Representative Lori Ehrlich
 

Gas Legislation

FUTURE

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The Merrimack Valley Gas Explosions last Fall were a tragedy, taking a life and devastating the lives of many people living in that region. The time for comprehensive reform of natural gas infrastructure in Massachusetts has come, after years of changes pushed and accomplished by reformers including Rep. Ehrlich. Having spearheaded the establishment of the gas leak grading system and the first gas leak repair requirements, Rep. Ehrlich this session is filing several gas-related bills.

 Working closely with both the advocacy group Mothers Out Front and alongside State Rep. Christina Minicucci and State Senator Cynthia Stone Creem, Rep. Ehrlich this session has filed An Act for utility transition to using renewable energy (FUTURE). The FUTURE bill is a multi-faceted approach to transitioning our state towards renewable thermal energy by 2048 to heat our homes and away from the explosive fossil fuels we use now. The bill also puts the public back in public utilities, empowering cities, towns, and citizens with information and a voice at the table in planning our energy future. And finally, the bill takes aggressive action in regards to gas leaks and gas safety.

 Natural gas was only ever meant to be a bridge fuel to renewables. It is time for the Commonwealth to finish the job and get to the other side of that bridge by converting to non-explosive, consistent, and renewable energy sources. The FUTURE bill begins that process in a comprehensive, transparent, and bold manner.


Gas Pipeline Repair

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The Merrimack Valley Gas Explosions last Fall were a tragedy, taking a life and devastating the lives of many people living in that region. The time for comprehensive reform of natural gas infrastructure in Massachusetts has come, after years of changes pushed and accomplished by reformers including Rep. Ehrlich. Having spearheaded the establishment of the gas leak grading system and the first gas leak repair requirements, Rep. Ehrlich this session is filing several gas-related bills.

Filed alongside State Rep. Marjorie Decker and State Senator Paul Feeney, An Act to Ensure Safety and Transparency in Pipeline Repair ensures that all construction, reconstruction, installation, alteration, or repair projects on public infrastructure that are not performed by the employees of the public utility are put out for public bid. The bill requires gas and electric companies to request prevailing wage rate sheets for each municipality they work in at least once every six months, and requires the Department of Public Utilities (DPU) to develop a standard training model and requirements for all gas and electric workers. It would also mandate that utility workers to have OSHA 10 safety training.

 

Gas Safety & Responsibility

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The Merrimack Valley Gas Explosions last Fall were a tragedy, taking a life and devastating the lives of many people living in that region. The time for comprehensive reform of natural gas infrastructure in Massachusetts has come, after years of changes pushed and accomplished by reformers including Rep. Ehrlich. Having spearheaded the establishment of the gas leak grading system and the first gas leak repair requirements, Rep. Ehrlich this session is filing several gas-related bills.

One of those bills is An Act relative to natural gas safety and responsibility, filed alongside State Senator Barry Feingold and State Representative Frank Moran, would alter state law to protect gas customers, create enforcement measures for gas companies failing to meet their obligations, requiring the repair of certain gas leaks and greater transparency from the DPU. The bill also provides for regulations for how utilities shall provide services during declared emergencies. Customers have been given a hard time at every step of the way by gas companies in the Merrimack Valley, requiring state input to make sure that companies don’t leave customers out in the cold in case of future problems. In addition, this bill requires gas companies to be ready for future emergencies.

Gas companies can and must do more do prepare for future disasters, including repairing leaks and being more transparent. Much was learned from the explosions about what preparation is needed. This bill takes important steps to make sure companies are able to respond to future crises.

 

More New Legislation


Patent Trolls

Illustration of patent troll.  INC.  14 Feb. 2013

Illustration of patent troll. INC. 14 Feb. 2013

Massachusetts has always been a leader in innovation and discovery, from the beginning of the industrial revolution to the information age. Creating an environment that fosters new technology requires a legal system that protects and supports inventors, start ups, tech firms, and universities. Unfortunately, Massachusetts faces a particular challenge from entities who would cheat that legal system: patent trolls. Patent trolls, more formally known as “nonpracticing entity” are patent-holding organizations that file many, many bad faith patents in the hopes of suing people doing the real work of discovery with spurious claims that their patents have been violated.

