Monthly Archives: December 2012

MA Gun Laws: A Focus in the Legislature’s New Session

January 2nd marks the beginning of the new two-year legislative session.  On Day 1 of the new session, returning and new members of the Massachusetts Legislature will be sworn into office.  House Speaker Robert DeLeo and Senate President Therese Murray are expected to be re-elected as leaders of their respective branches. 

The Governor, House, and Senate will get down to business right away, with Governor Patrick  filing his budget by January 23rd.  A little background — under the Massachusetts Constitution, the Governor must propose a budget for the next fiscal year within 3 weeks of the Legislature convening.  This is usually the 4th Wednesday of January, and this year that deadline falls on Wednesday, January 23rd

In the first few weeks of January, thousands of bills will be filed, and we are expecting proposals calling for tougher gun control laws to be among them.  While Massachusetts is considered to have some of the toughest gun control laws in the country, State Representative David Linsky has already announced a plan to bring his colleagues together for a January 3rd strategy meeting on ways to reduce gun violence.  Representative Linsky has vowed to review in great detail the Massachusetts gun laws in order to prevent ownership of the kinds of guns used in this month’s school shooting in Newtown, Connecticut. 

Calls for stronger gun laws in Massachusetts have been heard before, but in the wake of the tragedy in Newtown, Connecticut, the focus on these issues has intensified.  Massachusetts does have an assault weapons ban, and in recent legislative sessions, Governor Patrick has filed a series of bills aimed at closing loopholes identified in that law. 

Governor Patrick has filed other firearm bills including a proposal to limit the purchase of guns to one per month, to enroll the state in the National Mental Health registry for the use in firearm background checks, and to require registration at gun shows.  Governor Patrick also filed legislation that would create three new gun crimes: assault and battery with a firearm, assault with a firearm, and a “felon in possession law.” 

There have been other legislative gun control efforts as well.  Representative Linsky has previously filed a bill aimed at improving the ballistic database through microstamping ammunition.  The BBA has not reviewed Representative Linsky’s particular bill, but in 2010 the BBA co-sponsored an American Bar Association Gun Violence Microstamping Resolution which urged the enactment of laws requiring that all newly-manufactured semi-automatic pistols be fitted with microstamping technology. This technology enables law enforcement to identify semiautomatic pistols directly through cartridge casings found at crime scenes without needing to recover the gun itself. 

No doubt this is a contentious issue. It will require engaging various groups to strike a balance between lawful possession of guns for sport and hunting and possession of guns that are truly manufactured for military purposes.

The BBA has not taken a comprehensive look at this issue in some time and our history and involvement in the area of gun control has varied.  We have acted as a convener to promote discussions, worked directly with community groups to examine the causes of violent crimes, and supported legislation at the state and federal level.  Now is the time to take another look at ways to strengthen Massachusetts’ firearm laws and to put in place commonsense gun control measures.

2012 Public Policy by the Numbers

2012 was a productive year for the BBA, and Issue Spot would like to look back on the numbers.

2 Amicus Briefs – The BBA filed amicus briefs in Rachel A. Bird Anderson v. BNY Mellon, N.A. trustee and others and Fisher v. University of Texas at Austin.  The SJC referenced the BBA’s Bird brief in its decision this summer.  The BBA recruited 38 law firms, companies and organizations to join our Fisher brief and was one of 71 amici to file briefs in the high profile case.

2 Court Standing Orders – The Boston Municipal Court made permanent a Criminal Offender Record Information (CORI) sealing order and the Supreme Judicial Court instituted a pro hac vice admission fee which yielded $49,000 in the first quarter it was collected. Both standing orders were endorsed by the BBA.

7 Laws Took Effect – Seven pieces of legislation the BBA supported took effect in 2012.

 700 Attorneys Attended Walk to the Hill – Lawyers from across Massachusetts filled the State House for the 13th annual Walk to the Hill for Civil Legal Aid.  More than 50 law firms and organizations were represented.

100+ Lawyers Attended Court Advocacy Day – More than 100 attorneys trekked to the State House to show support for adequate court funding.

2012 was a successful year and we are committed to topping these numbers for 2013.  We still have unfinished business in the Massachusetts Legislature. There are also emerging federal issues we are preparing to tackle.  But as 2012 wraps up, we have much to celebrate.

-Kathleen Joyce
Government Relations Director
Boston Bar Association

Breaking it Down, Knowing the Facts, Simplifying our Message

Earlier this week, the Legislature kicked off the Fiscal Year 2014 budget season with the Consensus Revenue Hearing.  This annual hearing came on the heels of last week’s announcement that there is a $540 million budget shortfall for the current fiscal year – Fiscal Year 2013.  The goal of the Consensus Revenue Hearing is to gather information from experts and economists who opine on the local impact of national economic trends.  This information is then used to come up with an actual consensus revenue budget number.  The consensus revenue budget number represents the level of spending agreed upon by the Governor, the Speaker and the Senate President, and is then used as the basis for the budgets proposed by the three branches.

