Wednesday, June 29, 2011

Massachusetts alimony reform bill likely up for a vote this summer

Senator Gale Candaras’ alimony reform bill (S00665) was heard by the Joint Committee on the Judiciary on May 18, 2011 in the Gardner Auditorium, the largest venue available in the Statehouse. That marathon session was followed by an executive session of the committee on June 2nd during which the bill received a favorable report and was moved on to the House Committee on Steering, Policy and Scheduling.

With about 130 co-sponsors from the collective 200 members of the Senate and House, it appears that the bill will easily get the nod to make its way down the hall to the governor’s office. But a bill with this much support has intrinsic value as horse; that is, in a proverbial horse trading session.

That’s what makes it impossible to know when the bill will be brought to a vote in the House and Senate chambers. Clearly, the focus at the moment is on the Conference Committee’s reconciliation of the two house’s fiscal 2012 budget proposals. A continuing resolution was passed on Monday to keep state government funded for a couple of weeks, moving a likely vote on the budget to next week.

With the budget hurdle cleared, alimony reform will get its day in General Court. Here is the summary included with Senator Candaras’ bill:

This measure is the result of the work by the Alimony Task Force appointed by the Chairs of the Joint Committee on the Judiciary. The Task Force worked to produce a piece of legislation resulting in fair and equitable alimony reform in Massachusetts.

Each member of the Task Force brought to the table a unique perspective based on his or her respective experience and prospective solutions. Task Force members sought to respond to the requests for simplification, clarification, and specificity of the alimony law throughout the process, responding to concerns and thoughtful insight from a myriad of parties, such as judges, lawyers, reform advocates and individuals interested in reforming alimony law in the Commonwealth.

The Task Force is comprised of members representing diverse groups of interests and parties. Senator Gale D. Candaras and Representative John V. Fernandes were appointed as the co-chairs of the Task Force. The co-chairs were joined by representatives from the following interest groups, which spanned various socio-economic backgrounds, as well as differing interests: (1) the judiciary, (2) bar associations, (3) private attorneys, and (4) an advocacy group. Along with Judiciary Committee staff, the individual members of the Task Force include: Senator Gale D. Candaras (Co-Chair); Representative John V. Fernandes (Co-Chair); Honorable Paula M. Carey, Chief Justice of the Probate and Family Court; Kelly Leighton, Esq., Liaison to the Boston Bar Association; Fern L. Frolin, Esq., Massachusetts Chapter of the American Academy of Matrimonial Lawyers; David Lee, Esq., Massachusetts Chapter of the American Academy of Matrimonial Lawyers; Denise Squillante, Esq., Massachusetts Bar Association; Steve Hitner, Massachusetts Alimony Reform; and Rachel Biscardi, Esq., Women’s Bar Association.

Through this comprehensive legislation, the Task Force addresses numerous issues and establishes parity and clarity regarding alimony in the Commonwealth. The following is a broad overview of the major concerns the Task Force encountered, and the recommendations addressed in the accompanying petition.

1. Separate Alimony Categories with Clear Definitions and Set Durational Limits—This petition proposes clear and categorical definitions for alimony, commonly used by the courts, but absent in the current general laws. These new categories are as follows: (a) general term alimony, (b) rehabilitative alimony, (c) reimbursement alimony, and (d) transitional alimony. Each category contains a concise definition along with a durational limit, giving payors and recipients a clear expectation of a finite period of time alimony will be paid and/or received. Further, for general term alimony, the default form of alimony, durational limits are based on the length of marriage, and now encompass short-term marriages (marriages for five years or less), which were often excluded from alimony awards in practice. However, the court retains its discretion to order indefinite alimony in certain cases.

2. Termination of General Alimony at Retirement—The legislation also provides, unless good cause is shown, that general alimony terminates upon the payor spouse reaching the age of full retirement. The age of full retirement is established by the federal United States Old-Age Disability, and Survivors Insurance Act, and may change periodically, subject to the federal statute. By terminating General Term Alimony at retirement, the Task Force hopes to enable both payors and recipients to plan for their own retirement.

