Senate Legislative Accomplishments — Session Wrap Up

The document below was prepared by the Senate President’s office as of the close of the formal session yesterday, July 31, 2012.  There are still some additional measures that we hope to get done in the informal sessions that will continue through December.


Senate Accomplishments

The 187th Session of the Senate

January 2011 – July 2012


Animal Control


This legislation further regulates animal control in the Commonwealth and brings up-to-date the animal control laws. This bill strengthens dog ordinances without targeting specific breeds, increases training for local animal control officials, creates a statewide spay/neuter program designed to reduce the number of homeless animals and prohibits certain inhumane methods of euthanasia for cats and dogs. Under this bill, pets are allowed to be included in domestic abuse orders, which will protect animals and allows for victims of abuse to leave their partners without risking further injury to their pets. (Enacted by the Senate on July 30, 2012)


Auto Repair


This legislation gives independent auto mechanics in Massachusetts access to repair data and diagnostic codes now available only to dealerships. The bill requires automakers to make their repair data and diagnostic tools available for purchase at a fair price by car owners and independent mechanics. On Jan. 1, 2016, automakers would also have to make that repair data accessible through a nonproprietary computer system or device within a vehicle. (Enacted by the Senate on July 31, 2012)


Beer and Wine in Supermarkets


Under this legislation, supermarkets and other large retailers are permitted to gradually acquire additional alcoholic beverage licenses. The bill raises the cap on liquor licenses that a corporation can own from three to five in 2012, seven in 2016 and nine in 2020. Applicants for a new license or the transfer of a license will be required to pay a fee of up to $5,000 for every license they obtain in excess of three. (Chapter 193 of the Acts of 2011)


FY13 Budget


The $32.5 billion state budget for FY13 prioritizes funding for cities and towns and commitments to reform and job creation. The budget does not contain any new taxes and 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 FY08.


The budget increases funding for local aid by $288.9 million over FY12 projected spending, including $899 million for unrestricted local aid. Chapter 70 funding is increased to $4.17 billion, ensuring that all school districts receive at least an additional $40 per pupil in aid. Regional School Transportation is also increased by $2 million to $45.52 million. Additionally, the budget fully funds the state’s obligation for the Special Education Circuit Breaker at $242 million for first time since FY08, ensuring that students with special needs receive the services and education they deserve.


The budget calls for increased oversight of community colleges and establishes the Office of Coordination within the Department of Higher Education to serve as a clearinghouse for all training opportunities provided by public higher education institutions. The budget also establishes new programs such as Rapid Response and a Degree Auditing System.


The budget also directs $25 million from the state’s FY13 budget surplus to the state’s community preservation trust fund. In addition, it increases funding for elder protective services, substance abuse services, independent living centers and the department of veterans services.


The budget makes several enhancements to EBT card reforms by expanding the list of restricted items and restricting access to cash. The spending plan also increases public safety by enhancing penalties for repeat drunk drivers and ensures that individuals who are convicted, have a case continued without finding, or are assigned to an alcohol or controlled substance program are subject to penalties for repeat driving offenses. (Chapter 139 of the Acts of 2012)


FY12 Budget


This $30.59 billion spending plan for FY12 reduced the state’s FY12 stabilization fund draw by $15 million and closed a $1.9 billion budget gap with funding reductions, ongoing revenue initiatives and one-time revenues.


The budget increased Chapter 70 funding by $140 million and SPED Circuit Breaker funding by $80 million over their FY11 appropriations. The spending plan also included no new taxes while preserving services for some of the neediest residents of the Commonwealth by focusing limited resources for the Department of Mental Health, early intervention services and public safety initiatives.


The budget also included a requirement that 25% of indigent defense be provided by public defenders by the end of FY11. In addition, this legislation included the establishment of a new Office of Commonwealth Performance, Accountability and Transparency to evaluate programs, coordinate grant activity and allow greater transparency. 


The FY12 budget included three new initiatives that will provide state agencies with resources necessary to aggressively pursue and recoup unnecessary expenditure of funds and instances of fraud or overpayment. A new auditing and program integrity grant program for state agencies; a line item to support MassHealth auditing and recoveries; and a new unit within the Operational Services Division to conduct vendor audits. 


