By Bob Katzen
This bill (H 3719) – It was more than a year ago, on October 15, 2009, when the Judiciary Committee held a hearing on a controversial bill that would impose up to a $100 fine on a person the first time he or she uses the word “bitch” to accost, annoy, degrade or demean another person.
The measure makes the use of the word “bitch” equivalent to disorderly conduct. Second and subsequent offenders would pay up to a $200 fine and/or serve up to a six 6-month jail sentence.
The controversial proposal met its fate more than a year later on November 12, 2020 when the House sent the bill off to a study committee which is where many bills go to die and there is never any study or report on the bill.
Rep. Daniel Hunt (D-Boston) filed the bill at the request of a constituent whose name he would not divulge to Beacon Hill Roll. Massachusetts is one of a handful of states that give citizens the “right of free petition”—the power to propose their own legislation. A citizen’s proposal must be filed in conjunction with his or her representative or senator or any other representative or senator.
Many legislators will file a constituent’s bill even if they do not agree with it. When filing any bill, each legislator has the option to check a box that indicates the legislator is filing the bill by request on a constituent’s behalf. If the legislator checks that box, the Legislature’s website will list the following disclaimer prominently: “The presenting legislator is not a sponsor of this measure.”
Apparently, Rep. Hunt did not check the box and when word of the bill got out, most people thought he had filed it for himself. At the time, Hunt received many e-mails and phones calls, many of them not so kind and many accusing him or trying to stifle the First Amendment that guarantees free speech.
Hunt declined to comment about the bill “on the record” in response to several requests made by Beacon Hill Roll Call. We asked him the name of the constituent for whom he filed the bill, his reaction to it being shuffled off to a study committee and whether or not he supports the bill. He did not answer any of the questions.
In an article in “The Boston Globe” in October of 2019, Hunt was more forthcoming. According to “The Globe”, when asked whether the situation bothered him, Hunt replied that he thinks it’s “their right to express themselves to an elected official.” However, he also noted that “a lot of them are from middle America or somewhere else.” Hunt said the bill has done one beneficial thing: It’s given many an important civics lesson. “I think it’s important for people to be involved in their government one way or the other, and this has generated some attention,” he said. “So maybe that will educate people on the process and have them more engaged on other issues.”
In an October 2019 interview with the “Boston Herald,” Hunt defended his bill by saying that it was introduced at the request of an unidentified constituent and that even if it didn’t survive a constitutional challenge, it could still be educational for otherwise apathetic citizens. “This might also illuminate the exhaustive legislative process for people that might not normally be engaged,” Hunt told the Herald.
Meanwhile, many legal experts say the proposed bill is clearly unconstitutional.