Civil rights advocacy at the state level

Last weekend I attended an ACLU training event on state-level civil rights legislation in Massachusetts. The line I found most inspiring, oddly, was: “Advocacy isn’t difficult or tricky. It’s about being persistent, strategic, and thoughtful.” We can do that, y’all.

First, go to and find out everything about all your reps. This post discusses the STATE legislator so look for your STATE senator and rep. (But you should find out who your federal rep is too. Your senators are Warren and Markey.)

The ACLU of Massachusetts sets priorities at the state level, called the “Freedom Agenda.” This training addressed five key bills currently in development for the 2017-2018 legislative session. Before January 20th, the language of these bills will be finalized and lead sponsors will be identified. The lead sponsor files the bill.

**BETWEEN JANUARY 20th AND FEBRUARY 3rd, our task is to CALL OUR REPRESENTATIVES–in MA this can be senators AND reps, since most committees are joint–and ask them to cosponsor a bill.** This is a two-week window after which we have a much longer process to get through hearings and potentially to the floor. When the bills are filed, I will get information about each bill and its name, docket number, and lead sponsor. We’ll start calling then.

The five bills address: 1. Electronic privacy (requiring a warrant to get information from e.g. your cell phone provider); 2. Anti-Registration Act (forbidding MA from participating in any identity-based registration system); 3. Automatic voter registration; 4. Contraceptive Access Act (ensuring that even if we lose ACA, insurance plans will cover contraception); and 5. Broad criminal justice reform. For me personally, the anti-registration act (aka “the Not This Time Motherfuckers Act”) and automatic voter registration are top priority. All of them are deeply valuable and important.

Because the MA legislative session is a whopping two years long, things slow down a lot after Feb 3rd. At that time, a clerk (! I didn’t know this!) chooses a committee or committee to refer it to. Committees are drawn from both parties but typically (maybe always) chaired by a member of the majority party. Surprisingly, bills are passed out of committee based on the decision of the chair–it’s not a vote. The FIRST committee hearing must occur by March of 2018. That’s a year out. So, that’s a long slow process.

(Fun fact: the NH legislative session is only six months long. This may be because NH legislators aren’t paid. !!!)

If the bill is passed out of all its committees, it goes to the Ways And Means committee, which I believe looks at money stuff. It then goes to the floor of whichever chamber originated the bill (e.g. a House bill goes to the floor of the House) and then, if it passes (?), to the floor of the other chamber. I believe it then goes to the governor.

Our tools during that time frame include: attending and speaking at a hearing; writing a letter to the editor in your local newspaper; organizing friends and neighbors to attend an in-district meeting; attending town halls; etc.

When we get the info about those five bills, I’ll post more about how to call your rep!

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