We need more transparency and accountability in government

Massachusetts is the only state in the country that exempts all three branches of government from open meeting law. It’s only one of four states that exempt the Legislative branch from open meeting law. In particular, the House of Representatives has a very secretive and haphazard committee process. At one point there was a special commission on public records, chaired by a representative who has since stepped down, who made an attempt to wade through the mire but was ultimately unsuccessful. Why is it so hard to get some light on the public’s business?

In Senate-only committees, votes are posted online. But this isn’t the case for the House only committees.  The rules say a committee vote will be recorded and made public only if a committee member requests it at a meeting.  It really makes one wonder what exactly is the House’s opposition to making all committee votes public? 

Most of the significant policy issues in the Legislature are dealt with by joint committees of both House and Senate members.

Here is a summary:

The magazine called the House and Senate co-chairs of 15 joint policy committees and requested vote counts for a bill that was recently reported out of that committee, either favorably or unfavorably. Staff in most offices provided the overall vote tallies, some after multiple phone calls. Some revealed how each member voted, others would only release some or none of that information.

In particular, the Election Laws Committee, chaired by John Lawn, was the one committee that refused to provide any information on how members voted, on a bill that would let residents vote early in municipal elections. The bill was sent to study, where it will never see the light of day but no information was provided on how individual members voted. 

Schoenberg wrote, the chief of staff to Senate chair Barry Finegold of Andover, said Finegold and House chair John Lawn of Watertown agreed not to make individual votes public unless members are informed in advance. As a result, she said she could not reveal the vote total for the early voting bill. “Individuals don’t expect them to be made public.”

Asked about the policy, Lawn said the committee members decided to keep their committee votes private, but anyone who is interested can always ask individual members how they voted. “Each individual committee member can make their vote public as they wish,” Lawn said. “You can ask anybody for their vote.”

Think about that for a moment. Your lawmakers, who work for you and whose job is to take votes on important bills, don’t expect them to be made public?  These are lawmakers we elect and who are accountable to their constituents. It’s their job to take votes. Many Committee Chairs, including Rep Lawn enable their members to hide their votes and not be held accountable to the people who elect them to office. This is truly a perverted system.

My promise is that I will not be a part of this culture. One of my goals will be to help build the political will for more openness and transparency and to develop a standard system for the House so that committee votes are made public consistently and are not subject to the whim of the committee chairs. 

We Need to do More to Ensure Greater Voter Participation Including Same Day Voter Registration

One of the reasons I am challenging the incumbent, Rep. John Lawn is my frustration with his lack of action on expanding voting rights. Currently voters must register at least 20 days before election day in Massachusetts. This means thousands of people get disenfranchised. Twenty-one states and the District of Columbia have passed laws to adopt same-day registration, including Maine, Connecticut, New Hampshire, and Vermont. It has been working well in these states for many years. Where is Massachusetts on this?

Mr. Lawn is the Chair of the Joint Committee on Election Laws and he is letting important bills languish in his committee. This includes House Bill 636 which has just been extended until after the November election with no favorable (or adverse) report on “ought to pass” or “ought not to pass”.

The original champion of the bill has resigned her seat and is no longer serving. https://malegislature.gov/Bills/191/H636 Why is Mr. Lawn not taking up the mantle to push this bill through the House before the July 31st deadline?

It’s the same deal with H685 https://malegislature.gov/Bills/191/H685

And the same with the Senate bill 396 https://malegislature.gov/Bills/191/S396/BillHistory…

Both Attorney General Maura Healy and Secretary Galvin support same-day voter registration. Mr. Galvin called it the “final step to ensuring everyone who can vote will have the opportunity to do so”.

Ms. Healy has stated that same-day voter registration will expand opportunities to more people who want to vote. “Voting rights are civil rights” and by “increasing participation among people who wouldn’t otherwise be able to vote, we’ll be taking a stand against the apathy and frustration that makes thousands of people opt out of the system all together.”

Same-day voter registration is an effective policy that clearly boosts turnout. States with same-day registration have a well-documented turnout advantage over states without it — an advantage of 7 percentage points in the 2018 midterm, according to the “America Goes to the Polls” report from Nonprofit VOTE and the U.S. Elections Project. In fact, seven of the 10 highest turnout states in 2018 had same-day registration.

Where is Chair Lawn on efforts to ensure all Massachusetts voters have the right to vote? 

