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Benjamin Downing, Stanley Rosenberg receive highest ‘per diem’ reimbursements in state Senate

Two state senators who represent parts of Hampshire County received the most “per diem” travel, meals and lodging reimbursements collected during 2012.

Sen. Benjamin B. Downing, D-Pittsfield, whose district includes Chesterfield, Cummington, Goshen, Huntington, Middlefield, Plainfield, Westhampton, Williamsburg and Worthington, received $9,630 for 107 days.

And Sen. Stanley C. Rosenberg, D-Amherst, who represents the Hampshire, Franklin and Worcester District, got $7,620 for 127 days.

Sen. Gale D. Candaras, D- Wilbraham, whose district includes Belchertown and Granby, received $2,760 (46 days), and Sen. Michael R. Knapik, R-Westfield, who represents Easthampton and Southampton, got $2,904 (44 days).

Sixteen of the 40 state senators claimed the reimbursements totaling $58,304. The other 24 senators have so far chosen not to apply for any money. State law does not establish a deadline that senators must meet in order to collect the per diems.

Under state law, per diems are paid to senators “for each day for travel from his place of residence to the Statehouse and return therefrom, while in the performance of his official duties, upon certification to the state treasurer that he was present at the Statehouse.” These reimbursements are in addition to the senators’ regular salaries.

The amount of the per diem varies and is based on where a senator resides and its distance from the Statehouse. The Legislature in 2000 approved a law doubling these per diems to the current amounts. The payments range from $10 per day for senators who reside in the greater Boston area to $90 per day for some western Massachusetts lawmakers and $100 per day for those in Nantucket.

— Beacon Hill Roll Call

Gov. Deval Patrick in January signed several bills that were approved by the Legislature in the final days of the 2012 session. Among them are:

FLU SHOTS (H 3948) — Requires that in August and September all public schools and early education providers distribute to parents information about the benefits of a flu shot for children age 6 to 18. This information would include the causes and symptoms of the disease, how it is spread, how to obtain additional information and the effectiveness and risks of the shots.

EPINEPHRINE USE IN SCHOOLS (H 3959) — Allows students with life-threatening allergies to possess and self-administer epinephrine on school grounds. The measure would add epinephrine to the current list of medicines allowed to be carried and self-administered by students including prescription inhalers for asthma sufferers, enzyme supplements for students with cystic fibrosis and insulin for diabetics.

LICENSE AND REGULATE BEHAVIOR ANALYSTS (S 2379) — Establishes a state board to test, license and regulate the state’s growing number of mental health professionals known as behavior analysts. The measure also sets educational requirements that an applicant must fulfill in order to qualify for a license.

Behavior analysis ranges from treatment of individuals with autism and developmental disabilities to behavioral coaching and behavioral psychotherapy. According to the Behavior Analyst Certification Board, behavior analysts “help build the skills and achievements of children in school settings; enhance the development, abilities and choices of children and adults with different kinds of disabilities; and augment the performance and satisfaction of employees in organizations and businesses.”

RIGHTS OF CONTINUING CARE RETIREMENT COMMUNITIES RESIDENTS (S 2139) — Establishes the rights of residents of Continuing Care Retirement Communities (CCRC) to establish a residents’ association and have the power to elect its officers. A CCRC, also known as a life-care community, is a facility that offers a number of options, including independent living, assisted living and a nursing home within one community.

The resident can move to increased levels of care as his or her needs change. The measure requires the facility to provide information to residents including explaining any adjustments in monthly and other fees paid by residents as well as informing them of all matters that affect their health and welfare.

CHANGING DEFINITION OF DISABILITY (H 4252) — Changes the state’s definition of intellectual disability to the national standard definition developed by the American Association on Intellectual and Developmental Disabilities (AAIDD).

Prior law left the definition up to the State Department of Developmental Services, which used just one criterion - strictly measuring IQ as of age 18 and automatically denying services to anyone who scores above a 70.

AAIDD defines intellectual disability as one that originates before the age of 18 and is “characterized by significant limitations both in intellectual functioning and in adaptive behavior, which covers many everyday social and practical skills.”

According to its website, in defining and assessing intellectual disability, AAIDD takes into account the IQ score but notes that a person with an intellectual disability can score as high as 75 on the test. It also considers other factors including “the community environment typical of the individual’s peers and culture, and linguistic diversity and cultural differences in the way people communicate, move and behave.”

Supporters say the old system reflected views about intellectual disability from a past era. They noted the new system will allow the state to provide services and tailor plans to help people with severe disabilities who are falling through the cracks in the system.

DAM SAFETY (H 4557) — Establishes a Revolving Loan Fund to provide low-interest, long-term loans to private dam owners and cities and towns to inspect, repair and remove some of the 3,000 plus dams in the Bay State.

Other provisions require an inspection schedule that includes inspecting high-hazard dams every two years and an increase from $500 to $5,000 in the fines imposed on dam owners who violate state safety regulations.

MAKE ANTIFREEZE TASTE BITTER (S 88) — Expands the current law requiring that any antifreeze in small retail containers that contains sweet-tasting ethylene glycol also include denatonium benzoate, a substance that makes the antifreeze taste bitter. The measure would expand the requirement to include the large wholesale 55-gallon drums that service stations use when servicing a vehicle.

Supporters say the sweet taste of antifreeze is a major reason for its fatal ingestion by young children, pets and wildlife. They noted that sweet-tasting antifreeze often leaks from consumers’ cars after they get the fluid changed at a service station.

