2017-2018 LEGISLATIVE SESSION
Major pieces of legislation passed during the 2017-2018 legislative session
Criminal Justice Reform
On April 13, 2018, Governor Baker signed into law An Act relative to criminal justice reform, a bill aimed at achieving a more equitable justice system by supporting our youngest residents, reducing recidivism, increasing judicial discretion, eliminating certain mandatory minimum sentences, and enhancing overall public safety. For the first time in the Commonwealth’s history there will be a process for expunging criminal records.
Specific Provisions of the Bill:
· Raises the minimum age of criminal responsibility from 7 to 12 years old and decriminalizes a first offense misdemeanor if the punishment is a fine or imprisonment for not more than six months
· Establishes a Juvenile Justice Policy & Data Commission that makes Massachusetts eligible for further federal funding
· Extends the Good Samaritan protections to alcohol incapacitation for individuals under 21
· Eliminates mandatory and statutory minimum sentences for many low-level, nonviolent drug offenses
· Creates the United States’ strongest law against Carfentanil trafficking and strengthens existing Fentanyl trafficking laws, both aimed at combatting the opioid epidemic
· Strengthens penalties for repeat offenders convicted of operating under the influence
· Requires District Attorneys to create pre-arraignment diversion programs for military personnel, veterans and individuals suffering from addiction or mental health issues
· Expands the diversion programs to Juvenile Court and removes the existing age restriction on diversion in the District Courts
· Updates the Commonwealth’s criminal offender record information (CORI) system, helping individuals secure gainful employment and housing, key initiatives to ensure that people who served their time are able to be contributing members of society
Additional policy changes in the bill include: reduction of fees imposed on defendants; decriminalization of minor offenses; enhanced limits on solitary confinement; improvement of prison conditions; and release of prisoners who are permanently incapacitated and pose no public safety risk.
Pregnant Workers Fairness Act
This summer, the Massachusetts Legislature passed the Pregnant Workers Fairness Act, which guarantees reasonable accommodations and safety measures for pregnant workers. The legislation makes it illegal for an employer to discriminate against, refuse to employ, or terminate an individual due to pregnancy or a condition related to pregnancy, including lactation or the need to express breast milk for a nursing child. Reasonable accommodations may include time off to recover from childbirth; more frequent, longer paid or unpaid breaks; procuring or modifying equipment or seating; obtaining a temporary transfer, job restructuring, or lighter duty; and private non-bathroom space for expressing breast milk. The law directs companies to engage in a collaborative, good faith process with employees and prospective employees to determine effective and reasonable accommodations. In specific instances, employers may require documentation pertaining to the need for accommodations from an appropriate health care or rehabilitation professional. This requirement does not apply to accommodations for more frequent restroom, food or water breaks, seating and limits on lifting over 20 pounds.
The law prohibits employers from taking the following actions against an employee who is pregnant or has a condition related to the employee’s pregnancy:
· Taking adverse action against an employee who requests or uses a reasonable accommodation;
· Denying an employment opportunity to an employee based on the need for the employer to make a reasonable accommodation;
· Requiring an employee to accept an accommodation if it is unnecessary for the employee to perform the essential functions of the job;
· Requiring an employee to take a leave of absence if another reasonable accommodation may be provided without undue hardship to the employer; and
· Refusing to hire a person who is pregnant because of the pregnancy or because of a condition related to the person’s pregnancy, if that person can perform the essential functions of the job with a reasonable accommodation that does not impose an undue hardship on the employer.
An Act Establishing the Massachusetts Pregnant Workers Fairness Act was signed into law by Governor Baker on July 27th and goes into effect on April 1, 2018.
Automatic Voter Registration
Massachusetts joined thirteen other states and D.C. by enacting legislation to implement and streamline automatic voter registration. The intent of the bill is to remove obstacles to registering and increasing voter turnout, while maintaining high standards of protection for individuals’ privacy. In conjunction with the RMV and MassHealth, the Secretary of State will work to automatically enroll eligible individuals to the Commonwealth’s voter rolls. The Secretary will also adopt regulations governing this new registration process, including provisions requiring electronic transmission, date security protocols, and integration with online portals.
Under this new law, registration agencies will transmit electronic records of the legal name, age, residence, citizenship information, and electronic signature of each qualified person to the board of registrars of the municipality in which the individual resides. The board of registrars will then send a notice to the individual informing them that they have been registered to vote and offer the opportunity to select a party affiliation or opt-out of the registration. If the individual does not decline within 21 days, their name is automatically added to the voter roll.
