AP NEWS

Conversion Therapy, Cap on Kids in Baker’s Hands

April 5, 2019

By Chris Lisinski and Katie Lannan

State House News Service

BOSTON -- Bills banning the use of conversion therapy for minors and lifting the so-called welfare “cap on kids” are now in Gov. Charlie Baker’s court.

The House and Senate voted their final approval on Thursday, completing work on bills that came close to becoming state law last year. Both bills had already passed in March, and the House and Senate enacted them Thursday with emergency preambles designed to put the measures into effect as soon as possible.

Baker previously said he would be “inclined to support” a conversion-therapy ban, but his stance on the welfare reform measure, which rolls back a 1990s law, is less clear.

Under that law, families already on public assistance cannot receive additional benefits when they have a child. Baker’s fiscal 2020 budget proposed lifting that cap as part of reforms to eligibility rules for Transitional Aid to Families with Dependent Children benefits. He said in early March that he hopes to see the package “dealt with in its entirety.” A few weeks later, Baker pointed to his proposal but said he will “see what comes through.”

However, the bill sent to Baker on Thursday, H 3594, focuses only on repealing that limit without any additional changes.

When the Senate took up the bill, Sen. Vinny deMacedo proposed an amendment requiring supplemental security income to be counted in determining TAFDC benefits, similar to Baker’s recommendations. Sen. Patrick O’Connor added a further amendment attempting to strike a compromise on when SSI benefits would begin to be counted. The Senate rejected both measures.

“None of us are in the business of trying to take away benefits from those currently receiving state assistance from the Commonwealth of Massachusetts,” O’Connor said on the floor. “But what we want to do is codify our regulations and our rules to the same standards that we have across the board.”

The bill would take effect in September, with the changes retroactive to Jan. 1.

The other bill enacted Thursday, H 140, would prohibit state-licensed therapists from attempting to change a minor’s sexual orientation or gender identity. Advocates say the practice, referred to as “conversion therapy,” can cause depression, anxiety and suicidal thoughts.

Lawmakers had passed a similar bill in 2018, but did not get it to the governor’s desk to be signed before the formal session ended. Legislative leaders brought it up for a vote quickly in the current session.

“We are thrilled that the legislative leadership chose to act so quickly on this important legislation,” said Arline Isaacson, co-chair of the Massachusetts Gay and Lesbian Political Caucus.

“We are deeply grateful for the leadership of both the speaker and the Senate president. This bill will help protect a lot of kids from the cruelties and abuse of conversion therapy.”

The Massachusetts Commission on Lesbian, Gay, Bisexual, Transgender, Queer and Questioning Youth on Thursday released its fiscal 2020 report and policy recommendations, calling for “quick action to join the growing number of states that have already banned” conversion therapy on minors.

Speaking at a State House event marking the report’s release Thursday morning before lawmakers took their final votes on the bill, Rep. Kay Khan said she hopes Massachusetts will become the 16th state to impose a ban. “Hopefully it’s not going to be too much longer,” she said.

“I know we’re kind of vying a little bit with Colorado,” she said. “I think they’re out there also getting close, so I’m going to make sure we get to be 16 and not 17, so hopefully that will happen.”

The governor’s office did not say Thursday whether Baker intended to sign either bill. Spokesman Terry MacCormack noted that Baker had previously proposed a more “comprehensive” set of welfare reforms, but in both cases, the governor will “carefully review the legislation on his desk.”