TAMPERING WITH WATER SYSTEMS (S 2371) — Increases the fine and imprisonment imposed on anyone convicted of tampering with water systems in Massachusetts. The current punishment is a $300 fine and/or up to one year in jail. The new law raises the fine to $5,000 and hikes the prison sentence to up to five years.

Supporters say the current fines and jail time are small and out of date. They argue the hikes are needed in order to get serious about this crime in a post-9/11 world where terrorists are capable of destroying and/or poisoning water systems.

FINGERPRINT-BASED BACKGROUND CHECKS ON TEACHERS (H 4307) — Requires that national fingerprint-based background checks be part of a background check on all applicants for teaching positions and any other public or private school jobs that have direct contact with children.

The measure would also applies to family child care, center-based child care and after-school programs.

Prior law only required a statewide background check that covers crimes committed in Massachusetts.  The measure requires current teachers and other employees to be fingerprinted prior to the 2016-2017 school year.

PARKING METER REVENUE (H 901) — Allows cities and towns to use revenue from their parking meters for the purchase or lease of any commuter shuttle or shuttle services between a municipal parking lot and public transportation.

Prior law allows the revenue to be used only for the acquisition and maintenance of parking lots and for traffic control and safety. Supporters say the bill would expand the use of commuter shuttles, which will in turn increase the use of public transportation.

ALLOW DOMESTIC VIOLENCE VICTIMS TO BREAK THEIR APARTMENT LEASE (S 2402) — The bill allows victims of domestic violence to break their apartment lease without a penalty if they notify the owner in writing that they or a member of their household is a victim of domestic violence, rape, sexual assault or stalking.

The measure also requires property owners to change the tenant’s exterior locks if the tenant or occupants reasonably believe they are in danger.

Supporters said the measure is long overdue and is designed to make it financially easier for victims move if their assailant knows where they are living.

ORAL CANCER DRUGS (H 4349) — The legislation requires insurers to provide the same coverage for oral cancer drugs that they currently provide for intravenous chemotherapy.

Currently, many insurance companies cover the two treatments differently. They cover intravenous chemotherapy like many other treatments, with plan members paying a flat co-pay. However, oral chemotherapy drugs are considered a pharmacy benefit and the patient pays a percentage, depending on the plan, of the cost of the drug.

Supporters said this law will lower the cost of oral therapy for patients, who often end up paying thousands of dollars per year for these drugs. They noted the pills are often more effective than chemotherapy.

VIRTUAL SCHOOLS (S 2467) — The measure regulates “virtual schools” in Massachusetts. Virtual schools allow students to “attend” an online-only public school. These schools are aimed at creating an alternative education option with an individualized approach for students in unique situations including those who are physically disabled, seriously ill, gifted and talented or bullied.

Massachusetts currently has only one virtual school, the Massachusetts Virtual Academy in Greenfield. It has 450 students and includes kindergarten through eighth grade. Provisions include limiting to 10 the number of these schools that may operate at any one time and capping the total number of virtual school students at 2 percent of the state’s public school population, or approximately 19,000.

SABBATICALS (H 4295) — The bill reduces from seven to six years the period of time a faculty member must work at a state university before being eligible for a sabbatical. The measure is designed to make faculty sabbatical qualifications at state universities consistent with those used by private colleges.

LICENSE AND REGULATE NATUROPATHIC DOCTORS (H 4368) — Gov. Deval Patrick in January “pocket vetoed” a bill that would create a state board to license and regulate naturopathic doctors. A bill is considered pocket vetoed if the Legislature has finished its two-year session and the governor does not sign it after 10 days.

The measure requires that these doctors have extensive training in a naturopathic program at an approved naturopathic medical college. The American Association of Naturopathic Physicians defines naturopathic doctors as “primary care and specialty doctors who address the underlying cause of disease through effective, individualized natural therapies that integrate the healing powers of body, mind and spirit.”

The Massachusetts Society of Naturopathic Doctors supported the bill and noted on its website, “Licensing would allow NDs to provide the depth of health care that they are trained to give, providing … better service and more treatment options. Most importantly, it would protect the health care consumer by preventing untrained people from calling themselves naturopathic doctors.”

The Massachusetts Medical Society opposed the bill and testified against it at a hearing. It said in a written statement, “Naturopathy is not a branch of medicine. It is a hodge podge of nutritional advice, home remedies and discredited treatments … Licensure is interpreted by the public as an endorsement of the field. Unsuspecting parents who lack sophistication in science or medicine couldn’t be faulted for having their sick children treated by a practitioner who is licensed and purports to use safe and natural healing.”

Some supporters of the bill argue the Massachusetts Medical Society lobbied heavily against the bill because it is afraid of legitimate competition from naturopathic doctors.

Jason Lefferts, Director of Communications for the Governor’s Executive Office of Housing and Economic Development, issued a statement on behalf of the governor. He said, “The legislation proposing a Board of Naturopathy called for the Board to be created in the Division of Professional Licensure. However, the makeup of the proposed Board and its functions as outlined, including the composition of the board to include the Chairman of the Board of Medicine, the Commissioner of Public Health and other professionals under the Department of Public Health, would be a better fit for the Department of Public Health.”

Under state law, the governor could not amend the bill to reflect his changes and send it back to the Legislature for action because the 2012 legislative session had already ended.

— Beacon Hill Roll Call

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