The budget also included a provision that would return up to $65 million in FY11 Budgetary Reversions for use as onetime, non-recurring local aid payments to close the gap left by painful but necessary cuts. (Chapters 67 and 68 of the Acts of 2011)


FY12 Close-Out Supplemental Budget (July)


This $42.2 million supplemental budget allocates funds to numerous state agencies, as well as covers costs for cleanup of Tropical Storm Irene and the October 2011 snowstorm. (Enacted by the Senate on July 31, 2012)


FY12 Supplemental Budget (June)


This $213 million appropriations bill provides funding for seven hospital systems that serve disproportionate numbers of publicly-funded and low-income patients. The bill also includes $10.6 million for the Department of Developmental Services, $3.1 million for the Executive Office of Administration and Finance and $4.8 million for the Executive Office of Public Safety. (Chapter 118 of the Acts of 2012)


FY12 Mid-Year Supplemental Budget (April)


This $72 million spending bill will support public assistance, family shelter, legal aid and youth job accounts that are in danger of running out of money before the fiscal year ends on June 30, 2012. The bill includes $27.5 million for the Committee for Public Counsel Services, $27.2 million for the Office of Housing and Community Development, $11 million for the Department of Transitional Assistance and $6 million for the Department of Career Services. (Chapter 96 of the Acts of 2012)


FY12 Supplemental Budget (February)


This legislation supplements certain existing appropriations and other activities and projects for the remainder of FY12. The bill will ensure that adult day health services for low-income seniors and persons with disabilities will continue for the remainder of the year. The bill also provides critical home energy assistance to low-income seniors and families who have seen reduced federal aid assistance. Additionally, this bill provides additional assistance for legal services provided to low-income or vulnerable Massachusetts residents in need of legal representation in a wide range of matters. The bill also freezes unemployment insurance rates, saving businesses an estimated $421 million (Chapter 36 of the Acts of 2012)





FY12 Supplemental Budget (November)


This $52 million supplemental spending bill allocates an additional $39 million to the state’s “housing first” homeless shelter program, $10 million for Tropical Storm Irene assistance and $308,000 for veterans services to prepare for troops returning home from Iraq and Afghanistan. (Chapter 171 of the Acts of 2011)


FY12 Supplemental Budget (October)


This supplemental budget includes $169 million in spending initiatives and directs $350 million to the state’s stabilization fund. Under the bill, cities and towns will receive $65 million in promised local aid. The bill includes nearly $20 million in aid for a series of natural disasters, $9 million for collective bargaining agreements and $10 million to allowing substance abusers to be committed by the courts to a treatment program for up to 90 days. This bill also approved a special commission to review the state electronic benefit transfer card system. (Chapter 142 of the Acts of 2011)


Tornado Relief Supplemental Appropriations Bill


The Legislature approved $15 million in emergency state funding for communities recovering from the deadly tornadoes that hit western Massachusetts in early June. The emergency funding helped offset the costs of emergency response, clean-up efforts and set up temporary shelters for displaced residents. The bill also included supplemental funding for deficiencies at the state’s sheriff’s departments, child care services, youth violence prevention programs, approved collective bargaining contracts and short-term housing assistance. (Chapter 52 of the Acts of 2011)


FY11 Supplemental Budget


This legislation provided necessary funding to cover time-sensitive spending needs, including reimbursements for snow and ice removal, ratified collective bargaining agreements and vital summer programs for inner-city youth. The $325.4 million spending bill was funded through existing state revenues and federal reimbursements. This bill also included language to deposit approximately $100 million into the state’s Stabilization Fund. (Chapter 9 of the Acts of 2011)


FY13 Chapter 90 Funding


This legislation approved $200 million in Chapter 90 funds to cities and towns across the Commonwealth for road and bridge repairs. The funding is based on a formula that factors in each community’s total road miles, population and employment. The Chapter 90 funds may be used for local projects such as rebuilding and repairing local roads and bridges. (Chapter 133 of the Acts of 2012)

FY12 Chapter 90 Funding


This legislation approved $200 million in transportation aid that was distributed to cities and towns across the Commonwealth for road and bridge repairs. The amount was a 29 percent increase, or an additional $45 million, from Fiscal Year 2011. (Chapter 10 of the Acts of 2011)


CHINS Reform


This legislation completely overhauls the current system for handling children who consistently get in trouble at home or at school, including runaways and students who are habitually truant. The bill transforms the 38-year-old Children in Need of Services (CHINS) program that critics say unnecessarily puts troubled children in front of a judge before seeking services to help the children and their families. The bill also eliminates the inconsistent juvenile court-based system and replaces it with a statewide community-based intervention network that would integrate and promote school and community services for children and families. (Enacted by the Senate on July 31, 2012)


