Looking Ahead to the Legislature's New Year

Hundreds and hundreds of bills were left laying on the table when the House of Representatives ended its 1997 session.

But--because of new rules in the House and Senate--the legislation left over is not dead. It continues into the new year. And the new year begins, by constitution, on the first Wednesday in January.

Last year, we met on New Year's Day, when new legislators had to be sworn in. This year, we'll wait until the seventh day of the New Year. And, while you were shopping, putting up the tree, and wrapping your presents, and trying to be productive at work in December, the legislature was working, too.

As the year ended, a lot of hearings and committee meetings were held to line up the agenda for 1998. New bills were introduced. Budget preparations were started by the Governor, as well as by Ways and Means.

What will you be hearing and reading about in the weeks to come?

Tax cuts. The Governor, and all candidates for the corner office, both Democrats and Republicans, have endorsed personal income tax cuts. Most agree on a cut from 5.95 to 5 percent. The time frame varies, with immediate decreases ranging to cuts over several years. If the legislature doesn't get it done (legislation is in the tax committee now), there'll be a referendum on the 1998 statewide ballot.

Other tax cuts would put Massachusetts' life, property and casualty insurance companies on a level playing ground with out-of-state insurance companies. Still another would cut the diesel fuel tax to the lowest level charged by our bordering states.

As a member of the Insurance Committee, I am impressed with the omnibus insurance managed care bill we've drafted with the Health Care Committee. There are enough changes in the way your HMO's operate to warrant an entire column. Watch for it.

Other health care legislation would require health insurers to provide medical coverage for mental illness just as they do for physical illness.

Closer to home is the $685-million Courthouse bond bill, which both House and Senate approved in May. Former Governor Weld vetoed the bill, because it mandated union labor. But the House rejected the veto, and the legislation is waiting for action in the Senate. Funding for the Western Hampden District Court is in the bill, thank you.

Banks would be prohibited from charging fees to use automated teller machines, if another measure passes. Even banks are divided on both sides of the issue, and debate should be lively.

The House approved $50 million for Foxboro infrastructure, but the Patriots aren't sure they want the money because they'd have to pay it back to the state. The Senate is still debating the matter. Meanwhile, it looks like the Red Sox are lining up a request for money, too.

We'll also be discussing special education reforms, with a study commission set to release their recommendations next month. Teachers want, and deserve, the Rule of 90 (retirement when your age and retirement years total that number).

Single-gender health clubs, approved by the House, await action in the Senate. Brownfields legislation to ease hazardous waste clean-up rules and allow development on land polluted by industrial waste is pending.

Another bill would allow partners of state employees benefits, and allow cities and towns to do the same.

And, that's just a small sampling of the hundreds and hundreds of bills still pending in the 1997-98 session.

As the only state where any citizen can introduce legislation, we see about 8,000 new bills at the beginning of each session. So, there's plenty more to come.

All materials copyright 1997 - 2014