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Measure called most comprehensive in a generation
An overhaul of the state’s domestic violence laws, including new bail guidelines and tougher penalties for abusers, unanimously cleared the Massachusetts House on Tuesday amid concerns from defense attorneys that the bill was hastily drafted and overly broad.
The measure, called the most comprehensive domestic violence legislation in a generation by House Speaker Robert DeLeo, was approved 142-0 and now goes to the Senate.
DeLeo said in introducing the bill with Attorney General Martha Coakley last week that it was spurred by the brutal stabbing death in Waltham of Jennifer Martel, allegedly at the hands of Jared Remy, the son of popular Red Sox broadcaster Jerry Remy.
Jared Remy, who has pleaded not guilty, was arrested one day after his release from custody on charges of assaulting Martel, and the case prompted questions about whether Remy’s violent history had been overlooked by the criminal justice system.
Among the many provisions in the bill is one that would require domestic assault suspects to be held for at least six hours after an arrest to allow time for a safety plan to be developed for the accuser. Bail commissioners would also be required to submit a written assessment of the safety risk a defendant might pose before release is granted.
“Victims often feel that they are neglected in the process, that they don’t have a say,” said state Rep. Christopher Markey, D-Dartmouth, during Tuesday’s debate. “I think this bill empowers victims to be able to do things they have never been able to do before.”
The measure also seeks to provide judges and prosecutors with the most complete information available about a defendant, including any prior domestic violence charges or restraining orders in one or several jurisdictions. DeLeo, a Winthrop Democrat, had suggested that if more had been known about Remy’s past record, the course of events could have changed.
The House bypassed the normal process of referring the bill to a legislative committee process and holding a public hearing, instead taking it up as an amendment to an existing Senate bill.
“My overall concern is that (the bill) is being rushed through without looking at some of the more troublesome aspects of this,” said Liza Lunt, president of the Massachusetts Association of Criminal Defense Attorneys.
While the group supports several aspects of the proposal, including enhanced training for judges, court officials and prosecutors around domestic violence issues, Lunt said many other provisions go too far.
For example, the six-hour bail provision could be broadly interpreted to apply to family disputes or other cases that fall outside the typical definition of domestic violence, Lunt said.
The organization was also concerned with some of the stiffer penalties included in the bill and a broader definition of domestic violence that could include, as an example, an altercation between two roommates, Lunt said.
The House backed an amendment sought by the Gun Owners Action League that would allow women to purchase pepper spray as protection without first obtaining a firearms identification card.
The debate came two months after the House voted to expel one of its own, then state Rep. Carlos Henriquez of Boston, following his conviction in a domestic violence case. A proposed amendment to the bill calling for the automatic removal of any lawmaker convicted of domestic abuse was ruled unconstitutional by House leaders.
Bill puts 10-year moratorium on fracking
Environmental advocates are planning to rally at the Statehouse to urge lawmakers to pass a ban on the natural gas drilling technique called hydraulic fracturing or fracking.
The group Environment Massachusetts said they’re planning to release a collection of personal stories from individuals affected by fracking across the country during the Wednesday event near the main entrance to the Statehouse.
In November, a legislative committee approved a bill that would place a 10-year moratorium on fracking, which involves blasting chemical-laden water deep into the ground. The measure has yet to come up for a vote before the full Legislature.
Supporters of the technique say it’s a safe method for extracting natural shale gas that would otherwise remain trapped underground, and can help lower energy prices.
President to be in Cambridge, South Boston
BOSTON — President Barack Obama will be in Boston Wednesday to raise money for the Democratic Party while drumming up support for hiking the minimum wage.
Road closures and traffic tie-ups are expected in the Harvard Square area Wednesday afternoon.
Obama is set to attend a round-table discussion fundraiser Wednesday for the Democratic National Committee with about 25 supporters at the Charles Hotel in Cambridge.
Obama is then scheduled to headline a DNC dinner in Boston at the Artists for Humanity EpiCenter with about 70 backers. The event is also intended to raise money for the party.
Obama’s visit follows a stop at Central Connecticut State University in New Britain to renew his push to raise the federal minimum wage to $10.10 an hour.
During his stop in Connecticut, Obama will appear with Democratic governors, including Gov. Deval Patrick.
Massachusetts is debating a minimum wage increase. The Senate has approved a bill and a minimum wage question is heading to the November ballot.
