THE HOUSE AND SENATE: While the 2013 legislative session begins to gear up, Gov. Deval Patrick was very busy on Beacon Hill last week as he signed several bills that were approved by the Legislature in the final days of the 2012 session. The new laws include the following:
FLU SHOTS (H 3948): Requires that in August and September all public schools and early education providers distribute to parents information about the benefits of a flu shot for children age 6 to 18. This information would include the causes and symptoms of the disease, how it is spread, how to obtain additional information and the effectiveness and risks of the shots.
EPINEPHRINE USE IN SCHOOLS (H 3959): Allows students with life-threatening allergies to possess and self-administer epinephrine on school grounds. The measure would add epinephrine to the current list of medicines allowed to be carried and self-administered by students, which includes prescription inhalers for asthma sufferers, enzyme supplements for students with cystic fibrosis and insulin for diabetics.
LICENSE AND REGULATE BEHAVIOR ANALYSTS (S 2379): Establishes a state board to test, license and regulate the state's growing number of mental-health professionals known as behavior analysts. The measure also sets educational requirements that an applicant must fulfill in order to qualify for a license. Behavior analysis ranges from treatment of individuals with autism and developmental disabilities to behavioral coaching and behavioral psychotherapy.
RIGHTS OF CONTINUING CARE RETIREMENT COMMUNITIES RESIDENTS (S 2139): Establishes the rights of residents of Continuing Care Retirement Communities (CCRC) to establish a residents' association and have the power to elect its officers. A CCRC, also known as a life-care community, is a facility that offers a number of options, including independent living, assisted living and a nursing home within one community. The resident can move to increased levels of care as his or her needs change. The measure requires the facility to provide information to residents including explaining any adjustments in monthly and other fees paid by residents as well as informing them of all matters that affect their health and welfare.
CHANGING DEFINITION OF DISABILITY (H 4252): Changes the state's definition of intellectual disability to the national standard definition developed by the American Association on Intellectual and Developmental Disabilities (AAIDD). Prior law left the definition up to the State Department of Developmental Services, which used just one criterion -- strictly measuring IQ as of age 18 and automatically denying services to anyone who scores above a 70.
AAIDD defines intellectual disability as one that originates before the age of 18 and is "characterized by significant limitations both in intellectual functioning and in adaptive behavior, which covers many everyday social and practical skills." According to its website, in defining and assessing intellectual disability, AAIDD takes into account the IQ score but notes that a person with an intellectual disability can score as high as 75 on the test. It also considers other factors, including "the community environment typical of the individual's peers and culture, and linguistic diversity and cultural differences in the way people communicate, move and behave."
Supporters say the old system reflected views about intellectual disability from a past era. They noted the new system will allow the state to provide services and tailor plans to help people with severe disabilities who are falling through the cracks in the system.
MAKE ANTIFREEZE TASTE BITTER (S 88): Expands the current law requiring that any antifreeze in small retail containers that contains sweet-tasting ethylene glycol also include denatonium benzoate, a substance that makes the antifreeze taste bitter. The measure would expand the requirement to include the large wholesale 55-gallon drums that service stations use when servicing a vehicle.
Supporters say the sweet taste of antifreeze is a major reason for its fatal ingestion by young children, pets and wildlife. They noted that sweet-tasting antifreeze often leaks from consumers' cars after they get the fluid changed at a service station.
DAM SAFETY (H 4557): Establishes a Revolving Loan Fund to provide low-interest, long-term loans to private dam owners and cities and towns to inspect, repair and remove some of the 3,000 plus dams in the Bay State. Other provisions require an inspection schedule that includes inspecting high-hazard dams every two years and an increase from $500 to $5,000 in the fines imposed on dam owners who violate state safety regulations.
TAMPERING WITH WATER SYSTEMS (S 2371): Increases the fine and imprisonment imposed on anyone convicted of tampering with water systems in Massachusetts. The current punishment is a $300 fine and/or up to one year in jail. The new law raises the fine to $5,000 and hikes the prison sentence to up to five years.
