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Senator Richard J. Ross, State House Update, August 2016
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State Senator Richard J. Ross (R-Wrentham) proudly serving the Norfolk, Bristol and Middlesex District.

State House 
Room 419
Boston, MA 02133

Ph: 617-722-1555
Fax: 617-722-1054
Email: richard.ross@masenate.gov
Dear Friends,

Though the State House has been relatively quiet this August, I have been very busy meeting with constituents and listening to your suggestions and concerns following the end of the session.

Please read/share my monthly newsletter for information on legislation and constituents, as well as my stance on recent MBTA reform efforts.

As always, thank you for giving me the opportunity to serve you. Please do not hesitate to reach out with any questions or concerns. My constituents are my number one priority.


Sincerely,
ONGOING REFORMS AT THE MBTA

Over a year ago I expressed concerns with the unstable finances of the Massachusetts Bay Transportation Authority (MBTA). Since then, I joined Senate Republicans in filing an amendment to the FY16 budget, which led to the creation of the Fiscal Management Control Board (FMCB). The amendment proposed that the board would provide strict oversight of the beleaguered agency.
 
Shortly after it was formed, the FMCB conducted a review of the major problems the MBTA was facing. From that review we learned that the T has an unsustainable operating budget while not preserving its core system and struggling to get projects completed. Not only did they have frequent leadership changes, but they also were found to have weak workplace protocols and lacked customer focus. The most significant finding was that the MBTA was not underfunded, but simply lacked the management and direction needed to effect serious reforms.
 
Fortunately, the Commonwealth endured a calm winter this year, and the MBTA had little to no operating issues caused by recent harsh weather conditions. However, over the past year, the MBTA has been weathering its own storm. As the agency’s FMCB finished its first year since it was enacted in 2015, we now have a clear understanding of the extent of reform necessary to transform this part of our transportation system.
 
The Commonwealth has been throwing money into a beast that cannot contain itself. The MBTA has been given various resources and opportunities to get back on track from state contracts to a well-rounded capital budget. The system has had the funding and resources, but has never been able to take advantage of them sufficiently.
 
With a flat lined operating budget the T required no additional funding increases for FY 16. But due to no increase in ridership, the T has yet again turned to a fare increase to make ends meet. Recently, the Legislature passed an amendment that would prohibit MBTA fares from being increased more than once within a two year period as well as being increased more than 7 percent during a two year period. I supported this amendment because I believe the T should not depend on its consumers to be the solution to the issue. The legislation also provides flexibility to the MBTA, rather than have the agency returning to the legislature with new requests.
 
New findings show that the T’s money management process contains serious risks. In a recent consultant's review, it was discovered that the MBTA’s cash handling procedures were not secure. Doors to the money room where the facility handles nearly $200 million per year were found not alarmed or access controlled – a flaw that the system cannot be willing to risk or ignore under current circumstances.
 
Another major concern the MBTA is facing is the mismanagement and severe underproduction of its pension system. The system loses $89 million a year in assets. The public records bill that I supported made T records public, including details of their disappointing pension fund. After management’s frequently failed reforms, Governor Baker recommends it be managed by the state’s PRIM system this January.
 
Governor Baker’s administration has done a great job when it comes to turning these problems into solutions and giving the MBTA the momentum it needs. They have pushed the T to use state contracts to purchase millions of dollars’ worth of goods and services at lower costs. The administration also helped them save money in areas such as supporting the suspension of the Green Line Extension for its redesign, cutting off hundreds of unused wireless devices, and encouraging a digital advertising program to boost revenue.
 
We can only hope to have another mild winter, but this year we need to fully prepare for it. The T expects to double the funds spent on signals, switches, and tracks that are long overdue for replacement. With a focus on operating expenses and performance, any savings need to be invested into its infrastructure and construction so that we can see more projects on time and on budget.
 
