Month: December 2020

Mass. Developmental Disabilities Council to Honor Rep. Cutler as ‘Legislator of the Year’

STATE HOUSE – The Massachusetts Developmental Disabilities Council has unanimously selected Rep. Josh S. Cutler (D-Pembroke) as their 2020 Legislator of the Year. He will be honored at the group’s annual legislative reception to be held virtually this March.

The Massachusetts Developmental Disabilities Council (MDDC) is an independent state agency that supports people with developmental disabilities and their families. Their missions is to help create opportunities for individuals to lead successful lives in their communities, support inclusive education and greater employment opportunities.

Rep. Cutler, who currently serves as vice-chair of the Joint Committee on Children, Families and Persons with Disabilities, has led an effort to promote disability hiring practices and remove barriers to employment.

“I’m delighted to accept this award and grateful to the MDDC and other dedicated advocates for your efforts to promote workforce development for people who have developmental disabilities,” said Rep. Cutler.

In recognizing Rep. Cutler, the MDDC also noted his support for Nicky’s Law, bipartisan legislation to establish a statewide caretaker registry to protect individuals from serial abusers, and his efforts to establish a permanent a permanent commission on the status of persons with disabilities which was recently signed into law by Governor Baker. 

The Mass. Developmental Disabilities Council’s Virtual Legislative Reception on March 3, 2021.

Major win for PANDAS/PANS families as insurance coverage and DPH Advisory Council added to Health Care Bill!

I’m very happy to report that our legislation to provide health insurance coverage for PANDAS/PANS treatment has been included in the Health Care bill released a short time ago by the Conference Committee. That would be amazing enough by itself, but it also includes our amendment to create a PANDAS/PANS Advisory Council at the Mass. Department of Public Health.

These steps together represent a true breakthrough for thousands of Massachusetts families afflicted with this disease.

For those who are not familiar, PANDAS & PANS are related pediatric autoimmune disorders which strike previously healthy children, typically between the ages of two and twelve.The result can be devastating to the child, with acute and dramatic onset of symptoms like obsessive-compulsive disorder, extreme anxiety, angry rages, trouble sleeping, bodily tics, hallucinations, and more.

Children suffering from PANDAS/PANS frequently cannot attend school for extended periods and home life is profoundly disrupted. Emergency room visits are often needed due to sudden aggressive behaviors and psychiatric hospitalization may be required for severely afflicted children.

The impact on the family can also be devastating, both from an emotional and financial point of view. While mild to moderate cases can usually be treated successfully with antibiotics or anti-inflammatory therapy medications, more severe cases may require treatment known as IVIG therapy.

Sadly, even though this course of treatment is recommended by doctors and medical experts, most private insurance companies refuse to cover IVIG, or else engage in a protracted denial and appeals process. Tragically, this puts the child at risk of further decline and potential long-term disability as their brain inflammation remains untreated. Get More Info of getting a better insurance plan for yourself and your vehicle.

This puts families in a terrible position of paying out-of-pocket, which can run many tens of thousands of dollars. During our public hearing I heard stories about parents re-mortgaging their homes, maxing out credit cards and ending up more than $100,000 in debt just to make sure their kids get the proper treatment.

Health insurance is supposed to cover you when you get sick. But when it comes to PANDAS it was not.Today we took a major step forward to change that in Massachusetts. This will have ramifications not just here but across the county in the many states that do not yet ensure PANDAS health coverage.

I am grateful to all the House and Senate Conferees for including this language, and especially Majority Leader Ron Mariano.

Thanks to former colleague Paul Brodeur (now Mayor Brodeur) who originally filed the House bill. I was pleased to take the baton from him as lead House sponsor this term, but we certainly would not have gotten here today without his efforts. Also thanks to Rep. James Murphy, former Rep. Dan Cullinane who helped usher the bill through the various legislative hurdles. Former Rep. John Scibak was also one of the early PANDAS supporters in the House. Rep. Carmen Gentile filed a companion bill and Rep. Kate Lipper Garabedian ably succeeded Rep. Brodeur in advocating for the bill. Apologies to anyone I have missed!