Court Reform


This legislation reorganizes the state judicial system with a focus on finding efficiencies and cost-savings in the Trial Court and establishing performance measures and a transparent hiring process in the courts and the probation department. The bill separates administrative and judicial functions in the courts, previously overseen by the Chief Justice for Administration and Management, by installing a professional civilian administrator to manage finances, contracts and hiring, while keeping a chief justice of the Trial Court to handle judicial issues, such as assigning judges, education and discipline. (Chapter 93 of the Acts of 2011)


Crime Bill


This bill cracks down on habitual offenders and establishes new requirements to improve the functions of the state parole board. The bill requires the habitual offender tag to be placed on anyone convicted of two crimes from a list of the most serious offenses, including murder, rape and kidnapping. It mandates that any habitual offender found guilty of a third offense from the list of most serious crimes would be ineligible for parole.


The legislation also closes a loophole that currently prevents federal sentences from counting toward habitual offender status.


The bill raises the parole eligibility threshold to a two-thirds vote of the parole board from the current majority vote for anyone serving a life sentence and allows judges to set an imprisonment term between 15-25 years before an initial parole eligibility date. Inmates with life sentences arising from separate and distinct incidents would not be eligible for parole.


The bill also reduces mandatory minimum sentences for certain non-violent drug offenses under the Controlled Substances Act, reduces school zone areas from 1,000 feet to 300 feet and includes Good Samaritan provisions. (Enacted by the Senate on July 30, 2012)


Dam Safety


This legislation expands the authority of the Department of Conservation and Recreation’s (DCR) Office of Dam Safety and requires DCR, in conjunction with the Department of Fish and Game, to submit an annual report listing the ownership and location of all registered dams in the Commonwealth. The report will also provide information on all dams that are hazardous, abandoned or an environmental threat and all dam owners that have failed to meet dam safety requirements. (S.1985, passed by the Senate on July 28, 2011)


DNA Testing


This DNA testing legislation makes Massachusetts the 49th state allowing defendants to obtain and test evidence after conviction for use in seeking a new trial. The bill was developed with the input of current and former prosecutors, police officers, defense attorneys and judges, and will help exonerate wrongfully-convicted people and convict individuals who have gone free for decades. (Chapter 38 of the Acts of 2012)


Domestic Violence Employment Leave


This legislation establishes new employment rights for victims of domestic violence that will help victims keep their jobs and increase long-term economic productivity. The bill requires employers with 50 or more employees to allow up to 15 days of leave, with or without pay, to any employee who is a victim of domestic violence or lives with a family member who is a victim of domestic violence. (S.918, passed by the Senate on January 12, 2012)


Economic Development and Job Creation


This legislation implements strategically-focused economic development policies to make Massachusetts more competitive by improving the Commonwealth’s innovation economy, promoting economic prosperity through infrastructure investments and streamlined permitting, facilitating the expansion of new and existing business, and training our workforce for the future.


Among many initiatives, the bill establishes a sales tax holiday for August 11 and 12, making it the seventh year the Commonwealth provides a sales tax exemption for two days and the eighth year with at least one sales-tax-free day. The bill also established a new tax credit for corporations that are new filers in Massachusetts, which is available for the corporation’s first three years. The new tax credit offsets the corporate minimum tax, allowing those corporations to grow in their first three years tax-free if they would otherwise pay the corporate minimum tax. (Enacted by the Senate on July 31, 2012)

Education Collaboratives


This legislation establishes strict oversight and accountability of the Commonwealth’s education collaboratives, which help teach children with special needs. The action came after investigations by the state auditor and inspector general uncovered a serious misuse of funding at the Merrimack Special Education Collaborative and other collaboratives around the state.

Each collaborative will be managed by a board of directors consisting of one person appointed annually by each member school committee or member charter school board, plus one member appointed by the education commissioner. The bill creates clear requirements for board members and staff and prohibits board members from receiving a salary and from serving in any official capacity at a related nonprofit organization.


The board of directors will also appoint a treasurer and the bill requires collaboratives to maintain a financial accounting system. The boards of each education collaborative will also be required to prepare an annual financial report and conduct an independent audit, which will be made publicly available online. (Chapter 43 of the Acts of 2012)


Electricity Cost


This legislation directly addresses competition among utility companies and the high costs of electricity which is a major obstacle for business growth in Massachusetts. The average electric rate in Massachusetts is 14.24 cents per kilowatt hour – the seventh highest in the United States and well above the national average of 10 cents.


