FROM OUR PRINTED SEPT. 1, 2022 EDITION:
by Beth Guidry Hoffman
After moving favorably out of the Massachusetts Joint Committee on Public Health in May, Representative Andy Vargas’ (D-Haverhill) bill to remove religious exemptions for vaccines for public school was sent to the Committee on Health Care Financing for review. Good news is Bill H.4813 was not voted favorably and instead sent for further study, essentially killing the bill. Opposition calls, emails, petitions and rallies sent a clear message to legislators which ended in a victory for medical freedom.
Bad news, however, came with another dangerous bill, H.4328, for the Department of Public Health’s “State Action for Public Health Excellence (SAPHE) Program.” Updated to Bill H.5104, “An Act relative to accelerating improvements to the local and regional public health system to address disparities in the delivery of public health services,” also known as SAPHE 2.0, it passed in both the House and Senate without much public awareness in late July.
Under the guise of addressing disparities in the delivery of public health services across the state, SAPHE 2.0 is legislation mandating that “foundational public health services be provided to the residents of Massachusetts… left to the discretion of the Department of Public Health.” It has the potential “to disempower local and regional boards of health to manage their own local situations.” SAPHE 2.0 also opens up the “possibility of increased surveillance and tracking of individuals”… likely resulting in “further erosion of our medical and personal privacy in the name of dealing with public health emergencies.” (Excerpts from a HealthRightsMA.org letter of opposition to the bill.)
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Moving from the legislative chamber to dissent on the streets of Boston, where four moms were arrested in June for violating Boston Mayor Michelle Wu’s recent ordinance limiting the hours one can protest. The narrowly written ordinance ̶ passed by the City Council in March ̶ restricts times protesters can gather in residential neighborhoods ̶ limited to 9 am – 9 pm, which is after Wu leaves for City Hall. (Although 7 am is the time allowed for construction noise to begin in Boston).
Some protesters have continued to gather prior to 9 am, citing their First Amendment rights. The ordinance is to be enforced by fines. However, in addition to being fined, the four women ̶ challenging Wu’s ordinance limiting their free speech as unconstitutional ̶ were arrested and criminally charged with disturbing the peace, June 29.
This clearly is a breakdown of the rule of law. “The Boston attorney representing all four defendants called it an occurrence of “selective prosecution” of free speech laws in Boston under the Wu administration.” Attorney Ilya Feoktistov said, “the ordinance simply states that it will be civilly handled, but the commonwealth charged it criminally. It’s like being charged criminally for littering … or a parking ticket.” (Boston Herald, June 29, “Protesters Arrested for Protesting in Banned Hours Outside Boston Mayor Michelle Wu’s House”).