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Senate backs bill aimed at addressing opioids
The office of Sen. Cindy Friedman, Democrat of Arlington, provided the following news release Thursday, July 19:
The state Senate passed S.2609, providing an additional set of tools to address the opioid crisis and establishing the Commonwealth as a national leader in the fight against this epidemic. Among the provisions included in the bill are increasing access to medication-assisted treatment (MAT), exploring tools to reduce harm and save lives, expanding education and prevention efforts, and addressing the high rates of co-occurring conditions of substance use disorder (SUD) and mental illness.
The bill, An Act for prevention and access to appropriate care and treatment of addiction, is the result of extensive work researching evidence-based best practices and collaborating with healthcare researchers and clinicians, hospitals, behavioral health providers, law enforcement officials, patient advocates and individuals with lived experience, to develop policies to address the opioid epidemic.
“This important legislation takes an all-hands-on-deck approach to prevention and treatment. We want to make a real difference in combating addiction and to help bring an end to the opioid epidemic in Massachusetts. This bill makes treatment more accessible, improves provider education, and cracks down on over-prescription. This effort is a testament to the hard work and dedication of the Senate on this issue,” said Senate President Harriette L. Chandler (D-Worcester).
“This legislation is an important next step in the Senate’s continuing commitment to fighting the opioid epidemic on multiple fronts, in order to ultimately help our friends and neighbors who are suffering,” stated Senator Karen E. Spilka (D-Ashland), the Chair of the Senate Committee on Ways and Means. “I am particularly proud that this bill seeks to address the areas where mental health and substance misuse overlap, as addiction is often the result of unmet mental health needs.”
“Despite efforts to suppress the opioid crisis, families across the Commonwealth continue to lose their loved ones to substance use disorder,” said Senator Cindy F. Friedman (D-Arlington), Senate Chair of the Joint Committee on Mental Health, Substance Use and Recovery. “This legislation builds upon the work the state has done around opioid misuse and prevention and provides another set of tools to reduce harm, save lives, and increase access to evidence-based treatment. We have a major epidemic on our hands and we have to use everything at our disposal to cure this disease.”
“Today we took important steps towards providing better prevention, harm reduction, and proper care and treatment options in our efforts to combat the opioid epidemic. I want to thank all my colleagues, especially Senator Cindy Friedman and Senator Karen Spilka, whose strong leadership and skillful crafting led to the success of this legislation. This comprehensive bi-partisan effort will provide proper care to incarcerated individuals, a pathway to long-term care through emergency room departments, and options for alternative pain-management. In addition, it will hold pharmaceutical manufacturers financially accountable to properly collect and dispose of their pills,” said Senator John F. Keenan (D-Quincy), Senate Vice Chair of the Joint Committee on Mental Health, Substance Use and Recovery.
Under this bill, someone who receives treatment in an emergency department (ED) for an opioid overdose will now have the opportunity to begin treatment for their SUD before they leave the ED. The bill requires that all EDs and all satellite emergency facilities have the capacity to initiate voluntary SUD treatment, including opioid agonist treatment, after treatment for overdose.
Opioid agonist treatment commonly includes the use of Buprenorphine, also known as “Suboxone,” which is an evidence-based treatment that eases the symptoms of withdrawal and relieves opioid cravings. It can be administered as early as 8 to 24 hours after a patient’s last exposure to an opioid. This timetable allows treatment to begin in the ED soon after an overdose, when someone with an SUD may be most willing to consider treatment. They will also receive, under the legislation, a direct referral from the ED to a provider in the community who can continue their treatment regimen after they return home.
In 2017, opioid-related overdose deaths fell by 8% according to the Department of Public Health (DPH). The reduction in deaths is partially accredited to the widespread use of the life-saving drug Naloxone, commonly known as “Narcan,”which blocks the effects of opioids and reverses an opioid overdose. Under the legislation, the DPH is directed to issue a statewide standing order authorizing every pharmacy in the state to dispense naloxone, eliminating the current requirement that each pharmacy obtain an individual authorization.
The bill also brings Massachusetts in line with other states by providing liability protections, including protection from criminal or civil liability, for practitioners who prescribe and pharmacists who dispense naloxone in good faith.
In Massachusetts, nearly 1 out of every 11 individuals dying from opioid-related overdoses has a history of incarceration in state jails and prisons, and in 2015 alone, nearly 50% of all deaths among those released from incarceration were opioid-related. In response, this bill makes significant strides towards extending access to medication assisted treatment in correctional facilities.
The bill also includes several provisions to address dual diagnosis and the high rates of co-occurring SUD and mental illness in the Commonwealth. According to the National Association on Mental Illness-Massachusetts, over 50% of individuals seeking treatment for SUD also suffer from a mental health condition. To ensure that the right kind of treatment facilities will be available to serve every patient who needs treatment, the bill enhances the oversight authority of the Department of Mental Health (DMH) and the DPH’s Bureau of Substance Addiction Services (DPH/BSAS) – the two agencies that license facilities that provide treatment for mental illness and addiction.
In addition, the bill recognizes the important role that recovery coaches and peer specialists play in successful long-term addiction and mental illness treatment by creating two commissions to recommend standards for establishing a professional credential for recovery coaches and peer specialists as an important step toward formalizing the role that each play in the pathway to treatment and recovery
The bill also creates a Substance Use Prevention, Education, and Screening Trust Fund. The fund will help finance the expansion of school-based programs that educate children and young persons on alcohol and substance misuse, and that identify and support children and young persons at risk of alcohol or substance misuse.
Numerous studies and years of experience in Canada and Europe show that supervised injection sites save lives and provide public health benefits, such as reducing the transmission of HIV, hepatitis C, and other blood-borne diseases and reducing complications of injection site infection. They also aid in building trusting relationships between clients and health care providers, which can lead to the initiation of treatment for SUD. The bill creates a special commission to study the feasibility of establishing such sites here in Massachusetts.
