November 20th 2017 BOSTON – The Massachusetts House of Representatives has approved a sweeping criminal justice bill that provides for bail and minimum mandatory sentencing reforms, the reclassification of fentanyl as a Class A substance, and the establishment of a special commission to study the operations of the state crime lab.
State Representative David K. Muradian, Jr. (R-Grafton), supported the omnibus bill, which was approved on a vote of 144-9 on November 14 following two days of debate in the House.
Under the House bill, fentanyl – which is now present in 81 percent of all opioid-related deaths in Massachusetts – would be added to the list of Class A substances, along with acetyl fentanyl and carfentanil. The House bill also creates a fentanyl trafficking penalty for 10 grams of fentanyl or any of its derivatives, punishable by a 3 ½ year mandatory minimum sentence with a maximum of 20 years.
The House has also proposed creating a special commission to study the operation and management of the Massachusetts state police crime laboratory. In addition to establishing professional qualifications for the head of the crime laboratory, the commission will also consider transferring oversight of the lab to another executive agency or to an independent executive director.
Several Republican-sponsored amendments were adopted as part of the final House bill, including language offered by Representative Paul Frost (R-Auburn) mandating a minimum prison sentence of one year and as many as 10 years for committing assault and battery on a police officer. Offenders would also face a potential fine of between $500 and $10,000.
The bill also directs the Executive Office of Public Safety and Security (EOPSS) to establish a statewide sexual assault evidence kit tracking system, which will allow victims of sexual assault to anonymously track their kits. The amendment, sponsored by House Minority Leader Bradley H. Jones, Jr. (R-North Reading), also requires that evidence kits be retained for 50 years and mandates that EOPSS conduct an audit of all existing untested kits associated with a reported crime to determine the existing backlog.
Other Republican initiatives contained in the bill include:
- Language sponsored by Representative Joseph McKenna (R-Webster) adding “a finding of guilty or not guilty by reason of insanity” to the definition of what is required to be disclosed on a Criminal Offender Record Information (CORI) report;
- Language filed by Representative Jones allowing judges to hold individuals facing a third OUI charge if it occurs within 10 years of a prior OUI conviction, a change that was made after a recent SJC case declared the wording of the existing law to be ambiguous;
- Language offered by Representative Shaunna O’Connell (R-Taunton) establishing a $250 fine for making 3 non-emergency 911 calls, and a $500 fine for all subsequent offenses;
- Language filed by Representative David Muradian (R-Grafton) expanding witness intimidation protections to include victim witness advocates, correction officers, court reporters and court interpreters; and
- Language sponsored by Representative Jones requiring outstanding Sex Offender Registry Board (SORB) fees to be reported to the Department of Revenue (DOR), Department of Transitional Assistance (DTA) and Registry of Motor Vehicles (RMV) within 60 days of an offender’s initial and annual registration date, while also authorizing the interception of tax payments by DOR and prohibiting license or registration renewals by the RMV until the fees have been paid.
The Senate approved its own criminal justice reform bill in October. A six-member Conference Committee will soon be appointed to work out the differences between the two versions of the bill.