Bills > 2011-2012 Session

2011-2012 Filed Legislation

The following summaries describe legislation filed by Rep. Ehrlich.

4 Bills filed to address Natural Gas Leaks

Bills filed to address Natural Gas Pipeline safety, repairs and maintenance

Lawmaker wants laws on risk of gas leaks Boston Globe

Currently, the Commonwealth's natural gas pipeline infrastructure has more than 20,000 known leaks contributing to between 8-12 billion cubic feet of annual unaccounted for natural gas in Massachusetts. Awareness of this problem tends to come into sharp focus around the public safety hazard most apparent when fires occur or buildings explode. These cases are often tragic and high profile, but the situation deserves our attention before a crisis occurs and for reasons well beyond public safety.

  • These bills have bipartisan and bicameral co-sponsorship from over 40 Massachusetts legislators. The bill requires utilities to grade and systematically repair known leaks in their pipeline structure under our streets, homes, and buildings.

  • Massachusetts has the second oldest natural gas delivery system in the nation and the highest amount of cast iron pipes (the most vulnerable to decay) per capita. 

  • According to the Federal Department of Transportation, between 8-12 billion cu ft of methane escape each year into the environment from our natural gas pipeline infrastructure in Massachusetts. Methane is 27 times as potent of a greenhouse gas as CO2.

  • Recent studies indicate that leaking gas is killing trees by depriving them of oxygen. The cost to replace these trees is likely in the tens of millions of dollars statewide, with the burden falling on struggling municipalities.

  • The current leak grading system is voluntary. It costs approximated $2,500 to repair a leak, a cost significantly less than complete replacement and considering the cost of lost natural gas from the leak, the breakeven point for repair is about 2 years depending on the severity of the leak.

  • Leaks never get better, they only get worse, which is why they need to be closely monitored.

Please see press from last session after a late filing of only the leak classification bill

Press this session:

WBZ-TV Methane Gas Leaks Common Across Massachusetts

Marblehead rep aims at regulating gas leaks The Lynn Item

No Quick Fix for aging gas lines The Morning Call (a great in-depth examination of the issue)

Unfortunately, industry does not focus enough resources to upgrading and replacing our aging natural gas pipeline infrastructure. The failure to promptly and adequately address and repair natural gas leaks once detected is risky and unsettling to say the least. By filing these four bills, I hope to draw attention to the growing problem of natural gas pipeline infrastructure maintenance and compel repair:

1. Natural Gas Leak Classification Standard (H3051)

This most comprehensive bill of the four establishes a Natural Gas Leak Classification Standard to classify and prioritize leaks for repair. All leaks are classified and must be repaired within the maximum time frame of 3 years.

2. "Winter Patrol" protocols for cast iron survey (H3052)

Cast iron mains have a long life span but can be dangerous if they are not monitored and maintained. They are most susceptible to significant damage during below freezing weather. Frost heaves can wreak havoc on cast iron due to its brittle nature. When heavy frost or oscillating temperatures below and above freezing are present, this is the time to be performing surveys known as "winter patrol". Winter patrol is a survey performed by driving a gas sensing vehicle over all cast iron mains during these weather conditions to locate any gas leakage before it becomes a danger or even an explosion. This legislation ensures that gas companies perform winter patrols on a regular and timely schedule. 

3. Natural Gas Pipeline Safety and Transparency (H3053)

This proposed legislation will allow transparency of the Department of Public Utilities (DPU), division of Pipeline Safety, similar to the available information on the Department of Transportation (DOT), Pipeline and Hazardous Materials Safety Administration (PHMSA) internet sites. The DOT-PHMSA regulates the natural gas industry with federal regulations. The availability of information from this agency is abundant and valuable in maintaining and increasing public safety. For example, it's very helpful to know which rules and regulations have been interpreted or waived. The same or similar information should be available to the citizens of Massachusetts from our DPU to ensure oversight is being conducted in a responsible manner and open to the public. There is no known notice provided to the public today in terms of safety and enforcement issues outside of a formal, docketed proceeding. This legilslation will end that vacancy and increase the ability of public and professional scrutiny, which can only lead to a safer natural gas distribution system.

