Bills > 2009-2010 Session

***Passed***

Senate Bill 1691 An Act to Regulate Debt Collection Activity 

This bill protects Massachusetts consumers from unlicensed and predatory debt collectors. 

Mass. law boosts debt collection protections The Boston Globe

Debt collectors seizing Lynners' cars in sneak attacks The Lynn Item

State Rep. Lori Ehrlich cosponsored legislation protecting victims of unlicensed debt collectors by allowing them to recover restitution for any property determined to be wrongly seized in a debt collection effort.

"In difficult financial times, it seems tactics used by collectors get more outrageous," she said.

Lynn woman who lost car to seizure wins day in court

By Thor Jourgensen / The Daily Item

LYNN - A week after creditors banged on her apartment door to collect a debt and towed away her car, local resident Christine Brennan secured a judge's order to return her 1998 Toyota Camry.

Judge Albert Conlon's District Court decision Tuesday in Brennan's case forces debt collector Norfolk Financial Corporation to go to trial in February to collect a $400 credit card debt dating back to 2003 from Brennan.

"We'll end up negotiating with the creditor," said Brennan's attorney Mari McKeon.

McKeon said Brennan will not have to pay $745 in fees associated with her car's seizure.

Norfolk acquired Brennan's debt and credit card balances owed by at least a dozen other Lynn residents six to seven years ago and hired Boston-based Forsyth Law to collect the money. The collection process resulted in constables seizing Brennan's car and other debtors' vehicles on Nov. 16 and 17.

McKeon said Conlon sided with Brennan's argument against Norfolk in part because the debt firm did not have evidence of Brennan's original debt.

Court paperwork filed by Forsyth attorney Carl Brugnoli indicated Norfolk filed suit in District Court in August 2003 to collect money Brennan owed on her BankFirst Action card.

Brugnoli's filing claimed Norfolk sent Brennan 19 demand letters in an attempt to collect the debt before warning her in September she faced property seizure if the money was not paid.

Norfolk in its court filing claimed Brennan "took absolutely no action on this matter for almost seven years."

Norfolk spokesman Doug Bailey said Norfolk "is a holding company that only purchases debt and outsources the collection activities to various law firms that specialize in that practice, such as Forsyth Law."

Despite Norfolk's efforts to collect its debt, McKeon said Brennan "did not have the opportunity to present an adequate defense" prior to Norfolk and Forsyth's decision to seize her vehicle. Constables also seized Francois Onaney's vehicle and the Swampscott resident convinced Conlon this week to order the car returned to him. Conlon also set a February 2011 trial date for Norfolk to make a bid to collect a debt the firm claims Onaney owes back to 2002.

Vehicle seizures associated with debt collection practices prompted state legislators, including state Rep. Lori Ehrlich and state Sen. Thomas M. McGee, to support an increase in the debt limit for vehicle seizure from $500 to $7,500. The proposal is under review in the Legislature.

Ehrlich is also cosponsoring legislation setting new debt collection standards. The requirement includes forcing debt collectors to prove a debtor signed a contract outlining what they owed on a product or account before it was placed into debt collection.

The bill also limits debt collections against people 60 years or older. The bill requires debt collectors purchasing debt owed by consumers to first obtain "substantially all of the records related to the consumer's obligation to pay the account" before debt collection efforts are started.


**Passed**

House Bill 483 An Act Relative to the Prevention of Bullying

Working with then Majority Leader, John Rogers, and the Anti-Defamation League, I was one of the early drafters of this bill during my first term and saw it through to when Governor Deval Patrick signed it into law.

Bullying legislation gains new urgency Boston Globe

Marblehead rep fights for anti-bullying bill The Lynn Item

Anti-Bullying Bill Draws Broad Support Jewish Journal of the NS

Support swells for anti-bullying legislation The Boston Globe 

Students urge lawmakers to act on bullying The Boston Globe

Victim’s mom lends voice to bully bill The Boston Herald 


**Passed**

House Bill 3809 An Act Relative to Insurance Coverage for Autism

Cleared the Joint Committee on Financial Services in June, 2010 and was sent to House Ways & Means. FAQ's found here

An Act Relative to Insurance Coverage for Autism
Sponsored by Representative Barbara L'Italien and State Senator Frederick E. Berry
House Bill #3809 was introduced in January 2009 has over 110 co-sponsors, representing a majority of the Massachusetts Legislature.
Requires health insurers in Massachusetts to provide coverage for the diagnosis and treatment of Autism Spectrum Disorder, which currently affects 1 in every 150 children.