Please see the attached articles for more information:

https://www.wgbh.org/news/politics/2020/01/28/same-day-voter-registration-bill-could-boost-turnout-in-mass-by-100-000

https://www.bostonglobe.com/2020/02/27/opinion/massachusetts-should-pass-election-day-registration-legislation/

https://www.bostonglobe.com/metro/2019/06/20/galvin-healey-advocate-for-same-day-voter-registration-beacon-hill/6gsHJxWOb4a0UCLgBkAlnN/story.html

I Ask for Your Vote on September 1st

I am a candidate for State Representative for the 10th Middlesex District (Waltham, Watertown & Newton). Right now, we have an opportunity to act on crucial issues. This includes: enacting bold climate goals and a 100% clean energy economy, building a 21st-century transportation system, standing up for our vulnerable residents and our immigrant neighbors and fighting for a democratic and transparent process in the legislature.

I am proud to have been endorsed by 350 Mass Action, the Massachusetts Chapter of the Sierra Club and Mass Peace Action. These effective organizations embody my values and priorities. I will work tirelessly with the Sierra Club, 350 Mass Action and all environmental advocates to pass effective environmental legislation and do it a way that adds jobs to our already significant green energy economy.   

Ma Peace Action is an organization that works to prioritize public spending on human needs and environmental protection rather than excessive military spending.  I believe that as a Commonwealth we must build the political will to confront the chronic problems of environmental pollution, an economy based on fossil fuels and exploitation, systemic racism and the underfunding of programs that support human needs, including adequate housing and quality health insurance.

In my 7 years as a city councilor I have been an effective, dependable leader and advocate on difficult problems facing my community. I have the energy, ability and the collaborative spirit to do the same as your State Representative.

Please vote on September 1st. The Primary is the critical election and the winner will go to the General Election unopposed.

My Work on the City Council

I am currently working on zoning reform as a member of the City of Newton’s Zoning and Planning Committee. Zoning reform is a huge opportunity to provide a more inclusive framework to enable us to meet our goals of providing more affordable and more diverse housing opportunities. It’s also an important tool to promote more sustainable community development patterns. I’m focused on incentivizing more energy-efficient building design, walkable neighborhoods and safer streets for all users including protected bike lanes. There are also opportunities for mimicking nature in our built environment that can help mitigate climate change, reduce the heat island effect and incorporate stormwater improvements to help improve water quality, especially in the Charles River.

As Chair of the Public Facilities Committee, I am exploring how the City of Newton can incentivize the electrification of buildings and phase out the use of fossil fuels for heating and cooling. My job includes supporting cost-effective investments in city buildings, roads and aging water, sewer stormwater systems to ensure reliability, efficiency and save money in the long run. As your state representative, I would be looking to maximize state and federal funds to augment local funds for these improvements.

Supported Newton Power Choice, a municipal aggregation program that purchases an additional 46% renewable energy for a total of 62% of electricity coming from renewable sources (this goes up 2% every year) and also offers Newton residents to opt up to 100% Green Energy at a competitive price.

Voted to adopt Newton’s Climate Action Plan as part of our comprehensive plan and to set a climate goal of 100% renewable energy by 2050. 

Supported all the City’s solar initiatives including roof-top and solar canopies on city-owned properties on municipal buildings.

Reconstituted the Citizens Solid Waste Commission which advises the Mayor on best practices for our waste and recycling management programs. This body has made recommendations that have saved the City money and reduced trash tonnage. All our communities are facing much higher future trash disposal costs.

I was the lead sponsor and advocate of an ordinance that phased out single-use plastic bags in Newton. We became the 7th community to pass a plastic bag ban. Now some 139 communities have passed bans on single-use plastic bags. This is a first step to phasing out all single-use plastics which litter our neighborhoods, degrade our environment, threaten the health of our oceans and endanger wildlife.

How We Get to 100% Renewable Energy

  1. Increase Energy Efficiency – Improving energy efficiency and conservation programs save money and energy. This includes energy-efficient appliances, windows, light bulbs and adding insulation. Build more energy-efficient buildings including passive house design – the Gold standard for energy-efficient homes.
  2. Green the Grid -increase solar- which has already increased more than 240 times since 2009. By installing solar panels on every rooftop, we could generate 47 percent of Massachusetts’ electricity from solar. Offshore wind in particular offers a great opportunity to meet our energy needs and this can be done safely with minimal impact on wildlife. Massachusetts has already set an ambitious agenda to exploit offshore wind that will help us meet greenhouse gas emissions (GHG) goals, replace aging power plants and create thousands of new jobs. 
  3. Incentivize the electrification of buildings –Heat pumps, convection stoves and other clean technologies instead of fossil fuel heating can be cost-effective in new construction and retrofits of existing buildings. The growth of heat pump technology has been significant. There are now real advantages to building without relying on fossil fuels and it’s cost-effective and results in very low monthly utility bills.
  4. Electrify Transportation – This includes buses and commuter rail. This is a key strategy to decarbonization and it’s more efficient than gas or diesel. Electrifying our transportation system also results in much cleaner air, which is good news for all of us, but especially so for people living near busy roads or commuter rail lines. We already have an electric light rail on the MBTA. The next step is the commuter rail and buses. Drive an EV, there are more than 40 models on the market. With battery technology improving all the time, EV’s are practical, reliable and fun to drive.  

