To Investigate or Not to Investigate? Commission Bills 101.
The merit of a political investigation depends on the state — limits and alternatives are recommended
Outcomes of past wireless health risk investigations have varied by state as follows:
- Oregon Investigation – nothing to see, according to failed investigation, but advocates are using this event for public accusations of corruption
- New Hampshire Investigation – successful acknowledgment of risks and suggestions for improvements by the committee, but yet little has been done to address the problem
In New York, Doug Wood of Grassroots Communications states he has a positive impression of the legislature and the intentions for two similar investigation bills in the NY Assembly (A6448) and Senate (S5926). This bill must be followed by interested New Yorkers to determine whether continued public support is warranted.
The success of such a bill depends on political integrity. In many states, political pressures would likely interfere. Popular support forced the Oregon bill forward, but backroom deals watered down the bill such as by omitting all animal studies from consideration.
Even if a bill states that appointees must be ‘experts’ on issues, the industry has consultants & nonprofits at the ready who can claim expertise in nearly any topic, whether or not sincere. Rather than trust, safeguards must exist to prevent industry influence.
The same risk is true for an existing Massachusetts bill, An Act for Disclosure of Radiofrequency Notifications (S. 186), sponsored by Senator Cyr, which could backfire since technology interests are powerful in Massachusetts and political leadership has been accused of making backroom deals in their favor.
In 2020 other advocates pushed the bill forward, but Last Tree Laws and I campaigned against the MA bill and direct & indirect appointments by our state governor, who has been widely accused of favoring utility and broadband interests. Neither could the state legislature, now facing a popular campaign charging lack of transparency and integrity, be an expected savior.
The current Massachusetts bill has been modified somewhat, but if the bill passes in 2022 Governor Charlie Baker would still determine most appointments, and he has a history of favoring industry.
In New Hampshire, the lack of action may be due to the lack of participation on the committee by powerful groups such as unions – such inclusion would increase awareness and political pressure.
In sum, due to political pressures, an investigation bill with substantial political appointments or few powerful members is likely to have a less than gratifying outcome in most states.
To investigate or not to investigate?
The claim is that an investigation provides impetus for change, through education and publicity. Certainly, if grounded in sincerity, that is true.
Yet, technically, Massachusetts legislators have learned about this issue from testimony in public hearings and directly from constituents, and constituents can even easily access and share expert online presentations.
In Massachusetts, when environmental health issues have been at odds with economics, popular demand has pushed issues to the forefront and not legislative investigative commissions. Examples such as halting the gas pipeline, halting biomass facilities, quitting dangerous pesticide use, shutting down nuclear energy facilities demonstrate legislative action results from popular demands rather than legislative commissions.
Setting a new precedent where action requires a “commission” where legislators can become experts as educated by other experts I think is rather disingenuous. This precedent is a delaying tactic.
Passage of a bill generally takes two years in Massachusetts. This means focusing on an investigation bill could mean waiting two years for a commission, and more years for action on other bills. That delay could be used by industry to protect assets and otherwise limit justice, such as further degrading constituent power. Therefore, I advocate for more direct, concrete bills for change, such as listed under the MA Legislation page.
Adapting a Wireless Investigation Bill for Good Purpose
If choosing to adapt a wireless investigation bill, then there are several options to limit political pressure.
One option is to balance political appointees with independent, outside groups. Selection is critical! Outside groups with good reputation, fairly independent of the issue, should make the majority of the appointments to reduce politics or charges of prejudice.
Board members of the group and donation dependence needs to be vetted. Big organizations may have big donors that are a conflict of interest, and hierarchy may prevent the members from much say. The Audubon Society allows each state branch independence — so it depends on how each independent version is run. Money is influential even for ‘nonprofits’ and board members can change.
Other ideas to increase independence include limiting the connections of appointees to industry.
Below is one draft I worked on in 2020 which may be useful for comparison and ideas, especially on limiting conflicts of interest. Most commissions have 12 or fewer appointees, but this draft has a great number of appointees for consideration.
I never finished, and instead broke down the bill to focus on a commission for security and emergency services, as listed alongside bills on the MA legislation page. One reason is a smaller commission is easier to define. Secondly, I felt that was an issue on which research has not been synthesized, where education is needed, and where there is a greater balance of power is needed to counteract politics. Thirdly, police and security forces are treated with respect if only due to fear, and the union remains powerful. For this reason, I felt a commission to examine the impact of technology on emergency and security services could be useful and lead to positive changes.
DRAFT: An Electromagnetic (Wireless, Electricity) Investigation
Prepared by Kirstin Beatty (Beatty.fyi, co-chair of Last Tree Laws)
Updated version from 2 December 2020
SECTION 1. Whereas, other countries and some states have chosen to limit or ban certain exposures to wireless or electrical frequencies.
Whereas, reputable, peer-reviewed evidence shows wireless frequencies may cause or promote cancer, heart disease, and learning problems – such as research on cancer by the U.S. National Toxicology Program.
Whereas, peer-reviewed science associates certain types of electric exposures with cancer, infertility, and miscarriage.
