Category: Legislative News

FY19 Budget Priorities

Fiscal Year 2019 Budget Priorities

Jay sat down with House Committee on Ways & Means Chairman Brian Sanchez regarding his priorities for the FY2019  budget.  Among those priorities were line items pertaining to Early Childhood Education, Massachusetts Legal Assistance Corporation funding, and funding for the Resolve to Stop the Violence program (RSVP).  Below is the letter in full.

While Jay has chosen to prioritize these line items, this is not an exhaustive list of the programs he plans to support in the budgetary process.  He looks forward to working with his colleagues to advocate for other line items after the release of the House Ways and Means Budget.

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March 2018 Legislative Update

March 2018 Legislative Update

House of Reps

Click each heading below to learn more about the legislation that the House has enacted recently.

I was pleased that the Protecting Access to Confidential Health Care Act, also known as the PATCH Act, finally arrived on the House floor for a vote. This legislation is a huge win for confidentiality in our health care system. It would fix a crucial barrier to accessing health care by ensuring that when multiple people are on the same insurance plan, confidential health care information is not shared with anyone other than the patient. The bill, which has passed both chambers, must be enacted and then will be sent to the Governor’s desk for signature. You can read the full text of the bill HERE.

In the aftermath of the Equifax data breach that exposed the data of 145 million Americans, the State Legislature passed this protection to ensure heightened safety standards for consumer data. This bill would make it easier for customers to implement credit freezes and requires quicker notification of security issues from companies. Under the new legislation, consumers may request credit freezes by phone or online. Companies must then implement a freeze within one day of an electronic request or three days of a written request and thaw credit within 15 minutes of an electronic request, all free of charge. I was proud to vote in favor of this important legislation. You can read the full text of the bill HERE.

This legislation directs the state to develop a comprehensive plan to address the spread of Alzheimer’s and creates an Alzheimer’s Disease Advisory Council. It also directs hospital and health care providers to participate in continuing education and develop acute care plans to better manage and treat patients with dementia. Finally, the bill establishes training standards for social workers who work to protect elders from abuse. You can read the full text of the bill HERE.

In November, the House passed an omnibus criminal justice bill that would make sweeping changes to the criminal justice system in Massachusetts. Two major components of this bill were proposed by me: diversion to treatment, which would prioritize rehabilatation over incarceration, and the establishment of a commission to look into the current bail system in the Commonwealth.

The diversion to treatment component makes it so that an alternative route to incarceration can exist for first time offenders of any age. It requires District Attorney’s offices across the State to implement such rehabilitative programs and to ensure access to veterans, juveniles, persons with disabilities, and persons with substance abuse disorders. 

The Bail Commission would study the effectiveness of the current cash bail system and seek the feasibility of a Risk Assessment Tool for the Commonwealth. There is also a component to speak to biases that can occur in such a Risk Assessment.  Changes to our bail laws will have a great impact on our criminal justice system as all defendants are impacted by the bail rules. 

Also the bill included the elimination of certain mandatory minimum penalties (although not as many as I pushed for), data collection reforms, expungement reforms, solitary confinement reforms, larceny threshold reforms, and much much more. You can read the full text of the bill HERE.

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Galvin says New Shadow Law Removes Layer of Protection for Historic Parks

By Beth Treffeisen

Gov. Charlie Baker recently signed a home-rule petition into law that would allow Millennium Partners to move forward with building a 775-foot tower on the site of the city-owned Winthrop Square Garage, bypassing two existing state laws that protect the Boston Common and Public Garden from new shadows.

Mayor Martin Walsh introduced this bill last April for a “one-time” exemption to the state shadow laws, citing the reported $153 million sale of the property would bring to the city. The Boston City Council approved sending the bill to the State House in a 10 – 3 vote.

 

“The bill passed removed a layer of protection for historic sites but it doesn’t mean the project is exempt from other processes,” said Secretary of the Commonwealth William Galvin. “Millennium wouldn’t be able to build this building without that exemption but it’s still fuzzy on how it’s going to go moving forward.”

Galvin said that although this project skirts around the 25-year-old state shadow laws that have shielded the downtown historic parks from excessive building shadows, there is still more to be done.

