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From the Lynn Item
LORI EHRLICH’S AGENDA IS ON THE SAFE SIDE
BY THOR JOURGENSEN| September 28, 2020
State Representative Lori Ehrlich has been fighting to make the intersection of Vine St., Pleasant St. and Village St. safer for pedestrians to walk. Currently, the intersection is undergoing National Grid construction. (Olivia Falcigno
MARBLEHEAD — Elected to the state legislature in 2008, Rep. Lori A. Ehrlich takes the long view on creating change for public good, especially when it comes to making a local intersection safer.
Ehrlich’s more-than-10-year effort to make the Vine, Village and Pleasant streets intersection safer has paid off with state money helping to cover design costs for intersection safety improvement work.
At one point in her bid to secure state transportation money for the project, Ehrlich, a Democrat, convinced former Gov. Deval Patrick to come to town and view traffic during times of the day when Veterans Middle School students walk to and from school.
“Kids pour into the intersection and there’s too many roads coming together in one place: It’s a recipe for a disaster,” she said.
The pandemic has all but eliminated pedestrian traffic from the crossroads, but Ehrlich cited the safety project as an example of ways persistence on her part has paid off for Marblehead.
Helping local officials match town money with state funding is just one of Ehrlich’s responsibilities as state representative for Marblehead, Swampscott and a corner of Lynn near the Swampscott line.
She’s pushed for five years to end college campus sexual assaults, first by filing a bill to gather anonymous information on campus safety “from the students who are living it.”
Since 2015, Ehrlich’s legislation has been expanded into a comprehensive proposal aimed at injecting fairness into campus-assault prevention and enforcement policies and ensuring students have online information to assess campus safety.
“Too often, people choosing colleges look at academic rankings and glossy brochures rather than what students think,” she said.
She has a powerful ally in getting the bill passed into law this year: House Speaker Robert A. DeLeo. She called DeLeo’s support critical during a legislative year when the Massachusetts House and Senate are “dealing with multiple crises,” including COVID-19’s health and economic impacts.
“The Speaker has been a fierce advocate for this bill and he reaffirmed his support for its passage,” she said.
State Sen. Brendan Crighton is Ehrlich’s ally on legislation establishing a commission to study journalism in underserved communities. The House included the proposal in legislation outlining economic development spending priorities.
“That will result in a good start to preserving the free press on which our very democracy depends,” Ehrlich said.
Other priority initiatives include taking aim at “bad faith assertions of patent infringement.” Ehrlich said federal officials have left it to the states to regulate “patent trolls” who obtain overly-broad patents on innovations with no plans to turn the patent into a marketable product.
She said innovators seeking to market products end up defending their patent in court or are confronted by trolls demanding exorbitant payments to waive a patent challenge.
“Innovators are turning to us because they are held hostage,” she said.
EDITORIAL FROM THE BOSTON GLOBE
Beacon Hill should finally pass campus sexual assault bill
After five long years of delays and excuses, it’s time for lawmakers to pass a bill to promote safer college environments.By The Editorial Board Updated September 27, 2020, 4:00 a.m.
House Speaker Robert DeLeo says he is optimistic that legislation designed to reduce sexual assault on college campuses will pass this year.LANE TURNER/GLOBE STAFF
For over five years, Every Voice, a coalition of students, has been pushing the Massachusetts Legislature to pass legislation to address the prevalence of sexual assault on college campuses. And for over five years, the Legislature has punted on the issue. Last week, however, in a statement that gave advocates some hope, House Speaker Robert A. DeLeo said he feels optimistic that a bill can finally get passed before the end of the year.
But DeLeo should be more than hopeful about passing the legislation; he should be certain. After all, the bill has the votes to pass, and both the House and the Senate passed versions of it last year before failing to reach a final agreement. And since the bill was first filed in Massachusetts in 2015, some iteration of it has been passed in several other states, including in New Hampshire earlier this year. So the question has to be asked: What’s taking Massachusetts, the first state to take up the legislation, so long?
The bill aims to curb sexual assault on college campuses by providing students and faculty with prevention training and ensuring that survivors get the support and guidance they need. It would also require institutions to conduct climate surveys on a regular basis in order to gather more data on the prevalence of sexual assault on their campuses. Since sexual assaults are one of the most underreported crimes, the more data universities collect, the better they can evaluate the efficacy of their policies.
Last year, the Globe editorial board urged Beacon Hill to pass the bill. This year, we do so with renewed urgency. In May, US Secretary of Education Betsy DeVos announced new federal Title IX regulations that narrow the definition of sexual harassment and free schools of the responsibility to investigate off-campus incidents of sexual assault, unless they happen at school-sponsored events or on the property of an officially recognized student organization. The new regulations could also discourage survivors from reporting incidents, underscoring the need for schools to have measures in place that ensure survivors are protected and can remain anonymous if they so choose.
Devos’s regulations focus on ensuring due process and protecting the rights of the accused because of concerns that Obama administration rules created incentives for schools to side with accusers — a concern that is echoed in the opposition to bills like the one in front of the Massachusetts Legislature. But the state bill ensures fairness and due process for both parties. While earlier iterations of the proposed legislation included provisions banning cross-examination, for example, the latest version, in compliance with the new federal regulations, leaves that option open.
The coronavirus pandemic has isolated students from their usual support systems — like friends or counselors — leaving victims more vulnerable after an assault. The bill would allow victims to confidentially report an incident to their school without triggering an investigation, if they prefer to go that route. It would also require schools to provide advisers to help victims navigate the system.
Ultimately, the bill seeks to create safer environments on campuses. “We have students coming in from all over the world to go to our universities, which are world renowned, and we have a responsibility to make sure that when they come to our schools, that we are doing everything in our power to make sure that they’re safe,” said state Representative Lori Ehrlich, the bill’s sponsor.
There is no doubt that the bill would give universities more tools to address and reduce the number of sexual assaults happening on their campuses. But if the bill passes, schools should do more than adhere to its minimum requirements. A one-time sexual assault training for students and staff isn’t enough. Colleges should continually provide students with support, training, and education on sexual violence and its prevention throughout their time on campus.
Still, the Legislature has to take the first step. After five years of delay and excuses, it is time to act.