Happy New Year from Senator Bob Hedlund
I hope everyone had a wonderful holiday season and I wish each of you the best for the New Year. The start of 2014 marks the halfway point for the current legislative session on Beacon Hill. The Senate had numerous legislative accomplishments which I was pleased to help make happen during 2013, and there were several other key efforts and recognitions that made 2013 a very busy and fulfilling year. Here is a brief overview of some of those key efforts and accomplishment.
Federal Flood Insurance: Shocking flood insurance bills caused by changes to the National Flood Insurance Program and new flood rate maps is probably the most significant issue facing the greatest number of my constituents right now. Once I began hearing from constituents faced with these ridiculous increases, I started working hard to get the federal changes delayed and fixed. My efforts included persuading Attorney General Coakley to join the fight, which led to state legislation limiting the amount of insurance required as well as the state’s participation in a federal lawsuit alleging that the new FEMA flood rates are arbitrary and unlawful. I, along with many of my legislative colleagues, also put pressure on our Congressional delegation to seek immediate action to protect ratepayers from these unfair and devastating increases. That led to the introduction of the “Homeowner Flood Insurance Affordability Act” (HFIA) which would delay increases for at least four years, certify the way flood maps are developed, and address the affordability of any increases. On November 6, I hosted a public forum with U.S. Congressman Stephen Lynch to discuss how HFIA would protect many ratepayers. We are hopefully for its passage in early 2014. The other big piece of this fight is challenging the new flood maps, which are used to set insurance rates and have placed thousands of additional properties into new or higher risk flood zones. Thanks to efforts of Rep. Keating, an independent study found that FEMA applied an inappropriate methodology for the region when establishing the new flood zone maps. Our Congressional delegation has asked FEMA to delay implementation of new flood maps until they are corrected. I also commend the efforts of local officials, civic groups and residents across my district for their determined efforts in fighting these changes and the new FEMA flood maps. As I noted during the public forum with Rep. Lynch, this has been a full-court press by many dedicated people. There is still a ways to go, but everyone involved should be commended on their efforts thus far.
Welfare Reform: In November, I was appointed to the Conference Committee on welfare reform, to help work out differences between the House and Senate bills. In June, I led the Republican effort to pass several important provisions to the Senate’s Comprehensive Welfare Reform bill. My concerns over welfare abuse and fraud were substantiated in reports made by both the state’s Inspector General and State Auditor. They identified a series of failures at the Department of Transitional Assistance (DTA) that were costing taxpayers millions of dollars in fraud and waste, including 1,164 cases where a deceased person’s Social Security number was used to collect cash benefits. The reforms I helped get passed in the Senate would establish a vigorous system for verifying eligibility and identity as well as increase penalties for store owners who knowingly allow prohibited transactions. These reforms would also ensure DTA maintains proper control and custody of blank EBT cards, addressing the concern highlighted in the State Auditor’s report identifying over 30,000 missing blank EBT cards. It is expected that a final bill will be negotiated and approved in early 2014.
School Building Assistance: Nine years after co-sponsoring and helping to pass legislation to reform the state’s broken school building assistance program, I was pleased to help mark the Massachusetts School Building Authority’s (MSBA) announcement that it had surpassed $10 billion in payments to cities and towns across the Commonwealth. The MSBA program has provided over $300 million in school building funds to my district, including: $32.4 million for Cohasset, $51.9 million for Duxbury, $45.4 million for Hingham, $36,9 million for Hull, $35.9 million for Marshfield, $35.1 million for Norwell, $23.5 million for Scituate, $39.6 million for Weymouth, $9.9 million for Norfolk County Agricultural, and $3.2 million for South Shore Regional. The creation and success of the state’s School Building Assistance Program is one of my proudest achievements as State Senator.
Legislator of the Year: I was honored to be named “Legislator of the Year” for 2013 by Mothers Against Drunk Driving (MADD). MADD National President, Jan Withers, was kind enough to acknowledge my legislative efforts to improve our state’s drunk driving laws, including my current legislation requiring ignition interlocks for all convicted drunk drivers. I have been a proud and vocal proponent of anti-drunk driving legislation over the past decade. In 2005, I was the lead Senate sponsor of “Melanie’s Law,” the landmark legislation which dramatically increased the penalties for Operating Under the Influence (OUI) in the Commonwealth. According to the National Highway Traffic Safety Administration, drunk driving deaths in Massachusetts have fallen over 20% since the passage of Melanie’s Law.
VALOR Act II: In October, I was proud to join my Senate colleagues in passing legislation to expand benefits, increase access to services and strengthen the recognition and honor given to our servicemen and women. Valor Act II, an extension of the Valor Act that was passed in 2012, doubles the size of buffer zones around military funerals, waives a variety of license and certification fees for service members and their spouses, and enhances employment, educational and healthcare support services for veterans and their families. Additionally, Valor Act II allows private sector employers to prefer veterans and spouses of 100% disabled veterans in their hiring practices and establishes a home modification program for veterans to help them stay in their homes and function independently. Benefits would be available to nearly 400,000 veterans living in Massachusetts. A slightly different version of the bill was passed in the House and a Conference Committee continues to work on a final, compromise draft of the bill.
Protecting Animal Welfare and Safety: In 2013 I continued my commitment to protecting animals in Massachusetts. In October, I co-sponsored “An Act Protecting Animal Welfare and Safety”, or the “PAWS Act”, to address our outdated animal cruelty laws, some of which date back as far as the 19th and 20th centuries. The PAWS Act increases the penalties both in terms of jail time and fines as well as creates an animal abuse registry of those convicted of animal abuse crimes. Currently the PAWS Act has more than 75 co-sponsors and awaits action before the Judiciary committee.
Tech Tax Repeal: Repealing a tax doesn’t happen often in Massachusetts, but persistent efforts by me and my Republican colleagues led to the repeal of the job killing computer services tax. I opposed this new tax from the beginning and warned of the devastating consequences when I fought against its passage on the Senate floor, where I co-sponsored an amendment on two separate occasions to strike the new tax. Unfortunately, the warnings were ignored both times and Governor Patrick signed the tax into law. Soon after, I co-sponsored legislation to repeal the tax. The case against the new tech tax was clear. Even before this tax went into effect, Massachusetts was home to the fifth highest tax burden on businesses, leading to the second highest business costs in the nation. The Massachusetts Taxpayers Foundation concluded that the new Massachusetts tech tax was the most burdensome in the nation. These tech companies have been leading the way as innovators and are the future of the Massachusetts economy. We need to be supporting these businesses to help grow our economy and create jobs, not driving them and our economy’s competitive edge out of state. These arguments finally won over the Democrats and the tax was repealed with an overwhelming vote in September, including a unanimous vote in the Senate.
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