Greater Milford lawmakers spell out priorities for new legislative session
Bills focusing on education, health care and energy are among the top priorities cited by Greater Milford lawmakers at the beginning of the new two-year session of the state Legislature.
State Sen. Becca Rausch, D-Needham, and state Reps. Brian Murray, D-Milford, and Jeffrey Roy, D-Franklin, contributed their own priorities as part of more than 6,000 bills filed by the Jan. 20 deadline.
“I’m in my third term and have been working hard over the last several years in the Senate to uplift families — particularly families with young children — to support working people to improve access to health care broadly and particularly within the scope of reproductive health care and to shore up public health in a variety of ways,” said Rausch, whose district shifted after the 2020 Census to include Milford.
She pointed to $1 million in state funds secured last session to expand the services of Hey Sam, a statewide, confidential peer-to-peer youth mental health support text line operated by Samaritans Inc.
Building on that effort, she filed legislation calling for the availability of school mental health professionals at a ratio of at least one per 250 students in the commonwealth. A separate bill focusing on youth mental health would provide housing that offers trauma-informed counseling and substance-free support services for students recovering from substance use disorders.
Rausch added she has several bills targeting reproductive care, including enhancing access to post-pregnancy mental health care, which requires full coverage for all post-pregnancy mental health services; expanding access to abortion care; promoting access to licensed certified professional midwives care; and supporting access to training on reproductive and gender-affirming care for medical students.
Rausch said she has met with Milford officials and spoken to small business owners and families to understand their circumstances and provide support for them.
“Milford has so much to offer," she said. "I think we're seeing some of that revitalization come back into the downtown."
Equitable treatment of life estates
Murray said the “most important” bill he filed — along with state Rep. Natalie Higgins, D-Leominster — was a proposal to ensure consistent, fair and equitable treatment of life estates in calculating access to MassHealth long-term care benefits. Rausch filed a companion bill in the Senate.
“My bill would look to restore the previous practice of valuing life estates under the IRS regulations, as opposed to Social Security, which would be a greater benefit for families if they face that situation,” Murray said.
The switch to the Social Security Administration Life Estate and Remainder Interest Table to estimate the value of remaining interests and life estates has led MassHealth to value the life estate interests of applicants much higher than the Internal Revenue Service did prior to 2019.
Murray said his part-time law practice has encountered a case in which the family of a 78-year-old disabled resident of a long-term care facility was required to pay almost $89,000 to the facility prior to applying for MassHealth benefits, and another in which the family of an 89-year-old woman who was required to spend down an extra $38,000.
“This has not only created a confusing situation at the time of sale of real estate, whether it occurs before or after a person receives long-term benefits, but also results in financial hardship to families as they are paying much more to MassHealth than the IRS would require,” Murray wrote last summer in an email to House Speaker Ron Mariano.
Murray hoped the Legislature’s Health Care Financing Committee would act on the bill sooner so he can explain its importance in the Ways and Means Committee this session.
Along with state Rep. David Muradian, R-Grafton, Murray also refiled a bill on aiding school districts with special education budgets for students who move during the school year, allowing for equal treatment of students from public and private schools.
“It's unpredictable how special education students could come into your district, and that creates a problem with local budgeting,” he said. “I think we at the state have to try to be as flexible and supportive as we can to the local districts to be able to accommodate that.”
Murray said Milford Public Schools is facing the challenge of an unexpected influx of 400 students, beyond incoming special education students, into the system. Local officials are seeking approval from the Massachusetts School Building Authority to renovate or replace the high school.
“People want to live in safe communities," Murray said. "They want to have a strong police force, they want to be secure in their homes, they want to have a good solid school system. I think the system is meeting those challenges, and I think the support from the state has been very helpful.”
Roy's top priority: education
Roy said he has filed more than 50 bills on various aspects, including education — advocating for more direct funds for the communities — and transportation, in which he plans to establish a primary seat belt law and develop better infrastructure for electric vehicles and the electrification of the transportation industry.
He said education is the “No. 1 priority” in both of his district's communities, Franklin and Medway. He has filed a bill to offer high school students a chance to complete college-level courses and reintroduced a bill on offering free and disposable menstrual products in all schools throughout the state.
Roy expressed optimism that a bill focusing on “sexting,” cyberbullying by teenagers and cases involving “revenge porn” — threatening individuals by posting sexually explicit material online without permission — would be successful in its fourth attempt.
During the last session, former Gov. Charlie Baker noted the bill's concept received a large majority of support, potentially paving the way for a future Legislature to reconcile two versions.
“We don't want to ruin their lives but we want to do something to prevent this from happening,” Roy said. “And we want kids to understand the consequences of transmitting these images.”
Serving as chair of the committee on telecommunications, utilities and energy in the previous legislative session, Roy said he will “most likely” continue to serve there again and work on developing offshore wind and building up energy sources.
Roy said by exploiting more offshore wind to power households and businesses in Massachusetts, the state can become less dependent on imported natural gas and bring down the price of energy.
“Energy independence is critical for our success in achieving our goals,” he said. “Not only does it provide energy that we create, but it's also clean and renewable energy so that it's not causing any emissions and it's not contributing to global warming.”
Roy also filed legislation to introduce “advanced meters,” which is an infrastructure and communications technology that “measures, records and transmits” electricity usage for households. This will allow electric suppliers to manage electricity more efficiently, shifting energy usage to nonpeak periods, thus helping to reduce the excessive load on the grid, power outages and energy consumption.
While Franklin is part of the state’s municipal aggregation program — in which communites can procure a competitive supply of electricity for customers within their districts — Roy said he refiled legislation toward streamlining the process for more communities like Milford to get municipal aggregation benefits for local residents to save money on electricity bills.
Murray also recognized the need for introducing a municipal aggregation program, and recently met with the Milford town administrator to review a proposed contract.
“I think it's something that will really benefit the community, so I'm going to do everything I can to assist the town to get that started,” Murray said. “It'll be a long process to get from the community onto the Department of Public Utilities and the approvals that are needed, but I think it's wholly positive.”
This article originally appeared on MetroWest Daily News: Greater Milford lawmakers describe priorities for legislative session