Proposed Legislation

What specific, concrete things do I want to see happen?  Here are some details and reasons.  Where it exists, I have also linked to actual proposed legislation that would get the job done.


Electoral Reform

Replace our first-past-the-post voting system with Condorcet voting.
Currently, whoever gets the most votes is the winner -- the first past the post (FPTP).  This seems simple and fair, but it also encourages all sorts of problems.  FPTP helps lock in the two-party duopoly on power, shutting out alternative views by ensuring the any significant third-party vote can only hurt either Republicans or Democrats by acting as a spoiler.  It also encourages extremism and tribalism, since so many people are afraid to break from their party.  If local and state elections switched to Condorcet, they would be able to rank their preference honestly, seeking their best outcome without needing to fear contributing to their worst outcome.  Condorcet will also reduce negative campaigning, since just attacking an opponent won't be enough to win if there's more than two real choices.  Politicians will need to win the voters over with their ideas -- and all ideas will have a fair shot.

End gerrymandering by pushing states to draw congressional districts via nonpartisan institutions.
All too often, political parties work to draw congressional districts so that their opponent's strength is either diluted into uselessness or concentrated in a single small safe seat. States should be allowed to experiment with innovations like algorithmic selection (where a computer draws district lines based on nothing but selected criteria), but should also be nudged to consider imitating the process in Iowa, which uses a nonpartisan Legislative Services Agency (much like the national Congressional Budget Office) and a three-step process to redistrict after each census.  Since some states may not wish to threaten a one-party dominance and because it is unconstitutional to compel their compliance, incentive funds should be made available to both pay for the transition, any resulting additional costs, and some other services.

Economic Reform
[c.f. "Working Too Hard for Too Little" (PDF) by Sen. Sherrod Brown (D-OH)]

Invigorate the myRA program and nudge workers into starting to invest.
Establish in law the myRA program created under President Obama, creating an account for every worker and automatically enrolling them in the program (with the option to opt-out).  Those who need every dollar can decide not to save for their retirement right now, but most will choose to contribute to this automatic myRA.  A generation of workers could be encouraged to provide for their own future, preserving their dignity and saving the whole country money on their later upkeep.

Raise the federal minimum wage to $15.
Currently, someone working full time at the federal minimum wage of $7.50 makes $15,600 a year.  That's unacceptable in a country where the median income is $52,000.  As a general principle, if someone works a full-time job, they should be able to support themselves.  We should pass the Pay Workers a Living Wage Act.

Revise the tax code to eliminate abusive loopholes.
In order to avoid rules that require employers treat workers fairly and some tax requirements, many employers will use tricks  -- like classifying them as independent contractors.  We should get rid of these loopholes and strengthen enforcement penalties to give the changes some teeth.  This can be accomplished by passing the Fair Playing Field Act.

Simplify the process of filing tax returns.
Tax preparation companies (such as Intuit, which owns TurboTax) spend millions lobbying to prevent common-sense reforms that would make it easier for everyone to file their return.  The federal government already has all the information on almost everyone's W2, for example, since your employer has already sent it to them.  Why not send everyone a return that's already mostly complete?  Congress shouldn't make filing taxes more difficult, no matter how much the tax prep industry donates.  We need to support and immediately pass the Tax Filing Simplification Act.

We should protect the rights of workers to unionize, and penalize those companies that try to take away their rights.
Strong unions built a strong middle class, and a strong middle class built a strong America.  Too many companies try to break unions before they've begun so that they can continue to stack up corporate profits (currently at record levels) instead of paying decent wages (nearly stagnant).  We should pass the WAGE Act.

All workers should get paid family leave.
Our children are the most important investment we could ever make as a nation, and that's not only true for the children of the more fortunate.  We should pass the Family and Medical Insurance Leave Act so that everyone gets a chance to make sure they can take care of themselves and their families.

Make it possible for employees to sue over wage theft and get compensated for the hours of their life that have been stolen.
Wage theft is far too common.  Employers in many industries routinely demand that their employees come in early or stay late without any compensation -- and because it's so difficult to hold them accountable, most employees are forced to let it go.  We should make it easier and pass the Wage Theft Prevention and Wage Recovery Act.

Require all major employers provide at least some minimal amount of paid sick leave.
It's shortsighted for Americans to be forced to sacrifice their health or that of their families on the altar of employment.  Good health and good jobs should work together, not oppose each other.  Every employee should be able to earn an hour of sick leave for every thirty hours they work -- eight days of sick leave for self or family for everyone working a full workweek for a full year.  We should pass the Healthy Families Act to require this.