The real champions here though are the parents and advocates who worked so hard to build awareness, raise support and collaborate to push this legislation forward. I recall back in my first term attending a meeting about PANDAS held at the Winsor House in Duxbury. This was one of the first times I learned about this issue and it has stuck with me ever since.

Making these kinds of changes can sound like a no-brainer, but it takes a lot of effort and coalition building, especially when you are talking about health insurance policy. A special shout-out to Jennifer Vitelli and Sheila Gauch who led this citizen effort. They were amazing and had help from a lot of good people too. None of this would have happened without their energy and drive.

Next steps? The Conference Committee report is expect to be adopted by the House and Senate, likely tomorrow and then head to the Governor’s desk. We of course will be urging him to sign this measure. I will provide a further update when we get to that step.

Photos: It’s a lengthy process getting to this point. Here are some photos from the journey along the way!

Rep. Cutler’s Holiday Card Contest Winner

Congratulations to Abigail, a 5th grader at the Alden School in Duxbury! Her drawing was selected for the cover of our annual holiday greeting card contest. Abigail won a gift certificate to Rock, Paper, Scissors toy store and I made a $100 donation to the Alden School PTO in her name. We had a brief presentation today in front of the school with her family and friends from the Alden school staff & PTO. There were more than 100 elementary school students acrossdrawings. A handful of them were also included on the inside of the card as shown here. We will be posting a video later that features ALL of the student entries soon. Thanks to everyone who participated and all the elementary school teachers who helped. Most of the organizing work behind the scenes was done by my aide Lilla and she got an assist from my Lila, also a student at Alden, who read the official State House Citation today. Great to spread a little holiday cheer!

Legislature Passes Balanced Budget with Targeted Investments in Housing, Economic Development and Food Security

The Massachusetts Legislature has passed its Fiscal Year 2021 (FY21) budget, which invests in programs and services across the Commonwealth. Funded at $46.2 billion, the budget aims to address the sweeping effects of the global pandemic by making targeted investments in housing, food security, and substance use addiction services, as well as domestic violence, sexual assault treatment and prevention programs. The budget also invests in programs that provide COVID-related supports for students and increases funding for developmental services, early education and childcare, and public health.

The Legislature continues to further its commitment to cities and towns by investing $1.1 billion Unrestricted General Government Aid (UGGA). Continuing the Legislature’s support of targeted investments in education, this budget provides $5.283 billion in Chapter 70 education funding, an increase of $107.6 million over Fiscal Year 2020 (FY20). The education budget allocations include:

  • $53 million in COVID-related student supports;
  • $345.2 million for Circuit Breaker Special Education reimbursement;
  • $117 million for Charter School Reimbursement; and
  • $82 million for Regional School Transportation reimbursement.

Due to the pandemic, access to safe and affordable housing for many families across the Commonwealth has taken on new urgency. The budget represents the Legislature’s ongoing commitment to housing and homelessness funding. This year, the budget makes targeted investments into rental and housing assistance to support families, tenants and property owners during this time of crisis:

  • $180 million for Emergency Assistance Family Shelters;
  • $135 million for the Massachusetts Rental Voucher Program (MRVP);
  • $50 million for Residential Assistance for Families in Transition (RAFT), as well as emergency changes to the RAFT program to increase the maximum amount of rental assistance that a household can receive from $4,000 to $10,000 and allow eligible households facing a housing crisis to access both RAFT and HomeBASE;
  • $80 million for public housing subsidies;
  • $56 million for homeless individual shelters;
  • $13 million for homeless student transportation;
  • $12.5 million for the Alternative Housing Voucher Program (AHVP), which provides rental assistance to people with disabilities;
  • $11 million for Department of Mental Health Rental Subsidy Program; and
  • $8 million for unaccompanied homeless youth.

In addition, the budget includes protections to ensure tenants facing eviction better understand their rights and have the opportunity to slow any court process down if they are seeking financial assistance with their rent payments.  To help oversee the state’s tenancy preservation efforts, the budget requires additional data and reporting and creates a task force made up of legislators, the administration, and court officials. 

