January 2017 marked the official start of the 190th legislative session. Members of the Massachusetts legislature filed over 5,000 bills, and over the next two years, the House and Senate will review each bill to determine if it should become law. The legislative session begins when elected officials file legislation. This is best known as sponsoring a bill. Later, legislators formally register their support for a bill by becoming a co-sponsor. Co-sponsorship is a public and permanently searchable form of endorsement. It gives a bill the necessary internal support for its advancement towards becoming law.
Because of my extensive work in the field of mental health and substance use and recovery, I have two sets of legislative priorities. My district priorities address the specific needs of residents and organizations within my district. My priorities relative to behavioral health address issues related to mental health and substance use disorder, affecting both folks in my district and throughout the Commonwealth.
Of the 32 bills I filed this session, my top behavioral health priorities include: An Act Relative to Substance Use Disorder Diversion and Treatment, An Act to Ensure Access to Recovery Coaches, and An Act to Establish the Center of Excellence in Community Policing and Behavioral Health, which state Rep. Byron Rushing (D-Boston) co-sponsored.
My top district priorities include: An Act Promoting Community Prosperity by Further Reforming Criminal Offender Record Information (or Community Prosperity Act), An Act Regulating the Use of Credit Reports by Employers, and An Act Decriminalizing Non-Violent and Verbal Student Misconduct, which state Rep. Aaron Vega (D- Holyoke) and I filed jointly.
On the behavioral healthside, An Act Relative to Substance Use Disorder Diversion and Treatment will allow courts to take treatment progress into account when adjudicating cases, require insurance companies to cover at least 30 days of the full spectrum of substance use disorder treatment, and require drug collection kiosks at every chain pharmacy location. Most notably, the bill expands Good Samaritan legal protections to shield those seeking help for someone at risk of an overdose from execution of a warrant for a non-violent drug offense. Mayor Marty Walsh and I worked on this bill and will continue to do so.
An Act to Ensure Access to Recovery Coaches requires insurance coverage for certified addiction recovery coaches. Recovery coaches are people with lived experience of substance use disorder who provide support and guidance to people in early recovery. Expanding access to recovery coaches is a cost-effective approach that can help prevent relapses and reduce future treatment costs.
An Act to Establish the Center of Excellence in Community Policing and Behavioral Health seeks to create a statewide resource center that provides training and technical assistance to police departments on how to effectively respond to people with behavioral health conditions. This will help police officers deescalate tense situations and divert people from the criminal justice system to treatment.
On the district side, the Community Prosperity Act builds on the critical 2008 Criminal Offender Record Information (CORI) reforms to facilitate re-entry and prevent recidivism. The most notable provisions of the bill exclude from CORI reports cases dismissed before an arraignment and reduce long waiting periods for sealing records from five and ten years to three and seven years, respectively. These new waiting periods are consistent with data from recidivism studies. The bill also permits a person whose CORI record has been sealed to say “I have no record” when applying for housing and occupational licenses after records are sealed – not just when applying for jobs. Additionally, the proposal also excludes charges of resisting arrest from CORI reports and requires the Probation Department to establish a system for easy correction of CORI database errors.
An Act Regulating the Use of Credit Reports by Employers is a civil rights bill I filed to protect job applicants. Many Americans have “bad” or low credit scores, be it from student loans, or medical debt, or housing foreclosures, and employers often use credit scores in decision-making, even though there is no evidence they’re a valid screening tool. This is a destructive cycle: people can’t find employment because of their credit history, and people can’t improve their credit history because they lack a job. The bill bars employers from considering an employee’s or job applicant’s credit history in making hiring and promotional decisions.
An Act Decriminalizing Non-Violent and Verbal Student Misconduct formally defines the role of school resource officers, limits the type of student behaviors that can be penalized with the extreme steps of arrest and prosecution, and halts the school to prison pipeline. We must better understand trauma and how to address it, particularly as it relates to students and the extreme impact it can have on their futures.
I invite you to visit my webpage: www.replizmalia.com/legislation to see the policies I am working on to make Massachusetts more equitable and prosperous. Should you wish to create a personalized legislative tracker and receive public hearing updates, please visit: https://malegislature.gov and click on the icon “My Legislature” at the top right to create an account.
These proposals are only a fraction of what I filed and co-sponsored this session. Stay tuned for Part 2 on the bills I co-sponsored on a range of issues, including affordable housing, criminal justice reform, clean energy, education and much more. I thank all those who contacted my office for their advocacy in support of legislation that matters most to our community. I welcome your continued efforts, and I look forward to your thoughts as policy matters move through the legislative process.