With the New Year upon us, I wanted to take a moment to share with you my thoughts on the work to be done by the Massachusetts Legislature this year, and to let you know about some of the bills I will be prioritizing in my own work over the coming months.
Although the economy seems to be slowly rebounding and revenue numbers have finally started to hit benchmark levels, the fact remains that we face a serious budget gap this year of several billion dollars. As a result, the budget process will dominate the legislative agenda for much of the spring, as we make the hard choices as to which priorities we will continue to fund, what will be cut, and what new revenue, if any, we will seek out.
During the budget process, my priorities will be:
1) Protecting local aid (including Chapter 70, lottery aid and regional school transportation) to cities and towns.
2) Maintaining funding for vital social safety net services (programs to help the homeless, low-income families, at-risk children, those with disabilities, the elderly, etc.).
3) Advocating for a fair, adequate and stable tax system that will raise sufficient revenue to support our state’s goals and priorities.
4) Promoting budget transparency and accountability, particularly around the issue of tax credit transparency, so that we can be sure that every penny of the public’s money is being spent effectively.
5) Preventing deeper cuts in spending on environmental protection, stimulating economic development, and investing in transportation.
Approving the annual budget is one of the Legislature’s most important jobs. Please be in touch to let me know your priorities for funding in the coming fiscal year.
Key Issues Facing the Legislature
The Legislature, working in partnership with Governor Deval Patrick, has made government reform a priority over the past year, passing sweeping reforms to our pension, lobbying and campaign finance, and transportation systems last spring. I expect we’ll continue in that vein this year, starting with passage of a final education reform bill this week, as we look for reforms that can help improve the functioning of government and other no-cost policy proposals that can make a positive difference in the lives of people all across this Commonwealth.
Issues I expect will come before the Legislature this year include:
Criminal Offender Record Information (CORI) and Sentencing Reform: I was pleased to support a comprehensive CORI and Sentencing reform bill, which passed the Senate last fall. This bill will help reduce recidivism among ex-offenders and lower criminal justice costs, saving the state money while promoting public safety at the same time. Read my testimony in support of CORI reform here.
Health Care Cost Control: Although Massachusetts is a national leader in expanding access to health insurance, health care costs continue to spiral out of control. Members of the Senate are currently working on legislation to address the health care cost problems, which I expect will come before members sometime this year.
Safe Driving Bills: Texting while driving and the issue of re-testing for elderly drivers are two issues that received a lot of attention last year, following a string of fatal accidents. I support a ban on texting while driving and hope to see it come before the Legislature quickly. I also support efforts to require retesting for drivers over a certain age, along with policies that would permit doctors who have patients with cognitive disabilities, of any age, to recommend them to the Registry of Motor Vehicles for retesting. Thinking long term, of course, it is also important to remember that if Massachusetts places additional restrictions on senior drivers, we will need to give seniors additional options for getting around town so they can run their errands and remain involved in their communities.
Expanded Gambling: It seems possible that the question of expanded gambling in Massachusetts will come before the Legislature this fall. I am strongly opposed to bringing casinos, slot machines, or “racinos” to the Commonwealth, and I will be working hard to try and defeat these proposals this session. Learn more about my position on expanded gambling here.
Foreclosure: The growing foreclosure crisis is an affordable housing issue that has had a serious effect on our district, and the Commonwealth as a whole. I’m supportive of legislation that would increase neighborhood stability by creating protections for tenants in foreclosed properties and requiring banks and financial institutions to ensure proper upkeep and maintenance of foreclosed properties, and I hope to see this issue addressed by the Legislature this spring.
Transgender Nondiscrimination Bill: Representative Carl Sciortino’s bill adding gender identity and expression to the state’s nondiscrimination and hate crimes statutes is another piece of legislation that ought to pass this session. This no-cost bill, which has the support of a majority of the House and Senate and, according to polling, a strong majority of the public, would provide important protections for a group of people who often face discrimination. The bill is ultimate about equality, and I hope Massachusetts will take the next step forward on the path towards equality for all people by passing this bill this year. Read my testimony on the bill here.
Municipal Relief: As the Senate chair of the Joint Committee on Municipalities, I have been working hard on municipal relief bill, to provide cities and towns with new tools to respond to the ongoing fiscal crisis by managing limited resources more efficiently. I hope to see the bill brought before the Legislature this spring.
The bill will offer provisions for managing employee benefits more effectively, require each community to move all its eligible retirees to Medicare coverage, and provide some pension funding relief within fiscally responsible parameters. In addition, several provisions encourage and facilitate regionalization of municipal services and reform municipal procurement requirements, thus providing cost efficiencies without jeopardizing transparency or quality.
In addition to the above issues facing the Senate, I will also be working to advance (and, hopefully, pass) the legislation I have filed through the legislative process. You can view a full list of the bills I have filed this session here, but here a few highlights:
Asset Development Legislation: This bill would remove state-imposed barriers to asset development for low-to-moderate income residents of the Commonwealth who receive support through the Department of Transitional Assistance and will promote gainful employment and financial stability for low-income families. Although there is some initial cost associated with the bill, which may make its passage this year difficult, I believe that ultimately it would save the Commonwealth money in reduced need for services (over time) and reduced administrative costs. Watch my testimony on the bill here.
Massachusetts Freedom to Vote Bill: This bill comprehensively and fundamentally updates and improves voting in Massachusetts, and if enacted, would give Massachusetts some of the strongest voting laws anywhere in the United States. It is my hope that at least pieces of this bill – including Election Day Registration and pre-registration for 16- and 17-year-olds – can make it through the Legislature this session.
E-waste Bill: This bill requires producers of electronic waste (e-waste), – i.e. computers, televisions and printers – to be financially responsible for the proper disposal of their products. The bill aims to vastly reduce the amount of hazardous chemicals leaching into landfills from e-waste disposal by increasing public accessibility of e-waste recycling, while also taking the financial burden of collecting and recycling e-waste products off of municipalities and placing it instead on the manufacturers. We came very close to passing this bill last session, and I am working to see it signed into law this year.
Sustainable Water Resources Act: We know that when streams get too low, it has a serious impact on water quality and the aquatic habit. However, there are currently no minimum streamflow standards in place to safeguard the water levels in rivers and streams necessary for sustaining healthy ecosystems, fish, and other water-dependent wild.
This bill requires the Department of Environmental Protection to adopt regulations establishing standards for restoring and maintaining stream flow in the rivers and streams of the Commonwealth. In addition, the bill updates the state’s dam safety statute and allows for municipal water banking.
As always, I’d love to hear your thoughts about these issues, or any other concerns you may have. Please contact my office anytime to let me know your thoughts, or for answers to any questions you may have.