Month: July 2020

Legislature commits to Local Aid for towns and schools

State Representative Josh Cutler is pleased to announce an important commitment for local aid funding to help our cities and towns during this challenging budget year.

This commitment will result in an increase in Chapter 70 education funding and an assurance to maintain existing levels of unrestricted local aid. The agreement came about through cooperative discussions between the administration and the House and Senate. For FY21, the agreement commits to providing no less than the FY20 level of funding for unrestricted general government aid (UGGA, in the past called Lottery aid) and Chapter 70 education aid. 

Additionally, it commits to Chapter 70 increases for inflation and enrollment increases with an additional $107 million in aid over FY20. Additional school aid noted below is allocated based on formula factoring in student enrollment changes.

“Given the fiscal challenges brought on by COVID19 and the uncertainty at the federal level, this budget news is quite welcome and encouraging,” said Rep. Cutler. “I am pleased to support it as a member of the House Ways & Means Committee. This will still be a very challenging budget year for everyone, but this agreement will go a long way to help our towns reduce uncertainty and maintain quality services. 

Here are the numbers for our district.”

Chapter 70 school aid 
• Pembroke Schools: $13,705,090, an increase of $96,338.
• Duxbury Schools: $5,445,397, an increase of $104,862 
• Whitman-Hanson Regional: $25,068,973, an increase of $292,273

Unrestricted General Government Aid (UGGA)
• Pembroke: $1,785,006 
• Duxbury: $941,254
• Hanson: $1,359,810

UGGA amounts are based on FY20 cherry sheets. School aid data courtesy of DESE.These amounts do not include potential additional funding from CARES program.

Bill to expand tele-health services

Tonight the Mass. House has approved a major health care bill (H. 4888) with a focus on expanding tele-health services. Under the legislation tele-health services would be accessible for primary care, behavioral health, and chronic disease management. This includes use of audio-video technology (i.e. Zoom) as well as audio-only telephone visits. In case one wants to get a korean plastic surgery then the procedure is different. Doctors would be able to prescribe medication for previously diagnosed conditions or make one-time prescriptions for acute illnesses. The legislation ensures insurance pay parity through July 31, 2021 for tele-health and makes pay parity *permanent* for all behavioral health services which is great news. Additional tele-health services will be studied for possible inclusion by the Health Policy Commission. It is important to understand and detect liver cancer symptoms and know the kind the tests that need to be done. The bill also:

• Expands scope for nurse practitioners & psychiatric nurse specialists

• Extends COVID-19 coverage for emergency, inpatient services, including diagnostics & labs

• Provides enhanced Medicaid payments to support independent community hospitals

• Eliminates MassHealth requirement for referral before accessing urgent care facility.

• Assist nursing homes by requiring MassHealth to cover bed cost for up to 20 days if resident is being treated in a hospital for COVID-19

Among the amendments adopted is one that I filed to establish a PANDAS/PANS Advisory Council under the Department of Public Health.

The House bill now moves to the Senate and I would expect a Conference Committee to be appointed soon.

Economic Development bill approved

Tonight the House has approved a major economic development bill (H.4879) which includes the legalization of sports wagering, new restaurant relief funds, housing production and grants for cultural organizations and small businesses. There’s a lot to it and I will share a lengthier summary later, but here is a quick overview. I’m also very pleased that it includes some amendments I filed to help promote our aquaculture and cranberry industries and also assist the Talking Information Center network for visually impaired residents. Thank you to Chairwoman Ann-Margaret Ferrante and her staff for all their hard work on this issue.

Overview of policing reform bill

Today the Mass. House approved a policing reform bill (H. 4860) after three full days of spirited debate, 217 amendments and 800+ pieces of public testimony –– all of which reflect the significance of the issue at hand. I’d like to share an overview of the bill and also my own thoughts about why I supported it. Apologies in advance for the length, but there’s a lot to get to. However you feel about this issue I hope you can take a moment to read through to the end.

Forty-six states in America certify their police officers. Massachusetts is one of the four that does not. I think certification is important for all professionals. Indeed, Attorneys are licensed and have the BBO lookup system which provides information on attorneys in Woburn serving criminal justice law firm and any disciplinary records. Doctors are licensed and utilize a Physician Profiles website which lists Board discipline, criminal convictions such as refusing from a breathalyzer, hospital discipline and medical malpractice payments reported to the Board of Registration in Medicine. Even hairdressers are licensed by the Commonwealth. This certification and licensing process will make our system stronger and bias free. And it will make it a better atmosphere for those who serve proudly and honorably.

