Archives For Legislation

Republican Gov. Charlie Baker has signed into law a bill requiring men and women be paid equally for comparable work in Massachusetts

Governor Baker signs the pay equity legislation into law, August 1, 2016. (Photo credit: Governor Baker-Twitter)

Flag was statehouse fixture there for half a century

Confederate flag at SC state house

McDonald replaces Eric Shinseki, who resigned during scandal over delayed care

Bob McDonald VA nominee

Lawsuits now allowed until age 53

Legislation headed to House

1. Federal Cuts to Black Lung Programs Expected to Hit W.Va. Hardest

2. Legislation would ban state GMO labeling measures

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3. E-cigarettes affect cells

Questions raised over health effects of devices.

4. Cot mattresses emit chemicals, study finds

5. Wal-Mart plans to bring its compete-on-price approach to organic food. Here’s how.

6. Turns Out Your “Hormone-Free” Milk Is Full of Sex Hormones

By milking pregnant cows, dairies produce a product with elevated estrogen levels—and that doesn’t do a body good.

7. Site 12, Treasure Island’s toxic bullets: Someone’s about to get hit!

8. 46 House members urge Great Lakes cleanup fund cuts reversed

Measure called most comprehensive in a generation

AP Photo

BOSTON — 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

BOSTON — 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.

View NewsCenter 5’s report

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.

Watch Report

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.