Posts Tagged: senate committee on ways and means

Spotlight on Spousal Elective Share

The BBA has been a part of many pieces of legislation over the years, especially those that have an impact on our core principles – facilitating access to justice, serving the community at large, and advancing the highest standards of excellence for the legal profession.  However, the BBA’s process to thoroughly examine, deliberate, and eventually take a position on a bill is an involved one, even for seemingly simple bills.  To complicate matters further, the legislative process going on across the street from us is equally – if not even more – harrowing and intricate.  So what does it take to champion a bill through the BBA and on to become a law?  In a word: patience.

Let’s take a closer look at a long-time BBA supported bill, currently with the number S705 – An Act relative to the elective share of surviving spouses.

The Bill

The bill is in the area of trusts and estates law, which is well-known among lawyers as a particularly dense practice area.  Essentially, a spousal elective share is a potential remedy for a spouse left out of his or her significant other’s will.  Under current law, this disinherited spouse is entitled to one-third of the deceased spouse’s total estate.  The law ignores factors such as the duration of marriage, the age of the surviving partner, and the state of the economic partnership.

The spousal elective share bill changes the calculation used to determine the elective share.  Under the bill, the share is a sum of all the couple’s assets, multiplied by a percentage based on the length of the marriage – ranging from three to 100 percent with fifteen or more years of marriage – then dividing that total in half.  The bill reflects a similar economic theory to the one behind the equitable distribution system that is applied when a marriage ends in divorce.


The BBA has been working on spousal elective share legislation since the 1990s.  At that time, the BBA and the Women’s Bar Association (WBA) composed one version of the bill, while the Massachusetts Bar Association (MBA) had another.  Over the next few years, these three groups worked together to draft a single consensus bill that the BBA Council first voted to endorse in 2007.  This bill has been replaced by a new bill which is similar, though not identical to the Uniform Probate Code’s spousal elective share provision.  The BBA’s Family Law Steering Committee and Trusts and Estates Section voted to support the latest version of the bill in November 2012 and the BBA Council again approved the bill in February 2013.  The MBA and WBA also support the bill.

Here and Now

The bill was filed in the Senate in January 2013 by Senator Cynthia Creem and referred to the Joint Committee on Judiciary shortly thereafter.  Following an extension order filed in March, and a public hearing in April, at which Deb Manus testified on behalf of the BBA, the bill was reported favorably out of the Joint Committee on Judiciary in late June.  It was then referred to the Senate Committee on Ways and Means, where it currently sits.

We have been working and will continue to work with the other organizations interested in the bill – both in support and opposition – to pursue consensus.  We hope that this bill will garner enough support to pass in the last month left of formal session, but we recognize the hurdles it faces.  As you can see, this is a long and complex process, and the spousal elective share bill is only one example of many bills the BBA is working on.  We will keep you posted on the latest developments with this and all of our bills of interest.

– Jonathan Schreiber
Legislative and Public Policy Manager
Boston Bar Association

Energy and Environmental Legislative Session Review


Earlier this week, the BBA Environmental Law Section hosted its review of Energy and Environmental laws proposed during the 2013-14 legislative session.  The discussion featured three speakers with a wealth of experience in environmental law.  Dan Burgess, Deputy Commissioner of the Department of Energy Resources, Gary Davis Jr., General Counsel of the Massachusetts Executive Office of Energy and Environmental Affairs and Erica Mattison, Legislative Director of the Environmental League of Massachusetts provided brief reviews of a number of complex bills.

The presenters dove right in to their selected bills of interest:

H4164 – Following a 2013 study ordered by Senator Markey on gas leakages and based on the fact that Massachusetts has one of the oldest pipeline systems in the country, this bill lays the groundwork for expediting much needed repairs and updates to the natural gas pipe system.  The bill has been enacted in the House and the Senate.

S1970 – This bill creates incentives promoting the use of thermal energy.  It was reported favorably out of the Joint Committee on Telecommunications, Utilities and Energy and has passed the Senate.

S177 – This bill provides solutions geared towards encouraging large commercial enterprises to engage in major energy efficiency overhauls, namely by offering these enterprises more and improved financing options by leveraging their property.  This bill is before the Senate Committee on Ways and Means.

H3901 (but soon to be re-numbered) – As the state’s solar energy usage has greatly expanded in recent years, it has revealed some issues regarding net metering, the system by which solar energy customers can generate their own electricity for credits that they can then use to lower their electricity costs.  This bill is a combination of four previously drafted bills on the issue and seeks to offer greater fiscal certainty for solar users.  It is currently before the House Committee on Ways and Means.


H3968 –While dense in content, this bill’s general goal is to provide developers with a clear pathway to work on clean energy projects in order to meet the Commonwealth’s greenhouse gas reduction targets and energy reliance goals.  This bill prompted the most discussion as practitioners were concerned about whether and how its language would accomplish its stated goals.  It was recently reported out by the Joint Committee on Telecommunications, Utilities and Energy.

H4150 – This environmental bond package allows the state to borrow funds to finance capital funding for Environmental and Energy Affairs agencies.  These investments complement built infrastructure with natural assets such as floodplains and barrier beaches, support scientific research that helps the state better understand environmental issues, and provide a return on investment in clean water and air.

S2021 – This bill attempts to improve drinking water and wastewater infrastructure through, most notably, increased funding, establishment of guidelines for water management, and allowing for “water banking,” a local option for cities and town to impose additional charges to fund mitigation measures for increased water withdrawals.  It passed the Senate in March and is currently before the House Committee on Ways and Means.

H4065 – This bill reforms the state’s outdated zoning laws.  It encourages prompt and predictable permitting, establishes useful criteria for variances, promotes coordination among municipalities, encourages compact development and land preservation, streamlines the appeals process, and creates a rational system for impact fees.  It is currently before the House Committee on Ways and Means.

In addition to all the bills discussed, the Environmental League of Massachusetts introduced its sustainable water initiative, Brownfields plan, and budget campaign, with the goal of securing 1% of the state budget for the environment.  In all it was a highly informative meeting and, as the list of bills summarized here demonstrates, it looks to be an exciting and active end of session for environmental law in the Commonwealth.

– Jonathan Schreiber
Legislative and Public Policy Manager
Boston Bar Association