QUALIFIED IMMUNITY – REALITY V. RHETORIC. At the outset let me just briefly address the issue of Qualified Immunity since that has gotten a lot of attention. The House bill does NOT make changes in the application of Qualified Immunity, except in one narrow situation: If, following an evidentiary process and appeal, a law enforcement officer is formally decertified for misconduct then that individual would not be shielded from liability. Nothing in the bill would apply to any other public employee, nor to any law enforcement officer in any other scenario. The legal doctrine of Qualified Immunity is a complex one and legal scholars do not all agree on its application, which is part of the reason why the House bill took a narrower approach here. There is a lot of misinformation being circulated on this topic. Case in point: a law enforcement officer recently posted on social media that without the immunity, an officer who cracks a rib doing CPR can be sued. That is just plain false and this type of rhetoric is reckless.

Here are some of the other major elements that are in the bill:

INDEPENDENT COMMISSION. Creates a seven-member independent Police Standards and Training Commission (MPSTC) appointed by the governor and the attorney general. This Commission will oversee police certification, discipline and training standards and will have the authority to conduct preliminary inquiries, revocation and suspension proceedings and hearings. This Commission will include law enforcement representation, but will be primarily civilian led. The Commission will maintain a database of decertified personnel. This type of law officer certification system is sometimes referred to as POST, though the actual acronym here is different.

DIVISION OF TRAINING & CERTIFICATION. Within the Commission will be a Division of Training and Certification which will establish uniform policies for the training and certification for law enforcement. The membership will include representation from the Mass. Chiefs of Police Association, Massachusetts Police Association, Massachusetts Police Training Officers Association, two Sheriffs, the Secretary of Public Safety and State Police.

FACIAL RECOGNITION. The bill limits the use of Facial Recognition technology and sets legal standards for its use.

CHEMICAL SPRAYS. Strictly limits any use of chemical sprays, including tear gas, to cases where all other de-escalation tactics have been unsuccessful and such measures are necessary to prevent imminent harm. Also requires documentation and report to appointing authority in such cases. Please note that an amendment (which was defeated) would have banned all chemical sprays in all circumstances, including pepper spray.

DUTY TO INTERVENE. Set standards for officer to intervene if they witness another officer using excessive force.

N0-KNOCK WARRANTS. The bill puts new limits on use of “No-Knock” warrants. Must be issued by a judge upon supporting affidavit that such action is necessary to prevent endangering life of officer or others and reasonable belief that there is no child in the home.

CHOKEHOLDS. States that a law enforcement officer shall not use a chokehold, defined as a lateral vascular neck restraint to limit breathing or blood flow with the result of bodily injury, unconsciousness or death. Gives the new police training and certification committee authority to promulgate rules for the administration and enforcement of this.

SPECIAL COMMISSIONS. Creates several legislative commissions to further study issues of inequality and racism in Correctional Facilities, Parole Process and Probation Services.

CIVIL SERVICE REVIEW. Sets up review of existing civil service system. Commission will study and examine the civil service law, personnel administration rules, hiring procedures and bylaws for municipalities not subject to the civil service law, and the state police hiring practices.

SCHOOL RESOURCE OFFICERS. The bill tasks the training division with development of an in-service program for school resource officers and issue a specialized certification. It also calls for establishment of a model school resource officer memorandum of understanding.

AUTISM/IDD TRAINING. Includes developing a curriculum for basic and in-service training for officers on dealing with individuals with autism and other intellectual or developmental disabilities. This was added via an amendment filed by Rep. Paul Tucker (retired police chief) which I was pleased to co-sponsor. Another amendment of my own which was adopted creates a permanent commission on the status of persons with disabilities to look at these issues in a broader and holistic way.

DUE PROCESS ADDITIONS. When the legislation was first released there were some aspects of the bill which I felt did not provide requisite due process safeguards. I worked with a number of my colleagues to address that and I appreciate that leadership listened to our concerns and made some changes. One such change entitles an officer to a hearing within 15 days if there is a disciplinary action and makes sure his or her bargaining unit is also notified. Another adds a two-pronged approach for investigation, with an initial preponderance of evidence standard to start the investigation, but a higher “clear and convincing” evidence standard to de-certify. Given the seriousness of such an action I believe that is warranted. Another amendment preserves the ability of our District Attorneys to be included in the review process for officer involved incidents. An amendment I filed provides a clearer and defined time frame for police chiefs in which to notify the Commission of a complaint. This was a request from the Mass. Chiefs of Police and I was pleased to work to ensure it was adopted.

