STATE HOUSE, BOSTON, JAN. 18, 2024…..Senators moved as a unit on Thursday, unanimously passing a trio of bills early in the busy seven-month stretch at the end of the legislative session.
The Senate unanimously approved bills to prohibit inhumane cat declawing (S 2552), require real estate appraisers licensed (S 2550) and remove so-called “archaic laws” from state statute (S 2551).
The U.S. Supreme Court ruled anti-sodomy laws unconstitutional in 2003 and Massachusetts has legally recognized same-sex marriage since 2004, but sections of state law still feature discriminatory restrictions on sexual interactions between consenting adults, lawmakers said Thursday.
Massachusetts still has laws on its books that could send a person to prison for sodomy or “unnatural acts,” as well as for using the “Holy Name of God” in a curse. The courts have deemed these laws basically irrelevant, but Senate Democrats said Thursday that their continued presence in state statute could be a threat to the LGBTQ+ community and other Bay Staters.
Sen. William Brownsberger of Belmont, who identifies as bisexual, quoted a law from 1641: “If any man lieth with mankind, as he lied with a woman, both of them shall have committed abomination, they both shall surely be put to death.”
That penalty was eventually lessened to a 20-year felony and that is the law that exists on the books today, Brownsberger said.
“In 1879 the general court, with the same sort of criminalization of love, said whoever commits, and I’m quoting ‘unnatural and lascivious acts with another person shall be punished by imprisonment,'” he said. This law, which has been interpreted to mean acts of sodomy, has a five-year felony attached to it.
Brownsberger said that even though the laws are not used to prosecute cases any more, it is past time to update the out-of-date statutes.
“Today, we seem to have a Supreme Court that’s … backpedaling, they backpedaled on the idea that the right to choose is a fundamental right of a human being enshrined in the Constitution. And we have reason to fear that they will backpedal on other protections for individuals. So in this climate, it is more important than ever, that Massachusetts continue to lead on being a state where we respect the rights of individuals and purge our books of archaic statutes which criminalize love and are based on basically patriarchal fear, notions of cleanliness and uncleanliness and very dated thinking,” he said.
Sen. Julian Cyr of Truro added that Massachusetts is the only state in New England that has not removed anti-sodomy laws from its books.
The bill that senators passed Thursday (S 2551) would also repeal certain provisions related to “common nightwalking,” a term for prostitution, and would remove this language from the state’s laws. It does not affect the legality of prostitution or sex work.
“When you actually look at the instances where this is still used, from 2019 to 2023, nearly 100 percent of the people arrested for common night walking were women. Of all those arrests, Black and Latino women represented 23 percent of the charges, they only make up about 11 percent of the population. And these charges tend to be brought in low-income neighborhoods,” Cyr said.
A Sen. Becca Rausch of Needham amendment will also remove so-called archaic laws related to blasphemy, punishing residents for using words related to “God,” “Jesus Christ” or the “Holy Spirit” in curses or other non-religious contexts.
Inhumane Cat Declawing
Senators also unanimously passed a bill (S 2552) Thursday that would make Massachusetts the third state in the country to outlaw surgeries that declaw cats.
Declawing a cat involves amputating the first bone on each toe, and tendonectomies involve cutting a tendon in each toe that controls the extension of claws. The bill still allows these procedures to be performed on cats in cases of medical necessity to address a condition that jeopardizes the animal’s health, as determined by a licensed veterinarian.
Cat owners often declaw their pets so they do not need to worry about scratches or damage to household items like rugs or furniture.
However, veterinarians and the Humane Society of the U.S. have said that cats who have had their claws removed are more likely to experience paw pain, back pain, infection, tissue death or lose the ability to use their legs. They are also more likely to incur nerve damage and bone spurs as a result of claw regrowth.
“Declawing is an abhorrent practice that most veterinarians view as inhumane,” Sen. Mark Montigny, the lead sponsor of the bill, said. “But it is also a procedure that is widely misunderstood and requested by owners. By passing this legislation, veterinarians will no longer have to weigh the choice knowing that if they don’t provide the procedure an owner is likely to just look for someone who will.”
He continued, “As a state we have done far too little to punish heartless abusers and to push back against a weak court system that has too often failed to hold them accountable. There are too many people who have committed horrendous abuses to animals that have been unpunished and are walking free to continue to do harm.”
Under the bill, veterinarians who perform a declawing without it being medically necessary may be subject to disciplinary action by their licensure board.
The civil penalty would be $1,000 on the first offense, $1,500 for a second offense and $2,500 thereafter. If passed, Massachusetts would join New York and Maryland to ban the practice statewide.
“Our animal hospital, Angell Animal Medical Center, has not performed declawing surgery for decades because it is not in the interest of the animal, often involves painful complications, and can create lifelong behavior problems,” said Kara Holmquist, Director of Advocacy for the MSPCA-Angell, calling the procedure “unnecessary amputation.”
Real Estate Appraisals
A Sen. Cindy Creem bill (S 2550), also unanimously passed Thursday, seeks to standardize real estate appraisals.
Her bill prohibits a person without a real estate appraisal license or certification from appraising a property for real estate transactions, including divorces or certain business transactions.
Creem said Thursday that only a small subset of transactions in Massachusetts currently require a certified or licensed appraiser, meaning that anyone — without having to meet any standards of education or experience — can perform valuations on property for litigation.
“The bill would help address the problem of discrimination in appraisals,” she said from the Senate floor. “Licensed and certified appraisers go through training on the uniform standards of professional appraisal practice, which includes material on bias and the obligation not to engage in discrimination. In addition, licensed and certified appraisers are subject to regulatory oversight by the Division of Occupational Licensure. So there’s a structure to put in place to bring complaints and hold people accountable.”
The Senate approved a similar bill in the past, but the Real Estate Valuation Association raised concerns about its impact on evaluation. Creem said the new version makes clear the difference between evaluation and appraisal, by way of addressing this concern.
Real estate appraisers would have to be licensed or certified in the state, and inform property owners or buyers that an evaluation is not an appraisal. An “evaluation” is an estimate of the value of property that can be used in certain real estate-related financial transactions for which an appraisal is not required by federal law, the bill says.