Accomplishments of the Massachusetts Legislature
The 186th Session of the Senate
January 2009 – July 2010
Filed by the Governor on January 28, 2009, the Legislature approved this bill on March 5th to reorganize and reshuffle a handful of state agencies, including the placement of emergency shelter operations under the oversight of housing rather than welfare officials. (Chapter 4 of the Acts of 2009)
Assault on Health Care Workers
This legislation increases the criminal penalties for those who assault a nurse or other health care provider while on the job, by mandating a minimum of 90 days in prison or a fine of no less than $500 for anyone who assaults a health care worker who is either treating or transporting them. Massachusetts law already provides for stricter penalties for assault on emergency medical technicians. This bill extends those protections to registered nurses, physical therapists, occupational therapists and other health care professionals. (Ch. 151 of the Acts of 2010, passed by the Senate on June 24, 2010)
This law improves safety regulations for operators of all-terrain vehicles (ATVs) in Massachusetts. The legislation requires ATVs, off-road motorcycles and snowmobiles to be registered and all operators to wear helmets. Unless for a sanctioned race supervised by adults over 18, the bill prohibits anyone under 14 from operating an ATV. Additionally, operators of recreation vehicles under the age of 18 must complete a vehicle safety and responsibility course. It also establishes penalties and fines for reckless and negligent use, leaving the scene of an accident, and unauthorized use and false registration.
Furthermore, it requires that crossings are marked and approved as part of an authorized recreation vehicle trail system. (Signed into law on July 31, 2010, passed by the Senate on January 28, 2010)
Auto Insurance Appeals Board
Filed in response to a proposed administrative action by the Division of Insurance, this legislation preserved the independent Board of Appeals, rather than allowing insurance companies to administer appeals of their own surcharge decisions. (Chapter 9 of the Acts of 2009, passed by the Senate on April 4, 2009)
Closing an existing loophole, this legislation allows state and local law enforcement to prosecute people who are found in possession of bomb-making materials and who intend to construct an explosive device from these component parts. This brings the law of the Commonwealth in line with the federal law, so long as police can prove intent to construct an explosive device from the materials found. In addition criminal penalties are created for: unlawful possession/ use of explosives, unlawful possession/ use of destructive or incendiary devices, and unlawful possession of component materials capable of building a destructive/ incendiary device. (Ch. 160 of the Acts of 2010, passed by the Senate on July 8, 2010)
This legislation enabled the Commonwealth to file a successful grant application for federal stimulus dollars to deploy a broadband line along the I-91 corridor in Western Massachusetts, helping the Commonwealth to achieve its goal of bringing high-speed Internet access to the entire Commonwealth. (Ch. 33 of the Acts of 2009, passed by the Senate on July 14, 2009)
Buzzards Bay Oil Spill
This legislation will clarify and further strengthen the 2008 bill passed to protect Buzzards Bay from oil spills by requiring that the Massachusetts Department of Environmental Protection send a state-provided escort tug to every double hull vessel that is entering Buzzards Bay. The bill further specifies that the tug should be no more than one -quarter of a nautical mile from the vessel in the event that the tug should be needed to navigate the vessel out of danger. The cost of the law will be supported by a 5-cent fee for every barrel of oil delivered to the Commonwealth- a fee that was set up by the initial law in 2004. (Ch. 101 of the Acts of 2009, passed by the Senate on September 17, 2009)
Correctional Officer Safety
In an effort to further protect correctional facility employees from assault and battery by means of a bodily substance; this legislation requires that any person within a correctional facility who assaults an officer, employee, volunteer or contractor will face up to 10 years in jail. (Ch. 74 of the Acts of 2010; passed by the Senate on March 25, 2010)
Clean Energy Center
This legislation consolidates many of the functions now performed separately by the taxpayer-funded Massachusetts clean energy center and the ratepayer-funded Massachusetts Renewable Energy Trust. The legislation contains numerous significant protections to ensure the continued appropriate use of ratepayer funds for the promotion of renewable energy in the electricity sector. (Ch. 158 of the Acts of 2010, passed by the Senate on November 16, 2009)
Criminal Law Reform Bill
This legislation will give employers easier access to criminal records and help former offenders who have stayed out of trouble to re-enter the workforce. The Senate-led initiative also cracks down on sex offenses, requiring GPS tracking of homeless sex offenders and reducing the time in which such offenders must verify registration data and appear at local police departments from every 45 days to every 30 days.
