Wednesday, November 18, 2015

Senate Republican Caucus Secures Child Exploitation Protections

Boston- The Senate Republican Caucus today succeeded in securing an amendment that will raise awareness of child abuse and exploitation in a bill that changes the state’s sexual health education law.

Senate Minority Leader Bruce Tarr (R-Gloucester) authored the legislation which directs the Department of Elementary and Secondary Education to include among sexual health curriculum, guidelines for child exploitation awareness education for school districts.

“Sadly, experience has taught us that some in our society will put children at risk for abuse, neglect or maltreatment,” said Senate Minority Leader Bruce Tarr (R-Gloucester). “Tens of thousands of suspected child abuse reports are filed with the state each year and child safety experts confirm that raising awareness of the warning signs of exploitation can make a significant difference in keeping children safe.”

The Tarr amendment was inspired by Erin Merryn, a childhood sexual assault survivor and the namesake of Erin’s Law.

Erin’s Law requires public schools to include a prevention oriented child sexual abuse program. Tarr’s amendment will better inform school personnel about child sexual abuse, assist parents in recognizing the warning signs of child abuse, and empower children to guard against exploitation.

Following debate on the matter the Tarr amendment was adopted by the Senate by a unanimous vote of the members.

If signed into law by Governor Baker Massachusetts would move into a majority of states which have adopted it. 26 states have adopted Erin’s Law and it is currently pending in 17 others.

Tuesday, November 17, 2015

Final Formal Legislative Session Bills for 2015

On Wednesday, lawmakers on Beacon Hill will bring to a close the formal legislative session for 2015. The legislature will continue to hold sessions through the end of the year to advance bills that do not require debate or roll call votes in what we often refer to as informal sessions.

A number of bills have been advanced in House and Senate chambers; I want to provide you with an opportunity to become aware of the bills that we expect to see scheduled for debate in the Senate.

There are five significant bills which honor the valor and contributions of our veterans and military members, they are:
• H. 3243 - An Act providing free park access to Purple Heart Recipients,
• H.3173 - An Act relative to the removal of veterans, police and fire, commemorative flag holders,
• H.1306 - An Act relative to veterans' grave markers,
• H.1600 - An Act providing further penalties for intentional loss or damage to a gravestone or other gravemarker,
• H.1641 - An Act concerning the false representation of military status, stolen valor.

Other bills that will likely be voted on in the session include:
• S.757 – An Act regulating notaries public to protect consumers and the validity and effectiveness of recorded instruments (Notaries)  Sets forth the terms, qualifications and requirement for notaries. Prohibits a notary, who is not an attorney, from - advising clients with regards to immigration issues, real estate closings, or providing legal advice. Creates fines for initial and subsequent violation of law up to $5,000 and up to one year in jail.

• S.2052 – An Act establishing the Massachusetts Paint Stewardship program (Paint Stewardship)  This bill creates a program to collect, reuse and recycle post-consumer architectural paint. The bill requires retailers to collect an assessment on the sale of paint on containers of less than five gallons. Requires paint producers to submit to the Department of Environmental Protection a plan to implement paint stewardship

• S.2053 – An Act supporting military leave (Military Leave)  Provides an individual employed in the state who serves in the Army National Guard ,the Army Reserve, the Marine Corps Reserve, the Naval Reserve, the Air National Guard, the Air Force Reserve, and the Coast Guard Reserve the same rights and privileges given under the federal uniformed services employment and reemployment act.

• S.2054 – An Act relative to social media privacy protection (Social Media)   Prohibits employers, or school from requiring a person to disclose a user name or password for personal social media accounts.

• S.2048 – An Act relative to healthy youth (Healthy Youth)  School districts that offer sexual health education are required to provide content that is medically accurate and age appropriate. Mandates that all schools must adopt a written policy ensuring notification to parents and guarantees an opt out mechanism for them to withdraw a child from the program without penalty.

• S.2047 – An Act to promote quality physical education (Physical Education)  Age appropriate physical activity, fitness and nutrition are included in the definition of physical education. Updates the requirements that physical education be taught in all public schools including charters.

