Category Archives: Government Affairs

A Day at the State House with Sam and Dave

By Seth Goldberg, Government Affairs Associate

With the House set to debate the Transgender Public Accommodations bill today, I can’t help but recall my time with Sam and Dave….

I’m a registered lobbyist, so I find myself in the State House quite frequently. But on this recent day, I was there with Freedom Massachusetts and individual and organizational activists to push the House to pass this bill after it recently passed the Senate in a very emotionally charged debate. As part of the lobby day, I was with a small group of advocates comprised of the mother of a transgender son, a corrections officer who came out as a trans woman last year, and a father, Dave, with his trans son, Sam.

Sam is a happy, shy, and sweet 8th grader who took the day off from school to tell his story. There, among the historic portraits and marble staircases I frequented, it was Sam and Dave’s story that transformed me from lobbyist to advocate.

Sam first met with his State Senator, Richard Ross. While Senator Ross was familiar with Sam’s story, it was the first time they had met in person. Ready to leap into action, Sam became even more enthused when he heard Senator Ross explain why he cast his historic and deciding vote for Marriage Equality 10 years ago, and why he supported the Transgender Public Accommodations bill. He told Sam about how both his daughter and son came out to him as gay after his vote on Marriage Equality. He went on, saying that he was proud to cast both votes and was happy to do his part in helping Sam and the Trans community have the freedom to be who they are as individuals. After expressing his deep gratitude to Senator Ross, Sam set off on his next mission: find an opponent to the bill and enlighten them. This kid clearly has a future in lobbying!

And, then there was Dave – Sam’s dad, who spoke in each meeting about how accepting Sam’s friends had been, how the school system has made accommodations, and about how despite this, he is still very concerned for his son. He worries about what will happen when Sam goes to college, or even when he goes to the local pizza parlor, or enters any number of other public spaces where he doesn’t have the legal protections he does while in the K-12 system. He told legislators that this bill is so important because, like any other parent, he worries about his child. Dave told them that people often marvel at his support of his son, to which he replies, “Of course I support him, he’s my child.”

As we wrapped up our meetings, those words continued to echo in my ears and fuel my message of support. My ordinary day at the State House became so extraordinary and I wanted Sam and Dave to know that they had a deep impact through their advocacy. After getting them a VIP, all-access tour of the House Chamber, a picture on the rostrum, and a private tour from a member of the House, I shared with them that they were now the inspiration for my work. I felt like Sam and Dave’s personal advocate, working to make Sam’s life better and safer, and creating a better place to live for the other kids that I haven’t met yet.

So, it is with Sam and Dave in mind, that I thank Governor Baker for stating that he will sign the bill if passed with the language being debated in the House today, and I call upon the House to speedily do so today…for Sam and Dave’s sake.

A Step Forward for Inclusion

By Seth Goldberg, Government Affairs Associate

As you may recall, last July marked the 25th anniversary of the Americans with Disabilities Act. The ADA gave civil rights to people with disabilities, making it illegal to discriminate based on disability in employment, state and local government services, public accommodations, transportation, and telecommunications.

Allow me to borrow the words of Elana Margolis, Associate Director at JCRC, from a blog post she authored to commemorate that anniversary:

“I know that removing barriers is not the same as creating opportunities. Twenty-five years later, across the country, unemployment rates for people with disabilities are disproportionately high; accessible and adequate educational opportunities are hard to find; and, transportation options remain sorely lacking.”

By no means has the ADA resolved all the challenges people with disabilities face daily, but it has certainly changed America’s accessibility, attitude, and awareness.

At JCRC, we advocate for employment services and community supports for our Commonwealth’s residents with disabilities. We  join with so many wonderful organizations – like Gateways, the CJP Synagogue Inclusion Project, the Ruderman Family Foundation and others here in Boston,– working hard for a fully inclusive Jewish community.

Since I am in a borrowing mood, I’ll share the words of Jeremy Burton, JCRC’s Executive Director, from one of his recent weekly blog posts:

“For JCRC as a network of the organized Jewish community, our mission isn’t focused solely on inclusion within our Jewish community. We also look beyond our community, bringing our values into the broader civic discourse. Together with so many of you, we are committed to ensuring that every single person in our Commonwealth has the opportunity to live to his or her fullest potential, with dignity and hope.”

