Q: What other committees were you on?
PM: I was on environment, agriculture and natural resources. One of the biggest things we did was the environmental bond bill. We passed favorably the GMO labeling bill with strong support on the committee and strong support in the Legislature. But, unfortunately, it did not pass the entire Legislature by Aug. 1, the end of formal session. While it is still alive, in informal sessions any one legislator can object and that will kill the bill. I think at least one person will object, so I don’t think it will happen this year.
We also passed a bill to ban fracking in Massachusetts. Fracking is already technically illegal but there are some loopholes people are afraid they might get around. So, this will make it illegal to frack in Massachusetts. There is some potential for some shale reserves in the Pioneer Valley. It will also make it illegal for us to accept the waste water from other states from fracking.
The third committee I am on is the tourism, arts and culture. They had two chairs, a new House chair and a new Senate chair, and they really undertook a robust agenda. They had hearings in every single tourism council in the state. We had a big hearing at the Berkshire Museum in Pittsfield. We had another one in Franklin County. We had one in Hampshire County. We had one at the Basketball Hall of Fall. We were able to go an listen to local artists and owners of cultural attractions. We heard where the funding they receive helps them. And we were also able to showcase for Legislators, what the best aspects of each region are.
When I go to the State House and talk about how beautiful it is here in the Berkshires, it really helps if I’ve had 30 people out here to see for themselves.
Q: You mentioned the GMO bill wasn’t passed. What other bills didn’t pass?
PM: One of my signature bills that I filed two sessions and didn’t get through — but it did pass through the labor and workforce development committee twice — is my employee stock ownership cooperative development bill.
There are two parts to it. There is language that makes it easier for workers to establish a co-operative or stock-ownership if the business is on the verge of failing. And then, even more important is in the budget, is trying to get the Massachusetts Office of Employment Involvement and Ownership funded again. It has been zero funded since the economic crisis began in 2008. I’ve filed amendments for $150,000, $250,000, just to get a couple people in there working.
These people are experts in the field to help businesses that are looking to change their model into an employee-owned business and able to help the employees get the management skills and financial skills that they need to make this thing a reality. If a business is thinking about closing down or maybe it has been a family business and they don’t want to stay in business and are thinking of selling out, I think it would be so much better if the workers knew they had the right to buy it and the skills and expertise to keep it local, to keep the business thriving. If the employees own the business they are more invested in making sure it succeeded and that’s a recipe for success. Ocean Spray is a worker co-operative. Cape Air is a worker co-operative. You have examples right here in the state. I was disappointed that didn’t happen, again.
Single-payer health care is a thing that is important to me. When we talk about budgets and budgets being tight, one of the biggest drivers of increasing costs in our budget is health care. I am a co-sponsor of a bill to move to a single-payer model. But, I am also a co-sponsor of a bill to perform a study that will show every year the difference the state paid in health care costs versus what we would have paid if we had a single-payer system. If we did that for three or four years and it turns out we would have saved $500 million, that’s pretty significant.
Two years ago, we did pass a health care reform bill that is expected to save hundreds of millions of dollars over the next 10 years. But, I think you can map that our even further. Depending on who the next governor is, it might be a nice opportunity to at least make the study happen.