The legislation increases access to the criminal offender record information system (CORI), allowing a greater number of individuals, including employers and landlords, to request records. Availability of felony information is reduced from 15 to 10 years after an inmate’s release and 10 to five years for information on misdemeanor convictions.
Information on all convictions for sex offenses, murder and manslaughter remain available for life. Law enforcement also continues to have full access to CORI. Improved accuracy and faster response times are achieved through a new Internet-based system required by the legislation. (Enacted on July 31, 2010, passed by the Senate on November 18, 2009)
Banning/Prohibition of Devocalization of Cats and Dogs
Making Massachusetts the first state in the nation to ban surgery that devocalizes dogs and cats the Senate passed legislation that would impose criminal penalties on violators. Under this law, any individual who performs, or causes to perform, the surgical devocalization of a dog or cat will be punished by fines or up to five years in prison.
Additionally, commercial establishments, pet shops, firms, corporations or persons cannot sell a dog or cat that has been surgically devocalized. (Ch. 82 of the Acts of 2010, passed by the Senate on April 13, 2010)
This Senate-led reform initiative promotes a business-friendly environment that will help small businesses open, expand and create jobs. The bill overhauls the state’s network of business development agencies, establishing a streamlined, cohesive model with built-in oversight and transparency to reduce redundancy and waste.
The reform package creates a ‘one-stop shop’ for businesses seeking to expand or locate in Massachusetts by requiring the existing Massachusetts Office of Business Development (MOBD) to contract with regionally-based economic development organizations.
It also merges organizations tasked with marketing the state nationally and internationally, including the Massachusetts Office of Travel & Tourism, into the newly-created Massachusetts Marketing Partnership which will serve as a central marketing organization for the entire state and include The Massachusetts Film Office and the Massachusetts Sports Partnership.
The bill also focuses on small businesses by increasing access to capital and development by extending existing permits for two years. (Enacted on July 31, 2010, S. 2380, passed by the Senate on April 8, 2010)
Higher Education Benefits for Children of Fallen Soldiers
As an amendment to the Senate’s FY 2011 budget, the Senate passed an initiative that expands full cost waivers to state colleges and universities to children of fallen soldiers.
The waiver would be available to a surviving child of a parent who died as a result of injuries sustained during active and full-time military service outside the United States while deployed in support of or in an armed conflict or hostility as a member of the armed forces of the United States or National Guard, occurring after 1989.
If the child meets the admission criteria to the college or university, the amendment provides a full waiver of charges for tuition, fees and room and board. The waiver does not extend to community colleges or if the child already holds a higher education degree. (Ch. 131 of the Acts of 2010; passed by the Senate on June 24, 2010)
In order to strengthen current ethics, lobbying and campaign finance laws, the Senate and House passed legislation that will enhance the integrity of the political process and help to restore public trust. This bill bans all gifts to public officials, imposing a hefty civil violation for gifts up to $1,000 and makes it a felony for anything with value greater than $1,000. It also increases the authority of the Ethics Commission to investigate and prosecute alleged ethics violations. A new lobbyist classification redefines and clarifies lobbying activities and captures actions that seek to wrongly influence official government activity.
The campaign finance system was also addressed, and all “special committee” arrangements between a state political party and an elected official were eliminated. (Ch. 28 of the Acts of 2009, passed by the Senate, June 25 on 2009)
Expiring Use Affordable Housing
This bill preserves the state’s estimated 90,000 government-assisted rental housing units across the state and protects the rights of tenants by implementing earlier notification standards for property owners and establishing a non-partisan advisory board representing tenants, property owners, municipalities and preservation experts to work with the state in developing future regulations. The legislation further ensures the protection of tenants by preventing unfair rent increases for three years after the termination of affordability restrictions and forbidding no-fault evictions. (Ch. 159 of the Acts of 2009, passed by the Senate on November 18, 2009)
With home foreclosures continuing to rise in the Commonwealth in spite of the improving economy, the Senate approved consumer protection legislation that protects both homeowners and tenants from mortgage fraud and arbitrary evictions.
The bill requires that tenants in foreclosed buildings can only be evicted for just cause. A lender cannot evict a tenant for failure to pay rent unless a written notice with proper contact information has been posted and delivered
For homeowners, the legislation temporarily extends the 90-day right-to-cure period, enacted by the legislature in 2007, to 150 days. The 2007 law gave homeowners 90 days to come up with past due payments on their mortgage before the lender could require full payment of the unpaid balance. This was intended as a cooling off period for the lender and homeowner to work out a new payment plan to avoid foreclosure.
In addition, the bill would criminalize residential mortgage fraud. (Enacted July 28, 2010; passed by the Senate on April 29, 2010)
This bill finalizes the economic recovery plan for Massachusetts, ensuring that the Commonwealth will meet the strict requirements and deadlines for using the federal stimulus money provided through the American Reinvestment and Recovery Act of 2009.
Under this legislation, Massachusetts is eligible for $108 million in unemployment insurance funds by extending unemployment benefits from 18 to 26 weeks for individuals participating in a training program. It also secures $186 million in clean water and drinking water grants for the Commonwealth, updates state procurement procedures, ensures efficient and transparent accounting and reporting of all project funding, and requires that state positions created by projects funded through the federal act are paid with federal stimulus money only.
Funding is required to be equitably distributed to ensure participation by all businesses, including minority and women-owned businesses and small businesses. (Ch. 30 of the Acts of 2009, passed by the Senate on June 30, 2009)
Liquor Liability Insurance
This bill requires all restaurant and bars in Massachusetts to have liquor liability insurance. Furthermore, no license can be issued or renewed until the applicant or licensee provides proof of coverage under a liquor legal liability insurance policy for bodily injury or death for a minimum amount of $250,000. (Ch. 116 of the Acts of 2010, passed by the Senate on May 20, 2010)
Mixed Martial Arts
This legislation established a regulatory regime for the licensing and sanctioning of mixed-martial arts events in the Commonwealth. This growing sport offers the prospect of additional revenue-producing spectator events in the Commonwealth. The Senate’s legislation allowed cities and towns in the Commonwealth to choose to sanction such events, and established significant public health protections for the combatants in such events. (Ch. 169 of the Acts of 2009, passed by the Senate on November 23, 2009)
This legislation gives cities and towns new tools and local options to plan budgets, pool resources and save money. The bill includes new pension reform provisions that will generate millions of dollars in savings for local and state retirement systems. The key provisions include a cap on pension earnings, restricting them to a percentage of the federal limit and eliminating grossly inflated pension pay-outs and an anti-salary-spiking rule that would limit the allowable annual increase in pensionable earnings to no more than seven percent plus inflation, but would not apply to legitimate and permanent job changes or promotions. In addition to pension reforms, the bill also establishes cost-saving efficiency measures specifically for local governments and gives municipalities the ability to enter into shared-service agreements free from collective bargaining requirements. (Chapter 188 of the Acts of 2010, passed by the Senate on May 13, 2010)
National Popular Vote
This legislation moves to automatically send the Commonwealth’s 12 electoral votes to the presidential candidate with the most popular votes nationwide. The bill is part of an interstate compact that would take effect only if enough states join to make the electoral votes of the states in the compact combine for at least 270, which is the number needed to decide who wins the presidential election. With enough states in the compact, the electoral votes from each member state would automatically go to the candidate with the most popular votes nationwide, therefore making that candidate the winner. (Enacted on July 27, 2010, passed by the Senate on July 15, 2010)
In a historic and landmark piece of legislation, this Senate-initiated bill addressed the worst offenses in the state pension system. Although the state’s pension system is an important benefit to those who choose to serve the public in generally low-paying careers, individuals were able to exploit loopholes to increase their pension payments at a high cost to the state.
This bill closes those loopholes, establishing common-sense reforms to apply to all current and future employees who retire after July 1, 2009. The “one day, one year” provision was removed, which allowed elected officials to claim an entire year of credible service for working one day in a calendar year. Dual-service pensions were reformed, so that an individual cannot combine the compensation from two positions to artificially increase one’s pension.
