Senate President Therese Murray's speech to the Senate
First and foremost, I want to thank the people of the Plymouth and Barnstable District – the towns of Bourne, Falmouth, Kingston, Pembroke, Plymouth and Sandwich – for allowing me to continue to serve as their voice in the Massachusetts Senate.
It is because of their steadfast support and unwavering faith that I have the great opportunity to stand here with you today.
I want to thank my family and friends – my daughter Lauren, my sisters, my brothers-in-law, my cousins, my nieces and my nephews – for your love, your encouragement, and your guidance.
You have always served as my rock, my foundation, and I am forever grateful for your support.
I also want to say hello to my good friends in Pskov who are watching today.
And I want to thank all of you – my colleagues and friends in the Senate – for choosing me, once again, to lead this historic, esteemed and accomplished body.
I am honored, humbled and excited to serve as President of the Massachusetts Senate for the 188th General Court of the Commonwealth of Massachusetts.
Last month, we said farewell to a good friend and established colleague – Senator Fred Berry.
Senator Berry served in this chamber for 30 years – since 1983 – and, with his departure, we lost our long-standing Dean of the Senate.
And, now, with the start of this new session, we welcome our new Dean, Senator Stanley Rosenberg, who has served this body proudly since 1991.
I also want to recognize our newest members and ask you to stand when I call your name…
Senator Michael Barrett
Senator Kathleen O’Connor Ives
Senator Joan Lovely
Welcome to the Senate.
When I was first elected as Senate President in 2007, I stated that “we are all in this together.”
I pledged to “maintain an open and empowering atmosphere” in the Senate and always look to the members – regardless if they have a D or an R after their name – for advice and counsel.
These continue to serve as my guiding principles and, today, I want to take that pledge once again.
Those of you who have worked with me over the years know that this is how I choose to lead.
For our new members, I look forward to your input as we move through this session.
It is only by working together, across all aisles, that we have taken great action on behalf of the Commonwealth.
Over the past two years, we passed major reforms to our outdated state government and finance laws and the state pension system.
We protected victims of human trafficking, established greater protections for homeowners and cracked down on habitual offenders.
After widespread power outages during Tropical Storm Irene and the snowstorm in October 2011, we worked to address the emergency service response of our public utility companies in Massachusetts. We also reacted quickly and decisively to reports of mismanagement and financial abuses in some of our education collaboratives.
And, we passed legislation to remove two of the biggest barriers for businesses in the Commonwealth: electricity costs and the high cost of health care.
We also have good news to share when it comes to our economy and the successes of the Commonwealth.
We have an unemployment rate of 6.6 percent, which is well-below the national average of 7.7 percent, and we added 46,600 jobs since November 2011.
Nearly 99% of our residents and nearly 100% of our children and seniors are covered by health insurance because of our focus on health care quality and access to treatment, and we recently heard that Massachusetts 8th graders are among the world's best in math and science.
In another indication of our continued progress, the United States Chamber of Commerce named Massachusetts one of the top 10 “future boom states” in its 2012 “Enterprising States” report and Massachusetts regained the top spot on the 11th Annual Beacon Hill Institute’s State Competitiveness Report.
Previously, we ranked 3rd behind Colorado and North Dakota and we moved to #1 specifically because of our strengths in student achievement, technology, business incubation and health care.
These are very notable accomplishments and we should be proud of our efforts.
While there might be some who would look back on this list and think we have reached many of our goals, I know that we, as members of this body, are only encouraged to work harder.
We all know that our work is never done.
In order to support our economic recovery, it’s important that we focus this session on resolving any outstanding issues facing the Commonwealth, providing for the needs of our infrastructure system and encouraging the economic independence of our residents.
Throughout the nation, Election Day has changed dramatically as our populations have grown.
In Massachusetts, more than 3 million residents cast their vote in 2012 and we also saw an increase in absentee ballots, from about 260,000 in 2008 to nearly 285,000.
A number of states similar to Massachusetts have successfully implemented early voting or “no excuse” absentee voting procedures to allow greater voter participation and convenience, and to ease polling place congestion.
It’s important to begin this discussion so that we can determine what will work best for the people of the Commonwealth.
We are also aware of several tragedies that will require some kind of action to ensure that they are not repeated.
Most recently, at the school shooting at Sandy Hook Elementary School in Connecticut, 20 children were shot in their classrooms and six adults lost their lives while trying to protect their students.
These horrifying acts of violence are beyond comprehension and no child or family should ever feel this pain.
These crimes have become far too common and we must come together to address this problem.
I have had initial discussions with the Governor and the Speaker and we hope to move legislation this session that will protect the residents of Massachusetts without demonizing the mentally ill.
In early December, the Commonwealth was shocked to hear of charges against a Level 1 sex offender for allegedly molesting more than a dozen children – some newborns – at his wife’s child care business.
With the start of this new session, we will reexamine the criteria for sex offender registration to ensure that we are doing all that we can to protect our children and their families.
And, this fall, we were hit with the news that a meningitis outbreak - that infected 590 people and killed 37 - was traced to the New England Compounding Center in Framingham.
And, just before Christmas, it was reported that there was a second wave of infections caused by the contaminated drugs.
Emergency regulations were passed in November to allow for greater scrutiny of this issue but there is still more that needs to be done.
There are many proposals to consider, including the Attorney General’s call to raise the corporate manslaughter maximum fine from $1,000 to $250,000, and the first hearing by the Senate was held in mid-December.
It is important that we continue this discussion to determine not only who was at fault but who is responsible for oversight and inspection, what are the federal and state roles, and how we can prevent a similar outbreak in the future.
We are also facing a daunting, long-term need to update our infrastructure systems in Massachusetts.
