From State House News Service
ON THE AGENDA
- Baker takes GOP heat for DCR flap, but has Healey on his side
- Ex-Worcester mayor O’Brien puts lawmakers in environmental crosshairs
- Videos: Healey on Baker and DCR; and prescription database
- CVS to require pharmacists to check database before filling opiate scripts
TOP OF THE HILL
Baker taking hits from both sides amid DCR party flap, but AG Healey has his back
Gov. Charlie Baker is facing calls to take further disciplinary action against two senior state employees who used state resources to throw a private party on July 3 in Boston, with groups representing Democrats and Republicans urging Baker to fire both employees.
Department of Conservation and Recreation Commissioner Leo Roy and Deputy Commissioner Matthew Sisk will be suspended without pay this week for using taxpayer money on a private party at the Beacon Street home of a prominent state Republican Party leader, and will be off the job until Sept. 9, the state confirmed.
Roy and Sisk have paid the state back more than $800 for the state resources they used to plan and host the party, which coincided with the Boston Pops Independence Day dress rehearsal concert at the Esplanade’s Hatch Shell, a DCR property. The party was held at a condo owned by Ron Kaufman, the state’s Republican national committeeman.
Watch: AG Healy reacts to Baker administration actions
But the Massachusetts Republican Assembly (MARA) is urging Baker to fire both men — saying the incident is “part of (a) broader pattern of Baker behavior” — and is asking Sisk to resign from the Republican State Committee.
“I’m genuinely curious,” MARA national director Brian Kennedy said in a statement. “Don’t people usually end up in jail for stealing taxpayer resources instead of this ‘it’s all cool if he pays it back’ thing?”
Roy and Sisk used DCR-rented golf carts driven by DCR employees working at the Esplanade to ferry guests from the party to the Hatch Shell for a Boston Pops Independence Day dress rehearsal concert, according to a memo DCR’s director of administration and finance sent to Energy and Environmental Affairs Secretary Matthew Beaton, of Shrewsbury, on Tuesday, Aug. 30.
“A big part of the public trust is ensuring the people on our team play by the same rules everybody else plays by,” Baker told WCVB investigative reporter Mike Beaudet on Wednesday. “I think the fact that they self-reported to the Ethics Commission and that the Ethics Commission ruled on it and they paid back any of the money (that) involved taxpayer funds is a good message.”
Beaton on Thursday morning told Boston Herald Radio, “This is the exact opposite type of thing that we like to see our employees doing.”
One DCR assistant spent more than three hours of work time “making phone calls, sending emails, preparing invitations and maintaining a guest list” for the party and a second assistant spent one hour “gathering a guest list, preparing invitations and making phone calls,” according to the memo.
“Dismissing these two Baker administration officials is only a first step in trying to repair the public trust,” Massachusetts Democratic Party Executive Director Jay Cincotti said in a statement. “They have a lot to come clean about. If they don’t, it’s like putting a Band-Aid on a broken leg.”
A spokesman for Baker declined Thursday to comment on the fresh criticism from the MARA and Democratic Party statements, and instead referred the News Service to a day-old statement.
But Democratic Attorney General Maura Healey said she thinks Baker has done enough to discipline Roy and Sisk, saying she does not “think this was an issue of crimes.”
“I think the administration took the right action. You’ve got to take swift, immediate action. That is intolerable, unacceptable and I’m glad the administration took the action that it took,” Healey told reporters Thursday at an event in Roxbury. “The administration took the appropriate action, it appears. I don’t know all the specifics of the matter.”
MARA, whose members include some of the more conservative members of the Republican State Committee and some who lost their seats on the committee to Baker-backed candidates, endorsed Tea Party candidate Mark Fisher over Baker in the 2014 GOP gubernatorial primary.
“Our Party cannot continue to be embarrassed by Baker Employees like Conroy and Sisk,” MARA President Mary Lou Daxland, who lost her seat on the state GOP committee to a Baker candidate, said in a statement. “It will be the best combined Quarter-of-a-Million dollars the governor ever saved the Commonwealth to see Sisk follow Conroy out the door.”
— Colin A. Young [Andy Metzger contributed reporting]
VIDEO OF THE WEEK
AG Healey, state health chief and others implore more action in opioid abuse fight
“If you like rundown parks and pools, contaminated land, ongoing threats to our rivers and coastline, and oppose the jobs being created by the environmental economy, these legislators are for you.”
ELM Action Fund Political Director Joe O’Brien
Joe O’Brien-led environmental group puts Central Mass. lawmakers in crosshairs
The Environmental League of Massachusetts Action Fund added six new lawmakers to its “Dirty Dozen” list Thursday, Sept. 1, to make a full dozen Republican lawmakers that the group is urging voters to defeat in November.
Sen. Ryan Fattman of Webster and Reps. Todd Smola of Warren, Kevin Kuros of Uxbridge, David DeCoste of Norwell, Shaunna O’Connell of Taunton and Kate Campanale of Leicester rounded out the list the ELM Action Fund said had “poor voting records on key environmental issues.”
“If you like rundown parks and pools, contaminated land, ongoing threats to our rivers and coastline and oppose the jobs being created by the environmental economy, these legislators are for you,” said ELM Action Fund Political Director Joe O’Brien, former Worcester mayor, in a statement.
“For Massachusetts, these lawmakers are anti-progress and they simply need to go.”
O’Brien, who was also a School Committee member and city councilor, has played a prominent role in Democratic politics. He has also served as district director and political and finance director for U.S. Rep. Jim McGovern, and was campaign manager when Timothy P. Murray, president and CEO of the Worcester Regional Chamber of Commerce, ran for lieutenant governor.
The newly named lawmakers were added to the list because, according to ELM Action Fund, they voted against “key budget provisions” to support environmental protection and state parks, including two bipartisan budget override votes to restore funding cut by Gov. Charlie Baker to the Departments of Environmental Protection and Conservation and Recreation.
Fattman voted in favor of the overrides, but still has “a consistent record of voting against the environment.”
In May, the group put the first six lawmakers on its “Dirty Dozen” list referencing votes dating back as far as 2014 against legislation and budget amendments the group viewed as critical to restoring funding for environmental agencies.
Those included Reps. Jay Barrows of Mansfield, Nicholas Boldyga of Southwick, Geoff Diehl of Whitman, Marc Lombardo of Billerica, James Lyons of Andover and Elizabeth Poirier of North Attleboro.
While the list is made up exclusively of Republicans, ELM Action Fund notes that it honored two Republican senators and four GOP representatives this spring for their “pro-environmental voting records,” including Sens. Bruce Tarr and Donald Humason and Reps. Paul Frost, of Auburn, Angelo D’Emilia, Kimberly Ferguson and Donald Wong.
— Matt Murphy
IN THE NEWS
CVS pharmacists mandated to check database before filling opioid prescriptions
CVS Pharmacy will require its staff to check the state’s prescription monitoring program database before filling certain abuse-associated opioid prescriptions under a newly announced settlement with Attorney General Maura Healey’s office.
The settlement includes a payment of $795,000 from the chain. According to the attorney general’s office, it resolves allegations that CVS failed to provide its pharmacists access to the online prescription monitoring program, in violation of consumer protection laws, before March 2013.
While law enforcement aims to cut off supplies of heroin and fentanyl, state policymakers have focused much of their addiction-prevention efforts on the legal dispensing of powerful painkillers by pharmacists at the direction of doctors.
“Pharmacists are already on the front lines,” Healey said Thursday at an event at the Dimock Center in Boston. She said the requirement that CVS pharmacists check the prescription monitoring program is “empowering” and would likely be welcomed by pharmacists. She said, “This was never required before, and I think it is a big deal.”
An aide to Healey said the settlement marks the first time CVS has instituted a specific requirement to check the prescription database. Healey said CVS is the largest pharmacy chain in Massachusetts and the agreement will cover its 350 Bay State stores and more than 1,200 pharmacists.
Addiction to heroin and prescription painkillers has taken a major toll, with addiction visible throughout the state and a rate of four deaths per day in 2015.
The drugstore chain, which is based in Woonsocket, R.I., allegedly allowed people to bypass MassHealth restrictions on their prescriptions and did not have the sufficient internet connection at some stores until March 2013, leaving them unable to access the online prescription monitoring program (PMP), according to Healey.
“CVS Pharmacy follows each state’s regulations regarding their respective PMPs,” CVS spokesman Mike DeAngelis said in an email. “Generally speaking, it is our expectation that our pharmacists use their professional judgment to determine when to check the PMP as part of their corresponding responsibility to help ensure that prescriptions for controlled substances are written for legitimate medical purposes before dispensing them.”
Asked about practices at non-CVS pharmacies, the attorney general said her office is “going to continue to work with other pharmacies on these issues,” and said the agreement with CVS would “save lives.”
The settlement was signed Tuesday by CVS Health deputy general counsel Elizabeth Ferguson and Kevin Ready, Healey’s acting chief of the Medicaid Fraud Division.
The agreement says CVS failed to provide sufficient internet connectivity for its pharmacists to access the prescription monitoring program, which tracks prescriptions, allowing health professionals to see whether someone has been given an inordinate amount of painkillers.
Public Health Commissioner Dr. Monica Bharel noted that starting in October, every physician and prescriber will need to check the prescription monitoring program before prescribing opiates, and more than 79 percent of the state’s prescribers and pharmacists are on the program.
A new version of the PMP, known as the Massachusetts Prescription Awareness Tool, went live last month, and is intended to be easier to use and to link up with data from surrounding states.
— Andy Metzger