Senator Rausch State House Briefing Part 2, Chapter 19 (August 12, 2022)
August has arrived and with it the end of our formal legislative session. My colleagues and I wrapped up debate in the wee hours of Monday, August 1st. We sent landmark legislation on many issues to the Governor's desk over the last couple weeks, including reproductive justice, climate action, mental health care, and more. While I am proud of everything we accomplished, there is still so much work to be done. To be frank, I am particularly disappointed that legislative leadership did not reach an agreement on the economic development bill, which would provide not only tax relief and reform – including a version of my own proposal to put money directly into people's pockets – but also sorely needed small business supports and investments in local projects, childcare, health systems, and housing. More on that below.
In this newsletter, you'll find a roundup of the tail end of the formal legislative session, priority legislative areas for the next formal session, and ways to connect with me and my team. For real-time updates, please follow me on Twitter and Facebook. If you are a constituent and need assistance, please don't hesitate to contact me and my team via phone (617-722-1555) or email (firstname.lastname@example.org). We are here to help.
I wish you and your loved ones strength, health, resilience, and joy.
Yours in service, Senator Becca Rausch
SENATOR RAUSCH'S 2022 END OF SESSION ROUNDUP
One and a half years of lawmaking came to a recess at 10:13 a.m. on the morning of August 1st. From now until January, the Legislature will be in recess from its formal sessions, unless we are called back in for a special session (which I very much hope happens so we can pass a compromise economic development bill and send it to the Governor's desk with all its subparts, including bond authorizations). The Senate will continue to gavel in for informal session every 3 days to handle ongoing business, but most bills filed this session are effectively done, whatever the outcome.
Here are some of the bills my colleagues and I passed and sent to the Governor's desk at the end of session, all of which have now been signed into law. Check out more information about what the Governor did and didn't do with the legislation my colleagues and I sent to his desk.
Climate and clean energy: The Legislature sent a comprehensive climate action bill back to Governor Baker's desk to jumpstart our Commonweath's green energy transition. This legislation will help Massachusetts achieve its target of net-zero emissions by 2050 through investments in offshore wind and green energy, updating our solar rules, incentivizing electric vehicle use, creating green job training, and so much more. I am thrilled that my Better Buildings amendment, requiring that all buildings over 20,000 square feet report their emissions annually, was included in this landmark bill. This reporting will help us craft solutions to reduce these building emissions going forward. The bill also includes my amendment to start the process of converting our school buses from diesel to electric, important to both personal and planetary health.
Expanded mental health coverage: The Mental Health ABC Act will address the state's mental health crisis by breaking down barriers to behavioral health care in Massachusetts. It will mandate insurance coverage for annual mental health exams, ensure mental and physical health care are treated equally, and require hospitals to correct policies that discriminate against patients with mental illnesses. It will also create a statewide program to help schools implement mental health services and deal with emergencies to address the youth mental health crisis.
Legalized sports betting: After many weeks of being stuck in a conference committee to work out a compromise, anyone in Massachusetts at least 21 years old will now be able to legally place a sports wager. The bill also contains numerous consumer protection provisions and measures to address gambling addiction. The Massachusetts Gaming Commission will write rules to prohibit deceptive advertising and protect minors.
Supporting veterans and military families relocating to Massachusetts: The SPEED Act provides career stability for veterans and military families, as well as quality education for their children. The legislation will speed up the professional licensure process for military spouses to ensure they can continue their careers, allow for advanced and virtual enrollment for military children to resolve disruptions in education, provide in-state tuition continuity for military-connected college students, and establish a Purple Star Campus designation to identify public schools that show a major commitment to military families.
Protecting veterans in long-term care facilities: In response to the Baker Administration's horrific mismanagement of COVID-19 outbreaks in the Holyoke and Chelsea Soldiers' Homes, this bill creates new governance structures and increases oversight in state-run long-term care facilities for veterans. It creates an Office of Veterans Homes and Housing within the executive branch and makes the Department of Veterans Services its own cabinet-level office to give veterans the support and attention they deserve. This law also requires the Department of Public Health to conduct inspections in these facilities twice a year and every 30 days during emergencies.
Equity in the cannabis industry: This law removes barriers to entrepreneurs of color in the legal cannabis industry and improves the expungement process for individuals' records to reflect now-legal quantities of cannabis. The legislation also creates a trust fund that gives cannabis business owners of color better access to grants and loans and enhances host community agreements to encourage full participation in the regulated cannabis industry.
Expanding our judicial infrastructure and addressing gun safety: The legislature passed a $164 million bond bill to modernize technology in the judiciary, which included a provision to support gun violence prevention in the wake of the Supreme Court's Bruen decision. I am proud that the law includes my amendment to ensure conversations between survivors of sexual assault and licensed mental health counselors at rape crisis centers will remain confidential.
