BOSTON – Affordable housing, postal voting and economic recovery were high on the list of legislative priorities highlighted by members of the Statehouse delegation from the Cape and Island States during a webinar on Friday afternoon.
During the webinar, hosted by the Cape Cod Region’s League of Women Voters, the Cape Women’s Coalition and the Cape Media Center, lawmakers also addressed issues such as mental health, childcare access and public safety.
Affordable access to housing
Rep. Dylan Fernandes, D-Woods Hole, said lawmakers were taking in proposals to put more money into affordable housing and allow communities to tax luxury homes.
As housing needs continue to grow in the region, construction costs will also rise as a result of the pandemic, he said.
“It is really difficult for the young and the elderly to gain a foothold here,” said Fernandes. “If you talk to small businesses too, they will say that it is incredibly difficult to find workers because of the lack of housing.”
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Rep. Tim Whelan, R-Brewster, said a local solution could be for cities to use more funds from the Community Preservation Act on affordable housing instead of open space.
The Community Preservation Act allows communities to levy a surcharge of up to 3% to support affordable housing, open space, recreation, and historic preservation projects.
Another local source of funding for affordable housing could be the state’s short-term rental tax, said D-Provincetown Rep. Sarah Peake. A percentage of that revenue could be used to support new and accessible developments in the region, she said.
“This is millions of dollars at the Cape that could be used for affordable housing,” Peake said. “But that is a local decision that has to be made by the local elections and at the city council.”
Reform of mail-in voting
The members of the delegation worked extensively to ensure that the Massachusetts mail-in vote was permanent.
A bill tabled in both houses last month, in addition to expanding mail-in voting, would introduce same-day voter registration, make voting more accessible to incarcerated people, and improve post-election exams.
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State Senator Susan Moran, D-Falmouth, a co-sponsor of the bill, noted that there was a high turnout in the Cape last fall.
Peake said it was “especially important” to expand ballot access in Massachusetts after Georgia signed a law on Thursday that imposed new voting restrictions that they call “the most regressive voter suppression bill we have come across.” Jim Crow “designated.
Help for local businesses
Whelan said he thinks the most pressing problem the Cape is currently facing is economic recovery from the pandemic. The House of Representatives and the Senate each passed a reorganization bill this week that includes unemployment assistance and tax breaks for companies that have been granted loans for the paycheck protection program that has been issued, he said.
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“Many of our companies rely on a very strong summer season to stay alive and keep people busy,” said Whelan. “We want our hardworking small business owners and their employees to thrive.”
Childcare, mental health, public safety are also addressed
Peake said many women have felt the overwhelming economic impact of the pandemic as they may have quit jobs to care for their children or home schooling. A recent Senate bill, which Peake endorsed, aims to create universal early childhood education and childcare in the state over a period of five years.
“This is something that has thrown a wrench into career development, into equal pay,” she said. “This is something that has had a really big impact on children.”
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Kip Diggs State MP, D-Osterville, said as visitors flock to the Cape for the summer amid the ongoing challenges of the COVID-19 pandemic, supporting the mental health of the Cape’s year-round residents is important.
“It caused so much stress,” Diggs said of the pandemic. “We also need to be able to help those who don’t know how to deal with it.”
After four decades of law enforcement prior to his retirement, Rep. Steven Xiarhos, R-West Barnstable, described public safety and policing as “a major problem” for the future region. Xiarhos, one of the two newcomers to the delegation along with Diggs, said he had tabled several bills so far.
“We have to hold our police officers accountable, but we also have to give them the training and tools to be successful,” he said.
A recording will be available online at my.lwv.org/massachusetts/cape-cod-area.