Day: November 21, 2019

Massachusetts Legislature Passes Child Wellness Legislation

The House and Senate have passed legislation supporting the health and wellness of children across the Commonwealth. This bill aims to break down silos to better address the complex health and wellness needs specific to the Commonwealth’s 1.4 million children. The effort seeks to create a foundation for better access to services and more data to inform future policy, while supporting a holistic approach to children’s wellbeing. 

“With this legislation the House continues to build on its session-long focus on child and adolescent wellbeing, and our work will help children across the Commonwealth grow into healthy and productive adults,” said House Speaker Robert A. DeLeo (D – Winthrop).  “This first step in our initiative will begin to develop a comprehensive support system for our most vulnerable children especially for foster children and youth who face behavioral or complex medical issues.”

The legislation seeks to address child wellness in the following eight areas:

  1. Secures healthcare benefits for foster children until the age of 26, making it easier for this vulnerable population to access MassHealth benefits they are entitled to at minimal cost to the Commonwealth. It codifies the practice for Massachusetts in the event of change on the federal level to the Affordable Care Act.
  • Requires insurance companies to maintain accurate and accessible provider directories for health plans. The provision directs companies to make the directories available without requiring users to create a new online account or profile. The directory must be updated frequently to ensure the information is correct. Insurance companies must take steps to make the directories user-friendly for individuals with disabilities and limited English proficiency. Establishes a task force to develop recommendations to ensure the accurate electronic posting of directories headed by the Commissioner of Insurance.
  • Creates childhood behavioral health centers of excellence via a pilot program that designates three regional centers to act as clearinghouses to connect families, providers, and educators to services and training opportunities. Requires the Executive Office of Health and Human Services to report on progress and impact after one year of implementation.
  • Requires the Heath Policy Commission to conduct analysis within the next year of children with medical complexities to analyze costs and population characteristics of this group in order to develop recommendations about how to serve this unique population.
  • Establishes a task force to study pediatric behavioral health screening tools.
  • Creates a special commission to examine the pediatric workforce to address pediatric provider availability and adequacy. The commission would recommend strategies for increasing the pipeline of pediatric providers and expanding access to practicing providers.  
  • Charges a 17-member special commission to review school-based health centers for the purpose of strengthening, improving, and considering ways to replicate best practices across the state.
  • Creates a special commission chaired by the Child Advocate to review and make recommendations on mandated reporting to improve responses to child abuse and neglect.

The bill now goes to the governor.

Massachusetts Legislature Passes Distracted Driving Legislation

The Mass,. Legislature has passed legislation to ban drivers from using hand-held electronic devices in vehicles unless they are in hands-free mode.

“We’re proud to have worked with our colleagues in the Senate to make Massachusetts roads safer and save lives by moving this policy forward,” said House Speaker Robert A. DeLeo (D-Winthrop). “I want to thank Chair Straus for his leadership on this issue and Leader Wagner, Chair Michlewitz and my colleagues in the House who worked so diligently to advance this legislation.”

“There are too many heartbreaking stories of those who lost loved ones to distracted driving, and so I’m proud the Legislature has taken action to prevent future tragedies,” said Senate President Karen E. Spilka (D-Ashland). “This bill strikes a balance between increased enforcement and increased transparency, requiring more demographic data to be released to the public than ever before so that we can ensure this law is being enforced equitably across the Commonwealth. I’d like to thank Senator Boncore, Senator Brownsberger and all the conferees for their hard work to bring this final bill to fruition.”

“Today’s final bill is a major public safety improvement for the residents of Massachusetts,” said Representative Bill Straus (D-Mattapoisett), Chair of the Joint Committee on Transportation. “Distracted driving has caused too many unnecessary tragedies and I am pleased that our state will now join the ranks of other states who have adopted a ban on holding a phone while driving.”

“This bill will improve the safety of our streets and promote transparency in law enforcement,” said Senator Joe Boncore (D-Winthrop), Chair of the Joint Committee on Transportation.  “Distracted driving is an epidemic, and this bill will save lives.  Further, by updating our data collection laws, we will better understand and improve our communities’ interactions with public safety officials.”

The bill defines hands-free mode as one that engages in voice communication with and receiving audio without touching, holding or otherwise manually manipulating a mobile electronic device. Law enforcement officials will issue warnings to drivers for first offenses of the new law until March 31, 2020.  

Additionally, this legislation improves transparency in public safety by granting expanded access to traffic stop data.  It has been 15 years since the last public report on traffic stop data; under this bill the state will be required to publish and analyze the data annually.  Expanding access to this information improves transparency and public safety outcomes.

The bill will also:

  • Allow for drivers to use mapping or navigation devices if they are affixed to the windshield, dashboard or central console or integrated into the vehicle and only involve a tap or a swipe;
  • Exempt use of electronics in the case of an emergency and for first responders if they are using the devices as part of their duties;
  • Penalize drivers with $100 fine for the first offence, $250 fine and safety course for the second offence and $500 fine and surcharge for third and subsequent offences;
  • Expand data collection of identifying characteristics including age, race and gender and location when police issue a uniform citation;
  • Hold law enforcement agencies accountable, if data suggests those jurisdictions may be engaging in racial profiling, by requiring them to collect data on all traffic stops for a one-year period and provide implicit bias training;
  • Require the Executive Office of Public Safety and Security (EOPSS) to publish data online annually
  • Mandate EOPSS to contract with a research institution to conduct an annual analysis of the data collected. 
  • Direct the EOPSS Secretary to hold three public hearings across the Commonwealth annually to present the findings of the annual report and analysis and field public testimony; and
  • Create a public awareness campaign informing and educating drivers on the dangers of using technological devices while driving

The bill now goes to the governor.