Senate passes several bills, including support for Local Access TV

BOSTON – On June 28, Senator Cindy Friedman (D-Arlington) joined her Senate colleagues in passing a number of bills, including legislation that would require cable companies to provide High Definition (HD) capability to local Community Access channels to enhance the viewer’s experience and likelihood of accessing Public, Education and Government (PEG) programming.

Local TV channels provide a critical public service by keeping citizens informed and aware of current events in their communities, providing coverage of town government proceedings as well as local sporting and community events. Financed through an assessment on cable subscribers’ monthly bills, PEG channels have now become high-quality media centers that allow for production of broadcast-quality programming.

“Keeping our residents engaged and informed is vitally important for the strength of our democracy,” said Friedman. “Making local news more accessible and appealing to our residents by switching to HD will boost civic engagement, allow our residents to have a more direct role in their communities, and benefit our Commonwealth as a whole.”

Under the bill, the PEG system will be on the same playing field as other broadcast channels, allowing local media stations access to Electronic Programming Guides and channel signal quality that is comparable to other TV stations. Instead of seeing all PEG programs listed as “Local Access Programming,” viewers would see titled programs, upcoming programming in its entirety, and also enjoy the ability to record programming on other channels.

The Senate also passed a bill making it possible for homeless individuals to obtain a State ID. Currently, a person who is seeking to obtain an ID card must provide a proof of residence — a task that is unnecessarily burdensome for individuals experiencing homelessness. This legislation creates exemptions in the process of obtaining an ID for those persons.

“Those without stable housing face innumerable barriers in their daily lives that keep them from being productive members of society,” said Friedman, a member of the Joint Committee on Labor and Workforce Development. “If a homeless individual does not have access to an ID, he or she cannot apply for jobs, enroll in schools, or access some of the most vital resources the state has to offer. This bill seeks to dismantle these barriers and make it easier for some of the most vulnerable people in our society to gain access to ID’s.”

The legislation waives fees associated with obtaining a state ID for persons who are experiencing homelessness, and implements a process for those persons to apply for an ID using alternative proofs of residency.

In addition, the Senate passed a bill that would establish a non-binary gender identity option for Massachusetts licenses. The bill requires the Registry of Motor Vehicles (RMV) to allow an applicant for a driver’s license, learner’s permit or ID card to choose “X” instead of “male or “female.” The bill also prohibits the RMV from requiring documentation for such designation.

In an effort to reduce tobacco use and nicotine addiction among youth, the Senate also passed a bill that would raise the minimum legal sales age for all tobacco products to 21. This includes nicotine delivery products that are often marketed to young people, such as flavored e-cigarettes. The same legislation was passed in the House and is expected to become law upon Governor Baker’s approval.

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