BOSTON (State House News Service) – Predicting the federal government will step back from its prior level of enforcement of environmental protections and civil rights, Attorney General Maura Healey said her office will see an added workload and will need more money to keep up.
Speaking to lawmakers who control her budget, Healey asked them to increase Gov. Charlie Baker’s recommendation of a roughly $47 million appropriation by about $3 million.
“We’re facing new threats to public safety and the demands on our office really have never been greater,” Healey said at a hearing of the House and Senate Ways and Means committees, citing the ongoing opiate crisis and changes in Washington, D.C.
After her roughly 25-minute testimony, Healey told reporters, “Whether you’re talking about workers’ rights, consumer rights, the environment, civil rights, we are not going to see enforcement like we’ve seen in the past from the federal government, from the federal administration. They’ve been very clear.”
Healey and many others decried a Trump administration move rescinding earlier federal guidance to public schools about accommodating transgender students, though the move will not have direct bearing on Massachusetts students.
In his joint address to Congress last month, Trump said, “While we may be a nation divided on policies, we are a country that stands united in condemning hate and evil in all of its very ugly forms.”
The attorney general said she could not quantify with specificity the impact of the Trump administration on her office’s budget, but said, “It’s certainly creating demands on our office that we have never seen before.”
President Donald Trump has promised to cut regulations that he says hinder business growth, and has touted a “law and order” approaches towards crimes like drug trafficking.
In February, Trump signed an executive order instructing Attorney General Jeff Sessions to establish a task force focused on “destroying transnational criminal organizations and drug cartels.”
“They have fueled addiction and fatal overdoses,” the White House wrote in a blog post. “They will no longer operate with impunity in this country or this hemisphere.”
Healey acknowledged the U.S. Department of Justice might step up efforts to crack down on criminal drug-dealing syndicates, which is a goal Healey shares.
On Thursday, Healey said the opiate crisis that has galvanized policymakers into action in recent years “hasn’t abated or diminished,” and asked for a doubling of a line-item under her office’s account to address the problem, bringing the funding up to $2 million.
“It will go a lot towards drug trafficking, enforcement of drug trafficking laws,” Healey told reporters about the opiate line item. She said it would also finance efforts to provide access to treatment, education initiatives and other efforts.
Healey said additional funding would also help her office address “new legal challenges” associated with a new public records law and “unprecedented issues around marijuana.”
Healey faced questions from four lawmakers on the budget-writing committees, including Senate Judiciary Chairman William Brownsberger who asked how many staffers are working on combating the threat of deadly and addictive opioids.
“Not enough,” Healey responded. She said her office has 574 employees, including 268 lawyers, and there is a team of State Police detectives and four prosecutors assigned to the enterprise and major crimes unit, describing the crime-fighting group as a “lean team.”
The Charlestown Democrat who has repeatedly disavowed interest in seeking the governorship said she wanted to learn whether the Department of Justice might increase its efforts to take on criminal networks.
“We’re going to have to see,” Healey said. She said, “I am anxious to get more clarity from the Department of Justice about their priorities, about how they’re going to use their resources.”
As her office has sought to raise the profile of its wage law enforcement, Healey said there has been an increase in wage theft complaints, and she said immigrants are particularly vulnerable to being short-changed by employers.
“Our enforcement of wage theft is certainly increasing,” Healey said. She said, “Immigrant workers have always been vulnerable in this area. I think they are feeling especially vulnerable right now.”
Healey said in the first six months of fiscal 2017, the Fair Labor Division sent $879,724 in penalties to the state’s General Fund, which is more than the total penalties assessed the year prior.
Copyright 2017 State House News Service