Incorruptible Mass

Halloween Special: Bills Graveyard! Nightmare on Beacon Street!

October 30, 2023 Anna Callahan Season 5 Episode 29
Halloween Special: Bills Graveyard! Nightmare on Beacon Street!
Incorruptible Mass
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Incorruptible Mass
Halloween Special: Bills Graveyard! Nightmare on Beacon Street!
Oct 30, 2023 Season 5 Episode 29
Anna Callahan

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Cue the spooky music! Today we chat with Erin from Act on Mass about all the bills should have passed but died in the state legislature. Many of these bills have been around for years, and often they die not because they are voted down, but because leadership never allows them to come up for a vote!

Erin Leahy joins Jordan Berg Powers, Jonathan Cohn, and Anna Callahan to chat about Massachusetts politics. This is the audio version of the Incorruptible Mass podcast, season 5 episode 29. You can watch the video version on our YouTube channel.

You’re listening to Incorruptible Mass. Our goal is to help people transform state politics: we investigate why it’s so broken, imagine what we could have here in MA if we fixed it, and report on how you can get involved.

To stay informed:
* Subscribe to our YouTube channel
* Subscribe to the podcast (
* Sign up to get updates at
* Donate to the show at

Show Notes Transcript

Please donate to the show!

Cue the spooky music! Today we chat with Erin from Act on Mass about all the bills should have passed but died in the state legislature. Many of these bills have been around for years, and often they die not because they are voted down, but because leadership never allows them to come up for a vote!

Erin Leahy joins Jordan Berg Powers, Jonathan Cohn, and Anna Callahan to chat about Massachusetts politics. This is the audio version of the Incorruptible Mass podcast, season 5 episode 29. You can watch the video version on our YouTube channel.

You’re listening to Incorruptible Mass. Our goal is to help people transform state politics: we investigate why it’s so broken, imagine what we could have here in MA if we fixed it, and report on how you can get involved.

To stay informed:
* Subscribe to our YouTube channel
* Subscribe to the podcast (
* Sign up to get updates at
* Donate to the show at

Hello and welcome to Incorruptible, Mass. This is the podcast where we, together with you, transform state politics. We know that we can make the policies of Massachusetts meet the needs of the vast majority of residents of our beautiful state.

And today we have a really great podcast. It's a Halloween podcast. And we are going to be talking about a graveyard filled with bills that have come to the legislature over and over and over and have died over and over and over and cannot get passed – bills that we all need.

We have an amazing guest today, Erin Leahy from Act on Mass. But before we introduce her, I am going to have my two regular co hosts introduce themselves. I will start with Jonathan.

Jonathan Cohn. He him his joining from the wonderful city of Boston and have been active in different issue and electoral organizing in Massachusetts for about a decade now, which is always wild to say. 

And Jordan.

Jordan Berg Powers. He him normally from Worcester, but coming to you from a board retreat in the Seaport, which if you listen to any of our climate change episodes, you'll know we'll be soon underwater. Enjoy it while you can.

That is also pretty spooky scary for Halloween. Anna Callahan, she her coming at you from Medford. Halloween, one of my absolute favorite holidays, my son's favorite holiday.

We always hand-make our Halloween costumes, so we love it. And I would love to introduce our special guest from Act on Mass. Erin, can you introduce yourself and your organization? 

Absolutely. Hi all. Thank you so much for having me back. I believe this is my second time on the pod, and very special for me to be on a pod with three people who taught me so much about everything broken with the Massachusetts legislature.

So it's very cool to me to come here, talk to you guys about it. I'm Erin Leahy. She her pronouns zooming in from beautiful Somerville, Massachusetts.

And I'm the executive director of Act on Mass. We are a nonprofit, progressive, grassroots kind of watchdog for the mass legislature. We try to monitor what's going on in there and call on them to be more transparent, accountable to everyday people.

We see the legislature really prioritizing their wealthy donors and corporations and passing policy that supports them and their interests and not the interests of the actual working people of Massachusetts. So our org really tries to recenter constituent voices and make our democracy in Mass work the way it's supposed to, not this kind of top down, hierarchical, corporate friendly legislature. So that's a little bit about me. And thank you for having me on to talk about this spooky-ooky graveyard. 

Oh, yeah, absolutely. So we are going to just go down these bills. We got maybe a dozen or so. We're going to start off with the Safe Communities Act. Erin, tell us how long has this been there? Oh, sorry.

Quick, can you give context for the graveyard that we're talking about a little bit of a backstory to the graveyard motif. Sure. Yeah.

