AG Coakley Announces Legislative Agenda
Legislative Priorities Include Loan Modification, Human Trafficking, and Economic Crimes Bills
The series of bills filed prior to the filing deadline last Friday includes legislation that would establish standards and require banks to engage in loan modifications when they are financially beneficial to the bank before foreclosing on a property. AG Coakley also filed comprehensive human trafficking legislation that would establish human trafficking for sexual servitude or labor as a crime in Massachusetts, one of only five states in the country without human trafficking laws. Additionally, AG Coakley filed comprehensive economic crime legislation designed to give law enforcement the necessary tools to investigate and prosecute sophisticated criminal activities and enterprises in the 21 st century.
Other bills filed relate to drug trafficking in methamphetamine, corporate manslaughter, dissemination of harmful materials to minors, manufactured housing, metals dealing, and the failure to have workers' compensation insurance.
"These bills tackle a number of important challenges in our Commonwealth, including protecting public safety, addressing the foreclosure crisis to help our economic recovery, and more effectively combating fraud and corruption," AG Coakley said. "Our office is working to address these challenges in a comprehensive way, and these new laws would assist our efforts and others across the Commonwealth."
The bills, which are each sponsored and supported by various legislators, District Attorneys, law enforcement organizations, and advocates, are as follows:
- An Act to Prevent Unnecessary and Unreasonable Foreclosures
- An Act Relative to the Commercial Exploitation of People
- An Act to Combat Economic Crime
- An Act Relative to Trafficking in Methamphetamine
- An Act Relative to Manslaughter
- An Act Further Defining the Dissemination of Harmful Materials to Minors
- An Act Relative to Manufactured Housing Communities
- An Act Regulating Secondary Metals Dealing
- An Act Relative to Workers' Compensation Insurance
An Act to Prevent Unnecessary and Unreasonable Foreclosures
Sponsored by: Senator Karen Spilka (D-Ashland), and Representative Steven M. Walsh (D-Lynn)
This legislation is part of AG Coakley's continued effort to tackle the ongoing mortgage foreclosure crisis that has gripped the Commonwealth. An Act to Prevent Unnecessary and Unreasonable Foreclosures aims to prevent additional foreclosures by mandating loan modifications in certain circumstances. Specifically, the loan modification legislation requires creditors to take commercially reasonable efforts to avoid foreclosure upon certain mortgage loans secured by homes which are occupied by the owners as their principal residences. Additionally, these loans must contain certain risky features, such as interest-only loans, adjustable rate mortgages, and loans with short-term introductory interest rates. The Legislation also provides a safe harbor for creditors to comply with this requirement of commercial reasonableness. The legislation also prohibits foreclosures where creditors lack the documents supporting their purported right to foreclose, and prohibits passing on certain fees and costs to homeowners.
An Act Relative to the Commercial Exploitation of People
Sponsored By: Senator Mark C. Montigny (D-New Bedford), Representative Eugene L. O'Flaherty (D-Chelsea), and Senator Steven A. Baddour (D-Methuen)
Human Trafficking is a crime of exploitation that involves forcing people to work for others for profit, whether for traditional types of labor or sexual exploitation, and is one of the most egregious human rights violations in the world. While these crimes occur at high rates in foreign countries, they also happen in the U.S., including in Massachusetts, which is one of only five states that does not have a human trafficking law. An Act Relative to the Commercial Exploitation of People is a practical and streamlined bill that does three main things: creates two new crimes-trafficking of persons for sexual servitude and trafficking of persons for forced labor; creates an inter-agency task force to study human trafficking; and amends penalties regarding existing statutes to address the demand side of human trafficking legislation.
An Act to Combat Economic Crime
Sponsored by: Senator Steven A. Baddour (D-Methuen), and House Majority Leader James E. Vallee (D-Franklin)
An Act to Combat Economic Crime is a comprehensive legislative approach to give law enforcement the necessary tools to investigate and prosecute sophisticated criminal activities and enterprises in the 21 st century and will specifically update the law in three areas, including money laundering, enterprise crime, and wire interception.
