Rogers' update: Conversion therapy, 'Cap on Kids,' ed funding
Presenting the following viewpoint is Rep. Dave Rogers. He has served in the Massachusetts House since 2013 and represents the residents of the 24th Middlesex District, which includes Belmont and parts of Arlington and Cambridge.
As the legislative session has begun to take shape, now is a good time to offer an update and some thoughts about the latest developments on Beacon Hill. While it is still early in the two-year session, there has been important progress made in the Massachusetts House of Representatives.
We are off to a great start. With so much attention focused on the federal level, and frankly much of it negative, I think it is important to take heart from good policy choices happening here.
The House passed a conversion-therapy ban for minors, legislation formally known as "An Act Relative to Abusive Practices to Change Sexual Orientation and Gender Identity in Minors."
Conversion therapy is an abusive practice that attempts to change a person's sexual orientation or gender identity. One can only imagine those at a young age, already struggling with the trials of teenage life, being forced into a therapy that attempts to deny them of their emerging identity.
Research shows that those subjected to the widely discredited practice of conversion therapy are at high risk of depression, anxiety and even suicide.
This new law would prohibit state-licensed mental health professionals from subjecting children to conversion therapy practices. I was proud to cast my vote for this LGBTQ+ rights legislation and put an end to these harmful practices for minors. The Senate followed suit, and the governor has signed the bill into law. It's a big win for all of us.
Lifting the cap
We also passed "An Act to Lift the Cap on Kids." Until now, Massachusetts has had a "family cap" law in place, which cruelly denies cash assistance to children conceived while — or soon after — the family received other public assistance. Massachusetts was one of only 17 states that still had a "Cap on Kids" or a similar policy and had denied benefits to thousands of children because of this heartless and misguided policy.
Let's be clear – welfare benefits are truly meager – a paltry $578 per month for a family of three, but even less if the cap excludes one of the children because welfare benefits go up by about $100 a month as family size increases.
I am proud that my colleagues and I voted to provide equitable assistance to our low-income families and children. Of course, ultimately, we hope to see families successfully transition from public assistance toward self-sustaining opportunities, but punishing low-income children is not the way to achieve that goal. The Legislature had to override the Governor's veto to get this done – which we did easily – and now it is law.
Aid to reproductive health
They say good things come in threes! I was pleased to see the overwhelming support when the House passed legislation making available $8 million to reproductive health centers in Massachusetts. Known as the Title X program, this family-planning program was enacted in 1970.
It is the only federal grant program committed to providing individuals with extensive family-planning and preventive-health services. The Massachusetts House felt compelled to take this vote because the funds we allocated will help offset the potential loss of funding from the federal government, as a result of the Trump Administration's misguided changes to the Title X program.
Launching an attack on Planned Parenthood and similar providers, the federal administration is putting ideology in front of women's health and sound public policy. As with the "Cap on Kids," this is a program for those of truly modest means.
Title X programs focus on serving those that live at – or below – 250 percent of the federal poverty level. The funds authorized by the House will go to family planning services, education, counseling, exams, STD and STI testing, and cancer screenings. If the federal cuts to these funds are not blocked or prevented in court, the state anticipates the federal cuts will go into effect soon.
Fortunately, thanks to the strong leadership in the Massachusetts House, the state has begun to prepare solutions to fill those gaps. After coordinated action by the Senate and the Governor, this measure is now the law of the Commonwealth.
Education reform on tap
Looking ahead, there are a wide variety of important initiatives on the horizon. Certainly, the House will take up major education reform. It has been over a quarter century since the Legislature enacted landmark education reform in 1993 and momentum is building to review and update the foundation funding formula that was an essential element of the 1993 law.
Put simply, we are not adequately funding public education in the Commonwealth. In addition, a wide variety of environmental initiatives are pending, including many pieces of legislation I have filed, as we continue to seek ways to address climate change, reduce waste, and create high-paying clean energy jobs.
Transportation issues also promise to figure prominently in this session. Our infrastructure is lagging, and our public transportation network requires billions of investment simply to reach a "state of good repair," let alone, to make any improvements that may be desirable.
And to properly fund these critical priorities, I anticipate that there will be a discussion on tax revenue, another area in which I have filed legislation to boost the rate on long-term capital gains, a tax that falls overwhelmingly on the wealthiest members of the Commonwealth. Many other areas of public policy await action. I will write to you in more detail on these issues in the months ahead.
For now, I think we can feel good about a legislative session that has begun with great promise. I am ever mindful of the moment – mindful that I have been given the great privilege to serve at a time of national turmoil. And while the Legislature cannot right every wrong, there is real hope to be drawn from our sustained efforts over the last several years to meet the challenges of our time. I look forward to the work ahead.
This viewpoint was published Sunday, May 12, 2019.
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