With the start of the 2nd half of the 187th Massachusetts Legislative Session set to begin on January 4th, the BBA is still advocating for several bills in the waning days of the informal session. Back in January 2011, the BBA was the lead sponsor for 17 bills and a co-sponsor of a handful of other bills. Just about all of our bills were referred to the Judiciary Committee.
Overall, 5,388 bills were filed at the beginning of this session. Roughly 900 of those bills were referred to the Judiciary Committee. This constitutes over 15% of all bills filed in the Legislature and gives the Judiciary Committee the distinction of having the highest volume of non-budgetary legislation referred to any committee. To put this in perspective, the Public Service Committee has the next biggest number of bills at just over 600. Not surprisingly, issues concerning the state courts, criminal procedure and penalties, torts, privacy, real estate, probate and judicial management end up in Judiciary.
Admittedly, not all of the 900 bills are unique. Some of the bills are the same piece of legislation just filed separately in each branch. For instance, the BBA often tries to find both a House and Senate sponsor of its bills especially if the issue at hand is one that may require leadership in both branches.
Since public hearings began in March, the Judiciary Committee has held eleven hearings. These take place in small hearing rooms or in the larger Gardner Auditorium and are always well attended. The Judiciary Committee hearings last for hours, often late into the night. These hearings are packed with lawmakers and members of the public. The BBA has experienced this firsthand. We patiently waited several hours for our turn to testify in Gardner Auditorium twice this year and in the smaller hearing rooms several other times this session.
Here are just some examples of bills for which the BBA has advocated this session and which already received a favorable report from the Judiciary Committee:
- Alimony reform was released from the committee and signed into law on September 26th and will become effective on March 1, 2012.
- Transgender civil rights will go into effect in the Commonwealth on July 1, 2012.
- A major court reform bill that included a provision to keep the Probation Department in the Judicial Branch as well as providing for the hiring of a professionally trained, non-judicial court administrator was signed by the Governor on August 4th and will become law on July 1, 2012.
Now that those three bills have already been signed into law, the Judiciary Committee can begin focusing on other equally important bills.
Some of the other bills that have been released from the Judiciary Committee thus far but that have not made their way to the Governor’s desk just yet include the BBA’s access to DNA bill, the Uniform Trust Code and the corrections to the MUPC. Elsewhere in the Legislature, budget requests are being reviewed and budget priorities are beginning to take shape. When formal session resumes in a few weeks, there will be more public hearings, meetings with lawmakers and other opportunities to advance our agenda.
Director of Government Relations
Boston Bar Association