A to-do list for Legislature’s short session
’Tis the season for a dose of optimism on Beacon Hill. Because as the days grow short and the list of unfinished business grows more obvious, at least a few items are back on the legislative radar screen.
Sure, this was a shortened lawmaking season, with formal sessions, in this, an election year, ending on July 31. Some “big stuff” — health care reforms, especially those aimed at helping community hospitals and changes to the education funding formula — were left undone and remain contentious and, therefore, won’t see the light of day during this lame duck session. During the informal session, bills can only pass unanimously, meaning controversial legislation is a non-starter. A modest housing bill to lower the threshold needed for local zoning changes hangs by a thread.
But there are a handful of bills that almost made it as the clock ran out on formal sessions — they shouldn’t have to wait for the typically excruciating slow start in the new January session. The following bills deserve attention in these last few days of activity.
■ A consumer protection or so-called Equifax bill: Another day, another data breach, the latest disclosed by Marriott. But before that there was Target (2013) and Equifax (2017). The mishaps have spurred lawmakers to craft a bill that would require the consent of consumers before a company could use or obtain their credit reports. It would also provide for free credit monitoring to consumers following a data breach.
■ An amendment filed by the governor to exempt state agencies that deal with child support payments was itself accepted by bill sponsors as fixing a technical glitch no one objected to — but it came after formal sessions ended. Another update to the bill will align it with similar federal legislation that passed in September. There isn’t a reason this shouldn’t pass this month.
■ Airbnb tax bill: This was another one that, but for failure by the Legislature to agree to a last-minute amendment, would be law by now. And had it become law this summer, both the state and cities and towns would already be collecting taxes — an estimated $25 million a year for the state alone. It’s not often that lawmakers turn away “free money,” but State Representative Aaron Michlewitz has engaged in a months-long debate with the governor’s office over those amendments. Last week House and Senate leaders insisted the bill was “still in play.” Time to stop playing and pass it.
■ Nicky’s Law: A bill to protect the state’s most vulnerable citizens — those with intellectual and developmental disabilities — would establish a registry of caregivers against whom there have been substantiated claims of abuse or neglect. The registry would help prevent such abusers from drifting from one group home or facility to another. The proposal is so noncontroversial that it passed the Senate 36-0. And yet it remains in House Ways and Means. That’s a disgrace.
■ Natural gas safety bill: This one was filed by Governor Charlie Baker only in November in the wake of the Columbia Gas disaster in Merrimack Valley. But seriously. how difficult is it to pass legislation to require a certified professional engineer to “review and approve natural gas work” before it begins? It can certainly be done, even in the informal session. The House passed a bill regarding unemployment benefits for National Grid workers, showing that lawmakers can indeed reach a state of blissful unanimity — when they choose to. They just need to choose to on this very short list.