PROCESS FOR MINOR COMPLAINTS. Another significant amendment that I filed which was adopted (#64) had to do with setting a process for vetting minor complaints. The original bill mandated that every single complaint be submitted to the Commission and go through the same formal intake process. My amendment provided some appropriate flexibility for the Commission to streamline the handling of minor complaints if they don’t include the use of force or allegations of biased behavior. This improves due process and will avoid bogging down our system unnecessarily.

MY THOUGHTS. People of good faith can certainly have differing views on various aspects of this legislation, but I believe overall the bill makes important reforms that will strengthen our law enforcement system in Massachusetts, ensure that we are rewarding the many honorable men and woman of law enforcement by weeding out the few bad actors who should not be in the same line of work, and by making an important statement that we take seriously the principles of justice, equity and accountability.

During the bill review process and up through our debate and the final vote I heard from dozens and dozens of local residents, including many law enforcement officers, and I’ve been in regular contact with our local police chiefs and other stakeholders to hear their feedback. As you might expect there were lots of concerns, suggestions and viewpoints, both pro and con, on nearly every aspect of the bill. As a result of this feedback, I filed a number of amendments to the bill to work to strengthen it in various ways. Some of those amendments I described above. I appreciate everyone who took the time to reach out.

I do not agree with all that is in the bill (rare is the bill for which that can’t be said!) Some of the definitions, such as for the use of force, could benefit from more clarity to avoid unintended outcomes. It is not always easy to strike the proper balance between accountability and due process concerns and I will continue to work to ensure that we do. I do believe the House bill includes a number of needed measures and improves upon the legislation previously passed.

This bill will certainly not solve the issues of structural racism in our Commonwealth and I think it would be a mistake to pretend otherwise. Nor do I think it is fair to label this legislation a knee-jerk reaction to events in Minnesota. The death of George Floyd was certainly a catalyst for change, but many of the reforms included here were already needed. Some are in place today in other states.

WHAT HAPPENS NOW? The Senate passed their bill last week (S. 2800). The House bill approved today is H.4860. Because there are significant differences between the two bills the branches will have to negotiate a consensus bill. This will either happen via a formal Conference Committee or via an amendment process between House and Senate. Once this is done and enacted, the bill will go to Gov. Baker’s desk. He can then sign it, send it back with amendments or veto it, in part, or in whole.

House approves new DCF accountability, child welfare bill

The House has approved new legislation to increase accountability at DCF, protect vulnerable children and families, and enhance data collection and reporting. Here is a summary of the bill courtesy of Rep. Denise Garlick.

Bill Summary H.4841 — An Act Relative to Accountability for Vulnerable Children and Families

Quality Improvement. This bill requires the Department of Children and Families (DCF) to create or update specific case management policies to improve agency operations and safeguard children in care.

  • Reunification Reviews
    • Requires DCF to establish a formal internal review policy that creates a managerial review process prior to a decision to reunify children.
  • Collateral Checks
    • Requires human services programs receiving state funding, through Chapter 257 or MassHealth, to respond to DCF caseworkers conducting a collateral check within 5 business days.
  • Case Transfers
    • Requires DCF to review policies, procedures, and rules to improve protocol for complex cases involving multiple social workers and area offices. It requires this review to be conducted in consultation with the Child Advocate and to be reported to the Legislature.
  • Attorney Notification of Change in Placement
    • Requires DCF to notify a child or young adult’s attorney of changes in placement or if the child or young adult is involved in a 51A report.

Foster Parents. This bill establishes a foster parents’ bill of rights to provide a clear articulation of rights and responsibilities that will be a helpful tool to retain and recruit foster parents.

  • Foster Parents’ Bill of Rights
    • Prevents discrimination of foster parents and requires DCF to keep information about foster parents confidential.
    • Requires training to be part of the onboarding process.
    • Provides foster parents with basic information regarding the foster child.
    • Requires DCF to provide notification and basic information regarding hearings, complaints process, and financial eligibility.
    • Allows for the opportunity for foster parents, as part of the offboarding process, to share information on a child that could assist the child’s future foster parent or adoptive parent with the child’s everyday routine.

