Editorial on Legislative Priorities for the 2017-2018 Session

There are so many critically important issues on the line this legislative session that prioritizing is certainly a challenge.  However, each legislator does have their own set of priorities, and I would like to outline a few of mine.  This coming session, I hope to address deficiencies in the mental health system, improve suicide prevention programs, tackle the legalization of marijuana while also continuing to work on substance abuse legislation, and make improvements within the Department of Children and Families.

Mental health is always on my agenda, but this session I would like to focus on rising mental illness among our youth. There have been increasing diagnoses of mental illness among children, and this is creating a major problem for schools, hospitals, and families. I want to look at the big picture to analyze where we can have more support and what services need to be increased. Coinciding with legislation focused on mental health is suicide prevention. There are some wonderful organizations in North Central Massachusetts working hard to lower the number of suicides that occur in our district. I would love for the Legislature to be able to echo and support their efforts.

These are a few examples of bills I have filed related to mental health: 'An Act Relative to Behavioral Health Telemedicine' that will require telemedicine be reimbursed by MassHealth and commercial insurance for behavioral health services.  Having coverage for all behavioral health services is critical.  In addition, 'An Act to Ensure Adequate Nursing Services at Public Schools' will require that each public school has at least one licensed nurse assigned to it by the respective school committee.  It also ensures that each facility is equipped with the proper tools necessary for physicians and nurses to treat students. Having proper nursing staff on hand is essential in schools today where behavioral health is a major hurdle.

Another major topic my colleagues and I will be tackling is the legalization of marijuana. Massachusetts residents voted to legalize marijuana, so the legislature will be working to ensure proper policies be implemented. Legislators want to be certain that this takes place in the most responsible way possible. There are many moving parts to legalizing marijuana, so establishing firm regulations is crucial. Given that this is a first for the Commonwealth, we will all be moving cautiously.

In recent sessions, we have been lucky enough to pass two bills related to treatment for substance abuse in an effort to combat the opioid epidemic plaguing the Commonwealth. The first was passed in 2014 to provide people with greater access to treatment by mandating insurance companies cover at least 14 days of treatment. The next in 2016 when Governor Charlie Baker signed Treatment, Prevention, and Education, which covers a wide array of services and prevention efforts that will reduce substance addiction. I hope to keep the ball moving forward and look at post-treatment issues such as access to housing and jobs.

The legislature will be working to improve the Department of Children and Families by providing the department with the resources necessary to do their jobs. We are looking forward to introducing legislation to create positive developments and team up with the department to ensure success with keeping families in the Commonwealth safe and healthy. Two major bills I am supporting this session are 'An Act Strengthening Protection of Children in the Commonwealth' and 'An Act Relative to the Re-homing of Children.' 'An Act Strengthening Protection of Children in the Commonwealth' will create a foster parent bill of rights, encourages additional supports for children engaged in foster care services, specifically youth aging out of the system, and requires mandated reports as well as mandatory refresher trainings.  'An Act Relative to the Re-homing of Children' will prevent families from re-homing adopted children.  It will require adoption agencies to counsel families who are adopting children with emotional disorders.

Another major bill I filed this year is the Online Lottery Bill.  'An Act Relative to Online Lottery' gives the Massachusetts lottery the authority over any future online products that are developed.  In addition, it creates consumer protection guidelines for the creation of these products.  Some of these protections will only allow a certain amount of money to be spent per user, shut off capabilities after a certain point, and monitoring of money and time spent gambling to deter from over usage.



Senate Legislative Accomplishments

The 189th Session of the Senate: January 2015 – July 2016 

Note: This list features bills that were signed into law by the Governor and does not include major bills only voted upon in the Senate.  

Civil Commitments for Alcohol and Substance Use Disorders (Section 35)

This legislation requires that all women who are civilly committed to substance abuse treatment no longer be sent to prison and instead be sent to a public health treatment bed.  (Ch. 8 of Acts of 2016)

Energy Diversity

This legislation seeks to diversity the state’s energy resources, including the use of offshore wind and hydropower to replace coal and nuclear and complement the states existing natural gas infrastructure.  A carbon reduction research center will be established at the University of Massachusetts to study and make recommendations regarding the state’s Global Warming Solutions Act goals. The bill also includes consumer protections such as a requirement that all energy contracts approved by the state must be cost-effective and costs cannot be passed down to the consumer. (Ch. 188 of Acts of 2016)

