Often this space is used to chide lawmakers for cowardice, stupidity, greed, or cruelty … and rightly so. But every so often, politicians get it right, and it’s important that we celebrate those times as well as bring attention to when our leaders fall short. So below are a few examples from the past few weeks of political leaders hitting the mark and actually doing what they were sent to their respective capitals to do: pass fair laws that will improve the lives of their constituents.
First, our New Hampshire neighbors to the north finally passed a death penalty repeal, making them the last of the New England states to do so. Maine led the way, abolishing the death penalty in 1887. Vermont outlawed it in the 1960s, Massachusetts and Rhode Island ended executions in the 1980s, and Connecticut’s Legislature abolished it in 2012. The New Hampshire state Legislature’s effort was nearly stymied by a veto by Republican Gov. Chris Sununu, but the large legislative body (400 in the House alone) managed to eke out a two-thirds majority to override the veto, with both Democrats and Republicans joining together in the vote.
New Hampshire’s action effectively brings the number of states with and without capital punishment to a draw at 25-25. Twenty-one states have now eliminated the death penalty and four states (California, Colorado, Oregon, and Pennsylvania) have a governor-imposed moratorium on executions.
The death penalty has been shown time and again to be used in a racially biased way. While the U.S. Census shows that only 13.4 percent of the country’s population is African American, the nonprofit Death Penalty Information Center based in Washington, D.C., found that 34.2 percent of the defendants executed since 1976 were African American.
And the death penalty does not appear to be a deterrent either. Violent crime statistics from the United States Justice Department do not show that states without death penalties having a higher rate of crime than those without. Maine has the second lowest rate in the country, and it abolished the death penalty more than 100 years ago. Vermont, which abolished the death penalty more than 50 years ago, had the lowest.
Over in Illinois, the Legislature, responding to the swath of laws passed in various states hostile to abortion rights, affirmed a woman’s fundamental right to an abortion earlier this month. The law repeals a 1975 law that required spousal consent, waiting periods, and put restrictions on abortion facilities. It also rolls back restrictions on late-term abortions and states that a “fertilized egg, embryo, or fetus does not have independent rights.”
Maine also has a new law expanding access to abortions by allowing health care professionals who are not physicians to perform them. In a rural state like Maine, this law allows access to abortion in places where a physician may not be on hand, but other qualified medical professionals are.
The World Health Organization has found that whether or not abortion is legal affects the number of people who seek abortions far less than how safe the procedures are. Women seeking unsafe abortions in countries where the health care procedure is illegal lay themselves open to injury or death. Complications from unsafe abortions account for 13 percent of maternal deaths worldwide, according to the World Health Organization.
Making abortion illegal or difficult to obtain is also a cruel way for often cis male-dominated legislatures to exert baseless authority over the bodies of people with uteruses.
Massachusetts has its own chance to affirm abortion rights with the ROE Act, currently making its way through the Legislature. A hearing has been scheduled from 1 to 5 p.m. on Monday, June 17, at the Gardner Auditorium in the Massachusetts Statehouse in Boston.
And then up in Canada big step forward in the global fight for the environment was accomplished. The country will ban single use plastics, which have been a scourge to the world’s oceans and other pristine places.
Municipalities including Northampton and Amherst have instituted plastic bag bans, and state Sen. Jo Comerford has introduced a bill that would ban them statewide. California and Hawaii already ban single use plastic bags. But Canada’s ban will go further, enlisting scientists to determine which harmful products should be banned.
The World Economic Forum has found that worldwide, the volume of plastic has reached 8.3 billion metric tons. More than 90 percent of birds and fish are reported to have plastic particles in their stomachs, and this plastic comes back to humans through the food chain. The biggest problem is that plastics can take thousands of years to degrade and leak harmful chemical substances in the process.
Canada’s ban will hopefully serve as an inspiration — perhaps for our own state legislature and (dare I say it) our own Congress — to act similarly on plastic.
Do you have an example of a Legislature or other political body doing some good with the power we vest in them? Send it to email@example.com.