Keeping in mind the widespread economic effects of the COVID pandemic, this budget makes specific investments in labor and economic development programs that provide opportunities for the Commonwealth’s workers and its businesses.  The budget maintains its support for the Massachusetts Manufacturing Partnership with an investment of $2 million—funding which has helped many Massachusetts manufactures retrofit their businesses into the Personal Protective Equipment (PPE) market. Other investments include:

  • $94 million for Regional Transit Authorities (RTAs);
  • $46.4 million in new economic development funding including;
    • $17.5 million for local Paycheck Protection Program (PPP)
    • $17.5 million for community development financial institutions
    • $7.5 million for matching grants for capital investments by small businesses
    • $3.85 million for small business technical assistance grants
  • $ 46 million for Adult Basic Education Services;
  • $20 million for summer jobs for at-risk youth;
  • $15 million for a Community Empowerment and Reinvestment grant program to provide economic supports to communities disproportionately impacted by the criminal justice system;
  • $10 million Workforce Competitiveness Trust Fund;
  • $6 million for Regional Economic Development Organizations to support economic growth in all regions of the state;
  • $5 million for Community Foundations to provide emergency economic relief to historically underserved populations;
  • $2.5 million in Urban Agenda Grants; and
  • $1.4 million for small business development.

The budget builds on the Legislature’s commitment to ensuring all children have access to high-quality early education and care (EEC) during this pandemic. The budget provides $25 million for a new Early Education and Care Workforce and COVID-19 Supports Reserve to provide classroom stabilization grants, incentive pay for providers, and support for increased operational costs due to COVID-19. In addition, the budget invests in those who work with children by increasing rates for early education providers by $20 million and provides $40 million for a new reserve to cover parent fees for families receiving subsidized childcare for the remainder of FY21. The budget also includes the following EEC investments and initiatives:

  • $15 million for Head Start grants;
  • $10 million for EEC Workforce Higher Education Opportunities;
  • $2.5 million in early childhood mental health grants;
  • $11 million for child care resource and referral agencies; and
  • Establishes the Early Education and care Economic review commission to review childcare funding and make recommendations on policy changes to expand access.  

The budget continues to dedication substantial resources toward supporting public higher education and increases scholarship funding for students. These investments include:

  • $286 million for state universities;
  • $307.7 million for community colleges;
  • $560 million for the University of Massachusetts system;
  • $120 million in scholarship funding; and
  • $4.8 million for the STEM Starter Academy, to support underrepresented students in STEM fields at community colleges; and
  • $2 million to ensure high school students with intellectual disabilities have continued access to higher education opportunities during this time of need. 

Funded at $19 billion this fiscal year, MassHealth is the largest investment the Commonwealth makes in its most vulnerable residents, including children, seniors, low-income residents and those experiencing homelessness. In response to the threats to reproductive rights for women on the national level, the Legislature also voted to remove barriers to women’s reproductive health options and protect the concepts enshrined in Roe v. Wade. The budget also invests in critical health and human services agencies and providers including:

  • $501.1 million for Adult Support Services;
  • $307 million for the Department of Children and Families for social workers, family support and stabilization, and foster care and adopted fee waivers;
  • $94.8 million for children’s mental health services;
  • $36.4 million for early intervention services;
  • $30.4 million in emergency food assistance;
  • $25.8 million for funding to support expanded access to mental health services, including $10M for the Behavioral Health, Outreach, Access and Support Trust Fund and $10M for a new inpatient mental health acute care beds grant program to expand access to critical mental health services; and
  • $17.5 million for Family Resource Centers to meet increased demand for services. 

In addition to these health care investments, the conference report includes provisions that prohibit insurers from denying coverage for mental health services and primary care services solely because they were delivered on the same day in the same facility.

