Thursday, June 30, 2011

Senate Approves Human Trafficking Bill with Several GOP Caucus Amendments

Today the Massachusetts Senate adopted a series of amendments offered by the Senate Republican Caucus to Senate Bill 1950, An Act Relative to the Commercial Exploitation of People. Senate Minority Leader Bruce Tarr and Senators Robert Hedlund (R-Weymouth), Michael Knapik (R-Westfield) and Richard Ross (R-Wrentham) offered the amendments to create stricter penalties and to provide law enforcement officials with the necessary tools to prosecute human traffickers more effectively.

Senator Tarr said, "For far too long our laws have been silent on the intolerable crimes involved in human trafficking. Today we have seized an opportunity to confront criminal enterprises that degrade human beings into property and abuse them in unconscionable ways."

He went on to say, "Now that we are taking action on this front, it's imperative that we do so in a way that brings swift and strong punishment to those who would enslave another person for criminal purposes. The amendments we have secured in today's debate, if signed into law, will ensure strong penalties for offenders and effective tools for prosecutors to apprehend and bring them to justice."

A total of four Republican-filed amendments were adopted by the Senate, including one that would increase the bill's proposed punishment of human trafficking from 15 years to 20 years in jail. The amendment passed by a roll call vote of 35-1. Another amendment would create a 5 year mandatory minimum jail sentence for the first offense of trafficking a victim who is a minor.
Other Republican amendments adopted by the Senate today include:

* expanding the scope of a newly created taskforce within the legislation to examine the creation of Massachusetts laws to target racketeering similar to the Federal Government's Racketeer Influenced and Corrupt Organizations Act (RICO) of 1970 with the focus on organized human trafficking rings. Currently, gaps exist in Massachusetts law that frustrate prosecutors' abilities to strike at the elements of human trafficking enterprises that depend on the exchange of cash and other assets; and

* creating a separate additional crime for the enticement of a minor with the use of any electronic device, including the internet, that carries either a fine of $2,500 or a maximum of five years in jail for the first offense, and not less than five years in jail for subsequent offenses. The amendment passed by a roll call vote of 36-0.

During Senate floor debate, Tarr expressed his appreciation to not only Knapik, Hedlund and Ross for their support of the several amendments, but also to Senator Mark Montigny (D-New Bedford) for his unyielding advocacy for the passage of anti-human trafficking legislation over the past several years.

The amended bill, which passed unanimously by a roll call vote of 37-0, will now go to a six member conference committee where the differences between the two versions will be worked out. The members of the conference committee are expected to be appointed next week.

Patriot Ledger Editorial Supports Senator Hedlund's Efforts to Curb Drunk Driving

Assistant Senate Minority Leader Robert Hedlund is continuing his fight to strengthen the Commonwealth’s drunk driving laws.

In this current legislative session, Senator Hedlund has written a bill, Senate 1746, which requires first time OUI offenders to install an ignition interlock device in their car to prevent the operation of the motor vehicle while the driver is under the influence. This is a continuation of Senator Hedlund’s efforts to strengthen Melanie’s Law, the state's drunk driving laws, which was originally passed in October of 2005.

Last session Senator Hedlund spearheaded efforts to close Melanie’s Law loopholes, a cause he champions and his constituency overwhelmingly supports. Be sure to check out yesterday's Patriot Ledger editorial supporting Senator Hedlund’s efforts to curb drunk driving in Massachusetts.

Wednesday, June 29, 2011

Senate Republicans Call for Passage of Tougher Human Trafficking Laws

On Thursday, June 30th, the Massachusetts Senate will debate Senate Bill 1950, An Act Relative to the Commercial Exploitation of People. Legislative measures to criminalize human trafficking have been filed for multiple sessions but have only recently gained momentum due to the arrest of Norman Barnes, a Dorchester man who has been charged with the kidnapping and sexual exploitation of a 15-year-old girl.

Senate Minority Leader Bruce Tarr (R-Gloucester) and Senators Robert Hedlund (R-Weymouth), Michael Knapik (R-Westfield) and Richard Ross (R-Wrentham) are offering several amendments to strengthen the bill by increasing the punishment or elevating the charges of several of the outlined crimes for those who are found to be involved in human trafficking.

"Human trafficking is a heinous crime for which we should have no tolerance in Massachusetts. Not only must we join with the 46 other states that have enacted laws to address these outrageous acts, we must pass comprehensive legislation that provides every tool known to be effective in combating and eradicating human trafficking to those who can put them to work," said Senator Tarr.