3. Cohabitation—This reform also makes recommendations regarding the issue of cohabitation. The Task Force’s goal is to end the situation where the payor spouse continues to support the recipient spouse while maintaining a life with another. Nonetheless, safeguards are included to protect the recipient spouse where appropriate. Specifically, the recipient spouse may petition the court to reinstate the alimony award if and when the recipient spouse moves out.

4. Modified Factors Consider in a Alimony Order & Percentage of Need—This petition also provides a list of amended factors the court must consider when determining an alimony order. The factors chosen reflect a more comprehensive, effective and relevant list than the current law, including several stemming from the leading bill proposed by Representative Stephen Walsh during the 186th legislative session.

5. Phase In Time Structure for Modifications—To prevent an additional burden on the courts, the Task Force delineated a “phase in” structure in the modification of current alimony orders. This will allow current payors and recipients to petition for modification of their current alimony orders, pursuant to this legislation, while allowing the courts ample time for the critical training and necessary preparations that this new law will undoubtedly require. Moreover, this phase in period will hopefully ease the hardship on the courts resulting from the influx of cases onto their current caseloads and other recent changes in the general laws.

Saturday, June 25, 2011

Right to Repair Bill

I’ve been researching the Right to Repair issue to get beneath the crust and understand the underlying arguments for and against the bill. It was first introduced in the U.S. Congress just before September 11, 2001 and was lost in the aftermath of al-Qaeda’s attacks on us. Since then, it has been introduced in each session of Congress but has died in committee.

The strategy has shifted to passing it in a state. It doesn’t matter which one; once the “secret” codes and other repair information are made available anywhere, it is instantaneously available everywhere.

I found an article by Robert Charette on an IEEE blog that does a much better job of describing the issue and arguments than I could do. There are numerous links to source information and easy-to-understand explanations of the practical ramifications of passing such a law. Read Robert’s article here. 

What I’m asking is input from readers here regarding their level of support for this bill. On the surface it seems that no one would be against Right to Repair if only because of the title. Who’s against consumer rights? On the other hand, will this lead to knock-off diagnostic equipment and car parts made in China? Just another giveaway of technology that would result in lost U.S. jobs?

Weigh in with your thoughts and vote in the poll at the right.

Thursday, June 23, 2011

After dozens of rounds of layoffs, more state employees than before

The Pioneer Institute is scratching its head trying to figure out how the employment rolls increased in state government while the news coming out of various agencies was all about the numerous rounds of painful layoffs. See the article by clicking here.

Sandwich High School: Excellence behind a wall of noise

While the headlines about the school district screamed controversy, infighting, and disarray, something very productive was happening behind the scenes at Sandwich High School. Faculty, staff, and students were quietly working their way onto Newsweek’s list of America’s Best High Schools.

Eleven Massachusetts high schools earned recognition as a Top 500 school. Sandwich High School is in the company of Boston Latin and Sturgis Charter as well as some of the most innovative schools in the country, including the Magnet School of Science and Engineering in Dallas, Texas, and University High School in Irvine, California.

Congratulations to Ellin Booras, principal, and each one of the teachers, support staff, students and parents who put Sandwich High School on the map in such a positive way.

Tuesday, June 21, 2011

Gaming is coming to Massachusetts

I don’t see a repeat of last July, when the senate president, speaker of the house, and governor all agreed that they wanted to legalize class III gaming, but couldn’t get it done.

Governor Patrick was pushing for up to three resort casinos but didn’t support slots at race tracks, often dubbed “racinos.” Speaker DeLeo, who had two race tracks in his district, was insisting on two racinos on top of the three resort casinos. Senate President Murray gaveled the passing of a bill that excluded slot parlors, but the senate and house ultimately passed DeLeo’s version of the bill, which Patrick amended.

Because the bill was sent to the gov so late in the session, his amendments essentially killed it. Murray declared an end to the combative back-and-forth, knowing that she would not have the votes to convene a formal session after July 31st.

