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.

House Passes First-in-the-Nation Legislation to Modernize Tobacco Control

The Mass. House of Representatives has passed legislation to ban all flavored tobacco products and tax vaping products in an effort to protect youth from the harmful effects of tobacco usage.

Known as An Act Modernizing Tobacco Control, the legislation also requires commercial health insurers and MassHealth to cover tobacco cessation counseling and all nicotine replacement therapies with generics offered without any cost-sharing to the consumer. The flavor ban includes a ban on menthol cigarettes and restricts higher nicotine level products to age 21 plus tobacco shops and smoking bars.

“In keeping with our focus on youth wellness this session, the House took a nation-leading step today to modernize our laws that regulate tobacco,” said House Speaker Robert A. DeLeo, (D – Winthrop). “By prohibiting the sale of all flavored products, we are making tobacco less enticing for young people, while also making it easier for people to access the tools they need to quit tobacco use.”

In Massachusetts, 9,300 adults die annually from smoking, and more than 20 percent of high school students report having used vaping products. More than 80 percent of teens who have used a tobacco product started with a flavored product such as mint or menthol.  The Massachusetts Department of Public Health has reported three vaping-related deaths to the US Centers for Disease Control and Prevention. In Massachusetts, smoking is estimated to cost more than $4 billion in direct healthcare costs.

The bill will now go to the Senate.

House Passes Legislation to Support Veterans at Public Colleges and Universities and to Honor Women Veterans

(BOSTON) – The Massachusetts House of Representatives unanimously passed two pieces of legislation on Wednesday to improve mental health care for student Veterans and to recognize Veterans’ historical contributions.

“We’re proud today to take action to further support and recognize veterans for their service and sacrifice to our country, especial those who are students and may be suffering from the invisible wounds of war,” saidHouse Speaker Robert A. DeLeo. “By building a memorial to recognize the contributions and bravery of Deborah Sampson, we send a deserving message of validation and support for our past, present and future female service members. I thank Chair Campbell for her thoughtful and diligent work on these issues.”

The first bill, filed by Representative James Arciero of Westford, will expand access to mental health care for Veterans in higher education by creating a continuing education program to train public higher education counselors on the symptoms of conditions like post-traumatic stress disorder (PTSD) and available resources for treatment. The program will be developed and carried out by the University of Massachusetts Medical School and will include instruction on military culture and its influence on student Veteran learning, as well as common challenges faced by Veterans in higher education.

Public higher education is an important avenue through which Veterans transition back into civilian life and prepare for productive and meaningful careers. Yet many student Veterans struggle with PTSD, depression, anxiety, substance use, and suicidal ideation, conditions that make success in the classroom significantly more challenging. Student Veterans are also at greater risk for social isolation and report feeling less supported by their peers.

Given the high risk of the student Veteran population and their unique needs, it is necessary for counselors, both clinical and non-clinical, at the state’s 29 institutions of public higher education to have the tools to support Veterans who are grappling with the invisible wounds of war. This legislation will create a stronger network of on-campus care to ensure that student Veterans feel understood and supported, and that their needs do not slip through the cracks.

With roughly 2,500 student Veterans enrolled in the UMass system, a number that will likely increase as more Veterans take advantage of educational benefits in the federal Post-9/11 GI Bill and proposed in the Massachusetts BRAVE Act, this legislation is a necessary measure to guarantee Veterans in higher education have the resources to succeed.

The legislation requires the continuing education program to be developed within 180 days of passage of the bill. The program represents a strong collaboration between UMass Medical School and the state’s public colleges and universities that will both save costs and improve effectiveness

The second bill establishes a commission to design a memorial in the State House for Deborah Sampson, a hero of the American Revolution who disguised herself as a man in order to serve in the Continental Army.

In 1782, Sampson used the name “Robert Shurtleff” to join the elite Fourth Massachusetts Infantry Regiment led by Captain George Webb at West Point, New York. Over the following year and a half, she participated in dangerous scouting missions, led a raid that brought about the capture of 15 Tory men, and stormed a British fort during the Siege of Yorktown.

In the course of her service, Sampson sustained injuries including a forehead gash from a sword and a gunshot wound to the thigh. For the latter, she removed the bullet herself to avoid detection as a woman. Her identity was later discovered when she fell seriously ill, became unconscious, and had to be taken to a hospital. On October 23, 1783, Sampson was honorably discharged and was the only woman to receive a full military pension for her participation in the Continental Army.

Sampson was held in high esteem by key historical figures in the Revolutionary period. John Hancock and Paul Revere assisted her in obtaining her military pension, and General John Patterson selected her as his aide de camp on account of her bravery and leadership. He frequently noted her boldness in charging into battle on horseback, leading her fellow soldiers.

