Mid-term Legislative Progress Report

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 two important pieces of women’s health legislation: One assuring access to contraception through health insurance and another assuring fair treatment of pregnant workers.

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.

Published by Will Brownsberger

Will Brownsberger is State Senator from the Second Suffolk and Middlesex District.

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30 Comments

  1. Campus sexual violence. Please do not damage due process. Both men and women need proper protections. This should not be lost in any bill

  2. Also please take up the Child Centered Family Law bill. It is in the best interest of children to maintain a relationship with both parents after separation and divorce. Let’s help to insure it does for all concerned

  3. Happy New Year Will! It would be nice if the House and Senate would work together on serious Climate Change issues instead of letting the Governor and the utility companies control the direction of the state regarding this very serious issue. Super majorities in both the House and Senate could stop the assault on solar and help to restore the lost jobs and economic and environmental gains that were made under Governor Patrick.

    1. I agree with Michael Hannon. MA needs to be a national leader on climate change, especially now that our federal government is doing the bidding of the oil and gas companies. No more new fossil fuel infrastructure, more support for rewewables, and the bill imposing a carbon fee that you co-signed with Senator Mike Barrett for starters.

      1. Thanks, Deb and Mike. Hope we can!

        My top personal focus in the climate mitigation space is on public transportation and bike/ped access, but I hope we can also make progress on renewables issues.

        I’m also very focused on climate adaptation issues — hope to be reporting some progress on flood mitigation early in 2018.

  4. Splendid work as usual, Will. At the same time, I hope you won’t forget the efforts so many of us are making to counter the destruction that climate change is bringing. We are not doing enough.

  5. I should have read the other responses before I posted my response, since I echo some of them. But I certainly concur and I continue to emphasize that we are not doing enough.

  6. Thank you for keeping voters informed! This is very helpful and I’m sure people appreciate your taking the time.

  7. It’s always amazing to see good governance in action. I am truly grateful for all of your efforts and leadership. I have even taken steps to attend rallies and hearings on criminal justice reform as a result.
    Thank you!
    Sincerely,
    Ann (and Dan) Asnes

  8. Thank you for all you do for constituents and so many others, Will, and for your heroic and knowledgeable work on criminal justice reform. Please keep it up! Parole still needs reform and we need to make the Sex Offender Registry Board more effective in keeping communities safe. As you know, the SORB does not use any scientifically validated instruments to measure risk to reoffend (which is actually much lower than the general public believes). There are level 3 sex offenders (supposedly the most dangerous) who have been on the Registry for over 20 years without reoffending. There are level 3 offenders who have never touched anyone.

    There are 12,000 people on the Registry and no one can know who the really dangerous ones are. We have no qualified professionals running the board and no data is produced to show that the agency does anything more than offer jobs to the politically connected. Offenders are routinely over classified.

    The SORB should be required to collect and publish data on re-offense rate and to use scientifically validated instruments to measure risk.

    I urge those interested in check out sopri-ma.org to learn more about this neglected area for reform.

    1. Thanks, Ros. I do share your concern that the sex offender laws that we have on the books make it impossible for people to reintegrate.

      I would not go so far as you in criticizing the SORB — there are some very dedicated professionals there.

      I agree that this is an area that will need more work.

  9. Thank you, Will, for all your excellent work and for keeping us well informed. Wishing you all the best for 2018.

  10. Good work. Thanks for your dedication to criminal justice reform and rights of women.
    Happy Nee Year and Hafa Adai from Guam,
    (standard Chamorro greeting) where we are vacationing.

  11. The Change in the Federal tax package placed lots of “goodies” in business and the 1%. It also, contrary to the noise and hullabaloo was a frontal assault on middle class Americans. Limiting real estate deductions, limiting deductions on charitable deductions, and other deductions that were a part of the former tax code will result in Trump’s giving with on hand and taking with the other. State and Federal legislators MUST work to amend this aspect of the new regulations so the Middle Class will truly benefit as purported and asserted by Trump and Republicans. Please speak out on this lie. Thank you.

    1. Thanks, Michele.

      Unfortunately, a lot of the damage that bill has done cannot be undone by us.

      But the good news is that Massachusetts does not automatically incorporate all the policies of the federal tax code as some states do. So, most of our state tax policies are intact (although pressured by the loss of the SALT deduction).

      Welcome further thoughts on how we should be responding.

  12. Dear Senator Brownsberger,

    I read this information with interest. I am particularly concerned with the criminal justice issues. I just read in the NYT a story about a man recently released from prison in NJ with no money and no prospects who was helped by the New Jersey Reentry Corp. to start his own restaurant. I hope that such a thing might be possible in MA as well.

    Judy Nygren

  13. Will, Thank you for the summary of year one and for all that you have done on the criminal reform bill as well as on many other important issues. I am proud that you are my State Senator. Best of luck in the new year. Tony

  14. Thank you again for all of your hard work especially on criminal justice reform. We should make Massachusetts a model for reform and insure that the Corrections Dept.actually helps people to change their lives for the better. Keep up the good work as it takes courage to speak up for those who have no voice.

  15. supported obscene pay raise for legislators,legalization of marijuana,fair share amendment monies to go to education,trasportation, SURE!!. bilingual education instruction , how many more lingiuists ?how about English requirement? how about property tax relief etc quite a plate you supported.

  16. Hi Will: Thank you very much for your leadership on criminal justice reform, particularly on the recidivism challenges. Despite the continuing drop in prison commitments and the welcome cutting almost in half of racial and ethnic disparities over the past decade the fact remains that the majority of those leaving our prisons face huge reentry obstacles, including lack of stable housing and access to transportation to employment opportunities, inadequate education and skill training and the stigma of incarceration. As you have said on numerous occasions, the monies currently budgeted to address these challenges are woefully inadequate. They could come from savings generated by reforms or directly from our treasury; whatever the source the returns to the individuals, their families and communities and the Commonwealth will be positive. Thank you for continuing to push forward on this important issue.

  17. A hands-free only law for cell phone use while driving would hopefully enhance road safety. I have also seen drivers make a U-turn on Leonard St. in Belmont while driving with one hand and talking on a cell phone with the other!

  18. Will, I cannot thank you enough for the leadership you have shown in the area of criminal justice reform. I believe this has been fundamental to the progress that has been made in both the House and the Senate. Now the final steps must be taken to assure passage into law.. Reconciliation between House and Senate versions and signing of the results by the Governor. Please let us know how, as advocates, we can help assure success.

  19. Thank you, Will, for representing us so well on all these issues, and especially for your leadership on criminal justice reform. We appreciate your reports, which keep us informed and illustrate all the hard work that goes into good governance.
    Kathryn

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