Archives For Legislation
Questions raised over health effects of devices.
By milking pregnant cows, dairies produce a product with elevated estrogen levels—and that doesn’t do a body good.
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.
Shooting photos up women’s skirts legal in Mass., high court rules
BOSTON — A man who took cellphone photos up the skirts of women riding the Boston subway did not violate state law because the women were not nude or partially nude, Massachusetts’ highest court ruled Wednesday.
The Supreme Judicial Court overruled a lower court that had upheld charges against Michael Robertson, who was arrested in August 2010 by transit police who set up a sting after getting reports that he was using his cellphone to take photos and video up female riders’ skirts and dresses.
The ruling immediately prompted top Beacon Hill lawmakers to pledge to update state law, and shortly after that, a petition was started to urge lawmakers to make a change.
Existing so-called peeping Tom laws protect people from being photographed in dressing rooms and bathrooms when nude or partially nude, but the way the law is written, it does not protect clothed people in public areas, the court said.
“A female passenger on a MBTA trolley who is wearing a skirt, dress, or the like covering these parts of her body is not a person who is ‘partially nude,’ no matter what is or is not underneath the skirt by way of underwear or other clothing,” the court said in its ruling.
State law “does not apply to photographing (or videotaping or electronically surveilling) persons who are fully clothed and, in particular, does not reach the type of upskirting that the defendant is charged with attempting to accomplish on the MBTA,” the court said.
The SJC said that while such actions should be illegal, they are not, given the way state law is written.
Suffolk County prosecutors said their interpretation of the state’s peeping Tom law was that “upskirt” photos are illegal.
“The only solution now is to ask the Legislature to rewrite the statutes,” said Jake Wark, a spokesman for the Suffolk District Attorney’s Office.
A telephone message left with Michelle Menken, Robertson’s attorney, was not immediately returned.
Massachusetts House Speaker Robert DeLeo said lawmakers are working to find a way to clarify the law.
“The ruling of the Supreme Judicial Court is contrary to the spirit of the current law. The House will begin work on updating our statutes to conform with today’s technology immediately,” DeLeo said in a written statement Wednesday.
Senate President Therese Murray said she was “stunned and disappointed” with the court ruling. She said the Senate will respond quickly.
“We have fought too hard and too long for women’s rights to take the step backward,” Murray said in a statement. “I am in disbelief that the courts would come to this kind of decision and outraged at what it means for women’s privacy and public safety.”
Gina Scaramella, executive director of the Boston Area Rape Crisis Center, said such photos are a serious invasion of privacy. She said the law needs to catch up to technology.
“It really is a form of sexual harassment. It’s a violation for the person who is unknowingly getting their body photographed,” she said. “People wear clothing for a reason and having someone violate that privacy is a real problem.”
MBTA spokesman Joe Pesaturo said that Transit Police support the Suffolk County district attorney’s efforts to work with the Legislature in rewriting the statute. He did not say what the MBTA could do in the meantime to prevent the activity.
Pesaturo said that in the past three years, T police have investigated 13 “secretly photographing” cases. In some cases, the alleged offender was issued a court summons. Some remain open investigations. During those three years there was an average of 395 million passenger trips on the MBTA.
Quincy senator files bill to restructure medical marijuana law
BOSTON — Team 5 Investigates first exposed questionable practices at local medical marijuana clinics in November.
Team 5 Investigates’ Kathy Curran has learned when it comes to enforcement and oversight, there’s very little being done to regulate the industry right now.
“It’s wrong, purely and simply, it’s wrong,” said Sen. John Keenan, D-Quincy, chairman of the Legislature’s Committee on Public Health.
Keenan is troubled by what Team 5 Investigates’ undercover investigation into Canna Car Docs discovered last fall.
With $200 in hand, a potential patient with a physical injury walked into their South Boston clinic for the first time and walked out with a recommendation for medical marijuana in just 20 minutes.
The office staff put the patient’s name on the recommendation before she even saw the physician and the doctor on duty, Dr. H. Scott Breen, never examined the injury that brought her to the clinic.
“They didn’t ask for any medical records, any X-rays and any MRI’s?” asked Team 5’s Curran.
“No, none of the above,” said the patient, whose identity Team 5 Investigates agreed to protect.
“I thought it was pretty easy, shockingly so, to think you can just walk in and within 20 minutes all of that was done and I was able to walk out with a certificate, good to go.”
