The most seasoned of lobbyists will tell you there’s no way to predict how any one legislative hearing will play out, regardless of how much time you have dedicated to advocating on the issue at hand. These marathon hearings are held in small rooms that are packed with people and video cameras. Hours can pass before you have an opportunity to testify — even if you were the first person in the hearing room. Sometimes there is a full complement of legislative members engaged and asking lots of questions while other times members are rushing out in response to a roll call to vote on some unrelated matter and you’re lucky if you find yourself talking to one lone legislator.
On Wednesday, BBA President Don Frederico and Jack Cinquegrana testified before the Massachusetts Judiciary Committee at a public hearing held on legislation related to reforming the Probation Department. The hearing room was filled with judges and probation officers. At the same time the House was in the middle of debating a $325 million supplemental spending bill. Amid the BBA’s testimony, not one but two separate roll calls occurred, emptying the panel except for a few Senate members.
During his testimony, BBA Past President Jack Cinquegrana explained that part of the problem faced by the Probation Department stems from inefficient sentencing guidelines that prevent successful re-entry into the community. Following his remarks, Senator Thomas McGee thanked the BBA for bringing attention to that piece of the probation puzzle.
Every chance to be heard on our position is useful, whether it is one-on-one with a legislator, at a public hearing or in a written statement. Being given an opportunity to offer our probation principles as the Legislature considers the issue is part of the process, and we will continue to participate in that process.
Speaker Robert DeLeo set probation reform as a priority earlier this year saying he wanted it dealt with “early in the session and as expeditiously as possible.” Rahm Emmanuel once said, “Never let a serious crisis go to waste….it’s an opportunity to do things you couldn’t do before.” Still Judiciary Committee Chairman Eugene O’Flaherty provided a different take at yesterday’s hearing: “As one individual legislator I am not looking at this in terms of the alleged crisis…I don’t respond to alleged crises. This is going to be done in a deliberative way.”
Regardless of the reasons that probation reform has been made a priority, this is an opportunity to restore the department to the national model it was in the 1990’s. Progress is already being made under new Commissioner Ron Corbett.
Government Relations Director
Boston Bar Association