From State House News Service
ON THE AGENDA
- Baker seeks stronger punishments for police assailants
- Gun debates persist in Boston, D.C.
- Colorado survey adds wrinkle to pot legalization battle
- State eyes more freedom to offer developers tax incentives
- Senate gets in gear on ride-sharing regulations
TOP OF THE HILL
Baker bill would broaden punishment for assault on police
A bill filed Thursday, June 23, by Gov. Charlie Baker would elevate assault of a police officer from a misdemeanor offense to a felony and require judges to sentence someone found guilty of causing “serious bodily injury to a police officer” to at least one year in prison.
Rep. Paul K. Frost, D-Auburn, on June 15 filed similar legislation that has already attracted 50 cosponsors in the Legislature, with six more planning to sign on, a Frost aide said Thursday. Frost filed his bill with Sen. Michael O. Moore, D-Millbury, and Reps. Kate D. Campanale, R-Leicester, and Timothy R. Whelan, R-Brewster, a retired state trooper who noted in his support for the bill that police officers “serve as that thin blue line between order and chaos.”
During a morning appearance on Boston Herald Radio, the governor said the bill was inspired by preliminary review of court decisions involving Jorge Zambrano, the man authorities say shot and killed Auburn Police Officer Ronald Tarentino during a traffic stop.
The bill would “give judges more discretion with respect to when they could call for a dangerousness hearing,” Baker said, noting that Zambrano had been charged with other offenses before the May 22 shooting, but not all the charges were eligible for dangerousness hearings.
“The second thing it does is it creates a new category for assault and battery on a police officer, which is basically if you do bodily harm to the police officer, then that would be considered a felony,” Baker said of the bill. “The idea here is if some kid touches an officer while he or she is being removed from a club or a bar or something like that, that should probably still be treated as a misdemeanor, because that’s kind of no harm, no foul.”
State law now characterizes assault on a police officer in the same way as on any other public employee, Baker said.
He said the bill would ensure the penalty for engaging with a police officer in an “aggressive and dangerous way” would be “higher than the equivalent of, you know, pushing a postal clerk.”
In cases involving serious injury, judges would be banned from suspending or reducing sentences or continuing the case without a finding.
The bill calls for a mandatory minimum sentence of one year in state prison or a county jail, and a maximum of 10 years in prison or two and a half years in jail. People convicted of a felony assault on a police officer would not be eligible for probation until they had served at least a year of their imprisonment.
A fine of between $500 and $10,000 could also be levied.
“Police officers have difficult, dangerous jobs,” Baker wrote in a message to lawmakers accompanying the bill. “Under current law, people who assault police officers during the course of their duties are treated the same as those who assault any other public employee. This state of the law fails to recognize the seriousness of certain assaults on police officers and the danger to the community posed by people who would assault a police officer.”
Baker said he hopes lawmakers will take up his bill quickly and that he imagined legislators would find ways to amend it once they do so.
“They are fond of telling me there are always ways to perfect the legislation that we file, so I am sure that they will have thoughts about this,” he said.
With 38 days remaining until the end of formal sessions, Baker said he “certainly will” return to the issue at the start of the new term in January if his bill does not pass before July 31.
— Katie Lannan (SHNS)
Gun debates roiling Beacon, Capitol hills
As Massachusetts members of Congress joined a protest on the floor of the U.S. House last Wednesday over the refusal of GOP leadership to allow a vote on gun control, House Speaker Robert A. DeLeo said a similar state-level bill could remain bottled up this session.
DeLeo, a Winthrop Democrat, supports the idea of denying a gun license to anyone on the federal government’s terrorist watch or no-fly lists, but was hesitant Wednesday to promise any action on the measure this session, which ends in just over a month.
The bill filed earlier this year by Rep. Lori A. Ehrlich, D-Marblehead, was shuttled into a study in March by the Committee on Public Safety and Homeland Security, and that committee’s chairman, Rep. Harold P. Naughton Jr. of Clinton, has “raised some concerns relative to some federal issues that may come up,” according to DeLeo.
Video: DeLeo on gun control debate
Ehrlich told the News Service that the massacre at an Orlando nightclub had reignited interest in her bill, which enjoys the support of not just DeLeo but Gov. Charlie Baker, a Republican.
“Hopefully this is a sign we are reaching a tipping point towards meaningful action,” she said.
While only New Jersey has enacted a similar law, other states are reportedly working on legislation. One concern could be how to handle residents who have been improperly added to the federal watch lists.
Meanwhile in Washington D.C., U.S. Rep. Katherine M. Clark, D-5th, helped organize a “sit-in” of Democrats on the House floor demanding a vote on gun control measures.
Earlier in the week, the U.S. Senate rejected several Democrat and Republican-sponsored gun control amendments after leadership in that branch conceded the votes after a filibuster by Sen. Christopher S. Murphy, D-Conn.
One of the amendments, sponsored by Sen. Dianne Feinstein of California, would have banned nationally the sale of a firearm to anyone on the terrorism or no-fly watch lists. Though the votes fell along partisan lines, U.S. Sen. Edward J. Markey called the vote an important step “for accountability” that could be used by Democrats during the upcoming election cycle.
Tweet from Congressman McGovern
— Rep. Jim McGovern (@RepMcGovern) June 22, 2016
“We here are blessed with the capacity to do something about that, not to limit or take away the pain that already exists, but to ensure that some other family out here doesn’t have to say goodbye to a child that they walked to school in the morning and have them never come back. We have that opportunity. We have that responsibility. All we need is a vote,” Kennedy said.
— Matt Murphy (SHNS)
IN THE NEWS
Colorado survey adds wrinkle to Mass. marijuana legalization battle
A new survey of teen drug use in Colorado has served to help marijuana legalization advocates in Massachusetts push back against the claims of opponents that legalization will lead to higher rates of teenage pot consumption.
The survey released Monday, June 20, by the Colorado Department of Public Health and Environment found that 21.2 percent of high school students in that state reported using marijuana within the past 30 days in 2015. The rate, essentially flat, fell a few ticks from the 22 percent who reported using pot in 2011, the year before the drug became legal for adults.
The Campaign to Regulate Marijuana Like Alcohol, which is behind the ballot push to legalize the adult use of pot in Massachusetts this fall, pointed to the survey as proof that fears of widespread marijuana use by minors as a result of legalization are unfounded.
“It hasn’t happened in Colorado under full legalization, and it hasn’t happened in Massachusetts under decriminalization or legalized medical marijuana,” said campaign spokesman Jim Borghesani.
The Healthy Kids Colorado Survey also found that lifetime use of marijuana among high school students has fallen from 42.6 percent in 2009 to 38 percent in 2015. Both the recent and lifetime rates of marijuana use in Colorado are lower than the national averages, according to the 2015 High School Youth Risk Behavior Survey released this month by the Centers for Disease Control.
The CDC found that nationally 21.7 percent of high school students had used pot within the 30 days prior to taking the survey, while 38.6 percent reported using the drug in their lifetime.
According to Safe and Healthy Massachusetts, the Colorado’s largest school district in Jefferson County and the El Paso County School District, home to Colorado Springs, did not participate in the health department survey.
Furthermore, the first retail marijuana stores did not open in Colorado until 2014 from which point teen use, according to the same survey, has climbed modestly from 19.7 percent in 2013 to 21.2 percent in 2015.
The increase in use was more pronounced among juniors and seniors in high school, according to the anti-marijuana legalization group Smart Approaches to Marijuana, who said prior-month pot use rose from 22.1 to 26.3 percent among juniors between 2013 and 2015, and from 24.3 percent to 27.8 percent among seniors over the same span.
“We have seen through multiple surveys that teen use in Colorado is trending in the wrong direction since legalization in 2014,” Safe and Healthy Massachusetts campaign manager Nick Bayer said in a statement to the News Service. “Colorado has brought in an entirely new marijuana edible market that is a danger to kids, and has become the number one state in the country in youth marijuana use since legalization, according to a national survey.”
— Matt Murphy
State officials pitch tax credit for ‘extraordinary’ opportunities
After scoring the relocation to Boston of General Electric’s headquarters, the Baker administration wants new abilities to lure companies to Massachusetts.
The “extraordinary economic development opportunities” program included in Gov. Charlie Baker’s $918 million jobs bill was retained in the $594 million version (H. 4413) that cleared the Economic Development and Emerging Technologies Committee last week.
Housing and Economic Development Secretary Jay Ash told the House Committee on Bonding, Capital Expenditures and State Assets his ability to offer incentives to companies is now “almost nonexistent.”
“It’s really crazy,” Ash told the News Service. “If you’re not a manufacturer in a Gateway City — which would be worth $5,000 a job — you would be eligible for maybe as little as $1,000 a job. So to say to a company that is going to make a quarter-of-a-billion-dollar investment in your Commonwealth that you’re going to give them $1 million worth of tax credits, it’s not even worth them pulling the trigger.”
The legislation would enable Ash and Administration and Finance Secretary Kristen Lepore to designate companies as eligible for the tax credits, and charge the Economic Assistance Coordinating Council with awarding up to $50 million, in aggregate, in annual tax incentives.
There is currently a more regimented tax incentive program, with various parameters, and an overall cap of $30 million, according to Paul McMorrow, Ash’s director of policy and communications.
“The new classification of projects would simplify the categories and expands the types of businesses allowed to qualify for the credit,” the Associated Industries of Massachusetts said approvingly in written testimony.
On the same day Ash testified, Veolia North America announced it would move the headquarters for the power and water giant from Chicago to Boston. Keolis North America made a similar move earlier this year.
Meanwhile state tax revenues have come up shorter than projected and the administration said it expects $450 million to $750 million less in the fiscal year that starts Friday.
— Andy Metzger, with reporting from Colin A.Young (SHNS)
Senate leaders rolling out ride-sharing regulations bill
More than three months after the House passed legislation regulating ride-for-hire companies like Uber and Lyft, Senate leaders Thursday released a new version of the bill that abandons restrictions on operation at Logan Airport and the South Boston convention center as well as state-run background checks of drivers.
The Senate bill, put together by a working group of five Democratic senators, would also levy a 10-cent-per ride assessment on ride-hailing companies, the cost of which could not be passed on to customers.
The money, which could total more than $200,000 a month, would be returned to cities and towns where those trips originate to help pay for wear on infrastructure like roads and bridges and other transportation-related investments, according to a Senate source familiar with the legislation.
The Senate bill is expected to reach the floor of the Senate for debate sometime this week.
Like the House bill, the Senate will propose to set up a new division within the Department of Public Utilities to oversee the new transportation companies, including the issuance of permits and compliance with rules and regulations.
The new agency would be required to maintain a roster of all drivers and make that list available to law enforcement on request. Drivers for companies like Uber and Lyft would also be prohibited from picking up passengers at cab stands or street hails, and the companies would be required to offer a feature through their apps for riders to tip their drivers, a significant change from the current Uber experience where tipping is not encouraged.
The Senate bill does not address the idea of protection zones for taxis, meaning Uber and Lyft could continue to operate at the BCEC and Massport would retain control of the airport. Only certain drivers for app-based services with commercial plates, such as Uber Black cars, can pick up passengers at Logan.
Surge pricing — the practice of charging more for a ride at time of peak demand — would be prohibited in the Senate bill, as the House proposed, during declared state or federal emergencies, and companies would be required to offer riders an estimate of the total cost of a ride during times of surge pricing.
— Matt Murphy