A year later, it seems that the stars are aligning. The two race tracks in DeLeo’s district, Wonderland Dog Track—which was relegated to off track betting after the November 2008 ballot question ended greyhound racing—was sold to Suffolk Downs. And there is apparent interest on the part of the Wampanoag Tribe to buy Raynham Park, the other dog track that voters raised their leg on.

Those developments will dissipate some of the interbranch rancor and leave the team of three with a compromise that will be rolled out next month. The votes are still there in the house and senate, so my sense of it is that Rhode Island and Connecticut are not getting another reprieve this year.

Sunday, June 19, 2011

Happy Father's Day

According to Wikipedia, not exactly an authoritative source but always the top listing when I google something, Father’s Day was first celebrated in Fairmont, West Virginia, on Sunday, July 5, 1908.

It appears that Mrs. Clayton, organizer of this first day of honor for fathers, failed to consider the effect of the competing holiday the day before. Not a single father showed up to the parade at 10 a.m. They were all sleeping off a late night of drinking, carousing, shooting bottle rockets at each other, and passing out before the fireworks finale.

A couple of years later, Mrs. Dodd of Spokane, Washington, picked a less hung over Sunday and received credit for launching Father’s Day into what it is today—a day to worship the backyard barbecue grill, giving fathers a chance to demonstrate why they should not be in charge of preparing the family meals.

Think about it. Whenever I got an idea to experiment with something my mom considered to be dangerous or a fire hazard, she made me do it in the backyard. She’d peer out the kitchen window, poised to call the fire department in case of an explosion.

Mary hides it well, but I can feel her staring at me when I light the grill, just waiting for me start running around the yard like a stuntman in Firestarter.

What I like about Father’s Day is getting phone calls from each of our six kids. They don’t know this but I have been keeping records for years with the time of day each of them called me. Phone calls before 10 a.m. and after 6 p.m. score negative points. Too early is not good. It makes me think you’re just trying to get it off your To-Do list; the obligatory Happy Father’s Day call. Too late is also not good. An afterthought. Oh, crap, did you call your father yet?

I really enjoy the leisurely pace of Father’s Day. It’s a day devoid of gutter cleaning, rearranging the basement, and painting the shed. It’s the day that I can suggest doing something that would normally be met with a scowl. Like visiting the Museum of Holography. Or watching the 149-minute Das Boot for the fifth time while insisting that everyone in the room remain completely silent.

It’s now shortly before 10 a.m., so I need to warm up my vocal chords and pull out my Father’s Day diary. To every father out there, Happy Father’s Day. Enjoy it and get your rear end back to work tomorrow.

Thursday, June 16, 2011

Bruins end drought, win Stanley Cup

I grew up on the border of Texas and Mexico, where we could barely grow enough ice to chill our sweet tea. The thought of playing ice hockey… Well, we never really thought about it.

I went to a preseason game in the late 80’s in Dallas between two teams I don’t remember. The Stars didn’t make it to Dallas until 1993. What I do remember is that it seemed much easier to follow the action by being there, as opposed to watching it on television (at least, low-def TV).

The pace of the game is absolutely insane. And the collisions are awesome. Seems like the players are a combination of Hulk Hogan, Brian Boitano, and Errol Flynn.

I don’t pretend to be a hockey fan, but I am starting to appreciate the nuances of the game. I even researched “icing” and the myriad reasons that it’s not called, even when the puck crosses two red lines. Never once did I see why offsides was called, though I have that same problem with soccer.

Zdeno Charo hoists Stanley Cup
What I do understand is that real fans have been frustrated for decades and, like when the Red Sox broke the Curse, there was as much a feeling of relief as jubilation; made that much better by the big talking Luango playing his second game in a row doing his dead-on impression of a sieve.

Without a doubt, Tim Thomas deserved to be the Conn Smythe trophy winner no matter the result of Game 7. If he was sun block, he’d be SPF 940.

The Stanley Cup is coming home to Boston. Congratulations to the entire Bruins organization and every die-hard fan who never stopped believing.

