MA Senate to Revise or Redesign Massachusetts Seal and Motto, Passes Bill to Increase Higher Education Opportunities for People with Disabilities and Extends Session

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Senate Approves Commission to Revise or Redesign Massachusetts Seal and Motto

The Massachusetts State Senate on Tuesday passed legislation that would establish a commission to study and redesign the Massachusetts state seal and motto in an effort to make it more inclusive and historically representational.

The legislation, Resolve establishing a special commission relative to the seal and motto of the commonwealth (S.1877), will create a commission to study the state seal. Many people, particularly members of Native American communities, find the seal offensive and unwittingly harmful, and others feel it perpetuates a misunderstanding of indigenous culture and history. The commission will be tasked with making recommendations for a revised or new seal and motto for the state. The state seal and motto are featured on the Massachusetts flag and other official insignia.

“This bill provides a chance to begin a conversation about our history and reimagine what a truly inclusive state seal and motto can look like,” stated Senate President Karen E. Spilka (D-Ashland). “The Senate will never waiver on its commitment to making our Commonwealth welcoming for all, and so I am proud to see this proposal for a commission to study our seal and motto move forward. I would like to extend my gratitude to the many advocates who have continued to raise this issue, and to Senators Lewis and Comerford for their work and collaboration on this issue.”

“COVID-19 and Black Lives Matter demonstrate that the social issues of Black, Indigenous, and People of Color are entwined as the collective challenge to social structures solidifies,” said Jean-Luc Pierite, President of the North American Indian Center of Boston and a member of the Tunica-Biloxi Tribe of Louisiana. “Today's vote in the Massachusetts Senate affirms that we can reconcile the identity of social systems while advocating and establishing needed change.”

“Our collective symbols of identity matter, and if they marginalize some of our fellow residents and perpetuate harmful stereotypes, they should be replaced,” said Senator Jason Lewis (D-Winchester), Senate chair of the Joint Committee on Education and lead sponsor of the resolve. “I want to thank former Representative Byron Rushing, former Executive Director of the Massachusetts Commission on Indian Affairs John ‘Slow Turtle’ Peters, and many other Native advocates and allies for championing this legislation for many years.”

“Symbols have weight. They have meaning. It's been encouraging to see Confederate symbols coming down across the nation, and yet we in Massachusetts continue to display a symbol that for many expresses the subjugation of Native Americans through violence,” said Senator Jo Comerford (D-Northampton), a lead sponsor of the legislation. “By passing this legislation, the State Senate is now on the right side of history. Thank you to Senator Jason Lewis, the Senate President, and all of the organizers and towns that have held us accountable. Today, 400 years since the first European Settlement, we have joined together to reject racism, discrimination, and injustice, and in doing so, opened the door to a transformative path forward.”

The current state seal, adopted in 1898, prominently features a Native American figure. Historical records show that figure is a composite based on a portrait of a Native American chief from the Chippewa tribe —which is primarily located in Montana and the Dakotas, not Massachusetts. Above his head is an arm holding a colonial-era broadsword believed to be the sword of Myles Standish, a Plymouth Colony military commander known in part for killing Native Americans. The Native American holds a downward pointed arrow that has been interpreted as signifying the pacification of the native population.

Indigenous activists in Massachusetts have advocated for decades for a change to the Massachusetts seal, which is viewed by many as racist and over-generalizing. The original version of this bill was filed in 1985 by former State Representative Byron Rushing, a prominent Boston civil rights leader, and has been filed in some form in every session of the Massachusetts Legislature since then.

The commission will include:

Five members appointed by the Commission on Indian Affairs who are descendants of tribes with a historical presence in the commonwealth;
Four members appointed by the governor with relevant cultural and historical expertise;
The executive director of the Massachusetts Commission on Indian Affairs or a designee;
The executive director of the Massachusetts Historical Commission or a designee;
The executive director of the Massachusetts Foundation for the Humanities or a designee;
The executive director of the Massachusetts Cultural Council or a designee; and
The House and Senate chairs of the Joint Committee on State Administration and Regulatory; Oversight.
The commissioners will be appointed within 60 days of the bill becoming law and will make a final report by October 1, 2021.

The legislation now moves to the Massachusetts House of Representatives for consideration.

Senate Passes Bill to Increase Higher Education Opportunities for People with Disabilities, Honoring the 30th Anniversary of the Americans with Disabilities Act

Today, the Massachusetts State Senate passed legislation which removes existing barriers for students with intellectual disabilities, autism spectrum disorders or other developmental disabilities so they can attend public institutions of higher education. The bill, which passed with bipartisan support, honors the spirit of the Americans with Disabilities Act (ADA), which was signed into law 30 years ago this week by President George H.W. Bush.

Under An Act Creating Higher Education Opportunities for Students with Intellectual and Developmental Disabilities, students would not be required to pass the MCAS, have a high school diploma, meet minimum requirements for academic courses, or take college entrance exams in order to access inclusive academic, social, and career development opportunities on college campuses with their peers. In addition, the bill also makes clear that strengthening access to higher education for students with disabilities is a goal of the Commonwealth's higher education system.

“We have made great strides in Massachusetts to provide inclusive opportunities for persons with disabilities, but there is always more work to be done,” said Senate President Karen E. Spilka (D-Ashland). “I appreciate the overwhelming support for advancing this bill and look forward to seeing it make its way through the legislative process. I would like to thank Senators Rodrigues, Lovely and Gobi for their attention to this important issue.”

