State Representative Aaron Michlewitz (D-North End) reviewed his legislative priorities and goals as the House will recess for the holidays. In February 2019, Rep. Michlewitz was named Chair of the Ways and Means Committee, responsible for crafting the Commonwealth’s $43 billion budget.
“It’s been a very busy session but we’ve made progress on a number of fronts,” said Rep. Michlewitz to the North End / Waterfront Residents’ Association (NEWRA) at their November meeting. On the top of his list is long awaited school-funding reform legislation, now on the governor’s desk. Other key bills passed by the State House and Senate include curbing distracted driving, child wellness legislation, and the high profile ban on all flavored tobacco and vaping products.
“The education legislation is an extraordinary bill because, for the first time in 26 years, we are changing the way cities and towns get their State funding addressing formulas to help low-income, ESL (English as a second language) and special needs students. In addition, the Student Opportunity Act will increase absolute funding for public education by $1.5 billion over the next seven years,” said Michlewitz. A Child Wellness Bill was also passed for behavioral and mental health services.
Michlewitz spoke about legislation bringing the nation’s toughest regulations to ban all flavored tobacco and vaping products. In addition to the flavored ban, there will be a 75 percent tax on vaping materials. The ban also prohibits menthol cigarettes and takes effect June 1, 2020.
Following other States, Massachusetts will enact distracted driving legislation, prohibiting the use of all handheld devices while driving. Violators will receive fines and higher insurance premiums.
The strong economy is helping the State’s coffers, benefiting State House efforts to “fund the highest levels of housing and homelessness in a generation,” said Michlewitz. Shelters such as Pine Street Inn and Saint Francis House will be direct beneficiaries. The Mass. Rental Voucher program also received a boost to allow seniors and others to stay in their homes as rents rise.
The Community Preservation Act (CPA) will be allocated another $20 million from the State, better matching the city tax. In the North End / Waterfront, the CPA has directly supported the renovation of Puopolo / Langone Parks and the affordable housing development on N. Margin Street for 23 units at the former Knights of Columbus building.
Earmarks this year by Rep. Michlewitz in the North End include $200,000 for the North End Music and Performing Arts Center (NEMPAC) to help with capital needs related to its new lease on Tileston Street. In addition, $250,000 will go to Christopher Columbus Park for climate resiliency improvements and $50,000 to the Nazzaro Center for expanded programming and facilities.
In answer to a question, Rep. Michlewitz spoke about the ongoing debate regarding transportation and traffic congestion, recently highlighted in a Spotlight series at the Boston Globe. The House is considering a bill in early 2020 to increase the gas tax, currently set at 26.5 cents/gallon. In context, the Rep. spoke about the challenges of population growth in the Boston area where the number of city residents have spiked over 10% in just the past decade from 640,000 in 2010 to an expected 710,000 next year. He noted the increased burden on the city’s transportation infrastructure. But as a State legislator, Michelewitz said the House also has to balance the transportation needs of other parts of the Commonwealth.
Lastly, Rep. Michlewitz said the Commercial Wharf / Chapter 91 bill remains in committee and the next opportunity for it to move forward would be in mid-February 2020 when all bills are considered to be brought to the floor.