Representative Lori Ehrlich
 

legislative profile


sexual assault climate survey for massachusetts higher ed. 

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Legislative Update:

H.4159, a new draft of H.2998, was reported out of the Joint Committee on Higher Education. It was then referred to the Committee on House Ways and Means where it was redrafted as H.4810. 

The House of Representative unanimously passed the bill for engrossment on July 25, 2018.

The bill was amended in the Senate on July 31st, 2018, at which point it was too late for the appointment of a conference committee to reconcile differences between House and Senate language. 


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 annually implement either the model survey or an internally developed survey and report the results to the Commissioner of Higher Education.

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.


poaching

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Legislative Update:

A new draft of the bill, S.2248 was passed to be engrossed unanimously by the Senate and referred to the Committee on House Ways and Means on January 22, 2018.


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, H. 2918, 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.

Under current statute, many of the fines for illegal poaching are as low as $50. Outdated penalties are so light that they do little to deter illegal poaching, and low fines also undervalue the importance of wildlife. Our bill increases the penalty from $50 to $100-$300 or less than 90 days in jail, and suspension of the hunting license for 1-3 years for a first offense hunting without a license. For some perspective, in Wyoming the penalty for a first offense is $10,000; or not more than 1 year in jail plus restitution, and the suspension of your hunting license for not more than 5 years.

The second key component of the bill would allow Massachusetts to join the Interstate Wildlife Violator Compact. We are one of only three 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 in Traveling Circus Acts

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Legislative Update:

H.418 was released favorably from the Joint Committee on Environment, Natural Resources, and Agriculture on October 17, 2017 and referred to the Committee on House Ways and Means.


While many of us have fond memories of seeing circus elephants perform, what we often don’t like to think about is the treatment elephants receive when they are not in front of the crowds. In captivity, elephants 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. This results in these intelligent, sentient, and majestic creatures standing 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 elephants 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.


Now law: too hot for spot

 Gumdrop the puppy is very grateful for Rep. Ehrlich's bill addressing the problem of animals in hot cars.

Gumdrop the puppy is very grateful for Rep. Ehrlich's bill addressing the problem of animals in hot cars.


 

It is an all-too common sight on our social media feeds – stories of pets, often but not exclusively dogs, left in dangerously hot cars in grocery store parking lots, at the movies, at shopping centers. As many of us know by now, the inside of a car in the summer is far hotter than outside. An 85-degree summer day can rapidly become 100 degrees inside of a parked car.

That is why Rep. Ehrlich and her colleagues were relieved to pass, and see Governor Baker sign, a bill to establish penalties for anyone who leaves an animal in car in a way that would reasonably threaten their health due to extreme temperatures. The act which Rep. Ehrlich filed with State Senator Mark Montigny also allows volunteers to break the car window as long as the person makes a reasonable effort to locate the owner, notifies 911, and has a reasonable belief that breaking into the car is necessary to prevent imminent danger or harm to the animal.

Both Good Samaritans and first responders would be protected from civil and criminal punishment. The bill also prohibits a pet owner from keeping a dog tied to a doghouse, pole, or other structure for longer than five hours a day and no more than 15 minutes in extreme weather.

How we treat animals speaks directly to how we treat our fellow human beings. Animals have no voice with which they can advocate for themselves, so it is vital that we treat them humanely and the law is a powerful way to ensure that happens. 

New Law: clarifying eligibility for the earned income tax credit

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Legislative Update:

This bill was signed into law as part of the FY 2018 final budget. 


This session Rep. Ehrlich was able to pass a bill into law that will save Massachusetts resident $8-10 million this year and every year in the future. 

The bill involves the Earned Income Tax Credit, which has for many years been one of our most effective anti-poverty tools. The program provides tax credits to low and middle income families based on earnings. Because the credit is given to people who work in Massachusetts, but are not necessarily residents, millions of dollars have in the past been sent to our neighboring states, numbering as high as 20,000 filers.

The bill Rep. Ehrlich filed clarified some of the rules about the credit, including which partial-year residents can receive it, while denying the credit to nonresidents. The Earned Income Tax Credit has a very powerful stimulus effect because recipients spend that money in their local communities so by only permitting Mass residents to claim this credit our state's economy will also feel that powerful stimulus. 

The bill also expanded access to the credit for survivors of domestic abuse by allowing them to claim the credit while filing their taxes as “married, filing separately.” As of now, individuals are often impeded from claiming the EITC unless they file their taxes jointly with their spouse. With this change, individuals who are still legally tied to their spouse but are estranged can still receive the credit. 


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

Legislative Update: 

New draft of H.419, S.2575 was passed to be engrossed in the Senate and referred to the Committee on House Ways and Means on June 25, 2018.


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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Legislative Update:

The Joint Committee on Environment, Natural Resources, and Agriculture discharged a new draft, H.4234 with a favorable report and referred it to the Committee on House Ways and Means on February 15, 2018.

The legislation was included in the Senate version of the Environmental Bond Bill but failed to be included in the final conference committee report at the end of the 190th Legislative Session. 


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 implements a one year phase-out of single-use plastic bags, 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 41 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.


lead in school drinking water

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Legislative Update:

A new draft of the bill, resolve S.2465 was reported out favorably from the Joint Committee on Environment, Natural Resources, and Agriculture. 

A new draft of resolve S.2465 was reported out favorably from the Senate Rules Committee as S.2495. 

S.2495 was passed to be engrossed by the Senate on July 12, 2018 and referred to the Committee on House Ways and Means. 


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- 49.7% of tested schools found lead in their water. The program was voluntary so scores of other schools have not been tested.

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.  

 

NeW LAW: Reforming non-competition agreements

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Legislative Update:

Noncompete reform legislation was signed into law by Governor Baker on August 8th, 2018 as part of the Economic Development Bond bill. The law goes into effect on October 1, 2018. 


This legislation would limit enforcement of noncompete agreements in Massachusetts, bringing relief to workers and creating a better environment for growth and innovation. There has been much focus recently on the overuse and misuse of noncompetes in every sector of the economy in jobs such as camp counselors, sandwich makers, event planners, pesticide applicators, yogurt shop workers, and many others. The Boston Globe's Scott Kirsner and Jon Chesto have reported on the impact of noncompetes on the economy and on workers while The New York Times has covered the topic extensively here, here, and here.

The bill features many employee protective features and limits the duration of a noncompete to no more than one year.  A similar bill was passed unanimously in the House and Senate last session, but failed to be reconciled by the conference committee in the last minutes of the two-year formal session preventing it from becoming law. This issue has been Rep. Ehrlich's passion for almost a decade, and she is determined to see it through for our economy as a whole and for the working people of Massachusetts.


New Law: Good Samaritan 

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Legislative Update:

This bill was signed into law in April 2018 as part of the Criminal Justice Reform Omnibus Bill.


The Massachusetts House of Representatives took up the omnibus criminal justice reform bill, H.4011 in November 2017. I am excited that the criminal justice reform bill we voted on includes a version of my Good Samaritan bill, H.3050. This legislation, An Act promoting access to emergency medical services for minors, which I filed this session with Senator Joan Lovely of Salem, provides medical amnesty to individuals under 21 who in good faith, seek or obtain emergency medical attention for himself or herself, if he or she is experiencing an overdose, or for another individual.  In Baldwinville, MA a 15 year old in Massachusetts spent 2 weeks in a coma due to alcohol poisoning because her friends were too afraid to call paramedics for help. These incidents can be prevented if medical assistance is called upon, but often times people illegally using or in possession of alcohol are fearful of arrest even in cases in which someone close to them needs emergency medical assistance at a scene of a suspected overdose.

Massachusetts passed a Good Samaritan law in 2012 that provides limited immunity for possession of a controlled substance. However, the law's scope is limited in its definition of controlled substance as alcohol is not included. The legislation I filed jointly with Senator Joan Lovely also protects individuals who call for emergency assistance in the event of an alcohol overdose. Several colleges and universities in the state have already implemented their own medical amnesty policies that encourage students to look out for the health and safety of their peers, but Massachusetts is 1 of 13 states without a statewide medical amnesty policy for alcohol.  Health of an individual should always be the first priority, but often times teenagers in possession of alcohol are hesitant to pick up the phone and call for help because they fear getting in trouble with authorities. Yet, the law should never disincentivize individuals from taking prompt action when a person's health and safety are in jeopardy. The language in the omnibus criminal justice reform bill would protect both the caller and the overdose victim from prosecution and arrest. While underage drinking is far too common, and this policy does not seek to condone underage drinking, frankly it's unproductive to look the other way and pretend that it isn't happening when lives are at stake.


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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.”