The so-called “Patent Trolls” bill, An Act to protect innovation and entrepreneurship in the Commonwealth, is filed in the Senate by State Senator Eric Lesser and seeks to put stronger limits on the crime of patent fraud in order to protect the good faith work being done to advance technologies here in Massachusetts by changing how assertions of infringement are made as how courts act in cases involving patent infringement.

With a long record of working in preserving the innovation economy in Massachusetts, Rep. Ehrlich this session has filed the House version of this bill. Massachusetts is a worldwide leader in several different technology sectors, and protecting that environment is a major priority.

 

Transportation climate initiative

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This past December, Massachusetts and eight other states announced that they will be joining together in a Transportation Climate Initiative (TCI), which uses a market-based mechanism to put a  cost on greenhouse gas emissions in the transportation sector. In order to meet Massachusetts’ legally required emissions targets according to the Global Warming Solutions Act. It is clear that one sector has not yet begun to aggressively reduce emissions, and that is transportation. This effort by the current administration in Massachusetts begins that work, but needs legislative input.

 This bill, “An Act to advance modern and sustainable solutions for transportation,” filed alongside State Senator Eric Lesser, establishes hard legislative guardrails on how state revenues from this initiative are to be used in the form of the Modern and Sustainable Solutions for Transportation Trust Fund, overseen by the Modern and Sustainable Solutions for Transportation Investment Board.

 The board shall evaluate proposals for the use of the fund based on criteria including the following: emission reductions, benefits to disadvantaged or underserved communities, including environmental justice populations, rural communities, communities of color and low-income communities, consumer savings, public health benefits, and economic growth.

 Rather than explicitly direct revenues from this important legislation alone, this bill creates a board of stakeholders from all impacted parties to hold a deliberative process in how revenues are redirected and to what priorities.


Press Commission

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In January 2019, at the very start of this legislative session, the journalism industry experienced a wave of 1,000 layoffs in both digital and print-focused outlets – an unfortunate spike in an already deeply worrying trend. In 2004, newsroom employment and print advertising were near peak 1990s levels. Since then, the number of journalists employed by newspapers has been cut in half, and print advertising revenue has fallen to record low levels. And while Massachusetts does not have traditional “media deserts” as are found many other places in the United States, the Commonwealth has seen a growing trend of large, out-of-state conglomerates purchasing local newsrooms and media outlets, including some corporations with a record of putting profits ahead of professional, quality reporting.

 This session, Representative Ehrlich has filed a bill alongside State Senator Brendan Crighton to create a commission to examine a variety of questions concerning local journalism in Massachusetts, including the following considerations: including, but not limited to, the adequacy of press coverage of cities and towns, ratio of residents to media outlets, the history of local news in Massachusetts, print and digital business models for media outlets, the impact of social media on local news, strategies to improve local news access, public policy solutions to improve the sustainability of local press business models and private and nonprofit solutions, and identifying career pathways and existing or potential professional development opportunities for aspiring journalists in Massachusetts.

 At a time when journalists are under frequent attack and factfinding needed more than ever, it is critical for our democracy that journalism be supported and a sustainable path for the industry be found.

 

Refiled Legislation


sexual assault climate survey for massachusetts higher ed. 

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Sexual assault is a public health epidemic in our communities, and especially on our college campuses. We owe it to the young men and women who enroll in our fine colleges and universities in Massachusetts to do all we can to make sure that they have a safe environment in which to learn. 

This legislation creates a task force to develop a model sexual assault climate survey for the campuses of public and private institutions of higher education in the Commonwealth. It also mandates that all higher education institutions in the Commonwealth biennially implement either the model survey or an internally developed survey approved by the Commissioner of Higher Education. The summary of results must also be posted online on the university or college’s website as well as the website for the Department.

