The state Senate recently wrapped up its work for 2015, the first year of the two-year legislative session. It was a productive year for the Senate, with action taken to address a number of important issues and the groundwork laid for an even busier 2016.
Earlier in the year, the Senate worked collaboratively with the House of Representatives and Governor Baker to pass a balanced, fiscally responsible state budget. With this strong budget Massachusetts has maintained its highest bond rating in the state’s history and enjoys one of the largest stabilization funds of any state. The FY16 budget included increased investment in education and local aid for our cities and towns, higher education, economic development and workforce training, substance abuse prevention and treatment, transportation, affordable housing, as well as numerous other programs and services that are important to our families and communities. The Senate led the effort to increase the state’s Earned Income Tax Credit, widely considered the most effective anti-poverty program.
In addition to increasing funding in the budget for substance abuse services to curb the devastating opioid epidemic, the Senate passed a comprehensive bill focused on prevention and reducing the number of prescription pills in circulation by working with doctors, insurance companies, pharmaceutical companies, pharmacists, and patients. Among other provisions, the bill expands use of a simple yet effective tool known as Screening, Brief Intervention, and Referral to Treatment (SBIRT) that helps schools identify youth engaging in risky or abusive behaviors in order to match them with appropriate services before they may become dependent on tobacco, alcohol, marijuana, or other drugs. The Senate also passed legislation to strengthen penalties for trafficking in fentanyl, a very powerful synthetic opioid that is responsible for many overdose deaths. This bill has already been signed into law by the Governor.
Another priority for the Senate has been tackling climate change. We passed legislation to establish a climate adaptation action plan. This plan would codify the state’s goals, priorities and actions to achieve greater resiliency, preservation, protection, restoration and enhancement of the Commonwealth’s built and natural infrastructure, based on the best available data on current and projected climate change impacts including temperature changes, drought, flooding and sea level rise. The legislation also included a provision to raise the state’s solar net metering cap in order to continue the strong investment in solar energy projects across the Commonwealth.
This year also saw significant progress in the effort to update and reform the Chapter 70 school funding formula that determines the state funding received by each local school district. The Chapter 70 Foundation Budget Review Commission — created in 2014 as a result of legislation I filed — completed its work and issued a number of significant findings and recommendations to address deficiencies in the formula, including the calculation of healthcare costs and special needs. Implementing these recommendations would go a long way to ensuring that all of our schools receive adequate and equitable funding.
As importantly, the Senate laid the groundwork this year for further action in 2016 on a number of important issues affecting our communities: continuing to improve public transportation and the reliability of the MBTA’s subway, bus, and commuter rail service; reforming our out-of-date public records law to strengthen government transparency; implementing criminal justice reforms to reduce recidivism rates and incarceration costs while improving public safety outcomes; and pursuing further efforts to curb the opioid epidemic and improve mental health treatment.
I’m also looking forward next year to new Community Conversations in our district. Our next discussion forum will be about issues impacting elders with Massachusetts Secretary of Elder Affairs Alice Bonner. We are also planning a Community Conversation focused on the challenges and opportunities facing our small businesses and downtown revitalization efforts. Stay tuned for further details in the new year.
I hope you have a wonderful holiday season and best wishes for a happy and healthy New Year! If you have feedback on issues you feel deserve greater attention from the legislature in 2016, please don’t hesitate to contact me at Jason.Lewis@masenate.gov or (617) 722-1206 to share your thoughts.