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SENATE DOCKET, NO. 1635        FILED ON: 1/18/2013

SENATE  .  .  .  .  .  .  .  .  .  .  .  .  .  .  No. 604

 

The Commonwealth of Massachusetts

_________________

PRESENTED BY:

Joan B.  Lovely, (BY REQUEST)

_________________

To the Honorable Senate and House of Representatives of the Commonwealth of Massachusetts in General
              Court assembled:

              The undersigned legislators and/or citizens respectfully petition for the adoption of the accompanying bill:

An Act to protect residents of subsidized housing developments from bullying; bullying prevention policies and plans; research and demonstration programs..

_______________

PETITION OF:

 

Name:

District/Address:

Jerry Halberstadt

20 Central St. #504
Peabody MA 01960


SENATE DOCKET, NO. 1635        FILED ON: 1/18/2013

SENATE  .  .  .  .  .  .  .  .  .  .  .  .  .  .  No. 604

By Ms. Lovely (by request), a petition (accompanied by bill, Senate, No. 604) of Jerry Halberstadt for legislation to protect citizens of subsidized housing developments from bullying.  Housing. 

 

The Commonwealth of Massachusetts

 

_______________

In the Year Two Thousand Thirteen

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An Act to protect residents of subsidized housing developments from bullying; bullying prevention policies and plans; research and demonstration programs..

 

              Be it enacted by the Senate and House of Representatives in General Court assembled, and by the authority of the same, as follows:
 

              Notwithstanding any general or special law to the contrary of the General Laws is hereby amended by inserting the following section:

              (a) As used in this section the following words shall, unless the context clearly requires otherwise, have the following meaning:-

              “abusive conduct”    acts, omissions, or both, that a reasonable person would find hostile, based on the severity, nature, and frequency of the conduct, including, but not limited to: repeated infliction of verbal abuse such as the use of derogatory remarks, insults and epithets; verbal or physical conduct of a threatening, intimidating or humiliating nature; attempts to exploit a person’s known psychological or physical vulnerability.

              “Bullying”, all types of bullying and abuse, including social or psychological as well as physical abuse or harassment. Bullying is the inappropriate (because unsanctioned by law or consent) use of power. Bullying is aggressive behavior that is intentional, repeated, and involves an imbalance of power or strength. Bullying is the repeated use by one or more members,workers, or visitors of the residential community, including staff, management, visitors, or contracted service personnel (e.g. home health aides) or residents of a written, verbal or electronic expression or a physical act or gesture or any combination thereof, directed at a target that: (i) causes physical or emotional harm to the target or damage to the target’s property; (ii) places the target in reasonable fear of harm to himself or of damage to his property; (iii) creates a hostile environment in the residence for the target; (iv) infringes on the rights of the target in the residence; or (v) materially and substantially disrupts the education process or the orderly operation of a school. For the purposes of this section, bullying shall include cyber-bullying. In addition, social bullying or mobbing shall be included.

              ”social bullying”    (also relational bullying, mobbing) consists of members of a group hurting someone’s reputation or relationships. Social bullying includes: leaving someone out on purpose; telling other [people] not to be friends with someone; spreading rumors about someone; embarrassing someone in public.

              “Cyber-bullying”, bullying through the use of technology or any electronic communication, which shall include, but shall not be limited to, any transfer of signs, signals, writing, images, sounds, data or intelligence of any nature transmitted in whole or in part by a wire, radio, electromagnetic, photo electronic or photo optical system, including, but not limited to, electronic mail, internet communications, instant messages or facsimile communications. Cyber-bullying shall also include (i) the creation of a web page or blog in which the creator assumes the identity of another person or (ii) the knowing impersonation of another person as the author of posted content or messages, if the creation or impersonation creates any of the conditions enumerated in clauses (i) to (v), inclusive, of the definition of bullying. Cyber-bullying shall also include the distribution by electronic means of a communication to more than one person or the posting of material on an electronic medium that may be accessed by one or more persons, if the distribution or posting creates any of the conditions enumerated in clauses (i) to (v), inclusive, of the definition of bullying.

              ”Chronic stress”    the response of the brain to unpleasant events for a prolonged period over which an individual perceives they have no control. It involves an endocrine system response in which occurs a release of corticosteroids. This if [continued] for a long time can cause damage to an individual’s physical and mental health.