Supporters say the current fines and jail time are small and out of date. They argue the hikes are needed in order to get serious about this crime in a post 9/11 world where terrorists are capable of destroying and/or poisoning water systems.
FINGERPRINT-BASED BACKGROUND CHECKS ON TEACHERS (H 4307): Requires that national fingerprint-based background checks be part of a background check on all applicants for teaching positions and any other public or private school jobs that have direct contact with children. The measure would also apply to family child care, center-based child care and after-school programs. Prior law only required a statewide background check that covers crimes committed in Massachusetts. The measure requires current teachers and other employees to be fingerprinted prior to the 2016-2017 school year.
PARKING METER REVENUE (H 901): Allows cities and towns to use revenue from their parking meters for the purchase or lease of any commuter shuttle or shuttle services between a municipal parking lot and public transportation. Prior law allows the revenue to be used only for the acquisition and maintenance of parking lots and for traffic control and safety. Supporters say the bill would expand the use of commuter shuttles, which will in turn increase the use of public transportation.
ALSO ON BEACON HILL
LICENSE AND REGULATE NATUROPATHIC DOCTORS: Gov. Patrick "pocket vetoed" a bill that would create a state board to license and regulate naturopathic doctors. A bill is considered pocket vetoed if the Legislature has finished its two-year session and the governor does not sign it after ten days. The measure requires that these doctors have extensive training in a naturopathic program at an approved naturopathic medical college. The American Association of Naturopathic Physicians defines naturopathic doctors as "primary care and specialty doctors who address the underlying cause of disease through effective, individualized natural therapies that integrate the healing powers of body, mind and spirit."
The Massachusetts Society of Naturopathic Doctors supported the bill and noted on its website, "Licensing would allow ND's to provide the depth of health care that they are trained to give, providing ... better service and more treatment options. Most importantly, it would protect the health care consumer by preventing untrained people from calling themselves naturopathic doctors."
The Massachusetts Medical Society opposed the bill and testified against it at a hearing. It said in a written statement, "Naturopathy is not a branch of medicine. It is a hodge podge of nutritional advice, home remedies and discredited treatments ... Licensure is interpreted by the public as an endorsement of the field. Unsuspecting parents who lack sophistication in science or medicine couldn't be faulted for having their sick children treated by a practitioner who is licensed and purports to use safe and natural healing."
Some supporters of the bill argue the Massachusetts Medical Society lobbied heavily against the bill because it is afraid of legitimate competition from naturopathic doctors.
Jason Lefferts, director of Communications for the Governor's Executive Office of Housing and Economic Development, issued a statement on behalf of the governor. He said, "The legislation proposing a Board of Naturopathy called for the board to be created in the Division of Professional Licensure. However, the makeup of the proposed Board and its functions as outlined, including the composition of the board to include the Chairman of the Board of Medicine, the Commissioner of Public Health and other professionals under the Department of Public Health, would be a better fit for the Department of Public Health."
Under state law, the governor could not amend the bill to reflect his changes and send it back to the Legislature for action because the 2012 legislative session had already ended.
WRITE YOUR OWN LAW: The clock is running out as the Friday, Jan. 18, 5 p.m. deadline looms for anyone who wants to file legislation for consideration during the 2013-2014 legislative session. Many late-filed bills are admitted to the Legislature following the deadline but the vast majority of proposals are filed by Jan. 18.
Massachusetts offers citizens the "right of free petition" -- the power to propose their own legislation. A citizen's proposal must be filed in conjunction with his or her representative or senator or any other representative or senator. Sometimes a legislator will support the legislation and sponsor it along with the constituent. Other times, a legislator might disagree with the bill but will file it anyway as a courtesy. In those cases, the bill is listed as being filed "by request" -- indicating that he or she is doing so at the request of the constituent and does not necessarily support it. Citizens who are interested in filing legislation should contact their own or any other representative or senator.
