Coakley Won Some, Lost Some In Legislative Session

When a Big Dig ceiling panel collapsed, killing a Boston woman in 2006, Attorney General Martha Coakley vowed to press lawmakers to update the state's 2-century-old corporate manslaughter law--a promise she repeated in 2012 after a deadly meningitis outbreak was linked to a local compounding pharmacy.

While lawmakers failed to take final action on Coakley's proposal to increase the penalty from $1,000 to $250,000, she was able to claim other successes as the Legislature ended its formal session Friday.

Those include measures tightening flood insurance rules, protecting young people from bullying and toughening domestic violence laws.

Coakley is one of three Democrats running for governor, along with Steve Grossman and Don Berwick.

One of the top accomplishments Coakley points to is the state's efforts to tighten security around abortion clinics after the Supreme Court struck down a 2007 Massachusetts law that established a protest-free 35-foot "buffer zone" around clinic entrances.

A new law signed Wednesday by Gov. Deval Patrick gives police increased authority to break up crowds around clinic entrances. Coakley's office helped draft the bill.

"I am proud of our work this session to propose and advocate for legislation that will make a difference in so many people's lives," Coakley said in a statement Friday. "Our office remains committed to providing the expertise needed to draft and support legislation that can make a real impact."

Coakley's agenda was driven in part by headlines.

After Jared Remy, the son of Red Sox broadcaster Jerry Remy, was charged with fatally stabbing his girlfriend, Jennifer Martel, Coakley teamed with House Speaker Robert DeLeo to push for changes in the state's domestic violence laws.

Early Friday, the House and Senate gave final approval to the bill, which would create domestic fatality review teams, make it easier to purchase pepper spray, provide up to 15 days of employment leave for victims and prohibit information about domestic violence arrests from being included in public police logs.

Gov. Patrick has 10 days to sign the bill. Remy has pleaded guilty to first-degree murder.

Another legislative effort driven by a tragedy was a bill signed by Patrick in April that built on the state's 2010 anti-bullying law by strengthening protections for gay, lesbian, bisexual and transgender students and students with disabilities. The 2010 law followed the death of Phoebe Prince, a 15-year-old Irish immigrant who hanged herself after South Hadley classmates taunted her.

Coakley had listed the expanded 2014 law as one of her legislative priorities.

Another success Coakley points to is a measure designed to prevent laboratories from performing drug screening testing on residents of sober houses that are owned, directly or indirectly, by the laboratories.

Two of her top priorities have so far failed to win approval, however.

Coakley has repeatedly expressed frustration about the state's failure to update its corporate manslaughter penalties.

"While no monetary sum can compensate for the loss of a loved one, the current $1,000 penalty is woefully inadequate," Coakley said after the Senate unanimously approved a change that would increase the penalty to $250,000.

The House unanimously approved its own version of the bill a few months later, but the measure didn't win final passage.

Coakley persuaded lawmakers to adopt another priority--a bill designed to update state wiretapping laws that predate cellphones. The bill would also change the law's definition of organized crime to let police seek court permission to wiretap youth gangs or human trafficking networks.

Coakley has called the bill a common-sense approach to modernizing a decades-old law. Critics have raised questions about privacy and possible abuse of expanded wiretapping authority.

"It's really like saying, `We're going to ask our local police to still ride on horses while criminals have taken over automobiles,"' Coakley said during a briefing on the legislation last year.


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