Highlighting the urgent need to strengthen public health infrastructure at the local, state and regional level to combat the effects of the COVID-19 pandemic, the budget includes targeted investments aimed at redoubling our efforts and pushing forward with a proactive public health response to defeat this horrible virus. The budget includes:

  • $10 million for grants to support local boards of health to combat COVID-19;
  • $1.7 million for the State Action for Public Health Excellence (SAPHE) program to support a more effective local and regional public health delivery system; and
  • $1 million for a COVID-19 Vaccine Distribution Plan program, focused on equitable vaccine distribution.

Keeping in mind those affected by domestic violence, the budget establishes a grant program to provide domestic violence advocate services across the state to connect survivors with essential services.

In order to support programs for individuals with intellectual and developmental disabilities, the budget increases funding for developmental services to $2.1 billion and includes $239 million for community day and work programs across the Commonwealth. The budget also includes the following investments:

  • $237 million for state-operated residential services
  • $78 million for family respite services; and
  • $38.5million for autism omnibus services.

The budget furthers the Legislature’s ongoing commitment to fight the opioid epidemic. To provide assistance to those who are battling substance addiction, the budget increased funding for the Bureau of Substance Addiction Services to $169 million while offering continued support for step-down recovery services, jail diversion programs, and expansion of access to life-saving medication.

Food insecurity has become one of the most prevalent consequences of the COVID-19 pandemic, affecting children, adults and seniors alike. To that end, the conference report prioritizes access to food resources across the Commonwealth. Food insecurity investments include:

  • $30 million for the Massachusetts Emergency Food Assistance Program;
  • $13 million in Healthy Incentives Programs to ensure vulnerable households have continued access to food options during the pandemic; and
  • $1.2 million for Project Bread to support the Child Nutrition Outreach Program and the Food Source Hotline.

The budget includes funding for the judiciary and ongoing criminal justice reform, including a $762.9 million investment in the trail court and to support for criminal justice reform implementation. The budget also includes $29 million for civil legal aid to provide representation for low-income individuals via the Massachusetts Legal Assistance Corporation and invests in community-based re-entry programs and a pre and post-release services grant program.

The budget calls for $312.6 million in spending for environmental programs, which aim protect the Commonwealth’s natural resources. These investments include:

  • $70.4 million for the Department of Environmental Protection, including additional funding for a PFAS-specific team to remediate water contamination in the Commonwealth;
  • $51.5 million for state parks and recreation;
  • $40.1 million for the Department of Agricultural Resources, including $1.4M for mosquito spraying to mitigate the risk of the Eastern Equine Encephalitis (EEE) virus;
  • $16.1 million for fisheries and wildlife protection;
  • $8.5 million for agricultural resources;
  • $2.6 million for ecological restoration; and
  • $500,000 for the Commonwealth’s endangered species program.

Having been passed by the House and Senate, the legislation now goes to Governor Baker for his signature.

Update: Compromise Policing Reform measure approved by Legislature

On Wednesday the Legislature approved a compromise Policing Reform bill designed to create a new law enforcement accountability and oversight system here in Massachusetts.

This bill is what we call a Conference Committee Report, which means it’s a compromise between two different bills approved by the House (H. 4860) and Senate (S.2820) earlier this year. Generally speaking this final version hews more closely to the House bill, but there are few key differences which I will explain in a moment.

First off, since I know there is a great deal of interest let me emphasize at the outset that the bill does NOT defund the police and does NOT eliminate qualified immunity.

What the legislation does do and what is at the core of this effort is creating a system of professional licensure and certification for law enforcement officers. This is commonly known as a POST (Police Officer Standards & Training) system. Professional certification and licensing is already a common requirement for many other trades and professions.

We know that police officers in our region already hold themselves to exemplary standards, but that is not necessarily always the case in every part of the state, so this will provide some important consistency. Currently forty-six (46) other states have a POST system in place; Massachusetts is one of just four that do not, according to a report by the State Auditor last year.

The Auditor’s report found that while Massachusetts has some of the strongest training and hourly requirements in the nation, they are not always uniformly applied and there is no mechanism to enforce them, or track substantiated cases of police misconduct.