Includes the following care prescribed, provided, or ordered for an individual diagnosed with one of the Autism Spectrum Disorders by a licensed physician or a licensed psychologist who determines the care to be medically necessary:

· Habilitative or rehabilitative care,
· Pharmacy care;
· Psychiatric care;
· Psychological care;
· Therapeutic care.


H. 4699 An Act Relative to Natural Gas Leaks

This bill received unanimous consent from House and Senate before it was assigned to the Joint Committee on Telecommunications and Energy. The bill's hearing was held Wednesday, June 16th, 2010. The hearing was packed mostly with people concerned about public safety, the environment, and jobs.Unfortunately, the bill was sent to study but is currently in the process of rewriting to be filed by January 21, 2011. Here is some of the press related to this bill and gas pipeline safety: 

6 people missing after California gas line explosion CNN

Marblehead state rep takes aim at gas leaks Marblehead Reporter

Legislature to hear testimony on Ehrlich Gas Leak Bill The Lynn Item

Channel 5, WCVB Boston, did a three-part Team 5 Investigates series on this issue:

Part I Thousands Of Gas Leaks Kill Mass. Trees

Part II Gas Companies Fall Short On Safety Regulations

Part III Gas Co. Failing To Fix Hazardous Leaks

This bill, which enjoys bipartisan co-sponsorship from 32 of my colleagues, requires utilities to repair known leaks in their pipeline structure under our streets. There are approximately 20,000 known leaks throughout the Commonwealth contributing to more than 8 billion cubic feet of unaccounted for natural gas (methane) annually. Recent studies indicate that leaking gas is killing trees by depriving them of oxygen. The cost to replace these trees is likely in the tens of millions of dollars statewide, with the burden falling on the taxpayers.

The current leak grading system is voluntary. It costs approximately $3,000 to repair a leak, a cost significantly less than complete pipe replacement.  An Act Relative to Natural Gas Leaks will establish a new Natural Gas Leak Classification Standard grading all leaks on a uniform standard that requires utility companies to fix thousands of gas leaks that have been ignored in the past in a set time period.  Similar systems have been successful in other states such as New York and Pennsylvania. 


House Bill 1799 An Act relative to Non-compete agreements 

A favorable report from the Joint Committee on Labor and Workforce Development and sent to The Joint Committee on Judiciary See below to learn about the third bill drafted by Representatives Ehrlich and Brownsberger as excerpted from Attorney Russell Beck's Massachusetts Noncompete blog

Im just a billAs a threshold matter, it is important to note that the bill will not apply retroactively or to noncompetition agreements arising outside the context of employment, nonsolicitation agreements, or nondisclosure agreements. (For definitions of any of the unfamiliar terms, please refer to Back to the Basics… Terms of Art.) The most significant aspects of the current draft are as follows:

  • The bill codifies current law, insofar as noncompetition agreements may be enforced if, among other things, they are reasonable in duration, geographic reach, and scope of proscribed activities and necessary to protect the employer’s trade secrets, other confidential information, or goodwill. Similarly, courts may continue to reform noncompetes to make them enforceable and refuse to enforce such agreements in certain circumstances.

  • The bill requires that noncompetes be in writing, signed by both parties, and, in most circumstances, provided to the employee two weeks in advance of employment. If the agreement is required after employment starts, the employee must be provided with consideration for it (beyond just continued employment). Ten percent of the employee’s then-current compensation is considered presumptively reasonable.

  • The bill restricts noncompete agreements to one year, although it does permit garden leave clauses to be enforced for up to two years. To qualify, the garden leave must require minimum payments to the employ for each year (the greater of 50% of the employee’s highest salary with the past two years or $50,000), as well as comply with certain issues concerning the circumstances of payment.

  • The bill identifies certain restrictions that will be presumptively reasonable and therefore enforceable (if all other requirements are met).