This bill also eliminates a loophole that allowed individuals receiving pension benefits to return to work as a consultant and receive a full salary in addition to pension benefits. In addition, the Blue Ribbon Commission on Pension Reform is directed to review broader issues within the system and issue comprehensive reform recommendations to the Legislature. (Ch. 21 of the Acts of 2009, passed by the Senate on June 11, 2009)
Protecting Minors from Lewd Messages
With the increase of instant and text messaging, this bill moves to protect minors from obscene and harmful messages by updating the current statute to include any electronic communication including but not limited to electronic mail, instant messages, text messages, and any other communication created by means of use of the Internet or wireless network, whether by computer, telephone, or any other device. The law previous defines harmful messages as any handwritten or printed material, visual representation, live performance or sound recording.
(Ch. 74 of the Acts of 2010; passed by the Senate on March 25, 2010)
U.S. Senate Interim Appointment
This legislation authorized the Governor to fill a vacancy in one of the two United States Senate seats representing Massachusetts by temporarily appointing a person to serve until the seat is filled by a person elected in a special election for that seat. (Ch. 92 of the Acts of 2009, passed by the Senate on September 23, 2009)
In an effort to curb dangerous driving, this legislation bans texting while driving, making it a primary offense, and takes additional steps to improve safety for all drivers and public transportation passengers while also cracking down on historically bad motor vehicle operators. It prohibits all drivers from texting while driving and punishes violators with increasing fines of $100 for the first offense, $250 for the second, and $500 for third and subsequent offenses.
The bill further enhances public safety by prohibiting junior operators – anyone under 18 – from using any cell phone or mobile device for any reason, hand-held or hands-free, while driving.
The bill also ensures the abilities of drivers 75 and older by requiring them to renew their licenses in-person and also complete a vision test every five years.
Finally, the bill targets historically bad drivers by requiring anyone with three surcharged moving violations within two years to take a driver re-training course or have their license suspended indefinitely until completing the course. (Ch. 155 of the Acts of 2010, passed by the Senate on March 2, 2010)
Strengthening efforts in schools to keep Massachusetts students safe this law mandates employing new strategies for adults, new supports for students and better communications among state agencies to prevent report and effectively address issues related to bullying. The law increases efforts to educate students about bullying including regulations on student handbooks and classroom instruction and institutes new rules and expectations for reporting incidents of bullying.
It also extends beyond the classroom to include incidents that occur in the community and online bringing a new focus on so-called cyber-bullying and extending rules and penalties to apply to electronic and other communications. Both public and private schools are now required to develop detailed bullying prevention, intervention and notification plans and to publish those plans in student handbooks. (Ch. 92 of the Acts of 2010, passed by the Senate on April 29, 2010)
With childhood obesity rates increasing our children’s risk for chronic diseases, this bill bans the sale of unhealthy foods and drinks in Massachusetts public schools. The legislation institutes nutritional guidelines, to be developed by the Department of Public Health, for foods and beverages sold to students outside of the federal meal program. The legislation establishes standards for products sold in vending machines, school stores, and cafeteria a la carte lines. In addition, the bill requires the annual report that school districts must supply to the Department of Elementary and Secondary Education to include elements on nutrition and wellness.
Furthermore, the bill dictates that all school districts create school wellness and advisory committees to develop a district-wide wellness policy. The legislation also requires nutrition and exercise as subjects for instruction in schools. This bill updates nutritional standards in schools to promote a healthy and productive learning environment. The legislation establishes new nutritional standards in schools to address the problem of childhood obesity and promotes wholesome food options and locally grown products. (Ch. 197 of the Acts of 2010, passed by the Senate on March 11, 2010)
This legislation has the potential to save taxpayers up to $8 million a year by transferring the remaining seven county sheriffs’ offices to the state payroll and state health insurance plan. The bill will provide stable and predictable budgeting for the seven transferred sheriffs’ offices, which include Bristol, Norfolk, Suffolk, Plymouth, Barnstable, Nantucket and Dukes counties. This bill is designed to promote a more efficient delivery of services between state and county governments. It also removes pay raises for sheriffs that were included in the original proposal and protects member communities from increased pension funding costs as a result of the transfer. (Ch. 61 of the Acts of 2009, passed by the Senate on July 29, 2009)
Small Business Health Cost Relief
In an effort to keep the doors of the Commonwealth’s small businesses open the legislation will reduce small business health insurance costs and promote job retention and job creation. The Senate-initiated bill reduces premium fluctuations in the market and requires insurers to offer affordable health plans.
