Senate Passes Bills to Ban Child Marriage, Promote Health Care Access and Reaffirms Support for Public Employee Unions

BOSTON – The Massachusetts State Senate wrapped up an active session Thursday, overwhelmingly passing legislation prohibiting an individual from entering into marriage with a minor. In addition, the Senate approved two health care-related bills, one aimed at helping consumers more clearly understand the services offered by providers and another expanding access to eye care. The Senate also rejected an amendment offered by the Governor on a bill that protects a public unions’ ability to effectively represent all workers in labor agreements.

“I’d like to thank my colleagues in the Senate for their hard work in bringing these important issues forward, and passing these bills,” stated Senate President Karen E. Spilka.  “Whether it is protecting children or making patients’ healthcare experiences better, these bills directly benefit the health and well-being of the residents of the Commonwealth.”

An Act to end child marriage in Massachusetts prohibits a person from marrying an individual under the age of 18 years-old. Minors who marry adults often lack the resources or means to protect themselves from abusive or coercive relationships. State records show that more 1,221 children — some as young as 14 — were married in Massachusetts between 2000 and 2016. The bill passed unanimously.

“Today, the Senate took a step to protect vulnerable young people across the Commonwealth by mandating that the state not approve any marriage license for a person under the age of eighteen. This legislation is important to ensure that when a person gets married, that they are old enough to fully represent themselves. It ensures that young-adults cannot be coerced into a marriage and sign their rights away in the State of Massachusetts. I want to thank my colleagues and the Senate President for taking up this important bill,” President Emerita Senator Harriette L. Chandler (D-Worcester).

Keeping with the Senate’s commitment to increase and streamline access to health care, the Senate passed legislation ensuring consumers have the best information available to meet their health needs. An Act to increase consumer transparency about insurance provider networks would require insurers’ provider directories include the most up-to-date list of participating doctors and specialists and their services. The bill also creates a task force to study and recommend further improvements to provider directories — particularly information about behavioral health providers. This legislation was the result of months of collaboration between the Senate, insurers, providers and other stakeholders.

"Many families and individuals seeking health care are unable to find a provider that meets their needs because of outdated and unclear provider directories," said Senator Jason Lewis, the lead sponsor of S. 2295. "Accurate provider directories are critical to improving access to timely and appropriate care to reduce disparities, to improve health outcomes, and to decrease unnecessary utilization of emergency and inpatient care. We are proud that the Senate took this important step forward today."

“Taking action to eliminate ghost networks in Massachusetts is long overdue. It is extremely frustrating and shameful that individuals seeking mental health care in Massachusetts are often unable to find accurate, reliable information about the provider network available through their insurance carrier,” said Senator Cindy F. Friedman, co-chair of the Joint Committee on Health Care Financing. “I applaud the collaborative effort among elected officials, healthcare providers, patient advocates and insurers in getting this done so that we can ensure patients get the care they need in an efficient and timely manner.”

In addition to providing better health care information, the Senate passed legislation aimed at increasing access to treatment of certain eye conditions. An Act ensuring choice and equal access to eye care would allow a licensed optometrist to diagnose and treat glaucoma and other ocular abnormalities. Massachusetts is currently the only state in the country that does not allow optometrists to perform these services. Optometrists would still be required to refer patients to a specialist if treatment required surgery, the administration of injections or a prescription for opioids.

“It’s high time Massachusetts take action to enact this bill to reduce the cost of eye care and expand access to glaucoma treatment without compromising patient safety,” said Senator Michael O. Moore (D-Millbury) who is the primary sponsor of the bill.  “Every other state in the country has already adopted this measure, and our Commonwealth should have confidence in optometrists to provide these critical services to patients.”  

“Massachusetts is long overdue in allowing licensed optometrists the authority to treat glaucoma and other ocular abnormalities, and I am pleased that the Senate has once again taken action to remedy this problem,” said Assistant Majority Leader Senator Sal DiDomenico (D-Everett). “I have been proud to work with Senator Michael Moore and Senator Jo Comerford on this common sense piece of legislation that will help to expand eye care access an affordability to underserved communities.”

The Senate also rejected a further amendment from the Governor to An Act Relative to Collective Bargaining Dues. The legislation follows last year’s U.S. Supreme Court ruling in the case Janus v. AFSCME which weakened the ability of public sector unions to advocate for workers — both members and non-members — in contractual and collective bargaining activities. The bill would enable public sector unions to charge reasonable fees to non-members for direct costs related to representation. The legislation also ensures the union has access to appropriate worker contact information and codifies a union’s ability to meet with newly hired employees on worksites. The bill now returns to the Governor’s desk for his consideration.

An Act to end child marriage, An Act to increase consumer transparency about insurance provider networks and An Act ensuring consumer choice and equal access to eye care now move to the House for further consideration.

Sarah Bldogett