Wednesday, September 30, 2009

My Coverage of the Judiciary Committee Hearing Bills on Drunken Driving

Wednesday, September 30, 2009
This story ran in the MetroWest Daily News and the Patriot Ledger.

Friday, September 25, 2009

Lawmakers React to the Paul Kirk Appointment

Friday, September 25, 2009
My most recent story in the MetroWest Daily News.

Thursday, September 24, 2009

Mental health advocates fight for fresh air

Thursday, September 24, 2009
This story was published in the MetroWest Daily News print version on 9/24/09. It was not published to the paper's website.

BOSTON - Mental health advocates urged lawmakers on Wednesday to assure patients certain fundamental rights in hospitals, including regular access of fresh air during hospital stays.

“Prison inmates and even farm animals are granted fresh air under law and I believe this speaks volumes of how our population seems to be seen by society,” Jonathan Dosick, a representative of the Coalition for the Legal Rights of Persons with Disabilities, told a packed hearing before the Joint Committee on Mental Health and Substance Abuse.

Under current law, psychiatric patients have certain guaranteed rights including access to make and receive phone calls in privacy, send and receive sealed and unread mail, and receive visitors in privacy.

Absent from these rights is the right to go outdoors on a regular basis. Dosick claimed that 30 hospitals in Massachusetts, “deny access to the healing power of fresh air.”

Dosick said he had heard many stories of patients not being allowed outdoors for as long as months on end.

“From my own hospital experience, times spent outside were the times when I felt the most hope for the future,” Dosick said.

Monica Briggs, a peer facilitator at McLean Hospital, said patients she speaks with are unanimously surprised to hear that they have specific fundamental rights, but not the right to outdoor access. Briggs said she spent 60 days at a Massachusetts hospital a few years ago without any access to fresh air. When she was transferred to McLean Hospital in Belmont, she had daily access to fresh air.

“My recovery proceeded by leaps and bounds. It was night and day.”

David Matteodo, executive director of the Massachusetts Association of Behavioral Health Systems, opposed the bill in its current form, saying it could create safety and cost issues for mental health facilities.

“One of our first obligations is safety,” Matteodo said, “We need to be very careful about adding a fundamental right to all 47 hospitals that people could go outside basically whenever they wanted.”

Advocates also told the committee that the law granting mental patients fundamental rights needed stricter enforcement.

“I am sad to say that rights violations continue to happen and are being reported and there is no effective means to remedy these violations in a timely manner. We are asking for an expedited procedure,” said Susan Fendell, senior attorney with Mental Health Legal Advisors Committee.

Local hospitals, Metro West Medical Center and Milford Regional Medical Center, did not return repeated phone calls for comment regarding their own fresh air access practices.

Tuesday, September 22, 2009

Area lawmakers divided on interim senate bill

Tuesday, September 22, 2009
The following story was published in the MetroWest Daily News in the 9/22/09 print version. This was not published on the paper's website.

BOSTON – Area lawmakers are divided on a bill to give Gov. Deval Patrick the power to appoint an interim U.S. senator. But with a vote looming in the state Senate, the disagreements are not along party lines.

“We have been putting an emphasis on increasing the integrity of the Legislature,” said Sen. Michael Moore, D-Worcester, who opposes the bill.

“This could be deemed as a slap in the face of some of the integrity efforts that we have been trying to make. This could be deemed as a purely political vote.”

The Massachusetts House last week passed a bill that would give Patrick the power to make an interim appointment to fill the Sen. Edward Kennedy’s seat. The appointee would hold the office until a January vote to elect a new senator to fill out Kennedy’s term.

State Democrats have been under pressure from the Obama administration and Congressional Democrats to fill Kennedy’s seat and give the party a 60-vote majority in the Senate – a margin viewed as critical to pass Obama’s health care program in the coming weeks.

But critics say the interim appointment would be hypocritical because Democrats took the appointment power away from then Gov. Mitt Romney in 2004 to prevent him from appointing a Republican if Sen. John Kerry was elected president, leaving his seat vacant.

Moore said he is not alone among fellow Democrats in opposing the bill.

“One positive of this, is you hear a lot of talk about a one-party state and the negative effects of one-party rule. I think by seeing the 42 Democrats that went against the legislation (in the House) and the fact that you will see some Democrats in the Senate voting against it, I think it shows the positiveness of the diversity of the Democratic Party,” he said.

Other Democrats are leaning toward supporting the bill.

Sen. Susan Fargo’s chief of staff, Don Siriani, said that while Fargo, a Middlesex Democrat, had some concerns regarding the bill’s constitutionality, “the constitutional challenges that the senator was applying as a filter have been cleared.”

Siriani said Fargo will make a final decision after listening to the caucus prior to the Senate session tomorrow, which he said, “will be instructive.”

“Her positioning has been consistent throughout: Make sure it’s a well thought out approach, make sure it meets constitutional muster, and then listen to what her constituents have to say. Overwhelmingly, the feedback we are having from our district is in support of the bill.”

Sen. Jamie Eldridge said that it will be a tough but important vote. The senator has been a supporter of the bill from the beginning and believes it is critical to have two senators and two voices in Washington, D.C.

“There is quite an urgency from constituents I represent,” he said. Eldridge said 62 percent of the calls to his office have been in support of an interim appointee.

Republican Sen. Scott Brown, an announced candidate in the special U.S. Senate election in January has already made his position known about an interim appointment. Brown issued a press release last week, criticizing presidential adviser David Axelrod’s plea to state Democrats to pass the Senate appointment bill.

“Someone should tell the White House that this Senate seat belongs to the people of Massachusetts. It’s not a rubber stamp for anyone,” he said. “I find it offensive that we are going to appoint someone to march in lockstep to vote for higher taxes and more government in Washington.”

Sen. Harriette Chandler, D-Worcester, was not available for comment but favors the bill, according to her communications director, Timothy Daley.

The offices of Senators Karen Spilka and Cynthia Stone Creem, both Democrats from Middlesex and Norfolk, did not return calls requesting comment.

The state Senate will likely debate the bill on Tuesday. If passed without differences from the House version, the bill could reach the governor’s desk as early as Wednesday.

Friday, September 18, 2009

First Story!

Friday, September 18, 2009
My Professor said I would never forget writing my first story at the Statehouse. He said he still remembers his.

I covered the House session regarding the interim Senate appointee yesterday. I was there until just before 9 p.m. when they finally voted to send the bill to the Senate. I learned about some interesting things yesterday... for one, you can have multiple legislative days in one REAL day. So before they voted to send the bill to the senate, it was technically Friday, not Thursday. Bizarre. I guess when they voted on the same thing in 2004, they went to a fourth legislative day.

Anyway, here is the link to my first story.

The Statehouse Program

This semester I will be working at the Massachusetts Statehouse and covering news for a local paper. I have been assigned to the MetroWest Daily News. Please follow my work on their website as well as through updates on this blog. Thanks!
Jen Judson © 2008. Design by Pocket