New State Law Targets Gas Leaks

From Bostonglobe.com (July 7, 2014) : State law targets gas leaks: Plan sets timetable to repair lines; customers to see savings in long run; By Erin Ailworth | Globe Staff   July 07, 2014

A blueprint to speed repairs to thousands of leaks in natural gas pipelines across the state — reducing the threat of explosions and eventually saving consumers millions of dollars — will be unveiled Monday in Springfield.

The effort, authorized by recently passed legislation, creates a uniform system that classifies the severity of leaks and sets a timeline for their repair based on the risks. It also allows utilities to more quickly recover the costs of repairs from customers in the form of higher rates.

Those repairs could add an estimated $1 to $2 a month to the average gas bill, industry officials say. But over the longer term, Massachusetts customers could save tens of millions of dollars a year once all gas leaks are repaired. That’s because they will no longer have to pay for gas lost to those leaks.

Local utilities respond to tens of thousands of calls about potential gas leaks each year and reported more than 25,000 leaks to regulators at the end of September.

“As this flammable gas travels under our feet in often archaic pipes, I’m thrilled we are compelling gas companies to track their known leaks in a more transparent and uniform way,” said state Representative Lori Ehrlich, a Democrat from Marblehead who has long pushed to repair gas leaks. “The stakes are too high.”

Natural gas explosions, including one in April that injured 11 people in Dorchester, have called attention to the problem, but the issue has gathered momentum as researchers have quantified the amount of gas lost from thousands of small leaks in aging pipelines, and the costs — to customers and the environment.

A federal study commissioned by Senator Edward J. Markey, a Malden Democrat, shows that in Massachusetts alone, natural gas consumers paid up to $1.5 billion from 2000 to 2011 for gas that never made it to them because of leaks. In addition, natural gas used to heat homes is mostly methane, a potent greenhouse gas that contributes to climate change.

Several legislators filed gas leak bills this session. Industry and environmentalists worked with local political leaders to craft a compromise version passed by the Legislature and approved by Patrick on June 26. The law also requires utilities to fix all but the least hazardous of leaks whenever road construction projects expose a pipeline and to give priority to leaks within 50 feet of a school.

Earlier versions of the bill went further, requiring, for instance, that all leaks be repaired during road construction and giving priority to places of public assembly, such as churches and hospitals, not just schools.

Despite the changes, lawmakers said it achieves most of their goals. State Representative John D. Keenan, a Salem Democrat who also filed a gas leaks repair bill, called the new law a “great success.”

Utilities said the law not only allows them to repair leaks faster and recover costs in a timely manner but also has provisions that will allow them to bring natural gas service to more Massachusetts residents. Natural gas in recent years has been significantly cheaper than heating oil.

“This will allow us to accelerate the replacement of aging infrastructure,” said Thomas M. Kiley, chief executive of the Northeast Gas Association, a Needham-based industry group that represents gas utilities. “The bottom line is that there are going to be less leaks going forward.”

On Monday, Patrick will join state officials for an event publicizing the law in Springfield, where a natural gas explosion leveled a club in 2012 and injured more than a dozen. The State Fire Marshal said a worker from Columbia Gas of Massachusetts accidentally punctured a high pressure gas line at the foundation of the building while investigating a gas odor.

Markey is pushing two bills at the federal level. One, similar to the Massachusetts law, aims to revamp pipeline development and repair policies to address the biggest leaks first while making it easier for utilities to recover their costs. The other would create a program to help finance such projects with federal money and matching funds from states.

Markey said the new state law is a precursor to his national plan. “Massachusetts is yet again leading the way for the nation on energy and climate change,” he said.

Related:  Map: Gas leaks in eastern Mass.

Minimum Wage Passes; Earned Sick Time to Ballot

On June 18, 2014, the House passed a bill raising the minimum wage from $8 an hour to $11 an hour over 3 years  the Senate passed this bill and the Governor signed it on Thurs. June 26.

