When the 2015 formal legislative session concluded on November 18, many Massachusetts lawmakers had already turned their attention to the unfinished business and the anticipated legislative agenda for 2016. The first year of the 2015-2016 legislative session most notably included the passage of the $38.4 billion FY16 budget, which incorporated spending priorities with policy changes, including efforts to improve the service of the Massachusetts Bay Transportation Authority (MBTA).
The Legislature’s joint committees ramped up their hearing schedules this fall and have heard many of the over 7,000 bills filed this session. Over the past several weeks, legislators have been moving bills out of committee in earnest, programming legislation for action as the Legislature reconvenes in January. As we enter 2016, we anticipate action on a number of key policy issues such as transgender rights, reform of the public records law, solar net metering, and the opioid overdose epidemic.
- Public Records Reform – On the last day of the fall session, the House unanimously passed reforms to strengthen the state’s public records law, which provides new mechanisms for enforcing the law and increases the time allotted for government to comply with requests. The Senate will likely consider the bill in January when formal session resumes.
- Solar Net Metering – The Senate passed a bill that would lift a cap on solar net metering in July, seeking to update incentives that would finance and advance new solar energy projects across the Commonwealth. The bill would increase the cap immediately, and would also task state officials with the creation of a long-term, sustainable incentive program for the solar market, building off of the existing program that was established in 2007. The House released its version – with notable differences from the Senate’s bill– just two days before the end of formal session, setting up the discussion for early 2016.
- Opioid Overdose Epidemic – The FY16 supplemental budget included nearly $30 million to fund efforts to combat the opioid epidemic, including new treatment beds and more post-detoxification beds, new recovery high schools, and a bulk purchasing program for Narcan, the anti-overdose drug. Additionally, Governor Baker proposed a bill to curb opioid abuse, which would expand the state’s involuntary civil commitment law to cover drug dependents and would limit the size of opioids prescriptions, among other provisions. The Senate also passed an additional bill that would address opioid abuse prevention and education. The House and the Senate are expected to address Governor Baker’s proposed legislation in early 2016.
- Transgender Rights – Leaders of both houses have expressed support for a transgender rights bill, which proposes to establish non-discrimination protections for transgender people in public places. However, opponents continue to cite logistical concerns with its implementation and Governor Baker has been non-committed.