The legislative session is half gone now and it is a good time for a progress report.
The session started with the pay-raise bill. I didn’t have a hand in designing that measure, but I did play a strong role in advocating for it. I felt and I continue to feel that it was long overdue and entirely necessary for good government.
The issue that has consumed me has been criminal justice reform. We need to lift people up instead of locking people up and we need to cut the chains that hold people down when they are trying to get back on their feet. Of course, we need to keep public safety paramount, so great care is required in considering reforms. We have had many conversations in search of a balanced and constructive approach over the past few years.
Negotiations began in earnest in late 2015 with a public process about how to improve support for people re-entering from prison. At the start of 2017, we reached agreement on a package of re-entry support measures that the Governor filed. Since February the negotiation has been about an “everything else” bill — a comprehensive package to address criminal justice reform from front to back that would complement the Governor’s bill.
The Joint Committee on the Judiciary, which I co-chair, produced a package in September which the Senate debated and passed in October. The House took it up in November. We are now working hard on the delicate process of reconciling the two versions of this complex legislation. I’m very hopeful that we will be able to finally put on the Governor’s desk what, as the Globe has suggested, could be a national model for comprehensive reform.
Marijuana legalization also turned out to be a major focus for me. I was one of the few legislators who publicly supported the ballot question and, in part because of that, was selected to serve on the conference committee that negotiated the differing House and Senate approaches to filling out the regulatory scheme for the new marijuana business. That was a tough negotiation, but I felt we got to a good place. I am watching with interest now as the Cannabis Control Commission that we shaped gears up to make the new business work.
A complex conversation that I have been less centrally involved with is health care reform. The Senate, after a lengthy committee process and two days of debate, produced a complex health care cost-control package in November which the House will consider in 2018.
A potentially very consequential action we took was to approve a ballot measure that the voters will consider in 2018 — the “fair share” amendment which would increase taxes on income over $1 million in any tax year. The $2 billion raised from the measure will be dedicated to education and transportation — I deeply believe we need to invest more in these two areas.
We also passed legislation to reform bilingual education — the bill would allow schools more flexibility to design programs that meet both the language learning needs and the basic education needs of English language learners.
There are several important areas where the senate passed legislation but more work needs to be done with the House before it can be placed on the Governor’s desk: Hands-free only law for cell phone use while driving, property tax relief, climate adaptation and campus sexual violence.
The next big thing will, I hope, be the finalization of the criminal justice reform package. With some luck, we’ll get that negotiated early in 2018.