Legislative Session Review: Massachusetts

By Matt Crawley | August 21, 2018

Massachusetts - Adjournment Graphic

Massachusetts adjourned its 2018 formal legislative session on July 31, with lawmakers working up until the last minute to finalize the year’s proposals. Over the course of the session, the legislature took action on a number of important bills, including a controversial gun control measure allowing judges to issue extreme risk protection orders and barring potentially dangerous citizens from possessing firearms. Additionally, the legislature unanimously approved a bill expanding treatment options for opioid addicts in prisons and emergency rooms. The session will also be remembered for a budget delay of 18 days, and a repeal bill that eliminated a 173-year-old ban on “procuring a miscarriage” (also known as an abortion to you non-Victorians).

Legislative Highlights

  • On July 3, Massachusetts became the twelfth state to enact an extreme risk protection order (ERPO) law. The ERPO law allows “household members and local law enforcement officers to petition a court to issue an extreme risk protection order, removing firearms from individuals deemed dangerous.” Orders can remain in effect for up to one year following a hearing in which a judge confirms that the individual poses a threat to themselves or others. Astate gun rights group, Gun Owners’ Action of Massachusetts, labeled it a “gun confiscation bill.” However, Republican Governor Charlie Baker disagreed, and said that the bill created “a responsible way to help prevent gun deaths and suicides while protecting individuals’ Second Amendment rights.”
  • On the last day of the session, lawmakers unanimously approved an opiod bill that expanded medication-assisted treatment (MAT) to users in jails and emergency rooms due to an overdose. The bill would also make the anti-overdose drug naloxone available without a prescription and require all addictive drugs to be prescribed electronically by 2020. This bill is the third installment since 2014 in a series of major legislation aimed at tackling the opioid crisis. The governor signed the bill on August 14.
  • The Massachusetts government operated under a temporary, one-month budget in July due to lawmakers’ failure to adopt a permanent budget in time for the 2018-19 fiscal year. Finally, on July 18, the legislature reached a compromise and passed a $41.9 billion budget plan, which the governor signed eight days later. Baker issued $48.9 million in line item vetoes and amendments, a number of which were later overturned.
  • Although abortion is legal in Massachusetts, a ban on “procuring a miscarriage” has remained on the books for the last 173 years. Following the retirement of U.S. Supreme Court Justice Anthony Kennedy, fears of a conservative-led effort to overturn Roe v. Wade led a contingent of Democratic state lawmakers to push for a formal repeal the ban. While some lawmakers felt the move unnecessary, Senate President Harriette Chandler (D) and others felt there was a need to protect the right to abortion against a potential “trigger law” in the absence of federal support. The repeal has inspired other states with similar laws to take action. Democratic legislators in New Mexico have already said that repealing their ban will be a priority in the 2019 session. Including New Mexico, four states currently have abortion bans on the books.

Election Preview

Governor Charlie Baker (R) is running for reelection this November. Baker was first elected in 2014 and remains immensely popular in the state, despite his party affiliation. Baker earned a 71-percent approval rating in a recent Morning Consult poll, making him the most popular governor in the country. Still, Democrats enjoy a huge 3-to-1 voter registration advantage in Massachusetts. With talk of a national “blue wave” on the horizon, there is a small chance that Baker could lose his seat this year.

All state senate seats and house seats are also up for election this year in Massachusetts. Democrats have controlled both chambers of the statehouse since the 1950s, and have held veto-proof supermajorities in the house and senate since the early 1990s. It will be a tall order for Republicans to gain ground in either chamber if the rumored “blue wave” come to fruition this year, but Baker may still stave off a trifecta of Democratic control.

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