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Date: 2/25/2018 9:18 AM EST

Sen. Linda Dorcena Forry departs

The Massachusetts Senate saw the departure of one of its most prominent members when Senator Linda Dorcena Forry, a Democrat from Dorchester, resigned her seat to accept a position with Suffolk Construction.  She will serve as vice president of Northeast region, diversity, inclusion and community relations.
Former Sen. Linda Dorcena Forry (photo: Don West)
A special election has been set to fill her seat representing the first Suffolk district. The primary is scheduled for April 3, and the general election will be held on May 1.  Two Boston state representatives, Evandro Carvalho and Nick Collins, are campaigning to move over to the Senate.

The Annual South Boston St. Patrick's Day Breakfast traditionally hosted by the Senator representing the district will this year be led by Congressman Stephen Lynch and City Councillor Michael Flaherty, both of South Boston.

We mourn the passing...

Representative Peter Kocot, Democrat of Northampton and Chairman of the House Committee on Health Care Financing, passed away after an illness.  He was known by colleagues and staff as a "gentle giant" who treated everyone with respect and kindness and worked hard to serve his district.  We at Neponset Strategies extend our deepest sympathies to his family, his friends, and his colleagues and staff.

Rep. Peter Kocot (photo: MassLive)

Policy update

The deadline for committees to report out bills came earlier than usual this year on February 10.  Some of the major pieces yet to be decided include the criminal justice omnibus that is still being reconciled by a conference committee.

The new adult-use marijuana regulations are under review by the Cannabis Control Commission now that the public comment period has concluded.  They have until March 15 to finalize those regulations.  Differences remain among stakeholders as to the appropriate categories of licensure, with elected leaders advocating a go-slow approach and pot proponents saying that a wider variety of licenses is the best way to ensure market participation by members of disproportionately impacted communities.

Consumer protection legislation designed to assist consumers affected by data breaches such as the recent Equifax crisis has passed the House, and the Senate is working on its version of a bill.

The Senate Committee on Global Warming and Climate Change released a broad energy bill that would ban fracking, raise solar energy savings ceilings, encourage the use of renewable energy such as wind, and other initiatives.

And another mass shooting

The students who survived the latest mass shooting at a school are leading the way.  They are forcing conversations about solutions that go beyond "thoughts and prayers".  We are encouraged by their efforts to turn their pain and anger into power and action.  The students of Parkland may yet be the changemakers who help their peers and future generations create safer learning environments.

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Date: 11/20/2017 5:25 PM EST

Criminal Justice Reform not quite done...

The House passed its version of criminal justice reform legislation last week, after the Senate passed a much broader bill.  Both bills seek to update mandatory minimum sentences, reduce recidivism, and better protect victims.  The bill now goes to conference committee, where six legislators will work out the differences and report out a single bill. That bill will be taken up by the full Legislature in a straight up-or-down vote before it heads to the Governor’s desk for signature.

Medical Marijuana regulations updated...

The Massachusetts Department of Public Health (DPH) updated its regulations for the medical use of cannabis as it prepares to move oversight of that industry to the newly-formed Cannabis Control Commission.  Passage of the law that made adult use of cannabis legal also made changes to certain aspects of medical marijuana operations.

Under the new law, medical marijuana dispensaries can operate as for-profit organizations and the regulations needed updating to reflect that they no longer had to organize as non-profits as a condition of licensure.  Another important change is that nurse practitioners, who are able to prescribe medications in Massachusetts, can now also provide medical marijuana recommendations to patients so they can register with DPH.

Health Care changes on the horizon (?)...

The Senate passed a broad health care bill that would hold hospitals accountable for health care spending benchmarks and project whether a single-payer system would be less expensive than the current model, and potentially lay out a plan for implementation.  The House may take up the issue after formal sessions resume in January.  Of course, all of this is occurring amidst uncertainty about the federal approach to health care and the impact of those decisions on Massachusetts. Do stay tuned.

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Date: 10/28/2017 8:48 AM EDT

Meanwhile, under the Golden Dome...

The Senate just passed a massive criminal justice reform package.

Deliberating until nearly 1:30am on Thursday evening, the State Senate capped off a 14-hour day by delivering to the House a large and complex bill that aims to eliminate some fees that have a disparate impact on low-income defendants, raise the age of juvenile jurisdiction to 18 (from 17), and eliminate mandatory minimum sentences for various nonviolent drug offenses and allow certain current inmates to be eligible to earn "good time" where that was previously not permitted.  