To reduce fraud and drug diversion and improve tracking and data collection, the bill requires by 2020 that all prescribers convert to electronic prescriptions for all controlled substance prescriptions.
The bill also updates the state’s partial fill law by clarifying that any patient that decides to partially fill a prescription for a Schedule II controlled substance will not have to pay a duplicate co-pay at the pharmacy if they decide to fill the remainder of the prescription later.
In an attempt to ensure that those experiencing chronic pain have access to the medications they need, the bill establishes a MCPAP for Pain program to provide remote consultations to primary care practices, nurse practitioners and other health care providers who are caring for chronic pain patients.
To continue tracking the bill, S.2609, please visit the Legislature’s website, www.malegislature.gov.
Senate OKs Friedman's bill to clarify teachers' retirement
The office of Sen. Cindy Friedman, Democrat of Arlington, provided the following news release Thursday, July 12:
The state Senate unanimously passed S.2592, An Act relative to the Massachusetts teachers retirement system (MTRS), sponsored by Sen. Friedman. The bill would improve the enrollment process for new members of the Massachusetts Teachers Retirement System or new teacher members of the Boston Retirement System (BRS) who have previous creditable service in another Massachusetts contributory retirement system.
Currently, these members have the option of joining the alternative superannuation retirement benefit program known as the “Retirement Plus” (R+) program. Confusion around this process has led to some members believing they are in the R+ program when they have not opted into the system as required under law. This legislation creates a process to correct this problem for current members and eliminate the problem for future members.
“The Massachusetts Senate is committed to supporting our teachers and ensuring that they are supported in their retirement,” said Senate President Harriette L. Chandler. Democrat of Worcester. “This legislation will provide teachers and the Retirement System with a process to ensure that teachers know exactly which benefits they have and are entitled to.”
Friedman, vice chair of the Joint Committee on Public Service, said in a July 12 news release: “Nearly 2,000 members of the MTRS and BRS may have been impacted by confusion on an election notice to opt-in to the Retirement Plus program. The purpose of this legislation is to create a more streamlined and transparent process for those who wish to participate in the program and avoid any misunderstanding about enrollment in the future.”
This bill does not create a new retirement program for teachers; rather, it makes a technical process change to allow the MTRS and the BRS to confirm the intent of educators on their R+ election, and to make sure the system receives the required R+ contribution rate.
The legislation is supported by the MTRS, the BRS, the Public Employee Retirement Administration Commission, the Massachusetts Teachers Association, the American Federation of Teachers-Massachusetts, the Boston Teachers’ Union and the Massachusetts Association of School Superintendents.
The bill moves to the House of Representatives for consideration.
To continue tracking the bill, visit www.malegislature.gov.
Senate OKs bills, including support for local-access TV
The office of Sen. Cindy Friedman, Democrat of Arlington, provided the following news release Friday, June 29:
On Thursday, June 28, Sen. Friedman joined her Senate colleagues in passing a number of bills, including legislation that would require cable companies to provide high-definition capability to local community-access channels to enhance the viewer’s experience and likelihood of accessing Public, Education and Government programming, known as PEG.
ACMi, the Arlington cable-access channel, has long tried to negotiate that service with its three providers -- RCN, Verizon and Comcast.
Local TV channels provide a critical public service by keeping citizens informed and aware of current events in their communities, providing coverage of town government proceedings as well as local sporting and community events. Financed through an assessment on cable subscribers’ monthly bills, PEG channels have now become high-quality media centers that allow for production of broadcast-quality programming.
“Keeping our residents engaged and informed is vitally important for the strength of our democracy,” said Friedman in a June 28 release. “Making local news more accessible and appealing to our residents by switching to HD will boost civic engagement, allow our residents to have a more direct role in their communities, and benefit our Commonwealth as a whole.”
Under the bill, the PEG system will be on the same playing field as other broadcast channels, allowing local media stations access to electronic programming guides and channel signal quality that is comparable to other TV stations. Instead of seeing all PEG programs listed as “Local Access Programming,” viewers would see titled programs, upcoming programming in its entirety and also enjoy the ability to record programming on other channels.
The Senate also passed a bill making it possible for homeless individuals to obtain a State ID. Currently, a person who is seeking to obtain an ID card must provide a proof of residence -- a task that is unnecessarily burdensome for individuals experiencing homelessness. This legislation creates exemptions in the process of obtaining an ID for those persons.
“Those without stable housing face innumerable barriers in their daily lives that keep them from being productive members of society,” said Friedman, a member of the Joint Committee on Labor and Workforce Development. “If a homeless individual does not have access to an ID, he or she cannot apply for jobs, enroll in schools, or access some of the most vital resources the state has to offer. This bill seeks to dismantle these barriers and make it easier for some of the most vulnerable people in our society to gain access to IDs.”
The legislation waives fees associated with obtaining a state ID for persons who are experiencing homelessness and implements a process for those persons to apply for an ID using alternative proofs of residency.
In addition, the Senate passed a bill that would establish a nonbinary gender-identity option for Massachusetts licenses. The bill requires the Registry of Motor Vehicles to allow an applicant for a driver’s license, learner’s permit or ID card to choose “X” instead of “male or “female.” The bill also prohibits the RMV from requiring documentation for such designation.
In an effort to reduce tobacco use and nicotine addiction among youth, the Senate also passed a bill that would raise the minimum legal sales age for all tobacco products to 21. This includes nicotine delivery products that are often marketed to young people, such as flavored e-cigarettes. The same legislation was passed in the House and is expected to become law upon Governor Baker’s approval.
To continue tracking the legislation, visit www.malegislature.gov.
Senate stands up for workers, takes action to prevent wage theft
The office of Sen. Cindy Friedman, Democrat of Arlington, provided the following news release Monday, June 25:
On June 21, Sen. Friedman voted in favor of several bills, including legislation that would help prevent the illegal practice of wage theft and promote employer accountability. The bill, S.2327, gives the state greater power to go after wage violators and provides additional tools for the attorney general’s office to hold violators fully accountable.
