Stop Bullying Coalition Advances Legislative Commission

Submitted by Jerry Halberstadt on Sat, 06/07/2014 - 19:21

I am pleased to announce that we have bipartisan support to create a "resolve" that would create a legislative commission to study how to stop bullying in multi-family, public and subsidized housing for elderly and disabled persons.

The bill to stop bullying, S604 (1) will be revised to create the resolve for the commission. When approved by the Joint Committee on Housing and passed by the General Court (the Massachusetts state legislature on Beacon Hill), the commission can be a constructive way to engage all stakeholders, seek solutions, and provide a strong basis for legislation and other actions. This is a big step forward towards achieving protection from bullying.

We have had remarkable success in a very short time, a new bill often goes nowhere for years, most bills never make it out of committee. Several legislators have been very receptive and helpful on this issue. By creating a commission, for which there is bipartisan support, the Commonwealth can again show leadership in protecting the human and civil rights of citizens.

What is a commission? The commission would be a study or policy group, a temporary body that studies a particular problem and reports back to the legislature. A commission can bring in expert opinion, deal with complex or divisive issues, focus on issues in depth, build consensus, and create visibility for an issue.(2)

Our bill to stop bullying, S604, had not been revised in time for legislative action this session—the pace on Beacon Hill is fierce and legislators are under extreme pressure—and was about to die. However, when I reached out to legislators that had attended the Legislative Breakfast (of the Independent Living Center of the North Shore and Cape Ann), the response to our efforts to stop bullying was very positive. Rep. Brad Hill went ahead and suggested that the next step to keep the issue alive should be a legislative study commission.

I consulted with legislators, including those who had been helping to advance the bill (including Senator Joan Lovely, Representatives Paul Heroux and Jay Livingstone, and Chairman of the Joint Committee on Housing, Rep Kevin Honan), and several in the North Shore delegation; and all but one (who thought we could pass a bill this session) agreed that a commission would be a constructive move. I also checked with people who had experience in such commissions, and got helpful advice. After consulting with many key persons and coalition partners, including Mary Margaret Moore, director of the Independent Living Center of the North Shore and Cape Ann, I agreed to support creating a commission.

The resolve to create the commission will define the scope and tasks, identify the various members of the commission, set a time frame for reporting, and specify the types of recommendation for legislation or executive action that are to be reported.

I was invited to write a draft resolve as a basis for defining the commission. I hope to assure that the scope of commission work will be carefully drawn to include our concerns, and that appropriate consideration will be given to including elderly and disabled residents.

Not all in our coalition are happy with this action, feeling that we should have held out for "our" bill. I understand, share some of their concerns, and respect their viewpoint but disagree because we cannot afford to lose momentum, and because many supporters favor the commission.

We have gotten the attention and support of senior people of both parties in the legislature and must welcome the chance to work with them. These are the people we have elected to make laws and we can only succeed if we partner with them, and they have demonstrated that they are open to our ideas and concerns. I believe that refusing their generous offer to create a commission would likely doom future efforts to pass a bill for some time.

We will need to work closely with the leaders of this process to make sure that the voices and experiences of elderly and disabled are clearly heard, and help the commission to report back with good solutions and good legislation.

I see this as a healthy democratic process that can bring in many points of view, people with different interests and experience, and we can learn from the cross-fertilization of ideas. And we can find ways to engage all stakeholders to find a solution that will be readily adopted. It is an educational and advocacy process that goes both ways.

The real work is just now beginning, and I expect to be part of the commission process, and to advocate for effective solutions. I continue to look to you for ideas, guidance, and support; and encourage each of you to advocate in your own way.

(1) Bill S.604 188th (Current) An Act to protect residents of subsidized housing developments from bullying; bullying prevention policies and plans; research and demonstration programs. By Ms. Lovely (by request), a petition (accompanied by bill, Senate, No. 604) of Jerry Halberstadt for legislation to protect citizens of subsidized housing developments from bullying. Housing.

(2) Congressional Research Service, Legislative Commissions: Overview, Structure, and Legislative Considerations,