Summer Internship On Beacon Hill With State Rep. Rogers

Photo: The Massachusetts State House on Beacon Hill, Boston (Credit: Upstateherd – Own work, CC BY-SA 4.0, https://commons.wikimedia.org/w/index.php?curid=62661950)

High school and college students with a keen interest in government has an opportunity to participate in a summer internship with Belmont’s legislative delegate in the State House on Beacon Hill.

State Rep. Dave Rogers will be welcoming interns to his team at the State House for the summer. The internships are available to college students, graduates, and high school students who have completed their junior year from the 24th Middlesex District.

Feedback through the past few years is that interns enjoy a richly rewarding experience and learn a great deal about our system of government generally, and the legislative process specifically. Particularly in times like these, it is rewarding to help young people begin to understand the importance of our democratic institutions.

The deadline for applications will be Friday, April 8 (with some flexibility). Interviews will take place over the ensuing weeks, and applicants will be notified of their status by early May at the latest. Those interested in applying should send both a cover letter and resume to Kira Arnott at Kira.Arnott@mahouse.gov

Opinion: My Support For Bill To Allow Drivers’ Licenses To Residents Without Lawful Immigrant Status

Photo: Sample of a Massachusetts commercial drivers’ license. (Credit: mass.gov/rmv)

By Will Brownsberger

Current Massachusetts law provides that “no [driver’s] license of any type may be issued to any person who does not have lawful presence in the United States.

A bill currently before the senate would change that sentence to read: “An applicant for a [driver’s] license … who does not provide proof of lawful presence, … , shall be eligible … if the applicant meets all other qualifications for licensure and provides satisfactory proof to the registrar of their identity, date of birth and Massachusetts residency.”

In other words, the bill would give licenses to people who cannot prove lawful presence in the United States, provided they can prove their residence and identity and pass the same tests that everyone else has to pass.

I plan to support the bill.

My fundamental view about immigration policy is that it is up to the federal government. It is not the concern of state and local government. However, one of the top concerns of state and local government is to assure that all drivers know the rules of the road and how to operate a vehicle safely. It is often necessary to drive and we are all safer if more of the people on our roads have the required training and insurance.

Some argue that to discourage illegal immigration, we should make life in Massachusetts as inconvenient and uncomfortable as possible for people without lawful immigrant status. I do not agree with that approach. We hurt ourselves when we isolate people in our midst. We benefit from immigrant labor in many occupations and we should treat all workers as well as we can.

Others express the valid concern that a driver’s license is an identification card and we do not want to facilitate the creation of false credentials. The bill gives this concern careful attention in two different ways. 

First, the bill does not allow persons who cannot prove lawful presence to get a “Real-ID” which would get them into federal buildings and on to planes. Instead, they will get a card that is valid as a license to drive but is not valid for federal identification.

Second, applicants for a license who do not possess United States identity credentials like a U.S. passport will have to provide similarly rigorous foreign credentials — a foreign passport or an identity card issued by their consulate. In addition, they will have to provide a corroborating document like a license from another state or a birth certificate. At least one of the proferred documents must be a photo ID and at least one must include birth date.

Some have expressed the concern that since one can register to vote through the drivers license application process, the new law would allow non-citizens to vote. Again, the law specifically speaks to this, requiring the Registry of Motor Vehicles to “establish procedures … to ensure that an applicant for a Massachusetts license … who does not provide proof of lawful presence shall not be automatically registered to vote.” The law would not take effect for a year, allowing time to assure that these procedures are in place.

While the new law cements the requirement of procedures to protect the voter rolls, procedures are already in place according to the Secretary of State. He states on his website that “The RMV … collect[s] information about lawful presence in the United States and they will not submit names to local election officials of any persons they have determined are not U.S. citizens.” This is not a new concern. Currently many people who are not citizens but are lawfully present in the United States have drivers licenses: for example, a green card holder can get a license.

Similar legislation has been passed in 16 other states. The bill has the support of many law enforcement officers, including the Sheriffs of Middlesex County and Suffolk County, and the police chiefs of Cambridge, Belmont, and Watertown. 

The Massachusetts House of Representatives has already voted for this bill by 120-36. I expect the Senate to take it up and I hope we are able to give it a similar strong endorsement and send it to the Governor’s desk.

