Incoming Attorney General Maura Healey sets priorities: Child protection, drug addiction, gambling issues on list

12.29.2014

Originally posted on MassLive.com

By Shira Schoenberg

BOSTON — Attorney General-elect Maura Healey plans to open two new divisions in the Massachusetts attorney general's office next year: one on child and youth protection and another on gambling.

But, Healey said, "Having worked in the office, I know as attorney general, you don't have luxury of being able to work on one or two top priorities."

Healey, a Democrat, will take office in January, succeeding her former boss, Attorney General Martha Coakley. As attorney general, Healey will be responsible for defending state agencies in lawsuits, prosecuting a wide range of criminal cases, and overseeing bureaus dealing with everything from civil rights to consumer rights to environmental protection. In a recent interview at the office of a Boston public relations firm, Healey laid out her priorities, which include addressing drug abuse, protecting children, and policing Massachusetts' fledgling casino industry.

"I want to lead an attorney general's office ... that is bold and innovative when it comes to addressing problems and needs of people in the state," Healey said.

Healey said she will keep existing offices in Springfield, Worcester and New Bedford and hopes to open a new one in Berkshire County.

During her campaign, Healey said she opposed casino gambling, an industry she will now be regulating. The law establishing casino gambling requires the attorney general to set up a gaming division.

Healey said the division will deal with issues including protecting consumers from predatory loans and unlawful debt collection practices, overseeing the use of money earmarked to fight gambling addiction, enforcing criminal laws related to organized crime and corruption, cracking down on fraud and unfair labor practices, and ensuring that casinos are not harming college students.

"It's going be a top priority for me to make sure we have the resources and personnel in place to head off issues and protect the public interest as gaming goes forward," Healey said.

Healey said the other new division she hopes to add relates to child and youth protection. Although district attorneys deal with child abuse and neglect, the attorney general's office deals with bullying, child labor, human trafficking and child pornography. Healey also sees roles for the new office in teaching young people financial literacy and advising the state's Department of Children and Families.

One area both Gov.-elect Charlie Baker, a Republican, and Healey have identified as a priority is addressing drug addiction. Baker has said he wants to focus on cracking down on prescription drug abuse by addressing the frequency with which doctors prescribe addictive medication.

Healey noted that many people get addicted to prescription drugs after an injury, then end up buying heroin. "I want to make sure, whether through enforcement or education, that prescribers aren't over-prescribing pills that are highly addictive when they might not be necessary," Healey said. She talks about requiring all prescribers to participate in the state's prescription drug monitoring program and coordinating with attorneys general from bordering states to prevent cross-border "doctor shopping."

Healey said she supports the creation of more drug courts, which can send non-violent drug offenders to treatment rather than prison. She would look at issues related to the marketing of addictive drugs by pharmaceutical companies; and would commit state resources to help local police combat drug trafficking.

Hampden County Sheriff Michael Ashe, who has been a leader in reforming the criminal justice system to focus on rehabilitation, called Healey "enlightened and progressive" in coming up with ways to deal with non-violent offenders who have substance abuse or mental health problems.

"Trying to use the courts to try to provide some hope and opportunity for change, that to me is exciting," Ashe said.

Other issues Healey identified as priorities include: implementing the state's new gun laws, combating domestic violence; preventing sexual assault on campus; and continuing work Coakley has done relating to foreclosures and health care costs.

In light of nationwide protests after grand juries declined to indict two white police officers who killed unarmed black men during confrontations, Healey said the state should always be examining issues related to racial disparities. "I'm a civil rights lawyer. I'm really about doing everything we can to first off get after discrimination in all forms and reduce barriers, whether created by race or gender or zip code, but also to work particularly from a law enforcement perspective on building trust in the communities," Healey said. She said training can address issues like how the police treat people with mental illness and how to avoid bias.

Asked about efforts to legalize marijuana through a 2016 ballot initiative, Healey said she has "real concerns" about marijuana legalization because she worries that young people will start using marijuana, then get addicted to other drugs. She said she will be "watching closely" the results of marijuana legalization in Washington and Colorado.


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