“Thousands of workers are stripped of their hard-earned wages every year in Massachusetts,” said Friedman, a member of the Joint Committee on Labor and Workforce Development. “This illegal practice has continually impacted our workers, their families, and our communities, and it’s time for it to end. This important bill takes necessary steps to impose worker protections to prevent wage theft and hold employers accountable, ensuring that every worker receives the pay they are entitled to.”
Wage theft has become a pervasive problem throughout the Massachusetts economy, with an estimated $700 million stolen from 350,000 employees each year in the Commonwealth. This illegal practice can take many different forms, such as violating minimum wage laws, not paying overtime, forcing workers to work off the clock, misclassifying employees, or simply not paying workers at all.
To crack down on wage theft and increase accountability in labor contracting and subcontracting, the bill holds lead contractors potentially liable for wages, as well as any penalties or fines, associated with wage theft violations. This provision includes an amendment filed by Friedman that would ensure that workers are paid in a timely manner when their wages are stolen. The bill also enhances the enforcement power of the attorney general’s office by allowing it to bring wage-theft cases to court and seek civil damages.
In cases where there has been a determination of a wage theft violation, the Attorney General would have the ability to issue a stop work order, temporarily halting work until the violation is corrected. Employers would then have the ability to correct the violation and resume operation, or request a hearing.
The bill also establishes a wage theft compensation fund, administered by the Attorney General, to expend funds to workers and lead contractors under certain circumstances, as well as to provide worker outreach and education to prevent wage theft.
In addition, the Senate passed a number of other bills that would:
-- Strengthen state-level protections against illegal ivory and rhino horn trading, aligning Massachusetts law with federal law;
-- ban certain toxic chemical flame retardants from children's products, including toys and nap mats, upholstered furniture, window dressings, carpeting, and bedding that has been made or sold in the state; and
-- Make modest updates to the Commonwealth’s administration of unemployment insurance, including a provision that would permit a person to collect UI if they are forced to relocate due their spouse’s position in the military.
The various bills move to the House of Representatives for consideration.
Friedman among those voting for mininum-wage rise, medical leave
The office of Sen. Cindy Friedman, Democrat of Arlington, provided the following news release Friday, June 22, which was updated June 28, when Gov. Charles Baker signed the bill into law :
On June 20, Sen. Friedman voted in favor of legislation that would raise the minimum wage to $15 per hour, establish a paid family and medical leave program, and create a permanent sales-tax holiday. The bill, H.4640, is the product of months of deliberation between lawmakers, activists and business groups.
Under what has been called the “grand bargain,” the hourly minimum wage will increase from $11 to $15 over five years, rather than the four years proposed in the original legislation filed by the late Sen. Ken Donnelly and carried on by Friedman. It would also increase the tipped minimum wage from $3.75 an hour to $6.75 an hour over the same five years.
In addition, the bill would create a $1 billion paid family- and medical-leave program so that workers can care for themselves and their families without risk of pay cuts or job loss. With the passage of this landmark bill, Massachusetts becomes the third state, along with New York and California, to approve a $15 minimum wage and a statewide paid-leave program.
“As our state becomes more expensive to live in, the need to ensure that our workers earn a living wage becomes more important,” said Friedman, a member of the Joint Committee on Labor and Workforce Development, in a June 21 news release. “The compromise legislation passed by the Legislature will benefit low-income workers throughout the Commonwealth while providing a boost to our overall economy. This is a huge victory for Massachusetts working families, and I’m so proud to have played a role in the ‘Fight for 15’.”
According to the Massachusetts Budget and Policy Center, raising the minimum wage to $15 per hour will benefit nearly 1 million workers statewide. Of those affected earners, over half are women and almost two-thirds work full time. Additionally, nearly one-third of children in the Commonwealth come from a household that would see a raise in their incomes.
Currently, only 13 percent of New England employers provide paid family and medical leave. H.4640 would guarantee workers up to 12 weeks of family leave and up to 20 weeks of medical leave. Workers would be eligible for the program after one year of work and must have worked 1,250 hours during the past 12 months. The program would not apply to small businesses with less than 50 employees.
Instituting a strong paid family- and medical-leave program in Massachusetts would expand access to leave, reduce inequality for workers of color, low-wage earners and women, and help prevent bankruptcies. Additionally, it would reduce employee turnover, keep women in the work force, promote infant and maternal health and decrease reliance on public assistance.
As part of the bargain, concessions were made to the retail industry, including a gradual end to time-and-a-half pay on Sundays and holidays as well as the establishment of an annual sales tax holiday.
The bill moves to the governor’s desk for his approval.
The office of Sen. Cindy Friedman, Democrat of Arlington, provided the following news release Friday, June 15:
On June 14, Sen. Cindy Friedman joined her Senate colleagues in voting to pass S.2545, An Act to promote a clean-energy future, sponsored by Sens. Marc Pacheco and Michael Barrett. This legislation represents a firm stand by the Senate to ensure a healthier, cleaner Commonwealth for future generations of Massachusetts residents. Most important, a news release says, the policies enacted in this legislation are expected to have measurable benefits on the health of the global environment.
The legislation raises renewable portfolio standards, lifts the cap on solar net metering, authorizes additional hydropower and offshore wind procurement, establishes market-based greenhouse-gas emission limits, and implements statewide energy storage goals.
“At a time when our environment is under unprecedented attack at the federal level, it is vitally important for Massachusetts to take a stand to preserve our natural resources and address climate change,” Friedman said in the release. “This bill ensures that our state continues to lead in clean-energy efficiency by taking important steps to transition to cleaner energy sources, create high-paying jobs in the green economy and protect our residents from the ongoing threat of global warming.”
