Senate Ends Formal Session, Passes Major Bills

August 1, 2012

BOSTON – The Legislature yesterday sent to the Governor a number of major bills to increase economic development, reduce health care costs, reduce electricity costs and promote renewable energy, improve utility response to storms, and update the current system for troubled youth.

“After months of work, I’m pleased to announce that the Legislature was able to come to agreement on the final details of a number of important bills at the close of session last night,” said State Senator Jamie Eldridge (D-Acton). “The bills passed yesterday by the Senate will make a real difference in the lives of my constituents – helping to create jobs, reduce health care costs, and promote green energy.”

Here are details about the five major bills that passed the Legislature yesterday:

Economic Development: The Legislature finalized an economic development bill that 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 businesses, and training our workforce for the future.

In particular, the legislation makes investments in infrastructure through the creation of the MassWorks Infrastructure Program . It also invests in workforce development through the Workforce Competitiveness Trust Fund ,with a focus on “middle skill” jobs through collaboration between public educational institutions, workforce investment boards, and local employers.

The bill also creates a Community Investment Grant Program, strongly supported by Senator Eldridge, that seeks to promote long-term public/private partnerships at the community level by providing a special donation tax credit for contributions made to selected community improvement efforts. This program, which will be run as a $1.5M grant program in 2013 and a community investment tax credit program through 2019, includes full public reporting of recipients and results along with a strong clawback provision.

Health Care Payment Reform: The Legislature also completed work on a framework of nation-leading health care reforms, sending to the Governor a comprehensive, landmark cost-control bill 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.

The bill comes at a crucial time as 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.

Several proposals offered by Senator Eldridge this session were included in the final bill, including the “I’m Sorry” provision, allowing doctors who have made a mistake to apologize to a patient without that apology being used against them in a medical malpractice case, and provisions to prevent children on Medicaid from unnecessarily losing coverage. The bill also includes a Prevention and Wellness Trust fund, strongly supported by Senator Eldridge, that will help promote public health with an increased focus on prevention.

Electricity Pricing & Green Energy: The Legislature also sent to the Governor legislation that promotes green energy by incorporating legislation filed by Senator Eldridge that increases the overall net metering cap from 3 percent to 6 percent, doubling the existing limits on municipal and privately-owned projects that generate their own renewable energy. This will have a significant impact in the Middlesex & Worcester district, where 7 of the 14 towns are “Green Communities,” and many residents are installing solar in the homes and businesses.

The bill also seeks to address the high cost of electricity in Massachusetts in an effort to support job creation and economic recovery. It seeks to reduce the price of electricity by identifying cost-drivers, reviewing rates on a more regular basis, and demanding more competition.

Storm Response: The Senate and House yesterday also agreed on final legislation to improve emergency response services of Massachusetts public utility companies. Widespread power outages across the state last year during Tropical Storm Irene in August and an October snowstorm exposed areas of concern and prompted the legislative action.

The bill requires public utility companies to provide three-times-daily estimates to customers about when electricity will be restored following a 24-hour damage assessment period. It also requires companies during major storms to set up a call center, which must be located in Massachusetts within 50 miles of a utility’s service territory and have sufficient staffing to handle calls. In response to problems many local communities recently experienced, the bill also includes a 30-day notice to consumers when a utility company plans to clear trees along their property.

CHINS Reform: Finally, the legislation passed an update to the current system for handling children who consistently get in trouble at home or at school, including runaways and students who are habitually truant, transforming 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 breaks down barriers between the juvenile court, parents and the community, and it creates a second access point for children to receive necessary services.

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