It is, to be sure, sweeping legislation that saw over 160 amendments offered.  Successful changes include protection for LGBTQ prisoners and an update to the victim compensation statute eliminating the contributory clause for family members of homicide victims seeking reimbursement for funeral and burial costs.

The House has been working on its own legislation and has indicated that achieving meaningful criminal justice reform this session is a prority.

The Governor is holding on earmark spending for now.

Following a request from House leadership to release funding for manufacturing partnerships between UMass and industry, the Governor said he was holding off on releasing any budgetary earmarks until the state's fiscal picture clears up.  The federal government's position on cost sharing reduction payments is giving states agita as they try to predict health care costs in the coming year.

And in cannabis news - 

There is an FAA rule that may or may not permit marijuana to be transported by air to the Nantucket and Martha's Vineyard.  This is important because marijuana remains a federally illegal substance and therefore transporting them by boat or air is prohibited.  That means that the islands have to grow their own marijuana, which is doable but expensive (water, real estate, and electricity tend to cost more), but prevents them from transporting marijuana for required testing, as those operations will be on the mainland.  Experts currently disagree as to whether the rule provides a solution, so stay tuned.

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Date: 2/7/2017 7:50 AM EST

The new year and the new session means a flurry of legislative activity blew in during the month of January.  We saw 14 new legislators take the oath of office, and one member made the jump from the House to the Senate.

Over 5,800 pieces of legislation were filed by the January 20th deadline and co-sponsors had until Friday, the 3rd of February to decide which bills they wanted to endorse.

Firms like ours are now scouring volumes of policy proposals to see which ones may have an impact on the folks we represent, and media outlets are picking out some of the more interesting bills to highlight in their coverage.

Photo credit: Newsday - Tom Brady after the Patriots' 5th(!) SuperBowl win
This photo has nothing to do with our blog topic, but we couldn't resist.
The House and the Senate recently agreed on the rules of their respective chambers and the Joint Rules which govern how they will work collectively to make laws this session.

Leadership is now making decisions about committee assignments and chairmanships, which will be important as organizations and individuals map out their advocacy strategies.  Once committees are populated, legislative hearings will begin.

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Date: 12/26/2016 7:00 AM EST

Seven State Policy Issues to Watch in 2017

by John Haughey | Dec 21, 2016

During 2016 campaigns, Republicans championing the party’s traditional pledge to cut taxes won both legislative chambers in 32 states and installed GOP governors in 33 states.

There are expectations for them to do so in 2017 while also repairing stressed budgets in states plagued by winnowing revenues and increasing expenditure commitments.

At least 25 states ended Fiscal Year 2016 with budget deficits fostered by lower than projected tax revenues. At least 24 states report FY17 general fund revenues below projections — with 19 imposing mid-year reductions in adopted budgets.

Plugging budget holes while cutting taxes will be most state legislators’ biggest 2017 issue, pitting supporters of public services, state/municipal workers, and educators, among others, against taxpayer advocates and business interests.  

President-elect Donald Trump has pledged $550 billion for infrastructure improvements. After receiving little federal assistance for years, this commitment has buoyed states while also putting the onus on them to integrate capital improvement plans with Trump Administration priorities to get the most bang for the buck.

But finding money to make it happen poses potential political pitfalls. The primary source for infrastructure financing is gas taxes. The federal 18.4 cent gallon levy hasn’t changed since 1993. Congressional Republicans are expected, again, to resist increasing it, leaving states with the unpopular prospect of, again, raising gas taxes.

Of 20 states that haven’t raised gas taxes in more than a decade, at least 12 will consider doing so in 2017. All acknowledge the need for infrastructure investment, but paying the bill will foster contention among opposing advocacy groups.

Congressional inaction has forced states to adopt laws demanding online retailers pay sales taxes. In 2016, South Dakota enacted a law to induce lawsuits and spur a penultimate legal challenge to 1992’s U.S. Supreme Court ‘Quill’ ruling that online sellers need only collect sales taxes for states where they have a physical presence, or “nexus.” 

Three online retailers have sued; the first hearing was in December. Also in December, the U.S. Supreme Court denied a challenge to Colorado’s 2010 “Amazon tax” law.