Belmont resident Will Brownsberger is a Massachusetts state senator representing the Second Suffolk and Middlesex District that includes Belmont.

Change To ‘Final, Final’ Rules Frees Up Covid Funds For Unrestricted Town Use

Photo: The American Rescue Plan signed on March 11, 2021

It’s true: the squeaky wheel did get greased.

A last-minute reversal of state regulations which likely would have forced Belmont to hand back a substantial portion of millions of dollars in federal Covid-19 relief funding will now allow the town to spend the entire $7.6 million as it sees fit.

“As of Thursday afternoon … we were informed that the interim final rule changed yet again. I’m told this is the final, final interim final rule, which puts the town in a great position,” said Patrice Garvin, Belmont Town Administrator who with the town’s state and federal elected representatives.

After a quick word with the town auditor, “we were able to all of our money as revenue loss if we choose and we can use it as unrestricted as we’d like,” Garvin told the Select Board on Monday, Jan 10.

“We were concerned that we had to return [the 7.8 million],” said Adam Dash, select board chair. “This is phenomenal.”

While the grant does nothing to solve the massive structural deficit looming over Belmont, it will allow the town’s planners breathing room for at least the next two budget cycles as the funds will come in two $3.9 million segments with the second available next fall.

In mid-March 2021, Belmont received $8.8 million as part of the Biden Administration’s $1.9 trillion COVID relief plan – dubbed the American Rescue Plan Act – with $1 million going off to the schools. But as Belmont was preparing to incorporate the funds to replace revenue lost during the pandemic, it became apparent regulations imposed by the state would placed a stranglehold on the funds.

After a careful reading of the rules and regulations, the town’s auditor – Craig Peacock, a partner with Powers and Sullivan – determined that during the tight 18 month window the state is using to calculate lost revenue, the 2018 voter-approved debt exclusion used to finance the building of Belmont’s new Middle and High School, as well as the state’s partial reimbursement of expenses constructing the building was seen by Beacon Hill as a revenue “gain” for the town.

“As you remember, we had the town auditor come in and report out that … we could not find any revenue loss calculation” under the then final interim regulations, said Garvin on Monday.

While he could not give the town a financial balm, Peacock suggested a more political avenue of relief. “As they say, the squeaky wheel gets the grease so I don’t think it ever hurts to try to contact” state legislators, said Peacock at the time.

And that’s what Belmont did.

At the urging from the Select Board to air its consternation of the rules, Garvin sent a letter before Christmas “prompted by a lot of the town’s frustration with the final interim rule” to the town’s elected officials – State Sen. Will Brownsberger and State Rep. Dave Rogers – as well to [US Rep.] Katherine Clark, “letting her know that we are we’re in a really tough position with revenue lost calculation given the interim final rule,” said Garvin.

The result was a letter from the entire Massachusetts Congressional delegation to the US Secretary of the Treasury asking to provide relief to Belmont and a number of other small and mid-sized municipalities which found themselves in a similar predicament.

On Thursday, Jan. 6, came the good news from the state that the new change will allow any community to use up to $10 million in ARPA funds to recover revenue lost which has no bearing on each town’s final calculation.

“We will be able to take all of the money that we received from ARPA … and not have any restrictions for it,” said Garvin.

Belmont Secures $1.1 Million In State American Rescue Plan Funds For Something Extra

Photo: Monies to help plan for a new library is part of the recently received $1.1 million in state funds.

With thanks to state legislators and town officials, Belmont has received $1.1 million from the state of Massachusetts to fund some of the town’s “extra” expenses that would have been waiting until the next budget cycle.

The source of the funding is from the $5.3 billion the state was allocated from President Biden Administration’s American Rescue Plan Act, the $1.9 trillion funding package to promote recovery from the economic and health effects of the Covid-19 pandemic and the related recession. The $1.1 million is coming from a separate pot of funds than the $7.6 million in ARPA monies distributed as part of the bill’s Coronavirus Local Fiscal Recovery Fund.

“This is funding that the town of Belmont has been able to secure thanks to state Rep. Dave Rogers and state Sen. Will Brownsberger,” Town Administrator Patrice Garvin told the Select Board at its first meeting in December. “This is great news for the town.”

