Sen. Joseph Boncore (D)
- District: First Suffolk & Middlesex
- Hometown: Winthrop
- Entered the Legislature: 2016
- Age at Entry: 32
Senator Julian Cyr (D)
- District: Cape & Islands
- Hometown: Truro
- Entered the Legislature: 2017
- Age at Entry: 30
Senator Ryan Fattman (R)
- District: Worcester & Norfolk
- Hometown: Webster
- Entered the Legislature: 2011
- Age at Entry: 26
Senator Eric Lesser (D)
- District: First Hampden & Hampshire
- Hometown: Longmeadow
- Entered the Legislature: 2015
- Age at Entry: 29
Senator Patrick O'Connor (R)
- District: Plymouth & Norfolk
- Hometown: Weymouth
- Entered the Legislature: 2016
- Age at Entry: 31
Where We Went:
- Springfield – February 12, 2016 with Sen. President Stan Rosenberg, Sen. Eric Lesser, Sen. Donald Humason & Springfield Mayor Domenic Sarno
- Amherst – March 25th, 2016 with Sen. President Rosenberg, Sen.Lesser
- Paxton – March 29th, 2016 with Sen. Anne Gobi
- Quincy – March 30th, 2016 with Sen. John Keenan, Sen. Eric Lesser, Rep. Tacky Chan, Mayor Tom Koch, Mayor Joe Sullivan
- Fall River –April 6th, 2016 with Sen. Michael Rodrigues, Sen. Eric Lesser, Mayor Correia, Rep. Paul Schmid, Rep. Carole Fiola, & Rep. Alan Silvia
- Holyoke – April 11th, 2016 with Sen. Eric Lesser, Sen, Don Humason, & Mayor Alex Morse
- Sutton – April 14th, 2016 with Sen. Ryan Fattman
- Lawrence – April 27th, 2016 with Sen. Barbara L’Italien, Sen. Eric Lesser
- Twitter Town Hall – April 29th, 2016 with Sen. President Rosenberg, Sen. Fattman, Sen Lesser.
- Westfield – April 29th, 2016 with Sen. Eric Lesser, Sen. Donald Humason, Rep. John Velis
- Greenfield – October 27, 2016 with Sen. President Stan Rosenberg & Rep. Paul Mark
Innovation and Transparency
Millennials are skeptical that government will be able to address their generation’s complex needs. In 2016 over 60% of Millennials believed that institutional corruption and lack of transparency are the primary causes of the world’s inequality. 52% of Millennials trust the government “a little or not at all,” while 23% trust the government somewhat. Breaking it down even further, Millennials’ level of trust in six different public institutions has decreased an average of 8 percentage points from 2010-2014. These institutions include the President, the U.S. Military, Congress, the Supreme Court, the federal government, and the United Nations. Trust in state and local government slightly decreased as well, although not as dramatically as other institutions.
Millennials are not alone in their lack of confidence. The general population shows equally low levels of trust from all age groups in even more institutions, with at least 70% not trusting big businesses, newspapers, television news, the criminal justice system, organized labor, banks, and public schools.
“I hope you’ll believe it’s worth the time and effort to pay attention to politics—our job is to help you see a reason to get involved in state government. I’m here to be informed about your hopes, fears, and aspirations.” - Senate President Stanley Rosenberg
Yet despite that lack of trust in institutions, Millennials believe they can make a difference—61% of Millennials believe that someone like them could have a moderate or large impact on the US, and over half identify as social activists. They are finding ways to make a difference outside the bounds of these institutions they distrust, and one- third participate in community service.
Millennials are participating less directly in government. Less than 10% of Millennials have volunteered on a political campaign or participated in a government or issues organization, though 14% did attend a rally in 2016.
But Millennials are increasingly eager to engage with government when government is transparent on social media. In 2016, 40% of Millennials signed an online petition, 29% liked a candidate on Facebook, 20% advocated via Facebook, and 17% participated on Twitter. The pathway to political activism is clear for Millennials—they participate more when their institutions are more transparent, able to communicate quickly, and are accountable through social media.
Disillusionment with government and the political process was an overarching theme of this tour and was voiced by Millennials at every roundtable. First as a result of Commonwealth Conversations in 2015, and now the MEI, the Massachusetts Senate has been actively working to make the lawmaking process more transparent and engaging. More transparency affords more opportunities for the public’s understanding and involvement, while increasing accountability for our elected officials.
The Senate and the legislature as a whole are taking steps to increase transparency. Senate President Stan Rosenberg has held Twitter Town Halls, Reddit “Ask Me Anything” sessions, and Facebook Q&As – firsts for the legislature. One of the Twitter Town Halls specifically addressed Millennials using the hashtag #MassMillennials.
