Category: Newsletter

190th Session Wrap Up: Energy Legislation

190th Session Wrap Up: Energy Legislation

As we wrap up yet another legislative session, my office has worked to provide recaps on the vast array of subject areas that I have worked on and voted on in the Chamber. Below is an overview of the energy legislation that the House voted on July 12, 2018. We voted on a total of four pieces of legislation and passed all four. 

The bills did not contain everything that I wanted, but it moved the ball forward.  Now there is a House and Senate Conference Committee formed to resolve differences (and hopefully improve the final product).  The end of the session is quickly approaching.  I hope that these bills (with potential improvements through the conference committee) will help Massachusetts reach its clean energy goals.

UPDATE (7/31/18): To read a summary of the Conference Committee Report (Final Version), click here. 

H.4738 – An Act to increase renewable energy and reduce high-cost peak hours

Topic: Renewable Portfolio Standard
Summary: This bill increases the renewable energy standard annual rate increase from 1% to 2% by July 31, 2019 and reduces the high-cost peak hours, which could result in substantial savings.  Increasing the state’s renewable portfolio standard has been a top priority of mine.  The renewable portfolio standard is the percentage of renewable energy from new sources that energy companies are required to buy or produce.  It is currently at 13% and that percentage increases 1% per year.  It is key to Massachusetts achieving substantial reductions in greenhouse gas emissions.
Notes:

RPS – I worked with my colleagues in the Progressive Caucus to organize behind Representative Kay Khan’s amendment #29 to increase the RPS increases to 3% year. I was disappointed that the amendment was not adopted.  Because of our efforts, though, the increase from 1% to 2% was shifted from December 31, 2020 to July 31, 2019.

Gas Pipelines – I was proud to co-sponsor a number of amendments filed by my colleagues to address the issue of pervasive and environmentally destructive pipelines in Massachusetts. Representative Kulik filed Amendments 11, 12, & 13 to address these issues by prohibiting a pipeline tax on electric ratepayers, establishing standards for approval of gas capacity contracts, and guaranteeing public intervention rights at the Department of Public Utilities. I was disappointed that these were not included in the final version.

Environmental Justice I was pleased that Representative Vincent filed the environmental justice amendment, Amendment 24, similar to a piece of legislation that I co-sponsored. This would establish an Environmental Justice advisory council to provide recommendations to the Baker administration. Again, I wish that the measure was included in the final bill. There is still pending legislation that accomplishes the same purpose as this Amendment that I will continue to support.

 To read the full text of the bill, click here.

H.4737 – An Act relative to expanding resource efficiency in the commonwealth

Topic: Energy Efficiency
Summary: This bill creates energy and water efficiency standards for 10 new products in the Massachusetts General Laws under the Massachusetts Appliance Efficiency Act. The standards were derived from EPA Energy Star and WaterSense standards as well as California’s efficiency standards. The bill states that none of the included products may be sold in the state after January 1, 2020 unless they meet these new standards. Massachusetts is a nation and international leader regarding energy efficiency and this bill provides the opportunity to continue to hold that position.

To read the full text of the bill, click here.

H. 4739 – An Act to improve grid resiliency through energy storage

Topic: Energy Efficiency
Summary: This bill established the Energy Storage Innovation Research Institute within the MA Clean Energy Center as well as an energy storage testing facility that will serve as a resource for companies developing energy storage systems.  It instructs the Department of Energy Resources to study the use of mobile storage technology for emergency response to extreme weather events or power outages. Finally, the legislation mandates that distribution companies must file an annual System Resiliency Report with the DPU.  Improving energy storage is key to fully taking advantage of renewable sources, such as solar.  I hope this bill encourage further development of this technology.
Notes:

Gas Leaks – I was happy to co-sponsor Amendment 15 by Representative Barber. This amendment instructs DPU to establish uniform standards for gas companies to identify and measure lost and unaccounted for gas by location, quality, and source. It also allows DPU to grant regulatory waivers to allow gas companies to develop innovative projects to reduce lost and unaccounted for gas. I am pleased to report that the amendment was adopted as written.

To read the full text of the bill, click here.

H.4749 – An Act relative to energy efficiency

Topic: Energy Efficiency
Summary: This bill expands the types of efficiency programs that can be included in the “electric efficiency investment plan” and the “natural gas efficiency investment plan” under current regulations. It also changes the formula by which the cost-effectiveness of the programs is calculated.

To read the full text of the bill, click here.

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.

Dempsey_Letter_FY18_FINAL

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)

What did Baker’s original MassHealth plan contain?

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.

Gotcha. But what is included in Phase 2 of the Health Care Package? More Obama approved reforms?