Specific policy changes include:
-- Increasing the percentage of Class I renewable energy that must be purchased by retail electric suppliers under the Renewable Energy Portfolio Standard from an additional 1 percent annually to an additional 3 percent annually;
-- Requiring the Secretary of Energy and Environmental Affairs to establish market-based compliance mechanisms to maximize the ability of the Commonwealth to achieve its greenhouse gas emission limits for (1) the transportation sector not later than Dec. 31, 2020, (2) the commercial and industrial building sectors not later than Dec. 31, 2021, and (3) the residential building sector not later than Dec. 31, 2022;
-- Directing the Secretary of Energy and Environmental Affairs to adopt statewide greenhouse gas emissions limits for the years 2030 (35% and 45% below the 1990 emissions level) and 2040 (55% and 65% below the 1990 emissions level), and a plan to achieve those reductions;
-- Requiring the 2030 emission limit to be adopted no later than 2021 and the 2040 emissions limit to be adopted not later than 2031;
-- Requiring the secretary of energy and environmental affairs to issue a plan to achieve the 2050 emissions limit.
-- Requiring the Department of Energy Resources to establish an energy storage system target program to achieve a statewide energy-storage deployment target of 2,000 mega-watts by Jan. 1, 2025;
-- Removing the net metering cap for nongovernmental solar net metering facilities;
-- Eliminating the current sunset date of Dec. 31, 2020 for the regulations promulgated under the Global Warming Solutions Act;
-- Creating a joint procurement task force consisting of the Department of Energy Resources, the Attorney General and representatives of the distribution companies, to conduct a review of the clean energy procurements; and
-- Allowing the Department of Energy Resources to recommend solicitations and procurements for more than 9,450,000 megawatts-hours of clean energy generation, and to recommend offshore wind energy generation solicitations and procurements of up to 5,000 megawatts of aggregate nameplate capacity by Dec. 31, 2035.
The bill now goes to the House of Representatives for consideration.
Senate passes bill curbing at-risk gun licensees
The office of Sen. Cindy Friedman, Democrat of Arlington, provided the following news release Thursday, June 7:
On June 7, Senator Cindy Friedman joined her Senate colleagues in voting to engross H.4539, An Act Relative to Firearms. The bill, also known as the “Red Flag” bill or “ERPO” bill, allows a judge to order the immediate suspension and surrender of any license to carry firearms from an at-risk person when petitioned by that person’s family or household member.
The legislation supplements Massachusetts’ extensive commonsense gun-control and public-safety regulations, which have led to the lowest rates of gun deaths in the nation, at 3.4 per 100,000 residents. The bill was passed by the House of Representatives in May. The legislation additionally amends the statute regulating stun guns.
“This bill is a commonsense measure that ensures Massachusetts continues to lead the way on gun control by empowering families and household members with an effective tool to prevent suicides and other gun deaths,” Friedman said in a June 7 news release. “Moving forward, we must continue to look for more ways to protect the safety and security of our residents.”
Read the June 7 MassLive news story >>
Studies have shown that individuals who are experiencing a crisis and are engaged in dangerous behaviors are significantly more likely to commit an act of violence towards themselves or others within the near future. Tragically, the current legal framework rarely provides a mechanism for witnesses of this behavior to take preventative action before a tragedy occurs. Five states have already enacted similar “Red Flag” laws.
Friedman continued, “To all of the students in my district who walked out of their classrooms on National Walkout Day, came to the State House to advocate for this bill, and have continually raised their voices to express their support for stronger gun laws: thank you. I hope that you will continue to stand up for what you believe in and advocate for the issues you care about in the future because you can truly make a difference.”
A conference committee will now work out the differences between the Senate bill and the version passed by the House of Representatives in May.
Friedman backs budget boosting AYCC, METCO
The office of Sen. Cindy Friedman, Democrat of Arlington, provided the following news release Wednesday, May 30:
The state Senate's $41.49 billion budget for fiscal 2019 includes items offered by Sen. Cindy Friedman of specific interest to Arlington. Among them is $160,000 to support direct mental-health counseling and case management for the Arlington Youth Counseling Center (AYCC).
Globe, May 31: Beacon Hill moves to raise $50M in fees
The Arlington Democrat joined her Senate colleagues in voting for the a budget that makes substantial investments in key areas related to public education, local aid, transportation, health and human services, housing and assistance for low-income families, a May 30 news release from her office says.
With additional budget assistance, the AYCC will continue to provide outpatient community-based mental-health treatment to Arlington youth and families. Furthermore, additional capacity will be added to the AYCC, allowing more youth to be treated without being placed on a wait list for an extended period.
Friedman also secured $40,000 to provide late-afternoon and evening transportation for Metropolitan Council for Educational Opportunity (METCO) students attending public schools in Arlington and Lexington. The METCO program seeks to expand educational opportunities and increase diversity in classrooms by allowing students in various cities and towns to attend public schools in other communities.
“There are many students in my district who benefit from the METCO program,” Friedman said in the release. “Expanding access to late-afternoon and evening transportation will ensure that METCO students have the opportunity to fully participate in after school athletics and extracurricular programs at Arlington and Lexington high schools.”
On matters of statewide interest, the Senate adopted key provisions offered by Friedman that would:
-- Invest $2 million for a total of $4 million to support outpatient and diversionary behavioral health services for MassHealth members;
-- Devote $250,000 to support the statewide expansion of Return to School Bridge Programs to help address the needs of students returning to school following extended health or mental health-related absences;
-- Establish a permanent Criminal Justice and Community Support Trust Fund to support jail diversion programs for individuals experiencing a behavioral health crisis;
-- Ensure that Recovery High Schools, which serve young people in recovery from substance use disorder, are treated like other regional high schools – making them eligible for state transportation reimbursement;
-- Reform the composition of the group insurance commission (GIC) to include more healthcare experts and ensure greater transparency and accountability with regards to the GIC’s decision-making;
-- Require the Center of Health Information and Analysis to publish biennial reports about the adequacy of MassHealth’s Continuous Skilled Nursing Program workforce for Medically Complex Children and Adults requiring specialized care; and
-- Ensure that cleaning and maintenance workers that contract with quasi-state agencies are paid prevailing wages.
