As the fiscal year deadline approaches, local legislators Tuesday night remained open and optimistic about completing a fiscal 2012 budget and achieving new legislation in the coming year.
State Senator Cindy Creem as well as State Representatives Kay Khan and Ruth Balser met with a group of local constituents at the last night to provide an update about key issues on Beacon Hill.
But before the Newton Democrats could get to the issues, each noted that the state budget has not yet been passed. With the fiscal year ending tomorrow, June 30, the legislators said they are busy working on a budget that will pass through both the House and the Senate successfully.
Khan said that it has been an extremely “austere and difficult” budget to get through; the difficulties include loss of federal stimulus money this year, as well as depleted financial reserves as a result of the recession.
Aside from the budget, the group of 50 residents who attended last night's meeting posed questions on countless topics including municipal health benefits and the environment. Some questions also drew back to the biggest elephant in the room: health care.
Patience is key when it comes to successful health care, Balser told the group, and the process of legislating it is complicated and highly sensitive.
As the health care debate continues nation-wide, Massachusetts legislators will continue to lead the government toward finding a successful plan, Balser added.
The group also discussed the nitty-gritty pieces of legislation the senator and representatives are looking to pass this term. With decreasing resources and increasing needs for government services, legislators said they will be working to balance the needs of the communities they serve while staying fiscally responsible.
Sen. Creem emphasized the importance of bills about:
- Cracking down on human trafficking
- Limiting alimony benefits
- Protecting transgender individuals against discrimination
- Allowing post-conviction access to DNA evidence, noting that Massachusetts and Oklahoma are the only US states that don’t allow this.
Rep. Khan's main points included:
- Providing more assistance for individuals with disabilities (Khan is the chair of the House Department Committee of Children and Families with Disabilities)
- Reevaluating municipal employees’ health insurance policies
- Providing housing for homeless families -- she reported that the number of homeless people in Massachusetts has doubled in the last year
- Mandate insurance companies pay for hearing aids for children
- Establishing taxes on alcohol and sugar. Last year, a tax on alcohol was passed, but was discontinued this year.
- Increase the excise tax, which hasn’t been raised since the 1970s
Rep. Balser followed with a look at some key bills:
- Municipal healthcare policy decisions
- Balser strongly opposes the gambling bill, which was rejected last year, but may come up for consideration again.
- Protect and preserve public parks
- End gender discrimination in insurance benefits
Rep. Khan also explained that over 6,000 bills are filed per term, and only a couple hundred actually are signed into laws.