We know that the vast majority of men and women who serve in law enforcement do so with honor and dedication, but there are a small number who do not. Holding these bad actors accountable will strengthen our system of law enforcement for everyone and help address broader issues of racial justice.

This POST system will be overseen by a new civil enforcement agency. This commission will be tasked with setting police standards across the state, certifying law enforcement officers, and investigating potential wrongdoing.

Here’s a rundown on the commission and other key aspects of the compromise bill:

The bill features an independent nine-member POST Commission which will have the authority to investigate police misconduct and oversee police certification, discipline and training standards. This Commission will include law enforcement representation, but will be primarily civilian led. All of the Commissioners would be appointed by the Governor and the Attorney General. Three of the members would be chosen from current law enforcement officers, including one police chief and two rank and file officers. (This is a change from the original House bill which did not have a police chief representative and was only seven members.) Other members would include a retired judge, an attorney, a nominee from the Mass. Commission Against Discrimination and a member with a background in social work. The remaining two members would be chosen at large.

The civilian members of the Commission would be required to have experience or expertise in related areas, including law enforcement practice and training, criminal law, civil rights, the criminal justice system, mental health, post-traumatic stress disorder, and crisis intervention. The Commissioners would each serve five-year terms and could not hold federal, state or local elected office during that time. The Commission would choose a full-time Executive Director with management experience. The Commission would be comprised of two divisions as follows:

Operating under the Commission would be a Division of Police Training and Certification. This Division would set uniform policies and best practices for police training, establish curricula for new recruits and in-service training, set standards for maintenance of police licensure or certification, and create other specialized training programs as needed. This Division will be managed by the Committee on Police Training and Certification, which is comprised of nearly all law enforcement professionals, including five police chiefs, two sheriffs, and representatives from the state police, attorney general and secretary of public safety. The existing Municipal Police Training Committee would be folded into this Division.

The Division of Police Standards would be comprised of administrative staff and would be responsible for investigating misconduct, submitting disciplinary information to the Commission, and maintaining a database of complaints. Their work would be based on the certification standards recommended by the Division of Police Training and Certification.

Once a complaint is lodged and referred to the Commission, the officer, the head of their collective bargaining unit, and the head of the local appointing authority would be notified. Depending on the severity, the Commission must or may initiate a preliminary inquiry. A revocation or suspension hearing would occur after the local appointing authority has had an opportunity to render a disposition, unless it fails to do so within one year. The Commission could only revoke or suspend an officer’s certification by a legal standard known as clear and convincing evidence. There is a right to a hearing and a decision of the Commission would be subject to appeal under the state’s existing Chapter 30A administrative appeals process.

The bill limits the use of facial recognition and biometric surveillance systems and sets legal standards regulating their use.

The bill strictly limits any use of chemical sprays to cases where all other de-escalation tactics have been unsuccessful and such measures are necessary to prevent imminent harm. The bill also requires such cases to be documented and reported to local appointing authority.

The bill puts new limits on use of “No-Knock” warrants. Such warrants must be issued by a judge and require a supporting affidavit that such action is necessary to prevent endangering the life of the officer or others.

Sets standards for a police officer to intervene if they witness another officer using unnecessary excessive force, unless intervening will result in imminent harm to the officer or another individual.

The bill 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 intent or result of causing bodily injury, unconsciousness or death. It also gives the new police training and certification committee authority to promulgate rules for the administration and enforcement of this ban.

The compromise bill establishes a set of guidelines to require de-escalation tactics before the use of force, unless de-escalation tactics are not feasible based on the totality of the circumstances. Our current in-service training programs includes guidelines on the use of force, but until now no such guidelines haver existed in statute.

This is a small but significant update and one that I was involved with. The original bill included some language that could have created liability issues regarding the use of K9s and inadvertently curtailed their use. I worked with the American Kennel Club (AKC) and K9 officers to come up with a solution and corrective language. We had several Zoom meetings on this issue and I’m pleased that the Conference Committee accepted our changes in the final bill. There are an estimated 200 police K-9 officers across the state and this will help so they can continue to provide this critical service. I appreciate this letter from the AKC & K9 group acknowledging our efforts. See additional AKC statement.

