Monday, January 30, 2006

Medicaid Bill will Limit Eligibility

The Deficit Reduction Act of 2005 (DRA), with its sweeping Medicaid provisions, is scheduled to be voted on by the House of Representatives on Wednesday, February 1. According to a report issued Friday by the Congressional Budget Office, many will lose their Medicaid eligibility if this law is passed. The Chicago Tribune says "CBO estimates that about 45,000 enrollees would lose coverage in fiscal year 2010 and that 65,000 would lose coverage in fiscal year 2015 because of the imposition of premiums. About 60 percent of those losing coverage would be children."

Two of the bill's most critical provisions are the lookback period and the limit on home equity. The lookback period is the time period during which an elderly person may not transfer assets and still be eligible for Medicaid. According to a January 13 article at ElderLaw Answers, Senate Approves Punitive Transfer Rules as Cheney Breaks Tie, "The legislation, would extend Medicaid's "lookback" period for all asset transfers from three to five years and change the start of the penalty period for transferred assets from the date of transfer to the date when the individual transferring the assets enters a nursing home and would otherwise be eligible for Medicaid coverage. In other words, the penalty period does not begin until the nursing home resident is out of funds, meaning she cannot afford to pay the nursing home. The bill also would make any individual with home equity above $500,000 ineligible for Medicaid nursing home care, although states may raise this threshold as high as $750,000."

The Chicago Tribune reports the law also "would give states sweeping new authority to charge premiums and co-payments under Medicaid."In response to the new premiums, some beneficiaries would not apply for Medicaid, would leave the program or would become ineligible due to non-payment," the Congressional Budget Office said in its report. "

In an extreme reaction, ElderLaw Answers also posed the question of holding adult children responsible for their parents' nursing home debts. In New Medicaid Law Means Adult Children Could Be on Hook for Parents' Nursing Home Bills, they theorize "If the law passes, nursing homes will likely be flooded with residents who need care but have no way to pay for it. In states that have so-called "filial responsibility laws," the nursing homes may seek reimbursement from the residents' children. These rarely-enforced laws, which are on the books in 30 states, hold adult children responsible for financial support of indigent parents and, in some cases, medical and nursing home costs."

Massachusetts does in fact have a filial responsibility law, Chapter 273, section 20. This law begins, " Any person, over eighteen, who, being possessed of sufficient means, unreasonably neglects or refuses to provide for the support and maintenance of his parent, whether father or mother, residing in the commonwealth, when such parent through misfortune and without fault of his own is destitute of means of sustenance and unable by reason of old age, infirmity or illness to support and maintain himself..." For more information on filial responsibility, see The Legal Responsibility of Adult Children to Care for Indigent Parents from the National Center for Policy Analysis, and for more information on Medicaid, visit Mass. Law About Medicaid.

Friday, January 27, 2006

Traffic lights and signs

Almost everything you'd ever want to know about traffic signals and signs can be found in the Manual on Uniform Traffic Control Devices (MUTCD) from the Federal Highway Administration. MUTCD defines the standards used nationwide to install and maintain the signs, signals, and pavement markings on all streets and highways. Everything else you'd want to know is probably in Massachusetts Construction and Traffic Standard Details from the Mass. Highway Department. This 197-page document references the MUTCD, but goes on to provide the smallest details of highway construction and traffic signage in Massachusetts. For example, the section on Standard State Route Marker provides "Use M8 dia. hot dipped galvanized button head bolt with a slot in head and nut with lockwasher, with a minimum of 6 mm of threads beyond nuts on all signs after they are securely fastened." These documents and more are linked from Law About Traffic Violations.

Monday, January 23, 2006

Sex Offender Registry: Joanne and Alyssa Act

H879, the Joanne and Alyssa Act, is designed to tighten the state's Sex Offender Registry Law, Mass. General Laws c.6 s.178C-178P. The bill was reported favorably out of the House Judiciary Committee on January 11, 2006, and is now in the Ways and Means Committee. The bill is named after Joanne and Alyssa Presti, a mother and daughter who were murdered by a sex offender who had apparently been staying with his girlfriend in Woburn, although he was registered in Lowell. According to the Woburn Advocate, the proposed law would "expand the availability of a sex offender's history by requiring that the information be provided on board of probation sheets and by mandating that sex offender registry backgrounds be contained on criminal offender record information. In addition, the act creates a special commission to examine sex offender laws to determine how they can be improved. Other provisions include creating clear rules for listing secondary addresses of sex offenders. " More information on the Sex Offender Registry can be found at Law About Sex Offenders.

