On Beacon Hill: Moore lauds Senate passing transgender ‘bathroom bill’

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From State House News Service

Moore lauds Senate passing transgender ‘bathroom bill’

The state Senate voted overwhelmingly Thursday, May 12, to extend anti-discrimination protections to transgender individuals in places of public accommodation, including restaurants and bathrooms. The move marks a legislative milestone in Massachusetts that would bring the state in line with 18 others nationwide.

Sen. Michael O. Moore

Courtesy Sen. Moore's office

Sen. Michael O. Moore

The 33-4 vote in the Senate capped an emotional day of debate nearly five years after enactment of a law aimed at guarding against transgender discrimination in housing and employment, and almost a decade after the issue first surfaced on Beacon Hill.

Coming amid a pitched national debate over transgender rights, the vote marked the first time the public accommodations language had cleared either branch of the state Legislature.

The bill (S 735) bans discrimination based on gender identity in public accommodations and would allow people to use bathrooms, locker rooms and other sex-segregated facilities that correspond with their gender identity rather than physical anatomy.

Worcester Sen. Michael O. Moore, D-Millbury, tweeted his support for the legislation Thursday morning and issued a press release after it passed.

Moore’s tweet

“I found it important to educate myself on both sides of this issue,” Moore said in the statement. “Public discussion regarding the rights of transgender individuals often generates a polarized response.

“After thoroughly reviewing the merits of this legislation, and having met with families and children whose individual rights are at stake, my concerns, which were largely based on being unfamiliar with the issue, were quickly dispelled. This bill fills the gap to ensure that transgender individuals are not refused service or discriminated against in public places such as restaurants, nursing homes, coffee shops, grocery stores, and sports arenas.

“I am confident that the legislation offers reasonable provisions to protect the rights of transgender individuals without infringing on the rights of others.”

The city’s other state senator, Majority Leader Harriette L. Chandler, D-Worcester, and state Rep. Mary S. Keefe, D-Worcester, were co-sponsors of the measure, according to TrackBill.

“Massachusetts long has a history of being a welcoming community for absolutely everyone. We have a chance with the legislation before us here today to once again clearly and loudly proclaim that everyone is welcome here in Massachusetts,” said Sen. Benjamin Downing, D-Pittsfield, the sponsor of the 2011 transgender anti-discrimination law that originally included public accommodations before being dropped.

Bill sponsor Sen. Sonia Chang-Diaz, D-Jamaica Plain, equated the issue to past civil rights struggles, and sought to distance Massachusetts from states such as North Carolina that have moved in the opposite direction.

“In Massachusetts we are civil rights pioneers by nature, it is in our cultural DNA,” Chang-Diaz said. “That’s why it’s particularly difficult to fathom how it is in 2016 we are still fighting for public accommodations and full equality for transgender Bay Staters.”

Video from Mass. Family Institute press conference [May 11, Antonio Caban (SHNS)]

The bill now moves to the House, where support could be on shakier ground. House Speaker Robert DeLeo, D-Winthrop, who backs the bill, has signaled his intention to move forward with a slightly different version of the bill. Gov. Charlie Baker has said he appreciates the “clarity” that the House bill provides, but has still not staked out a firm position despite saying he believes “people should use the restroom facility they feel comfortable using.”

“I know the speaker’s working hard to line up the votes in his chamber,” said Stanley C. Rosenberg, D-Amherst, the state’s first openly gay Senate president.

Senate leaders hold a press conference after passage of a transgender public accommodations bill.

Andy Metzger / State House News Service

Senate leaders hold a press conference after passage of a transgender public accommodations bill.

Worcester’s House delegation includes Democrats Keefe, John J. Mahoney, James J. O’Day and Daniel M. Donahue, and Republican Kate D. Campanale.

Senate Minority Leader Bruce Tarr, R-Gloucester, and fellow Republican Sens. Ryan Fattman of Webster, Vinny deMacedo of Plymouth and Donald Humason of Westfield voted against the bill. The other Republican in the chamber, Wrentham Sen. Richard Ross, voted in favor of the bill after offering an emotional retelling of how two of his children came out as gay to him.

— Matt Murphy, Andy Metzger and Colin A. Young (SHNS)


Uxbridge vet demands meeting with Gov. Baker over medical marijuana

“I’m out here until he talks. I’m going homeless until he speaks, until he at least makes an appointment or lets me make an appointment to come in and see him with all my information and everything. I mean, I’m wearing the same clothes I wore yesterday. That hasn’t happened since I was in Iraq.” — U.S. Army and National Guard Sgt. Stephen Mandile, across from the State House on Tuesday, May 10, according to Katie Lannan of SHNS

Mandile said he’d like to see the state help veterans get off opioid medications by making it easier for them to access medical marijuana. With marijuana illegal at the federal level, the Department of Veterans Affairs prohibits VA doctors from recommending it to patients in states, like Massachusetts, that have medical marijuana programs.

Mandile said he spent 10 years taking prescribed opiates, including fentanyl and oxycontin, after he was hurt serving in Iraq in 2005 and has since switched to medical marijuana. He said he wants to meet with the governor to discuss marijuana as an alternative to opioids, and the obstacles veterans face in accessing medical marijuana.