Among the amendments filed are those that would:

* increase the bill's proposed punishment of human trafficking from 15 years in jail to 20 years;

* create additional penalties for those who use a firearm to facilitate or attempt to facilitate human trafficking;

* create additional penalties for those who physically injure or threaten to injure another person to facilitate or attempt to facilitate human trafficking;

* provide a confidentiality statute to protect victims who had been forced into sexual servitude from being identified or located by perpetrators; and

* create a separate additional crime for the enticement of a minor over the internet that carries either a fine of $2,500 or a maximum of five years in jail for the first offense, and not less than five years in jail, a fine of not less than $10,000, or both for each subsequent offense.

"The bill now before the Senate offers us a tremendous opportunity to forcefully address the issue of human trafficking. Given the incalculable and devastating impact this crime has on individuals, families and society, we have an undeniable obligation to make the bill as strong as possible," said Tarr.

Senator Ross Speaks at Networking Event

Senate Minority Whip Richard Ross attended the Business Builders Association's Networking Meeting on June 22 to speak to members about owning a small business. The meeting, held at Guido’s Italian Restaurant in Norfolk, provided members with an opportunity to meet other small business owners and promote their own enterprises.

As the owner of R.J. Ross Funeral Home in Wrentham, Senator Ross is well equipped to speak about the experience of being a business owner. He was able to share his own knowledge, as well as the importance of networking. Senator Ross also brought informational pamphlets for members, containing helpful information on networking and small business ownership.

“As a small business owner myself, I certainly understand the importance of networking,” said Senator Ross. “The BBA’s Networking Meetings allow members to do just that, in a friendly and personal setting. This type of program fosters the lasting and beneficial relationships among business owners that are so important.”

Senator Ross is pictured above with Business Builders Association President JC Uttaro.

Friday, June 17, 2011

Senator Brown to Host Federal Fisheries Management Hearing Monday at Faneuil Hall

Thanks to the efforts of U.S. Senator Scott Brown, a Congressional hearing open to the public is scheduled for this Monday, June 20th at 10 A.M. at Faneuil Hall to listen to testimony on federal fisheries management. Senate Minority Leader Bruce Tarr has been asked to participate in the hearing as a witness. For more information, be sure to check out a recent report by Glen Johnson of the Boston Globe.

Wednesday, June 15, 2011

Senator Tarr's Statement on Former House Speaker Sal DiMasi's Conviction

Senate Minority Leader Bruce Tarr issued the following statement today, following former House Speaker Sal DiMasi’s conviction on multiple charges, including conspiracy to defraud citizens of his honest services, mail fraud, wire fraud and extortion:

“Today’s conviction of former Speaker DiMasi reflects the consequences of an abuse of political power for personal gain. Yet in our Commonwealth, no one is above the law, and the criminal justice system has made that clear in this case.

Abuses such as those in the DiMasi case demand transparency and accountability, and the Senate Republican Caucus will continue to seek every opportunity for further reforms in that regard. Criminal actions such as these should never take place on Beacon Hill.”

Some of the reforms offered by the Senate Republican Caucus this session include:

• a proposal requiring the Secretary of Administration & Finance and the Governor to file a zero-based budget every four years, beginning in Fiscal Year 2017, to more effectively allocate limited state resources and allow the Legislature to focus on real spending priorities;

• a proposal directing Governor Patrick and his successors to prepare a biennial plan for maximizing personnel efficiencies and controlling personnel costs;

• a crackdown on the use of so-called “gag orders” and confidentiality agreements when a public employee leaves state service or settles a legal dispute with a state agency so the public is aware of the amount of taxpayer dollars included in a severance package or legal settlement;

• a requirement that any state agency that spends $100,000 or more on consultants must file an annual report with the Legislature detailing the reasons necessitating the use of these consultants; and

• a requirement that more information be posted on the Legislature’s website and made accessible to the public, including information on all state expenditures of $25,000 or more, as well as information on the state’s borrowing and debt, which is the highest in the nation per capita.

Tuesday, June 14, 2011

Sen. Tarr Tackles Housing Discrimination

Senate Minority Leader Bruce Tarr testified before the Joint Committee on Housing this morning in support of legislation he has filed with Senator Barry Finegold to prohibit discrimination in cooperative housing.

Under current laws governing cooperative housing corporations, the boards of these corporations can turn down prospective owners who are not deemed to be “compatible with the community,” provided they do not make this decision on the basis of race, sex or age. Senate Bill 593 would tighten the law’s anti-discrimination requirements by limiting the rejection of potential co-op owners to those who fail to prove they can meet the financial and maintenance obligations associated with the property.