The Massachusetts Senate is responding to this need in multiple ways. New 2017-2018 Senate rules call for committee and floor votes to be promptly posted online, and informal session agendas are now posted online 24 hours in advance.
The Senate budget process continues to become increasingly interactive, with all of the following measures:
- posting amendment changes and votes in real-time
- posting how each Senator voted on bundled amendments
- creating a #SenBudget Tweetwall to encourage conversation
- live-tweeting budget updates
- posting live Periscope video updates on key amendments
DID YOU KNOW?: Bundled amendments are several amendments consolidated as one in order to expedite the lengthy budget process.
The lawmaking and budget process have never been more accessible to the public, and increasing transparency continues to be a top priority for the Senate, with the next step being increasing accessibility to government data. Yet under current Massachusetts law, there is no mandate on open data policies. Governor Baker has initiated MassData, the Commonwealth’s open data initiative, overseen by the Massachusetts Office of Information Technology. This website will be a one-stop shop to provide easy access to available data by aggregating data from government agencies and municipalities across the state. While the Senate has established an open data portal, coupling that with a codified state policy on open data would complement the updated public records law and provide increased transparency, innovation, and ease of access to government data.
File legislation mirrored after California’s statewide open data portal
California created a statewide open data portal to facilitate engagement between Californians and government data to help create innovative solutions to governing challenges. In Massachusetts, we look to create the position of Chief Data Officer; require state agencies to make public data available on an Internet Web portal pursuant to an open data standard; authorize local governments to adopt that standard; establish a working group to serve the Data Officer; require each state office and agency to submit a plan to the Data Officer to post; and require the posting of specified legal policies.
Create a state version of “We the People.”
The White House has a petition website which allows citizens to request government action directly. The Senate could, through the legislature’s website, allow citizens to propose and vote up or vote down certain proposals. If proposals reach a certain threshold, the Senate would look at making those proposals actionable by holding hearings, filing legislation, or scheduling floor votes on an existing bill.
Require all bills to have accompanying summaries online.
Included in the series of comments we heard about the legislature being inaccessible was a concern that legislation is difficult to read and to understand for many residents. Requiring legislators to include neutral summaries alongside their bills will help citizens understand what a bill does and how it will impact them.
SENATE BILLS FILED FOR THE 2017 - 2018 SESSION
S373, An Act Automatically Registering Eligible Voters and Enhancing Safeguards Against Fraud (Creem)
State agencies would transmit a person’s name, age, residence, and citizenship information to municipal boards of registrars so they could be registered to vote.
S1725, An Act to Establish the Massachusetts Open Data Standard (Lesser)
New “chief data officer” would create an open data portal through which state agencies must post publicly available data.
S27, An Act Relative to Juvenile Justice Data (Boncore)
Would create the Juvenile Justice Policy and Data Commission that must make recommendations for the creation of a web-based statewide database with information about the juvenile justice system.
Student debt & financial security
Rising debt levels among Millennials is diminishing an entire generation’s ability to achieve the American dream of an education, home ownership, healthcare, and a secure retirement. Two-thirds of all Millennials have at least one source of outstanding long-term debt, including student loans, home mortgages or car loans, and almost one-third have more than one source of long-term debt. Among those who are college-educated, 81% have at least one source of long-term debt, usually in the form of student loans. Millennials also carry short-term debt on their credit cards, with 68% having at least one card, while 20% have four or more cards. Over half carry a balance month-to-month.
In the quest for success, Millennials want a quality education. They are the most highly educated generation in our nation’s history--from 2009-2013, 22.3% of Millennials had at least a bachelor’s degree or higher. In Massachusetts, even more Millennials are educated, with 33.8% having at least a bachelor’s degree.
“We have the best education of any generation—that should be a launching pad. It’s really disturbing that people are being held back by this non-dischargeable student loan debt.” - -Erica Scott-Pacheco Fall River Roundtable, April 6, 2016
But the cost of more education comes with more debt. The nation’s 2015 class of college graduates has the highest student debt in history, and Massachusetts is no exception. In 2015, the estimated outstanding balance for direct loans or Federal Family Education Loans was over $25 billion for 990,000 Massachusetts borrowers. 66% of Massachusetts Millennials had an average debt of $31,466, ranking seventh in the country among states with the highest student debts.
