The FY2016 and FY2017 Budget
Some of the most far-reaching work of your state legislature is the budget. Each year’s budget is not just a spending blueprint it is a values statement. The 2015/2016 legislative session featured two budgets. The FY2016 budget established new oversight of the MBTA as well as making targeted investments in housing and programming to combat the opioid crisis. The size of the FY2017 budget was revised down at the last minute in light of declining revenue projections, but the budget still manages to increase local aid and funding for Councils on Aging, as well as boosting funding for the Department of Children and Families, among others.
Both budgets feature no new taxes, dedicate additional monies to Massachusetts Stabilization Fund (commonly referred to as the Rainy Day Fund), makes progress towards meeting our unfunded pension obligations, and maintains the Commonwealth’s AA+ bond rating. While I favor a budgetary approach that increases revenue to make greater investments in a number of areas – transportation infrastructure and early education in particular – these are fiscally responsible budgets that position Massachusetts well for the coming years.
The 2015/2016 Legislative Session has been my second in the House. Although the legislative process can seem slow and arduous at times, it is designed to be deliberative and a look back over the accomplishments of the past two years reveals another set of progressive steps forward for the Commonwealth. I have regularly reported on many of these bills in this newsletter. Below is a quick run-through of just some of the accomplishments we made this session.
An Act Relative to Substance Use, Treatment, Education and Prevention
This law represents another step taken by the Legislature to combat the opioid epidemic in Massachusetts. It limits opiate prescriptions first time users, requires verbal screenings of public school students, and mandates hospitals to conduct substance-abuse evaluations on emergency room visitors believed to be suffering from opioid overdose, among other measures. Together with substantial additional investments in the budgets, the Legislature continues to do its part to confront this public health crisis.
An Act Relative to Motor Vehicle License Suspension
Historically people convicted of non-violent drug offense had their drivers license automatically suspended for up to five years with a $500 reinstatement fee. This legislation ends that rule, enabling people who have served their time to successfully re-enter society. Without a car, work is difficult to find, court dates are difficult to make, and rehabilitation meetings are less accessible.
An Act Providing for the Establishment of the Comprehensive Adaptation Management Plan in Response to Climate Change
This law calls for a comprehensive adaptation management action plan advisory committee to be established. This committee would be responsible for putting out a report and a proposal documenting how prepared and vulnerable the states emergency response, energy, transportation, communication and other infrastructure are ready for climate change and predicted sea level rise. It also helps grow the solar industry by allowing for shared solar and virtual metering.
An Act To Improve Public Records
A long-overdue update, this law reduces the time the government has to produce records and encourages cities and towns to make their records more accessible to the public. Making public records what they should be – public – is of critical importance to the health of our democracy and I am glad progress was made on this issue.
An Act Relative to Transgender Anti-Discrimination
This bill marks a major step forward for civil rights in the Commonwealth by prohibiting discrimination in all public accommodations, including hotels, restaurants, public transportation, and sex-segregated locker rooms, bathrooms, grocery stores, and the like. Despite the many and varied issues the Legislature takes up, nothing I do as a state legislator is more important than protecting human rights, civil rights and guaranteeing equal protection under the law.
An Act Regulating Transportation Network Companies
Just passed at the end of session, this bill is meant to regulate companies like Uber and Lyft. This legislation mandates background checks for drivers and imposes a 20 cent per ride fee, proceeds from which would be split between the cities, towns and the Massachusetts Department of Transportation. It would also allow these ride sharing companies to be able to pick up passengers from the Boston Convention Center and would allow drivers to apply for the permits necessary to pick up from Logan Airport.
An Act to Promote Energy Diversity
A comprehensive energy bill, this legislation will require utility companies to buy up to 2,800 megawatts of hydro and wind power. This represents almost one third of the power used in the Commonwealth and will greatly help reduce our carbon footprint as well as helping to strengthen the renewable energy industry in our state. The bill also requires utilities to devise a plan to fix gas leaks.
An Act Relative to Job Creation and Workforce Development
This legislation makes important investments in economic development, including funds for the MassWorks infrastructure, to help clean up brownfields in Massachusetts and to support career and technical education. Also included is a tax deduction to help families to save for college.
An Act Modernizing Municipal Finance and Government
This bill contains updates of obsolete laws. The main goal is to give cities and towns more municipal authority and flexibility over local issues. With this legislation, it will be easier for cities and towns to manage their affairs.
Additional Legislative Actions
Much of the work of your state legislature is accomplished by way of proposals far smaller than those laid out above. While large legislative actions and the state budget understandably grab headlines, good legislation is often more targeted. Some additional legislation of interest that was passed this session includes a law increasing the earned income tax credit for low and middle income families, a law making health care pricing more equitable, requiring the disclosure of in-kind contributions within a week rather than within a year, and legislation replacing “mentally retarded person” with “person with developmental disability” throughout the legal code. These are just a few of the important but more targeted pieces of legislation passed this session that will make our Commonwealth stronger.
Finally, two bills for which I was the lead sponsor appear poised to become law. The first is a measure that creates a fine for parking in bike lanes, which should improve public safety. The other establishes the proper punishment for the solicitation of felony crimes, a fix for a loophole in the law ensuring that soliciting others to commit the most serious crimes will be handled appropriately by our justice system.