The state Legislature wrapped up formal sessions for the year last week, using their final hours of formal lawmaking to doll out funding for capital projects, reaching an accord on English language learning and urging the federal government to allow thousands of temporary visas to be extended.

The House spent most of their final week in debating the overhaul of the criminal justice system, rendering their verdict Tuesday night in a comprehensive bill that would do away with most mandatory minimum sentences for low-level drug offenders and allow more people to clear or seal criminal records. The House's bill differs from the one passed by the Senate earlier this month, setting up winter's worth of negotiations between Democratic leaders over sentencing authority, the age of criminality and other provisions.

The busy first two days of the week left Wednesday for the House and Senate to send Gov. Charlie Baker a bill allowing school districts more flexibility to teach English language learners and funding projects like the sorely needed new Chelsea Soldier's Home. The language bill would reverse a law approved by voters through a 2002 ballot measure that mandated English-only education for language learners.

The Legislature carved up portions of Gov. Charlie Baker's multi-year capital budgeting plan and addressed specific projects in immediate need of funding, such as the plan to invest $8 million to improve the 135-year-old Chelsea Soldier's Home campus. Without legislative action, the state stood to lose out on upwards of $199 million in federal funding for the project as a whole, which looks to rebuild the aging facility.

The Chelsea home needs the money. Auditor Suzanne Bump found evidence of pest waste and other neglect in a review of the site last year.

Nearly 13,000 residents of those three countries have come to Massachusetts because of environmental or social strife in their home country. Baker on Tuesday sent a letter to acting Homeland Security Secretary Elaine Duke urging the Trump Administration to find a way to let the nations 

This week set the stage for an even busier 2018, when lawmakers will have to resolve the MassHealth budget crunch, consider Baker's request for more authority to combat opiate addiction and hammer out a final compromise on criminal justice - all amid the trappings of a gubernatorial and legislative re-election year.

The winter months of 2018 are shaping up to look like the summer and autumn months of 2017 when criminal justice debates, both large scale and small, took up much of the oxygen on Beacon Hill. The House and Senate have both entrenched themselves behind similar – but not at all identical – bills to renovate the state's drug sentencing authorities, bail fee system, larceny amounts, statutory rape laws and the jurisdiction of juvenile courts.

Being an election year, Baker will have ample opportunity to pressure lawmakers from his bully pulpit. Depending on the political winds, Baker, as well as Democrats up for reelection, could benefit from a bipartisan approach where Legislative leaders deliver a final bill Baker will sign.

Baker would prefer retaining mandatory minimum sentences for drug traffickers, putting him closer to the House's way of thinking than the Senate's. The flipside of a bipartisan bonhomie strategy could be a page out of the playbook of Republican governors of the past few decades: make a campaign stand out of refusing to sign a bill characterized as "soft on crime" and force the Democratic supermajority to override the governor's wishes.

The governor willingly signed a budget bill in the spring that laid out spending for the fiscal year that began in July. That bill had one major caveat: it would only be truly "balanced" if lawmakers could find a way to save millions over this year and the next several years on spending for MassHealth, the state's Medicaid insurance providers for children and the poor.

In October, the Senate passed a comprehensive plan its leaders say will combat medical cost inflation over time, but critics, including Baker, suggest that it won't do enough to cover MassHealth's budget hole this year.

That final piece of the FY18 budget puzzle will be high on the priority list of the House when they come back into session next year. There are some new figures leading Speaker Robert DeLeo's efforts to reduce health care costs. Former Health Care Finance Committee chairman Jeffrey Sanchez has been promoted to the chair of the powerful Ways and Means Committee, while Northampton Rep. Peter Kocot has taken over the health panel, which is expected to produce a bill to compete with the Senate's plan early next year.

One of the factors in the health care debate is over access to quality care for patients suffering from substance misuse disorders. Baker has filed a bill to enhance funding for treatment beds, expand educational programs and set standards and oversight for substance abuse treatment, a spiritual sequel to the opiate bill he fought for in 2015 and 2016.