Massachusetts Legislature Passes Comprehensive Criminal Justice Reform

BOSTON – Representative Steve Ultrino (D – Malden) joined his colleagues in the Massachusetts Legislature to pass landmark criminal justice reform legislation. An Act relative to criminal justice reform (S.2371) will lead to a more equitable system by supporting our youngest and most vulnerable residents, reducing recidivism, increasing judicial discretion, and enhancing public safety.

The legislation contains provisions to provide better care for vulnerable populations in the criminal justice system, and implements policies to strengthen protections for public safety and witness protection. The Legislature also passed the accompanying An Act implementing the joint recommendations of the Massachusetts Criminal Justice Review (H.4012), which is designed to complement the comprehensive criminal justice reform legislation. The CSG bill allows individuals to earn early release by participating in recidivism-reduction programs.

“This landmark legislation will make our criminal justice system significantly more equitable while enhancing public safety through a series of workable, real-world solutions,” said House Speaker Robert A. DeLeo (D-Winthrop).

“As someone with a background in correctional education, I know how important these reforms will be for people working to turn their lives around,” said Representative Steve Ultrino, who served as the Director of Education for the Middlesex County Sheriff’s Office prior to joining the legislature. “This bill is an incredible step forward for justice for everyone who calls Massachusetts home, and makes all of our communities safe, just, and whole.

For the first time in the history of Massachusetts, this legislation would establish a process for expunging criminal records. Courts will now be able to expunge certain juvenile and young adult (18-21) records, and records in cases of fraud or where an offense is no longer a crime.

The Legislature has a longstanding legacy of supporting the Commonwealth’s most vulnerable children, particularly those facing trauma and adversity. Accordingly, this bill raises the minimum age of criminal responsibility from seven to twelve and decriminalizes a first offense misdemeanor if the punishment is a fine or imprisonment for not more than six months. The legislation establishes a Juvenile Justice Policy and Data Commission, which will make the state eligible for additional federal funding, and a Childhood Trauma Task Force to study and recommend gender responsive and trauma-informed approaches to treatment of youths in the juvenile justice system. The bill also extends Good Samaritan protections to alcohol incapacitation for individuals under 21.

This legislation reflects a balanced, modern approach to sentencing. It eliminates mandatory and statutory minimum sentences for many low-level, non-violent drug offenses. Additionally, it creates the nation’s strongest law for Carfentanil trafficking and strengthens the existing Fentanyl trafficking law, bolstering the Legislature’s multi-tiered approach to the opioid epidemic. The legislation also strengthens penalties for repeat offenders convicted of operating under the influence (OUI).

This legislation requires district attorneys to create pre-arraignment diversion programs for military personnel, veterans, and individuals with addiction or mental health. It also expands diversion programs to the Juvenile Court and removes the existing age restriction on diversion in the District Court.

Following reforms in 2010 and 2012, this legislation again updates the Commonwealth’s criminal offender record information (CORI) system to help individuals secure gainful employment and housing, enacting the following policies:

  • Reduces the wait time to seal a conviction from ten years to seven years for a felony, and from five years to three years for a misdemeanor.

  • Allows a conviction for resisting arrest to be sealed.

  • Expands the ability of an applicant with a sealed record to be able to answer “no record” on housing and professional license applications.

  • Establishes protections for businesses and landlords who shall be presumed to have no notice or ability to know about criminal records that have been sealed or expunged.

This legislation updates the Commonwealth’s bail system and enhances judicial discretion by requiring a judge to take a person’s financial resources into account when determining bail. It also raises the threshold for larceny to qualify as a felony from $250 to $1,200. It also creates the crime of solicitation that is tied to the severity of the underlying crime.

Additional policy changes include: reduction of fees imposed on defendants; decriminalization of minor offenses; enhanced limits on solitary confinement; improvement of prison conditions; and release of prisoners who are permanently incapacitated and pose no safety risk.

The bill now goes to the Governor for his consideration.

Ultrino, House Approve Bill to Enhance Consumer Protection Following Data Breaches

BOSTON – Representative Steve Ultrino joined his colleagues in the House to pass legislation providing added protections and resources for consumers in the event of a data security breach that impacts a credit agency or other business.  

“This legislation is about protecting millions of people from massive data breaches at companies like Equifax,” said Representative Ultrino. “When hackers gain access to vast amounts of personal consumer information, we need to know that the financial institutions involved will provide working families with the access, information and resources they need to protect themselves from financial threats and identify theft.”

Under this legislation, credit freezes, lifts or removals must be provided to consumers without a charge. Credit agencies or businesses must provide one year of free credit monitoring after any breach.

“This legislation includes many powerful consumer protection tools that also modernize the way we do business,” House Speaker Robert A. DeLeo said. “I thank Chairman Chan for his exhaustive study into this complex problem and Chairwoman Benson for her ongoing commitment.”

“I am proud to see the House of Representatives vote today to protect Massachusetts residents from data breaches and modernize our current laws,” said Representative Tackey Chan (D-Quincy), House Chair of the Committee on Consumer Protection and Professional Licensure. “Particularly following numerous high profile breaches over the last year, this legislation is urgently needed to ensure that consumers have more control over their credit protections. This is an issue that impacts every individual, organization and business in the Commonwealth, and I am grateful for the valuable input from so many stakeholders, committee members, and colleagues throughout this process to ensure that we produced the best possible policy for our residents.”