• H.3854 – An Act relative to solar energy (Net Metering) Net metering allows customers of electric distribution to generate their own electricity resulting in an offset in their electricity consumption and allows customers to receive credits for any electricity that they generate but do not use. Increases the current cap in utilities ownership of solar generation, creates a new “market net metering credit”, increases the private net metering cap from 4% of utilities’ peak load to 6%. Increases the public net metering cap from 5% to 7%.

The Senate may also take up H3798 – An Act relative to the trafficking of fentanyl. This bill updates the state’s drug trafficking laws to include a penalty for trafficking fentanyl. Although fentanyl is significantly more potent than drugs such as heroin or morphine, under existing law, traffickers can only be charged with the lesser crimes of dispensing. Convictions for trafficking could result in up to 20 years in state prison.

Our sessions, be they formal or informal, are always open to the public and records of our actions are available free of charge at our Website – You may contact my office for information about these and other bills that are of interest to you.

Monday, November 16, 2015

Standing With the People of Paris

Senate President Stan Rosenberg joined me in the Senate Chamber today to place a bouquet of flowers at the marble bust of the Marquis de Lafayette to show our support for the people of France.

As a courageous teen, Lafayette left France and enlisted in the Continental Army. He service under the command of George Washington and his efforts to secure independence and liberty in America, and in his native France, will forever be remembered.

With the support of Lafayette and the people of France, our capital city is known throughout the world as the cradle of liberty.   Boston and Paris share similar values in that we honor peace and the essential freedoms of an open society.   The violence and terror that was inflicted on innocent civilians will not dim the city of light – just as Bostonians stood strong after the Marathon bombing so too will Paris find that its friends and allies will stand shoulder to shoulder for liberté, égalité and fraternité.

Friday, November 13, 2015

Discussing Renewable Energy and Partnership

This morning Minority Leader Senator Tarr had the honor of joining Governor Baker in welcoming Quebec Premier Philippe Couillard to Massachusetts and the State House. Mr. Couillard was elected as Premier in 2014 and is leading the province toward further development of its hydroelectric generating capabilities, which are already substantial. Together we discussed the tremendous potential for our state to receive the benefits of this renewable, reliable, cost-effective and environmentally friendly electricity as part of an energy portfolio that needs these elements.

The possibilities for extremely beneficial partnerships in renewable energy between Quebec and Massachusetts were highlighted again this afternoon at the 23rd Annual Energy Trade & Technology Conference  where I again met with Premier Couillard for a luncheon and he delivered the keynote address to business and government leaders from the Eastern United States and Canada. 

Senator Tarr is confident and optimistic that by working in partnership, Quebec and Massachusetts can together help to build a future with energy that reduces greenhouse gas emissions and fosters energy independence in ways that help our economies and our environment.

Wednesday, November 11, 2015

Happy Veterans' Day

Join us today in remembering, and showing respect for, our nation’s veterans.  

I salute the brave men and women who serve today, and those who have ever worn our nation’s uniform, their combined efforts have protected our freedoms and preserved our democracy. 
Massachusetts families have, since the Revolutionary War to today’s conflicts in Iraq and in Afghanistan,  offered the country strong, thoughtful, and brave men and women who have defended and secured our freedoms and protected those around the world from tyranny.
To protect the American way of life our Army soldiers, Navy sailors, Air Force airmen, Marines, and Coast Guard guardians accepted challenges and missions that required extraordinary actions.  Thank you for your service.

Thursday, November 5, 2015

Senate Creates Child Safety Net

In response to growing national media accounts and government reports of children being handed off to strangers through Internet sites such as on Facebook and Yahoo, the Senate today took action today to end the practice by adopting a bill co-sponsored by Senator Jennifer Flanagan and Senate Minority Leader Bruce Tarr.

“We have a solemn obligation to prevent children from being put in jeopardy by being transferred outside the safeguards and accountability of our well-developed adoption system,” said Senate Minority Leader Bruce Tarr (R – Gloucester). “This bill reflects that obligation by creating a serious and appropriate range of penalties for those who would put a child in another’s hands without regard for safety and well-being.”

Re-homing, a word associated with pet owners looking for new homes for their animals, has been used to describe the practice of transferring custody of a child without the knowledge or authorization of a court or licensed adoption agency. Increasingly, children of parents no longer willing or interested in caring for them have been offered up in makeshift undocumented adoptions, sometimes to homes with sex offenders and abusers.

