Criminal Justice and Drug Law Reform
H1559 is designed to make the parole process more predictable and transparent. The bill establishes a rebuttable presumption that prisoners should be released under parole supervision once eligible, while maintaining the Parole Board’s ultimate discretion in granting parole. In making its assessment, the Parole Board shall consider the applicant’s participation in available work programs, education, or treatment opportunities, as well as good behavior. In addition, H1559 calls for prisoners serving sentences of two or more years in state prison or a county correctional facility to be released on parole six months before they complete their sentences (again, subject to Parole Board rebuttal), with only those still serving the minimum term of their sentence exempted from this parole release process. H1559 would increase prisoner engagement in rehabilitative programming, increase prison safety, significantly reduce corrections costs by increasing parole permits, ensure objectivity and consistency in parole decisions, and assist prisoners in their transition from an institutional environment back to living in their communities.
This bill bans solitary confinement for those 21 and under, except in limited circumstances. Research has established that brain development continues into the mid-20s. Solitary confinement is an extreme form of punishment for any person, but particularly for young people for whom it interferes with important brain developments and can cause irreparable harm. To make implementation of this measure feasible, in the case that an individual poses an immediate and substantial threat to the safety of others, corrections personnel may use isolation briefly, after which time isolation will end unless there is adequate evidence that the individual continues to be an immediate and substantial risk to the safety of others.
This bill removes any fees facing indigent criminal defendants seeking their constitutional right to counsel.
This bill reclassifies some low level, non-violent felonies as misdemeanors. For example, the bill increases the amount for felony shoplifting from $250 to $950. The dollar amounts have not been adjusted upward for years. Conviction of a felony is a life-long obstacle, and we should be scrupulous about which crimes truly merit that classification.
Building on a Massachusetts Supreme Judicial Court decision, this legislation requires that custodial interrogations of suspects in the most serious crimes be filmed. With this video record, jurors will be better able to discern false confessions and prosecutors will have more conclusive evidence when there is an authentic confession.
H1561: An Act to regulate and tax the cannabis industry (filed jointly with Senator Jehlen)
The war on marijuana has failed, with terrible and substantial spillover costs to society. Our approach over the last 40 or 50 years has demonstrated an inability to stop the production, distribution, and use of marijuana. Four states have legalized marijuana and it is all but certain to be on the ballot here in 2016. This is our chance to shape the way in which Massachusetts legalizes, regulates, and taxes the sale of marijuana. Regulating and taxing the sale of marijuana in the Commonwealth will raise substantial revenue, reduce the burden placed on the Department of Correction and our county jails, and all but eliminate a dangerous black market. The time has long since come to take a more realistic approach to marijuana in our society.
Voting is one of the most basic civil rights in our society. When individuals are imprisoned for low level, non-violent felonies (like shoplifting), they should not lose their right to vote. This amendment to the Massachusetts Constitution changes the document so as to only deny voting rights to felons imprisoned for severe crimes.
Voting is one of the most basic civil rights in our society. While the Massachusetts Constitution precludes imprisoned felons from voting in some state elections, this bill restores one of our most basic civil rights to those incarcerated for low level, non-violent felonies (like shoplifting).
This legislation creates a right to counsel for indigent individuals in civil proceedings in which loss of housing is a potential outcome. What good are legal rights if you cannot afford to exercise them? For far too many, “and justice for all” is an illusion. Supported by the American, Massachusetts and Boston Bar Associations, this legislation helps make the promise of justice more real. Housing is one of the foundations on which individuals and families build lives, and the loss of housing is one of the most disruptive events a person or family can experience. By making sure rights are protected in practice as well as in theory, we can also at times avert the introduction of a major risk factor for homelessness and thereby see budgetary savings.
H1865: An Act Protecting Abandoned Animals in Vacant Properties (filed in the Senate as S1072 by Senator Eldridge)
This bill requires owners of rented or foreclosed properties to check them for abandoned animals within 3 days after being vacated and report to the local animal control officer or other authorities if animals are present. Left without means to fend for themselves, animals suffer and die if not found. Additionally, property owners, animal control officers and others are often unclear about what to do with animals who are left behind; this bill provides clarification without imposing any penalties.
H1555: An Act to Ensure Continued Humane Animal Care and Support Family Farms in Massachusetts (filed in the Senate as S439 by Senator Lewis)
This bill prohibits the confinement of farm animals in a manner that does not allow them to turn around freely, lie down, stand up, and fully extend their limbs. Standard veal crates and gestation crates for pregnant pigs would no longer be allowed in the Commonwealth.
H1866, S1085: An Act Strengthening the Enforcement of Certain Dog Laws (filed in the Senate as S1085 by Senator Jehlen)
This bill strengthens enforcement of certain provisions of the state’s animal control laws by empowering special police officers of the MSPCA and Animal Rescue League of Boston to enforce a key dog protection law, the rules governing the manner in which dogs can be tethered or otherwise kept outside.
This bill creates a living wage of $15 per hour for employees of the Commonwealth and its contractors and subcontractors and ties that number to inflation. The bill also includes enforcement provisions based on both the Massachusetts’ minimum wage law and Boston’s living wage ordinance.
H1130, S694: An Act relative to creating a statutory housing restriction and providing remedies related to statutory housing (filed in the Senate as S694 by Senator Eldridge)
This bill addresses difficulties faced by municipalities in crafting durable affordable housing restrictions that assure properties will remain affordable for persons of modest means through successive transactions and as the value of real estate goes up. It creates an “estate in land” (to be known as the Statutory Housing Covenant) that limits the property to a certain value (the affordable value) for use as owner-occupied affordable housing. While not mandatory, this bill equips municipalities with a new tool to help in their efforts to expand and maintain affordable housing stock.
