The two-year formal legislative session runs from January of the first year through July 31st of the second year. Over the past two years, the Legislature accomplished a remarkable record, probably the most far-reaching and productive during my time. Here is a look back at all we have accomplished during the 2017/2018 legislative session.
Of course, I am writing to you at a time of turmoil in our national political climate. That turmoil makes me all the more pleased that we were able to accomplish so many meaningful achievements that stand as a testament to what government can carry out on behalf of its citizens.
Criminal Justice Reforms
The legislature passed criminal justice reform truly worthy of the word “landmark.” Major parts of the reform include a) improvements to our cash bail system designed to make it more fair for defendants, b) eliminating certain mandatory minimums sentences, long a goal for reformers, c) reducing recidivism, and d) making substantive improvements to solitary confinement that are likely to limit its use. The final legislation accomplished many more things than I can briefly list here; you can read more in this newsletter.
Paid Family/Medical Leave and Establishment of $15 Minimum Wage
We passed critical labor/workplace legislation that will guarantee paid family and medical leave in Massachusetts. In addition, this new legislation will raise the minimum wage to $15/hour over the course of five years and raise the wages of tipped employees to $6.75/hour. This puts Massachusetts on the leading edge of both these issues. Read more about this important legislation here.
Pregnant Workers Fairness Act
This law adds pregnancy and its related conditions to existing employment non-discrimination laws. The bill makes it unlawful for an employer to deny a “reasonable accommodation” for pregnancy or a pregnancy-related condition. I filed this legislation and believe it has the potential to help many thousands of women over the coming years. You can read more about this bill and watch the speech I gave on the floor of the House about it here.
Extreme Risk Protection Order Bill
An Act Relative to Firearms, also known as the “red flag” bill, establishes Extreme Risk Protection Orders (ERPOs), which will allow law enforcement and family members to restrict an individual’s access to firearms if they are shown to be a danger to themselves or others. While we will never eliminate all gun violence, we cannot rest in our efforts to limit the likelihood of harm. You can read more about this bill and the students instrumental in its passage here.
Advancing Contraceptive Coverage and Economic Security in our State
The Advancing Contraceptive Coverage and Economic Security in our State bill ensures contraceptive health care for women. The ACCESS bill requires coverage of at least one formula of each kind of birth control within the 18 categories, with no cost-sharing for consumers. You can read more about it here.
Protecting Access to Confidential Health Care
This bill closes a loophole in existing law in order to protect patient privacy. This legislation will allow those who are enrolled as a dependent on another individual’s policy to access and receive care without having private health information printed on the “Explanation of Benefits” (EOB) that is sent to the primary subscriber. You can read more about this bill in my previous newsletter here.
Airbnb — Short-Term Rentals
As short-term rentals become more popular, we have faced the question of how to approach and regulate this new industry. However, we are concerned that investors will buy properties purely to rent them out, removing the property from an already tight housing market. This bill will require owners to register their short-term rental properties for a reasonable fee. In addition, rentals would be taxed in different tiers according to how many properties the owner offers for rent and the location of the rental.
Civics Education and Media Literacy
An Act to Promote and Enhance Civic Engagement, passed by the House on July 25th of this year, is a far-reaching civics bill that incorporates legislation I filed on the development of “media literacy” skills. In an era of so called “Fake News,” it is vitally important that today’s students are engaged citizens, knowledgeable about our system of government, and have the skills necessary to analyze different forms of media. I wrote more about this important piece of legislation here.
Raising Tobacco Sales to 21
This bill, which you can read more about here, An Act to Protect Youth from the Health Risks of Tobacco and Nicotine Addiction, will prohibit the sale of all nicotine delivery products to individuals under the age of 21. Additionally, the bill expands Massachusetts’ Smoke-Free Workplace Law to include the prohibition of e-cigarettes and vaping devices.
An Act to Protect Animal Welfare and Safety in Cities and Towns, also known as PAWS 2, ensures animal abuse is reported and provides efficient and appropriate enforcement of animal control laws. This comprehensive legislation includes a bill I filed which requires landlords and foreclosing owners to check recently vacated and foreclosed properties within three days for the presence of abandoned animals, and to notify the police or animal control officers if an animal is found.
Automatic Voter Registration
The House passed Automatic Voter Registration last month, which would automatically register Massachusetts citizens to vote when they interact with a wide range of governmental offices, such as applying for a license at the RMV or changing an address with MassHealth. This new law is likely to register hundreds of thousands of new voters; it is a boost to democracy.
Early Childhood Education
This legislation would help ensure that high-quality education for low-income children is supported in the subsidy rate structure and establishes a grant for early education mental health services. The bill also directs the Department of Early Education to develop standards to limit the use of suspensions and expulsions in early education.
Removal of Archaic Laws
This act clarifies that women in Massachusetts have the right to an abortion and unmarried women can have access to birth control. It also repeals other unnecessary, prejudiced, and outdated laws that have not been enforced for decades. With the rightward drift of our courts threatening women’s reproductive freedoms, I was pleased to support this bill which will ensure the legality of abortion in our state, even if Roe v. Wade is overturned by the Supreme Court.
This act requires several studies to be performed by the Executive Office of Health and Human Services to research issues relating to the lives of veterans and active service members of the Armed Forces. The legislation also provides necessary updates to a previous law, which allows for the diversion of Armed Forces members and veterans to a treatment program rather than incarceration if they are are suffering from a substance abuse disorder, traumatic brain injury, or mental illness as a result of their service and commit certain crimes.
An Act to Advance Clean Energy
This bill will provide a boost to clean energy usage across the Commonwealth by requiring utilities to increase the renewable energy they are required to purchase (a 2% increase per year from 2020 to 2030). The law also provides for mandatory reports of system vulnerabilities and gas leaks losses. In addition, the act allows for new studies to be performed to determine viability of different strategies to make Massachusetts greener and more energy-efficient. Finally and importantly, the new law makes improvements related to both energy storage and energy efficiency.
This bill contains grants for technical and vocational education, as well as financial support for the arts and tourism. It also protects new entrepreneurs from certain lawsuits, and restricts noncompete clauses. A noncompete clause is a contractual agreement wherein an employee agrees at the time of their employment that they will not work for any competing business if they leave their current position. Among other protections, the bill will limit noncompetes to a 12-month expiration date and ban them for certain groups of people (students, minors, and terminated-without-cause or laid-off employees).