News

Oct 18

Passes Major Reforms; Focuses on Job Creation, Economic Development

(BOSTON) – Speaker Robert A. DeLeo (D-Winthrop) joined Representative Scibak (D- South Hadley) and their colleagues in the Massachusetts House of Representatives in lauding the accomplishments of the 2009-2010 legislative session— a session that focused on job creation, strong fiscal management and reform that streamlined and improved state government. The House passed major bills pertaining to expanded gaming, economic development, small business health care, criminal offender record information system (CORI) reform and the siting of wind energy facilities. “After passing more reform legislation in the first few months than has been passed in years, the House delivered two on time, balanced budgets while approving major legislation to grow jobs in Massachusetts,” Speaker DeLeo said.  “It’s been an honor to work with Representative Scibak on the wide range of bills we completed that will stimulate our economy and improve the lives of families across the Commonwealth.” The expanded gaming legislation passed by both the House and Senate authorized three casinos as well as two slot venues which would be openly bid upon among the state’s racetracks. The bill would create an estimated 15,000 jobs in the Commonwealth while delivering over $70 million in immediate local aid to cities and towns.  The bill would create construction jobs in the short-term while providing long-term employment opportunities at each resort casino.  By authorizing slot machines at two of the state’s racetracks, the bill would also retain the jobs of hundreds already working at these facilities while providing revenue for immediate local aid. On economic development, the House passed a bill that includes a sales tax holiday for August 14th and 15th and promotes a business-friendly environment that will help small businesses open, expand and create jobs.  The bill will overhaul the state’s network of business development agencies, establishing a streamlined, cohesive model with built-in oversight and transparency to reduce redundancy and waste. The small business health care bill will reduce small business health insurance costs and promote job retention and job creation.  The bill reduces premium fluctuations in the market and requires insurers to offer affordable health plans.  The legislation also delivers an estimated premium relief of at least 10 percent that small businesses can save and reinvest in their operations and workforce.  It also establishes standardized transparency measures for provider pricing and annual public reporting which will decrease marketplace ambiguity and collect important financial information for ongoing policy discussions about long-term system reform. Legislation relative to criminal records (CORI) also passed both the House and Senate which increases access to criminal background checks while ensuring, where appropriate, records are not arbitrarily used to deny employment opportunities.   Information on all convictions for sex offenses, murder and manslaughter remain available for life and law enforcement will continue to have full access to CORI.  Improved accuracy and faster response times will be achieved through a new Internet-based system required by the legislation. The wind siting reform bill requires local approval for wind energy projects and expedites the permitting process of wind energy facilities.  The bill requires communities that have significant wind areas to form a single board to review wind projects.  Regardless of any permits that are issued at the state or federal level, no building permit would be issued and no wind energy project would be built without local approval. The House also passed legislation aimed at protecting tenants in foreclosed properties and helping lenders and homeowners avoid foreclosure.  The bill establishes protections for tenants living in properties that have been taken over by a lender after foreclosure while extending the “right-to-cure” period in some circumstances.  The “right-to-cure” period allows lenders and homeowners a window to work out a new payment plan to avoid foreclosure. In addition to the host of bills passed in July, the House passed a balanced budget, approved safe-driving legislation, and passed legislation improving safety regulations for all-terrain vehicles (ATVs).  The House also gave its approval to landmark education reform and anti-bullying legislation.  In June, the House gave final passage to a $27.94 billion Fiscal Year 2011 state budget that increased transparency of public spending and included no new taxes.  The budget required the creation of a one-stop, comprehensive online database to track all public expenditures.  Compiled and monitored by the Executive Office of Administration and Finance, the website will allow anyone to access and review all public spending, contracts and procurements.  The budget also required the public disclosure of the results of certain tax credit programs, enhancing the openness of these initiatives. In addition, the House passed a bill banning texting while driving and prohibiting junior operators (18 and under) from using a cell phone or mobile device while driving.  The bill also mandates drivers 75 and older renew their licenses in-person and complete a vision test every five years.  It further authorizes and indemnifies health care providers and law enforcement to notify the Registry of Motor Vehicles (RMV) of any driver who may not be able to safely operate a vehicle. The House passed legislation improving safety regulations for operators of all-terrain vehicles (ATV’s).  New rules will require operators to wear helmets and, in most cases, prohibit those under the age of 14 from operating an ATV.  