H1864: An Act Relative to the Effective Enforcement of Municipal Ordinances and Bylaws (filed in the Senate as S1076 by Senator Eldridge.)
Local municipal boards, including conservation commissions, have the authority to administer a variety of important land use and other bylaws, ordinances and regulations, and need adequate enforcement tools. The current tools are lacking, leading to willful violations of local laws. This bill gives court judges specific guidance on calculating a penalty as well as the right to enforce payment and dispose injunctive relief.
H3072: An Act to protect bicyclists in bicycle lanes (filed in the Senate as S1808 by Senator Brownsberger)
This bill protects bicyclists by prohibiting motor vehicle operators from parking in on-street paths or lanes or placing the vehicle where it interferes with the safety and passage of bicyclists. Motorists frequently park in bicycle lanes, forcing bicyclists to merge into traffic. There is currently no applicable state law, and communities are passing local ordinances that will result in inconsistent rules and enforcement unless we take statewide action.
H3073: An Act to protect vulnerable road users (filed in the Senate as S1807 by Senator Brownsberger)
The bill defines “vulnerable users” as: (1) non-motorized users like bicyclists, pedestrians, and wheelchair users; (2) certain motorized users like people operating motorcycles, farm equipment, and electric personal assistive mobility devices; and (3) people riding animals. The bill also protects vulnerable users as well as roadway, utility, and emergency workers by establishing the distance required for motor vehicles to safely pass and clarifying the use of adjacent lanes for safe passing.
This bill updates our crosswalk markings to better protect pedestrians in the Commonwealth. Research has established that there are clearer, more effective markings for crosswalks than those we currently use and that these new standards have saved lives in other places that have adopted them.
Filed on behalf of Middlesex DA Marian Ryan
Currently in the Commonwealth, the crime of solicitation (encouraging someone else to commit a crime) is a misdemeanor, even when the crime being solicited is a felony. So, for example, solicitation to commit murder can only be prosecuted under the common law misdemeanor crime of “solicitation of a felony” which provides for a maximum penalty of no more than 2½ years in the house of correction. This proposal tracks the conspiracy statute to provide appropriate penalties for solicitation based on the crime which is being solicited. Our state supreme court touched on this issue in Commonwealth v. Barsell, 424 Mass. 737 (1997) (vacating state prison sentence for conviction for solicitation to commit murder, on grounds that solicitation is an offense at common law and thus merely a misdemeanor, and noting, “The task of revising the schedule of punishments, long overdue though it may be, must be undertaken by the Legislature.”)
In response to a 2011 Appeals Court decision, this bill provides a much needed clarification to this criminal statute by broadening the circumstances under which someone can be prosecuted for inducing a minor into prostitution. Currently G.L. c. 272, section 4A, reads in part that “whoever induces a minor to become a prostitute, or who knowingly aids and assists in such inducement, shall be punished. . .” In 2011, the Appeals Court adopted a narrow interpretation of the words in the statute “become a prostitute” to mean that the prosecution would need to offer proof that the minor had never engaged in prostitution before. The bill would eliminate this “defense” by amending the statute. The bill replaces “induce a minor to become a prostitute” with “induce a minor to engage in or to agree to engage in or offer to engage in prostitution or in sexual conduct with another person in return for a fee.”
Grand jurors have expressed dissatisfaction that they are only exempt from future service for the same amount of time (three years) as trial jurors, despite the significantly greater commitment required of grand jurors. This proposal expands the exemption period to six years. This bill also addresses concerns about retribution from their employers due to prolonged absence by amending amend the statute to require an explanation of employer civil and criminal liability in the materials provided to grand jurors.
Radon is the second leading cause of lung cancer nationally. Children are disproportionally affected by exposure, and Massachusetts has particularly high levels of radon. This bill requires (subject to appropriation) that all schools and childcare centers undergo periodic radon testing and, in case of dangerous levels, mitigation.
H2043: An Act to establish a division of indoor environments within the Department of Public Health (filed jointly with Senator Pat Jehlen)
This bill creates the Division of Indoor Environments within the Center for Environmental Health. A division with this mission would better administer and enforce existing laws and regulations relating to indoor air quality.
H2042: An Act relative to improving asthma in schools (filed jointly with Representative Hecht)
This bill requires schools with high levels of asthma to create an indoor air quality plan and recommends that such schools form environmental health committees. Additionally, the bill requires public schools to use cleaning products that meet certain environmental standards. Children’s lungs are disproportionally vulnerable, making protection in schools of particular importance.
H471: An Act concerning Media Literacy in Schools (filed in the Senate as S349 by Senator Wolfe)
This legislation requires the Department of Elementary and Secondary Education to encourage media literacy education at every grade level and in conjunction with core subjects. The proliferation of countless forms of media in the last decade alone is staggering, and therefore our schools must prepare our students to succeed personally and professionally in this brand new social environment by helping impressionable young people better understand the complex media landscape.
H933: A Proposal for a legislative amendment to the Constitution to declare that corporations are not people, money is not speech (filed jointly with Representative Mark)
The Citizens United decision has dramatically changed politics in the United States for the worse. This proposed amendment to the Massachusetts Constitution declares that “corporations are not people, and money is not speech” in an effort to do our part in reversing the corrosive effects of this decision.