  • The bill requires payment of the employee’s legal fees under certain circumstances, primarily where the agreement is not enforced in most respects by the court or where the employer acted in bad faith. The bill does, however, provide a safe harbor for employers to avoid the prospect of having to pay the employee’s legal fees, specifically, if the noncompete is no more restrictive than the presumptively reasonable restrictions set forth in the bill. Similarly, an employer may receive its legal fees, but only if otherwise permitted by statute or contract, the agreement falls within the safe harbor, the noncompete was enforced, and the employee acted in bad faith.

  • The bill rejects the inevitable disclosure doctrine.

  • The bill places limitations on forfeiture agreements.

Start-ups stifled by noncompetes, Boston Globe by Scott Kirsner

Economy likely to force changes to noncompete pacts (Mary Pratt, The Boston Business Journal)

House Bill 2046 An Act Relative to Pollution Health Effects Mitigation

Under Ehrlich bill, polluters would pay for research Marblehead Reporter

Marblehead - In support of a bill called “novel” and “precedent setting,” several statewide advocates joined sponsor Rep. Lori A. Ehrlich, D-Marblehead, in testimony before the Joint Committee on Public Health last week.

Ehrlich’s bill, “An Act Relative to Pollution Health Effects Mitigation,” addresses a category of toxic chemical emissions known as “HAPs” or “Hazardous Air Pollutants,” which are not subject to Massachusetts’ power-plant regulations. These substances include certain volatile organic chemicals, pesticides, herbicides and radionuclides that present tangible hazards, based on scientific studies of exposure to humans and other mammals, according to Ehrlich.

Representative Ehrlich concluded her testimony by saying, “I encourage the committee to consider its novel approach and join me in sending a message that it’s not just trees and global warming at stake when emissions go up those stacks. It’s us.”

Ehrlich presses new pollution bill by Debra Glidden, The Lynn Item

Ehrlich said she refers to it as a “people bill” because most legislation addressing pollutants attempts to recognize and address the damage inflicted upon the environment.

"Instead, with this bill, I am taking a different route," she said. “While crafting this legislation I attempted to bring the impact on our health, a cost borne not only by the sick and their families, but to all of society with rising health care costs and lost work days into the economic transaction.”

Ehrlich said if the bill becomes law, any funds received from the assessment would go into a funding health studies.

House Bill 3069 An Act to Reduce Coal Burning and Use

Assigned to the Joint Committee on Telecommunication, Utilities and Energy

House Bill 3669 An Act to regulate Coal Ash (Fly Ash) as Solid Waste 

Hearing 5/14/09 11:00 a.m. in Room A2

The story of Wenham Lake: Power Plant dumps on Queen Victoria's ice cubes by Lori Ehrlich

The U.S. currently produces about 130 million tons of coal combustion waste annually from 400+ power plants in every state.  This waste is primarily disposed of at the power plant site in unlined and unmonitored waste water lagoons, landfills and mines. These disposal units are operating under state rules that frequently are far less protective than rules for household trash.  Long held disposal practices around the nation involve open unlined dumping wherever space can be found.  The cheaper the better.  Just last week there was news of CCW currently dumped in a sand and gravel pit in Maryland contaminating drinking water wells with lead.  There are some new engineered landfills for this stuff, but if the law doesn't prohibit the filling of holes, there is so much of this waste, that the holes will be filled.

60 Minutes: 130M Tons of Waste Leslie Stahl reports about the need for national preventative measures.

Boston Globe Editorial: Some ash with your electicity?

In 2007, an EPA report found that over a decade the groundwater in 67 towns in 26 states had been contaminated by heavy metals from fly ash dumps. Environmentalists would like to see the fly ash go to lined and capped landfills, which would prevent the leaching of the heavy metals into soil and groundwater. In Massachusetts, where fly ash from the Salem power plant once contaminated the Lake Wenham water supply of Beverly, ash that is not reused in concrete production or other beneficial applications ends up in lined and covered landfills. Even in this state, though, there is no law mandating safe disposal. A bill co-sponsored by Representatives Lori Ehrlich of Marblehead and Mary Grant of Beverly would do so.

CNN: Tennessee sludge spill estimate grows to 1 billion gallons

The sludge, a byproduct of the ash from coal combustion, was contained at a retention site at the Tennessee Valley Authority's power plant in Kingston, about 40 miles west of Knoxville. TVA's initial estimate for the spill was 1.8 million cubic yards or more than 360 million gallons of sludge. By Friday, the estimate reached 5.4 million cubic yards or more than 1 billion gallons -- enough to fill 1,660 Olympic-size swimming pools

Of interest: Associated Press: Chinese drywall poses potential risks Fly ash in dry wall

The Chinese drywall is also made with a coal byproduct called fly ash that is less refined than the form used by U.S. drywall makers.