Sampson has received significant recognition on the state and federal levels. She is the official state heroine of Massachusetts, and May 23rd is annually recognized in Massachusetts as Deborah Sampson Day. The Massachusetts Women Veterans’ Network has named an award in her honor that is given each year to a woman Veteran who demonstrates exceptional service to her community and in her military career. The federal government commissioned a ship in Sampson’s honor during World War II, dubbed the Liberty Ship S.S. Deborah Gannett (her married name). Because of her impressive feats of bravery, her historical significance, and her widespread renown, Sampson meets the very high bar set for those who are worthy of being memorialized in the State House.

The commission will consist of 15 members including legislators, the Secretary of the Department of Veterans’ Service, the Adjutant General of the Commonwealth, and representatives of several Veterans organizations. Members of the commission will discuss the design and location of Sampson’s memorial as well as where funding should come from. The legislation requires the commission to issue its recommendations by March 1, 2020.

The two bills now await passage in the Senate.

Legislature votes to boost financial reporting requirements for higher education institutions

The Mass. Legislature has approved legislation to enable the state to more closely monitor the financial health of Massachusetts private colleges and universities and provide transparency and security to students and families in the Commonwealth.   

Known as an Act to Support Improved Financial Stability in Higher Education, the legislation requires higher education institutions to make public and accessible financial reports and requires any institution facing financial risk of closure to develop contingency plans to ensure a process is in place to assist and inform its students and other stakeholders. The legislation also establishes financial penalties on institutions for non-compliance with reporting and planning.The bill requires ethics and fiduciary training for higher education trustees and board members.

“This legislation helps to protect students, families, and staff of our higher education institutions by increasing the transparency of the financial health of institutions – requiring increased oversight, reporting and accountability,” said House Speaker Robert A. DeLeo, (D-Winthrop).

“It was a great day for students and their families as this legislation will provide transparency and restore confidence in our Higher Education institutions,” said Representative Jeffrey Roy, Chair of the Higher Education Committee (D-Franklin). “The strength of our colleges and universities is paramount to our success as a commonwealth; when students and their families invest in their future, they deserve to know that their institution stands on a solid foundation.”

The four major provision of the bill address the following topics listed below.

  • Financial reporting:  Requires that all public higher education and independent institutions post on their websites a copy of the institution’s financial report and a summary written in terms understandable by the general public. 
  • Financial screening: Enables the Board of Higher Education (BHE) to monitor the financial health of independent institutions of higher education in Massachusetts. 
    • Requires an independent institution to immediately notify BHE of any known financial liabilities or risks likely that may result in closure.
    • Requires BHE to establish a process to annually assess each institution’s financial information to identify any institution it deems may be at risk of imminent closure.  The BHE will keep confidential those assessments for independent institutions unless it is determined an institution is at risk of closure. 
    • Financial screenings may be conducted by an accrediting agency authorized by the U.S. Department of Education, or the Department of Higher Education. 
    • An institution determined to be at risk of imminent closure must prepare a contingency plan for closure, which includes a process to provide notice to a variety of stakeholders including, students, faculty, staff, pending applicants, and host communities. The closure plan must also include:
      • arrangements for students to complete their program of study;
      • a plan for the maintenance of student records; and,
      • a plan to provide funding for refunding any student deposits and for the cost of protecting and maintaining student records.
  • Enforcement: Requires penalties for failure to comply with financial screening requirements, which include fines of up to $1,000 per day, suspension of any state funds, or the suspension or revocation of any degree granting authority.  
  • Board training: Requires comprehensive training programs for members of the boards of trustees of the state’s public higher education institutions on the proper governance,  financial metrics, open meeting law and their legal and fiduciary responsibilities, at least once every four years. 

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

Rep. Cutler named House Chair of Coastal Caucus

(STATE HOUSE, Boston, MA)  Rep. Josh S. Cutler (D-Pembroke) has been named House Chair of the Coastal Caucus in the Massachusetts state legislature. Rep. Cutler joins his Senate counterpart, Sen. Bruce Tarr (R-Gloucester) in leading the bi-partisan 80-member caucus, which is focused around issues impacting coastal regions.

“It’s an honor to lead the Coastal Caucus along with my colleague Sen. Tarr. Whether it’s aquaculture, flood insurance, sea-level rise, offshore energy or marine fisheries ––coastal issues are critical to our economic and environmental well-being — even in our inland communities,” said Rep. Cutler. “I feel privileged to be able to take a leading role in working to shape such a critical policy area.”

The Coastal Caucus hosts regular sessions with  key stakeholders and policymakers to highlight issues of importance to coastal areas. Recent sessions have included a focus on the impact of climate change on small businesses, options to reducing the impact of flood insurance costs, and efforts to combat invasive maritime species.

