Editor's note: State Sen. Mike Rush, D-West Roxbury, and state Rep. Ed Coppinger sent a recap of legislative accomplishments from the 2011-2012 legislative session.
The Massachusetts House and Senate formal Legislature deadline for the session was July 31.
Read the two recent Q&A sessions with and by clicking on their hyperlinked names in this sentence.
According to Rush, the bills enacted by both branches of the legislature denote a productive two-year session focused on job creation, economic development, and reform. Rush listed major policy items including: the passage of historic health care cost containment bill, strategically-focused economic development legislation, the legalization of casino gaming in the Commonwealth, and a legislative crackdown on habitual offenders.
“I can look back on this legislative session and comfortably say I am proud that we have accomplished a lot,” said Rush via press release. “I think my colleagues and I placed a real focus on our economy, which is still regaining momentum, and tried to craft legislation with measurable results that impact individuals in their day-to-day lives. We reached consensus on some really important issues. I hope to continue this work for my constituents through the remainder of informal session and look forward to an equally productive term beginning in January.”
“This was my first term as State Representative and I am proud of all we accomplished, particularly legislation that will corral health care costs that are spiraling out of control. The work the Legislature has done over past year and a half will have a meaningful impact on residents in West Roxbury and across the state,” said Coppinger via press release. “Senator Rush has helped me in my first term and we have had a very productive relationship working together on issues that affect West Roxbury. We keep each other in the loop on everything happening around the neighborhood and that has helped us make sure West Roxbury has a strong voice on Beacon Hill.”
Highlights of the 2011-2012 legislative session from Rush and Coppinger include:
- FY12 STATE BUDGET: This $30.59 billion spending plan for FY12 reduced the state’s FY12 stabilization fund draw by $15 million and closed a $1.9 billion budget gap with funding reductions, ongoing revenue initiatives and one-time revenues.
- FY13 STATE BUDGET: The $32.5 billion state budget for FY13 prioritizes funding for cities and towns and commitments to reform and job creation. The budget does not contain any new taxes and uses a combination of ongoing revenue initiatives, one-time resources and spending reductions to close a $1.4 billion budget gap, the smallest budget gap the state has had since FY08.
- ALIMONY REFORM: The new alimony law provides for different types of alimony. In marriages lasting five years or less, divorce alimony is to continue no longer than half the length of the marriage. In marriages six to 10 years long, alimony is capped at 60 percent of the length of the marriage. Alimony is terminated upon death, remarriage of the recipient spouse, and cohabitation of the recipient spouse. (Chapter 124 of the Acts of 2011)
- AUTO REPAIR: This legislation gives independent auto mechanics in Massachusetts access to repair data and diagnostic codes now available only to dealerships. The bill requires automakers to make their repair data and diagnostic tools available for purchase at a fair price by car owners and independent mechanics. On Jan. 1, 2016, automakers would also have to make that repair data accessible through a nonproprietary computer system or device within a vehicle. (Enacted by the Senate on July 31, 2012)
- COURT REFORM: The legislation provides for the hiring of a court administrator to act as the administrative head of the Trial Court, responsible for court personnel, security and facilities. The Chief Justice of the Trial Court (formerly named “chief Justice for Administration and Management”) will be the policy and judicial head of the Trial Court. Any disputes between the court administrator and the Chief Justice of the Trial Court will be settled by the Chief Justice of the Massachusetts Supreme Judicial Court. (Chapter 93 of the Acts of 2011)
- HUMAN-TRAFFICKING: The bill establishes the crime of trafficking persons for sexual servitude and trafficking persons for forced services, each which would carry a potential 15-year sentence. The bill also includes “safe harbor” provisions for those found prostituting themselves and includes safe harbor provisions for minors. (Chapter 178 of the Acts of 2011)
- PAYMENT REFORM: This legislation is estimated to save the Commonwealth $200 billion over the next 15 years while improving the quality of care, increasing patient access, and strengthening the transparency and accountability of the state’s entire health care system. The legislation, for the first time in the nation, establishes a statewide health care cost growth benchmark for the health care industry equal to the potential growth of the state’s gross state product (GSP) from years 2013 to 2017, then dropping it 0.5 percent below potential GSP from 2018 to 2022 and back to potential GSP for 2023 and beyond. (Enacted by the Senate on July 31, 2012)
- PENSION REFORM: This pension reform legislation included anti-salary-spiking provisions and the elimination of a controversial early retirement loophole. The bill is projected to save the Commonwealth $5 billion over 30 years. (Chapter 176 of the Acts of 2011)
- PRESCRIPTION DRUG MONITORING: This bill will reduce the excess supply of prescription pain killers in Massachusetts and require physician registration in the state’s Prescription Monitoring Program to prevent patients from “doctor shopping” for highly addictive medications such as OxyContin and Vicodin. (S.2125, passed by the Senate on February 2, 2012)
