By Matt Murphy
State House News Service
BOSTON -- The Senate on Thursday will consider legislation to increase the financial penalties for corporate manslaughter, taking up a bill first filed by Attorney General Martha Coakley in the aftermath of the Big Dig tunnel ceiling collapse, according to a Senate aide.
The bill, co-sponsored by Sen. Jennifer Flanagan, would increase the penalty for a corporation found guilty of manslaughter to $250,000 from its present $1,000 limit and has taken on added significance in the wake of a deadly meningitis outbreak stemming from an unsanitary conditions at a Massachusetts compounding drug pharmacy.
Coakley, who lists the bill as a priority this session, argued last December that corporate responsibility for "criminally negligent behavior" is largely unaddressed in state law.
"It is a common-sense update to the current manslaughter statute that allows the commonwealth to more fully hold corporations charged with manslaughter accountable. The $1,000 penalty has not been increased in nearly 200 years," Coakley wrote in a letter to the chairs of the Committee on Public Health.
The committee reported the bill favorably in August, and it was referred to the Senate Ways and Means Committee.
The Senate, which on Thursday will meet in a formal session for the first time since late July, will also take up legislation related to critical incident intervention by emergency-service providers.
Sponsored by Sen. James Timilty, the legislation seeks to encourage first responders to provide or receive crisis intervention treatment after a critical incident by guaranteeing the confidentiality of any information disclosed in the course of such intervention.
The bill would protect those providing or receiving crisis intervention services from being required to testify or divulge information unless the communications indicate a threat to the individual or another person, or indicate the existence of past child abuse or neglect, abuse of an adult or family violence.
Gov. Deval Patrick in January filed legislation to strengthen the oversight and regulatory controls of compounding pharmacies in Massachusetts, and said at the time he supported increasing the corporate manslaughter penalties.
The Legislature has yet to address questions of oversight of compounding pharmacies, but leaders have discussed the issues as a priority this legislative session.
Coakley first filed legislation to increase the financial penalties for corporate manslaughter in 2009 after Powers Fasteners, the New York-based marketer and distributor of the epoxy bolts used in portions of the Big Dig tunnel system, was indicted for manslaughter in connection with the 2006 ceiling panel collapse that killed Jamaica Plain resident Milena Del Valle. That case was settled with the attorney general's office in 2008.
While individuals can be imprisoned for up to 20 years for manslaughter, corporations only face monetary punishment. The law establishing the current fine was signed by Gov. John Brooks in 1819 and has not been updated since.
"We understand that there is no amount of money that can compensate for the loss of an individual's life. However, $1,000 is a woefully inadequate penalty and not a meaningful deterrent," Coakley wrote in her December 2012 letter to lawmakers.