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Thursday, June 13 Legislative and Public Health Updates

Dear friends,


I am writing to you today with legislative, public health, and Cambridge updates. 


Table of Contents

  • Greater Boston Poverty Commission Hearing

  • Legislative Updates

  • Public Health Updates

  • A Glimpse at the Past Week

  • Cambridge Updates

  • Services and Resources


Greater Boston Poverty Commission Hearing



On Wednesday afternoon, Senator Sal DiDomenico and I chaired the second public hearing of the Massachusetts Poverty Commission. As mentioned in previous newsletters, we were tasked by the Senate President and Speaker of the House, respectively, to co-chair the Commission based on our history of leadership on anti-poverty legislation in the State House. The Commission is charged with creating a set of recommendations that would significantly reduce poverty in the Commonwealth over the next 10 years. The Commission is composed of over 30 individuals representing state agencies, anti-poverty nonprofits, and academic institutions who will work with us to come up with the recommendations.


I was grateful to hear testimony from organizations and individuals doing anti-poverty work in the region, learning what was working to alleviate poverty, barriers they continue to face, and generally about the geographic-specific context. It was great to see so many of the amazing nonprofits that serve our Cambridge Community, including Cambridge Economic Opportunity Committee (CEOC), the Cambridge Community Foundation, Cambridge Health Alliance, Food For Free, Mass Farmers Markets, Greater Boston Interfaith Organization (GBIO), Strategies for Youth, BAY-CASH, Transition House, Community Action Agency of Somerville (CAAS), Somerville-Cambridge Elder Services, and so many more!


Thank you to everyone who came to testify. You can watch a recording of the hearing on the Legislature’s website here.

 

Legislative Updates 

House Passes An Act to ensure legal parentage equality (H.4750)

On Wednesday, I was so incredibly proud to vote alongside my colleagues to unanimously pass the Parentage Act. This bill updates archaic and outdated parentage laws to reflect modern-day families, including those with children born to LGBTQ+ families, and through methods such as assisted reproduction and surrogacy. While Massachusetts legalized same-sex marriage 20 years ago, LGBTQ+ residents continue to face significant barriers in obtaining full legal recognition as parents. The bill updates the Commonwealth’s laws so common paths to parentage may be utilized equally by all families; creates a new path to parentage for individuals who are “de facto” parents; and ensures that every child has the same rights and protections to parentage without regard to the marital status, gender identity, and sexual orientation of their parents, or the circumstances of their birth.


Happy Pride! And a Reflection…

In honor of the passage of the Parentage Act and Pride Month — Happy Pride to everyone! I had a great time at the Cambridge Pride Brunch last weekend, and it was so great to see so many old friends — I want to share some brief reflections on Marriage Equality in Cambridge and the Commonwealth.


It’s hard to believe that 20 years have gone by since Massachusetts legalized same-sex marriage. As a second-term Cambridge City Councilor, it was an honor to witness the first same-sex couples in the Commonwealth and the nation have their relationships legally recognized. 


It was important to the Cambridge community and us on the Council that City Hall be open at midnight the day it was legal to apply for and receive a marriage license. There was not a lot of time to prepare, but determination and urgency were palpable in everything, from who on City staff would be working, to how we would celebrate, and who would be first to get a license. Eventually, Marcia Hams and her wife Susan Shepherd became the first couple to be married. You can read about their recollections of their wedding day in a recent Boston Globe article here. I remember the joy and celebration of everyone in line, but Marcia and Susan certainly stand out all these years later. 


We spent quite a bit of time and energy preparing to balance what we anticipated would be aggressive, hateful protests with the safety and celebration of everyone present. I can recall the relief of everyone at City Hall when, while there may have been protesters, all we saw was more people coming in to celebrate. It was a long evening that went into the early morning hours, and I remember story after story of people celebrating among friends and longtime advocates, many coming from what was once the Cambridge Lavender Alliance. As you may know, the Alliance was composed of gay and lesbian Cambridge residents who wanted to be seen for who they were in Cambridge. Many were involved in getting Cambridge to recognize benefits for same-sex partners, as without a marriage, health benefits could not be extended for civil or life partners. 


The overall experience, which went on for weeks, was one of sheer joy. It’s hard to articulate what it felt like: everywhere you turned was joy. You could feel it, you could hear it, and you could see it for weeks as people came to City Hall to get certificates and hold civil weddings. Everyone who was there or who served as a City Councilor benefited from the energy of joy overwhelming the community. 


The joy, determination, and decades worth of community organizing where people worked methodically and resiliently to be recognized as their full selves under Massachusetts law will continue to inspire me just as it has for the last 20 years. 