Rep. Cutler, now in his fourth term, represents the Sixth Plymouth District which is comprised of Pembroke, Duxbury and Hanson. For more information contact his State House office at 617-722-2810.


House Passes Student Opportunity Act

Oct. 23, 2019 – BOSTON – The Mass. House of Representatives unanimously passed legislation to invest $1.5 billion in the Commonwealth’s public education system. Known as The Student Opportunity Act, the legislation invests funding to support the needs of English learners and school districts that serve high concentrations of low-income students in order to help address persistent disparities in student achievement.

In addition, school districts across the Commonwealth will benefit from updates to the existing funding formula, along with increased state investment in other vital education aid programs such as transportation, guidance and psychological services, school buildings and special education.  

“This legislation makes a profound and lasting investment in Massachusetts schools, and I’m proud of the House’s leadership and collaborative efforts to move this bill forward,” said House Speaker Robert. A. DeLeo (D-Winthrop). “We’re building on our ongoing efforts to support our most vulnerable students, including our English learners and low-income students.”

The legislation couples new investments with policy updates designed to monitor and measure progress and support effective approaches to closing opportunity gaps. The bill modernizes the K-12 education funding and policy landscape in four areas.

  1. Fully implements the recommendations of the Foundation Budget Review Commission (FBRC) to ensure that the school funding formula provides adequate and equitable funding to all districts across the state. Provides an estimated $1.4 billion in new Chapter 70 aid over and above inflation when fully implemented over the next seven years. The foundation budget is updated as follows:
  2. Estimates school districts’ employee health care costs using up to date health insurance trend data collected by the state’s Group Insurance Commission (GIC), and includes for the first time an amount for retiree health insurance costs.
  3. Increases special education enrollment and cost assumptions to more accurately reflect district enrollment and costs
  4. Increases funding for English learners (EL) that is differentiated by grade level to reflect the greater resources required to educate our older EL students.
  5. Addresses the needs of districts educating high concentrations of low-income students by:
    1. Providing additional funding based on the share of low-income students in each district; districts educating the largest percentage of low-income students will receive an additional increment equal to 100% of the base foundation.
  6. Improves data collection and reporting, specifically around use of funding, by:
    1. Establishing a Data Advisory Commission to help improve the use of data at the state, district, and school levels to inform strategies that strengthen teaching, learning and resource allocation to ensure greater financial transparency, including tracking funding for low-income students and English learners.
  • Provides additional state financial support to help public schools and communities deliver a high-quality education to students:
    • Increases foundation rates for guidance and psychological services that will support expanded social–emotional supports and mental health services.
    • Fully funds charter tuition reimbursements, which provide transitional aid to help districts when students leave to attend charter schools, within a three-year timetable.
    • Expands the special education circuit breaker, which reimburses districts for extraordinary special education costs, to include transportation costs in addition to instructional costs, phased in over four years.
    • Lifts the annual cap on Massachusetts School Building Authority (MSBA) spending for school building construction/renovation by $150 million (from $600 million to $800 million), enabling the MSBA to accept more projects across the state into its funding pipeline. 
    • Requires Department Elementary and Secondary Education (DESE) to calculate the transitional hold harmless aid amount using the base and incremental rates and minimum aid increment in the Fiscal Year 2020 budget.
  • Implements policy updates designed to maximize the impact of new funding in improving student outcomes and closing opportunity gaps.
  • Establishes the 21st Century Education Trust Fund to provide flexible funding to districts and schools pursuing creative approaches to student learning and district improvement.
  • Requires school districts to develop and make publicly available plans for closing gaps in student performance. These plans will include specific goals and metrics to track success.
  • Requires the Secretary of Education to collect and publish data on student preparedness in each district and high school for post-graduate success in college and the workforce. 

The bill will now go to the Senate.

MASSPIRG Urges Lawmakers to Pass New Measure to Close Offshore Tax Loopholes At State House Hearing

BOSTON — Too many corporations dodge both state and federal taxes by shifting U.S. earnings to subsidiaries in offshore tax havens. However, a State House legislative committee held a public hearing today on a new bill that could help the state recoup $699 million dollars even without further reforms from Congress. The bill, HB 3787, An Act relative to tax havens and complete reporting, filed by Representative Josh Cutler (Duxbury), would move the state to a “Complete Reporting” system, eliminating loopholes that allow companies to book profits made in the state offshore.

This measure would recoup $669 million in tax revenue each year, according to a report called A Simple Fix for a $17 Billion Loophole, released in May by MASSPIRG. The report was authored by U.S. PIRG Education Fund, the Institute on Taxation and Economic Policy (ITEP), and the American Sustainable Business Council (ASBC).

“When large companies use off-shore tax havens to avoid paying their taxes they leave both businesses and individual taxpayers to foot the bill for vital services including transportation, education, and public safety,” said Deirdre Cummings, MASSPIRG’s Legislative Director. “Everyone should play by the same rules.”