More than a dozen states are expected to introduce 2017 bills to also levy sales taxes through an “economic,” rather than physical, nexus, setting taxpayers, brick-and-mortar businesses and municipalities against consumer groups and online giants such as Amazon, EBay and overstock.com.

With little Congressional enthusiasm for federal gun control, advocates in 2016 successfully focused on states. Voters approved three of four November state ballot measures — in California, Nevada, Washington — imposing tighter firearms regulations.

However, with Donald Trump as President, Republicans retaining Congressional majorities and the GOP controlling 32 state legislatures, gun control momentum appears stymied. There’s already a glut of 2017 state proposals to expand “constitutional carry,” repeal gun-free zones and pre-empt municipalities from adopting firearms ordinances. 

Unlike when the National Rifle Association and National Shooting Sports Foundation defended gun-owners’ rights against gun-control initiatives sponsored by Michael Bloomberg-financed Every Town For Gun Safety and the Brady Campaign to Prevent Gun Violence primarily in Washington, D.C., states are the new battleground.

Roughly 2.5 million Americans are addicted to prescription painkillers. Addressing opioid addictions and overdose is a pressing priority for federal and state lawmakers.

Congress took significant action in 2016, approving federal opioid prescribing guidelines and allocating another $1 billion to fighting the epidemic. 

On the state level, 45 governors signed the Compact to Fight Opioid Abuse, mandating, among other things, improved monitoring and increased access to treatment services through state healthcare programs, such as Medicaid. 

Administering these initiatives will again spur a raft of state-level legislation in 2017. There’s little disagreement about the need for them, but the devil — and discord — will be in the details.

Immigration was a contentious issue in the Presidential campaign as well as in state — and even local — elections. 

The fall-out has spurred renewed enthusiasm for state laws banning foreign or religious laws — “anti-Sharia” bills — enhancing crime penalties for undocumented aliens, levying out-of-state money transfer fees and prohibiting “sanctuary cities.” 

In 2016, bills prohibiting “sanctuary cities” were introduced in 18 states, with Georgia joining Missouri and Virginia in banning them. Lawmakers in many as 20 states — including eight with 2016 “sanctuary city” bans in committee, poised for carry-over introduction — are expected to consider similar bans in 2017.

Six states may consider legalizing recreational marijuana in 2017. There is a good chance that Vermont and Rhode Island will be the first states to lift marijuana prohibition by law rather than ballot initiative.

California, Maine, Massachusetts and Nevada voters approved 2016 measures legalizing recreational marijuana while Florida, Arkansas, North Dakota and Montana voters legalized medical marijuana. Recreational marijuana is now legal in eight states; medical marijuana lawful in 28.

States’ momentum to end marijuana prohibition and tax the $6.7 billion retail marijuana industry, estimated to generate $21.8 billion by 2020, is tempered by Donald Trump’s nomination of marijuana prohibitionist Sen. Jeff Sessions (R-Ala.) as Attorney General.

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Date: 11/14/2016 9:03 AM EST

President Obama and President-elect Trump officially begin the transition.

Winding down and gearing up

The 2015-16 legislative session is winding down.  Though the Legislature has not met in formal sessions since July 31, they continue to meet in informal sessions where bills are more easily stopped, but can move unexpectedly.

By now you've seen the results: Donald Trump is the President-elect, and the only statewide ballot questions that passed were those to require more humane treatment of farm animals and to legalize the recreational use of marijuana for people over 21 years of age.

We have 14 new legislators in the Massachusetts House and Senate.  Walter Timilty (D-Milton) moves from the House to the Senate, so he's technically a veteran lawmaker.

Here at Neponset Strategies, we continue our work to advance the agendas of our clients.  And even though it's not yet Thanksgiving, we are already hard at work mapping out strategies for the coming session.

The only certainty that came from this election season is that change is on the horizon.  If your organization could use some support in legislative, regulatory, or state budgeting processes, or if you'd like some help building relationships with decision-makers, give us a call or drop a line.  

We'd love to hear from you.

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Date: 10/12/2016 7:17 AM EDT

Did you think nothing was happening on Beacon Hill since they wrapped up formal sessions in July? There's always something happening. Back in 2014 after the 2013-14 session finished formal sessions, the House and Senate went on to take over 1000 actions on bills, and sent more than two dozen of them to the Governor for signature.