The compromise 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 and gives the school superintendent a voice in whether to request a school resource officer. The compromise bill does NOT prevent a school district from reporting gang activity within the school as long as it is related to a specific unlawful incident.

The bill includes language for a curriculum for basic and in-service training for officers on dealing with individuals with autism and other intellectual or developmental disabilities. The bill also includes an amendment I filed to the original House bill which was retained in the final version. This provision will establish a permanent commission on the status of persons with disabilities to look at these issues in a broader and holistic way. This has been one of the priority goals of our WorkAbility Subcommittee focused on workforce development for persons with disabilities.

This was an amendment I had originally worked with the Mass. Chiefs of Police Association during the original House debate this summer. My amendment had to do with setting a process for vetting minor complaints. The original draft 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 amendment was adopted during our House floor debate back in July and I’m pleased to report that it made it all the way through and was included in the final compromise version today. This will improve due process and will avoid bogging down our system unnecessarily.

Another 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. This amendment was initially adopted during the House floor debate and was included by the Conference Committee in the final version as well.

The bill creates several legislative commissions to further study issues of inequality and racism in correctional facilities, parole process, probation services and civil service reform.

The bill allows for multiple charges stemming from the same incident to be treated as one offense for the purposes of expungement and allows for a second criminal or juvenile record to be expunged where the current law only allows for one. Existing restrictions on ineligible offenses, wait times to expunge and that the offenses must have been committed before the age of 21 remain in effect.

As mentioned at the outset, the compromise bill does NOT eliminate qualified immunity for police officers. (The original Senate bill did include some language removing QI, but that was not included in the House bill, nor was it included in this version.) This bill only does two things with respect to qualified immunity: 1) It limits qualified immunity for a police officer who has broken the law and been decertified. 2) It creates a special commission to further study and report back on the issue of qualified immunity with membership to include a mix of legislative, law enforcement and legal experts. That’s it.

Why did we take this approach? Well, the legal doctrine of qualified immunity is a complex one and legal scholars have different views on its application. Qualified immunity is primarily a common law, or judge-made doctrine, and so taking a narrow and conservative approach here was by design. No one wants to see a police officer face financial jeopardy just because he or she made a mistake on the job — that happens to all of us — and none will under this bill. On the other hand there also needs to be a way for victims of serious crime to seek redress for reckless acts of police brutality. I expect that this is among the thorny issues the commission will look into. To be clear nothing in the bill would expose a police officer (or any other first responder) to any new liability in any other circumstance. I have seen claims that under the bill, or previous iterations, a police officer who cracks a person’s rib while performing CPR will now get sued. That is false.


Because this is a Conference Committee report it gets an up or down vote (no amendments) in each branch. There are a couple of procedural steps to follow and then it goes to the Governor. I’ll go over that in a moment, but first let me summarize the process and how we got to this point:

· Legislation to create a POST system was introduced in January of 2019. A public hearing by the Judiciary Committee was held in July of 2019.

· The State Auditor issued a report in November of 2019.

· Legislature’s Black & Latino Caucus issues 10 point police accountability plan recommendations on June 17, 2020

· Gov. Baker filed an updated policing reform bill on June 18, 2020.

· The Senate passed their version of policing reform legislation (S. 2820) on July 14.

· The House version of policing reform was passed July 24 after three days of floor debate, 217 amendments and 800+ pieces of public testimony submitted.

· A joint House-Senate Conference Committee was appointed on July 27. This bipartisan, six member committee has been working to negotiate a compromise version between the two branches. The Conference Committee reached an agreement on Nov. 30.

On Wednesday the House and Senate both voted to adopt the Conference Committee Report. The House voted by a 92-67 margin and the Senate voted 28-12. I joined in voting in favor of adopting this compromise version.

The Governor now has ten days to review the bill. He can sign the bill into law, veto it, allow it to become law without his signature after a period of time, or send it back with recommended amendments. All of this would need to be resolved before the current Legislative session ends January 6.