Health and public safety legislative agenda announced for 2019
Mayor Martin J. Walsh today announced his health and public safety legislative agenda, the final of four legislative packages the City of Boston will be supporting at the Massachusetts Legislature. Mayor Walsh's complete legislative package focuses on ensuring equity, opportunity and resilience for all Massachusetts residents, with bills related to economic mobility and housing security, transportation and the environment, and education funding. The legislative package announced today focuses on improving health and safety outcomes for communities in Boston, and across the Commonwealth.
"It's simple: to create opportunity for everyone, we need a level playing field. That means access to health care, affordable housing, reliable transportation, a clean environment, and the opportunity for a second chance," said Mayor Walsh. "This legislative plan works to give families the helping hand they need, and creates safer communities across the Commonwealth. Together, our health and public safety bills work to build a more resilient, equitable city and state for all."
Boston has long been at the forefront of public health innovation, from pioneering a model of Community Health Centers to expanding access to health insurance and preventive care. The bills proposed in Mayor Walsh's package seek to promote opportunity for residents leaving state programs, expand access to health care and benefits, and increase access to recovery services.
"From the perspective of a community resident and health care professional, I have seen firsthand how social determinants of health, such as lack of public safety, housing, education, and employment are in what we see as barriers to health care resources," said Phillomin Laptiste, Executive Director of Bowdoin Street Health Center. "This legislative agenda takes a collaborative public health approach and leverages our multi sector partnerships that include police, clergy, community-based organizations, residents, and community health centers to ensure there are adequate resources in Boston and beyond."
This legislative proposal builds on Mayor Walsh's work to ensure all residents receive the care they need. Last year, Mayor Walsh announced an action plan designed to support young Bostonians experiencing homelessness, and put them on a path to stable housing. The goals and action items outlined in the plan will be tied to concrete investments in housing and services necessary to end youth homelessness.
In 2017, Mayor Walsh launched a recovery partnership with the Suffolk County Sheriff's Office to expand the delivery of recovery services to inmates during incarceration and create a continuum of care after their release. This recovery partnership focuses on a key intervention point for populations with substance use disorders.
In his 2018 inaugural address, Mayor Walsh committed to rebuild the Long Island Bridge and invest in a comprehensive, long-term recovery facility on Long Island. These new services will ensure a continuum of care, from harm reduction, to detox, to residential treatment, to transitional housing and ongoing peer support, and equip people with the opportunity to rebuild a life.The health bills in the Mayor's legislative package include:
An Act to Ensure Positive Transition for At-Risk Youth: would require state-funded youth service providers to provide a comprehensive transition plan that identifies the specific reentry needs of each young person and addresses them, particularly housing needs. This bill would also ensure that state-funded service providers do not use shelters as housing options in the transition planning they offer returning youth.
An Act to Facilitate Re-entry: would require the Department of Corrections and House of Corrections, and other state offices and departments, to provide robust discharge planning for individuals leaving correctional facilities and other residential programs that does not result in homelessness and discharges to emergency shelters. Specifically, this would ensure that shelters are not considered appropriate primary housing options for the purposes of discharge planning.
An Act to Expand Affordable Healthcare for Older Adults: would increase the eligibility levels in order to expand access to Medicare Savings Programs (MSPs) for more low-income seniors. MSPs use Medicaid funds to help reduce out-of-pocket costs for low-income Medicare beneficiaries. MSPs were created by the federal government, but states have discretion in implementation. Currently, Massachusetts MSPs have the lowest allowable eligibility limits ranging from 100-135 percent of the Federal Poverty Level (FPL).
An Act to Coordinate Access to Public Benefits: would create a common application form for all core food, health and safety net programs to eliminate the "SNAP GAP," which is the estimated 680,000 Massachusetts residents who are eligible for the Supplemental Nutrition Assistance Program (SNAP), but not enrolled.
An Act to Better Prepare the Commonwealth for Climate and Disaster Refugees: would establish a commission to study the Commonwealth's response to the displacement of people from Puerto Rico after Hurricane Maria, for the purpose of supporting potential points of intervention to improve the Commonwealth's emergency response protocols for connecting evacuees with social services and emergency housing. Further, the Commission would explore the merits of creating a State fund or trust for supplemental aid to evacuees in the future.
An Act Relative to Diversion to Substance Abuse Treatment for Non-Violent Drug Offenders: would provide individuals facing first and second time non-violent drug offenses an opportunity to be evaluated by a licensed addiction specialist to determine if they are drug-dependent and would benefit from treatment. If so, the person can request assignment to a drug treatment facility. Their drug offense court proceedings would be stayed until the drug treatment program is completed.
An Act to Increase Access to Healthcare in Underserved Areas of Massachusetts: would establish a commission to explore ways to reduce licensing and other barriers keeping foreign-trained health professionals from practicing in their field, enabling them to provide crucial health care services to the most underserved areas of the Commonwealth.
"I am grateful to Mayor Walsh for his leadership on issues that are crucial to Boston residents and Boston Medical Center's patients, including increasing access to affordable health care, preventing gun violence, aiding re-entry for individuals after incarceration and improving the state's response to influxes of refugees in crisis," said Kate Walsh, president and CEO of Boston Medical Center. "I look forward to working alongside the Mayor on many of these issues in the State House."
Mayor Walsh's public safety legislative priorities focus on further strengthening the Commonwealth's gun laws. While Boston continues to make strides in reducing gun violence -- statistics show violent crime in Boston was down in 2018 compared to 2017, with the total number of fatal and non-fatal shooting victims decreasing by about 22 percent -- legislative action is urgently needed to take and keep guns off the city's streets. Mayor Walsh is proposing three bills that would combat the influx of firearms into communities, increasing safety for all Massachusetts residents.
Under the leadership of Mayor Walsh, the Boston Police Department has prioritized community policing as an effective way to reduce crime, establishing the Bureau of Community Engagement in September 2018. The Bureau oversees a citywide effort to further strengthen community policing in Boston, focuses on ways to build relationships and trust between law enforcement and residents, creates new and innovative partnerships, and promotes inclusion and diversity within the department. The Boston Police Department received national recognition from the Obama Administration in 2015 for being one of the top cities in the nation leading the way on community policing.The public safety bills in the Mayor's legislative package include:
An Act to Prevent Gun Violence: would require medical professionals to ask patients about the presence of guns in their homes, with the goal of identifying red flags that could indicate risks related to suicide, domestic violence or child access to guns.
An Act to Support the Solving of Gun Crimes: would require all Massachusetts police to enter ballistic information for every crime gun into the National Integrated Ballistics Information Network (NIBIN). Entering information on all crime guns into this database, following the lead of New Jersey and Delaware, would help law enforcement professionals spot patterns that would better help them prioritize investigations.
An Act Related to the Transportation of Illegal Firearms: would allow police to fine owners of vehicles found to contain illegal firearms, and impound those vehicles. Revenue produced by these fines would fund violence prevention measures in each municipality.