“Small businesses already face plenty of challenges, we should not ask them to compete in a rigged marketplace favoring a few corporate giants that can afford to exploit our tax code in this manner,” said State Representative Josh Cutler (Pembroke), Chief sponsor of the bill. “It’s time to close this loophole and let our Bay State businesses compete on a level playing field. This legislation will help ensure that the burden of paying for our state’s roads, bridges, schools and public services is shared equitably. Let’s promote innovation and creativity in the marketplace, not in our tax code.”

“Every year, corporations use complicated schemes to shift U.S. earnings to subsidiaries in offshore tax havens—countries with minimal or no taxes—in order to reduce their state and federal income tax liability by billions of dollars,” said Nathan Proctor, USPIRG, and one of the report’s authors.  In 2017, a U.S. PIRG study found that Fortune 500 companies had accumulated $2.6 trillion offshore.

A complete report requires a company to report their total, global profits, and the portion of that overall business done in a given jurisdiction. If, for example, a state makes up 2 percent of a company’s global business, then 2 percent of their taxable profit would be subject to the state’s tax rate.

Because this approach doesn’t let companies decide where to book their profits, but instead requires them to use a formula, they cannot declare that profits fairly earned in Massachusetts were earned abroad. An Act relative to tax havens and complete reporting, HB 3787 builds on the domestic combined reporting system Massachusetts already has in place to prevent profit shifting to low-tax states, but closes the water’s edge loophole that allows companies to continue to hide profits offshore.

“As lawmakers face tough questions on the budget, this part should be easy. We can start by making our tax code more fair by making all companies play by the same rules,” concluded Cummings.

House Passes Supplemental Budget with local road and public transportation funding.

Today the Massachusetts House of Representatives passed a supplemental budget allowing the Commonwealth to increase the balance of its “Rainy Day Fund” to $3.2 billion, invest in local infrastructure projects, fight the opioid crisis while providing emergency funding for towns affected by the tornados on Cape Cod this past summer.

“This budget reflects the House’s key priorities ranging from strengthening the Commonwealth’s long-term fiscal outlook, protecting public health and safety, and investing in our most vulnerable residents,” said House Speaker Robert. A. DeLeo (D-Winthrop). “These investments will make communities safer, improve municipal infrastructure and provide protections for those most in need.”

“This budget makes critical investments that the Commonwealth needs in order to continue to provide the services that our constituents so dearly rely upon,” said Representative Aaron Michlewitz (D – Boston), Chair House Ways & Means Committee. “The funds that we are putting into Education, Transportation, Housing, and into the stabilization fund will go a long way to improve the lives of all the residents of the Commonwealth.”

In order to further fortify Massachusetts’ financial resiliency, the Legislature dedicated $400 million to the Commonwealth’s stabilization fund, bringing the Rainy Day Fund’s total balance to $3.2 billion, the first time the fund has reached that amount in its history.

As part of the House’s priority to protect the environment, the supplemental budget makes a $24 million investment for the testing of potential per- and polyfluoroalkyl substances (PFAS) contamination of water supplies and for grants to support treatment and remediation of affected public drinking water systems, and $35 million for the Clean Water Trust Fund.

In addition, the supplemental budget reaffirms the House’s strong partnership with cities and towns by providing $60 million to invest in local roads and bridges projects. Furthering the House’s commitment to clean energy, the budget also features a $32 million investment in the state’s electric vehicle rebate program.

In addition, the supplemental budget:

  • Recognizes the need for increased investment in the MBTA by providing $50 million for additional staffing and contract costs to support capital project delivery, inspection and maintenance activities, and service diversions necessary to accelerate capital projects;
  • Works to support the Commonwealth’s public higher education institutions by investing $20 million in a program that encourages private fundraising with matching state dollars;  
  • Keeps with the House’s priority to promote gun safety by including $10 million for gun violence prevention programs;
  • Supports low-income households at the risk of eviction or facing foreclosure by investing $7 million for a rental and mortgage arrearage assistance pilot program;
  • Continues the House’s leadership on the Commonwealth’s early education efforts by including $3 million for grants for early educator scholarships for school paraprofessionals;
  • Provides $3 million in disaster relief funding to Cape Cod communities affected by the tornados on July 23, 2019;    
  • Designates the presidential primary date for Sept. 1, 2020 and invests funding to establish early voting for the 2020 presidential election;
  • Support the House’s priority of supporting Massachusetts’ most vulnerable youth by investing $5 million in a program to expand access for students to community-based mental and behavioral health services in schools; and
  • Includes $10 million reserve for salary increases for home health aides and personnel providing homemaker and personal care homemaker services.

The supplemental budget will now go to the Senate.