Friedman also voted in favor of several amendments that the Senate adopted, including increased investments to improve elder behavioral health care, help cities and towns preserve open space and create affordable housing through the Community Preservation Act, improve access to educational opportunities for youth and adults through the Mass Mentoring Partnership, and provide low-income families access to healthy foods through the Healthy Incentives Program.
The Senate also adopted an amendment to protect the civil rights of undocumented immigrants and prevent state, local and campus police resources from being used for federal immigration enforcement activities or to establish a registry based on a person’s protected status.
A Conference Committee is working out the differences between the Senate budget and the version passed by the House of Representatives in April. Fiscal 2019 begins July 1.
Friedman votes for foundation-budget reforms
The office of Sen. Cindy Friedman, Democrat of Arlington, provided the following news release Thursday, May 10:
Sen. Cindy Friedman joined her Senate colleagues in voting May 10 to pass a key education-reform bill to update the state’s 25-year-old funding formula.
The bill, "An Act Modernizing the Foundation Budget for the 21st Century" (S.2506), was introduced by Senator Sonia Chang-Díaz, Democrat of Boston, and was co-sponsored by 36 senators. The bill would implement the recommendations of the bipartisan Foundation Budget Review Commission, which found that the foundation budget formula is drastically underestimating education costs. This has forced deep cuts to classrooms and critical programs, and one of the worst achievement gaps in the nation.
"The foundation budget was meant to fully fund our public schools and to give every Massachusetts student the chance to get an adequate education, yet so many students still do not have the resources they need to achieve academic success," Friedman said in the May 10 news release. "This bill outlines the process and timeline for updating our state's school funding formula to address educational needs and help ensure that all of our students have access to a quality education."
The vote follows months of advocacy by education stakeholders across Massachusetts. More than 50 school committees across the state, including Arlington's, have passed resolutions supporting the reforms, and Brockton Public Schools announced earlier this year that they are preparing to sue the Commonwealth for failing in its constitutional obligation to properly fulfill its obligations to funding.
Established by the 1993 Education Reform Act, the Foundation Budget was designed to ensure every Massachusetts student was provided a quality education. However, the formula has failed to keep up with rising fixed costs, such as health care and special education, which have outpaced initial estimates.
It also underrated what it actually takes to educate English Language Learners and students living in poverty. The FBRC found these combined costs have led the Commonwealth to underestimate the cost of education by $1 billion to $2 billion every year.
The bill moves to the House of Representatives for consideration.
To continue tracking the bill, visit www.malegislature.gov.
Friedman backs act to support veterans, families
The office of Sen. Cindy Friedman, Democrat of Arlington, provided the following news release Friday, May 4:
On May 3, Sen. Cindy Friedman joined her colleagues in unanimously passing "The BRAVE Act" -- new legislation that will expand benefits and increase access to a range of services for veterans, active-duty military and their families.
Understanding the sacrifice that military personnel and their families make not only while on active duty, but also after returning home, the state Legislature has consistently provided a continuum of major veteran legislation to help with those who sacrifice the most for our freedoms.
"We owe an enormous debt to the individuals who have sacrificed their personal ambitions and dreams to protect our country," Friedman, vice chair of the Joint Committee on Public Service, said in a news release. "This bill reaffirms our commitment to providing the utmost support to our veterans, service members, and military families and strengthens existing law to ensure that they have access to the services and benefits that they need to thrive in their communities."
The BRAVE Act designates the fifth day of April as Gold Star Wives Day and the last Sunday in September as Gold Star Mothers and Families Day and directs cities and towns to designate reserved parking for veterans at all city and town halls.
The bill also grants paid military leave for those called to duty by the armed forces for up to 40 days for training and operation purposes.
To help ease the costs of housing, the legislation eases the eligibility requirement for veterans to receive property tax exemptions. Under the bill, veterans would be eligible for tax relief after residing in the Commonwealth for two years, instead of the five year requirement in current law. The legislation also increases the amount a veteran can earn on their property tax exemption for volunteering in their city or town.
In addition, the BRAVE Act increases the burial expense paid by the Commonwealth from $2,000 to $4,000 for indigent veterans to ensure a dignified funeral for all those that serve. It also exempts any veterans who receive annuities for service to their country from income calculations when applying for state programs or services.
Other provisions of the bill include:
-- Addressing emergency medical transportation reimbursements;
-- Revising veteran court diversion programs; and
-- Updating the veteran bonus program at the state treasurer’s Office.
The BRAVE Act, which now goes to the House of Representatives for consideration, is the Senate’s latest effort to support veterans, military members and their families.
To continue tracking the bill, please visit the Legislature’s website, www.malegislature.gov.
Friedman backs repeal of licensure penalties for student-loan default
The office of Sen. Cindy Friedman, Democrat of Arlington, provided the following news release Tuesday, May 1:
On Thursday, April 26, Sen. Cindy Friedman, Democrat of Arlington, joined her Senate colleagues in voting in favor of legislation to protect individuals who default on their educational loans from professional licensure penalties.
The bill, S.2266, An Act to prevent bureaucratic overreach in the collection of student debt, will repeal a state law passed in 1990, which created professional licensure consequences for educational loan defaulters.
Under existing law, the Massachusetts Educational Financing Authority and the Massachusetts Higher Education Assistance Corporation -- a former loan guarantor that now operates as American Student Assistance, a national nonprofit -- can request that a borrower’s state-issued professional or occupational certificate, registration or license be suspended, revoked or canceled for default on educational loans made or administered by either entity.
"Paying back student loans has become an enormous financial burden for many residents across Massachusetts," Friedman said in a May 1 news release. "Limiting a person's ability to work makes it exponentially more difficult to make a living and pay back their loans. This bill dismantles potential obstacles to repaying student loan debt and implements protections for borrowers so that they can continue to work and pay off their debt."
The bill moves to the House of Representatives for further consideration.
