By Bob Katzen
THE HOUSE AND SENATE. Beacon Hill Roll Call records local representatives' votes on one roll call from the week of September 30 - October 4. There were no roll calls in the Senate last week.
REGULATE COMPOUNDING PHARMACIES (H 3672)
House 157-0, approved and sent to the Senate a bill that would increase the state's oversight and regulation of compounding pharmacies and the state agencies that regulate them.
The bill comes nearly a year after the State Board of Pharmacy voted to permanently revoke the license of the New England Compounding Center in Framingham, the pharmacy at the center of the 2012 spread of fungal meningitis that infected hundreds of people across the nation and killed 61. Provisions include establishing a specialty license for all in-state and out-of-state sterile compounding pharmacies; mandating unannounced, detailed inspections of all sterile compounding pharmacies; and requiring that the Department of Public Health track all compounded drugs made by state-licensed pharmacies.
Supporters said the bill sets many new standards and requires more transparency from the pharmacies, which will save lives. They argued it will hold pharmacies to high standards in quality control and sterility.
(A "Yes" vote is for the bill.)
Rep. Jennifer Benson, Yes; Rep. Sheila Harrington, Yes.
ALSO ON BEACON HILL
DISABLED VETS (H 2617, H 3645) -- The House gave initial approval to bills that would make more disabled veterans exempt from the auto sales tax and auto excise tax. Current law offers these exemptions to disabled veterans who buy a disabled veterans license plate for their car. These proposals would also offer the exemptions to disabled veterans who qualify for but have not purchased the special plate.
The measures also exempt from the excise tax disabled veterans who lease cars. Current law only provides the exemption for a disabled veteran who buys the car. Supporters said the bill aims to correct that situation by allowing disabled veterans to legally claim the benefits to which they are entitled, whether or not they have acquired the plates.
REQUIRE ALL STATE GOVERNMENT DOCS BE WRITTEN AT THIRD GRADE LEVEL (H 2809) -- The Committee on State Administration and Regulatory Oversight held a hearing on a measure that would prohibit documents published by the state from being written in language that exceeds the comprehension level "generally accepted in the public schools as a third-grade level." The measure was filed by private citizen Paul Leary.
The proposal is modeled after the 2010 Plain Writing Act approved by the U.S. House and Senate and signed into law by President Obama. That federal law requires federal agencies to write "clear government communication that the public can understand and use."
Another bill before the committee would exempt all state university employees from parking fees at the school (H 2888).
LICENSE AND REGULATE NATUROPATHIC DOCTORS (H 2003) -- The Committee on Public Health held a hearing on a proposal to create a state board to license and regulate naturopathic doctors. The measure requires that these doctors have extensive training in a naturopathic program at an approved naturopathic medical college. The American Association of Naturopathic Physicians defines naturopathic doctors as "primary care and specialty doctors who address the underlying cause of disease through effective, individualized natural therapies that integrate the healing powers of body, mind and spirit."
The Massachusetts Society of Naturopathic Doctors supports the bill and noted on its website, "Licensing would allow ND's to provide the depth of health care that they are trained to give, providing ... better service and more treatment options. Most importantly, it would protect the health care consumer by preventing untrained people from calling themselves naturopathic doctors."
The Massachusetts Medical Society opposed the bill and testified against it at the hearing. It said in a written statement, "Naturopathy is not a branch of medicine, but a hodgepodge of nutritional advice, home remedies, and discredited treatments."
Some supporters of the bill charge the Massachusetts Medical Society has lobbied heavily against it because it is afraid of legitimate competition from naturopathic doctors. The bill actually was approved by the House and Senate last year but the governor never signed it.
Jason Lefferts, director of Communications for the Governor's Executive Office of Housing and Economic Development, told Beacon Hill Roll Call last year when the bill was vetoed by the governor, "The legislation proposing a Board of Naturopathy called for the Board to be created in the Division of Professional Licensure. However, the makeup of the proposed Board and its functions as outlined ... would be a better fit for the Department of Public Health."
Under state law, the governor could not amend the bill to reflect his changes and send it back to the Legislature for action because the 2012 legislative session had already ended.
The Public Safety Committee's hearing included several controversial bills including:
SEAT BELTS (S 1115) -- Makes the seat belt law a "primary enforcement" one allowing police officers to stop and issue $25 tickets to drivers and passengers solely for not wearing their seat belts. Current law is a "secondary enforcement" one that prohibits drivers from being stopped solely for not wearing a seat belt and allows an officer to issue a ticket only if the driver is stopped for another motor vehicle violation or some other offense. The bill also prohibits racial profiling and creates a registry within the Registry of Motor Vehicles to collect data on motor vehicle stops that include information on ethnicity or race of the driver.
Supporters testified that secondary enforcement is not working well and noted Massachusetts ranks low in seat belt usage among the 50 states. They argued primary enforcement would increase seat belt usage, save lives, prevent serious injuries and save millions of dollars in medical and other costs. Some former opponents of the bill say they now support this version because of the racial profiling protection.
Although no opponents testified, they generally say the bill is government intrusion into citizens' private lives and cars. They argue drivers should have the freedom to decide whether they want to wear seat belts. Some say this new power is tantamount to establishing roadblocks and fear that despite the precautions in the new version of the bill, primary enforcement of the seatbelt law would lead to random stops and unfair racial profiling.
COPS' LANGUAGE (H 2284) -- Prohibits police, correctional officers, court officers and other law enforcement personnel from using racial slurs, profanity or language that "casts a negative reflection toward an individual's race, color, ethnic origin, religion, economic status or any other category of negative stereotyping." The bill provides that any violation of this prohibition constitute grounds for dismissal of the officer.
OTHER POLICE BILLS -- Requires all police Taser guns to also be capable of recording the audio of the Taser incident (H 3315) and all new police officer recruits to complete a training program to help them in their responses to incidents involving people with mental illness or retardation (S 1121).
HOW LONG WAS LAST WEEK'S SESSION? During the week of Sept. 30 to Oct. 4, the House met for a total of four hours and 26 minutes while the Senate met for a total of three hours and 44 minutes.