On January 3, 2017, the 189th General Court officially came to a close. It has been an impressive and productive legislative session, and as I look back on these past two years, I am amazed as to how much has changed and just how much has been accomplished.
In 2015, the Massachusetts Senate embarked on a new era of shared leadership under Senate President Stan Rosenberg, ushering in a more open and collaborative environment in our chamber. We began our work crisscrossing the state for our Commonwealth Conversations tour visiting with residents, businesses, and interest groups to listen directly to their needs and concerns, and then set out to draft and pass legislation to meet those diverse needs.
From passing legislation to prevent and reduce opioid addiction, implementing protections to ensure that women and minorities receive equal pay for equal work, increasing our Commonwealth’s reliance on renewable energy, and passing economic development legislation to support our workers, businesses, and communities, my colleagues and I in the Senate worked hard to ensure that our policies responded to the will of people and the unique needs of our constituencies. In total, the Senate passed an impressive amount of legislation, and I am very proud of all that we were able to accomplish together.
This past legislative session has also been a particularly special one for me; I was appointed as the Vice Chairman of the Senate Committee on Ways and Means and had the honor of joining the Senate President’s leadership team. I have also had a great opportunity to work closely on policy areas and issues that are near to my heart.
As many of you know, supporting our Commonwealth’s children and families has always been one of my top priorities, so I was thrilled to be chosen by Senate President Rosenberg to lead the Senate’s new Kids First Initiative. This multi-year initiative will take a comprehensive and inter-disciplinary look at a wide variety of policy areas to identify and support innovative strategies to invest in Massachusetts’ children.
The initial phase of the initiative has focused on early childhood development from pre-natal through the fourth grade, and we have been busy working with experts and stakeholders to develop a bold blueprint for raising strong and resilient children. Our first report is set to be released in February, and I am greatly looking forward to sharing our findings with everyone.
I am also happy to report that eight of my bills passed the Senate, one of the highest numbers in the Senate chamber this legislative session. These bills include:
• An Act to prevent wage theft and promote employer accountability, which gives the state greater power to go after corrupt employers and provides additional tools for the Attorney General’s office to hold wage violators fully accountable for their illegal actions;
• An Act for language opportunity for our kids, which removes the current mandate requiring schools to use Sheltered English Immersion (SEI), or English-only programs, as the default ELL program model, thereby giving schools the flexibility to establish programs based on the unique needs of their students;
• An Act relative to healthy youth, which ensures that school districts that elect to provide their students with sex education provide age appropriate, medically accurate information and requires that parents remain informed about the child’s education along the way;
• An Act relative to fairness in worker’s compensation disfigurement benefits, which ensures that workers who suffer from permanent bodily harm in the workplace are compensated for their loss under the state’s worker’s compensation law;
• An Act relative to enhanced enforcement of civil penalties, which clarifies the Attorney General’s ability to enforce wage and hour violation directly in Massachusetts courts, thereby protecting workers from unlawful wage practices;
• An Act relative to adjusting the credit for nonpayment of fines, which adjusts the credit calculated for days imprisoned for the nonpayment of a fine against the amount owed;
• An Act relative to the emergency administration of certain overdose prevention drugs, which was included in the Legislature’s landmark opioid bill that was signed by the Governor. Provisions from this bill protect first responders who administer Naloxone (Narcan) to an overdose victim from civil liability;
• An Act restricting the sale of tobacco products at health care institutions, which was included in the omnibus youth tobacco bill passed by the Senate. These provisions would prohibit the sale of all tobacco and nicotine delivery products in pharmacies and other health-care institutions.
It was a very busy and productive legislative session, and I am already looking forward to the next two years and the work that lies ahead. My colleagues and I in the Legislature will continue to confront many of the most challenging issues that our communities and Commonwealth face, and I look forward to working for you this year as we move forward. As always, it has been an honor representing you in the State Senate, and I wish you all a happy and healthy 2017.