The project, which is set to break ground next year, is still under going the Article 80 process with the City, has yet to complete the Massachusetts Environmental Policy Act (MEPA) report, and still needs to gain the approval of the Federal Aviation Administration before it can reach its proposed height.

In addition Galvin said there hasn’t been a wind study or a complete shadow study that goes beyond the downtown parks into the surrounding historic neighborhoods.

“The process is going to go on,” said Galvin. “A layer of protection has been removed, but the building is not exempt from the process.”

As part of the MEPA report, Galvin who is the Chair of the Massachusetts Historical Commission will work towards determining the effect the proposed tower will have on historic buildings and sites downtown.

Galvin said that although the bill may have taken away a layer of protection for the Public Garden and the Common there are other buildings and historic architecture that needs protection as well.

“I look forward to continuing to work with Mayor Walsh, the Friends of the Public Garden and other stakeholders on the short-term and the long-term improvements to the Boston Common that are possible because of our collaborative efforts,” said State Rep. Jay Livingstone.

 

The Friends of the Public Garden worked with the developers Millennium Partners to come to agreement that would invest $125,000 a year for 40 years towards a fund for the upkeep of the Common, Public Garden and Commonwealth Avenue Mall.

 

The Neighborhood Association of the Back Bay (NABB) said that this is not the outcome they had hoped for but understand that the City said that this is a one-time exemption and offered further study and protections for the Boston Common, the Public Garden, and the Commonwealth Avenue Mall from development and its subsequent impacts from mid-town.

Vicki Smith the executive director of NABB said that the neighborhood association would continue to request shadow studies and wind studies on new development in the Back Bay that negatively affect Copley Square and the Commonwealth Avenue Mall.

“Given the dramatic number of new buildings under construction and consideration it is more important than ever to protect and preserve our increasingly used green spaces,” wrote Smith. “They are precious and significantly contribute to what makes the Back Bay so attractive to both residents and visitors.”

She continued, “On any given day virtually year round, there are people from all over Boston and the world in Copley Square and on the Mall. NABB will continue to advocate for the protection and enhancement of these iconic spaces for future generations.”

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Understanding Baker’s Health Care Package

At the end of June, Governor Charlie Baker introduced a health care package that boasted Medicaid (MassHealth) reform and cost savings in an especially tight budget year. At a glance, the proposal seemed like a standard Republican response to the current financial state of the Commonwealth, but after a closer look, juxtaposed with Baker’s generally supportive views of the Affordable Care Act nationally, it paints a bleak picture for working families in Massachusetts.

If you have any additional questions, feel free to contact my Legislative Aide, Caitlin Duffy (Caitlin.Duffy@mahouse.gov)

The Governor’s Health Care Reform Package introduced this Summer served as a Phase 2 of a larger reform. Phase 1, which was supported by the Obama Administration, was an effort to transform much of MassHealth (the State’s Medicaid program) into “accountable care organizations.” According to Commonwealth Magazine, Accountable Care Organizations (or ACO’s) aim to focus hospitals, physicians, and other providers on improving population health, care integration, and efficiency. Back in November, days before the election of President Trump, Massachusetts was awarded a grant by the Obama Administration to carry out the program, which aligned with the out-going administration’s mission to move US health care away from expensive fee-for-service payment and toward value-based financing that rewards quality and efficiency.

Unfortunately, no. Phase 2 of Baker’s plan is a bit more complex and requires more focus. It includes 5 key changes:

  1. Temporarily reestablishes employer responsibility for health insurance through two new assessments.
  2. Closes access to MassHealth for otherwise income-eligible individuals and families who have access to affordable coverage through their employers.
  3. Seeks to transfer 140,000 lower-income, non-disabled adults from MassHealth to the ConnectorCare program, as well as transfer 230,000 non-disabled parents and caretakers from MassHealth Standard to CarePlus, effective January 1, 2019.
  4. Seeks to align MassHealth benefits more closely with those of commercial insurance plans by encouraging limited network products, by eliminating non-emergency transportation to medical appointments, and by using commercial tools such as closed formularies in selecting outpatient drugs.
  5. A series of reforms to state commercial insurance laws 

Employers would be responsible for a higher rate of “Employer Medical Assistance Contribution” (EMAC) from $51m to $71m effective January 1, 2018. EMAC is what funds  subsidized health care to low-income residents of the Commonwealth. Finally, Employers will be required to pay 5 percent of annual wages for each non-disabled employee who obtains public health insurance coverage (from MassHealth or the Massachusetts Health Insurance Connector), up to the annual wage cap of $15,000, or $750 maximum. 

