles of Springfield, as she urged the officials to continue the pursuit of upgraded safety signals at the crossing.

Massachusetts House passes pay equity bill

The Massachusetts House on Thursday passed a bill aimed at ensuring that women are paid equally for equal work.

“Some of us have been working on this bill since 1998,” said state Rep. Ellen Story, D-Amherst. “This is a happy day that we are passing it.”

The bill passed by a unanimous vote of 158-0, amid cheers in the House chamber.

Massachusetts was the first state to pass a law requiring men and women be paid the same amount for comparable work, in 1945. The bill that was passed Thursday, H.4509, updates and clarifies the law. The bill received support from both business groups and women’s rights groups, after earlier drafts underwent significant revisions to ensure that the bill advances the cause of equal pay without unduly hurting businesses.

Several lawmakers noted the long journey for women to gain equality in the workplace. “When I vote today, I have the great sense I’ll be standing on the shoulders of and giving thanks to the many feminists who have toiled for decades to bring us to where we are today,” said state Rep. Sarah Peake, D-Provincetown.

The bill clarifies and updates the definition of “comparable work,” and defines what factors can be used to determine salaries. The bill would make it illegal for employers to prevent employees from discussing their salaries. The bill also prohibits employers from asking job applicants about their salary history during an interview. The bill protects employers from equal pay lawsuits for three years if they complete self-evaluations and take steps to move toward pay equity.

The House version has the backing of business groups, as well as women’s rights advocates.

House Speaker Robert DeLeo, D-Winthrop, called it a matter of “basic fairness” that if a man and a woman are doing the same job, they get paid the same amount. “In this day and age … for us to still be talking about this is wrong,” DeLeo said. “And this gives us the opportunity to rectify it.”

DeLeo said he hopes if enough states pass equal pay laws, eventually the law can be strengthened at a federal level.

State Rep. Jay Livingstone, D-Boston, an employment lawyer, said, “It is humbling that we can sit in the chamber and play a role in chipping away at the inequities of our society, as we’re doing today.”

Livingstone called it a “waste in the economy” when half of the workforce feels undervalued.

According to a study by the Institute for Women’s Policy Research, women working full time in Massachusetts earn 81 cents for every dollar men earn.

The Senate passed its own version of the bill in January. It will now go to a committee of House-Senate negotiators, who must negotiate a final version of the bill and pass it before the session ends July 31.

Attorney General Maura Healey issued a statement after the bill’s passage saying the bill “makes much-needed updates to the law to reflect our modern economy and carefully balances the needs of workers and the business community.”

Bill would help poor children access welfare benefits

Mass Live — Report on the bill filed by Rep. Livingstone and supported by a coalition of more than thirty organizations, including Health Care for All, Boston Children’s Hospital, Greater Boston Food Bank and many others. “It take a comprehensive approach to helping those that need the help the most – kids whose parents are on some sort of public assistance,” said State Rep. Jay Livingstone, D-Boston, the bill’s prime sponsor. “It really tries to get at the issues that they have often in school by focusing on all the problems – nutrition, housing, healthcare – and trying to find ways to improve each of those things and also make the government more efficient.” Read the story.