Facing a looming deadline less than three hours away, state legislators are scrambling to pass a series of high-profile bills — on issues ranging from domestic violence to economic development — before they depart Beacon Hill to focus on election season.
Today marks the final day of formal legislative sessions, after which only non-controversial bills are typically taken up for consideration. That means the pressure is on to get changes to Massachusetts law to the governor’s desk. Today’s sessions are expected to last late into the night and, perhaps, into the early morning hours of Friday.
This afternoon, the House and Senate gave final approval to a campaign finance bill which aims to quickly boost the transparency of super PACs, the shadowy organizations that can raise unlimited amounts of money from corporations, labor unions and people and use the cash to influence elections.
In a boon to political fund-raising, that bill also would double how much money individuals can give to state candidates each year: from $500 to $1,000 beginning in 2015.
Governor Deval Patrick is expected to sign the legislation into law.
Also sent to Patrick tonight was a bill crafted to increase transparency and accountability at local housing authorities. It follows former Chelsea Housing Authority chief Michael E. McLaughlin pleading guilty last year to filing false reports to conceal his inflated $360,000 annual salary for running the small housing agency. He resigned in 2011 following the disclosure of his salary in the Globe.
Among the other major bills percolating in the State House and poised to be sent to Patrick’s desk:
• One aimed at boosting economic development that, among many other provisions, would set a sales tax holiday for Aug. 16-17 and grant Boston 75 new liquor licenses and local control over awarding them for the first time in memory. It also includes a number of tax credits, including one aimed at supporting “the expansion of pre-Broadway and pre-Off Broadway live theater and Broadway tour launches.” Notably, the bill doesn’t make any changes to the state’s current law on the enforcement of noncompete agreements, something Patrick had pushed for. Gregory Bialecki, the state’s secretary of housing and economic development, said in a statement “the absence of non-compete language is a major loss for innovation here in Massachusetts.”
• One focused on domestic violence that would strengthen the state’s law against abusers and give added protections to victims. It also includes a controversial provision that would shield the identity of alleged domestic abusers and their victims from public view until the case lands in court, which has led some free-speech advocates to cry foul.
• One aimed at reducing gun violence, crafted in the months and years after the December 2012 Newtown, Conn., school massacre that tightens the state’s already robust firearms laws and adds a slew of other provisions aimed at reducing gun deaths. In a compromise on its most controversial provision, it gives police authority to go to court to keep people they think are dangerous from buying rifles and shotguns. It also has Massachusetts join a national database for criminal and mental-health background checks; increases penalties for some firearm crimes; and mandates that schools develop plans to address students’ mental health needs.
• One focused on substance abuse that curbs insurers’ ability to deny coverage for addiction treatment, among other measures focused on addressing the state’s opioid addiction crisis.
Lawmakers from both chambers were voting on various bills after night fell.