Key issues for this year’s State Senate session: housing, services, drug abuse

The last legislative session was very productive! I secured funding for programs throughout Dorchester, Mattapan, South Boston, and Hyde Park. As a result, a number of state-administered and neighborhood programs – the Massachusetts Rental Voucher Program (MRVP), the Louis D Brown Peace Institute, and the Laboure Center for Children and Families, to name a few – can thrive and continue to serve residents who count on them. I am proud of getting this funding on behalf of my constituents, but I still have important goals to accomplish.

Following are some of my priorities for this session:

• Housing will remain a top issue in 2017. Every community is facing the challenge of people being priced out of the cities and towns where they grew up due to the lack of production of housing that’s affordable. As the Senate’s Chair of Housing, I look forward to continuing to work with House Chair Kevin Honan and the Baker administration to plan a Commonwealth-wide commitment and strategy on how to increase the availability of affordable housing.

• We live in an incredible state where resources and programs are abundant; however, many families fall through the cracks.  We need to take a holistic approach to strengthening services for families from all walks of life. I look forward to working with my colleagues, the Executive Office, providers, and families to understand where we can bolster the services provided by our state.  Parents and guardians struggling with mental health and substance abuse need attention and treatment to get better while the children must receive critical support and services. The end goal should be the reunification of most families.

• Substance abuse treatment has been in the forefront and a priority since 2014 when legislation to confront the issue was enacted. Across Massachusetts, families are suffering from this illness.  We see on a daily basis the ravaging effects substance abuse has on individuals, families, and communities.  Boston remains one of the primary locations for providers of treatment services.  We need to coordinate and support comprehensive services for residents of our 351 cities and towns. Increasing the availability of substance abuse treatment programs across the state is critical so that those suffering can access treatment in their home communities more immediately.

• With marijuana legalization approved, I’ll be working with my colleagues to ensure that the will of the voters is implemented while balancing the critical need to provide public health safety, which is crucial to the responsible implementation of recreational marijuana for adult use. I served on the Special Senate Committee on Marijuana and had the opportunity to travel to Colorado to see what’s happening there. One of the particular concerns I have surrounds edible marijuana products. Colorado recently negotiated a deal with local distributors to ensure edible marijuana products do not resemble popular candy. Prior to this agreement, no one, most importantly children, could tell the difference between a regular gummy bear and a cannabinoid product infused with THC.  Massachusetts must make sure that this new industry of recreational marijuana does not harm children.

• Our district is incredibly diverse and represents the true fabric of our great city from the neighborhoods to the people. It is also an area attracting great interest from the development community. This means we must be diligent in pushing for robust civic engagement on how potential developments will impact our community. In order for any serious discussions to happen, we must see a commitment from everyone involved to focus on infrastructure improvements and transportation.

I am proud to represent the people of the First Suffolk District, which encompasses the neighborhoods of Dorchester, Mattapan, South Boston and Hyde Park. I look forward to hearing from you on how we can work together to address the challenges ahead of us on the way toward a brighter future and stronger Commonwealth.