Financing Municipal Roads and Bridges
This legislation is a $800 million transportation bond package that includes $50 million for a new municipal small bridge program.  Small bridges are defined as spanning 10 to 20 feet and are in need of construction, preservation, reconstruction, or repair.  This law also makes it easier for municipalities to participate and utilize the state’s complete streets program, which encourages cities and towns to modernize streets. (Ch. 220 of Acts of 2016)

Fingerprint-based criminal record checks for adoptive and foster Parents

This legislation requires a fingerprint-based check of the National Crime Information Databases be conducted for each foster or preadoptive parent during the initial licensing study of an individual or a family.   This is now part of a comprehensive assessment that occurs prior to becoming a licensed foster parent in the Commonwealth.  (Ch. 63 of Acts of 2015)

Fiscal Year 2016 budget

The $38.145 billion state budget for Fiscal Year 2016 makes important investments in education, early education, college, and workforce training. Significant funding increases in Early Education vouchers will reduce waitlists and expand access in order to provide children a strong foundation for future success.  This budget increases unrestricted local aid for cities and towns by $34 million and increases public school funding by $111.2 million. 

The budget also includes funding for opioid addiction prevention and treatment, including money for additional treatment beds, and an innovative Narcan bulk purchasing program for municipalities to buy naloxone from the state at a discounted rate.   The budget also suspends for three years a law requiring a vetting process before privatization of services at the MBTA.  (Ch. 119 of Acts of 2015)

Fiscal Year 2017 budget

The $39.146 billion state budget for Fiscal Year 2017 invests in key areas related to local aid, education, children’s health and safety, housing, health and human services, workforce training and economic development.  This budget includes $4.63 billion for public school Chapter 70 education funding and $1.02 billion for unrestricted local aid. The FY 2017 budget continues to direct resources to address the opioid crisis in Massachusetts by including $139.2 million in total funding to fight the opioid epidemic.  This includes $12.5 million for step-down recovery services, secure treatment for opiate addition, family intervention services, recovery high schools and expansion of the nasal Narcan program to new sites. (Ch. 133 of Acts of 2016)

Job Creation and Workforce Development

This legislation intends to create jobs and encourage public and private sector economic growth through a number of key incentives.  This new law features tax credits to promote investments in new companies, creates a commission to examine online gaming, and creates a new tax deduction for families tied to a college savings plan. The bill also includes $1 billion in capital spending including funding for MassWorks public infrastructure funding, brownfields redevelopment funding, and money for training equipment at the state’s career and technical education training programs. The bill also permits the sale of alcohol by liquor stores on Memorial Day, after noon, and allows certain grocery stores to include on-premises alcohol consumption areas.  A new farmer’s brewers license is also created to allow a business to both produce and pour their own alcoholic beverages on premises. (Ch. 219 of Acts of 2016)

Massachusetts Child Psychiatry Access Program (MCPAP)

This legislation creates services for women who are presenting with signs of postpartum depression to be delivered similarly to the Massachusetts Child Psychiatry Access Program.  MCPAP is an innovative program designed to address the severe problems families face in getting access to child psychiatric services in Massachusetts. MCPAP provides primary care physicians, pediatricians, nurse practitioners and access to one of six regional a team of child psychiatrists, psychologists and/or social workers, and care coordinators to consult with them in order to diagnose and treat mental health disorders. (Ch. 160 of Acts of 2016)

MBTA fare increases

This legislation strictly caps MBTA fare increases at 7-percent every two years.  This applies to any fare, including one-time rides or monthly passes. (Ch. 164 of Acts of 2016)

Motor Vehicle License Suspension

This legislation ends the automatic suspension of a driver’s license for drug offenders whose crimes have nothing to do with driving a vehicle.  The Registrar of Motor Vehicles is also required to reinstate the licenses of offenders whose licenses were previously suspended and repeal the $500 reinstatement fee. (Ch. 64 of Acts of 2016)

Modernizing Municipal Finance and Government

This legislation is the direct result of feedback from cities and towns about the need to streamline certain government regulations and processes, update outdated laws, and provide municipalities with greater independence and flexibility.   Reforms include updates to municipal finance, human resources practices, and procurement laws, including changes to competitive bidding processes.   To provide greater flexibility, cities and towns may enter into joint agreements on certain issues; individual municipalities may create special tax assessment zones for workforce housing; and streamlines tax collection procedures.  (Ch. 218 of Acts of 2016)

