2012 Law & Public Policy

This category contains 10 posts

Battle of the bag: Will Massachusetts be the first to adopt a statewide ban on plastic bags?

By Jennifer Bonar.   Read as PDF.  Plastic bags are the most common consumer item on the planet.  With more than 1 trillion used each year, they are also a leading source of pollution worldwide.  In response to this problem, governments have taken three kinds of approaches: bans, taxes, and voluntary initiatives.  Massachusetts is currently debating a ban on plastic bags at certain retail stores.  This is the best approach and should be immediately adopted by the legislature. Continue reading

The state’s dilemma: Paying for universal health coverage

By Kate Moylan | Read as PDF.  In 2006, Massachusetts passed legislation mandating health coverage for nearly all residents. However, the cost of health care remains extremely high and threatens to wreck this major initiative of national importance.

There are two issues to consider. One is fairness insofar as different providers are paid differently for the same or similar service. The other is total cost. While efforts to ensure fairness are necessary as a short-term solution, the Legislature should focus its work on lowering overall costs. Continue reading

A DREAM Deferred: In-state Tuition for Massachusetts’ Undocumented Students

By Katharine McCartenRead as PDF. The US Supreme Court landmark decision in Plyler v. Doe in 1982 recognized personhood under the Fourteenth Amendment for all undocumented persons in the country.  With this recognition came guaranteed access to public education through secondary school.  However, since 1982 the undocumented immigrant population has spread widely across the nation and now presents an important new educational dilemma. Continue reading

Safe pregnancies for incarcerated women: Why both parties should support anti-shackling legislation

By Hilary DetmoldDownload as PDF.   In January 2011, Massachusetts State Representative Kay Khan, a Democrat, introduced a bill entitled “House 2234: An Act relative to safe pregnancies and related health care for female inmates.”  Representative Khan has long championed educational opportunities and reproductive rights of incarcerated women.  One provision of Khan’s bill, however, addresses a relatively new concern: the shackling of pregnant prisoners during labor and delivery.  Continue reading

The Sensible Marijuana Policy Initiative: Need for Better Implementation

By Matt ScobleRead as PDF.   America is currently undergoing a major shift in drug policy. In recent years, about a dozen states have either decriminalized marijuana or legalized it for medical purposes. Many other states are considering doing the same. Massachusetts is one of the most recent states to decriminalize so-called “simple possession” of marijuana. Continue reading

Post-conviction DNA access in Massachusetts

By Samantha Drake | Download as PDF.

Massachusetts – the “cradle of liberty” – has long enjoyed a reputation for progressivism.  Yet, the Commonwealth has one of the most rigid and conservative criminal justice systems in the United States.  Until recently, Massachusetts and Oklahoma were the only states in the country without legislation granting post-conviction access to DNA to those serving prison terms for serious crimes.  Despite fifteen years of persistent advocacy for a DNA access bill, plus demonstrated record of success in 48 states, Massachusetts failed to adopt such legislation.  This legislative resistance shows that the state’s reputation for progressivism is somewhat overstated. Continue reading

The new and improved Bottle Bill: A promising legislative outlook

By Amber Hillman | Download as PDF.  Advocates have tried, and failed, to update the state bottle bill law in every legislative session since 2000. But this year may be different. Proponents cite compromises in the proposed legislation and increasing public support for why the so-called Updated Bottle Bill this year may have its best chance of becoming law. This promises to be a welcome solution to the litter problem that has plagued the Commonwealth, from city streets to small town ballparks.

Since its passage in 1983, the Massachusetts bottle deposit law (BDL) has mandated a five cent deposit on the sale of carbonated beverages. When bottles are returned at supermarkets and redemption centers, the five cents is returned to the consumer. Unredeemed deposits flow into the Commonwealth’s general fund. Statistics from the past 29 years speak to the effectiveness of the state’s BDL: since the law went into effect, over 30 billion containers have been redeemed, contributing to a dramatically healthier environment, and cleaner and safer communities. Continue reading

The online sales tax problem: protecting local storefronts and state revenue

By Jessica Whitman | Download as PDF.  States are losing hundreds of millions of dollars in revenue and local businesses are suffering from a competitive disadvantage due to the prohibition against requiring out-of-state vendors to collect and remit sales and use tax on purchases by in-state residents. The proliferation of the Internet has caused an explosion in online shopping and the sales tax loophole for online purchases means brick and mortar stores are at a competitive disadvantage. There is growing debate on the state and federal levels on what to do. The Streamlined Sales and Use Tax Agreement is the best solution.

The problem requires immediate attention in these times of growing budget deficits and sharp cuts in funding to critical public services such as education and health care. Additionally, online vendors are able to offer goods for lower prices than brick and mortars because they do not charge the tax. In light of this competitive disadvantage, local brick and mortar stores dutifully collecting taxes from their customers struggle for business. Continue reading

Using utilities regulation to make a greener Commonwealth

Douglas BalkoBy Douglas Balko | Download as PDF. The state’s utilities regulator recently changed the standard by which it approves mergers of utility companies.  The Department of Public Utilities abandoned its long-standing regulatory procedure on the heels of a merger petition by NSTAR Electric and Northeast Utilities in March 2011. The new standard requires utilities to show that by merging they would provide “net benefits” to the public, including to the Commonwealth’s increasingly robust environmental policy. The new standard is appropriate in view of new policy realities. In fact, it has already paid public dividends, as NSTAR and Northeast, in recognition of their obligations under the standard, recently agreed to purchase a substantial amount of clean, renewable energy from Cape Wind, the planned offshore wind farm in Nantucket Sound. Continue reading

State must address challenges in serving English language learners

By Eva Shell | Download as PDFBetween 2000 and 2010, Massachusetts saw a 51% increase in the number of public school students who are not proficient in English, called English Language Learners.  Today, there are nearly 68,000 English-learners in the state.  If Massachusetts is to remain competitive in the national and international market, it must invest in the growing population of English-learners by ensuring that they receive adequate education in public schools.

Prior to 2002, Massachusetts utilized a strategy for teaching English-learners called Transitional Bilingual Education.  Under the transitional teaching model, English-learners were taught substantive material—such as math and science—in their first languages while simultaneously learning English.  English-learners were not moved into English-language substantive classes until they became fluent in English.  In 2002, voters passed a ballot initiative changing the state’s English-learner teaching strategy from the transitional model to a method called Sheltered English Immersion.  Under the new model, students are taught all classes in English.  English immersion requires content teachers to alter their lessons—by using simple language and providing visual learning aids, for example—so that English-learner students can understand them. Continue reading


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Press conference on campaign finance reform

Press conference on campaign finance reform

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