Nurse staffing levels likely to have major impact on 2018 health policy debate

BOSTON — The threat of ballot questions led the Legislature and Govs. Charlie Baker and Deval Patrick to pass healthcare laws in each of the past two legislative sessions, and the stars are aligning for a possible repeat scenario in 2018.

A spokeswoman for the coalition behind an initiative petition setting strict nurse staffing ratios in hospitals told State House News Service that organizers have collected more than the nearly 65,000 signatures needed to satisfy the largest signature requirement on the path to the 2018 ballot.

“We collected well over the required amount of required signatures, and ahead of the deadline, all were delivered to the cities and towns for certification,” said Kate Norton, spokeswoman for The Committee to Ensure Safe Patient Care. “In fact, we have already received many certified signatures back from the municipalities.” The committee plans to turn its certified signatures in to Secretary of State William Galvin’s office on Wednesday, Dec. 6.

WPI professors: Data science can help us fight human trafficking

Traffickers leave a data trail, however faint or broken, despite their efforts to operate off the grid and in the shadows. There is an opportunity – albeit a challenging one – to use the bits of information we can get on the distribution of victims, traffickers, buyers and exploiters, and disrupt the supply chain wherever and however we can.

A New England dairy farmer gives thanks

“What am I thankful for? Good neighbors. Our local communities support and appreciate dairy as a vital part of the landscape and the economy. Not only do dairy farms offer local employment, they add scenic beauty to the rural landscape and offer seasonal tourist dollars through corn mazes, holiday tree farms, farm-to-table dinners and other activities.”

Inbox [Nov. 22]: News and notes from Petricore, WCAC, HOPE Coalition, Clark, You Inc. and Simon Youth Foundation

Have news you or your group would like to share? Let us know by emailing it to info@worcester.ma. Be sure to include a link to the full release on your site or Facebook page so we can include it and send Sun members your way.

Petricore game nominated for Mobile Game of Year

“Battery Boy,” a video game produced by Petricore, Inc. of Worcester, has been nominated for Mobile Game of the Year at the 2017 Bit Awards, which celebrates the year in video games and the people behind them.

The awards will be presented at an event 6-10 p.m. Friday, Dec. 15, at the Tishman Auditorium in New York City.

On Beacon Hill: Around the turn they come

Recap and analysis of the week in local, state and federal government from State House News Service and Sun research.

BOSTON — Horse racing in Massachusetts has been on the decline for many years now, but horse trading is alive and well on Beacon Hill.

The Legislature came down the homestretch last week with blinders on, looking to finish what it could before the holiday recess, while Gov. Charlie Baker had his eye on next year – which happens to be his re-election year – as he filed new legislation and took executive action to ramp up the fight against opioid addiction.

House and Senate lawmakers were too preoccupied with their own business to get too deep into the opioid debate, but it was never far from mind as criminal justice reform took center stage in the House.

House leaders set aside two days to debate the justice bill prepared by state Reps. Claire Cronin, D-Brockton, and Jeffrey Sanchez, D-Jamaica Plain, but Monday’s first day featured more idling than engine revving as trade-offs were being hashed out for hours behind the closed doors of the speaker’s office.

“It’s not a pretty process,” House Majority Leader Ron Mariano, D-Quincy, mused outside the House chamber.

Pretty or not, the bill got done, and justice reform advocates were pleasantly surprised after months of hand-wringing and worrying that the House would try narrow the focus of the legislation and only tip-toe into the waters of the some of the more controversial topics.

The final bill does away with mandatory minimum sentences for certain drug crimes, restricts the use of solitary confinement, allows for the expungement of juvenile records, and makes other reforms to bail and felony larceny statutes. Progressives may not have gotten everything they wanted, but felt listened to and believe there’s always a chance to make further gains as negotiations begin with the Senate.

Hardline crime-and-punishment types were also left wanting after a passionate debate over Gov. Baker’s proposal to make drug dealers whose products lead to death eligible for a sentence of life in prison.

Republicans and Democrats argued that a strong message needed to be sent to those peddling death on the streets, but Reps. David Linsky, D-Natick, and Chris Markey, D-Dartmouth, two former prosecutors speaking for the side that prevailed, said even their shared disgust with those enabling addiction couldn’t convince them that such a punishment would pass legal muster.

As the debate was going on in the House, Baker called a press conference to roll out the next phase of his administration’s fight against opioid abuse and addiction.

With proposed law changes and executive actions designed to improve access to treatment and educate young people on the dangers of opioids, Baker said Massachusetts is far from declaring “mission accomplished” despite a reduction in overdose deaths over the past six months.

Charlie Baker

Sam Doran / State House News Service

Gov. Charlie Baker

The overdose-reversing drug Narcan has played a role in holding down the death toll and the governor, among other ideas, pitched making it available over the counter. He also brought back a revised version of his controversial proposal to involuntarily hold patients for 72 hours in emergency rooms if they show signs of addiction and being a danger to themselves.

