Two weeks ago, the Massachusetts State Senate debated the FY17 state budget. After the Senate Ways and Means Committee reported out favorably the proposed budget, Senators filed a total of 1,167 amendments, totaling around $4 billion in proposed increases to every part of the state budget. After three days of debate, a total of $63.1 million was added to the original $39.497 billion budget, highlighting the decades-long reality that significant investments in education, housing, environment, public health, and human services will not happen until the Commonwealth of Massachusetts brings in much more revenue.
I’m very proud that during the Senate budget debate, numerous legislation was passed that reflects not only how progressive the Senate is, but how Senate President Stan Rosenberg and Senate Ways and Means Chairwoman Karen Spilka’s decentralized approach has led to a more robust discussion of, and passage, of meaningful legislation. It also highlights the growing frustration the State Senate has with delays in the House of Representatives taking up bills, as the Legislature heads into its last two months of the formal session, before its election-year recess.
Here are five pieces of legislation that move Massachusetts forward, in the final FY17 Senate budget:
- I filed an amendment on Plastic Bag Reduction that passed and calls for a ban on single-use plastic bags at a chain store with three or more locations. This legislation would only apply to large stores defined as those larger than 4,000 square feet. This legislation would encourage the use of durable, reusable grocery bags and ban the use of single-use plastic grocery bags, which are a major contributor to pollution in the state and damage marine life.
- Senator Michael Rush filed an amendment that passed and calls for District Determined Measures, which would remove high-stakes testing and arbitrary scoring from teacher evaluations. This would shift the focus on student learning as a source of evidence in the educator development and effectiveness.
- Senator Jason Lewis filed an amendment that passed and would call for Gender equity in the purchasing of insurance policies. This prohibits insurance companies from charging women more than men for the identical disability insurance product. This means that an insurer can not take into account applicants for disability insurance due to a condition unique to their gender.
- Senator Sonia Chang-Diaz filed an amendment Clarifying the Limit on MBTA Fare Increasesthat limits increases to MBTA fares to no more than a net 5% every two years. This language is not retroactive and will be effective after the fare increases that are scheduled to go into effect on July 1, 2016.
- An Amendment filed by Senator Brownsberger passed, which would Reform Probation Fees and also waive probation fees for juvenile offenders and give judges the discretion to impose probation fees for other offenders. This criminal justice reform could remove yet another financial burden on offenders, which often leads to individuals who have served their time in jail, being sent back to jail merely because they could not afford to keep up with their probation fees.