The purpose of public service is to help others however you can. I take great pride in working across the aisle and in our communities to foster tangible positive change.
People with Disabilities
Senator O'Connor has long been an advocate for those with intellectual and developmental disabilities. In March of 2020, O'Connor was named the Legislator of the Year by the Massachusetts Developmental Disabilities Council (MDDC). His efforts have focused on inclusionary employment opportunities, protecting our most vulnerable with a new caretaker abuse registry, and creating more adult disabled housing.
After first being sworn-in to office in 2016, the Joyce family walked into Senator O’Connor’s office and told him about the abuse their nonverbal son, Dana, was experiencing at his group home. That meeting led to Senator O’Connor filing Dana’s law. The bill establishes a registry of individuals found to have committed abuse against those with intellectual or developmental disabilities. Group homes serving these populations would be required to check the registry during the application process, and any individual who appears on the registry would be barred from employment. Dana’s Law was signed by Governor Baker in March of 2020.
In 2019, Senator O'Connor co-hosted a panel with the MDDC to discuss the challenges and achievements regarding employment and accessibility for those living with disabilities. The panel discussed strategies that will allow the Commonwealth to increase employment opportunities that those living with disabilities.
Senator O'Connor was also able to secure $180,000 for the Town of Cohasset to launch their project to build a new home for adults with disabilities to replace the Trettis House. The Town broke ground on the project in December of 2019 and it is expected be complete by the end of 2020. The project will not only ensure comfortable living conditions for its residents, it will also provide the opportunity for them to live a productive life in a wonderful community.
In a recent supplemental budget, Senator O'Connor was able to secure $100,000 for the Friendship Home in Norwell to assist with their operation. The Friendship Home enriches the lives of individuals with developmental disabilities and their families by providing quality respite care and support services in a safe and caring environment.
In addition, Senator O’Connor has consistently filed legislation to create a commission to study the availability of adult disabled housing stock in Massachusetts. The commission is tasked with determining the level of need for more accessible housing, as well as best practices and costs to increase housing stock to meet that level of need.
Most of all, Senator O'Connor enjoys the time he is able to spend with his friends at the South Shore Arc - whether it's the Arc's annual Summer BBQ, Pumpkin Carving event, or even a tour of the State House.
Senator O’Connor’ s first speech as a member of the Senate was dedicated to ending veteran homelessness in Massachusetts. That day, the Senate adopted O’Connor’s amendment that sought to make the final push to get every last Veteran off the streets and provide them the safety, comfort, and happiness they deserve. While we have made great strides in confronting this issue, Senator O'Connor believes there is always more we can do to find a home for the Commonwealth's 1,200 homeless veterans.
Since that speech, two new Veterans Home's have broken ground on the South Shore. In 2017, Weymouth opened its new Veterans’ Home on Main Street after two years of construction - a project Senator O'Connor supported during his time on the Weymouth Town Council. In 2019, Marshfield also broke ground on their own Veterans Home - Senator O'Connor secured $100,000 in a previous state budget to support the design, planning, and construction costs for this project.
In 2016, Senator O’Connor voted in favor of the Veterans’ HOME Bill - the legislation provided substantial housing services for disabled Veterans, benefits for their families, tax exemptions, and other well-deserved privileges. Two years later, O’Connor’s amendment to the BRAVE Act increased the Veteran property tax deduction program by 90% - allowing Veteran’s to decrease their property tax burden. The BRAVE Act expand benefits and increase access to a range of services for veterans, active-duty military, and their families.
Veterans were willing to put their lives on the line to protect our freedoms and Senator O'Connor believes we should do everything we can to support them when they come home.
Senator O'Connor is committed to ensuring the programs the Commonwealth has in place are dedicating to lifting those experiencing difficult times out of poverty. Often-times, those most deeply impacted by low-income are children, seniors, and veterans.
