July is one of the busiest months in the legislature because the legislative session comes to a close on July 31, 2014. As such, the Senate acted on a number of notable pieces of legislation.
S. 2337 An Act Relative to Unsolicited Loans
This bill was one of my original 7 pieces of legislation I filed in 2012. It would prohibit banks, credit card companies, or any financial institutions that currently issue unsolicited loans to consumers from doing so while adding strict fines that would penalize institutions that issue these credit/loan checks unless there has been a prior authorization or request from the consumer. An addressee would not be held liable for any debt incurred by an unauthorized use of an unsolicited loan instrument by a party other than the addressee. The bill passed the Senate and I will continue to work towards this legislation becoming law.
We have an obligation to ensure that we are doing all we can to protect our constituents’ financial identity. Prohibiting the issuing of these unsolicited checks will strengthen consumer protection from identity theft. The burden should not be placed on residents to shred or cancel these unsolicited credit checks, which are easy vehicles for theft and misuse.
H. 4236 An Act to Increase Opportunities for Long Term Substance Abuse
Substance abuse affects everyone and is a public health epidemic that demands our attention. I invited the Senate Special Committee on Drug Addiction and Treatment options to come to Methuen to hold a hearing and hear from advocates, clinicians, law enforcement, first-responders and residents in the Merrimack Valley about this problem. This legislation removes prior authorizations and would require insurance coverage of up to 14 days in an inpatient facility. It directs the Center for Health Information and Analysis to review the denial rates for substance abuse treatment throughout the Commonwealth. Hospitals would now be required to report the number of infants born exposed to controlled substances and hospitalizations caused by taking drugs on a monthly basis to the Food and Drug Administration. The state Department of Public Health and the chief medical examiner would be required to report overdose deaths.
S. 2283 An Act to Promote Public Safety and Protect Access to Reproductive Health Care Facilities
I testified before the Judiciary Committee in support of An Act to Promote Public Safety and Protect Access to Reproductive Health Care Facilities. The bill aims to address public safety concerns in light of the Supreme Court’s recent decision to strike down Massachusetts’ 35-foot Buffer Zone Law. This bill authorizes law enforcement to clear those who impede access to a reproductive health facility entrance or driveway.
H. 4047 An Act Relative to Assisting Individuals with Autism and Other Intellectual or Development Disabilities
This bill establishes a commission while also studying ways the state can improve services for autism spectrum disorders in the future. It requires MassHealth to cover treatments for autism spectrum disorder and requires the Department of Developmental Services programs to include individuals with developmental, as well as intellectual, disabilities.
S. 2334 An Act Relative to Domestic Violence
This legislation creates a first offense of assault and battery on a family member, and creates a new crime of strangulation and suffocation with increased penalties. I co-sponsored a bill at the beginning of the session that would create the crime of strangulation as a felony instead of a misdemeanor. It would also prohibit the use of accord and satisfaction agreements in domestic violence cases. Accord and satisfaction is where victims could be pressured to sign and release an abuser of accountability. Massachusetts had been the only state where accord and satisfaction could result in the dismissal of a case. The legislation creates transparency among prosecutors, police and advocates when recognizing signs of a victim being in danger. The bill also removes the requirement that adults obtain a firearms identification card (FID) in order to carry pepper spray.
H. 4366 An Act Relative to Campaign Finance Disclosure and Transparency
This bill would require super political action committees (PACs) to disclose their funding sources, starting this election cycle. I proudly voted in favor of this bill, knowing that it will help address a number of concerns that arose from the Supreme Court’s Citizen’s United decision. The bill aims to increase the transparency of political contributions that candidates and campaigns receive throughout the year by expanding important disclosure requirements of those donations to the Office of Campaign and Political Finance (OCPF). This bill requires super PACs to disclose their funding sources within seven days of any spending and within 24 hours if that spending is within ten days of an election. It also requires any independent electioneering communication to include a written statement of the top five contributors if contributions exceed $5,000 and directions to the OCPF website for a listing of all contributors.
H. 4374 An Act Relative to Local Housing Authorities
I co-sponsored this bill to create transparency and accountability in our housing authorities. Training programs will be offered by the Department of Housing and Community Development (DHCD) to housing or redevelopment authority members that will provide guidelines on proper management practices and keep them up to date with the open meeting law, public records law, conflict of interest laws, fair housing laws, fraud prevention, and fiduciary responsibilities. The department will now have the ability to oversee contract provisions and remove provisions that don’t conform to guidelines. DHCD is also required to set up a monitoring program and evaluations on the operation of housing authorities. Each housing authority would be required to submit a public annual plan detailing its goals and objectives. The state has 240 housing authorities. This bill also aims to encourage more collaboration and resource sharing between smaller housing authorities.
H. 4200 An Act Relative to the Scheduling of High School Athletic Contests
In response to recent scheduling conflicts between the Methuen Division I North semifinal baseball game and SAT exams, I co-sponsored a bill filed by Representative Scibak that would prohibit the Massachusetts Athletic Association (MIAA) from scheduling any games that occur before 2:00 pm on any day that the SAT or ACT is being offered. The MIAA would be required to either re-schedule the playoff to a different day or to add additional sites on the testing day and start the games at a later time. Since the filing of this bill the MIAA has responded with proposed measures that would prevent this conflict from happening in the future. I am hopeful the new proposal will prevent future scheduling conflicts like we have recently experienced in Methuen from happening to any other school district. Student athletes should not have to choose between taking critical college entrance exams and participation in memorable capstone games. If the implementation does not prevent such scheduling conflicts, I will proceed with a legislative solution.
I look forward to the work ahead for continued progress on the issues that matter to my constituents in the State Senate district.
Senator O’Connor Ives can be contacted at Kathleen.firstname.lastname@example.org