Friedman joins senators in passing credit-protection bill
The office of Sen. Cindy Friedman, Democrat of Arlington, provided the following news release Friday, April 27:
On Thursday, April 26, Sen. Friedman voted with her Senate colleagues to pass a bill designed to protect the personal information of consumers in the case of data breaches, such as the one seen at Equifax, and provide free credit freezes for all consumers.
The bill, S.2455, An Act relative to consumer protection from security breaches, was sponsored by Senator Barbara L’Italien, Democrat of Andover, chair of the Senate consumer protection committee, and crafted in collaboration with Rep. Jennifer Benson (the House sponsor of the bill), Attorney General Maura Healey, the Massachusetts Public Interest Research Group (MASSPIRG) and AARP Massachusetts.
The bill helps all consumers protect their sensitive information before, during and after a security breach in several ways: providing for free credit freezes for all consumers and creating an online “one stop shop” portal so that consumers can freeze and unfreeze their credit at all three main bureaus (Equifax, Experian and TransUnion) in one place; providing five years of free credit monitoring for consumers whose information was part of a credit reporting agency data breach, and empowering consumers to know when and why their consumer reports are being pulled by requiring that any company attempting to pull a consumer’s report must first obtain consent.
“The Equifax data breach compromised the sensitive personal information of nearly 3 million Massachusetts residents last fall,” Friedman said in the news release. “This legislation would fight consumer fraud, ensure transparency, and prevent identity theft by making it more difficult for companies to access and share credit information and making it easier for consumers to freeze or unfreeze their credit accounts.”
The legislation allows increased oversight from Attorney General Maura Healey’s office, which recently filed a lawsuit against Equifax. The Office of Consumer Affairs and Business Regulation will create a process requiring companies to certify that they maintain a consumer information security program as required by existing Massachusetts law.
“Equifax allowed the theft of our personal financial information, and then hid the breach from the public,” said Attorney General Maura Healey. “This bill would require companies like Equifax to pay for credit monitoring and makes it much easier for people to protect themselves from identify theft. I’m proud to partner with Senator L’Italien and Representative Benson to get this bill passed.”
Similar legislation filed by Rep. Benson, Democrat of Lunenburg, has already passed in the House. The two bills will next be taken up in conference committee to resolve differences between the House and Senate versions.
To continue tracking the bill, visit www.malegislature.gov.
In quarterly newsletter, Friedman cites highlights
The following newsletter from Sen. Friedman was published April 23:
I hope you are well as we continue to wait for a warmer spring season. As we enter the final six months of formal sessions for the 2017-18 legislative session, please take a look at my most recent newsletter, which includes an update on recent major legislative accomplishments and an overview of what I’ve been working on since the start of 2018.
Additionally, stay up to date on what’s going on in the State House by following me on Facebook, Twitter, and Instagram.
LEGISLATIVE UPDATE – Major Bills Signed into Law
Reforming our Criminal Justice System
This April, I joined my legislative colleagues in passing ground-breaking criminal justice reform legislation (S.2371) that will lead to a more equitable system that supports our youngest and most vulnerable residents, reduces recidivism, increases judicial discretion, and enhances public safety. I was pleased that the bill, signed into law on April 13, includes important provisions I advocated for, including the creation of a Restoration Center in Middlesex County and some much-needed reforms to our current pretrial bail system. While this comprehensive bill is a giant leap forward, there's still more work to do to make our criminal justice system more fair and just. I’m incredibly grateful to my colleagues, the criminal justice advocacy community, and everyone who joined in our fight to make meaningful change. – Read more
Protecting Working Families
Our public employees are often exposed to hazardous working conditions that result in needless injury. The legislature recently passed S.2167 in an effort to enhance worker safety and security. Signed into law on , the bill will provide necessary health and safety protections for all state and municipal employees in the workplace under the federal Occupational Safety and Health Act (OSHA). – Read more
Protecting Access to Healthcare
Every Massachusetts resident should have the ability to make confidential health care decisions of their choice. Too often, patients are reluctant to get certain treatment services for fear that their personal health information may be shared with a parent or spouse. That’s why I voted in favor of the PATCH Act (S.2296), which will ensure a patient’s right to privacy and increase access to healthcare for those seeking treatment services that they need. Signed into lawon March 30, the bill strengthens existing standards around patient confidentiality, and applies to several sensitive treatment services, including care related to domestic violence or sexual assault, mental health or substance use disorders, contraceptive services and STI testing and treatment. – Read more
LEGISLATIVE UPDATE – Senate Accomplishments
Supporting our Students
I was proud to vote in favor of a supplemental budget that includes $15 million for school districts educating students from Puerto Rico and the U.S. Virgin Islands who were displaced by hurricanes Maria and Irma. As we continue to welcome new students from Puerto Rico and the U.S. Virgin Islands, it is important that we provide adequate support for our school districts so they have the resources they need to manage the sudden rise of students in the classroom while continuing to provide high-quality education for everyone. – Read more
Advocating for Civic Education and Financial Literacy
Now more than ever, it is critically important to encourage civic engagement and financial literacy in our public schools. I was proud to vote in favor of two important bills that empower our students with the tools they need to succeed and to take on the difficult challenges of the world. S.2343 would incorporate project-based learning components, encourage the instruction of civic competencies – including news and media literacy – and provide extracurricular civic-participation opportunities in our schools. Additionally, S.2355 would allow financial literacy to be integrated into public school curricula so that our youth learn how to manage their finances and make responsible financial decisions. - Read more
Housing prices have increased dramatically in recent years, resulting in a housing crisis that has impacted many working families in my district and throughout the Commonwealth. As our state becomes more and more expensive to live in, it is crucial to develop more ways to make affordable housing available for everyone. As such, I voted in favor of a Housing Bond bill (S.2368), which authorizes $1.8 billion in investments to expand housing options for low and moderate-income residents and drive economic development in our communities. – Read more
