The formal part of the 2017-2018 session of the Massachusetts legislature ended July 31, with passage of a number of bills LWVMA strongly supported, but also some keen disappointments.
A top League priority, automatic voter registration, passed both houses in the final hours and was signed into law by Governor Baker Aug. 9. It goes into effect before the 2020 election year. Massachusetts becomes the 14th state to enact automatic voter registration.
Another major priority, a strong criminal justice reform package, won approval in the legislature and the Governor’s signature earlier this year.
Three key bills affecting women became law: the pregnant workers’ fairness act; the ACCESS bill to provide contraceptive coverage without co-pays or deductibles; and the repeal of archaic laws targeting abortion and contraception.
In the important area of clean energy and climate change, after the Senate passed a bold, comprehensive energy bill in June, advocates had high hopes for strong, comprehensive energy legislation. However, the bill that passed on the last day of the session was a variation on several less-comprehensive House bills. This clean energy bill, which was signed by the Governor, did not include such important reforms as carbon pricing, but did include these provisions LWVMA supported:
- An increase to the Renewable Portfolio Standard (2% rather than 3%)
- Establishment of a 1,000 megawatt energy storage target for 2025
- An additional 1,600 megawatts of offshore wind resources, including new offshore wind transmission systems
- Improvements to energy efficiency programs
- Direction to utilities to explore ways to upgrade their distribution networks that do not involve building large transmission projects
- A requirement that the Department of Public Utilities more effectively manage and quantify natural gas leaks.
A project-based civics education proposal which we supported was passed by both houses. The Governor sent the bill back to the legislature with amendments, and a committee is working to resolve those issues and return the bill to the Governor.
The extreme risk protection order or “red flag” gun control bill to enable family members or law enforcement officials to petition a court to remove guns from people considered a likely threat to themselves or others passed following the highly-publicized school shooting in Parkland, FL.
A health care bill to require that insurance documents with confidential health information be sent only to the patient was signed into law.
Legislation aiding low-income and moderate-income people which passed included a bond bill to preserve and to create additional moderate-income and affordable housing; and an earned income tax credit, included in the budget.
A measure to repeal the “cap on kids” banning welfare payments for children conceived after a family qualifies for aid was inserted in budget, then the Governor returned that provision to the legislature with an amendment. The legislature did not accept the amendment, and the Governor vetoed the “lift the cap on kids” provision in the budget.
We were disappointed that another League priority, the Safe Communities Act, to make sure local law enforcement officials and local resources are not used to identify, register and deport undocumented immigrants who pose no known threat, did not pass as filed and that a Senate provision added to the budget to protect the rights of immigrants was eliminated from the final version of the budget. LWVMA hopes the legislature takes up bills to protect the immigrant community at the very beginning of a new session in January.
Here is what happened with other legislation LWVMA followed this session:
Bills which were active until the end of the session but were not enacted:
- Modernize Foundation Budget school funding formula; competing versions did not get out of conference committee
- Healthy Youth Act for accurate, age-appropriate sex education; passed Senate, stalled in House
Energy & Environment:
- Carbon pricing
- Ban toxic flame retardants on furniture and other products sold in Massachusetts
- Increased funding for Community Preservation Act
- Tax credits for donating land for conservation
- New classification of advanced dental hygiene therapists
- License midwives practicing in out-of-hospital settings
- Bicycle and pedestrian safety omnibus bill
- Authorize municipalities to assess a “water-banking” fee on large-scale water users to mitigate the impact of major new and increased developments on water resources
- Require gender-neutral individual disability insurance
Bills which did not get out of committees and did not reach the floor for a vote:
- Zoning bill to permit construction of more low and moderate income housing
- Require training in domestic violence recognition for child advocates
Elections & Voting:
- Election Day registration
- Disclosure of tax returns before presidential candidate can be on Massachusetts primary ballot
- Allow overseas/military voting by email (LWVMA opposed)
- Require photo ID to vote (LWVMA opposed)
- Require producers to be responsible for discarded electronics
- Prohibit consumers from being charged for “lost gas” from leaks
- Repeal bottle deposit system (LWVMA opposed)
- Bar establishment of government registries based on identity or citizen monitoring
- Establish single-payer health care
- Study costs of single-payer vs. conventional health care systems
- In-state tuition at state colleges and universities for certain non-citizen students
Basic Human Needs:
- Repeal requirement that homeless families spend one night in an inappropriate location before qualifying for shelter
- Establish a common application for social safety-net services
- Bill of rights for people experiencing homelessness
- Regulations to maintain streamflow and water levels to protect aquatic life
- Authority to require water conservation during a drought
- Require a Massachusetts water quality and pollution control program report
- Transfer administration of the pollutant discharge elimination system from federal EPA to state Department of Environmental Protection (LWVMA opposed)
In total, our Legislative Action Committee of 19 legislative specialists followed more than 75 bills during this current legislative session, submitting written testimony on all the bills and testifying in person at hearings on many of them. You can see a list of that legislation and our written testimony here.
To mobilize League members across the state to contact their own legislators in support of these bills, LWVMA sent out 19 Mass. League Action newsletters and 22 separate Action Alerts. We organized two lobby days in support of automatic voter registration with our partners in the Election Modernization Coalition and participated in lobby days organized by other coalitions we work with, particularly on women’s issues and energy and environment issues.
A special thanks at the formal end of this legislative session to the members of the Legislative Action Committee over the past 18 months: Nancy Brumback, chair, and Clare Gordon, Louise Haldeman, Palma McLaughlin, Colleen Kirby, Terry Yoffie, Karen Mazza, Pat Costello, Linda Freedman, Launa Zimmaro, Loring Schwarz, June Michaels, Carolyn Lee, Jennifer Muroff, Sue McCalley, Janice Goodell, Karen Price, Lois Levin, Tanya Roy and Jess Sullivan.