The fight to prohibit discrimination in housing is nothing new to Senator Tarr, who has sponsored similar legislation in both the 2007-2008 and 2009-2010 legislative sessions. The initial bill was filed on behalf of a North Andover constituent, John Walsh, who was denied an opportunity to purchase a housing unit at 68 Beacon Street, near the Public Gardens and historic Boston Common (see story below).
An American Dream Denied


Today is Flag Day, an annual celebration honoring the initial adoption of the United States flag.

It was 234 years ago today – June 14, 1777 – that the Continental Congress replaced the British Grand Union flag with a new design featuring 13 white stars in a circle on a field of blue and 13 red and white stripes – one for each of the original 13 colonies. Although the design of Old Glory has changed over the years, the symbolism behind the Stars and Stripes has not: more than two centuries later, the American flag still represents an international beacon of hope, freedom and democracy for the world’s downtrodden.

As Americans everywhere pause today to honor our flag, Scaling Beacon Hill asks that we also take a moment to honor the many brave men and women of the U.S. military who continue to serve our country and to defend the ideals symbolized by our flag, both at home and abroad.

Senator Hedlund's Bill to Crack Down on Repeat Drunk Drivers Being Heard Today

Assistant Senate Minority Leader Robert Hedlund's bill relative to ignition interlock devices (SB 1746) is being heard before the Joint Committee on Transportation today at 1 p.m. in Room B-1. Hedlund is pictured above with Ron Bersani, the grandfather of Melanie Powell, whose death at the hands of a repeat drunk driver led to the passage of Melanie's Law in 2005 (photo by Amelia Kunhardt of the Patriot Ledger). Be sure to check out the Patriot Ledger's recent article detailing the intent of the ignition interlock legislation, which imposes additional tough penalties for drunk driving.

Friday, June 10, 2011

Senate Approves Republican Caucus Plan to Control State Personnel Costs

The Massachusetts Senate is calling on Governor Patrick and his successors to develop a biennial plan to maximize personnel efficiencies and control the state’s rising personnel costs.

The Republican-sponsored proposal was approved on a unanimous vote of 37-0 as part of a comprehensive finance reform bill that passed the Senate yesterday. The Senate’s actions came only hours after media reports that the Patrick Administration has authorized 3 percent pay raises for managers in executive branch departments and agencies for the coming fiscal year.

“We recently completed floor debate on what is arguably one of the most difficult budgets the Senate has been faced with in many years, and the news of sweeping pay increases is surprising as the conference committee is struggling to meet existing demands and balance that budget,” said Senate Minority Leader Bruce Tarr (R-Gloucester). “It is challenging to understand how these increases fit into the context of proposed budgets that are cutting programs and services for some of our state’s most vulnerable residents.”

According to the State House News Service, the 4,000 executive branch managers set to receive the raises have not seen any wage increases since 2007 and took unpaid furloughs in fiscal years 2009 and 2010. The 3 percent pay raises could cost the state as much as $10 million.

Under the amendment adopted by the Senate yesterday, the Governor must file his initial report on personnel costs with the House and Senate Ways and Means Committees within nine months of the passage of the state finance reform bill, with future reports filed every two years.

“Personnel costs are usually one of the largest elements of any budget, and they are certainly a major factor in state government,” Senator Tarr said. “The plan required in this amendment is a proactive way to confront these costs and to seek ways to keep them from destabilizing other priorities and the state budget itself.”

The finance reform bill now heads to the House of Representatives for further action.

Thursday, June 9, 2011

Senate Approves Zero-Based Budgeting Plan

The Massachusetts Senate has approved a Republican-backed initiative requiring the state to move toward a zero-based budgeting process beginning in Fiscal Year 2017.

The Senate adopted the measure during today’s debate on a comprehensive finance reform bill. It drew strong bipartisan support, passing on a unanimous vote of 38-0.

“Zero-based budgeting will transform the way our state spends its resources from an antiquated system based on the past to an innovative system which responds to priorities, requires performance and results, and causes every dollar spent to be justified,” said Senate Minority Leader Bruce Tarr (R-Gloucester), who offered the amendment along with Senators Robert Hedlund (R-Weymouth), Michael Knapik (R-Westfield) and Richard Ross (R-Wrentham).

“The unanimous vote this amendment received shows the innovative approach the Commonwealth is undertaking with respect to the budget process in the future,” said Senator Hedlund. “Formulating a budget that looks at agency spending on a case by case basis rather than previous year spending levels shows the evolution of Massachusetts’ budgeting process and is a move towards a more modern and efficient system.”

