“THERE OUGHTA BE A LAW”-Massachusetts Offers Citizens the “Right of Free Petition”

By Bob Katzen

The power to propose their own legislation. Although Friday, January 20, was technically the deadline to file “seasonably-filed” bills for the 2017-2018 session, bills can be filed anytime. Bills filed by the deadline are automatically put into play while those filed after the deadline need a two-thirds vote of the House and Senate in order to be admitted. In most cases, these late-filed bills are admitted.

Sometimes a legislator might be opposed to legislation proposed by a citizen but will file it anyway as a courtesy. In those cases, the bill is listed as being filed “by request” — indicating that the legislator is doing so at the request of the citizen and does not necessarily support it.

Citizens who are interested in filing legislation should contact their own or any other representative or senator.

2015-2016 SESSION – Beacon Hill Roll Call’s research finds that of 177 filed by citizens in the 2015-2016 session, none became law and 134 were sent to a study committee where they died. Of the 43 that didn’t get killed in a study committee, only four of those made it to the House or Senate floor for a vote. But none of those four received final approval and was signed into law by Gov. Charlie Baker.

2017-2018 SESSION – There are 150 bills filed by citizens for the 2017-2018 session including:
NO AUTO INSURANCE SURCHARGE (S 934) – Exempts a person’s first civil motor vehicle infraction from counting as a surchargeable incident that would go on his or her records and often result in an increase in auto insurance. This exemption would not apply to violations that include charges of driving while under the influence or violations that result in bodily harm or death.

Citizen sponsor Mark Bell said he filed the legislation “predominantly as a consumer driving bill, to help put money back in people’s pockets but also out of a sense of fairness to all.” He noted that the penalties are unnecessarily steep right now for first time offenders.

“For all first-time offenders who get a moving violation: No appeals, no hearings before the insurance board, no steps, no surcharges, no increased insurance rates for years to come, no other penalties,” said Bell. “Just pay the ticket or fight it … and walk away. Done. End of story.”

PROHIBIT PARENTAL RIGHTS FOR RAPISTS – Prohibits convicted rapists from being granted the right to visit or have contact with the child born as a result of the rape. The bill is sponsored by well-known attorney Wendy Murphy, an adjunct professor of sexual violence law at New England Law Boston. Her work in state and federal courts across the nation has changed many laws to improve protections for women’s and children’s rights.
Murphy said that prior to 2014, no law gave parental rights to rapists. “The Legislature in 2014 secretly passed a law granting parental rights to convicted rapists,” said Murphy. “There was no debate and there were no public hearings … The 2014 law established Massachusetts as the worst state in the nation on this issue.”
She continued, “It also unconscionably burdens victims with the responsibility of paying for a lawyer and going to family court to prove that their attackers should lose rights they shouldn’t have in the first place, based solely on the happenstance of ovulation at the time of the crime.”
CITIES AND TOWNS MUST POST BYLAWS – Requires each city and town to make available on its website, an easily accessible, complete and updated version of the city or town ordinances and bylaws, including the zoning ordinances and bylaws. It also requires municipalities to make the same information available at their city or town hall, for those people who do not have computer access. Cities and towns that do not comply would be subject to fines imposed by the attorney general.
Citizen John Mahoney of Canton said he filed the bill because many cities and towns do not currently share their bylaws online and even worse, some refuse requests to e-mail out an electronic copy. “If this bill is passed I hope that it will allow all stakeholders in our state the ability to immediately view updated copies of the laws they need to conduct themselves and their business,” said Mahoney.
PROHIBIT USE OF NATIVE AMERICAN MASCOTS (S 291) – Prohibits the use of Native American mascots by Massachusetts public schools. Prohibited are “a name, symbol or image that depicts or refers to an American Indian tribe, individual, custom, or tradition that is used by a public school as a mascot, nickname, logo, letterhead, or team name.” The measure also specifically prohibits the use of the words Redskins, Savages, Indians, Indianettes, Chiefs, Chieftains, Braves, or Redmen. Some 40 Bay State schools currently use native American logos.
Citizen sponsor Linda Thomas, the woman who leads the group of citizens who filed the bill, said that public schools must stop perpetuating racial stereotypes. “Native Americans have been calling on schools and teams to cease using these names and images since the late 1960s,” said Thomas. “Their history, heritage and culture should not be reduced to caricatures or to images that fix them in some mythical past. Our schools should not be teaching that this type of language and imagery is acceptable. It is not.”
Thomas also cites the 2001 U.S. Commission on Civil Rights resolution on the issue of Native American mascots: “The use of stereotypical images of Native Americans by educational institutions has the potential to create a racially hostile educational environment that may be intimidating to Indian students. American Indians have the lowest high school graduation rates in the nation and even lower college attendance and graduation rates. The perpetuation of harmful stereotypes may exacerbate these problems.”
REQUIRE HOOKS IN BATHROOMS (S 1229) – Requires all public bathrooms to contain a hook to hang personal belongings like jackets, purses and backpacks.
Citizen sponsor Gino Dalasio, Jr. said that when he goes into public bathrooms, 90 percent of the time he must put his jacket and backpack on the floor because the bathroom does not have hooks next to mirrors or in the stalls. He said it is especially dangerous in the winter cold and flu season. “There must be countless women out there that use the mirrors and have to put their pocketbooks on the wet germ-infested counters and then they go home and put them on the kitchen table or on the furniture and spread disease to their families,” said Dalasio. “This simple bill would probably save countless thousands of man-hours per year from people getting sick by the transference [of germs] that happens because of this.”
TAX CREDIT FOR TEACHING LITERACY (S 1557) – Gives a tax credit of $750 to $2,200 to volunteers who tutor people to who want to become literate. The volunteers would follow a Literacy Training Lesson Program that would be established by the state. Appropriate standards used to approve the tutors would be set by the Massachusetts Department of Education.
Citizen sponsor Vince Dixon said that the credit will provide an incentive for individuals, to join a generalized effort, to help individuals become literate in English and receive a modest tax credit. “Bright young high school, college, other students, young professionals and many senior citizens all would be very interested in participating in this idea,” said Dixon.

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