One of the biggest difficulties we face with this problem is the lack of good information. An estimated 90% of assaults are not reported, severely undermining our ability to understand and deal with this crisis. Collecting anonymized feedback from students, faculty, and staff at higher education institutions about their perceptions and experiences is a vital first step in ending sexual assault.


lead in school drinking water

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Since the ongoing crisis in Flint, Michigan there has been a renewed focus on lead in drinking water. A recent voluntary round of tests uncovered shocking results in Massachusetts schools— according to the lead testing data from the Department of Environmental Protection, more than half of the 43,000 taps tested from 980 schools across Massachusetts between 2016-2018 tested positive for lead.

Lead is a potent neurotoxin and can cause intellectual and developmental disabilities, stunted grown, hearing loss, and anemia. There is no safe level of lead for humans to ingest according to the EPA, and children are particularly at risk. This bill would create mandatory testing for schools, order known lead service lines to be replaced, and require that filters be installed at problem faucets.

This is an issue that affects people across the state. Our children deserve to have a safe place to learn and grow, and parents shouldn't have to wonder if they are drinking water at school that will harm their development.  

 

Rush to extinction

ivory & rhino horns

 
 
Poaching elephants for their ivory and rhinos for their horns is pushing both species toward extinction. We cannot stand idly by and remain complicit in this.
— Representative Ehrlich

The push to protect endangered elephants and rhinos from extinction is a priority and an emergency, which is why Rep. Ehrlich filed a bipartisan bill this session to crack down on ivory sales in the state. As this editorial from the Lynn Item explains, the actions we take locally in Massachusetts have impacts felt around the world.

If we do not make a change, several species of elephants will be extinct in the wild in the next few decades. There are an estimated 400,000 to 500,000 elephants in Africa currently, down from 1.2 million 35 years ago. Between 2010 and 2012, 100,000 elephants were killed for their ivory – an average of one every 15 minutes, every day, for three full years.

This slaughter is driven by the 10-20 billion dollar a year illegal wildlife trade. Even though international trade of ivory had been banned since 1989, ivory smuggling is disturbingly common, resulting in a grey market. The Boston/Cambridge area is the 4th largest market for Ivory on Craigslist, meaning our state surely feeds into the organized crime and terrorist groups like al-Shabaab who attempt to capitalize on the ivory trade.

Fortunately, the law is a powerful policy tool we can use to cut off the demand for these majestic creatures’ tusks and horns. New federal regulations put in place by the Obama administration restricts interstate ivory trade, and this bill would mirror the federal regulations. California, Hawaii, Nevada, New Jersey, New York have already passed their own ivory trading bans. Oregon and Washington passed bans via ballot measure in 2016.

China, which was by far the largest ivory market in the word, accounting for approximately 70% of the poached ivory, has taken dramatic steps to end the ivory trade within China by the end of 2017. We can and we must do better to defend elephants and rhinos, and we can do it by taking commonsense steps at home.


reducing plastic waste

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The United States uses 100 billion plastic shopping bags a year, made from the equivalent of 12 million barrels of oil, at an estimated cost to retailers of $4 billion. The average time of use for a plastic bag is just 12 minutes, but the post-consumer lifespan for every single bag is hundreds of years. The plastic never truly biodegrades, it simply breaks up into smaller and smaller pieces and eventually makes its way into the food chain. It is projected at if current trends continue, there will be more plastic than fish in the ocean by 2050.