It is clear that the MBTA will have to undergo substantial changes. With the T's rising operating expense and plateaued ridership, I hope to see changes in the administrative processes, money management, the pension system, infrastructure and various other problematic issues setting back our transit authority. The hardworking citizens of Massachusetts deserve a reliable, sustainable and consistent transportation system and it is time we follow through with that promise.
I toured LINX Camps in Wellesley and presented Joe Kahn, the Founder and Owner, with a citation for being selected as a BostonCentral 2016 Family Favorite Award Winner.
Recently, I met with Kirk and Jared Simon, the father-son duo of Simon’s Furniture, a wonderful family run business in Franklin.
PAY EQUITY BILL
A big milestone this August was the signing of the pay equity bill that established in law that men and women performing the same work should be paid equally. The bill was considered one of six major bills the governor hoped to sign before the end of the session.

The bill prohibits discrimination on the basis of gender in the payment of wages for comparable work, unless the variation is based on other factors such as seniority, education, training or experience. Originating from the Senate, the bill outlaws businesses from requiring a job applicant to disclose their previous salary information.

The now-law cleared the legislature unanimously, as both the House and the Senate hope to change the culture surrounding pay equity and gender equality. While I am happy to hear that the Commonwealth ranks 18th nationally for pay equity, it is still important to recognize that the state's wage gap is expected to persist until 2058. Everyday we are closer in our efforts to closing the wage gap, and this legislation is a big step in that process.
It was great to meet with Jack Lewis, the Executive Director of OUT MetroWest and discuss concerns of the LGBTQ community.
Visited the office of Robert Matson, a Chartered Financial Consultant to talk to him about his small business in Millis, specializing in financial services.
WHY I OPPOSE A HOTEL TAX ON SHORT-TERM RENTALS

Short-term vacation rental services like Airbnb are popular for Massachusetts destinations from Lexington to Cape Cod and the Berkshires. These rentals are cost-effective, and in turn, help the economy by boosting tourism. Imposing a tax on these fledgling services would do no more than stifle their growth.

In an effort to expand the earned income tax credit this year to benefit nearly 400,000 families in the Commonwealth, the Senate’s economic development bill proposed a tax on short-term rentals that would support this expansion. When we look to remedy solutions, we too often turn to a tax increase or new tax proposal and don’t carefully weigh the unintended consequences.

According to the Massachusetts Budget and Policy Center, the earned income tax credit expansion is expected to cost about $38 million a year. Through the creation of a tax on short-term room or property rentals among online services such as Airbnb, the Senate bill proposed it could partially pay for this expansion. But it is important to note that the Department of Revenue estimates this tax would deliver roughly $16.7 million in additional annual state revenue by 2018 – not even half of what the expansion would require.

This scenario would leave the taxpayers on the hook for an estimated $21.3 million in order to fund the tax credit expansion. Room-renters across the state should not be penalized because of the Commonwealth’s lack of budgetary forethought in funding that expansion.

Moreover, the proposed bill would affect all businesses that are currently exempt from occupancy taxes, including traditional ones. Small vacation rentals with less than four rooms, such as local bed and breakfasts, would no longer be exempt and therefore subject to this hotel tax.

As the Legislature continues to update statutes and remain current with the latest technology, it is crucial to recognize that short-term vacation rentals and traditional hotels are not one and the same. Unlike traditional hotels, services such as Airbnb utilize a peer-to-peer business model, target a different demographic, and rely on digital technology to operate. Online short-term rental services foster innovation in the Commonwealth; a tax on short-term vacation rentals is a tax on innovation and new ideas.

It was a fun time hosting trivia with the kids at the Needham Public Library’s summer reading program with the famous Bruins Mascot “Blades!”
The Municipal Modernization Act was signed into law this month, which includes initiatives that will improve municipal government efficiency.
THE REAL ID BILL
MARIJUANA LEGISLATION IS A BAD DEAL
The Real ID Bill, originally proposed by Senate Republicans back in May, was recently signed by Governor Baker.