“As an advocate for consumer protection, I filed legislation to make it easier for consumers to freeze their credit reports so that victims of identity theft and fraud could more quickly regain control of their credit,” said Representative Jennifer Benson (D-Lunenburg). “In the wake of the Equifax hack last year, I worked with the Attorney General and advocates to strengthen the bill with additional language offering further protections. I’m proud of my colleagues in the House for coming together to pass this important legislation to protect and empower Massachusetts consumers.”

The legislation updates the framework for the implementation of a freeze and related communication including:

  • Modernizes the current law by allowing consumers to request credit freezes electronically or by telephone.

  • Requires clear and accurate disclosure to consumers of basic information about credit freezes.

  • In the event of a security breach, mandates credit agencies place a security freeze on a consumer report within one day of an electronic or telephone request, and within three days of receipt of a written request.

  • Credit agencies must send confirmation of the security freeze within three days.

  • Credit agencies must lift a security freeze within three days of a written request and 15 minutes of an electronic/ phone request.

  • When a consumer requests a freeze, national credit reporting agencies must inform consumers of other reporting agencies that may have files on the consumer. They must also inform consumers of appropriate websites, toll-free numbers and mailing addresses that would permit the consumer to place additional freezes.

For the first time in Massachusetts, this legislation establishes specific guidelines for parents and guardians to freeze accounts of children under the age of 16 and incapacitated individuals.  

The legislation also updates notification guidelines for breached entities and third party affiliates.

    • Breached entities must provide consumers with immediate notice and timely updates.

    • Upon receiving notice of a breach, the Office of Consumer Affairs and Business Regulation must post notice online within 24 hours.

Additionally, the Attorney General must provide information online to consumers regarding the breach.

This bill also updates current law to require companies and organizations to obtain consent before running a credit report.

Ultrino, House Pass Alzheimer’s and Dementia Legislation

(BOSTON) – Representative Steve Ultrino (D – Malden) joined his colleagues in the House to pass legislation which establishes an Alzheimer’s Disease Advisory Council. The bill also requires the Executive Office of Health and Human Services (EOHHS) to conduct an assessment on existing state efforts and implement a state plan to address the disease. There are currently 120,000 individuals in Massachusetts with Alzheimer’s or a related dementia, and experts predict the prevalence of Alzheimer’s will increase 25 percent in the next decade. Currently, more than 300,000 people in Massachusetts act as caregivers to one these patients. In 2017, Medicaid costs for caring for people with the disease totaled $1.55 billion.

“Massachusetts is a national leader in health care,” said House Speaker Robert A. DeLeo (D-Winthrop). “This legislation ensures our ongoing commitment to confronting the largest unaddressed public health threat facing our nation. I believe it will strengthen our ability to provide quality care and ongoing support to the growing number of people diagnosed with Alzheimer’s throughout the Commonwealth.”

“Alzheimer's disease affects hundreds of thousands of Massachusetts families, including
many in Malden,” said Representative Ultrino. “As a member of the Committee on Elder Affairs, I’m proud to support this legislation, which will establish a state plan to accelerate treatment development, coordinate resources and care, improve diagnostic rates, and ensure more outreach to high-risk populations.”

The legislation creates minimum-training standards for elder protective services social
workers and establishes a continuing education requirement for medical professionals to
improve the diagnosis, care, and treatment of Alzheimer’s disease and related dementias.
In an effort to strengthen a patient’s support network and improve communication,
physicians will be granted increased flexibility when sharing medical information with a
patient’s family throughout diagnosis and treatment. These changes operate within the
existing legal framework of federal and state medical information privacy laws. The
legislation also requires a new, one-time continuing education requirement for physicians, physician’s assistants, registered nurses, and practical nurses, which will include training in the diagnosis and treatment of Alzheimer’s.

The Alzheimer’s Disease Advisory Council, established in the legislation, will be required to meet quarterly and will provide EOHHS and the Legislature with recommendations on Alzheimer’s policy, an evaluation of state-funded research, care and programming, and any outcomes of such efforts. EOHHS will create an integrated state plan to facilitate the coordination of government efforts while ensuring that appropriate resources are maximized and leveraged.

Ultrino, House Approve Funds For State Housing

BOSTON – State Representative Steve Ultrino (D-Malden) joined his colleagues in the House of Representatives this week to approve a major funding bill for building and maintaining public housing programs. The bill, H.4134, includes a record $600 million for public housing modernization and preservation, funding that will help to upgrade and maintain existing public housing developments in Malden.

“Investing in public housing is a statement of inclusiveness and support in our community,” said Representative Ultrino. “This bill ensures that public housing in Malden – and across the Commonwealth – can be properly maintained so that seniors, people with disabilities, and low-income Malden residents can live here with dignity and continue to be a part of our community.”

The housing bond bill invests a total of $1.7 billion over several years into a number of public housing programs, including a home modification loan program that assists elderly or disabled homeowners make renovations that allow them to stay in their homes. The bill direct funds to local housing authorities to support existing public housing units, reauthorizes a tax credit for cleaning up polluted properties, and extends a state affordable housing tax credit that will help fill a void created by recent changes to federal tax law.

The bill passed the House 150–1 and now moves to the Senate.