23 Aug 2014
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The Legislative Session Wraps Up

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The Legislative Session Wraps Up

The following is an opinion piece from State Senator Katherine Clark:

July 31 marked the last day of the 187th session of the Massachusetts legislature.  During the final weeks of the session, the House and Senate approved a series of bills to strengthen the Massachusetts economy and create jobs, improve public safety, rebuild our infrastructure, control rising health care costs, and stabilize the housing market.  Capping a productive session and building on the state’s operating budget for fiscal year (FY) 2013 passed in June, together these bills will help address some of the most pressing challenges we face. 

Among the legislation passed last month, I am proud that the House and Senate acted on several of my top priority bills to address early literacy, domestic violence and pets, Amyotrophic Lateral Sclerosis (ALS), improving care for premature infants, employment discrimination and a Citizens United resolution that I co-sponsored.

The end of the session was marked by final action on several comprehensive pieces of legislation that will encourage investment, directly address some of the biggest barriers to sustained economic recovery and growth, and make important reforms. 

After months of work, the legislature completed a major health care financing bill, signed by Governor Patrick on August 6, that will save up to $200 billion over the next 15 years.  The legislation establishes a statewide health care cost growth goal pegged to the growth in the state’s overall economy.  It will increase access to essential care services, encourage new payment models, demand more transparency and accountability, and make historic investments in prevention and wellness efforts.

The legislature also passed robust economic development legislation, which established a sales tax holiday for last weekend and put in place a series of targeted measures to encourage investment, job creation and small business growth across the Commonwealth.  It invests in the state’s “talent pipeline” to help ensure Massachusetts residents have the skills and experience they need to succeed in our innovation economy.

The House and Senate voted for important housing legislation that aims to prevent unnecessary and unlawful foreclosures, reduce the number of abandoned properties across the Commonwealth, and help remove one of the biggest remaining barriers to our economic recovery.  The Governor signed the bill into law on August 3.  Under the new law, lenders must conduct a complete financial analysis of the loan and offer a modification if it would be more beneficial to receive lower monthly mortgage payments than to foreclose on the home.  I truly appreciate the input from community banks and foreclosure experts in our district.

Building on the Commonwealth’s nation-leading clean energy policies, the legislature crafted, and the Governor signed, an energy bill that aims to reduce the price of electricity and support renewable energy by identifying cost-drivers, reviewing rates on a more regular basis, and demanding more competition. 

In addition, the House and Senate enacted a $1.4 billion transportation bond bill to fund important infrastructure improvements – to our roads, bridges and train stations – right here in our district and throughout the state.

To protect our communities, the legislature called for a strong, balanced crime bill that will keep the most violent, habitual criminals behind bars, make common sense reforms to our parole system, and allow opportunities for meaningful rehabilitation for nonviolent drug offenders.  Governor Patrick signed this important piece of legislation on July 31.

These bills represent just some of the outcomes of an 18-month session focused on creating jobs, spurring economic growth and innovation, building communities, supporting families, and improving the state’s fiscal position.  

In June, the legislature enacted a $32.5 billion state budget for fiscal year 2013 that prioritizes funding for education, cities and towns, essential services for the most vulnerable citizens, workforce development and public safety.  The budget uses a combination of ongoing revenue initiatives, one-time resources and spending reductions to close a $1.4 billion budget gap, the smallest budget gap the state has had since fiscal year 2008.  The budget makes targeted investments and importantly, leaves the state’s rainy day fund at $1.2 billion. 

Earlier in this session, the legislature acted to:

  • give law enforcement the necessary tools to fight human trafficking;
  • reform our municipal health insurance system, which is already on its way to saving cities and towns over $100 million;
  • maintain a strong, fair public pension system, which will save more than $5 billion over the next 30 years while preserving protections for those who need them most;
  • help the MBTA close its budget deficit for this year and demand a long-term transportation financing plan for the state by December 31, 2012;
  • close a drunk-driving loophole exposed by a Supreme Judicial Court ruling in May and enhance penalties for repeat drunk drivers;
  • establish a new special commission focused on improving services for unaccompanied homeless youth ages 22 years and younger;
  • and, with the VALOR Act,  further strengthen our commitment to the 385,000 veterans living in Massachusetts by expanding and improving services in business, education, and housing. 

For a complete list of legislative accomplishments during this session, please visit my web site at www.katherineclark.org.  The budgets and reforms we put in place this session will leave our state in a better, more stable and more sustainable position.  

I look forward to continuing to pursue a legislative agenda that reflects the priorities of our district: to create jobs, grow our local businesses, and strengthen our schools, communities and public transportation system, all while improving the state’s fiscal health.  And, as always, I appreciate and value your input and advice.

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