Courtesy Cornell Food & Brand Lab
Charlie Baker lost to Deval Patrick in 2014
BOSTON — Charlie Baker says he learned the art of politics around the kitchen table watching his Democratic mother and Republican father hash out the issues of the day.
“They weren’t trying to score points when they were debating. They were trying to get somewhere,” said Baker, a Republican making his second bid for the governor’s office.
It was a lesson that would serve Baker well years later when he took a job as Health and Human Services secretary and later as budget chief for former GOP Govs. William Weld and Paul Cellucci.
Weld and Cellucci also practiced the art of political compromise as they negotiated with Democratic leaders, Baker said.
“If they had a choice between scoring points or getting something done, they almost always chose getting something done,” Baker told The Associated Press in a recent interview.
Baker said he’ll also adopt a practical approach if elected, focusing on what he calls a “meat and potatoes type of agenda” of jobs and education.
“If you talk to most people about what they really care about … they want to be able to work and pay their bills, they want their kids to go to good schools and they want to live in safe, thriving places,” he said.
While workers in the state’s “knowledge economy” are succeeding, he said, workers in more traditional fields are hurting.
Baker said the state needs to better prepare workers for an abundant supply of skilled jobs like machinists and tool and die makers. He said vocational and technical schools can only go so far and the state should help subsidize employers for on-the-job training.
“We’ve drawn this bright line between job training and workforce development and actual work when the truth of the matter is that in many cases, the real opportunity is probably to support the actual work,” said Baker, 57.
Baker also backs an increase in the state’s minimum wage but would tie it to an overhaul of the unemployment insurance system. He supports putting a question before voters that would repeal the state’s casino law, though he’s not sure how he would vote.
He’s called the federal health care law “burdensome ” and said Massachusetts should seek a waiver, given the state’s success in expanding health care.
“My preferred option would be: ‘We’re doing it fine here, leave us alone,'” he said.
Another challenge is the stubborn achievement gap in the state’s schools.
Baker said he’d focus less on prekindergarten and more on K-12 education — lifting caps on charter schools, investing in longer school days and encouraging more individualized structured teaching and classroom autonomy.
“The lost opportunity in not getting kids the kind of education they deserve is enormous,” he said.
Baker, who ran for governor in 2010 and lost to Democratic incumbent Deval Patrick, faces fellow Republican Mark Fisher for his party’s nomination. Five Democrats and three independent candidates are also in the running. Baker is considered the Republican front-runner and finished January with a campaign account balance of $562,808.
Baker, a former chief executive of Harvard Pilgrim Health Care, has also been critical of Patrick’s handling of the Department of Children and Families following the disappearance of a 5-year-old boy now feared dead.
Baker has called for the resignation of DCF Commissioner Olga Roche and said the state needs to more aggressively pinpoint potential trouble areas by managing DCF on a region-by-region basis.
“There’s been almost no evidence of that,” he said. “Instead, it’s just one reactive thing after another that just makes everyone more and more concerned.”
Baker has also faulted Attorney General Martha Coakley, who topped a recent poll among Democratic candidates for governor, saying she should advise Patrick to settle a lawsuit with a New York-based children rights group over the state’s foster care system.
State isn’t complying with federal REAL ID program
BOSTON — In a few months, you may not be allowed into federal buildings with just a Massachusetts driver’s license.
In two years, getting through airport security could be tricky, too.
Massachusetts is one of 11 states that has not met federal requirements for REAL identification.
REAL identification is a driver’s license that the federal government will accept under a law passed in 2005 as part of the 9/11 Commission Report.
Among the stipulations: the identification guarantees the person is a legal resident or citizen of the United States. Only 11 states, including Massachusetts, haven’t complied.
“You might not be able to board an airplane with your driver’s license only,” Massachusetts Sen. Bruce Tarr said. “You might even not be allowed to visit the people that made this law.”
Beginning in April, getting into federal buildings may be a problem if you only have a Massachusetts driver’s license as your photo identification.
Massachusetts Secretary of Transportation Richard Davey told NewsCenter
5, “The state is working with the department and we expect, as they have, to continue to show flexibility with us. I can’t guarantee it.”
However, the federal government is running out of patience and has set a 2016 deadline for airport security checkpoints.
The Patrick administration is dragging its heels because it hopes immigration laws will change by then.
What’s not legal now could be legal by then, officials say.
“We could speculate on all manner of things we don’t want to comply with if we don’t want to comply with them, but the fact of the matter is it is the law and we need to move forward,” Tarr said.