Provide a public option.
There should be a public option nationwide -- a government-run insurance program to provide competition and an alternative in every county.  Some counties only have one insurer available, allowing that company to set prices as they please.  Everyone deserves options, and so we should establish a program within the Department of Health and Human Services to administer one in a fair and universal fashion.  We should pass the CHOICE Act.

Civil Rights

Make net neutrality the law and regulate internet service providers as utilities.
Most Americans do not have a choice in their internet provider, since in many places the local ISP is a de facto monopoly (and in some places it's even a de jure monopoly!)  And in the same way that your power company isn't permitted to charge you extra for electricity if you're using an unapproved brand of microwave, your internet company shouldn't be permitted to charge you extra for visiting certain websites.  If big companies can make deals with ISPs like Comcast or Spectrum to get favorable treatment for their websites, then opportunities for online innovation by the little guy will be wiped out.  If a "ComcastMedia" service gets special treatment and streams twice as fast as Netflix or Spotify... well, goodbye Netflix and Spotify!  We should immediately pass the Snowe-Dorgan bill.

Prevent internet service providers from selling your private information.
Since most Americans don't have a choice in their ISP, that ISP should not be able to profit from their personal information.  Just as it would be illegal for your water company to sell your personal information about your water use, it should be illegal for your ISP to sell your browsing history, location, or other private information to other companies.  We should pass the Broadband Privacy Protection Act (PDF).

Amend the Civil Rights Act of 1964 to include sexual orientation and gender identity as protected classes.
No one should be discriminated against on the basis of who they love or their gender.  Regardless of an employer's religious convictions, they don't have the right to try to force their beliefs on another by threatening someone's livelihood or success.  I am not aware of a bill to this effect, but the legislative language need only be a few sentences to appropriately amend the relevant law.

Reform mandatory minimum laws and respect state decisions on marijuana.
Federal mandatory minimums for drug offenses should be halved, and the Drug Enforcement Administration should respect state decisions about marijuana.


Institute cap-and-trade to further pressure companies away from carbon-intensive power plans.
Global warming is the biggest threat we face today.  Even if you doubt the scientific method and think global warming is a Chinese hoax, there's little risk in following the rest of the world and investing in the technology of the future -- beyond the possibility that we'll be forever doomed to cheap, clean, and sustainable power (heaven forfend).  We should update and pass an amended version of the American Clean Energy and Security Act as well as fund a nationwide direct current (DC) backbone as envisioned in the Solar Grand Plan (PDF).


Launch a statewide baby box program.
Last year, New Jersey became the first state to implement a statewide "baby box" program, providing to each prospective new parent a sturdy cardboard box filled with parenting supplies.  The Berkshires is fortunate enough to have a nonprofit that does the same thing: Berkshire Baby Box.  We should support a grant program to offer similar programs throughout our states, making baby boxes available to new parents after brief parenting workshops.  Reducing the incidence of co-sleeping or other unsafe sleeping practices can lower infant mortality, particularly among minority communities -- Hispanic infants are 50% more likely to die in infancy as white infants, and black infants are twice as likely to die in infancy as white infants -- and among young parents of every ethnicity.  An appropriation of $7 million would reflect $100 expenditure for every baby born in Massachusetts last year, a sufficient amount to pay for sufficient baby boxes as well as provide training classes through existing organizations to distribute the boxes.  For New York, $24 million.  For Vermont, $6 million.

Bring in refugees and support their settlement.
For many communities in the Berkshire area, one of the most glaring problems is the loss of a substantial industrial or commercial base, and this problem is only exacerbated by the increasing average age of these communities (which makes it even more difficult to reverse the trend).  In Massachusetts, New York, and Vermont, recent research shows that immigrants fully repay the net cost of resettlement and social services by only the second generation (in fact, the return to the economy is threefold by the second generation in New York, and fivefold in Vermont!).  While difficult to effect direct action without federal cooperation, the Berkshires should press our local officials to do everything possible to make it clear that refugees are not just welcome here as a moral issue, but they are desperately needed in the long term to revive our populations and our tax base.

Automatically register voters.
There's not really any good reason to require voters to fill out forms or submit applications to register to vote.  The government often acquires your information in a verifiable way during processes like registering for Selective Service.  It would be simple and cheap to automatically register all voters at that time, and regularly update the voter rolls during other common processes like obtaining a driver's license.  If necessary, the process could be made opt-out.  Vermont has already enabled this reform -- Massachusetts and New York should follow suit.

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