Last Friday night, I spoke to the Stow Conservation Trust at their annual meeting. The focus of my speech, no surprise, was on environmental issues up on Beacon Hill. I decided to emphasize the successes of the Patrick administration in protecting hundreds of thousands of acres of open space in the past seven years, and to discuss conservation, water infrastructure, and climate change legislation before the Legislature this session.
As I spoke about the pending legislation, I couldn’t help but also talk about the role that corporate special interests play in stopping many environmental bills, including the expanded Bottle Bill, the Safe Alternatives Act, and establishing a state green building code.
The term “corporate power” gets thrown out a lot in politics today. Recently, some legislation has come before the Senate that reflects the negative influence of powerful corporate lobbyists on the legislative process. This is critical for every resident to understand, because it is clear to me that without an active, engaged public, a strong coalition of progressive public policy groups and outspoken legislators, the dominance of policy by corporate special interests on Beacon Hill will continue. Two examples:
• Two weeks ago, the Massachusetts Senate took up a bill S.1892, An Act Enhancing Protection for Victims of Domestic Violence. The legislation enhances protections for victims of domestic violence and establishes new employment rights to help victims keep their jobs. However, as many of us discovered as the bill was discussed on the floor of the Senate, the additional protections for victims of domestic violence only applied to businesses of 50 or more employees. In other words, if you’re getting beaten up by your partner but work for a company that has fewer than 50 workers, you’re on your own.
• Last week, the Senate took up a bill to further regulate facilities that compound drugs. The legislation, in response to the outrageous deaths of 64 people last year due to drug compounding errors at the New England Compounding Center, is an important step to ensure such tragedies never happen again. However, the bill exempted hospitals that provide drug compounding. During the debate of the bill, Senator Montigny filed an amendment to remove the exemption, but it unfortunately failed. This exemption, covered in a Boston Globe article the next day, made it rather clear why the bill included the exemption. The hospital lobby had been able to convince some legislators that such regulatory oversight should not include hospitals.
As the legislative session continues, it’s critical to keep in mind that for almost every bill that is filed on Massachusetts, there are corporate lobbyists that are looking at how every piece of legislation will affect their clients’ bottom lines. This helps explain why a great deal of progressive legislation never sees the light of day, including the environmental legislation that I spoke to the Stow Conservation Trust about. And that’s why legislators (including myself), advocacy groups and concerned voters need to be more vigilant about what bills are being considered on Beacon Hill, in order to make sure that when legislation passes, it in the public interest, and not for any corporate interest.