              "department", Department of Housing and Community Development (DHCD) and or Department of Elder Affairs

              “Hostile environment”, a situation in which bullying causes the residential environment to be permeated with intimidation, ridicule or insult that is sufficiently severe or pervasive to alter the well-being of the target or targets, and/or of the residents and thus interfere with their "right to peaceful enjoyment of their tenancy." Bullying and a hostile environment may cause stress, chronic stress, and numerous psychological and physical ailments.

              "Landlord," the housing authority or other owner of the building and bearing ultimate responsibility for the management of the building; generally the entity that holds title to the property and directly or indirectly benefits from government support, subsidies, loans, and other help to promote the provision of affordable housing for the residents.

              ”management”    including the owner, landlord, and management entity charged with the collection of rents, managing subsidies, and the day-to-day maintenance or supervision of the property.

              “housing development”, including but not limited to multi-family subsidized housing. A residence or housing subsidized in whole or in part by the national, state, or local government or a charitable association providing shelter for elders and/or persons living with a disability; and to include developments with landlords who are a governmental agency, or who receive subsidy or are subject to oversight by governmental agencies and those developments that are privately owned, covering non-profits and for-profit landlords or management.

              “Plan”, a bullying prevention and intervention plan established pursuant to subsection (d).

              “Perpetrator”, a person who engages in bullying or retaliation.

              “Residential property and grounds”, property on which a residential building or facility is located or property that is owned, leased or used by a landlord or management or group of residents for an activity, function, program, instruction or training related to the residential program.

              “target”, a person against whom bullying or retaliation has been perpetrated.

              REMEDIES TO BULLYING

              (b) Bullying shall be prohibited: (i) on residential property and grounds, at a management- or owner-sponsored or sanctioned activity, function or program whether on or off  residential grounds, or through the use of technology or an electronic device owned, leased or used by a landlord or management and (ii) at a location, activity, function or program that is not residence-related, or through the use of technology or an electronic device that is not owned, leased or used by a landlord or management, if the bullying creates a hostile environment in the residence for the target, infringes on the rights of the target in the residence or materially and substantially disrupts the residential environment or the orderly operation of the residence. The landlord and management are responsible for providing sufficient trained staff to implement the anti-bullying program. Nothing contained herein shall require landlords or managers to staff any non-residence related activities, functions, or programs.

              Retaliation against a person who reports bullying, provides information during an investigation of bullying, or witnesses or has reliable information about bullying shall be prohibited.

              (c) Each landlord and management shall provide appropriate instruction on bullying prevention to all staff, workers, managers, representatives of the landlord, and shall diligently inform all residents of their responsibilities to avoid bullying. The curriculum shall be evidence-based.

              (d) Each landlord and management company shall develop, adhere to and update a plan to address bullying prevention and intervention in consultation with staff, professional support personnel, volunteers, administrators, community representatives, local law enforcement agencies, residents, and their families and guardians, as well as duly organized, representative groups of residents. The consultation shall include, but not be limited to, notice and a public comment period. The plan shall be updated at least biennially.

              Each plan shall include, but not be limited to: (i) descriptions of and statements prohibiting bullying, cyber-bullying and retaliation; (ii) clear procedures for residents, staff, relatives, guardians and others to report bullying or retaliation; (iii) a provision that reports of bullying or retaliation may be made anonymously; provided, however, that no disciplinary action shall be taken against a person solely on the basis of an anonymous report; (iv) clear procedures for promptly responding to and investigating reports of bullying or retaliation; (v) the range of disciplinary actions that may be taken against a perpetrator for bullying or retaliation; provided, however, that the disciplinary actions shall balance the need for accountability with the need to teach appropriate behavior; (vi) clear procedures for restoring a sense of safety for a target and assessing that target’s needs for protection; (vii) strategies for protecting from bullying or retaliation a person who reports bullying, provides information during an investigation of bullying or witnesses or has reliable information about an act of bullying; (viii) procedures consistent with state and federal law for promptly notifying the relatives or guardians of a target and a perpetrator; provided, further, that the relatives or guardians of a target shall also be notified of the action taken to prevent any further acts of bullying or retaliation; and provided, further, that the procedures shall provide for immediate notification pursuant to regulations promulgated under this subsection by the building manager or person who holds a comparable role to the local law enforcement agency when criminal charges may be pursued against the perpetrator; (ix) a provision that a resident who knowingly makes a false accusation of bullying or retaliation shall be subject to disciplinary action; and (x) a strategy for providing counseling or referral to appropriate services for perpetrators and targets and for appropriate family members of said people. The plan shall afford all residents the same protection regardless of their status under the law.