Protecting Social Media Privacy
Employers and schools should never have the power to coerce prospective employees or students into sharing the usernames and passwords of their personal social media accounts. While it is vital to be cognizant of the material we choose to share on social media, it is critically important that we put necessary online privacy safeguards in place to protect all students and employees in the Commonwealth. S.2320 would prevent employers and schools from requesting and requiring access to the personal social media accounts of applicants, employees, and students as a condition of acceptance, employment, or participation in school activities. – Read more
Standing up for Animal Welfare
It is our duty to advocate for those who are unable to advocate for themselves. In light of the Puppy Doe case and in an effort to strengthen our animal rights laws, I voted in favor of S.2332 and S.1155, which would impose essential health and safety measures to protect animals and pet owners, and reaffirm our commitment to animal welfare in the Commonwealth. – Read more
Protecting Public Safety
The Senate unanimously passed S.2354, which requires all companies that perform towing services to hold a certificate from the Massachusetts Department of Public Utilities (DPU). This legislation takes an important step in protecting consumers by mandating proper safeguards and insurance measures for tow companies to ensure the safety of drivers and their motor vehicles. – Read more
IN THE STATE HOUSE
Combatting the Opioid Epidemic
As the Senate Chair of the Joint Committee on Mental Health, Substance Use and Recovery, I co-chaired a public hearing on H.4033, which seeks to stem the Commonwealth’s opioid epidemic. We heard testimony from a wide-ranging group of stakeholders, including government officials, members of the medical community, insurance representatives, social workers, law enforcement officials, hospital workers, and individuals in recovery. I’m currently working on making improvements to the Opioid Bill that would implement prevention, treatment and recovery programs in our state to reduce opioid overdoses and address barriers to treatment. The final version of the bill should make its way through the legislative process over the next few months. – Read more
Fighting for a $15 Minimum Wage
As the lead sponsor of the $15 minimum wage bill (S.1004), I participated in a panel discussion on National Social Workers of Massachusetts Lobby Day to address the importance of raising the minimum wage to $15 an hour. I also recently submitted a letter urging Senate leadership to take action and stand up for all workers in 2018. As our state becomes more expensive to live in, the need for a higher minimum wage becomes more important. Furthermore, if the Senate is serious about passing this legislation, we cannot compromise and implement a “teen minimum wage” – every worker deserves the same amount of pay for doing the same amount of work. Throughout the remainder of this session, I will continue to advocate for the passage of the $15 minimum wage bill because our workers cannot wait. – Read more
Addressing Sexual Harassment in the Workplace
I was recently appointed to serve on a new committee to review and update sexual harassment policies in the state Senate. Unfortunately, sexual harassment is an issue in every field of work. We owe a debt of gratitude to the #MeToo movement by giving voice to survivors and empowering them to demand “no more.” I’m currently working with my colleagues on the committee to ensure that all Senators, Senate employees, and anyone the Senate works with feel safe and able to speak up. – Read more
Supporting Infrastructure Projects in the 4th Middlesex
I advocated for and successfully secured funding in the Capitol Bond bill passed by the Senate to benefit infrastructure projects in the 4th Middlesex, including $1,400,000 for the design and construction of solar facilities at Minuteman High School in Lexington and $650,000 for the renovation of the Ned O’Brien Ice Rink in Woburn. With these funds, we will be able to create, preserve and maintain facilities that are vital to our community and the state. – Read more
Honoring our Athletes
I offered a Senate resolution to honor the 13 Massachusetts athletes participating in the 2018 Winter Olympic Games, including Kali Flanagan from Burlington, who won a Gold Medal with the U.S. Women’s Ice Hockey team! – Read more, View the full text of the resolution
To stay up to date on all that I’ve been doing as your state Senator, please visit the “Latest News” tab on my website or check out my Facebook and Twitterfeed.
IN THE DISTRICT
In February, I joined Congresswoman Katherine Clark, Minuteman Indivisible Lexington, Moms Demand Action for Gun Sense in America, and over one hundred citizens in Lexington to rally against gun violence and demand action on gun control. - Read more
Read my statement on how Massachusetts can move forward on gun control
I presented a check for $38,095 to the Greater Billerica Boys and Girls Club alongside Executive Director Roy Nagy, President Fred Ciampa, and Rep. Lombardo to help fund programs to benefit children in Billerica. I’m proud to have played a role in securing funds to aid in the development and growth of kids in our community.
It was a pleasure to join members and guests of the Woburn Rotary Club to discuss the state's role in addressing issues related to transportation, traffic congestion, and economic development as well as combatting the opioid crisis in our district and throughout our state. – Watch video
I joined the Girls Scouts of Eastern Massachusetts in Burlington for “World Thinking Day” to discuss the ways in which young women can have an impact on the world. I had the chance to meet with the Girl Up leaders, who are great representatives of girl power, to discuss my personal experiences as a woman in state government. – Read more
I was pleased to join Arlington town officials for National Community Development Week to recognize the positive impact that Community Development Block Grants have on our community. I’m thrilled to live in a town that values the importance of community development and is committed to making a positive impact on our neighborhoods and residents. – Read more
IN THE NEWS
GIC reverses health-plan vote
Senator Friedman raises awareness for women
First Parish hosts celebration of progress toward justice
Arlington Police at Forefront of Finding Solutions to Epidemic
Billerica Shawsheen Tech hosts rededication of technology shop
Arlington high students participate in national gun violence walkout
Friedman stands up for gender equality, addresses wage gap
Students push lawmakers on gun control
Panel hears mixed reviews on net neutrality bill
Location: Kickstand Cafe, 594 Mass. Ave., Arlington, MA 02476
Time: 1st of Every Month —
Student Loan Bill passes Senate, with strong support from Friedman
The following news release from the office of state Sen. Cindy Friedman was distributed April 12:
On April 11, Senator Cindy Friedman, Democrat of Arlington, joined her Senate colleagues in voting to pass the “Student Loan Bill of Rights,” giving greater protections to student loan borrowers in disputes with companies servicing their loans.