So we came up with this actually a few years ago when we were making signs for a rally that we held outside the state House in support of some pro transparency rules reforms we were supporting. And we always talk about these popular progressive bills, especially bills that are part of the Democratic Party platform that keep getting killed and killed and killed. And so this graveyard theme happened.

Anna, this originated in your campaign. We were tossing it around during the campaign right. With Caitlin and everybody else.

Oh, my God. Well, that's why okay, that takes me back to 2020. That's why it was so fresh.

But yeah, so just these bills that kept dying and dying and dying and holding kind of like a die in for these bills or really representing them on gravestones with the death date and their place of death, like Ways and Means or like the Joint Committee on Education. Right. And so we have these signs, and last year we decided to do kind of like a series of eulogies for all of these bills.

And it's just become kind of a part of the iconography of Act on Mass. And when we talk about all of the great bills that die, things that should be passed if we had a functioning legislature. Absolutely.

So here they come. They're going to be fast and furious here. Erin, tell us about the Safe Communities Act.

So this bill was first filed in 2011 and has been refiled and died every single year since then. So it's about twelve years now. This would basically protect undocumented immigrants here in Massachusetts and prevent cooperation between state law enforcement and Ice.

This is something that is really popular, and especially the immigrant community has been calling on the legislature to pass this for over a decade now. We went through Trump's entire administration without passing this really simple protection. And even just last session, it died in the House.

Unbelievable. That's crazy. Jordan, tell us a little bit about a bill for canceling the MCAS.

Yeah, the bill experts agree, students agree. Teachers have overwhelmingly been trying to push it. Students so much agree that my wife and I, when we were young, didn't have gray hair in separate states.

Both wrote pieces for our local newspapers about why we should not make standardized testing a requirement for graduation and that standardized testing was ruining our education in the we are many years since then and we are still having to fight this thing that we knew was wrong when it was implemented. Experts screamed at the time that it was stupid. It was a corporate takeover of education.

That's always what it was. It was never made any sense. The MCAs only tells you where poor people live.

Its roots are in the eugenics movement that led to the Holocaust. It has terrible roots. It is rotten to its core.

It does not give any useful information. Experts have always agreed it's a bad way to do education. Teachers know it, students know it.

It is far time that we get rid of it. It keeps dying even though it's been a fight since the talk about fight since the next one is Medicare for all here in Massachusetts. Oh, my God.

Boy, you guys all know, your listeners know. This is a big passion of mine. It is something every other country has pretty much.

It is something that if we passed in Massachusetts, it would probably begin passing in other states. It is also something that the voters voted in favor of getting it into a process. This was in 2006, I think it started I might get the date wrong, but I think between 2006, 2009, there was a process where the legislature had to vote.

They were forced by this ballot measure to vote twice on passing a Medicare for all bill. They voted the first session and the second session – they just illegally never voted.

They never put it on the agenda, and they were later sued. And the Supreme Court of Massachusetts said, oh yeah, they broke the law. They broke the law by not allowing it to go up for a vote because it passed overwhelmingly the first session.

And so they literally broke the law in order to cause Medicare for All to fail because otherwise it almost certainly would have passed in Massachusetts around the 2009 time frame. So it is truly insane that we continue to kill this bill year after year after year. It's been up for a vote, some version of it, for like 35 years now.

So this is like the truly I know we're going to talk about zombies later, but this is a true zombie bill that we keep putting it up because we need it and it keeps getting killed over and over and over by the legislature. Okay, Jonathan, I'm going to throw you in. What did you oh, I'm going to throw Jonathan in because he hasn't talked yet.

Ending the ban on rent control. Yes. So I can say with this one thing that I often talk about when thinking about the kind of statewide ban on rent control by municipalities is the way in which the legislature is haunted by the ghost of ballot initiatives passed.

That we see that for this, we see that when it comes to issues around felony disenfranchisement, it's often had a big hold when it comes to tax policy as well because of major tax cuts from over two decades ago that still have a huge hold on the psyche of the legislature. And that's just always wild to me that the ghost is something that barely even, like the repeal of rent control barely even passed back kind of 30 years ago. And for so long that became like a dead topic in the legislature.

They just didn't want to touch the third rail because of that narrower defeat at the ballot. It's been nice seeing that then finally come back, but disappointing how so many legislators don't understand the crisis point that the housing situation is in Massachusetts, with many people not being able to afford the increasingly exorbitant rents that they face as well as the increases that they can face year after year after year. Absolutely.

Okay, Jordan, now we're coming to you. Healthy Youth Act. Yeah, the Healthy Youth Act, which just simply says that if you're going to teach sex ed, it has to be medically accurate, that's it should it be controversial.

And while we are glad that the Healy administration is updating, some of the framework, which we had a great podcast on, describing the difference between frameworks and overall strategy frameworks can be undone at any time, but a bill is something that actually guides us all the time. And so we need a bill that makes it clear our values around ensuring that sex ed is medically accurate. Just as simple as that.

And so healthy sex ed should be happening as I contend. We should actually make it mandatory. I think we make math mandatory. We make other things mandatory. And healthy sexual contact, healthy boundaries, all of those things are actually not just simply the things that scare fear mongers talk about, which is, oh, kids will learn about sex. My daughter's currently going through it right now, and what she's learning is that kids can't touch one another without permission.

Kids can't bully one another because those are also all a part of creating safe boundaries reporting, making sure that if somebody does touch her on one or that she goes and tells an adult, that's not just us saying it, but actually the school and other people, those are protections that we should have in place regardless. And so it is not the way people make it. They try to frighten you about what's actually in it, but it's not what it says.

It's actually just common sense things to make sure kids are safe, and we should be teaching it. And this bill does the bare minimum, which just simply says if you do teach, it has to be medically accurate. Wonderful.

Erin. You want to jump in on Indigenous People's Day? Definitely. So this bill would replace Columbus Day with Indigenous People's Day in the Massachusetts law by celebrating Christopher Columbus with a holiday every year.

I mean, we are just completely whitewashing the harm that he caused to Indigenous people. I mean, murder enslavement, right? So kind of holding him up as a hero that we celebrate has real cultural repercussions, even to this day for Indigenous people in the United States. So replacing holding him up, celebrating him replacing that, celebrating the many Indigenous peoples still here and much alive in Massachusetts and kind of centering them as opposed to someone who murdered and enslaved their people years ago would go, like, a really long way to repairing that harm.

This bill has been filed since 2018 and has died in a legislature each time it's been filed. Yeah, I just want to remind people, too, that people are always like, oh, it was just his time. Christopher Columbus was tried in his lifetime for, like, people who went with Christopher Columbus were like, this guy's a monster, and they tried him for crimes against humanity back then. Even then, they were like, this guy's a monster. Yeah. 

Okay, I'm going to jump in with wage theft. So hopefully a lot of folks here know that our state actually prohibits cities from passing certain types of legislation. Mostly that legislation falls into a couple of categories. It's tenants and landlords.

So this is why we can't pass tenants opportunity to purchase and other bills that would help with affordable housing. But the other arena is workers and employers. And so correct me if I'm wrong, but cities cannot pass their own minimum wage laws, they cannot pass their own wage theft laws without the approval of the state.

And so wage theft, having a wage theft law, I mean, how can we not have a law against freaking theft? Oh, my God. What kind of bizarre Dystopia do we live in where the state does not actually have a law against stealing people's money? Oh, my God. I don't know.

All of these make my head explode, but this one really makes my head explode. Any other comments? 

Wage theft is illegal. It's just that there's no real way to enforce it. And if you steal a cell phone, right, you will get prosecuted immediately. But you need to literally steal lots of people's wages before it becomes a bad enough crime that anyone will enforce it. And the way I like to think about it is if I go to the police and say, someone stole my cell phone, they'll in theory, I mean, they'll never solve that crime because they don't care, and they're bad at their jobs, but they'll, in theory, write a report and say, that's illegal.

Don't do that. Right? But if I go to the police and say someone stole my wages, they can't do anything legally. I have to go to the Attorney General's office and hope that they prosecute them in years from now after a court settlement.

I might get a pennies on that. That's the current process of legality. So when we say it's not illegal, we mean, like, you can literally break that crime and face maybe small consequences of fines decades later.

That's functionally. Functionally means it's functionally an unenforceable, unenforced crime. And it dwarfs wage theft, dwarfs all other by dwarfs, I mean there is more people's wages are stolen than any other crime.

Property crime. There's nothing in terms of financially. It's not even in the ballpark.

The other thing, if I could add one more thing about this bill in particular. This actually has a supermajority of co sponsors in the legislature so in theory, not only should it pass like that, even if it received a veto from the governor, we have enough co sponsors to override a theoretical veto. But it has never passed because it has never been brought to the floor for a vote.

That decision is just in the hands of the Senate president in the Senate and this House Speaker in the House. If those two people don't want this to pass, doesn't matter how many people co sponsor it, it won't even get a vote. I have to talk here about the whole zombie idea because this is the reality of our state house especially, but our state legislature is that really things the actual legislators are not capable of passing things.

They can't do it. They just wander around like zombies. In fact, sometimes they'll co sponsor a bill and then vote against it because they don't have brains.

Right? Their brain is inside the speaker of the house or the senate president who sort of makes decisions for them. And they are not capable of independent thought and independent action and certainly not capable of actually getting to majorities to vote on mean you know, if you can't get the bill on the floor here's one supermajority can't get the bill on the floor. So obviously it can't pass.

Seems crazy. We're going to move to Jordan racially inclusive curriculum. Yeah.

So this is really important. A lot of our education currently is sort of where we're pulling from. It's older.

It's definitely not representational of history of America. The people who have struggled in America, who have made America what it is. We are missing a lot of the would I argue all the time that it's a really beautiful story of trying to make this place what it purports to be and could and should be.

People who believed in this country even when they weren't free in this country, which is an amazing belief system to believe in something while you're enslaved in it, of what it could be, of what it should be. There are people here who were displaced, people who were forced migrations, who still believed in its promise, who believed, who've made it, who are part of its history, who make up its history, who are invisible in our teachings. Writers who have commented on it, who have created english, who have created pulitzer prize, award winning pieces of artwork and literature, who are invisible from our current curriculums.

And what this does is this does a review of that to say like we really need to pull in the depth and breadth of the American experience and the Massachusetts experience into our education processes and to reevaluate it and to bring it in to be a little bit more inclusive. It's a great piece of legislation. And I would argue for those of you who care deeply about education, which I do, it's just a way to really take back how I want to say take back.

I want to say reground our education into, like there's so many great stories and so many great people, and there's just so much great, rich history from people who live here. And we just need to make sure that their voices are getting set as well as everyone else, as well as the big stories that we often get and hear about anyway. Absolutely.

And Jonathan, finish us off with same day voter registration. Yeah. So just as a reminder, because we've talked about this on past episodes, that same day registration would be a law allowing voters to register or update their registration on election day, knowing that the vast majority of election coverage tends to come within those last few days of the election.

So then many people, if they've moved recently, might be aware that an election is happening and then find out that they're barred from participating in it unless if they want to travel to an old polling location that might be very difficult for them to reach. It's bad for young people. It can be bad for seniors who recently moved into a retirement home.

Bad for young couples who move in. It's just bad democratic process to bar people from updating their registration or registering anew. What's wild in Massachusetts is that I know that at least the Senate had passed it as early as 2007, possibly before then, but I know that they did pass it in 2007, and that they've passed it two other times since then.

Yet the House has consistently refused to support it out of a fear that somewhere out there, there's a voter that you don't know who might show up to vote, as though that that's the scariest thing that could possibly happen. That maybe a bunch of call in towns that have never built an additional housing unit in like, 70 years, that somehow there will be this huge influx of people registering to vote, or the horror that college students might actually vote for once. It's just always damning to me that we still don't have it when so many of our surrounding states do.

And it's a basic proven election reform. That's good. When we cry out about the kind of threats to democracy around the country, there are threats coming from inside the house.

Absolutely. Our registration date used to be the same as what South Carolina went back to when it went backwards to to re bring in. And I'll just remember a lot of these processes were put in place to keep well, originally to keep Irish people and black people from voting, and then we replanted them to be, you know, things after the civil rights movement, after World War II to stop black people from voting.

So Massachusetts exported a lot of these terrible policies to the rest of the country, and we still have them. And we don't need to keep relics of stopping people from being a part of their democratic processes because that's what the purpose of them is. We can easily figure out we know where people live.

We can easily figure out if they're allowed to vote, and we can do that very quickly in the computer age. It's not actually a difficult process, but they make it sound like it's like comcast is terrible at everything but somehow manages to be able to do this. But our state can't figure it out for voting.

It's obviously not real. And the real reason is, as Jonathan said, they just don't. They want to stop people from voting because that's his purpose.

So, Erin, we want to come back to you and just get some of your comments on how can all of these bills fail year after year after year after year after year. I mean, it just comes down to the fact that the legislature does not feel accountable to the people in Massachusetts, right? They feel more accountable to, like I said, kind of at the top, like the owning class, businesses, donors, multi state corporations. And we know that because this has actually been one of the least effective legislative sessions in Massachusetts in over a decade.

