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Author: Jamie Eldridge
With the Legislature in recess until after Labor Day, it’s important to reflect upon what has been going on up on Beacon Hill since legislators were sworn-in to the 2015-2016 legislative session in January, and Stan Rosenberg became Senate President.
As a State Senator, I am extremely proud of the changes that have taken place in the Senate, and the issues that the Senate, as a body, has decided to champion. While there is much more to be accomplished, momentum has been building on issues ranging from the transgender rights, criminal justice reform, and an update to our public records laws. The Senate President has set a clear tone of inclusion, more discussion, and engaging all Senators in moving forward on issues of the day.
Here are a few noteworthy moments of progress in the Senate:
- New Senate rules. The temporary committee on Senate rules, established by the Senate President, was truly a collaborative and bipartisan effort, which made the following changes:
- Senate bills can now be co-sponsored at any time during the legislative session, by either House or Senate members. This supports politically aware residents and activists, as legislators can always sign on to Senate bills as co-sponsors
- 48-hour notice of bills on the Senate calendar. This change dramatically improves the ability for Senators to know what bills will be debated that week, voice concerns or objections, prepare for debate, and file informed amendments
- Copies of new or redrafted amendments must be made available to all Senators. Natural to any debate is that amendments will be changed, yet previously often Senators voting on amendments would not know how the amendments they were voting on had been changed.
- An improved, more open budget process, with more deliberative public policies
- This year’s budget, under the leadership of Senate Ways and Means Committee Chairwoman Karen Spilka and Vice-chairman Sal DiDomenico, was more egalitarian. A key example of this is that each Senator had the opportunity to earmark funds for district priorities, as opposed to only Senators in leadership securing these earmarks, while the rest were treated differently.
- Unlike the past 6 budget debates, there were no anti-immigrant budget amendments filed by Republican Senators. While these Senators are to be praised for holding back on these red-meat efforts, special kudos goes to Senate President Rosenberg, for developing the kind of atmosphere in the Senate where truly unproductive debates were left out of the Senate budget process
- The MBTA reforms in the Senate budget came only after robust debate in the Senate Democratic caucus, and that balanced the interests of making changes to the MBTA, while protecting riders and worker’s rights
- Passing policies that make a difference in people’s lives
- The Senate led the way in the Legislature to expanding the state EITC by 50%, providing an estimated $500-1,000 in additional support for tens of thousands of low-income Massachusetts families (kudos to Governor Baker for proposing this in his budget, too)
- Amidst impressive grassroots organizing by climate change activists and the solar installers and businesses, the Senate raised the netmetering cap to 1600 MW, as an amendment offered by Senator Ben Downing, to Senator Pacheco’s Climate Change Adaptation Plan legislation
- Thoughtful MBTA reform (see details in my comments on the Senate budget)