Beacon Hill Roll Call: Jan. 8 to Jan. 12, 2024

By BOB KATZEN

Published: 01-19-2024 12:49 PM

Beacon Hill Roll Call records local senators’ and representatives’ votes from the week of Jan. 8 to Jan. 12.

Revenge porn and teen sexting (H 4241)

The House, 151-0, approved and sent to the Senate a proposal that would prohibit the posting of sexually explicit images of another person online without their permission — commonly referred to as “revenge porn.” The practice is often used by ex-spouses or ex-partners.

Massachusetts is one of only two states that does not have a law about this crime. The measure makes it illegal to do so and establishes a sentence of up to 2½ years in prison and/or a fine of up to $10,000; increases the upper limit of the fine for criminal harassment from $1,000 to $5,000; and allows a victim to petition the court for a harassment prevention order against a person who has violated this statute.

Another provision changes current law under which minors, under 18 years of age, who share explicit images of themselves or other minors, can be charged with violating Massachusetts child pornography laws and are required to register with the Sex Offender Registry. The bill allows minors to be diverted to an educational program that would provide them with information about the consequences of posting or transmitting indecent visual depictions of minors.

The legislation also expands the definition of abuse to include “coercive control,” which includes behaviors aimed at limiting a victim’s safety or autonomy.

“The House has heard the urgent call of survivors to enhance protections and ensure that our laws keep up with technology,” said Rep. Mike Day, D-Stoneham, House chair of the Committee on the Judiciary and the sponsor of the current version of the measure. “But the House doesn’t just listen, we act. It’s critical that these reforms pass into law quickly so that victims of coercive control, adolescent sexting and revenge porn aren’t left without relief.”

“The sexting provisions provide law enforcement officers with a middle ground that will allow them to educate kids about the consequences of their actions without ruining their lives,” said Rep. Jeff Roy, D-Franklin, a sponsor of one of the earlier versions of the proposal. “It will have a tremendous impact on people who have become entangled in the web and transmittal of images that can cause traumatic and lifetime harm, through a diversion program that will educate them about the legal and personal consequences of this behavior.”

“Protecting victims is the driving force behind these efforts and I am pleased we are giving prosecutors more tools to deal with these disturbing and dangerous situations,” said Rep. Richard Haggerty, D-Woburn, another sponsor of an earlier version of the bill. “By defining coercive control as abuse and closing revenge porn consent loopholes, this law protects against the severe emotional harm too often inflicted through non-physical tactics, sending a clear message that revenge porn, coercive control and criminal harassment have no place in Massachusetts.”

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Jane Doe Inc., the Massachusetts Coalition Against Sexual Assault and Domestic Violence, released a statement applauding the Massachusetts House for unanimously passing the bill. Jane Doe Inc.’s statement said “this legislation will advance essential protections for survivors of sexual assault and domestic violence across the commonwealth, including stronger protections against image-based sexual assault — sometimes referred to as revenge porn — and coercive control, a pattern of deliberate behavior by an abuser that substantially restricts another person’s safety and autonomy.”

A “Yes” vote is for the bill.

Rep. Natalie Blais — Yes

Rep. Aaron Saunders — Yes

Rep. Susannah Whipps — Yes

Deepfake images (H 4241)

The House, 151-0, approved an amendment that would extend the restrictions on revenge porn to include “deepfake” pornography created by computer generation without a subject’s consent. Deepfake pornography typically uses some existing pornography that is digitally manipulated to replace one person’s face likeness with that of the subject’s face.

“With the continued advancements in digital technology, AI-manufactured, digitized nude photos are our latest phase of exploitation,” said sponsor Rep. Tricia Farley-Bouvier, D-Pittsfield. “At this time, anyone’s image can be realistically altered to create pornography and then shared without their consent. This amendment takes the critical step to filling the gap being created with this fast-advancing technology and begin to address the pervasive problem of non-consensual deepfake pornography.”

A “Yes” vote is for the amendment.

Rep. Natalie Blais — Yes

Rep. Aaron Saunders — Yes

Rep. Susannah Whipps — Yes

Use interest from Rainy Day Fund to leverage federal funding (S 2548)

The Senate, 39-0, approved and sent to the House a bill that would leverage the interest from the state’s Rainy Day Fund to better compete for federal dollars, to ensure the state receives the maximum possible share of federal funds and to pay down the state’s long-term debt liabilities. The Rainy Day Fund has a historic balance of $8.2 billion.

Supporters said the bill will require the state comptroller to transfer interest from the Rainy Day Fund to the Commonwealth Federal Matching and Debt Reduction Fund on a quarterly basis if the Rainy Day balance is of a healthy amount. The secretary of administration and finance would then pursue federal funds for infrastructure, resiliency and economic development. Once federal grant opportunities expire, money in the fund will go toward reducing the state’s long-term liabilities.

“Remaining competitive, equitable and affordable entails thinking creatively about our commonwealth’s finances and funding, and that is what we accomplished today in the Senate,” said Senate President Karen Spilka, D-Ashland. “We have been fiscally prudent in building up the largest Rainy Day Fund in Massachusetts history, and today we are doubling down on our fiscal responsibility by using the interest on that fund to compete for federal dollars that will save our commonwealth even more in the long run.”