- Money Laundering - Money laundering, which entails concealing the source of illegally obtained money, is prohibited by federal law and in at least 28 states across the country. This activity has proven to be critical in the furtherance of large‐scale, illegal enterprises such as terrorism, narcotics trafficking and other organized crime, and is particularly prevalent where casino gambling is legal. The proposed money laundering bill aims to combat and prevent money laundering by making such activity illegal in the Commonwealth. Among other measures, the bill makes it a crime to knowingly engage in a financial transaction derived from criminal activity with the intent to promote, carry on, or facilitate criminal activity.
- Enterprise Crime - The legislation also focuses on traditional and non-traditional criminal enterprises and organizations, including so-called organized crime families and traditional street gangs, organized retail crime rings, identity theft rings, large-scale drug, gun and human trafficking groups. Many of these organizations have sophisticated structures and extensive supporting networks that allow them to engage in multiple criminal activities, such as money laundering, illegal gambling, running drugs and guns, credit card and identity theft, and other types of fraud. This bill will, among other things, allow ring leaders and major players, who control and direct the enterprise but often do not partake in the actual commission of the crime, to be deterred and held accountable.
- Wire Interception - Last updated in 1968, the Massachusetts wire interception statute has not been updated to address either the technological advancements in telecommunications or the changes in the nature and structure of criminal enterprises over the past 40 years. This bill provides much-needed updates to the wire interception law, including adding a definition for "electronic communication," designating new crimes eligible for the use of a lawful interception, and extending the amount of time that a lawful interception can remain open from 15 to 30 days to account for the breadth and complexities of criminal investigations in the 21 st century. The bill also allows lawful, court approved one-party consent monitoring and recording of conversations of certain crimes.
An Act Relative to Trafficking in Methamphetamine
Sponsored by: Senator James E. Timilty (D-Walpole), Representative Louis L. Kafka (D-Stoughton), Representative Harold P. Naughton, Jr. (D-Clinton), and Representative Eugene L. O'Flaherty (D-Chelsea)
In recent years, Massachusetts law enforcement has seen a huge increase in the use and large-scale distribution of Methamphetamine ("Meth"), a highly addictive and dangerous stimulant drug. Criminal drug trafficking laws in Massachusetts were most recently and significantly amended in the early 1980s and again in the early 1990s, before the widespread manufacture and use of meth was seen in the Commonwealth. Although state drug trafficking laws include dangerous drugs such as cocaine and heroin, they do not address trafficking in meth, preventing local law enforcement from being able to bring appropriate criminal charges against those who traffic the drug. To combat the growing problem of trafficking of methamphetamine, this legislation adds methamphetamines to the statute criminalizing the trafficking of narcotics. With stricter punishments and harsher sentences, this bill aims to keep those convicted of trafficking off the streets, deter them from trafficking, and thereby increase public safety in the Commonwealth.
An Act Relative to Manslaughter
Sponsored by: Representative Eugene L. O'Flaherty (D-Chelsea), Senate Minority Leader Bruce E. Tarr (R-Gloucester), and Senator Steven A. Baddour (D-Methuen)
An Act Relative to Manslaughter, a vital public safety correction to Massachusetts General Laws, is a straightforward bill will update the current manslaughter statute by increasing the penalty for corporations charged with manslaughter from $1,000 to $250,000. While the current sentence for individuals convicted of manslaughter is imprisonment up to 20 years and/or a $1,000 fine, corporations convicted of manslaughter cannot be subject to imprisonment and the only penalty they face is a monetary fine set at $1,000. In August 2007, Powers Fasteners, the New York company that marketed and distributed the epoxy anchor bolt system used in portions of the I-90 Connector Tunnel, was indicted in connection with the July 10, 2006 ceiling panel collapse that killed a local woman, and a Grand Jury returned an indictment charging Powers Fasteners with one count of involuntary manslaughter. That indictment, among others, illustrates why a change in this law is vital. This bill aims to make that vital change and hold those corporations accountable whose gross negligence has resulted in an individual's death.
