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Dear Neighbors,
Today we were sworn in for the new legislative session, with Karen Spilka as the president of the Senate.   I'm looking forward to working with colleagues and you, my constituents, for more progress on many issues.

Looking back on the past year, I wanted to see how legislation I worked on has affected people in their real lives.

In January 2017, I filed several criminal justice bills that were signed into law in April as part of the larger omnibus reform bill.. Some of that success was thanks to Jenifer McKim and Chris Burrell of the New England Center for Investigative Reporting.  They brought public policies like these to life by presenting the stories of real people impacted by them. 

WRONGFUL CONVICTION

In 2016, I learned that the wrongful conviction compensation law I sponsored in 2004 wasn’t helping exonerees the way it was supposed to.  It was taking up to three years for exonerees to get compensation, they had few resources while waiting for the money, and the $500,000 cap on compensation was far too low.  Remember, these are people who were imprisoned by the state through no fault of their own. So we filed a bill to update the law to try to give those who had been wrongfully convicted a better shot at the outcome they deserved. Jenifer McKim and Chris Burrell of NECIR shared stories on WBGH radio of men whose lives were still upended while they waited for decisions.

Since the bill passed, Kevin O'Loughlin received a settlement of $1 million, which wouldn’t have been possible under the old cap. (The jury
awarded $5 million, but the law still caps compensation at $1 million.) 


I hope to see more people -- including Fred Clay -- justly compensated in a timely way under the new law.




MEDICAL PAROLE

The NECIR reporters also covered my medical parole bill on WBUR and in the Globe.  They pointed out the growing number and cost of aging inmates.  I filed a “compassionate release” bill for multiple sessions, and finally this year it was signed into law with the criminal justice bill. It created a medical parole system that will allow Massachusetts inmates who are terminally ill or permanently incapacitated to be released on parole if they meet certain standards.

Despite Governor Baker’s efforts to limit its implementation, the first Massachusetts prisoner was released on medical parole. Alex Phillips’ release was first rejected, and rejected again in September, with Commissioner (now Secretary of Public Safety) Turco saying  “I do not believe Mr.Phillips is Terminally ill within the meaning of the statute. Specfically, even though Alex’s Oncologist, who is employed by the DOC, wrote that he has less than 12 months to live and is so incapacitated as to not be a threat to public safety, I ( Turco) do not find him so debilitated as to not be a public safety risk”. 
Turco reversed his decision in October and Alex was released on November 1.  Alex died November 24.

EQUAL PAY

Signed into law in 2016,
the Equal Pay Law I sponsored took effect this past July 1st. Unlawful wage discrimination happens every day in Massachusetts across varying sectors and professions. With the implementation of MEPA, employees will now have an easier time coming forward and defending their right to an equitable wage.

Elizabeth Rowe, principal flutist for the Boston Symphony Orchestra, filed the first suit under the law, demanding pay equal to her male counterparts. The suit is an attempt to rectify 14 years of substantially lower pay due to what Rowe feels is discrimination based on gender. And two Boston Public Schools employees have filed similar suits.

I hope that these cases encourage others to speak out if they feel they have been treated unfairly.

I also hope this law encourages businesses to examine their personnel practices, preventing unfair treatment before it happens.  That could help thousands of people, not just those who go to court. Some of this is already happening. Associated Industries of Massachusetts (AIM) has done two webinars and several individual trainings to help companies comply.  Beth Yohai of AIM told the Equal Pay Commission (where Sen. Cindy Friedman and I represent the Senate) that -- as a byproduct of the law -- many businesses are reassessing and changing their practices.  That's not a "byproduct:" I always hoped that just the possibility of a lawsuit would cause companies to voluntarily reduce inequities.

Meanwhile on the Equal Pay Commission we're discussing next steps and exploring pay gaps based upon race, ethnicity, sexual orientation, and other identities.

Let's stay in touch and see what we can do together in 2019!
Happy New Year!
(and please join me for our soup party on January 20; details to follow)

 

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