Emergency Assistance Shelter Program
In the Fiscal Year 2020 budget, Senator O'Connor offered an amendment that sought to end what is known as the "cliff effect" in the Emergency Assistance shelter program. The Cliff Effect is the unfortunate situation where a person headed toward economic stability earns a wage increase, but the raise triggers the loss of benefits that are worth more than the raise. It’s a huge setback that often keeps people in poverty.
Those that have been a part of the Emergency Assistance (EA) shelter program in Massachusetts are familiar with this phenomenon. In order to qualify for this program, households must earn less than 115% of the federal poverty level; for a family of three, this means less than $24,530 a year ($2,044 a month). Once in shelter, families must develop and adhere to a rehousing plan, which includes activities to increase their economic mobility and move towards self-sufficiency. However, in Massachusetts, you are kicked out of the EA shelter program if you end up succeeding and earning more than 115% of the poverty level.
Senator O’Connor's amendment raised the cap of maximum household earnings for the shelter program from 115% of the poverty level to 200%. This change now allows that family of three to earn up to $42,660 a year ($3,555 a month) and still be a part of the EA shelter program. This increase to 200% ensures that families can actually work their way off government assistance and not fall back into the emergency shelter program.
Breakfast After the Bell
In Massachusetts, roughly one in eight children face food insecurity. We also know that when children come to school hungry, they are unable to perform their best and as a result, their academics suffer. With this in mind, Senator O’Connor voted in favor of legislation, known as Breakfast After the Bell, that requires schools with more than 60% low-income students to offer breakfast to the entire student body. This will bring access to breakfast for roughly 600 schools and over 150,000 low-income students across Massachusetts.
The program may be delivered through a variety of models, allowing schools the flexibility to select the model that best fits their students’ needs. As a federally reimbursed program, Breakfast After the Bell has the potential to provide up to $30 million statewide to Massachusetts schools, with payments made directly to school nutrition departments - helping to support jobs, update kitchen equipment, and provide healthier menu options. Senator O'Connor believes giving our students the best resources they need to succeed starts with making sure they are healthy and able to learn.
Low Income Heating Energy Assistance Program (LIHEAP)
In March of 2020, Senator O’Connor and his colleagues passed a mid-year supplemental budget to address many time sensitive deficiencies and unforeseen needs across the Commonwealth that require immediate attention. This included $15 million for the Low Income Heating Energy Assistance Program (LIHEAP). This investment helped over 40,000 vulnerable low-income households – including low-income families with children, seniors and veterans – stay warm throughout the remainder of the winter.
Crossroads has a variety of services that work to serve under-resourced kids in a safe and stimulating environment – their largest summer program is Camp Wing in Duxbury. At all of their programs, kids set and achieve goals, gain new skills through challenges, make positive choices, and develop healthy relationships with their peers and adults. The extra support Crossroads provides makes a real difference in these children’s lives and we can’t thank them enough for their work. Senator O'Connor always looks forward to visiting Camp Wing each summer and is always blown away with the guidance, resources, and skills the program provides to children in the community.
To thank Senator O'Connor for his work, he was named the Crossroads 2019 Legislator of the Year award for his work advocating for policies on Beacon Hill that allow them to further their community-building mission.
Summer Backpack Program (Weymouth)
This past summer, Weymouth Public Schools offered free lunches to residents under age 18 to alleviate the hunger some children face when they lose access to school meals over the summer. During the 2016 - 2017 school year, teachers at the Abigail Adams Middle School launched a weekend backpack program to provide weekend meals for kids in need and coordinated with the Weymouth Food Pantry to get the program running. In 2019, the Weymouth Food Pantry announced plans to embark on a project where volunteers pick up leftover or unused products from restaurants - opening up a huge supply of additional food. Over the past two fiscal years, Senator O’Connor worked with the town, the food pantry, and his legislative colleagues to secure $37,000 to assist in their operation.
