The Journey of the “Bath Salts” Bill
Schoolhouse Rock’s I’m Just a Bill jingle comes to mind when citizens of the commonwealth ponder how proposed legislation becomes a law on Beacon Hill.
But, there’s a lot more to passing a law than the little, animated Bill suggests as he trots around Washington’s Capitol Hill, lounging on the steps and staking out a committee hearing room. In the Massachusetts’ Statehouse, bills can lounge for a long time, often slipping into obscurity with little public notice.
One bill began its Beacon Hill journey this August after two Attleboro-area families spoke to their local representatives. A son in one family had suffered serious health consequences after using an over-the counter drug called “bath salts” and a daughter of another family had spent all of her money on the drug after becoming addicted.
After hearing their stories, Rep. Elizabeth Poirier, R- North Attleboro, and Rep. George Ross, R-Attleboro, sponsored legislation to criminalize the drugs that, according to the National Institute on Drug Abuse, act as a brain stimulant and present the danger of addiction and abuse.
Once filed, the bath salts bill started its uncertain journey.
The House clerk assigned the legislation to the Joint Committee on the Judiciary, which considers legislation involving crimes, penalties and sentencing.
The legislation had lots of company as one of nearly 1,000 proposed bills assigned to the committee this session. So far, about two dozen have made it to committee vote. The rest may not be as lucky. In the last legislative session a majority of another 1,000 bills were sent into study – a legislative limbo from which many proposals never return.
Poirier said quick action on the legislation is critical.
“The drug is legal, inexpensive and very easily accessed,” Poirier said, “So, we explained to the chairman of the committee how urgent it was to have a hearing on this bill.”
In November, the committee held its 11th hearing of the legislative session – an average of once a month – to discuss a handful of bills, including the bath salts legislation. It was the only time the legislation has been discussed in public.
Police officers, concerned family members and legislators came to the Statehouse to speak on behalf of the bill. No one spoke against it. The committee has not yet taken action on the bill.
Poirier said she has spoken to the chairmen, pushing for the passage of this legislation. She is hopeful the committee will vote on the bill in the New Year.
“It’s difficult to pass anything at this time of the year. People are scattered for the holidays and the legislature isn’t in formal session until January.” Poirier said.
Committee chairman Rep. Eugene O’Flaherty, D-Chelsea, did not return calls for comment.
The next step for the bill is to be voted on by the committee. A favorable vote would move it forward, but it could be sent to other committees or to study before the full House could vote on it. It would then be sent to the Senate, where a similar process is likely.
But, nothing can be done until the committee acts, Poirier said.
“We’ve been urging its quick passage and hopefully the committee will report it out soon,” she said.