In full transparency, the following are the prepared remarks of Senate President Karen E. Spilka delivered this morning January 4, 2023.
BOSTON – Good morning, and welcome. First and foremost, I would like to thank all of you, my Senate colleagues, for placing your faith and trust in me – for the fourth time – to serve as your Senate President. I am humbled to be standing here before you as Senate President – and so proud of what we have been able to accomplish together. Thank you also to Senator Brownsberger and Senator Comerford, for those kind words – and for all your great work in this chamber. I’d also like to thank our Minority Leader, Bruce Tarr, for offering this body’s unanimous, bipartisan support – and for your partnership. I’d like to extend a welcome to our dignitaries who joined us today…
I’d like to welcome our new members — and welcome back our returning members for what we know will be another productive session…congratulations to all of you!
I also can’t start today without thanking the Senate Clerk’s office, the Office of Senate Counsel, our court officers and all of the staff who worked so hard late into the night last night to close out our previous session.
Two years ago, we gathered outside for the swearing in of the 192nd legislative session. Instead of being together in the warmth and comfort of this Senate chamber, we stood outside – apart – so that we could keep each other healthy and, in turn, keep our friends and loved ones alive. We were still reeling from the shock of the COVID-19 pandemic, but we stood, determined, to fulfill our duties as public officials and elected leaders.
Little did we know, on that bright January day, that another shock was coming for our nation starting just a few hours later. The January 6th siege of the United States Capitol would shake all of us to our core and make us question whether the American experiment of democracy would even survive.
The past few years have been among the most turbulent in our nation’s history, as we have lost more than one million lives to COVID, witnessed the traumatic murder of George Floyd and others and the subsequent long-overdue racial reckoning, which we are just starting to scratch the surface of, experienced the stripping away of reproductive rights by the US Supreme Court and in far too many states, lost sleep over the continued reluctance to meaningfully address climate change nationally and globally, and stood with our allies as an anti-democratic autocrat waged a brutal war on a free Ukraine.
Against this backdrop, there are many reasons why we may find ourselves giving into sadness, anger, and despair, especially as we, and the people we serve, face more uncertainty, including potential economic instability and a deeply divided nation. And yet, as I stand here today, in the beauty of this historic Senate chamber, surrounded by friends, loved ones and all of you, my Senate colleagues, I cannot help but feel one thing: and that is hope! American poet – and Amherst native – Emily Dickinson once wrote, “Hope is a thing with feathers, that perches in the soul … and never stops at all.”
While I always have hope perched in my soul, it is not enough for us to just feel hope. We must be hope — we must live hope — and we must make hope happen!
For me, however, hope cannot exist without opportunity. Opportunity is the spark that keeps the flame of hope burning brightly. That is why I am calling on all of us gathered in this chamber to work this session to spread opportunity to every corner of our Commonwealth.
One thing about Massachusetts that gives me hope is that we have proven, time and time again, that we have what it takes to tackle big, systemic challenges. During COVID, not only did we lead the way on developing a vaccine, we proved that – against the backdrop of a dysfunctional national landscape – state government can work by working together — across branches and across the aisle — to help the people of the commonwealth.
We have consistently been a leader in public education, health care, civil rights … you name it! And just last session we passed not one — but two — nation-leading bills to address climate change
In the shadow of COVID and a national realization that mental health needs are acute in every demographic, the Massachusetts Senate led the way by passing a sweeping reform of our mental health care delivery system to ensure that everyone will get the mental health care they need, when they need it!
With the signing of the Mental Health ABC Act into law this past summer, now all residents are guaranteed a free annual mental health assessment, we have tools to finally enforce true parity for mental health coverage, and we can take significant steps toward addressing the emergency room boarding crisis… and so much more.
I have heard from many, many people everywhere I go – particularly from parents in MetroWest and beyond, who are very grateful for this law. I have also heard from providers – and – from those in the Biden Administration – who believe that this reform can and will serve as a model for the country. This is a credit to each of you and to the decades of hard work that went into making this landmark bill a law, giving us an important opportunity to provide hope to not only Massachusetts — but to the entire nation. This hope cannot come soon enough.
In December of 2021, the U.S. Surgeon General warned that young people are facing “devastating” mental health effects as a result of the challenges experienced by their generation. While reforms to our mental health care delivery system here at home will help our young people get the care they need, we must do more. We must tackle the challenges that are before us, so that we can make hope happen and overcome the anxiety too many young people see in their present – and in their future.