Strengthening the Integrity of the Child Advocate. This bill requires the child advocate to present the findings of critical incident reports that result in the death of a child due to a reasonable belief that a state agency failed in its duty to protect a child to the governor, attorney general, speaker of the house, and senate president jointly and simultaneously at least 48 hours before the results of the report are released.

This bill transfers the child fatality review team from the Office of the Chief Medical Examiner to the Office of the Child Advocate.

Data Reporting. The Department of Children and Families is required to report on key data and metrics throughout the General Laws and in the annual General Appropriations Act. This bill consolidates all department reporting requirements into one section of the General Laws. It repeals instances of these reports throughout the General Laws and FY20 budget so the new reports, including annual reports and quarterly profiles, can be issued with this data and information.

This bill requires DCF to notify the Legislature of new regulations or if any report is not submitted by the deadline.

Reporting requirements include:

  • Annual report
    • Requires an annual report to be submitted by October 31 that provides an overview of the department’s performance during the previous fiscal year.
  • Quarterly profile
    • Requires a quarterly profile to be submitted within 45 days after the end of each fiscal quarter that includes departmental, regional office, and area office data.
  • Transition planning for children in foster care
    • Requires an annual report to be submitted by October 31 on the outcomes of children and young adults leaving or aging out of DCF care and custody, including demographics, counts, and whether they have secured housing, employment, and post-secondary education.
  • Fair hearing processes and cases
    • Requires an annual report to be submitted by October 31 on DCF’s fair hearing process and cases. This language is generally included in 4800-0015 of the General Appropriations Act.
  • Office of the Ombudsman
    • Requires an annual report to be submitted by October 31 on the questions and concerns received by the Department’s Ombudsman.
  • Services provided through contracted agencies
    • Requires an annual report to be submitted by November 30 summarizing the services provided, the number of clients served, and the amount spent by the Department on contracted services.

Measuring the Impact of COVID-19. This bill requires the Department of Children and Families (DCF) to report on and analyze various aspects of the child welfare and education system to understand the impact of COVID-19 on vulnerable children.

  • Reporting Child Abuse and Neglect
    • Requires DCF to report monthly, for the duration of the COVID-19 crisis, on changes in child abuse and neglect reports made pursuant to section 51A of chapter 119.
    • Requires DCF to develop and implement a public information campaign to increase awareness of child abuse and neglect during the COVID-19 crisis.
  • Foster Care
    • Requires DCF to report on its efforts to support and reform the foster care system in the Commonwealth during the COVID-19 crisis.
  • Virtual Services
    • Requires DCF to analyze the effect of virtual and video technology on services during the COVID-19 crisis.
  • Remote Learning
    • Requires school districts to report to the Department of Elementary and Secondary Education (DESE) on the number of students who did not participate in any form of remote learning that went into effect in the 2020 school year due to the COVID-19 crisis, including the number of students with an open DCF case. Requires DESE to share findings and analysis of district reporting on remote learning efforts.
    • Requires DESE to develop a statewide plan to ensure effective and ongoing engagement relative to remote learning, including best practices for engaging the most vulnerable and at-risk students and their families, including but not limited to:
      • Children with active DCF cases;
      • Students and families with limited English proficiency;
      • Students with limited access to remote learning;
      • Students receiving special education services; and
      • Students residing in school districts in communities that were disproportionately impacted by the outbreak of COVID-19.

Legislators secure $400K in relief funds for Whitman-Hanson schools

Sen. Brady, Rep. Cutler and Rep. Sullivan amendments will direct additional funds to school district for remote learning and PPE expenses

(STATE HOUSE, Boston, MA) – The Mass. House and Senate have both approved a supplemental budget to provide additional relief for COVID related expenses, including funds for personal protective equipment, field hospitals and contact tracing.

Included are a pair of amendments filed by Senator Mike Brady (D-Brockton), Representative Josh Cutler (D-Pembroke) and Rep. Alyson Sullivan (R-Abington), to direct additional funds to the towns of Hanson and Whitman for the benefit of the regional school district.

One amendment will provide $200,000 for Whitman-Hanson to fund remote learning related expenses and another amendment will provide an additional $200,000 for personal protection equipment for the schools, staff and teaching professionals.