This is bad news for business, but the Baker administration lessened the pain by a $334 million drop in the unemployment insurance rate schedule to make up for it. That deal is likely why groups like the Associated Industries of Massachusetts and the Massachusetts Taxpayer Association are on board with this plan. Also, the assessments would be only effective for 2 years.

Employer Assesments are reports submitted by companies regarding the health care plans that they offer and the eligibility percentage of current employees. Unless you’re incredibly interested in all things Health Care Policy, you probably first heard the concept mentioned back in 2006 during Massachusetts’s Universal Health Care debate. The Affordable Care Act also included an employer responsibility assessment, set to take effect in 2014, but it was never implemented. Anticipating the ACA assessment, Gov. Deval Patrick and the Legislature repealed the 2006 mandate in 2013. Baker proposed a more costly assessment last January, which is part of the reason why businesses are on board for these reforms.

Well, this is where Baker’s policy gets a little bit more treacherous. This plan would close access to otherwise income-eligible individuals and families who have access to healthcare plans deemed “affordable” by the government at their current job. The trouble is that health care costs add up and this could be seen as a huge burden on working people. Advocates worry that many low-income adults will be dropped from coverage, though the Baker Administration claims that they will provide assistance to those affected in finding affordable coverage. Until this assistance is proven to be adequate, moving ahead on this policy would be incredibly risky for vulnerable families and individuals.

 

When you look at what would theoretically qualify a person to be deemed eligible for MassHealth in this regard, the 140,000 individuals especially should be alarmed. These are all people whose income is 100 to 138 percent of the federal poverty level. In other words, you’d have to be a lot more poor to qualify for MassHealth and families that fall between those benchmarks would have to rework their financial situation to afford subsidized care (which, can truthfully be costly). The disparity gap between plans becomes a significant hurdle for working families. The loss of coverage could also affect MassHealth recipients with dental plans and other elements crucial to caring for one’s health that may not carry over to ConnectorCare.

It’s important to remember that the poverty level is calculated on a national level.  It does not account for higher cost states, like Massachusetts, or higher cost cities, like Boston or Cambridge.

 

The Baker administration seeks to do this with MassHealth by encouraging limited network products, eliminating non-emergency transportation to medical appointments, and using commercial tools such as closed formularies in selecting outpatient drugs.

  • Imposing a 5-year moratorium on new health insurance mandates;
  • Providing consumers with price information for common procedures and services;
  • Increasing premium differentials for tiered network insurance plans from 14 percent to 28 percent; and
  • Expanding the scope of practice for nurse practitioners, optometrists, and podiatrists, while creating a new mid-level provider called “dental therapist.”

Baker’s team claims that these reforms would save $314 million in fiscal year 2018, which starts July 1, and more beyond. Those savings would be great, but it seems to be on the backs of the working poor in Massachusetts.

As an advocate for working families and individuals, I was incredibly disturbed by Baker’s proposal and the lack of public process in determining the details. It felt like businesses and insurance companies got a seat at the table whereas MassHealth recipients did not get to voice their input/concerns. I understand that this was and remains to be a tight fiscal year, but I do not believe that working families and individuals should be first on the chopping block at their expense. After hearing about the proposal and getting sense of a momentum on the issue, I teamed up with Representatives Barber and Balser to pen an op-ed in Commonwealth Magazine about these changes. I’ve been part of a vocal opposition to any changes made to balance the budget on the backs of the working poor. 

Recently, the House rejected the Governor’s MassHealth Reform package in the form of a budget amendment, 41-116, with seven Democrats joining all but one Republican in supporting the governor’s plan. The Senate followed suit on a party-line vote of 6-31. One more vote is required in the Senate to return the budget sections without MassHealth reform to Baker. Baker will have to choose whether to accept the employer assessments without reforming MassHealth and risk alienating the business community, or veto the assessments and I will continue to fight against any similar proposals that would leave the people of Massachusetts without the health care support they need at this time of uncertainty at the federal level.  I am currently working with other representatives on solutions to MassHealth costs that do not involve cuts to benefits or services.