Student Opportunity Act (Statewide)
Senator O’Connor served on the conference committee responsible for producing a final version of the Student Opportunity Act – legislation that invests an additional $2.2 billion (accounting for inflation) over a seven-year phase-in period into K-12 public education. This is the most significant change to public education funding in twenty-five years and adjusts the funding formula to better account for the additional resources districts with higher special education, English learner, and low-income students populations. Every child deserves a high-quality education, regardless of their zip code.
Senator O'Connor is proud to partner with the local senior centers to ensure they have the resources they need to carryout successful programs. This includes working to secure:
- $19 million for the Councils on Aging to help senior citizens in the FY20 budget
- $75,000 in the FY20 budget for the Marshfield Senior Center to make renovations, accessibility improvements, and security upgrades.
- $2 million in the Capital Bond Bill in 2018 for the Town of Scituate to improve their Senior Center. This funding was used to contribute towards the design, engineering, construction, renovation, expansion, and general improvements to the facility. The facility is expected to be completed in the fall of 2020.
- $50,000 in the FY19 state budget to make improvements to the Duxbury Senior Center to adjust for their growing senior population.
At the beginning of the COVID-19 pandemic, Senator O’Connor visited South Shore Elder Services to donate 100 masks to their staff and thank them for their tireless efforts to deliver the services so many of our seniors need. Their staff stepped up for thousands of our seniors and ensured their Meals on Wheels program continued to operate at full capacity.
In addition to partnering with the local senior centers, Senator O'Connor has also filed and sponsored legislation that will directly benefit our seniors. This includes helping to pass legislation addressing the Alzheimer’s Crisis (S.2612, the Massachusetts Alzheimer’s and Dementia Act). The legislation sought to improve cost effectiveness and patient and caregiver experience in acute care settings, incorporate Alzheimer’s curriculum in continuing medical education programs, ensure proper notification of an Alzheimer's to families, and more. Over 130,000 people are currently living with Alzheimer’s disease in Massachusetts — those individuals are being cared for by more than 337,000 family and friends. According to the Alzheimer’s Association, in 2018 Massachusetts will spend more than $1.6 billion in Medicaid costs caring for people with Alzheimer’s.
Senator O'Connor also teaches a Lifelong Learning class with Rep. Josh Cutler at the Duxbury Senior Center to discuss important bills on Beacon Hill and the issues that are important to seniors. The room is always filled with engaged citizens with great opinions and ideas on how to continue to move Massachusetts forward.
Senator O'Connor has filed legislation that is supported by the Mass. Coalition To End Puppy Mills, MSPCA-Angell, The Humane Society of the United States, Sweet Paws Rescue, the Animal Rescue League of Boston.
This includes S175. “An Act banning the retail sale of cats and dogs in pet shops” - the legislation would prohibit the sale of dogs and cats in retail pet shops unless the animals come from shelters or rescue organizations. Right now, pet stores obtain animals from USDA-licensed commercial breeding facilities, commonly known as puppy mills. USDA regulations are so minimal that they allow breeders to keep dogs in cramped, stacked, wire cages for their entire lives, don’t require breeders to vaccinate dogs, and allow mother dogs to be euthanized after they’re no longer able to reproduce.
He has also cosponsored S. 534 – An Act Protecting Research Animals, to require research institutions and product testing facilities that intend to euthanize a dog or cat for any purpose other than scientific, medical, or educational research to offer the dog or cat for adoption to an animal shelter organization first.
In addition, O'Connor is in support of S. 505 – An Act Concerning the Use of Animals in Product Testing, which would require testing facilities to use test methods that replace, reduce, or refine animal testing of products and ingredients when they are available and provide equivalent or better scientific quality and relevance for the intended purpose.
Senator O'Connor was also named a member of the Special Commission to review animal cruelty and domestic abuse reporting that was created by the PAWS II legislation that passed in the summer of 2018. The commission reviewed the feasibility of training Animal Control Officers (ACOs) to become mandated reporters of domestic abuse, and social workers to become mandated reporters of animal abuse because of the strong correlation between those that abuse animals and those that abuse people.
For a question on any of Senator O’Connor’s votes or policy that he supports please click here to ask us.