              A landlord or management may establish separate discrimination or harassment policies that include categories of residents. Nothing in this section shall prevent a landlord or management from remediating any discrimination or harassment based on a person’s membership in a legally protected category under local, state or federal law.

              The plan for a residential deveopment shall include a provision for ongoing professional development to build the skills of all staff members to prevent, identify and respond to bullying. The content of such professional development shall include, but not be limited to: (i) appropriate strategies to prevent bullying incidents; (ii) appropriate strategies for immediate, effective interventions to stop bullying incidents; (iii) information regarding the complex interaction and power differential that can take place between and among a perpetrator, target and witnesses to the bullying; (iv) research findings on bullying, including information about specific categories of persons who have been shown to be particularly at risk for bullying in the residential environment; (v) information on the incidence and nature of cyber-bullying; and (vi) internet safety issues as they relate to cyber-bullying. The  department  shall identify and offer information on alternative methods for fulfilling the professional development requirements of this section, at least 1 of which shall be available at no cost to landlords and management.

              The department shall promulgate rules and regulations on the requirements related to a manager’s duties under clause (viii) of the second paragraph of this subsection.  A landlord shall develop procedures for immediate notification by the manager or person who holds a comparable role to the local law enforcement agency when criminal charges may be pursued against the perpetrator.

              (e)(1) Each landlord and manager shall provide to residents, relatives, or guardians, in the languages which are most prevalent among the residents, relatives, or guardians, annual written notice of the relevant sections of the plan.

              (2) Each landlord and manager shall provide to all school staff annual written notice of the plan. The staff at each residence shall be trained annually on the plan applicable to the residence. Relevant sections of the plan relating to the duties of staff shall be included in an employee handbook.

              (3) The plan shall be posted on the website of each landlord or management.

              (f) Each manager or the person who holds a comparable position shall be responsible for the implementation and oversight of the plan at their residential building(s).

              (g) A member of a residence staff, including but not limited to a visiting worker, professional, or paraprofessional, shall immediately report any instance of bullying or retaliation the staff member has witnessed or become aware of to the manger or to the landlord's representative  identified in the plan as responsible for receiving such reports or both. Upon receipt of such a report, the manager or a designee shall promptly conduct an investigation. If the manager or a designee determines that bullying or retaliation has occurred, the manager or designee shall (i) notify the local law enforcement agency if the manager or designee believes that criminal charges may be pursued against a perpetrator; (ii) take appropriate disciplinary action; (iii) notify the relatives or guardians of a perpetrator; and (iv) notify the relatives or guardians of the target, and to the extent consistent with state and federal law, notify them of the action taken to prevent any further acts of bullying or retaliation.

              (h).The *department*shall establish an independent ombudsman office with full authority and resources to investigate and act on allegations of bullying, and the ability to hold landlords and management to account, and the ability to protect persons making complaints.

              (i) Nothing in this section shall supersede or replace existing rights or remedies under any other general or special law.

              (j) The department, after consultation with the department of public health, the department of mental health, the attorney general, the Massachusetts District Attorneys Association and experts on bullying shall: (i) publish a model plan for managers and landlords to consider when creating their plans; and (ii) compile a list of bullying prevention and intervention resources, evidence-based curricula, best practices and academic-based research that shall be made available to landlords, managers,and residents. The resources may include, but shall not be limited to, print, audio, video or digital media; subscription based online services; and on-site or technology-enabled professional development and training sessions. The department shall biennially update the model plan and the list of the resources, curricula, best practices and research and shall post them on its website.

              (k) The department shall support research on the causes, effects, and remedies to bullying in housing development housing for elders and persons living with disabilities. The department shall sponsor and evaluate a variety of demonstration programs in order to continuously develop and improve on best practices. Agencies and experts in the fields of mental health, law enforcement, social psychology, social science, social work, mental health, geriatrics, disability, and other relevant fields, in addition to residents shall be involved in helping determine the scope and focus of these programs of research and intervention. These programs shall be used to inform model plans and best practices.

              (L) The department shall have the authority to hear complaints and to hold administrative hearings and to sanction landlords who fail to diligently follow the procedures laid down in this bill. Sanctions may include fines, reductions in "Good Standing", restrictions on future state funding, and in extreme cases shall be forwarded to the appropriate legal authorities for possible prosecution.

              (m) At every stage, the department, landlord, and management shall recognize and seek the advice and input of residents, especially including from tenants' associations that meet regularly, are open to participation by all residents, operate democratically, and are independent of management.

              (n) Nothing in this bill shall diminish the rights of individuals to persue compensation for alleged damages through private or class actions.

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