This is a BIG BIG BIG VICTORY for justice and dignity for hard working low wage earners. Over 600,000 low wage earners will get wage increases; These wage increases will total over $1 billion dollars; At $11 an hour, our state will have the highest state minimum wage law in the country, which will enable other states to consider raising their minimum wage law levels more than they otherwise would have. This only happened because we collected over 360,000 signatures!!! Thousands of volunteers from many hundreds of congregations, community organizations, and labor unions working together in Raise UP Massachusetts collected over 360,000 signatures to qualify “Raising the Minimum Wage” as a ballot question. House Speaker DeLeo and Senate President Murray publicly stated that they had to take this up because we had the signatures to place it on the ballot. JALSA gathered about 9,000 signatures to raise up our working sisters and brothers across Massachusetts. Almost 800 of these signatures came via the Tzedek Reflections collaboration with many local synagogues and organizations working on income inequality. $11 an hour represents a raise of over $6,000 every year for minimum wage workers. This is a huge win for low wage workers, but it is not yet a living wage. We will continue working on this important economic justice issue until all workers receive a sufficient hourly raise to maintain their families and to work with dignity.

Earned Sick Time is going to the ballot!! Earned sick time is an issue that JALSA has been fighting for for 6 years, and we look forward to working with you to get it passed this Fall! NOTE: On Monday June 30 we delivered signatures to the Secretary of the Commonwealth’s office.

Thank you so much for all that you have done to bring us forward in this campaign for dignity and justice. Thanks, Sheila Decter, Barbara Gutman, Cindy Rowe, Erica Rothschild and all our members and friends who collected signatures.

Who is affected by the Minimum Wage legislation? 1 in 5 workers benefit in MA; 57% are women; 140,000 are parents; 236,000 children live in households where either the sole wage earner or at least one wage earner earns low wages that would be raised $1.1 billion when fully phased in which will help these low wage earners AND help our state economy retain and create jobs since most of these wage increases will be spent right back in our economy 85% of the affected low wage earners are 20+ and most of the younger workers are either using part of the wages to support their lower wage earning family and/or saving for college

The Domestic workers bill passed too! What does that mean? Domestic workers who work over 16 hours a week will get a contract from employers outlining their terms of employment: This will ensure that workers will get paid for the hours they work and that they are not taken advantage of. Domestic workers will be able to go to the Massachusetts Commission Against Discrimination for sexual harassment complaints and for other forms of discrimination; Domestic workers will be ensured one day off in a seven day period and one weekend off in a month; Domestic workers will have parental leave; Domestic workers will have meal and rest breaks; Domestic workers will be protected from illegal charges for food and lodging and eviction without notice; The Attorney General will enforce this bill. This is a huge victory!! Congrats to all the activists that fought for this!

Minimum Wage and Earned Sick Time Campaign

 For a current article discussing the Blocked U.S. Senate Vote on Minimum Wage by Rabbi Steve Gutow, go to http://zeek.forward.com/articles/118183/
 For more information on the film “Ineqality  for All” (by Robert Reich) see Trailer at www.inequalityforall.com   For Robert Reich comments on Tax Day see: http://front.moveon.org/is-our-tax-system-fair/#.U10AuqKXw65  “We can have democracy in this country or we can have great wealth concentrated in the hands of the few, but we can’t have both.”-Louis D. Brandeis.  Film Showing was Sponsored by:  (JALSA) Jewish Alliance for Law and Social Action; New England Jewish Labor Committee; Temple Israel of Boston; Temple Hillel B’nai Torah; Nehar Shalom Community Synagogue; Boston Workmen’s Circle; Temple Beth Zion; Moishe Kavod House.

Minimum Wage Bill Comparisons

Next Step in Mass. legislative efforts for a minimum wage bill:  Conference Committee on two different versions passed in MA House and MA Senate.