“That would not be acceptable under DPH regulations related to medical marijuana and if that person was employed by a Department of Public Health licensed facility, we would certainly take action,” said Dr. Madeline Biondolillo, director of health care safety and quality.
But because the company isn’t licensed by the Department, when it comes to enforcement, there’s not much they can do. “Right now, we can only do what we have authority to do,” said Biondolillo.
Currently the state has no idea who’s writing these recommendations or who’s receiving medical marijuana, because of the nature of the law and the fact that the state’s system isn’t fully up and running. It’s been that way since doctors began writing recommendations allowing patients to grow their own pot in January 2013.
“I just think we’re going to regret where we’re heading with medical marijuana,” said Keenan.
“Would you say the cart was before the horse?” asked Curran.
“Yes, and I think it still is, despite the best efforts of DPH, and I think they’ve done a very good job. They’ve come up with regulations that I think are better than a lot of other states but despite that, I think the cart is before the horse,” said Keenan. Keenan points to loopholes and weak legislation that are fueling the problem and he’s filed legislation to restructure the medical marijuana law.
Team 5 has also learned the Department is working with Canna Care Docs to determine any necessary licensing requirements.
In a written statement, a representative for Canna Care Docs said the company is working to obtain licenses for its clinics from DPH and in the interim, the company is operating with the state’s full knowledge. The company also told us last fall that all of their current doctors are fully licensed and in good standing.
Dudley police chief pushing to change law for almost a decade
DUDLEY, Mass. — A Team 5 Investigation uncovered teachers taking sexual advantage of students and now a police chief is speaking out about his frustration with Massachusetts law allowing many of those teachers to escape criminal prosecution.
Team 5’s Kathy Curran has more on why efforts to change that have gone nowhere on Beacon Hill for years.
“If you’re in a position such as mine and you get presented with something that should be changed, I feel an obligation to try and change it and try to protect the victims in these cases,” said Dudley Police Chief Steve Wojnar.
Wojnar is calling for Beacon Hill lawmakers to take action after Team 5 Investigates exposed how many teachers caught in sex scandals with their students can’t be prosecuted if the student is 16 years old, or older.
“It’s extremely frustrating. If you’re in a position of authority over minors under the age of 18, you certainly have a direct amount of responsibility and impact on their future, in some way, shape or form, so you have to refrain from any of these types of relationships,” he said.
In 2004, the Dudley Police Department began an investigation into 31-year old Amber Jennings, an English teacher at Shepard Hill Regional High School who had an alleged sexual relationship with a 16-year-old former student.
Wojnar says prosecutors couldn’t charge her with sexual assault because the law doesn’t prohibit sexual relationships between students and teachers.
“When you found out did you just shake your head?” asked Team 5 Investigates’ Curran.
“Yes, and this is the reason why I’ve been trying to work on something for almost eight-10 years now because something really needs to change in that vein,” said Wojnar.
Wojnar is backing legislation introduced by Sen. Richard Moore of Uxbridge that’s intended to bring Massachusetts in line with other states, making it a crime for people in positions of authority to misuse their authority for sexual purposes.
“The legislation basically covers anybody, either a private or public institution of any type, it could be teachers, social workers, it’s anybody in a position of authority over minors,” Wojnar explained.
One example is Leominster High School teacher Molly Crane who surrendered her teaching license after records showed she allegedly engaged in a sexual relationship with a 17-year-old student. She even went as far as giving the student a cellphone and setting up a Facebook page so she could communicate in secret, forcing the student to continue the relationship through intimidation and coercion.
Crane couldn’t be criminally charged either and she denies the allegations.
“Do you think it should be a crime if a teacher uses his or her position to take advantage of a student?” asked Curran.
“Absolutely, it’s very troubling when anybody takes advantage of their relationship with students to take advantage of those students,” said Mitchell Chester, commissioner of the Mass. Department of Elementary and Secondary Education.
But attorney Alice Peisch, chair of the Legislature’s joint committee on education told Team 5 Investigates she isn’t so sure. “Whether or not losing one’s job is a sufficient deterrent to that activity is something I’d have to give more consideration to,” said Peisch.
“Why do you think this legislation hasn’t been passed?” asked Curran.
“I have no idea. I’d be willing to talk to anybody who has a problem or issue with it in any way, shape or form,” said Wojnar.
The legislation won’t be taken up by the judiciary committee at the earliest until March. Critics tell Team 5 they believe too many defense attorneys in the Legislature are preventing it from passing.