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Date: 8/12/2016 8:37 AM EDT

Economic Development

Governor Baker has signed economic development legislation passed in the waning hours of the legislative session.  It's a sweeping bill that covers a lot of ground.  We'll see important investments and changes in Community Development, Workforce Development, the Massachusetts Innovation Initiative, and Economic Competitiveness.  Here are some of the major provisions:

Community Development
  • MassWorks ($500 million capital authorization): Reauthorizes a capital grant program that provides municipalities and other public entities with public infrastructure grants to support economic development and job creation.
  • Transformative Development Initiative ($45 million capital authorization): Supports the revitalization of Gateway Cities, by enabling MassDevelopment to make long-term patient equity investments in key properties in Transformative Development Initiative districts, with the goal of accelerating the maturation of private real estate markets.
  • Brownfields Redevelopment Fund ($45 million capital authorization): Moves funding for the state’s Brownfields Redevelopment Fund to the capital program, providing a reliable long-term funding stream for a fund that is the Commonwealth’s primary tool for facilitating the redevelopment of contaminated properties.
  • Site Readiness Fund ($15 million capital authorization): Advances regional job creation by creating a new fund for site assembly and pre-development activities that support regionally significant commercial or industrial development opportunities.
  • Massachusetts Food Trust Program ($6.4 million capital authorization): Capitalizes a financing program to support rural agriculture and increase food security in low- and moderate-income communities.
  • Smart Growth Housing Trust Fund ($15 million capital authorization): Moves funding for the state’s Smart Growth Housing Trust Fund to the capital program, providing a reliable long-term funding stream for a fund that is the Commonwealth’s primary tool for facilitating smart growth housing development.
  • Starter Home Zoning: Incentivizes the creation of smaller, denser, and more affordable single-family homes by creating a new starter home option under the Chapter 40R smart growth housing program.
  • Housing-Related Tax Increment Financing: Supports housing production in town centers and urban neighborhoods by reforming a seldom-used local-only smart growth tax incentive program, removing onerous regulations, and allowing communities to set their own affordability requirements.
  • Housing Development Incentive Program (HDIP) Reform: Supports the development of market-rate housing in Gateway Cities by allowing credits to support new construction, and by raising the formula that sets housing development incentives.
Workforce Development
  • Workforce Skills Capital Grants ($45 million capital authorization): Establishes a new grant program for workforce development training equipment, to strengthen workforce skills, and create strong employment pipelines.
The Massachusetts Innovation Initiative
  • Massachusetts Manufacturing Innovation Initiative (M2I2) ($71 million capital authorization): Provides matching grants to establish public-private applied research institutes around emerging manufacturing technologies. The state’s capital funds will be matched with federal and private industry funds.
  • Scientific and Technology Research and Development Matching Grant Fund ($15 million capital authorization): Reauthorizes a capital grant program that funds nonprofit, university-led research collaboratives working to commercialize emerging technologies, thereby supporting the development of emerging industry clusters.
  • Community Innovation Infrastructure Fund ($15 million capital authorization): Creates a new fund for making capital grants that support community-based innovation efforts, including co-working spaces, venture centers, maker spaces and artist spaces.
  • Digital Health Care Cluster Development: Broadens the statutory charge of the Massachusetts eHealth Institute (MeHI) to include digital health cluster development.
  • Angel Investor Tax Credit: Promotes startup activity and job creation in the Gateway Cities, by incentivizing investment in early-stage life sciences and digital health firms.
Economic Competitiveness
  • Conley Terminal Rehabilitation ($109.5 million capital authorization): Permits the Massachusetts Port Authority to pursue the reconstruction of South Boston’s Conley Terminal, including berth construction and crane procurement, to accommodate new, larger cargo ships.
  • College Savings Tax Deduction: Provides Massachusetts residents with tax deductions for making deposits into prepaid tuition or college savings accounts.
  • Economic Development Incentive Program (EDIP) Reforms: Builds accountability in the state’s primary job-creation incentive program by strengthening the link between the issuance of tax credits, and job creation that would not otherwise occur; adds flexibility to the incentive program by eliminating obsolete, formula-driven incentive categories.
  • Liquor Law Reforms: Protects the ability of farmer-wineries, farmer-breweries, and farmer-distilleries to serve their products on their own premises; supports consumer choice and access to markets by allowing retailers who sell alcohol to also serve alcohol in in-house cafés; liberalizes restrictions on the sale of alcohol around certain holidays.
  • Regional Economic Development Organization (REDO) Modifications: Shifts the focus of nonprofit regional economic development nonprofits toward systems-based efforts to stimulate economic growth, including strengthening the regional skills pipeline, and executing regional industry cluster development strategies.
  • Fantasy Sports: Legalizes daily fantasy sports contests operated in accordance with regulations promulgated by the Attorney General.