Pay Equity

This legislation prohibits discrimination in payment of wages based on the gender of the person doing the job.  Men and women must be paid equally for comparable work, unless the variation is based on a factor such as seniority, education level, training, experience, or a merit system such as sales performance. (Ch. 177 of Acts of 2016)

Preventing Animal Suffering and Death

This legislation allows a first responder to break a car window to rescue an animal from dangerously hot or cold temperatures.  A private citizen may enter the car if the animal is in imminent danger and a reasonable effort has been made to find the owner, call 911, and remain with the animal until first responders arrive.  Additional animal protections include reducing the time an animal can be tethered outside from 24 to 5 hours, and no animals may be tethered outside during severe weather. (Ch. 248 of Acts of 2016)

Public Records

This legislation overhauls the state public records law for the first time in 43 years.  Cities and towns will be required to have records compliance officers and shortens the timetable under which a municipality or government agency must fulfill a public records request.  Agencies subject to the public records law are encouraged to make records available in electronic format and cost limits are included to prevent unnecessary charges to the requestor.  (Ch. 121 of Acts of 2016)

Reports for opiate overdoses

This legislation requires the Executive Office of Health and Human Services to conduct an investigation of individuals who have suffered a fatal opiate overdose in 2014 to aggregate de-identified information on trends in prescribing and treatment history prior to the overdose. The report shall include information about trends in patient interactions with providers, numerous prescriptions, and treatment trends among other trends. (Ch. 55 of Acts of 2015)

Substance Abuse Treatment, Education, and Prevention

This omnibus legislation includes a number of provisions meant to educate youth on the dangers of opioids in order to reduce future addictions and provide safety measures for adults at risk of addiction.  This legislation will require middle and high school students to be screened for signs of substance abuse and addiction and be provided with additional education about the dangers of prescription medication.  Patient protections include a 7-day limit on first time opioid prescriptions, the option to partially fill an opioid prescription at a pharmacy, and additional education for medical students and prescribers about opiate addiction.  Individuals who present at an emergency room with a drug overdose will be offered counseling and access to treatment. (Ch. 52 of Acts of 2016)

Tanning Facility Regulations

This legislation bans anyone under the age of 18 from using or operating an indoor tanning bed. (Ch. 31 of Acts of 2016)

Thomas P. Kennedy Spinal Cord Injury Trust Fund

This legislation renames a fund used to help finance research on spinal cord injuries after the late Senator Thomas Kennedy and updates the current method of providing funding through the certain driver suspensions, moving violations, and surchargable offenses.  (Ch. 123 of Acts of 2016)

Trafficking of Fentanyl

This legislation makes the trafficking of more than 10 grams of Fentanyl, a drug 50 to 100 times more potent than heroin, punishable by up to 20 years in prison.  Prior to this law, there were no criminal penalties that law enforcement could use to charge a Fentanyl trafficker.  (Ch. 136 of Acts of 2015)

Transportation Network Companies

This legislation creates a stronger regulatory framework for transportation networking companies, which are application-based, ride-for-hire services such as Uber or Lyft.  The bill creates a new division in the Department of Public Utilities to regulate such services, with the new division being financed by a surcharge on revenues earned by such transportation services.  In order to protect rider safety, a two-tiered background check system will require that all drivers undergo a review by both the state and the company.  Drives will be required to display a decal provided by the company to identify that they have been vetted by the company and are a ride-for-hire employee.  Companies will also pay a 20-cent per ride fee, of which 10-cents will go to the city or town of the ride origin, 5-cents to the Department of Transportation, and 5-cents for MassDevelopment to provide grants to taxi cab drivers for workforce development. (Ch. 187 of Acts of 2016) 

Veteran’s Housing, Operations, Military Service, and Enrichment (HOME Act)

This omnibus legislation provides supports for active military members, veterans, gold start families and the state’s two Soldiers’ Homes.  This bill establishes the Office of State Veterans’ Homes and Housing within the Department of Veterans’ Services to serve as an advisor to the secretary on matters of veterans’ housing and long term care.  Veterans shall be given preference in certain housing units for the elderly and disabled, and active services members, veterans, and surviving spouses shall be offered certain real estate and property tax benefits to maintain their homes.  This legislation also expands the Public Service Scholarship to any children of services members held as prisoners of war or missing in action.  (Ch. 141 of Acts of 2016)