GOP HOUSE LEADERS REMAIN THE SAME: House Minority Leader Bradley Jones, R-North Reading, announced that his leadership team for the 2013-2014 legislative session will be the same as it was for the 2011-2012 session. The representatives on his team include Assistant Minority Leader George Peterson, R-Grafton, Second Assistant Minority Leader Bradford Hill, R-Ipswich, Third Assistant Minority Leader Elizabeth Poirier, R-North Attleboro, and Vinny deMacedo, R-Plymouth, the ranking minority member on the House Committee on Ways and Means. Jones is entering his 11th year as the House GOP leader and will be leading a delegation of Republicans that has decreased from 33 to 29 members following the November election.
PAY CUT FOR GOVERNOR AND OTHER CONSTITUTIONAL OFFICERS: Gov. Patrick's salary has been cut by $2,517, from $139,832 to $137,315. Other constitutional officers' pay has also been cut including Lt. Governor Timothy Murray by $2,406, from $133,644 to $131,238; Sec. of State William Galvin by $2,357, from $130,916 to $128,559; Attorney General Martha Coakley by $2,345, from $130,262 to $127,917; Treasurer Steven Grossman by $2,238, from $124,295 to $122,057; and Auditor Suzanne Bump by $2,474, from $137,426 to $134,952.
Patrick was required under the state constitution to determine the amount of a pay raise or cut that he and the other five statewide officeholders and 200 legislators would receive for the 2013-2014 session. All Massachusetts governors are obligated to increase or decrease legislative salaries biennially under the terms of a constitutional amendment approved by voters in 1998. The amendment, approved by a better than two-to-one margin, requires these salaries to be "increased or decreased at the same rate as increases or decreases in the median household income for the Commonwealth for the preceding two-year period, as ascertained by the governor." The governor says the median household income has dropped by 1.8 percent.
Under the same law, legislators' base pay was reduced by $1,100 -- from the current $61,132 to $60,032.
REX TRAILER (S 1704): Boston television legend Rex Trailer passed away last week. Trailer hosted the local children's show "Boomtown" from 1956 to 1974 and was involved with many charitable causes. Last year the Tourism Arts and Cultural Development Committee recommended approval of a bill that would make Trailer the official state cowboy. The measure was then sent to the Senate Ethics and Rules and no further action was taken on it. Former Sen. Susan Fargo filed the bill last year and Rep. Dan Winslow, R-Norfolk, has filed it again this year.
"I am proud to join the members of the Massachusetts Commission on Lesbian, Gay, Bisexual, and Transgender (LGBT) Youth to celebrate the progress we have made in improving conditions for LGBT youth and to look ahead at the work that needs to be done. We do what we do as a matter of conscience -- all young people should have a chance to thrive."
The percentage of people who in a recent Campaign for Our Communities poll oppose a 15-cent increase in the gas tax to help pay for transportation projects.
"There is dignity in work and every able person has a right to a job. There is value in having someone vouch that you are a good worker, show up on time, work hard and get along well with others."
Rep. Dan Winslow, R-Norfolk, on his proposal that any person who receives unemployment benefits for more than six months per year would be required to perform eight hours of community service weekly as a condition of receiving further benefits.
"Beacon Hill has to start living within its means, just as the taxpayers of the commonwealth are forced to do in their own personal lives. It remains the desire of the Republican Caucus that Democratic legislators once again renew their pledge from the two previous sessions -- refrain from any statewide tax or fee increases."
Rep. Vinny deMacedo (R-Plymouth)
"This decline is welcoming news as we stay focused on ending homelessness among veterans in Massachusetts. Our veterans have bravely served our country, and they deserve to have a safe place to call home."
Lt. Gov. Timothy Murray on reports that veteran homelessness dropped 26 percent in Massachusetts between January 2010 and January 2012.
HOW LONG WAS LAST WEEK'S SESSION? During the week of Jan. 7 through Jan. 11, the House met for a total of nine minutes while the Senate met for a total of 16 minutes.
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