An Act Further Defining the Dissemination of Harmful Materials to Minors
Sponsored by: Senator Cynthia Creem (D-Newton) and Representative Eugene O'Flaherty (D-Chelsea)
In February 2010, the Supreme Judicial Court ruled that electronic communications were not included in the applicable definition of "matter" under the state's criminal prohibition on the dissemination of harmful material to minors. Shortly thereafter, the Legislature closed this loophole by updating the definition of "matter" to include instant messages and other types of electronic communications . An Act to Further Defining the Dissemination of Obscene Materials amends the law to clarify that the crime of dissemination of harmful material to a minor requires purposeful conduct. More specifically, a defendant must purposefully distribute the material to a minor or minors or someone believed to be a minor or minors. With respect to electronic communications, the bill clarifies that the defendant must specifically intend to direct the communication to a minor or minors or those thought to be a minor or minors.
An Act Relative to Manufactured Housing Communities
Sponsored by: Senator Marc R. Pacheco (D-Taunton) and Assistant Majority Whip Patricia A. Haddad (D-Somerset)
Manufactured housing communities represent a unique area of law, where the tenants own the homes in which they live but not the land on which the homes stand. As such, a separate statutory structure has been established to govern these communities. The most recent changes to this law occurred in 1993, when the Legislature amended the statute to strengthen residents' legal protections and allow the Attorney General's Office to issue regulations. Working with the Legislature, the Attorney General established a Manufactured Housing Unit to facilitate these oversight responsibilities as well as handle constituent complaints. Certain aspects of the law will be amended to bring greater fairness to both residents and owners of these communities, including establishing a new mediation program, requiring manufactured housing park owners to establish rules by which tenants and owners must abide, requiring all manufactured housing park owners to have a license from the local board of health, and establishing a receivership program for communities in emergency situations.
An Act Regulating Secondary Metals Dealing
Sponsored by: Senator James E. Timilty (D-Walpole)
The mortgage foreclosure crisis in our country continues to grow each day and has caused many properties throughout Massachusetts to be abandoned. Many of these properties are now vacant and are susceptible to building code violations, dilapidation, and criminal activity such as copper stripping and theft, drug dealing, and even arson. Municipalities and law enforcement officials face significant obstacles in locating the owners of abandoned properties or the criminal offenders involved in stealing metal from such structures. An Act Regulating Secondary Metals Dealing establishes an Executive Office of Public Safety-maintained Secondary Metals Computer Registry designed to increase the availability to law enforcement agencies of the records and identities of metal scrap dealers and sellers, and their wares. The bill also mandates the creation of an important Abandoned Property Registry, a two-year pilot program established and maintained by the Division of Banks to catalog all foreclosed, abandoned, and vacant properties in the Commonwealth.
An Act Relative to Workers' Compensation Insurance
Sponsored by: Senator Katherine Clark (D-Melrose), and Majority Whip Ronald Mariano (D-Quincy)
An Act Relative to Workers' Compensation is a bill that updates the law to make the crime of failure to have workers' compensation insurance consistent with workers' compensation insurance fraud. As the law currently stands, it is a criminal felony to have workers' compensation insurance and commit fraud; however, it is only a criminal misdemeanor to fail to have any workers' compensation insurance at all. These two laws are inconsistent, and the proposed amendment will remedy the inconsistency by making the failure to have workers' compensation insurance a felony rather than a misdemeanor. This legislation will enable the Attorney General's Office to fairly and effectively prosecute those employers who fail to obtain workers' compensation insurance for their employees. Also, An Act Relative to Workers' Compensation increases the penalty for the crime of failure to have workers' compensation insurance to a penalty of not more than five years in prison or a fine of not more than $10,000, or both, so that it is consistent with the workers' compensation insurance fraud penalty and like the workers' compensation insurance fraud penalty, there is also a house of correction sentencing option with a penalty of not more than two-and-a-half years.