Focuses on Fiscal Management and Economic Growth through Investments in Transportation, Education, Reforms to Welfare System
Given the gridlock in Washington and the general cynicism of the public toward elected officials, I am pleased to report that in this past session that the Massachusetts House of Representatives passed major legislation pertaining to economic development, transportation, education, welfare, compounding pharmacies and election laws. This year, through strategic investments and reforms, we positioned the Commonwealth for even greater growth as we continue to strengthen our economy.
In this session the House passed two major finance bills, the FY14 budget and the transportation finance bill, both of which are designed to stimulate economic growth. The FY14 budget, a $34 billion plan, allocates essential funds that advance the growth of the local economy and support the Commonwealth’s essential services and programs, including local aid, education, housing and health and human services.
In addition to funding essential services, the budget prioritizes education-related items, including increased Chapter 70 funds. It takes decisive action to bolster funding for the University of Massachusetts, state universities and community colleges, including a $478.9 million allocation for UMass that will prevent tuition and fee increases in the upcoming school year. The House is committed to again working toward this goal in fiscal year 2015.This focus underscores Massachusetts’ ongoing commitment to strengthen our education system as a means to create jobs and provide residents with a competitive edge.
This year’s budget also provided new funding and resources for various programs enacted through the 2012 economic development legislation, including the Manufacturing Futures Program and the Mass Works Infrastructure Program, to foster job creation for employees of all skill levels across numerous industries.
The transportation finance bill, passed in August, is designed to solve long-standing financial problems within the state’s transportation system through continued reforms and a future, stable funding source without placing too great a burden on working families. The bill continues on the promise of the 2009 transportation reform law by enhancing efficiency and accountability, providing revenue to initiate economic growth and supporting necessary infrastructure projects.
Following the 2012 meningitis outbreak linked to contaminated drugs, Massachusetts became the first state to pass comprehensive legislation relative to compounding pharmacies. In October, the House unanimously voted on a bill that will help the Commonwealth better regulate the industry. This legislation addresses a previous lack of consistent standards, at both a state and federal level, governing the operations of specialty pharmacies engaged in sterile compounding by improving oversight, licensing and quality standards.
Throughout the year the House renewed its dedication to the Commonwealth’s citizens and municipalities by providing for existing needs while preparing for the future through provisions like increased local aid and welfare reform. The Economic Independence Act enhances the efficacy of the state’s welfare system through new initiatives and reforms, including the Pathways to Self-Sufficiency program which provides numerous resources designed to help recipients achieve financial independence. The bill also builds on the House’s unyielding commitment to safeguarding the integrity of Massachusetts’ welfare system through new reform measures, including an expanded scope of prohibited actions to include foreign transmittal agencies, and increased resources for the Department of Transitional Assistance.
These measures follow electronic benefit card reforms made in the FY13 budget and two subsequent supplementary budgets, passed in July and October, respectively. In the midst of the federal government shutdown the October finance legislation allocated additional and immediate funds for the Low Income Home Energy Assistance Program, an indication of Massachusetts’ government’s ongoing commitment to working together.
Aware of the difficult circumstance some families face, the House passed legislation and enacted numerous provisions to help residents secure safe and stable housing including a $1.4 housing bond bill which modernizes public housing and allows for home modification for elderly or disabled homeowners.
This fall the House passed two bills related to the military and veterans. Veterans affairs are a major priority for the House and because of this, Massachusetts is consistently ranked among the top state for veterans. The 2013 VALOR Act builds on existing legislation to provide increased property tax relief and enhance employment, educational and healthcare support services. The House also passed a military bond bill which funds projects at military installations around the state.
Other session accomplishments include:
- Approval of election legislation that establishes early voting for presidential elections and provides resources to local officials and residents to make the voting process more efficient. This bill is expected to significantly decrease wait times on Election Day and allow greater access to voting;
- Increased the maximum penalty for corporate manslaughter from $1,000 to $250,000;
- Passed legislation to ensure that students with disabilities have Individualized Education Plans (IEP) that includes short-term objectives and benchmarks. The inclusion of short-term goals in a student’s IEP is important in order to measure the impact of special education instruction and services;
- Expanded efforts to require national background checks through fingerprinting of teachers, daycare providers, and persons living or working on facility premises. The new law, which stemmed from the Federal Bureau of Investigation recommendations, also requires address-based sex offender checks of early education and care facilities;
- Creation of another August sales tax holiday in an effort to boost sales for local businesses.
Representative Paul J. Donato represents the cities of Medford and Malden in the 35th Middlesex District