House Vote of April 2 – .  What happened with the House vote on the Minimum Wage bill?  They passed a bill to increase wages to $10.50 over 3 years, but did not pass “Indexing to Inflation” and raised tipped worker wages only from 33% to 36% of the minimum wage. No cuts were made to unemployment benefits or eligibility.   Since the House Speaker was opposed to “indexing” and a higher wage for tipped workers, we were not able to mobilize sufficient support for such amendments in the House and they were withdrawn.   However, the Senate bill has indexing and tipped wage at 50% read more

JALSA Climate Change Meeting

Talk by Frank Smizik (Chair, MA House Committee on Climate Change and President, JALSA) at the JALSA meeting discussing Climate Change.

Smizik3

 

 

Police chiefs rip change in Mass. gun control bill Want discretion to turn down applicants

By Joshua Miller;  | Globe Staff   July 22, 2014 David L. Ryan/Globe Staff

“Wellesley Police Chief Terrence Cunningham held up pictures of rifles during a press conference on Tuesday to advocate for police chief discretion in the issuance of FID cards.  Top police officials and activists from Boston and area communities blasted the state Senate Tuesday for watering down gun control legislation by stripping a provision aimed at keeping rifles and shotguns out of the hands of dangerous people. “I’m real disappointed in the Senate,” said Boston police Commissioner William B. Evans, standing with more than a dozen police officials and gun control advocates at the State House. “What the Senate chose to do is placate the NRA instead of supporting law enforcement,” said John Rosenthal, founder of Stop Handgun Violence. The unusual public criticism by police chiefs comes after the Senate last week voted to remove a House provision giving chiefs discretion to deny firearms identification cards, required to buy shotguns and rifles, to people they deem unsuitable. They now have that discretion over licenses to carry handguns. “Are people really going to be any less dead if they’re killed with a rifle or a shotgun than a handgun?” Police Chief Terry Cunningham of Wellesley said at the morning press conference. On Tuesday, both chambers named members to a conference committee on the legislation. The panel will have to act quickly to hammer out differences between House and Senate versions of the bill. Formal legislative sessions for the year are to conclude next Thursday. Senators defended the vote on the controversial provision, which state gun rights advocates, including the local affiliate of the National Rifle Association, pressed hard to have removed. “A lot of members felt that since the focus of that was on long guns, which is basically what people use for recreation and sport, there were sufficient controls through the federal criteria and therefore it was not necessary,” said Senator Stanley C. Rosenberg, an Amherst Democrat. There was a glimmer of a potential compromise Tuesday evening: Six senators who voted to remove the provision offered new language in a letter to the conference committee. But the dispute was clearly simmering earlier in the day. Senate President Therese Murray initially declined to answer shouted questions from a reporter about the police chiefs’ concerns Tuesday afternoon. She later referred queries to the Senate chairman of the Joint Committee on Public Safety and Homeland Security, James E. Timilty. Pressed for her personal opinion on the disputed provision as she entered a State House elevator, Murray declined to say. Under current law, police chiefs must give people who pass a background check and meet other basic criteria a firearms identification card, which allows them to buy shotguns and rifles. But for handguns, police chiefs have discretion on whether to issue a license to carry and can deny one if they deem an applicant unsuitable. The disputed part of the bill would give chiefs the same discretion they currently have on issuing handgun licenses and apply it to rifles and shotguns. Police chiefs say they and their officers know their communities and are well positioned to screen out potentially dangerous people from gaining access to shotguns and rifles. The Senate legislation, said Evans, the Boston police commissioner, “doesn’t give us the ability to stop people from possessing rifles and shotguns . . . who aren’t suitable persons to have them, whether they have [been] involved in domestic violence incidents that we’re well aware of or they have some mental issues.” In an e-mailed statement, Timilty expressed concern that the measure might violate the US Constitution. He has said critics should look at the whole bill. Among other measures, it would have Massachusetts join a national database for criminal and mental health background checks, require schools to develop plans to address students’ mental health needs, and increase penalties for certain firearm crimes. The Gun Owners’ Action League of Massachusetts, a local affiliate of the National Rifle Association, opposed the disputed provision giving police chiefs the added authority and pressed hard for its removal from the Senate bill. Jim Wallace, GOAL’s executive director, told reporters Tuesday it would be problematic to expand police chiefs’ ability to decide who can get a gun because, he said, those powers have already been widely abused. But Massachusetts Chiefs of Police Association president Erik Blake said at the press conference that the provision giving police added discretion on firearms identification cards is “not about being capricious or arbitrary or taking away people’s rights.” Despite pressure from both gun control and gun rights advocates, there appeared to be a path to a compromise. Tuesday evening, six senators who said they have supported gun control for years and were among the 28 senators voting to strip the disputed provision last week released a letter. They called the provision removed by the Senate “unacceptably vague” and offered language to give police chiefs authority to deny someone a firearms identification card using what they said was a narrower legal standard. “We think it is a more targeted way of getting at what is a broadly shared goal,” said one of the senators, Benjamin B. Downing, Democrat of Pittsfield. The early response from one gun control advocate was guardedly positive. “That’s much better than nothing,” said Rosenthal, the founder of Stop Handgun Violence. A GOAL spokeswoman said Wallace was reviewing the language but is glad more voices are joining the conversation. The Senate passed the amendment taking out the disputed provision by a vote of 28 to 10 Thursday. It subsequently passed the broader bill by a voice vote, which meant that individual lawmakers did not have to record where they stood on the legislation. The press conference with the chiefs of police and advocates was organized on short notice by Stop Handgun Violence and the Massachusetts Coalition to Prevent Gun Violence.  Cunningham, the Wellesley police chief who is also a former president of the Massachusetts Chiefs of Police Association, said it was very rare to have police chiefs protest at the State House on such short notice. But, he added in a telephone interview, the rally came about because the disputed measure “is really important to us. It’s important to keep people safe.” If a new anti-gun violence bill, crafted in response to the December 2012 Newtown, Conn., school massacre, becomes law, it will build on the state’s wide-ranging 1998 gun law, which has been called among the toughest in the nation. “