Finally, the legislation requires Massachusetts to join the Electronic Registration Information Center, a nonprofit that assists member states with improving voter roll accuracy and increasing access to voter registration.
Automatic voter registration is set to begin January 1st, 2020.
On November 20th, Representative Peisch joined her colleagues from the Massachusetts Legislature in witnessing Governor Baker sign into law An Act Relative to Advancing Contraceptive Coverage and Economic Security in our State. This law makes Massachusetts the first state to take action to safeguard access to no-copay contraception since the Trump Administration’s decision in October to weaken provisions of the Affordable Care Act related to women’s health and preventive care. The law requires health insurers to cover contraception and contraceptive services in Massachusetts, including education, counseling and follow-up treatment, without any out-of-pocket cost to the patient. The law requires health insurers to cover at least one form of each type of birth control. In an effort to contain healthcare costs, insurers can choose to only cover the generic drug version, unless a patient’s doctor specifies a version. Understanding that consistency is critical to effective use of contraceptives, the law allows patients to pick up a twelve-month supply of medicine subsequent to an initial three-month prescription.
The legislation also mandates no-copay coverage for emergency contraception with a prescription. The legislation underscores the economic impact of contraception coverage. Access to preventive healthcare and affordable contraception continues to have a significant impact on the economic stability of women. Contraception make up about 30 to 44 percent of out-ofpocket healthcare spending for women. Since 1960, it is estimated that about one-third of the wage gains made by women are the result of access to birth control. The legislation was filed at the beginning of the session in response to the uncertainty caused by the effort to repeal the Affordable Care Act. And the urgency of the issue increased following the Trump Administration’s executive order in October that made it easier for companies to opt out of covering birth control on religious or moral grounds. The law has an exemption for insurance plans purchased by a church or a church-owned entity, and would also not apply to self-insured businesses, which account for some of Massachusetts' largest employers.
Extreme Risk Protective Orders (ERPO)
The Legislature enacted the “red flag” bill, or the extreme risk protective orders (“ERPO”) legislation earlier this year. The bill creates a process through which petitioners, particularly family and household members, can directly seek a temporary order in District Court to suspend a person’s access to firearms (once determined they pose an extreme risk to themselves or others). The intent of the bill is to reduce gun deaths and offer an immediate outlet for families and associates of those who might use firearms to inflict harm. When an ERPO is issued, an individual’s access to the firearms they currently own or try to purchase is suspended for up to 1 year, during which time that individual is provided with mental health resources, substance abuse treatment, or counseling services.
While firearm licensing authorities in Massachusetts retain their power to revoke or suspend a citizen’s license to carry or firearm ID card on the basis of stability, this legislation extends the ability to apply for an Extreme Risk Protective Order to physicians, clinical psychologists, social workers, and mental health clinicians. Under this legislation, when a family member or caregiver requests an ERPO, the District Courts have 10 days to hear the matter and during certain emergency circumstances justices of the court can grant an ERPO on nights and weekends.
By enacting the ERPO bill, Massachusetts joins California, Connecticut, Indiana, and Washington in their efforts to address the prevalence and high fatality rate of suicide attempts committed with firearms. Hopefully providing the family members and caregivers of those struggling with recourse for removing firearms from a dangerous situation while they seek assistance will help save lives and prevent future tragedies.
Addressing the Opioid Crisis
In an effort to address an opioid epidemic that has impacted almost every Massachusetts community in some way, the Legislature enacted and Governor Baker signed legislation to combat this epidemic and curb overdoses. The bill increases resources aimed at fighting addiction both in hospitals and in correctional facilities. It also enables primary care physicians to remotely consult with addiction treatment experts, as well as implements new requirements for electronic prescription of controlled substances. The legislation directs the Board of Registration in Nursing to include members with expertise in substance abuse, behavioral health, and chronic pain issues, as well as ensures that new mental health and addiction program licensees are trained to care for people suffering from addiction issues.
Specifically related to hospitals, this bill enables emergency rooms to offer medication-assisted treatment for opioid abuse. Emergency caregivers who treat individuals with an overdose medication such a naloxone must connect the patient with a treatment center or healthcare provider. The bill also establishes a commission to study involuntary inpatient treatment in hospitals for those afflicted with addiction.
Finally, the bill establishes a three-year pilot program at correctional facilities to provide medications that treat opioid addiction to inmates. These individuals will receive an assessment from an addiction medication specialist and be connected to addiction resources in their area prior to being released.