To increase competition in the market, the bill ends the current long-term contract program under the Green Communities Act by December 2012 and requires investor-owned utilities to competitively bid proposals from renewable energy suppliers for long-term renewable energy contracts. And by increasing the overall net metering cap from 3 percent to 6 percent, the legislation doubles the existing limits on municipal and privately-owned projects that generate their own renewable energy.  Anaerobic digestion projects will now be eligible for net metering credits, an important addition to the program for Commonwealth farmers. The legislation also extends by two years the ability of distribution companies to own solar facilities, and allows communities to develop renewable energy sources on capped landfills. (Enacted by the Senate on July 31, 2012)




This legislation is designed to ensure that public employers and public employees have the appropriate tools to negotiate collective bargaining agreements. Reaffirming a long-standing practice, it permits public employees to continue working under the terms of an expired contract until a successor agreement is in place. These provisions, known as “evergreen clauses,” had been ruled invalid by a court decision in 2010 because they had not been explicitly sanctioned by state law. (Chapter 198 of the Acts of 2011)


Expanded Gaming


This legislation allows three resort casinos in separate regions of the state and one openly-bid slot facility. The legislation could provide 10,000 to 15,000 long-term jobs in the Commonwealth and generate hundreds-of-millions of dollars a year for the state.


Under the bill, the state receives revenue from a 25 percent tax on casino revenues and a 40 percent tax on the slots facility revenues to fund essential state and local services, including public safety, education, transportation, public health, debt reduction, local aid and the stabilization fund. Licensing fees collected by the state – at least $85 million for each casino and $25 million for the slot facility license – would be used for community mitigation, local capital projects, community colleges, tourism and other municipal needs.


The legislation contains strong community aid and mitigation provisions requiring the Gaming Commission to work with municipalities on reducing potential negative effects brought on by a gaming establishment. Most importantly, no gaming facility would be built in a community without the residents of that community approving a project in a referendum vote.


The legislation also provides protections for local business, requiring gaming facilities to negotiate agreements to level the playing field in terms of live entertainment and other cultural-related events.


Additionally, the legislation recognizes federal tribal rights and therefore authorizes the governor to contract with Native American tribes before casino license applications are submitted. There are currently two federally recognized tribes in Massachusetts: the Mashpee Wampanoag and the Aquinnah. (Chapter 194 of the Acts of 2011)


EZ-ID License Plates


This legislation creates a task force to look at changing state motor vehicle license plates to add symbols to make them more recognizable and easier to remember. The bill suggests changing Massachusetts license plates to feature four alphanumeric characters and one easily recognized symbol, such as a circle or star. The bill is named in honor of 16-year-old Molly Bish who was abducted and murdered in 2000. (S.2299, passed by the Senate on July 30, 2012)




This legislation will prevent unnecessary and unlawful foreclosures and reduce the number of abandoned properties across the Commonwealth. The bill requires banks and other lenders to offer loan modifications to borrowers in certain circumstances to avoid foreclosures, with a 150-day timeframe for deciding whether or not to offer the loan modification.


The bill also incorporates two recent Supreme Judicial Court decisions requiring lenders to prove they are the current legal holder of a mortgage and the holder of the mortgage note before beginning a foreclosure. The legislation also prohibits lenders from passing along costs of prior improper foreclosures or imposing fees for services not provided in connection with a foreclosure. Furthermore, it requires the Division of Banks, in consultation with the Attorney General’s Office, to track the resolution of certain mortgage loans and report to the Joint Committee on Financial Services within 90 days of the end of each calendar year through December 31, 2017. (Enacted by the Senate on July 26, 2012)


Fraud in Publicly Opened Contracts


This legislation defines what constitutes fraud relative to public construction bid laws and levels the playing field for all contractors who do not make false representations when bidding for a job. (S. 2212, passed by the Senate on April 12, 2012)


Gaming Compact


This legislation ratified the Tribal Gaming Compact negotiated between the Governor and the Mashpee Wampanoag Tribe.  This compact will be submitted to the Bureau of Indian Affairs for its review. If the compact is approved, it will pave the way towards a tribal casino in Taunton, leading to hundreds of construction and service jobs. (Resolve signed by the Governor on July 30, 2012)