Wednesday, June 15, 2011

Attention small business owners: You can rein in the cost of health insurance

Show your support with written or live testimony

I filed a bill, An Act Relative To Health Care Cost For Small Business (H02351), that will provide immediate relief for businesses with more than ten and fewer than 50 full-time equivalent (FTE) employees. If you own such a business or know someone who does, you should read this summary.

The Affordable Care Act (national health care reform), which is based on the Massachusetts' model, exempts businesses with fewer than 50 FTE employees from many of the mandates of the law. Massachusetts' law sets this threshold at 11 FTE employees. House 2351 makes an early adoption of the Federal threshold. There is bipartisan support for this bill; legislators who understand that small businesses are bearing an undue burden when it comes to health insurance expenses, a burden that is growing at an unsustainable rate.

If you have dealt with health insurance audits by the state, paid fines, and watched critical working capital cash taken out of your business and redirected to support the costliest system of health insurance in the country, then you know how this simple change in the law would provide immediate relief for your business.

The hearing is scheduled for next Tuesday, June 21, 2011 at 10 a.m. at the Statehouse in Hearing Room A-1. If you are interested in testifying how this bill would help your business, you can join me at the hearing or you can submit written testimony to the Joint Committee on Public Health. An email message can be included in the written testimony, so please don't think that the formalities of written testimony are an obstacle. Email me at

If you would like to testify in person, you will be limited to three minutes, but you should submit a written version of your testimony. The written version can be much more detailed if you like.

This is your opportunity to make a difference, a big difference in controlling costs that have some of our small businesses on the ropes.

Call my district office at 508-888-2158 or email me to register your willingness to rein in the over-reaching mandate we find ourselves under.

Thursday, June 9, 2011

Let’s fix the hole in the windshield (Natalie’s Bill)

Guest article by Greg Parkinson, M.D., Chairman
Committee on Injury, Violence and Poison Prevention
Massachusetts Chapter of American Academy of Pediatrics

Health care cost containment is the buzz phrase of 2011 on Beacon Hill. You can hear it from Gov. Patrick and both chambers of the Legislature. While heated debates over solutions have ensued, most legislators are ignoring one easy component: the seat belt. When unbelted people crash through a windshield, they create a hole through which lives and money are being needlessly thrown.

As a pediatrician, I see this issue as one of saving lives. Too many dreams have been cut short and too many families have been devastated. However, not everyone is moved by personal tragedies. Perhaps now, at last, as we struggle financially, others can see that it is time to pass a better seat belt law. Primary seat belt enforcement can save more lives than I can hope to save in an entire career — and it also makes financial sense.

Health care is expensive, but an ounce of prevention is still worth a pound of cure. Furthermore, an ounce of prevention saves money. That is, injury prevention equals cost containment. Since car crashes represent the No. 1 cause of death under age 45, the seat belt emerges as a tool for saving money. This can be an “aha” moment.

Car crashes cost Massachusetts more than $6 billion annually. One major reason is our abysmal seat belt use rate of 74 percent; we rank 48th in the nation. This results largely from a failure to embrace primary seat belt enforcement. The 30 states where police can stop a driver solely for a belt violation have belt use rates 12 points higher than those, like Massachusetts, that require another reason to stop drivers.

Changing to primary enforcement would prevent more than 650 serious injuries and save 18 lives and more than 70 million health care dollars (private insurance, Medicare, Medicaid and self-pay) every year. That’s $70 million for one small change, and it actually improves health care. Not only that, but if the law is signed by June 30, the federal government will add $13.6 million in grants.

State Speaker Pro Tem Patricia Haddad and state Sen. Patricia Jehlen have proposed “An Act Establishing a Primary Seat Belt Law” (HB 2401/SB 1211). This bill, which does not affect insurance premiums, awaits a hearing in the Joint Committee on Public Safety and Homeland Security, which includes Cape Reps. Cleon Turner and David Vieira. It is referred to as Natalie’s Bill, after 21 year-old Natalie DeLeon of Springfield, who died in an unbelted crash in 2006, and is supported by a coalition of more than 40 organizations.

