The 187th Session of the Senate
January 2011 – July 2012
This legislation further regulates animal control in the Commonwealth and brings up-to-date the animal control laws. This bill strengthens dog ordinances without targeting specific breeds, increases training for local animal control officials, creates a statewide spay/neuter program designed to reduce the number of homeless animals and prohibits certain inhumane methods of euthanasia for cats and dogs. Under this bill, pets are allowed to be included in domestic abuse orders, which will protect animals and allows for victims of abuse to leave their partners without risking further injury to their pets. (Enacted by the Senate on July 30, 2012)
FY13 Chapter 90 Funding
This legislation approved $200 million in Chapter 90 funds to cities and towns across the Commonwealth for road and bridge repairs. The funding is based on a formula that factors in each community’s total road miles, population and employment. The Chapter 90 funds may be used for local projects such as rebuilding and repairing local roads and bridges. (Chapter 133 of the Acts of 2012)
FY12 Chapter 90 Funding
This legislation approved $200 million in transportation aid that was distributed to cities and towns across the Commonwealth for road and bridge repairs. The amount was a 29 percent increase, or an additional $45 million, from Fiscal Year 2011. (Chapter 10 of the Acts of 2011)
This legislation completely overhauls the current system for handling children who consistently get in trouble at home or at school, including runaways and students who are habitually truant. The bill transforms the 38-year-old Children in Need of Services (CHINS) program that critics say unnecessarily puts troubled children in front of a judge before seeking services to help the children and their families. The bill also eliminates the inconsistent juvenile court-based system and replaces it with a statewide community-based intervention network that would integrate and promote school and community services for children and families. (Enacted by the Senate on July 31, 2012)
This legislation reorganizes the state judicial system with a focus on finding efficiencies and cost-savings in the Trial Court and establishing performance measures and a transparent hiring process in the courts and the probation department. The bill separates administrative and judicial functions in the courts, previously overseen by the Chief Justice for Administration and Management, by installing a professional civilian administrator to manage finances, contracts and hiring, while keeping a chief justice of the Trial Court to handle judicial issues, such as assigning judges, education and discipline. (Chapter 93 of the Acts of 2011)
This legislation expands the authority of the Department of Conservation and Recreation’s (DCR) Office of Dam Safety and requires DCR, in conjunction with the Department of Fish and Game, to submit an annual report listing the ownership and location of all registered dams in the Commonwealth. The report will also provide information on all dams that are hazardous, abandoned or an environmental threat and all dam owners that have failed to meet dam safety requirements. (S.1985, passed by the Senate on July 28, 2011)
Domestic Violence Employment Leave
This legislation establishes new employment rights for victims of domestic violence that will help victims keep their jobs and increase long-term economic productivity. The bill requires employers with 50 or more employees to allow up to 15 days of leave, with or without pay, to any employee who is a victim of domestic violence or lives with a family member who is a victim of domestic violence. (S.918, passed by the Senate on January 12, 2012)
Economic Development and Job Creation
This legislation implements strategically-focused economic development policies to make Massachusetts more competitive by improving the Commonwealth’s innovation economy, promoting economic prosperity through infrastructure investments and streamlined permitting, facilitating the expansion of new and existing business, and training our workforce for the future.
(Enacted by the Senate on July 31, 2012)
This legislation establishes strict oversight and accountability of the Commonwealth’s education collaboratives, which help teach children with special needs. The action came after investigations by the state auditor and inspector general uncovered a serious misuse of funding at the Merrimack Special Education Collaborative and other collaboratives around the state.
Each collaborative will be managed by a board of directors consisting of one person appointed annually by each member school committee or member charter school board, plus one member appointed by the education commissioner. The bill creates clear requirements for board members and staff and prohibits board members from receiving a salary and from serving in any official capacity at a related nonprofit organization.
The board of directors will also appoint a treasurer and the bill requires collaboratives to maintain a financial accounting system. The boards of each education collaborative will also be required to prepare an annual financial report and conduct an independent audit, which will be made publicly available online. (Chapter 43 of the Acts of 2012)
This legislation directly addresses competition among utility companies and the high costs of electricity which is a major obstacle for business growth in Massachusetts. The average electric rate in Massachusetts is 14.24 cents per kilowatt hour – the seventh highest in the United States and well above the national average of 10 cents.
To increase competition in the market, the bill ends the current long-term contract program under the Green Communities Act by December 2012 and requires investor-owned utilities to competitively bid proposals from renewable energy suppliers for long-term renewable energy contracts. And by increasing the overall net metering cap from 3 percent to 6 percent, the legislation doubles the existing limits on municipal and privately-owned projects that generate their own renewable energy. Anaerobic digestion projects will now be eligible for net metering credits, an important addition to the program for Commonwealth farmers. The legislation also extends by two years the ability of distribution companies to own solar facilities, and allows communities to develop renewable energy sources on capped landfills. (Enacted by the Senate on July 31, 2012)
This legislation will prevent unnecessary and unlawful foreclosures and reduce the number of abandoned properties across the Commonwealth. The bill requires banks and other lenders to offer loan modifications to borrowers in certain circumstances to avoid foreclosures, with a 150-day timeframe for deciding whether or not to offer the loan modification.
The bill also incorporates two recent Supreme Judicial Court decisions requiring lenders to prove they are the current legal holder of a mortgage and the holder of the mortgage note before beginning a foreclosure. The legislation also prohibits lenders from passing along costs of prior improper foreclosures or imposing fees for services not provided in connection with a foreclosure. Furthermore, it requires the Division of Banks, in consultation with the Attorney General’s Office, to track the resolution of certain mortgage loans and report to the Joint Committee on Financial Services within 90 days of the end of each calendar year through December 31, 2017. (Enacted by the Senate on July 26, 2012)
Government and Finance Reform
This bipartisan legislation makes fundamental changes in the operations of state government, updating antiquated finance laws and implementing performance measurement requirements for all government agencies and programs to improve efficiency, transparency and accountability. The bill requires the use of data to regularly evaluate the effectiveness of agencies and programs throughout state government, including the executive branch. The legislation also pushes agencies to use more efficient electronic accounting and reporting systems, requires quarterly cash flow reports and establishes a commission to make recommendations on the feasibility of moving the Commonwealth from a traditional “maintenance”-based budgeting to a modern “zero”-based budgeting process for FY16. (Enacted by the Senate on July 19, 2012)
Under this legislation, anyone involved in the organization of forced labor and sexual servitude would face tough criminal penalties. The crackdown on human trafficking, which is being hailed as the toughest legislation of its kind in the nation, also establishes important protections for victims and children to help them access necessary services.
The legislation includes criminal sentences up to five years in prison for attempted human trafficking, up to 20 years for trafficking adults, and up to life imprisonment for the trafficking of minors. Businesses involved in trafficking would face up to a $1 million fine for the first offense, with a mandatory minimum of 10 years to a maximum of life for a second offense. These offenses also carry a 5-year mandatory minimum sentence.
The legislation also removes any statute of limitations for trafficking crimes and creates a 15-year criminal penalty for trafficking human organs, and it updates sex offender registration laws to include human trafficking and the enticement of a minor into prostitution through the use of electronic devices. Anyone convicted of these crimes would be required to register in Massachusetts as a sex offender.
To further protect and help victims, the legislation creates the “Victims of Human Trafficking Trust Fund” which will be funded from fines and convicted human traffickers’ forfeited assets. Additionally, items used in the commission of the crime (buildings, cars, boats, etc.) are subject to asset forfeiture with all of the proceeds going to the victims fund. (Chapter 178 of the Acts of 2011)
This legislation is estimated to save the Commonwealth $200 billion over the next 15 years while improving the quality of care, increasing patient access, and strengthening the transparency and accountability of the state’s entire health care system. Health spending is projected to double from 2009 to 2020, outpacing both inflation and growth in the overall economy, while Massachusetts residents and businesses continue to struggle with increasing premiums and other health care costs.
The legislation, for the first time in the nation, establishes a statewide health care cost growth benchmark for the health care industry equal to the potential growth of the state’s gross state product (GSP) from years 2013 to 2017, then dropping it 0.5 percent below potential GSP from 2018 to 2022 and back to potential GSP for 2023 and beyond. Meeting this goal will result in an estimated $200 billion in savings in the health care industry over the next 15 years which will be passed onto businesses, municipalities and residents of the Commonwealth who are struggling with increasing premiums and other health care costs. (Enacted by the Senate on July 31, 2012)
Prescription Drug Monitoring
This bill will reduce the excess supply of prescription pain killers in Massachusetts and require physician registration in the state’s Prescription Monitoring Program to prevent patients from “doctor shopping” for highly addictive medications such as OxyContin and Vicodin. The top 30 percent of prescribers, who provide 90 percent of all controlled substances, are required to enroll immediately. All others would be phased-in over three years. Currently, participation in the program is voluntary, with only 1,700 out of 40,000 prescribers signed up.
Under the bill, the Department of Public Health will be required to produce informational pamphlets explaining addiction risks, signs of dependency, where to go for treatment, and ways to safely store and discard drugs. The pamphlets will be distributed by pharmacies with each prescription filled.
Pharmacies, drug manufacturers and other relevant parties will also be required to alert local police when reporting missing controlled substances to the Drug Enforcement Administration. Under the bill, doctors and hospitals will be required to notify a parent or guardian of any minor treated for drug overdose. Information on substance abuse treatment options must also be provided, and a social worker will be available for counseling prior to hospital discharge. (S.2125, passed by the Senate on February 2, 2012)
Congressional Redistricting (Congressional)
This legislation reconfigures the Commonwealth into nine Congressional Districts. The plan includes the strongest minority-majority congressional districts in the state’s history, 56.6 percent minority population in the minority-majority district, an incumbent-free district made up of Southeastern Massachusetts and Cape Cod, and districts that make geographic sense. The Special Joint Committee on Redistricting heard 31 hours of testimony from more than 400 groups and individuals. The redistricting website received more than 45,000 hits. (Chapter 177 of the Acts of 2011)
This legislation approves new state Senate districts as part of the decennial redistricting process. Under this legislation, 92 percent of Massachusetts residents remain in their current state Senate districts, fewer counties and communities are split, and districts are more compact. The Special Joint Committee on Redistricting held 13 public hearings across the state and created a website to provide opportunities for the public to participate in the redistricting process. The approved districts were also released two weeks in advance to allow additional public feedback and revisions.
Redistricting is a constitutionally required process that occurs every 10 years after the release of the US census data. Population shifts occur over time and the redistricting committee is tasked with redrawing state political borders to ensure a more equal distribution of population between districts. Over the past 10 years, the overall population deviation between districts increased to 18 percent. The new districts passed by the Senate are within plus or minus 5 percent of the ideal population for a Senate district, which is 163,691 persons. (Chapters 152 and 153 of the Acts of 2011)
This legislation addresses the emergency service response of public utility companies in Massachusetts as a result of widespread power outages in communities across the state during 2011, caused by Tropical Storm Irene in August and the snowstorm in October.
The bill requires public utility companies to provide twice-daily estimates to customers on when electricity will be restored following a 24-hour damage assessment period, and to set up a call center during a major storm. The call center must be located in Massachusetts and must have sufficient staffing to handle increases in calls.
Utilities must also report storm outages to the state and designate a community liaison in each community when implementing an emergency response plan. The bill also requires utilities to designate staff at the Massachusetts Emergency Management Agency to help coordinate statewide response.
Additionally, utilities will pay an assessment charge to help the Department of Public Utilities pay for storm investigations. The cost of this assessment cannot be passed on to customers. The bill also ensures that any penalties assessed on utilities for violation of emergency preparation and response will be credited to customers. (Enacted by the Senate on July 31, 2012)
This legislation establishes the community housing and services memorandum of understand that will include an action plan for community-based services, capital subsidies and operating subsidies for new and existing housing available to residents with very low and extremely low incomes. The memorandum will also facilitate a demonstration program that creates up to 1,000 units of permanent supportive housing. The community housing memorandum must be filed by December 31, 2012. Finally, this legislation requires the department of elder affairs to study the establishment of a comprehensive elder affairs ombudsmen program to service the needs of elderly citizens. The findings must be filed by October 15, 2012. (Chapter 58 of the Acts of 2012)
This legislation serves to extend civil rights protections to transgender individuals. It adds the words “gender identity” to the state’s non-discrimination laws to protect transgender residents from discrimination in employment, housing, education and credit.
This provision defines “gender identity” as a person’s gender-related identity, appearance or behavior, whether or not that gender-related identity, appearance or behavior is different from that traditionally associated with the person’s physiology or assigned sex at birth. Gender-related identity may be shown by providing evidence including medical history, care or treatment of the gender-related identity, consistent and uniform assertion of the gender-related identity or any other evidence that the gender-related identity is sincerely held, as part of a person’s core identity. (Chapter 199 of the Acts of 2011)
FY13 Transportation Bond Bill
The Transportation Bond Bill provides funding for existing transportation improvement projects through Fiscal Year 2013. This legislation authorizes the state to borrow $683 million for existing projects, ensuring that state dollars will be available to leverage federal funding for a total of $1.39 billion. (Enacted by the Senate on July 31, 2012)
This legislation creates increased supports for veteran-owned businesses, Gold Star Families, military children and higher education access in the Commonwealth. Among other provisions, the VALOR Act provides greater access to financial assistance for small businesses; affords greater opportunities for service-disabled veterans to participate in public projects; makes it easier for children of military personnel to transfer between school districts and states; and expands supports from the Massachusetts Military Family Relief Fund to Gold Star Families. (Chapter 108 of the Acts of 2012)