Government and Finance Reform


This bipartisan legislation makes fundamental changes in the operations of state government, updating antiquated finance laws and implementing performance measurement requirements for all government agencies and programs to improve efficiency, transparency and accountability. The bill requires the use of data to regularly evaluate the effectiveness of agencies and programs throughout state government, including the executive branch. The legislation also pushes agencies to use more efficient electronic accounting and reporting systems, requires quarterly cash flow reports and establishes a commission to make recommendations on the feasibility of moving the Commonwealth from a traditional “maintenance”-based budgeting to a modern “zero”-based budgeting process for FY16. (Enacted by the Senate on July 19, 2012)


HIV Screening


This legislation provides greater access to routine HIV screenings for residents across the Commonwealth by eliminating the need for doctors to obtain written consent from patients. The bill requires doctors to only obtain verbal consent before testing patients for HIV. Prior the passage of this bill, Massachusetts was one of only two states in the country requiring written consent to get an HIV test. (Chapter 84 of the Acts of 2012)



Human Trafficking


Under this legislation, anyone involved in the organization of forced labor and sexual servitude would face tough criminal penalties. The crackdown on human trafficking, which is being hailed as the toughest legislation of its kind in the nation, also establishes important protections for victims and children to help them access necessary services.


The legislation includes criminal sentences up to five years in prison for attempted human trafficking, up to 20 years for trafficking adults, and up to life imprisonment for the trafficking of minors. Businesses involved in trafficking would face up to a $1 million fine for the first offense, with a mandatory minimum of 10 years to a maximum of life for a second offense. These offenses also carry a 5-year mandatory minimum sentence.


The legislation also removes any statute of limitations for trafficking crimes and creates a 15-year criminal penalty for trafficking human organs, and it updates sex offender registration laws to include human trafficking and the enticement of a minor into prostitution through the use of electronic devices. Anyone convicted of these crimes would be required to register in Massachusetts as a sex offender.


To further protect and help victims, the legislation creates the “Victims of Human Trafficking Trust Fund” which will be funded from fines and convicted human traffickers’ forfeited assets. Additionally, items used in the commission of the crime (buildings, cars, boats, etc.) are subject to asset forfeiture with all of the proceeds going to the victims fund. (Chapter 178 of the Acts of 2011)


Interstate Compact on the Placement of Children


This legislation updates the interstate compact that was adopted in 1960. The bill ensures a more efficient process for foster care and the adoption of children and creates an interstate commission. (S.63, passed by Senate on April 12, 2012)


Item Pricing


This legislation allows supermarkets and other stores to opt out of requirements that each food product have a price tag on it, as long as the stores meet certain conditions. The bill enables stores to use price scanning devices and would free up stores to spend time and money on other activities to help consumers. (Chapter 138 of the Acts of 2012)


Labor and Workforce Development Reorganization


This legislation streamlines the operations of the Executive Office of Labor and Workforce Development (LWD) and eliminates unnecessary parts of the original structure. The bill eliminates the middle management in charge of LWD and renames five agencies, including the Department of Career Service, the Department of Labor Relations and the Department of Labor Standards, eliminating confusion by naming all the agencies as departments. (Chapter 3 of the Acts of 2011)


MBTA Reform


This bill approves an emergency funding package that will help the MBTA close its budget deficit for the 2012 fiscal year. The bill requires the Registry of Motor Vehicles to transfer $51 million in vehicle inspection fees to the Massachusetts Transportation Fund and distribute $2 million to the RTAs and $49 million to the MBTA. The Massachusetts Department of Transportation (MassDOT) must also transfer $1.5 million in surplus from its snow and ice budget to the Regional Transit Authorities.


The legislation also increases fare evasion penalties to $75 for the first offense, $200 for the second offense, and $350 for each subsequent offense. According to the bill, if a fine is not paid within 21 days, the violator’s driver’s license will be suspended until it is paid.


The legislation requires the board of MassDOT to develop a long-term transportation financing plan for the state by December 31, 2012. (Chapter 132 of the Acts of 2012)


Municipal Health Insurance


Included in the Fiscal Year 2012 budget, this plan reformed municipal health insurance to provide savings for cities and towns while ensuring that employees and retirees have a strong voice without a veto. The legislation allows municipalities to alter co-payments, deductibles and other plan design features so long as such features are no greater in dollar amount than those offered by the Group Insurance Commission plan with the largest subscriber enrollment.


