Column: A Productive Legislative Session on Beacon Hill
The state legislature recently wrapped up formal sessions for the 2015-16 legislative session. Although the House and Senate will continue to meet until the end of the year in informal sessions, most major pieces of legislation are only considered during formal sessions. So, now is a good time to take stock of what the legislature and Governor Baker have accomplished over the past 18 months. It has been a productive legislative session with progress on a number of critical issues for our communities and our Commonwealth.
Notable bills that passed the legislature and were signed into law by the Governor include:
- Opioid addiction prevention and treatment. The tragic opioid addiction crisis has hit our communities hard, and this legislation builds on efforts previously undertaken by the legislature to improve education, prevention, treatment, and recovery supports. The bill limits most first-time opiate prescriptions to seven days and further strengthens the state’s prescription monitoring program (PMP). Schools will be implementing an evidence-based screening program for risky behavior, and hospitals will be taking new steps to assess and treat patients who are admitted after an overdose.
- Clean energy. Massachusetts is already a national leader in clean and renewable energy, and this bill will further advance the state’s efforts to fight climate change, reduce energy costs, and create new green jobs. The bill requires electric utilities to solicit competitive contracts for large offshore wind energy projects, as well as hydropower and other eligible clean energy resources. The state must also move forward with efforts to repair environmentally significant gas leaks, and evaluate energy storage procurement targets.
- Gender pay equity. This historic legislation is aimed at closing the gender pay gap that hurts women and families. Women in Massachusetts earn on average 82 cents for every dollar a man earns. The bill defines “comparable work”, prohibits companies from asking prospective employees about their salary history until after a job offer has been made, and encourages businesses to do their own self-assessment and take proactive steps to reduce gender pay disparities in order to avoid wage discrimination lawsuits. The bill received the support of the business community, and is the strongest pay equity bill in the nation.
- Public records reform. This long overdue update to our public records law, which I sponsored in the Senate, is critical to government transparency and accountability. The bill will ensure that the public and the media have convenient, timely, and affordable access to all government records that rightly belong in the public domain.
- Ride-sharing oversight. This bill establishes a regulatory framework so that ride-sharing services like Uber and Lyft can continue to flourish in Massachusetts while at the same time ensuring public safety. The bill establishes strong background checks for drivers, requires that ride-for-hire vehicles display appropriate decals, and ensures that appropriate levels of insurance are in place.
- Transgender civil rights. This legislation prevents discrimination against transgender people in public accommodations, including restaurants, shops, hotels, and workplaces. It is a significant civil rights victory that reaffirms our commitment to treat all Massachusetts residents with respect and dignity.
- Veterans benefits. This bill expands upon previous efforts to ensure that Massachusetts leads the nation in providing supports and benefits to our veterans and their families. The bill increases access to housing for low-income veterans, updates the public service scholarship program, and expands access to Gold Star family license plates (a provision inspired by Arthur Vars, a constituent who lives in Reading).
A number of other significant bills passed the Senate this legislative session but unfortunately did not make it all the way to the Governor’s desk. They include: implementing the recommendations of the Chapter 70 Foundation Budget Review Commission in order to ensure adequate and equitable funding for all our public schools; scaling back non-compete agreements that are unfair to workers and harm our state’s economy; protecting our youth from new tobacco products like fruit flavored cigars and e-cigarettes; and establishing a paid family and medical leave program in Massachusetts. I will continue to champion these bills, as well as other issues that impact the quality of life in our communities, in the next legislative session.
President Teddy Roosevelt once remarked that “in every wise struggle for human betterment one of the main objects, and often the only object, has been to achieve in large measure equality of opportunity.” These wise words have, and will continue to, guide my work on your behalf in the state Senate.