Begining of 2017-18 Legislative Session is Upon Us

By Leominster Champion | on January 19, 2017
A column by state Sen. Jennifer Flanagan

All Massachusetts legislators have been sworn in, and a new legislative session is upon us. January is an exciting time to start fresh, and I am confident that my colleagues and I will tackle this upcoming session with energy. There are so many critically important issues on the line 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.

Last legislative session, I was the chair for the Mental Health and Substance Abuse Committee, Children, Families, and Persons with Disabilities Committee, and the Special Senate Committee on Opioids. Due to my leadership on these committees, my legislative priorities were aligned with these issues.

This coming session, I have similar aspirations. 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 for mental health is suicide prevention. This has always been a topic near and dear to my heart, and I want to evaluate what more we can do to eliminate suicide. 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.

Another major topic my colleagues and I will be tackling is marijuana legalization. Massachusetts residents voted to legalize marijuana, so my colleagues and I will be working to ensure proper policies will 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, and establishing firm regulations is crucial. Given that this is a first for the Commonwealth, we will all be moving as cautious as possible.

In recent sessions, we have been lucky enough to pass two bills related to treatment for substance abuse in an effort to combat the 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. In 2016, Gov. Charlie Baker signed Treatment, Prevention, and Education, which covers a wide array of services and prevention efforts that we hope will reduce substance addiction. We hope to keep the ball moving forward and look at post-treatment issues such as access to housing and jobs.

Finally, we 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.