If this sounds daunting — it’s because it is. But we did not aspire to become Senators to only take on the easy tasks. Together, our job is to build hope — through opportunity and through action.
One of our greatest ways to create opportunity is through public education. Indeed, the name of the law that brought long- needed reform to our K-12 public schools, is the “Student Opportunity Act.” After 20 years of working to change our K-12 public education formula to make it more equitable, passing the Student Opportunity Act soon after I became Senate President remains one of my proudest accomplishments in office.
But our young people, their families, and our businesses that will one day hire these young people need more than just ONE “Student Opportunity Act.” To truly to succeed as a Commonwealth, what we need is an entire “Student Opportunity Plan”: a plan that lays the educational cornerstone for our youngest learners and opens doors for continued learning beyond high school. Education, after all, has always been our lodestar – and the key to our Commonwealth’s success far into the future.
Like many young people today, there was a time when I wasn’t sure I’d be able to afford to go college. Luckily, when I was finishing high school, the public higher education system in New York State gave me the seed I needed to start my college education, which I was then able to grow into a diploma from Cornell and a law degree from Northeastern. Public higher education was, quite simply, a life-changing opportunity for me—one that I want to ensure every young person
in Massachusetts has, no matter who they are or where they grew up. But continually risings costs mean that this vital opportunity is out of reach for far too many students.
The need for investment in public higher education is greater than ever before – and similarly our need to lead in this area is more important than ever.
According to the economist Heather McGee, our country began under-investing in public higher education just as Black and brown students enrolled in these very institutions to help carve a path to the middle class. This has contributed to the striking and indefensible racial inequities that we now face as a nation. And so we cannot say we are serious about closing the racial wealth gap here in Massachusetts without redoubling our efforts to support public higher education.
Further, we know that our continued economic vitality depends on ensuring that the workforce for our many innovative industries comes from Massachusetts schools, community colleges and universities. And that is why we must build upon our critical investments including in quality K-12 education to early college, technical and vocational schools as well as public colleges, universities, and workforce training.
The people of Massachusetts agree. They have told us loud and clear, through the passage of the Fair Share amendment, that the time to for the Senate to lead is now in public higher education, just as we have with K-12 and with early education and care.
According to a recent article in The Boston Globe, enrollment in community colleges is declining, as potential students must decide between paying for and attending classes or working to put food on the table. Community college students are often working parents, recent immigrants and those from low-income backgrounds. They are the very people we picture when we think of the words “American Dream” and “opportunity.” That is why, this session, as part of the senate’s new “Student Opportunity Plan,”— I am calling on us to make community college free for all students, and for us to determine how we can dedicate more funds to public higher education institutions all across our state so that every young person can fulfill their dreams for their futures.
We can all agree that Massachusetts is well-known for its world-class private colleges and universities. But we should also be shouting from the rooftops about our world-class public colleges and universities.After all, these schools are working to provide solutions to the very challenges we grapple with in this chamber and around the country.
At MassBay Community College’s new Framingham campus, which will open soon, the Center for Health Science, Early Childhood, and Human Services will serve as a “central regional pipeline of trained health care workers, early childhood educators, and human services professionals” – all careers that we are in desperate need of.
In Springfield, students in the Mechanical Engineering Technology program of Springfield Technical Community College are preparing to be the next generation of workers in precision manufacturing – another segment of the workforce we are in desperate need of.
And – at UMASS Amherst, I recently had the opportunity to visit the Water and Energy Technology Center with Senators Comerford and Cyr. Right now, it’s a small operation, currently housed in two trailers welded together, but it is working on the big problem of dangerous “forever chemicals” known as PFAS. Through its research and work with municipalities, this tiny but mighty lab may hold the key to making PFAS a worry of the past.
And, the next generation of life-saving mRNA vaccines, similar to the scientific miracle that is the COVID-19 vaccine, are being developed right now at UMASS Medical Center.
It is clear that we have, right here in this Commonwealth, the people and the institutions we need to ensure the workforce of our future and tackle the challenges that we face, if only we see this opportunity for what it is and are brave enough to seize it.
A significant commitment to public higher education will ensure that every resident, regardless of zip code, will have access to the spark of opportunity to create a hopeful future. However, it is not enough to set our young people up for great jobs if they cannot afford to live, work and start a family here in Massachusetts. That’s why I am committed to re-introducing transformational early education and care legislation as part of the Senate’s comprehensive “Student Opportunity Plan” and working with stakeholders at every level, both public and private, as well as our partners here in government, to get this
important piece over the finish line.