Fortunately, we can do something about this. This legislation phases-out single-use plastic bags by August 1, 2019, which clog our gutters and storm drains, litter our sidewalks, and harm marine life. The bill would place a minimum ten cent fee on single-use plastic bags, paper bags, and reusable bags. After one year, retailers and grocers may no longer provide plastic bags. There is precedent and momentum behind this idea, as 91 communities in Massachusetts have already passed their own ordinances and many have ordinances pending. California, which is the sixth largest economy in the world, implemented a plastic bag ban in 2014 without major disruption to their retail sector, and Massachusetts should do the same.


poaching

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Protecting wildlife is vital for our ecosystems and our economy, but unfortunately bad actors are not only damaging a healthy, ecological balance, they are also affecting the Commonwealth's ability to export animal products interstate or overseas. A bill I filed with Representative Ann Margaret-Ferrante, An Act further regulating the enforcement of illegal hunting practices seeks to do two things. First it updates penalties around poaching, something that has not been done in decades or in some cases almost a century, and secondly it brings us into a national information sharing network in effect since the 1980’s.

The second key component of the bill would allow Massachusetts to join the Interstate Wildlife Violator Compact. We are 1 of 2 states in the country that have not yet joined. This Compact, in effect since the 1980’s allows wildlife management agencies in various states to share information with one another. This means that any person whose license privileges or rights are suspended in one member state may also have their license suspended in all other participating states.  

Poaching has economic, environmental, and social costs for our state. Poachers steal money from legitimate businesses, especially in the fishing industry taking in thousands of pounds of illegal fish and lobster. Additionally, conservation efforts are undercut when bad actors hunt out of season, or take fish that are too young. We have such a beautiful state with wonderful natural resources, and we should all work to keep it that way.


ELEPHANTS, BIG CATS, PRIMATES, AND BEARS IN TRAVELING EXHIBITS AND SHOWS

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While many of us have fond memories of seeing circus animals perform, what we often don’t like to think about is the treatment animals receive when they are not in front of the crowds. In captivity, large, wild animals are often subject to abusive treatment such as being chained by their feet and kept in small pens year round while traveling from show to show. Elephants, for example, often have to stand in their own excrement for prolonged periods of time, causing degenerative joint disease and foot disorders, which are a leading cause of euthanasia in captive elephants. It is standard practice among elephant trainers to use a “bullhook” to beat and stab them into doing tricks their bodies were never meant to handle. We should not teach our children that it is acceptable to profit off of the exploitation of animals, nor turn a blind eye to cruelty just because they don’t personally see it.

Even many of the industry players are realizing that brutality is not good business. In March, 2016, Feld Entertainment, the parent company of Ringling Bros. by far the largest operator in this space, first announced they will not be using elephants in their circuses. In January, 2017 they followed up with an announcement of the complete closure of the circus. This decision was both economic and a reflection of changing attitudes.


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Divesting from Guns & Ammunition

This bill would direct the Massachusetts Pension Reserves Investment Management Board (PRIM) to divest state funds from ammunition and firearm manufacturing and retail companies which derive more than 15 percent of their revenues from the sale of ammunition and firearms. This bill does not apply to firearms and ammunition sold to law enforcement and the military.

As gun violence tears at the fabric of our nation and Congress is unable to act even in the face of overwhelming support, it is time for state stewards to ensure our retirement savings and pension funds are not profiting from that violence. 

The Massachusetts legislature has always been proud to step up and protect our citizens by implementing the the most protective gun laws in the nation. That seriousness is undermined  when we invest our public dollars in companies that profit from gun violence. We should not be protecting the state with one hand and enabling manufacturers with the other. It is both inconsistent and counterproductive.

PRIM is a $71 billion fund. In 1997, Massachusetts divested from big tobacco because of the harm it caused in our communities. Today we should do the same by divesting from arms manufacturers. We can lead the charge away from guns and ammunition and send a clear signal that the status quo is untenable. Guns are weapons designed to kill. The companies who derive profit from the carnage must be held responsible for their product. 

Huffington Post reports: We take public safety seriously, therefore I felt we should not be investing public dollars in the companies that enable the violence we are trying to prevent,” state Rep. Lori Ehrlich (D), one of the bill’s authors, told HuffPost. “We should not be protecting the state with one hand and enabling manufacturers with the other. It’s both inconsistent and counterproductive.”