This commitment was clearly visible earlier this month when JCRC worked with our partners and the Massachusetts State Senate to pass two bills aimed at removing barriers for people with disabilities. Senate Bills 1323 and 2142, passed on March 3rd, expand the range of housing and employment opportunities for those living with disabilities throughout the Commonwealth.

Senate Bill 1323, which we are working to ensure is approved by the House of Representatives and signed by the Governor, brings Massachusetts and federal regulations into alignment — creating more accessible housing units and improving access to employee-only areas in the workplace. Thank you to our partners on this initiative - the Massachusetts Independent Living Centers, the MS Society, Disability Policy Consortium and Easter Seals.

Senate Bill 2142 would require the state's Supplier Diversity Office to develop standards to identify and recruit, with the intent to hire, qualified applicants with disabilities for employment in its office. In addition, the bill requires that all state employees involved in hiring decisions be trained and educated to the standards of the Americans with Disabilities Act.

We are thrilled that the Senate also passed these additional bills that positively impact people living with disabilities:

  • Senate Bill 2140, an Act Eliminating Archaic Language Pertaining to Individuals with Disabilities in the Commonwealth of Massachusetts.
  • Senate Bill 2413, an Act Eliminating Health Disparities in the Commonwealth.
  • Senate Bill 2141, An Act Updating Terminology and Investigative Practices Related to the Protection of Persons with a Disability.

We are grateful for the leadership of Senator James Timilty, Senator Barbara L’Italien and Chair of Senate Ways and Means, Senator Karen Spilka.  Our efforts now turn to working with members of the House of Representatives to ensure swift action to pass these bills.

The Jewish commitment to advocacy on behalf of people with disabilities runs deep in our tradition and JCRC will continue to work with the disability community as staunch advocates for services, opportunities, and inclusion.

 

Setting the Course for Advocacy in 2016

By Seth Goldberg, Government Affairs Associate

Last month, hundreds of activists from around the country came together in Washington D.C. for the Jewish Community Town Hall, sponsored by the Jewish Council for Public Affairs (JCPA), to shape the policy agenda for the organized Jewish community. I had the pleasure of attending, along with JCRC’s Executive Director Jeremy Burton and Public Policy Committee Chair Chuck Koplik.

Issues on the agenda included anti-Semitism in Europe and around the world; the Syrian refugee crisis; race relations; criminal justice; early childhood education; family and medical leave; and American recognition of the Armenian genocide.

At the end of the three day conference, five resolutions were passed and have all been added to the JCPA Compendium which provides guidance to JCRCs across the country. Of the five non-emergency resolutions, JCRC of Greater Boston was proud to sponsor two of them. The first was a Resolution on Paid Sick Leave, calling for support for legislation that guarantees employees reasonable paid sick leave to attend to their own health and the health of their families. The other, a Resolution on the Armenian Genocide, called for Jewish community groups to consult and work with national Armenian organizations to further the goal of U.S. recognition of the Armenian Genocide. Both of these amendments reflect longstanding values held in Boston and are now reflected in the national umbrella organization’s governing documents.

JCPA Board Chair Susan W. Turnbull commented, “We delved into contemporary issues and reached consensus positions that will lead our community towards action. We were informed, we discussed, and we debated, over three days. We then took concrete steps to create policy in our shared pursuit of justice.”

The additional three resolutions were: a call for criminal justice and drug reform; expanding access to early education for the poor; and further actions to combat anti-Semitism. These resolutions were enacted to allow all members of the JCPA the latitude to work on important issues of the day and to be a leader in our respective communities.

With regard to anti-Semitism, the JCPA adopted a policy calling for guidelines “regarding the line between criticism of Israel’s policies and anti-Semitism, and when that line is crossed.”

“We live in a dangerous world, not just for ourselves, but many who are at risk because of who they are, where they live, or how others perceive them,” said Ethan Felson, JCPA Senior Vice President. “We are all created in the divine image, so an injustice to anyone is an injustice to all of us – and so we take action.”

After a late night session, an emergency resolution framing concrete steps to address the crisis of Syrian refugees was passed. This resolution was penned in large part by our own Executive Director Jeremy Burton.