This week, the Senate President and House Speaker announced committee appointments for this session. I am Senate chair of the Committee on Marijuana; I will protect the will of the voters, while listening to suggestions for improvements to the ballot question. We will have hearings on the more than 70 bills filed, and other issues, and are expected to report before the end of June.
I will chair the Senate sub-committee of the Education Committee on aligning with and taking advantage of the new federal Every Child Succeeds Act. Our committee will examine the results of the current system of labeling and taking over schools based on test scores. That system was set up to make Massachusetts eligible for Race to the Top funding. The new federal law allows us to consider other ways of measuring student and school success, and better ways to respond to schools that need help.
I'll also serve as assistant vice-chair of the Senate Ways and Means Committee, and vice-chair of the Education and Labor Committees.
I'm lucky to represent a district with so many engaged and active people! In the past few weeks, well over a thousand constituents have emailed, asking me to cosponsor bills that were being filed. Hundreds more have called and visited our office. This newsletter reports on the most-requested bills, as well as some of those for which I'm lead Senate sponsor.
Bills the most people asked me to sponsor:
- Reproductive Health (>215 emails)
- Safe Communities Act (most calls and personally written emails)
- Bike/Road Safety Bill
- ACLU Freedom Agenda
- Animal Bills, including ivory and bees
- Environmental Protection, including carbon pricing
- Workers rights, including $15 minimum wage and paid family leave
- Criminal Justice Reform
- Automatic Voter Registration
(I've co-sponsored all of these.)
Bills for which I'm Lead Sponsor
I'm Senate lead sponsor for 42 bills. You can find a complete list here. A few are listed below. I'll write about criminal justice bills in another newsletter.
SD2050 An Act closing an unfair tax loophole
Hedge fund managers have a lower tax rate than many people who earn much less. This bill will close that "carried interest" loophole. Here's PBS' Paul Solman on the issue. (He couldn't find anyone to defend the loophole.)
SD1250 would determine the "lowest 10%" of school districts by student growth rather than the current measure, which mostly measures "achievement" on MCAS, which is closely correlated with income. Schools should be judged not by the student body they serve, but by how well they educate the students. (New Education Secretary Betsy DeVos doesn't know the difference between achievement and growth. Here's the conservative blog "the 74" agreeing that growth is the only reasonable measure of school performance: "Proficiency rewards schools for the students they take in, but not necessarily for how they teach students once they’re there.")
SD1253 An Act including transitory student enrollment in the calculation of aid under Chapter 70. Students who arrive after October 1 are not counted in determining the next year's state aid to the school district. This bill would particularly help districts who serve large numbers of immigrants and those with growing student populations.
SD1257 An Act increasing the personal needs allowance for residents of long term care facilities
Nursing/rest home residents are allowed to keep $72.80 of their monthly Social Security check to pay for clothing, shoes, medicine and other personal needs. This hasn't increased in many years, and residents of the Somerville Home in particular have told us how important it is to increase to $100.
SD1286 would examine cost trends and financial performance among nursing facilities. It's curious that out-of-state for-profit corporations find it profitable to buy up more and more nursing homes, while other nursing homes say they are losing money. This bill would be the first step in requiring that a minimum percentage of nursing home income be spent on patient care. The Globe's Kay Lazar has written extensively about the issue; here's one story.
SD1562 would prevent caregivers from working as soon as they are accused of abuse. If they are found guilty or their cases are continued without a finding, their licenses would be permanently suspended. They also would be barred from ever working with the elderly, children, and people with disabilities.
I filed this after WCVB Channel 5 reports of elder abuse in which perpetrators could continue to work as caregivers.
SD1255 requiring training of elder services workers in dementia and Alzheimer’s
SD1272 to require LGBT awareness training for aging service providers
SD1263 would allow Medicaid to pay for assisted living instead of nursing facilities for seniors who qualify for nursing home placement
SD1591 Qualifying seniors can choose to defer paying their property taxes. This bill would increase the local option income cap from $57,000 to $80,000.
SD1565 would protect senior homeowners by preventing the sale of their tax liens to third-party collectors.
ENERGY AND ENVIRONMENT
SD1674 will prevent electric and gas companies from passing the costs of building or expanding gas pipelines onto consumers. It protects consumers against the pipeline tax.
I'm currently cosponsoring over 200 bills. The Senate list is here, but the House list isn't posted yet. It's still possible to cosponsor Senate bills, though House bill cosponsorship is closed.