I am pleased to report that we have passed a number of pieces major legislation to help move our Commonwealth forward during the 2013/2014 legislative session. The Legislature’s ability to act boldly on these important initiatives is particularly notable in light of the profound dysfunction in Washington. Some highlights of the Massachusetts’ Legislature’s work this session are laid out below.
Transportation Finance – The first months of the 2013/2014 legislation featured a high profile debate over how to fund much-needed transportation investments. I took a very tough vote in support of Governor Patrick’s bold proposal to raise almost $2 billion to improve and expand transportation in the Commonwealth as well as make substantial investments in early education. Ultimately, however, the House and Senate agreed on a more modest bill to raise around $500 million annually. Although I worry this is not enough to make all of the investments necessary to ensure quality public transit and transportation infrastructure in Massachusetts during the coming years, it is a major step in the right direction. The revenue package also enabled us to fund a $12 billion transportation bond bill for large and small transportation projects throughout Massachusetts over the coming decade, including new Red and Orange Line cars and a project to make major improvements to the intersection of Routes 2 and 16 by Alewife Station.
Minimum Wage/Unemployment Insurance Reform – After a statewide push to put the issue on the ballot for which I helped gather signatures, the House and Senate voted to increase the minimum wage in Massachusetts in stages to $11 per hour by 2017 and to make sensible updates to our unemployment insurance system. Come 2017, Massachusetts will have the highest minimum wage of any state in the nation.
Gun Safety – This substantial piece of legislation, which I proudly co-sponsored, reaffirms Massachusetts’ place as a national leader on gun safety. The final bill includes a number of measures to help keep the people of the Commonwealth safe while respecting second amendment rights. The bill eliminates class B firearm licenses for rifles and shotguns, increases fines and penalties for a number of firearm-related offenses, enhances mental health services on school campuses, increases oversight of second-hand purchases, and lays groundwork for gathering data to learn more about firearms in Massachusetts.
Public Housing Reform – Entering the 2013/2014 legislative session, consensus had built around the need for public housing reform in Massachusetts. This consensus resulted in a bill increasing oversight and training for local housing authority staff. The new law also standardizes applications for public housing statewide and creates a pilot program to share housing authority capital costs and stretch our housing dollars as far as they can go.
Campaign finance – The corrosive effect of unlimited, undisclosed private money in our political system, particularly given the Citizens United decision, is deeply troubling. We took action this session to protect our democracy by passing a campaign finance reform bill requiring the disclosure of the sources of Super PAC donations.
Election law – In an effort to modernize election laws in the Commonwealth and bolster voter turnout, we passed a bill to update our elections laws. Changes include: early voting in biennial state elections (starting in 2015), voter preregistration at age 16, online voter registration, and post-election audits.
Safe Access – When the Supreme Court struck down the Massachusetts “buffer zone” law, it was imperative that we act quickly to establish new protections for women seeking reproductive health care. In addition to empowering law enforcement officers to disband misbehaving protesters (who would then need to remain 25 feet from the entrance to the facility), the bill disallows injuring or intimidating any person trying to accessing or departing from a facility, impeding any patient or staff member’s access to or departure from a facility, and recklessly interfering with vehicles attempting to access or depart from a facility.
Juvenile Sentencing and Criminal Justice Reform – This law brings Massachusetts law in line with the scientific community and Federal rules by trying 17 year-olds as juveniles rather than adults. Although we were not able to pass a larger criminal justice reform bill, the issue has momentum going into 2015 and is a top priority of mine going forward.