    Getting to 100% Renewable Energy can be done by 2045 or even earlier!

Studies affirm the feasibility of 100% renewable energy. The barriers are primarily political

One study found that powering Massachusetts with 100% renewable energy for electricity, heating and cooling, transportation, and industry would reduce health costs by $8.21 billion per year while saving people an average of $26 on their energy bills.

A recent study from the Center for Environmental Policy at the University of California, Berkeley found that the United States can achieve 90% carbon-free electricity by 2035 at no additional cost to consumers.

The 100% Renewable Energy Act

The 100% Renewable Energy Act (H.2836), filed by Representative Marjorie Decker and Representative Sean Garballey, will transition Massachusetts to 100% renewable electricity by 2035 and 100% renewable energy for heating and transportation by 2045. In addition, it would accelerate the Renewable Portfolio Standard (RPS) to reach 100 percent renewable by 2035 and support job training and workforce development for Massachusetts residents to work in the clean energy sector.

A majority of members of both legislative chambers have cosponsored this bill or similar legislation filed in the Senate by Senator Jamie Eldridge (S.1958).

The Decker/Garballey 100% Renewable Energy Act would build on the example of the 100% renewable electric sector commitments adopted by other states, territories, cities, and counties while going further by transitioning heating and transportation to 100% renewable sources of energy as well.

Alison’s Priorities

My priorities center around transportation, sustainability, jobs, affordable housing and action on climate.

We need more transparency and accountability in government

I am committed to good and effective government. This requires listening to all voices and giving everyone a seat at the table. Collaboration and engagement, robust debate and thoughtful planning have been hallmarks in my work as a city councilor and I will continue on that path as your state representative.

Massachusetts is unique in that no other state in the nation exempts all three branches of government from the open meeting law.  Recently, a special commission on public records dissolved after unsuccessful attempts to expand public records law. There must be some middle ground that allows for more transparency and citizen engagement.  A healthy democracy depends on it.

Address the Climate Crises

At my core, I am an environmentalist and I recognize how important it is that we continue to push our goals around climate and sustainability issues. The Commonwealth needs to do more to support local communities who have been leading the way. Newton, Watertown and Waltham all have put together climate action plans that set targets over a 30-year time frame in order to become carbon neutral by mid-century. But we need more support from the Commonwealth on transportation, building codes and carbon pricing to ensure success.

We must hold the utilities accountable for repairing leaky gas pipes to reduce this major source of methane pollution. I oppose efforts to expand gas pipelines and will advocate and support policies that wean us off fossil fuels altogether. I will prioritize State efforts to work with local communities to prepare for and adapt to the effects of climate change. Climate must be considered in everything we do because it is the most pressing issue we face. We owe it to our children and grandchildren to lead on this issue and be successful in meeting all milestones.

Invest in Transit

The transportation system is generally in poor condition. We rank 45th out of the 50 states in crumbling infrastructure. As we invest and rebuild we must be thinking about the future which must include the electrification of public transit and more active modes of transportation, including walking and biking and shared autonomous vehicles.  The current dominance of single-occupant vehicles is an expensive and inefficient mode of getting around. The average driver in Greater Boston wastes $2000 a year sitting in traffic wasting their time and burning fuel. 

This of course requires that we make significant investments in public transit, make our roads safer for all modes of transportation. Rebuilding our economy must require a serious commitment and sustained leadership at all levels of government.

The transportation system needs to move more people in fewer vehicles

One relatively simple and quick way to start this process is by prioritizing buses over vehicles that carry fewer occupants. This can include bus transit signal priority, bus rapid transit and dedicated bus lanes. Major thoroughfares like Main Street and Mount Auburn Street are likely candidates for such changes. By giving people more convenient and cost-effective choices we can coax people out of their vehicles which will reduce congestion on our roads. This of course requires that we make significant investments in public transit and make our roads safer for all modes of transportation. We can significantly improve the efficiency by prioritizing buses over vehicles that carry fewer occupants. 

Our Land use and development decisions Impact transportation patterns

There is good data demonstrating how we design the built environment has the most impact on quality of life. Changing these land-use patterns is essential to improve environmental quality, increase density where appropriate and allow us to shorten travel distances. By giving people choices and making them less dependent on driving for many local trips we can make a significant reduction in vehicle miles traveled (VMT). This is also very important in reducing our Green House Gas emissions (GHGs). Just 10%-20% reduced single occupant vehicle (SOV) use is the difference between gridlock and moving traffic. The Commonwealth is also realizing the huge negative impacts of congestion and all the pollution, GHG emissions and lost productivity that comes with it.