- CONGRESSIONAL REDISTRICTING: This legislation reconfigures the Commonwealth into nine Congressional Districts. The plan includes the strongest minority-majority congressional districts in the state’s history. (Chapter 177 of the Acts of 2011)
- HOUSE/SENATE REDISTRICTING: This legislation approves new state Senate districts as part of the decennial redistricting process. Under this legislation, 92 percent of Massachusetts residents remain in their current state Senate districts, fewer counties and communities are split, and districts are more compact. (Chapters 152 and 153 of the Acts of 2011)
- SALES TAX HOLIDAY: This legislation, for the sixth consecutive year, approves a sales tax holiday weekend for August 13 and 14. The sales tax holiday applies to purchases under $2,500 and excludes vehicles, motorized boats, tobacco, meals and utilities. (Chapter 86 of the Acts of 2011)
- STAND FOR CHILDREN: This legislation provides funding for school districts to implement the state’s new evaluation system promoting effective teaching in Massachusetts public schools. The bill requires the Department of Elementary and Secondary Education to provide teachers and administrators with performance data collection training to ensure proper implementation of the Departments’ evaluation system. Any layoffs due to workforce reduction or reorganization must start with non-professional teachers, and job performance must take precedence over length of service. (Chapter 131 of the Acts of 2012)
- STORM RESPONSE: This legislation addresses the emergency service response of public utility companies in Massachusetts as a result of widespread power outages in communities across the state during 2011, caused by Tropical Storm Irene in August and the snowstorm in October. The bill requires public utility companies to provide twice-daily estimates to customers on when electricity will be restored following a 24-hour damage assessment period, and to set up a call center during a major storm. (Enacted by the Senate on July 31, 2012)
- TRANSGENDER RIGHTS: This legislation serves to extend civil rights protections to transgender individuals. It adds the words “gender identity” to the state’s non-discrimination laws to protect transgender residents from discrimination in employment, housing, education and credit. (Chapter 199 of the Acts of 2011)
- FY13 TRANSPORTATION BOND BILL: The Transportation Bond Bill provides funding for existing transportation improvement projects through Fiscal Year 2013. The Bond Bill includes a provision that allocations $1 million for improvements and maintenance of the VFW Parkway. (Enacted by the Senate on July 31, 2012)
- UNEMPLOYMENT BENEFITS EXTENSION: This legislation ensured that out-of-work residents did not lose federal unemployment benefits at the end of March 2011. (Chapter 6 of the Acts of 2011)
- UNEMPLOYMENT INSURANCE RATE FREEZE: This legislation freezes the Unemployment Insurance rate which was scheduled to increase by over $228 per employee. Without the freeze, the average employers would see the per-employee payment jump from $644 to $872. (Chapter 2 of the Acts of 2011)
- VALOR ACT: This legislation creates increased supports for veteran-owned businesses, Gold Star Families, military children and higher education access in the Commonwealth. Among other provisions, the VALOR Act provides greater access to financial assistance for small businesses; affords greater opportunities for service-disabled veterans to participate in public projects; makes it easier for children of military personnel to transfer between school districts and states; and expands supports from the Massachusetts Military Family Relief Fund to Gold Star Families. (Chapter 108 of the Acts of 2012)
- CRIME BILL: The crime bill mandates that anyone convicted of three serious offenses be ineligible for parole, but contains a loophole that prevents federal sentences from counting toward habitual offender status. The bill also makes it more difficult for inmates serving life sentences to receive parole. Finally, the bill reduces mandatory minimum sentences for non-violent drug offenders, reduces school zone areas, and includes Good Samaritan provisions. (Enacted by the Senate on July 30, 2012)
- ECONOMIC DEVELOPMENT AND JOB CREATION: The bill promotes economic prosperity through investments in infrastructure and streamlined permitting, which will facilitate the expansion of new and existing businesses. (Enacted by the Senate on July 31, 2012)
- ELECTRICITY COST: Encourages and allows for the use of renewable energy sources in order to address the high cost of electricity. (Enacted by the Senate on July 31, 2012)
- EXPANDED GAMING: Allows three resort casinos in separate regions of the state and one openly-bid slot facility. The tax revenue from these casinos and slot facilities, as well as the licensing fees, would fund essential state services and municipal programs. The legislation also contains protections for local businesses and mitigation provisions that would reduce the potential negative effects brought on by a gaming establishment. (Chapter 194 of the Acts of 2011)
- FORECLOSURE: This legislation will prevent unnecessary and unlawful foreclosures and reduce the number of abandoned properties across the Commonwealth. The bill requires banks and other lenders to offer loan modifications to borrowers in certain circumstances to avoid foreclosures, with a 150-day timeframe for deciding whether or not to offer the loan modification. (Enacted by the Senate on July 26, 2012)