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It's the New year and new laws are in effect in Massachusetts

Massachusetts House Speaker Ronald Mariano, Gov. Maura Healey and state Senate President Karen Spilka take reporters' questions in the governor's lobby in early November of 2023.
Sam Doran
State House News Service
Massachusetts House Speaker Ronald Mariano, Gov. Maura Healey and state Senate President Karen Spilka take reporters' questions in the governor's lobby in early November of 2023.

With the ringing in of 2024, there are some new laws now in effect.

One of them blazes a completely new trail for Massachusetts residents covered by dental insurance. It sort of applies a health insurance rule to dental insurance companies for the first time.

Chris Lisinski of the State House News Service explains that it stems from the ballot question that voters approved in 2022.

Chris Lisinksi, SHNS: Effectively, what it does is it sets requirements on dental insurance providers on how much they need to spend on member expenses [and] quality improvements, rather than administrative expenses. [Those] must be at least 83%. This is a term called a medical loss ratio. There's already something like that in place, as you noted, for medical insurers. And what it's really aiming to do is put a dedicated portion of dental insurance spending directly towards services and things that everyday people see, rather than sort of the corporate back-end nature of it all.

Carrie Healy, NEPM: For the first time in a while, Massachusetts is not increasing the minimum wage this year, although other laws did take effect. Can you summarize a couple of those?

Yeah, we've got one new law expanding access to online notarization, through technology that's going to speed up the use of notaries' public work that already operates pretty quickly.

A couple of other key deadlines are arriving today with New Year's Day. The Healey administration has to submit even more information to lawmakers about the emergency shelter crisis and families that have applied above the capacity limit. So New Year's Day is always a very common deadline in state law for new things to take effect or for reports to be due.

And that tax package takes effect for 2024 that includes relief for families, renters and some of the state's most vulnerable residents, as well as for overhauls to the short-term capital gains and estate taxes. You know, Paul Craney of the Massachusetts Fiscal Alliance called the roughly $1 billion package "very minor." Is that a widespread sentiment, Chris?

I don't think that's a particularly widespread sentiment. I think that business groups, those who have been pushing really aggressively for tax cuts on the right, wanted this to go further. Folks on the left wanted it to go not as far and think that it's somewhat counterintuitive for the state to slash its own revenue so much and steering so much back to taxpayers so soon after voters approved a surtax on high earners.

So, there's really mixed reactions across the board, I would say, and not a consensus that this package simply doesn't do enough.

You know, you and I have often said the clock is ticking when talking about the Legislature. But this time, time is running out for lawmakers to finish the business of their two-year lawmaking session. They have until the end of July. Chris, what are lawmakers likely to try to focus on when they return from their holiday break?

We know a couple of things that are already in play, have already been circled. One of them is a Senate gun bill. I think you and I have spoken before about the gun reform legislation that the House passed now-last year. Senators have said all along they plan to do their own versions sometime in 2024.

Another big one that's coming into view is the next climate and clean energy package. Top Democrats who work in that issue area have been pretty vocal in recent weeks that they want to do another big omnibus package dealing with offshore wind siting and permitting reform, and improving the electric grids performance. So, our eyes are out for that one as well.

You know, I'm thinking about timing here [for the gun bill and others]. Do you get the sense from your reporting that state lawmakers pay a lot of attention to legal challenges of similar laws already enacted in other states, and is that something that informs and guides the progress in the conversation around some of these measures in Massachusetts?

Yeah. You know, I would say they are definitely aware of legal challenges in other states. Sometimes that can be cited as a reason for Massachusetts lawmakers moving slowly, moving with more hesitation, maybe a bit more deliberately. They want to see, "Hey, does this state that has a law similar to what we're thinking about, is that going to stand? Is that going to be tossed out by a court? Will we need to take a different approach?" That definitely informs a wait-and-see approach fairly often up here on Beacon Hill.


Carrie Healy hosts the local broadcast of "Morning Edition" at NEPM. She also hosts the station’s weekly government and politics segment “Beacon Hill In 5” for broadcast radio and podcast syndication.
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