I hope this edition of the legislative update finds you and your family well. As the Legislature embarks on the 2013-2014 session, legislators have been busy drafting legislation, co-sponsoring legislation, and looking at what will be on the agenda for the next two years. I’d like to inform you of my stances on some current and upcoming issues.
Recently, the Inspector General’s office released a report that detailed rampant fraud and abuse within the state’s welfare system. Last session, we made reforms regarding the prohibition of certain purchases made with EBT cards such as lottery, tobacco, tattoos, alcohol, etc. During one of the regional hearings that the Committee on Ways and Means held, I specifically asked the then-Commissioner of the Department of Transitional Assistance (DTA) what was being done to rectify misuse of EBT cards. He stated that there were reforms being internally to do a better job of verifying eligibility for assistance. Based on the Inspector General’s findings, DTA had allowed for 1 in 10 receiving benefits to go unaccounted for or lack proper verification to continue to receive benefits. The findings of the report yield one response; unacceptable. It’s a slap in the face to the hardworking taxpayers and those who may actually need a hand to get back on their feet due during tough times. I have co-sponsored legislation with Rep. Shaunna O’Connell (Taunton) and Rep. Russell Holmes (Boston) to require in depth verification of whether or not someone is eligible for assistance and to move payments made by someone on assistance to online bill services so that the state can monitor that payments are being made properly. We must continue to increase the accountability and transparency of our welfare system. The hard working taxpayers of our Commonwealth deserve nothing less.
Calls for gun laws
Over the course of the last two months, I have directly spoken with many constituents and heard through emails their stances on proposals related to gun control. While we all were heartbroken by the tragedy in Newtown, as makers of public policy, legislators must step back, gather information, and take a measured approach to preventing such a tragedy from happening again. I am not a gun owner or enthusiast, nor am I endorsed by the National Rifle Association or the Gun Owners Action League. However, I understand the concerns that law abiding gun owners in Massachusetts have that far reaching proposals to institute further gun controls and restrictions infringe 2nd amendment rights. This shouldn’t be an argument for more guns and fewer restrictions, and it shouldn’t be an argument about abolishing guns and more restrictions. It has to be a far more comprehensive approach; giving law enforcement enhanced tools to eradicate illegal firearms, empowering prosecutors by dramatically increasing illegal firearm sentences, removing the stigma about mental health issues so we can properly fund mental health just like physical health, expanding access to mental health records in background checks, and creating more firearm safety, education, and awareness. Exact policies in order to achieve these goals are still being crafted, debated, and prepared. I look forward to the debate to make sure a balanced, comprehensive, and most importantly, common sense approach is developed.
Child Sex Predator Prevention Act
I have also jointly filed legislation with Rep. Shaunna O’Connell of Taunton known as Child Sexual Predator Prevention Act. It is our goal that this legislation establishes a no tolerance policy for child sexual predators. Laurie Myers of the victims advocacy group Community VOICES also supports the legislation.
The legislative package provides for:
- A minimum 25-year sentence for the first offense of raping a child (Current statute does not provide for a minimum sentence for a first time conviction)
- A 40-year sentence for the second offense
- A life sentence for the third conviction.
- Requiring level 1 and 2 predators to have their information posted online (Current federal law requires that level 2 offenders be listed online, but the Commonwealth has failed to meet the federal requirement)
- Requiring agencies that oversee children and developmentally disabled persons to communicate with the sex offender registry board
The legislation is in response to the reported crimes of John Burbine who allegedly assaulted 13 babies and toddlers, and now faces 100 sexual abuse charges. Currently, there is no mandatory sentence for first offense rape of a child. Current state law dictates mandatory sentences only apply to aggravated rape of a child; however, assaults such as the ones allegedly committed by Burbine would not be categorized as aggravated.
I have also made a point to co-sponsor common sense legislation that would require National Background Checks for those who work with children, the elderly, and the developmentally disabled.
Just a reminder that office hours are held on the 3rd Monday of the month. Office hours are held 1:30-2:30pm at the Woburn Senior Center, and 3:00-4:00pm at Woburn City Hall in the Committee Room (If there is a holiday, office hours will be held the following Monday). Also, if you are unable to make office hours but would like to speak with me or my legislative aide, please feel free to contact the office at 617-722-2220 or via email at James.Dwyer@mahouse.gov