What’s New: City Beat

Photo courtesy of Denise Provost.

Rep. Denise Provost will not seek re-election
Denise Provost, who has represented the 27th Middlesex District for 13 years, announced at the beginning of January that she would not seek reelection this year. Throughout her career, Provost has championed environmental protection policies and worked for attaining equal rights for transgender people. Provost says it’s been a great honor to represent the people of Somerville in the House. “I got to the House in the midst of fights over universal healthcare and marriage equality, and we secured both,” she says. “I just haven’t stopped, you know? It’s continued to be one challenge and cause after another.” 

Somerville leaders support rent control 
In an eight-hour-long State House hearing on Jan. 14, the Joint Committee on Housing heard 100 testimonies on three bills: real estate transfer fee legislation, Rep. Denise Provost’s plan to adopt tenants’ right to purchase, and Rep. Mike Connolly’s Tenant Protection Act. A real-estate transfer tax would only apply to new developers coming to the city, protecting new and low-income homeowners. The Tenant Protection Act would make it legal for municipalities to pass rent-control legislations, independent of state law. Both Ward 3 Councilor Ben Ewen-Campen and new City Council President Matt McLaughlin showed support for the bills.

Straight Pride March sparks community commentary
Boston’s Straight Pride March on Aug. 31 drew counterprotesters and a significant police presence, including the Somerville Police Department (SPD). At a community dialogue on Jan. 22, Mayor Joe Curtatone apologized for the trauma induced by the event’s heavy policing. Various activist groups, such as Solidarity Against Hate—Boston, presented suggestions for how the police can make amends, such as establishing a civilian police oversight board with control over the SPD budget and the power to discipline officers. At the meeting, Curtatone voiced support for the idea, and Ward 2 Councilor Jefferson Thomas Scott said he will draft an ordinance to create a civilian board, noting that state law and police unions would be likely to oppose the effort.

Somerville won’t adopt statewide sex ed bill
The city’s education system is choosing federal sex education standards over the statewide Healthy Youth Act. The bill, which is an attempt to standardize sex education curricula across Massachusetts, passed in the state senate and now appears before the House. It would require schools to employ comprehensive sex education curricula, helping young people learn how to practice safe sex and prevent STIs and pregnancy when they become sexually active. But Somerville isn’t jumping to adopt the bill, apparently because the city’s standards for sex ed are already high. “We all know health curriculum in Massachusetts needs to be revamped, but Somerville is a progressive place and they have been right there with federal standards the whole entire time,” Sheila Freitas-Haley, Somerville’s supervisor of Health and Physical Education, told The Somerville Journal. 

Ben Ewen-Campen remains wary of facial-recognition technologies
Following on the heels of San Francisco in June 2019, Somerville was one of the nation’s first municipalities to ban the use of facial-recognition technology, and officials have worked to fix problems with federal legislation locally. They’re concerned about a risk of identification and a violation of individuals’ civil liberties. “There’s literally nothing stopping law enforcement from tracking someone who goes to a protest, who goes to a mosque or a church,” City Councilor Ben Ewen-Campen, who led the effort in Spring 2019, told Government Technology in a Feb. 3 report.

This story appears in the March/April print issue of Scout Somerville, which is available for free at more than 220 drop spots throughout Somerville (and just beyond its borders) or by subscription.

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