Transportation funding for our communities: This legislation authorizes $11.4 billion in bonds for transportation projects across our Commonwealth. I am proud to have secured $10 million in state bond authorizations for transportation projects in our communities. These initiatives include:
🚶Wrentham - $1.08 million for sidewalk improvements, intersection upgrades on Route 1A and Green Street, and a downtown improvement plan
🚆 Franklin - $2.42 million to upgrade the Franklin commuter rail station
🚗 Bellingham - $1.3 million for road drainage improvements
🚶Medfield - $3 million to replace sidewalks, streets, and a water main
🚗 Dover - $2.2 million for road improvements
STILL IN PLAY: ECONOMIC DEVELOPMENT
Last month, the Senate passed a $4.3 billion economic development bill that makes critical investments in our workers, families, businesses, communities, and statewide economy. This bill also secured over $1.7 million in direct funding for our district, as well as an additional $6.75 million in bond authorizations for key projects in our communities. The House and Senate conference committee did not strike an agreement on this urgently needed investment before the close of formal session, a frustrating development for sure. The negotiations continue and I deeply hope we will go back into formal session to vote yes on a compromise economic development package. Updates to come.
Well, we never get everything, in lawmaking or in life. While I am disappointed that we didn't see complete victories in these issue areas, I promise that I will return to Beacon Hill next session with my sleeves rolled up ready to continue advocating for you and your priorities:
Strengthening our early education workforce: Massachusetts has the highest early education costs in the nation, and I have personally experienced the serious financial strain of sending our two young children to daycare simultaneously. I was proud to strengthen the Senate's early education bill, but I was disappointed to see the House's inaction, which ultimately killed the bill. Our children and families need and deserve this support, and our Commonwealth's economic success depends on it. Accessible, quality childcare is infrastructure, plain and simple.
Reducing plastic waste: If we're serious about taking climate action, then we must address all the problem spaces, and that includes plastics reduction. As Senate Chair of the Joint Committee on the Environment, Natural Resources, and Agriculture, I spent much of the session tackling the issue of single-use plastics, which clog our landfills, pollute our waterways, and pose a significant public health risk to our communities. Did you know that less than 10% of our plastics actually get recycled, no matter how much we put into the recycle bin? It's true, and plastic production relies on fossil fuels. Next session, I will continue my work in plastics mitigation policy to keep our Commonwealth clean.
Public health infrastructure improvements: My colleagues and I enacted legislation to significantly boost and improve local public health throughout the Commonwealth. Unfortunately, the Governor vetoed massive swaths of that bill, sending it back to the Legislature with large-scale changes. With formal sessions concluded, a veto override is no longer possible, meaning this bill will probably need to start over in January.
Public Lands Protection Act: This legislation would further the long-standing goal of maintaining constitutionally protected public parks, conservation land, forests, watersheds and other natural resource lands. These lands are essential for recreation, water resources, local economies, and mitigating the impacts of climate change. This legislation is one of the very first I advanced as Senate Chair of the Joint Committee on the Environment, Agriculture, and Natural Resources more than a year ago, so I was particularly disappointed to see this bill die in eleventh hour negotiations between House and Senate conference committee negotiators.
Reproductive Justice: Last month, An Act expanding protections for reproductive rights and gender-affirming care was signed into law. This bill is a significant victory for safeguarding reproductive health and birth care in our Commonwealth in a post-Roe era, and I am proud to have crafted components of the final product. The law includes my proposals to make reproductive health care a personal right and allow people to sue to enforce those rights, my amendment to address birth and abortion care deserts in Massachusetts, and my statutory clarifications on abortions later in pregnancy, which served as a foundation for the compromise between the House and Senate. I am proud of this accomplishment, and I remain as dedicated as ever to the fight for reproductive justice and equity, because this work is still quite far from done. No one in Massachusetts or coming to Massachusetts should ever need worry about whether they will be able to access physical or mental health care related to pregnancy. That worry persists because we still need to provide licensure for at-home midwifery care, create post-miscarriage mental health care, robustly combat so-called "crisis pregnancy centers" or fake women's health centers, ensure full-spectrum sex education, and far more.
Expanded ballot box access: I am proud that the Governor signed the VOTES Act into law back in June, but we still have a long way to go in expanding voter access. I filed numerous amendments to this bill and will continue pushing for common-sense election reforms, including same-day voter registration, setting minimum ratios for ballot drop boxes, creating paid time off for voting, and allowing voters to permanently sign up for mail voting rather than having to re-enroll every year. I'll also continue to keep a close watch over whether the laws we do have are actually implemented in their entirety (spoiler alert: they haven't been).
In-Person Office Hours
My team and I love having coffee hours throughout the district (we were last in Wrentham at the Senior Center just a couple weeks back)! Coming up later this month, please join me, State Rep Jeff Roy, and Congressman Auchincloss in Franklin on Thursday, August 25 from 1:30 - 2:30 PM for an in-person coffee hour. Register here and the location will be emailed to you before the event.
Virtual Evening Office Hours
My team and I host virtual office hours every month. Residents from any part of the Norfolk, Bristol and Middlesex District, as well as residents of the Norfolk, Worcester and Middlesex District (which takes effect in January 2023), are welcome to share their questions and opinions on state issues with me and my team via video chat or phone call.