We know how important early education and care is, both to addressing the “she-cession” that worsened during the pandemic AND preparing our children to learn. Simply put, it is past time to update the way we imagine and support this crucial sector.
Last session’s bill, which drew on the recommendations made by the Special Legislative Early Education and Care Economic Review Commission, sought to make early ed and care more accessible and affordable for families, to provide high-quality care for young children, and strengthen the support to early education providers and workers, among other things. In the same way the Senate worked with and learned from stakeholders and others to strengthen the Mental Health ABC Act over two sessions, I look forward to taking a similar approach to building upon and passing an even stronger reform bill on early education and care this session.
Together with the historic Student Opportunity Act, we have a chance to transform our education landscape with a deeper commitment to public higher education AND early education and care in our expanded “Student Opportunity Plan.” With this more inclusive and far-reaching plan, we can create a pipeline of hope for our students, workforce, business leaders, public servants and – ultimately – for all of us.
As we do so, we must continue to chip away at the challenges that threaten our state’s competitiveness and quality of life. First, I remain committed to enacting permanent progressive tax relief, which will provide tangible benefits to low and middle income families, seniors and residents, and I am hopeful that the Legislature will pass this soon in the New Year.
We must also put our minds and hearts together to solve our continuing housing crisis. The Senate has led the way here, by championing Housing Choice and insisting that multi-family housing in MBTA communities is prioritized, and we can point to a nearly billion-dollar investment to help ensure residents get the housing help they need.
We must also find the will and the way to expand safe, reliable and affordable public transit throughout the commonwealth. once again, we must seize the opportunity given to us by the people of the Commonwealth through the passage of the Fair Share Amendment to build a transportation system that is safe first and foremost — but also — accessible, sustainable, connected, and regionally equitable.
There is no time like the present for these new investments — and – by the way — I can assure you that as long as I’m Senate president, every last Fair Share dollar will go to new investments in transportation and education.
Finally, dear colleagues, I look forward to working with all of you to continue to pursue reforms, big and small, that will allow us to further address the existential threat of climate change. I’m proud of what we have accomplished in the Senate on this issue – but — there is no amount of opportunity that can build hope if our planet’s very survival is on the line.
My last story of hope is deeply personal.
A little over a year ago, I was preparing to board a plane to the White House for the bi-partisan infrastructure bill signing. Instead, I found myself in a hospital bed, recovering from a mild stroke. I was lucky to have acted quickly, and I was lucky to be in Massachusetts, where we have access to extraordinary health care. With the support of my incredible family, friends, colleagues and medical providers, I was very soon back to work and in this beloved Senate chamber.
In this moment of personal struggle, I saw my own opportunity to provide hope. And so I publicly told my story. By not keeping this story to myself, I was able to influence at least one person – that I know of – who sought out care for a stroke when he otherwise would not have. I will never forget his letter to me, and I will always remember how important it is that we all use our voices to create hope
But we must be completely honest – it’s hard to have hope for the future when one unplanned medical expense or the cost of prescription drugs threatens to wipe out everything you have worked for and saved for. And that’s why the Senate will once again pass a bill to lower the cost of prescription drugs – hopefully three time’s a charm – and we will work to expand health care quality and access and ensure that health care providers can work to the top of their licenses, so that
Massachusetts can continue to provide the national leadership in healthcare we all deserve.
Tomorrow, I will be the first woman Senate President to have the distinct honor and privilege of swearing in the first woman elected Governor of the Commonwealth—and the first woman team of Governor and Lieutenant Governor. I cannot let this moment go by without recognizing the generations of women who came before us, who never stopped hoping for — or working toward — this day. I join them in celebration!
But I also know that with this amazing opportunity there can also be trepidation, as women leaders everywhere, still face harassment and even hate. I hope you will join me in speaking up and speaking out in the face of this harassment and hate, so that all of our elected leaders and — frankly — everyone in the Commonwealth can live here and thrive, regardless of gender, race, religion, ethnicity, ability or sexual orientation.
I look forward to working with the new Healey-Driscoll Administration, as well as my partner Speaker Mariano in the House, and all of you to create a ‘Pipeline of Hope’ for the residents of our Commonwealth. As we begin this legislative session, I am awed by the opportunities before us – and therefore I am filled with hope. And I am reminded of the words of National Youth Poet Laureate Amanda Gorman:
“The new dawn blooms as we free it… For there is always light if only we’re brave enough to see it, if only we’re brave enough to be it.”
Thank you and congratulations again!