 

Public Health Updates


SCOTUS Maintains Access to Abortion Pill and Rejects Suit Against FDA

The U.S. Supreme Court delivered their unanimous decision rejecting the lawsuit challenging the FDA’s approach to regulating mifepristone. Mifepristone, approved by the FDA in 2000, is part of a two-drug regimen with misoprostol to medically induce an abortion either in a doctor’s office or at home; it is regularly proven to be incredibly safe. To increase access to patients, mifepristone is available to receive with a prescription through the mail without needing an in-person doctor’s visit. The challenge was brought by the Alliance for Hippocratic Medicine, a pro-life medical organization, arguing that the FDA’s approval of mifeprestone was not supported by adequate evidence. The unanimous Court opinion was delivered by Justice Brett Kavanaugh who wrote that “a plaintiff’s desire to make a drug less available for others does not establish standing to sue… [they] have not shown - and cannot show - that FDA’s actions will cause them to suffer any conscience injury.” In his opinion, Kavanaugh specified that doctors do not have a generalized right to sue because they don’t agree with a general government policy. For example, emergency room doctors wouldn’t be able to challenge the government’s decision to raise the speed limit on the grounds that the policy increased the number of car accidents.


New MA Awareness Campaign Targets Crisis Pregnancy Centers

This week, state officials launched a new public awareness campaign that targets crisis pregnancy centers (CPCs), also known as anti-abortion centers or pregnancy resource centers. These facilities claim to offer legitimate reproductive health care but, in reality, are not licensed medical facilities and provide misleading information to deter patients from having an abortion. They are often faith-based organizations and are known to target marginalized populations, specifically people of color and young people who cannot afford to birth or raise a child. The campaign consists of advertisements in English and Spanish to inform the public about the full scope of reproductive care options and the dangers of crisis pregnancy centers’ deceptive practices. The ads are slated to run for many months to maximize its reach, using $1 million in funding from the 2023 state budget. Many Massachusetts legislators including Senators Friedman and Rausch and Representatives Balser, Decker, and Vitolo showed their support for reproductive health care alongside HHS Secretary Kate Walsh at Monday’s press conference. This campaign arrives nearly two years after the U.S. Supreme Court overturned Roe v. Wade and many anti-abortion activists have advocated for a national abortion ban. This campaign aims to save lives through awareness and become a model for other states across the country to protect access to unbiased reproductive care. You can view a map of CPCs around the country here.


New DPH Report Shows MA Opioid-Related Overdose Deaths Decreased 10% in 2023

On June 12, 2024, the Massachusetts Department of Public Health released its biannual opioid report on the current landscape of opioid-related incidents in Massachusetts. The report demonstrated that MA opioid-related overdose deaths decreased by 10% in 2023, the largest single-year decrease in over a decade. Opioid-related overdose deaths peaked in MA in 2021 at 2,357. Despite the decrease, opioid overdoses continue to exhibit disparities across racial identities and geographic areas. While white non-Hispanic men have seen the largest decrease in opioid-related overdose deaths, the DPH report stated that Black non-Hispanic and American Indian non-Hispanic individuals continue to be disproportionately impacted by opioid-related deaths. Rural areas in MA continue to also see disproportionately high incidence of opioid-related overdose deaths. Despite the decrease in overdose deaths, DPH continued to urge caution regarding increasing Fentanyl and xylazine in the recreational drug supply. If you or a loved one is struggling with substance use disorder or opioid use disorder, please visit MA Health and Social Services for resources.


FDA Advisors Support New Alzheimer’s Drug Despite Risks and Limitations

The FDA’s  Peripheral and Central Nervous System Drugs Advisory Committee has unanimously recommended the approval of donanemab, a new drug designed to slow the progression of Alzheimer’s. Donanemab is administered once monthly and could eventually even be stopped for some patients. The drug, manufactured by Eli Lilly, targets plaque buildup in the brain, but poses risks for swelling and bleeding the brain. The risk is particularly high for patients who carry two copies of a gene called APOE4 which generally increases the risk of Alzheimer’s. Those who appealed to the committee in favor of the drug argued that even high-risk patients should have access to the drug because “when you get a diagnosis of Alzheimer’s, you don’t have anything but risk.” Dr. Reisa Sperling who directs the Center for Alzheimer Research and Treatment at Brigham and Women’s Hospital stated that “We have to take Alzheimer’s disease seriously, and serious diseases require aggressive treatments.” Members of the committee recommend donanemab’s approval and extended research about the long-term consequences of stopping treatment. The FDA is expected to act on the committee’s recommendation in the coming months.


First Case of H5N2 Bird Flu Identified in Humans

The World Health Organization (WHO) recently reported the first-ever confirmed case of H5N2 in humans. H5N2, also known as avian influenza A, is a type of bird flu that differs from the strain of bird flu spreading among dairy cows in the United States. The individual infected was a 59-year-old man in Mexico who succumbed to his H5N2 infection in April of this year. Before his death, the man was suffering from other health issues and then developed fever, shortness of breath, nausea, and diarrhea, attributed as symptoms of his H5N2 infection. Scientists who confirmed the man’s infection still have not identified how the man was exposed to the virus. Various viruses within the H5N2 family have circulated among poultry and wild birds in Mexico for the last thirty years, but the WHO has confirmed the infected individual had no history of exposure to poultry or other animals. Public health officials highlight that H5 viruses usually struggle to infect humans and that scientists need to conduct more genetic testing on the H5N2 virus that infected the man in Mexico before determining if this bird flu strain threatens humans.