Select Board member Mark Paolillo also thanked Garvin as she started the conversation to find state funds to pay for aspects of the skating rink’s planning and design, leading to this larger allocation.

The funding will be spent on several projects in town outside of the budget:

  • $250,000, the new Belmont Public Library
  • $250,000, the new Belmont skating rink
  • $100,000, economic development
  • $500,000 public housing

The public housing portion includes:

  • $250,000, water and sewer infrastructure improvements at Belmont Village
  • $150,000, improvements at Waverley Oaks
  • $100,000, redevelopment of Sherman Gardens

Opinion: A View Of Holidays and Freedoms On This 4th Of July

Photo: Veterans Day and Memorial Day are our holidays to remember those who have served and those who have given their lives to win and protect our freedom.

By Will Brownsberger

The recent hate crimes in Belmont, Winthrop, and Brighton, so close to home and so near the Fourth of July, have me thinking about the meaning of our national holidays.

Seven of our eleven federal holidays celebrate our struggles for freedom and justice. Each of our national struggles have occurred in the context of broader international liberation struggles. 

Independence Day and Washington’s Birthday celebrate our declaration of independence from King George III and honor those who fought our revolutionary war to uphold that declaration. Our revolution was just the first of many revolutions to replace the autocratic rule of European monarchs with government by the people.

Our new holiday, Juneteenth, celebrates the final end of slavery in the United States. More than 600,000 died in our Civil War. By comparison, only 25,000 died in our revolutionary war. Almost as many soldiers died in the Civil War as in all our other wars combined. Roughly 10 percent of the men between 18 and 45 died in the Civil War and many more were maimed for life. The union soldiers sacrificed to free four million people from slavery.

It took a horrific convulsion to expunge the stain of slavery that ran so deep in our nation and to enshrine liberty for all in our constitution. It is fitting that we finally have a holiday that specifically celebrates that milestone in our progress. 

Martin Luther King Day celebrates a great leader and those who struggled alongside him to make freedom real for African Americans by dismantling the state and local laws discriminating against them.  

The struggle for universal civil rights and freedoms continues to this day, but it is broader and more complex. It is not just about changing laws. It is about changing the behavior of individuals and institutions who may discriminate against not only African Americans but other minorities and/or women. All nations that are committed in good faith to basic human rights continue to struggle to realize those rights universally for their citizens.

The recent hateful incidents diminish the freedom of all minorities. Whether one is visibly Black, visibly Asian, visibly an orthodox Jew or visibly transgender, one should be able to walk the streets free from the fear of random violence.

Many people who commit hate crimes may suffer from some form of mental illness, but it is hateful ideology that leads them to translate their inner struggles into hateful actions. All of us, whether healthy or unhealthy, act based on the ideas we are exposed to. That is why it is so important that all of us speak out against violence and broadcast our appreciation for diversity.

We celebrate and thank the law enforcement officers who respond when hateful violence unfolds. They, like our soldiers, put themselves in harm’s way to protect our freedoms. Veterans Day and Memorial Day are our holidays to remember those who have served and those who have given their lives to win and protect our freedom. On those days, we also honor our public safety personnel.

Labor Day honors public safety personnel, teachers, and other unionized workers, but more broadly honors all those who fought for better wages and working conditions in the international labor movement. It is easy to forget across the distance of years just how low wages often were and how cruel the workplace could be. The labor movement fought and won great victories to create the relative comfort that many of us now enjoy.  As in the civil rights movement, there is more to be done.

Columbus Day has become controversial for good reason. Columbus’ revealed the Americas to Europeans, but he did is so in the service of a monarch bent on acquiring resources for royal aggrandizement. Those who came after him destroyed the great pre-Colombian civilizations in the Americas. I support rethinking that holiday to align it better with the consistent values expressed by our other holidays.

The remaining three federal holidays — Thanksgiving, Christmas and New Year’s Day — bring families together to enjoy the freedoms we have been blessed with.

