Massachusetts

Negotiators appear to have deal on revenge porn bill

Under internal legislative rules, the new text (H 4744) can surface in the House anytime after 1 p.m. Wednesday

NYC_Council_Passes_Bill_Making_Revenge_Porn_a_Crime

Lawmakers hashing out the differences between House and Senate versions of a bill to crack down on so-called revenge porn and coercive control appear to be closing in on a deal.

The conference committee retrieved a "jacket" -- the form used to file a compromise -- from the House clerk's office around noon on Tuesday, the clerk's office told the News Service.

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House Republican Leader Bradley Jones Jr. said his designee on the panel, Rep. Alyson Sullivan-Almeida, told him "that she was signing the jacket."

"And I assume that means that, unless there's trouble getting the signatures, that it would be filed today," Jones told the News Service.

Jones said he was "under the impression there's a conference committee report being filed" on the revenge porn bill, though he was not sure whether it would come to the House floor on Wednesday or Thursday.

The House has a formal session on the books for Wednesday, and a "potential" formal in the works for Thursday.  The Senate has a formal session scheduled for Thursday. Conference reports must be filed by 8 p.m. in order to hit the floor the following afternoon.

Nithya Badrinath, policy director of Jane Doe Inc., one of the organizations pushing for the bill's enactment, said there had been "chatter that some deal is going to come out soon" in recent weeks.

"We've heard in the past couple weeks that they're talking, working on it, we're going to get to a deal soon. I know it's been obviously a priority for both the Senate and House to get a deal done," Badrinath told the News Service.

A "two-year push" for the coercive control piece followed a "multi-session initiative," started under Gov. Charlie Baker, to ban revenge porn, Badrinath said.

When the Senate passed its version of the bill (H 4241 / S 2703) in March, Massachusetts was on deck to potentially be the 49th state to ban revenge pornography, the dissemination of sexually explicit material without the subject's consent.

The Joint Committee on the Judiciary added language to the bill last year expanding the state's definition of abuse to include coercive control -- behaviors aimed at limiting a victim's safety or autonomy. The House passed the bill in January.

The bill is about "advancing protections for both sexual assault and domestic violence survivors," Badrinath said, adding that there were "minor differences" between the House and Senate versions.

Rep. Michael Day of Stoneham and Sen. John Keenan of Quincy are leading the conference talks, joined by Rep. Christine Barber, Sen. James Eldridge, Rep. Sullivan-Almeida, and Sen. Ryan Fattman.

"I think it's a better bill at this stage. It's a great House bill, a great Senate bill, and I think working together we've produced even a better bill," Keenan told reporters.

Keenan said the conferees landed on having the attorney general's office take the lead on education and diversion programs for teens involved in sexting, an approach the House had preferred. The Senate's version had instead called for the Office of the Child Advocate to oversee the youth diversion program.

The final bill also includes a House-backed provision, Day said, to extend the statute of limitations from six years to 15 years for assault and battery on a family or household member or against someone with an active restraining order.

"It'll make that consistent, now, with our other statute of limitations in these areas of crimes," Day said.

A revenge porn bill fell just short of the finish line at the end of the 2021-2022 session. Baker and Lt. Gov. Karyn Polito had pushed for its passage for years, and at the time they cited that priority as one they wished could have gotten done during their final term.

"Governor Baker and I are thrilled to see this important legislation moving forward," Polito said Tuesday in a statement to the News Service. "It is overdue that the Commonwealth provide these critical protections for women."

Under internal legislative rules, the new text (H 4744) can surface in the House anytime after 1 p.m. Wednesday.

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