BOSTON (SHNS) – The sponsors and supporters of hundreds of bills on Beacon Hill now know the fate of their proposals, after a Wednesday reporting deadline for most committees. But Gov. Charlie Baker will have to wait to find out what’s in store for several of the items on his legislative agenda.
Four of Baker’s bills were included in study orders, which typically mark a legislative dead end. On six other bills — dealing with topics including sports betting, ride-hail companies and climate change — lawmakers gave themselves more time to make a decision, setting new deadlines for reports.
Two of the bills Baker regularly brings up in speeches — an $18 billion transportation borrowing bill and a bill that aims to spur housing production by lowering the threshold to approve local zoning changes — have advanced out of committees with favorable reports. The Housing Committee advanced the zoning threshold bill (H 3507) in December, and the Transportation Committee put out a redrafted bond bill (H 4397) on Wednesday.
Another education-related proposal from Baker met its likely end in a study order — Baker’s “innovation partnership zones” bill (H 3632) that would allow school districts to create new zones to encourage innovation or address underperformance by struggling schools.
The Judiciary Committee, chaired by Rep. Claire Cronin and Sen. Jamie Eldridge, sent three of Baker’s bills to study, dealing with sexually explicit images, repeat child rapists and impaired driving.
The explicit images bill (H 76) would change the consequences teenagers face for sharing sexual messages, and also make it felony offense for adults to share a sexually explicit image without consent from the person depicted, a practice sometimes referred to as revenge porn. Lawmakers could still act on the issue of teen sexting — the committee redrafted and advanced a bill (H 4602) originally filed by Rep. Jeffrey Roy, which deals only with the sharing of explicit media by minors and does not address the issue of revenge porn.
The so-called “child predators” bill (S 2227) is a re-file of legislation Baker previously proposed, inspired by the release of convicted rapist Wayne Chapman.
Baker’s impaired driving bill (H 71) aims to update operating under the influence laws in the wake of marijuana legalization. It touches upon detection of impaired drivers, the interaction between police officers and drivers thought to be impaired, and how cases involving suspected impaired drivers are handled in the courts.
Baker said in October that he does not think lawmakers should authorize social consumption sites — establishments where adults can use marijuana together in social settings — without addressing his concerns around impaired driving. The Cannabis Control Commission approved regulations paving the way for a social consumption pilot program, but lawmakers would need to act before that pilot could start.
In addition to study orders, committees have the option of filing extension orders that set new deadlines for action on particular bills. Those deadlines are sometimes extended a second or third time.
The new deadlines for Baker’s bills are:
* Feb. 28 for a bill to legalize sports betting (H 68), included along with other sports betting bills in an Economic Development Committee extension order.
* March 4 for a bill (S 2289) to impose new safety and data-collection requirements on companies like Uber and Lyft.
* March 4 for new restrictions (H 3980) on commercial driver’s licenses, a response to a deadly crash that sparked a scandal at the Registry of Motor Vehicles.
* March 4 for a suite of road safety measures (S 7), including primary seat-belt enforcement and a ban on handheld device use while driving. A separate handheld device ban is now law and takes effect on Feb. 23.
* March 16 for a proposal (S 10) to raise the deeds excise tax and use that revenue to help cities and towns cope with climate change.
* May 12 for a bill (H 66) that would make it easier for police and the court system to detain certain defendants deemed a risk to the community. This was the first bill Baker filed in his second term.
* June 5 for a bill addressing (H 4192) unemployment benefits for spouses of reassigned military members.
Some of the bills the Republican governor has filed this session have become law, including one imposing new financial disclosure requirements on colleges and universities. That legislation, which Baker signed in November, is intended to prevent sudden closures like the one that blindsided Mount Ida College students and faculty in 2018.
A school finance reform plan Baker filed at the start of the session, in January 2019, was among the building blocks for what eventually became the new law committing the state to $1.5 billion in new K-12 education funding over seven years.
Though a bill that originates in the Corner Office is far from a lock to become law, the governor can take advantage of a significantly higher profile than rank-and-file legislators — and unique opportunities like the State of the State address — to promote his ideas and grab headlines, potentially boosting public exposure and dialing up pressure for passage.
Baker’s health care bill (H 4134) — a 179-page sweeping reform plan that would require providers and insurers to spend more money on primary and behavioral health care — is before the Health Care Financing Committee, the only joint committee with a separate deadline for reporting on bills. While most committees had to report by Feb. 5, that panel has until March 25.
The biggest bill the governor files each year, the annual state budget, works on its own timeline. Filed in January, it’s supposed to be in place for the start of the new fiscal year on July 1. The House and Senate Ways and Means committees plan to start their hearings next week on the fiscal 2021 bill (H 2), which clocks in at $44.6 billion and includes policy proposals like a higher fee on Uber and Lyft rides.