4. Greenhouse gases and Arbor Damage (HD03235)

With over 20,000 known natural gas (methane) leaks in the underground infrastructure in Massachusetts, damage to trees has become widespread. Prolonged gas leaks cause soil to become hydrophobic, thereby destroying vegetation in close proximity after a period of time. Trapped methane due to gas leaks displaces the oxygen levels normally found in soil that trees need to live. When the oxygen level is reduced, trees struggle to survive. Municipalities spend millions of dollars per year to remove and replace shade trees. So often replacement trees meet the same fate of the trees removed because the gas leak that caused the original tree to die is not repaired. This legislation requires that trees suspected of having been harmed by a gas leak be reported to the gas company to be inspected by an arborist.

Legislation filed to address coal burning:

5. An Act relative to a coal-free Commonwealth (Omnibus bill) H02614

(This bills was heard May 18th, 2011 by the Joint Committee on Telecommunications and Energy) This omnibus legislation is a roadmap for a cost-effective transition from coal burning to cleaner, less carbon-intensive energy generation. 100% of the coal burned in Massachusetts is imported from other states and countries, and often mined under perilous conditions. This legislation will create local jobs, reduce greenhouse gas emissions and other harmful pollutants, provide assistance to displaced workers, support host communities, provide funding for the protection of public health, and ensure responsible disposal of toxic waste generated by coal plants.

This bill seeks to phase out coal-fired electric generation in Massachusetts by 2020.

6. An Act to reduce coal burning and use H02613

(This bill was heard on May 18, 2011 by the Joint Committee on Telecommunications and Energy) This legislation prevents facilities constructed or commencing operation on or after January 1, 2012 from utilizing or gasifying coal.


7. An Act to regulate coal ash as solid waste H01991

Currently coal ash, which has contaminated drinking water for tens of thousands of Massachusetts residents, enjoys a regulatory loophole that permits this heavy metal-laden waste to be treated as ordinary fill. This legislation would classify coal ash as solid waste and ensure that it is disposed in such a way to protect drinking water. Please read the story of Wenham Lake, a near tragedy, involving Queen Victoria, the ice trades of the early 1800's, 3-6 feet of toxic coal waste at the base of the drinking water for 80,000 local residents of Salem, Beverly and parts of Wenham.

8. An Act to phase out coal burning H02612

(heard on May 18th, 2011  by the Joint Committee on Telecommunications and Energy) This legislation establishes within the department of energy resources a Community Repowering Fund for the purpose of mitigating impacts of the retirement of coal-fired electric generation facilities on employees of such facilities and on the municipalities where such facilities are located

9. An Act relative to the public health effects of Hazardous Air Pollutants H02343

Hazardous air pollutants (HAPs) cause serious health issues such as cancer, reproductive health issues, and respiratory problems. Because of their toxicity and often known carcinogenic effects, they are measured in pounds not tons when emitted. In addition to the human costs, these pollutants also have adverse environmental and ecological effects.

This legislation assesses a fee to major stationary sources (facilities categorized in the Clean Air Act) for every pound of Hazardous Air Pollutants (HAPs) they release into the atmosphere. The fees assessed will be collected by the Department of Public Health to provide funds for the study of the public health impacts from air pollutants, including but not limited to acute local impacts such as asthma, upper respiratory conditions or premature death; such research or studies may be conducted by the department or by a qualified independent medical or public health expert, organization or educational institution.

To fund these studies, large stationary sources will be assessed a fee for each pound of HAPs emissions released into the air. This bill hews closely to the language and framework set by the Oil Spill Prevention and Response Trust Fund.

10. An Act relative to plastic bag reduction HO1990 also filed in the Senate by Senator James Eldridge as S.353

This bill was heard by the Joint Committee on Environment and Natural Resources on May 17, 2011. We've all seen these non-biodegradeable petroleum-based bags get stuck in the trees but in the process they threaten marine life and clog sewer drains. They cannot be recycled, only down-cycled (see article below) and contaminate other recycling waste streams. If passed, retailers may still choose to provide plastic check out bags to their customers but they must conform to the ASTM standard for compostable and marine biodegradeable plastic.


Salon: Plastic Bags and Recycling Why plastic bags create a unique problem to recycle and the best that can be done, although quite expensive, is downcycling. From the article: "So far that system nationwide consists mainly of supermarkets and superstores like Wal-Mart voluntarily stockpiling the bags brought back in by conscientious shoppers, and selling them to recyclers or plastic brokers, who in turn sell them to recyclers. In the U.S., one company buys half of the used plastic bags available on the open market in the United States, using about 1.5 billion plastic bags per year. That’s Trex, based in Winchester, Va., which makes composite decking out of the bags and recycled wood. It takes some 2,250 plastic bags to make a single 16-foot-long, 2-inch-by-6-inch plank. It might feel good to buy decking made out of something that otherwise could have choked a sea turtle, but not so fast. That use is not an example of true recycling, points out Carol Misseldine, sustainability coordinator for the city of Oakland. “We’re not recycling plastic bags into plastic bags,” she says. “They’re being downcycled, meaning that they’re being put into another product that itself can never be recycled.”

