Let's Wrap Up 2002 Legislation

It's time to look back at the 2002 legislative sessions and answer the frequent question, "What did the legislature do this year?"

And I can say with a good amount of confidence that nothing will be added with almost three full months left in the year.

That's because, in even years, which are also election years, the legislature cannot do anything controversial after July 31. Controversial means if any one Representative objects, the bill won't be enacted. All legislative sessions in the last five months of the year are informal and no votes are taken.

A complete list of bills passed and budget items approved would be impossible. But, here's a sampling of what we did get done.

We passed a budget. Late, as usual, but only a month behind schedule. It wasn't a document I was proud of because tax revenues took a serious dive and yet we increased state spending from $22.8-billion to $23.1 billion.

Led by the Democratic majority, we also voted to increase your personal income tax, increase the tax on capital gains, reduce personal exemptions, add 75 cents a pack to the cigaret tax, and eliminate tax deductions for donations to charitable organizations.

Businesses, however, could be happy about a few items. We set new unemployment insurance rates at a Schedule B. I won’t explain the schedules, but only say that it will save businesses about $100-million on their contributions.

We also extended unemployment insurance to victims of domestic violence. If you've ever been irritated by telemarketers calling your home, you'll be happy

to know that we passed legislation to reduce the number of telephone sales calls made to Massachusetts residents. We established, in the Office of Consumer Affairs, a list of residents who do not wish to receive unsolicited sales calls. The bill limits calls to 8 a.m. to 8 p.m. and prohibits telemarketers from intentionally blocking your caller ID box.

We also made communicating a terrorist threat a crime, set up an early retirement program for municipalities, required schools to allow asthmatics to use inhalers at school,

Under other bills, school systems can now rent advertising on their buses, and retain the profits. Felons cannot vote by absentee ballots, Councils on Aging cannot divulge information about its members for marketing purposes, and mercury thermometers cannot be sold in the state.

More importantly, we authorized bonding of just over $707-million for environmental initiatives, and $300-million for information technology improvements for the state police and other agencies. Another $301-million bond was approved for transportation, roads and bridges.

We mandated insurance coverage for contraception, broadened the incest laws to include oral sex, included hand written materials in the regulations about obscene materials, and added clergy members to the list of professionals required to report child abuses.

We redistricted all House, Senate and Congressional districts,

Of course, I was extremely happy when my aircraft tax bill "exempting airline parts and repairs from taxes "went into effect March 1. It was a real economic stimulator for Barnes and General Dynamics as well as the fixed base operators here and across the state.

Not every legislator or lobbyist went home happy at session’s end.

With some 6,600 bills filed during the two-year legislative session, only about 100 became law. (That doesn't include so-called local option legislation, such as allowing the Westfield police chief's secretary to be appointed without civil service.)

Left on the table were a wide range of bills, including expansion of state-chartered banks, funding of taxpayer funded elections, same sex rights (the so-called Defense of Marriage Act), restoration of the death penalty, expansion of casino gambling, safe haven drop-offs for unwanted newborns, gender neutral insurance, even making prisoners pay for their haircuts and making it illegal to drive and use a cellphone at the same time.

And, more than 6,000 others.

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