Last Friday, January 21st, the Boston Bar Association filed an amicus brief in a case now pending before the Supreme Judicial Court, Fathers & Families, Inc. v. Chief Justice for Administration and Management. Our brief argues that the Massachusetts Child Support Guidelines are constitutional, and that Striking down the Guidelines would lead to uncertainty, instability, and inefficiency in awarding child support, and could jeopardize Federal Funding for the Commonwealth’s Public Welfare Programs. Amicus briefs are just one of the ways in which the BBA articulates its positions on matters of public policy.
Last Friday was also deadline for filing bills with the Massachusetts legislature. After a little scrambling and some starts and stops, we proved successful in securing sponsors on both the House and Senate side of the Legislature for each of the BBA’s proposed pieces of legislation. .
All in all, almost 5,400 bills were filed for the new 2-year session. As legislators review the bills that have been filed, and determine their priorities for the new session, they are waiting for the Speaker of the House to announce his leadership team and committee assignments. The Senate President has already announced her new team, renaming Senator Cynthia Creem as Senate Chair of the Judiciary Committee and promoting Senator Stephen Brewer to Chair of the Senate’s Ways & Means Committee.
Making our case for issues that are important to the private bar starts with filing our bills and with reaching out to the people in the legislative and the executive branches that can be our voice on these and other issues. Traditionally, the governor’s Chief Legal Counsel is the person that provides legal guidance for the governor and serves as a trusted advisor on issues that affect the courts and legal services. We met with Governor Patrick’s new Chief Legal Counsel Mark Reilly this week to discuss the BBA’s priorities for the legislative session and ways in which the BBA can work with his office on common interests. This was a productive meeting and Mr. Reilly understands how important it is for him to be a voice for the courts and for the people who use the courts. We look forward to having him join us at one of the next BBA Council meetings.
Also this week, Governor Patrick released his budget and unveiled his criminal justice reform package which includes a repeal of mandatory minimum sentences for non-violent drug offenses that do not involve guns or children. The governor’s bill also allows non-violent drug offenders to become eligible for work release, to earn good conduct credits, and includes a provision to allow offenders to become parole eligible after serving ½ of their maximum sentence.
Other bills to repeal mandatory minimums have been filed by Senator Creem, Senator Steven Tolman and Representative Benjamin Swan. The BBA supports reforming the mandatory minimum sentencing laws in Massachusetts and this issue will continue to be a priority for the BBA this session.
Amid the painful budget cuts, there was some good news in the governor’s budget. The governor level funded legal services. While this is great news for legal aid in Massachusetts, we hope that as the House and Senate prepare their own budgets they will also recognize the importance of legal services.
As noted in this space last week, on Wednesday, February 2, the BBA is co-sponsoring the annual Walk to the hill for Civil Legal Aid at the State House. Chief Justice Roderick Ireland of the Supreme Judicial Court will join us.
Given the importance of public policy issues concerning access to justice and the administration of justice, we count on you for your support.
Government Relations Director
Boston Bar Association