The municipal employee health reform plan does not alter collective bargaining rights associated with premium splits. Furthermore, as a local option proposal, cities and towns will not be required to implement plan design changes for employees. Rather, municipalities will have the option to implement or abstain from plan design changes. (Chapter 69 of the Acts of 2011)


Non-Profit Retirement Options


This legislation allows the treasurer to research current retirement programs available to non-profit employees and the benefits of creating a retirement program for non-profit employees.  (Chapter 60 of the Acts of 2012)





Nurse-Midwives Practice


This bill authorizes nurse-midwives to issue written prescriptions and order and interpret tests and therapeutics, so long as the care is consistent with the standards established by the American College of Nurse-Midwives. The Department of Public Health (DPH) will be charged with registering nurse-midwives to issue prescriptions, and DPH will work jointly with the Boards of Registration in Nursing and Medicine to authorize controlled substances for which nurse-midwives may be certified.


This legislation further enhances the medical authority of nurse-midwives by eliminating the requirement that they practice as part of a team that includes a licensing physician with admitting privileges. Instead, nurse-midwives will be required to practice within a health care system and have clinical relationships with obstetrician-gynecologists that will provide consultation and referral.


This legislation aims to eliminate barriers to the use of nurse-midwives in Massachusetts, helping to lower Massachusetts’s high C-section rate and save on health care costs. (Chapter 24 of the Acts of 2012)


Payment Reform


This legislation is estimated to save the Commonwealth $200 billion over the next 15 years while improving the quality of care, increasing patient access, and strengthening the transparency and accountability of the state’s entire health care system. Health spending is projected to double from 2009 to 2020, outpacing both inflation and growth in the overall economy, while Massachusetts residents and businesses continue to struggle with increasing premiums and other health care costs.


The legislation, for the first time in the nation, establishes a statewide health care cost growth benchmark for the health care industry equal to the potential growth of the state’s gross state product (GSP) from years 2013 to 2017, then dropping it 0.5 percent below potential GSP from 2018 to 2022 and back to potential GSP for 2023 and beyond. Meeting this goal will result in an estimated $200 billion in savings in the health care industry over the next 15 years which will be passed onto businesses, municipalities and residents of the Commonwealth who are struggling with increasing premiums and other health care costs. (Enacted by the Senate on July 31, 2012)


Prescription Drug Monitoring


This bill will reduce the excess supply of prescription pain killers in Massachusetts and require physician registration in the state’s Prescription Monitoring Program to prevent patients from “doctor shopping” for highly addictive medications such as OxyContin and Vicodin. The top 30 percent of prescribers, who provide 90 percent of all controlled substances, are required to enroll immediately. All others would be phased-in over three years. Currently, participation in the program is voluntary, with only 1,700 out of 40,000 prescribers signed up.

Under the bill, the Department of Public Health will be required to produce informational pamphlets explaining addiction risks, signs of dependency, where to go for treatment, and ways to safely store and discard drugs. The pamphlets will be distributed by pharmacies with each prescription filled.


Pharmacies, drug manufacturers and other relevant parties will also be required to alert local police when reporting missing controlled substances to the Drug Enforcement Administration. Under the bill, doctors and hospitals will be required to notify a parent or guardian of any minor treated for drug overdose. Information on substance abuse treatment options must also be provided, and a social worker will be available for counseling prior to hospital discharge. (S.2125, passed by the Senate on February 2, 2012)


Proprietary Schools


This legislation provides greater protections for consumers and establishes the Office of Private Occupational School Education within the Division of Professional Licensure (DPL), eliminating the current overlapping authority over proprietary schools between DPL and the Department of Elementary and Secondary Education. The bill also removes the cap on the security that may be required from schools to ensure that students receive tuition refunds if a school suddenly closes. (Chapter 106 of the Acts of 2012)


Pension Reform


This pension reform legislation included anti-salary-spiking provisions and the elimination of a controversial early retirement loophole. The bill is projected to save the Commonwealth $5 billion over 30 years.


The bill prevents inappropriate salary spiking by increasing the career “look back” period from 3 years to 5 years to more accurately reflect an employee’s career earnings and provide a more equitable calculation of retirement benefits. It also prevents salary spiking by calculating the average annual rate for retirement compensation and regular earnings in any year cannot include pay that exceeds average earnings from the previous two years by more than 10 percent.


The bill also expands on a reform passed by the legislature two years ago which eliminated the so-called “Section 10” loophole that allowed elected officials to claim a “termination allowance” based on the failure to be nominated or re-elected. The bill eliminates that option entirely for all new employees and states that a retirement benefit cannot be received until the individual has reached the minimum retirement age.


