State Senator John Keenan, who represents Braintree as well as the towns of Abington, Holbrook, Rockland and the City of Quincy, has laid out his priorities for the upcoming legislative session. Keenan will focus on local issues that affect South Shore communities, as well as broader issues of statewide policy.
“Over the past several weeks my office has worked hard to write, review and submit legislation ahead of the bill filing deadline for the new legislative session,” said Keenan. “In that time I have heard from many constituents, and have spent a great deal of time meeting with local leaders, community groups, policy advocates, executive branch officials, and my fellow legislators, to help develop my priorities for the next year.”
Keenan filed 32 bills prior to the bill filing and co-sponsorship deadlines, which marked the end of the first month in session. In this initial period, state legislators decide which bills they will sponsor or lend support to in the coming months. While these decisions do not represent a final “aye” or “nay” vote, they do give indications as to the issues on which each legislator will focus.
Relative to Braintree, Senator Keenan highlighted a bill, filed along with Representative Mark Cusack, that would help the Braintree Electric Light Department (BELD) remain competitive with larger utilities, by expanding the protections BELD enjoys on proprietary information and trade secrets. “BELD
provides critical services to the Town of Braintree, and these bills work to ensure they continue to offer these services in an efficient, cost-effective manner,” said Keenan.
He is also calling on the Department of Transportation to address local noise issues, by conducting noise studies along the Red Line extension and installing sound barriers as appropriate.
Senator Keenan also submitted bills relative to local trade and industry throughout the region. A bill jointly sponsored with Representative Chan of Quincy, with strong support from Plumbers and Gasfitters Local 12, seeks to establish licensing standards for the practice of drain cleaning.
“We have heard from some homeowners that drain cleaners are, in some cases, doing more than drain cleaning work, and we have heard from legitimate drain cleaners that some individuals holding themselves out as drain cleaners have no training in the field,” said Keenan.
Another local interest bill would make mortgage assignments more transparent at the county level, in the wake of allegations of fraudulent foreclosures by
several major banks.
Keenan, joined by Representatives Tackey Chan and Bruce Ayers, also filed legislation to increase the amount of annuities paid to Gold Star Families, who have not seen an increase in several years. He is also seeking to lessen the burden on seniors who file tax appeals with the Appellate Tax Board. Finally, Senator Keenan said he remains committed to protecting local funding through the budgetary process.
Keenan was recently appointed Senate chair of the Legislature’s Joint Committee on Public Health. “This committee will see a great many critical issues in the coming session,” said Keenan, making mention of Affordable Care Act implementation, sterile compounding pharmacies, and other issues, "and
I look forward to working in these areas. The assignment brings with it a broad new set of challenges, but will also allow me to continue working on mental health and substance abuse issues.”
Prior to his Public Health Committee appointment, Senator Keenan served for two years as Senate chair of the Joint Committee on Mental Health and Substance Abuse. That committee headlined last year a series of measures to reduce prescription drug diversion and abuse and to strengthen addiction recovery programs across the state.
Keenan said he is committed to improving access to mental and behavioral health services. “It is absolutely a tragedy to see individuals, oftentimes children, boarded in emergency rooms for days and weeks at a time while awaiting in-patient care,” said Keenan. His new proposal would create incentives for insurance companies to assist in finding in-patient beds for patients boarded in an emergency room, require insurers to provide fair reimbursement for mental and behavioral health screenings, and require coverage of services in the emergency department setting.
In this session, Keenan filed with Representative Liz Malia a bill which seeks to establish certification standards for so called “sober homes,” housing units that promise a drug and alcohol free environment to support recovering former addicts.
“Some of these homes, including some in Quincy and Weymouth are
well-run and extremely beneficial to former substance abusers,” said Keenan, “but unfortunately not every sober home is well-managed or even well-intended, and some expose this vulnerable population to very poor living conditions in the interest of higher profits. The bad sober homes also become problems in the neighborhoods.”
Another bill filed by Keenan would grant the Commissioner of Public Health authority to issue emergency bans against new street drugs. Keenan said that such a tool would be critical to DPH’s ability to ensure public safety when faced with the imminent threat of a new designer drug. In stating the need for this measure, he cited the state’s experience with “Bath Salts,” cocaine-like substances that remained legal for nearly two years while the legislative process to schedule new drugs played out.
A medical marijuana bill Senator Keenan filed will provide the same protection and access to marijuana that Question 3 promises to patients suffering through serious medical conditions, but also build in safety measures to reduce diversion and abuse. The bill would require parental consent before dispensing marijuana to minors, prohibit marijuana certifications issued by out-of-state physicians, require annual renewal of marijuana certifications, and establish a delivery system to eliminate the need for home cultivation. The bill incorporates feedback from constituents and physicians.
It is difficult to know at this time how each bill will fare through the committee process, but Senator Keenan says that his proposals have been generally well-received in conversations with colleagues. With committee assignments now complete, the bills will move into the legislative process.
–Office of Sen. John F. Keenan