Policy Priorities Status Report: Victories, Progress, and Much Work Ahead

As we wrap up 2013 and head into the second year of the two-year legislative session, here is a quick snapshot of where MPHA priorities currently stand.  We’ve had some great success already  in 2013 and we are well positioned for even greater success in the year to come.  None of this would be possible without Act FRESH Campaign leaders and other MPHA members who put in countless hours putting this agenda front and center with policy makers and opinion leaders – making calls, sending emails, attending hearings and rallies, writing Op-Eds and letters to the editor, spreading the word on social media, educating neighbors and colleagues, and meeting with local and state officials. But there is much work still to be done in 2014, and we will need the active involvement of all our members and allies in order to fully accomplish our goals!

  1. Advance Health Equity through Transportation Policy
    We are currently pushing for the inclusion of the Active Streets Program in the language of the Transportation Bond Bill.  We’ve received very encouraging signs, and we expect that a new version of the Bond Bill, with the Active Streets proposal included, could be released from the House Bonding committee before the New Year. In July, the Legislature passed a Transportation Finance Bill  which raised an average of $600 million per year from a combination of new revenue sources, including a $1 per pack increase in the cigarette tax. This was a significant victory that will allow for greater investments in active and healthy transportation in communities across the state, but it is far from a complete solution to what is still a major financing gap for our entire transportation system.
  2. Defend and Increase the Public Health Budget
    The fiscal year 2014 budget, which went into effect on July 1, 2013, included important public health victories, including new investments in public health infrastructure that MPHA fought hard for.  These investments allow for the hiring of additional inspectional and regulatory staff to address the serious shortfalls in inspectional capacity that currently exists due to years of dramatic budget cuts.  We head now into the fiscal 2015 budget debate.  Governor Patrick will release his budget proposal in January.  Click here to read MPHA’s FY15 budget testimony to Secretary John Polanowicz.
  3. Successfully Implement and Expand the Prevention & Wellness Trust
    Twenty Massachusetts communities submitted funding applications  by the November 2013 deadline, and awards are expected to be announced in mid-January 2014. MPHA and our partners have provided regular and ongoing input to DPH, and we will play an active role in communications to build visibility, knowledge, and political will following the award announcement. Efforts to expand the Trust by dedicating new funds from closing the “other tobacco products” loophole were unsuccessful in 2013.
  4. Create a Fresh Food Financing Initiative
    Two bills that would create a Massachusetts Food Trust were reported favorably by legislative committees in 2013.  In June, the Community Development and Small Business Committee reported a House bill, and then in November, the Environment Committee reported a Senate Bill.  The bills are now being considered before the House and Senate Ways and Means Committees, respectively. MPHA has played a leading role in this effort, along with The Boston Foundation and the Massachusetts Food Association.
  5. Pass Zoning Reform Legislation for Healthy Community Design
    The bill is currently before the Committee on Municipalities and Regional Government, chaired by Rep. Sarah Peake and Sen. Linda Dorcena Forry. MPHA and Act FRESH leaders have been working with the bill’s champions to build support among legislative leadership and address concerns raised by other stakeholders.  Both chairs have been supportive, and we are pushing for the committee to approve and release a bill in January.
  6. Pass Legislation to Increase Physical Activity & Physical Education in Schools
    The bill is before the Committee on Education.  MPHA and Act FRESH leaders have provided testimony, educated legislators, and built new supporters. We will continue to educate key leaders and push for action in 2014.