Op-Ed: Legislative wrap-up

By State Rep. Liz Malia

This July 31 marked the end of a productive two-year (2015 to 2016) legislative session that included the passage of many major bills related to substance abuse and addiction treatment services, criminal justice reform, civil rights, service members and seniors, energy, economic development, and regulatory reform. My colleagues and I passed the $39 billion state budget under the pressure of a $750 million revenue gap, ultimately restoring much of the funding that will sustain critical services our community needs.

While it will take time for the opioid epidemic to turn around, I’m optimistic many of the provisions we included in the new substance addiction law (Chapter 52 of 2016) will enhance education and prevention initiatives and increase intervention and treatment options statewide. It was designed to complement the Access to Addiction Treatment law (Ch. 258 of 2014) that, for the first time, made it mandatory for insurers to cover 14 days of acute treatment services (detox) and clinical stabilization services (CSS) without prior authorization. These efforts have helped to widen the “front door” to treatment. The crucial next step is to bolster our treatment infrastructure and continuum of care. Next session, I will continue advocate for legislation that requires insurers to cover 30 days of detox, CSS, and transitional support services (TSS) without prior authorization.

As the legislature awaits a comprehensive independent report on criminal justice reform, I’m most proud we took an important step to pass the RMV collateral sanctions bill I sponsored. Previously, all individuals convicted of non-violent drug offenses would automatically lose their licenses for up to five years and face a $500 reinstatement fee, even where the offense did not involve motor vehicles. This fix also shields from public view driving records that reveal CORI information. We removed unnecessary barriers and folks who have served their time can now more easily travel to work and support their families.

We tackled gender discrimination and built upon Massachusetts’ legacy as a leader in civil rights and social equality. Employers can no longer pay women less than their male colleagues for doing comparable work. And our law now provides legal protections against discrimination related to gender identity or expression in public accommodations. This will prohibit discrimination in places like restaurants, retail stores, taxis and trains, bathrooms, and entertainment venues.

We enacted several bills to support military personnel, veterans, and their families. Massachusetts remains the number one state in the nation when it comes to providing programs for those who have served their country. Additionally, we increased the Councils on Aging formula grant in both 2015 and 2016, supporting vital programs that address the diverse health and wellness needs of our older adults. Next session, I will continue to advocate for legislation that would expand LGBT awareness training for aging services providers.

After much debate, we diversified the Commonwealth’s energy portfolio and increased our energy independence by supporting 2,800 megawatts (MWs) of clean energy and requiring distribution companies to conduct solicitations for 1,600 MWs of offshore wind power by 2027 and 9,450,000 megawatt hours (MWhs) of hydroelectric or renewable power (or a combination) by 2022. We also required utility companies to create a timeline to repair chronic gas leaks and fix those leaks during ongoing construction projects. These industry shifts will create green jobs and lower our greenhouse gas emissions.

The House and Senate agreed upon a comprehensive economic development bill, which included $45 million to enhance vocational and technical training and $2.4 million for early college programs to help high school students earn college credit. We hope to see students from Madison Park Vocational Technical High School and Roxbury Community College benefit from this funding. The bill also included $45 million for the Brownfields Redevelopment Fund and $100,000 for repairs to Franklin Park pathways and entrances.

Additionally, we established an education tax-incentive program (529 plan) that will allow single filers to take a $1,000 tax deduction on contributions to college saving accounts. And we increased the earned income tax credit for low-to-moderate households in January 2016 to 23 percent, an effective way to fight stagnant wages and lift working families out of poverty.

Recognizing the need for innovative modes of transportation, we created statewide regulations for “ride-for-hire” companies like Lyft and Uber to improve public safety requirements and consumer protection standards (e.g. background checks, regular inspections, and additional insurance).

Finally, we restored funding vetoed by the Governor for many important programs and services including: $1 million for Youth-At-Risk grants, $275K for Youth-At-Risk Summer Jobs, $60,000 for Safe and Successful Youth Initiative, $50,000 for Project Right (total of $150,000), $7.7 million for Mass Cultural Councils, $7.5 million for Early Education and Care Quality, $5.3 million for DCR State Parks, $665,000 for Emergency Food Assistance, $400,000 for Emergency Homelessness Assistance, $375,000 for Adult Basic Education services, $11,000 for Mental Health Legal Advisors Committee and $50,000 for Early Childhood Mental Health Services.

While we accomplished a lot session, I will continue to work with my colleagues to pass creative and prudent measures that help build communities that work for everyone, not just those at the top. We must bolster our businesses while ensuring the individuals most at-risk have fair chances at success.

As we move into a new legislative session, I hope in the weeks ahead you will contact my office and share your ideas on how we can shape a better Massachusetts. Please send your questions, comments, and concerns by visiting replizmalia.com/contact. I look forward to hearing from you.


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