As is typical for December, the Massachusetts Legislature has slowed to a near-stop as vacations, holiday parties, and time with family and friends takes over the Beacon Hill schedule. The Legislature's activity this month has been informal sessions to address local bills and other minor housekeeping issues, an initial Conference Committee meeting to hammer out the details of a criminal justice reform package, and the filing of a housing bill by the Governor to alleviate some of the pressure on the housing crisis across the Commonwealth.
This past Wednesday, the Senate swore in Senator Dean Tran, the 7th Republican in the 40-seat body. Senator Tran beat his Democratic opponent in the election for former-Senator Jen Flanagan's seat.
The national reckoning of sexual abuse allegations has not spared Massachusetts. Amid allegations of sexual harassment against Senate President Stan Rosenberg's husband, President Rosenberg stepped down from his post, sparking considerable speculation within political circles. In the Senate President's absence, the Senate appointed Majority Leader Senator Harriet Chandler (D-Worcester) as acting Senate President. Acting President Chandler's first priority has been to return the Senate to normal order as best she can, while also hiring law firm Hogan Lovells to conduct an investigation into whether there was any violation of Senate rules.
Despite the Legislature's slow-down, the newly-formed 5-member Cannabis Control Commission (CCC), has been extraordinarily busy this month. The Commission is on a tight deadline to promulgate regulations by mid-March in an effort to issue adult-use marijuana licenses for cultivators, distributors, and retailers by July 1, 2018. In an effort to hear from every facet of the existing market both in Massachusetts and elsewhere, the CCC has taken the brave step of complete transparency in the regulatory sausage making, wrapping a marathon 4-day policy debate and preliminary votes last Thursday.
Commissioners worked through and provided preliminary approval for statutorily-required guidelines such as tiered licensing for cultivators and much bigger, less defined issues like equity partners and how to properly engage disproportionately affected communities. The Commissioners balanced the wants and needs of an industry designed to pull illicit actors into the sphere of regulation and simultaneously stimulate new growth and innovation. The CCC is expected to file draft regulations by late-December, triggering a public hearing process in February to finalize the regulations by March.
Looking to 2018, we can expect to see a flurry of activity in January as the FY2019 budget process kicks off, and we near the end of the 190th General Session. Big-ticket items like criminal justice, affordable housing, and health care cost containment will move to the front burner in hopes that major accomplishments can be touted in stump speeches across the state. Despite such lofty goals, all bills that have been languishing in joint committees since last January and will need to be moved out of committee by February 7th in adherence with procedural deadlines. All of this to say, come January everyone will be very busy with both typical and predictable Beacon Hill activity and the less-typical but expected business of governing.