Kamilo Beach, Hawaii dubbed Plastic Beach (photo at right) where a shark has washed up and also where plastic particles outnumber grains of sand until you dig down about a foot.

Great Pacific Garbage Patch has increased 100 fold since the 1970's

Associated Press: Mass advocates see momentum for plastic bag ban

Margery Eagan Boston Herald Columnist: Time to trash plastic bags

Trouble Afloat: Ocean Plastics Harvard Science

Support Ban of Plastic Shopping Bags South Coast Daily

CNN: Plastic Wars

Good Morning America Scientists estimate that it takes 1,000 years for a polyethylene bag to break down, and as polyethylene breaks down, toxic substances leach into the soil and enter the food chain.

The bags also take a more immediate toll on the environment: Approximately 1 billion seabirds and mammals die per year by ingesting plastic bags.

NYTimes: How to Rid the Seas "Plastic Soup"

Marblehead/Swampscott Rep sponsors biodegradeable bag law Marblehead and Swampscott Reporter (also Cambridge Wicked Local)

NPR/WGBH Does Massachusetts' plastic bag ban stand a chance?

LA County is (now) the largest city to pass a bag ban LATimes

Hawaii is the first state to pass bag ban using county-by-county approach MSNBC

Salem News: Local bills

11. An Act to establish a Claimants Trust Act H02162

(This bill was heard by the Joint Committee on the Judiary on May 18, 2011) This legislation encourages the early aggregation of claims arising out of the same transaction, resolution of claims on a pre-suit basis or through alternative dispute resolution, the efficient litigation and administration of such aggregated claims, and the sound financial and tax planning and fiscal management of settlement funds for the beneficiary’s benefit.

12. An Act relative to health care coverage for tobacco cessation treatments H02048

Tobacco is the leading cause of preventable death in Massachusetts. This legislation requires programs under Commonwealth Care and GIC to provide subscribers with tobacco use cessation treatments. These treatments could include nicotine replacement therapy or other evidence-based pharmacologic aids and counseling by licensed, qualified clinicians.

13. An Act regarding public school athletic fees H3555

This legislation allows the payer of a user fee for public school athletics to file an income tax deduction for these fees. This bill seeks to recognize the participatory responsibility of the Commonwealth to contribute to the cost of athletics as part of educating the whole child.

14. An Act relative to non-compete agreements H02293

Some common sense on noncompete clauses Boston Globe

This bill is updated from last session's filing. Details can be found here. The bill is designed to codify, clarify, and modernize Massachusetts law relative to employee noncompetition agreements.  It provides new procedural protections to employees, including advance notice requirements and the availability of attorneys’ fees, and limits the duration and extent of restrictions that can be imposed.

For employers, it provides greater clarity for the circumstances under which noncompetition agreements will be enforced, a greater ability to enforce reasonable employee noncompetition agreements, and an ability to avoid potential responsibility for the employee’s attorneys’ fees.

 The bill applies only to noncompetition agreements entered into after January 1, 2012.


15. An Act relative to entertainment contracts for minors HD03136

(This bill was heard by The Joint Committee on the Judiciary on May 18, 2011) Currently, a loophole exists which leaves child performers who act in motion picture film, theatre, television or radio without legal recourse if their earnings are not saved until they turn 18. In comparison, protections have existed for other child performers. This bill rectifies that inequality by closing the loophole, further clarifying a parent or guardian’s role, emphasizing that the child’s earnings are his/her property that must be saved, protected and prudently invested until s/he turns 18. In addition, the legislation gives the Probate Court the opportunity to assess the financial ability of a parent/legal guardian to meet their ordinary support obligations and reasonable expenses tied to the child’s performance before determining how much money will be saved.

Furthermore, this legislation offers children a legal remedy of recovery down the road if their money “evaporates,” whether or not a court or decree has entered. 

Finally, protecting the child’s earnings is the teeth of the existing law with the parent or guardian serving as limited guardian over the child’s funds. The enactment of the Uniform Probate Code on January 15, 2009 repealed the role, ceding it, instead, to a conservator. This bill makes the necessary change to conservator.

