STATE HOUSE, BOSTON — Attorney General Maura Healey joined worker safety advocates Tuesday to ask lawmakers to update the penalty for companies found responsible for death -- a fine that has not changed since before Maine voted to secede from Massachusetts.

The $1,000 fine for corporate manslaughter, Healey said, is "in desperate need of an update with some real deterrence." The fine amount was established in 1819, when Federalist John Brooks was governor and the State House designed by Charles Bulfinch was still a relatively new addition to Beacon Hill.

Healey testified Tuesday in support of a bill (S 858) filed by Sen. Jennifer Flanagan that would up the penalty for corporate manslaughter to a minimum of $250,000 and would allow "the appropriate commissioner or secretary" to forbid that company from contracting with the state for up to 10 years.

"More importantly, it will honor the memory of those we have lost and help ensure others will not follow," Healey said.

The penalty for a person who is convicted of manslaughter is imprisonment of up to 20 years and/or a fine of $1,000, Healey said.

Tolle Graham, an activist and coordinator for the Massachusetts Coalition for Occupational Safety and Health, said the bill would "send a message to businesses that they cannot abandon health and safety."

In her testimony before the Joint Committee on the Judiciary, Healey reminded lawmakers that the issue of corporate manslaughter was thought to have been settled in 2013, when both branches of the Legislature unanimously voted to increase the penalty.

The House and Senate both approved legislation in 2013 upping the corporate manslaughter fine -- the House set a maximum fine of $250,000 while the Senate made a $250,000 the minimum penalty, the News Service reported at the time.

"I would hope we could come to swift resolution on it. The difference is the difference of a couple of words. Obviously there's a bigger difference here because there is a concept at play here of whether it's a floor or ceiling," then-Senate Majority Leader Stan Rosenberg told reporters in 2013.

Although every voting member of the Legislature went on record supporting the increase, no compromise was ever struck and the fine never changed. And despite its similarities to legislation approved unanimously, Flanagan's bill has just three other named supporters: Sens. Sonia Chang-Diaz and Kathleen O'Connor Ives, and Rep. Dylan Fernandes.

"Let's prioritize getting this commonsense bill to the governor this year," Healey told the committee. "It is time to make sure that it doesn't pay to cut corners and cost people their lives."

Healey's predecessor, Martha Coakley, first filed legislation upping the corporate manslaughter penalty in 2009 and supporters have pointed to the 2006 Big Dig tunnel collapse that killed Jamaica Plain resident Milena Del Valle, the deadly fungal meningitis outbreak traced back to New England Compounding Center and the 2016 deaths of two workers in a Boston trench as evidence that greater deterrence is necessary.

--Colin A. Young, State House News Service

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