Monthly Archives: August 2018

State House Update: Recap of BBA Legislative Priorities as Formal Session Ends

As you know, each legislative session, we advocate on a range of issues, including family law, criminal justice reform, and civil rights. One of our big priorities this year was Criminal Justice Reform, and you can read a recap of where that ended up here. As usual, this year ended with some highs and lows. Keep reading to learn more about the good, and not-so-good, news, and a forecast for our advocacy in the years ahead!

Budget

As mentioned last week, we are very pleased with the action taken by the Legislature on our priorities in the final FY19 budget, which saw a significant increase in funding for civil legal aid through the Massachusetts Legal Assistance Corporation (MLAC), full-funding for complete statewide expansion of the Housing Court and the important Tenancy Preservation Program that court provides, strong appropriations for both the trial court and CPCS, and even inclusion of an outside section that offers a long-overdue step to provide access to justice for vulnerable immigrant youth.

For the full wrap up on the budget, visit our past Issue Spot blog. Since then, we’re happy to report that the legislature overrode the governor’s veto that would have reduced the residential re-entry services funding by half. Instead, the Legislature restored that appropriation to the full $5 million.

Civics Education:

As we reported last week, the Legislature passed a BBA-endorsed bill that would require the inclusion of civics education in all public schools. You can learn more about the language of the bill here. We are grateful the House and Senate both recognized how important it is that our next generation is armed with a thorough and equal understanding of civics, including the role of the oft-misunderstood judicial branch, and we hope the Governor will sign this bill soon

UCCJEA

Two of our top legislative priorities this year involved Massachusetts adoption of uniform laws, including our support for adoption of the Uniform Child Custody Jurisdiction Enforcement Act (UCCJEA). Although the Senate adopted a version of the UCCJEA, the House did not act on it before the clock ran out on formal legislative sessions late on the evening of July 31. However, we are hopeful that this legislation will be passed by the House during the informal sessions to be held the rest of this year, and then sent to the Governor for his approval—which would make Massachusetts the 50th (sic!) state to join this compact, which preserves each state’s jurisdiction over custody matters, even when the custodial parent and child move to a new state.

RUFADAA

The second uniform law we advocated for this Session is the Revised Uniform Fiduciary Access to Digital Assets Act (RUFADAA). Unfortunately, this was effectively sidelined for the year before the end of session, and we will spend the remainder of 2018 laying the groundwork for our continued advocacy on it when the Legislature reconvenes in January. Until legislation is adopted to clarify the rights of personal representatives to access electronic accounts of those who have died or become incapacitated, practitioners in this area will have to continue to grapple with existing uncertainty.

Financial Literacy:

Unfortunately, the financial literacy legislation which the BBA Council endorsed earlier this year also failed to make it through the Legislature, despite having broad support and passing the Senate in March. Of course, we will continue to operate in this space beyond the State House, as we enter our 14th year hosting the M. Ellen Carpenter Financial Literacy Program, and we will continue to push for these important provisions next Session, to expand student access to education on these invaluable skills that will help ensure their future financial outlook.

Conversion Therapy:

In a particularly disappointing last-minute series of events, the legislation that would ban the use of so-called conversion therapy on minors by licensed health care professionals failed to be adopted in the formal session. We first endorsed this legislation in 2015, and were hopeful, after it failed to pass in the prior session, that this year would finally be the year that Massachusetts joined the 14 other states and Washington, D.C., with these important protections. The Bill passed the House, and in the final hours of the Session, a version passed the Senate. The Senate version, however, was not identical to the House, and there was not time for the differences to be reconciled. We join advocates in expressing a deep disappointment that the Commonwealth has failed again to protect our LGBTQ+ youth from these harmful practices. You can be sure we will continue calling on the Legislature to adopt this important ban.

—Alexa Daniel
Legislative and Public Policy Manager
Boston Bar Association

Retired Northern Ireland Appeals Court Judge Sir John Gillen Addresses BBA Council

In July, the BBA Council was honored to be joined by Sir John Gillen, a retired Lord Justice of Appeal of Northern Ireland, who was recently tapped to conduct a comprehensive review of the handling of serious sexual crimes by Northern Ireland’s legal system. The review originated following a controversial, high-profile case involving two professional rugby players, which highlighted the problems with the process of trying these cases. As part of the review, Sir John is examining the laws of 13 other countries, including the United States, and we were grateful to be a part of the process during his Boston stop.

Earlier in the day, Sir John had met with several judges and prosecutors, as well as a group of practitioners representing both victims and defendants, convened by the BBA. At the Council meeting Sir John offered an overview of his work, which he is undertaking with a team of seven staff members and an eleven-person advisory panel made up of academics, lawyers, and representatives from survivors’ advocacy groups.

Sir John noted that in Northern Ireland, less than 6% of people who complain of serious sexual offenses see a conviction of the alleged perpetrator and that these cases have a 45-50% conviction rate when they actually go to court, much lower than the 87% conviction rate for non-sexual offenses. He said that 44% of complainants (79% of whom are women, and 21% of whom are men, on average) drop out because of the daunting nature of the legal process. He also noted that an estimated 60% of sexual assaults in Northern Ireland are never reported. In his view, these statistics reveal that, in addition to legal and procedural changes, a radical cultural shift is needed.

In addition to looking at measures and reforms adopted in other jurisdictions, Sir John said that he had interviewed 20 complainants in these cases about their experiences with the legal system, and hoped to interview at least 20 more. Sir John said some areas he was examining as he crafted his recommendations included: whether modifications needed to be made to the concept of open justice and open courts in sexual assault cases, particularly in the social media era; the role of anonymity for both the complainant and the accused in these cases; the problem of juror bias, including with regards to the prevalence of rape mythology and a lack of common understanding of the concept of consent; the possibility of introducing an option for pre-recorded evidence, particularly in cases involving children; areas for tightening rape shield laws; the possibility of mandating the right to legal representation for complainants in sexual assault cases; and the introduction of government-funded public education campaigns to inform people about consent and to challenge common misconceptions about sexual assault.

In response to a question by a Council Member, Sir John also noted the role of education, saying that proper training for jurors, judges, and both prosecutors and defense attorneys would be essential to improving the system. He also said he was continuing to learn more about the use of alternative resolution mechanisms, like those used at many American universities.

As mentioned, we at the BBA are very pleased we had the chance to convene a group of experts to discuss Sir John’s review, and we’ll be sure to keep you posted on the final report.

—Alexa Daniel
Legislative and Public Policy Manager
Boston Bar Association