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Legislature Passes New Laws To Help Veterans, Protect Social Media Privacy, Toughen Penalties For Fentanyl Trafficking

Nov 23, 2015 05:42AM ● By Bill Gilman

State Semator Barbara L'Italien

(Editor's note: The following information was submitted by the office of state Sen. Barbara L'Italien.)

BOSTON -- The Massachusetts Senate passed several pieces of legislation covering veterans, public education, social media privacy, solar power and the terrible heroin epidemic on Wednesday -- the final day of formal legislative sessions this year.

The House and Senate will continue with informal sessions and committee hearings, but are not expected to resume formal sessions until early January.

The House and Senate passed several bills providing new benefits to veterans and sent them to Gov. Charlie Baker for his signature.

“Honoring and protecting those who have fought for our country is one of our most important obligations as legislators and as citizens,” said Sen. Barbara L’Italien, whose Second Essex & Middlesex District includes Andover, Lawrence, Tewksbury and Dracut.

The Stolen Valor Act -- Criminalizes the practice of falsely representing oneself as military personnel, a veteran or a recipient of specific military honors in order to receive money, property or a tangible benefit. This crime would be punishable by a fine of $1,000 and imprisonment of not more than one year. 

The second bill passed Wednesday by the House and Senate provides free park access to Purple Heart recipients in Massachusetts.  This legislation waives entrance or parking fees at state parks, forests, and reservations for recipients of the Purple Heart, which is awarded to those who are injured or killed while serving in the military.  Under current law, only disabled veterans or handicapped persons whose vehicles bear distinctive license plates receive free access to state parks.

The veterans legislation we just passed ensures we are doing all we can to make Massachusetts a leader when it comes to supporting our vets,” said Senate President Stanley Rosenberg, D-Amherst.  

Other bills passed this week by the Senate to help veterans impose additional fines and penalties for destruction of veterans’ gravesites, including for the destruction or removal of gravestones and grave-markers and the removal or destruction of veteran, police, and firefighter commemorative flag-holders and flags.

“All people who die in service to this country deserve the decency and respect of a properly marked and maintained burial site,” Sen. L’Italien said.  “This is the least we can do to honor those who make the ultimate sacrifice for our country.”

The Senate also used the last day of the 2015 session to bolster its long list of accomplishments from the past year by passing bills tackling fentanyl trafficking, promoting healthy youth, and protecting workers and students privacy when asked for their social media passwords from employers or education institutions.

“Our comprehensive work in the Senate today honors our veterans, punishes drug traffickers, protects the privacy of social networking users, strengthens the physical education of children, and clears the way for an expansion of solar energy projects,” said Senate Minority Leader Bruce Tarr, R-Gloucester.  “While we have achieved significant progress on a host of issues this term, we have much more to do.”

In addition to the veterans bills the Senate also passed:

An updated amendment of the solar net metering legislation that would increase the cap on residential and commercial projects.  Notably, the amendment seeks to ensure the future growth of community shared solar and virtual metering while grandfathering existing projects. Promoting continued solar growth is essential to help Massachusetts reach the goals for the reduction of greenhouse gas emissions established in the Global Warming Solutions Act.  The House and Senate passed different versions of “net metering” legislation and will be negotiating over the next few weeks to come to agreement on a final unified proposal to send to the governor for enactment.

An Act Relative to the Trafficking of Fentanyl -- This bill would penalize, with up to 20 years in prison, anyone who traffics in fentanyl, a dangerously strong narcotic often mixed with heroin.  In addition any derivative of fentanyl, and knowingly or intentionally manufacturing, distributing, dispensing, or possessing with intent to manufacture, distribute, and dispense within the Commonwealth is subject to the same penalties.  The bill was passed by both chambers and now goes to Gov. Baker for his signature.

An Act Relative to Healthy Youth -- Requires each school district, public school and charter school that offers sexual health education to provide medically accurate, age-appropriate education.   The bill also requires schools that offer sexual health education to adopt a written policy ensuring notification to the parent or legal guardian and the right of the parent or guardian to withdraw a child from the education program. (Passed by the Senate only).

An Act to Promote Quality Physical Education -- Updates the current statutory requirement that physical education be taught in all public schools to include charter schools.  The bill re-defines physical education to include physical activity, fitness, nutrition and wellness and requires physical education to be age appropriate and evidence-based.  (Passed by the Senate only).

An Act Relative to Social Media Privacy Protection -- Prohibits any public or private institution providing elementary, secondary or higher education from requiring a student or applicant to disclose a user name, password or other means of access to a personal social media account or service.  In addition, the bill prohibits any employer from requiring an employee or applicant to senate disclose a user name, password or other means of access to a personal social media account or service. 

The bill also prohibits any employer from requiring an employee or applicant, as a condition of employment or consideration for employment, to include any employer or employer’s agent on a list of contacts associated with a social media account or service.  This legislation passed both chambers and is one its way to the governor.

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