With votes spilling into early Wednesday, the Massachusetts Legislature pushed a flurry of bills to Governor Charlie Baker’s desk to close its two-year session, including proposals intended to help curb catalytic converter thefts and create a bill of rights for Massachusetts foster parents.
The activity consumed what was supposed to be the last day of the legislative calendar for the 192nd General Court, though lawmakers adjourned shortly after 12:30 a.m. — just hours before they were slated to be sworn in for their new terms at the State House.
Many of the dozens of bills that lawmakers moved addressed town charters, alcohol licenses, and other local matters, and they were shuffled through informal sessions in the House and Senate without debate or roll call votes.
Legislative leaders, however, gaveled out without agreement on some closely-watched bills. A proposal that would have outlawed so-called “revenge porn” in Massachusetts passed the Senate, but never emerged in the House, which had passed its own version months before. And while lawmakers appeared in agreement on a measure that would put new requirements on the state’s chief medical examiner, it never surfaced during the final churn of legislative action.
How, or even whether, Baker will act on many of the proposals that did reach him is unclear. The second-term Republican leaves office at noon on Thursday, when governor-elect Maura Healey is scheduled to be sworn in as his successor.
Any bill he does not act on at that point dies in a so-called pocket veto.
Baker told reporters Wednesday that he intended to spend time going through the bills until he formally hands gubernatorial duties to Healey. He began the day Wednesday with 92 on his desk, all but 10 of which addressed local, municipal, or personnel matters.
”The joke about the Legislature has always been, they’re little bit like the kid with the homework assignment. Doesn’t really get started until 11 o’clock at night,” Baker joked. “I am a little worried about the fact that there’s a lot of them and we don’t have a lot of time. But we’ll do the best we can to get through them.”
He’ll have several to consider. The Legislature sent Baker a proposal to establish a foster parents’ bill of rights that would mandate that those fostering children through the Department of Children and Families get certain information when possible, including a child’s physical and behavioral health history, any history of trauma, and details about their educational needs.
Another measure also reached Baker that seeks to establish a chain of custody for catalytic converters, the pollutant-reducing devices that are in nearly every modern car and, officials say, have become a popular target for thieves.
The provision seeks to create a paper trail for someone looking to offload a catalytic converter with its pricey precious metal components. Anyone selling one to a scrap metal buyer would have to show proof of identification in addition to a bill of sale or other legal document showing they own the catalytic converter. Buyers would also have to keep records of all catalytic converter transactions, and they could face fines up to $700 for violating the requirements.
The House also joined the Senate in approving a bill that extends MassHealth insurance coverage for postpartum mothers to 12 months after pregnancy.
Lawmakers could not reach final passage on a bill outlawing revenge porn, a form of abuse advocates say can follow survivors for years on social media and the Internet, and that had been one of Baker’s legislative priorities in his final year.
Forty-eight states, plus Washington, D.C., Puerto Rico, and Guam, have laws outlawing making it illegal for ex-partners and others to disseminate sexually explicit images of another person without their consent. Only South Carolina and Massachusetts do not.
A version of the bill that passed the Massachusetts House in May would have made it a misdemeanor crime to knowingly distribute sexually explicit materials of someone, either with the intent to harass, intimidate, or cause emotional distress, or doing so with “reckless disregard” of the person’s expectation that they would remain private.
Those convicted would face up to 2½ years in jail, a $10,000 fine, or both, while those guilty of second or subsequent offenses could face felony penalties, including up to 10 years in prison.
The state’s current criminal harassment statute requires that prosecutors prove someone engaged in a “knowing pattern of conduct or series of acts” — or three or more incidents, according to a 2005 Supreme Judicial Court ruling — to be charged. The proposed revenge porn statute, however, would be triggered by a single incident.
The Senate on Tuesday passed similar language to the House proposal, though its version restructured a separate part of the bill that attempts to address teen “sexting,” or the sharing of sexual images or videos through phones, apps, and other ways.
Ultimately, the new version never reemerged in the House, where it needed approval.
The Senate also joined the House in approving language that would require the state’s chief medical examiner to personally review and approve all autopsies of children younger than 2, reviving a proposal that had been stripped from the state’s annual budget proposal in July in the face of opposition from Baker’s administration.
But as the minutes closed on the session, it never emerged for final enactment to move it to Baker’s desk.
Other bills that did survive the session’s 11th-hour rush were smaller in scale. The chambers passed a proposal establishing April 24 as Right Whale Day in Massachusetts. March 5 will be United States Navy Seabees Day under a different bill.
Others have more direct consequences. With Salem Mayor Kim Driscoll slated to be sworn in as lieutenant governor on Thursday, a proposal now on Baker’s desk would lay out how the city sets its preliminary election to replace her.