Tim Buckley, a Baker spokesman, said Tuesday afternoon that members of the governor’s constituent services staff had spoken with Mandile.

“Through the Department of Veterans Services, the Commonwealth offers numerous programs and benefits, including access to the S.A.V.E. Program, and will continue to work with our federal partners to provide quality health care and services for our veterans and their families,” Baker press secretary Elizabeth Guyton said in a statement.

Massachusetts voters legalized medical marijuana in 2012 by approving a ballot question, and six dispensaries are open for sales throughout the state.

As of April 30, there were 24,196 active medical marijuana patients in the state and 149 certifying physicians in the state, according to Department for Public Health data.

The law allows registered patients to possess up to a 60-day supply of marijuana for medical use if they are diagnosed with “cancer, glaucoma, positive status for human immunodeficiency virus, acquired immune deficiency syndrome (AIDS), hepatitis C, amyotrophic lateral sclerosis (ALS), Crohn’s disease, Parkinson’s disease, multiple sclerosis and other conditions as determined in writing by a qualifying patient’s physician.”


ABBVIE RIBBON-CUTTING (Wednesday, 11 a.m., 200 Sidney St., Cambridge): Bob Coughlin, president and CEO of the Massachusetts Biotechnology Council, Travis McCready, president and CEO of the Massachusetts Life Sciences Center, and Assistant Secretary for Economic Development Mike Kennealy plan to attend AbbVie’s ribbon-cutting ceremony for its Foundational Neuroscience Center.

This new site will focus on the biology that drives Alzheimer’s disease and will initially be home to 50 newly-hired scientists and clinicians, according to the Executive Office of Housing and Economic Development.

AbbVie has offices, including its “premier biologics research and development center” at 100 Research Drive, Worcester.

HEALEY HONORED BY WORCESTER BAR (Friday, 7:30 a.m., Hilton Garden Inn, Perennials Rooms A and B, 2nd floor, 35 Major Taylor Blvd.): Attorney General Maura Healey will talk about the accomplishments of her first year in office and her priorities for the rest of her term when she is honored by the Worcester County Bar Association as the organization’s public official of the year.

NEW ENGLAND COUNCIL PREZ TO ADDRESS GRADS (Saturday, 10 a.m., Hanover Theatre for the Performing Arts, 2 Southbridge St.): James Brett, the former state representative and Boston mayoral candidate who has served as president and CEO of The New England Council for almost 20 years, will provide the keynote address at the commencement ceremony for Anna Maria College in Paxton. Brett will also be awarded an honorary degree from the college.

Brett recently served as chairman of the President’s Committee for People with Intellectual Disabilities, and continues to serve as a member of that committee. A member of the House from Dorchester between 1981 and 1996, Brett currently serves as chairman of the Massachusetts Governor’s Commission on Intellectual Disability and president of the board of the Massachusetts Association for Mental Health.


Gov. Charlie Baker

Wikimedia Commons

Gov. Charlie Baker

Baker freezes ‘non-essential’ state spending

The Baker administration ordered Friday, May 13, the immediate suspension of all state spending on “non-essential” goods and services in an array of categories, including outside consultants, leases and office equipment and computers.

The directive is part of an effort to balance this year’s $38.4 billion state budget in the face of underperforming tax revenues and with only two months remaining in the fiscal year.

In a memo obtained by State House News Service, Gov. Baker’s budget chief Kristen Lepore early Friday afternoon told Cabinet secretaries, department heads, chief financial officers and chief procurement officers to suspend spending in numerous “object classes.”

“As you know, state tax revenue is currently running $260M below benchmark for the year. Therefore, I am implementing spending control measures in order to ensure that the Commonwealth ends this fiscal year in balance,” wrote Lepore, the state’s secretary of administration and finance.

Tax collections in April, historically the biggest month of the year for receipts, declined by 3 percent from last year, leaving state budget overseers with collections that are running well below benchmarks.

While collections could bounce back in May or June, they are up only 1.9 percent over the first 10 months of fiscal 2016. The budget Baker signed last year was predicated on tax revenues growing 4.8 percent.

The administration does not have an aggregate savings target associated with the suspended spending directive, an official said.

Days after Baker took office in January 2015, his administration implemented a hiring freeze. In October 2015, the freeze was lifted and the administration transitioned to a payroll cap system designed to maintain the savings related to the hiring freeze. The payroll cap system remains in place, according to an administration official.

— Michael P. Norton (SHNS)

Senate budget debate set to begin May 24

After they get a look at the Senate’s fiscal 2017 spending bill, senators will have two days next week to file amendments under an order adopted Thursday that calls for Senate budget deliberations to begin on Tuesday, May 24.

Senate Ways and Means Chairwoman Karen Spilka’s office announced Thursday that the committee’s budget plan for the year that begins July 1 will be released by the Ways and Means Committee next Tuesday at 11 a.m. with an executive session vote of the members followed by a noon press conference.

The order adopted by the Senate Thursday morning would give senators until 5 p.m. Thursday to propose amendments, similar to the two-day window afforded House members last month after the House Ways and Means Committee released its $39.5 billion spending plan.

— Matt Murphy

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