Bills

An Act to combat climate change (S1924)

SD 1817 is based on carbon pricing language that in June 2018 earned the unanimous approval of the Mass. State Senate. It gives the governor considerable flexibility in pricing carbon, from revenue-neutral to revenue-positive to cap and trade, but does ask him to make a choice — in the case of transportation, by Dec. 31, 2021.

The governor may choose my preferred option, a “revenue-neutral” carbon fee, in which case the bill sets fairness rules for returning funds to citizens.  But if he opts instead for a carbon tax or cap and trade, both of which are “revenue positive,” the bill gives the Legislature its deserved role in how the resulting money is spent.  My language provides that most of it would go to public transportation.  But some of it would go to electric vehicle incentives, environmental justice initiatives, and especially chapter 70 school aid.  This very last point, using carbon pricing proceeds to fund the public schools our constituents use, is a genuine innovation, but it’s about time.

 

An Act restoring financial transparency in presidential elections (S383)

Going back at least 38 years, every major party candidate for President of the United States has released his or her tax returns.  This honorable tradition ended with the 2016 election.  Under SD 664 a presidential candidate who does not submit tax returns or a Statement of Financial Interests will be ineligible to appear on the relevant Massachusetts primary or general election ballot.  Harvard Law School’s Laurence Tribe has helped with the drafting.  He says the bill will “survive constitutional challenge all the way up to the Supreme Court if necessary.”  Attorney General Maura Healey has certified that the idea passes constitutional muster.

 

An Act relative to the Massachusetts fund for vulnerable countries most affected by climate change (S1602)

This bill gives Massachusetts taxpayers a purely voluntary option to support poor nations around the world threatened by rising oceans and other consequences of climate change. The idea is to give residents the option, on their state income tax return form, to designate some of their own money to a special United Nations fund.  The MA income tax form already features six similar “check off options.”  This will add one more. The list of vulnerable countries, as designated by the United Nations, includes Haiti, Nepal, Cambodia, and Afghanistan.  The bill has no administrative costs to the state — it simply enables Massachusetts to assist people in need and demonstrate climate leadership on the international stage.

 

An Act protecting inmate safety and the expenditure of state funds (S1357)

This bill limits an elected sheriff’s ability to send inmates out of state to assist in the construction of projects such as President Trump’s wall.  It requires the sheriff to get prior approval from state government before transporting, or arranging with others to transport, anyone in his custody outside the borders of Massachusetts.  Last session, the idea received approval from both the Senate and the House, though it did not become law.

 

An Act to require liability insurance for gun ownership (S1360)

The bill requires gun owners to purchase liability insurance to cover any injuries caused by their guns. This will create a financial incentive for gun owners to take more care and precaution with their firearms, which will reduce accidents and fatalities.  We have insurance for all manner of things that present some risk. Gun ownership should be no different.

 

An Act to encourage the deployment of heat pumps (S1925)

This bill encourages the adoption of electric heating sources — AKA heat pumps — in residential and commercial buildings.  This technology is cleaner than current forms of heating.  Under SD 1979, DOER sets numerical targets for statewide heat pump technology adoption by 2030.  The bill also requires the Board of Building Regulations and Standards to create and adopt “heat pump ready” codes to require any new residential or commercial building to be equipped with appropriate accommodations for the installation of heat pumps and heat pump water heaters.

 

An Act to advance shared solar (S1926)

Most Massachusetts residents can’t have solar panels on their property because they can’t afford it, or because they live in a condo, or because they don’t have south-facing roofs.  This bill makes residential shared solar possible for low-income people and people who can’t otherwise participate.  The bill exempts shared solar projects from the net metering cap and mandates that electricity produced by shared solar projects are compensated at the full retail rate.  SD 2113 also adds several other measures to ensure that shared solar programs thrive.

 

An Act regulating the use of credit reports by employers (S1042)

Many Americans have “bad” or low credit scores, be it from student loans, or medical debt, or housing foreclosures.  Employers often use credit scores in decision-making, even though there is no evidence they’re a valid screening tool.  Thus, a destructive cycle: People can’t find employment because of their credit history, and people can’t improve their credit history because they lack a job.  This bill bars employers from considering an employee’s or job applicant’s credit history in making hiring and promotional decisions.

  

An Act to promote health equity to examine health disparities including disability status and gender in five years (S660)

The bill creates a permanent Office of Health Equity.  The new office will oversee initiatives to eliminate health care disparities — unreasonable gaps in access to care or in actual health outcomes — based on race, ethnicity, disability, gender, mental health, sexual orientation, gender identity, or other invidious distinctions.

 

An Act relative to transparency in homeowners insurance rate setting (S539)

Massachusetts needs to make the process for setting home insurance premiums fairer, more rigorous, and much more transparent.  This bill declares insurance company rate requests “public records” and requires them to be published online.  It also authorizes the AG to represent the interests of homeowner in hearings before the Department of Insurance.  It bars basing rate increases on extraneous factors unrelated to real risk, such as a homeowner’s ability to pay high rates. 

 

An Act relative to military grade controlled property (S1358)

This bill increases community control over transfers of federal military equipment to local law enforcement agencies.  It requires that local legislative bodies (1) be informed of any application to transfer military property to a local law enforcement agency, (2) hold a meeting to accept public comment, and (3) vote to approve or deny the application.

 

An Act repealing the property tax exemption for Massport lessees (S1600)

This bill removes the tax exemption for property owned by Massport that is leased to private, for-profit companies.  At several Massport facilities today, private businesses leasing space are exempt from paying local property taxes.  They inherit Massport’s own tax exemption instead.  This legislation allows cities and towns to collect property taxes from for-profit lessees.

   

An Act relative to solar drying of laundry (S1169)

This bill authorizes cities and towns to create a local “right to dry” — a right to use a traditional clothesline to dry clothing.  Condo associations often eliminate this right.  Towns and cities that have previously attempted to preserve clothesline use have seen their ordinances invalidated due to lack of authorization by the Legislature.  Under the terms of this bill, condominium associations and landlords can impose reasonable restrictions on the placement and use of clotheslines, but cannot ban them outright.

 

An Act relative to early voting in municipal elections (S382)

For local elections that do not coincide with biennial state elections, this bill enables municipalities to opt in to the early voting regimen created by the Legislature in 2014.  A city or town is authorized to adopt early voting provided that its decision to do so is (1) approved by its local legislative body and (2) ratified by local voters.

 

An Act relative to protecting biometric information under the security breach law (S98)

This legislation amends our state’s Security Breach and Identity Theft law.  This requires that, in the event of a security breach, third-party holders of personal and financial information notify state officials and also directly notify any consumers whose personal and financial information may have been compromised.  Given the increased use of biometric data such as fingerprints and facial recognition software, this bill adds the term “biometric data” to the protections afforded under Massachusetts law.

 

An Act to restrict the use of polystyrene (S1205)

The bill bans the presence of polystyrene in disposable containers used in retail sales by food establishments.   The major chemical components of Styrofoam — also known as polystyrene — are known carcinogens.  They can leach into food when containers are heated, with direct health effects on consumers.  The material is dangerous when left to break down in landfills, since it crumbles into small pieces that can harm wildlife.