This legislation brings Massachusetts into compliance with the federal Real ID law. 

The now-law, in which I supported, will put the Commonwealth on track to issue Real ID-compliant licenses by 2020.

Governor Baker added language to specify that Massachusetts licenses can only be obtained by people who are lawfully present in the country.
As a member of the Special Senate Committee on Marijuana, I actively took part in a comprehensive review of the impacts of marijuana. The committees findings were constructed over a year from over 75 expert stakeholders.

While I support the use of medical marijuana, in certain circumstances, I cannot support Question 4, the ballot question on legalizing marijuana. Though public health safety is my main concern, there are other economic threats that the legalization of marijuana would pose.

For example, the taxes generated from its legal sales would not be able to cover the costs of its regulation, enforcement and other public health and safety measures - a risk we simply cannot afford.
Wellesley constituents Gustavo Ramonet and Tania Del Rio visited my office the state house.
It was a pleasure meeting with with constituent Alice Boelter during recent office hours in Wayland.
PATENT TROLLING LEGISLATION
Patent trolls, or companies that falsely claim patent infringement, serve as an economic issue for local innovators across the Commonwealth. Patent trolls demand payment of a licensing fee from local start-ups who they claim are infringing upon a patent while threatening a lawsuit if a business does not comply.

These trolls use patents as legal weapons rather than creating their own new ideas, and in turn hurt entrepreneurs by threatening litigation that they otherwise could not afford. To address this serious problem, I am working with my colleague Senator Eric Lesser (D-Springfield) to introduce anti-patent trolling legislation.

In 2013, the White House reported that victims of patent trolls paid $29 billion in 2011 to avoid lawsuits - an increase of 400 percent since 2005. The report also stated that between 2011 and 2013, patent trolling lawsuits made up 62 percent of all patent-related lawsuits in the United States.

The issue of patent trolls is something that is not receiving much attention, but is a potential threat to innovators in my district, and across the Commonwealth.
"NOW YOU SEE" INITIATIVE

This August, I met with Norfolk constituent Jessica DiBacco, as well as Gaby Germanos, and Josie Wexler from the Suffolk County District Attorney’s Office about the “Now You See” initiative. This project highlights the bravery of child victims of physical and sexual abuse. I was presented with a photograph from the “Now You See: A Celebration of Courageous Kids” art exhibit to display in my office – the photo displays the eyes of young “Ami,” an incredibly brave survivor.

Each piece in the series features the eyes of a survivor with a statement about their experience as well as words of encouragement for those suffering or hesitant to speak out. The purpose of this exhibit is to raise awareness of child abuse as well as celebrate the bravery of those who speak out about their experiences.

What is special about the project is that, unlike other advocacy groups, the “Now You See” initiative tries to maintain involvement in the child’s life even after a criminal case ends to further spread positivity for the children and their families.

THE ATTORNEY GENERAL'S RECENT GUN DECISION
 
Recently, without public input or informing the legislature, Attorney General Maura Healey announced a significant new policy pertaining to gun ownership, and sent a notice to all licensed gun dealers in Massachusetts regarding the scope of the Massachusetts Assault Weapons Ban.

Her “Enforcement Notice” pertained to the sale and possession of firearms that are deemed to be "duplicates" of guns that are currently banned under the state's assault weapons law. This state assault weapons law has been implemented and enforced over the last 20 years.
 
Concerned with the lack of clarity of the announcement, as well as the hasty manner in which it was given, I joined a bipartisan coalition of 57 other legislators in a letter to the Attorney General to voice our serious concerns. Our letter informed the Attorney General that the Enforcement Notice was issued with insufficient notice for licensed gun dealers and lawful gun owners to understand and fully comply with this new interpretation of the assault weapons law.
 
Additionally, I joined my colleagues in the Senate and House Republican Caucuses in calling for the Joint Committee on Public Safety and Homeland Security and the Joint Committee on the Judiciary to conduct a legislative oversight hearing to review the Attorney General’s Enforcement Order at the earliest opportunity. It is our belief that an oversight hearing would address the many questions that have been raised and clarify what legislative action may be necessary moving forward.
 
