AG Coakley Announces Legislative Priorities
Priorities Include Wire Interception, Corporate Manslaughter, Medicaid Fraud, and Anti-Bullying Measures
BOSTON – Seeking to combat gang and gun violence, hold corporations responsible for actions that result in manslaughter, and ending fraud between drug testing labs and sober houses, Attorney General Martha Coakley today announced the filing of eight bills as a part of her 2013-2014 legislative priorities.
The series of bills filed includes legislation that would update and modernize the Massachusetts wiretap law that has remained unchanged since 1968. This common sense legislation would give law enforcement the necessary tools to investigate and prosecute sophisticated criminal activities in the 21st century.
AG Coakley also filed comprehensive legislation that would prohibit referral relationships between drug testing labs and referral sources such as sober houses, aimed at reducing fraudulent activity and double-dipping on profits, schemes that recently resulted in cases of Medicaid Fraud brought by her office. Additionally, AG Coakley re-filed her bill to increase penalties from $1,000 to $250,000 for corporations charged with manslaughter.
Other bills filed relate to reducing bullying in schools, regulating board compensation at public charities, updating laws regulating manufactured housing communities, tracking metals dealing, and increasing penalties for the failure to have workers’ compensation insurance.
“These bills address many critical challenges in our Commonwealth, including providing law enforcement with the investigative tools needed to reduce gang and gun violence on our streets,” AG Coakley said. “We are also working to combat fraud in our health care system, keep kids safe from bullying, and protect public safety.”
The bills, which are each sponsored and supported by various legislators, District Attorneys, law enforcement organizations, and advocates, are as follows:
- An Act Updating the Wire Interception Law
- An Act Relative to Manslaughter
- An Act Prohibiting Clinical Laboratory Self-Referrals
- An Act Regulating Secondary Metals Dealing
- An Act Regulating Compensation of Board Members for Public Charities
- An Act Relative to Manufactured Housing Communities
- An Act for Achieving Insurance Responsibility
- An Act Relative to Bullying in Schools
An Act Updating the Wire Interception Statute
Sponsored by: Senator Katherine Clark (D-Melrose), Representative Eugene L. O’Flaherty (D-Chelsea), and Representative John D. Keenan (D-Salem)
An Act Updating the Wire Interception Law makes necessary changes to Massachusetts wiretap law to ensure that it keeps pace with technology used by criminal enterprises now and in the future. By updating the law to explicitly incorporate new and future technologies, the legislation seeks to reduce the hurdles faced by law enforcement to effectively investigate crimes, including homicides, gang violence, human trafficking, child pornography, narcotics rings, and other violent crimes. The law was last updated in 1968. The legislation retains the requirement that prosecutors must appear before a judge before authorization for a wiretap may issue and provides much-needed updates to the wire interception law, including modernizing the definition for “wire communication,” designating new crimes eligible for the use of a lawful interception, and extending the amount of time that a lawful interception may remain open from 15 to 30 days to account for the breadth and complexities of criminal investigations in the 21st century.
An Act Relative to Manslaughter
Sponsored by: Senator Jennifer L. Flanagan (D-Leominster) and Representative Eugene L. O’Flaherty (D-Chelsea)
An Act Relative to Manslaughter, a vital public safety correction to Massachusetts General Laws, is a straightforward bill to 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 Milena Del Valle. 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 a vital change and hold those corporations accountable whose gross negligence has resulted in an individual’s death.
An Act Prohibiting Clinical Laboratory Self-Referrals
Sponsored by: Senator Barry R. Finegold (D-Lawrence), Representative John V. Fernandes (D-Worcester), and Representative Garrett Bradley (D-Plymouth)
One of the largest health care fraud enforcement initiatives in the Commonwealth has involved clinical laboratories and urine drug screen (UDS) testing. Although the majority of these cases involve false claims and kickbacks, several of the laboratories began their businesses by performing frequent testing on residents of sober houses owned, directly or indirectly, by the laboratories. While owning one’s own referral source is inherently problematic, and prohibited by federal law, these relationships do not fall within the purview of current Massachusetts law. This leaves a potential multi-million dollar gap in our fraud laws. An Act Prohibiting Clinical Laboratory Self-Referrals will close this loophole by prohibiting clinical laboratory self-referrals. The law exempts labs operated by licensed physicians for treatment of their own patients and hospital labs. Additionally it allows for either civil or criminal penalties for violations, including civil penalties of up to $100,000 for engaging in a scheme to violate the law. To illustrate, in July 2010, a clinical laboratory and its owners was indicted and charged with running an intricate Medicaid “kickback” scheme that ultimately resulted in a $20 million dollar settlement. The allegations involved complex inappropriate relationships between the lab and many of its referral sources, in order to obtain urine drug screens. An Act Prohibiting Clinical Laboratory Self-Referrals will end referrals when there is overlapping ownership of labs and their referral source as seen in this case.