We must de-carbonize Transportation

In Massachusetts, the transportation sector is both the largest and the fastest-growing emitter of greenhouse gas emissions (GHGs). If the Commonwealth is to meet its goal of reducing overall GHG emissions by 80 percent by 2050, a large proportion of the emission reductions will have to come from transportation. Accelerating the conversion of cars and light-duty trucks to electricity or other zero-emission technologies is a key strategy.

Needed investments need to be prioritized and funded

Our communities will need to work together to set priorities for maintaining, modernizing, and expanding its transportation systems and we will need to leverage a combination of public and private resources to make the investments needed to create, operate and maintain a 21st-century transportation system. We will also need to decide how to pay for it. But it is clear that not meeting this challenge will end up being much more costly than avoiding taking action now. Policies to consider to move the needle include:

Price parking and driving to reflect what it actually costs to drive. The way we set parking policies has an enormous impact on the built environment and how we choose to get around.

Disconnect the parking from the housing unit. This will also make the housing unit more affordable as parking adds a significant cost to any development.

Add a fee on ride-hailing services with the money dedicated to transit improvements

Demand pricing for curbside parking and delivery.

See the following links for more information:

https://www.bostonglobe.com/2019/12/26/opinion/future-transportation-boston-could-be-bold-bright/

https://www.bostonglobe.com/2019/12/13/metro/massachusetts-car-economy-is-costing-us-64-billion-year-we-barely-notice-it/

https://www.mass.gov/doc/choices-for-stewardship-recommendations-to-meet-the-transportation-future-executive-summary/download

We Need More Housing and More Diverse Housing Choices

Over the last 30 years, we have not been building enough housing to meet the needs. The result is sky-high housing costs that burden all but the affluent.  I support building density where appropriate and prioritize building smaller and highly energy-efficient units.  Mixed-use developments adjacent to city centers near amenities and transit reduces reliance on driving and helps create more walkable and vibrant communities.

I support the Governor’s Housing Choice Bill which is a collaboration between the Commonwealth and our communities that will enable the adoption of certain zoning best practices related to housing development by a simple majority vote, rather than the current two-thirds supermajority.

For more information:

https://www.mass.gov/news/baker-polito-administration-files-new-housing-legislation-to-increase-housing-production-in

Alison Leary Announces Run for State Representative in the 10th Middlesex District

Dear Friends,

It is with a great deal of excitement and anticipation that I announce my candidacy for State Representative for the 10th Middlesex district which includes parts of Newton, Waltham and Watertown. I believe that I can be an effective voice on Beacon Hill and I am committed to being part of the solution to some very difficult problems.  My priorities include:

Improve Public Transportation Services

Our communities are suffering from some of the worst traffic and congestion in the country. We must invest in and modernize our public transit system. Without adequate or reliable transit services we force more people into their cars and this has a stranglehold on our ability to grow and thrive. Traffic congestion is choking economic growth, stunting productivity and adding significantly to greenhouse gas emissions and air and water pollution. Yet House leadership has not been able to move forward with a transportation funding plan that was supposed to happen before the end of 2019. I support new revenues dedicated to transportation funding to build a reliable, dependable and affordable public transit system that serves all users.

Address the Climate Crises.

At my core, I am an environmentalist and I recognize how important it is that we continue to push our goals around sustainability issues. Scientific evidence is overwhelming that the current rates of greenhouse gas emissions are leading to a rapidly warming planet that, if not immediately addressed, will have profound negative impacts. The Commonwealth needs to do more to support local communities that have been leading the way. Newton, Watertown and Waltham all have put together climate action plans that set targets over a 30-year time frame in order to become carbon neutral by mid-century. But we need more support from the Commonwealth on transportation, building codes and carbon pricing.

Meet Our Housing Needs

I support expanding housing opportunities for all. We desperately need more housing to provide for our more vulnerable residents as well as young families who are being priced out of our neighborhoods and for employees who work in or around our communities and contribute to our region’s economic growth. I put a priority on denser, age-friendly housing near transit and amenities and improving safety and walkability as part of the development.

Advocate for Accountability and Transparency on Beacon Hill.

Massachusetts is unique in that no other state in the nation exempts all three branches of government from the open meeting law.  Recently, a special commission on public records dissolved after unsuccessful attempts to expand public records law. There must be some middle ground that allows more transparency and citizen engagement.  A healthy democracy depends on it.

Your financial help is critical to my success. Please make a contribution via my website or mail a check to:

Committee to Elect Alison Leary
192 Chapel Street
Newton, MA 02458

Thank you very much,
Alison Leary