A FLURRY OF last-minute lawmaking left a slew of bills on Gov. Charlie Baker’s desk on Wednesday, but lawmakers denied the outgoing governor a final legislative win when they failed to agree on a bill regarding the dissemination of explicit images, which has been one of Baker’s priorities for years.
Baker first filed legislation in 2017 to address the problems of “sexting” and “revenge porn,” and lawmakers advanced the bill Tuesday, but failed to get it across the finish line before wrapping up the 2021-2022 legislative session after midnight. Advocates seeking to address those issues will have to file bills anew in the two-year session that begins Wednesday.
The sexting portion of the bill would have created a diversion program for teenagers who send sexually explicit material by text. Now, prosecutors’ only option is to charge teens with the felony sex crime of distributing child pornography.
The “revenge porn” part of the bill would have established a new criminal offense for someone who distributes sexually explicit pictures that were taken consensually as a way of harassing or harming the picture’s subject – for example, a member of a couple shares sexually explicit pictures after a breakup.
The House passed a version of the bill in May, and the Senate finally passed it Tuesday, but the two versions were never reconciled. There were differences between the House and Senate bills over who would develop the sexting diversion program – the attorney general or the state child advocate, details of court processes related to juvenile sexting cases, and penalties for juveniles who disseminate explicit images without someone’s consent.
There were, however, several other bills that made it to the governor by the wee hours of Wednesday morning. Baker must sign the bills by Thursday at noon for them to become law, since any legislation left on the governor’s desk when he leaves office dies.
One bill, passed by the Senate in June and the House on Tuesday, establishes a foster parent bill of rights, a response to long-standing complaints by foster families about a lack of communication and responsiveness from the Department of Children and Families.
The bill would require that foster parents be provided with specific information about their rights – including financial support – and about their foster child, including the child’s health, educational needs, and any high-risk behavior. DCF would be required to adequately train foster parents. The bill would require DCF to maintain a 24-hour hotline for foster parents in emergency situations, and to give families adequate notice of hearings and meetings. It would also set out processes for investigations and appeals involving foster parents and would define the standard foster parents should use in making decisions about their foster child’s daily routine.
Another bill on Baker’s desk would require the state Medicaid program MassHealth to cover postpartum women who are eligible for MassHealth for a year after childbirth, regardless of any change in the family’s income. Previously, MassHealth only extended postpartum coverage for 60 days. The state already adopted the 12-month coverage policy in April 2022 under flexibility granted by a federal COVID recovery law, but enshrining it into law would ensure that MassHealth continues offering that coverage permanently.
The consumer advocacy group Health Care for All said the bill will contribute to efforts to address maternal health disparities, in which Black women are three times more likely than White women to die of pregnancy-related causes. The bill is a vital step “as the maternal mortality crisis continues to grow,” said Yaminah Romulus, policy manager at Health Care for All.
Lawmakers also sent Baker a bill aimed at cracking down on thefts of catalytic converters. Catalytic converters are a type of car part used in engines that are often sold because they contain valuable metals. Under the bill, any licensed entity – like a car parts dealer or repair shop – that buys a catalytic converter must keep certain records, including the seller’s name, a copy of their photo identification, and documents proving that the seller was the legal owner of the converter.
One other substantive law that was sent to Baker last week and Baker signed on Monday aims to protect “vulnerable road users” like bicyclists, pedestrians, and construction workers. Versions of the bill had been in the works for a decade.
That new law requires vehicles to leave at least four feet when passing a vulnerable road user. It requires trucks owned or leased by state government to have certain safety features, like backup cameras and certain types of mirrors. Cyclists will now be required to use rear red lights at night. The law also gives municipal officials an option to impose a 25 mile per hour speed limit on locally owned roadways in thickly settled areas or business districts.
As of Wednesday, Baker’s office said the governor had 92 bills on his desk, of which 82 are local bills – things related to municipal employees, liquor licenses, charter amendments, local taxes, sick leave banks, or other similar topics.