Small Business Tax Relief, three mutually exclusive proposals:

  • 16. An Act relative to small business tax relief PROPOSAL #1 H02503This legislation is part of a package of three options to reduce the tax burden on small businesses incorporated in Massachusetts by removing the minimum corporate excise tax on certain small businesses. This particular option eliminates the minimum corporate excise tax assessed on all Massachusetts corporations.

  • 17. An Act relative to small business tax relief PROPOSAL #2 H02504This legislation is part of a package of three options to lower the tax burden on small businesses incorporated in Massachusetts by removing the minimum corporate excise tax on certain small businesses. This proposal presents an alternative to the complete elimination of the corporate minimum excise tax by raising the minimum tax on larger businesses. This proposal is revenue neutral.

  • 18. An Act relative to small business tax relief PROPOSAL #3 H02505 This legislation is part of a package of three options to lower the tax burden on small businesses incorporated in Massachusetts by removing the minimum corporate excise tax on certain small businesses. This proposal removes the minimum tax for business corporations under the threshold of 50 employees and $1 million in sales.

19. An Act to enhance safety and security in courthouses H02163

This legislation would make three changes in the current law to deter persons from criminal conduct in courthouses and against person engaged in the performance of official duties in the courts, including court staff, jurors, prosecutors and attorneys. These changes would assure that those who work in the court system or come to our courts as jurors, witnesses, parties or attorneys seeking justice or performing acts relating to the administration of justice will be safe and secure. 

Section 1 makes certain assaults and assault and battery offenses that are committed on court property while courts are in session or open to the public felony offenses.  Section 2 increases the potential penalty for willful disruption of court proceedings from a one-year misdemeanor to a felony punishable by up to three years in state prison. Section 3 establishes an enhanced penalty for certain threats to do bodily harm to court staff as well as to jurors, prosecutors and attorneys, due to their performance of official duties, to a felony punishable by up to three years in state prison.

This proposal does not establish any mandatory minimum sentences, does not restrict the discretion of prosecutors, and has no fiscal impact.

20. H.3538 An Act Relative to Chapter 70:

This bill seeks to get about 50 communities still beneath the 17.5% foundation funding floor caught up to that minimum limit in the next two years. The legislature and Governor pledged to do this in 2006, and well on its way, the economy took a turn. This bill will revive that promise and allow for a two-year staged completion. It will be heard by the Joint Committee on Education on October 4, 2011 at 10:00 a.m. in Room B1.

21. Human Trafficking PASSED, SIGNED INTO LAW NOVEMBER, 2011

This bill was heard on May 18, 2011 by the Joint Committee on the Judiciary. After filing and co-sponsoring major legislation on Human Trafficking last session only to see it languish on the last night of formal session, I am delighted that the Attorney General has elevated this important issue to primary importance. I was proud to kick off this session by standing with AG Coakley, Law Enforcement from around the State, advocates, and 5 of my colleagues who worked on this issue last session to demonstrate that the time is now.

Marblehead Rep. Ehrlich supports efforts to end human trafficking in state Marblehead and Swampscott Reporters

22. S. 1706 An Act Relative to the treatment of Elephants 

This is the second session that I have been the House lead on this bill which seeks to ban the use of bullhooks and other devices that can reasonably be expected to cause harm to Elephants used in a circus or traveling show. The hearing is on Monday, January 23rd, 10:00, Room A1. Press and other helpful links from last session below. 

The Cruelest Show on Earth Year-long investigative piece from Mother Jones

PETA, Ringling Bros. at odds over the treatment of baby circus elephants WASHINGTON POST

Rep Ehrlich other lawmakers decry treatment of elephants Marblehead Reporter

Mass lawmakers to review treatment of Elephants NECN

SB1870 An Act relating to the Treatment of Elephants text of the bill

Marblehead's Ehrlich in anti-elephant abuse push Lynn Item

Republican all ears to 'abusive' plight of GOP symbolBoston Herald 

Elephant abuse by Ringling Brothers

CBS Report on Elephant abuse and lawsuit against Ringling Brothers

Tarra and Bella, by CBS News

Reasons to seek an alternative to the circus w/heartbreaking video

Weymouth senator still pushing for passage of elephant bill The Patriot Ledger

Why we oppose cruelty to elephants Blue Mass Group 

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