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Session highlights: Animal control, CHINS reform, crime bill

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I hope you are enjoying your summer!

Now that full formal sessions have been completed for the 2011 – 2012 Legislative Session, I’d like to update you on major legislation that has been voted on. A full formal session is a session of the legislature that requires bills to be voted for by a roll call vote. Having started the session in January of 2011, the Massachusetts Senate was able to accomplish a great deal. The following are some highlights of legislation that was passed:

Animal Control

This bill strengthens dog ordinances without targeting specific breeds, increases training for local animal control officials, creates a statewide spay/neuter program designed to reduce the number of homeless animals and prohibits certain inhumane methods of euthanasia for cats and dogs. Also, pets are allowed to be included in domestic abuse orders, which will protect animals and allows for victims of abuse to leave their partners without risking further injury to their pets.

FY13 Budget

The $32.5 billion state budget for FY13 prioritizes funding for cities and towns and commitments to reform and job creation. The budget does not contain any new taxes and uses a combination of ongoing revenue initiatives, one-time resources and spending reductions to close a $1.4 billion budget gap, the smallest budget gap the state has had since FY08.

CHINS Reform

This legislation completely overhauls the current system for handling children who consistently get in trouble at home or at school, including runaways and students who are habitually truant. The bill transforms the 38-year-old Children in Need of Services (CHINS) program that critics say unnecessarily puts troubled children in front of a judge before seeking services to help the children and their families.

Crime Bill

This bill cracks down on habitual offenders and establishes new requirements to improve the functions of the state paro le board. It mandates that any habitual offender found guilty of a third offense from the list of most serious crimes would be ineligible for parole. The bill also reduces mandatory minimum sentences for certain non-violent drug offenses under the Controlled Substances Act, reduces school zone areas from 1,000 feet to 300 feet and includes Good Samaritan provisions.

Development and Job Creation

This legislation implements strategically-focused economic development policies to make Massachusetts more competitive by improving the Commonwealth’s innovation economy, promoting economic prosperity through infrastructure investments and streamlined permitting, facilitating the expansion of new and existing business, and training our workforce for the future.

Electricity Cost

This legislation directly addresses competition among utility companies and the high costs of electricity which is a major obstacle for business growth in Massachusetts. The average electric rate in Massachusetts is 14.24 cents per kilowatt hour – the seventh highest in the United States and well above the national average of 10 cents.

Expanded Gaming

This legislation allows three resort casinos in separate regions of the state and one openly-bid slot facility. The legislation could provide 10,000 to 15,000 long-term jobs in the Commonwealth and generate hundreds-of-millions of dollars a year for the state.

Foreclosure

This legislation will prevent unnecessary and unlawful foreclosures and reduce the number of abandoned properties across the Commonwealth.

Human Trafficking

Under this legislation, anyone involved in the organization of forced labor and sexual servitude would face tough criminal penalties. The crackdown on human trafficking, which is being hailed as the toughest legislation of its kind in the nation, also establishes important protections for victims and children to help them access necessary services.

Payment Reform

This legislation is estimated to save the Commonwealth $200 billion over the next 15 years while improving the quality of care, increasing patient access, and strengthening the transparency and accountability of the state’s entire health care system. Health spending is projected to double from 2009 to 2020, outpacing both inflation and growth in the overall economy.

Prescription Drug Monitoring

This bill will reduce the excess supply of prescription pain killers in Massachusetts and require physician registration in the state’s Prescription Monitoring Program to prevent patients from “doctor shopping” for highly addictive medications such as OxyContin and Vicodin.

Pension Reform

This pension reform legislation included anti-salary-spiking provisions and the elimination of a controversial early retirement loophole. The bill is projected to save the Commonwealth $5 billion over 30 years.

Unemployment Benefits Extension

This legislation ensured that out-of-work residents did not lose federal unemployment benefits at the end of March 2011.

Valor Act

This legislation creates increased supports for veteran-owned businesses, Gold Star Families, military children and higher education access in the Commonwealth. Among other provisions, the VALOR Act provides greater access to financial assistance for small businesses.

Again, this is just a sample of major legislation that has been taken up in the Senate. If you would like more information on any of these bills or others, please contact my office 978-534-3388 or send me an email at info@jenflanagan.com.

Sen. Jennifer L. Flanagan represents the Worcester & Middlesex State Senate District, comprised of the following cities and towns: Ashby, Bolton, Precinct 1&2 of Clinton, Fitchburg, Gardner, Lancaster, Leominster, Lunenburg, Sterling, Townsend and Westminster.