It’s important that the consensus revenue process – and the ultimate consensus revenue number – is supported by outside experts.  The public needs to know that our state budget is grounded in facts and reason and not politics.

At the BBA, we’ve already been talking about the FY14 budget for weeks now.  As we do each year, we continue to meet with the leaders of the Judiciary to gather facts about the current state of our Massachusetts’ courts.  What we are learning from these meeting we are using – and will continue to use – to persuade legislative leaders that the entire justice system is underfunded.  All signals from the state on the budget front still point to things looking bleak.

Take a look at what our partners at the Equal Justice Coalition have been working on as they ramp up efforts for the FY14 budget.  They’ve prepared persuasive arguments that demonstrate the need for an increase in the state appropriation for legal services.  This week, the EJC released its latest fact sheet detailing the daunting financial burden placed on civil legal services organizations.  The fact sheet also shows how state money invested in civil legal services brings in new federal revenue and ultimately saves money for Massachusetts.

Our lawyers get it.  They understand the benefits associated with funding civil legal services programs and a lot of our lawmakers do too.  But as lawyers and constituents we need to make sure our legislators really get it.  Some legislators may not be as familiar with exactly how these civil legal service programs can help their constituents.

Check out the EJC’s clear and simple message contained in the FY14 Legislative Campaign Talking Points for the Private Bar also released this week.   It’s straightforward, hits the highpoints and also provides additional facts to back up the argument that an increase in civil legal aid for FY 14 is smart and a win-win for everyone.  The talking points provide lawyer-constituents with the necessary information to give a quick, concise pitch to their legislators for increased funding for legal aid.  The goal is to make sure that legislators understand the benefits of funding legal aid for their constituents, support it, and most importantly include an increase in funding for civil legal aid as one of their budget priorities when the time comes to discuss their own budget priorities with leadership.

– Kathleen Joyce
Director of Government Relations
Boston Bar Association

The 9C Process Has Begun

This week, the administration began the dreaded 9C process. Governor Patrick announced that Secretary of Administration and Finance Gonzalez has informed him – pursuant to Section 9C of Chapter 29 of the Massachusetts General Laws – of a budget shortfall of $540 million for Fiscal Year 2013.  If projected revenues are insufficient to meet authorized spending, Section 9C states that the Secretary must notify the Governor within 5 days.  The Governor must then propose a revised spending plan, increase revenues or both.

Technically 9C cuts – reductions made by the Governor under Section 9C – can be announced at any time it is determined that actual revenue will fall short of revenue estimates.  But there are also specific times – October 15, January 15 and April 15 of each year – when the Secretary is required to provide updates on revenue estimates to the Governor and Legislature.

By statute, 9C cuts are limited to accounts that fall under the control of the Governor, and which do not provide direct local aid. In a good illustration of the importance of separation of powers, the Governor’s 9C power cannot be used to cut the Judiciary, the Legislature, or other constitutional offices.  If he wants to expand his 9C powers into other areas of government, the Governor needs to file legislation – which he filed along with his budget reduction recommendations this week.

The administration’s plan proposes 1% reductions across the board – except for education funding – and would withdraw $200 million from the state’s rainy day fund.  The Governor called the cuts relatively modest and said he filed for expanded 9C powers because he wants to spread the pain.

Governor Patrick made a point of saying that it will be hard for the Judiciary to find areas from which to cut 1% of their budget since they are already underfunded.  Hard is an understatement.  The Judiciary is the branch of government left to make desperately necessary and often unpopular decisions when no other has the political appetite to act.  The Judiciary provides essential protections against abuse of government power. Despite the importance of the judiciary as a branch of government that should be free from interference by the executive or legislative branches, the judiciary has already shouldered a dramatically disproportionate share of crippling cuts over the last few budget cycles.

As part of court reform legislation passed in 2011, several months ago the Judiciary named Harry Spence as their first ever civilian court administrator.  The administration should let him take the lead in helping the Trial Court get back on sound economic footing.

The 2011 court reform legislation was intended to ensure that the Trial Court, under the management of the Court Administrator, would be able to manage its own budget more effectively. In making a grab for 9c powers over the judiciary, it seems like the administration is trying to take the very tools – the money and resources – away from the Judiciary when it desperately needs every single dollar.  Doesn’t the administration realize the judiciary has been operating under the pressures of hiring freezes and job furloughs for far too long?  Enough is enough.  Further cuts are simply not sustainable.

In the end we’re not at all convinced that cutting 1% of the Judiciary’s budget is going to have a real effect on a $540 million shortfall.  The proposed 1% cut will, however, have a real and resounding effect on the people that are working hard in our courts every day and on the people of Massachusetts – both private citizens and corporate citizens – that need access to our courts every single day.

-Kathleen Joyce
Government Relations Director
Boston Bar Association