Whereas, Massachusetts residents would benefit from a review of the science and potential solutions free of influence from corporate and political interests.
Whereas, the following investigative commission reduces political pressure by diversifying who appoints, restricting appointments by politicians, and setting limits on conflicts of interest.
SECTION 2. Resolved, Notwithstanding any general or special law to the contrary, there shall be a special commission, hereafter called the commission, to research the impact of electromagnetic (EMR) radiation ranging from zero to 300 Ghz, with respect to consumer protection, public health, and the environment to determine, if detrimental, how to equitably allay environmental and health impacts.
(a) Commission objectives. The commission shall convene no later than 60 days following enactment in order to research and review non-industry-funded and peer-reviewed science regarding EMR, inviting comment from medical and scientific experts independent of industry.
If concerns are deemed warranted, the commission shall with respect to safer housing, utilities, business, public health, environment, and telecommunications:
(i) identify and review the current state laws, regulations, and administrative directives; (ii) identify the key sectors and regions that would best benefit from improved legislation, regulations, and administrative directives;
(iii) secondarily, as time allows, identify same at the federal level;
(iv) identify funding sources for recommendations;
(v) require the department of housing and economic development to submit reports to the legislature it obtains from cellular and cellular technology companies;
(vi) set a schedule, dividing into smaller committees as warranted to meet objectives; (vii) invite testimony from other experts as useful; and
(viii) may accept public testimony.
The commission shall submit a report of its findings, or a series of reports, including any draft legislation and regulations, to the clerks of the house of representatives and the senate within 16 months of the passage of this act.
(b) Transparency. The commission’s meetings and communications shall be recorded and subject to the Massachusetts open meeting laws so as to be transparent.
(c) Formation and resources.The Office of the Governor shall organize and support the commission arrangements. The chairperson or chairpersons shall with the commission members set a meeting schedule. Commission members shall elect a chair by majority vote, who may be replaced at any time upon majority vote. If the commission members break into smaller committees, the same process shall apply. Commission member attendance and expert testimony by videoteleconference or telephone shall be allowed.
The commission shall be assisted by and have access to all the resources available to the legislature and the executive branch in its investigations.
(d) The commission shall have the following composition:
(a) The Attorney General or designee;
(b) A nominee of the Massachusetts Teachers Association or Boston Teachers Union;
(c) A nominee of the Massachusetts School Nurse Association;
(c) One union member nominated by the Massachusetts AFL-CIO;
(d) One telecommunications worker representative nominated by the Communications Workers of America;
(e) One doctor nominated by the American Environmental Academy of Medicine;
(f) One scientist nominated by the Silent Spring Institute;
(g) One doctor nominated by the Massachusetts Medical Society, ideally with expertise in either cancer, neuroscience, or infertility;
(h) One scientist nominated by New England-based Community Action Works, formerly the Toxics Action Center;
(i) One pediatric doctor nominated by the Massachusetts Chapter of the American Academy of Pediatrics;
(j) One doctor nominated by the Greater Boston Physicians for Social Responsibility;
(k) One doctor or scientists nominated by the Environmental Health Trust [or Massachusetts Breast Cancer Coalition];
(l) One representative or lawyer nominated by the Massachusetts Jewish Alliance for Law and Social Action;
(m) 2 representatives nominated by the Massachusetts American Civil Liberties Union;
(n) 2 nominees from the Institute of Building Biology & Sustainable IBN
(o) A representative of the State House selected by the Speaker of the House;
(p) A senator of the State Senate selected by the President of the Senate;
(q) A representative of small business appointed by the governor;
(r) 3 non-voting members appointed by governor:
Medical system representative;
Engineer in wireless networks;
(s) 4 non-voting commissioners, directors, or their designees for the following departments:
Telecommunications and Cable;
Technical Assistance and Technology Office;
Consumer Affairs & Business Regulation.
(e) Conflicts of interest. No member, except a non-voting member, or spouse of voting member of the Commission shall have a history involving current telecommunications, energy, IT, or utility industry clients or job dependency; nor shall any voting member have a current investment portfolio with conflicts of interest in the areas of energy, telecommunications, IT, or utilities. No voting member or spouse of a voting member of the Commission shall receive funding or a job from telecommunications, energy, IT, or utility sectors in the two years following the commission’s final report. All commission members must file a statement detailing any relevant conflicts of interest as specified, including activities in relation to immediate family and extended family members. Copies must be freely available for viewing by the public. These statements must be filed with the Secretary of State during the commission period and in the two years following closure of the commission.
Chairmanship, legislative and policy decisions for reports to the Commonwealth shall be decided by vote only of all members with voting status.
Only members deemed voting members may author commission reports. Any commission member deemed a non-voting member shall recuse himself or herself from any commission votes to decide or influence the commission reports, and shall instead serve only to assist the commission. Any nominee with conflicts of interest intended as a voting member shall recuse himself or herself from nomination, except insofar as the nominee’s job represents a conflict of interest, is specified in subsection (d), and the individual is not described as non-voting.
MASSACHUSETTS STATE LEGISLATION IN DRAFT FOR 2021