In recent years, the costs of critical infrastructure repairs have increasingly shifted to the state and, according to Standard & Poor’s, our “country has a $2.2 trillion backlog of infrastructure projects.”
In 2009, we completely overhauled the state’s transportation system, dissolving the Turnpike Authority and consolidating multiple agencies into a unified, independent agency.
We recognized that we were dealing with a broken system, and we insisted on reform before revenue.
This legislation, and the new revenue that was subsequently made available for transportation, have enabled the new Department of Transportation to overcome some of its most immediate problems.
The Department can access capital markets, unlike the former Turnpike, and there is now a single unified road and bridge workforce thanks to the efforts of labor and management at the Department of Transportation.
In addition, the MBTA has ended its “23-and-out” eligibility for retirement benefits.
The Senate, the House and the Administration of Governor Patrick deserve a great deal of credit for these successes and, because of our work, it is now possible to envision a better future for the Department of Transportation, where it was not possible before.
In the upcoming session, we will continue to look for opportunities to help the Department continuously improve its services, redouble its commitment to reform, and come closer to fulfilling its new potential.
In addition to transportation, we also need to address drinking water and wastewater reform.
In the Fiscal Year 2010 budget, the Senate included the formation of the Water Infrastructure Finance Commission, which published its final report in 2012 after two years of hard work.
The Commission concluded that we are facing a collective gap of approximately $10.2 billion over the next twenty years in funding for drinking water and a gap of $11.2 billion over the next twenty years in funding for wastewater.
On Cape Cod, due to rapid population growth, every bay is affected by nitrogen from septic systems and other sources, diminishing the overall quality of the bays.
Excess nitrogen also compromises public drinking water, and most southeastern Massachusetts estuaries do not meet the Massachusetts Water Quality Standards.
This is a very pressing environmental issue and it poses as a major threat to our economy.
The work of the MWRA under Executive Director Laskey and the Water Pollution Abatement Trust under the oversight of Treasurer Grossman has already delivered some impressive results for Massachusetts but we need to spread these successes to every corner of our state.
We look forward to working with the Department of Environmental Protection, cities and towns and the public or private water utilities to build a comprehensive proposal that secures our water future.
During this two-year session, we also expect to pass a full slate of bond bills covering the full range of state-owned infrastructure.
The last time we renewed the Commonwealth’s capital program was in 2008, and we will work with Governor Patrick and his team to identify cost-effective priorities for building and investing in our Commonwealth’s future.
There are also important issues that are currently threatening the economic independence of our constituents.
While only 371 Massachusetts residents lost their homes to foreclosure in October 2012, representing a 52 percent drop compared to October 2011, we still saw an increase in foreclosure initiations.
Foreclosure petitions – the first step in the foreclosure process – were sent to nearly 1,500 borrowers in Massachusetts, showing a 22 percent increase from October 2011, despite the improving economy.
The Legislature has consistently worked to protect homeowners and residents, and we will continue to make this issue a top priority.
As a result of recent Supreme Judicial Court decisions requiring lenders to prove they are the current legal holder of a mortgage and the holder of the mortgage note before beginning a foreclosure, thousands of foreclosure sales in Massachusetts were determined to be void, leaving the purchaser without a clear title.
This not only affects the new buyer, but the real estate market as a whole.
I hope to work with the Attorney General to find a resolution this session that will address the concerns of current residents in affected homes and support a healthy real estate market in the Commonwealth.
I also intend to take new action on our welfare system which is designed to provide incentives for welfare recipients to find jobs and transition off welfare.
But there are always loopholes that need to be closed and more that we can do to help recipients reach economic independence.
In 1995, Massachusetts became a leader in welfare reform when we overhauled our state’s assistance programs.
Those reforms, which I was proud to be part of constructing, set work or education requirements, reduced the number of recipients by half and became a model that other states continue to follow as a guide to reform their systems.
Those reforms were enacted with the goal of creating a system that gave people the help they need to exit a system that kept them in poverty and their children at risk.
It’s time to revisit and identify loopholes that need to be closed to ensure that our system presents a clear path for our residents to reach economic independence and lead self-sufficient and successful lives.
By taking action to improve our infrastructure system, prevent foreclosures and close loopholes in our welfare system, we are addressing the Commonwealth’s most pressing needs.
With these reforms, we will help grow our economy and continue our steady recovery out of this global recession.
In addition to these priorities, we must also focus on our traditional industries of fishing and agriculture.
Our fisherman have had to go further and further out to sea in small boats, and in this past year alone, we lost three members of the fishing community, one from the port of Provincetown and two from the port of Gloucester.
It’s important that we focus our efforts on the viability of our fishing fleet and keeping our fisherman safe.
Our fisherman have been the backbone of the Massachusetts economy for generations and their contributions in the face of incredible hardships have shaped our physical environment, fostered the development of the Massachusetts economy and help make Massachusetts great.
We also must continue to work on the industries that drive our economy forward – healthcare, tourism, life sciences and technology.
We welcome millions of domestic and international visitors to Massachusetts every year, and they spend billions of dollars while visiting the Commonwealth.
This spending supports thousands of jobs in tourism related industries and it is important that we continue to invest in our tourism industry so that we can show the rest of the world what we have to offer here in Massachusetts.
We have a lot of important issues to address this session, and I’m confident that we will be successful in our work.
We have faced many hurdles over the past years and we have had to make many difficult decisions, but this is what makes Massachusetts, our state government, and especially the Senate, so strong.
We can overcome any obstacle because we work together, and because we look at every issue with our constituents and the fiscal health of the Commonwealth in mind.
I look forward to continuing to serve as a leader in the Senate, and as the voice for the residents of the Plymouth and Barnstable District.
I am humbled by your support and I am honored to serve as a member of this body.