State senators reject provision to tighten permits for firearms

From the Bostonglobe.com July 17, 2014

State senators reject provision to tighten permits for firearms

By Joshua Miller

| Globe Staff   July 17, 2014

Under pressure from gun rights groups including the National Rifle Association, state senators Thursday rejected a provision aimed at keeping rifles and shotguns out of the hands of dangerous people before approving a broad bill meant to reduce firearm violence. The provision, which was included in the House version of the legislation that passed last week and the Senate bill that was debated Thursday, would give police chiefs discretion to deny issuing permits for shotguns and rifles to those they deem unsuitable. Gun control advocates cried foul and expressed hope that the provision would be reinstated as the two chambers hammer out a compromise measure.  If it is not, said John Rosenthal, the president of Stop Handgun Violence, “the most significant gun safety measure in the bill will have been scuttled and people will die as a result of it, as they have for years.” State Senator James E. Timilty, Democrat of Walpole, defended the change, which passed by a vote of 28-10.

Related: Mass. House acts to beef up gun rules

He said he was concerned that the provision might violate the US Constitution’s Second Amendment and could have landed the antigun violence measure in court. “I think a suit would have followed,” said Timilty, Senate chairman of the Joint Committee on Public Safety and Homeland Security. He said critics should consider the bill in its totality.  “Calmly viewed, they will find that this is a net gain to public safety,” he added, ticking through a number of the bill’s sections. Massachusetts would join a national database for criminal and mental-health background checks, require schools to develop plans to address students’ mental health needs, and increase penalties for certain firearm crimes, among measures, if the bill becomes law. But gun control activists and some senators said the stripped provision was an essential part of the legislation.  Under current law, police chiefs must give people who pass a background check and meet other basic criteria a firearms identification card, which allows them purchase shotguns and rifles. But for handguns, police chiefs have discretion on whether to issue a license to carry and can deny one if an applicant is deemed unsuitable. The disputed part of the bill would give chiefs the same discretion they currently have on issuing handgun licenses and apply it to rifles and shotguns.  Some gun owners oppose it because they say police already use the power they have to arbitrarily deny permits, infringing on their right to bear arms. But former Boston police commissioner Edward F. Davis said he hoped the final legislation would include the provision.

