Where The Mass. Legislature Landed In 2017: The Week Ahead On Beacon Hill

Dec 18, 2017

As we near the end of 2017, we check in with Matt Murphy of State House News Service for an update on the major issues of the year for the Massachusetts legislature. 

Among the big topics: criminal justice, health care, marijuana, and ethics reform.

Matt Murphy, State House News Service: It's kind of been status quo for a few weeks, I guess, since the legislature recessed for the holidays.

Both the House and the Senate have passed major criminal justice reform bills, and those bills were moved into a conference committee. But that committee -- maybe, perhaps a little surprising -- has not really started its work yet. They haven't met.

Some of that might have to do with the fact that leadership in the Senate has been in a bit of turmoil ever since the allegations against Senator [Stanley] Rosenberg's husband came out. That may have slowed things down.

But those talks and those negotiations have not really begun in earnest yet. We expect them to, and they will probably heat up early in the new year.

Carrie Healy, NEPR: On the next topic that the legislature was dealing with: health care and funding for the Children’s Health Insurance Program, also known as CHIP. That program in Massachusetts is expected to run out of federal funding in January. Federal lawmakers have yet to renew that funding. What is the state going to do if those funds do run out in the state?

We heard from Health and Human Services Secretary Marylou Sudders last week, who talked about steps that the administration was looking to take, to try and extend the CHIP funding that it has. Right now, they're kind of working, since the reauthorization expired. They're working off leftover funds from 2017, and trying to take steps to triage the claims, pay them out of other accounts where they can, and insure the CHIP money is there for people who rely on CHIP for their health coverage, and that's their only source of coverage.

So they're trying to extend this out, and there's a broad hope, I guess you could say, that Congress will do something given its bipartisan appeal.

Most members of Congress really value this program, so their hope is that this will get done once Congress kind of moves past the tax reform debate. 

Looking back on 2017, on the topic of marijuana: just last week, the Cannabis Control Commission was extremely busy ironing out details to prepare for the legal retail sale of marijuana. From all those hours of sessions, what are some of the highlights?

They are really getting to work, you know -- they're looking at all of these things that weren't really envisioned in the law or explicitly talked about in the law, such as cafés. They're contemplating the idea of home delivering of marijuana, and kind of trying to make all these decisions -- these kind of ancillary business decisions -- before this new market gets up and running. 

And finally, ethics reform: We began 2017 with lawmakers planning to revisit the state’s approach to conflict of interest laws, eight years after they passed a reform package that strengthened ethics laws in the wake of the indictment of former Speaker Salvatore DiMasi on ethics charges. Matt, what is the status of ethics on Beacon Hill?

The status of ethics? Well, that's a great question. I mean, this is something that perennially gets looked at. The speaker always has this on the forefront of his mind, and puts teams in place to kind of review these laws.

It may be a bit of a surprise to see ethics jump to the front of the agenda for next year. It hasn't been something that has been talked a lot about this session.

But given the investigations that are ongoing, and the potential for other shoes to drop with sexual harassment allegations, or complaints that have been raised in the Globe or in other outlets, this is always something that needs to be watched closely.

It has been a couple of weeks since the allegations against former Senate President Stan Rosenberg's husband, Bryon Hefner, were made. How have lawmakers responded? 

Well, after the wild week -- a couple weeks ago, when Senator Rosenberg stepped aside, the Senate launched its investigation, put in Senator Harriette Chandler as the acting senate president -- things have quieted down a bit, and a lot of this discussion has moved behind closed doors.

We do expect this week that the Senate Ethics Committee will probably hire an independent investigator to conduct their probe. 

They had set a two-week schedule for that, and from what we understand, they're on track, and hoping to keep to that timeline.

You know, there is the behind-the-scenes kind of machinations of jockeying for power, if Senator Rosenberg is not able to return, following this investigation.

But like I said, after some initial public comment of interest in this seat, those talks have kind of gone underground.