In limited cases where young teens will be allowed to ride ATV’s, such as at officially sanctioned and supervised races, the bill limits the engine capacity of the vehicles used to 90 cubic centimeters. Also passed was a municipal relief package that establishes a statewide mutual aid agreement to allow cities and towns to share resources, permits municipalities to extend funding schedules for pension systems and allows for regionalization efforts among municipalities. The House voted to join the interstate National Popular Vote compact which would ensure that the candidate who wins the national popular vote is elected President of the United States. Last winter, the House passed comprehensive anti-bullying legislation.  The bill prohibits bullying and cyber-bullying, directs schools to implement bullying prevention and intervention plans and requires school staff to report incidents of bullying.  In addition, schools will be required to include bullying prevention in their curriculum.  To stop bullying when it happens, the legislation requires school staff to report incidents of bullying to the principal, who must then investigate and take appropriate disciplinary action.  The bill prohibits bullying on school grounds, school busses, at school-sponsored activities and bullying through the use of electronic communications. The House began 2010 with passage of landmark education reform focused on eliminating the achievement gap in schools across the Commonwealth.  The bill gives the state stronger authority to intervene in underperforming districts, lifts the cap on charter schools in the lowest performing school districts and helps to facilitate innovation and excellence in schools throughout Massachusetts. In 2009, the Massachusetts House of Representatives began the legislative session with a season of reform.  On transportation reform, the House and Senate passed a landmark bill that eliminated the Turnpike Authority, ensured toll equity, abolished the “23 and out” rule at the MBTA and brought all active and retired MBTA workers under the state’s Group Insurance Commission.  The transportation reform bill not only eliminated the antiquated and inefficient transportation structure in Massachusetts, but it also brought considerable cost savings to the state and helped alleviate the need for a toll increase or a proposed gas tax increase last summer. On pension reform, the House approved legislation that closed loopholes and eliminated the worst offenses in the pension system.  These reforms resulted in significant taxpayer savings and helped to restore public trust in state oversight of public pensions.  This reform removed the “king for a day” loophole and extended the “vesting” requirement of elected officials from six years to ten years while eliminating termination benefits for all state employees and imposing criminal penalties for pension fraud. The House completed this historic cycle of legislative reform by passing an ethics bill that strengthened current ethics, lobbying and campaign finance laws and enhanced the integrity of the political process while helping to restore public trust.  The consensus bill not only barred gifts to public officials, but also increased the authority of the Ethics Commission to investigate and prosecute alleged ethics violations. Amid the challenges of the past session, the Commonwealth of Massachusetts was also confronted with the tragic loss of Senator Edward M. Kennedy.  Faced with the prospect of Massachusetts going underrepresented in the Senate, the House passed legislation allowing the Governor to appoint an interim Senator to represent Massachusetts until a new Senator is elected. The House began the session by passing a broad rules reform package that limited the Speaker’s term to a maximum of eight years, instituted mandatory ethics training and allowed the Speaker to unilaterally remove a member from a leadership position or committee if they receive a criminal indictment. Other House accomplishments include:
  • School nutrition legislation instituting nutritional guidelines for foods and beverages sold to students outside of the federal meal program.  The legislation establishes standards for products sold in vending machines, school stores, and cafeteria a la carte lines;
  • Autism insurance legislation requiring health insurance companies to cover the diagnosis of and treatment for Autism Spectrum Disorders;
  • The Restaurant Rejuvenation Act which allows restaurants to serve alcohol at Sunday Brunch;
  • Legislation requiring the Pension Reserves Investment Trust Fund (PRIT) to divest from companies conducting business operations in Iran;
  • Overriding of a gubernatorial budget veto to reinstate the $12.5 million in funding for the Workforce Training Fund which provides employers with grants aimed at educating and training existing members of the workforce and new hires;
  • A bill establishing punishment for the assault and battery of a correctional officer or employee of any jail with bodily fluids;
  • Legislation establishing a Silver Alert program to assist in locating seniors with Alzheimer’s and other forms of dementia who have gone missing;
  • Legislation expanding the “Welcome Home Bonus” program to give Massachusetts veterans expanded access to monetary bonuses upon returning from duty.  The bill also established the Massachusetts Medal of Liberty to honor fallen service members and offers increased housing opportunities for veterans;
  • A bill removing the unisex mandate imposed on Savings Bank Life Insurance (SBLI) to allow the company to compete against other life insurers on a level playing field;
  • A bill extending simulcasting at the Commonwealth’s racetracks to save jobs at these venues;
  • Legislation that would allow consumers to take advantage of prescription drug discounts in an effort to lower medical costs;
  • Legislation to preserve affordable housing and protect tenants living in publicly-assisted housing.  The bill allows the state and localities to purchase affordable housing units before they hit the open market and protects tenants of affordable housing units by requiring that they be given 24 months notice of affordability termination.

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