Dear Constituents and Friends,
As we move toward elections and year’s end, I want to give you an update on the lawmaking part of my work at the State House. (I’ll be sending out a separate update on district-specific issues and projects.) The House and Senate continue to meet in “informal” sessions, but will only act on legislation that is routine or has such broad support that no roll call vote is necessary. I’m still hoping to get one or two bills across the finish line before New Year’s, but with the end of formal sessions, the bulk of the legislation for 2016 is in the books.
In order to keep this update to a reasonable length, I have necessarily abbreviated my descriptions. If you have any questions or concerns, would like to learn more about a particular piece of legislation or policy area, or would like to sign up to receive periodic updates like this one over email, please be in touch with me at email@example.com or 617-722-2140.
Noteworthy legislation passed in 2016:
- An opioid abuse prevention bill that requires substance use evaluations for ER patients with opioid overdose symptoms, improves information on available treatment beds, tightens prescribing practices while preserving access to opioids for people with chronic pain, and expands education for students and medical professionals
- Economic development legislation that promotes job training and other building blocks of Massachusetts’ innovation economy
- Repeal of a 1989 law that required suspension of driver’s licenses for those convicted of drug offenses
- The HOME Act to reduce barriers to housing and employment for veterans
- Transgender rights legislation that extends full civil rights protections to those who identify as transgender
- Pay equity legislation that prohibits wage disparities due to gender
- Public records reform that lowers barriers to obtaining documents and information from local and state government
- A solar bill that raises the cap on solar power and an energy diversification bill that requires utilities to procure roughly twenty percent of the state’s electricity from hydropower and offshore wind
- A municipal modernization package that eliminates out-of-date requirements and promotes efficiency in local government
I was supportive of these bills (with the exception of the solar bill, on which more below) and am pleased overall with the output of the 2016 session. We adopted path-breaking legislation on opioids and equal rights, took initial steps toward criminal justice reform, made progress on clean energy, stood up for efficient, open government, and promoted employment and economic growth. On the other hand, I was disappointed that we were unable to complete other good legislation, including bilingual education reform, paid family leave, accessible housing, and regulation of e-cigarettes (though the Attorney General did issue rules incorporating my bill requiring child-proof packaging of liquid nicotine). These will continue to be priorities for me going forward.
One area where I devoted considerable effort this year was energy. One of the most important issues facing Massachusetts and the entire world is transitioning away from fossil fuels toward clean energy. Doing so will reduce our greenhouse gas emissions, stabilize and ultimately lower energy prices (and the external costs associated with burning fossil fuels), and redirect dollars currently going out of state for fossil fuels into local clean energy businesses and jobs.
Along with Representative Frank Smizik, Chair of the House Global Warming and Climate Change Committee, I championed a progressive approach to solar power legislation that was debated in the legislature over many months in 2015 and 2016. After a highly flawed bill initially passed the House in November 2015, I helped craft a letter to House leadership – ultimately signed by over 100 representatives – calling for provisions that more accurately account for solar’s benefits to ratepayers and the state. The final compromise that passed the full legislature in April 2016 was an improvement but I was still unable to support it, particularly due to its negative impact on community solar projects that make clean energy accessible to the 80% of Massachusetts residents who cannot put solar panels on their own roofs.
Over the course of the winter and spring, I also sought to make contributions to a broader bill to diversify our energy sources to include hydropower and offshore wind. I joined colleagues in promoting substantial procurements of these clean energy sources and opposing any subsidies for natural gas pipeline construction that would shift risk from utility companies to ratepayers and lock us into long-term investments in fossil fuels. The energy bill adopted at the end of formal sessions was consistent with these objectives and also included specific language I introduced requiring that these new clean energy projects be designed in a manner that mitigates environmental impacts.
More recently, I have been encouraged to see growing attention to the transportation sector in our clean energy strategy. We have made good progress in Massachusetts toward reducing greenhouse gas emissions from electricity generation – and are poised to make more with large procurements of hydro and wind power. But we are lagging in the transportation sector, which accounts for the largest share (40%) of the state’s GHG emissions.
My approach to this issue has been multifaceted, including support for public transit and other alternatives to single-occupancy vehicles (TMAs, ride-sharing, biking, walking). Recognizing, however, that cars will continue be a primary mode of transportation for many people, I have also worked to pass legislation containing a range of measures to spur electric vehicle (EV) adoption. The bill was reported out favorably by the Transportation Committee and is backed by a broad coalition of stakeholders, including EV manufacturers, charging stations, municipalities, public health experts, and environmentalists. The Senate has already signaled its support for the bill and I am hoping to get it adopted before the end of the year.
Finally, I want to give you an update on the Massachusetts Citizens’ Initiative Review (CIR) pilot project. As you may recall from my message in August, CIR is an innovative approach to informing voters about ballot questions that’s driven by voters themselves. In Oregon, where the model has been used for a number of years, voters have found it helpful in sorting through complicated ballot measures.
The Massachusetts CIR pilot is a partnership between my office, Tufts University’s Tisch College of Civic Life, and an organization called Healthy Democracy, which pioneered CIR in Oregon. In late August, the pilot project brought together a panel of 20 citizens to evaluate Question 4—the marijuana legalization ballot question. The 20 citizens were drawn from a random mailing to 10,000 Massachusetts voters and balanced to reflect the overall voting population in terms of age, gender, party affiliation, race and ethnicity, place of residence, and level of education. Over the course of four days, the citizen panelists heard from the campaigns pro and con, posed questions to independent policy experts, and deliberated among themselves. They then produced a Citizens’ Statement laying out what they see as the key facts voters should understand about Question 4 as well as the strongest and most reliable arguments for and against.
It was a remarkable and inspiring thing to see. 20 people who had never met before – a 91 year-old great grandmother from Springfield alongside a 20 year-old college student from Brockton – working collaboratively and conscientiously to produce a statement addressing what they felt their fellow voters would want to know about the varied and complicated issues related to marijuana legalization. Many of the citizen panelists afterwards described it as the most meaningful, empowering political experience of their lives.
The Citizens’ Statement on Q4 is now available on the project website: www.CIRMass2016.org. An independent research team out of Penn State has been holding focus groups with voters from across the state to learn whether they find it useful. I hope you too will take a look at the Statement and give me your feedback. In light of what we hear from voters, we will consider seeking to institutionalize CIR as a regular feature of elections in Massachusetts.
While I have tried to provide a comprehensive overview in this update, my legislative work is broad and varied. If there is legislation or a policy area that you would like to discuss, please do not hesitate to be in touch with me by email (firstname.lastname@example.org) or phone (617-722-2140).