State Rep. Jay Kaufman, D-Lexington, together with most of his Democratic and Republican colleagues, joined to celebrate recent session accomplishments as the legislature headed into the holiday recess. Before the session closed, the legislature passed major bills dealing with economic development, municipal employee health insurance, civil rights, alimony, redistricting, and pension reform.
“After a slow start, this has turned into one of the most productive sessions in memory. We passed a sound budget, modernized public employee health insurance laws, reformed hiring and promotion practices in the troubled Department of Probation, completed major pension reform, and completed the difficult redistricting process with a much-heralded new map that includes 20 majority-minority districts (including 4 new majority Hispanic districts and three new majority Black districts)” said Kaufman. “We also took a strong stand on civil rights and public safety, passing anti human trafficking and transgender equal rights bills,” he added. He also offered that “my only reservation about the work we did this past year is a deep sense of disappointment that the legislature chose to open the state to casino gambling. I doubt the job and revenue projections that influenced many of my colleagues, and continue to be concerned about the social ills and the economic dislocation casinos will bring to the citizens and communities in the areas around the new facilities. I accept the legislature’s decision, but I stand by my vote in opposition.”
As Revenue Committee chair, Representative Kaufman led the fight to create a special commission to examine the Tax Expenditure Budget, a maze of tax loopholes that have accumulated but, until now, escaped review. The Commission is scheduled to issue its recommendations in the spring. This year also saw the unveiling of another of Kaufman’s priorities, the state’s new online checkbook-level budget detail to make the state’s finances completely transparent.
It also saw major pension reform, with much of the new law tracking recommendations Kaufman proposed five years ago as part of a special commission that included Lexington resident, economist, and Nobel Laureate Peter Diamond.
Other highlights include
· Public employee health insurance reform, many years in the making, now allows cash-strapped cities and towns to offer benefits more in line with other public and private sector markets.
· The new law cracking down on human trafficking mandates that anyone involved in the organization of forced labor and sexual servitude will face tough criminal penalties.
· After nearly six years of working on the transgender equal rights bill, supporters of the bill rejoiced at it received a strong endorsement from the House and Senate. The transgender equality bill extended civil rights and hate crime protection to our state’s transgender residents who suffer from bias-related violence and employment, housing, and education discrimination.
· The House and Senate worked together to pass legislation that cracks down on habitual criminal offenders. This bill aims to keep habitual criminals off the streets and keep us safe.
· The legislature passed new guidelines to determine the form, amount and duration of alimony payments. The bill resolves years of controversy and debate, and largely tracks the recommendations of a special commission that worked to reform an out-of-date alimony law and equally dysfunctional practices.
· The House and Senate passed the so-called Evergreen Law, collective bargaining language that resolves uncertainty about what happens when an employment contract expires and has not yet been replaced with a new agreement.