Derrick Z. Jackson: On gun laws, Mass. emerges as a model

“Police chiefs are in a very good position to make that determination. I understand the concern about it, but there needs to be someone that’s close to the community that can make the call,” he said, adding he was pleased with the overall sweep of the Legislature’s effort to address gun violence. John M. Hohenwarter, governmental affairs director for Massachusetts for the NRA, spent much of the afternoon walking around the area outside the Senate chamber and talking with advocates and at least one legislator.  After the vote, he said he was “very pleased with what the Senate did today. The bill’s in much better shape than it was when it came over from the House.” Jim Wallace, executive director of the Gun Owners’ Action League of Massachusetts, an NRA affiliate, also expressed pleasure with the bill, calling it history-making. His group had been neutral on the House legislation, which included the disputed provision giving police chiefs added discretion of who gets a shotgun or rifle, but Thursday pressed hard to remove it.  Janet Goldenberg, one of the leaders of the Massachusetts Coalition to Prevent Gun Violence, said the group was “very disappointed” with the amendment stripping out the provision. “In terms of keeping guns out of the hands of those who pose a danger to themselves, to their households, to the public,” she said, “the Senate bill is really a significant step backward from the House bill, a step backward from public safety.”  “It’s a shame to think that the gun lobby has that kind of influence in Massachusetts,” she said. If the differing bills go to a conference committee to be reconciled, as is expected, legislators won’t have much time to hash out a bill suitable to both chambers: Formal legislative sessions are scheduled to end in two weeks.  The push in the Legislature for the new measure on gun violence followed the Newtown, Conn., school massacre in December 2012.  If the new antigun violence bill becomes law, it will build on the state’s sweeping 1998 gun law, which has been called among the toughest in the nation. Joshua Miller can be reached at joshua.miller@globe.com. Follow him on Twitter @jm_bos.

 

Can you help – Gun Legislation in Senate – Thursday, July 17

Thursday afternoon, the State Senate will debate the Gun Violence Bill. (scheduled for 1 p.m.)  JALSA has put significant effort in the past 18 months toward new legislation to help reduce gun violence and this bill is an important step.  If you are planning to come into the State House tomorrow to listen to the debate, you could be a useful help coming to the JALSA office earlier for 1,2, or 3 hours.  We will be using the HubDialer system to help generate calls to State Senators. Join with the Massachusetts Coalition on Gun Violence by coming into the JALSA office for 1, 2, or 3 hours.  You would need a laptop (or a tablet) and a cell phone. Beginning at 9:30 a.m., we will make calls until at least 1 p.m.. 18 Tremont Street, Suite 320, Boston.  Email jalsaoffice@gmail with any questions or call them.

Gun Legislation Passes MA House – Wed., July 9,

From Bostonglobe.com; Mass. House lawmakers approve gun bill aimed at toughening state laws; By Michael Levenson; | Globe Staff   July 09, 2014