 

A Glimpse at the Past Week




Last Friday, I attended the unveiling of the Paul Ryder Memorial Clubhouse. Paul served as Recreation Director for 34 years while ensuring Cambridge’s recreational, athletic, and green spaces were a source of joy for everyone who utilized them. Paul was a great friend, family man, and community member, and his loss will be felt deeply.  




I had a great time attending the city’s 35th Annual Cambridge Pride Brunch on Saturday. It was so nice to see so many old friends and celebrate the amazing and deserved awardees. Congratulations to Puja Kranz-Howe from the Cambridge YWCA for winning the individual award, the Cambridge Health Alliance for winning the organization award, Jha D Amazi for winning the Bayard Rustin Service Award, and Ellie Kramer for winning the Rose Lipkin Award. I am so appreciative of all that you do to support and advocate for the LGBTQ+ community in Cambridge and beyond!




It was powerful to attend the Cambridge Police Department’s Gift Cards for Guns gun buyback event on Saturday. I am proud of the House’s leadership in passing a large gun safety reform omnibus package this session — as I’ve spoken about in previous newsletters — and it was great to share that progress with Deputy Superintendent Peter Vellucci and Chief Public Health Officer Derrick Neal. Special thanks to Lori Lander and Many Helping Hands 365 for their help in organizing this event. 





I am honored to have given the Paul J. Corcoran, MD Distinguished Lecture at Sunday’s 29th Annual Graduation and Awards Ceremony for the 2024 graduating class of the Harvard Medical School Department of Physical Medicine and Rehabilitation. Standing before such a brilliant and accomplished group of residents and fellows committed to helping people ease and eliminate their pain and heal was a true privilege. To the class of 2024, continue to be fierce and unwavering, fighting for the needs of those under your care and be the most effective provider beyond the training of your license and impressive degrees. Above all, remember to be the change you want to see in health care. 




On Monday, I joined the Massachusetts Department of Public Health, State House colleagues, reproductive justice organizations, and federal representatives in announcing a first-in-the-nation public awareness campaign about the dangers of anti-abortion centers. These deceptive centers mimic actual reproductive health providers by offering services like ultrasounds and free diapers to birthing and pregnant people. They often do not have medical professionals on staff and attempt to dissuade people from seeking reproductive health services that are best for them.


I am proud that Massachusetts is once again leading on issues of reproductive justice and stopping efforts to prevent birthing people from making choices about their own bodies. As you may know, one of my bills last session served as the basis for the House's response to the Dobbs decision, and I continue to work with House leadership to protect reproductive rights in our Commonwealth.



I am so grateful for all of the amazing nonprofits serving our community. It was nice to attend the Cambridge Nonprofit Coalition’s Annual Meeting on Tuesday and hear directly from folks about their accomplishments and the challenges faced over the past year and look ahead to the services and resources they plan to provide in the next year.

 

Cambridge Updates


DCR Traffic Advisory — Memorial Drive Closure on June 15

On Saturday, June 15 at 6 a.m., the Department of Conservation and Recreation (DCR) will close Memorial Drive from Gerry's Landing Road to Western Avenue to accommodate the Cambridge Arts River Festival. The road closure will remain in effect through Sunday, June 16, at 7 p.m. when DCR transitions the roadway from Riverbend Park back to Memorial Drive.  

 

Cambridge Public Health Helpline Supports Residents with COVID-19

To speak with someone, call the confidential COVID-19 Hotline at 617-933-0797. Learn more here.


Intimate Partner Abuse Prevention Helpline

This initiative is designed to prevent intimate partner violence by fostering accountability and change in people who harm or may harm their partner. You can find more information at 10to10helpline.org or by calling 877-898-3411.


SafeSpot Overdose Prevention Helpline

SafeSpot is a virtual spotting/overdose detection service for people who use drugs. Learn more at safe-spot.me or access it by calling 800-972-0590.


De Novo Center for Justice and Healing

De Novo is a Cambridge-based nonprofit that provides free civil legal assistance and affordable psychological counseling to people with low incomes. You can learn more about their services at denovo.org.


MassLegalHelp.org is a resource to help Massachusetts residents learn about their legal rights. The website does not offer legal advice or answer individual questions but has a page about options for finding a lawyer. It does provide resources for those facing legal issues, such as a landlord refusing to make repairs, appealing the denial of SNAP benefits, and questions about getting a CORI sealed.

As always, please contact me with questions or concerns at Marjorie.Decker@mahouse.gov.

 

Sincerely,  

Marjorie


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