In first Senate speech, Friedman advances Donnelly’s workforce legacy

Joins colleagues in passing bill aimed at far-reaching change in criminal justice

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Senator Cindy Friedman has presented her first Senate speech and joined the 27-10 majority in casting a vote in favor of criminal-justice reform.

The vote was cast early Friday, Oct. 27, hours after the Arlington Democrat gave her speech in the light of securing passage of a dedicated funding stream for workforce training championed for years by Senator Kenneth J. Donnelly, who died in April.

The legislation aims to ensure a sustainable, predictable source of annual funding for the Workforce Competitiveness Trust Fund. That effort pays for regional workforce training partnerships statewide, with the goal of placing unemployed and underemployed workers in jobs in high-demand industries.

In her speech, Friedman said in an Oct. 27 news release: "This bill strengthens our workforce development system where it is needed most, providing unemployed workers a pathway to economic stability."

Funds to aid workforce training

This bill would allow up to 5 percent of the state’s Workforce Training Fund, about $22 million annually supported by employer contributions for incumbent worker training, to be used for the fund. Grants from the fund have helped supply hundreds of employers with qualified, skilled employees since the effort's inception in 2006.

To honor the work Donnelly did to advance workforce opportunities in the Commonwealth, Friedman offered an amendment to the bill on the Senate floor to rename these grants the "Senator Kenneth J. Donnelly Workforce Success" grants.

Friedman, joined by Donnelly’s wife, Judy, received a standing ovation from the Senate members upon conclusion of her speech. The bill, which is backed by a broad coalition of stakeholders including the business community, job training providers, and advocates for low-income workers and their families, passed the Senate with unanimous support. The legislation now moves to the House of Representatives for consideration.

As for the justice bill, aiming to update decades-old criminal-sentencing laws, the provisions include repealing ineffective mandatory minimum sentences for low-level drug offenders, reducing and eliminating fees and fines described as overly burdensome, reforming the bail system, allowing for compassionate release for infirm inmates and changes to the juvenile-justice system.

"Yesterday I was proud to join my Senate colleagues in voting to pass comprehensive criminal-justice reform, especially much-needed reforms to our pretrial bail system,” Friedman said in a second Oct. 27 release.

The bill, An Act Relative to Criminal Justice Reform, sponsored by Senator Will Brownsberger, Democrat of Belmont, chair of the Joint Committee on the Judiciary, is the result of many months of work researching best practices, common-sense solutions, procedures and policies that have been effective in other states to produce legislation that will enhance diversion from the criminal justice system, repeal outdated mandatory minimums for low-level drug offenders, lower costs and produce better outcomes.

According to the Southern Poverty Law Center, "roughly 2.2 million people are behind bars in the United States, an increase of 1.9 million since 1972. We have the world’s largest prison population -- with one-quarter of its prisoners but just 5 percent of the total population."

As part of a nationwide trend in addressing the inequities in the bail system, the bill reforms the current bail system of the Commonwealth by setting strict guidelines for judges when setting bail for a defendant.

"Ability to pay bail should never be used as criteria to determine someone’s freedom," Friedman said. "These reforms move our bail system away from a cash-based system to one that gives judges the necessary tools and guidelines to make informed decisions regarding pretrial release while honoring the purpose of bail -- to assure someone shows up in court and does not pose a danger to the community."

The bill goes to the House of Representatives for consideration. 


This news announcement was published Monday, Oct. 30, 2017.