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Downing: Senate concludes 2015 Formal Session; Advances solar, veterans, healthy youth, physical education & social media privacy bills
November 19, 2015

Boston – State Senator Benjamin B. Downing (D- Pittsfield) announces that yesterday, during the final formal session of calendar year 2015, the Massachusetts Senate passed a variety of bills concerning veterans, public education and social media privacy. 

The veterans’ legislation covers numerous areas of protecting and providing benefits to our veterans.

  • H.1641, The Stolen Valor Act criminalizes the practice of falsely representing oneself as military personnel, a veteran or a recipient of specific military honors in order to receive money, property or a tangible benefit. This crime would be punishable by a fine of $1,000 and imprisonment of not more than one year.
  • H.3243, An Act providing free park access to Purple Heart recipients waives entrance or parking fees at state parks, forests, and reservations for recipients of the Purple Heart. Under current law, only disabled veterans or handicapped persons whose vehicles bear distinctive license plates are allowed free access to these public spaces.
  • Several other bills passed by the Senate impose additional fines and penalties for the destruction of veterans’ gravesites, including for the destruction or removal of gravestones and gravemarkers and the removal or destruction of veteran, police, and firefighter commemorative flag holders and flags.

Other important action taken by the Senate yesterday includes passage of:

  • H. 3798, An Act Relative to the Trafficking of Fentanyl, this bill would penalize, with up to 20 years in prison, anyone who traffics in fentanyl, a dangerously strong narcotic often mixed with heroin.  In addition, knowingly or intentionally manufacturing, distributing, dispensing, or possessing with intent to manufacture, distribute, and dispense fentanyl, or any derivative of fentanyl within the Commonwealth is subject to the same penalties.
  • S. 2013, An Act Relative to Healthy Youth, requires each school district, public school and charter school that offers sexual health education to provide medically accurate, age-appropriate education. The bill also requires schools that offer sexual health education to adopt a written policy ensuring notification to the parent or legal guardian and the right of the parent or guardian to withdraw a child from the education program.
  • S. 1976 An Act to Promote Quality Physical Education, updates the current statutory requirement that physical education be taught in all public schools to include charter schools.  The bill re-defines physical education to include physical activity, fitness, nutrition and wellness and requires physical education to be age appropriate and evidence-based.
  • S.2034, An Act Relative to Social Media Privacy Protection, prohibits any public or private institution providing elementary, secondary or higher education from requiring a student or applicant to disclose a user name, password or other means of access to a personal social media account or service.  In addition, the bill prohibits any employer from requiring an employee or applicant to disclose a user name, password or other means of access to a personal social media account or service as a condition of hiring or employment.

The Senate, under Downing’s leadership, also advanced an amendment to solar net metering legislation passed by the House of Representatives (S. 1979) to increase the cap on residential and commercial projects. Notably, the Senate’s language seeks to ensure the future growth of community shared solar and virtual metering while grandfathering in existing projects.

Promoting continued solar growth is essential to help the Commonwealth reach the goals for the reduction of greenhouse gas emissions established in the Global Warming Solutions Act.  As the House and Senate solar bills differed, a conference committee was appointed to develop a final net metering bill.  Downing, the Senate chair of the Joint Committee on Telecommunications, Utilities & Energy, is the lead negotiator for the Senate in this matter.

As outlined by the Joint Rules that govern the General Court’s proceedings, the House and Senate will continue to meet informally twice a week to advance local and noncontroversial matters until formal legislative sessions reconvene in January 2016.

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