“The legislation that the Senate approved today provides us with a smart accounting measure that we can utilize to effectively stretch and maximize our taxpayer dollars to place the commonwealth in the very best position to compete for these lucrative federal funds, while also ensuring we continue to protect our rainy day reserves and adhere to sound fiscal discipline,” said Sen. Mike Rodrigues, D-Westport, chair of the Senate Committee on Ways and Means. “Government is all about partnership.”

A “Yes” vote is for the bill.

Sen. Joanne Comerford — Yes

Sen. Paul Mark — Yes

Require governor to give 30 days notice (S 2548)

The Senate, 38-0 and 38-0, approved two amendments to the bill that leverages the interest from the state’s Rainy Day Fund to better compete for federal dollars. Both amendments make the governor’s spending and transfers of funds subject to a 30-day advance reporting requirement to allow the Legislature and the public to know what is being considered before any actions are taken.

“This bill gives the governor and her administration the unilateral power to control what could potentially be millions of public dollars generated from the interest earned by the state’s stabilization fund,” said Sen. Bruce Tarr, R-Gloucester, the sponsor of both amendments. “Power must be balanced by the transparency and accountability these amendments provide. They will ensure that the Legislature and the public know what is happening with these precious public resources before it happens.”

Both roll calls are listed. On both roll calls, a “Yes” vote is for the amendment.

Sen. Joanne Comerford — Yes/Yes

Sen. Paul Mark — Yes/Yes

Also up on Beacon HillProhibit giving sentences of life without parole to 18-, 19- and 20-year-olds

A 4-3 ruling by the Massachusetts Supreme Judicial Court (SJC) overruled the Legislature and ruled that life sentences without the possibility of parole for offenders who were 18, 19 or 20 when they committed their crimes violate the prohibition against cruel or unusual punishment and are unconstitutional.

“Bravo, a strong juvenile justice victory,” Sen. Jamie Eldridge, D-Marlborough, posted on X. “#cjreform advocates estimate around 200 incarcerated people could be eligible for parole from the SJC ruling, with more decisions to come.”

Some legislators said the court overstepped its boundaries and violated the Constitution’s separation of powers.

“Passing laws that make crimes and set sentences is the province of the Legislature, and if the majority of the court wants to get into that business, then they ought to resign from the court and run for the Legislature,” said Rep. Jeff Turco, D-Winthrop.

“Today’s ruling underscores the importance of our legal system acknowledging the ongoing brain development of young people in order to improve public safety, reduce recidivism and deliver justice,” said Attorney General Andrea Campbell. “The science emphatically demonstrates that young people have an extraordinary capacity to change and mature, and our justice system should provide them the invaluable opportunity to turn their lives around and fulfil their potential.”

Zero emissions by 2040 (S 2488)

The Telecommunications, Utilities and Energy Committee held a hearing on legislation that would accelerate the decrease of carbon emissions by requiring the state to achieve net-zero emissions by 2040, instead of current law that sets the goal for 2050.

“I filed this legislation because the latest scientific consensus indicates the worst effects of our climate crisis have begun to unravel,” said sponsor Sen. Marc Pacheco, D-Taunton. “In terms of our collective progress toward net-zero emissions, we are crawling when the science clearly demonstrates we need to be sprinting. We have now already reached the point where you don’t need to look at the science, just look out your window.”

Require internet service providers to get customer consent (H 3179)

Another measure heard by the Telecommunications, Utilities and Energy Committee would prohibit telecommunications or internet service providers from collecting personally identifiable information from a customer as a result of the customer’s use of the telecommunications or internet services without the customer’s written approval.

“[The bill] seeks to empower consumers by allowing them to take control of how their personal information is collected and disseminated,” said sponsor Rep. Brad Jones, R-North Reading. “At a time of growing privacy concerns, this bill will help to ensure that no personally identifiable information is shared by a telecommunications or internet service provider without the customer’s explicit written consent and will give the customer the power to revoke that consent at any time.”

Students must take a financial literacy course (H 4199)

The Education Committee held a public hearing on legislation that would require the Department of Elementary and Secondary Education to develop and assist in the implementation of curriculum on personal financial literacy to equip students with the knowledge and skills they need to become self-supporting and to enable them to make critical decisions regarding personal finances. All students in grades 9-12 would be required to take the course.

The components of the curriculum would include the understanding of loans, borrowing money, interest, credit card debt and online commerce; the rights and responsibilities of renting or buying a home; saving, investing and planning for retirement; banking and financial services; balancing a checkbook; state and federal taxes; charitable giving; preventing identity theft; avoiding online scams; and learning a basic understanding of cryptocurrencies.

“Far too many of our young people are thrust into life after high school with limited education on basic financial skills and habits,” said sponsor Rep. Ryan Hamilton, D-Methuen. “This is unacceptable in a world where ever-increasing college costs lead to high student debt burden and inflated rent and living costs make finding a stable job and place to live challenging for our young people especially. Ensuring that all students in Massachusetts receive financial literacy education prior to graduation is critical to both empowering the next generation and spreading greater information on healthy money practices throughout our communities.”