Mass. Lawmakers Wrap Up Formal Legislative Session For The Year

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Beacon Hill lawmakers ended their formal sessions for 2015 Wednesday night. While legislative progress was made in the areas of public records reform and opioid trafficking, few bills of significance were sent to Gov. Charlie Baker.

Think of it like the season finale of your favorite TV show. A couple of plotlines have been resolved, but there are some cliffhangers that'll get you to tune in again next year.

Fentanyl Bill Passes

First, one bill that passed both the House and Senate, and now awaits Baker's signature, would double penalties — from 10 to 20 years — for anyone trafficking fentanyl. It's a drug that's frequently mixed with heroin.

Sen. William Brownsberger, a Belmont Democrat, said the opiate is one of the most lethal drugs on the streets.

"It is roughly 50 times more potent than heroin, it is difficult to mix properly," he said. "It accounts for a large share of the fatalities that are occurring in this state right now in the context of opioid overdoses."

While the state Legislature will wait until next year to take up the governor's more comprehensive bill to combat the state's opioid crisis, lawmakers can point to the fentanyl bill as an accomplishment in the first year of their two-year session in the fight against addiction.

Social Media And Solar Caps

A bill that would prohibit employers and education institutions from forcing workers or applicants to share their social media passwords or access their accounts cleared the Senate unanimously on Wednesday. However, the House will still need to take the bill up in the new year.

Both branches also tried to resolve differences over a solar energy bill, but ultimately, they could not, saying further discussions would be necessary.

Public Records Law Updated

The House approved a bill to revamp the state's public records law for the first time in more than 40 years. State Rep. Peter Kocot, a Northampton Democrat, said the changes are long overdue.

"When you look at the existing statute, it actually makes reference to transcribing public records on animal skins and fine linen," he said. "So fast forward that, to this day, in 2015, where you can get information on anyone or anything on your watch or your iPhone."

The update sets specific timelines for state agencies and municipalities to respond to public records requests, and also caps the costs associated with those requests.

Pam Wilmot, of the group Common Cause, said the bill is headed in the right direction, but that it still can be improved.

"We're going to be fighting for more reforms in the Senate focusing on having tighter time frames and more cost containment, because that can be a real issue with the public records law," she said. "But I think today is a day to be really happy about a success, and we'll have some time to work on the Senate for an even stronger bill later."

Later, meaning sometime in 2016, when the House and Senate return for formal sessions.

This article was originally published on November 19, 2015.

This segment aired on November 19, 2015.


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Steve Brown Senior Reporter/Anchor
Steve Brown is a veteran broadcast journalist who serves as WBUR's senior State House reporter.



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