We have now finished the formal portion the 2013-4 session of the legislature. Here is a summary of what we did and did not get done in the session.
Much of good government is effective reaction. When problems surface, we have to do something and the challenge is to use the energy created by the emergent problem to make lasting improvements, or, at a minimum, to respond without creating new kinds of problems. Major legislation in the considered reaction category in this session included:
- Gun safety package — a response to the Sandy Hook tragedy.
- Campaign spending disclosure improvements — a response to the Citizens United case.
- New domestic violence protections — a response to the Jared Remy murder case.
- Reforms for public housing management and governance (link to committee staff summary) — a response to the Chelsea Housing Authority scandal.
- Improved regulation of compounding pharmacies — a response to the finding that a Massachusetts compounder had killed dozens of patients by distributing mold-contaminated drugs for injection.
- Drug treatment improvements (link to committee staff summary) — a response to a surge of opioid overdose deaths (a long term problem which spiked recently due to bad street drugs).
- Juvenile murder sentencing reform — a response to constitutional rulings against juvenile life without parole. Less controversial, but of much greater practical impact was our increase in the age of eligibility for adult sentencing, from 17 to 18.
- New protections for reproductive health clinics — a response to the Supreme Court’s buffer zone ruling.
- Welfare reforms — a response to reports documenting fraud in welfare programs.
- Improved transparency for the MBTA pension fund — a continuing focus of mine, intensified by fund losses.
- Increased funding for the Department of Children and Families following several high profile deaths of children. We did not make procedural changes in the child custody rules, but may consider those in a future session.
- We did not pass enhanced animal cruelty penalties in the wake of the Puppy Doe case (but might complete work on this bill during informal sessions). Animal rights advocates made farm confinement practices their top priority and, to my chagrin, that measure bogged down. These were both bills that I worked hard to move out of my own committee, but could not secure broader support for.
- We also did not pass legislation to respond to the expansion of government surveillance evidenced by the Snowden revelations.
- Note that the probation scandal, much in the news recently, actually broke several years ago and we passed significant reforms in 2011.
We spent a lot of time on continuing stewardship issues:
- We grappled with the funding level for transportation system maintenance — my focus was on increasing long term funding.
- Many multi-year bond authorizations were up for cyclic review. These authorizations typically are occasions for legislators to express support for particular local projects — see especially the environmental bond bill (parks projects) and the transportation bond bill (road and transit projects).
- As in every session, the annual budget process allows us to consider (with varying levels of attention) everything that is happening in the operating agencies of state government.
- We’ve also developed a biennial routine of passing an “economic development” bill, which is a a grab bag of regulatory ideas and smaller spending proposals that support private sector activity. I’m always a little queasy about it, tending to feel that much of what we do may benefit certain businesses, but may not really expand the pie much.
Finally, we chipped away at many of our major long-term challenges.
- Inequality — we passed a substantial minimum wage increase packaged with unemployment insurance reform.
- Child sexual abuse — a major effort of mine to reform the statute of limitations for child sexual abuse came to fruition in this session.
- Climate change adaptation — we passed legislation of mine to set in motion better planning for sea level rise, especially in the Mystic and Charles basin, and provided funding to support that planning effort and we passed legislation to revive the Arlington-Belmont-Cambridge Stormwater Flooding Board. We also passed significant language in the bond bill to support broader climate change adaptation planning.
- Climate change mitigation — we failed to reach agreement on needed adjustments to our clean energy programs. Bills that I had filed to accelerate our greenhouse gas reduction schedule and improve availability of information about building energy use did not make it to the floor.
- Poor educational attainment in urban schools — we failed to reach agreement on education reforms.
- Election integrity — we did pass a package long sought by advocates intended to improve participation in and integrity of the political process.
- Over-incarceration in poverty communities — we failed to make progress on sentencing reform this session, although there seemed to be strong support for reform as we ended the last session.
- Long term government liabilities — pensions and retiree health care — although we gave these issues a lot of study while I chaired the Public Service Committee (until April 2014), there was no broader appetite to tackle meaningful legislation in this area.
- Persons with disabilities — we passed three bills to help persons with disabilities: An autism bill, a bill to strengthen background checks for people caring for people with disabilities and a bill to give adults with intellectual disabilities more direct control and choice over the kinds of assistance they receive.
- Non-competition agreements — a smaller issue that I’ve given a lot of attention to — another area that we failed to reach agreement on, although we did get a great vote for reform in the Senate.