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Clark backs supervised drug injection sites

Congresswoman Katherine Clark supports the idea of opening facilities where people can use illegal drugs under medical supervision to prevent overdose fatalities and refer people to treatment for drug addiction when they are ready.

“These sites, in particular, if it is saving some lives, if it is allowing us to have the intervention to stop this cycle before a person does lose their life to an overdose, that’s a piece of this puzzle that we have to be open to and figure out,” said Clark.

Support for supervised drug injection sites has grown since US District Court Judge Gerald McHugh ruled earlier this month that a provision of the Controlled Substances Act aimed at closing crack houses did not apply to a proposed supervised injection site in Philadelphia. 

“No credible argument can be made that facilities such as safe injection sites were within the contemplation of Congress” when the initial drug law was adopted in 1986 or when it was amended in 2003, McHugh ruled.

But here in Massachusetts, US Attorney Andrew Lelling has not been dissuaded by the federal court decision. He said he would use his prosecutorial powers to prevent any supervised injection sites from opening.

In  a wide-ranging interview on CommonWealth’s Codcast, Clark also talked about her work on a bill  dubbed the BE HEARD in the Workplace Act, which would take a number of different approaches to empower the victims of workplace sexual harassment and try to curb the type of predation made infamous by the torrent of #metoo stories over the past two years.

T control board’s stance on revenues evolving

Seven months ago the MBTA’s oversight board indicated it was going to weigh in on whether the Legislature should explore new transportation funding initiatives, but since then there’s been nothing.

Joe Aiello, the chair of the Fiscal and Management Control Board, said the timing was not right back then. But soon it will be, he says, pointing out that there have been some new developments on the revenue front. Aiello also says the board is likely to lay out options for the Legislature rather than recommend anything specific, perhaps because of Gov. Charlie Baker’s continued opposition to new revenues.

The focus in March was on capital spending, but a series of initiatives (Red and Orange Line overhauls, South Coast Rail, and Green Line extension) all come on line in the next five years and new expenses (pension liabilities and family and medical leave costs) are putting upward pressure on the T’s operating budget.

The other big unknown is the cost of a commuter rail makeover. The T is reviewing a series of options for commuter rail, and there is growing support on the board for an all-day, electrified, subway-like system. Aiello says the board is likely to make a decision about the future of commuter rail in November, and the long-term cost could be substantial.

“But we don’t have two cents to rub together to get that done,” Aiello said. “If, in fact, that is also something that Beacon Hill views as something important to continue to support the economy and the environment here, that’s an increment that is significant enough that we need to get that data out in public as quickly as possible. “

BMC chief backs Medicaid for all

Kate Walsh says she favors Medicaid for all, not Medicare for all.

It’s not a political slogan you hear much these days, but Walsh, the president and CEO of Boston Medical Center, has a unique perspective since so many of her hospital’s patients are on Medicaid.

“I actually think Medicaid is the most important insurance plan in the country,” she said, noting that it covers roughly 79 million mostly poor and elderly Americans and provides them with coverage for long-term care, medicine, behavioral health, and substance abuse. Every state offers Medicaid, so there is opportunity for local customization of insurance offerings.

The Codcast: Widespread praise for ed funding bill

When the year started, with Beacon Hill poised to make another go at a bill revamping the state’s education funding formula, some advocates were focused on boosting funding for schools, while others were insisting that new money come with new ways of holding districts accountable for how it’s spent and for closing the yawning achievement gaps that characterize the state’s K-12 landscape. 

The fact that leading voices from both camps are applauding the legislation that was rolled out last week underscores the success legislative leaders have had in crafting a bill that’s receiving widespread support.

“Two thumbs up,” said Sen. Sonia Chang-Diaz on a new episode of The Codcast. “In vast majority, it hits all of the marks,” she said of the bill unveiled jointly by the education committee co-chairs, Rep. Alice Peisch and Sen. Jason Lewis, together with House Speaker Robert DeLeo and Senate President Karen Spilka


7 healthcare questions for Rick Lord

Rick Lord has a unique perspective on health care in Massachusetts. He serves on the state’s Health Policy Commission. He stepped down in May after more than 28 years as head of the business group Associated Industries of Massachusetts. And previously he served as the budget director of the House Ways and Means Committee on Beacon Hill.

 Lord talked health care on this week’s Health and Consequences segment of the CommonWealth Codcast with John McDonough of Harvard’s TH Chan School of Public Health and Paul Hattis of Tufts University Medical School. To give you a taste of the discussion, here are seven questions posed to Lord.

Defense attorney: Judge Sinnott ‘has no leg to stand on’

The band of right-wing provocateurs who staged a “straight pride” parade in Boston 10 days ago were hoping to stir the pot. But they likely never imagined that the tempest they’d cause would be a judicial showdown among local officials that exposes tensions set off by last year’s election of a reform-minded district attorney.

