It’s a good time to review highlights of the 2015-2016 legislative session, focusing on the major policy bills.
The first big one for me was the MBTA reform bill. In the spring of 2015, Governor Baker proposed a strong control board for the MBTA and I was pleased to support his proposal in the heated debate we had about it. It was necessary strong medicine which is starting to have an effect. I think the new management team is making the T much more transparent and so making better long term decisions. There are lots of good people at the MBTA and strong leadership is what they need to succeed.
The most emotional issue for me was our transgender rights bill. It only affects a small number of people and, even for them, it is just a law, not a magic wand that can wave away all discrimination. But it reinforces an important message about our values — we respect the rights of each individual to be who they are and love who they love; we aspire to protect people who are different from hate; we value the talent that everyone brings to the table. I’ve had the privilege of meeting some spectacularly talented people who really have had to struggle to survive because of discrimination.
The big long-term issue for me is criminal justice reform. Serving as Senate Chair on the Judiciary Committee, this is the most important issue in my committee portfolio. I gave hundreds of hours to hearings, meetings and research on this issue over the past two years. We are locking up 5 times as many people as we were 40 years ago and, to my mind, just way too many people. And when we release them, we saddle them with completely unmanageable handicaps and obligations that make it very hard for them to ever get back on track.
We made a start on reform with some modest legislation that had broad support: We repealed the law that takes drivers’ licenses away as a result of a drug conviction. Young men who make the mistake of dealing drugs, and do their time for it, should be able to drive to work when they get back on the street, or they will inevitably revert to their old patterns. It’s hard enough to get a legitimate job coming from some neighborhoods.
We have a long way to go to real reform. I hope to be in the saddle as Senate Judiciary Chair for the decade or two that it will us take to turn things around. I am heartened by the interest that Governor Baker, Speaker DeLeo and President Rosenberg have taken in the ongoing policy conversations we are having. I am very hopeful that 2017 will be a big year for this issue.
The increasingly evident reality of climate change hangs over everything we do. The work we did in 2008 to establish commitments for greenhouse reduction is paying off now as the Supreme Judicial Court has upheld those commitments as binding. The Baker administration is moving forward on a number of positive steps in this area. In the legislature, we passed a good energy bill. But nothing we are doing yet globally will sufficiently bend the curve and there is much we need to do to prepare for the changes ahead.
The session is not quite over — I’m hopeful that we’ll be able to hit some more singles and doubles in the typically busy weeks after the election. Senate President Rosenberg‘s team has prepared a comprehensive summary that offers much more detail about what we have done so far.