State Capitol Briefs — Wednesday, June 18, 2014


State House News Service —
After years of trying to strike a compromise, the House voted unanimously on Wednesday to extend the statute of limitations for victims of child sexual assault to bring civil claims against their abusers. The bill (H 4126) would allow victims of child sexual abuse to file civil lawsuits up until the time they turn 53 years old, an extra 35 years on top of what is currently allowed. Rep. John Lawn, a Watertown Democrat who worked with victims, advocates and groups like the Catholic Church to reach the compromise, said the bill struck a balance between allowing victims the time to come to terms with their abuse while also respecting the rights of institutions that might become involved in lawsuits stemming from decades-old incidents. Lawn got involved with the issue after a constituent came to him seeking assistance after she was raped, drugged and impregnated as a young teenager by her uncle, Lawn said the woman was in her 40s before she was fully ready to confront her abuser, but it was too late to seek justice. The new statute of limitations would be applied retroactively to cases against the alleged perpetrator of the abuse, but not for institutions who may have “negligently supervised” the abuser. The bill would also extend from three years to seven years the limit for a civil lawsuit to be brought against either class of defendant from the time the victim “discovered or reasonably should have discovered that an emotional or psychological injury or condition was caused” by the sexual abuse. Both the House and Senate advanced bills late in 2012 to a conference committee, but lawmakers were unable to reach a compromise that year. “We believe this is as close to perfect as you could possibly get in striking a balance,” said Rep. Chris Markey, the ranking House Democrat on the Judiciary Committee. The bill now moves to the Senate. – M. Murphy/SHNS

Juveniles convicted of first-degree felony murder would be eligible for parole after serving prison sentences of 20 to 25 years, and those convicted of premeditated murder, with malice or “extreme cruelty,” would serve sentences between 25 to 30 years before they are parole eligible, under a bill that passed 127-16 in the House Wednesday. The state Supreme Judicial Court ruled last December, in Diatchenko v. District Attorney for Suffolk County, that life sentences without the possibility for parole for juveniles were unconstitutional. Since the ruling, lawmakers have been crafting legislation to respond to the court. “When there is felony murder when there is no intent to kill, we have come up with a number of 20 to 25 in the highest range. Where there is extreme cruelty and atrocity, 25 years is the low-end,” said Rep. Christopher Markey, who is acting as chair of the Judiciary Committee since former Rep. Eugene O’Flaherty left the Legislature. Lawmakers rejected Republican-led attempts to increase the ceiling to 25 years for first degree murder and 35 years for those convicted of premeditated murder with malice. Out of 10 amendments filed to the bill, only two were adopted, including one filed by Markey to and another filed by Rep. Shelia Harrington for a study commission to determine the usefulness and practicality of creating a developmental evaluation process in all cases of juvenile first degree murder. – C. Quinn/SHNS

REPUBLICANS SLAM HEALTH CARE LAW IMPLEMENTATION: Republican lawmakers on Wednesday lit into the state’s efforts to implement the federal Affordable Care Act, a year after the House voted to pass legislation paving the way for the implementation. Gathering outside the State House, they were joined by Bill Vernon of the Massachusetts chapter of the National Federation of Independent Businesses, who acknowledged that he had “plenty of complaints” over the years about the Massachusetts health care reform law, which the federal government used as a template for the national health care law. But the state’s initial health care exchange website the state worked, he said, and legislators and Health Connector officials were willing to make fixes as they encountered problems. “We’re now all at the mercy of a federal bureaucracy,” Vernon said. A number of state residents have lost their coverage since the implementation of ACA, according to Rep. Ryan Fattman (R-Sutton). “We had led the nation, we are now lagging the nation,” Fattman said. Fattman, who is challenging Sen. Richard Moore (D-Uxbridge) this year, said, “This is going to be an election-year issue.” Fattman introduced a constituent, Lori Burrows, who said she lost her health insurance in November 2013 and is in “limbo right now.” Burrows, a 51-year-old Webster resident, said she has been in frequent communication with Connector officials and they have lost her paperwork “several times.” “It’s just been one problem after another with them,” she said. Fattman sought to highlight the House vote for implementation on June 19, 2013, with a large poster board featuring the 118-to-32 tally in favor of the bill (H 3452). The press conference, held outside the State House, drew about 50 people along with Paul Craney of Mass. Fiscal Alliance, and Reps. Jay Barrows, Matt Beaton, Leah Cole, Angelo D’Emilia, Paul Frost, Vinny deMacedo, Kevin Kuros and Donald Wong. – G. Dumcius/SHNS

The UMass Board of Trustees on Wednesday approved its second consecutive tuition and fee freeze for in-state undergraduate students. Trustees, meeting on the Dartmouth campus, unanimously froze tuition and fees for 2014-2015, the result of an expected influx of state funds for the five-campus system. At the flagship UMass Amherst campus, tuition and fees would stay at $13,258 for in-state undergraduates. With room and board, the number is $24,215. At UMass Boston, tuition and fees will stay at $11,966, while at the Dartmouth campus, the figure will remain at $11,681. At the Lowell campus, the tuition and fees will remain at $12,447. According to UMass, the House and Senate versions of the budget fund the UMass system at just under $519 million. The university system’s board also voted to give UMass President Robert Caret “emergency authority” to raise fees on in-state undergraduates by up to 3.5 percent if the state budget does not end up maintaining the funding level. “Freezing tuition and fees in consecutive years represents a real savings for students and their families, and also makes a strong statement about our commitment to affordability and the seriousness with which we take our public mission,” Robert Caret, president of the UMass system, said in a statement. In a release on the freeze, university officials noted that tuition and room and board charges continue to rise at some private colleges and universities in the Boston area. – G. Dumcius/SHNS

Three western Massachusetts House lawmakers will work with the Senate to negotiate differences between the two branches on the $1 billion Boston Convention Center expansion. Reps. Peter Kocot (D-Northampton), Stephen Kulik (D-Worthington) and Todd Smola (R-Warren) were named Wednesday afternoon to a conference committee after both the House and Senate voted to finance the project aimed at moving Boston into the top-tier of convention centers (H 4111). The BCEC expansion sailed through the Legislature more smoothly than the 1997 law that allowed the massive structure to be built in the South Boston seaport. The Senate could name its negotiators on Thursday, when a final enactment vote is also expected on legislation raising the minimum wage. – C. Quinn/SHNS


Copyright 2014 State House News Service

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