“We know this will be a challenging school year for all involved and these additional funds will certainly help,” said Rep. Cutler. “Now every Whitman-Hanson high school student will have access to a chromebook and every teacher and staff member in the district can be assured of having an adequate supply of PPE.”

Sen. Brady added, “Maintaining access to educational opportunities for all must be a priority. These amendments will allow our teachers to better support their students and provide the best education possible under these challenging circumstances.”

“We know that our classrooms are going to look different this fall as we grapple with the impacts of COVID-19. These amendments will provide sorely needed resources to benefit our schools and reduce the burden on local taxpayers,” said Rep. Sullivan.

The House and Senate bills will be reconciled and then sent to Governor Baker for his approval. The budget is facilitated by federal CARES Act funding in response to the COVID pandemic.

Legislature Passes Critical Legislation to Safeguard Fall 2020 Elections

The Massachusetts Legislature has passed a bill that expands voter access and ensures voters have safe voting options for all remaining 2020 elections, including the September 1, 2020 state primary and November 3, 2020 general election, in response to the ongoing COVID-19 pandemic. An Act relative to voting options in response to COVID-19 now moves to the governor’s desk.

The legislation, for the first time in state history, would establish a vote-by-mail option and early voting period for the upcoming fall elections. In addition to those options, the bill also addresses polling place safety for those who choose to cast their ballots in person. 

Implements an early vote-by-mail system: An application to receive an early voting ballot for the primary will be mailed to all registered voters by July 15, 2020. The Secretary will then mail another application for the general election by September 14, 2020.  Both applications and ballots will have postage costs already paid for.  

Ballots postmarked on or before November 3, 2020 will be counted until Friday November 6, 2020 at 5.PM. Applications for early voting and absentee voting must be received 4 business days before the election, by Wednesday August 26 2020 (for the primary) and Wednesday Oct. 28 2020.

Creates early voting for the primary and expands early voting periods: For the first time in Massachusetts, early voting will be available for the state primary, and will take place from Saturday, August 22, 2020 through Friday, August 28, 2020. Early voting for the general election is scheduled to take place from Tuesday, October 17, 2020 to Friday, October 30, 2020.

Makes in-person voting safer and more efficient: The bill allows municipalities, with proper notice, to consolidate polling places and eliminate the check-out table at these locations, allowing for a more efficient process and fewer poll workers. It also expands who is eligible to serve as a poll worker, knowing that many current volunteers are seniors who may feel less comfortable working in public during COVID-19.

Provides tools to assist clerks: Acknowledging the increased burden these options may place on municipalities and clerks, the bill also provides for several accommodations to make the logistics of processing votes easier. The legislation allows for tabulating ballots prior to election day, and it offers pre-addressed envelopes to voters, so their applications go directly to their clerk’s office.

Tasks the Secretary of State with creating an online portal and promoting voting options: To make it as easy as possible for people to apply for general election early voting, the bill requires Secretary Galvin’s office to create an online portal not later than October 1, 2020. Electronic applications for early voting will be available for the general election, and if feasible, for the primary election.

Rep. Cutler announces $1.43M in road & bridge funding for 6th Plymouth District

Rep. Josh Cutler is pleased to announce that the 6th Plymouth District is scheduled to receive $1,425,415 in road and bridge funding for Fiscal Year 2021 under the state’s Chapter 90 program.

The funding was included as part of a $200M statewide bond authorization approved by the House of Representatives on a vote of 159-0 on June 30. House Bill 4803, An Act financing improvements to municipal roads and bridges, was signed into law by Governor Baker on Thursday, following a final enactment vote in the Senate.

The money will be broken down into the following funding amounts:

Pembroke: $565,313
Duxbury: $538,367
Hanson: $321,735

Established by the Legislature in 1973, the Chapter 90 program allocates funding in cities and towns on an annual basis, using a formula that is based on a weighted average of a community’s population, employment, and total road miles. It is a 100 percent reimbursable program that provides funding assistance for municipalities to carry out roadway construction, renovation, and improvement projects.

According to Rep. Cutler, Chapter 90 funding can be used for a variety of purposes, including road resurfacing, sidewalks, street lighting, traffic control measures, and roadside drainage. Municipalities can also use the money for the purchase, replacement, and long-term lease of road building machinery, equipment and tools.