The legislation delivers an estimated premium relief of at least 10 percent that small businesses can save and reinvest in their operations and workforce. It also establishes standardized transparency measures for provider pricing and annual public reporting to shine a light on the marketplace and collect important financial information for ongoing policy discussions about long-term system reform. It also establishes a Special Commission on Provider Price Reform. (Enacted July 31, 2010; S. 2447, passed by the Senate on May 18, 2010)
This bill permits nine state colleges in the Commonwealth to be called state universities. According to the State Colleges of Massachusetts, the “university” tag more accurately describes institutional offerings and brings “added prestige,” providing students a “competitive advantage.” Under the legislation, six colleges would adopt the following name changes, becoming: Bridgewater State University, Fitchburg State University, Framingham State University, Salem State University, Westfield State University, and Worcester State University.
Three additional colleges will retain their current names but would be referred to as universities and become part of the Massachusetts state university system: Massachusetts College of Art and Design, Massachusetts College of Liberal Arts, and the Massachusetts Maritime Academy.
(Signed by the Governor on July 28, 2010, passed by the Senate on July 19, 2010)
The Transportation system was overhauled in a Senate-initiated bill that dissolves the Turnpike Authority and consolidates multiple agencies into a unified and cost-effective system under an independent agency called the Massachusetts Department of Transportation (MassDOT). This agency sheds the many layers of bureaucracy in the current system by consolidating and sharing existing resources and services, potentially saving the Commonwealth up to $6.5 billion during the next 20 years. MBTA employees and retirees under GIC will now be required to contribute the same amount of their health benefits as their state employee counterparts, saving an estimated $35 million a year, or approximately $700 million in 20 years. (Ch. 25 of the Acts of 2009, passed by the Senate on June 18, 2009)
Unemployment Insurance Rate Freeze
As part of a multi-pronged approach to stimulate the Massachusetts economy, this legislation relieves economic burdens on small businesses and creates new jobs by freezing the unemployment insurance (UI) rate increase schedule for 2010, minimizing cost increases on businesses. This bill is an effort to help small businesses hire new workers and reduce the cost of doing business. Without the freeze, the average employer would see the per-employee payment jump from $584 to $852. In previous recessions the state has frozen the assessment schedule to relieve the burden on small businesses in tough economic times. (Ch. 34 of the Acts of 2010, passed by the Senate on February 16, 2010)
Uniform Prudent Management of Institutional Funds (UPMIFA)
This legislation follows the Senate proposal to allow non-profit organizations, such as private colleges and universities, human service organizations, arts organizations and environmental advocacy groups, greater flexibility in the management and spending of endowment funds for non-profits. The economic recession has caused many endowments to be frozen under the Commonwealth’s restrictive and antiquated laws governing such organizations. This change would give the organizations more flexibility in an economic recession, avoiding potentially catastrophic job losses in those sectors. (Ch. 29 of the Acts of 2009, passed by the Senate on June 30, 2009)
Emergency Responses by Utilities
This bill ensures that utility companies will face stiffer requirements for emergency response plans by giving the Department of Public Utilities (DPU) the authority to investigate and penalize companies for deficiencies in their response plans, as well as to issue its own response orders to utility companies during a state of emergency. The bill’s intent is to require each utility to file emergency response plans for approval by the DPU that outline communication procedures with local officials, account for customers with documented medical needs for electricity, and properly identify mutual aid and assistance agreements. (Ch. 133 of the Acts of 2009, passed by the Senate on November 10, 2009)
In order to make numerous improvements for veterans, this bill addresses veterans’ voting rights and their access to veterans’ services, employment and benefits. The bill allows Massachusetts residents serving overseas to receive and return absentee ballots via electronic means for federal, state and local preliminary, primary and general elections. It directs the Executive Office of Health and Human Services to study the Commonwealth’s current capacity to provide health care services to veterans, and assess the feasibility of expanding capacity at current soldiers’ homes or establishing additional soldiers’ homes. It amends the current Welcome Home Bill to allow service members who are deployed on multiple tours to apply for up to 50 percent of the bonus upon each subsequent return. This bill further authorizes state licensing boards to draft regulations exempting honorably-discharged veterans from requirements or credits towards licensure based on skills accumulated during their military service. (Ch. 132 of the Acts of 2009, passed by the Senate on November 10, 2009)