Taking Stock of the 190th Legislative Session

In January of 2017, Progressive Massachusetts unveiled our legislative agenda for the 190th legislative session -- 17 items for 2017 (and 2018). As we near the end of the year -- and the start of the next legislative session, it’s the perfect time to take stock of how the various bills fared.

 

Clear Victories

Reproductive Rights

The ACCESS bill, which updates MA’s contraceptive coverage equity law to require insurance carriers to provide all contraceptive methods without a copay, passed overwhelmingly in the Legislature and was signed by the Governor.

Democracy

Massachusetts became the 13th state to adopt Automatic Voter Registration. In this reform pioneered by Oregon in 2015, eligible voters who interface with select government agencies (here, the RMV or MassHealth) are automatically registered to vote unless they decline. With more than 700,000 eligible citizens in MA unregistered, AVR will increase the accuracy, security, and comprehensiveness of voter rolls.

The bill also enrolls Massachusetts in Electronic Registration Information Center, a coalition of states founded by the Pew Research Center that enable states to synchronize their voter rolls. ERIC has increased the comprehensiveness and accuracy of the voter rolls in participating states.

[Note: The original bill included smaller social services government agencies as well. The final bill allows for their later inclusion but focuses on the two largest sources of possible new registrants.]

Steps Forward

Criminal Justice Reform

The comprehensive criminal justice reform bill passed by the Legislature in April incorporated some elements from our priority bills (Read our write-up here):

  • Eliminating most mandatory minimums for retail drug selling and drug paraphernalia and limiting mandatory minimums in school zones to cases involving guns or minors. [Note: PM and advocates had sought the elimination of all mandatory minimums. The bill, however, left in place mandatory minimums for Class A drugs (like heroin), expanded this definition to include opioids like fentanyl and carfentanil, and created a new mandatory minimum for assaulting a police officer, an overused charge wielded as a threat against protesters.]
  • Raising the felony-larceny threshold from $250 to $1,200 [Note: PM and other advocates had sought $1,500.]
  • Reducing fines and fees [Note: PM and other advocates wanted probation and parole fees fully eliminated.]
  • Establishing a process for expunging records, especially for juveniles convicted of minor offenses

There is still work to be done--from raising the age of criminal majority to severely curtailing (or outright abolishing) solitary confinement. That said, the bill, despite its shortcomings, was a step in the right direction.

 

Fight for $15

At the start of the session, we supported legislation to raise the minimum wage from $11 to to $15 by 2021, raise the tipped minimum wage from $3.75 to $15.75 by 2025, and require the minimum wage to increase with inflation starting in 2022.

The Raise Up Massachusetts coalition’s ballot initiative was slightly more modest in its ambition, extending the full phase-in date one year (due to a later start) and raising the minimum wage for tipped employees to only $9 (60% of the minimum wage) by 2022.

What passed in the ultimate “Grand Bargain,” an effort of the Legislature and the Governor to avoid three ballot initiatives ($15 minimum wage, paid family and medical leave, sales tax reduction) was more modest still. It raised the minimum wage to $15 by 2023, raised the tipped minimum wage to only $6.75, and dropped indexing. Unfortunately, the Legislature included a further concession to the business lobby, agreeing to phase-out time-and-a-half on Sundays and holidays. Although the bill is a net win for workers in Massachusetts, it’s possible that, due to the phase-out of time-and-a-half, some workers will be left worse off.

Fight_for_15.png

 

Paid Family and Medical Leave

The version of paid family and medical leave passed in the aforementioned “Grand Bargain” was less robust than the original legislation and the ballot initiative text, but still more robust than the programs that exist in other states.

Paid_Leave_chart.png

 

Senate Victory, House Opposition

Several of our priority bills succeeded, or made partial progress, in the Senate, only to flounder in the House amidst fierce opposition from the conservative House leadership.

 

Fully Funding Our Schools

Massachusetts’s 25-year-old education funding formula is short-changing our schools $1-2 billion per year due to outdated assumptions about the costs of health care, special education, ELL (English Language Learners) education, and closing racial and economic achievement gaps.

The 2015 Foundation Budget Review Commission recommended a path forward for fixing it. The Senate unanimously adopted a bill to implement them. The House, however, insisted on leaving English Language Learners, Black and Brown students, and poor students (not mutually exclusive categories) behind.

 

Protecting Our Immigrant Friends and Neighbors

Despite Massachusetts’s liberal reputation, our Legislature has been historically hostile to strengthening protections for our immigrant community.

The Senate included four provisions from the Safe Communities Act, a bill that our members fought strongly for, in its FY 2019 budget: (1) a prohibition on police inquiries about immigration status, a prohibition on certain collaboration agreements between local law enforcement and ICE, (3) a guarantee of basic due process protections, and (4) a prohibition on participation in a Muslim registry. The amendment was a win-win for both rights and safety, but House Leadership opposed its inclusion in the final budget.

 

Bold Action on Climate Change

Many elements from our priority environmental legislation were incorporated in the Senate’s impressive omnibus bill:

  • Building on the Global Warming Solutions Act by setting intermediate emissions targets for 2030 and 2040
  • Establishing a 3% annual increase in the Renewable Portfolio Standard (RPS) to accelerate our commitment to renewable energy
  • Prohibiting a “pipeline tax” on energy consumers
  • Instructing the governor's office to develop carbon pricing for the transportation sector by the end of 2020, for commercial buildings and industrial processes by 2021, and for residential buildings by the end of 2022 (not as strong as a revenue-positive carbon pricing scheme, but still in the right direction)

However, the House proved a roadblock yet again. The ultimate compromise energy legislation included only a 2% increase from 2020 to 2030, after which it would fall back to the current 1%. This would take us to only 56% renewable energy by 2050 instead of 100%.

 

Loss...But a Battle Not Over

Revenue & Reinvestment

Progressive Mass members played a major role in the signature collection for the Fair Share amendment (or “millionaires tax”), which would have created a 4% surtax on income above $1 million (inflation-adjusted) to fund education and transportation investment.

As a citizen-originated ballot initiative for a constitutional amendment, the Fair Share amendment had to receive the support of at least 25% of the Legislature in two constitutional conventions. It secured well more than double this amount, but the Supreme Judicial Court struck it from the ballot this June.

 

Inaction

Medicare for All

Although the Senate took modest steps in the direction of single payer, passing legislation to create a public option (a MassHealth buy-in) and require a study of whether a single payer system would save money relative to the current system, the House took no such action.

 

Housing Production

Although the Senate passed a comprehensive zoning reform bill to increase housing production in the suburbs last session, no such action was taken in either house this session.

 

Debt/tuition-free Higher Education

The cost of higher education has grown a lot in Massachusetts, and the Legislature continues to punt.



In Conclusion: We won some, we lost some, and we’ll keep on fighting.

 

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