Thursday, November 26, 2015

Happy Thanksgiving!

We are grateful for our abundant harvests and the productivity of our industries; for the discoveries of our laboratories; for the researches of our scientists and scholars; for the achievements of our artists, musicians, writers, clergy, teachers, physicians, businessmen, engineers, public servants, farmers, mechanics, artisans, and workers of every sort whose honest toil of mind and body in a free land rewards them and their families and enriches our entire Nation.” - - President Ronald Reagan

We have frequently been reminded that we would do well to set aside this special day to reflect on the blessings in our lives and to give thanks. As we do so, it is important to also keep in mind that many brave men and women will be away from their families and unable to share time with loved ones. As we gather at tables to serve ourselves, these courageous people will be on duty here and around the world serving us all. I am thankful for them, their sacrifices, and the sacrifices of those who served before them to keep us safe and our American values preserved.

Happy Thanksgiving!


Wednesday, November 25, 2015

Propossed Commuter Rail Schedule Changes Delayed

Because so many commuter rail riders have contacted my office with deep concerns about schedule changes that were planned to take effect on December 14, we have been working with the leadership of the Executive Office of Transportation and the MBTA to avoid significant problems those changes could cause for people depending on the Rockport, Newburyport, and other lines.

Through the collective efforts of area legislators and others, our actions produced positive changes, as Transportation Secretary Stephanie Pollack announced in a letter released last night that the changes will not go into effect as planned. Instead, the MBTA will take the prudent step of carefully considering schedule changes, and doing so in light of concerns that have been raised, and the difficulties they could cause.

Secretary Pollack’s letter is posted here, so you can read it in its entirety.

The letter, indicating a course of action that produces a new plan for changes to be implemented in May, makes it clear that we all have to remain focused on this issue and work together to ensure that the commuter rail system is responsive to the needs of the people it serves. I am committed to continuing that effort, and appreciate Secretary Pollack giving us that opportunity.

Thanks to the Secretary and everyone who got involved and made a difference on this important issue.


Tuesday, November 24, 2015

Governor Baker Signs Fentanyl Trafficking Law

Today, I joined Governor Charlie Baker, AG Maura Healey, Speaker DeLeo and Senate President Stan Rosenberg for the signing of a bill that creates, for the first time in our state's laws, a penalty for trafficking fentanyl.

Although fentanyl, a synthetic opioid, is significantly more potent than drugs such as heroin or morphine, under existing law traffickers can only be charged with the lesser crimes of possession.

Without this law, prosecutors could not charge fentanyl distributors with penalties that reflect the dangerousness of the drug. Under the new law, convictions for trafficking could result in up to 20 years in state prison.


Monday, November 23, 2015

North Andover Senior Center Visit

This morning I had the pleasure of joining several legislative colleagues at the North Andover Senior Center for the “Meet Your Legislative Delegation” event. The Senior Center and the Northern Essex Registry of Deeds have partnered together to create a lecture series; this morning we also had time for a lively questions and answers segment.

Register of Deeds M. Paul Iannuccillo offered introductory remarks and began our discussions. Joining me for the conversation were Senator Kathleen O’Connor Ives, Representative Diana DiZoglio, and Representative James Lyons.

The seniors asked insightful questions on education issues, road safety, and the Meals on Wheels nutrition program.


Wednesday, November 18, 2015

Senate Republican Caucus Secures Child Exploitation Protections

My State House office distributed this press release today -

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

Media Alert: Fox 25 News Talks With Me About Social Media Privacy Protection

Kathryn Burcham of FOX25 News and I spoke about legislation that will be voted on in the Senate tomorrow. Senate Bill 2034, an act relative to social media privacy protection, will prohibit employers or schools from requiring a person to disclose a user name or password for personal social media accounts.

Watch Fox 25 News to learn more about this bill.


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 I 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. 

I am 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.


Thursday, November 12, 2015

Libraries Lead The World-Wide Way

Massachusetts has been at the forefront of the nation in many areas, one particularly important example is our state’s library system. Chapter 347 of the Acts of 1890 established the Free Public Library Commission, the first of its kind in America. The Board of Library Commissioners held a State House event recently to celebrate the many accomplishments of contributors from across the state in this the 125 year of the commission.

The Massachusetts library community developed quickly with 36 new libraries having been established after only one year of the 1890 law. Each of the New England states, having witnessed the success of our system, followed our lead and also created library commissions. Quickly the idea spread not only across the nation it leaped the Atlantic and sparked a new movement of public access to books and knowledge across the European continent.

Today, citizens of Massachusetts continue to take great pride in their libraries and embrace the notion that more than books, libraries are about people. More people visit their local library each year than attend entire seasons of the Celtics, Patriots, Bruins, and Red Sox games combined. And what they find are helpful library staff, books, periodicals, eBooks and computers in each and every library in the state. In fact, more than 44 million items are available at the click of a mouse. Libraries are available in our schools, home towns, and in our state colleges and universities, they are world-class and leading the way.


Wednesday, November 11, 2015

Happy Veterans' Day

Join me 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.


Monday, November 9, 2015

Fifty years ago today, on November 9th 1965, the northeastern United States was pitched into a night of darkness. As commuters began to make their way home at the end of the work day, a shocking absence of electricity left millions without light or power. Commuters found themselves stuck on subways, drivers were unaided by traffic lights, and workers were stranded in elevators.

The Great Northeastern Blackout, sparked by a power station failure near Niagara Falls, impacted southern Canada and major cities along the eastern seaboard – New York, Boston, Hartford and Providence. Thirty-five million people across 80,000 square miles waited and wondered why the power went out and when it would return.

The nation had never experienced a wide-scale blackout like this before and few citizens, despite cold war calls for civilian readiness, were prepared for it. Times have changed and our electric grid is monitored and maintained as never before, yet, I encourage you to take the time and steps necessary to be prepared. While September is known as National Preparedness Month, you will do well to follow the link and find helpful information that can help you and your family stay safe from power outages during cold weather and beyond.
Associated Press file photo Boston November 9, 1965


Friday, November 6, 2015

Temporary Power Outage for West Gloucester Saturday

Approximately one thousand electric utility customers will be without power Saturday in West Gloucester, according to National Grid. A work crew will be making utility repairs and improvements to a substation between the hours of 6 and 8 AM. For more info contact National Grid's outage line at 1-800-465-1212.


Thursday, November 5, 2015

Senate Creates Child Safety Net

Ends Improper Custody Transfers
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, November 4, 2015

End Child “Re-homing”

Protecting children from being improperly 're-homed' from one adult to another without documentation or oversight was the topic of a State House press conference that I gave today with my colleagues Senator Jennifer L. Flanagan and Representative Kay Khan in the office of Senate President Rosenberg.

Responding to a growing trend that has spread across the country, Senator Flanagan and I have co-sponsored a bill that will make improper re-homing illegal in Massachusetts.  News accounts and published reports of children being handed over in parking lots to complete strangers, who were not vetted by any government agency or placement organization, have illustrated that we must act quickly to close a loophole in the laws that are meant to protect children.

Our bill creates criminal penalties for any person, other than a duly authorized agent or licensed placement agency, to place or receive a child through an advertisement.  We also require adoption agencies to provide comprehensive information prior to the adoption. Below is a summary of the bill which will be debated in the Senate Thursday.

SECTION 1 – Definitions
Adds definitions for adoption “disruption” and “dissolution” to the general laws definition section for the Department of Early Education and Care (DEEC), section 1A of chapter 15D.  Adoption disruption occurs when the adoption process ends after the child has been placed in an adoptive home and before the adoption is legally finalized.  Dissolution takes place when the legal relationship between the adoptive parent and adoptive child is severed, voluntarily or involuntarily, after the adoption is legally finalized.

SECTIONS 2 and 3 – Removing Defined Methods of Publication
Removes “in a newspaper distributed in the commonwealth” and “on a radio or television station” from the advertisement or notice for placement of a child section of chapter 15D. 

SECTION 4 – Education and Services
Requires a placement agency 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.  The requirement includes information on the mental, emotional, behavioral and physical health issues of the child and the child’s birth family, any prior placement history, and any other information that may be relevant.  Also requires placement agencies to make available post-adoption services to adoptive parents and adopted children to help prevent disruption or dissolution of the adoption. 
Adoptive parent must contact the placement agency that facilitated the adoption if they are no longer able to care for the child.  The placement agency must then contact the Department of Children and Families (DCF).  If the placement agency is no longer in operation or reachable, the adoptive parent must contact DCF.
Directs DEEC to create a uniform orientation curriculum for adoptive parent applicants, with specific information for adoptive parent applicants seeking to adopt international children.  The curriculum will provide notice of the penalties in section 11A of chapter 210 for facilitating or participating in an illegal adoption.

SECTION 5 – Penalties for Violation of Section 6 of Chapter 15D
Clarifies penalties for violations of section 6 of chapter 15D, the DEEC section on licensing of child care programs and placement/approval of foster homes. 
• Subsection (a) defines “published” to be any computerized communication system including but not limited to electronic mail, internet site, internet profile or any similar form of communication via the internet. 
• Subsection (b) establishes that any person or entity, aside from a duly authorized agent or employee of DCF or a licensed placement agency who causes to be published, disseminated or broadcast an advertisement or notice for the placement of a child under 18 or in any way offers to place or locate children offered or wanted for adoption or permanent placement will be punished by a fine between $5,000 and $25,000.
• Subsection (b) further provides that a person who accepts payment in return for placing a child for adoption or permanent physical placement will be punished by a fine between $5,000 and $30,000, or by imprisonment in a jail or house of correction for not more than 2.5 years or in state prison for not more than 5 years, or both fine and imprisonment.
• Subsection (c) requires that anyone who publishes, disseminates or broadcasts an advertisement or notice for placement or reception of a child under 18 for family child care, large family child care, child care center care, school-aged child care program, group residential care or temporary shelter care will be punished for each violation by a fine of up to $5,000, or by imprisonment in a jail or house of correction for not more than 2.5 years, or both fine and imprisonment. 
• Subsection (d) provides that any person who violates subsections (a), (b) or (d) of section 6 of chapter 15D will be punished for each violation by a fine up to $5,000, or by imprisonment in a jail or house of correction for not more than 2.5 years, or by both fine and imprisonment.  Subsection (a) of section 6 of chapter 15D prohibits the unlicensed operation of child care programs.  Subsection (b) of section 6 prohibits maintaining a child in family foster care without placement, supervision and approval by a placement agency, unless that person is licensed by DEEC.  Subsection (d) of section 6 prohibits placement of a child in a foster home before approval of the home by DEEC or an individual or agency licensed by the department under this section, except in an emergency placement in a foster home limited to relatives or long-term friends of the child’s family. 
• Subsection (e) provides that DEEC may file a petition for the superior court to have jurisdiction to enjoin any violation of section 6 or to take other action that equity or justice may require.

SECTION 6 – Acknowledgement of Criminal Penalties
Adds language to section 6 of chapter 210 of the general laws stating that no decree of adoption will be entered by the court until the petitioner for the adoption executes an acknowledgement of the criminal penalties available under section 11A for the unauthorized adoption or placement of a child.  Failure of the court to provide for the execution of the acknowledgment is not grounds for per se invalidation of the adoption.

SECTION 7 – Penalties for Violation of Section 11A of Chapter 210
This section expands section 11A , the penalty section for illegally offered adoption services, to include new penalties. 
• Subsection (a) defines “published” to be any computerized communication system including but not limited to electronic mail, internet site, internet profile or any similar form of communication via the internet. 
• Subsection (b) establishes that any person or entity, aside from a duly authorized agent or employee of DCF or a licensed placement agency who causes to be published in the commonwealth an advertisement or notice of a child offered or wanted for adoption or permanent placement, in any way offers to place or locate children offered or wanted for adoption/permanent placement, holds themselves out as being able to place or locate a child for adoption/permanent placement, or holds themselves out as being able to approve a family for adoption/placement of a child will be punished by a fine between $5,000 and $25,000
• Subsection (b) further provides that a person who accepts payment in return for placing a child for adoption/permanent placement will be fined between $5,000 and $30,000, by imprisonment in jail or a house of correction for not more than 2.5 years or in state prison for not more than 5 years, or both fine and imprisonment.
• Section (c) requires that any person unrelated to the child by blood or marriage, and not part of an organization that is a licensed or approved placement agency, who receives a child for adoption or permanent physical placement following an advertisement in violation of subsection (b) be subject to a fine between $10,000 and $40,000, imprisonment in jail or a house of correction for not more than 2.5 years or in state prison for not more than 5 years, or both fine and imprisonment. 
• Section (d) provides that a parent or legal guardian who causes a child to be adopted or placed in permanent physical placement in violation of this section will be imprisoned in state prison for not more than 20 years and by fine of not more than $25,000.

SECTION 8 – Task Force
A task force will be created to identify likely channels for abuse, including legal vehicles, in the re-homing of children.  It will submit a report on the likely channels for abuse in the rehoming of children and any recommendations for responding to potential or actual abuse, no later than June 30, 2016.  The task force will be comprised of the following members or their designees: the Chief Justice of the Probate and Family Court department; the Commissioner of Early Education and Care; the Commissioner of Children and Families; the Child Advocate; the Chair of the Children’s League of MA, Inc.; and two appointees by the Governor who have expertise in child welfare.