So what’s the holdup? Some say seat belts are a personal choice; however, almost three-quarters of crash costs are paid by those not involved in the crash. This makes it everyone’s business. Oliver Wendell Holmes said, “The right to swing my fist ends where the other man’s nose begins.”

And while racial discrimination has understandably raised fears in the minority community, research shows that primary enforcement does not increase racial profiling, but does reduce racial disparities in seat belt use. The wrong of racial profiling will not be righted by the wrong of people being thrown through their windshields. And the car traveling at 60 mph doesn’t care about race, socioeconomic status or religious beliefs. The crashing car treats us all equally.

We need to admit that education and secondary enforcement have given us a seat belt use rate that is almost the worst in the nation. We must care about the victims — not just the occupants, but the workers, the caregivers and the loved ones. We must recognize that we can save $70 million in health costs, millions more in related costs, and receive $13.6 million in federal money, at a time of drastic cutbacks.

This is low-hanging fruit for the Legislature. It is time to fix the hole in the windshield, to pass Natalie’s Bill and adopt a new, effective and cost-saving strategy for the commonwealth.

Dr. Greg Parkinson, a Falmouth pediatrician, is chairman of the Committee on Injury, Violence and Poison Prevention for the Massachusetts Chapter of American Academy of Pediatrics and co-chairman of the Belts Ensure a Safer Tomorrow Coalition.

Saturday, June 4, 2011

Spring cleaning on steroids

The Town of Sandwich begins its Pay-As-You-Throw program on July 1st which, besides requiring special bags for disposing trash, also brings back the $10 fee for dropping off certain items, such as refrigerators, tires, propane tanks, etc.

Thus, June stacks up to be the biggest spring cleaning month Sandwich residents have ever waged. With that $10 per item fee looming, there’s a run on straps and bungee cords at the local hardware stores. Soon we’ll see Beverly Hillbilly looking trucks pulling into the transfer station nearly tipping over with the weight of sofas, mattresses, stoves, coffee tables, air conditioners, and dehumidifiers.

It’s certainly a motivator to clean out the cellar and empty the attic. Some of our friends are planning entire weekends around spring cleaning this year. Those who prefer to call this new system “Pay Through The Nose” see the days leading up to July 1st as an opportunity to wage a demonstration, harkening back to that old Johnny Paycheck song: Take This Tub And Shove It.

Friday, June 3, 2011

Weiner grilled for not so hot (dog) interviews

UPDATE (6/6/2011): Weiner admits weeny pic is self-portrait

A tearful congressman (no, not John Boehner) was frank with reporters, admitting that he lied (make that “hasn’t told the truth”) about someone hacking his Twitter account and sending a photo of Private Part to a co-ed.

In fact, the picture of his skivvy-clad congressional member is apparently only the tip of the iceberg. Other pics and emails are emerging, perhaps 200 or more from a growing list of women with whom he admitted having online and telephone flirtations. But, unlike Chris Lee, the shirtless New York Republican congressman who resigned after sending photos to women via Craigslist, Weiner has no plans to quit.

Other memorable congressional sexcapades:

* * * * *

It’s time for politicians to adopt an old television censor policy created for Elvis Presley: Do not shoot below the belt—photos and videos, that is.

Anthony Weiner, NY Congressman
Two questions pop into one’s head while watching Anthony Weiner’s interviews:

      1)      How was it that he seemed to know instantly that his Twitter account was hacked? I’ve been getting spoof emails from friends for months who still don’t have a clue that their Hotmail accounts have been hijacked.

      2)      Why can’t Weiner disclaim that the photo is of his own junk? If he never took a pic of his bratwurst…

We don’t need Dick Tracy to know what’s going on here.