While we are not opposed to revisiting the state's gun laws periodically to ensure that they are being properly enforced, it is important that such changes take place within the legislative process following sufficient research, public testimony and debate. Such a change should not be made in haste or in a way that leaves Massachusetts citizens in a state of uncertainty.
 

SUMMER 2016 INTERNS

Interns pictured from left to right: Garrett Walsh of Needham, Jaclyn Rothenberg of Needham, Will Crass of Wayland, Bryan Rothenberg of Needham, Shannon Walsh of Wrentham, Cullen Murphy of North Attleboro. (Not pictured: Lily Toto of Wayland)

I was fortunate to have so many wonderful interns serve as part of my team this summer. All of these students were from my district either attending or about to attend college, and have played a crucial role in finishing up the session. I would like to thank the legislative interns for their commitment to state government and passion for public service, and wish them all the best of luck!

Senator Ross Announces Office Hours in September

Senator Ross and his staff will be holding office hours at locations throughout the Norfolk, Bristol and Middlesex District to provide constituents with an opportunity to meet Senator Ross and discuss any matters of importance to them. Constituents may contact Senator Ross’ office at (617) 722-1555 or by email at richard.ross@masenate.gov to register for a meeting in advance whether in the district or at the State House in Boston.         


Tuesday, September 6th
Sherborn Town Hall, 19 Washington Street, Sherborn
10:00am-11:00am

Wednesday, September 7th
Plainville Senior Center, 9 School Street, Plainville
9:30am-10:30am

Monday, September 12th
Wrentham Senior Center, 400 Taunton Street, Wrentham
1:00pm-2:00pm

Tuesday, September 13th
Wellesley Town Hall, 525 Washington Street, Wellesley
10:00am-11:00am

Tuesday, September 13th
Wayland Town Hall, 41 Cochituate Road, Wayland
11:30am-12:30pm

Wednesday, September 14th

Norfolk Town Hall, 1 Liberty Lane, Norfolk
10:00am-11:00am

Monday, September 19th
Attleboro Senior Center, 25 S Main Street, Attleboro
9:30am-10:30am

Tuesday, September 20th
Franklin Senior Center, 10 Daniel McCahill Street, Franklin
10:00am-11:00am

Tuesday, September 20th
North Attleboro Senior Center, 204 Elm Street, North Attleboro
11:30am-12:30pm


Monday, September 26th
Millis Town Hall (Room 239), 900 Main Street, Millis
10:00am-11:00am

Tuesday, September 27th
Needham Community Center, 300 Hillside Avenue, Needham
10:00am-11:00am

Tuesday, September 27th
Natick Community Center, 117 E. Central Street, Natick
11:30am-12:30pm

ATTENTION VETERANS AND SPOUSES:

If you would like a copy of the "Guide to Veterans’ Laws and Benefits," please email me at richard.ross@masenate.gov, and I will mail a copy to you. This is an excellent resource, and a must for any veteran and their family.
Thank you for taking the time to read this monthly update on what I have been working on over the past few months. If there is someone you know who would like to receive my State House Update, share this newsletter and invite them to sign up for our mailing list today!

Please feel free to contact my office regarding any questions or concerns you may have. You may also check my website for the most up-to-date information on Beacon Hill. It is my pleasure and honor to continue serving you as State Senator, and I look forward to providing you with the newest updates next month.
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Copyright © 2016 State Senator Richard J. Ross, State House Update, All rights reserved.

This newsletter is a service to the people of the Norfolk, Bristol, and Middlesex District and for Informational Purposes only.


Our mailing address is:
Massachusetts State House
24 Beacon Street, Room 419
Boston, MA 02133

Ph: 617-722-1555 Fax: 617-722-1054 Email: richard.ross@masenate.gov

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