Under the Senate proposal, the Governor would be required to file a zero-based budget every four years, starting with the fiscal year that begins on July 1, 2016. Rather than developing a budget that expands on the previous year’s funding levels, the zero-based budget would formulate a spending plan for every state department and state agency without regard to their prior appropriations.

When filing the zero-based budget, the Governor will be required to include a brief description of the tasks and goals for each agency or department, along with a performance benchmark measure. This information will be included in the actual budget document and made available electronically on the official website of the Commonwealth.

“I commend my colleagues for unanimously passing this important amendment,” Senator Knapik said. “Zero-based budgeting will ensure taxpayer dollars are spent in a rational way and will hold state agencies and department accountable for producing results and living within their current means.”

“Zero-based budgeting will give us the opportunity to evaluate items in the budget based on their performance and merit,” said Senator Ross. “In the past we have used previous years’ budgets as the basis for the next year funding without properly evaluating and validating the need for the expense. This creates an important tool that will aid us in forming transparent budgets that will give us confidence, as we support those items that we have built our budget around.”

“Given the Commonwealth’s current economic condition, we need a system which allows policymakers to evaluate spending according to our priorities and our ability to respond to them,” added Senator Steven A. Baddour (D-Methuen), who has co-sponsored zero-based legislation with Senator Tarr in the past. “The Legislature’s current budget process is broken and must be fixed. If we want to permanently solve state government’s tendency to overspend, we need to fundamentally reform the budget process. The use of a zero-based budget will force us to prioritize spending and substantively review all state-sponsored programs. I believe that this type of reform will help restore taxpayer confidence in state government spending.”

The bill now heads to the House of Representatives for further action.

Senate GOP Calls for State Finance Reforms

Senate Republicans have filed a series of amendments designed to give the state’s taxpayers a better sense of how their tax dollars are being spent by promoting cost-saving measures and requiring more transparency and accountability in the handling of the state’s finances.

Senate Minority Leader Bruce Tarr (R-Gloucester) and Senators Robert Hedlund (R-Weymouth), Michael Knapik (R-Westfield) and Richard Ross (R-Wrentham) are offering the amendments as part of a bipartisan, comprehensive finance reform bill up for debate in the Senate on Thursday. All four Republicans are co-sponsoring the bill, which contains a number of Caucus priorities, including a debt affordability study and periodic performance management reviews to root out waste and duplication throughout state government.

Included on the Caucus’ list of amendments is a proposal directing the Secretary of Administration and Finance and the Governor to develop a zero-based budget for all state agencies and departments every four years, a proposal that Senator Tarr describes as a crucial tool to ensure that the expenditure of every taxpayer dollar is justified and sustainable.

“Moving to a zero-based budgeting process will enable the Commonwealth to more effectively allocate its limited resources by not only helping to identify and eliminate waste, but also by allowing us to focus on real priorities as opposed to unnecessary spending,” said Senator Tarr. “The Caucus has several other ideas for achieving these goals and for promoting cost savings and other efficiencies. We hope our Senate colleagues will support these proposals, and we look forward to a spirited debate on these issues today.”

Other amendments proposed by the Caucus would:

• require the Governor to prepare a biennial plan for maximizing personnel efficiencies and controlling personnel costs;

• require the Department of Revenue to develop and utilize one or more dynamic models for analyzing the true economic impact of tax incentives, rebates and other programs, including economic growth and job creation;

• establish a new unpaid Commonwealth Competition Council to explore concepts and programs to spur innovation and competition in state government, and to identify opportunities for privatization to improve cost-effectiveness;

• direct the state Treasurer to utilize electronic paystubs for employees who receive direct deposit;

• require all state departments, boards, commissions, authorities and agencies that use an electronic answering service to provide callers with the option of speaking with a live operator during regular business hours;

• require any state agency that expends $100,000 or more on consultants to file an annual report with the Legislature detailing the reasons necessitating the use of these consultants; and

• require more information to be posted on the Legislature’s website for public consumption, including the findings of the new independent debt affordability committee created in the bill, which is charged with ensuring that the Commonwealth can afford any proposed borrowing. Currently, the state ranks among the highest in the nation in per capita indebtedness.

Wednesday, June 8, 2011

Hedlund Discusses Romney on 'Broadside'

Assistant Senate Minority Leader Robert Hedlund appeared on the Friday June 3rd edition of "Broadside" with Jim Braude and Warren Tolman. The discussion centered around Mitt Romney's Presidential campaign launch. Follow the link below and enjoy the clip!