Open Meeting Law

The Fitchburg Sentinel and Enterprise has begun a series of articles called Secret Sessions--Doing Business Behind Closed Doors, the goal of which is to expose some of the challenges of the state's open meeting and freedom of information laws. "We pledge to champion you the readers during the next year to make sure the people who serve on boards or committees, along with other public officials, are conducting all their business in public. We'll also push state lawmakers to eliminate the exceptions to the Open Meetings law and to toughen the far too weak penalties officials face when they break the law. "

In the first of the series, published last week, Schools' secret session notes under wraps, the paper explains its request for minutes from past executive session meetings of the local school board. According to the article, "The Massachusetts Open Meeting Law allows public boards to meet privately about some issues. But the records may only remain secret as long as 'Publication may defeat the lawful purposes' of the session, according to the law. "

According to the League of Women Voters' A Guide to Open Meetings, "The Massachusetts statute has three distinct parts: (1) Chapter 30A, Sections IIA, IIA-1/2, 11B, and IIC; (2) Chapter 34, Section 9; and (3) Chapter 39, Sections 23A, 23B, and 23C of the General Laws of Massachusetts. These different chapters apply at the state, county, and local levels, respectively. " You can find a link to this and several other sources on Open Meetings at our Law About Open Meetings.

Friday, January 20, 2006

Fingerprint Evidence

We've added Commonwealth v. Patterson, a December 2005 SJC case, to Law About Criminal Procedure. The court held that while "the underlying theory and process of latent fingerprint identification, and the ACE-V method in particular, are sufficiently reliable to admit expert opinion testimony regarding the matching of a latent impression with a full fingerprint," the same theory and methodology cannot be "applied reliably to simultaneous impressions not capable of being individually matched to any of the fingers that supposedly made them."

Primary Seatbelt Law Passes House

The state House of Representatives passed H229, An Act Establishing a Primary Seat Belt Law, 77-74 yesterday. This bill would allow law enforcement officers to stop a car based solely on lack of seatbelt use, whereas the current law requires a separate offense to merit a stop. According to the Boston Globe, the measure has had the most difficulty in the House, and is now expected to be passed by the Senate and ultimately signed by the Governor.

Feds Subpoena Search Engine Records

According to today's Boston Globe, Google is fighting a federal subpoena of search engine records. Other sources, including the San Jose Mercury News, which broke the story this week, add that Yahoo, MSN and AOL have already complied with the federal government's request for data. The government is seeking a random sample of one million URL's in Google's database, and all queries entered into Google in a given week. Search Engine Watch provides some clarifying information, and a summary of court proceedings. The issue involves the government's attempt to revive the Child Online Protection Act (CODA), 47 USC 231, designed to prevent access by children to online pornography. The law has been the subject of legal procedings since its passage, and the motion briefly summarizes the previous caselaw. Below are links to several of the cases mentioned in the government's motion:

Wednesday, January 11, 2006

Western Mass. Cases Transferred

Today's Springfield Republican reports that several Western Massachusetts Federal cases will be transferred from Springfield to Boston or Worcester "as an overloaded criminal docket and a looming four-month trial will cause about a dozen local cases to be transferred. U.S. District Judge Michael A. Ponsor has just sent two cases to Boston for reassignment to other judges and expects to transfer eight to 10 more, he said yesterday. "

Emergency Drug Coverage

Because of the challenges inherent in the new Medicare prescription drug coverage law, the state enacted Chapter 175 of 2005, An Act Providing Emergency Prescription Drug Coverage for Seniors and the Disabled. This is state gap coverage to insure a 30 day supply to Medicare recipients between January and June. Links to this and other sources on Medicare are available at Law About Medicare.