Another major component of the bill is the increase in retirement age for all new employees, reconciling the fact that people are living and working longer than when the retirement ages were set in state law in the 1950s and 1960s. (Chapter 176 of the Acts of 2011)



Congressional Redistricting (Congressional)


This legislation reconfigures the Commonwealth into nine Congressional Districts. The plan includes the strongest minority-majority congressional districts in the state’s history, 56.6 percent minority population in the minority-majority district, an incumbent-free district made up of Southeastern Massachusetts and Cape Cod, and districts that make geographic sense. The Special Joint Committee on Redistricting heard 31 hours of testimony from more than 400 groups and individuals. The redistricting website received more than 45,000 hits. (Chapter 177 of the Acts of 2011)


Senate/House Redistricting


This legislation approves new state Senate districts as part of the decennial redistricting process. Under this legislation, 92 percent of Massachusetts residents remain in their current state Senate districts, fewer counties and communities are split, and districts are more compact. The Special Joint Committee on Redistricting held 13 public hearings across the state and created a website to provide opportunities for the public to participate in the redistricting process. The approved districts were also released two weeks in advance to allow additional public feedback and revisions.


Redistricting is a constitutionally required process that occurs every 10 years after the release of the US census data.  Population shifts occur over time and the redistricting committee is tasked with redrawing state political borders to ensure a more equal distribution of population between districts.  Over the past 10 years, the overall population deviation between districts increased to 18 percent. The new districts passed by the Senate are within plus or minus 5 percent of the ideal population for a Senate district, which is 163,691 persons. (Chapters 152 and 153 of the Acts of 2011)


2011 Sales Tax Holiday


This legislation approves a sales tax holiday weekend for August 13 and 14, making it the sixth year the Commonwealth provided a sales tax exemption for two days and the seventh year with at least one sales-tax-free day. The sales tax holiday applies to purchases under $2,500 and excludes vehicles, motorized boats, tobacco, meals and utilities. (Chapter 86 of the Acts of 2011)


Secondary Metals


This legislation requires all individuals dealing with scrap metals file a registration form with their chief of police, detailing their name, nature and location of the business. The bill also requires all dealers to keep daily transaction log for one year after the date of transaction. In addition, if a scrap metal dealer has metals that are suspected to be stolen then the metals must be held for police inspection. (H.3723, passed by the Senate on November 16, 2011)


Simulcasting Extension


This legislation extended the simulcasting law to January 31, 2012. (Chapter 77 of the Acts of 2011)


Stand for Children


This legislation provides funding for school districts to implement the state’s new evaluation system promoting effective teaching in Massachusetts public schools. The bill requires the Department of Elementary and Secondary Education to provide teachers and administrators with performance data collection training to ensure proper implementation of the Departments’ evaluation system. Finally, any layoffs due to workforce reduction or reorganization must start with non-professional teachers before any with professional teacher status, and job performance must take precedence over length of service. (Chapter 131 of the Acts of 2012)


State Alimony Reform


This bill reforms the Commonwealth’s alimony law, simplifying and clarifying current definitions and requirements based on recommendations from a special task force that spent hundreds of hours researching the issue. The legislation presents clear categories of alimony, including general term alimony which is the default form of alimony whereby payments are made to an economically dependent former spouse for a length of time based on the years of marriage, including short-term marriages of five years or less, which traditionally have been excluded.  (Chapter 124 of the Acts of 2011)


Storm Response


This legislation addresses the emergency service response of public utility companies in Massachusetts as a result of widespread power outages in communities across the state during 2011, caused by Tropical Storm Irene in August and the snowstorm in October.


The bill requires public utility companies to provide twice-daily estimates to customers on when electricity will be restored following a 24-hour damage assessment period, and to set up a call center during a major storm. The call center must be located in Massachusetts and must have sufficient staffing to handle increases in calls.


Utilities must also report storm outages to the state and designate a community liaison in each community when implementing an emergency response plan. The bill also requires utilities to designate staff at the Massachusetts Emergency Management Agency to help coordinate statewide response.