Dozens of homeowners in the Southeast have sued builders, suppliers and manufacturers, claiming the very walls around them are emitting smelly sulfur compounds that are poisoning their families and rendering their homes uninhabitable.

"It's like your hopes and dreams are just gone," said Mary Ann Schultheis, who has suffered burning eyes, sinus headaches, and a general heaviness in her chest since moving into her brand-new, 4,000-square foot house in this tidy South Florida suburb a few years ago.

House Bill 1346 An Act to Establish a Claimant’s Trust Act

Assigned to the Joint Committee on the Judiciary

House Bill 890 An Act to Provide Coverage for Tobacco Use and Cessation under Commonwealth Care

assigned to the Joint Committee on Financial Services

House Bill 239 An Act Relative to Consumer Gift Cards

Assigned to the Joint Committee on Consumer Protection and Professional Licensure (hearing 5/12/09 10:00 a.m. B2) 


House Bill 719 An Act Relative to Plastic Bag Reduction

assigned to the Joint Committee on Environment, Natural Resources and Agriculture (hearing 5/14/09, 11:00 A2)

Sierra Club endorses this bill. See their informative write up including:

Plastic Bag Facts

  • It takes 1.6 billion gallons of petroleum to make the 380 billion bags that Americans use each year.

  • It has been estimated1 that worldwide 4 billion plastic bags end up as litter each year. Tied end-to-end this number of bags could circle the earth 63 times! However, the negative global impact of plastic bags extends far beyond this one example.

  • Because of their structure and weight, single-use plastic bags are carried by the wind into forests, ponds, rivers, and lakes. Single-use plastic bags made up about 9% of the debris found along various U.S. coasts in a five-year study.

  • Four out of five grocery bags used in the U.S. are plastic

  • The U.S. uses 100 billion plastic shopping bags each year, which are made from an estimated 12 million barrels of oil and cost retailers an estimated $4 billion

  • Production of 1 pound of plastic for shopping bags produces approximately 6 pounds of the global warming greenhouse gas carbon dioxide .

  • Thus considering that an average shopping bag weighs 1.15 ounces, the manufacture of every 2.3 plastic shopping bags produces 1 pound of carbon dioxide.

  • Plastic bags are not biodegradable, and although they do degrade through mechanical action  and photodegradation in the presence of light, these processes are slow taking an estimated 400 to 1000 years to occur.

  • In a recent study it was found that the ocean waters near the surface of the central Pacific northeast of Hawaii contained 6 pounds of plastic for every one pound of plankton.

  • Hundreds of thousands of birds and marine animals are killed each year by plastic bags and other plastic debris floating in the world’s oceans due to ingestion and entanglement.

  • Sea turtles and whales are especially prone to dying from ingestion of waterborne plastic bags since these objects are mistaken for some of their favorite foods (jellyfish and squid) and block their digestive tracks when swallowed.

  • In April 2002 the stomach of a dead Minke whale that washed up on the Normandy coast was found to contain 800 kg (1764 pounds) of plastic bags.

  • In April 2002 the stomach of a dead Minke whale that washed up on shore was found to contain 1700 pounds) of plastic bags. A small green sea turtle was brought into the Melbourne Zoo – which died shortly after arrival. Its stomach was coated with over 50 square feet of plastic. These are not isolated events.

  • The Ocean Conservancy, which conducts annual International Coastal Cleanups, reported an astounding 7 million pounds of trash along an estimated 17,000 miles of coastline. Of the 40-odd items tallied from light bulbs to fishing line, the top three items recorded were 3 million cigarette butts, 1.5 million plastic bags, and 1 million food wrappers/containers. While cigarette butts may be unsightly, the plastic bags are one of the most dangerous forms of debris posing a serious threat to wildlife.

  • Every year, Americans throw away some 100 billion plastic bags after they've been used to transport a prescription home from the drugstore or a quart of milk from the grocery store. It's equivalent to dumping nearly 12 million barrels of oil.

Co-sponsored legislation to freeze the Mass Turnpike's ability to set tolls

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