Thursday, August 31, 2006

High-Risk Auto Insurance

On August 23, in Commerce Insurance v. Commissioner of Insurance, the SJC ruled that the state can implement a new procedure for assigning high-risk drivers to auto insurance companies. Opponents had argued that such a plan required legislative approval, but the court ruled that the Insurance Commissioner had the authority to regulate the procedure. Previously, agents for high-risk clients were assigned to insurance companies. Under the new regulations, high-risk drivers will be assigned to insurance companies randomly. For more information about the case, see the Boston Globe. For more information about automobile insurance, see Mass. Law About Auto Insurance.

Wednesday, August 23, 2006

Tuition, Veterans, and Illegal Immigrants

Due to some widely disseminated misinterpretation of accurate reporting, we have had several questions about tuition breaks offered in Massachusetts. People have been led to believe that Massachusetts is offering some kind of tuition break to illegal immigrants that is not being offered to other residents. That is not true. Much of this is due to misunderstanding of a quote from Lt. Governor Kerry Healey that was reported in the Boston Herald. According to the Herald, she said, “The Legislature has made the appalling decision to vote on things like tuition breaks for illegal immigrants, but they couldn’t take the time to take a vote to help our Massachusetts war heroes . . . I find it deeply disturbing.” This quote has been incorrectly interpreted to mean that the legislature voted FOR tuition breaks for illegal immigrants, which is not what she said, and is not correct.

In 2005, the legislature passed the Welcome Home Bill, St.2005, c.130, which gives tuition and fee waivers to those who served in the National Guard. In 2006, the legislature voted AGAINST a bill (H1230) which would have allowed illegal immigrants to attend state colleges at in-state tuition.

Thus far, the legislature has failed to pass funding for the Welcome Home Bill, which means that colleges and universities would either have to deny the waivers or absorb their cost, at least temporarily. It was this inaction that prompted the quote from the Lt. Governor.

So while the legislature has clearly denied in-state tuition to illegal immigrants, it appears poised to fund a law it had already approved to give tuition and fee waivers to veterans.

Tuesday, August 22, 2006

Needle Sales

The legislature overrode the Governor’s veto last month and passed a new law (St.2006, c.172) allowing the sale of hypodermic needles without a prescription beginning September 18. According to the New Bedford Standard-Times, “Massachusetts becomes the 48th state in the nation to decriminalize the possession of hypodermic needles, which supporters say will reduce the spread of AIDS and hepatitis C. Only New Jersey and Delaware still require a prescription to buy and possess hypodermic needles.”

Monday, August 21, 2006

Warrantless Wiretaps Held Unconstitutional

Last week, in ACLU v. NSA (August 17, 2006), Judge Anna Diggs Taylor from the US District Court for the Eastern District of Michigan ruled on the constitutionality of NSA's program of wiretapping "without benefit of warrant or other judicial approval, prior or subsequent, the international telephone and internet communications of numerous persons and organizations within this country...where one party to the communication is outside the United States, and the government has a reasonable basis to conclude that one party to the communication is a member of al Qaeda, affiliated with al Qaeda, or a member of an organization affiliated with al Qaeda, or working in support of al Qaeda."

After a thorough analysis of the state secrets privilege and of standing, she held that the program violated several existing laws and constitutional provisions. She closed the opinion with a quote from Justice Earl Warren in U.S. v. Robel, 389 U.S. 258 (1967):
  • Implicit in the term ‘national defense’ is the notion of defending
    those values and ideas which set this Nation apart. . . . It would
    indeed be ironic if, in the name of national defense, we would
    sanction the subversion of . . . those liberties . . . . which makes the
    defense of the Nation worthwhile. Id. at 264.

Thursday, August 17, 2006

Tax Break for Vets and Their Families

This week the legislature passed a law increasing property tax exemptions for disabled veterans, and extending breaks for spouses of veterans killed since September 11, 2001. Called the MERIT plan, St.2006, c.260 also provides relief to the communities in which the veterans live, by providing increased reimbursements. This law amends MGL c.59 s.5.

Wednesday, August 16, 2006

Good Samaritan Laws

There are several laws in Massachusetts insulating those rendering aid from liability, but no law requiring a bystander to provide assistance. Separate statutes free EMS personnel, physicians and nurses, and the general public trained in CPR from personal liability. Many sources suggest that Massachusetts has a “duty to aid” law, which requires witnesses to come to the assistance of crime victims. In fact, this law creates a duty to report, but not a duty to aid. Chapter 268, section 40 provides “Whoever knows that another person is a victim of aggravated rape, rape, murder, manslaughter or armed robbery and is at the scene of said crime shall, to the extent that said person can do so without danger or peril to himself or others, report said crime to an appropriate law enforcement official as soon as reasonably practicable.”

Monday, August 14, 2006

Same-Sex Marriage Statistics

Statistics on the number of same-sex couples marrying can be hard to come by. Here is an article from Rome which quotes some fascinating numbers.

Friday, August 11, 2006

MassHealth Changes

Two recent laws provide good news to Massachusetts Medicaid recipients.

St. 2006, c.139, s.58 allows the spouse of a nursing home patient to keep up to $99,540 in countable assets. Although it appears online with the text stricken out, it was passed over the governor’s veto.

St. 2006, c.211 "Equal Choices Law" provides more flexibility in choosing between home care and nursing home.

You can find links to these and many more sources on Medicaid at Mass. Law About Medicaid.

Wednesday, August 09, 2006

Implementation of Nicole's Law

Nicole’s Law, requiring the installation of carbon monoxide detectors, was passed last year, but many questions remain about who must comply, when and how.

In a July 16 Boston Globe article, Inspectors Eye Compliance of New Mass. Carbon Monoxide Alarm Law, fire inspectors from several towns are interviewed. It says, in part, “The law is enforced mainly on the sale or transfer of a property, although it's also enforced anytime the fire department is called to a home, such as inspection of a home addition. There's no central database of information on inspections statewide, but a check with several fire departments around the state indicate a wide range of compliance.”

A guest column in the Canton Journal, Making Sense of Nicole’s Law, has additional helpful information for landlords. “The regulations allow for an alternative compliance for multiple dwelling units that have a minimal source or no source of CO inside individual units. According to the Department of Fire Services, this allows owners to target the CO alarm protection to only those areas that could be potential sources of CO such as, rooms that contain boilers, hot water heaters, central laundry areas and enclosed parking areas.” “Landlords are mandated to inspect, maintain, and if necessary, replace all CO alarms. This inspection will be required annually, as well as at the beginning of any rental period or if a complaint is issued. Landlords are also required to replace batteries in these alarms at least once a year.”

Tuesday, August 08, 2006

Fortune Tellers

Fortune Tellers in Massachusetts must be licensed by the town in which they live, and must have lived in that town for at least one year in order to receive a license, according to MGL c.140, s.185I. Legislation removing the residency requirement has been proposed several times in recent years, but has never passed. According to Sen. Rosenberg, quoted in MassInc in 2000, "I can't think of another commercial enterprise in which you must be a resident of the community in which you plan to practice your profession. I think that's unfair and it ought to be fixed."

Thursday, August 03, 2006

Minimum Wage Increase Passed

The Legislature unanimously overrode the Governor's veto of the new minimum wage law this week. The current state minimum wage of $6.75 will increase to $7.50 on January 1, 2007, and to $8.00 on January 1, 2008.