Massachusetts session preview: A full policy plate for 2014


Massachusetts Gov. Deval Patrick (D) wants to see the legislature raise the minimum wage and reform the state unemployment insurance system this year. (AP Photo/Charles Krupa)

A slew of policies could be acted on in Massachusetts this year, from a minimum wage hike, to expanded unemployment benefits to gun control to physician-assisted suicides.

Gov. Deval Patrick (D) and House Speaker Robert DeLeo (D) have both said they want the state legislature, which meets year-round, to take up a minimum wage hike and reform of the state’s unemployment insurance system, with both “emerging as early flashpoints,” according to the local State House News Service. The state minimum wage is $8 and is set to automatically increase 10 cents beyond whatever level the federal government sets — if it’s above the state’s minimum. DeLeo has a full plate this session even as he loses one of his top deputies this month, when she steps down to take on a government affairs job for the Boston Beer Company.

A battle to tighten gun restrictions will rear its head again this year, says state Rep. Harold Naughton, a candidate for Massachusetts attorney general and co-chairman of the Joint Committee on Public Safety and Homeland Security. Legislation will come forward this month or next, he told WAMC public radio:

Naughton anticipates the legislation’s primary focus will include tougher sentences for those using illegal firearms in connection with a crime, reworking the state’s clumsy licensing process while creating a system of universal background checks at every point of sale, and ensuring school safety without making the buildings armed fortresses. He says the other major component will address mental health using information from a gun violence task force appointed by House Speaker Robert DeLeo in March.

“While only 2 percent of gun violence in our society can be attributed to people with mental health issues, 60 percent of gun deaths in our society are suicides,” Naughton explained. “It’s time that we have an adult conversation about the issues of mental health. About the fact that we should make mental health care as accessible as care for a broken arm, cancer or any other physical ailment a person would have. I think we’ll be moving that discussion forward. This bill won’t be the be all and end all, but it will be a continuous of that discussion on how we treat issues of mental health. The goal being to remove the stigma.”

There’s also a building movement to repeal a 2011 law that legalized casino gambling that has proven messy to implement. And a 2012 fight over physician-assisted suicide could be rehashed as the legislature considers allowing the practice through a “death with dignity” bill. And then there are seven ballot proposals that could end up on the ballot in November, according to the Associated Press:

The questions heading toward the ballot this year include ones that would repeal the state’s casino gambling law, raise the minimum wage and expand the state’s existing bottle deposit law.

Other proposed questions would limit the number of patients assigned to a nurse at one time, require hospitals to be transparent about financial holdings, create a statewide earned sick time policy and repeal a new law linking future increases in the gas tax to the rate of inflation.

Even those will have to work their way through the state’s legislature, however. (If lawmakers fail to approve them, ballot organizers will have to embark on another round of signature-collecting.)

Niraj Chokshi reports for GovBeat, The Post's state and local policy blog.
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