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Everything You Need to Know about Winthrop Square and Its Shadow Law Exemption

Representative Livingstone has been a longstanding advocate for parks and open spaces. He has done a lot of work in his district to maintain the integrity of the public greenspace that the 8th Suffolk has to offer, including the Boston Common and Public Garden.  Shared, public spaces are beloved and used by everyone, from residents who walk through the Common each day to tourists that visit the Common all year round. Below are some inquiries that our office has received about the current debate on shadow exemption and the Winthrop Sq Project. 

If you have any additional questions, feel free to reach out to my Legislative Aide, Caitlin Duffy, at Caitlin.Duffy@Mahouse.gov

 

I have worked with the other elected officials (Reps. Michlewitz and Rushing, Senators Will Brownsberger and Joe Boncore, and Councilor Zakim) who represent the Boston Common and Public Garden or areas close to the parks to secure the best result possible from this process.  I have also worked closely with the Friends of the Public Garden and other neighborhood groups, such as the Beacon Hill Civic Association and Neighborhood Association of Back Bay.   The negotiations with the City and developer started in October 2016 and only recently ended.

I appreciate the direct involvement of Mayor Walsh.  It was especially helpful working with him and other elected officials and stakeholders throughout this process.  He has made specific commitments to going forward and I am excited to work with him and others to make much needed capital improvements on the Boston Common.

No.  This is a common misunderstanding of the law.  The Shadow Laws, enacted in 1990 and 1993 to protect the Boston Common and the Public Garden, limit amount of new shadow, or additional shadow cast beyond existing shadows by development during certain times of day and certain times of the year on any part of the park.  The shadow does not need to cover the whole park to trigger the law, just part of it. 

The original laws contained a number of exceptions that allowed further development causing new shadows on the Common and Public Garden.

No other parks were protected, including the Commonwealth Mall or Copley Square.

Here are the protections and some of the exceptions contained in the original laws:

Boston Common Shadow Law (Chapter 362 of the Acts of 1990)

  • General Rule – New shadows are currently only allowed during the first hour after sunrise or 7AM, whichever is later; or, the last hour before sunset.  This generally allows new shadow as late as 8:30 AM.
  • Midtown Cultural District Exception – New shadows cast between 3/21 and 10/21 are allowed if the area shaded at the end of two hours is less than one acre, cumulative of all permitted shadows exceeding the two-hour limit, or Shadow Bank. Otherwise, no new shadow allowed between 3/21 and 10/21 that lasts more than two hours between 8AM and 2:30PM.  The Midtown Cultural District is the area closest to the two parks.  The properties included in the District and excluded from it were heavily negotiated.  This allows a building to cast a shadow as late as 2:30 PM.
  • South Station exception – allows shadows cast the first hour after sunrise or 8 AM, which ever is later.
  • Current shadow bank contains .26 acre of total allowable cumulative acreage.  This allows more shadows to be cast for properties in the Midtown Cultural District.  One developer proposed a building at 171 Tremont Street last year that was twice as high as zoning allowed and required the use of the remaining shadow bank.  This proposal was rejected by the BPDA and was approved at half the height requested.

Public Garden Shadow Law (Chapter 385 of the Acts of 1993)

  • Additional shadows are allowed in an area that is already shaded by an existing structure, or by a permitted structure whose height conforms to as-of-right zoning as of 5/1/1990.
  • General Rule – New additional shadows allowed only during first hour after sunrise or 7AM, whichever is later; or during the last hour before sunset; otherwise no new shadow allowed.
  • Midtown Cultural District Exception: New shadows only allowed if they are cast before 10AM during the period between 3/21 and 10/21.

The Boston Planning & Development Agency (formerly the BRA), officially began its effort for special legislation that allows more shadow to be cast on the Boston Common and Public Garden from Winthrop Square.

The exception does not allow a shadow to cover the whole park at any time.  Indeed, the shadow from the proposed building will sweep across the parks.  The times below are the latest that the proposed shadow will appear on any part of the Common and Public Garden.

Specifically, it allows a shadow of two hours (instead of one) after 7 AM or an hour after sunrise on the Common.  This will allow a shadow on part of the Common until approximately 9:30 AM at the latest.