The bill, S.2380, An Act establishing a student loan bill of rights, requires student loan servicers to be licensed companies with the state Division of Banks, and empowers state officials to investigate the servicers and take action against those that violate the state’s banking and consumer protection laws.
The bill also supports the ongoing work of Attorney General Maura Healey’s Student Loan Assistance Unit by establishing a Student Loan Ombudsman in the Attorney General’s Office, who will lead efforts to respond to complaints from student loan borrowers and help them understand their rights.
“Students pursuing a higher education degree are being saddled with unprecedented levels of student loan debt as a result of rapidly rising tuition costs at our colleges and universities,” Friedman said in an April 12 news release. “This bill entitles our students to appropriate consumer protections, provides them with the tools and resources they need, and ensures that predatory student loan servicers are kept in check through proper oversight.”
“Taking on abuses in the student loan industry has long been a priority of my office. That’s why, in 2015, we created a Student Loan Assistance Unit to help borrowers with their student loans,” said Attorney General Maura Healey. “I thank Senate President Chandler, Senator Lesser and the Senate for providing new resources and tools to protect Massachusetts students and families.”
Under the bill, student loan servicers would have to apply for licenses from the state, which the Commissioner of Banks could revoke if the servicer is engaged in abusive practices such as overcharging students or steering them into costlier repayment plans to make higher profits.
Student loan servicers that break state licensing requirements or take advantage of students could be fined and forced to repay student borrowers under the bill.
The bill now goes to the House of Representatives, where Representative Natalie Higgins, Democrat of Leominster, is the lead sponsor of the House companion bill.
To continue tracking the bill, visit www.malegislature.gov.
This news release was published Thursday, April 12, 2018.
Friedman adds vote to pass criminal-justice bill
The following news release from the office of state Sen. Cindy Friedman was distributed April 5:
On April 4, Senator Cindy Friedman, Democrat of Arlington, joined her legislative colleagues in passing landmark criminal justice reform legislation that will lead to a more equitable system that supports our youngest and most vulnerable residents, reduces recidivism, increases judicial discretion, and enhances public safety. The bill, An Act relative to criminal justice reform, includes many provisions championed by Friedman to implement jail diversion strategies to address the mental health and opioid crisis and to reform the current pre-trial bail system.
The Legislature also passed an accompanying bill, Act implementing the joint recommendations of the Massachusetts Criminal Justice Review (H.4012), which is designed to complement the comprehensive criminal justice reform legislation. This bill allows individuals to earn early release by participating in recidivism-reduction programs.
“I am incredibly proud of the work we have done to pass this meaningful legislation,” Friedman said in an April 5 news release. “This bill focuses on diverting people from the criminal justice system rather than locking them up, and provides a real avenue for individuals to reintegrate back into society. Although this comprehensive legislation represents a giant leap forward, we must still continue to look for more ways to create a more just system for all.”
For the first time in Massachusetts history, this legislation would establish a process for expunging criminal records. Courts will now be able to expunge certain juvenile and young adult (18-21) records, and records in cases of fraud or where an offense is no longer a crime.
The Legislature has a longstanding legacy of supporting the Commonwealth’s most vulnerable children, particularly those facing trauma and adversity. Accordingly, this bill raises the minimum age of criminal responsibility from seven to twelve and decriminalizes a first offense misdemeanor if the punishment is a fine or imprisonment for not more than six months.It also establishes a Juvenile Justice Policy and Data Commission, which will make the state eligible for additional federal funding, and a Childhood Trauma Task Force to study and recommend gender responsive and trauma-informed approaches to treatment of youths in the juvenile justice system.
Additionally, this legislation reflects a balanced, modern approach to sentencing. It eliminates mandatory and statutory minimum sentences for many low-level, non-violent drug offenses. Further, it creates the nation’s strongest law for Carfentanil trafficking and strengthens the existing Fentanyl trafficking law, bolstering the Legislature’s multi-tiered approach to the opioid epidemic. The legislation also strengthens penalties for repeat offenders convicted of operating under the influence.
The legislation also requires district attorneys to create pre-arraignment diversion programs for military personnel, veterans, and individuals with addiction or mental health issues in order to combat the opioid epidemic and provide healthcare parity. The bill includes a jail diversion initiative originally sponsored by the late Senator Ken Donnelly and subsequently championed by Senator Friedman that would develop a Restoration Center in Middlesex County. The proposed center would support ongoing law enforcement diversionary efforts across the county while also expanding the community capacity for mental health and substance use treatment.
“I’m very pleased that the criminal justice reform bill includes language to address the criminalization of mental illness and substance use disorder in our state,” said Senator Friedman, co-chair of the Joint Committee on Mental Health, Substance Use and Recovery. “The goal of the proposed Restoration Center is to give first responders a real option for diverting individuals with mental illness and substance use disorder from arrest and connect them to appropriate treatment services.”
Further, the legislation includes updates to the Commonwealth’s pretrial system and enhances judicial discretion by requiring a judge to take a person’s financial resources into account when determining bail. Oftentimes, pretrial detainees who cannot afford bail are incarcerated before trial with no ability to work, take care of their families, or access important community services. The bill also creates a pre-trial services unit to remind pre-trial detainees of upcoming court dates using modern messaging approaches, and establishes a temporary bail commission to monitor the system and suggest further improvements.
“We made real progress in reforming our pretrial system,” said Friedman. “While the bill codifies the SJC’s recent Brangan decision to help move our bail system away from a cash-based system, a comprehensive overhaul of our pretrial bail statute is still necessary to ensure than an individual is not held solely based on his or her ability to pay.”
Additional policy changes include: reduction of fees imposed on defendants; decriminalization of minor offenses; enhanced limits on solitary confinement; improvement of prison conditions; release of prisoners who are permanently incapacitated and pose no safety risk; and reformation of the criminal offender record information (CORI) system to help individuals secure gainful employment and housing.
The bill went to the governor for his consideration, and he signed it April 13.
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