With less than 8 weeks left for formal legislative sessions, the Legislature’s focus has shifted away from the state budget and onto other, significant policy issues. Last week two conference committees were named to reconcile the differences between the House and Senate versions of the state budget and the court reorganization bill. This week the Judiciary Committee heard testimony on two bills of importance to the BBA. Here’s a snapshot of some of the things we’re keeping our eyes on.
Court Reorganization Bill in Conference
The Court Management Conference Committee has been appointed to come up with a single version of H 3395 and S 1911. In May, both the House and Senate advanced the court reorganization bills with unanimous votes. While both bills would split trial court oversight between civilian court administrators and judicial managers and impose stricter hiring standards with wide reforms relative to job recommendations, there are differences between the bills. For instance, the Senate’s bill eliminates several new management positions proposed by the House bill. The six members of this conference committee are Senators Creem, Joyce and Tarr and Representatives O’Flaherty, Dempsey and Winslow.
State Budget in Conference
With budget deliberations complete in both branches, the Budget Conference Committee, the group tasked with negotiating the differences into a single budget bill, met for the first time on Wednesday. The final budget has to be in place by July 1st, but their work must be resolved before that in order for Governor Patrick to have the required statutory 10 days to review the budget proposal and offer amendments and vetoes. The six members of the Budget Conference Committee are Senators Brewer, Baddour and Knapik and Representatives Dempsey, Kulik and deMacedo.
June Judiciary Hearing
Yesterday the Judiciary Committee held a public hearing lasting nine hours in a packed Gardner Auditorium. The BBA participated in the hearing by supporting two bills on the agenda. The BBA submitted written testimony in support of the Transgender Equal Rights bill, joining with advocates from theMassachusetts chapter of the ACLU. The Transgender Equal Rights bill will extend explicit protection in discrimination and hate crimes cases to transgender people.
The second piece of legislation, S 753 and H 2165 the Access to DNA bill, will provide post conviction access to DNA evidence. David E. Meier, Martin F. Murphy, Gregory J. Massing, and David M. Siegel, all experts in the criminal justice system and members of the BBA Task Force to Prevent Wrongful Convictions, testified on behalf of the BBA in support of legislation that would put in place a mechanism for post conviction DNA evidence testing. The panel discussed their work on the Task Force, presented the need for this statute and set the stage for a group from the New England Innocence Project which followed with compelling stories of how Massachusetts’ lack of an access to DNA testing statute has harmed them.
Betty Anne Waters shared her story. Her brother Kenny was wrongfully convicted of murder and robbery in 1983, and spent 18 years in prison while Betty Anne earned her college and law school degrees in order to represent and exonerate him. The Committee also heard from Dennis Maher who was wrongfully convicted of two rapes and an attempted rape. Dennis was sentenced to 20 to 30 years in prison but was finally released after DNA proved he did not commit those crimes. Dennis’ Op Ed describing what happened to him appeared in yesterday’s Boston Herald.
Alimony Reform Moves Favorably from Judiciary
The Alimony Reform Act, S 665, was reported favorably by the Judiciary Committee last week. It is expected that the House will debate the bill next Wednesday. The bill will move on to the Senate soon after the House finishes its debate. You can read more about the BBA’s efforts on the Alimony Reform Act from our coverage here on Issue Spot.
Human Trafficking Bill Moves to the Senate
One bill that the BBA is watching but has not yet taken an official position on is the Human Trafficking bill. This bill would establish state crimes of human trafficking and has already passed the House. Attorney General Martha Coakley and Suffolk County District Attorney Dan Conley have been champions of this legislation. Our Criminal Law Section began discussing this issue after the AG outlined her legislative priorities at a BBA program held in early April.
Government Relations Director
Boston Bar Association