Repayment is made more difficult by the fact that wages are stagnant in Massachusetts; median earnings in 2009-2013 were at $42,701, which is slightly lower than they were in 1990.16 54% of Millennials over the age of 30 with student loans are worried about repaying them. Not only are respondents with lower incomes worried about their ability to repay their student loans, even among those with annual household income above $75,000, 34% are concerned.14
Financial anxieties resulting from the troubling combination of skyrocketing debt and faltering wages are contributing to Millennials putting off important life milestones such as buying a home and getting married. Building a solid educational and financial foundation is delaying the plans carried out at earlier ages by their parents. This overall delay is in line with the cultural trend of these milestones occurring later on average since the 1960s.
The National Association of Realtors 2015 survey of homebuyers showed that among Millennials who took longer to save for a down payment, 54% cited outstanding student loan debt as the biggest obstacle. According to a study by Pew Research center, there are more Millennials living at home with their parents today than at any time since 1940.
In 2015, 37% of Massachusetts Millennials lived with their parents, a percentage that places the Commonwealth 9th highest nationwide. The majority of Massachusetts Millennials are still single—as of 2015, 74% had never been married, the highest of any state. Compare this to 57% of Massachusetts Generation Xer's never being married in 2000. The median age at first marriage is now the highest in modern history, at 29 for men and 27 for women.
Millennials across Massachusetts struggle with financial security. The combination of debt, stagnant wages, and the high cost of living are hampering Millennials’ economic mobility.
We consistently heard that debt was preventing Millennials from accruing savings for economic and social milestones like buying a house, getting married, and having children. Although the majority of the discussions centered on student loan debt, other debts were discussed such as home mortgages, car loans, and credit card debt. Some told crippling stories about having debt collectors pursue payments while snowballing their fees.
Of the debts discussed, the Legislature has studied the subject of student loan debt most extensively. In 2014, the Joint Committee on Higher Education’s Student Debt Subcommittee issued its report on Student Debt. The report made a series of recommendations, some of which were adopted by the Legislature.
The Senate adopted a tax deduction for 529 college savings plans as part of the omnibus Economic Development bill , signed by Governor Baker in July of 2016. Another example is S2184, An Act relative to uniform financial aid information filed by Senator Donoghue in 2015, which creates a financial aid shopping sheet which provides prospective students with a full picture of the terms and conditions of a potential loan or financial aid. This bill passed the Senate in 2016 but was not taken up by the House. It has been reintroduced in the Senate for the 2017-2018 session.
Gateway City Opportunity Zones
Loan forgiveness programs are offered in 35 states. Kansas, for example, will pay 50% of a student’s loan if they move to a “rural opportunity zone” for five years. We are proposing that a similar loan forgiveness program be developed for Gateway cities to encourage graduates of degree programs to settle in Gateway Cities.
“Time to a Degree” Dual Enrollment Programs
The Commonwealth Dual Enrollment Programs (CDEP) exist under the Department of Higher Education and allows students to get a head start on their college careers. CDEP provides the opportunity for students to take college-level courses at a discounted price and earn college credit. The current format provides the first course for free, while the following course prices are set by the institution. Our recommendation is to make CDEP free of charge to all students for up to one year of community college classes.
Student loan repayment for those working in human services
The human service industry in Massachusetts is experiencing a crisis as thousands of jobs go unfilled due to low wages and increasing competition from the state’s Department of Children and Families. “Social and human service assistants, who are caseworkers or advocates working in nursing homes or social assistance agencies, earn an average of $33,100 a year. Child, family and school social workers, who must have at least a bachelor's degree and in some cases a master's degree, earn on average $46,600 annually.” We are proposing that the state create a pathway to encourage more people to enter this line of work.
Tax incentives for employer payment of employee student loans
Only 5% of employers nationwide offer student loan repayment as a benefit to their employees, while nearly 65% of graduating college seniors in Massachusetts carry an average of $29,000 in student loan debt. We are proposing that the Senate pass legislation that would incentivize more employers to offer student loan repayment to their employees as a benefit, helping reduce other financial pressures like rent, food, and transportation.
Low-Income Loan Forgiveness
Similar to the federal income-based loan repayment programs, low income students should be afforded the opportunities to discharge their student loan debt. We recommend the development of a low-income student loan forgiveness program for students who enter public service jobs.
Student Loan Borrowers “Bill of Rights”
A “bill of rights” will ensure that Massachusetts borrowers are treated fairly, respectfully, and given all of their options regarding default and services. This bill would provide borrowers with an ombudsman to work with the federal government as well as state offices to provide assistance to borrowers.
College tuitions, especially for state colleges and universities, continue to grow on a yearly basis. These growing costs are making it harder for young people to obtain college degrees. We are recommending the Senate pass one of the following bills aimed at reducing college tuitions.
Protections from Creditors
All borrowers will have protections from predatory lending practices. These policies will ensure that lenders cannot pursue debts after a certain period, and provide recourse for students who lose pre-paid tuition due to school closure.