A recent U.S. Government Accountability Office report on re-homing found that unregulated exchanges often occur because people were often unable or unwilling to meet adoption agency protocols. Absent agency background checks, children have been placed in dangerous situations.

“By addressing the issue of re-homing , which poses exceptional dangers for one of our most at-risk youth populations, we are building on bipartisan efforts to strengthen protections for children across the Commonwealth,” said Donald Humason (R-Westfield), a member of the Committee on Children, Families and Persons with Disabilities. “It is also important for us to take steps to ensure that adults interested in adopting can utilize the safest and most capable legal adoption services the Commonwealth can provide to discourage involvement in unregulated practices like re-homing.”

The bill includes criminal penalties for anyone, other than a duly authorized agent licensed placement agency, who places an advertisement to either acquire or receive a child. In addition, placement agencies will be required to provide a prospective parent with all relevant information about a child so that he or she can knowledgeably determine whether to accept the child for adoption.

Members of the Senate Republican Caucus offered several amendments to the bill including a stiffening of penalties for those who would advertise alternative placement of a child for money or those who place or receive a child. First offenders will be subject to fines up to $10,000 and up to 2 and a half years incarceration. Second and subsequent offences will be subject to fines of $50,000 and $100,000 respectively. Other amendments included amendments examined options for mandated reporters to alert authorities of re-homed children, and a measure to create a commission to study barriers to adoption. While reports of re-homing have focused on disrupted adoptions, sponsors of the bill noted that the law, in its current form, does not ban the practice from occurring for biological offspring.

November is National Adoption Month and Senate backers of the bill are hopeful that the House will schedule the bill for a vote prior to the legislative recess November 18.

Wednesday, October 7, 2015

Senate Supplements Priorities in Funding Bill

Tomorrow, the Senate will take up a bill, Senate 2025, which will fund significant state government programs and advance a number of public policy priorities.  The $341 million proposal reflects a series of items first initiated by Governor Baker in order to fulfill functions outlined in the state budget such as training at the Department of Children and Families, final payments for contractors who cleared last winter’s snow and ice, and initiatives for public health and public safety.

MassHealth will receive $203 million to address shortfalls and to expand substance abuse coverage.

Other substance abuse related programs funded by the bill:
  • $300,000 for the Trial Court to hire a project coordinator to oversee coordination, administration and financial oversight of the sequential intercept model project,
  • $15.2 million to fund substance abuse and residential beds and school-based substance use screenings,
  • $1.2 million for verbal substance use screening,
  • $5.8  million for a substance use treatment program to provide detoxification and clinical services for civilly committed women with substance use disorders at Taunton State Hospital,
  • $3.8 million to fund substance abuse counselors in schools.
In addition, other major areas of funding include:
  • $31.5 million for snow and ice removal costs for Mass Department of Transportation,
  • $21.7 million to close deficiencies in ten Sheriff Departments,
  • $3 million to fund Department of Children and Families training services for foster families and adoptive families and congregate care and adoption support services,
  • $5 million to support homelessness diversion, prevention and housing stabilization programs,
  • $9.5 million for National Guard student tuition and fees reimbursements,
The bill makes a $120,000,000 deposit into the state’s so-called Rainy Day Fund and revives a special commission charged with examining housing and shelter options for victims of domestic violence and sexual assault.

Members of the Senate Republican Caucus and I have offered several amendments to the bill to provide assistance to municipalities, low-income families, and health patients, these include:
  • Providing cities and town with $20 million in additional Local Aid payments for essential services,
  • Creating a two year pilot program to examine ways to qualify patients needing extended hospital stays to be covered under Federal Medicare,
  • Requiring the Department of Public Health to seek approval from the federal government to allow those who receive WIC benefits to use them on diapers for children. Currently, families receiving WIC cannot use the benefits to purchase diapers,
  • Protecting businesses against patent infringement threats, known as patent trolling,
  • Providing low-income households with $10 million in heating assistance, 
  • Requiring the Department of Elementary and Secondary Education (DESE) to conduct a feasibility study before adopting the Partnership for Assessment of Readiness (PARCC) standardized test, in place of the MCAS including procedures required to repeal the 2010 decision of the board to adopt the PARCC standards.  
  • Promoting compliance with the health care cost transparency law which requires health insurers to provide patients with accurate pricing information.
The text of the bill can be read by clicking this link: