On Beacon Hill: Beaton ‘saddened’ by retribution charges as State House inquiry lingers

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From State House News Service

ON THE AGENDA

  • Beaton highlights good work of thousands amid retribution claims under his watch
  • DCR deputy tied to throwing private party with public resources resigns
  • Video: Danish royals bring out red carpet, renewable energy talk at State House
  • State health czar trumpets monitoring system to thwart opioid abuse
  • Mary Keefe among reps earning a ‘perfect’ environmental score from PAC

TOP OF THE HILL

Beaton: Retribution charge overshadows work of thousands

Top Baker administration officials have said they are pushing for a swift investigation into claims of political retribution within the Office of Energy and Environmental Affairs, but more than a week has passed since Gov. Charlie Baker said he wanted results “as soon as possible.”

Drought Management Task Force members -- co-chair and Executive Office of Energy and Environmental Affairs' assistant director of water policy, Vandana Rao, left; Energy and Environmental Secretary Matthew Beaton, center; and Department of Environmental Protection Commissioner Martin Suuberg -- met Thursday and received an update on drought conditions from various state and federal agencies.

Antonio Caban / State House News Service

Energy and Environmental Affairs Secretary Matthew Beaton, center, finds his office tangled in controversy.

Energy and Environmental Affairs Secretary Matthew A. Beaton of Shrewsbury, a Worcester-area state representative from 2011 to 2015, told State House News Service Friday, Sept. 30, he was saddened that the allegations might overshadow the work done in his secretariat, known as EEA, which oversees parks, environmental permitting and utilities regulation.

“I look at this generally and it saddens me, because I know the great work that thousands and thousands of amazing employees inside of EEA do day-in and day-out, and to see their great work get overshadowed by something like this – it breaks my heart to see,” Beaton said outside an offshore wind event at the InterContinental Boston hotel.

“Occasionally you have some bad actors. Whether or not that’s the case in this instance is yet to be determined. We’re going to continue to investigate and take appropriate action if necessary.”

On Sept. 22, the Boston Herald reported that Cynthia Lewis, who works for the chief of environmental police, claimed she faced retribution on the job because her fiance, J.D. Parker O’Grady, a Democrat, is challenging Westfield GOP Sen. Don Humason.

Baker is a Republican, as is Lt. Gov. Karyn Polito, also of Shrewsbury and ex-11th Worcester District rep, and both have said they are hoping the investigation – undertaken by administration legal departments – will make a determination soon.

Beaton declined to talk about his understanding of what transpired within the office, citing the ongoing investigation, and also declined to say what should be done should the administration determine Lewis’s claims are completely true.

“It’s too early to speculate,” Beaton said.

— Andy Metzger


DCR deputy tied to throwing private party with public resources resigns

A Baker administration deputy who was suspended earlier in September for using state resources for a private party resigned Friday, Sept. 30.

Matthew Sisk, the deputy commissioner of the Department of Conservation and Recreation (DCR), resigned effective immediately, Executive Office of Energy and Environmental Affairs spokesman Peter Lorenz said in a statement Friday evening.

“As this is a personnel matter, no other information is available,” Lorenz said in the statement.

Sisk and DCR Commissioner Leo Roy were suspended without pay for a week in early September after revelations that the two agency heads used state resources to plan and host a private party at a condominium owned by Ron Kaufman, the state’s Republican national committeeman.

Roy and Sisk paid the state back more than $800 for the state resources they directed toward their July 3 party, which coincided with the Boston Pops Independence Day dress rehearsal concert at the Esplanade’s Hatch Memorial Shell, a DCR property.

Sisk is also a Republican State Committee member. He became DCR deputy commissioner for operations after serving as chairman of MassGOP’s nominating convention. He is also a former economic development specialist in the Massachusetts district office of the U.S. Small Business Administration. His annual salary was $112,200, according to state records.

— Colin A. Young


VIDEO OF THE WEEK

Danish royal family brings energy to State House


IN THE NEWS

State health chief demonstrates prescription monitoring system expected to advance the fight against opioid abuse

BOSTON — With less than two weeks until Massachusetts doctors must check an updated state monitoring program before prescribing opioid medications deemed as having the highest potential for addiction, Public Health Commissioner Dr. Monica Bharel said a majority of prescribers are now registered with the program.

Bharel led a demonstration last week of the Massachusetts Prescription Awareness Tool, or MassPAT, the new online prescription monitoring system that launched last month after upgrades designed to make it easier to use.

“I really want to emphasize that the reason this is called a tool is because it’s a component that is part of a larger clinical picture,” Bharel said. “So I often in my past clinical work used this tool to say, I have a patient in front of me and there may be something in that profile that I saw that suggests drug diversion or that actually suggests early prescription opiate misuse that triggers me to screen them for substance abuse disorder and to get them the treatment they need.”

Department of Public Health Commissioner Dr. Monica Bharel demonstrates how the state's redesigned online Prescription Monitoring Program system will work once it officially launches in mid-October.

Antonio Caban / State House News Service

Department of Public Health Commissioner Dr. Monica Bharel demonstrates how the state’s redesigned online Prescription Monitoring Program system will work once it officially launches in mid-October.

Doctors, dentists, midlevel practitioners and pharmacists who sign into MassPAT and enter a patient’s name and birthdate will then receive a year’s worth of clinical information, showing the drugs prescribed, prescriber and pharmacy information, where the prescription was filled and if the patient paid in cash.

“That was a loophole in the past, where if somebody paid in cash you may not know that they picked up an opioid prescription,” Bharel said.

She said the tool also checks for slight changes in a patient’s name or birthdate — an alternate spelling or inverted digits, for example — because patients may provide variations on their information when trying to obtain extra drugs without drawing attention.

As of Tuesday, 16 other states — including Vermont, New York, Connecticut and Rhode Island — had connected with the program so Massachusetts prescribers can access their data, according to the Department of Public Health.

The department said the system, which officially launched on Aug. 22, has been searched an average of 9,300 times per week.

Beginning Oct. 15, prescribers will need to check MassPAT before issuing a prescription for any Schedule II or Schedule III opioid.

The federal government classifies drugs into five schedules based on their potential for abuse or dependency. At the top of the list are Schedule I drugs such as heroin and ecstasy, which the Drug Enforcement Administration defines as having a high potential for abuse and no currently accepted medical use. Schedule II drugs, including Vicodin and Oxycontin, have a high potential for abuse, and Schedule III drugs, including products with under 90 milligrams of codeine per dose, have a “moderate to low potential for physical and psychological dependence,” according to the DEA.

Also starting Oct. 15, prescribers will need to check the system for new first-time prescriptions of benzodiazepines and Schedule IV through VI drugs, according to the DPH.

The changes were included as part of a substance abuse prevention law Gov. Charlie Baker signed in March.

“We see this as a really important way that providers can become part of the solution to our current public health opiate crisis,” Bharel said.

— Katie Lannan


Keefe among lawmakers earning ‘perfect score’ from ELM Action Fund

Twenty-six House lawmakers and seven senators earned top marks on the Environmental League of Massachusetts Action Fund’s scorecard for this legislative session, a tally the group hopes to use to spur greater transparency.

Included in the list is Mary Keefe, who represents the 15th Worcester District.

Legislators received points for roll call votes in favor of policies the group supported, including funding for various environmental agencies and renewable energy legislation. Points were also awarded for what ELM Action Fund President George Bachrach called “acts of leadership.”

“This is our best effort to give voters a sense of who is really on their side in the critically important work that goes on out of public view,” Bachrach, a former state senator, said in a statement.

Joe O’Brien, former Worcester mayor, is political director of ELM Action Fund. The board includes former state Sen. Warren Tolman, former state education and finance official Peter Nessen, and Doug Foy, who served in former Gov. Mitt Romney’s cabinet.

Bachrach said few recorded votes were cast this session and he hopes the scorecard encourages the Legislature “to go on record and cast more roll call votes.”

The scorecard recognized lawmakers who filed bills and urged their colleagues to support certain positions the ELM Action Fund also backs, including Reps. David Rogers of Cambridge and Carolyn Dykema of Holliston for their advocacy on funding for the Department of Environmental Protection; and Harwich Sen. Daniel Wolf, who championed zoning reform legislation the Senate passed in June (S. 2311).

“We’re giving points or taking away points based on action,” Bachrach said. “All of us focus on what we’re scored on, from our earliest days in elementary school on, and ELM wants to focus on not really their votes, but their acts of leadership on energy and the environment.”

The lowest-scoring senator was Westport Democrat Michael Rodrigues (70), followed by Webster Republican Ryan Fattman (71). Quincy Democrat John Keenan and Republicans Patrick O’Connor of Weymouth and Vinny deMacedo of Plymouth all scored 76. The remaining three Senate Republicans — Donald Humason of Westfield, Richard Ross of Wrentham and Bruce Tarr of Gloucester — earned a 77.

Andover Republican Rep. James Lyons’ score of 27 was the lowest in the House. The highest scoring House Republican was Rep. Leonard Mirra of West Newbury, with 73. The lowest scoring House Democrat was Gardner Rep. Jonathan Zlotnik, with 84.

“We’re a nonpartisan organization but people wonder sometimes why Republicans score relatively low, and the simple answer is funding for environmental protection agency,” Bacharach said.

Senate President Stan Rosenberg scored 100, and House Speaker Robert DeLeo scored 95. The leaders of the two branches each voted in line with the ELM position on each scored vote.

Joining Rosenberg as top Senate scorers were Sens. Wolf, Michael Barrett of Lexington, Cynthia Creem of Newton, Benjamin Downing of Pittsfield, Jamie Eldridge of Acton, and Marc Pacheco of Taunton.

In the House, perfect scores were awarded to Keffe, Atkins, Dykema, Kulik, David Rogers, and Reps. Ruth Balser, Thomas Calter, Linda Dean Campbell, Gailanne Cariddi, Marjorie Decker, Lori Ehrlich, Tricia Farley-Bouvier, Carmine Gentile, Jonathan Hecht, Paul Heroux, Jay Kaufman, Kay Khan, Jay Livingstone, Paul Mark, Denise Provost, Tom Sannicandro, Frank Smizik, Thomas Stanley, Steven Ultrino and Chris Walsh.

The eight votes House lawmakers were scored on included fiscal year 2016 funding for the state climatologist, and funding for the Department of Environmental Protection and state parks and recreation in both the 2016 and 2017 fiscal years.

Senators were scored on 16 votes, including DEP and parks and recreation funding, fiscal 2017 climate adaptation funding, the zoning bill, an MBTA fare increase limit (H. 4492) and a climate change adaptation management plan (S. 2092).

— Katie Lannan

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