Democrats on Beacon Hill push anti-Trump agenda
Democratic state lawmakers have a message for President Trump: You’ll get only so far in Massachusetts.
Since the president took office just over three weeks ago, lawmakers have filed a host of bills to combat policies ranging from his immigration order to his threat to repeal the Affordable Care Act. Lawmakers say they are unsure what the president could do next, but they want to be ready.
Their measures range from symbolic — a Senate resolution opposing Trump’s immigrant order —
“Because you can never be sure or really be positive about what’s going to happen, I think that we all have to make sure that we’re anticipating,” said Representative Patricia Haddad, a Somerset Democrat. “Expect the worst and be happy when it’s not.”
One proposal seems aimed squarely at Trump himself: a requirement that future presidential candidates release their tax returns before appearing on the Massachusetts ballot.
House Speaker Robert A. DeLeo has scheduled a meeting of House Democrats on Wednesday morning to discuss how to respond to the new administration.
“This is what people wanted to talk about,” DeLeo said Monday as he left his weekly meeting with the Senate president, governor, and lieutenant governor.
The speaker said two main concerns among lawmakers are what might happen to health care and immigration policy.
While most action is coming from Democratic lawmakers, Republican Governor Charlie Baker has also pushed back against the president. Baker has written letters to Congress and the president urging support for key provisions of the Affordable Care Act and speaking out against the immigration ban.
Some Democratic legislators have filed a bill that would bar State Police from cooperating with federal immigration officials, a statewide proposal that is similar to those passed in several cities, including Boston.
DeLeo said his “gut reaction” is that such a measure should be up to individual cities and towns to adopt. Baker has said he opposes the idea of a so-called sanctuary state.
Other lawmakers worry about local access to birth control if federal lawmakers repeal the Affordable Care Act.
As a result, a group of lawmakers have filed a bill that would require all Massachusetts health insurance companies to cover all types of birth control with no copay or deductable, going farther than the federal policy, which does not cover every form of birth control.
Haddad said she wants to believe that lawmakers in Washington, even the more conservative members, will recognize that expanding access to birth control will reduce the number of abortions, but she would rather be safe than sorry.
“I really want to be an optimist, and I really want to believe that people will see this as the right thing to do,” she said.
State lawmakers also have broader concerns about how the Trump administration might cut federal funding to state Medicare and Medicaid, but because the administration has not indicated one clear plan, lawmakers thus far are guessing.
“It’s constantly moving, so you don’t know where to focus on,” said Representative Jeffrey Sanchez, who leads a special commission examining health care pricing in the state.
In January, Bristol County Sheriff Thomas Hodgson offered to send inmates to Texas to assist with Trump’s plan to build a wall along the Mexico border.
In response, Senator Michael Barrett filed a bill intended to make that plan more difficult by requiring state approval for such a program.
Barrett worries Trump’s victory will embolden longtime conservatives like the sheriff and also encourage a new slate of state and local politicians to run for office espousing the same ideals. “I think you’ll see a lot of Trumps popping up,” Barrett said.
The Lexington Democrat also filed a bill that would require people running for president to release their tax returns in order to appear on the ballot in Massachusetts. Despite public pressure, Trump bucked a decades-old tradition of doing so.
Barrett said he is coordinating with lawmakers in at least a dozen other states to give the state proposal more weight.
Meanwhile some lawmakers are hoping the political climate in Washington will give momentum to proposals they have supported for many years.
Representative Kay Khan, a Newton Democrat, has filed a bill that would ban so-called conversion therapy, a widely discredited psychological treatment aimed at changing a person’s sexual orientation from homosexual to heterosexual.
This is the third time Khan filed the bill, and it had been filed previously by another lawmaker, but she hopes that it could be successful this time because Vice President Mike Pence has been accused of supporting such therapy.
At the least, some Democratic lawmakers believe the best way to resist the president’s policies is simply to carry on filing bills they would normally, like one that Representative Marjorie Decker is working on about preserving welfare benefits for low-income residents.
“Most of us in the Legislature do not believe that the really hateful, harmful directives that the president has given so far speak for them,” Decker said.