Belmont To Receive $8.6M From American Rescue Plan … With COVID Strings Attached

Photo: President Joe Biden signing the American Rescue Plan. Creator: Adam Schultz | Credit: White House

Not only will most Belmont residents receive a $1,400 check from the $1.9 trillion American Rescue Plan signed into law by President Biden on March 11, but their Town of Homes is also set to be a beneficiary from the same stimulus package created to lessen the economic repercussions of COVID-19.

According to State Sen. Will Brownsberger, preliminary information from the state shows Belmont will receive approximately $8.6 million from the Rescue Plan with $1 million of the total targeted to Belmont schools.

“I would just like to underline that most of this money is coming from the federal government,” Brownsberger told the Belmont Select Board at its meeting held virtually on Monday, March 15. “This is rain comes falling from US Sen. [Elizabeth] Warren, Sen. [Ed] Markey and US Rep. [Katherine] Clark, so credit to them.”

In addition, both Brownsberger and State Rep. Dave Rogers, also at the meeting, said due to revenues coming into state coffers stronger than expected despite the pandemic’s economic downturn due to the pandemic, state aid to cities and towns will be greater than earlier forecast.

But before anyone in Town Hall or the school department begins spending this one-time windfall, Brownsberger told the board “that aid comes with a number of strings in terms of … how it can be used.” And nearly all of the threads have to do with COVID.

Brownsberger said the funding comes with defined eligibility criteria that will determine “how much of that money can be used for general government purposes and how much of it can be used only for particular projects” related to COVID relief.

According to preliminary reports, the money can be spent on one of four categories which includes:

  • Reimburse town funds spent responding to the public health emergency of COVID,
  • Lessen the negative economic impact on the community, (“So it could be broadly used to provide aid to small businesses, households,” Brownsberger said.)
  • Replace town revenue lost to the COVID recession, and
  • Make investments in water, sewer, or broadband.

To receive the funds, the town will commit to a certification process – rather than applying for the money – in which the town tells the state (which is running the program for the federal government for municipalities smaller than 50,000 people) that it understands the constraints of how the funds will be used.

Rogers said regulations are still being written by the US Treasury “on how the money can be spent as much of it is earmarked and targeted in very specific ways.”

Patrice Garvin, Belmont’s town administrator, said she has “not received enough information on how this money can be used.”

On the state side of the fiscal ledger, Rogers said the state budget is “in reasonably good shape given everything that has happened” and the legislature is now expected to have the ability to fund Chapter 70 general education aid formula at a level above Massachusetts Gov. Charlie Baker’s estimate for state aid announced on Jan. 27.

“We’re very committed to funding the Student Opportunity Act designed to increase local school aid to a level that’s really commensurate with a town’s need or actual spending, particularly for Belmont on the cost of health care and special education,” said Brownsberger. The end result is Belmont could see “maybe a few $100,000” more in Chapter 70 aid in fiscal 22.

One area the state is advising cities and towns not to do is make concrete fiscal decisions using these figures.

“[The Secretary of State’s office which distributed the data] said the information … should be viewed as preliminary and subject to change,” said Brownsberger reading from notes. “We’d strongly advise against the town making plans based on this preliminary information as the US Treasury will ultimately calculate the final amounts. So towns should not make plans about overrides based on these estimates.”

And that is the word coming from the campaigners seeking to pass the override on April 6.

Unfortunately, the stimulus money “doesn’t change the fundamentals concerning Belmont’s structural deficit, which is projected to be almost $20 million over three years even after spending down our cash reserves,” said Nicole Dorn, co-chair of Yes for Belmont which is advocating for the passage of a $6.2 million Prop 2 1/2 override on the April 6 town election ballot.

“This one-time infusion of funds won’t cover our operating expenses because it is restricted to certain programs or needed for COVID-related expenses. Every year we delay addressing our budget issues only makes our structural deficit worse, and means we’ll need a bigger override that is more expensive for taxpayers,” she said.

Brownsberger, Rogers Holding Zoom Town Hall/Q&A On COVID-19 Thursday, April 16

Photo: Will Brownsberger (left) and State Rep. Dave Rogers

State Sen. Will Brownsberger and State Rep. Dave Rogers are hosting a Zoom Town Hall on Thursday, April 16 at 7 p.m. to discuss the state’s ongoing response to the COVID-19 pandemic and answer questions submitted by viewers.  

