Gov. Charlie Baker (left), House Speaker Robert DeLeo (center), and Senate President Karen Spilka (right)

The new two-year legislative session (the 191st) began on Jan. 2, with Rep. Robert DeLeo elected House speaker for his sixth term and Karen Spilka stepping into her first full term as Senate president.

The next day, Spilka administered the oath of office to Gov. Charlie Baker and Lt. Gov. Karyn Polito for their second terms. DeLeo, Spilka and Gov. Baker outlined their agendas for the new session in speeches before the Legislature in early January.

Identifying education funding as a top priority, Gov. Baker announced his intention to release a multiyear Chapter 70 plan along with his state budget proposal, a commitment he fulfilled on Jan. 23.

The governor also highlighted transportation, health care cost controls, opioids, housing, public safety and the environment as legislative priorities.

Sen. Spilka outlined an agenda that ranked adequate funding for education as a top priority for the Senate. She said she will also focus on legislation to lower prescription drug costs, expand mental health services, and address climate change and public transit challenges.

Speaker DeLeo said health care reform would be a top priority. The Senate passed a health care cost containment bill last year, and the House is expected to present its own version this session.

DeLeo also mentioned education finance reform (and providing more support services in schools), investing in mental health, providing more money for the life sciences sector, expanding civics education, and adding $250,000 to the budget for the Massachusetts Commission Against Discrimination to hire a trainer and an investigator to help deal with the uptick in sexual harassment claims.

This past fall, the MMA Board of Directors identified the association’s legislative priorities for 2019: full funding for all state commitments (such as special education, school transportation and payments in lieu of taxes on state-owned land); adequate funding for K-12 public education; a funding increase for the Chapter 90 local road and bridge program; protecting local zoning authority and advancing housing production, and finding solutions to the other post-employment benefit (OPEB) funding crisis.

Education finance reform appears as a priority on the list of the MMA and all three state leaders. Stakeholders will need to work out the specifics of a reform bill in the coming weeks and months.

The MMA will remain focused on elevating its identified priorities this session – along with climate change mitigation and recycling – as well as educating its members and preparing for legislative proposals to reform OPEB.

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