Tuesday, June 7, 2011

Senator Tarr on the Air with WRKO

Today Senate Minority Leader Bruce Tarr was a guest on WRKO’s the Tom and Todd show with hosts Tom Finneran and Todd Feinburg. The topics they discussed include an illegal immigration amendment that Tarr filed in the Senate’s version of Fiscal Year 2012’s state budget and the Governor’s decision for Massachusetts to not enter into the federally prescribed “Secure Communities Program”. Please click the photo below to listen to today’s segment.

Monday, June 6, 2011

Media Alert: Senator Tarr on Tonight's Channel 4 News

Earlier today Senator Tarr was interviewed by CBS Channel 4 Reporter Jon Keller regarding Governor Patrick’s decision not to enter into the federally prescribed “Secure Communities Program”. The program has been instituted within 42 states thus far and has been piloted in the city of Boston since 2006. Please tune in to tonight’s news broadcast to view the Minority Leader’s comments on the subject.

Senator Tarr Issues Statement on Secure Communities Program

Senate Minority Leader Bruce Tarr issued the following statement today in response to Governor Patrick’s announcement that Massachusetts will not be joining the federal Secure Communities Program:

“It’s unfortunate that the Governor is weakening public safety in the Commonwealth by retreating from expressed commitments to partner with the Obama Administration through the Secure Communities Program. Hopefully he will address the vacuum he is perpetuating with active and strong support for the practical and substantive measures regarding illegal immigration that were given broad and bipartisan support through Senate actions to include them in the Fiscal Year 2012 budget.”

(A copy of the amendment adopted by the Senate as part of the Fiscal Year 2012 budget can be found here.)

Friday, June 3, 2011

Sen. Hedlund on NECN's 'Broadside' Tonight

Assistant Senate Minority Leader Robert Hedlund will be an in-studio guest on New England Cable News' "Broadside" tonight with host Jim Braude and former state senator Warren Tolman. The three will be discussing Mitt Romney's Presidential campaign launch. Be sure to tune in tonight at 6 p.m. on NECN to follow the discussion. The show will repeat at 8 p.m. and again at 3:30 a.m.

Senator Knapik to Appear on 'Howie Carr' at 3

Senator Michael R. Knapik will be appearing live on the "Howie Carr Show" today at 3 p.m. to discuss the cleanup efforts taking place in the wake of the deadly tornadoes that struck central and western Massachusetts on Wednesday. Be sure to tune in to WRKO at 680 on your AM dial, or listen via the web here.

Thursday, June 2, 2011

Tarr Appointed to Court Reorganization, Probation Reform Conference Committee

Senate Minority Leader Bruce Tarr (R-Gloucester) has been appointed to serve on a six-member conference committee charged with drafting the final version of a comprehensive reform bill targeted at improving efficiency in the state’s trial courts and eliminating abuses and improprieties in the Probation Department.

“Probation officials are critical to the public safety of our state,” said Tarr, “and we need to ensure that the system in which these dedicated professionals operate is free from the taint of systemic inefficiencies and undue influences.”

Tarr and his Senate Republican colleagues have been working for reforms in the probation department over the past several years, and their efforts intensified following the public release on November 19, 2010 of the report of Independent Counsel Paul Ware. In his report to the Supreme Judicial Court, Ware documented extremely disturbing activities and circumstances in the Probation Department, including hiring and promotion practices unduly impacted by political influence.

The Senate’s version of the reform bill implements a transparent and accountable system for hiring and promoting probation and court personnel. Tarr authored several provisions which were co-sponsored by his Republican Senate colleagues and approved by the full Senate for inclusion in the bill.

They include:

· Developing a plan to expand payment options of court fees to include credit cards;

· Requiring the standards used by the trial court system for hiring and promotion to be made publicly available;

· Requiring all applicants for any position within the trial court to meet the minimum merit-based standards for employment before any letter of recommendation on behalf of an applicant can be taken into consideration for employment;

· Expanding the membership of the advisory board to the commissioner of probation and the court administrator from seven to nine members with one member to have probation experience and one member with an active Massachusetts Bar membership; and

· Requiring the chief justice, court administrator and the civilian court administrator created in the bill to submit an impact report 90 days prior to any closure or relocation of a court house to both the clerk of the Senate and the House and the chairs of the Joint Committee on the Judiciary.

The conference committee on which Tarr will serve is comprised of three Senators and three Representatives, and it will reconcile the two versions of reform legislation passed by the House and Senate. Tarr is joined on the committee by Senators Cynthia Creem (D-Newton) and Brian Joyce (D-Milton), and Representatives Eugene O’Flaherty (D-Chelsea), Brian Dempsey (D-Haverhill), and Dan Winslow (R-Norfolk).