Saturday, February 1, 2020

Senator Rausch State House Briefing: Part 1, Chapter 9

Senator Rausch State House Briefing
Greetings from Beacon Hill!

Did you know the Senate has a shared leadership model? It's true. I'm proud and honored to serve as the Senate Chair of the Joint Committee on Municipalities and Regional Government. This Committee reviews legislation pertaining to local and regional economic development, planning, zoning, charter changes, and a host of other matters often called "home rule petitions." That's short-hand for a change that a particular town or city wants to make to its governance structure or other element of its operations for which it needs the Legislature's approval. (My favorite kind of home rule petition is the kind that creates gender-neutral language in local governance, like shifting from Board of Selectmen to Select Board. Words matter.) The Committee also reviews bills about animal safety and care.

This session, 220 bills were assigned to the Municipalities Committee, and more will continue to roll in throughout the session as my colleagues continue to file home rule petitions for their communities. Between April and November 2019, we held 11 separate hearings where legislators, advocates, and members of the public presented testimony regarding the bills before us. We also received testimony via letters, emails, and telephone calls, and reached out to state agencies and other organizations to add their expertise to our deliberations. Taking all of this information into account, the Committee took favorable action on many bills. Many of those bills have already become law, including the law permitting Norfolk County to borrow the funds needed to make repairs at the Norfolk County Agricultural School.

Those home rule petitions to recognize, in charters, that people other than men serve in local government too? I've loved approving issuing favorable reports on more than half a dozen of them so far this session. Many of those bills have already become law, making the charters of those towns more inclusive and accurate descriptors of their governing bodies. I was also particularly excited to pass a home rule petition to allow Easthampton to implement ranked choice voting in its local elections, which became law back in September. The city will use ranked choice voting in its next election!

We also favorably reported bills that have not yet become law, including bills addressing climate change through zoning and building codes, a bill permitting solar drying of laundry, bills to protect public shade trees and encourage recycling, a bill to set aside handicapped parking spaces, and bills to allow New Bedford to lease a performing arts center and Athol to build a public library.

Under the House and Senate Joint Rules, every Committee must act on every bill assigned to it by the first Wednesday in February. This means that across the State House, over 30 committees are working overtime to make final recommendations on literally thousands of bills by next week!

Wondering how the legislative process in Massachusetts really works? Stay tuned for the next episode of Low Budget Beacon Hill, due for release shortly!

As always, please follow along on Twitter and Facebook, and don't hesitate to call our office at 617-722-1555 or stop by Room 218 in the State House.
Yours in service,
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