Housing Regulation Database

While we have links to the ordinances of over 100 cities and towns on our site, this is the first resource we've come across that lets you compare Massachusetts ordinances on a given topic. The Housing Regulation Database from the Pioneer Institute and Rappaport Institute for Greater Boston allows you to compare housing ordinances from cities and towns across eastern Massachusetts in one simple interface. “The searchable database contains a unique, comprehensive set of information on the zoning codes, subdivision requirements, and environmental regulations that as of 2004 governed land use in 187 communities in eastern Massachusetts.” You can search by town or subject. Subject searches are divided into four areas: zoning, subdivision, wetlands and septics. Excellent resource! More zoning information is available at Law About Zoning.

Tuesday, January 10, 2006

Sunday Amusement Licensing

A blue law regarding "Sunday amusements" was changed by a new law, chapter 180 of 2005, passed last week. The new law removes a requirement that owners of "automatic amusement devices" obtain a special Sunday license in addition to any other legal requirements, by adding a subsection to Chapter 140 Section177A saying that Sections 2-4 of Chapter 136 do not apply to automatic amusement devices. Those sections of Chapter 136 appear rather outdated. Section 2, for example, requires a license for "dancing, except folk or square dancing, or any game, sport, fair, exposition, play, entertainment or public diversion for which a charge" is made. According to the Abington Mariner, "Over the years the category of Sunday entertainment licenses grew and has become confusing and cumbersome for the towns. Sunday license fees have doubled and tripled in some towns."

Friday, January 06, 2006

Pro Se Bankruptcy Guide

The US Bankruptcy Court for the District of Massachusetts has a great resource on their site called A Guide for the Pro Se Filer. This extensive manual is designed for the person filing for bankruptcy without an attorney. Includes detailed descriptions of the process, records necessary, forms to file, fees, and much more. Written in clear English, yet quite thorough, this is an excellent starting place for those filing on their own. Links to this guide and many other valuable bankruptcy resources are available at Law About Bankruptcy.

Thursday, January 05, 2006

Homestead and Mobile Homes

Until recently, it appeared that the only difference between a homestead on a mobile home and on a traditional home was where it was filed. A recent bankruptcy court decision, though, states that while you can claim a section 1A (elderly or disabled) homestead on a mobile home, you cannot claim a section 1 homestead. In In Re Kelly, 334 BR 772 (2005) the court said that a debtor may not claim a homestead exemption, pursuant to MGL. Ch. 188, sec. 1, in a manufactured mobile home. "The most persuasive argument that subsection 1 does not include a manufactured home, however, is the fact that subsection 1A does provide for such a homestead." More information on homestead is available at Law About Homestead.

Criminal Records and Schools

MGL Chapter 71, section 38R allows school systems access to criminal record information for anyone working or volunteering in the school who may have contact with children. Today's Georgetown Record reports that the Beverly school system is expanding its CORI checks to include volunteers. The article reports, "from now on, any adult volunteers - including field trip chaperones and preschool volunteers - are required to undergo CORI checks." According to the school superintendent, the expanding criminal record checks will include volunteers who are never left unsupervised with the children.

Gun Court

The Boston Herald reports today that Suffolk District Attorney Daniel Conley and Boston Municipal Court Chief Justice Charles Johnson have worked out a deal to create a new Gun Court at the BMC. According to the Herald, the court "would provide a judge that deals only with cases involving firearms violence." It is not clear if this is patterned on the Federal Juvenile Accountability Incentive Block Grants Program that calls for the establishment of juvenile gun courts. According to this program, "juvenile gun courts are targeted interventions that expose youth charged with gun offenses to the ramifications of involvement in such acts." More information on Massachusetts gun laws can be found at Law About Weapons.

Tuesday, January 03, 2006

Melanie's Law Regulations

New regulations mandated by Melanie's Law go into effect today, according to a press release by Lt. Governor Healey. The regulations call for ignition interlock devices on the vehicle of any drunk driver granted a hardship licence or license reinstatement, and make hardship licenses more difficult to obtain. The regulations themselves are not yet available, but we'll bring them to you as soon as we can. More information is available at Law About Drunk Driving.