Thursday, June 2, 2011

Canvasback Homeowners Association state permit public comment window is open

The public comment period is open for the plan to install eight docks on Peters Pond by the Canvasback Homeowners Association. It is a chance to submit written testimony for or against the project.
Public notice is hereby given of the waterways application by the Canvasback Homeowners Association to construct and maintain eight docks, with associated stairs, gangways, platforms and floats, at Pierre Vernier Drive, in the municipality of Sandwich, in and over the waters of Peters Pond.
Any one wishing to make comments in this matter have 30 days from the Notification Date, which was May 27, 2011. All written comments can be sent to:
David Hill, Environmental Engineer
DEP, Waterways Regulation Program
20 Riverside Drive
Lakeville, MA 02347
MGL 91 Waterways License Application Number is W11-3321, which needs to be referenced in your correspondence.

Wednesday, June 1, 2011

House passes legislation to combat human trafficking

Today, the Massachusetts House of Representatives unanimously passed legislation aimed at fighting human trafficking in the Commonwealth. The bill creates crimes for human trafficking offenses such as trafficking persons for sexual servitude and trafficking persons for forced services.

“Our primary job as elected officials is to secure the safety of folks across the Commonwealth,” House Speaker Robert A. DeLeo said. “No one should have to experience the horrors of being sold into a life of exploitation. This anti-human trafficking legislation will help our law enforcement officials crack down on instances of this unconscionable practice in Massachusetts.”

“This bill will give our law enforcement professionals the tools needed to address human trafficking offenses in Massachusetts,” said Representative Eugene L. O’Flaherty, House Chairman of the Joint Committee on the Judiciary.

“The passing of this bill by the House is an important step towards eradicating Human Trafficking in our Commonwealth,” said Attorney General Martha Coakley. “The fact remains that people of all backgrounds are being exploited for sexual servitude and labor right in our own backyard. We remain one of four states without a law against human trafficking, and we hope this bill will finally change that. We commend the House leadership, especially Speaker DeLeo and Chairman O’Flaherty, for sending a strong message that this brutal exploitation will not be tolerated.”

The bill creates the crimes of trafficking persons for sexual servitude and trafficking persons for forced services, each of which carries a punishment of imprisonment for up to 15 years or a fine of up to $25,000, or both.

The legislation also creates the crimes of trafficking for sexual servitude or forced services on a person under 18 years-old. Each crime carries a penalty of up to life in prison.

Additionally, the bill increases protection for children by raising the age required to be considered a minor in the context of engagement in sexual conduct. Previously, only those under 14 years of age had qualified as minors in this context. This legislation increases the age to 18.

The legislation authorizes all money seized as a result of human trafficking apprehensions to be made available to human trafficking victims who are awarded restitution by a court.

The bill also addresses the demand side of human trafficking by increasing the punishment for those who pay another person in exchange for sexual conduct.

In an effort to provide needed social services for victims of human trafficking, the bill includes a “Safe Harbor” provision that allows a court to judge a person under 18 years-old who is apprehended for prostitution – but found to be a victim of human trafficking – to be in need of services rather than simply delinquent.

Finally, the bill establishes an inter-agency task force to address human trafficking. The task force will collect data to continually study the problem of human trafficking and devise plans to share information across agencies to facilitate a more efficient pursuit of human traffickers.

Driving for Charity: May 2011 – Alzheimer’s Services of Cape Cod & the Islands

I made a campaign promise, at the urging of Matt Pitta, WXTK Radio news director, to pass through my state representative travel per diem to a local charity each month. Unlike most of us who do not get paid to commute, legislators receive payments based on the distance they drive to the Statehouse. My per diem is $45. Click here to see “Who gets paid to drive to work?”

May’s per diem payment of $405 represents nine trips to the Statehouse and I am honored to donate that amount to Alzheimer’s Services of Cape Cod & the Islands, a 100% locally funded and operated 501(c)(3) not-for-profit organization dedicated to providing supportive and capacity-building services to individuals in our region who are affected by Alzheimer’s disease or a related dementia and the families and professionals who care for them.

Alzheimer’s is a disease affecting my mom, which I have written about in my blog:

I appeal to anyone who has been directly or peripherally affected by this disease to make a contribution to this deserving support organization.

For more information and to donate: