Local Commentary

Senator Whipple’s Richmond Report

This year, even more than most years, the budget dominated the Session.

I know you have read about the result so I won’t go into detail here. Suffice it to say that the stimulus package arrived in the nick of time.

There were, however, a number of legislative successes in addition.

I suppose it’s only natural that legislators tend to think the bills they introduce are really important. At the very least we tend to know more about our own legislation than we do about many other bills.

This year I introduced legislation that I really do believe was quite important.

You read in this paper last week that I have been working for many years on smoking legislation . The bill I introduced this year to ban smoking in most public places passed the Senate, and then was incorporated, at least symbolically, into the bill that actually passed both Houses: a nearly-complete ban on smoking in restaurants and bars. And this in a tobacco state!

One bill I carried provides for psychiatric advance directives. This issue was brought to me by a constituent but was also part of the mental health reform initiative, so many lawyers, professors and advocates worked on developing this legislation. The advance directive will allow persons with mental illness, while they are competent to make decisions, to indicate what they want their care to be when they are ill, or to name an agent to make decisions for them at such times. In many cases, court procedures can be avoided and the wishes of the patient can be carried out more easily.

Again this year I sponsored legislation to establish and provide a source of revenue for a Housing Trust Fund. Unfortunately this legislation died in the House Appropriations committee after clearing the Senate and the House General Laws committee. There was strong testimony from housing advocates, builders, realtors and others but we did not prevail.

The Natural Resources Commitment Fund was established last year and one of this year’s successes was to maintain $20 million in the budget to fund it. The bill I carried this year calls on the Department of Conservation and Recreation to calculate and inform both the Governor and the General Assembly each year of the amount needed to perform its mission. The Fund provides money to cost-share with farmers as they implement best management practices to improve water quality.

Another environmental bill that came out of House and Senate committees and the full General Assembly unanimously allows local government the ability to offer incentives for green roofs, which may include reductions in permit fees, streamlined approval processes of reductions in the gross receipts tax. A green roof is defined as a solar roofing system that meets certain standards for generating reusable energy or a vegetative roof in which at least 50% of the total roofing area is covered by plants.