As we start the second year of the two-year legislative session, this month’s newsletter takes a look at the progress made on Beacon Hill so far in this session. I am pleased to report that the House has enacted a number of forward-looking policies.
Net Zero Greenhouse Gas Emissions by 2050
Last year, we passed an ambitious new law to address climate change and boost clean energy production. I was an early co-sponsor of the measure — An Act Creating a Next-Generation Roadmap for Massachusetts Climate Policy — and deeply involved in helping to develop it. Just some of its innovative and important features include:
- Sets a statewide net zero limit on greenhouse gas emissions by 2050 and mandates emissions limits every five years, as well as limits for specific sectors of the economy, including transportation and buildings;
- Codifies environmental justice provisions, defining environmental justice populations and providing new tools and protections for affected neighborhoods;
- Authorizes an additional 2,400 megawatts of offshore wind, building on previous legislative action and thereby increases the total to 5,600 megawatts (enough to power 3.2 million homes);
- Sets appliance energy efficiency standards for a variety of common appliances including plumbing, faucets, computers, and commercial appliances;
- Adopts several measures aimed at improved gas pipeline safety, including increased fines for safety violations and regulations related to training and certifying utility contractors;
- Increases the Renewable Portfolio Standard (RPS) by 3 percent each year from 2025 through 2029, resulting in at least 40 percent renewable energy by 2030;
Emergency Paid Sick Time
Last spring, the Legislature passed a new law to enact emergency paid sick time. The law gives protection to Massachusetts workers impacted by the pandemic throughout the remainder of the public health crisis. This newly created right is in addition to the far-reaching Paid Family and Medical Leave (PFML) law that became effective January 1st of 2021. Emergency paid sick leave may be taken by an employee who needs to:
- Self-isolate due to a Covid diagnosis; seek diagnosis or treatment; obtain a Covid vaccine or recover from receiving a vaccine;
- Care for a family member who is self-isolating, needs medical diagnosis or treatment due to Covid;
- Quarantine due to a quarantine order;
- Care for a family member subject to a quarantine order;
- Cannot tele-work due to symptoms.
The mail-in voting law we passed in 2020 was a resounding success, leading to record voter turnout even during the pandemic. While other states are trying to roll back voting rights, we are expanding them. I was pleased to join my colleagues in the Legislature in voting to extend mail-in voting and early voting options for municipal elections held through the end of June 2021. These extensions expired on December 15th. I will continue to be a vocal supporter of making these important election reforms permanent and believe the Legislature will do so.
The Fair Share Amendment
Last summer, I voted in a Constitutional Convention to advance the Fair Share Amendment to the 2022 ballot. As a result, this coming November the citizens of Massachusetts will be given a chance to vote the amendment into law and thereby add it to our state constitution. The Fair Share Amendment will add an additional tax of four percentage points (4%) on the portion of a person’s annual income above $1 million and use the resulting revenue to invest in education and transportation. In an era of profound income inequality — and a time of exceptional need for financing of education and transportation systems — it is vitally important to move this forward and I hope the voters do so. For more information, you can find it in a previous newsletter here.
This summer, the House passed legislation aimed at bringing the Commonwealth in line with its neighboring states who have already legalized wagering on sports. The bill would permit betting on professional sports and the outcome of college contests, but not on the performance of individual college athletes. The idea has support in the House and is under consideration in the Senate.
Extension on Emergency Covid-19 Measures
Following the expiration of the state of emergency last June 15th, the Governor signed legislation that was passed by the House and Senate, extending certain measures adopted during the state of emergency. This law extends the now-expired provisions from the original state of emergency for various lengths of time. This bill allows beer, wine, and cocktails to-go to continue (until May 1, 2022) and requires prices be the same for on and off-premises beverage consumption. It also extends outdoor dining allowances until April 1, 2022. Additionally, the law extends remote meeting allowances for various sectors and municipalities. Remote public body meetings that took place prior to the signing of this bill are validated retroactively as well. Thanks to these allowances, public bodies will be allowed to continue to meet virtually while remaining in compliance with public access regulations.
State House and Congressional Redistricting
The House and Senate passed legislation approving redistricting plans, which will establish new district boundaries for all members of the Legislature starting next session, January 2023. Civil rights and voting rights activists have praised the new districts as a major victory! The activists had hoped that 29 of the 160 House seats would be “majority-minority” voting populations, and the House version has 33 of them, exceeding expectations. You can find out more information about the state representative district here.
The maps for congressional districts were also redrawn. Belmont and Arlington will continue to have Katherine Clark as their congresswoman. Some parts of our Cambridge district, falling in Ward 11-3, that are currently represented by Ayanna Pressley will now fall under Congresswoman Clark, starting in 2023. Ward 11-1 will continue to be represented by Congresswoman Pressley. You can view the official map here and an interactive map here.
Recently, I voted to pass H.4249, An Act concerning genocide education. This bill, which is now law, codified genocide education in middle and high school curriculum. It aims to encourage meaningful conversations about the darkest moments in history. The bill also establishes the Genocide Education Trust Fund to bolster educational resources on these topics.
Addressing the Health Care Market
The House passed H.1260, An Act enhancing the market review process in an effort to promote a more balanced health care market, by strengthening the regulatory processes for health care expansions. This bill creates a stronger review process to ensure that when large hospital systems expand, they are not infringing on community hospital markets and raising health care costs for patients. The bill mandates the continued upkeep of a health resource inventory, which provides regulators with a better understanding of the Commonwealth’s existing health care resources to inform these review processes and future reform efforts.
The State Budget
Last summer, the House and Senate passed the final FY2022 budget. Despite the extraordinary nature of the challenges brought on by the pandemic, the budget for this fiscal year makes investments to help put the Commonwealth on a path toward economic recovery. You can read more about the budget, including how funding was allocated to our communities in a previous newsletter here.
Additional Funding Allocations
American Rescue Plan Act
One of the most remarkable developments in the Legislature this year was the availability of federal relief funds through the American Rescue Plan Act (ARPA), the $1.9 trillion economic stimulus bill signed by President Biden. These funds are designed to offset the negative impacts of the pandemic and make important investments to help us recover, representing new federal funding on a massive scale. Each of the fifty states received an allocation.
The Commonwealth of Massachusetts received $5.3 billion for statewide allocations, presenting a rare and valuable opportunity to address not only pandemic relief, but also some of the systemic inequalities revealed by this last year and a half. I wrote in some detail about the ARPA funding in a previous newsletter, which you can read here.
Federal Infrastructure Bill
Just over a month ago, President Biden signed a massive federal Infrastructure Bill, totaling over $1 trillion. The new law – an effort to address decades of neglect – will boost spending for critical infrastructure programs across the fifty states. Depending on how the funds are distributed, the Legislature may have an opportunity to direct some of this funding just as we did with the ARPA spending. If that is the case, I will be a vigorous advocate for projects in our communities. In great news, already included in the allocations for the Commonwealth is $3.5 million for Phase 1 of the Belmont Community Path. This is the second important milestone for the project of late; the 25% design plans were also recently submitted to MassDOT. I am pleased to see that my advocacy and the advocacy of others for this project has been successful. The Belmont Community Path project is not only important for Belmont, but also for the larger goal of linking community paths throughout the region (known as the Central Rail Trail Project).