For the Public Garden, it allows a shadow for 45 minutes after 7 AM or an hour after sunrise.  This will allow a shadow until approximately 8:15 AM on part of the Public Garden at the latest.

The Commonwealth Mall is not protected by either of these laws.  I understand that the building, if built to the current proposed height, would cast a shadow after 7 AM or an hour after sunrise of approximately 15 minutes at the latest on the Commonwealth Mall.

The proposed building will cast a shadow of much shorter duration on most days.

 

The biggest concern that I had from when I first learned of the possibility of this request was the precedent of creating an exception to a law that had not changed since 1993.

I was also concerned about the need for consistent long-term resources to protect the parks.

Finally, I looked for ways to decrease negative encroachment from shadow from this project as well as future developments

I kept these concerns foremost in mind over the last ten months of negotiations with the City and developer. 

Reps. Rushing, Michlewitz, and I with Councilor Zakim started negotiating with the City and the developer in October 2016 and recently completed our agreements. We also worked with Senators Brownsberger and Boncore, who provided great support.  As a result, I ultimately did not object to the legislation passing the House of Representatives.  (My colleagues and I had objected for a long time, holding up the process.)  Here is the final result:

  • The City agreed to conduct a zoning study regarding the downtown areas closest to the Boston Common and Public Garden and report on the potential future impacts and recommendation ways to minimize those impacts.
  • Protections from shadows for Copley Square codified in State law.  This is the first new park protected since 1993.
  • Elimination of one of the exceptions that exists in current law (shadow bank) that allows development close to Boston Common.  This establishes the precedent of a “shadow for shadow” trade.
  • Mayor Walsh committed to spend $28 million from the Winthrop Square sale in the Boston Common on capital improvements.
  • Mayor Walsh committed to set aside $5 million of $28 million in a perpetual trust to only be spent on Boston Common.  The three trustees are appointed by the Mayor, Councilor for Eighth District (currently Josh Zakim), and Friends of the Public Garden.  The proceeds of the trust will be spent annually on park improvements in the Boston Common.
  • Millennium committed to provide $125,000 per year for the next 40 years for improvements to the Boston Common, Public Garden, and Commonwealth Mall.  The Boston Foundation will hold these funds.
  •  Mayor Walsh  agreed to partner with the Friends of Public Garden with respect to all improvements.
  • The City agreed to undertake a master planning process for the Boston Common prior to spending $23 million.
  • The City agreed to spend $200,000 for a master planning process to make improvements to Copley Square.

Separately, the Mayor’s office has pledged to give money to various park projects across the city to make up for the shadow being cast on the Boston Common. It has pledged $28 million for Franklin Park improvements, $5 million for the Greenway, $11 million for the effort to complete the Emerald Necklace, $25 million toward redevelopment of the Boston Housing Authority’s Old Colony Public Housing in South Boston, and $10 million for improvements at the BHA’s Orient Heights public housing in Orient Heights. 

The agreements and other commitments address many of my concerns.  I hope that I am never confronted again with the request of an exception to this law.  Mayor Walsh has committed that this is a one-time exception.  Still, I understand this exception creates a precedent.  I view the precedent that the cost of an exception is a “shadow for shadow” trade removing pro-development rules; re-evaluating other development rules; protecting a new park with anti-shadow rules; providing significant, immediate capital improvements for park improvements; providing long-term resources for care of the parks; and the City receiving significant additional funds for important needs such as affordable housing.  

 

I am often asked why the building could not be a little shorter.  The current proposal is to build a 775 foot building at Winthrop Square.  Unless the building was approximately 325 feet tall or around 60% smaller, it still would have needed an exception in the law.  A 500 foot building or 600 foot building would have required creating the same exception in law. 

Because of the way the Public Garden protections originally became law, the changes needed to be adopted by the Boston City Council and the State legislature.

The Boston City Council enacted the exception using what’s called a “home rule petition.”  It passed the City Council 10-3 in April and only Councilors Josh Zakim, Michelle Wu, and Tito Jackson voted against it.

It was filed in the State legislature in June and was enacted by the House and Senate on July 24, 2017.  Governor Baker signed the bill into law on July 28, 2017.

 

Yes.  Millennium is still proceeding with the BPDA’s Article 80 process and the State’s MEPA environmental process.  In addition, Millennium will need an exception from the FAA for the height it requests.

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