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New Massachusetts laws take effect 

Several new state laws have taken effect this week or will in the coming days.

EMERGENCY BATHROOM USE (H 2366) — Now in effect is a law requiring retail establishments to allow use of their bathrooms by people who have written documentation from a doctor of any medical condition, including ulcerative colitis or Crohn’s disease, that requires immediate access to a rest room.

Retail establishments are defined as “any business or place where members of the public have access as invitees or licensees.” The law applies only if a public rest room is not immediately accessible; the establishment’s rest room is not located in an area where providing access would create a health or safety risk to the customer or a security risk to the business; and three or more employees of the establishment are working at the time of the request.

Businesses that violate the law would be subject to a $100 fine for a first offense and up to $200 for subsequent offenses.

BAN CYBER CAFÉS (H 3765) — Now in effect is a law prohibiting cyber cafés that allow gamblers to play online slots. The new law makes it a crime to conduct a sweepstakes with an electronic machine and punishes offenders with up to 15 years in state prison or a $250,000 per machine fine.

Supporters said the cafés, pretending to sell Internet access or phone cards, actually allow gamblers to play online slots and sweepstakes in which they win “points” that can be redeemed for cash at the café. They argued these are simply cyber scams, with no posted odds or guarantee of payouts for players.

Opponents argued the cafés are a good source of entertainment and customers are aware of the long odds.

REGULATE AUTO GLASS REPAIR COMPANIES (S 2216) — Effective Thursday is a law which regulates auto glass repair companies and requires them to register with the state’s Division of Standards.

Other provisions require the companies to have a physical address in Massachusetts and to keep a record of each vehicle on which they work.

PROTECT TEMPORARY DAY WORKERS (H 4304) — Effective Sunday is a law which protects temporary day workers.

A key provision prohibits staffing agencies from charging the worker various fees, including the cost of registering with the agency or for performing a criminal record check, and from charging any fee that would reduce a worker’s pay below the minimum wage.

The new law also requires the agencies to provide their workers with a form clearly informing them of their wages, location of the job, name of the company, whether meals are provided and expected hours and benefits, such as worker’s compensation.

Supporters argued that the law will finally regulate staffing agencies, which often take advantage of many of the state’s day workers. They argue this will protect these workers, who currently wait every morning for a van to pick them up and take them to a job at which they have no idea of the pay, the work involved and what will happen if they get hurt on the site.

Opponents said they support the rights of these workers but argued the abuses by the agencies are already illegal under existing state law and should be enforced. They argued the new law will duplicate regulations that already exist and will only lead to more bureaucracy.

— Beacon Hill Roll Call

RECORKING WINE (S 115) — The House in October gave initial approval to a Senate-approved bill that would expand the current law allowing restaurant and hotel customers to bring home an unfinished bottle of wine.

The proposal would expand the law to taverns, clubs and veterans’ organizations such as American Legion posts. The wine would have to be resealed and then placed in a one-time-use tamper-proof, transparent bag.

CHILD SEX ABUSE (H 4329, S 2409) — The House and Senate in July approved different versions of a bill increasing the statute of limitations during which a person can file a civil lawsuit for child sexual abuse.

The House in October rejected the Senate version and appointed a three-member conference committee to work with yet-to-be-appointed Senate conferees to hammer out a compromise proposal.

Current civil law affords a victim up until the age of 21 to file a suit. The House bill would increase the age to 43 while the Senate hikes it to 45. The Senate version does not include a House provision that allows any victims who were barred under current law from filing due to the expiration of the statute of limitations a one year window to file a suit retroactively.

LONG-TERM CARE INSURANCE (H 4348) — The House and Senate approved and sent to Gov. Patrick a 20-page bill regulating long-term care insurance in Massachusetts. This insurance is expensive and provides coverage for a wide range of long-term care services and facilities, including nursing homes, assisted-living facilities and care at home.

Provisions include requiring the state to develop guidelines consistent with the National Association of Insurance Commissioners model; prohibiting unfair and deceptive sales practices; allowing a policyholder to cancel the policy up to 30 days after the effective date and receive a full refund; and requiring the employees of companies that sell long-term care insurance to take a one-time training course and then continue training to keep up with any changes.

Supporters said the Bay State is one of only nine states that have not adopted these types of regulations for long-term care insurance, which has become much more complicated over the years. They noted the law will protect consumers and ensure transparency.

— Beacon Hill Roll Call

CHOKING ON FOOD (H 1462) — The House in October approved and sent to the Senate a proposal expanding the current law that requires restaurants with more than 25 seats to have on the premises an employee trained in manual procedures to remove food lodged in a customer’s throat. The measure would make the requirements apply to all restaurants regardless of their seating capacity.

The measure also take-out only restaurants.

The American Red Cross offers a $50, two-hour restaurant emergency program that includes teaching choke-saver skills.

Supporters said this would close a dangerous loophole and noted customers can choke on food regardless of the size of the restaurant.

Opponents said the bill is well-intentioned but would be another costly burden on an already struggling hospitality industry.

— Beacon Hill Roll Call

ALLOW SPEARFISHING FOR STRIPED BASS (H 247) — The House in October approved and sent to the Senate a bill legalizing fishing with spearguns for striped bass in Bay State waters. Current law allows spearfishing for all other species except the striped bass.

Supporters said the ban is unfair and noted fishermen are instead spending an estimated $1 million of tourism dollars in neighboring New Hampshire and Rhode Island. They argued that spearfishing actually results in less killing of undersized bass than traditional hook-line fishing.

Opponents said the stock of striped bass is already overfished and declining. They argued that supporters are incorrect and that spearfishing results in more killing of undersized bass.

The bill was approved by the House in 2010 but it died when the Senate did not take action on it.

— Beacon Hill Roll Call

MARRIAGE THERAPISTS (S 72) — The House and Senate in October gave final approval to and sent to Gov. Deval Patrick a measure adding licensed marriage and family therapists to the list of licensed mental health professionals required to be recognized by health insurance companies.

The current list includes psychiatrists, psychologists, independent clinical social workers, mental health counselors and nurse mental health clinical specialists.

— Beacon Hill Roll Call

THIRD GRADE READING (H 4243) — Gov. Deval Patrick in September signed into law a bill creating an Early Literacy Expert Panel to advise the state’s education department on strategies to have all students in the state reading proficiently by the end of third grade.

Supporters said 39 percent of the state’s third grade students read below their grade level. They argued studies show that one in six children who struggle with reading in the third grade never finish high school.

— Beacon Hill Roll Call

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