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Date: 8/1/2016 7:58 AM EDT

Legislature wraps up 2-year session with marathon weekend

The Massachusetts House and Senate ran just beyond their self-imposed deadline to complete legislative work by midnight on July 31st.  After that date, they meet only in informal session, allowing members to spend more time in their districts in preparation for the election.  They were able to reach compromise on a number of high-profile bills, although not all of them will get to Governor Baker's desk this year.

Noncompete agreement legislation stalled when lawmakers were unable to reach a compromise, and will likely come up again when the Legislature reconvenes next January.

Here are a few of the big bills that went to the Governor before the session gaveled to a close:

Ride sharing:

Companies such as Uber, Lyft, and Fasten have been creating challenges for policymakers who had laid out very strict policies for taxis.  The taxi and limousine industry has been asking that these companies be regulated in much the same way.  In the final bill, however, ride share drivers will not be subject to fingerprinting as taxi drivers are, but will have to undergo background checks.  A 20-cent per ride fee will be divided among the municipality, the Mass. Department of Transportation and a fund establish to ease the burden on the traditional taxi industry.  They'll also be able to pick up at Logan and the Boston Convention and Exhibition Center.

Renewable energy:

A compromise was reached on legislation that would increase the state's reliability on wind, hydro and solar power.  The final bill did not go as far as the Senate would have liked, mainly because it did not increase the state's renewable portfolio standard.  The House said increasing the standard could result in burdensome costs to consumers.  The bill also requires Massachusetts to come up with a plan to address gas leaks.  Lawmakers left open the possibility that the legislation can be revisited to adjust once the law is in place and there is an opportunity to measure the impact.

Economic development:

The economic development bill that was sent to Governor Baker around midnight on July 31st will not include authorization to establish an online lottery, nor will it include expansion of a tax credit for low-income workers.  Also dead for now is a tax on short-term rentals, as in those through Airbnb, and nonprofits will not be taxed on property they acquire under this legislation.  It does include investment in MassWorks, brownfields funding, and technical education.


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Date: 7/11/2016 5:49 AM EDT

Next year's state budget signed into law...

Governor Baker signed the budget sent to him by the Legislature on Friday, but not before he vetoed $256 million in funding.  The total budget, nearly $39 billion, represents a 1.3% increase over last year's spending.  Revenues have been disappointing in light of an underperforming stock market and have caused budget writers to adjust expectations.

Transgender people now have public accommodations protections

After some conference committee wrangling to iron out differences between the House and the Senate, a bill to protect transgender people from discrimination in public places has now been signed into law.  The pivotal element of the legislation allows folks to use sex-segregated facilities (rest rooms, locker rooms, etc.) that correspond to their gender identity, not necessarily their anatomical gender.  The compromise bill also includes language that has the Attorney General and the Massachusetts Commission Against Discrimination working to deal with any potential use of the law for improper purposes, provisions that were important to some constituencies.

Speaker DeLeo, Governor Baker, Mayor Walsh and others urge a NO vote on recreational marijuana in MA

Safe Cannabis Massachusetts, the first committee formed in opposition to the ballot question to establish a marijuana and THC products industry in Massachusetts, continues to work to educate voters about the dangers of this particular initiative, even for those who favor the concept of allowing folks to smoke pot without interference.  Governor Baker, Mayor Marty Walsh, and Speaker DeLeo were joined by other political and community leaders at a press conference last week to announce their opposition and lay out their concerns.

The NO side enjoys the vocal support of political leaders who discussed how passage of this question would tie the hands of communities to limit how many retailers set up shop and allow them near day care centers and playgrounds. 

Opponents are especially concerned about the lack of restriction on the production, labeling and marketing of edible THC products, such as gummies and candy, evoking memories of Big Tobacco's aggressive youth-targeted marketing.

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