ADVANCES - WEEK OF FEB. 19, 2017
STATE HOUSE NEWS SERVICE
STATE HOUSE, BOSTON, FEB. 17, 2017.....It's an open secret that the Legislature keeps its workload light during school vacation week each February. That tendency holds true again this year. Newly assigned to leadership and committee posts, which this year come with freshly-minted pay bumps, lawmakers six weeks into the 2017-2018 session can finally go about the business of settling into permanent offices and starting to hear the more than 5,700 bills awaiting their attention. There's a sense of urgency around at least three legislative matters.
-- MARIJUANA LAW | Somerville Sen. Patricia Jehlen and Braintree Rep. Mark Cusack are suddenly in the spotlight, charged with co-chairing a new Committee on Marijuana Policy and deciding what changes to recommend to the 2016 ballot law legalizing the adult use, possession and sale of pot. Jehlen and Cusack in their initial comments on the issue appear to be giving themselves broad latitude to make changes, with both saying voters who passed the question didn't read every word of the initiative petition and will likely be okay with changes to it.
-- BUDGET GETS SLOW-WALK, ROAD FIX BILL IN FAST LANE | Gov. Charlie Baker has placed before the Legislature two other bills that are time sensitive. Baker this week recommended a $200 million annual local road and bridge repair program and said he wanted the Legislature to pass it within 45 days to let locals ramp up projects for the springtime. The so-called Chapter 90 bill is a perennial and it's passage is a given, although legislators often fail to finish work on it in time for crews to hit the roads with spring's arrival. "The idea here is to hopefully get this legislation done by April so that cities and towns will be able to put that money to work during the construction season," Baker told WGBH during his monthly appearance on the airwaves Thursday. The much larger and more time-consuming bill is Baker's $40.5 billion fiscal 2018 spending plan, which recommends new taxes and assessments on short-term rentals in Massachusetts and certain employers that the governor believes are not contributing enough towards health care costs. In a surprise twist, legislative leaders this week signalled they won't even start holding public hearings on Baker's budget until March 9, around the time that they usually complete budget hearings.
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