After making last-minute changes to mollify angry gun owners, the Massachusetts House tonight approved wide-ranging legislation aimed at tightening state gun laws, already considered among the strictest in the nation.  Remarkably, the bill drew praise from gun-control advocates as well as from the state affiliate of the National Rifle Association, which remained officially neutral, but called the legislation “a great victory for the Second Amendment.”  Under the main provisions of the bill, the state would join a national database for criminal and mental-health background checks, require schools to develop plans to address students’ mental health needs, and give police discretion to deny a permit for a rifle or shotgun if an applicant is deemed unsuitable.  The legislation seeks to further tighten Massachusetts’ sweeping 1998 gun law, which has been called among the toughest in the nation. That law banned semiautomatic assault weapons, imposed strict licensing rules, and banned anyone convicted of a violent crime or drug trafficking from carrying or owning a gun.  Speaker Robert A. DeLeo pushed the bill on a day when he was also vigorously denying allegations by federal prosecutors that he was involved in a scheme to trade legislative favors for jobs in the state Probation Department.  The speaker said he was proud that the legislation had sparked praise from gun-rights groups and from gun-control advocates, and he contrasted that highly unusual scenario with the divisiveness that has stymied gun-control legislation in Congress. The House passed the bill on a 112-38 vote.   “It makes our already strong gun laws even stronger here in Massachusetts,” DeLeo said. “But I think it also sends a message throughout every state and most importantly to the folks in Washington,” that gun-control measures can earn bipartisan support.  The legislation was motivated by the Newtown, Conn. school massacre in December 2012 and was designed in part by a panel of outside legal specialists who met with gun owners, gun dealers, police officers, mental health specialists, school superintendents, legislators, and parents of mentally ill children.  The legislation now heads to the Senate, where lawmakers will have to scramble to pass the bill before formal legislative sessions end July 31. A spokeswoman for Senate President Therese Murray said Wednesday that she looks forward to reviewing the bill “with the goal of taking up similar legislation before the end of the session.”  Governor Deval Patrick has in the past spoken favorably of the bill while lamenting that it does not include a provision he supports that would limit gun purchases to one a month. Asked about the legislation on Wednesday, he declined comment, saying he needed to review the details.  The legislation initially provoked strong protests from gun rights advocates, who argued their concerns had been ignored and who flooded House offices with calls arguing that the proposal would further burden lawful gun owners.  Even in liberal Massachusetts, lawmakers said some of the changes the gun owners sought were reasonable and minor, prompting them to make several 11th-hour revisions. Gun-control advocates said the changes did not harm the bill.  One change would require police chiefs who deny a permit to justify their decision in writing. That addition came in response to gun-rights advocates who complained that chiefs had denied permits for arbitrary reasons, or personal grudges.  Lawmakers removed a requirement that gun-training courses include not only classroom time, but also practice firing weapons, after some gun owners argued that would be a burden. And they dropped a provision that would have banned gun sales to people convicted of misdemeanors punishable by one year in prison. Critics said that could have denied guns to people convicted of non-violent offenses, such as swimming in a public water supply.  Lawmakers also tweaked a requirement that all private firearms sales be conducted in the presence of a licensed dealer, instead allowing those transactions to be conducted online, through a state website. Yet another change would require the state to collect and analyze data on all suicides in Massachusetts, not just those caused by firearms, as the bill initially proposed.  The Gun Owners’ Action League of Massachusetts, the state NRA affiliate, said the voices of its 17,000 members had improved the bill.  “I’m not jumping up and down and saying, ‘Yahoo,’ but we’re OK with it,” said Jim Wallace, the league’s executive director. “We’re pleased with the last-minute changes.”  Representative George N. Peterson, a Grafton Republican and leading gun-rights supporter in the House, was also encouraged. “We’ve got a pretty good balance,” said Peterson, who helped negotiate the changes with DeLeo.  At the same time, John Rosenthal, founder and president of Stop Handgun Violence, said he strongly supported the measure.  “The changes are reasonable, and the final bill will make it harder for criminals to get guns and save lives and continue to make urban industrial Massachusetts a national leader with effective gun violence prevention laws,” he said.  The Massachusetts Coalition to Prevent Handgun Violence said it would seek to toughen the legislation in the Senate, by pushing for the one-gun-a-month limit and other changes. Still, the group applauded the measure saying it “will close dangerous loopholes in our existing gun laws and make Massachusetts a safer place.”  “Today’s vote sends a strong message that Massachusetts is committed to addressing gun violence and it continues our national leadership on this crucial issue,” the group said in a statement.

Michael Levenson can be reached at michael.levenson@globe.com. Follow him on Twitter @mlevenson.