As usual, the looming end of the legislative session means triage time on Beacon Hill. Good proposals are in danger of falling by the wayside as legislators focus on what many of them view as more pressing health care, education, energy, and economic development legislation.
There’s plenty on the Legislature’s plate, and there’s no doubt those big-ticket bills are important. But before lawmakers call it quits, on July 31, here are some worthy proposals they shouldn’t forget:
• Zoning reform. The failure to build enough housing in Massachusetts drives up housing prices and hurts the state’s economy. Local codes steer the development that does occur into sprawling suburban subdivisions, gobbling up open space and harming the environment. Frivolous appeals help only lawyers. Years of effort at improving the state’s antiquated rules could pay off if the Legislature approves zoning reform this year. The Senate has shown that it’s on board with ambitious reforms; the House of Representatives needs to act.
• Pre-K in Boston. Wealthy families take access to high-quality pre-kindergarten as a matter of course, and for good reason: It sets kids on a path to academic success. Conversely, the lack of adequate high-quality pre-K in poor communities means inequality starts settling in early. The City of Boston asked for permission to take $16.5 million from Convention Center funds and use it to expand pre-K. The proposal is pending before the House Ways and Means Committee. So long as the funds are used on high-quality programs, there’s no doubt that it’s a better use of money.
• Distracted driving. The main objection to a proposal to crack down on distracted driving — that is, motorists who are paying attention to their phones instead of the road — has been the concern that it would lead to racial profiling by giving police another reason to pull over minority drivers. Bias is real, but it can’t become a reason to give up on improving public safety. Racial profiling needs to be combatted. So does distracted driving.
• Dental therapists. Earlier this year, dentists and public health advocates finally reached a compromise on a bill that would create a lower-cost option for basic dental care, but it has yet to win legislative approval. The proposal would allow patients who can’t afford, or lack access to, a dentist to see dental therapists for basic procedures. Poor dental care can lead to sleep, speech, and other problems, and is a hidden burden on underserved communities. The Legislature should brush, floss, and pass this bill.
• Shared parenting. Critics have described the long-stalled shared-parenting bill as symbolic. But this is one situation where symbolism matters. Passed by the House, the bill, which concerns how child custody is handled after a divorce, removes outdated language from the law that many parents consider demeaning (the word “custody” itself, for instance). It also encourages — but does not require — shared parenting when it’s in the best interests of the child. That’s what judges typically try to do now, but putting it into law wouldn’t hurt.
• Noncompetes. It would require some legislative finessing to pass it at this point, but reform to the state’s law on employee noncompete agreements is overdue. These provisions restrict employees from switching jobs within their field. Their ostensible purpose is to prevent workers from taking expertise gained at one employer to compete against their old boss. But in a fair economy, workers deserve the right to pursue better job opportunities or leave to start their own businesses. The larger economic development bill provides a vehicle for the Senate to attach the House’s version of noncompete reform, which could be added as an amendment.
Too much? Not necessarily. Beacon Hill sometimes seems to legislate in fits and starts, with sudden bursts of activity. So while there may be less than two weeks left in the session, that’s enough time for legislators to pass important legislation that doesn’t deserve to get lost in the mix.