Additionally, utilities will pay an assessment charge to help the Department of Public Utilities pay for storm investigations. The cost of this assessment cannot be passed on to customers. The bill also ensures that any penalties assessed on utilities for violation of emergency preparation and response will be credited to customers. (Enacted by the Senate on July 31, 2012)


Supportive Housing


This legislation establishes the community housing and services memorandum of understand that will include an action plan for community-based services, capital subsidies and operating subsidies for new and existing housing available to residents with very low and extremely low incomes. The memorandum will also facilitate a demonstration program that creates up to 1,000 units of permanent supportive housing. The community housing memorandum must be filed by December 31, 2012. Finally, this legislation requires the department of elder affairs to study the establishment of a comprehensive elder affairs ombudsmen program to service the needs of elderly citizens. The findings must be filed by October 15, 2012. (Chapter 58 of the Acts of 2012)


Tiered Networks


This legislation provides for the continued health plan coverage of individuals with serious diseases, including but not limited to cancer or cystic fibrosis, if a disruption in the course of medical treatment would cause harm to the patient. (Chapter 61 of the Acts of 2012)


Transgender Rights


This legislation serves to extend civil rights protections to transgender individuals. It adds the words “gender identity” to the state’s non-discrimination laws to protect transgender residents from discrimination in employment, housing, education and credit.


This provision defines “gender identity” as a person’s gender-related identity, appearance or behavior, whether or not that gender-related identity, appearance or behavior is different from that traditionally associated with the person’s physiology or assigned sex at birth. Gender-related identity may be shown by providing evidence including medical history, care or treatment of the gender-related identity, consistent and uniform assertion of the gender-related identity or any other evidence that the gender-related identity is sincerely held, as part of a person’s core identity.  (Chapter 199 of the Acts of 2011)


Transitional Educators


This legislation improves transition planning and services required by federal law, and will help Massachusetts students with special needs be better prepared to get a job, go to college and live on their own. Under the bill, the Massachusetts Board of Elementary and Secondary Education will establish an endorsement program by which licensed special education teachers and rehabilitation counselors can receive the additional training and field experience necessary to qualify as transition coordinators. (Chapter 43 of the Acts of 2012)

FY13 Transportation Bond Bill


The Transportation Bond Bill provides funding for existing transportation improvement projects through Fiscal Year 2013. This legislation authorizes the state to borrow $683 million for existing projects, ensuring that state dollars will be available to leverage federal funding for a total of $1.39 billion. (Enacted by the Senate on July 31, 2012)


Unemployment Benefits Extension


This legislation ensured that out-of-work residents did not lose federal unemployment benefits at the end of March 2011. After unemployed workers exhaust their state benefits, they are eligible for up to 20 weeks of extended benefits under a federal program. The bill was originally part of the governor’s supplemental budget but was passed separately to meet the March 31 federal deadline. (Chapter 6 of the Acts of 2011)


Unemployment Insurance Rate Freeze


This legislation freezes the Unemployment Insurance rate which was scheduled to increase by over $228 per employee. Without the freeze, the average employers would see the per-employee payment jump from $644 to $872. (Chapter 2 of the Acts of 2011)


Uniform Anatomical Gift Act


This legislation will promote organ donation by updating Massachusetts’ Uniform Anatomical Gift Act (UAGA). The legislation is an important step to increase organ donations by aligning state statute with requirements currently in effect in neighboring states. Under current requirements, New England’s sole organ procurement organization must navigate various state-by-state requirements with minor differences. Standardization of these requirements throughout the region will facilitate organ donation across state lines and provide Massachusetts residents with greater availability of organs for transplant. (Chapter 39 of the Acts of 2012)


Valor Act


This legislation creates increased supports for veteran-owned businesses, Gold Star Families, military children and higher education access in the Commonwealth. Among other provisions, the VALOR Act provides greater access to financial assistance for small businesses; affords greater opportunities for service-disabled veterans to participate in public projects; makes it easier for children of military personnel to transfer between school districts and states; and expands supports from the Massachusetts Military Family Relief Fund to Gold Star Families. (Chapter 108 of the Acts of 2012)


Vendor Contracts


This legislation allows the state auditor oversight access to any vendor performing services to the Commonwealth. (Chapter 172 of the Acts of 2011)


Workers’ Compensation Insurance


This legislation addresses a discrepancy in the current general laws where an employer with workers compensation insurance who violates the law faces a criminal felony while an employer without insurance faces a misdemeanor. This bill enables the attorney general to prosecute delinquent companies who fail to pay workers’ compensation and encourages employers to comply with the law. (S.915, passed by the Senate April 26, 2012)






Published by Will Brownsberger

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

One reply on “Senate Legislative Accomplishments — Session Wrap Up”

Comments are closed.