Mass. Lawmakers Pass Major Bills As Formal Sessions End

Massachusetts lawmakers approved several major pieces of legislation early Friday morning, blowing past a midnight deadline in a somewhat chaotic finish to the end of formal meetings in their two-year session that began in January 2013.

One of the most closely watched bills given final approval and sent to Gov. Deval Patrick's desk on Friday would overhaul the state's gun laws.

The bill would give police chiefs the right to go to court to try to deny firearms identification cards needed to buy rifles or shotguns to individuals they feel are unsuitable, much like the discretion they currently have over issuing licenses to carry concealed weapons.

The bill makes other changes to state gun laws including creating a web-based portal within the state Executive Office of Public Safety to allow real-time background checks in private gun sales, stiffening penalties for some gun-based crimes, and calling for the creation of a firearms trafficking unit within the state police.

Another bill that won the backing of lawmakers would make changes to the state's domestic violence laws.

The measure would increase training programs on domestic violence, establish state and local domestic fatality review teams to examine the causes of domestic violence-related deaths and establish a fund to encourage practices aimed at preventing domestic violence and aiding victims.

The bill would also make it easier to purchase pepper spray, provide up to 15 days of employment leave for victims, and increase privacy protections for victims by prohibiting information about domestic violence arrests from being included in daily public police records and logs.

The House and Senate also gave a final OK to a bill that would create a sales-tax-free holiday on the weekend of Aug. 16-17, a move popular with shoppers and local retailers during a typically quiet time of year.

A proposal to address the state's substance abuse troubles has also been sent to the governor's desk.

The bill would require a pharmacist to dispense an interchangeable abuse deterrent drug unless a physician has ruled that out and mandate the state's chief medical examiner file a report with the Public Health Department when a death is caused by a controlled substance.

The bill also requires insurance carriers to reimburse for substance abuse treatment services and mandates that hospitals report on a monthly basis the number of infants born exposed to a controlled substance and hospitalizations caused by ingestion of a controlled substance.

Lawmakers also gave final passage to a bill designed to tighten reporting requirements for independent political expenditures, including those made by political action committees known as super PACs.

Under the bill, corporations, labor unions and political committees would be required to file a campaign finance report within seven days of making an independent expenditure — or within 24 hours if the expenditure is made within 10 days of an election. Such expenditures can include television, radio, Internet or newspaper ads made on behalf of a candidate but without consulting with that candidate's political committee.

The bill would also double the amount a person could donate to a candidate in a calendar year from $500 to $1,000.

Bills that would increase oversight of public housing authorities, improve the state's water and wastewater infrastructure, and authorize the state to borrow up to $2.2 billion to spend on environmental projects also won final approval.

Lawmakers opted against embracing other proposed changes in state law, including a proposal by Patrick to restrict non-compete agreements in the private sector designed to discourage workers from quitting and taking their skills to a competitor.

A compromise version of an economic development bill didn't include language that would discourage businesses from asking employees to sign the agreements, which can limit the ability of workers at cutting-edge technology firms to quit their jobs and take their knowledge to competitors.

The Legislature can continue to meet on an informal basis through the remainder of the year, but only to consider routine or noncontroversial bills.

Patrick has 10 days to sign any bills that reach his desk.

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