To join the Zoom Meeting, link to this address: https://zoom.us/j/94791210043 Meeting ID: 947 9121 0043 

The Town Hall will also stream live on the Belmont Media Center’s website and Facebook page

Brownsberger Appointed State Senate President Pro Tempore

Photo: The new Senate President Pro Tempore, Will Brownsberger 

State Sen. Will Brownsberger has got a new job up on Beacon Hill.

The long-time senator and Belmont resident has been appointed by State Senate President Karen Spilka to be President Pro Tempore of the Senate as he will now help her move the Senate’s agenda forward.

“I fully endorse the agenda that [Spilka] has defined for the Senate,” said Brownsberger. “Her agenda speaks directly to the concerns that have motivated me to serve in public office.”

Brownsberger said he agrees with Spilka’s top legislative priorities including adequately funding of the education system, the close relationship between housing, transportation, and environmental concerns, and supporting the Criminal Justice Reform package that was moved forward last year.

“An agenda of this breadth requires a strong leadership team and I’m very pleased that she has asked me to be part of her team. I’m looking forward to all of the important work that lies ahead,” he said.

Opinion: Criminal Justice Reform Lightens Up On The Little Guy

Last week, the legislature sent a broad reform of the criminal justice system to Gov. Baker with a unanimous vote in the Massachusetts State Senate and a near-unanimous vote in the House of Representatives.

The bill is about lightening up on the little guy – the person who has made some mistakes but wants to turn a corner and live right.  If possible, we want to lift that person up instead of locking them up.  And we want to cut away the web of bureaucratic entanglements that make it hard for them to get back on their feet.

For the most dangerous offenders though, the focus has to be on public protection and the bill also gives police and prosecutors a number of useful new tools.

Last fall, both branches produced and approved comprehensive criminal justice packages that examined the system from front to back.  The bills that each branch produced differed from each other in approach and in hundreds of details.

A bi-partisan, bi-cameral conference committee including three members from the House and three from the Senate (two Democrats and one Republican from each branch) spent the last four months sorting through all the pieces. We considered and discussed each piece individually and we hope we succeeded in re-assembling a balanced bill, each piece of which actually works. We hope and believe that the final bill is really a better bill than either branch started with.

On the same day that the legislature approved the results of our conference negotiations, it also voted through a bill that speaks specifically to the challenges of in-prison rehabilitation programming and the re-entry process. That bill, which grew out of negotiations in the 2015-6 session, complements the larger package.

Much of the conversation in the press over the past few years has been about a few hot-button issues, especially mandatory minimums for drug offenders. The package does knock out some of the mandatories that currently apply even to little guys who are not selling opiates. 

But people serving drug mandatory minimums account for a relatively small portion of incarceration (10 or 15 percent) at the state level and the need for reform goes beyond the problem of high incarceration rates.  The criminal justice system is a sprawling bureaucracy. As a case moves through the system, dozens of decisions get made and offenders ultimately have to work very hard to meet the sometimes-conflicting requirements of officials who control their lives.

We have passed a bill that makes responsible changes in every stage of the system to reduce the burdens that the system places on people and their families. At the same time, we have passed a bill that, in many respects, makes the public safer.

Most issues in criminal justice involve hard judgment calls and many are deeply controversial. They are the kind of difficult issues that many seek to avoid. I’m very grateful to the leadership of the House and Senate for giving us the green light to move a big bill forward. And I’m grateful to every single member of the House and the Senate for stepping up to the plate to offer creative ideas and to cast difficult votes on many complex issues.

I’ve published complete details on the package at willbrownsberger.com and will also be very happy to answer questions or hear concerns at William.brownsberger@masenate.gov or 617-722-1280.

Will Brownsberger

State Senator, Second Suffolk and Middlesex

Brownsberger Hosting Belmont ‘Town Hall’ Saturday, Feb. 10

Photo: State Sen. Brownsberger is holding a town hall in Belmont.

State Sen. Will Brownsberger will host a series of town hall meetings throughout his district in February. All are encouraged to attend and share their thoughts on current events and legislative priorities.

Belmont: Saturday, Feb. 10 from 3 p.m. to 5 p.m. at the Beech Street Center, 266 Beech St.