Last week was a busy one on Beacon Hill and in our district. Here are a few important updates:
- MBTA Forum in Malden. Thank you to the hundreds of people who attended the MBTA’s public forum in Malden on February 16. It was a productive evening with many viewpoints represented. I was pleased to speak at the event and, especially, to listen to the many comments from those who would be most affected by the proposed service cuts and fare hikes: students, elders, people with disabilities, school administrators, business owners and commuters. It is clear that our community is united in advocating an efficient, affordable, full-service public transit system. I will continue to work with my colleagues on Beacon Hill, the T leadership, local officials and you all to achieve a comprehensive, innovative, long-term solution that preserves service and puts the MBTA on sound financial ground.
- Supporting Gold Star Families. Last week the Senate approved legislation to ease the tax burden on those families who have lost a loved one in combat or as a result of injuries sustained in war. The bill amends the current law to remove a restriction on the amount of property tax abatement a Gold Star family can receive. Importantly, the state will continue to reimburse municipalities for this tax relief. I’m proud that this was the first piece of legislation I had the opportunity to champion as Chair of the Joint Committee on Revenue. We all share a responsibility to our military families to honor their tremendous sacrifice and the courageous service of the loved ones they have lost. This bill embraces that commitment, and at the same time, recognizes that we should not constrain the revenue available to our cities and towns in an already challenging fiscal climate.
- Improving Emergency Response of Utilities. Last week the Senate passed a bill to address the emergency service response of public utility companies during major storms, such as Tropical Storm Irene in August and the snowstorm in October, both of which resulted in widespread power outages. The bill requires public utility companies to provide twice-daily estimates to customers on when electricity will be restored following a 24-hour damage assessment period, and to set up a call center in Massachusetts during a major storm. Among other things, utilities also must report storm outages to the state, designate community liaisons, and pay an assessment charge for storm investigations, the cost of which cannot be passed on to customers. The bill also ensures that any penalties assessed on utilities for violation of emergency preparation and response will be credited to customers.
- Supplemental Budget Supports our Businesses and Vulnerable Populations. Last Friday, Governor Deval Patrick signed a $127.1 million supplemental spending bill for this year that freezes unemployment insurance rates, saving businesses an estimated $421 million. In addition, it includes $21 million for low-income heating assistance and $35 million for adult day health services. Importantly, the bill also adjusts the state’s health insurance law to make clear that children or cancer patients who change health insurance carriers, but are in an active course of treatment, continue to receive coverage even if their providers fall outside of their new network.
As we move forward with the budget debate, I will keep you informed of developments related to: preserving MBTA services, funding for local aid and education, and other top priorities for our district.