But here's one thing they have passed this session tax cuts for the top 1% wealthiest Bay Staters and corporations. So, no, they didn't pass any of the bills that we just went through, but they did go out of their way to pass that. And they'll kind of one major non budget bill that they have passed this year.

Tax cuts are the vampire sucking our souls out of our budget. Sorry, I keep forgetting our Halloween theme. Talk about like spooky scary.

That's spooky scary. You know what I mean? Voters voted for the fair share amendment, right, which was raising a billion dollars in new revenue, right? Taxes on millionaires, a sur tax. And then less than a year later, the legislature passes almost exactly that much in new tax cuts.

A billion dollars in that voters voted for a billion dollars out that our legislative leaders supported. This is because of a lot of different factors, but just a couple of superlatives, right? We have the least transparent legislature in the country. We have the least competitive elections in the country.

They're afraid of same day voter registration. We should be so lucky to even have more than one name on the ballot as an option for state rep. And not only is this the least effective session thus far in Massachusetts for in decades, we are now officially the least effective legislature in the entire country, according to fiscal note from a few weeks ago.

What an honor. We're number one in something exceptionalism, everybody. To throw in a Halloween analogy.

You kind of commented with the tax cuts. Reminds me. It's like if right before Halloween happened, you decide to right after or right after Halloween, you toss out all of the candy that you had in your house prior so that you basically end up having the Halloween candy.

Is the same amount of candy that you had before, and you don't acknowledge that you've not really created that much of a net gain, even though if you toss all of the stuff out, the stuff that you're taking in isn't leading to the same net gain that you would have been promised. Also kind of lost me on the candy metaphor, Jonathan, but just talking about if you basically give away a bunch of money after you're making the money that any of the new money come in, and then you throw away money at the tax cut, the new money in is not additive in the same way. I don't think I'm just hungry.

All that talk about candy. Erin, I love how you're framing this in terms know, just none of these bills pass because of the dynamics that happen at the State House. And really comparing us to other states about number one in least transparency, number one in least effective, number one in least competitive elections.

These are not things that we should be proud of. And the result is the death of all these bills. That's the result is policy.

Policy. Yeah. And I just want to say, these are just some of the bills that people have thought to put together through this process, but a lot of them have also jumped to ballot initiatives because people have abandoned the belief that the legislature can work on them.

And none of these bills that we're talking about are even bills that are like, big. None of them are like, we're going to spend a billion dollars on the tea, we're going to spend a billion dollars on public transportation. We're going to create new public transportation entities so that people get around the state by public transportation as opposed to vehicles.

None of it is we could talk about the fact that they keep killing, making higher ed debt free, and instead they actually cut money to debt to higher ed institutions that aren't. UMass, these are all important bills. And also, it's a good reminder that they can't even do the simple bills, let alone the big problems.

Right. They're not tackling big problems with any of these things. And so I think tell I tell legislators all the time because they'll always talk about the small things.

They'll say, Look, Jordan, you complain too much. Look at what we passed. And I say, yeah, it's going great here.

Unless you want to afford to live here, unless you want to afford to get around, unless you want to afford to have childcare, unless you never get sick, unless you don't want to go to school, other than oh, and unless you don't worry about climate change, but other than that, it's going great. Yeah, they're not tackling any of these big issues, and it's because of all the things that Erin is listing. Great.

We're going to give Erin the final words here. Erin, how can people help. So there's a couple different kind of simultaneous campaigns going on that we have our little fingers in that we would love help with.

So the first is our legislative campaign. We've got four bills that would tackle some of these structural issues at the State House, and we're lobbying for those this session. We're calling it our sunlight agenda.

It would do things like subject the legislature and governor's office to public records law, subject the legislature open meeting law, make committee votes public. Really kind of nitty gritty stuff that would actually make them, the legislature more accountable to people, which is what we want. So if you want to get involved in that, please go to our website,

That page in particular is sunlight agenda. The other thing that we would love help with is collecting signatures for the audit the legislature ballot question.

So this is coming from the auditor's office. There's an effort to audit the legislature and kind of figure out what exactly are their processes and how can they be better and how can they better serve the people of Massachusetts. So if you would like to help with that, just go ahead and sign up for our email list at and we'll make sure that you get plugged into the ballot signature collection there. Amazing. Thanks so much to everyone.

Thank you, Erin, for coming on. Thanks to all of our listeners for we really by the way, we forgot, please donate to the organization. Donate to Act on Mass.

Donate to Incorruptible Mass for the podcast, and we look forward to talking with you all next week. Thanks for having me, everyone. Bye.