Things got unruly in the streets as the straight pride marchers were met by hundreds of counter-demonstrators, but there wasn’t exactly order in the court either when the cases of many of the three dozen counter-protesters who were arrested came before Boston Municipal Court Judge Richard Sinnott

Sinnott repeatedly, over the course of two days, rejected efforts by prosecutors to dismiss cases against those arrested for non-violent offenses of disorderly conduct or resisting arrest. (The DA’s office said it was pursuing cases against those charged with violent crimes, including assaulting police officers.) The problem: It’s not clear Sinnott is within his rights to do so, as charging decisions are generally the province of prosecutors. 

Susan Church, a well-known local defense lawyer, says Sinnott absolutely was out of bounds in refusing prosecutors’ efforts to drop charges against a young woman she was representing on charges of disorderly conduct and resisting arrest. Church was so emphatic in that belief that she got into a testy exchange with Sinnott that ended with the Cambridge lawyer hauled out of court in handcuffs for contempt when Sinnott ordered her to stop making her argument but she persisted. 

“He has no leg to stand on,” Church said about Sinnott’s ruling on this week’s Codcast. Describing her experience of being handcuffed and held for several hours in the courthouse lock-up area as “surreal,” Church offered her account of what transpired in the courtroom. 

Taking the bus to a whole new level

The service disruptions caused by the MBTA’s more aggressive maintenance schedule could provide a catalyst for better bus service, according to some of the chief proponents of bus rapid transit.

More common in other countries than the United States, bus rapid transit, or BRT, is a strategy that uses buses so they mimic the conveniences of a rail line. That should include a dedicated right-of-way in the center of roads to avoid turning traffic; bus stations with seating, shelter, platform-level boarding, a fare system that enables passengers to board at all doors; and priority given to the buses at traffic signals, according to Julia Wallerce, Boston program manager for the Institute for Transportation & Development Policy.

Wallerce found a lot of common ground with Jim Aloisi and Jarred Johnson of TransitMatters on this week’s episode of The Codcast, where the three discussed the benefits of BRT and some of the challenges of implementing it in metro Boston.

Corruption or advocacy?

When two aides to Boston Mayor Marty Walsh were convicted earlier this month on federal charges of conspiring to extort organizers of the Boston Calling music festival in 2014, US Attorney Andrew Lelling touted it as another victory for efforts to root out corruption in government.

But a lot of people don’t see it that way. The case has generated a tremendous amount of blowback from advocates, labor leaders, legal experts, and, last week, most members of the Boston City Council, who say the US attorney’s office has criminalized the usual give-and-take of political advocacy. 

“We’re in a different world where advocacy is now considered extortion,” said Boston City Councilor Lydia Edwards on this week’s Codcast. She called it a “true concern” and said the convictions have created incredible uncertainty for elected officials and advocates who are accustomed to pushing their causes vigorously, but now wonder whether that could land them in prosecutors’ crosshairs. 

Building connections one story at a time

Cara Solomon and George Powell think personal stories – gathering them and reading them – are the way to bridge differences and build a stronger sense of community in Boston.

Solomon is the founder and Powell is one of the most successful story ambassadors at Everyday Boston, a nonprofit organization that is attempting to knit together Boston one person’s story at a time.

Solomon and Powell are about as different as can be. Solomon is white and a former newspaper reporter for the Hartford Courant and Seattle Times who grew up in Wayland. Powell, who is black, grew up in Roxbury and spent eight years in prison. They would seem to have little in common, but listening to them on The Codcast they seem to have a powerful connection.

Breaking down “Operation Clean Sweep”

How do you balance public safety and neighborhood quality of life concerns with support for the most marginalized people in a community?

Those issues exploded into public view with the recent arrests of homeless people and drug users as part of “Operation Clean Sweep,” a set of Boston police actions centered on the streets near Newmarket Square where the city’s South End, Roxbury, and Dorchester neighborhoods converge. 

But the issues are nothing new to state Rep. Liz Miranda and her constituents. She grew up in the shadow of Newmarket Square in a tight-knit Cape Verdean enclave of Roxbury, and says residents have been dealing for years with problems stemming from the concentration of drug treatment facilities and homeless shelters on their doorstep. The situation has gotten dramatically worse, she said, since the 2014 closing of the city’s shelter and addiction treatment facilities on Long Island.

For the former community organizer who is serving her first term in the House, the controversy that boiled over earlier this month brought some satisfaction that attention is finally being paid to the problems, mixed with concern over the approach city officials took, and questions about why longstanding community calls to deal with the deteriorating situation had gone ignored until now.

This “is a community that’s been speaking up pretty loudly for the last couple of years saying we need help,” Miranda said on The Codcast. “There’s a clear saturation of services at this corner that I don’t see another city or town or even another neighborhood being able to withstand.”

“This is a statewide problem,” she said. “Boston cannot solve it alone.”

Miranda was joined by Yawu Miler, senior editor of the Bay State Banner, who wrote about the issue in the paper’s current issue.