“As we honor the 30th anniversary of the Americans with Disabilities Act, the Senate’s passage of this bill today marks another important step towards removing barriers, creating access and opening doors of opportunity and possibility for individuals with disabilities,” said Senator Michael J. Rodrigues (D- Westport) Chair, Senate Committee on Ways and Means. “I applaud Senator President Spilka for her support and leadership, Senator Lovely for her commitment to this critical issue, and our partners—school districts and public higher education institutions—for their collaborative efforts to ensure full inclusion of individuals with disabilities within our Commonwealth.”

“A little more than thirty years after the Americans with Disabilities Act became U.S. law, I am proud that the Senate has expanded this legacy by passing An Act Creating Higher Education Opportunities for Students with Intellectual and Developmental Disabilities,” said Senator Joan B. Lovely (D-Salem). “Breaking down barriers to higher education for persons with developmental and intellectual disabilities so they can enroll in college courses and participate in extracurricular activities represents a right and long overdue step for young people of all abilities. I am excited to see all of the great changes that will result if this bill becomes law, and am deeply appreciative to Senate President Spilka and Ways & Means Chair Rodrigues for their visionary leadership.”

“The opportunity to attend one of our many state community colleges, colleges and universities and the further opportunities that creates in life is something that many people strive for. All students deserve that regardless of their abilities,” said Senator Anne Gobi (D-Spencer), co-chair of the Joint Committee on Higher Education.

“As we celebrate the 30th anniversary of the groundbreaking Americans With Disabilities Act, I commend Senate President Spilka, Chairman Rodrigues, Speaker DeLeo, House Speaker Pro Tempore Haddad and their colleagues in the Legislature for creating opportunities in higher education for students with intellectual and developmental disabilities,” said University of Massachusetts President Marty Meehan. “This legislation builds on the university’s ongoing efforts to expand access to higher education through innovative programming.”

“Now, on the 30th anniversary of the ADA, the strongest civil rights law in the nation for people with disabilities, we at the MDSC applaud Senate President Spilka, Chair Rodrigues, Senator Lovely and members of the Massachusetts State Senate for passing Senate Bill S. 2844, which will open doors of opportunity for students with intellectual disabilities to gain access to higher education opportunities in an inclusive college setting,” said Maureen Gallagher, Executive Director of the Massachusetts Down Syndrome Congress. “For too long, public school options for students with intellectual disabilities transitioning to adulthood have been limited and the passage of this bill removes those existing barriers and ensures that people with intellectual disabilities have access to higher education that will lead to more opportunities for meaningful integrated employment and a fulfilling life in the community.”

“We are proud that many community colleges are already experienced with inclusive concurrent enrollment programs, and know first-hand that participating students gain life skills and education that increase their ability to live more empowered, independent, and inclusive lives,” said Tom Sannicandro, Director of the Massachusetts Association of Community Colleges. “This bill creates a life changing opportunity by breaking down barriers to higher education for students with disabilities. We are happy to see the bill move forward to expand this critical program to more students in Massachusetts.”

“MAC applauds the Senate, our public higher education institutions, and school districts for working together to enact legislation that will remove barriers and provide access,” said Julia Landau, Senior Project Director of Mass Advocates for Children. “With this bill, persons with intellectual disabilities and autism will be able to participate in college and gain the skills necessary to successfully live and work in the community.”

“Advocates for Autism of Massachusetts strongly supports Senate passage of S. 2844, to provide college access for individuals with disabilities,” said Michael J. Borr, President and Chair of AFAM. “This higher education initiative can significantly change the trajectory of life for a young adult with autism. Participating in college courses alongside their peers, provides people with autism needed opportunities for growth and community inclusion. The CDC estimates that 2.21% of adults are diagnosed with autism and approximately 80% are unemployed. Many of these individuals would benefit greatly from the skill sets and much improved employment outcomes that this legislation provides.”

Building on the success of the Massachusetts Inclusive Concurrent Enrollment Initiative (MAICEI) grant program, the bill codifies that program, which enables school districts and public institutions of higher education to partner together to offer inclusive concurrent enrollment initiative options for students with disabilities ages 18 to 22. Since 2007, over 1,200 students with disabilities have taken advantage of the opportunity to participate academically and socially in the life of participating colleges in Massachusetts through the MAICEI program.

In response to the challenges facing school districts and public higher education institutions during the COVID-19 pandemic, the Senate bill ensures no additional costs are placed on a school district beyond the existing obligations already required under state and federal special education law.

Furthermore, the bill also ensures that colleges are not required to bear any additional costs of providing individual supports and services for students with severe intellectual disabilities, severe autism spectrum disorders, or other severe developmental disabilities who attend the college through the MACEI initiative.

Finally, the bill delays the implementation of the requirements placed on our school districts and higher education institutions within the bill until the 2021–2022 school year.

The bill now heads to the Massachusetts House of Representatives.

Statement from Senate President Karen E. Spilka on Extending Session

"The Senate is pleased that the House has agreed with us to extend the session to complete vital legislation and stand ready to act as required by the COVID-19 crisis. This session extension does not affect the urgency of enacting the Reform, Shift + Build Act; I am confident that our colleagues in the House share our commitment to acting on this matter by the end of the week. – Senate President Karen E. Spilka (D-Ashland)"