The House began tackling criminal justice legislation Monday — the latest step in Beacon Hill’s efforts to make significant changes to the state policies like mandatory-minimum sentences and the ability to seal criminal records for some offenses.
Lawmakers expect the House to vote Tuesday on their bill, which represents a scaled-back version of the sweeping measure that passed the Senate last month. However, the bill also contained more progressive elements than many members had expected.
The House version that went to the floor Monday rejects one of the Senate’s most controversial provisions — legalizing sex between teens close in age and raising the age of criminal responsibility to 19.
But, like the Senate version, the draft House measure would allow courts to expunge criminal records in many cases, including juvenile transgressions and those in which the offense is no longer a crime under state law — a key provision because of the state’s recent legalization of recreational marijuana.
House leaders proposed eliminating mandatory minimum sentences for certain drug offenses, including cocaine and methamphetamine, broadly similar to the Senate-passed legislation.
“There are reforms in that bill that we would never have done in this state five years ago,” House assistant majority leader Byron Rushing, a South End Democrat, said at a show of support from clergy at the State House on Monday.
The version of the legislation that came to the floor Monday would stiffen penalties for driving under the influence by creating escalating penalties for sixth, seventh, eighth, ninth, and subsequent offenses. Current state law specifies penalties up to the fifth offense, which results in a mandatory minimum sentence of two years and the lifetime loss of a license. Subsequent offenses carry the same minimum.
The House earlier Monday passed a narrower bill filed by Republican Governor Charlie Baker based on the recommendations of a national nonprofit that works with state governments. That measure would allow some convicts facing mandatory minimum sentences to take part in recidivism-reduction programs as a way of earning early releases.
Those suggested changes deal with a variety of criminal justice provisions, from one vacating some criminal charges from the records of sex-trafficking survivors to increasing access to opioid treatment for people who are incarcerated, to a GOP-backed plan to update wiretapping laws.
House members have filed 212 proposed amendments to the draft leaders circulated last week, several dozen of which were withdrawn Monday. House Speaker Robert A. DeLeo has allotted two days for debate.
After instructing members to be ready for roll call votes at noon Monday, the House spent the day in long periods of inactivity, before turning to its first amendment around 6 p.m., before again taking a break until noon Tuesday.
If the bill passes as expected, the House and Senate will engage in legislative negotiations, with a goal of sending Baker a bill to sign.Jim O’Sullivan can be reached at email@example.com. Follow him on Twitter at @JOSreports.