An Act Relative to Manufactured Housing Communities
Sponsored by: Senator Marc R. Pacheco (D-Taunton) and Representative Patricia A. Haddad (D-Somerset)
The laws governing 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. The Attorney General’s Office has various other responsibilities relative to manufactured housing communities, including handling complaints from residents. An Act Relative to Manufactured Housing Communities would amend certain aspects of the law to bring greater fairness to both residents and owners of these communities, including establishing a new mediation program, enhancing licensing requirements, and streamlining the process for approving manufactured housing community rules.
An Act Regulating Secondary Metals Dealing
Sponsored by: Senator James E. Timilty (D-Walpole), and Representative Kathi-Anne Reinstein (D-Revere)
The mortgage foreclosure crisis in our country has caused many properties throughout Massachusetts to be abandoned and are vulnerable to theft of copper piping and other valuable metals used in the properties’ structures. Municipalities and law enforcement officials face significant obstacles in locating the criminal offenders involved in stealing metal from such structures. An Act Regulating Secondary Metals Dealing establishes an Executive Office of Public Safety and Security-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.
An Act for Achieving Insurance Responsibility (F.A.I.R Act)
Sponsored by: Senator Katherine Clark (D-Melrose), and Representative Ronald Mariano (D-Quincy)
An Act for Achieving Insurance Responsibility (FAIR Act) updates our statutes to make the penalties for failure to have workers’ compensation insurance consistent with penalties for workers’ compensation insurance fraud. Currently it is a felony to commit workers’ compensation fraud, but a misdemeanor not to carry workers’ compensation insurance. This bill 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, aligning it with the workers’ compensation insurance fraud penalty.
An Act Regulating Compensation of Board Members for Public Charities
Sponsored by: Senator Mark C. Montigny (D-New Bedford) and Representative Martha M. Walz (D-Boston)
The practice of compensating independent directors for service on a charitable board is extraordinarily rare in Massachusetts because the purpose of non-profit charitable organizations is to exclusively benefit the public. It is no surprise that our Supreme Judicial Court has recognized voluntary board service as an indicator that an organization is charitable and that nationally recognized governance standards for charities have expressed the view that board members are generally expected to serve without compensation. In the rare case where board members are compensated, there should be a sound “rationale” for that decision and some oversight or review. An Act Regulating Compensation of Board Members for Public Charities, requires public charities that intend to compensate independent directors to apply to the Attorney General’s Office for approval.
An Act Relative to Bullying in Schools
Sponsored by: Senator Sonia Chang-Diaz (D-Boston) and Representative Alice Peisch (D-Wellesley)
In 2010, the Legislature took the important step of addressing school bullying by passing the bullying prevention law. It also established a Commission, chaired by the Attorney General’s Office, to review the General Laws and make recommendations on additional statutory changes. After holding hearings and meeting with stakeholders from across Commonwealth, the Commission developed a series of recommendations. Based on those recommendations, An Act Relative to Bullying in Schools would establish a state-wide data reporting mechanism on bullying incidents. Advocates and stakeholders have consistently emphasized that a data reporting mechanism would allow policy makers and educators to identify trends, tailor bullying prevention efforts, and more effectively allocate resources. This legislation would also require that school bullying prevention plans include a statement recognizing the vulnerability to bullying faced by certain enumerated categories of students, recognizing that acute levels of harassment are sometimes faced by students based on their actual or perceived sexual orientation, as well as by students with disabilities. It would also require districts to outline specific steps that they would take to create a safe, supportive environment for students from vulnerable populations.
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