The retooled proposal would instead allow medical clinicians to have patients involuntarily transferred to treatment centers, instead of kept in emergency rooms, for up to 72 hours if they are considered a threat to themselves or others. After 72 hours, medical personnel would be able to petition the courts to keep the patient longer.

“If you have this opportunity to engage somebody, you should take advantage of it,” Baker said.

— Matt Murphy

ALSO ON THE AGENDA

  • It’s the voters’ turn to take the initiative
  • McGovern on Trump’s new scandal, Baker on opioids
  • Candidate Warren calls for independent look into arrest report scandal
  • Watch: Baker on swearing in new State Police top cop
  • ‘Privilege’ comment rankles gun-rights advocates

Watch: DeLeo, Rosenberg, Baker address sexual harassment allegations

The leaders of the House and Senate both acknowledged their offices have received complaints of sexual harassment occurring at the State House, but neither would blame a unique culture on Beacon Hill for the recent stories of women being abused by men in power.

A “comprehensive” review of State House policy is already underway [9 minutes, 22 seconds].

Sun Spots with Hitch [Vol. 210]: Quite a fright for WRTA and its riders

It’s not easy being in the bus business these days.

Everybody wants faster, cleaner, quieter — but nobody wants to pay for it. In Worcester, it seems, riders have been spooked.

The trick RTA administrators pulled earlier this year, hiking fares while trimming stops, has treated the organization’s coffers about how one might expect.

Hitch digs deep into his bag of goodies for this one.

On Beacon Hill: The Justice League

Recap and analysis of the week in local, state and federal government from State House News Service and Sun research.

BOSTON — Justice comes to those who wait … and wait … and wait.

The idea of criminal justice reform has been held out for years by Beacon Hill legislators as a worthy and necessary goal. But putting the pieces together has been a difficult puzzle to assemble.

The Senate pressed the last piece of one of the four jigsaw corners in the wee morning hours Friday, after more than 14 hours of debate that tested the constitutions of Democrats and Republicans who might have preferred not to hold those conversations.

They debated whether mandatory minimums for cocaine trafficking should be repealed, whether young teenagers having sex with each other should be a criminal offense, and whether parents and children should be able to testify against one another.

Some of the 162 amendments were decided by one or two votes, with Democrats crossing party lines and causing mid-session huddles among like-minded colleagues unaccustomed to the process of whipping votes and wondering whether they could safely predict the outcome.

State Sens. Michael Brady, D-Brockton; Michael Rush, D-Boston; Kathleen O’Connor Ives, D-Newburyport; and Patrick O’Connor, R-Weymouth, took a pass on the statutory rape reform altogether, voting “present” rather than weighing in on whether Massachusetts should have a “Romeo and Juliet” exception for minors close in age.

In broad strokes, the bill that cleared the Senate, 27-10, was designed to try to lower recidivism rates and the number of inmates incarcerated in state prisons. It eliminates parole fees, raises the youngest age of juvenile court jurisdiction from 7 to 12 years old, and allows for reduced sentences for certain drug crimes.

It’s now the House’s turn — and anyone’s guess how the more conservative body will respond. But Sen. William Brownsberger, D-Belmont, is keeping the faith: “That’s all I’m hearing from the House is seriousness on this issue,” he said.

Sam Doran / State House News Service

House Speaker Robert DeLeo

House Speaker Robert DeLeo, D-Winthrop, had a different justice matter on his plate Friday, the day after the Senate debate, as he gathered his leadership team to discuss a column in the Boston Globe written by Yvonne Abraham alleging a widespread culture of sexual harassment under the Golden Dome.

An “infuriated and deeply disturbed” speaker took to the House floor to condemn acts described anonymously by Abraham, which ranged from unwanted sexual advances by lawmakers toward lobbyists and aides, to groups of House members viewing pornography on the House floor.

Without allegations containing names attached to investigate, DeLeo called on his House counsel, Jim Kennedy, to initiate a review of the House’s sexual harassment policies, but just as the Harvey Weinstein accusations snowballed into other industries and boardrooms, this may not be the last shoe to drop on Beacon Hill.

— Matt Murphy

ALSO ON THE AGENDA

  • The (Ways and Means) odd couple has work to do
  • McGovern on taxes, Warren on budget
  • Healey defends Trump lawsuits as ‘doing her job’
  • Watch: Baker on CSRs, Flake and Trump
  • Despite consumer malaise, Mass. economy growth spikes

The Quad [Oct. 25]: Four things to know from Worcester State, Quinsig, Holy Cross and Assumption

Have campus news you or your college or university organization would like to share? Let us know by emailing it to info@worcester.ma. Be sure to send a link to the full release on your site or Facebook page so we can include it and point Sun members your way.

WSU to screen of ‘An Inconvenient Sequel’

Worcester State University will host a screening of “In Inconvenient Sequel” at 5 p.m. tomorrow at Eager Auditorium.

The screening will follow a webcast Q&A with former Vice President Al Gore.

It is free and open to the public.

QCC to educate companies on available funds for employee training