BOSTON – Building on her past efforts to create new economic opportunities, expand access to college, protect students from predatory for-profit schools, and combat the opioid epidemic, Senator Eileen Donoghue announced today her priority bills for the 2017-2018 legislative session.
“Fairness was a running theme of the bills I filed this session, whether they address fair access to jobs, fair treatment of consumers by online retailers, a fair chance at justice for victims of sexual assault, or fair restitution for students who suffer because of the bad practices of for-profit colleges,” said Donoghue.
Donoghue filed more than 40 bills in areas including economic development, higher education, consumer protection, substance abuse, health care, labor and workforce development, and energy and environment. She highlighted the following five as priority bills:
SD1044, The RECOVER Act (An Act raising employment and combating opioids through vocational education and rehabilitation)
In response to the opioid epidemic, we’ve worked hard over the last two sessions to prevent addiction and expand access to treatment. We’ve paid less attention to what comes after treatment, when patients in recovery set out to build stable, sober lives. Employment is often a significant part of the recovery process, but it can be difficult for former addicts to find job training and other vocational services. This legislation increases access to vocational services for individuals in recovery in three ways. One, it creates a competitive grant program to support partnerships between substance use disorder treatment providers and vocational services providers. Two, it creates a program—modeled on the Secure Jobs Initiative—that provides people in recovery who are at risk of homelessness with both housing stabilization and job training services. Finally, it ensures that people who are in recovery are eligible for the state’s Vocational Rehabilitation Services Program.
SD1028, An Act establishing a student tuition recovery fund
During the past few years, dozens of for-profit schools have suddenly discontinued their programs in Massachusetts, while others have recruited students through unfair or deceptive practices. As a result, thousands of students have been left without a degree and thousands of dollars in debt. This legislation would bring financial relief to students who are victims of unscrupulous for-profit schools by making Massachusetts the 23rd state to create a student tuition recovery fund. Administered by Attorney General Maura Healey—who has co-sponsored this bill and made this issue a top priority for the upcoming session—the fund would reimburse students for economic losses suffered because of a for-profit school’s discontinuation of one or more of its educational programs, failure to fulfill its contractual obligations, or failure to comply with state or federal law. For-profit schools would support the fund through small annual assessments.
SD1042, An Act encouraging employer student loan repayment
As the student debt crisis continues, young employees are starting to view loan repayment as a valuable workplace benefit. Of those who took American Student Assistance’s 2015 Life Delayed survey, 76 percent said that their choice to take a job would be considerably affected by an employer’s willingness to offer student loan repayment. Despite that high level of interest, only three percent of employers offer loan repayment programs. Massachusetts can help increase that percentage through a few small changes to the state tax code. This legislation incentivizes employer-based student loan repayment programs by allowing employers to take a tax deduction equal to the loan payments it made on behalf of its employees, capped at $2,000 for any individual employee. The bill also excludes up to $2,000 in loan payments made by an employer from an employee’s taxable income, making the benefit more valuable to workers.
SD1092, An Act creating transparency in emerging price discrimination technologies
Few consumers know that online retailers adjust prices for consumers based on any number of factors ranging from their device type and location to what car they own, how much debt they have, their education level, and even what they search for while online. Researchers at Northeastern University and investigative reporters at ProPublica have confirmed that major e-commerce websites use price discrimination for identical online searches, figuring out how much a consumer will pay and then charging accordingly. It’s a practice that creates unequal bargaining power and prevents consumers from knowing when they are receiving a fair price. This legislation tries to level the online playing field by requiring online retailers who use big data for price discrimination to disclose both the fact that they are offering different prices for the same product and the range of prices that they are offering. It also prohibits price manipulation that intends to discriminate against or has the effect of discriminating against protected classes of individuals in Massachusetts.
SD1037, An Act criminalizing sexual assault by fraud by a medical professional
In recent years there have been high-profile incidents involving a Massachusetts doctor who fraudulently claimed a medical purpose for engaging in sexual contact with his patients. Much to their frustration, district attorneys have not been able to prosecute these cases. Due to a gap in state law, they lack the legal tools necessary to build a strong case and secure a conviction. This legislation seeks to close that gap by updating the sexual assault statutes to explicitly criminalize the fraudulent representation of the necessity and propriety of conduct, which otherwise amounts to sexual assault, in the course of treatment or diagnosis. The bill also adds these crimes to the law governing the statute of limitations for rape and indecent assault and battery. It will help ensure that victims have recourse when a medical professional takes advantage of their trust.