State Capitol Briefs – Wednesday, July 22, 2015

 

REP: UTILITIES CAUSING “SIGNIFICANT” DELAYS ON ROAD PROJECTS

Lawmakers met privately with utility company representatives Wednesday afternoon to discuss a problem that’s grabbed the attention of the House Post Audit and Oversight Committee chairman. Rep. David Linsky (D-Natick) told the News Service that at least two roadway construction projects in his district have been delayed by efforts to move utility wires, and that his colleagues have told him of similar issues in their districts. “In Massachusetts we’re fortunate to have a lot of highway projects and bridge projects going on at this moment. Unfortunately, a number of them have experienced significant construction delays that have been caused by the utility companies not moving the utility poles in a timely manner,” he said. “When that happens, it costs all of us time and money, and creates a great deal of aggravation for residents and commuters.” Linsky’s committee met Wednesday with representatives from National Grid, Eversource, Verizon and Comcast after meeting earlier this month with Mass. Department of Transportation officials. Linsky said he expects his committee will hold additional meetings on the topic as it works to find a way to expedite the projects. “We’re trying to first identify the causes of the problem to see whether projects can be prioritized and whether there is a better way to do things,” he said. “We’re still learning a lot about the process.” – Colin Young /SHNS

BOSTON CITY COUNCIL BACKS CURB ON CONVERSION THERAPY

The Boston City Council on Wednesday endorsed state legislation that would ban licensed professionals from engaging in what’s sometimes called conversion therapy on people under the age of 18. Conversion therapy aims to convert gay or bisexual people into straight people or adjust their gender identities. “Many right-wing religious groups promote the concept that an individual can change his or her sexual orientation, either through prayer or other religious efforts, or through so-called ‘reparative’ or ‘conversion’ therapy,” according to the Human Rights Campaign. The organization said California, New Jersey, and the District of Columbia have passed laws similar to the legislation proposed in Massachusetts. The council adopted a resolution to support Rep. Kay Khan’s bill (H 97), which is up for a hearing before the Committee on Children, Families and Persons with Disabilities on Tuesday, July 28. A Newton Democrat, Khan is chairwoman of that committee and the bill has the endorsement of members of House leadership, Reps. Byron Rushing, Ellen Story and Sarah Peake. City Councilor Michelle Wu said conversion therapy is “a fraudulent practice that paints homosexuality as a mental illness to be quote-unquote ‘cured.'” Wu told councilors the bill would not endanger freedom of speech rights, limiting itself to the conduct of licensed professionals and minors. She said, “It’s really about protecting our minors.” “This is a violation of human rights. It’s plain and simple child abuse,” said City Councilor Ayanna Pressley. She said, “Just because we have marriage equality does not mean that our work and our advocacy is over.” – Andy Metzger/SHNS

GROUPS UNITE TO OPPOSE RETROACTIVE HEALTH COVERAGE TERMINATION

Two organizations sometimes at odds over Massachusetts health care policy found themselves together Wednesday urging lawmakers to change a feature of the Affordable Care Act that allows for subsidized health coverage to be retroactively terminated for patients who fall behind in paying their premiums. The provision of the law, which marks a break from how Massachusetts operated before the new ACA plans went into effect in January, can result in providers being denied payment for services already performed and patients quickly falling into deeper medical debt. The Massachusetts Hospital Association and Health Care for All testified together on Wednesday before the Health Care Financing Committee in favor of a Rep. William “Smitty” Pignatelli bill (H 1020) that would prevent health coverage through the Connector from being retroactively terminated. Under the old Commonwealth Care program, patients who fell behind on their premium payments had a 60-day grace period before their coverage was terminated. That program was eliminated under the ACA, and its successor – Connector Care – includes a federal guideline that affords members a 90-day grace period. However, if a subscriber fails to settle their debts before the end of that window, coverage for all services can be terminated dating back to 30-days after the subscriber first became delinquent on their payments. Michael Sroczynski, vice president at MHA, and Suzanna Curry, from Health Care for All, also testified together in support of two other bills (H 967/S 628) that would establish a new Medicaid and Health Care Reform FMAP Trust Fund for the deposit of federal reimbursements under the ACA’s expanded Medicaid program. The administration would also be required to report annually on how much money the state received from the federal government and how it was spent, a mechanism proponents called necessary to ensure that the $350 million to $500 million in annual enhanced Medicaid funding was being spent as its supposed to be to support health coverage for low-income residents. “We feel this needs to get acted on soon,” Sroczynski said. – Matt Murphy/SHNS

BOSTON POLICE BODY CAMERA HEARING RESCHEDULED

A hearing on a proposed ordinance mandating the use of body cameras by the Boston Police, originally slated for Thursday, was rescheduled on Wednesday to early August. The planned hearing at City Hall would cover an ordinance sponsored by City Councillor Charles Yancey. After promoting the hearing in a press release Tuesday night, Yancey’s office told the News Service about the rescheduled hearing Wednesday afternoon. A Yancey aide said Yancey wanted Boston Police Commissioner William Evans to be at the hearing and he was unable to attend Thursday, which prompted a date change to 5 p.m. on August 5. – Sam Doran/SHNS

Copyright 2015 State House News Service

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