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 

Okay, so what does this mean for employers?

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.

Interesting. I’ve heard people talking about “employer assesments” before. What are they and what is their significance?

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.

That’s great for businesses, but what does the package change for families and individuals already on MassHealth?

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.

 

What about the 140,000 people that would be shifted from MassHealth to Connector Care, or the 230,000 non-disabled parents and caretakers that would be shifted from MassHealth Standard to Care Plus? Should they be worried?

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.

 

Okay. Well, what about the steps Baker is making to make MassHealth look more like Commercial models of insurance?

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.

What about his efforts to reform Commercial Insurance? What would that entail?

  • 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.”

This sounds like it could be devastating to families on MassHealth. What’s the pay off? How much does the governor claim that the State would save if we did this?

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.

Well, what does Jay think about these changes?

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. 

Alright. What happens now? Is this a done deal? What can still be done?

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.

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


What has Jay been doing to protect the Boston Common and Public Garden?

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.

Does the current law prevent all shadows?

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.

What does the proposed exception allow?

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.

What concerns has Jay attempted to address?

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.

What resulted from Jay’s efforts working with his colleagues?

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.

Why couldn’t the building be a little shorter?

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.

Where does the bill stand now?

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.

Does Millennium need any further regulatory approvals?

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.

Proposal in wake of Longmeadow DPW worker’s death would extend death benefit to family of additional public employees

 

web-cowles-may1_3756.jpg
Cindy J. Cowles listens during a meeting Monday, May 1, 2017 at the Longmeadow Police Station about the railroad crossing where her brother, Warren P. Cowles — shown in photo at left — was killed in a collision with a train in March.(Greg Saulmon / The Republican)

Greg Saulmon | gsaulmon@repub.comBy Greg Saulmon | gsaulmon@repub.com
Email the author | Follow on Twitter
on May 01, 2017 at 8:31 PM, updated May 01, 2017 at 8:39 PM

LONGMEADOW — A state senator will introduce a proposal to extend a death benefit for family members of first responders killed on the job to additional public employees.

State Sen. Eric P. Lesser, D-Longmeadow, spoke about the proposal Monday, ahead of a meeting with town residents about the railroad crossing where Department of Public Works foreman Warren P. Cowles was killed.

“He died in the line of duty,” Lesser said of Cowles, who was plowing snow for the town when his truck was hit by a northbound Amtrak plow train on March 14. The crossing where he was killed, at Birnie Road and Tina Lane, has been the site of several previous crashes and fatalities.

'Fix this': Family, neighbors of Warren Cowles urge safety upgrades at Longmeadow railroad crossing

‘Fix this’: Family, neighbors of Warren Cowles urge safety upgrades at Longmeadow railroad crossing

Efforts by the town to install new safety measures at the crossing have been underway, in fits and starts, since at least 1981.

Lesser said he would introduce his proposal in the Senate during the state’s upcoming budget discussions.

It will build off a bill first introduced by State Rep. Jay D. Livingstone, D-Boston, last year.

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Livingstone’s proposal was referred to the legislature’s Committee on Public Service in January.

Lesser expressed optimism that the effort will gain traction. “I think circumstances have changed,” he said.

Gov. Charlie Baker in March signed a bill in March doubling the death benefit for first responders from $150,000 to $300,000. Currently, the benefit is available to the family of any firefighter or police officer — full-time or reserve — as well as public prosecutors, municipal or public emergency medical technicians and correction officers killed in the line of duty.

Livingstone’s bill expands the coverage to “any public employee working for state or county government, a Massachusetts public higher education institution, a municipality, public school department, or public school district or public authority who, while in the performance of his/her duties and as a result of incident, 8 accident or violence, was killed or sustained injuries which were the direct and proximate cause 9 of his/her death.”

As written, Livingstone’s bill set the benefit at $150,000. Lesser said he anticipated updating the amount to reflect the new law signed by the governor in March.

If the effort is ultimately successful, Lesser said he will push to apply the benefit retroactively to Cowles’ family.

Lesser and State Rep. Brian M. Ashe, D-Longmeadow, convened a meeting about the crossing Monday night at Longmeadow’s police station. Nearly 20 town residents, as well as family members and friends of Cowles attended.

The meeting was planned, Lesser said, to give the legislators a chance to hear more about the concerns residents have about the crossing.

“This is personal as well as professional for all of us,” Ashe said as the meeting got underway, noting that he knew Cowles from his time as a member of the town’s Select Board.

“It’s too late for me, but I can help protect others,” said Cowles’ sister, Cindy J. Cowles of Springfield, as she urged the officials to continue the pursuit of upgraded safety signals at the crossing.